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“Born Of Same Bigotry As Segregation”: Kim Davis Is Not A Christian Martyr; The Kentucky Court Clerk Deserves To Be In The Clink

There are going to be some people who celebrate scofflaw County Clerk Kim Davis sitting behind bars. Most of them are her allies. Not even the American Civil Liberties Union lawyers wanted to send poor Kim to the pokey—likely because they wanted to deny her (and her allies) the exact image they’ve now been granted: the long-faced Davis in handcuffs, dourly professing that she loves Jesus more than she does the law.

“Civil disobedience” is fine—but they don’t call it being a “civil servant” because the county courthouse is run by Christian Grey. She’s supposed to do her job, not decide what it is. But Davis, temperamentally, is obviously more of a top, anyway, and probably should have sought a job in line with her personality. Maybe at the DMV.

The only thing louder than Davis’s protestations is the jingle of the coins being dropped in all the various collection boxes that lay claim to some similar cause. In our curious hate-donating economy, Davis will undoubtedly receive some monetary reward for showmanship—whether it comes via GoFundMe or a book contract—but it will be a fraction of what’s raised by the political ambulance-chasers dutifully filing in behind her.

Already many of the GOP presidential candidates have weighed in, creating the curious spectacle of lawmakers pre-emptively breaking their oaths of office: How can you promise to “uphold the Constitution” if you have already admitted that it has a loophole big enough for Davis to fit through?

The judge who ordered Davis to be held in contempt, and the deputy clerks who started issuing marriage licenses, may be the only Republican left who realizes that Davis’s stunt is something besides a fundraising appeal. Or, rather, he seems to understand that Davis offers only the literal fundraising appeal to end all fundraising appeals. Follow her logic to its fiery end—the Bible as the ultimate legal authority—and there would be no political offices left to run for, just law enforcement positions.

There are regimes like that in the world; we’re fighting wars with a few of them.

Others have pointed out that Davis’s brand of Christianity is itself not too far removed from the sort of blinkered false-purity doctrine that rules radical Islam: the prohibition on makeup or clothes that come in anything besides a hazmat-suit cut. But if you want to understand just how antithetical to democracy Davis’s ideas are, don’t think about what her church doesn’t allow. Instead, imagine what kind of world would make Kim Davis happy.

Davis, after all, was not merely registering an objection to same-sex marriage, she is objecting to the notion of civil society, to “liberalism” not as a policy position but a modern ideal. In my understanding of liberal democracy, a Christian county clerk signing the marriage licenses of gay couples is to be celebrated—for the exact same reasons we celebrate the right of non-Muslims to draw Mohammed: The idea that any one person’s individual religious preference should end the instant it imposes on the rights of another. The true test of religious liberty isn’t whether or not you can practice your own, but if your society has room for yours and a few others.

To judge by her written statements, I am not not much over-worried that Davis’s turn in a jail cell will produce anything besides more vague boilerplate religious freedom stew. In response to questions from Think Progress, fellow members of her denomination couldn’t even identify the precise theological dogma they were sure she was trying to defend: Apostolic Christianity, a lay leader explained, “does not have lengthy, codified statements on marriage, divorce, or homosexuality. Instead, he said, members usually look to one document for answers…The King James Bible.”

The sect’s aversion to reasoned argument means we will probably not be treated to Davis’s own “Letter from an Ashland Jail,” which is just as well, since neither she nor her movement would benefit from a direct comparison to Martin Luther King’s pointed yet lyrical rejoinder to the clergymen who objected to his civil disobedience, both as a tactic and with its target.

King justified the Birmingham business boycott that led to his imprisonment (he and others defied a court injunction against the protest) with a list of humiliations suffered by black men and women in the South—and it does not include anything remotely like “being forced to sign a piece of paper.”

Rather, it includes the kind of bodily harms—and quotidian insults—that reverberate for both people of color and those in the LGBT community today. Indeed, King presciently articulates exactly why obtaining the same marriage license granted to opposite-sex couples matters, because without the complete protection of equality under the law, those discriminated against are “living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments.” They are, King writes, “forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness.’”

One of the members of the couple to whom Davis denied a marriage license put it in only slightly less poetic terms: “When you’re gay and you grow up in Kentucky, you kind of get used to hiding who you are, accommodating other people and making them feel comfortable. You don’t realize how much of your own dignity you’ve given away. It catches up to you.”

King pleaded with the other men of faith to come around to his cause: “Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.” Davis, it must be noted, is in jail precisely because she believes in monologue. Her belief that she should not be forced to interact with those she disagrees with is born of the same bigotry as segregation—even if on the surface it looks like the most banal interactions: paperwork.

That she could interpret the presence of her signature on a marriage certificate as evidence of her own sin isn’t a testament to the strength of her convictions, but to the height of her arrogance.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, September 4, 2015

 

September 5, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Discrimination, Kim Davis | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“U.S. Citizens Have A Right To Protest, Even In Ferguson”: Rights Not Respected In The Moment Are Not Rights At All

Last week, a federal judge told us what we already knew.

Namely, that police in Ferguson, Missouri, violated the rights of protesters demonstrating against the shooting death of Michael Brown. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry struck down an ad hoc rule under which cops had said people could not stand still while peacefully protesting. Some were told they couldn’t stop walking for more than five seconds; others that they had to walk faster.

Again: These were not rioters. These were citizens seeking “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” as the First Amendment gives them the right to do. So Perry’s ruling is welcome, but not particularly surprising. The no-stop dictate was so flagrantly wrong as to make any other decision unthinkable.

Still, one’s sense of righteous vindication is tempered by the fact that police felt free to try this absurd stratagem in the first place — and by the fact that this was hardly the only recent example of police using the Constitution for Kleenex.

Ferguson, let us not forget, is also the town where reporters were tear gassed and jailed and photographers ordered to stop taking pictures, which seems a pretty straightforward abridgment of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of the press. Meanwhile, a new ACLU report makes Boston Police the latest — but hardly the only — department empirically shown to engage in racially biased policing, which would violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of “equal protection of the laws.” And a recent Washington Post series illustrated how civil asset forfeiture laws allow police to search your vehicle, seize any cash they find and keep it, without even charging you with a crime, until or unless you prove to their satisfaction that you came by the money legally. Goodbye, Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Farewell, Fourteenth Amendment stricture against seizure of property “without due process of law.”

It seems our constitutional rights are being nibbled out from under us, compromise by compromise, expediency by expediency, while we watch with dull complacence. In our unthinking mania for laws to “get tough on crime,” we actually made it tougher on ourselves, altering the balance of power between people and police to the point where a cop can now take your legally earned money off your sovereign person and there’s little you can do about it.

“I know my rights,” an aggrieved citizen would yell once upon a time. Turns out that doesn’t mean a whole lot anymore.

Indeed, at the height of the Ferguson protests, an L.A. cop named Sunil Dutta published in the Washington Post an op-ed advising that, “if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.” Don’t argue, he said, even if you “believe (or know)” your rights are being violated. Deal with it later.

Certainly, he’s correct that there’s nothing to be gained by making an a– of yourself or making an angry cop angrier. Nothing will be settled on a street corner.

Yet, there is something unsettling about the idea that you are only allowed to assert your rights at a later date in a different forum. The bullying behavior and contempt for the Constitution that characterized police in Ferguson ought to leave us less than sanguine with that notion, ought to encourage us to resist — at the ballot box, in the council meeting and, yes, by lawful protest — this drift toward unlimited police authority.

It’s all well and good that now, several weeks after the fact, a court affirms the rights Ferguson police denied. But that’s a poor consolation prize. An argument can be made that rights which aren’t respected in the moment they are asserted are not really rights at all.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 12, 2014

 

October 14, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Constitution, Ferguson Missouri | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Snowden, Go Home”: His Unfinished Business Is In A U. S. Courtroom, Not A Moscow Suburb

Edward Snowden, leaker extraordinaire of classified NSA documents, is said to be seeking an extension of his political asylum in Russia, where he has resided, beyond the reach of US jurisdiction and under legal protection granted by Vladimir Putin personally, for a little over one year. Snowden seems to be settling in for the long haul as a fugitive expatriate.

He is making a mistake. At some point Snowden must return to the US and face the criminal charges pending against him. By postponing this reckoning, he adds to skepticism about his motives. More important, he diminishes his legitimacy as a whistleblower who broke the law to expose government overreaching, change official policy, and vindicate principles of government transparency and individual privacy.

Snowden has portrayed his accessing, copying and distribution (to selected journalists) of NSA records as acts of conscience-and so they may have been. Civil disobedience is a time-honored form of protest, particularly in a democracy. But civil disobedience is not painless; it is not a get-out-of-jail free card.

Civil disobedience assumes-in fact, requires-submission to legal processes: to trial and possible punishment. This, the painful part of civil disobedience, is what distinguishes morally-just protest, on one hand, from mere law-breaking, on the other. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Think also of James Risen, a New York Times reporter who faces sanctions, including jail, for his civil disobedience in defying a court order. Risen has been waging a legal battle to protect his confidential sources for a book revealing classified information on US intelligence operations in Iran. Having appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, to no avail, Risen has run out of legal options (although the Justice Department has hinted that it might back off of enforcing its subpoena demanding Risen’s testimony about confidential sources).

Snowden’s situation and Risen’s are very similar. Both Snowden and Risen are in trouble for disclosing classified information. Snowden has been indicted, while Risen is subject to a court order (that remains intact after multiple appeals). Snowden has fled the country, escaping (at least for now) any legal consequences for his actions. The morally equivalent choice for Risen would be to renege on his promise of confidentiality and to provide sworn testimony to government prosecutors.

The likelihood of Risen, a principled and professional journalist, betraying his source to avoid jail–is zero. For Snowden, too, the moral choice is clear. To legitimize his violations of federal law as acts of conscience, he needs to face the consequences, not run away from them.

If Snowden, instead of going public with his information, had decided to leak his NSA documents on a confidential basis to journalists at The Guardian and the Washington Post, those journalists would today be in the same boat as the New York Times’ Risen-under subpoena and facing prison or other serious sanctions for refusing to comply. Why, then, should the expectations be so different for Snowden?

Snowden no doubt fears going to prison. Who wouldn’t? But Snowden, if he returned to the US, would receive a trial that is not only fair, but a model of due process. Media interest would be off the charts. That would maximize transparency in all court proceedings–which, in turn, would pressure prosecutors to exercise restraint.

Snowden would have the very best criminal defense lawyers in the country (regardless of his ability to pay them). And those lawyers would make the most of the government’s dilemma: having to prove harm to national security, but without revealing sensitive information that could cause still more harm to national security.

Snowden’s lawyers will also insist that he cease all public comments. No more press conferences via Skype, no Twitter or email, no calls with reporters. Total silence, giving his lawyers control over his message and image. For Snowden, who clearly loves the sound of his own voice and delights in dealings with the media, such muzzling may be hard to abide. Still, it’s not a reason for staying on the lam.

Snowden’s unfinished business is in a US courtroom, not a Moscow suburb.

 

By: Peter Scheer, Executive Director, First Amendment Coalition, The Huffington Post Blog, July 16, 2014

July 17, 2014 Posted by | Edward Snowden, National Security Agency | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Government Of Laws, Not Of Men”: Uncivil Disobedience And The Opposite Of Patriotism

Back when George W. Bush was president, liberals were regularly accused of being disloyal or anti-American if they disagreed with the policies the administration was undertaking. As Bush himself said, you were either with us or with the terrorists, and as far as many of his supporters were concerned, “us” meant the Bush administration and everything they wanted to do, including invading Iraq. You may have noticed that now that there’s a Democrat in the White House, conservatives no longer find disagreeing with the government’s policies to be anti-American; in fact, the truest patriotism is now supposedly found among those whose hatred of the president, and the government more generally, burns white-hot in the core of their souls.

We’ve gotten used to that over the last five years, but I’ve still been surprised at the conservative embrace of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been in an argument with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees. Briefly: for 20 years Bundy has been taking his cattle to graze on federal land, but he refuses to pay grazing fees as the law demands and as other ranchers do, despite numerous court orders. So the BLM seized some of his cattle, and in the ensuing standoff, hundreds of armed right-wing nuts came to Bundy’s defense, trooping out to aim their weapons at federal employees.

I’m sure there are some conservatives who view this conflict in the clear, simple terms it deserves. This guy wants to use resources that don’t belong to him without paying for them, which is what we generally refer to as “stealing.” The reason he thinks he can do it is, as he put it in a radio interview, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.” In other words, he isn’t standing up for principle, he’s a nut case.

And yet, prominent conservatives are not only rushing to his defense, they’re casting him as a patriotic American. Here’s part of an absolutely incredible column from The National Review‘s Kevin Williamson:

Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too, when he was tried for sedition; Mr. Gandhi himself habitually was among the first to acknowledge that fact, refusing to offer a defense in his sedition case and arguing that the judge had no choice but to resign, in protest of the perfectly legal injustice unfolding in his courtroom, or to sentence him to the harshest sentence possible, there being no extenuating circumstances for Mr. Gandhi’s intentional violation of the law. Henry David Thoreau was happy to spend his time in jail, knowing that the law was against him, whatever side justice was on.

Yes, you read that right: he compares Cliven Bundy to Gandhi. And he ends with this stirring call:

Prudential measures do not solve questions of principle. So where does that leave us with our judgment of the Nevada insurrection? Perhaps with an understanding that while Mr. Bundy’s stand should not be construed as a general template for civic action, it is nonetheless the case that, in measured doses, a little sedition is an excellent thing.

Williamson’s boss, NR editor Rich Lowry, also said that Bundy’s actions are “within the finest American tradition of civil disobedience going back to Henry David Thoreau.” Which just shows how little these people understand about civil disobedience, and about American traditions.

Civil disobedience means breaking a law, publicly and calmly, and then accepting the punishment the law provides, in order to draw attention to a law that is unjust and should be changed. The law Cliven Bundy is breaking says that if you graze your cattle on land owned by the federal government, you have to pay grazing fees. I haven’t heard anyone articulate why that law is unjust. People are saying that the government owns too much land in Nevada, and maybe it does, but until the government sells it to you and you own it, you have to pay to use it. There isn’t any fundamental question of human rights or even the reach of government in question here at all. Mr. Bundy also doesn’t have the right to walk into the local BLM office and stuff all their staplers and pens into his knapsack and walk out.

Secondly, and just as important, there’s nothing “civil” about Bundy’s disobedience. If it was civil disobedience, he’d pay what he owes and then try, through the courts and public opinion, to change what he sees as these unjust grazing fees. But he hasn’t done that. He just refused to pay, and then led a heavily-armed standoff with the government.

I’m sorry, but if you’re defending Bundy, no matter how many times you toss the phrase “We the people” into what you say, you just have no clue about how democracy works. When you become a United States citizen, or when you take public office in America, you don’t pledge to honor whatever particular notion you have of what this country ought to be. You pledge to uphold the Constitution. The whole point of democracy is, as John Adams put it, “a government of laws, not of men.” The system embodies the will of the people and allows for change. When there’s something about that system you don’t like, you can’t just shout “Tyranny!” and refuse to obey the laws. You work to change them through democratic means.

What Cliven Bundy and his supporters are doing is the opposite of patriotism. It isn’t principled opposition to Barack Obama, or to the policies of the federal government; it’s opposition to the American system of democracy itself. And the people who are defending him ought to be ashamed of themselves.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 16, 2014

April 17, 2014 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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