Church vs. State: Religious Freedom vs. Freedom of Speech

Just when we thought the HHS “Contraceptive Kerfuffle” was resolved! So-called “social conservatives” from the religious right are attempting to hijack the issue from the Catholic Bishops to put a two-pronged political and religious spin on it.

  1. The President ordered a change to the HHS ruling so that health insurers automatically provide the coverage at no additional charge to any insuring employer.
  2. Brooks and Shields agree that the Administration pulled us back from the brink of “religious war.”
  3. The Catholic Church, ACLU, women’s groups and Planned Parenthood all seem mollified.
  4. GOP candidate Romney finally announces “that attacks religious liberty and freedom of speech.”
  5. Brooks shows how the Administration’s original ham-fisted proposal for universal access to birth control, and the recent California court overturn of the ban on gay marriage, have emboldened the religious right.
  6. The religious right will step up its long-standing assault on personal choice it opposes.

Well, Catholics having been somewhat mollified, we should have been able to predict this would only prompt the religious right “social conservatives” to step in where Bishops care not to tread. Brooks explained the religious right would be opposed to any aspect of the HHS bill anyway, since the original proposal concretized their claim that the whole “Obamacare” program is an unwarranted government intrusion upon their religious freedom, not to mention the untouchable private sector.

As we’d expect from any religion-driven political movement, this is partly political and partly because in the view of the religious right, reproductive preventative services of any kind are a violation of the word of the Creator who blessed only their interpretation of our founding state papers. We only need a Supreme Court to rubber-stamp doctrinaire edicts from the great pulpit on high. The constitutional separation of church and state is being broken down, piece by piece.

In other words, in the “social conservative” view, religious freedom must trump personal freedom of choice every time. In that view, religious freedom requires an imperative to impose upon others sharia, i.e. religious law, by force of political legislation. Never mind that this is unconstitutional in the United States.

Do you want fries with that? Did you know that the very organization which aggressively defames gays and lesbians has its own anti-defamation league? The irony is that we find freedom of speech and religion being used here as a tool to silence personal liberty. See:

2. Right Wing Watch
3. Christian Anti-Defamation Commission

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Tax Credits for Education

Back in my university days, a number of us fancied a libertarian concept known as “tax credits for education”. The idea seemed so simple. Parents pay taxes for the public education system; middle- and lower-income parents have little or no money left over to choose the private school option. Why not give them a tax credit, letting them vote their dollars to the school that best achieves their educational goals? But in 2010, nothing is ever so simple …

When we passed out the leaflets on campus, other students scowled at us like we were from Mars. Perhaps we were.

Today. our “idea from Mars” is federal law, as the IRS explains on their Education Credits web page.

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Turkey jails Kurdish newspaper editor

This just popped up in BBC news. Here’s a country with a civil rights track record that’s worse than Singapore’s and actually has much in common with the Taliban. And to think Turkey seeks admittance into the EU …

Read the article:


A Turkish court has sentenced the editor of a Kurdish newspaper to 21 years in prison for publishing material sympathetic to the outlawed PKK …

The paper had in fact simply described the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, as the “leader of the Kurdish people” – and it had failed to describe Turkish soldiers killed in battle as “martyrs”.

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US unveils new citizenship test

As we’ve all read recently, The US is rolling out a new citizenship test for immigrants who want to take the big step to US citizenship. According to the BBC and other reports, the government’s aim with these test changes is to shift away from an emphasis on historical fact to an emphasis of the “correct” interpretation of those facts.

Mr Gonzalez says those who want to become US citizens should not be allowed to do so by simply rattling off historical facts they have memorised but should show a passion for the country of which they are becoming an integral part.

Exactly how a sitting government impartially grade a “passion for the country” is a current queston of some concern. Immigrant groups don’t like it. Here are are some sample test questions (also found on the BBC website):


  • Why does the United States have three branches of government?
  • Name two rights that are only for US citizens
  • Name two cabinet-level positions
  • Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence
  • What does the Constitution do?
  • These questions might send a lot of us scurrying to our reference books.
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    Justice Kennedy quote

    According to the San Francisco Chronicle (11-5-2006), regarding a 2000 Nebraska abortion case, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy took “an emotion dissenting opinion” in which he said that states should be able to outlaw

    “A procedure many decent and civilized people find so abhorrent as to be among the most serious of crimes against human life.”

    Whether you happen to support or oppose abortion rights, there’s something horribly flawed in this argument that threatens all of us. To read it coming from a Justice of the Supreme Court is disturbing, to say the least.

    Logically, the argument for outlawing anything “that most people find abhorrent” can be used against anything. Historically, we find it used to support, among other things: ethnic cleansing, anti-gay laws, racism, and suppression of forms of free speech with which some people do not agree.

    Not only can it be used for these things, it is. One can only imagine a future civilization which strongly supports a woman’s right to her own body. In such a society, do you think people with strong anti-abortion views should be criminalized for attacking popular civil liberties?

    There’s a good reason why there’s no room in the Constitution for emotional litmus tests. They short-circuit the requirement of tying the law to established constitutional rights. Depending on the shifting quicksand moods and whims of public opinion, you could end up being the victim of such “reasoning”. What a shame to see this rhetoric coming from the highest bench seat in the land.

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    Rosa Parks 1913 – 2005

    If an updated “Profiles in Courage” (John F. Kennedy, 1956) could somehow be published 50 years later, I believe my heroine Rosa Parks would be in it.

    Mrs. Parks was a seamstress in Montgomery Alabama. She had no grand plan for starting a watershed civil rights movement. Waiting for the municipal bus after a hard day’s work, on December 1, 1955, she had planned some community work in the evening; it was not a day to plan to be arrested. But Rosa Parks just got tired of Alabama’s “Jim Crow” system of mistreatment , discrimination and segregation.
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    DNA Database

    Brave New World

    Think of this, you future doomsayers and science fiction writers: with a DNA database and chemical sniffers, within 100 years nobody on the face of this planet will be able to run and hide.

    [SF Chronicle special Saturday June 12] On the November ballot California voters will be asked to approve an initiative to escalate collection of DNA samples for the DNA database. California already requires collection of DNA samples on convicted felons. The initiative would change the requirement to include collection of DNA samples from anyone arrested for a felony.

    Law enforcement official would like to see the database expanded from its present size of 220,000 to over a million. The idea, of course, is that as long has you have a suspect under lock and key, why not find out what else the detainee might be suspected of?

    We can be sure that this might result in more convictions for offenses unrelated to the charge leading to the original arrest. If this sounds like a fishing expedition to you, rest assured law enforcement officials on the federal level will be watching this to see how it goes over.

    On the other hand, proponents argue this might result in more Cold Case crimes being solved, and how can we argue against that? As with increased anti-terrorism security restrictions, we tend to feel that no harm can come to us if we have nothing to hide. Slowly but surely, national security and low conviction rates trump the right to privacy.

    And I have nothing to hide, either. What’s the beef?

    Once upon a time, the accused was innocent until proven guilty. Domestically and internationally, a whole new generic citizen is being invented. Neither fish nor fowl, neither free person nor convicted criminal, this new category of person is both suspect and detainee, whose rights increasingly seem to be subordinate to the needs of the interrogators.

    People of my generation mostly seem to believe it is already too late to stop this Brave New World. I will be too old to run and hide, and have no reason to anyway. Think of this, you future doomsayers and science fiction writers: with a DNA database and chemical sniffers, within 100 years nobody on the face of this planet will be able to run and hide. And, just think: both the technology and the legal-moral precedent will be made right here in the good old USA, the freest nation on Earth.

    Alex Forbes ©June 15, 2004

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    Trent Lott

    Two down. Dozens to go. Should we not celebrate his fall from power; should we not pass out the party favors and dance in the streets? Some will say he did a lot for their region. Yes, he did; he combined the civilized veneer of Washingtonian doubletalk with the charm of the Old South, ably representing a lot of folks who would like to see us all the way back in time to before the Mason Dixon line.

    Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms … they represented the strange new mix of New South and Old Confederacy. They learned not to say “lynchings” and “nigrah”. They adopted instead the cracker codeword rhetoric, the superficial parlance of “freedom”, setting the respectability of laissez-faire and Jefferson’s Rights of Man back a hundred years or more. Poor old Dick Armey; didn’t that boy have SUCH a hard time learning not to say “fag”?

    It was as if throwbacks to an earlier time realized that, by adopting the dress and mannerisms of post-World-War-II cultures, they could “pass” … many who weren’t impacted personally by the votes and polemics of men like Lott will say that they weren’t so bad, that they did a lot to advance the cause of business and gun rights, and their power and influence brought factories and the railroad into town.

    Secretary of State Colin Powell said it best. The racism and sentiment of Strom Thurmond’s segregationist world of 1948 was just as wrong and reprehensible then as it is now. Saying that these men really “weren’t so bad” is much like prating that Hitler made the trains run on time.

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    ACLU & Cross Burning

    Maybe you noticed in tonight’s paper that the Supreme Court is hearing a case on whether a law banning cross burning (a la KKK) is a violation of free speech, or a legitimate way to “punish” what the SF Chronicle called “racial intimidation”. No less an entity than the ACLU is helping defend the free speech view.

    We found it appalling that, in the early stages of the hearing, the Justices focused mainly on what constitutes free speech and whether it was fair to single out cross burning as the only example of egregious actionable behavior.

    It took the only black man currently sitting on the Court, Clarence Thomas, to point out that historically, cross burning is far more than symbolic speech or even intimidation. It’s an unmistakable physical threat. Thomas didn’t speak out until halfway through the hearing. The other Justices listened. This changed the course and tone of the debate.

    I attended a gun show at the San Mateo County fairground facilities in the early 1990′s. Much of the offerings were garbage exhibited by low-lifers peddling cheap imported ammunition, war surplus castoffs and fake Nazi memorabilia. One exhibitor was hawking paper targets with the circle-and-diagonal “ban the …” symbol, a pink triangle, and telescopic sight crosshairs superimposed over a crude drawing of a face that was represented as “gay”. The shooting target had the word “Kill fags” printed prominently on it.

    I asked the exhibitor if the target was his. When he responded “yes”, I turned him in to the expo officials. They made him take it down. Five minutes later, it was up again. If that’s “symbolic speech”, then I would surely have a similar right to “symbolically” publish his name and address with detailed instructions on how to locate and detonate his gas main.

    However else one may size up the individual justices, these men are intellectually acquisitive. What can it mean when eight white Justices get mired on “symbolic speech” that overtly and unmistakably threatens violence and death to innocent, targeted individuals?

    I very recently read a pundit’s observation that the ACLU was the only organization in America that could go to court to defend an individual’s right to burn down the ACLU Headquarters. Sorry, ACLU. You need to get off the dime on this one.

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