Tag Archives: Constitution

Indiana Jonesing

So you’ve heard about the new law in Indiana, right?

I mean, it’s made the news here in Texas, where any news story that’s not about Texas had better be about sports, or it’ll be regarded with suspicion…, so it must be a really big and controversial story…, right?!

Okay, on the off chance that you’ve had your head buried in the sand, here’s the scoop.

A lot of people are very upset because the state of Indiana has just enacted a law which, it is claimed, allows business owners to refuse to serve homosexuals, if said business owner has a religious objection to homosexuality.

Another group of people have responded to that claim by saying, “nu uh!”

And yet a third group, is busy shouting “God Hates Fags!” at anyone who is foolish enough to wander into the comments section of any news story relating to this law, or to any news story, about almost anything.  But mother always said it was unkind to stare at those less fortunate than ourselves, so let’s turn our attention away from the ignorant hooting, and examine, instead, the actual claims about this particular bit of legislation.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Hmmm…, having read through it, I’ve got to say that, if anything, it suffers from being poorly named.

Indiana FactsWhich religious freedoms, I am forced to wonder, have been taken away, that this law is intended to restore?

Has anyone, Christian, Buddhist, Wiccan, or Jew, been denied the right to worship their god or gods as they see fit?  Have any churches been shuttered?  Have the stormtroopers of vile secularism kicked in the doors of private homes and stolen away with menorahs, prayer mats, advent calendars, and the like?

In what circumstance, has government prohibited the free exercise of religion, in the state of Indiana, (or any of the other states where similar laws hold sway), that we need legislation, specifically enacted, to restore our lost religious liberty?

I ask because, the only examples anyone seems to be able to provide, involve bakers not wanting to produce confections for gay weddings.  I’ve studied a great many religions, over the years.  More, in fact, than I could easily name.  And I have yet to encounter one where baking constituted an act of faith.

I am open to the possibility that adherents of such a faith might be prone to die off quickly, of cholesterol poisoning most likely, thus keeping their numbers dangerously low, and their overall presence off of my religious radar.  But I have serious doubts.

So, until someone can demonstrate some other, greater need for this legislation, what we do seem to have is a law that shields from legal action, a business which refuses service to anyone, on the basis of that business owners religious belief.

Realistically, we also have a law which appears to be named in the sensationalist hope, of attracting the attention (and shall I say votes) of those very same folks, the loud hooting ones, from whom we are trying diligently, to avert our gaze.

Okay, fine.  We may think it ugly, but it’s there.  And right or wrong, the state of Indiana is getting something of a black eye because of it.

So here’s another question to consider: Is it Constitutional?

I don’t know, and the learned opinions on the matter seem to differ, but sooner or later, I think we’re going to find out.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

JonesingI don’t understand how baking a cake for a gay wedding, as long as said cake is no different than those you usually produce in the course of your business, can be abhorrent to the religious beliefs or any reasoning person.  And maybe, this is because it hasn’t been explained to me properly yet.

But in the course of my own career, I have performed technical support, designed advertising and marketing materials, built homes for, and sold actual artwork of my own creation, to people whom I have found to be reprehensible for any number of reasons, including their particular religious beliefs.  I have done this, not because I value the dollar more than my own ideals, but because I firmly believe that everyone should be equal in the marketplace.  My ancestors once had to deal with storefront signs that read ‘No Irish’, and I will never, knowingly, demean another human being in that way.

So, pending more evidence, the ‘non-establishment clause’ would seem to be out of the picture.

So what, then, about the Freedom of Association?

I’ve often heard this touted as a constitutionally mandated right, allowing certain folks the freedom to avoid contact with other folks whom they don’t like.

And that would be fine, except that it is nothing of the kind.

The right of association is not even explicitly mentioned in the constitution, but is, rather, a modern day extension of the freedom to ‘peaceably assemble’.  My research shows that the right of association came into vogue during the civil rights movement when certain groups were putting a lot of energy into either preventing meetings of the NAACP, or forcing that group to turn over lists of its membership.

In any case, the right, as it is commonly expressed, has never been one of ‘disassociation’.  The intent, as I understand it, is to make it clear that you are free to interact with whoever you want to, for whatever reason that is not already prohibited by law.  There’s nothing there about a guarantee that you will not have to interact with people that you don’t like.

In other words the freedom of association, does not give you the right to turn people away from your business, simply because you don’t like them, or their beliefs.

Am I missing something?  Is there something in the Indiana law, or any of the others (including the federal version) that cause it to pass Constitutional muster?  If so, I welcome anyone with a reasoned argument in favor of these laws, to explain it to me.

Show me, please!  Demonstrate to me that there is a very real need for these laws.  Show me that they will be useful to members of minority religions in exactly the same way they are useful to the Christian majority that feels so threatened.  Give me reason to believe that this is more than simple discrimination couched in legal terminology.

Because the alternative…,

The alternative is that these laws are put in place in the hope that they will be challenged.  Certainly, the first group of folks I mentioned at the beginning of this post are getting worked up over the prospect of a legal fight.

And the second group?  They have to know that a challenge is coming.  And another, and another, until someone lands in front of the right court at the right time, and then…,

IndianaJonesingBut, it’s not really about the court challenges at all, is it?

And it’s certainly not about some poor beleaguered baker being forced against her will to apply frosting rosettes to a cake that will be consumed following a same-sex union she will never see.

It’s all about that third group, that rabid mob which is so blinkered by its own insecurity that they have rejected the Christ of the Bible, the one who would likely have embraced the homosexual with the same love and compassion he is said to have shown the prostitute and the adulterer, (perhaps even selling him a nice set of table and chairs from his step-dad’s workshop), and replaced him with the same kind of self-righteous ass, their own scriptures always show him preaching against.

My fear is that it’s really all about keeping them riled up and jonesing for a fight.

But what happens when that monster gets out of control?

Who will these laws protect, when there is blood in the streets?

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Just Words

You may have read a story in the last week about an airman who may be forced to sue the United States government to regain his right to re-enlist in the U.S. Air Force.  The gentleman in question, a technical sergeant based at the Creech Air Force base near Las Vegas, Nevada, has been barred from continuing his service because, as an Atheist, he refuses to recite the final words of the required oath.

Those words being: “So help me God.”

When he entered the Air Force, the rules allowed for the omission of those words, but that rule was changed only last year, and now the unfortunate airman, and many more like him, are stuck with the difficult choice between duty and deception.

This is a choice no one should be forced into, and thankfully, it seems that he has chosen the third option — fight for change!

Christian Air Force

The thing about this situation that horrifies me, I mean beyond the pure religious coercion which seems to have become a staple within the Air Force, is that so much public opinion on this matter seems inclined to have this fellow simply mouth the words that are placed before him.

I don’t understand what people are thinking.

How can anyone with even the slightest sense of honor or integrity suggest that anyone of any belief, should perjure themselves rather than stand up against an injustice?

Bit of a rhetorical question, I suppose.

The reality is that this proposed lawsuit will very likely not go far enough.  I’m sure the complaint will request that the airman, and many like him, once again have the freedom to skip that particular line in the oath of service.  For justice to be truly done, however, there should be no religious language in the oath whatsoever.

The expectation among a certain majority, that Christianity is going to be the religious standard, and that an ‘opt out’ provision should be made available for some unspecified minority, does one thing very clearly – it establishes that Christianity is the national religion.  And that is an action that the U.S. Constitution very specifically prohibits.

All of which brings me back to public opinion, at least some of that which I have seen expressed within the comments sections of the various news stories which detail this case.  The more troubling of these responses fall into one of a few categories:

The Un-Specified God

“God,” so many like to claim, “is an entirely generic term that could mean any deity, from the God of the Bible to Allah or even Zeus, and is therefore not prohibited by the Constitution’s non-establishment clause.  Sadly, over the years we have been at the mercy of a few Supreme Court justices who share in this misguided notion.

Who else, but certain Monotheistic sects, are so strangely squeamish about addressing their deity by name?  Who else, but the Christians and Jews, are so particular about using that word in the singular form, and capitalized, as if it were a proper name and not a title, which is carried by multitudes of other beings.

This ‘generic’ God is a farce.  Everyone knows which God is being spoken of.  To pretend otherwise reflects poorly on those making the claim, and the silent majority who would benefit from this fiction.

Still, there are those who will claim that because a singular sect of Christendom is not thusly enshrined as the state religion, that there is no ‘establishment’.  And how, I might ask them, does such a philosophy look from the outside, from the eyes of a Buddhist, a Pagan, or an Atheist?

The Christian Nation

“This nation was founded on christian principals and if you don’t agree with that, you don’t belong.”

This is just another instance of the ‘If you don’t like it, get out’ defense, which I have already dealt with recently here.

There are no Atheists in the Foxholes

The thinking here, is that anyone who does not believe in the Christian God, will, when under the threat of death, feel compelled to hedge their bets, just in case there IS a lake of fire awaiting them in the here-after.

The basic assumption being made by those who use this argument is that everyone is a coward at heart and that the Atheists (and others) are really just lying to themselves.

And this, in turn, brings us to the final category of arguments against changing the Oath of Service…,

They’re Just Words

“If you don’t believe, then the words have no meaning, so it’s no harm to say them.”

“It’s just words to them, they could say ‘so help me Scooby Doo’ and it would mean as much.”

It never ceases to amaze me how so called ‘people of faith’ can have so little understanding of what an oath really is.  How do you center your life around the writing in a book, and still have such low regard for the true power of the spoken word.

To swear an oath is to place the whole of ourselves, our reputation and standing, our very name and worth, behind the words which we utter.  It is not a thing to be done on a whim or by rote, and cannot be accompanied by falsehood.  If you cannot stand behind every word pronounced, they are, every one of them, worthless.

This is why I have always spoken out against having the words “Under God” within the Pledge of Allegiance.  To those who say I should just skip that section, I respond that I cannot, in good faith, just pretend that the offending words are not there.  How can I pledge my allegiance, when to do so would mean bowing to religious coercion?

I do not believe in your god and I will swear no oath to him.

And meanwhile, how many millions of school children begin their day with ‘the Pledge’.  They recite it by rote, most of them mumbling through words they don’t even understand, while themselves under the authority of a specific deity whom they were never given a voice in choosing.

Oh but they are “just words” I am told, again and again.

Is THAT what we want to teach our children, that words are only important if you mean them, that the promises we make are ‘just’ words and have no real power in and of themselves?

What if, instead, we taught them that their promises should be composed of ‘just words’, as in justifiable – words that we believe in our very hearts to be true, words that form the utmost foundation of ourselves, words with no hint of deceit or evasion?

They will learn that lesson best if they see that the words of their elders are those of truth and honor rather than equivocation and conformity.

Let our words be just and our oaths be true.

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The Difference We Make

Sometimes, it is hard to know how we can really make a difference in a world where everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, seems to be set against us.

Let me tell you a little story to illustrate my point.

ConstitutionBooklet

A few weeks ago I read a short news item mentioning that Steven Palazzo, a Congressmen from the state of Mississippi, had sent a Bible to every member of the United States Senate and House of Representatives.  A copy of the letter Rep. Palazzo included with the Bibles is included below…,

Palazzo Letter

“Please find a copy of the Holy Bible to help guide you in your decision making,” he says.

Well, my first thought was – can you imagine the uproar if he’d sent out copies of the Qur’an.

After I stopped laughing, it occurred to me that maybe everyone should send a copy of their favorite religious or philosophical text to their local members of Congress, to guide them in their decision making.

But the problem is, I don’t want our lawmakers to be guided by any religious text, not the Bhagavad Gītā, the Nine Noble Virtues of Ásatrú, the Analects of Confucius, and certainly not the Holy Bible  in any of its various translations.

When our elected representatives are considering policy decisions that will affect people of all religious persuasions, the only document that I want them to use as a guide is the Constitution of the United States of America, whose first Amendment reads…,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

And that’s when I had the idea.

I knew what I’d do to express my concerns to those in power over using the sacred text of one religion as a guide to governing people of many differing religions.  I would send every last one of them a copy of the Constitution, along with a handwritten letter explaining my concerns.

Moreover, I would encourage everyone who was concerned about this issue to do exactly the same thing.

If enough of us did that, even if we restricted our efforts to the Senators and Representatives in our own states, such an undertaking would have to be noticed.

The pragmatist within me cautioned that such an endeavor would be expensive, but a quick search found copies of the Constitution, complete with the all important Bill of Rights, available for just a little over a dollar a booklet.  I quickly ordered a handful and began making plans for my letter writing campaign.

This was going to be great!

Or maybe, it would just fizzle, but at least I would know that I’d made the effort.

A few days later the pamphlets arrived.  Looking through them, everything seemed to be in order, although there were a lot of quotes listed before the text of the Constitution itself, talking about the “Hand of Providence.”

“Hmmmm…,” I wondered, “who published this edition?”

According to the fine print it was ‘The National Center for Constitutional Studies’, which sounds innocuous enough.

There followed another brief internet search, which quickly revealed that the NCCS is a group of rabidly conservative Mormons who believe that the founding of the United States was a divine act, that the Constitution is based in Biblical principals and that the government will falter without religion (and not just any ol’ religion, mind you).

So in my desire to do good, I gave money to the enemy.

What’s worse, is the knowledge that they’ve turned the founding documents of our nation into a vehicle for their propaganda.  What good is the ‘freedom of speech’ when your opponents assume control the very words you would use to make your point?

On the surface, I suppose this seems like a small obstacle to a small protest.

And when I look at what has been going on in Furguson, Missouri…,

The hopelessness…,

The rage…,

Journalists Attacked

When we see members of the press arrested, tear gassed and shot at with rubber bullets by the men who are supposed to protect and to serve, but who choose instead to boldly trample upon that sacred 1st Amendment, how can we help but feel frustration and a certain amount of loss.

My own complaints seem so very small in comparison.

How can we ever hope to make a difference in the face of such terrible injustice?

Wouldn’t it be easier to just give up and let them have their way?

What is it they say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

…,

Wait, who said that, and why?

What if there ARE no small protests?

What if the the best thing that we can do is to hold true to our beliefs, and to remind those in positions of power that they were not placed there to serve either their own interests or the whims of a particular deity (or corporate master).  They are there to serve us and that the only guidance they need in this holy task, begin with those sacred words “We the people…,”.

If nothing else, let that be the difference we make.

Now then, I know I’ve got some postage stamps around here somewhere.

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The Right to Remain Silent

As we get increasingly closer to election day and conversations become more political, I hear more of my friends and acquaintances trying to opt out of these discussions.

“My vote doesn’t count,” they will say.

“There’s not really a difference between the candidates.”

“I’m not political.”

It does — there is — you should be!

“We believe in a nation under God, a nation indivisible, a nation united, a nation with justice and liberty for all. And for that to happen, we’re going to have to have a new president that will commit to getting America working again; that will commit to a strong military; that will commit to a nation under God that recognizes that we the American people were given our rights not by government, but by God himself.”

—Mitt Romney – campaign speech September 9th, 2012

I’m sure that’s all very moving to the more devout Christians in the crowd but does he truly believe that our rights come to us from the Christian god?

Certainly, many people seem to think so, but how do they support this assertion?

I have read their Bible but I’ve never noticed any list of enumerated rights or freedoms therein.  Certainly, they’ve got all the “Thou Shalt Not’s” spelled out pretty clearly.  Very big on telling people what they must and must not do, is the Hebrew god, but not so much with the rights and privileges.

Due Process?  Not in there.

Search and seizure?  Not a word.

Cruel and unusual punishment?  Well, actually the Bible is chock full of cruel and unusual punishments, usually dealt out to the “sinner” or the “unbeliever” which should give anyone from outside the Abrahamic religious tradition significant cause for concern regarding any alleged dispensation of rights from “on high”.

As much as certain folks would like you to believe it, this is NOT the way things happened.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

—Preamble – United States Constitution – 1787

“We the people … do ordain and establish.”  We have the power to make our own liberties without the providence of some jealous middle-eastern deity.  The vehicle through which we have established our rights is the rule of law as instituted by a democratically elected government which is concerned with the general welfare of it’s citizens.

So why should it matter if a man like Governor Romney thinks our rights are bestowed upon us by his particular flavor of deity?  After all, as Thomas Jefferson said, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

It matters, I think, because men like Governor Romney have an avowed opposition to secularism in governance.  In their eyes, the Pagans, Buddhists, Atheists and Muslims are to be “tolerated” by their fellow citizens in a display of Christian compassion while any loss in their own exalted status is viewed as an attack on the cultural heritage of the nation itself.

The next president will likely find himself appointing as many as two new members to the Supreme Court.  I, for one, do not want to see any more Justices who’s understanding and application of the law is that a sort of institutionalized Christianity was part of the framers original intent.

Our votes do matter!  And not just in the “big” elections.

This man, Paul Broun, is a medical doctor, a U.S. Representative for the State of Georgia and a member of the Congressional Committee on Science and Technology.  He also states openly that, “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

He also believes that the Earth is only 9,000 years old and was created in 6-days!

Let me be clear, I believe in the freedom of religion as guaranteed us in the Bill of Rights.  It is the first freedom that the founders chose to spell out and I think rightfully so, as it is, in many ways, the most important.

While Rep. Broun is free to believe whatever he wants, I have to wonder he really belongs on the Committee on Science and Technology when he obviously does not understand even the most basic precepts of scientific theory?

I don’t even know that I would want him as my doctor.

It is not that I think his beliefs make him ineligible for public office.  I simply don’t think that a man who tried to have 2010 proclaimed the “Year of the Bible” really grasps the idea behind the Non-Establishment Clause.  I can only imagine how his position in the House Committee on Science and Technology will affect the future of NASA, the EPA and the Department of Energy.

We, the people, have won for ourselves a great many rights.  Had these freedoms been granted to us by some all powerful god it is likely they would not be in such constant jeopardy.  Our brothers and sisters have fought in wars and marched through the streets to secure for us these liberties.  These are the core values of our nation which supersede any particular religious creed, even as they guarantee our freedom to believe as our conscious dictates.

The First Amendment to the Constitution enshrines not only Freedom of Religion but the Freedom of Speech.  The Vote is our most precious form of national speech and it is the linchpin of all the other rights we so often take for granted.

While we certainly have the right to remain silent, to do so assumes our assent in the continued erosion of our collective freedoms.  We abdicate our rights at our own peril.  Someday we may find that our silence is not so much a right as it is a mandate.

Our rights come from us.  Exercise them.

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Talking to an Empty Chair

I’d be surprised if even the most ardent avoider of American politics had not seen it by now.  It has quickly become the most watched clip from this years Republican National Convention.  It was the one moment out of three-days of flag-drenched hoopla that will be remembered in the years to come, when all the rest is forgotten.

I wish that I were speaking of some ground-breaking speech by the Republican nominee or his Vice-Presidential pick.  While not a Republican myself, I am a sucker for a good speech and would have loved to hear something new and inspiring from either of the them.

Alas, it was not to be.

Instead the moment which will, in the long run, encapsulate the 2012 RNC is the image of Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair.

Pssst…, Clint, there’s nobody there.

I’m certain that it was supposed to be funny.

Instead, I could feel only sadness while watching this once great hollywood icon stammering in his dotage at an imaginary opponent.  Please understand, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Eastwood.  I have a lot of admiration for the man as an actor and a particular nostalgic fondness for the old Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns in which he rose to fame.

I simply cannot get that image of him talking to an empty chair out of my mind.  It is, in many ways, the perfect metaphor to sum up what was really happening at the RNC last week.

During the course of the “skit”, Eastwood was supposed to be conversing with an invisible President Obama (represented by the chair).  Addressing the chair in what feels like a parody of his gruff “Dirty Harry” tone, he asks it a question and then, after a pause, shakes his head at an answer only he can hear.

Tucked in among a multitude of speeches that have the fact-checkers swamped, this bit of play-acting may actually have been the most honest moment in the entire convention.  Certainly, it’s the first time I have ever seen the tactic of putting words and motivations in your opponents mouth, depicted in such an blatantly visual format.

I understand that what we were supposed to see was a strong western icon verbally hammering the misguided opposition.  Instead, we glimpsed the internal struggle of a fractured party, grasping tightly to a largely antiquated set of beliefs and muttering incoherently to itself while the world moves on.

This alone would make for a sad commentary but the symbolism of the “empty chair” does not end there.

For a great many, the initials GOP stand not for ‘Grand Old Party’ but for ‘God’s Own Party’.  The importance of Evangelical Christianity and Dominionist Theology within the Republican base has become hard to ignore.  This is particularly so when all the major players are making a big show of their support for what can only be seen as a religious agenda put forward by groups such as the ‘Traditional Values Coalition’.

While the party line mouths a message of tolerance and diversity (especially important while pushing for the Mormon at the top of the ticket), the actual language being used at the podium and the party platform seems inclusive only if viewed from a fairly conservative Judeo/Christian perspective.  To anyone from outside that spiritual heritage, the “tolerance” and “diversity” they speak of sounds like so much empty lip-service just to garner a few more votes from those who will not bother to look beneath the words themselves.

More and more, the GOP claims to be working on behalf of the Christian God against a secular society.  Like Eastwood, they appear to take their cues from an Empty Chair.   Santorum and Perry, Bachmann and Huckabee, they reveal to us the answers to our national problems, as revealed to them by the Empty Chair.   Answers which no one else can actually hear, but which coincide nicely with what they wanted to hear in the first place.

When Paul Ryan says…,

Our different faiths come together in the same moral creed.  We believe that in every life there is goodness; for every person, there is hope.  Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the Lord of Life. –– Each of these great moral ideas is essential to democratic government, to the rule of law, to life in a humane and decent society.  They are the moral creed of our country, as powerful in our time, as on the day of America’s founding.  They are self-evident and unchanging, and sometimes, even presidents need reminding, that our rights come from nature and God, not from government.

He ignores the fact (along with many others) that for a great many of his would-be constituents, his God is not the only god or indeed even a god at all.  He ignores the Constitution, which he is sworn to protect, and it’s clear stipulation that there be no religious test to hold political office and that religious commandments do not constitute the laws of the land, which must work for all people and all beliefs equally.

For those who think that the willingness of the evangelicals to support a heretical Mormon and a papist Catholic on the presidential ticket is a sign of diversity and “big-tent” thinking, I would suggest a closer look at the rhetoric espoused by those men.

Neither man is fighting very hard for the tenants of their individual faith.  Instead they kowtow (by choice or political necessity) before their hard-line protestant masters within the party.  These men are Trojan Horses for an evangelical political movement, which is neither friendly with nor tolerant of, Mormons, Catholics, Atheists, Hindus, Pagans or any other group unwilling to toe their very specific line.

As hard as the candidates will try to focus the attention of the voters on the economy and their “trickle-down” plans for it’s revival, it is important that we not forget the stark social-conservative drumbeat which drives their efforts.

They would have us turn our backs on both the social progress of the last few decades and the constitutional promise of a free society based on the secular ideals of equity and freedom.

Ours is a society governed by laws written by the men and women whom we elect to represent us.  Whatever we may do as individuals, we will not be forced, as a people, to follow the dictates of any god.

Those who would compel us to do so will find themselves speaking to Empty Chairs.

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