Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Phelps Clan Must Be Breeding

A lot of time in gay rights debates, to the chagrin of the religious right, Fred Phelps and his clan are invoked as examples of extremism and bigotry from their side of the issue. Many on the religious right try and distance themselves from Phelps by saying he is one man who, with his family, is on a solo crusade and does not represent the Christian right at all. They make this claim despite other groups, with similar ideology springing up throughout the nation.

One of these groups, an outfit calling itself Soulwinners Ministries, is leading their own nationwide picketing party they are calling "Save Our Students". As part of their traveling circus, they decided to picket the dining hall and student union of UNC-Chapel Hill. The picture of the left, with the lovely sign reading "HOMO SEX IS A THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY" being held by a friendly man wearing a t-shirt that says "NO HOMOS GO TO HEAVEN" is from that picket. Another reported sign read "Satan says that God loves everyone."

Of course, the antics did not end with just a picket. This group of "Christians", in clear obedience to Christ's command to "Love thy neighbor" accused an all girls a capella group of being lesbians, and started approaching students at dining tables and quizzing them on their sexual orientation and proclaiming that the students were going to burn in hell. One student in particular wrote a letter to the editor of the school's newspaper objecting to having been labeled a "vigorous masturbator" by this lovely group. One has to wonder, being Christians are called to emulate Christ, if Christ Himself would have used that particular phrase, or ran around the dining hall randomly condemning people to hell.

No road trip would be complete, however, without a poorly done Geocities like piece of internet graffiti to publicize it, and our friends have one of their very own (linked above also), though it is lacking pictures and flashing frames. However, they do tell us the purpose for there traveling show on this little site, "Daily, on college campuses, this country’s future policy makers, parents, are injected with insidious ideologies, inoculating them to sodomy, same-sex marriage, fornication, abortion, under the demonic deception denoted 'diversity' and 'tolerance.'" Seriously, what the fuck does that mean? It sounds like a bad George Bush quote. Apparently, thoughts of "vigorous masturbation" precluded them from vigorous proofreading, or vigorous critical thinking, for that matter.

Why does this matter? Surely no one takes these buffoons seriously, right? Well, unfortunately, no, people do. In Sacramento, there is a group of Slavic immigrant Christians who have embarked on a similar type of crusade against the local LGBT community. For the past couple of years there have been pickets and counter pickets, and members of this community have made threats of violence. Those threats became reality on July 1st of this year when a 27 year old gay man was attacked at a local lake by a group of Slavic men who were making anti-gay and racists comments before the attack. The victim, Satendar Singh, died four days later. Two suspects have been named, one has been arrested, and the other fled and, from the last reports I have seen on this case, is believed to be in Russia. While these groups appear to be comical, and its fun to mock their stupidity, their hate is very real, and the danger of some people who think like them acting out on that hate is equally real.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Religious Freedom And The Seperation Of Church And State - How Freaking Hard Is It To Understand?

Last weeks post regarding a religious freedom/separation of church and state issued raised a little bit of discussion. The Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment are so simple that it blows the mind how people can't quite seem it get it. The Church and the State are two separate entities and neither should dabble in the other's business. The state must refrain from promoting or endorsing a certain sects beliefs, but, at the same time, it also must avoid being hostile towards a sect or belief system. Additionally, each citizen has the right to exercise their religious beliefs free from most interference of the state, save those of reasonable time, place and manner restrictions that are viewpoint neutral, with some limited exceptions.

What kind of things constitute a reasonable time, place or manner restriction? Imagine a street preacher walking down the sidewalk of a residential area knocking on doors to try and share his faith with homeowners. If he does this in the middle of the afternoon, he is fine (provided he respects "No Trespassing" and "No Soliciting" signs), and the state cannot restrict this activity. Now, suppose he decided that 2:00 AM is an appropriate time to do this. Can the state restrict that? Yes, because that is a valid time based restriction. He is not being restricted for the content of his speech, rather, he is being restricted because of the time he chose to do it. Suppose he decides that the best place to share his faith is in the middle of an intersection. Can the state restrict that? Yes, it can, because its not the content of the speech being restricted, but the place is, as the state has a valid interest in keeping traffic moving and keeping this guy from causing an accident. Should he then decide that, in the same residential area, he will start preaching via bullhorn. Can the state restrict that? Again, they can, because the interests of the residents in peace and quiet in their homes is a valid reason for the state to restrict the use of bullhorns.

Now, to be valid, these time, place and manner restrictions need to be, in almost all cases, viewpoint neutral. Basically, if the state is going to tell the Christian preacher that he can't walk down the sidewalk peaching via bullhorn, it has to also apply the same restriction to anyone else who walks down the same street talking about anything through a bullhorn.

In my last blog on this issue I discussed how a schools reaction to a student's religious comments in a graduation speech, in my view, crossed the line of a reasonable restriction. Below, I will detail four other incidents that I think also illustrate important points, and, in three of the cases, demonstrates how some people can't get what is a very simple concept. The forth issue is more of a commentary on how followers of one particular religion need to learn to how to respect others.

Item One: Christian School Expels Lesbians - Parents Sue.

In late 2005 a Lutheran school in Riverside County, CA expelled two students it suspected of being lesbians. A news report on this case can be found here. The parents sued, claiming that the protections in CA law that prohibit discrimination against LGBT individuals apply to the school. This case popped back up on the radar because some Christian legal groups got involved and started filing briefs in the case.

Without going into too much detail on the specifics (if you want to know them, read the links), it seems to me that this is a very basic case when you apply Constitutional principles. Was the school acting within their rights when they expelled students they believed violated their religious codes on homosexuality? Yes. Can CA require a religious institution to act in a manner contrary to its religious beliefs? No. The only possible exception is the government can require schools to agree to adhere to certain regulations in exchange for accepting government money. If this school made no such agreement with CA, it can do whatever it wants in this regard, and the state cannot interfere. But, isn't it wrong to expel kids for being gay? Yes, it is. Society's recourse is to not send your kids there until the school stops perpetrating spiritual violence against LGBT people.

Item Two: University bans Christian Group, calls foot washing "hazing".

A lawsuit has been filed in federal court against Savannah State University for suspending and then expelling a Christian student group for "harrassment" and "hazing." Per the lawsuit, the harassment charge stems from some students and groups disapproving of the organizations message (part of which was vocal opposition to the Greek system) and the hazing charge comes from the groups practice of washing the feet of new members, in a reenactment of Christ washing the feet of His Disciples in the Book of John.

Again, for more details, read the link. The issues here are simple. A state institution cannot discipline a group over the religious content of their speech, no matter who likes it an who doesn't. Additionally, the label of "hazing" being applied to an innocuous religious ceremony is absurd. People have the right to believe what they want, and to express their religious beliefs on campus without fear of being disciplined because they dared to offend someone. In America, we have the freedom of religion, but we do not have the freedom to not be offended.

Item Three: Orange County, FL, settles federal lawsuit filed against it for prohibiting a woman from passing out religious fliers in a public park.

Orange County, FL was forced to back down after trying to prohibit a woman from passing out religious fliers in a public park without government permission. The original story can be found here. Florida is werid. In one part of the state a mayor is launching an all out holy crusade against gay people, in another part the local government seems to have an issue with religious literature being passed out, and in another part, an anti-gay legislator is offering blow jobs to other men in public restrooms, for money. What an interesting place.

The issue here is that the state cannot restrict someone from passing out religious fliers in a public park, and it cannot require people to get government permission before sharing their faith and beliefs. Again, to me, this seems obvious, but maybe things are just more convoluted in Florida. Either way, lots of tax dollars just got wasted because people don't want to play by simple rules.

Item Four: Fundamentalist Christians need to learn to respect other beliefs as well.

Last month I wrote a blog chastising fundamentalists for ignoring everyone else's rights to freedom of religion. One of the items I mentioned was the non-sectarian prayer given by a Hindu before the U.S. Senate, and the fundamentalists opposition to it.

I mentioned that piece in passing, but, the other day, finally saw video of it. Honestly, I was shocked and appalled at the conduct of "Christians" in the Senate Gallery who were disrupting the prayer. The video below is from that day.

As prayers go, when the guest chaplain was finally able to finish it, that one was pretty innocuous. Hell, you could have summed up the content of that prayer in five words, "Hey God, how's it hanging?".

The disgusting thing is the comments made. "Lord Jesus, forgive us, Father, for allowing the prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight..." What the hell? That guy didn't seem wicked to me, nor are most Indian people I know. But, we all know how fond the Christian right is in calling people abominations...

It gets better... World Net Daily reports that the same guy made the same prayer to the California Senate, and now the fundamentalists are really up in arms. Tim Wildmon, of the American Family Association had the following comment, "We're not opposed to the ability of people to worship their own gods or god, but when it comes to our civil government … it's always been the recognition of the God of the Bible. Every religion is not equal. That's my belief. That's logic."

Tim, READ THE CONSTITUTION YOU FREAKING MORON! God is not the basis of civil government! The recognition of God is not the basis of civil government! Your beliefs are no more valid, under law, than his are. PERIOD!

"The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." - President John Adams in the Treaty of Triploi

"Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." - President Thomas Jefferson


There we have it folks, more fun and frivolity, and lawsuits, in the realm of religious liberty. Please feel free to comment and discuss the above. The more these cases are brought to the front, hopefully, the better people will understand how our founders intended the church and the state to interact. Maybe, just maybe, we can avoid some of these lawsuits from clogging up our already over burdened courts.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Goats Everywhere Implore You: DO NOT Fly On Nepal Airlines!

According to an article by Reuters today, Nepal state run airlines was having problems with their Boeing 757. To assist in fixing the problem they sacrificed two goats, in front of the aircraft at the Kathmandu airport, to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god. Hopefully, afterwards they actually fixed the problem with the aircraft.

Dear God, I certainly hope the FAA doesn't let these people fly into American airports...

The article can be found here.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Seperation Of Church And State - The Other Side Of The Coin

I have discussed, in detail, separation of church and state, and why the government needs to remain neutral towards religion. In a lot of cases, the abuses come when the government tries to inject the religious realm into the realm of government. However, on the other side of the coin, sometimes government inappropriately silences the religious viewpoints of its citizens, which also violates the separation of church and state. The case below is one of those situations.

In 2006 Erica Corder was one of 15 valedictorians at Denver's Lewis-Palmer High School that was given the opportunity to make a 30 second speech. During her speech, Erica made the following comment, "I need to tell you about someone who loves you more than you could ever imagine. He died for you on a cross over 2,000 years ago, yet was resurrected and is living today in heaven. His name is Jesus Christ. If you don't already know him I personally encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice he made for you." It is important to note that the comment was not a part of the speech that she had submitted before the graduation.

As a result of the comment, the principal informed her that she would not receive her diploma until she apologized. The apology that she authored for the principal stated, "I'm sorry I didn't share my plans with Mr. Brewer or the other valedictorians ahead of time." The principal, however, refused to accept the statement until it included the following, "I realize that, had I asked ahead of time, I would not have been allowed to say what I did." Once she added this phrase she was granted her diploma. However, she decided to file suit claiming she was not given instructions ahead of time as to what was appropriate in her speech. She is asking for the district to clarify its speech guidelines and issue a statement that she did nothing wrong. She is not seeking any compensatory damages.

Lets be honest here for a minute. It certainly appears that the reason she did not include the religious remark in her speech is she knew it would not have been accepted, and she thought she could just sneak it in. If this is indeed the case, one has to wonder if she noticed the irony in her witnessing by deception, after all, the Bible prohibits lying. The appearance of deception here will, most likely, result is the loss of her case. However, this case does illustrate a point that I feel is important.

The First Amendment's separation of church and state is a vital part of our Constitution. It restricts the state from positions that either favor or oppose certain belief systems. There are many ways that the above statement would be inappropriate, for example if it were made by a school employee, or made by a student at a compulsory activity, or in some way endorsed by the school. However, none of these are the case. This was a statement of faith given by a student, with no endorsement by the school, as part of a brief graduation speech at a ceremony where no one was compelled to attend. While some restrictions on speech of students in the school setting is permissible and Constitutional, we need to remember that kids do not check their rights at the door.