Nel's New Day

September 8, 2015

Davis’ Rejection of LGBT Rights Not Unique

Chuck Todd celebrated his first year’s anniversary on Meet the Press last Sunday with more misinformation. In the interview with Colin Powell, one of George W. Bush’s Secretaries of State, cogently explained why the United States needs to follow through with the proposed Iran agreement. At the show’s end, however, came a discussion about U.S. cause célèbre, Kim Davis, the county clerk who become famous for her refusal to follow the land of the law.

Once again Todd showed his inability to do his research:

“This is the only place in the country that we’ve had this. Meaning that I think a lot of people thought there would be more clerks that wouldn’t do this.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin followed Todd’s lead and said, “All of our country, and other registrars, in other counties, people have gone issuing marriage licenses. And that’s the important thing to understand, that that social movement created an acceptance.” Even revered television journalist Tom Brokaw expressed ignorance about marriage-equality problems since the decision:

“I think acceptance of same-sex marriage is so outrunning the opposition that it’s game over, quite honestly. This was an exception down there.”

What makes Kim Davis unique is that she is the only person who went to jail because of her refusal, contempt of court for not following a judge’s order. Across the nation, however, government officials are refusing marriage services to same-gender couples. Both North Carolina and Utah allow judges to not perform any marriages if same-gender ceremonies violate the judges’ “religious beliefs.” An Oregon judge, Vance Day, is also refusing to perform marriages. He is not required to do so by state law, but he clearly stated that he had stopped marrying people because of his “religious” opposition to same-sex marriages.

Alabama Probate Judge Nick Williams ordered his deputies in Washington County not to issue any licenses at all since the court’s June decision. In Pike County (AL), Probate Judge Wes Allen said that the law does not require county officials to issue marriage licenses.

Immediately after the Supreme Court ruling, Texas AG Ken Paxton told government officials that they could refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples on religious grounds. Granbury (TX) lost $43,872.10 in attorney’s fees because Hood County Clerk Katie Lang refused to issue a license to residents Joe Stapleton and Jim Cato, partners for 27 years. A federal court judge forced Lang to issue the license, but the settlement of the case cost the taxpayers. Lang’s website states that she doesn’t agree with same-sex marriage, but she is now allowing deputies in her office to issue the licenses.

In Texas, two counties have not confirmed that they will issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. “We are not going to discuss marriage policy over the phone. If a couple comes in to apply, we will discuss it at that time,” said Molly Criner, a clerk in Irion County, 200 miles northwest of Austin.

Several Kentucky clerks initially refused to issue any marriage license, included the president of the Kentucky County Clerks Association. By now the number is probably down to two clerks—both named Davis. Casey County Casey Davis said that he might be willing to die to avoid issuing a marriage license to a same-gender couple. Kentucky considers it a Class A misdemeanor, a first-degree official misconduct, if “a public servant … refrains from performing a duty imposed upon him by law or clearly inherent in the nature of his office.”

Fifty years ago, white people dominated the media, and black issues were largely underrepresented. On Meet the Press, three straight people decided that discrimination against LGBT people is “game over.” Same-gender couples face discrimination across the nation, and the mainstream media doesn’t report it because journalists are ignorant.

Several GOP presidential candidates have rushed to support Kim Davis. Yet a Supreme Court decision in Garcetti v. Ceballo (2006) limited free speech protections for government employees when they are on the job. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that a public official is only protected only when engaged in an issue as a private citizen, not if it is expressed as part of the official’s public duties. Government employers must comply with the central duties of their jobs. As for the states with laws that permit judges their choices of whether to comply with their responsibilities, Katherine Franke, a Columbia University law professor, said that government officials “don’t have a First Amendment right to pick and choose which parts of the job they are going to do.”

cruzDetermined to out-perform Donald Trump, both GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz rushed to Grayson (KY) when the judge announced he was releasing Davis if she performed her job. Huckabee was front and center while one of his aides blocked Cruz from speaking to the media. (A video of the encounter is available here.)

In releasing Davis, the judge mandated that she “not interfere in any way, directly or indirectly, with the efforts of her deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.” According to Davis’ lawyer, Davis would go back to work on tomorrow or the next day and “would not violate her conscience.”

More legal problems may come from the rally. Composers for rock band Survivor were offended by the use of “Eye of the Tiger” in the Grayson circus without permission. Jim Peterik wrote:

“I was very surprised and dismayed at the misuse of the song I co-wrote with Frankie Sullivan for Rocky lll. The song has motivated thousands through the years to reach beyond their limits. Its use for the release of Kim Davis does not support my views or my politics. I have contacted my publishers to make sure this usage is stopped immediately.”

Sullivan was more blunt in his Facebook post: “NO! We did not grant Kim Davis any rights to use ‘My Tune — The Eye Of The Tiger.’ I would not grant her the rights to use Charmin!” In 2012, Sullivan sued Newt Gingrich for using the piece during campaign events.

Even Fox network disagrees with Kim Davis’ position. A panel of legal experts agreed that Davis’ attorney, Mat Staver, is “ridiculously stupid” for his claim that the Supreme Court cannot legally strike down same-sex marriage bans. Trial attorney Chip Merlin said that anyone who violates a judge’s order should “expect to be thrown in jail.” Criminal defense attorney Sharon Liko added, “She’s applying for the job of a martyr. She wants to practice her faith by not issuing marriage licenses. Yet, she will not agree to let the deputy county clerks issue marriage licenses even if it’s okay with their faith.”

Fox News host Gregg Jarrett explained:

“When she took the job she swore to uphold the law. We rely on government officials to do that. They can’t just pick and choose what laws they like, which ones they don’t. If they were allowed to do that, wouldn’t that lead to chaos, anarchy and so forth?”

The consensus was that Davis “can either follow the law—she can do her job—or she can get out.”

Staver went on Wallbuilders.com to rile his followers and said that marriage licenses for same-gender couples will “grant a license to engage in pornography, to grant a license to sodomize children or something of that nature.”

Kim Davis is not paying fines or legal fees, and she’s getting her usual salary. Yet the conservative anti-marriage equality group National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is using her name for fund-raising. The group’s statement began, “I am writing you today with a more personal request, something unrelated to NOM. Kim and her family face a very uncertain future.” It goes on to explain that NOM has joined ActRight.com  “to create a special crowdsourcing fund whose proceeds will go directly to Kim Davis” and asks for “a generous contribution to the Kim Davis Fund.” It promises to make funds “available” to her and “to support her family while she sits in jail.” [And continues to draw her salary for not doing her job.

During live coverage of Davis’ release from jail, anchor Shephard Smith spoke up with an amazingly rational assessment of those who support her refusal to issue marriage licenses:

“They set this up as a religious play again. This is the same crowd that says, ‘We don’t want Sharia law, don’t let them tell us what to do, keep their religion out of our lives and out of our government.’ Well, here we go again.”

Discussing the Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality, he said, “This is not unprecedented. They did it when they said black and white people couldn’t marry.”

He concluded, “Haters are going to hate. We thought what this woman wanted was an accommodation, which they’ve granted her, something that worked for everybody. But it’s not what they want.”

 

Amazing!

April 11, 2015

A Saturday Roundup

A few stories from the alternative press:

What do you do if you hold a protest and no one shows up? The Tea Party of Miami hires protesters—in this case a demonstration against restoring 46,000 acres used for sugar land back into the Everglades. The up to 40 actors pretending to be demonstrators got paid $75 per hour, five times what Tea Partiers refused to allow for a minimum wage. The job description:

“Details: Basically to stand behind fence, holding banners or signs that will be provided. Clothing is almost anything!! Use common sense and don’t wear ‘club’ outfits or gym clothes. Just wardrobe for a Political Rally…We will pay CASH of $75 at end of shoot.”

Not bad work if you can get it. The actors ended their gig by lighting fake money on fire in a barbeque.

Republicans commonly preen themselves as the party of Abraham Lincoln, but the conservative Washington Post disagrees. According to Harold Meyerson, the GOP is closer to the party of Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, than Lincoln:

“After the [Civil War] ended, the South held on to a general animosity and hatred of African-Americans. No longer able to enslave them, southerners found other ways to oppress them.

“Indeed, today’s Republican Party support voter suppression efforts that are primarily aimed at minority voters to keep themselves in power. And with the backing of many corporations, the GOP has fought relentlessly to kill minimum wage laws and regulations that protect workers, while strangling labor unions that stand up for workers’ rights….

“Even today, one of America’s most fundamental problems is that the alliance between the current form of Southern labor and the current form of New York finance is with us still. The five states that have no minimum wage laws of their own are in the South: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Southern-based corporations such as Wal-Mart are among the leading opponents of workers’ right to organize, and as Wal-Mart has expanded into the North and West, so have the “right-to-work” statutes of Southern states been enacted by Republican governments in the Midwest….

“Fueled by the mega-donations of the mega-rich, today’s Republican Party is not just far from being the party of Lincoln: It’s really the party of Jefferson Davis. It suppresses black voting; it opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty; it objects to federal investment in infrastructure and education just as the antebellum South opposed internal improvements and rejected public education; it scorns compromise. It is nearly all white. It is the lineal descendant of Lee’s army, and the descendants of Grant’s have yet to subdue it.”

Sounds like the Grand Old Party of Republicans to me.

What’s the easiest way to kill a bill that might help people? Declare it Sharia law, like the Republicans have done in Idaho. That’s how GOP legislatures voted down a child support collection bill to bring the state in line with federal child support enforcement rules by using the federal government’s system for tracking and enforcing child support payments. The bill failed in committee by 9-8 because two Republicans “feared the bill could force Idaho to enforce child-support rulings made under Islamic law or foreign tribunals.” One of the Republicans admitted that nothing in the law had any religious language that would make it Islamic but falsely claimed that both France and Belgium recognized Sharia law. Thanks to GOP idiocy, Idaho loses $46 million in federal child support aid and parents lose child support.

All the Republicans and too many Democrats in Congress are considering a war against Iran and again ignoring the U.S. public. Over half registered voters in the country want a nuclear deal with Iran with only 34 percent opposing the tentative deal that has been struck. The 65 percent of the country that wants no congressional action until the deal is finalized have a lot more sense than the legislators. Another survey from the Huffington Post shows that 57 percent versus 38 percent of participants agree with supporting the Iran nuclear deal.

Has hell frozen over? Or is this a joke? Former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) wants Hillary Clinton as president because of her experience. He continues to heap more praise on her:

 “She was a good senator. She worked across the aisle. She kept her word. She became knowledgeable about a lot of issues while she was a senator. So she did that job well.”

Maybe he’s one Republican who’s tired of being in the party of Jefferson Davis.

What might make an anti-vaxxer change her mind? Tara and Gavin Hills (Kanata, Canada) reversed their opinion after their seven children ages ten years to ten months got sick—really sick. Tara had thought of whooping cough as an “historical oddity” until both her kids got the disease. Before vaccines were available, up to 10,000 people died in the United States of whooping cough every year. The number went down to 30 before recently starting to rise again. All seven of the Hills’ children are currently quarantined.

One reason you might not want to see a Time Warner merger with Comcast if you subscribe to Time Warner. A Comcast customer tried to cancel his cable after his house burned down, but Comcast refused for week. Someone might say that Comcast through the customer was just saying something crazy to get cable cancelled. Not true. In desperation, Jimmy Ware’s daughter finally said, “Your choice, disconnect the service or send someone out to fix the cable, because it’s not working.” She reported that the Comcast guy said, . “That doesn’t make sense because the house burned down.” Unfortunately, Time Warner’s scores on customer service are as bad as Comcast’s.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) plans to kick off his campaign for president by sell a chance to win tickets to his campaign kickoff for $3.05. We’ll see how his first week goes.

U.S. Senator Paul speaks with Fox News Channel host Hannity during interview after he confirmed his candidacy for president in Louisville

I’ll finish with a Rand Paul story. [Photo by Reuters/John Sommers Ii] Because of his negative treatment of Kelly Evans and Samantha Guthrie, I wondered if he had problems with only women. Not so. In an interview for The Guardian, Paul Lewis asked him how he planned to appeal to both center and right-wing voters because Paul’s political positions change so frequently. The presidential candidate replied, “Your premise is incorrect. I’m sure I could walk into a white evangelical church in Iowa and give the exact same speech and get the exact same response.” Lewis brought up a Washington Post poll and asked Paul about the specifics. Paul walked out, and Lewis said:

“So we got our interview cut off. Maybe it was because I was about to push him on the specifics…all the lights are off in fact. We’re being told to go.”

In an attempt at damage control, the Paul campaign tweeted later that Paul didn’t “walk out” because the interview was over. Washington Post claimed that Paul didn’t “walk out” because he had agreed to just one more question and Lewis asked a second “last question.” Paul’s campaign team had agreed to an interview lasting between six and eight minutes; Paul ended the exchange after four minutes and 50 seconds. No matter which answer is right, Paul still fails to look “presidential.”

Note: The Rand Paul Flip-flops, for sale for $20, have been renamed the Rand Paul Sandals. No joke!

December 8, 2013

Religious Figures at Odds with Each Other

Is the GOP obsession with religion dissipating? One piece of evidence comes from the response to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK)’s statements television ad for his re-election campaign in which he said:

“I’m not ashamed to say that I believe in God, and I believe in His word. The Bible teaches us no one has all the answers. Only God does. And neither political party is always right.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee responded, “Is [the Bible] really not a good rule book for political issues and decisions made in the Senate?” Even Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican running against Pryor, took his side, calling the NRSC’s response “incredibly bizarre and offensive.” Cotton’s campaign spokesperson added, “We should all agree that America is better off when all our public officials in both parties have the humility to seek guidance from God.”

Most likely Cotton is pandering for votes. His statements follow Pryor’s campaign manager’s ire toward the NRSC: “It’s frankly despicable that Congressman Cotton’s Washington allies are manipulating quotes to question the sincerity of Mark’s religious beliefs. Tom Cotton needs to step up and denounce these shameful attacks on Mark Pryor’s faith.” Cotton did, but it probably won’t help him with NRSC support.

Rush Limbaugh also got excited about Pope Francis’ denouncement of unfettered capitalism (sometimes called extortion) by saying that “this is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.” Catholics in Alliance took umbrage at Limbaugh’s take on the pope and called on “Catholics and other allies throughout the nation to support the Holy Father.” Their petition states:

“Francis’s critique of unrestrained capitalism is in line with the Church’s social teaching. His particular criticism of ‘trickle down economics’ strengthens what Church authorities have said for decades: any economic system which deprives the poor of their dignity has no place within a just society. Contrary to what Mr. Limbaugh suggests, the Catholic Church isn’t built on money, but on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.”

Other conservatives have joined Limbaugh in expelling bile about Pope Francis’ belief that unfettered capitalism is tyranny. World Net Daily (WND) published a cartoon portraying the pope as a socialist based on the non-biblical saying “Teach a man to fish.”

pope fish

WND author Jonathan Moseley used Luke 12:13-14 in a misguided attempt to prove that Jesus believed in unfettered capitalism:

“Someone in the crowd said to Him [Jesus Christ], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’”

Moseley continued by declaring that Jesus is opposed to greed but doesn’t see that hoarding the family inheritance shows greed from unfettered capitalism.

A short lesson in “isms”:

  • Socialism: an economy in which the community as a whole or its government owns and controls production.
  • Communism: both political structure and economic production are owned by the government.
  • Capitalism: people own and control production to create more competition with the goal of low prices and high pay.

Capitalism, which allows people to own and control production, is based on competition which should keep prices low and pay high. Unfettered capitalism leads to the reverse—high prices and low pay because monopolies and collusion between companies prevent competition.

Moseley also assumes that crony capitalism comes from corrupt government’s involvement in business. It’s actually the reverse when business gets too involved with government. An example of crony capitalism is the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and the watering-down of the Dodd-Frank Act. Financial regulators don’t regulate, and Citigroup wrote legislation to strip the remainder of Dodd-Frank. Pope Francis rejects crony capitalism and rejects the monopolies created by unfettered capitalism.

U.S. Catholic bishops, however, are staying mum on the subject. Perhaps they’re preparing for the endangerment lawsuit against them.

Last year, millions of people in the world were outraged after they learned of a pregnant women in Ireland who died after miscarrying a 17-week-old fetus. A Catholic hospital refused to terminate her pregnancy. Abortion is legal in the United States, but one-sixth of all hospitals, because they are Catholic, refuse to provide this surgical treatment for women, even to save their lives.

Three years ago, Tamesha Means went to the nearest hospital after her water broke when she was 18 weeks pregnant. In pain and with no care, she was sent home from the Michigan hospital to await a miscarriage, despite the high risk of infection from the broken water sac. An 18-week-old fetus is at least one month before viability, and a non-Catholic hospital would offer her an abortion or induce labor. The nearest hospital, however, was Catholic based.

Means returned to the hospital for help a second time and was again sent home without any. Only on her third visit when she had an infection and was delivering the fetus was she permitted to stay. Now, in conjunction with ACLU, she is suing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It is because of the Conference’s directives, forbidding any abortion or delivery of an infant pre-viability even to save the woman’s life, that the hospital could not help Means.

Many people are not aware of the way that the Catholic Church has taken over U.S. health care and the dangers for people because of religious mandates for hospitals and doctors taking precedence over the best interests of patients. Despite the religious control over patients, billions of dollars (over $45 billion in 2002 alone) come from taxpayer funding.

Bill O’Reilly is also an authority on religion. He claims that his book Killing Jesus was divinely inspired, so it’s no surprise that he also knows what Jesus thought. In an interview with Pentecostal Pastor Joshua Dubois, O’Reilly shared his knowledge about how Jesus didn’t mean alcoholics and drug addicts to have food stamps:

“The problem I have, as I stated is that you’re helping one group by hurting another group and a bigger group, and so I don’t know if Jesus is going to be down with that.”

Dubois didn’t accept O’Reilly’s conclusion:

“Jesus would be down for the poor. He would want to make sure every single person in this country had enough food to eat. And the bottom line is if you add up every single private charitable dollar that feeds hungry people in this country, it’s only 10 percent of what we would need to make sure everyone has food in their stomachs. The rest comes from the federal government.”

After O’Reilly tried to educate Dubois about how all those bad people are just going to “buy booze and drugs” instead of food, Dubois patiently explained:

“With all due respect, there’s a lot of misconceptions in what you just said. The vast majority of that program goes to elderly people, people who are disabled, 46 percent are children and most people are working families.”

In another “misconception,” Fox network is complaining the Sharia law is “changing everything,” according to Heather Nauert. She is complaining about a weekly swim practice for Muslim Somali-American girls at a St. Paul YMCA in partnership with the police department to allow for the girls’ modesty and religi8ous beliefs. Shall we wait for them to complain about Christian law “changing everything”?

Their next complaint will be the takeover of “Satanic law” if the Satanic Temple follows the “freedom of religion” amendment to install a memorial on Oklahoma statehouse grounds next to the state’s display of the Ten Commandments.  Anton LaVey, founder of the Church Of Satan in 1966, has based his beliefs on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism that celebrates selfishness as a virtue. People may be more familiar with Rand’s works after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) extolled Rand’s virtues.

In contrast to the fundamentalist belief in selfishness, today, December 8, is the Buddhist holy day of Rohatsu, or Bodhi Day. Celebrated as the day that Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under the bodhi tree, Buddhists meditate, study Buddhist texts, chant, or perform acts of kindness to others. Lewis Richmond wrote, “Living in the light of humility, kindness and compassion is the deep lesson and timeless inspiration of Bodhi Day.” Christians could take a lesson from Buddha instead of restructuring their Jesus into a macho, judgmental warrior.

The best religious news for the week: The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a petition filed by the Christian Liberty University to stop the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act for each person to purchase health insurance. It leaves intact the ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowing this mandate. All SCOTUS has left to decide is whether corporations—those people, you know!—can be religious and refuse contraception to its employees.

February 26, 2012

The United States, a Theocracy

Let’s just face it. The United States is a theocracy. Let’s look at the indicators beyond the majority of the Republican presidential candidates swearing to the far-right conservatives that they were called by God to work for the nomination,

To encourage churches to intervene in campaigns—illegally—the Alliance Defense Fund held its annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in October. Fundamentalists and evangelical churches plan voter turnout drives and distribution of voter guides that tell the church-goers the candidate of the church’s choice.  Meanwhile, pastors such as the influential Dallas one, Robert Jeffress, tell all and sundry that Mitt Romney, a Mormon, is a cult member who should not become president. The claims that President Obama is a Muslim of an opponent of Christianity, started when he was elected to this office, have increased since Rick Santorum refers to his policy as a “phony kind of theology.”

Thirty states explored school voucher subsidies for religious and other private schools in 2011, the efforts driven by wealthy right-wing organizations, such as the Alliance for School Choice. Run by right-wing activist Betsy DeVos, the organization is joined by allies to provide vast resources and public relations expertise to push for school vouchers. These vouchers would benefit not only fundamentalist academies but also Roman Catholic parochial schools. Florida currently has a ballot initiative allowing the religious organizations to get taxpayer money. Arizona has already passed such a law that has passed judicial tests. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) also pushed a voucher program for the District of Columbia.

A relatively new lobbying group, the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has declared war on the separation of church and state in its goal to keep its taxpayer funding for church agencies while maintaining overly broad exemptions from the law. These agencies have become highly visible recently when they declared themselves exempt from involvement in birth control or same-sex marriage while still receiving government contracts and funds. Faith-based religious groups receive federal advantages that other non-profit groups lack. No federal regulations, no disclosure reports to show how much they’re spending, no transparency.

States plan laws that would require Christian proselytizing in public schools. Missouri, for example, has an amendment on the 2012 ballot that proposes to allow religious activities on all public property including schools. The open-ended bill even permits children to refuse to do homework on religious grounds. Florida’s bill, recently passed by the Senate and being considered by the House, lets students pray at school events. Tennessee is following Florida’s flaunting of separating church and state.

The far-right evangelicals also continue to demand that curriculum and textbooks include religious material, including creationism and refutation of man-made climate change. In Missouri last summer, a school district banned Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Sarah Oeckler’s Twenty Boy Summer because a local professor complained that the books advocate principles contrary to the Bible.

Those who believe that President Obama has declared a “war on religion” fail to recognize his current support of the Christian religion through government actions. The president said during his campaign in 2008, “If you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them–or against the people you hire–on the basis of their religion.” Yet he has not changed George W. Bush’s “faith-based” initiative that exempted faith-based groups from complying with anti-discrimination statutes. Religious groups can refuse to hire gays and lesbians even for secular work. In 2009, Obama put Alexia Kelley, an anti-abortion Catholic, in charge of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the HHS, where she oversees the distribution of more than $20 million in grants to religious groups.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is also considering a new rule allowing the use of taxpayer funds for the construction and repair of religious buildings overseas.

Under President Obama, Catholic religious charities alone have received more than $650 million, and the share of USCCB federal grants from HHS have increased from $71.8 million in the last three years of the Bush administration to $81.2 million during the first three years of Obama. In fiscal 2011 alone, the group received a record $31.4 million from the administration that the Catholics claim as anti-religious. Federal money can also go directly to churches rather than nonprofit charitable organizations.

Millions of dollars from the military budget benefits Christians. For over 18 months, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been examining these expenditures, such as the $125 million spent for “spiritual fitness” program. To develop “resilience,” those who serve in the military are required to take a survey biased so that nonbelievers are guaranteed to score poorly. Those people will then be forced to participate in exercises that use religious imagery to “train” soldiers up to a satisfactory level of spirituality, namely Christian.

Department of Defense funds built the $30,000,000 mega-church at Fort Hood and the “Spiritual Fitness” centers scattered across the military bases. More spiritual fitness money goes for evangelical Christian concerts with overtly Christian music, light shows of large crosses beamed all over the stage, and Christian testimony or Bible verses songs. Most of the Army’s Strong Bonds program expenditures of least $30 million for retreats for soldiers and their families go to evangelical Christian retreats, many held at Christian camps and resorts, with evangelical Christian speakers and entertainers.

Children of military service people are also targeted by evangelical Christian groups that are financed by the DoD. The biggest one is Military Community Youth Ministries (MCYM), whose mission statement is “Celebrate life with military teens, Introduce them to the Life-Giver, Jesus Christ, And help them become more like Him.” MCYM has received $12,346,333 in DoD contracts since 2000 and use some of it to stalk “unchurched” military children by following their school buses. The DoD also hires Religious Education Directors to get the kids into Christian churches.

Congress keeps legislating Christian laws. The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution that reaffirmed “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States and encouraged its display in public schools and other public buildings despite the fact that this motto, put in place during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s, had not been challenged. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) has introduced a bill ordering the Secretary of the Interior to add a Franklin Delano Roosevelt prayer to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Both the Knights of Columbus and Rep. Denny Rehlberg (R-MT) are fighting the removal of a large statue of Jesus sitting on national forest land in Montana.

States are also working to create Christian law. In Georgia, the state legislature will consider a bill that would require all vehicle license plates to be emblazoned with “In God We Trust” unless drivers pay extra to cover up the message. A prime example of this nation’s theocracy is its anti-Sharia legislation. In 2010, Oklahoma passed, with 70 percent of the vote, the so-called “Save Our State Amendment,” barring enforcement of Islamic law. The challenge to this law is before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because the constitution bars government support for religion, legislation barring Sharia law is unnecessary. What appears to be necessary is a law banning Christian legislation, which would provide women with reproductive rights and same-sex couples with marriage equality.

The Christian religious right, both fundamentalists and Catholics, successfully intimidate their opponents by accusing anyone who wants freedom from religion that they are bigots who don’t believe in religious freedom. Their position of victimology comes from the enormous power that they wield over the anyone who disagrees with them. To these Christian conservatives, the definition of religious freedom is forcing everyone to live by their religion, whichever one of the 38,000 Christian denominations it may represent.

February 21, 2012

Candidates Enter the Debate Fray … Again

Political wonks focus on Arizona tomorrow when the next Republican presidential candidate debate starts on CNN at 5:00 pm (PT). We’ve had a four-week hiatus from the four white men posturing on a stage: Gingrich’s anger at the media forcing them into a corner; Paul’s earnestness about no government (including no war); Santorum’s whining about not getting enough air time; and Romney’s gaffes slipping into his cool answers. Santorum is the latest to reached his peak, up double-digits over Romney who just stays where he always has, while Gringrich has fallen after his wax wings melted when he got too close to the sun, and Paul keeps trudging forward.

Santorum has picked up a great deal of baggage since the last debate. Flush with his three-state victory in one day, he’s gone over the edge with his outrageous statements. Earlier, Gingrich seemed the idiot when he claimed that he would create a new state on the moon by the end of his second term in 2020. Now Santorum claims that prenatal testing results in abortions, that federally provided education is “anachronistic,” and that President Obama’s policies are not “based on the Bible.” The candidate wants to get rid of all three. Even Bob Schieffer lost his usual calm demeanor when he asked Santorum on Face the Nation, “What are you talking about.”

Even more bizarre among Santorum’s speeches is his claim that mainstream Protestant churches have fallen into the grip of Satan. During a 2008 speech at Catholic Ave Maria University in Florida, Santorum said: “[O]nce the colleges fell and those who were being educated in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you’d say, ‘wait, the Catholic Church’? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic, sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

Gingrich has been so quiet lately that he has almost disappeared after the  visibility Sheldon Adelson gave him by providing $21 million to Gingrich-supporting super PAC Winning Our Future. Adelson now promises another $100 million, more than the $98.5 million spent by all super PACs this year. The eighth-richest person in the world worth $25 billion, Adelson said,  “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it.” He has a lot to gain: for almost 20 years, he’s lobbied to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Gingrich promised to do so on his first day as president.

It’s hard to beat Gingrich’s wacky statements. He said that unemployment insurance violates the Declaration of Independence’s “commitment that we have the right to pursue the right to pursue happiness.” Gingrich would solve this by enrolling all people seeking employment in a “business-led training program.” Never mind that the Declaration has no legal weight and that the unemployed and their former employers already paid into these benefits that people are to receive.

Even better, however, is Gingrich’s solution for finding undocumented workers. After ridiculing the federal government for not locating them when UPS and FedEx “track 24 million packages a day,” he recommends the following: “We send a package to everyone who’s here illegally and when it’s delivered, we pull it up in a computer, we know where they are.” He’s skipped just one important fact: UPS and FedEx need to know people’s addresses before they can deliver packages.

Gingrich tries to control the media about complaining about their mean-spirited attitude. To protect himself, he has said, “Politics has become a really nasty, vicious, negative business, and I think it’s disgusting and I think it’s dishonest.” He has conveniently forgotten his rise to power almost 20 years ago when he urged Republican candidates to win by calling their opponents “sick,” “traitors,” “bizarre,” “corrupt,” and “pathetic.”

Fox is still valiantly defending Gingrich despite his peccadilloes. One of the network’s regulars, a so-called psychiatrist named Keith Ablow, describes Gingrich as so charismatic that three women wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him, two of them felt this way although he was married, and “one of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife [Marianne] who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.” Ablow suggested that with that power, people will be clamoring for a third Gingrich term and that Gingrich’s way of telling his wives the “incredibly painful truths” that he no longer loved them and was leaving them for other women could mean that he would be equally, brutally direct with America about whatever issues he had with the entire country. Ablow gives the term “spin” an entirely new dimension!

Romney suffers from criticisms about his fiscal affairs: he gave his kids $100 million without any taxes on either end; he stuffed some of his money off-shore in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland; and he profited from the Florida foreclosures—while at the same time he recommended that nothing should be done to stop them. His tax returns for just two years indicate that he makes as much money every day, seven days a week, as a middle-class taxpayer does in an entire year. And his suggested tax program would return more of that money to him than the less than 14-percent tax rate he has now.

Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum do have one thing in common: they want to base our nation’s laws on Christianity. These are some questions that I would ask at the debate:

For Rick Santorum: Because you denounced John Kennedy’s 1960 statement about the importance of separating church and state, would you carry out the Catholic bishops’ positions on abortion, contraception, and gay rights? If your answer is yes, would you then follow their positions on social justice in their opposition to war and capital punishment while believing in universal health care and caring for the poor?

For Newt Gingrich: Because you’re greatly concerned about Sharia law, would you oppose Catholic canon law too? Or would you believe that following Catholic law means that you should allow Muslims to follow their own religious law? Can you think of one example in which Muslims imposed Sharia law on non-Muslims in the United State sin the same way that Catholics impose their law on non-Catholics?

For Mitt Romney: Because Mormon scripture supports the superiority of white people, can you guarantee the enforcement of civil rights law, even for women and LGBT people?

These are just a few problems for these candidates. There’s much more to say about the onerous policies that these candidates would effect if they were elected.

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