Archive for the ‘Constitutional protections (US)’ Category

Freedom From Religion Foundation Runs Full-Page July 4th Ad in Major Newspapers: “Celebrate Our Godless Constitution”

July 5, 2013

FFRF_GodlessConst_NYT_11x21

Excerpt from “FFRF’s July 4 ad counters Hobby Lobby disinformation,” 7/1/13. 

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is running a full-page ad celebrating “our GODLESS Constitution” in a number of U.S. dailies on July 4. FFRF, a state/church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., serves as the nation’s largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics).

The ad is a direct response to a series of July 4 ads sponsored annually by Hobby Lobby since 2008, which shamelessly promote the myth that the United States was founded on God and Christianity. The large craft store chain’s ads of disinformation appear ti run in hundreds of dailies. Although FFRF can’t compete with Hobby Lobby by running ads in virtually every daily, it is undertaking the single most expensive ad campaign in its history to counter the Religious Right message.

The ads quote U.S. Founders and Framers on their strong views against religion in government, and often critical views on religion in general. The ad features two revolutionaries and Deists, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, and the first four presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

The ad documents that not only is the U.S. Constitution godless, but that there was no prayer during the Constitutional Convention, and that the Constitution’s primary architect, Madison, came to oppose government days of prayer, congressional chaplaincies and even “three pence” of tax dollars used in support of religion. The ad includes a website link that not only documents the quotations, but takes the reader to the original script in most cases!

Click here to continue reading and to view the full-sized ad.

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Legal Precedents That SCOTUS May Consider in U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.

March 20, 2013

SCOTUS building

As promised in my last post, here is a list of several Supreme Court decisions that may have some bearing on the two cases that the Court will begin hearing next week (March 26): U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. This list is culled from Robert R. Reilly’s article (reviewed below) and from Paul McGuire’s response.

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965): Invalidated a law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives to married individuals.

Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972): Invalidated a law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives to unmarried individuals.

Boddie v. Connecticut (1971): Prohibited fee barriers to divorce—barriers that might seem desirable if the right to marry were tied to the state’s interest in responsible marital procreation.

Roe v. Wade (1973): The right to privacy encompasses a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

Carey v. Population Services International (1977): Held that it was unconstitutional to prohibit the sale of contraceptives to minors, the advertisements or displays of contraceptives, and the sale of contraceptives to adults except through a pharmacist. (Wikipedia)

Zablocki v. Redhail (1978): Residents will child support obligations may marry. (The right to marry is separate from procreation, childbirth, child rearing, and family relationships.)

Turner v. Safely (1987): Incarcerated prisoners, even those with no right to conjugal visits, may marry.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003): Overturned Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which had declared Alabama’s law against sodomy constitutional.

Joseph Backholm’s Greatest Fear

June 17, 2012

Joseph Backholm of Preserve Marriage Washington

Like many other GLBTs who follow the debates on same-sex marriage (SSM), I’ve often suspected that the professional marriage traditionalists are not leveling with us about what really drives their concerns. Nor do they necessarily understand their deeper motivations. We know that anti-SSM organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC) and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) constantly hone their messages and field-test their talking points. It’s for their opponents to guess which of these talking points are still in testing stage, how vulnerable they may be, and how firm a grip the spokespersons have on them.

In February of this year, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill approving same-sex marriage. Earlier this month, opponents of the bill submitted enough petition signatures to challenge the legislature’s decision by public referendum on the November ballot. The referendum’s sponsor is Preserve Marriage Washington (PMW), headed by Joseph Backholm.

In a June 6 live-chat organized by the Seattle Times, Backholm made a curious claim about the “true” motivations of the marriage equality movement. But in so doing, he revealed one of the deepest concerns of his own movement. Here are his words:

Ultimately this movement is not about marriage. Does anyone really think [GLBT] lobbying efforts will shut down if same-sex marriage becomes law in Washington? I think the goal of the movement is to eradicate from the public sector any notion of the idea that there is a difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. That is why, whether they go to a photographer, an adoption agency, a courthouse, a doctor’s office, or a counselor’s office, they want to make sure they will never encounter someone who feels free to express their belief that there is a difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality. If that is the goal, it can only be accomplished with a significant reduction in freedom for a huge percentage of the population. [italics mine]

Backholm would have us believe the marriage equality movement is part of a sinister stealth strategy aimed at eradicating the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality—a difference that he believes to be so important that he alludes to it twice in this short statement, using almost the identical words each time. The GLBT movement, in his view, hopes to enlist state power in an effort to suppress all recognition of that difference. Woo-woo!

Oedipus

Anyone who has studied anthropology or social psychology knows that fears of indifferentiation run deep in human societies: social order is based on difference, and any blurring of distinctions—e.g., between male and female, sacred and profane, mother and lover, god and mortal—threatens that order and will almost surely produce minotaurs and cause violators to pluck out their eyes. (See image.) Taboos exist to preserve difference and hierarchical structure, and we moderns are as much in thrall to them as were our early ancestors.

What we need to understand about taboos is that some are conducive to survival—e.g., the taboo against careless handling of blood and feces—while others are purely contingent—e.g., the Mosaic prohibition against eating shellfish. But not everyone does understand this, and Backholm is playing to our ignorance and our fears. If effective use of highly emotive words were our only measure of merit in this debate, then Backholm should be congratulated for homing in on that single word, “difference.” But it is not. Truth claims are still important to some of us and should be carefully scrutinized.

His statement goes off into the weeds on three tangents:

First tangent: The implicit “stealth” claim. There’s nothing stealthy about the GLBT rights movement. Its goals have been fully articulated by legislative leaders (e.g., Senator Ed Murray, D-WA), public intellectuals (e.g., Michelangelo Signorile, Andrew Sullivan), and professional rights advocates (e.g., Evan Wolfson). Put simply, our goals are full equality under the law and an end to state-sanctioned discrimination. Marriage equality represents a giant step toward these goals.

Second tangent: The claim regarding state suppression of ideas, or “notions.” No one holds that traditionalist views about homosexuality or marriage must be suppressed by law. That would be not just undesirable, but impossible. Our hope is to garner popular support for legislation and judicial decisions that will put an end to discrimination. Our goal is to change not only laws but also hearts and minds. That said, many or most of us believe that our constitutional right to equal protection under the law should never be put to a popular vote. In a constitutional democracy such as ours, majorities may not vote to deprive minorities of their rights.

Third tangent: The “reductions in freedom” claim. Backholm’s dire warning to his supporters that they will ultimately lose their freedoms if GLBT activists accomplish their goals is only partly true. No one can deprive Americans of their freedom to believe or profess whatever they like, but our courts have repeatedly placed limits on religious practices for over 150 years. For example, federal and state statutes prohibiting gender or racial discrimination do not typically exempt discriminatory practices motivated by religious belief, except in core religious institutions (churches, synagogues, etc.). Thus, the Catholic church may refuse to ordain women as priests, but a private hospital may not refuse to treat African-Americans, even if it owned by a religious denomination that holds segregation to be part of God’s plan (as Mormons and Southern Baptists once did). So yes, we would like legal protection from discrimination, and this means that some people will lose their “freedom” to discriminate.

So that’s the part of Backholm’s “warning” that is true. What is not true about it is the presumption that GLBTs are united against the “notion” of difference in sexual orientation. This is just frothy nonsense, and he knows it. If he insists on making this preposterous claim, he should be required to offer evidence.

No one wants to “eradicate all differences.” What we would like to see eradicated are differences in treatment and opportunity. This is what true equality means: not that we are identical to one another in every respect, but that each one of us has equal access to opportunities and a fair chance to succeed. Backholm is both bright and well-educated, and there can be little doubt that he is aware of this critical distinction.

Backholm is deliberately vague about this word “difference” and dares not unpack his own rhetoric because it comes so dangerously close to the truth. The talk about loss of freedom to express beliefs about “difference” is code that many in Backholm’s movement are capable of deciphering. The ones who cannot decipher it will take it at face value, which is also fine for Backholm’s purposes. How much of all this he actually understands at a conscious level is anyone’s guess.

So what is the real fear?

It is the same fear that Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage has expressed so often in the latest phase of her propaganda efforts.

It is the fear of the huge shift that is happening in public opinion about homosexuality. That is no small thing to fear, and we must never underestimate its power to motivate resistance to change. Growing acceptance of gays and lesbians has been steadily destabilizing moral discourse around two issues that are always in some sense front-and-center in our psyches and our social interactions: sexuality and gender. What used to be wrong is now right, what was shameful is now a source of pride, and what used to be unspeakable is now considered respectable. As old taboos lose their potency, new ones surface to replace them: anti-gay rhetoric is now more often associated with religious bigotry than with righteousness or respectability, and our movement’s anti-discrimination victories—patchy and uncertain as they are—have radically unsettled the cultural assumptions of millions of Americans.

It’s not pleasant to tell a joke, only to be told it is in poor taste.

It is not pleasant to rant about gays and lesbians, only to realize everyone thinks you are a fool.

It is not pleasant to quote Bible verses condemning homosexuality, only to be reminded that others in your company don’t really give a damn what the Bible says.

It is not pleasant to realize that your nephews and nieces consider your anti-gay views a sign that you are now old and out-of-touch.

It is not pleasant to be stigmatized.

The Civil Rights era was an exceptionally stressful time for many white Americans. The old taboos were being replaced by new ones—their opposites. Where mixing of the races was once taboo, now segregating them was taboo. The familiar polarities of insider/outsider, hateful/good, and right/wrong were reversed in a relatively short period of time, and a whole generation of racists were morally marginalized.

Marginalization looks to be Joseph Backholm’s greatest fear.

 What can Backholm and his supporters do to stay in the mainstream? Here’s one idea.

The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom

June 15, 2012

Peter Singer

by Peter Singer / Project Syndicate, June 11, 2012

Excerpt:

The Obama administration’s requirement to provide health insurance that covers contraception does not prevent Catholics from practicing their religion. Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals and universities. (The government already exempts parishes and dioceses, thereby drawing a distinction between institutions that are central to the freedom to practice one’s religion and those that are peripheral to it.)

Of course, the Catholic Church would be understandably reluctant to give up its extensive networks of hospitals and universities. My guess is that, before doing so, they would come to see the provision of health-insurance coverage for contraception as compatible with their religious teachings. But, if the Church made the opposite decision, and handed over its hospitals and universities to bodies that were willing to provide the coverage, Catholics would still be free to worship and follow their religion’s teachings.

Read the entire article here.

“A Constitutional Canard for Those Who Oppose Contraception”

June 8, 2012

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum is touting an article by George Wesolek in Catholic San Francisco, June 6, 2012, entitled “On Religious Liberty and a Confused Media.” The article begins,

Is it that the media doesn’t understand the issue of religious liberty and the Catholic Church, or do they refuse to report it for reasons of their own?

When the U.S. Health and Human Services mandate was promulgated by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius early this year, it forced Catholic institutions – in social services, health care and education – to offer all employees, free of charge, contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. These services are considered immoral by the church and so, naturally, the U.S. bishops objected and asked for a conscience exemption. Conscience objections have been given over the years in the interplay between state and church over a variety of issues and were considered commonplace.

But this case was different. Hidden away in the multitude of regulations accompanying the mandate was a new definition of what was to be considered “religious activity.” This new definition limited “religious activity” to houses of worship and its congregants. An exemption, therefore, would be given only to a religious entity that serves and teaches its own faithful. Serving others not of our faith, as do our social services, health care and education, does not qualify as a “religious activity.”

In essence, this new definition redefines what it is to be Catholic.

My response to Gil Bailie:

Wesolek’s position is facially nonsensical, and I cannot believe anyone is buying it. Or, rather, yes I can, because a lot of folks on the right have been imbibing the “Kool-Aid” ladled out by Paul Ryan and the anti-contraception crowd.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia concluded many years ago that religious organizations could never have absolute freedom to do as they choose. “It would be courting anarchy,” he wrote, to let a few do what is illegal for everyone else.

Here is the opinion he wrote for a majority decision in 1990: “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law … On the contrary, the record of more than a century of free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.”

In that opinion, Scalia cited the Reynolds case from 1879, which held that “Laws … cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may [interfere] with practices … Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious beliefs superior to the law of the land.”

Get that: Believe what you like, but don’t expect to do everything your beliefs require of you. A very sound principle, indeed.

Honestly ask yourself how you would react if other religions—Sikhs, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Mormons—were demanding the measure of religious freedom that the Catholic hierarchy wants for the Church.

For at least the past 133 years, U.S. courts have been requiring individuals to transgress their religious beliefs by getting vaccinations, paying minimum wage, paying into Social Security, serving in the military, settling for monogamous over polygamous marriages, not wearing yarmulkes in the military, not carrying swords into class (Sikh men are required to carry them at all times), not ingesting peyote, and a host of other concessions.

Why Jehovah’s Witnesses are still allowed to withhold medical treatment from their sick children, I don’t know, but I assume you would probably support their right to practice their faith, whatever the cost?

And you would also support Quakers who want to withhold tax payments because they object to war?

From “Justice Scalia and Religious Freedom,” by Mark Mellman in The Hill, 2/21/12:

The courts have [required religious groups and individuals to violate the tenets of their faith] because, in former Chief Justice Warren Burger’s words, “The state may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest.” Burger’s definition of “overriding government interest” included programs that were national in scope and served a positive public purpose — and by any standard, the government has an interest in ensuring that women receive preventive healthcare services.

He concludes, “The religious freedom argument is nothing more than a constitutional canard for those who oppose contraception.”

Is Religion Losing Its Voice in the Public Square?

June 5, 2012

The never-ending tug-o’-war between secularists and the religious right over religious freedom has heated up over the past six months as a result of certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Under the ACA, religious institutions such as hospitals and universities—but not churches—would be required to include contraception in health insurance plans offered to employees and students. The Catholic Church has been particularly outraged over this requirement and is trying to mobilize the faithful in a propaganda campaign that would depict the church as a victim of government oppression. The two principal claims circulating on Catholic websites are that (1) the ACA’s contraception provisions are an assault on religious freedom, and (2) religion is being systematically pushed out of the public square. We are told that the U.S. is, under the Obama administration, drifting perilously close to a totalitarianism of the left.

Pope Benedict XVI, the ultimate authority on all such matters (NOT!), has been quoted in an effort to bolster these claims:

Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear on public life has negative consequences for true development. The exclusion of religion from the public square—and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism—hinders an encounter between persons and their collaboration for the progress of humanity. Public life is sapped of its motivation, and politics takes on a domineering and aggressive character. Human rights risk being ignored either because they are robbed of their transcendent foundation or because personal freedom is not acknowledged. Secularism and fundamentalism exclude the possibility of fruitful dialogue and effective cooperation between reason and faith.
—Pope Benedict XVI, from his encyclical, “Charity in Truth” (Caritas in Veritate)

The ability to avoid specifics is probably an unavoidable part of a pope’s job description. Nevertheless, inquiring minds like to inquire.

Where Pope Benedict refers to the “exclusion of religion from the public square,” I assume he is thinking of secular totalitarian regimes like that of Stalinist Russia. And by “religious fundamentalism,” he is probably thinking of their opposite–Islamic theocracies of the Middle East.

Strong currents are in fact pulling the U.S. toward theocratic totalitarianism. Christian Dominionism and Reconstructionism have become a potent influence in virtually all Christian fundamentalist churches. The First Amendment’s establishment clause is under constant attack from the right.

There is no danger that religion will be forced out of the public square in this country. Only one congressperson (out of 535) does not profess religious belief, and the others profess it loudly and often. Thousands upon thousands of religious radio stations, TV programs, blog sites, websites, and periodicals promulgate religious views. Even non-sectarian daily newspapers regularly  feature a “religion” column. (When was the last time you saw a “secularism” column?) The GOP presidential candidates would not shut up about God, some of them even claiming that He had personally “called” them to seek the presidency. G.W. Bush’s faith-based initiative, expanded under President Obama, funnels millions of dollars of public funds into religious institutions.

Religion should never be excluded from the public square, but neither should religious beliefs be offered as the sole justification for public policy. Competing justifications—those based on reason and a careful balancing of costs and benefits—need to be heard as well.

Catholic Hierarchy Lobbies to Suppress Religious Freedom

May 28, 2012

Away Point / by Valerie Tarico

What do Koch Industries and the Catholic hierarchy have in common? A determination to shift rights away from individuals and assign them to institutions.

Since the founding of the United States our ancestors have wrestled with the question of who counts.  Who gets the rights and dignity that define the promise of America? For two hundred years generations of Americans have fought to bring the rights of personhood and citizenship to those who had been excluded:  the landless poor, religious minorities, Blacks, First Nations, women, gays.  But always, as we have expanded those rights it has been with the goal of giving greater dignity and self-determination to individuals.

Continue reading this article.

A Response to Thomas Sowell’s “Occupy and the Moral Infrastructure”

May 9, 2012

Thomas Sowell, writing for The National Review Online, claims the Obama administration has granted the Occupy movement immunity from the law and opened the gates to anarchy, barbarism, and civilizational collapse.

Read his article here.

My response:

Sowell, addressing The National Review Online‘s overwhelmingly Christian readership, complains that educators “indoctrinate their students with ‘non-judgmental’ attitudes.” I wonder if he is equally disappointed with the teachings of Jesus regarding judgment. (“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”) Or maybe there is a distinction that I am missing here. If he is correct about the Academy’s indoctrination of the young in non-judgmental attitudes, then maybe there is some hope after all.

Sowell claims the Fourteenth Amendment (guaranteeing equal protection to all citizens) has been “suspended”, or even “repealed” by authorities unwilling to “clamp down” on the Occupy movement. I would just point out that the 14th Amendment has been neither suspended nor repealed and, in any case, a repeal would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate. I would also point out that authorities have not stood idly by when anyone’s safety was at risk.

Sowell doesn’t mention the First Amendment, which provides for “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” What does he think it is, chopped liver?

Sowell makes no distinction between peaceful and non-peaceful protest. Fortunately, many or most municipal governments have tried to maintain a balance between their sworn duty to protect citizens and the rights of citizens to protest. Closing down the entire Occupy movement as a response to the excesses of certain individuals would be like closing down the anti-abortion movement over an occasional shooting. Notice no shootings have yet occurred in the Occupy protests.

Sowell claims the Occupy movement’s aim is mob rule. This is patently untrue, and Sowell needs more than a broken plate-glass window in San Francisco to make his case. Not even the Occupy movement is certain of its aims.

Sowell thinks concentrated applications of pepper-spray are appropriate for dispersing students sitting on the ground with their arms interlocked. I think he should try getting doused with pepper-spray before recommending its use on seated protesters.

Sowell frames these events as a struggle between anarchy (barbarism, even!) and law and order. No shades of grey here. No nuance. But why should we expect nuance from The National Review? I imagine President Bashar al-Assad of Syria would take heart that some Americans see things the way he does.