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A Few Religious Objections to Hobby Lobby, et al.

By: Peterr Wednesday March 26, 2014 6:45 am

After reading through some of the recaps of the oral arguments at SCOTUS yesterday in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, it appears that some of the justices, and perhaps a majority, are willing to allow private religious objections to trump the laws, regulations, and ordinances enacted by local, state, and federal governments. Just so that no one is surprised later, I thought I’d lay out some of my strongly held religious beliefs now.

I have a strong religious objection to the death penalty, yet for the fifth time in five months, my state of Missouri has spent my tax dollars to carry it out. At the foundation of the Christian church — the Lutheran branch of which I am pleased to serve as a pastor — is the story of the execution of Jesus at the hands of the state and his resurrection three days later, through which God says “No” to the death-dealing forces of the world. My tax dollars are spent at the state and federal level to support exactly this system of vengeance, not justice, which all too often is administered in a way that is irregular at best and occasionally flat out wrong at worst.

I also have a strong religious objection to torture, yet my state and federal government continue to spend millions of tax dollars on that form of torture known as “solitary confinement,” and tens or hundreds or thousands of millions on “enhanced interrogations” and the hiding thereof from the oversight of the courts. Indeed, I have strong religious objections to NOT spending my tax dollars to bring the perpetrators and enablers of torture to justice.

I have strong — very strong — religious objections to the unequal treatment of people before the law, yet the Department of Justice seems bent on spending my tax dollars and the tax dollars of similarly-minded folks by the millions to chase the poor and powerless into prison while giving the wealthy and powerful sternly worded letters and a good talking-to. In the financial fraud around the housing market, homeowners are hounded and unscrupulous mortgage dealers are allowed to roam free. During the recent Lesser Depression, homeowners pushed underwater by the practices of their banks have suffered greatly (“We’re sorry, but your equity has disappeared because the property values have fallen so much because we crashed the economy”), yet the SEC and DOJ use my tax dollars to go to great extremes to settle civil litigation with the the banks in such a toothless fashion that the board of JPMorgan Chase gave Jamie Dimon a 74% raise after guiding them through with only a slap on the corporate wrist. And you don’t want to know how strongly I object on religious grounds to the failure of the DOJ to pursue criminal rather than civil penalties . . .

I have viscerally strong religious objections to sexual abuse, yet the military paid for with my tax dollars continues to turn a blind eye to the climate in the military that leads thousands of those in the ranks to not report the harassment, abuse, and rapes they have suffered at the hands of their colleagues and commanders, and that allows far too many of those against whom reports of abuse were filed to avoid accountability. Similarly, I have strong religious objections to NOT spending my tax dollars to do this on every US military base and port and outpost.

I have extremely strong religious objections using my tax dollars to administer the public law in secret, with secret judicial proceedings, secret decisions, and secret sentences.

I have powerfully strong religious objections to using my tax dollars to carry out executive decisions made on the basis of secret evidence to violate the sovereign territory of other nations in order to remotely execute those with whom they disagree, without allowing the accused an opportunity to know the accusations against them, to state their case, to respond to the allegations, or even to publicly confront their accuser. I especially object when such executions are carried out against an anonymous targets based on undefined notions of “suspicion” and “association.”

I have seriously strong religious objections to using my local, state, and federal taxes to provide a public education to my child and the children of my neighbors that is incomplete (such as abstinence-only sex education), or based on disproven science, pseudo-conflicts, and unproven beliefs. The earth is round, old, and getting warmer by the day because of human activity. There is no serious scientific objection to these concepts, and I strongly object on religious grounds to using my tax dollars to teach otherwise.

 

Snowden, Merkel, Obama, and King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

By: Peterr Monday January 20, 2014 9:13 am

photo: mplemmon via Flickr

In 1963, Martin Luther King addressed a group of local white clergy who were upset with him and his colleagues for being so confrontational, so direct, and so impatient in what became known as “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” After recounting the many earlier attempts to address matter that produced little if any change, King wrote this:

You may well ask: Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

In 2010, on the eve of the midterm Congressional elections, President Obama sat down with five prominent LGBT bloggers to try to tamp down the LGBT community’s pressure on him to quit defending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. LGBT activists had been raising the temperature on the White House, and Obama had the audacity to refer to King’s letter in telling them that LGBTs simply need to wait until the right time:

And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified.

Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms. So it’s not my place to counsel patience. One of my favorite pieces of literature is ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail,’ and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time. And he rightly said that time is neutral. And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.

So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing, but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.

As I said at the time, I think Obama needs to reread the Letter, as he completely misses King’s meaning time and time again over his tenure at the White House. In January 2011, the DOD’s General Counsel Jeh Johnson attempted to say that King would have been fine with drones, indefinite detention, and the War in Afghanistan, totally misunderstanding King’s life’s work in general and his very specific comments about war and non-violence in particular. Let the record show slightly less than two years after making those remarks, Jeh Johnson become the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Those old posts came back to me as I watched Obama’s speech about the NSA last Friday, and watched the subsequent analysis of it — especially that done by the invaluable Marcy Wheeler (see here, for instance). Barack “No Drama” Obama disdains confrontation, and yet it was the drama created by the direct action of Edward Snowden, together with the journalistic work of Glenn Greenwald, Der Spiegel, the Guardian, and others, that has done what King talked about: “create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

Marcy and others have been shouting for years about unconstitutional institutional overreach in the intelligence community, and the response from Obama was no better than the response from Bush, until Snowden’s leaks started appearing in print. When Obama nominated Dawn Johnsen to be the head of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel shortly after his election in 2008, he raised hopes that this kind of unreviewable, unchallengable, behind-the-scenes approach to the Executive branch’s conclusions about what is and is not constitutional would change. While others nominated to senior DOJ posts were confirmed, she waited, and waited, and waited some more. While Obama fought for other nominees, she sat alone, in silence. When her nomination was eventually withdrawn, it came as no surprise. As bmaz wrote most eloquently,

Raise a Glass, and Let Us Give Thanks

By: Peterr Wednesday November 27, 2013 9:01 pm

One of the delights (or difficulties, depending on your point of view) of being a pastor is that in most parishes, you are constantly surrounded by a mix of people — much more of a mix than most people have in their ordinary workplaces. Rich people and poor people, folks with lots of degrees and folks with little formal education, people with deep roots in an area and people who moved into that place . . . a rich diversity of people indeed. As I prepare for Thanksgiving at our home, and think about the food that will be spread for my family and friends, many of my parishioners (current and former) go through my mind.

If you have a beverage at hand, now would be a good time to fill your glass . . .

*raising my glass*

I give thanks for farmers. I give thanks for the ranchers with their cattle, bison, sheep, and hogs, as well as the folks who grow wheat, corn, soybeans, and truck crops. I give thanks for those who tend orchards and vineyards, and those who go out in their boats to bring in the fruits of the sea.

I give thanks for the meteorologists and other scientists who offer their expertise, to help the farmers make the most of their land and their farms, and I give thanks for those who inspect our food, to help insure its safety.

I give thanks for those who bring this food to markets to be sold, and I give thanks for those who run the markets, putting this food before me as I shop.

I give thanks for my family, who cook with me and for me, and I give thanks for my friends, who dine with me and bless me with their presence.

Beyond all this, I give thanks for those who serve food to others.

I give thanks for those who run the restaurants where I go out to eat — the cooks, the servers, and those who clean up — and I give thanks for those who prepare the meals in schools and nursing homes, in mess halls and prisons, in hospitals and government cafeterias.

I give thanks for those who serve in soup kitchens and food pantries, helping those on the margins of society to not only fill their bellies but to know that they are not forgotten or without worth, and I give thanks for those who eat in soup kitchens and shop in food pantries, for reminding me by their presence of our shared humanity and our mutual responsibility for one another.

As you gather this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for you and for those with whom you dine. Whether you gather around a carnivore’s delight of turducken slathered in gravy made from the drippings or a vegan’s feast of vegetables and herbs, may this day of Thanksgiving be a day in which you give thanks for the community that surrounds you.

To Thanksgiving, and to people to be thankful for!

*ding*

(Because as I wrote in the midst of the Scooter Libby trial, we have to ding.)

What Could Possibly Go Wrong: Kansas Edition

By: Peterr Monday November 4, 2013 9:36 am

Tomorrow is election day in Kansas, the place Sam Brownback is using to test-drive every conservative policy proposal he can think of, facts be damned. As I noted last year, when Mitt Romney had to burnish his conservative credentials, it was at Brownback’s feet he bowed when he chose Paul Ryan to be his VP candidate — Ryan, whose last job before becoming a member of Congress was as Brownback’s legislative director. Pick an issue, lay out the most conservative policy prescription you can think of, and the GOP in Brownbackistan will find something even further to the right to enact.

Chief among Brownback’s minions, and the guy who desperately wants Brownback’s job when Brownback announces he’s running for president in 2016*, is Kris Kobach. Kobach is an alumnus of the Ashcroft DOJ, and first made waves nationally as the principal author of Arizona’s anti-immigration laws that were struck down by SCOTUS. Since then, he was elected the Kansas Secretary of State, going after the plague of vote fraud that wasn’t sweeping the state with new state ID laws, ramping up the pressure on anyone who even thinks of getting an abortion, and generally trying to make himself look like The Next True Conservative Leader behind Brownback.

Now he’s latched on to another conservative issue, hoping to win more friends in the conservative coalition in addition to the anti-abortion, anti-immigrant crowds who love him already. That issue? Guns.

Kansas has an open carry law, which says (generally speaking) that almost all public buildings must allow people to openly carry weapons as they embrace their Second Amendment right to self-defense. Only if a building has security in place similar to the TSA screenings at airports can that building declare itself to be a no-carry location. Various cities are unhappy about this, but are similarly unhappy about the prospects of (a) having to spend lots of money they don’t have to upgrade and install security on lots of public buildings, or (b) having to spend lots of money they don’t have defending themselves from lawsuits if they challenge the law.

So what could possibly go wrong with this scenario?:

The next time you vote in a Kansas election, the person next to you at the polling place may be packing a pistol.

It depends on how state Attorney General Derek Schmidt rules on a request for a legal opinion that has been filed by the state’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The argument here is this: Because churches, schools, and other places open their doors to the state to serve as polling places, that makes them public property for the day, and thus overrides their own “no guns here” policies. That’s sure to go over well with a fair number of the pastors and parishes I know in Kansas.

I’m trying to imagine the reaction if a couple of members of the New Black Panthers were to show up at a KS polling place with legal weapons carried openly. The right wing would leap to their defense, wouldn’t they?

Or, you know, not.

But my favorite part of the article at the link is the photograph the Wichita Eagle used of voting machines set up at Reformation Lutheran Church in an earlier election. As everyone in Wichita knows, Reformation is the church where George Tiller was gunned down while serving as an usher one Sunday morning in 2009. Using an image of that church is a not-so-veiled — and well-deserved — slam at Kobach and the gun rights fetishists.

Good.

An Exceptional Definition of American Exceptionalism

By: Peterr Tuesday September 10, 2013 6:15 pm

At the end of President Obama’s speech on Syria and the necessity of acting against the Assad regime, he offered a most exceptional definition of American exceptionalism:

America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong, but when with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.

That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

Let me get this straight. American Exceptionalism means “If we can stop children elsewhere from being gassed by not exerting ourselves too much, we do it?”

Sadly — very sadly — that sounds about right.

Oh, and one more thing about the end of the speech . . .

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

I’m not a fan of what has become this traditional end to presidential speeches, but in my professional opinion, it’s especially out of place here.

If you’ve spent all this time talking about those dead Syrian children, based your speech on the necessity to act because of those dead Syrian children, and right at the end of the speech urged everyone to watch the videos of those dead Syrian children, maybe asking God to bless the families of those deceased victims of the gas attacks would have been the way to go at the end, instead of “God bless us, because it’s all about us.”

The People of New York v. The Donald

By: Peterr Saturday August 24, 2013 5:58 pm

This is a man who has made millions out of going bankrupt, forcing his creditors to eat his losses.

Oh my.

Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General of the State of New York, is not happy with Donald Trump, the Ruler of All that He Sees*. Schneiderman has filed a $40 million lawsuit against Trump, alleging that his “Trump University” defrauded students who enrolled there.

“Trading on his celebrity status, Mr. Trump personally appeared in advertisements making false promises to convince people to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford for lessons they never got,” Schneiderman said. “No one, no matter how rich or famous they are, has a right to scam hardworking New Yorkers. Anyone who does should expect to be held accountable.”

And as the AP notes, Schneiderman’s not done:

“Trump University engaged in deception at every stage of consumers’ advancement through costly programs and caused real financial harm,” Schneiderman said. “Trump University, with Donald Trump’s knowledge and participation, relied on Trump’s name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand.”

Unfortunately, Trump has an ironclad defense: admitting to everything that Schneiderman says, otherwise known as “the truth.”

I can hear the defense opening statement now:

Your honor, my client has a long history of running businesses solely to benefit himself. You know it, I know it, all of New York knows it, all the world knows it.

This is a man who has made millions out of going bankrupt, forcing his creditors to eat his losses.

This is a man who has made millions by presenting himself on national television as a self-centered know-it-all, who doesn’t give a damn about those beneath him — including his own family members.

With this well-known history, how can anyone plausibly bring a suit alleging fraud? If you drive across a bridge that has obviously broken girders, obviously rusted supports, and obviously potholed asphalt, you can’t blame anyone but yourself when the bridge collapses as you drive an 18 wheeler across it. That’s what the plaintiffs are trying to do — avoid responsibility for their own gullibility.

I move that this case be dismissed.

I’m told the legal phrase that I’m looking for is “assumption of risk.”

Case dismissed.

(I suppose that it’s too late to bill Mr. Trump for my legal expertise . . .)

___

*apologies to Yertle the Turtle.

Winter Olympic Sports Federations Oppose Discrimination, So Why Aren’t They Speaking Up?

By: Peterr Friday August 2, 2013 4:06 am

There has been a growing amount of discussion of how the Olympics may or may not be affected by the anti-LGBT laws enacted in Russia, a year before the Sochi Winter Olympic games. Should there be a boycott, to call attention to these laws and the plight of Russians who are affected by them? Would it be better to attend, compete, and (a la Jesse Owens in Berlin or John Carlos in Mexico City) use the games to make a political statement about equality and justice? (See Dave Zirin here.) Activists argue over the right strategic approach, and athletes argue about whether this would make them into pawns.

Wrestling coach Charley Sullivan described himself like this in a piece at OutSports:

I’m a college coach who has sent athletes to each of the past three summer Olympic Games, and has two actively training for the next quadrenium. I’m also a doctoral candidate in history, writing a dissertation on gender, sexuality, autocratic states and mass violence in the 20th century. And I’m an openly gay Quaker with a strong set of values about social justice.

He puts those values and that experience to good use, with a very thought-provoking piece. He is well aware of the power dynamics involved in the Olympics, from the team level to the international. One part of his writing stood out very strongly to me:

In sports where selection can be political, or where team chemistry is important, however, athletes are often loathe to make themselves an issue. Many gay, lesbian and bisexual elite athletes will, understandably, therefore, choose to just keep quiet when their own “issue” gets increasingly hot. Instead of asking the national team coaches, high performance managers and executive directors what might (or might not) be transpiring, they will keep their heads down and keep training. Too much is at stake.

That critical voices in the discussions about potential boycott of Sochi—those of gay, lesbian and bisexual athletes aiming to compete there—will be largely absent from the debate should not be surprising then. In general, the outspoken voices will either be gay activists who may have little knowledge of elite athletics, or straight athletes and officials who may have scant knowledge of LGBT issues.

It is vital, therefore, that US sport leaders—the USOC and the heads of the eight winter sport national federations (Biathlon, Bobsled and Skeleton, Curling, Figure Skating, Hockey, Luge, Ski and Snowboard, and Speedskating)—take a forthright stand on principal.

Now. So that athletes can worry about training.

That makes a lot of sense. Sadly, we’ve gotten *crickets* from them.

But Sullivan’s piece made me wonder just who these folks are and what they believe.

René Fasel is a former hockey player and referee, who moved on into dentistry as well as becoming the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation [IIHF]. Now Fasel serves as the head of the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF), and also as a member of the Executive Committee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). I got to thinking: what does the IIHF have to say about discrimination, equality, and justice in their bylaws?

Here’s the answer, from the preamble to the IIHF Statutes and Bylaws [pdf]:

The International Ice Hockey Federation is dedicated to the worldwide growth and development of ice hockey and In-line hockey, providing exemplary leadership and governance by diligently observing the principles of democracy, fairness, solidarity and transparency for its Member National Associations . . .
Every ice hockey player in Member National Associations of the International Ice Hockey Federation has the right to participate in a safe, positive and enjoyable environment and to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness in the process. The International Ice Hockey Federation and each of its Member National Associations do not accept and will not tolerate harassment, abuse or violence in any of its many forms, and particularly where people in positions of responsibility unfairly exercise their power and authority over others.

That’s pretty strong language. Too bad it’s in conflict with the new laws of Russia as signed by President Putin relating to LGBTs, or those of any sexual orientation who want to stand up for them. It’s certainly in conflict with the vigilante beatings and assaults that are apparently going unpunished.

And what about those other winter sports federations?

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back in Kansas Over Abortion

By: Peterr Saturday April 6, 2013 11:38 am

It’s been almost four years since George Tiller was murdered in the narthex of his church while serving as an usher, and the fight over a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions is still up for grabs in the state of Brownbackistan.

On Wednesday, a foundation named Trust Women opened the South Wind Women’s Center in the same space where George Tiller practiced medicine in Wichita. The founder of Trust Women, Julie Burkhart, used to work with Tiller, and SWWC has engaged three doctors to work there to provide a full range of women’s reproductive medical services, including abortions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy and referrals elsewhere thereafter. As you might imagine, Operation Rescue and Kansans for Life are not at all happy about this. They failed to prevent SWWC from opening, and now they are preparing their usual protests and disruptive actions to try to force them to close.

Two days later, up the road in Topeka, the overwhelmingly GOP-led legislature passed a sweeping new anti-abortion, anti-women, anti-science bill and sent it to Governor Brownback’s office for his inevitable signature. From the Wichita Eagle:

The Kansas House voted late Friday to send a bill to the governor defining human life as beginning at fertilization and mandating that abortion doctors must provide controversial information to patients of a theorized link between abortion and breast cancer.

Earlier in the day, the Senate approved the final version of the bill after a bruising debate with references to the Taliban and the Dred Scott decision that once upheld slavery.

House Bill 2253 was one of the final bills in a late-night marathon meeting that wrapped up the regular legislative session for the year. Gov. Sam Brownback has indicated he would sign any anti-abortion bill the Legislature sends him.

The House vote was so little in doubt that no members went to the podium to speak in favor of it, although four of the outnumbered Democrats in the chamber harshly criticized the bill.

The GOP in Brownbackistan is well-known for their opposition to science, and the pseudo-scientists behind this bill continue along that same path. Actual scientists at the National Cancer Institute, on the other hand, note that current medical research concludes “that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.” Never mind that, says the GOP — we require that women be presented with inaccurate information should they inquire about abortion.

A question for any lawyers in the audience here: Can someone sue the state GOP for practicing medicine without a license?

And then there’s that nifty new “life begins at conception” provision. The legislative summary of the bill [pdf] describes it like this: