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“Faith Ought Not Pine For The Old Days”: Thankfully, Faith Of Force And Exclusion Is Not The Only Faith There Is

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.” — The Beatles

“Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.” — Fleetwood Mac

On Sunday, people all over the world will commemorate the morning an itinerant rabbi, falsely convicted and cruelly executed, stood up and walked out of his own tomb. It is the foundation act for the world’s largest faith, a touchstone of hope for over 2 billion people.

But that faith has, in turn, been a source of ongoing friction between those adherents who feel it compels them to redeem tomorrow and those who feel it obligates them to restore yesterday. Last week, the latter made headlines — again.

In Arizona, a state senator suggested a law making church mandatory as a way of arresting what she sees as America’s moral decline. When controversy erupted, Sylvia Allen said she couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.

In Indiana, meantime, the governor signed a law protecting businesses from anything that might infringe upon their “free exercise of religion.” In other words, it protects their right to discriminate against gay people. When controversy erupted, Governor Mike Pence claimed this interpretation of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” misreads its intent.

The senator’s ignorance and the governor’s disingenuousness offer stark illustration of what too often these days masquerades as faith.

Allen, like the Taliban before her, seems to believe faith is something you can coerce. Unfortunately for her, that’s expressly forbidden in the first words of the First Amendment to the Constitution that her oath of office requires her to support. She might want to read it sometime.

As to Pence, his claim that the law is being misread is undercut by the fact that it is being celebrated by anti-gay lobbyists. He has contended the RFRA is as innocuous as similar laws passed by other states and the federal government, a claim sharply disputed by law professor Garrett Epps, writing online for The Atlantic, who notes there is language unique to Indiana’s law that seems designed to let businesses refuse service to gay people.

But the most damning witness against Pence has been Pence himself. Five times last Sunday, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked him a simple yes or no question: Does the law permit discrimination against gay people? Five times, he refused to answer. By Tuesday, Pence was promising to “fix” the miserable thing. Stay tuned to see what that will mean.

Taken together, Allen and Pence exemplify a “faith” that has become all too common, a U-turn faith that seeks to return America to a mythic yesterday. Pence’s law would effectively allow businesses to give gay people the kind of mistreatment that was common 40 years ago, while Allen explicitly says she wants to go back to the way things were when she was a child. For the record: Allen turns 68 this week, according to Wikipedia.

And so it goes with this faith of force and exclusion. Thank God it’s not the only faith there is. Indeed, in the same week Allen and Pence were making fools of themselves, a pastor in Miami was pushing for socially conscious redevelopment of a blighted inner-city community, a church in Los Angeles was hosting a panel on police-involved shootings, and a preacher near Washington was recruiting men to mow lawns, clean up trash-strewn lots and mentor troubled boys.

This is the faith of sacrifice and service. Unlike the faith of force and exclusion, it gets no headlines, generates no heat. It just is.

But one is thankful it is. One is glad for its example and reminder.

This week, Christians mark the long ago dawn when the Son rose. But if that faith means anything, it means the ability and imperative to face what is without fear. So faith ought not pine for the old days.

After all, dawn is the breaking of the new.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 1, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | Faith, Mike Pence, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Georgia Bill Helps Wife Beaters”: “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” Is Among The Worst In The Nation

Georgia is poised to pass the nation’s harshest “religious freedom” law, allowing discrimination, judicial obstruction, and even domestic violence. Yet while the bill is far worse than Arizona’s notorious “Turn the Gays Away” bill, it’s attracted far less attention from national advocacy groups and businesses.

The bill, the “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” is one of a raft of similar bills (RFRAs, for short) wending their way through state legislatures across the country. The bills are part of the backlash against same-sex marriage, but they go much farther than that. Like the Hobby Lobby decision, which allows closely-held corporations to opt out of part of Obamacare, these laws carve out exemptions to all kinds of laws if a person (or corporation) offers a religious reason for not obeying them.

For example? Restaurants could refuse to serve gay or interracial couples, city clerks could refuse to marry interfaith couples, hotels could keep out Jews, housing developments could keep out black people (Genesis 9:18-27), pharmacies could refuse to dispense birth control, banquet halls could turn away gay weddings, schools could specifically allow anti-gay bullying, and employers could fire anyone for any “religious” reason.

The national movement to pass these laws is well-funded and well-coordinated; most of the laws are written by the same handful of conservative legal hacks in Washington, working for organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, both of which have had a hand in the Georgia bill.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said in an interview with The Daily Beast that “in the last two years, there have been 35 bills introduced around the country to establish or expand a RFRA. And there have been over 80 bills filed that specifically allow for discrimination against gay and trans communities.”

As worrisome as these laws are, however, Georgia’s is worse than most.

First, the language is the strictest possible. As with other RFRAs, Georgia’s act says that the government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” without a “compelling governmental interest” and the “least restrictive means of furthering” that interest. This is the classic three-prong test that was at issue in Hobby Lobby, and is considered extremely difficult to meet.

Georgia’s RFRA also specifies that “exercise of religion” can be just about any “practice or observance of religion, whether or not compelled by or central to a system of religious belief.”

In other words, if I say it’s my religious exercise, it is.

Second, the Senate version of the bill was passed by its sponsor, State Senator Josh McKoon, with all kinds of shenanigans. He rammed it through the judiciary committee, which he chairs, while opposition members were in the bathroom.

Then, on dubious procedural grounds, he refused an amendment by a fellow Republican that would have specified that the “religious freedom” could not be used to discriminate against others.

Ironically, says Graham, Georgia doesn’t have that many protections for LGBT people in the first place.

“This is a preemptive strike against the LGBT community,” he says. “If this bill is not intended to allow discrimination, why were its sponsors so adamant about refusing to say so?”

McKoon’s bill passed the Republican-dominated State Senate on March 5, and now heads to the State House, where Republicans have a 2:1 advantage over Democrats, and where representatives have shelved their own version of the bill to try to pass McKoon’s version.

The combination of these factors has led to a curious result: a law so strict that it will lead to a host of unintended consequences—and has even led some Republicans to oppose it.

Some legal commentators have said that the law would give a pass to spousal and child abusers, as long as the husband (or father) has a religious pretext. Which is easy to provide; the Christian Domestic Discipline Network, for example, offers a host of rationales for “wife spanking.” And let’s not forget Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares his rod hates his son. But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”

Georgia has numerous laws protecting child welfare, which is arguably a compelling state interest. But are such laws really the “least restrictive means” of protecting it? Not necessarily. At the very least, the laws offer a novel defense against assault and battery.

Or maybe not so novel. Graham says, “We have found cases where people used their religious views as an excuse to impede an investigation into child-endangerment and child-abuse charges. They were not ultimately successful, but they did slow down the investigations.”

With the new law, they would be far better armed. In fact, says Graham, conservative district attorneys in Macon and Marietta have said that the bill would impede investigations and prosecutions of child abuse.

Indeed, Georgia’s RFRA recently gained an unlikely opponent: Mike Bowers, the former attorney general of Bowers v. Hardwick fame. As some may recall, that was the Supreme Court case that upheld Georgia’s anti-sodomy law—and Bowers was the named plaintiff.

In an open letter to Graham (PDF), Bowers said that the law is “unequivocally an excuse to discriminate….[P]ermitting citizens to opt-out of laws because of a so-called burden on the exercise of religion in effect ‘would permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.’”

This perhaps is one reason why conservatives like Bowers and the D.A.s in Macon and Marietta stand opposed to it. As Bowers wrote, “this legislation is not about gay marriage, or contraception, or even so-called ‘religious freedom.’ It is more important than all of these, because it ultimately involves the rule of law.”

What is the future of Georgia’s RFRA?

The Georgia State House ends its session on April 2, and Graham predicts a tight vote. “This will probably go all the way to the final hours” of the session, he said.

Oddly, the most effective forces in killing Arizona’s “Turn The Gays Away” bill—corporations and the Chamber of Commerce—seem to be sitting this battle out. Maybe it’s because Arizona was bidding on a Super Bowl and Georgia isn’t. Or maybe it’s because no one is paying attention. But for whatever reason, the corporate silence is deafening.

This is especially the case for Coca-Cola, which has spent millions to brand itself as pro-gay (remember that Super Bowl ad?) but has been mum on the Georgia bill.

“For now, it appears that Coca-Cola has a relationship of convenience with the gay community,” said Bryan Long, executive director of the progressive organization Better Georgia, in an email to The Daily Beast. “The company promotes equality when it serves the brand but won’t stand up for us when we need it most.”

If big business, national media, and national LGBT organizations continue to sit on the sidelines, the bill’s fate may be a matter of vote-counting. The House bill had 59 cosponsors, out of 180 total members. But Graham pointed out that a pending non-discrimination bill has 78, including 19 Republicans. So it is up for grabs.

On the other hand, maybe those who claim to speak for “equality” will decide to actually do something about it.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, March 13, 2015

March 14, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Domestic Violence, Georgia, Religious Freedom | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Relic Of Frontier Barbarism:” The Case Of Scott Panetti — And The True Meaning Of ‘Cruel And Unusual’

So what does “cruel and unusual” mean?

I once asked that of a law professor. The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment, but I figured there had to be some technical definition I, as a layperson, was missing. I mean, from where I sit, it’s pretty “cruel and unusual” to execute someone, but to judge from the 1,392 executions of the last 38 years, that isn’t the case.

Scott Panetti almost became number 1,393 last week, but within hours of his scheduled lethal injection, he was reprieved by a federal judge. The court said it needs more time to consider the issues his case raises.

In a rational place, it would not be news that Panetti was not killed. In a rational place, they would understand that state-sanctioned execution is a relic of frontier barbarism that leaves us all wet with the blood of the damned. In a rational place, they would say there’s something especially repugnant about applying that grisly sanction to the mentally ill, like Panetti.

But Panetti doesn’t live in a rational place. He lives in America. Worse, he lives in Texas.

They love their executions in Rick Perry’s kingdom. Since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an advocacy group, that state has killed almost 520 people. That’s nearly five times more than the next bloodiest state, Oklahoma, with 111.

There is no question Panetti deserves punishment. In 1992, he shot his estranged wife’s parents to death as she and the couple’s daughter looked on. He held them both hostage before releasing them unharmed.

But there is also no question that Panetti, 56, suffers from severe mental illness. At his trial, in which he was somehow, bizarrely, allowed to represent himself, he wore a purple cowboy suit with a 10-gallon hat and summoned a personality he called “Sarge” to explain what happened on the fateful day. His witness list included 200 people. Among them: John F. Kennedy, the pope, Anne Bancroft and Jesus Christ.

The state contends that Panetti, who was off his meds at the time of the killing, is faking it. During a 2004 hearing, the county sheriff called him “the best actor there is.” In its most recent filings, Texas accuses him of “grossly exaggerating” his symptoms.

If it’s an act, it’s been going on a long time. His attorneys say Panetti was diagnosed with schizophrenia 14 years before the shootings and was hospitalized 13 times between 1978 and 1991. Now a court decides on his life or death.

It’s a pregnant decision in a country where, apparently, it isn’t “cruel and unusual” to preside, as Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton did, over the execution of a man so profoundly impaired that he saved the pie from his last meal to eat later. Or to let a man gasp and snort for almost two hours as a lethal injection very slowly killed him, as happened in Arizona. Or to set a man on fire, as has happened at least twice in Florida’s electric chair. Or to execute people for crimes committed when they were children. Or to send innocent people to death row. Or to choose whom to execute based on color of killer, color of victim, gender, geography and class.

So what, exactly, might be too cruel and unusual for us to allow? The professor could not answer. Which, of course, is an answer.

As flawed and broken as our system of death is, we continue to embrace the puritanical morality of eye for eye and blood for blood. Most of the western world has left this savagery behind, but we insist on it, leaving us isolated from our national peers, those nations whose values are most like ours, but looming large among the outlaw likes of Somalia and Iran.

Now we are debating whether to kill a man so addled he tried to subpoena Jesus. And that leads to a conclusion as painful as it is unavoidable:

What’s “cruel and unusual” is us.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, December 8, 2014

December 10, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Death Penalty, Mental Illness | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Just So We’re Clear”: Arizona Republican Suggests Sterilizing Poor Women

Russell Pearce has had quite a career in Arizona. The Republican started as a fairly obscure state senator, before his anti-immigrant SB1070 pushed him into the national spotlight, which Pearce parlayed into a promotion as state Senate President.

His shooting star didn’t last – Pearce’s record and extremist associations undermined his standing, and in 2011, voters pushed him out of office in a recall election.

State Republicans probably should have allowed Pearce to fade from public view, but instead, GOP officials made Pearce the #2 leader in the state party. As Zach Roth reported, that didn’t turn out too well, either.

The far-right former lawmaker who helped create Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law has resigned as a top official with the state GOP after making comments about sterilizing poor women. […]

On Saturday, the state Democratic Party highlighted comments Pearce made recently on his radio show. Discussing the state’s public assistance programs, Pearce declared: “You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I’d do is get Norplant, birth-control implants, or tubal ligations…. Then we’ll test recipients for drugs and alcohol, and if you want to [reproduce] or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job.”

Just so we’re clear, by making Norplant a part of public assistance, Pearce was, fairly explicitly, talking about sterilizing low-income women.

By way of a response, the principal author of Arizona’s “papers please” law argued in a written statement that he was referencing “comments written by someone else and failed to attribute them to the author.”

It’s a rare sight: a politician trying to defend himself by relying on an admission of plagiarism.

Of course, the problem has nothing to do with attribution and everything to do with an intended message. No one cares whether Pearce was sharing someone else’s argument; everyone cares that he talked about sterilizing poor people.

Daniel Strauss added that Arizona Republicans were so eager to support Pearce after his recall race that he was made the first-ever vice chairman of the Arizona GOP a year after his ouster.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 15, 2014

September 16, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Poor and Low Income, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Uzi Accident Sparks Debate About Children And Guns”: Why Would A Parent Or A State Allow A Child To Handle Automatic Weapons?

It was the kind of story that was hard to miss yesterday. A 9-year-old girl, on vacation with her family, was given an Uzi to fire at the Last Stop shooting range in White Hills, Ariz. When the child couldn’t control the submachine gun’s recoil, she accidentally killed her instructor, 39-year-old Charles Vacca.

It’s generating some overdue conversation.

In the aftermath of the tragic death of a gun-range instructor killed by a 9-year-old girl who wasn’t able to control an Uzi 9mm submachine gun, many are raising questions about whether it is safe – or even legal – for young children to handle powerful firearms.

Arizona, where the incident happened on Monday, is one of 21 states that has no laws restricting the access of guns to minors under 18, as long as there is adult supervision.

Twenty-nine states have child access prevention laws. Fourteen prohibit someone from “intentionally, knowingly, and/or recklessly providing some or all firearms to children,” according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The Arizona Republic’s E.J. Montini ran a compelling piece with a notable headline: “Why do we allow a child to handle an Uzi?”

The columnist wrote, “Arizona law allows a minor to possess a weapon if accompanied by a parent, guardian or an instructor. But this type of weapon? It’s time we asked ourselves: Why would a shooting range allow a kid to handle an automatic weapon? Why would a parent? And, most importantly, why would a state?”

A New York Times report added that these ranges have become popular tourist attractions. People can “fire the weapons of their dreams: automatic machine guns, sniper rifles, grenade launchers. A hamburger lunch is included; a helicopter tour of the nearby Grand Canyon is optional.”

And while the public comes to terms with the propriety of these activities, we might also want to ask a related question: who’s in charge of the NRA’s social-media operation?

Yesterday afternoon, with much of the country stunned by the images out of Arizona, an official NRA twitter feed published a link to “7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range.” This isn’t a joke. In fact, I took a screen grab of the message.

NRA Women

 

It’s worth noting that the gun group eventually unpublished the tweet, but not before many wondered aloud what in the world the NRA could have been thinking.

MSNBC’s Nick Ramsey added yesterday, “ ‘Think before tweeting’ is advice everyone on social media can use, but particularly those behind the Twitter handle @NRAWomen.”

Truer words were never spoken.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 28, 2014

August 29, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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