Archive for the ‘1st Amendment’ category

Bake Me A Cake

August 14, 2017

Jack Phillips is a baker from Colorado who denied serving a gay couple who asked him, in his capacity as a bake shop owner, to bake them a wedding cake (as he would for anyone else). Mr. Phillips claimed his deeply held religious views, which see homosexuality as a sin, prevented him from serving the gay couple. Colorado Courts have held against Mr Phillips but never the less, Mr Phillips has (clearly with outside support) appealed his case to the Supreme Court. Hmmm.

In the political world, pandering is a high art form. Some on the Supreme Court have been searching for a case to strengthen the First Amendment’s religious freedom clause and may see Mr Phillip’s case as a way to make a statement. IMO, the Supreme Court is entering very dangerous waters, especially if they should uphold an individuals right to discriminate.

Will the Court decide that in the cases of the LGBT community, discrimination (denial of service based upon sexual orientation) is acceptable?

What about deeply held religious views on race, gender, or white supremacy?

No one is saying Mr Phillips or any other holder of deeply held religious views cannot believe them or cannot lead their own life based upon these views. What should be at stake is that in a secular society, no one, regardless of how strongly held their personal religious views might be, has the right to impose their personal views on anyone else.

Regrettably, with the Hobby Lobby decision, the Court has already erred and may find this case too tempting and will reverse the Colorado Courts decision.

I wonder how the Court would rule if Mr Phillips had denied service to, say a Catholic or Baptist or Muslim for similar reasons?

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Liberty, Freedom, And The American Way

July 26, 2017

Liberty and Freedom sound like words describing absolute states of being. “I cherish my liberty” or I am prepared to fight for my freedoms”. Listening to public rhetoric, one would think one either has liberty or one has not, one is either free or one is not. Hmmm.

In fact, these are not absolute words and far more resemble a relative state of being. Compared to an authoritarian State such as Russia, Americans have more “liberty”. Russia could be compared to an even more authoritarian State, such as North Korea, and in this light one could assert Russian citizens had more Liberty.

For the past few years many US conservatives have complained about “wanting their freedom back”, they sought “liberty from the oppression of the Federal Government”.

Incredible.

The object of this American’s anger seems to range from paying taxes, to limits on grazing animals on Federal land, to the price of healthcare, and the favorite old saw, “they” are going to take my guns away. In 2016, the dissatisfaction of many Americans combined with the “let me tell you what you want to hear” politicians to elect an unqualified and emotionally unfit President and backed him up with a special interest funded Congress. What could be more in the American Way.

PBS has run a special on life 50 years ago. The focus was the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco and the hippie community that blossomed that summer. Talk about liberty and freedom, the hippies were a case book example.

The video showed the wide spread use of marijuana, LSD, and other drugs, the open living arrangements, and the selfless sharing of food, clothing, and shelter which the hippies chose for themselves. And there was no shortage of non-hippies who felt their liberty threatened and their freedoms held hostage by people who wanted to make love, not war.

The American Way has often been a convenient euphemism for what’s right, and the proper way to accomplish things. Not surprisingly, “the American Way” also serves well to aid and abet those more interested in restricting liberties or constricting freedoms. In the name of preserving their own liberty or freedom, too many Americans feel free to constrict the liberty or freedom of others.

The “Bathroom Bills” (one now pending in Texas) is a good example. Requiring transexuals to use only the bathroom of their born gender is a cure for no problem and loss of liberty for a few. Allowing churches with deeply held views on birth control to deny workers in church affiliated businesses the same benefits other Americans receive from their non-religious employers is shameful, and is particularly repugnant when these religious organization claim protection of their religious liberties and freedoms. And, who, in the 21st century, can profess a thirst for liberty and freedom on one hand, and with the other, attempt to deny women their natural liberty on the use of their bodies and the freedom of the right to choose?

Clearly we still live in a country with much liberty and we enjoy many freedoms. Much of this liberty and freedom flows from a country which practices the rule of law and guards against any free speech trespasses.

In case one has not been paying attention, real restrictions on liberty and freedom could be just a “tweet” away.

Should I worry About My Freedom?

May 8, 2017

On National Prayer Day, President Trump signed an executive order instructing the IRS to use “maximum enforcement discretion” when considering a religious tax exempt organization status should the religious organization publicly support a political party or position. In typical Trumpian style, the President boasted of fulfilling another campaign promise. President Trump’s message was a sop to the religious right who complain that they should be able to participate in campaigns without losing their tax exempt status. Hmmm.

Trump’s executive order in effect instructs the IRS to not enforce laws and regulations. Strangely, while as a candidate, Mr Trump strongly criticized former President Obama for not deporting every undocumented alien after then President Obama used an executive order to prioritize deportation. This, of course, is hypocrisy of the most convenient type.

But is the religious freedom executive order a significant threat to my freedom?

Not really at this point. Rather, allowing tax exempt organizations to participate in political activity instead makes suckers out of everyone. The rest of us pay taxes and earn the right to vote. Why shouldn’t religious organizations pay taxes if they want to influence the vote?

A much greater threat emanates from the notion that religious organizations can openly participate in the secular world advocating policies consistent with their ideological or dogmatic views. Sharia law anyone?

Religious organization range from the large (like the Catholic Church) to the small (like evangelical one location mega churches) to the tiny (store front, 100 member or less churches). And in theory, the executive order should apply to any faith even though the same issuer of executive orders has attempted to exclude Muslims from the US. I wonder how much discretion the IRS will use on them?

All Americans are free to hold opinions and are encouraged to use the ballot box to express these opinions. If enough Americans agree, election results reflect these views. Fortunately, we also have laws, supported by the Constitution which drive secular behavior. So, a store cannot choose to sell a product or service to one person (say a white) and deny the same product or service to another (say a black). And no amount of reality stretching can construe religious freedom can encompass this type of discrimination.

Or does this Trump executive order portend discrimination on a wide range of “freedoms”.

Vice President Pence, then Indiana Governor, has past experience in supporting  “religious freedom” legislation. Indiana passed a law, under the cover of respecting “deeply held religious views” of those good Indianians who reject same sex marriage. Had not the sports world promised to abandon Indianapolis financially, Pence was prepared to sign the law.

Religious organizations are just that. They are organization which market a set of beliefs to the public (and collect money from believers. Many, but not all, religious organization peddle dogma which limit or takes away freedom from others in the name of a “deeply held religious view”. Reproductive health, same sex marriage, gender identity, alcohol and caffeine, immunizations, and blood transfusions are a few bans that certain religion would make into restrictive law if they could.

Since no one is required to use contraceptives or have an abortion, or to marry someone of their same sex, or drink alcohol and coffee, or accept immunizations (except in public health situations) or receive a blood transfusion (even in life saving events), religions are better served to sell their beliefs to their members and leave everyone else alone.

Allowing one religion to foster its unique views in an attempt to influence the ballot box is a threat to my freedoms, not to mention a violation of the Constitution.

Religious Freedom

April 22, 2017

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, there is an article on Leonard Leo. Mr Leo is not a household name although maybe he should be. Mr Leo’s most recent claim to fame is his successful “shepherding” of Judge Neil Gorsuch through the Senate approval process. Mr. Leo, however, is not one to thirst for the spot light, preferring instead to operate at the periphery of public discussion.

And operate Mr. Leo does.

As the Executive Director of the Federalist Society, Mr Leo has spearheaded conservative interests in most matters of government but with a clear focus upon the courts, especially the Supreme Court. As an “originalist”, Mr Leo supports Constitutional interpretations which purport to represent the “founding fathers” views. Hmmm.

The Federalists speak, not for wild and crazy people, but for reasoned, conservative, traditionalists. Within these ranks, however, hide moneyed interests who see “originalist” views as conducive to their personal business and financial well being. Nothing like the braggadocio associated with a high minded principle which conveniently puts money in your pocket too.

From the New Yorker article, Mr Leo’s hands appear clean although someone must be paying his lawyering bills. Rather Mr. Leo is presented as a congenial, non-confrontational person who seeks and befriends up and coming conservative legal minds. The article claim Mr. Leo was a close friend of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

So where is this post going?

Mr. Leo is also a conservative Catholic who is strongly pro-life. Mr. Leo was an early supporter of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, both pro-life advocates. The prospect of over turning Roe v Wade (long established law) suddenly does not seem that impossible.

Mr. Leo says that the Constitution was silent over specific rights to abortion and therefore to his reasoning, the US Supreme Court has no rightful place making a woman’s right to an abortion the law of the land.

At this point, one could argue contrarily that in fact the freedoms expressed in the Constitution as well as the Amendments recognize the rights of a woman to make her own reproductive decisions.

Within the thought, why not point out what seems even more obvious. The first Amendment speaks to “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, and that should be enough.

Mr. Leo, Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Alito are more than free to hold sincere “pro-life” religious beliefs. They are all free to practice such views in their own lives but the Constitution does not provide them the right to foist their personal religious views on anyone else. (Admittedly, someone who is against all forms of life ending acts, including the death penalty, wars, and suicides has a moral argument which rises above religion dogma but in the end, addresses only their own behavior.

Justice Kennedy is thought to be the deciding Justice should the current John Roberts Court consider another Roe v Wade challenge. If Justice Kennedy should decide to retire while a Republican President is in office, another Gorsuch/Alito/Roberts Justice is almost assured. In such a situation, the true color of these jurists will be seen.

Will these Jurists over turn Roe v Wade in favor of States self determination, or will they become religious zealots and side with some future Congressional law which outlaws all abortions and denies States the right to decide?

The irony of this Roe v Wade debate is that the real “federalists” were extremely concerned about the excesses of organized religion. The closest most of the founding fathers came to religion was some recognition of a higher spirit. Consequently, if the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v Wade, we should recognize the “originalist” principle is purely a crutch designed to deny some Americans individual freedom.

Pandering To “Deeply” Held Religious Views

April 16, 2016

The Constitution’s first amendment guarantees that Government will not restrict expression of religion. But what is included in this presumed freedom? Can mothers prevent their children from being vaccinated to guard against a communicable disease if their brand of religion believes god will safe guard their child? Or, what if ones religion rules out blood transfusions? Could an individual refuse a transfusion? Could that individual refuse a life saving transfusion for his spouse or child? Hmmm.

Many religion are associated with certain wearing apparel. In America, there is fairly wide acceptance or probably better daid, an indifference) to religious dress such as Jewish Kippah, Muslim Hijab, or Amish traditional dress. And underlying this acceptance (or indifference) is that no one else is forced to wear these items.

The operating principle over the years has been religious freedom means that an individual can believe what they want providing their beliefs do not hurt others.

The secular world is another place altogether. Here is where the economy and daily living takes place. One would nowadays never expect to see a door at Walmart which said “Christians Entrance”, or another which said “Blacks Only”. Over the years, secular laws have evolved to provide a commercial world open to all.

The rub arises when religious worlds cross paths with the secular world. Christians normally have religious services on Sunday while Jews hold services Friday evening. In the recent past, there existed a set of laws restricting commercial activity on Sundays. These so-called “blue laws” attempted to discourage most commercial activity on Sundays.

Today there are no laws requiring a commercial establishment to operate on Sunday but more importantantly there are no laws preventing them from being open. Commercial businesses, even those associated with specific religious groups have a choice. No one is required to shop on Sunday and no business is required to be open.

Now a new conflict has arisen testing freedom of religion.

Over the past few years as the Country’s social conscience has evolved to where a majority of Americans accept the LBGT community and recognize same sex marriage.Unfortunately many religious organizations have brought forward objections under the headline, homosexuality, changing gender identity, and same sex marriage violate “deeply held religious views”.

While the law of the land might be that same sex marriage is legal in all 50 States, certain individuals holding “deeply held religious views” believe they possess a right (from the first amendment) to withhold service (during their work) from those who are in some way in violation of their “deeply held religious views”.

There is a cartoon circulating which shows a number of grocery store check-out lanes. In the first lane, the employee tells the customer that due to his “deeply held catholic beliefs” the condoms the customers wishes to purchase must be taken to another lane. In the next lane, a Muslim tells the customer that due to his “deeply held religious beliefs” he can not ring up the bacon and that the customer must take the product to another lane. Sound ridiculous?

Consider then the recent move by some Republican majority States to pass laws nibble away at rulings by the Supreme Court.  These individual instances are not isolated but reflect a broader effort by evangelical and fundamentalist religious groups to have it both ways. They want freedom of religion and they want the right to take certain freedoms from others. Hmmm.

These religious groups want the right to deny service to others whose life style they deem an offense to their “deeply held religious beliefs”. As private organizations, one might understand rules excluding others who can not meet religious tests but when members of these religious organizations are working in the public sector, this seems way over the line. What ever happened to “love thy neighbor as thy self”?

As disappointing as these religious groups behavior, even more disappointing, yet not that surprising, are the political leaders who are pandering to these evangelicals and fundamentalists.

So it should be no surprise that States like Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama have all proposed or implemented State laws which in some way attempt to “guarantee” religious freedom and protect individuals who discriminate from civil suits…  anyone, that is, who withholds services due to “deeply held religious views”.

For these religious groups, it takes very small people to think and act in a mean and discriminatory way.

For these political officials, the bar is even lower. Politicians only seek enough votes to remain in power while feeding off the public trough.  Votes are just votes.  Et tu Ted Cruz.

Playing With Dynamite – The Religious Exemption

October 17, 2015

The Sisters of the Poor and number of public servants like Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis claim their religious beliefs are protected by the Constitution and consequently they should be able to ignore any laws they feel violate their religious beliefs.  Hmmm.

The “good” Sisters don’t want to provide birth control measures, as required by the Affordable Care Act, to employees regardless of the employees’ religious affiliation or desires. Kim Davis refuses to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples despite knowing when she ran for office that it would be her duty to do so if elected.

The Sisters and Davis feel their strongly held religious beliefs trump a secular government’s laws. Hmmm.

The death of a young man in New Hartford, New York again brings this claim forward. A deeply religious family took part in an “intervention” at their local church. The intervention’s object were two sons of a church member and physical action seemed necessary. Unfortunately, things went terribly wrong.

Church members pummeled both boys and one suffered fatal injuries. The “spiritual counseling” apparently had gone wrong.

No one can question that these were highly religious people but should there be any question that religious beliefs allow beatings at all and certainly not those which result in death.

You would think it should be clear that religious freedom means one is free to hold a set of beliefs, but the beliefs are clearly limited to each individual and do not apply to others. If ones beliefs do not include birth control practices, then these believers do not need to use birth control, nor similarly should they be forced to marry others of the same sex if that is their belief.

And for sure in the age of modernity, a person’s love of their god and her perceived commandments, should not feel authorized to take another’s life in the name of these beliefs.

Dignity, Hmmm

June 27, 2015

The Supreme Court announced yesterday a 5-4 decision allowing same sex marriages in all 50 States. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the decision was about “dignity”. Hmmm.

The Court’s hard core opposition, Allito, Thomas, and Scallia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts tried to hide their religiously grounded views by claiming that no where in the Constitution is their guidance on what constitutes marriage. Alliot wondered whether the Country had now entered a slippery slope where religious views would be exiled to the privacy of ones home. Hmmm (where else should they be?).

To the extent that marriage is never mentioned in the Constitution, the minority is correct that the Federal Government has no Constitutional right to define “marriage”. The Constitution does have a 14th Amendment, however, which provides due process and equal protection under the law to all citizens. Herein lies the clue of why the minority got it wrong.

In the past the Court has heard arguments that marriage between a black and a white were, based upon Biblical interpretations, improper and should be banned “if States so chose”. This supposed religious insight is also not mentioned in the Constitution but is inferred, according to supporters of these views, in the first Amendment’s “freedom of religion” words. These religious crusaders are sure the Constitution supports their scientifically unsupported views. In Loving v Virginia, the Court decided interracial marriage was Constitutional.

Religious groups, particular well organized ones, have traditionally used various techniques to assure followers that “god was on their side”. This reassurance made followers a little more committed (especially in donating money to the cause). And, throughout history, no better technique to bind a group together has been than define an enemy or groups who were “not like them”.

Race is the easiest because you can see it. Other religious groups sometimes are easy too especially if they chose dress that differentiates. But right in there has also be sexual orientation. “Those people are different”.

With the Supreme Court decision a large number of Conservative religious groups are openly worried. These groups have long held that they could deny employment or withhold services from certain groups their religion did not accept. They claimed this was a matter of conscience. Now they fear will be required to treat LGBTs as if they were “regular people”. These groups are speaking out that the 14th Amendment is now trumping the 1st. Hmmm.

Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion honed in on “dignity” as the theme. Dignity stemming from the Constitution’s preamble and flowing though to both partners and any children they might have. In essence, Kennedy’a argument was marriage “was the right thing to do”.

The Court’s decision may also become to be seen as the right balancing of the 1st and 14th amendments.

Secularists read the first Amendment literally. There should be no State religion and all religious traditions should be welcome… providing that none interfere with anyone else’s pursuit of happiness (under the law).

So, if any church wishes to bless the marriage of only heterosexual couples, then that is their right. The church is a private organization and it has the prerogative to establish its own rules… providing these rules do not prevent same sex couples from also getting married (someplace else) and enjoying the same State/Government provided legal benefits.

An Oklahoma religious university has spoken out quite elegantly about its fear of losing tax exemption because of its long standing policy of not employing gays. In a radio interview, the University President said they had nothing against gays but their policies had long denied employment. Now the University was worried it would be forced to close because it would not change.

This quandary raises further legal questions. Should this tax exempt University be required to admit and treat as equal members of the LGBT community despite past practices? Should this University be prevented from firing an employee if that employee chooses to take on a same sex partner?

Both of these questions would be easy to decide if the only issue was “dignity”. But they seem to fall in that gray area of religious expression that does not create great harm for those denied admission or employment. On the other hand, tell me again why they should receive an tax advantages?

The Supreme Court’s dignity argument is certain well based. Church-State matters will eventually lead Americans to realize that due process is not opposed to the first Amendment, rather it helps define the limits of irrational beliefs. Religious groups can certainly continue to believe what they want about LBGT members, and as private organizations can serve whomever they please. In the greater secular United States, however, the negative reach of certain religions and religious beliefs has limits.

It is a shame that Anthony Kennedy did not have this revelation during the Hobby Lobby deliberations.