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by Peterr

A Few Religious Objections to Hobby Lobby, et al.

6:45 am in climate change, Economy, Education, Energy, Environment, Health Care, Judiciary, LGBT, Military, Religion by Peterr

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.

Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

What Could Possibly Go Wrong: Kansas Edition

9:36 am in abortion, Guns by Peterr

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. Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back in Kansas Over Abortion

11:38 am in 2016 election, abortion, Health Care, Women's rights by Peterr

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: Read the rest of this entry →

by Peterr

Why Todd Akin Stayed, and Why it Troubles Paul Ryan

4:14 am in Conservatism, Elections, Religion by Peterr

Mitt Romney doesn’t get Todd Akin. “Don’t you see what you’re doing to the Party? Don’t you see what you’re doing to The Cause? Get out of the race, so we can get a winning candidate in place!”

And Akin said, “No.”

Roy Blunt, Missouri’s junior senator, doesn’t get Todd Akin, and neither do Kit Bond, Jim Talent, Jack Danforth, or even John Ashcroft, former GOP senators from Missouri all. “Please, Todd, for the sake of our state and our party, get out of the race.”

And Akin said, “No.”

Karl Rove and the others behind the SuperPACS that have been pouring money into Missouri don’t get it, and neither does John Cornyn or the people at the NRC. “We’ll pull our funding and tell your donors not to give to your campaign. We’ll univite you to the Republican National Convention. Get. Out. Of. The. Race. NOW.”

And Akin said “No.”

Maybe Iowa’s favorite son, Rep. Steve King, can explain it to them. He gets Akin, as his (pre-rape comments) endorsement of Akin makes clear:

Congressman Todd Akin is my friend, he is running for the United States Senate and he is the man that will always stand on the principles that we believe in.  Too many people bend or sway in the wind or they get drawn into the mesmerizing idea that somehow someone can guide you up through a leadership channel if you just go along to get along.  He is not going to put up a vote for the sake of going along to get along and neither will I.  We have a sacred obligation to all of you, that’s to keep our oath of office.  That’s to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

That’s Todd Akin, as local politician and reporters from around St. Louis know all too well, like Kevin Horrigan:

For nearly a quarter of a century, we had him mostly to ourselves. He was that little barbecue joint that nobody else had discovered. He was a secret fishing hole we didn’t have to share. We never knew what he would say next, but whatever it was, we knew that there was a good chance it would be ridiculous.

There was never anything as outrageous as the magical women-don’t-often-get pregnant during “legitimate rape” claim that now has him in hot water. But if he started talking about Sunday blue laws or the evils of sex education or the dangers of the state licenses for day-care centers or any of the other social issues that came before the Missouri Legislature in the 1990s, Todd would safely go off the deep end and only the Akinmaniacs would notice.

He was kept pretty well bottled-up during his 12 years in the Missouri House. In those days, Democrats still controlled the House and moderation wasn’t yet a sin within the GOP. Todd’s views were so extreme that most mainstream Republicans rolled their eyes when he got up to talk.

He didn’t care. He was a man on a mission.

A man that will always stand on principle. A man on a mission. That’s what Romney and the GOP senators from Missouri and the PTB in the RNC and the political operatives in the GOP don’t get. Or perhaps they get it, but were hoping they could get him, just once, to back off and tone it down.

Good luck with that.

From Akin’s perspective, he can end up in one of three ways. First, he could become a hypocrite. He could give up his principles, give up his mission, and give up his candidacy, which to him would be tantamount to giving up his faith. “When things got tough for God’s prophets in the Old Testament, or the early Christians under Roman persecution, some of them bailed on God. I’m not going to do that.” To leave the race like this would set the stage (in Akin’s mind) for years of nightmares: “how many abortions could I have prevented, if I had just remained firm, remained faithful, and remained strong?”

His second possible outcome is to become a martyr. “I held firm to my convictions, I remained faithful, and whatever happens in the election happens. If I lose, I lose — but I didn’t lose my faith.” In becoming a martyr, he will be a hero to the Fundy Faithful, and they will tell stories about him for generations to come. “When faced with choosing between his faith and what is ‘prudent’ and politically popular, Akin didn’t flinch. Sure, he went down in flames at the polls, but that didn’t matter to him. What mattered to him most was keeping the faith. And he kept it.”

His third possible outcome is to become a senator. By remaining faithful, Akin will proclaim to the Fundy Faithful in Missouri that he is putting this race in God’s hands. His prayer is that they will rally around him in numbers that will amaze the pundits, astound the GOP establishment, and send God-fearing people across the country into a religious frenzy of delight.

A hypocrite, a martyr, or a senator. Akin refuses to accept the first mantle, and will be perfectly happy with either of the other two.

And that probably makes Paul Ryan very sad.

It’s not because Akin might lose to McCaskill, costing the GOP control of the Senate. It’s not because the focus on Akin might derail the careful planning for next week’s Republican National Convention. It’s not because the focus on Akin might spill over into the presidential race, forcing Romney and Ryan to talk more about social issues than the deficit, the budget, and the economy, and perhaps costing them the White House.

It’s because Akin chose what Ryan did not.

Robin Marty of RH Reality Check lays out quite clearly who Ryan is, as she wades through years of his statements and votes:

Rep. Paul Ryan is against abortion, no exceptions. Paul Ryan would allow an exception for rape. Ryan doesn’t believe in birth control. Ryan only has three children, he must believe in birth control. Ryan is pro-life “from conception to natural death.” . . .

[snip]

We may not be entirely sure where Ryan stands at this moment, but anti-choice activists have absolutely no doubt that Ryan is in fact their “pro-life” hero. CatholicVotes announced their endorsement of the Romney/Ryan ticket, saying, “Paul Ryan will be the first pro-life Catholic to appear on a Republican presidential ticket since Roe v. Wade. Paul Ryan understands his faith. He understands Catholic social teaching, and prays and works to apply his faith to the practice of politics, including his economic and budget proposals.”

Exactly what are those social teachings?  Well, it comes as no surprise that CatholicVote does not believe in abortion in any instance, including for victims of rape.  “The rapist… is forever guilty of rape. The child conceived as a result of the rape was not guilty of the crime. The child did no wrong. The child ought not get the death penalty for his father’s rape.” but once again, Ryan is endorsed by supporters who claim he feels the same way, but avoids saying as much himself.

Winks. Dog whistles. Carefully nuanced statements to preserve an image. Playing coy with the press to present two faces to the world. In that respect, Ryan is the anti-Akin.

Which makes this information from Politico about Ryan’s phone call yesterday to Akin very, very interesting:

The call, first reported by NBC, did not entail Ryan asking Akin to drop out, the source said.

But he echoed the comments Mitt Romney made condemning the comments, as well as those from Senate officials who have said Akin needs to think about the impact of his remarks on the party and other candidates, the source said.

It was “not a brief call,” the source said.

Something tells me Ryan didn’t ask Akin to drop out because he knew it would never happen. Given a choice between being a hypocrite on the one hand or a martyr or senator on the other, he knew that there was no way that Akin would choose to be a hypocrite.

But for Ryan, it likely got worse. The more Akin talked, the more it probably bothered Paul Ryan, because while Akin was remaining firm and sticking to his principles, the more Akin talked about publicly witnessing to his faith, the more it hit home with Paul Ryan that he was hiding his own principles and downplaying his faith.

That had to hurt. And it will hurt all the way to November.

by Peterr

Bishops vs Catholic Healthcare West, and Why We All Should Worry

6:27 am in Religion by Peterr

A year ago, the medical staff of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix was faced with a painful situation. A pregnant mother of four was in serious medical trouble in the 11th week of her pregnancy. The doctors’ opinion was that she was at extreme risk of death, and the odds of her own survival were diminishing with each day she remained pregnant. After consultation with the hospital’s medical ethics board, the patient, and her family, the doctors terminated the pregnancy in order to save the woman’s life.

Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix was not pleased when he heard about it. Not at all. His reaction was to deliver an ultimatum with three specific conditions:

    • The hospital must “acknowledge in writing” that the procedure was an abortion.
    • The hospital must agree to a diocesan certification process to guarantee compliance with Catholic doctrine.
    • The hospital must provide its medical personnel with ongoing training in the Catholic directives governing health care, “as overseen by either the National Catholic Bioethics Center or the Medical Ethics Board of the diocese of Phoenix.”

      Refusal to agree to these conditions, said Olmsted, would cost St. Joseph’s the ability to call itself a “catholic” hospital, and he would revoke the chapel’s permission to have masses said there. In addition to these direct consequences, removing the ability of the hospital to call itself catholic would also have financial repercussions that could cost them money from donors, foundations, and of course from the diocese itself.

      The bishop’s tone with the hospital and its administrators was unmistakable. I am the ultimate authority in this diocese, he tells them in his letter last month [pdf], and not you. Olmsted’s concern throughout the letter to Catholic Healthcare West (the owner of St. Joseph’s) is first and foremost about protecting and projecting his own authority and power: Read the rest of this entry →

      by Peterr

      Michael Gerson’s Grasp of Evangelicals is Slipping

      6:40 am in Conservatism, Culture, Government, LGBT, Military, Religion by Peterr

      To judge by his column in today’s Washington Post, Michael Gerson has little grasp of the evangelical world.

      It is true that evangelicals are generally not libertarian. They admit a place for government in encouraging values and caring for the needy. Yet they do not believe that governmental elites share their values or have their best interests at heart. Among conservative Christians, government is often viewed as a force of secularization — a source of both bureaucratic regulation and moral deregulation. By identifying with expanded government, Obama fed long-standing evangelical fears of the aggressive, secular state.

      Michael, here’s a news flash. Evangelicals may make common cause with libertarians from time to time, but overall they are about as far from libertarians as you’re going to find. Their concern is that the state is too secular, not that it is too aggressive.

      Instead of a limited government, evangelicals want an expanded government. They don’t simply want it, but they’re working hard to make it happen:

      • Abortion? Get government into every woman’s womb, as soon as possible.
      • Sex education? Force states to teach ‘abstinence only’ and don’t talk about contraception and STD prevention via condoms.
      • Evolution? Require schools to teach creationism alongside it.
      • Homosexuality? Use all the power of government to stamp it out and otherwise express disapproval of it — DADT, DOMA, laws/constitutional amendments to sanction discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation, etc.
      • The Military? They want to turn it into a literal Army of God, spreading the Good News at gunpoint.

      To say that evangelicals fear big government is laughable. They love big government — as long as they get to run it.

      If this column is any indication of Gerson’s grasp of religion and politics, his new book should be on the fiction table.