Nel's New Day

July 21, 2019

Religion Eliminates Human Rights

Thanks to the Republicans’ need for “religious freedom,” your house could burn down if firefighters disagree with your “moral” or “religious” beliefs. Or paramedics could decide not to save your life. Texas legislation protects “religious liberty and moral convictions” of individuals and businesses by allowing them to follow their religious or moral conviction. SB1978 came after a vote by the San Antonio City Council to block Chick-fil-a’s restaurant at the city-owned airport because of the company’s discrimination against LGBTQ people. The Federal Aviation Administration is now investigating the company’s exclusion at U.S. airports.

The protection of Chick-fil-a comes from the Congressional Prayer Caucus’s Project Blitz guidelines of 20 policy templates from establishing “In-God-We-Trust” options for license plates to eliminating adoption opportunities for LGBTQ people and criminalizing abortion. Fundamentalist Christianity is now blocking women from reproductive rights in red states throughout the nation. States are criminalizing abortions, arrested practitioners for murder, in Alabama even the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.

An Alabama woman whose fetus was killed in a shooting was indicted for manslaughter because the fetus didn’t survive. She didn’t fire the shot, but officials declared that she started the fight when another woman shot her. The shooter was not indicted, but the victim faced 20 years in prison until the case was dropped. Many people in Alabama still want the woman in prison because of their Christian “personhood” beliefs. 

Led by two prominent Southern Baptist congressional representatives, the Prayer Caucus playbook includes lies about LGBTQ disease, mental health, “moral instabilities,” and pedophilia as well as falsely equating support of transgender children expression with child abuse. According to their beliefs, only married heterosexual couples should be able to adopt children—sometimes only conservative Christians and not even Catholics. These people are getting their way through executive orders and laws.

Sixty “religious liberty” laws in 31 states were passed in 2017 and 2018, and the DHS Office of Civil Rights created the Conscience and Religious Freedom Unit, institutionalizing conscience and moral convictions above human rights. Homophobic and transphobic lawyer, Roger Severino, directs the office after having worked at the billion-dollar fundamentalist think tank, the Heritage Foundation and the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity. This new form of social control allows exclusion, restrictions, isolation and punishment of people who don’t follow the narrow evangelical Christian beliefs.

Part of authoritarianism requires scapegoats, and the current administration provides these with claims of threats by LGBTQ people, Latinx, blacks, and Muslims. All of these groups are classified as “sexual deviants,” “criminals,” and “terrorists” who should be eliminated, as shown by the cries of “send her back” and “America—Love it or leave it.”

The “religious freedom” laws largely evolved from the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Its purpose was to protect Indigenous religious practices, but new laws are weighted toward permission of fundamentalist Christianity to reject and discriminate against “others.” Most of the publicity has come from refusals of florists, bakers, photographers, and other “artists” to discriminate against same-gender couples who have been protected in the past by state laws. Women also face discrimination since the 1994 Hobby Lobby decision when the Supreme Court recognized for-profit businesses as having “religious beliefs” that permit them to circumvent labor laws and deny health coverage. A publicly funded adoption and foster agency in South Carolina refused a lesbian couple from fostering a child in state custody.

These 60 laws are not designed to freely practice a religion: they impose a set of fundamentalist Christian morals on the entire population of taxpayers. Behind the laws are Islamophobes in southern states who block the building of mosques to preserve a narrow view of Christian values in publicly funded institutions. Like the Stand Your Ground laws that protect only whites murdering unarmed children instead of abused women trying to protect themselves.

The “moral” view goes far beyond these laws. In New York City, Eric Garner, a black man, was killed because he was selling single cigarettes in violation of a law. While he was held down by police officers, he called out 11 times that he couldn’t breathe; he died of asphyxia. The police officers were exonerated. The DOJ refuses to bring criminal civil rights charges against the police officer who killed Garner in a chokehold. The officer has stayed on the force for the past five years since Garner’s death.

On the federal level, a civil rights office in the Department of Education has ruled against protecting transgender students. HUD now allows discrimination against LGBTQ people in homeless shelters and emergency shelters during disasters. Conservative states have long used the term “rights” to block unions and collective bargaining—as in “right to work”—and forcing taxpayers to pay for religious schools in “right to choose” charter schools.

Health care is a serious concern after HHS released the rule “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care” that allows all health care providers to refuse care for patients even if the entities receive federal funding. HHS ignored the majority of the 242,000 public comments expressing concern about wilful permission to eliminate health care. Although some people may think that moral and religious excuses might be limited to reproductive rights, health care providers can refuse care for LGBTQ people, single women, people of color—in short, anyone. The excuse is to equate religious restrictions with civil rights, despite First Amendment rights, and enforced by the commission that consolidates authority over 25 federal laws allowing religious refusals.

An early attempt to clarify religious liberty came from James Madison’s treatise “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” leading to the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and guiding both the United States Constitution and the First Amendment. Madison’s position about religion, coming from the religious persecution of Baptists when he was young, is to not favor one faith above another and leave the checks and balances to religious groups. Like early capitalism, religion should have open competition with rules to keep the largest ones from undermining new groups. The concept led to states’ eliminating their religious regulations, but persecution of unpopular religious minorities, such as Catholics and Mormons, continued. The Ku Klux Klan, including the father of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), whipped anti-Catholic belief into a frenzy in the 1920s, complete with pervasive conspiracy theories. The prejudice against Catholic beliefs was like that of attacks on Muslim sharia code of behavior. Presidential candidate Al Smith was smeared as being beholden to the Pope despite his assertion about separation of church and state.

In the 1930s, mobs switched their violence toward Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to salute the flag or be drafted. Their lawsuits, 37 of them reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, changed history when the high court ruled that the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause applied to state and local government, not just to Congress. World War II cemented the value of religious freedom in opposition to fascism and communism. Despite Dwight Eisenhower’s focus on God being placed onto money and into the pledge of allegiance, religious freedom remained as the Supreme Court restricted government’s role in favoring one religion over another. The 1965 immigration act allowing more non-European people into the U.S. brought more non-Christians. At this time, the Anglicans and Congregationalists who settled America comprise only 1.7 percent of the United States.

Although George W. Bush tried to prevent Islamophobia, evangelical Christians’ bigotry grew with Billy Graham’s Son Franklin and popular televangelist Pat Robertson. DDT helped bigots attack President Obama as a secret Muslim born in a foreign country. Conservative outlets such as Fox promoted hatred for Muslims with DDT’s mentor Brian Kilmeade of Fox and Friends saying, “All terrorists are Muslims.” With DDT at the nation’s helm, people have changed their position that attacks on minority religions are un-American. He insisted that Muslims don’t assimilate and that they are dangerously disloyal. He refused to focus on terrorists and attacked all Muslims, reinforcing the multiplication of violent attacks on American Muslims.

Gone is Madison’s belief that government should not favor one religion over another as DDT loaded his government with extremist anti-Muslim activists and gone is the model of religious freedom. DDT has demonized all religions except fundamentalist Christianity while destroying people under the guise of religious freedom. He started with the Muslim ban, that the conservatives on the Supreme Court upheld and claimed that he wanted Muslims to be forced to register so that they could be tracked down, and continued to take human rights from everyone in the name of “religious freedom.” Evangelicals rule.

October 12, 2014

Justice, Persecution in Faith

Many Christians tend to wear a cloak of superiority in the world, comfortable in the belief that all others are inferior to them. Yet research indicates that religious beliefs removes people from justice and fairness. Christianity teaches that God’s world is just: sin is punished, and appropriate beliefs are rewarded. That’s why athletes will thank God for winning a game. This philosophy makes religious people believe that poor people, victims of crimes, and “losers” deserve what happens to them. In the biblical story, Job follows the belief that “God will not cast away an innocent man, neither will he uphold evildoers” (Job 8:20) and gets all his wealth and status returned to him. His dead children are replaced with seven new ones. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he says that “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” will get everything in the end. The pain of persecution will result in rewards.

A jury sentence in Florida shows how callous people can be when they exonerated a 22-year-old woman’s rapist. The foreman said, “We all feel she asked for it [by] the way she was dressed.” She wore a white lace miniskirt and green tank top. The Just World Hypothesis is the tendency to believe that victims of misfortune deserve what happens to them because everyone lives in an orderly. predictable, and just place.

On the Fox network, former prosecutor Kimberly Guilfoyle explained how Michael Brown could have stayed alive in Ferguson (MO) instead of being shot in the street because he wasn’t on the sidewalk: “Don’t go out and commit crimes.” Her advice reflects a 1966 study when psychologist Max Lerner watched students inflicting painful electric shocks on classmates. When the student “jury” thought they could do nothing to stop the suffering, it just decided that the victim deserved the punishment.

Nine years later two researchers took this study’s findings to examine the nature of the “jurors.” Followers of the Just World Hypothesis tend to be religious, authoritarian, conservative, and negative toward underprivileged people. While admiring social institutions and authority figures, they “feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.”

Society’s privileged classes follow the same mindset. They literally think differently from the less wealthy, and society reinforces the beliefs, equating success with virtue. This is equivalent with people believing that CEOs making 700 times more than the employees just “work harder” and thus deserve the money.

People with more modest incomes are more generous, charitable, and helpful as they give a larger percentage of their disposable income to charitable causes than the wealthy. Drivers of luxury cars are more likely to cut off other vehicles in traffic than drivers of less expensive models. The wealthy are more likely to endorse lying and cheating because of a sense of entitlement from their self-perception of superior intellect or work-ethic.

Beauty also demonstrates a “reward,” as physically-attractive people are viewed as more sensitive, kind, and better-natured.  (Thanks to Mark Esposito for these ideas about religious and justice.)

One can ask if the following religious figures found their “justice” through their religion:

The U.S. Supreme Court has approved last year’s ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court upholding Mount Vernon school officials in firing a middle-school teacher who would not remove religious materials from his classroom. Maybe John Freshwater, the teacher, went over the edge when he marked a cross on a student’s arm with a hand-held Tesla coil.

God TV, one of the biggest Christian television networks in the world, has serious problems after founder Rory Alec left his wife, Wendy, to move with his girlfriend from Israel to South Africa. The wife says that Satan was the cause. All may not be lost. The Christian network Daystar survived two scandals in two years between founders Marcus and Joni Lamb and their employees.

National Geographic plans to film Killing Jesus, one of Bill O’Reilly’s killing series that includes Kennedy, Lincoln, and Patton. In an act of realism, the Middle Eastern man in the four-part series will be played by a Middle Eastern man. Lebanon-born actor Haaz Sleiman is also a Muslim. Fox, however, is convinced that Jesus is white—at last until O’Reilly’s book becomes a movie. Then Breitbart.com may be incensed, but Fox may stay quiet. Note: Sleiman has also played a gay Muslim and a terrorist. Back to far-right fundamentalist Christian wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The U.S. can get rid of Fox host Mike Huckabee if the GOP refuses to fight the recent court rulings supporting marriage equality. On the American Family Association’s “Today’s Issues” program, he declaimed, “I am utterly exasperated with Republicans and the so-called leadership of the Republicans who have abdicated on this issue. I’m gone. I’ll become an independent. I’ll start finding people that have guts to stand. I’m tired of this.”

That old leaky separation of church and state doesn’t hold water in Indiana. Ellen Bogan escaped with a warning after State Trooper Brian Hamilton pulled her over for an alleged traffic violation, but she didn’t escape his sermon. Did she have a home church? Did she accept Jesus Christ as her savior? Then Hamilton left her a pamphlet from the First Baptist Church in Cambridge City that asks to “acknowledge that (she is) a sinner.” His lights flashed the entire time that he was talking religion, and Bogan didn’t feel safe in leaving. He also violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution by keeping her longer than necessary to give her a warning ticket. Bogan is suing.

After years of bigotry toward LGBT people, Fox network, thanks to host Chris Wallace and guest Ted Olson, is trying a different tack. Family Research Council president Tony Perkins attempted to spew his usual hatred on Fox News Sunday, but Wallace asked him how his happy marriage would be changed with a same-sex couple living next door. No matter how much Perkins tried to avoid the question, Wallace returned to it. Olson also pointed out studies showing that children do as well or better in two-parent same-sex households as in heterosexual ones.

Students in three schools of the Rowan-Salisbury School District (North Carolina) are taught that the earth was literally made in seven days. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has sent a letter to the school district explaining that they are violating the Constitution of the United States.

The far-right seems obsessed with sex, and Phil Robertson, star of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty, is no exception. In a sermon last month, he declared, “Biblically correct sex is safe. It’s safe. You’re not going to get chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, AIDS — if you, if a man marries a woman, and neither of you have it, and you keep your sex between the two of you, you’re not going to ever get sexually transmitted diseases.” Earlier this year, researcher Elizabeth Boskey discovered that it’s possible to be “infected asymptomatically” and not test for an std for a long time.

It may not be safe to have religious parents. Pamela J. Christensen, 47, told the police that she tried to kill her three daughters because she wanted them to “meet Jesus Christ.” Her estranged pastor husband had sent her messages telling her the world was coming to an end. The Montgomery (IL) woman’s daughters are ages 12, 16, and 19. The girls refused to drink poison so Christensen stabbed them. Christensen had served her husband, Vaughn, because he had become increasingly violent toward her and the children.

As Valerie Tarico wrote, white U.S. evangelical Christians believe they suffer more discrimination than minorities, atheists, Muslims, or Jews. Christianity is the majority religion in the country and controls all the legislatures and courts, both state and federal. Yet, as Alan Nobel, a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, wrote about the “evangelical persecution complex” because victimization has become part of Christian identity and culture. Persecution, according to religion, makes believers more righteous—more like Jesus.

People who are convinced they are wronged cannot see the wrongs that they themselves commit. It also keeps people from making things better and makes them helpless. As Tarico wrote:

“[The theology of persecution] has also blinded generations of believers to the possibility that sometimes the hardships they face are due not to their faith or outsiders hating Jesus, but to the fact that they hit first. And sometimes the bewildering hostility they perceive may simply be something the theology of persecution has set them up to expect, whether it is there or not.”

It’s time for those who feel persecuted to start figuring out how to help others instead of dragging them down.

September 14, 2014

If Christians Controlled the United States

ISIL’s control of Iraq has been top in the news this past week, especially after President Obama’s speech, partly because many people are afraid of having a government controlled by religion. Here are some attempts to have that control in the United States.

Rick Santorum: “I think we should start calling secularism (which is defined as ‘without religion) a religion,” Santorum told a grinning Fischer. “Because if we did, then we could ban that, too, because that’s what they’ve done: they’ve hidden behind the fact that the absence of religion is not a religion of itself.” “We always need a Jesus candidate.”

Steve Williams, mayor of Huntington (WV):  The only “silver bullet” to stop drug use is prayer. His prayer beam was on September 7. The next day the police department arrested a local man on drug charges after organizing a massive anti-drug offensive codenamed “Operation: River to Jail” to eliminate drug trafficking.

U.S. Air Force: An airman cannot reenlist because he won’t say “so help me God.” Until last October, enlistees could omit the God phrase, but an update dropped that option. The Air Force says it can’t make any changes unless Congress changes the statute mandating the oath. The Department of Justice has been asked for an opinion in the case. The other branches of the military don’t require the God oath.

Bryan Fischer, American Family Association spokesman: Atheists should be banned in the military because they won’t die for God like true Americans will.

“This is an absolutely foundational, non-negotiable, bed-rock American principle: there is a Creator – with a capital “C” (you could look it up) – and he and he alone is the source of the very rights the military exists to protect and defend. Military service should rightly be reserved for those who believe in and are willing to die for what America stands for – and what America stands for is a belief in God as the source of our rights.”

Paul Wieland, Missouri Republican State Representative: Providing birth control for his daughters violates his religious beliefs so he’s suing President Obama. A judge originally dismissed the case because the family has no legal standing to file the lawsuit, but five Supreme Court justices permitted discrimination in the Hobby Lobby decision. Now Wieland’s lawyer, Timothy Belz, declares that the man’s daughters are like “employees” who have to listen to their father, the “boss.” He should be able to police the sexual lives of his adult daughters. A suggestion was to drop the insurance for the daughters, but providing health insurance is also one of Wieland’s religious beliefs.

Russell Pearce, Arizona GOP vice-chair:  Women on government aid such as Medicaid and food stamps should be sterilized as well as tested for drugs and alcohol. Food stamps should also be restricted to such items as 15-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese, and powdered milk—no fruits or vegetables. They should also be required to live in military barracks-style housing and endure spot inspections with punishment for not keeping everything spotless. Possessions will be inventoried to restrict the women from having unapproved items—such as televisions. Pearce didn’t say anything about men on government aid.

Barrie Goettsche, store owner of the Christian-based Chick-fil-A: Employee Daphne Richards was demoted without insurance after medical leave for a double mastectomy because of cancer in both breasts. Her workweek was cut from 40 hours to 10-15 hours and her hourly wage dropped from $14 per hour to $10 per hour. Goettsche said that she had been written up before her leave, but Richards has a letter from Goettsche that praises her work. “Daphne is a very sensitive, loving and compassionate person. I know she will continue to be a valuable asset and resource to the restaurant as she gains more experience, responsibility and time under her belt.” Richards was attracted to Chick-fil-A because of their Christian standards, but she has filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission regarding about the company’s treatment of her.

Dr. George Visnich, a Pennsylvania oral surgeon: His prayers went with the employee of 12 years after he fired her. The letter to her stated, “You are currently engaged in a battle against cancer that will be demanding physically, mentally, and emotionally. You will not be able to function in my office at the level required while battling for your life. Because of this, I am laying you off without pay as of August 11, 2014.”

Fran Millar, Georgia state senator: Voting on Sunday would be a violation of separation of church and state in DeKalb County, according to the GOP legislator. On his Facebook page, Millar gave another reason: “If you don’t believe this is an efort [SIC] to maximize Democratic votes pure and simple, then you are not a realist.”

Love in the Name of Christ, Church Everett (PA): A teenager may go to prison for two years because he allegedly took a photo of himself simulating oral sex with a statue of Jesus. The 14-year-old was charged with desecrating a venerated object. A vandalism charge carries only a maximum penalty of one year in jail. The church did not press any charges.

Cardinal Francis George, head of the Archdiocese in Chicago: In his column in Catholic New World he complained that his church members are forced to live under a pro-gay, pro-choice “state religion” similar to those living in nations “governed by Sharia law.” George has a history of LGBT hatred: in 2011, he compared LGBT rights advocates to the Ku Klux Klan.

Marian (Catholic) High School, Bloomfield Hills (MI): Barbara Webb has been fired for getting pregnant from artificial insemination. The school has known for five years that she is in a same-sex relationship, but administration declared that a “nontraditional” pregnancy broke her contract’s “morality clause.”

fred and georgeFred McQuire and George Martinez: The marriage of these two men is one that Francis George bitterly protests. Together for over 45 years, they legally married in California. An Arizona judge recognized their marriage in Arizona after Martinez died last month of pancreatic cancer. McQuire can now get his partner’s death certificate to settle Martinez’s affairs.

What McQuire won’t get are spousal Social Security and veterans benefits. Federal law requires him to have been married to Martinez for at least nine months to qualify for his Social Security benefits and one year to qualify for veteran benefits. With Martinez’s benefits, McQuire would have had a monthly income of $4,000. Without it, his benefits alone total $1,300. Martinez’s pancreatic cancer was blamed on exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam where both men served in the military. In this country, thanks to religious law from people like Francis George, a male and female married for one year are eligible for spousal benefits, but a gay couple together for 45 years has no rights.

In their craving for a “Christian nation,” these people want to deny LGBT people and poor women any rights, eliminate voting for blacks, ban non-Christians from public office and serving in the military, allow employees to fire people for illness, and put imprison youth for a long period of time for foolish pranks.

Those U.S. Christians—including the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute—who claimed the U.S. should be like Russia’s totalitarian regime because of its persecution of LGBT people might want to reconsider their support of Vladimir Putin. Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are now killing people to purge Slovyansk of rival Christian denominations in a return to control by the Russian Holy Orthodox Church.

Meanwhile, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and former Sen. John Breaux (L-LA) are lobbying to lift President Obama’s sanctions on Gazprombank GPB (OJSC), controlled by Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom, the country’s largest gas producer that supplies about a third of Europe’s natural gas.

In a bit of good news for people who believe in religious freedom, Allegheny County has voted against posting “In God We Trust” in its council chambers.

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