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Three-Fifths of an Attorney General Declares POWs “Non-Persons” July 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: Congratulations.  Barak Obama and Eric Holder, with the essential contribution of George Bush, have managed to score a trifecta: a policy and implementation at Guantanamo Bay that is all three, Orwellian, Kafkaesque and Lewis Carroll at the same time.  Torture, indefinite detention, and people who are not persons.  “Execution first, then the trial” shouted the Queen.

And by the way, the three fifths of a person of African slaves that was in the original constitution is even worse than it appears at face value.  Slaves would have been better off if not considered as persons at all.  The southern states lobbied for three fifths so that their slaves would be counted in the census, which in turn determined their level of representation in the House of Representative.  More slaves on the roll via the three fifths gave the southern state more political clout with which to defend slavery.  Thus, being counted as less than fully human was a double whammy against the slaves.  Kafka would have loved it.

 

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Protestors gathered in New York City’s Time Square in April of 2013 to raise awareness of detainee hunger strikes and indefinite imprisonment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. (Photo: flickr / cc /Jordan P)

 

Hand it to President Obama for appointing Eric Holder the first African American Attorney General in US history. Then try to fathom that after generations of civil and human rights work by African Americans — whom the US Constitution once called “3/5 of a person” — it is Holder who declared some brown skinned prisoners of war to be “non-persons.” The men are held outside the law by the US at Guantánamo Bay.

Attorneys for the POWs have asked for an order that would allow group prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, but Holder’s Justice Dept. has formally replied that the men aren’t entitled to relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because the Supreme Court has not found that Guantánamo’s prisoners “are ‘persons’ to whom RFRA applies.”

Holder calls the men “unprivileged enemy belligerents detained overseas during a period of ongoing hostilities.” Calling them prisoners of war would require respecting their human rights.

Cori Crider, an attorney with the legal charity Reprieve who represents some of the men, said in a statement, “I fail to see how the President can stand up and claim Guantánamo is a scandal while his lawyers call detainees non-persons in court. If the President is serious about closing this prison, he could start by recognizing that its inmates are people — most of whom have been cleared by his own Government.”

According to AG Holder, US Appeals Court rulings mean Guantánamo’s POWs — whom he calls “nonresident aliens outside the US sovereign territory” — are “not protected ‘person[s].’” In the infamous Hobby Lobby case Holder argues, the Supreme Court refused to say that the word “‘person’ as used in RFRA includes a nonresident alien outside sovereign United States territory.”

Even if RFRA applied to the POWs, Holder claims, the law “cannot overcome the judicial presumption against extraterritorial application of statutes.” Translation: US Law doesn’t apply at Gitmo, or, the reason the US isolates non-persons at an off-shore military penal colony in the first place is so we can ignore or violate “statutes” with impunity. And if we convince ourselves that “unprivileged enemy belligerents” are not people, we should be able to sleep even if we violate the US torture statute (18 USC, Sec. 1, Ch. 113C), the Convention Against Torture and the US War Crimes Act (18 USC, Sec. 2441) ¾ for years on end.

America’s indefinite imprisonment without charges, hunger strikers and force-feeding

My own jail and prison time, all for political protests, has always come with a clear sentence: six days, 90 days, 180 days; 54 months in all. Anybody who’s been on the inside knows that a release date gives you something fast to hold on to, even if you’re called by a number, fed through a slot, handcuffed for court. But imagine 156 months in a nihilistic “extraterritorial” military prison, with no charges, no trial, no sentence, no visits, phone calls or mail, and no hope.

This is what the USA imposes at Guantánamo, a torturous psychological vice of legal oblivion and manufactured futurelessness. Add to this appalling construction the fact that 72 of 149 remaining inmates were approved for release more than four years ago — but are chained up anyway. Scores of Gitmo’s inmates have looked into this man-made oblivion and decided to die. They are using the only power they have left, the dreadful hunger-strike, both as a protest against their endless detention without trial and their only means of eventually ending it.

The US military has chosen to force-feed hunger strikers, gruesomely plunging plastic tubes up the non-persons’ noses. This abuse violates laws against torture, and the force-feeding schedule is the original basis for the religious rights petition so vigorously opposed by Obama and Holder. The ghastly traumatic stress resulting from enduring force-feeding and the regime of its application make Ramadan’s prayerful group reflection impossible. US District Judge Gladys Kessler has, according to Charlie Savage in the New York Times, publicly condemned the abuse for causing “agony.” For PR purposes the Pentagon and Justice Department call the abuse “enteral feeding.”

Mr. Holder has called “not credible” the prisoners’ complaints about “alleged aspects of enteral feeding” and “allegations that detainees who were being enterally fed were not permitted to pray communally during Ramadan in 2013.” But after the number of hunger strikers reached 106 last year, the military halted its public reporting of the strike.

Significantly, a Navy medical officer at Guantánamo has become the first prison official known to refuse force-feeding duty. The unidentified nurse’s refusal was acknowledged by the Pentagon July 15.

If Holder wins his frightening argument denying the humanity of the men at Guantánamo, even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could object. The ASPCA says its vision is that “the US is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.”

This Monstrous Cell July 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: sure is comforting to know that Obama has done away with torture.

 

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by Abby Zimet, commondreams.org, July 4, 2013

It just keeps getting worse. Responding to a court case brought by Guantanamo prisoners against force-feeding, the Obama administration says it cannot guarantee it will not happen during the day over Ramadan, which starts Monday – that it “plans” to feed all detainees before dawn and after sunset “absent any…operational issues,” because the “public interest lies with maintaining the status quo.” The President’s lawyers also argued the detainees bringing the case are not “persons” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and therefore not protected by it. One is rendered speechless. Not so two prisoners, who send their “call to the outside world” in letters describing solitary confinement, confiscated blankets, beatings, tear gas, body searches up to ten times a day and daily, violent, blood-soaked force-feedings. Thus, the “status quo” that must be maintained.

“Does the world know what is happening in this prison?” – Abdelhadi Faraj, prisoner #329.

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Is the Bible a Threat to National Security? June 30, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing.
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 Roger’s note: click on the link to watch this scary video: “MRFF just posted a video montage, which could easily be called the military evangelicals’ greatest hits, here.

Antiwar.com / ByKelley B. Vlahos
 

A military Bible paints war as religious devotion. What could go wrong?

June 26, 2012 |
 
 
 
Can a Bible be a “threat to national security”?

For years, the government has employed the risk of “national security” excuse to infringe on a wide range of freedoms — like the right to pass through an airport security checkpoint unmolested, or read library books without Big Brother peeking over your shoulder.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein is trying to prove that there is more than one way to put the country at risk, and he’s found it in a heretofore unlikely place: the Bible.

Well, the Holman Bible. To be more exact, a version of the Bible that, for reasons still undetermined, was authorized with the trademarked official insignia of the U.S. Armed Forces emblazoned on the front cover. There is The Soldier’s Bible with the Army’s seal, The Marine’s Bible with the Marine Corps seal, The Sailor’s Bible and The Airman’s Bible, both with their respective insignia. The books have been sold for nearly six years throughout Christian bookstores, commissaries and PXs on U.S. military installations — and are still available on Christianbook.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

 It’s not the King James Version that the Gideons leave behind in hotel rooms drawers. The Holman Bible was commissioned and published by LifeWay Christian Resources, a subsidiary of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist denomination in the world, in 2003.

 

In a 1999 press release announcing the edition’s progress, Broadman & Holman Publishers called the new version “a fresh, precise translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek of the Old and New Testaments.” LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. weighed in, saying there was a “serious need for a 21st-century Bible translation in American English that combines accuracy and readability,” adding, “the Holman Christian Standard Bible is an accurate, literal rendering with a smoothness and readability that invites memorization, reading aloud and dedicated study.”

The Holman Bible, or HCSB, has been popular with evangelicals for its references and study tools. Someone convinced each branch of the service they’d be perfect for the military, too. So the HCSB became the “official” Bible of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines in 2004, complete with reader-friendly text and custom “designed to meet the specific needs of those who serve in the most difficult of situations,” according to the publishers.

In other words, aside from the text, the books are filled with “devotionals” and “inspirational essays” tailored to each branch of service. I was unable to get my hands on a copy by press time, but Amazon’s “peek” inside the book and several positive reader reviews confirm some of the contents, revealing what could only be described as a guileless conflation of both Christian and American military iconography. War and service as religious devotion.

In addition to the Pledge of Allegiance and the first and fourth verses of the Star Spangled Banner, there are excerpts from one of George W. Bush inaugural addresses and the Republican president’s remarks at a National Prayer Breakfast. Gen. George S. Patton’s famous Christmas prayer card from the field of battle 1944 is also included, as is “George Washington’s Prayer,” which has been widely circulated (and debunked) as proof of America’s Christian paternity.

These Bibles also feature “testimonials and encouragement from the Officers’ Christian Fellowship,” which has approximately 15,000 members across the military and whose primary purpose is “to glorify God by uniting Christian officers for biblical fellowship and outreach, equipping and encouraging them to minister effectively in the military society.” In other words they proselytize within the officer corps as part of an evangelical “parachurch” within the military.

A largely unfettered one, apparently, as one watches Pentagon officers commenting freely on camera — and in uniform — for this Bush-era promotional video for Christian Embassy, another federal government-wide “fellowship” with similar missionary goals.

One officer, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, who said he worked on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, described himself as “an old fashioned American and my first priority is my faith in God.” Pointing to his meeting with other officers under the auspices of Christian Embassy, he said, “I think it’s a huge impact because you have many men and women who are seeking God’s counsel and wisdom as we advise the Secretary of Defense.”

Then U.S. Brigadier Gen. Bob Caslan (currently promoted to lieutenant general as the commanding general at the U.S. Army’s prestigious Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan.) went so far as to say he sees the “flag officer fellowship groups … hold me accountable.”

“We are the aroma of Jesus Christ,” he added.

Something smells, all right, said Weinstein, who heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The roles of the officers in the video were later deemed improperafter MRFF demanded an investigation in 2007. As for the Bibles, Weinstein said he received some 2,000 complaints about them from service members over the last year. Weinstein, a former Air Force Judge Advocate (JAG) whose 2005 charges against the Air Force Academy in Colorado led to an investigation that officially found religious “insensitivity” against non- fundamentalists there, has gone on to expose a much wider climate of “top-down, invasive evangelicalism” at the institution and throughout the military as a whole.

“We’re fighting a Fundamentalist-Christian-Parachurch-Military-Corporate-Proselytizing-Complex,” Weinstein said told Antiwar.com last week, “and we have been fighting this for some time.” MRFF just posted a video montage, which could easily be called the military evangelicals’ greatest hits, here.

He said aside from “prostituting” the military insignia, the military’s endorsement of the Bibles violated federal separation of church and state, and continue to sanction an insidious culture of radical evangelicalism and discrimination throughout the services (as a Jew, Weinstein said he felt the sting of prejudice when he attended the Air Force academy in the late 1970s; his sons had it even worse, he claims, prompting his first formal complaint seven years ago).

Since then, “(MRFF) has had 28,000 clients and a hundred more each month,” said Weinstein, rejecting claims by his critics that they are all atheist. He insists that 96 percent of his clients are Christians (Catholic and Mainline Protestant) and that his is not a religious crusade. On the other hand, some 33 percent of chaplains are now evangelical Christians (Weinstein’s MRFF places that number at 84 percent), while only 3 percent of service members describe themselves as such.

“They are spiritually raping the U.S. Constitution, the American people and the men and women who are fighting for us,” said Weinstein, who never, ever minces words.

MRFF’s lawyers sent a formal letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s office in January. In it, MRFF charged that authorizing LifeWay to print its Bibles with the service insignia “is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution … and several regulations,” and that the authority should be withdrawn immediately or face legal action from MRFF.

Interestingly, according to the documents now available online, the Army, Navy and Air Force responded to the letter in February, insisting that the summer before Weinstein’s lawyers at Jones Day contacted the Pentagon, they had already pulled their trademark authorizations to LifeWay, for “unrelated reasons.” So, in effect, according to the military, the Southern Baptist Convention subsidiary no longer had use of the trademarks and the question was moot.

Weinstein responded with one word: “lies.” He told Antiwar.com that they were just informed of the letters in June, not in February. Furthermore, according to MRFF senior research director Chris Rodda, MRFF has obtained documents through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests that indicated the “AAFES (the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which runs the BXs, PXs, and other stores on military bases) was clearly concerned about the complaints about the Holman Bibles, with emails as early as June 6, 2011 from AAFES to LifeWay saying that these Bibles had ‘become a hot issue,’ and referencing and linking to a June 2, 2011 article on MRFF’s website as the reason they were becoming a hot issue.”

Nevertheless, according to a Fox News Radio story, LifeWay insists it’s “sold” all existing copies of the military Bible in question, and instead is printing the same Bibles with “generic insignias, which continue to sell well and provide spiritual guidance and comfort to those who serve.”

The AAFES told Fox News Radio it has 961 copies of the Bible left on shelves at 83 facilities. Weinstein doesn’t know how many are out there but contends that until each and every one is gone, “they’re still aiding and abetting the cause of al- Qaeda.”

Why? Because it is a national security issue if America is perceived as waging a religious war against the Muslim world. One can’t help but get that impression reading the added material in these Holman Bibles, suggesting that that God has blessed the American warrior for his existential struggle of good versus evil.

A crusade — and one playing right into the religious extremism on the other side, putting Americans overseas, and at home, at risk, said Weinstein.

His approach — which is as fiery and combative as the preachers he rebukes (he’s taken to calling the Pentagon, “Pentacostal-gon,”) — has drawn fire from a number of conservative Christian organizations and websites, which have labeled MRFF a bunch of zealous atheist agitators.

“Why should these Bibles be removed because of the demands of a small activist group?” Ron Crews, head of The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, asked last week, adding in an interview with Fox News Radio that the Department of Defense was acting “cowardly” by backing down to MRFF.

“MRFF must cease and desist their reckless assault on religious liberty. The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty calls on Congress to investigate this frivolous threat and apparent discrimination against religious views by the DoD.”

But this “reckless assault” has offered the public a window into how much evangelicalism threads through the military ethos today — from the Pentagon buying guns with sights outfitted with biblical references, to born-again chaplains directing soldiers to hand out Bibles and proselytize among the Muslim locals in Afghanistan.

MRFF has accused Army chaplains of using religion in lieu of mental health counseling to aid battlefield stress, and drew attention to provocative displays of religious murals and crosses sprawled on walls at U.S. bases and on vehicles driven through the urban battlefront. MRFF has protested the taxpayer-funded “Spiritual Fitness Concert Series” performed on bases here in the states, and followed up on complaints by service members at Fort Eustis in Virginia who said they were punished by a superior officer for not attending. MRFF also helped put the brakes on an Air Force training program in 2011 that used the New Testament and the insights of an ex-Nazi to teach missile officers about the morals and ethics of launching nuclear weapons.

More recently, MRFF criticized a fighter squadron’s decision to switch back to its old “Crusader” moniker, complete with a Knights Templar red cross emblazoned on its planes. Under pressure, the Marines have since reversed that decision, returning to its old World War II-era “werewolves” nickname, earlier this month.

Weinstein said “predatory” evangelicals in the military “believe the Separation of Church and State is a myth, like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster,” and he doesn’t mind putting his own reputation and safety on the line to smash that myth to pieces.

“If we’re catching them on things like this Bible, what the hell else is going on? Well, we know,” he said. “The Bible situation is not innocent, it is not innocuous, it is another raging example of this cancer.”

Why Is an Atheist High School Student Getting Vicious Death Threats? January 19, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion.
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  Roger’s note: Why are so many contemporary evangelical Christians filled with hatred and intolerance?  Is there something about organized religion that appeals to baser instincts like hatred and revenge?  Do unscrupulous so-called religious leaders and politicians use religion to manipulate these ugly sentiments?  In any case, if he hadn’t already left it, Jesus surely would be turning over in his grave.

AlterNet                                             / ByGreta Christina

            Her state representative has called the student “evil” and she has been threatened with violence, rape and death. What gives?
January 18, 2012  |

If you take away just two things from the story about atheist high school student Jessica Ahlquist, and the court case she won last week to have a prayer banner taken out of her public school, let it be these:

  1. The ruling in this case was entirely unsurprising. It is 100 percent in line with unambiguous legal precedent, established and re-established over many decades, exemplifying a basic principle of constitutional law.
  2. As a result of this lawsuit, Jessica Ahlquist is now being bullied, ostracized and threatened with violence in her community. She has been called “evil” in public by her state representative, and is being targeted with multiple threats of violence, rape and death.

Which leads one to wonder: What the hell is going on here?

Let’s get #1 out of the way first. This court decision — that as a public school in the United States, Cranston High School West cannot promote religion, either any particular religion or the idea of religion in general — is, in any legal sense, entirely non-controversial. In ruling after ruling, for decades now, this principle has been made eminently clear. There have, of course, been some genuinely controversial court cases recently about separation of church and state, which examined previously untested questions and established new legal precedent.

But Jessica Ahlquist’s was not one of them. Not even in the slightest. This was a no-brainer. If the school district’s lawyers didn’t uncategorically advise the district that they didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell, and fervently plead with them to concede the case before trial, they should be disbarred. (A PDF of the full court ruling, including extensive citation of clear precedent, can be found on the Friendly Atheist blog.)

For anyone who doesn’t understand this ruling or agree with it, let me take a moment to explain. First of all: No, the majority does not always rule. In a constitutional democracy, people with minority, dissenting, or unpopular opinions and identities have some basic rights, which the majority cannot take away. If the majority thought that everyone had to dye their hair brown, or that all witches should be burned at the stake, the majority would not rule. Redheads have the right not to dye their hair brown; witches have the right not to be burned at the stake. No matter how much in the minority they are.

And the right to not have your government impose a religious belief on you is one of these basic rights. The right to make your own private decisions about religion or the lack thereof, without your government enforcing or promoting a particular view on religion that may or may not be your own, is one of the most central rights that this country was founded on. In fact, it’s the very first right established in the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux said in his ruling, “When focused on the Prayer Mural, the activities and agenda of the Cranston School Committee became excessively entangled with religion, exposing the Committee to a situation where a loud and passionate majority encouraged it to vote to override the constitutional rights of a minority.”

Oh, and no, this case was not about “history” or “tradition.” Many people opposed to this ruling are making a very disingenuous argument: saying that the prayer in question wasn’t really a prayer, that the religious content wasn’t really religious but was simply “history” and “tradition,” and that it therefore shouldn’t be a problem. Bull. When a public school has a banner in its auditorium beginning “Our Heavenly Father” and ending “Amen”… that’s a prayer. The religious fervor with which the banner was defended attests to that. As Judge Lagueux pointed out in his ruling, “No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that.” Furthermore:

The Court refrains from second-guessing the expressed motives of the Committee members, but nonetheless must point out that tradition is a murky and dangerous bog. While all agree that some traditions should be honored, others must be put to rest as our national values and notions of tolerance and diversity evolve. At any rate, no amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction. The Court concludes that Cranston’s purposes in installing and, more recently, voting to retain the Prayer Mural are not clearly secular.

And — very crucially:

The retention of the Prayer Mural is no doubt a nod to Cranston West’s tradition and history, yet that nod reflects the nostalgia felt by some members of the community who remember fondly when the community was sufficiently homogeneous that the religion of its majority could be practiced in public schools with impunity.

And no, this court ruling didn’t take away anyone’s right to practice their own religion, or to express their religious views, or to pray at their school, or even to organize religious student clubs on their school campus. People in Cranston, Rhode Island are still entirely free to do all these things. The ruling simply said that, as a government institution, Cranston High School West is not allowed to endorse any one of those religious views and practices. It said — has been said again and again and again by the courts in the United States — that the government, including the public schools, should stay out of the question of religion.

This is a principle that doesn’t just protect atheists. It protects everyone’s right to practice their own religion, or lack thereof, as they choose — regardless of whether that religion is the majority or the minority. As someone in a discussion about this case so eloquently pointed out to Christians screaming “Majority rules!”: If you lived in a small town, and dozens of Muslim families quickly moved in and became the majority, should they have the right to post a prayer to Allah in the public school?

So yeah. To anyone with even the most basic understanding of civics and the Constitution, the court decision in favor of Jessica Ahlquist, ruling that her public high school could not have a banner in the school auditorium offering a prayer to the Christian god, was about as surprising as the fact that millions of people enjoy chocolate and think kittens are cute.

So why are so many people so enraged about it?

Have no doubt — people are enraged. Not just disappointed; not just upset. Enraged. Even before the judge’s decision, Jessica Ahlquist had been ostracized, bullied, and even occasionally threatened over her lawsuit. But when the court ruling came down last week, the climate of harassment and hostility against her escalated out of control, into widespread vilification, venomous bile, and explicit threats of violence, rape and death. Including the following:

“Let’s all jump that girl who did the banner #fuckthatho””I want to punch the girl in the face that made west take down the school prayer… #Honestly”

“hail Mary full of grace @jessicaahlquist is gonna get punched in the face”

“Fuck Jessica alquist I’ll drop anchor on her face”

“lol I wanna stick that bitch lol”

“We can make so many jokes about this dumb bitch, but who cares #thatbitchisgointohell and Satan is gonna rape her.”

“Brb ima go drown that atheist in holy water”

“”But for real somebody should jump this girl” lmao let’s do it!”

“shes not human shes garbage”

“wen the atheist dies, they believe they will become a tree, so we shld chop her down, turn her into paper then PRINT THE BIBLE ON HER.”

“May that little, evil athiest teenage girl and that judge BURN IN HELL!”

“definetly laying it down on this athiest tommorow anyone else?”

“yeah, well i want the immediate removal of all atheists from the school, how about that?”

“If this banner comes down, hell i hope the school burns down with it!”

“U little brainless idiot, hope u will be punished, you have not win sh..t! Stupid little brainless skunk!”

“Nothing bad better happen tomorrow #justsaying #fridaythe13th”

“How does it feel to be the most hated person in RI right now? Your a puke and a disgrace to the human race.”

“I think everyone should just fight this girl”

“I hope there’s lots of banners in hell when your rotting in there you atheist fuck #TeamJesus”

“literally that bitch is insane. and the best part is she already transferred schools because shes knows someone will jump her #ahaha”

“Hmm jess is in my bio class, she’s gonna get some shit thrown at her”

“gods going to fuck your ass with that banner you scumbag”

“I found it, what a little bitch lol I wanna snuff her”

“if I wasn’t 18 and wouldn’t go to jail I’d beat the shit out of her idk how she got away with not getting beat up yet”

“nail her to a cross”

“When I take over the world I’m going to do a holocaust to all the atheists”

Even her state representative, Rhode Island State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, has gotten into the act. He went onto WPRO talk radio to excoriate the ruling (saying, among other things, “we’re crucifying Jesus again”), and to mock and vilify Ahlquist, calling her a “pawn star” (that’s a 16-year-old girl we’re talking about), a “clapping seal,” and an “evil little thing” (later modified to “coerced by evil people”). (Slight tangent: It’s bad enough when ordinary citizens don’t understand enough Civics 101 to know that this ruling was not only correct but entirely uncontroversial. It’s much worse when this isn’t understood by a state representative, whose job it is to understand the law, and who took an oath to uphold the Constitution. Palumbo’s phone number, by the way, is (401) 785-2882 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (401) 785-2882     end_of_the_skype_highlighting, and his email is rep-palumbo@rilin.state.ri.us .)

What the hell is going on here?

Why has an entirely unsurprising court ruling — on a well-established point of law, based on one of the most fundamental rights established by our country’s Constitution, protecting everyone’s right to practice their religion without government pressure or interference — resulted in such grotesque, hateful, violently threatening rage aimed at a 16-year-old girl, simply for having the temerity to ask her public school to obey the law?

Some of it, of course, is Internet culture, and the anonymity that makes people feel comfortable saying horrible, cruel, threatening things they would probably never say in person. Some of it seems to stem from a grossly underfunded public education system, and the widespread piss-poor understanding of Civics 101 that apparently goes along with it. And some of it, of course, is just generic enforcement of conformity, and generic hostility aimed at anyone who steps outside social norms. (A tendency that’s especially prevalent in high school.)

But some of it seems to have to do with the unique nature of religion.

Religion, unlike any other belief system or social structure, is based on a belief in that which cannot be seen, felt, heard, touched, or otherwise detected by any normal or reliable means. It is based on ideas that have no good evidence to support them, and that by definition can’t have good evidence to support them.

And in a frustrating and exasperating paradox, when people hold beliefs we don’t have good evidence for, we have a strong tendency to defend them more vigorously, more vehemently, and in many cases more violently.

This is something Daniel Dennett pointed out in his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. If you see that the sky is blue, and someone else says that it’s orange, you don’t feel a particularly passionate need to defend your position… because it’s freaking obvious that you’re right. You have an easy way of resolving the dispute, and the facts are clearly in your favor. But if you think that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that your faith in his divinity is required for you to get into Heaven — and someone else insists that no, Jesus Christ is not the son of God, there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet — you don’t have any way of resolving that dispute. Neither of you can point to any good evidence showing that one of you is probably right. All you have is your personal feelings and beliefs and wishful thinking, and the teachings of authorities who don’t have anything better to back up their ideas than you do.

So — paradoxically — the less good evidence we have for a belief, and the less defensible it is, the more vigorously we defend it.

And if that indefensible belief is important to us — if it’s a central part of our philosophy, our community’s culture, our consolation in the face of hardship, our deepest personal identity — our defense of it is likely to become even more vigorous. And our need to shut down any contradictory ideas becomes even more vehement. In some cases, to the point of ostracism, bullying, and outright threats of violence.

So when religion is questioned, and the privilege it enjoys is challenged, all too often the answer is, “Shut up.”

That is exactly what the bile and vilification and threats against Ahlquist are. They are not a serious attempt to engage with her on the question of separation of church and state, or even on the question of atheism and religion. They are an attempt to shut her up. They are an attempt to terrify her into silence. And they are an attempt to terrify anyone else into silence who dares to ask questions about religion, to challenge unjust religious privilege, and to insist that the government stay the hell out of their personal religious convictions.

So those of us who care about religious freedom — including the well-established freedom to not have our government impose religious views on us — need to speak out about it. Believers, atheists… everyone. We need to speak out about it. We need to act on it. And we need to support the organizations and the people who are defending it on the front lines, in the face of willfully ignorant and hideously cruel opposition.

(A college scholarship fund is being raised for Jessica Ahlquist on the Friendly Atheist blog. Donations of all sizes are welcomed through February 29.)

Writers Cited in Breivik Manifesto Have Spoken at US Military Colleges as Anti-Terrorism Experts July 31, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Racism, Religion, Right Wing, War on Terror.
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Sunday 31 July 2011
by: Chris Rodda, Truthout                 | Op-Ed

In February 2009, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) received some very good news. A woman named Brigitte Gabriel had been disinvited from speaking at the United States Air Force Academy, due to MRFF’s year-long battle to stop the US military from allowing Islamophobic fear-mongers to speak at our military’s colleges and service academies under the guise of anti-terrorism training.

Just about a year earlier, in February 2008, the Air Force Academy had invited a group called the “3 ex-Terrorists” to speak at its 50th Annual Academy Assembly on the topic “Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today’s Plague of Violence.” One member of this trio of self-proclaimed ex-terrorists turned evangelical Christians was Walid Shoebat.

After repeated demands for equal time to counter the anti-Muslim preaching of these so-called terrorism experts, the Air Force Academy eventually allowed MRFF founder and president, and Academy graduate, Mikey Weinstein, MRFF Advisory Board member and Islam scholar Reza Aslan, and MRFF Board member and former Ambassador Joe Wilson to speak to the cadets.

If the name Walid Shoebat sounds familiar, it’s because CNN just did an exposé on him a few weeks ago (article, video: part 1, part 2). As CNN reported, Shoebat is still being hired to speak to Homeland Security and law enforcement agencies, despite the fact that he has repeatedly been exposed as a fraud by both journalists and academics. Shoebat’s mission is clear — to spread a fear of Muslims and rail against all that liberal political correctness that’s causing so many Americans to treat Muslims just like everyone else.

The message of Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! for America and author of Because They Hate is the same as Shoebat’s. In June 2007, Gabriel, who has also been brought in as a terrorism expert by several government agencies, delivered a lecture at the US military’s Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) as part of the JFSC’s Islam elective for American military and national security personnel.

During the Q & A part of this lecture, a JFSC student asked Gabriel, “Should we resist Muslims who want to seek political office in this nation?” This was Gabriel’s answer:

“Absolutely. If a Muslim who has — who is — a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”

Gabriel then proceeded to give the following reason for a Muslim’s oath of office being meaningless:

“A Muslim is allowed to lie under any situation to make Islam, or for the benefit of Islam in the long run. A Muslim sworn to office can lay his hand on the Koran and say ‘I swear that I’m telling the truth and nothing but the truth,’ fully knowing that he is lying because the same Koran that he is swearing on justifies his lying in order to advance the cause of Islam. What is worrisome about that is when we are faced with war and a Muslim political official in office has to make a decision either in the interest of the United States, which is considered infidel according to the teachings of Islam, and our Constitution is uncompatible [sic] with Islam — not compatible — that Muslim in office will always have his loyalty to Islam.”

Gabriel also expressed her views on immigration:

“Those Al Qaeda members and Hezbollah members who are coming into the United States, they are immediately going from the Mexican border into the major cities where there is large Islamic concentration in the United States, such as ‘Dearbornistan’ Michigan…”

So, what does all this have to do with Norwegian Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik? Well, Walid Shoebat and Brigitte Gabriel are two of the anti-Muslim activists who show up in his manifesto. Shoebat is quoted about fifteen times throughout the manifesto, and a link to a 45-minute Brigitte Gabriel video is provided for further information on one of the sections.

But the most frequently cited author in the manifesto is Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam. Spencer is quoted by Breivik over three dozen times, in several places at great length, and Breivik wrote, “About Islam I recommend essentially everything written by Robert Spencer.” Breivik even used a take-off on Spencer’s book title for a section of his manifesto, which he titled “A politically incorrect guide to the lynching of multiculturalist traitors.”

MRFF is quite familiar with Robert Spencer’s book, having received numerous complaints over the past few years from service members who want it removed from the military’s PXs and BXs, where it is usually displayed right next to the military Bibles.

Three other authors quoted or recommended by Breivik — Serge Trifkovic, Bat Ye’or, and Abdullah Al Araby — all appeared in the same Islamophbic pseudo-documentary with Shoebat and Spencer, “Islam: What the West Needs to Know.”

In 2008, when the politically useful anti-Muslim film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the Westwas being distributed by the millions in swing states via DVDs inserted in major newspapers, MRFF discovered that this same film, which featured both Shoebat and Gabriel, was being used by the US military. MRFF was able to stop some of the screenings of this film, but many others did take place. The packaging of the “campaign” version even carried the endorsement of a professor from the Naval War College, lending the credibility of the US military to this piece of Islamophobic propaganda.

In short, all of the popular anti-Muslim writers and speakers cited in Breivik’s manifesto have essentially the same message — Muslims are taking over the “Christian” world and must be stopped. And these same writers and speakers all have multiple connections to each other. They appear in the same films, link to each other’s websites, promote each other’s books and videos, are listed by the same speakers bureaus, serve in various capacities in each other’s organizations, etc.

Because I work for MRFF, my focus needs to be on stopping the tide of Islamophobia within the military, but, after reading Breivik’s manifesto, it would be impossible for me not to be thinking about the other dangers posed by these Islamophobic fear-mongers, who are feeding countless Americans — some of whom might be unstable enough to carry out a “mission” like that of Breivik — a steady diet of justification for their twisted religious or political ideologies.

While it is clear from Breivik’s manifesto that he began to formulate his ideas several years before the post 9-11 “popularization” of Islamophobia, I think it’s completely legitimate to ask the question: Just how much did the constant validation of these ideas by the likes of Gabriel, Shoebat, and Spencer play a role in Breivik’s ultimate decision to actually carry out his terrorist attacks?

Editor’s Note: MRFF President Mikey Weinstein is a member of Truthout’s board of advisers.

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Chris RoddaChris Rodda is the senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the author of “Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History.”

Inside the Right-Wing Christian Law School That Brought Us Michele July 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Religion, Right Wing.
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When Oral Roberts University sought to set up a law school, it
called in Christian Reconstructionist Herb Titus. Michele Bachmann is the law
school’s most famous graduate.

July 19, 2011  |

//

 

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion
Dispatches
. You can sign up for their free daily newsletter here
.

At the May “First Friday” lecture hosted by the Institute on the Constitution
at the Heritage Community Church in Severn, Maryland, IOTC founder Michael
Peroutka presented the evening’s guest speaker, attorney Herb Titus, with a
“Patrick Henry Award” for “his tireless and fearless telling of God’s truth to
power.” Titus (best known for his representation of former Judge Roy Moore in
his failed quest to install a 2.6-ton Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama
Supreme Court building) is one of the few lawyers in America who, Peroutka
noted, truly “believes God is sovereign and therefore God’s law is the only
law.” For Peroutka, the Constitution Party’s 2004 nominee for president, this
was his usual spiel on God and the law.

In the late 1970s, Titus played an instrumental role in launching the law
school at Oral Roberts University (ORU), from which GOP presidential hopeful
Michele Bachmann graduated in 1986. Titus, who rejected his Harvard Law School
education after reading the work of R.J. Rushdoony, the late founder of
Christian Reconstructionism, was moved to exercise what he believes is a
“dominion mandate” to “restore the Bible to legal education.” To teach, in other
words, that Christianity is the basis of our law, that lawyers and judges should
follow God’s law, and that the failure to do so is evidence of a “tyrannical,”
leftist agenda.

Titus’ lecture, as well as the teachings of Reconstructionists, the
Constitution Party, and the IOTC, provide a window into Bachmann’s legal
education, and thus how her political career and rhetoric—so incomprehensible
and absurd to many observers—was unmistakably shaped by it.

Restoring the American Jurisprudence to its “Biblical
Foundations”

After launching ORU’s law school, and later helping with Regent University’s
1986 takeover and launch of a public policy program, Titus ran on Constitution
Party founder Howard Phillips’ presidential ticket in 1996. The stated goal of
the Constitution Party “is to restore American jurisprudence to its biblical
foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional
boundaries.” That includes, for example, “affirm[ing] the rights of states and
localities to proscribe offensive sexual behavior” (i.e., homosexuality) and
“oppos[ing] all efforts to impose a new sexual legal order through the federal
court system” (i.e., civil unions, marriage equality, or adoption by LGBT
people). It is more extreme than the Republican Party platform, to be sure, but
the GOP is hardly devoid of allies of the Constitution Party—including Sharron Angle, who ran for Senate in Nevada last year, and
presidential candidate Ron Paul.

The lecture series at the Institute on the Constitution, which also offers
in-depth classes that are popular with tea party groups, has recently included
presentations on constitutional law by Moore and one of his protégés, current
Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker. In a dissenting opinion in a 2005
child custody case in which the majority affirmed an award of custody to the
child’s grandparents, Parker cited not legal cases or statutes, but rather
Romans 13:1-2, for the proposition that “there is no authority except from God.”
That, he concluded, dictated that the state should stay out of such family law
matters except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Christians are “Second-Class Citizens”

The claim that powerful, anti-Christian forces aim to undermine God’s “truth”
lies at the heart of the IOTC’s and Titus’ conception of the constitutional
roles of government and religion. Titus insists that Christians are
discriminated against by these conventional interpretations of the Establishment
Clause, which are at odds with his own, and which he contends have contributed
to the treatment of Christians as “second-class citizens.”

“I would say to you that someone who holds a Christian view such as Michele
Bachmann does would be much more accommodating of different views than any
liberals,” he told me, because her views would permit the public posting of the
Ten Commandments, for example, but a liberal’s would not.

That’s because, of course, under a “liberal” (i.e., accepted by the Supreme
Court, at least for now) view of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, the
government cannot act in a way that does, or appears to, endorse a particular
religion.

Titus contends, however, that religion, as used in the Establishment Clause
(“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) does not
mean, well, a religion. Rather, Titus insists that this clause means
that Congress cannot make you do anything that you are otherwise commanded by
God to do: in other words, Congress cannot flout God.

Religion, Titus told the IOTC audience, “is the duty which we owe our
Creator.” As Julie Ingersoll has described in detail, Rushdoony argued that God granted certain
jurisdictional authority to the government, the church, and the family—therefore
any government action exceeding its God-granted authority is in violation of
God’s commands. Titus says the government has the power to make you, say, pay
taxes, but other “duties we owe to God exclusively” cannot be enforced by the
government.

In Titus’ view, the First Amendment prohibition against Congress establishing
a religion was actually intended to prevent Congress from establishing
institutions that he maintains are tantamount to a religion, like
public education, or National Public Radio. “I don’t believe what they teach in
public schools,” Titus told his IOTC audience. “They don’t even believe in the
first thing—that God is the source of knowledge.”

Indeed, as Titus himself was aware, the activism that launched Bachmann’s
political career was an extended crusade against public schools in Minnesota
(which, oddly enough, included a failed bid for a spot on her local school
board, even though her own children did not attend public schools).

According to a 2006 Minneapolis City Pages profile, in 1993 Bachmann helped found a charter school in
Stillwater “that ran afoul of many parents and the local school board when it
became apparent that the school—which received public money and therefore was
bound to observe the legal separation of church and state—was injecting
Christian elements into the curriculum.” Later, Bachmann “became a prolific
speaker and writer on the evils of public education.”

Health Care, Guns, and Slavery

In a 2009 interview with Glenn Beck, Bachmann said, “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this
issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back.” Both that statement and
her characterization of health care reform as federal government
excess that amounts to creating “a nation of slaves” and “tyranny,” draw on her
Reconstructionist understanding of the Constitution.

Indeed, Bachmann possesses an alarming misunderstanding of the history of
slavery that at once celebrates it as a heyday of African-American family life,
and engages in revisionism about the founders’ view of it. She recently signed a
“marriage pledge” in Iowa that included the statement (since removed): “sadly a child born into slavery in
1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent
household than was an African American baby born after the election of the USA’s
first African-American president.” She has also stated, incorrectly, that the founders “worked tirelessly” to end
slavery.

Peroutka and the IOTC, for their part, express affection for the Confederacy.
In bestowing the “Courage of Daniel Award” on Moore on June 3, Peroutka,
who frequently ribs people for being from the “wrong side of the Mason-Dixon
line,” cheerfully noted that it also happened to be the birthday of Confederate
President Jefferson Davis.

Other IOTC speakers have included Franklin Sanders, whom the Southern Poverty
Law Center describes as “a peculiar mix of neo-Confederate fantasist and
seasoned tax protester.” Sanders has served on the Board of Directors of the
League of the South, a Southern nationalist organization the SPLC characterizes as “a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a
second Southern secession and a society dominated by ‘European Americans.’” That
society would be, according to the SPLC, a “godly” nation “run by an
‘Anglo-Celtic’ (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic
state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities.”

In the Reconstructionist view, a gun will protect you from your imagined
enslavement by the federal government. Bachmann is one of several Republicans
endorsed by the Gun Owners of America, another Titus client, which contends
that gun ownership is not just a right, but an “obligation to God, to protect
life.” Last year, Titus cited the “totalitarian threat” posed by “Obamacare” and told
me that people need to be armed, “because ultimately it may come to the point
where it’s a life and death situation.”

When I asked him recently whether he agreed with Bachmann’s opposition to
health care reform, he exclaimed approvingly, “talk about turning yourself over
to tyranny—your health care decisions made by bureaucrats.”

“Real” Americans

Bachmann’s history of questioning Barack Obama’s American-ness, or of espousing “normal people values,” is rooted in the Reconstructionist
conception of “American-ness.” Not just Christian, but their kind of
Christian; one who would obey God, exercise “dominion authority,” and, most
crucially, is one of their “brethren.”

Titus, founder of Bachmann’s law school, happens to be the architect of a
legal theory—as far outside of the legal mainstream as his Establishment Clause
theory—that Obama is not a “natural-born citizen,” a designation that would render him
ineligible to be president due to his “divided loyalties.” Deuteronomy 17, he
insists, demands that that the “king” be selected from one’s own “brethren.” As
an outsider Obama isn’t a “real” American, worthy—according to the Bible or the
Constitution—of being president.

The “Judicial Tyranny” Canard

In 2003, motivated by Moore’s Ten Commandments crusade, then-state senator
Bachmann participated in a “Ten Commandments Rally” on the state capitol steps,
at which speakers called for the impeachment of federal judges who rule public
postings of the Ten Commandments unconstitutional, and for a return to “biblical
principles.” Bachmann, according to coverage in the Minneapolis
Star-Tribune
, “told the crowd that the founders of the United
States—including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—‘recognized the Ten
Commandments as the foundation of our laws.’”

Bachmann isn’t alone among Republican politicians embracing Reconstructionist
views. After Moore was stripped of his judgeship for defying a federal court
order to remove his monument, Titus drafted the Constitution Restoration Act,
which would have deprived federal courts of jurisdiction in cases challenging a
government entity’s or official’s “acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source
of law, liberty, or government.” The bill, which did not pass, nonetheless had
nine Senate co-sponsors and 50 House co-sponsors; including House Majority
Leader Eric Cantor, Bobby Jindal, now the governor of Louisiana, Nathan Deal,
now the governor of Georgia, and Mike Pence, a conservative hero who’s now
running for governor of Indiana.

While campaigning for president, Bachmann took up the “tyrannical judges”
mantle, this time in connection with the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling that the
state’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional. She applauded the ouster of
“black-robed masters,” the three Iowa judges who had ruled same-sex marriage
constitutional, and who were targeted by the religious right. In Iowa, judges are
appointed, but subject to what is normally a routine, periodic retention
vote.

The necessity of electing judges, rather than appointing them, was the
subject of Parker’s First Friday lecture in January, because “elected judges are
bulwarks against the agenda of the left.”

“If you take a moment to think,” said Parker, “federal judges appointed for
life have legalized abortion, homosexuality, pornography, same-sex marriages,
and outlawed school prayer and the display of the Ten Commandments.”

“When judges don’t rule in fear of the Lord,” he concluded, “all the
foundations of the earth are shaken.”

Just the sort of thing that Peroutka complains isn’t taught in secular law
schools. But at ORU, it was.

The Birth of the Christian Law School

The launch of the law school at ORU was intended to create public figures
just like Bachmann: lawyers unafraid to inject their particular Christian
beliefs, not only into the public square, but quite deliberately into
legislation, policy, and jurisprudence.

As Titus tells it, God opened a door when the televangelist Oral Roberts
wanted to found a Christian law school at his eponymous university in Tulsa,
Oklahoma. “My first reaction,” said Titus in a recent interview with the
Christian Reconstructionist Chalcedon Foundation, “was, no way, I’m not going to
be identified with Oral Roberts, with this healer, with this Pentecostal
personae and so forth, and yet God made it so clear to us that we were to go and
help begin a Christian law school.”

Bachmann, who until a few years ago attended a staid and deeply conservative
Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church in Stillwater, Minnesota, might have
been, like her law school classmate Dean Burnetti, “shocked” when a fellow
student spoke in tongues in chapel the first day of law school. But Burnetti,
now a personal injury lawyer in Florida, told me, “My personal worship
experience has changed because of those people, and the way I see God’s active
involvement in my life has changed because of that.”

The law school at ORU was a first effort at creating a “Christian” law school
that would teach the “biblical” foundations of the law—essentially substituting
Rushdoony’s totalizing worldview for mainstream legal theory. His views are
evident not only in the ORU education Bachmann received, but in the perspectives
of other Christian law schools forged on the ORU example, such as Liberty
University Law School, where students are taught to follow “God’s law” rather than “man’s law,” and where Rushdoony’s
texts are required reading. The rise of Christian schools—not just law
schools, but elementary and secondary education, and homeschooling as well—has
been, in Titus’ view, a “silent revolution” that has “basically escaped the
scrutiny of most journalists.”

According to Titus, there have been “tremendous strides that have been made
in last 20 or 30 years,” in developing other “Christian” law schools, including
Regent University Law School, which, as noted above, took over ORU law school
after Bachmann graduated. Titus credits Roberts, who “didn’t bow down to the
establishment”; in particular the American Bar Association, which initially
refused to give the school accreditation because it required faculty and
students to be professing Christians (both were required to sign a pledge that
they were followers of Jesus).

Burnetti described Bachmann as “brilliant” and a “very gifted, very talented,
very smart girl.” When I asked whether he could see now how her ORU education
influenced her, he said, “there’s no doubt in my mind that has an influence and
will have an influence on everything that passes through the filter of her
conscience and life. It will be filtered through the principles she has used in
the joining of the Bible and her Christian faith and beliefs and the use of the
Constitution.”

Titus was quick to point out that not all of the students of his preferred
pedagogy are “cookie-cutter” types who fall into an identical ideological line.
On foreign policy matters, for example, he said he’d be more aligned with the
non-interventionism of Ron Paul than with Bachmann.

But it’s clear, nonetheless, that he’s confident that her Christian beliefs
pass muster. He doesn’t consider either Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman, both
Mormons, to be Christians; said he didn’t know whether Tim Pawlenty was a
Christian (even though his pastor is the president of the National Association
of Evangelicals); and defended Texas Governor Rick Perry’s hosting of a prayer
rally.

Though he isn’t even running, Titus took a dig at Mike Huckabee, saying that
host of Fox News’ Huckabee show “doesn’t understand the difference
between the state’s business and the church’s business,” because he believes in
“welfare taking care of the poor, which is contrary to Jesus’ teaching.” Again,
that’s a reflection of the Christian Reconstructionist view of
God-granted authority—i.e., it’s not within the government’s “authority” to take
care of the poor.

I asked Titus whether it would be a big moment for him to see Bachmann, a
product of the law school he helped found, ascend to the GOP presidential
nomination. He replied, “It’s the kind of thing that we believe was one of our
major purposes, which was to train people in such a way so as to make an impact
in the leadership of the country.”

Catholic Church gives D.C. ultimatum November 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Religion.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

jesus-washing-foot

[FYI  Two weeks ago the Pope made an offer to Anglicans to become Catholics, and yesterday the Vatican announced the search for extra-terrestrial life (yes, seriously).Now this news where the carrot routine has been replaced by the stick.   NT]

Roger’s Comment: TAKE AWAY THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH’S TAX EXEMPT STATUS!


Same-sex marriage bill, as written, called a threat to social service contracts

 

 

By Tim Craig and Michelle Boorstein

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said Wednesday that it will be unable to continue the social service programs it runs for the District if the city doesn’t change a proposed same-sex marriage law, a threat that could affect tens of thousands of people the church helps with adoption, homelessness and health care.

Under the bill, headed for a D.C. Council vote next month, religious organizations would not be required to perform or make space available for same-sex weddings. But they would have to obey city laws prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

Fearful that they could be forced, among other things, to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples, church officials said they would have no choice but to abandon their contracts with the city.

“If the city requires this, we can’t do it,” Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Wednesday. “The city is saying in order to provide social services, you need to be secular. For us, that’s really a problem.”

Several D.C. Council members said the Catholic Church is trying to erode the city’s long-standing laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination.

The clash escalates the dispute over the same-sex marriage proposal between the council and the archdiocese, which has generally stayed out of city politics.

Catholic Charities, the church’s social services arm, is one of dozens of nonprofit organizations that partner with the District. It serves 68,000 people in the city, including the one-third of Washington’s homeless people who go to city-owned shelters managed by the church. City leaders said the church is not the dominant provider of any particular social service, but the church pointed out that it supplements funding for city programs with $10 million from its own coffers.

“All of those services will be adversely impacted if the exemption language remains so narrow,” Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the Washington Archdiocese, wrote to the council this week.

The church’s influence seems limited. In separate interviews Wednesday, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) referred to the church as “somewhat childish.” Another council member, David A. Catania (I-At Large), said he would rather end the city’s relationship with the church than give in to its demands.

“They don’t represent, in my mind, an indispensable component of our social services infrastructure,” said Catania, the sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill and the chairman of the Health Committee.

The standoff appears to be among the harshest between a government and a faith-based group over the rights of same-sex couples. Advocates for same-sex couples said they could not immediately think of other places where a same-sex marriage law had set off a break with a major faith-based provider of social services.

The council is expected to pass the same-sex marriage bill next month, but the measure continues to face strong opposition from a number of groups that are pushing for a referendum on the issue.

The archdiocese’s statement follows a vote Tuesday by the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary to reject an amendment that would have allowed individuals, based on their religious beliefs, to decline to provide services for same-sex weddings.

“Lets say an individual caterer is a staunch Christian and someone wants him to do a cake with two grooms on top,” said council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 6), the sponsor of the amendment. “Why can’t they say, based on their religious beliefs, ‘I can’t do something like that’?”

After the vote, the archdiocese sent out a statement accusing the council of ignoring the right of religious freedom. Gibbs said Wednesday that without Alexander’s amendment and other proposed changes, the measure has too narrow an exemption. She said religious groups that receive city funds would be required to give same-sex couples medical benefits, open adoptions to same-sex couples and rent a church hall to a support group for lesbian couples.

Peter Rosenstein of the Campaign for All D.C. Families accused the church of trying to “blackmail the city.”

“The issue here is they are using public funds, and to allow people to discriminate with public money is unacceptable,” Rosenstein said.

Rosenstein and other gay rights activists have strong support on the council. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the judiciary committee, said the council “will not legislate based on threats.” “The problem with the individual exemption is anybody could discriminate based on their assertion of religious principle,” Mendelson said. “There were many people back in the 1950s and ’60s, during the civil rights era, that said separation of the races was ordained by God.”

Catania, who said he has been the biggest supporter of Catholic Charities on the council, said he is baffled by the church’s stance. From 2006 through 2008, Catania said, Catholic Charities received about $8.2 million in city contracts, as well as several hundred thousand dollars’ worth this year through his committee.

“If they find living under our laws so oppressive that they can no longer take city resources, the city will have to find an alternative partner to step in to fill the shoes,” Catania said. He also said Catholic Charities was involved in only six of the 102 city-sponsored adoptions last year.

Terry Lynch, head of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said he did not know of any other group in the city that was making such a threat.

“I’ve not seen any spillover into programming. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen if [the bill] passes,” he said.

Cheh said she hopes the Catholic Church will reconsider its stance.

“Are they really going to harm people because they have a philosophical disagreement with us on one issue?” Cheh asked. “I hope, in the silver light of day, when this passes, because it will pass, they will not really act on this threat.”


US Muslims Still Under Siege April 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Immigration, Religion.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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by Amy Goodman

As President Barack Obama made his public appearance with Turkish President Abdullah Gul on Monday as part of his first trip to a Muslim country, U.S. federal agents were preparing to arrest Youssef Megahed in Tampa, Fla. Just three days earlier, on Friday, a jury in a U.S. federal district court had acquitted him of charges of illegally transporting explosives and possession of an explosive device.Obama promised, when meeting with Gul, to “shape a set of strategies that can bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the West that can make us more prosperous and more secure.”

Megahed, acquitted by a jury of his peers, thought he was secure, back with his family. He was enrolled in his final course needed to earn a degree at the University of South Florida. Then the nightmare he had just escaped returned. His father told me: “Yesterday around noon, I took my son to buy something from Wal-Mart … when we received a call from our lawyer that we must meet him immediately. … When we got to the parking lot, we found ourselves surrounded by more than seven people. They dress in normal clothes without any badges, without any IDs, surrounded us and give me a paper.

“And they told me, ‘Sign this.’ ‘Sign this for what?’ I ask him. They told me, ‘We are going to take your son … to deport him.’ “

Megahed is being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a deportation proceeding. The charges are the same ones on which he was completely acquitted. In August 2007, Megahed and a fellow USF student took a road trip to see the Carolinas. When pulled over for speeding, police found something in the trunk that they described as explosives. Megahed’s co-defendant, Ahmed Mohamed, said they were homemade fireworks.

Prosecutors pointed to an online video by Mohamed, said to show how to convert a toy into an explosives detonator. Facing 30 years behind bars, Mohamed took a plea agreement and is now serving 15 years. Megahed pleaded not guilty, and the federal jury in his trial agreed with his defense: He was an unwitting passenger and completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

That’s where ICE comes in. Despite being cleared of the charges in the federal criminal case, it turns out that people can still be arrested and deported based on the same charges. The U.S. Constitution protects people from “double jeopardy,” being charged twice with the same offense. But in the murky world of immigrant detention, it turns out that double jeopardy is perfectly legal.

Ahmed Bedier, the president of the Tampa Human Rights Council and co-host of “True Talk,” a global-affairs show on Tampa community radio station WMNF focusing on Muslims and Muslim Americans, criticizes the pervasive and persistent attacks on the U.S. Muslim community by the federal government, singling out the Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or JTTFs. The JTTFs, Bedier says, “include not only federal FBI agents, but also postal inspectors, IRS agents, deputized local police officers and sheriff’s deputies, any type of law enforcement,” and when one agency fails to take down an individual, another agency steps in. “It’s like an octopus,” he says.

When the not guilty verdict was read in court last Friday, Megahed’s father, Samir, walked over to the prosecutors. Bedier recalled: “It startled many people. He walked over to the prosecution, the people that have been after his son for a couple of years now, and shook their hands, extended his hand, and he shook hands with the prosecution team and the FBI themselves and then also shook hands with the judge. The judge shook hands with Youssef and wished him ‘good luck in your future’ … the case was over.”

Obama said in Turkey, “[W]e do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

Until Monday, Samir Megahed praised the justice system of the United States. He told me, “I feel happiness, and I’m very proud, because the system works.” At a press conference after his son’s ICE arrest, he said: “America is the country of freedom. I think there is no freedom here. For Muslims there is no freedom.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Obama Admin Moves to Protect Military Officials March 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
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by Nedra Pickler

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is trying to protect top Bush administration military officials from lawsuits brought by prisoners who say they were tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay.

 

[A protester, dressed as a Guantanamo Bay prison inmate, calls for the closing of the US military prison at a protest in front of the White House in Washington, DC in early February. (AFP/File/Nicholas Kamm)]A protester, dressed as a Guantanamo Bay prison inmate, calls for the closing of the US military prison at a protest in front of the White House in Washington, DC in early February. (AFP/File/Nicholas Kamm)

The Justice Department argued in a filing Thursday with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that holding military officials liable for their treatment of prisoners could cause them to make future decisions based on fear of litigation rather than appropriate military policy. 

The Obama administration was expected to take another stand affecting Guantanamo detainees’ lawsuits Friday. A federal judge overseeing lawsuits of detainees challenging their detention has given the Justice Department until the close of business to give its definition of whom the United States may hold as an “enemy combatant.”

Obama has pledged to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, and Justice Department lawyers are already trying to find courtrooms or foreign countries to place the 240 people still held there.

The new administration is seeking to craft new rules for when and how a terror suspect can be seized, and what interrogation methods may be used in trying to extract information from them. But while it works on those rules, the Obama administration appears to be sticking with Bush administration legal definitions in pending litigation.

Last month in another court filing, the Justice Department sided with the Bush White House by arguing that detainees at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan have no constitutional rights.

“The president has ordered a comprehensive review of both the government’s overall policy for detainees and the status of detainees held at Guantanamo,” Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “The Guantanamo detention facility will be closed by January 22, 2010, but in the meantime, we will continue to litigate cases involving detainees.”

The suit before the appeals court was brought by four British citizens – Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed and Jamal Al-Harith – who were sent back to Great Britain in 2004. The defendants in the case include former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Eric Lewis, attorney for the four, said Friday that military officials should be subject to liability when they order torture.

“The upshot of the Justice Department’s position is that there is no right of detainees not to be tortured and that officials who order torture should be protected,” Lewis said.

The men say they were beaten, shackled in painful stress positions and threatened by dogs during their time at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. They also say they were harassed while practicing their religion, including forced shaving of their beards, banning or interrupting their prayers, denying them copies of the Koran and prayer mats and throwing a copy of the Koran in a toilet.

They contend in their lawsuit that the treatment violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which provides that the “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”

The appeals court ruled against them early last year, saying because the men were foreigners held outside the United States, they do not fall within the definition of a “person” protected by the act.

But later in the year, the Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees have some rights under the Constitution. So the Supreme Court instructed the appeals court to reconsider the lawsuit in light of their decision.

¿Sí o No? Bolivians Mobilize for National Vote on New Constitution January 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Bolivia.
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Bolivia ReferendumA Bolivian vendor in front of graffiti art reading, “Yes.” The wall refers to the upcoming vote on a new constitution. (Photo: Dado Galdieri / AP)

22 January 2009, www.truthout.org violent one. One key event in this process was the July 2, 2006, election of assembly members to the constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Later, in December 2007, the new constitution was passed in an assembly meeting in Oruro that was boycotted by opposition members. After months of street battles and political meetings, the Bolivian Congress ratified a new draft of the constitution last October 21. In many ways, these various steps will culminate in the January 25 vote.»The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America. Email: Bendangl@gmail.com

by: Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

 La Paz – In the morning on Sunday, January 18, after a heavy rain fell on La Paz, Bolivia, the sun came out, drying the umbrellas of thousands of marchers winding through the city streets. The mobilization was in support of a new constitution to be voted on this January 25.

    Eddie Mamani, a resident of La Paz with an indigenous wiphala flag draped around his neck, spoke loudly to be heard over the brass band playing behind him. “For too many years we have been exploited by right-wing politicians who do not govern for all Bolivians. We are marching today for our children and our grandchildren.”

    The march, which stretched for some five blocks, was filled with the white, blue and black flags of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), the party of President Evo Morales. The sound of fireworks mixed with honking horns from cars and buses waiting for the march to pass. While posters of Morales bobbed up and down in the crowd and copies of the new constitution were handed out to onlookers, marchers yelled “Sí, Sí, Sí! Vamos por el Sí,” urging voters to cast a “Yes” ballot in the upcoming vote. Polls indicate that the constitution will be approved.

    Along with the nationalization of Bolivia’s gas reserves, rewriting the constitution was a major promise of Morales during his 2005 presidential campaign. The road to this new constitution has been a long, complicated and often

    Among other significant changes, the new constitution allows for a broader involvement of the state in the Bolivian economy, including the state’s participation in the gas and oil industry. It establishes the Bolivian state as plurinacional to reflect the diversity of indigenous and Afro-Bolivian groups in the country. It formally promotes the official use of the country’s 36 indigenous languages. The new constitution also grants autonomy to indigenous groups across the nation, enabling them to govern their own communities. This autonomy for indigenous communities may undermine the power of right-wing prefects in opposition-led departments. The current constitution also expands the number of seats in the recently opposition-controlled Senate, and other seats are reserved specifically for senators elected from indigenous communities.

    Like many of the constitution’s critics, Rolando, a thirty-something resident of La Paz, was not enthusiastic about the extended rights granted to indigenous people. Rolando, sporting a beard and baseball cap, said he wouldn’t be voting in support of the new constitution because “it was not written for all Bolivians. It just takes into account the rights of rural and indigenous communities.” This is an often-heard critique of the constitution. Yet it doesn’t fully take into account that 62 percent of the population self-identify as indigenous, and about the same percentage live under the poverty line. Many who support the new constitution are doing so because the document grants long overdue rights to the “originarios,” indigenous Bolivians who have been marginalized for centuries.

    Another point of contention is the way the constitution deals with religion. The current constitution says, “The State recognizes and upholds the apostolic Roman Catholic religion. [It] guarantees the exercise of every other cult.” The new constitution says, “The State respects and guarantees the liberty of religion and spiritual beliefs, in accord with one’s cosmovisiones. The State is independent of religion.” Many critics, besides fearing the separation of church and state, say this change opens the window for the government to allow gay marriage and legalize abortion. Unfortunately, nothing indicates that pushing for such much-needed policy changes is on the current government’s agenda.

    Under the new constitution, land deemed productive will not be broken up by the government, but unproductive land will be redistributed, and a cap on new land purchases – set either at 5,000 or 10,000 hectares – will be voted on separately. Land reform is an area of the constitution which has been highly criticized from the Bolivian left. Critics say the constitution should go further in addressing the fact that most of Bolivia’s land is in the hands of just a few wealthy families. These weak land reforms are considered a major concession to the right wing; much of Bolivia’s fertile land is in the eastern departments, currently controlled by opposition prefects.

    In what appears to have been another concession to the opposition, the draft constitution was also changed to prevent Morales from running for two additional terms, as an earlier draft of the constitution allowed. If the new constitution is approved, Morales will run for his last consecutive term in general elections in December 2009.

    The coming days will be full of marches across the country for and against the new constitution. Sunday’s mobilization was a preview of things to come. Max, a participant in the march waving a MAS flag, and who described himself as “just another Bolivian citizen,” said he is supporting the new constitution because, of the many constitutions which Bolivia has had throughout its history, “this is the best one.” He also approved of the way the constitution was developed in the constituent assembly and believed it was “written for all Bolivians” and will “help keep our leaders honest.”

    One section of this march ended up in a park with a giant blown-up balloon figure of Evo Morales in the middle of it, and dozens of people handing out pamphlets on the new constitution and MAS calendars for the new year. While one group of people slapped “Sí” bumper stickers on cars in the area, another woman methodically peeled the same stickers off the guard rail of a nearby bridge.

    Lourdes Calla, a brown-haired activist in the MAS, wove a wiphala flag and jumped to the rhythm of a nearby chant. “I am voting in support of the constitution for the equality of all Bolivians – there should be no upper and lower economic class, we’re all Bolivians,” she said. “This new constitution has been created through a historically democratic process, and defends the rights of indigenous and rural communities. Now is the time to put these rights into practice.”

 


Benjamin Dangl is currently based in Bolivia, and is the author of “

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