Thursday, December 11, 2008
Where do human rights come from? It’s difficult for us to judge a broad question, but many have attempted to do so. Some people claim that human rights are natural while others claim that human rights only exist because we acknowledge them. Yesterday, the world celebrated the 60th anniversary of the passage of the Declaration of Human Rights and the Pope let everyone know how he felt about the occasion.
He claimed that the rights we all have are natural rights written within us by God. Refusing to acknowledge this puts their existence on fragile ground, said the pontiff. He also said that the occasion marked an opportunity for world leaders to evaluate their commitment to human rights around the world.
I think the Pope’s claim to evaluate the world’s stance on human rights was the biggest argument he made in his statement yesterday. We are looking, today, at many problems around the world that concern human rights and little is being done to promote them. We might consider slavery in its many forms today, or the treatment of women, or just the health of the world due to starving to see the abuse of human rights.
The pontiff's argument is that while this is a festive occasion, more must be done to achieve the ends that the document intended. More than celebration, this occasion forces us to take a sober look at our current situation. Many advocates for human rights are frustrated with the lack of enforcement and a statement like the one the Pope made seems to echo those sentiments.
The fact that the Pope claims rights through God is inconsequential for the secular person. We all ought to acknowledge that the abuses against human rights are wrong and that we ought to act in ways that are more effective to stop them. This is the Pope’s argument.
I found an article written by an Associated Press reporter about a Christian college fraternity, Beta Upsilon Chi, at the University of Florida. The fraternity is not recognized by the University because it does not allow for non-Christian students. The University's lawyer stated, "student groups are an extension of the educational process and should be open to intellectually curious students." The Fraternity, however, suggests that allowing non-Christians "threatens their core beliefs and that inviting non-Christians would undermine their mission." University policy is that student groups cannot get University recognition if they discriminate based on religion. In July, a court ordered the University to recognize the fraternity temporarily as litigation continues. The judge supported this decision by stating, "Is it not true that they are disadvantaged in significant ways?...The policy here concerns me deeply as a matter of constitutional law."
I think this is a rather bizarre situation because it appears to me that the fraternity should get recognition ONLY if they allow non-Christians to join. The University lawyer dispelled the notion that anyone would try to "hijack" the fraternity, claiming that there have never been attempts by students to do such a thing. If the students make it clear that the fraternity is Christian-based, then I don't believe you're going to see many non-Christian students join, and if some do, then there is no reason to suggest that fraternity cannot establish in its organizational constitution its purpose and goals.
The underlying issue at hand, of course, is the idea of free-exercise v establishment. Certainly a Christian fraternity should gain University recognition but it is not unreasonable to require the fraternity to be accessible to ALL students. I don't believe that by allowing any student to join, the Christian members' free-exercise is being compromised. They are being allowed to have a Christian fraternity, and are allowed to exercise their rights to worship and exercise, but all students should have access to an organization recognized and supported by a public university. If it were a private college, this wouldn't be an issue. The University of Florida is publicly funded and therefore, if Christian groups are going to enjoy the same privileges as other groups, they MUST be open to all interested students otherwise it is a violation of the establishment clause.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Many were outraged by the statements that Freedom From Religious Foundations have made, including an ad campaign on public buses that read “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake.” The Christian Coalition is calling on people to ask for these posters to be taken down, stating “Although a number of humanists and atheists continue to attempt to rid God and Christmas from the public square, the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts.” Freedom From Religious Foundations argues that they have every right to place their statements in publics, like those who have done so with the nativity scene. A member of this group stated, "People have been celebrating the winter solstice long before Christmas. We see Christianity as the intruder, trying to steal the holiday from all of us humans."
The issue that arises in this example is what authority the state has over the outcome of this debate. It is the right of these people to display their beliefs, even if they are opposed to the majority faith in the United States. I agree with Governor Christine Gregoire of Washington who replied to these statements, saying, “I happen to be a Christian, and I don't agree with the display that is up there. But that doesn't mean that as governor, I have the right to deny their ability to express their free speech." While the statements may be unsettling to many people, the right to make these statements in public is a right that all US citizens have. If we are to restrict one group from freedom of speech, many more people maybe subjected to this violation of rights. I do believe the group could be kinder in displaying things that do target the Christian religion, such as the Santa Claus add telling people not to be good just because they believe god exist. If religious tolerance was brought into the picture, this would not be such an issue.
After taking on this new initiative, the Vatican has more plans to develop a solar energy system on the 740 acres of land North of Rome where Vatican Radio is transmitted. This system would produce six times the amount of energy necessary to power the radio station’s transmission towers. The remaining energy would be put into the Italian national grid to power other areas outside the Vatican. While these plans are still in the development stages, the Vatican hopes to be ready for the proposal of the European Union to power 20% of the city-state with renewable energy.
While people might comment that they are behind the times, the Church has set an example for world on addressing the environmental crisis we are facing. Duncan Kennedy from BBC News calls Pope Benedict XVI “a keen environmentalist." After hosting a conference to discuss global warming and climate change, the Pope called on people to “listen to the voice of the earth or risk destroying the planet.” When thinking of issues that religious organizations are concerned with, environmental issues are not the first that come to mind for many. However, I think it is great that the Vatican has taken on such an ambitious plan to be up to the same standards the rest of the European Union are taking on. The issues the world faces with the environment are not ones that should be ignored and it is reassuring to see that religious leaders are taking the reigns on these advancements. Hopefully, the Vatican's recent achievements will be an example to other religious organization and political states to address the current environmental issues.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Wayne Bent did break the law, and the charges being brought against him are valid. To me criminal sexual conduct does not have a defense. Some might argue that this incident happened in a spiritual manner and should be protected by free exercise. However I feel that these matters definitely cross a line. Cult leaders have a significant amount of power and control in general, but also concerning sexual matters. As a leader he was responsible for the breakup of marriages among some of his believers, taking sexual control over other man’s wives. He even slept with his own daughter in-law, and she did not believe that this was wrong, but was glad that she “consummated with him. While the sexual acts with adults may be legal, they certainly are alarming. However when it deals with sexual control over minors, matters are more serious and become illegal. Yes the girls may have claimed to do so under their own free will, however if it weren’t for his teachings they never would have done so. This is one of those areas where the well-being of minors takes precedence over any manner of free expression. The law is in place to protect minors from sexual acts of any nature from adults, and especially from those who may have undue influence over them – like parents or spiritual leaders – and so it must be taken very seriously, and invoked in any situation. Even if it were a spiritual act, which I highly doubt, the girls should at least be of age before invoking their right of free expression. I am glad the charges have been pressed, and I will be interested in seeing how the case is decided. I also wonder how much of a difference the change of venue will make, considering the new jury will know there were reasons for the trial to be moved, but I definitely agree that the jury would have been biased in Union County.
The case, Baxter et al. v. Montana was filed in 2007 by Robert Baxter, a 75 year-old retired truck driver from Billings, Montana who suffers from lymphocytic leukemia and has a history of prostate cancer, hypertension and gastro esophageal reflux disease. Along with Baxter, the other plaintiffs listed are four physicians and a non-profit patients’ rights group called Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society (the name doesn’t waste anytime getting to the point does it?).
The political/legal aspect of this case decision is far reaching. The judge of the case stated that the Montana constitution gave patients a constitutional right to die with dignity. “Montana constitutional rights of individual privacy and human dignity, taken together, encompass the right of a competent terminally (ill) patient to die with dignity.” BUT the terms terminally ill and competent have yet to be defined. Judge McCarter said that it is up to the doctors to determine competency and whether a patient is terminally ill or not. The ruling protects doctors from homicide laws and presents a slippery slope for prosecuting doctors on charges like homicide.
The Diocese of Helena was unable to provide a statement at the time of the articles publication, but I’m sure that many different religious groups will have a strong response to this ruling. Montana is now the third state to legalize physician assisted suicide. For groups with religious objections to abortion I feel like these same groups will have an issue with physician assisted suicide. Where are the sanctity of life groups? Or does the intentional killing of a terminally ill person differ from an abortion and the sanctity of life doesn’t apply here? This case ruling is new and it’s only a matter of time before religious groups are protesting the decision.
Monday, December 8, 2008
The Supreme Court has very clearly ruled that the placing Ten Commandments on Government property does not violate the establishment clause because of the secular and moral history that they represent. It is the opinion of the editorial that this isn't a compelling enough reason and that nothing religious should be publicly displayed.
This seems like overkill to me. I think that religion is a very important part of American life and to remove any aspect of it from the public sphere would be not only unnecessary, but detrimental. Jefferson and Madison believed that religion was necessary in government because it provided the basis for morality and I think that still holds true today. I think that instead of having to prove whether or not something is religious before it may be displayed publicly, we should consider whether or not it promotes positive values, and that it doesn't discriminate against other religions. If it fits this criteria, then it should be displayed publicly, regardless of religious affiliation.
The Christian Post
Saturday, December 6, 2008
How should the city of New York deal with buildings deemed historic that happen to be places of worship for religious peoples?
Once a place in New York City reaches landmark status it receives protection from the bulldozery of real estate venture capitalists. However, if the building in question is a church or synagogue issues arise from the resulting entanglement of church and state (i.e. the state regulation of church lucratives), and preservationists watch an architectural gem get auctioned off to the highest bidder by way of religious freedom. Why would a congregation allow demolition of their beloved place of worship? Money, and/or survival of their assembly, depending on if you're developer and/or a religious leader...but how to discern? Or do we need to?
The New York Times' Robin Pogrebin writes,
Houses of worship are among the most sensitive issues facing the Landmarks Commission. Mandating that a church be preserved can not only impose heavy financial burden on a congregation, it also raises the specter of state interference with religious freedom. So the commission has been especially loath to take on churches or synagogues that don't want to be designated.
RP explains how the 1899 building shown above burdened its congregation with the cost of maintaining and repairing the old Methodist church. According to this article the estate sold for 9.75 million dollars to developers planning a 70-unit apartment building. Brooklyn Methodists will "erect a smaller church" amongst the eyesore of yet another monstrous condo tower. Fair enough; the business parties involved both walk away happy. However, "many preservationists and at least one commission member argue that the landmarks commission has not been aggressive enough in protecting churches from the overheated real estate market of the last few years." Indeed, neither the beauty of architecture nor the bailing-out of burdened congregations seduces NYC developers--Just money, just business.
Rev. Robert Emerick defends the demolition of the Greene Church in Bay Ridge pictured above, "Christianity is not about a building, its about people doing work in the name of Christ...Now we have the chance to be a real Christian church and not have to worry about fixing the roof all the time." Then why not sell your property to some organization dedicated to Christ-ly work, Rev? How do overpriced condos amount to God's work? Was there really no other option, Rev? I should hope there wasn't, otherwise we have everyone involved taking the easy profitable way out through a religious freedom loophole.
According to one commenter the changing demographics of the city have eroded the membership of many congregations. "They're constantly in need of resources to carry out the mission, What do you do when your entire parish is gone, and there's nobody left, and you have this marvelous building, and it's frightfully expensive to maintain?" Well, apparently one gives in to impending economic tendencies and makes for a quick profit--so as to further God's work, of course.
The aforementioned occurrence wouldn't be such an issue if it were a few isolated cases, but as the NYT's three part article-series on the issue demonstrates this is a growing trend in our dismal economic atmosphere. One example, involving the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights, illustrates an unapologetic capitalist move, "[the church] persuaded the commission in 2002 to omit two parcels on the 11-acre grounds of the Episcopal cathedral from the agency's hearings calendar to allow for development." The rest of the property received landmark status, thus saving it from the demise of becoming a "20-story, 300-unit rental apartment tower." Columbia University laid claim to the other parcel, nary a redeeming aspect of the business transaction. Why couldn't these parcels be leased to something involving 'God's work"? $$$.
In the past, religious groups have viscerally argued against designating of their buildings to "serve instead the cause of architectural preservation." in 1982 a 40-page report arguing how the NYC counsel's designation of church-buildings as landmarks "[threatened] religious freedom," was submitted by the Committee of Religious Leaders of the City of New York. Now it seems the only threat to religious freedom is a good contract lawyer, a seedy inner-city developer, and a conveyancing inept preacher.
The article ends at West-Park Presbyterian on the Upper-West Side, where Rev Dr Robert L Brashear says, "It's not just about saving one small little church...It's preserving a place of active vital ministry for the future." He simply wants his congregation to have a place to worship. Currently, his assembly meets at a near-by modest church. It has neither the homeless squatting in the building's archways nor the burden of high-cost maintenance.
But is it necessary, Rev Doc, to allow the church property to be so exploited, to be bulldozed under the guise of economic need? Has not your church survived a much worse depression before? Or could it be Nietzsche's philosophy has come to realization amongst your congregation, or lack thereof, that persuaded you to downsize? Poverty, indeed, is a blessing hated by all.
Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for God! I am looking for God!"
As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost him, then? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.
"Where has God gone?" he cried.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
There was a lawsuit filed Tuesday by American Atheists Inc. to remove part of the Kentucky anti-terrorism law that requires Kentucky’s Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can’t keep the state safe without God’s help. “Of particular concern is a 2006 clause requiring the Office of Homeland Security to post a plaque that says the safety and security of the state ‘cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God’ and to stress that fact through training and educational materials.” Even though this is Kentucky, I still can not believe that the legislature passed this through. This law, the clause in particular, clearly violates the Establishment Clause. That aside, how is this in the best interest of the state?
The state is not only allowing the Office of Homeland Security to display this plaque, but they are the ones who are requiring it. They are also forcing them to stress this through training and educational materials, which clearly establishes religion over non-religion as well as preferences one religion over others without any secular purpose. The state moved beyond excessive entanglement into extreme simplicity by clearly imposing their beliefs on all Kentuckians (may or may not be a word). If you are not convinced that this law violates the Establishment Clause, hopefully you will agree that the clause does not benefit the state in anyway, so it should not have been created in the first place.
Scott C. Idleman’s, “Why the State Must Subordinate Religion” claims that it is in the best interest of the state to diminish the importance of religion in state matters. He claims it is necessary in order to preserve the supremacy of civil law and government. Religion can be a competing sovereign against the state because some people of religious faith refuse to see the government’s sovereignty as ultimate. The state does not want its power questioned and this Kentucky clause basically undermines the state’s police power, ability to protect its people, by explicitly stating they can not do it alone and God is necessary. They are pointing out their own inadequacies and opening possibilities for, if not encouraging, people to ignore the state in all matters that conflict with their own religious beliefs.
The only reason I can come up with for why this law was passed is to fight the battle against secularism. If that is the case, how effective is this law and at what risk? This law clearly violates Constitutional rights as well as undermines the state of Kentucky’s own ability to protect its citizens.
A new $621 million dollar visitors center has just opened outside the United States capital. The facility is “built under the Capitol's east grounds to make it unobtrusive, presents historic artifacts from across the country and teaches guests about the House of Representatives and the Senate.” It features “ skylights offer[ing] striking views of the 215-year-old [Capitol] building above,” orientation theaters, exhibits, and even a restaurant.
Some, most notably Senator Jim DeMint, the republican representative from South Carolina, have criticized the new facility for “omitting the history of faith,” noting that the center is void of the phrase “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance. DeMint claims that the center “proclaims faith not in God, but in government.” Upon entering the facility, visitors face a large engraving which states “We have built no temple but the Capitol. We consult no common oracle but the Constitution.” In an official statement, DeMint claims that the center is “an intentional misrepresentation of our nation's real history, and an offensive refusal to honor America's God-given blessings.” He then offers an excerpt of George Washington's inaugural address to support his claim that “the fundamental principles of the freedom we enjoy in this country stem from our Founding Fathers’ beliefs in a higher power.”:
“It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States”
Senator DeMint's criticism raises several interesting questions for us to ponder. By failing to include references to a higher power, does the visitors center misrepresent the historical tradition of the United States' government? Is it appropriate for the United States government to promote an “areligious” interpretation of this nation's history? (I know I may have just made up a word, but just go with it.) The large engraving at the entrance inherently reject the religion of the ancient Greeks, with their “temples” and “oracles.” It also, however, seems to reject any notion of a higher power, which seems inconsistent with the historical tradition of the United States government.
Through class readings, especially Meachem's American Gospel, we've learned that the founding fathers were certainly not an explicitly Christian group, and included many who espoused agnostic religious views. The overall spirit emerging from the founding of this nation, however, seems to reflect a relatively strong deist perspective. Even Thomas Jefferson, far from the confines of a traditional Christian or religious tradition, penned in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence that “Nature's God” provided gifts to mankind and that all men “are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights,” a view which Meachem calls “a religious vision of the world with roots both in classical philosophy and in holy scripture.” (page 7, American Gospel.) I feel that by failing to make reference to any deity or higher power, the new visitors center has failed to adequately reflect the tradition of our founding fathers and features only our roots in “classical philosophy,” rejecting any influence of “holy scripture” or the notion of a God. Your thoughts?
This article raises two important questions, in my mind. First, is it possible for the Student Senate to sponsor the program and the benefits that result from the program without endorsing the symbol of the Christmas tree itself? Second, even if Student Senate does endorse the Christmas tree, is that endorsement problematic? I will make an effort to answer both of these questions.
I bring up the first question because this seems to me to be the crux of the Senator's defense of the program. Basically, he says that Senate is not endorsing the Christmas tree as a religious symbol, but rather that they're endorsing the benefits that come from the Christmas Wish Tree Program. The question that naturally arises from this assertion then, is the question I posed: is such an endorsement possible? Can Senate really endorse those benefits without inherently endorsing the Christmas tree as a religious symbol? My answer to this question is no, they cannot. My reasons behind this is that the Senate cannot control how people interpret their sponsorship of the program. Some people will see the Senate sponsoring the program as an endorsement of that religious symbol, and quite frankly, there's nothing that Senate can do to change that perception. Even if Senate were to publicly explain their reasons for endorsing the program, some people would still it as a tacit endorsement of the religious symbol, and this is a perception that Senate has no control over. Therefore, I don't think it's possible to only endorse the benefits of the program without inherently endorsing every aspect of the program. As such, I think that Student Senate does, to an extent, endorse the Christmas Tree as a religious symbol.
This brings me to my next question: Is the Senate's endorsement of the Christmas Tree problematic? My answer is once again no, I don't think it is problematic. Drake University is a private institution, and as such Drake Student Senate is a private organization. Quite frankly, because it is a private institution, they can endorse whatever religious symbol they want to endorse. The Establishment Clause does not apply here, because the Establishment Clause only applies to actions taken by the government of the United States of America, not to the government of Drake University. Since Drake is not a state actor, they can feel free to endorse whatever religious symbols they see fit. If the Senate does not feel inclined to change its endorsement, then the two students who initially brought the complaint to the Senate have no further recourse. There is no legal standard they can appeal to, because from a legal standpoint, this endorsement is entirely appropriate.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the developments of America’s occupation of Iraq, only 39% of participants considered the promotion of democracy in other countries extremely or very important; supposedly far less than in the past. This may be a sign that Americans are cognizant of (and bitter about) failed policy; because our officials are at least theoretically electorally accountable to the public will, the government is unlikely to make similar mistakes in the near future. By mistake, however, I mean providing a justification of democratic responsibility to citizens of other countries under authoritarian rule. (Then again, public sentiment toward the Vietnam War did not particularly reflect a wholehearted appreciation for the noble goal of eradicating communism, either.) Despite previous blunders, Americans still find a moral obligation of U.S. involvement abroad; but if not in democracy, in what? Especially given the heightened threat of terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists, the idea that the exceptionality of American Christianity is the driving force behind American foreign policy—which could only add fuel to the fire—is troubling.
Realistically, democracy and Judeo-Christianity have never been mutually exclusive in the American “public religion.” Any avoidance of “spreading democracy” is essentially a game of semantics; as long as Americans perceive the US to be a City on a Hill, America will spread Americanism. For example, unsolicited involvement in the affairs of an Islamic country under Sharia (Islamic holy law) would represent an ideological struggle on both religious and state fronts. If that country were to resist, we would have no choice but to, through either a sense of patriotism or moral supremacy, show it why we’re the good guys.
Now, I feel that I need to clarify something here: do I think that America is the best damn country in the world? Hell yes! But I’m also a realist. If Americans believe that “God has uniquely blessed America,” then we believe that God is on our side. And as long as God is on our side, well, we’ve got to keep fighting the good fight, right? The only problem is, we’ve heard the same old shtick for centuries—from the knights of the Crusades to the terrorists of last week’s tragedy in Mumbai. When all sides are armed with the most dangerous weapon of all, faith, there can only be one outcome: escalation. At that point, how can we believe in our own exceptionalism when we’re just doing the same thing as the other guys?
I know of a few souls that need saving here at home; perhaps it’s time we make focusing on our domestic policy our foreign policy.
Ron Wesselius saw a menorah displayed in the Washington state capitol building in 2006. He decided to erect a nativity scene alongside this menorah, but was denied because it was too close to the holiday season for approval. He sued the state, which ruled in his favor in Wesselius v. DeShaw. Wesselius was allowed to display a crèche in 2007. The common area of the building is now open on a non-discriminatory basis. To challenge the Christian display, the Freedom From Religion Foundation put up a sign declaring “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” This sign stands a few feet from the religious scene. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sponsored similar signs in the Wisconsin capitol building for the last 13 years; this sign is often vandalized and turned around. The group intends to put "State/Church; Keep Them Separate” on the back to get the message across, regardless. The organization feels that non-religious citizens should be represented within the capitol building as well. Atheists and agnostics are an important part of the country.
This issue is very similar to the debate within Lynch v. Donnelly. In that case, the city of Pawtucket put up a Christmas display, including a crèche, in a park owned by a non-profit organization. All the decorations were owned by the state. This is the reverse situation in Washington; private citizens own the decorations but they are erected on public property. The majority decides in Lynch that this decoration is not a violation of the Establishment Clause. They cite history and tradition, claiming that the crèche does not endorse the Christian faith. The dissent, however, argues that these displays do not have a clearly secular purpose. Justice Brennan claims that it is a small step in the direction of establishment.
With the precedent by Lynch, the action taken by Wesselius to erect a crèche is constitutional. Similarly, the area must be open to all religions, as well as those against religion entirely. The situation becomes less troublesome if there is a mandatory inclusion of all different perspectives. If one religion is going to be displayed, then all religions, or lack thereof, must be provided that same right. I commend the Washington state government for allowing equal access for all beliefs. However, another issue to consider is whether any religious message should be promoted on government property. To me, allowing a crèche or other religious symbol clearly violates the Establishment Clause. The state is either paying for or providing space for a religious display. The Freedom From Religion Foundation should not be able to display an anti-religion sign either. The state should have no role in supporting religious decorations and messages. The dissent in Lynch argues that Christmas is an ingrained holiday; while it is comfortable, it also supports the Christian faith. Similarly, a menorah in the statehouse would have the same effect. Allowing certain religious symbols will alienate other citizens, even if that is not its intent. The only viable solution I see that satisfies both an equal treatment of religion and non-religion and the Establishment Clause is banning all such displays on government property or funded by the state.
Instrumental in defeating this proposal were religious voters. Many ministers had been adamantly leading charges against the idea. The United Methodist Church, for example, is always one of the fiercest groups fighting against legalized gambling. The Church believes gambling to a great societal evil because it preys upon the poor and gives them false hopes at riches. This leads to a wasting of precious financial resources, taking the bread off of an already empty table. Should the Church preach against gambling on the individual level, or should it oppose gambling in legislation?
While the Church does both, it is clear that it has chosen to be heavily involved in legislation regarding this point. One might think that having the choice to gamble could not make one worse off—as one could continue to take the exact same action as before. However, the Church is taking a paternalistic approach to the issue. People—especially the poor who do not understand the extremely low odds of winning—often cannot resist the temptation to gamble and are unable to make optimal financial decisions for themselves and for their families. This tendency to make uninformed and sub-optimal financial decisions requires the Church to take a stand on restricting the opportunities to gamble.
The lottery carries with it the illusion of big money but the reality of negative expected returns. Clearly, no rationale risk-averse person would ever play such a game. The fact that people do is evidence of sub-optimal actions. Yet where do we draw the line? Should the Church seek to intervene through government whenever it decides people are not making good decisions on their own? This seems to cheapen the idea of freedom. Yet at the same time we rely on the government all the time to make us better off. For example, it is the job of the FDA to make sure drugs pass certain safety measures before allowing them on the market. It would be ludicrous to expect non-scientists to sift through research data on their own and decide which drugs were safe to take. With this reasoning, perhaps it is best for the government to weigh the economic impacts of games like the lottery for those who do not have the statistical background to do so, and make a decision about what is best for its constituents.
Yet this is a slippery slope. Individual freedom seems noble but allows for the powerful to prey upon the weak. Government regulation could rule out ‘evil practices’ but at the expense of free choice. Where do we draw the line?
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
There have been criminal cases involving parents being charged for the death of their children because they refused to get them medical help that was available due to their deep religious convictions. In some states, religious belief is no justifiable reason to keep a child from receiving the medical attention they may need, however, the Department of Health and Human Services counted at least thirty states with exemption laws for faith-based healing. The HHS also says that there is nothing in the 1974 Child abuse Prevention and Treatment Act that requires a parent or legal guardian to seek medical help for their children if they have religious convictions opposed to doing so.
This is a difficult controversy between the public’s interest in protecting the health and safety of children and the religious free exercise of parents and that of their own kids. I have a hard time taking a side and finding a right answer within this issue. My first instinct would actually be to defend the fundamental right of the parent’s free exercise of religion. For a parent to refuse medical help for their deathly-ill child, they’ve got to have a very strong religious belief in opposing such medical treatment. Like Dr. Asser said in the report, the parents cared about and loved their children. They believed completely that they were doing the right thing for them. They were acting upon very deep religious convictions. So, the twenty-or-so states that do not give religious exemptions for the denial of medical treatment of children are putting parents with such religious belief between a rock and a hard place. They are forcing them to choose between what must be some sort of supreme religious punishment and being charged with the death of their child and imprisoned. They are being forced to choose between the rule of their religion or god and the rule of law. However, the flipside is pressing as well. We aren’t talking about parents pulling their children out of school after the eighth grade; we’re talking about children who are sick and dying and aren’t receiving the medical attention they may need to live. At what point does the state not only have the authority, but have the duty to step in and protect the life of a child? I wonder, also, what would be the case if the child decides, contrary to his or her parents, that he or she wants the medical attention? What kind of authority does a minor have over his or her own body? Are children’s lives at the complete mercy of their parents? And, lastly, should they be?
In drafting my own opinion about this case, I think that if the JBS plants grant the prayer break, they will be in violation of the establishment clause. I believe in the separation of church and state and I think that if we don’t honor the establishment clause, free exercise will eventually not exist. Also, I believe that there is a stronger argument supporting the clear violation of the establishment clause than that of the free exercise claim. When the Lemon test is applied to this case, it fails all three prongs. There is obviously no secular purpose. The change of break time is purely to accommodate one particular religion’s prayer time. The effect would advance religion. It would seem as though the company is endorsing and promoting Islam. Lastly, there would be excessive government entanglement. Because the prayer time is at sunset, and the time of sunset often changes, the company would have to continually change the time of the break so that it fell during sunset. This would be never-ending entanglement throughout the year. Something else I thought about was the idea of an analogous situation with Christian workers. I would imagine that if a large number of Christian workers asked for some sort of accommodation that would affect the operation of the entire company, people would immediately object because the government company would be establishing Christianity.
After thinking through this the first time, I was still torn because I was concerned about the Muslim workers’ fundamental right to free exercise. The Islam faith requires members to pray at five different times during the day- one of which is at sunset. The prayers are essential to the Islam faith. What needs to be remembered, then, is the concept of belief versus action. The first is absolute, but the second cannot be.
Should there be religious accommodations for inmates that are serving in state penitentiaries? According to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, yes, there should be. The religious accommodations being made were for two Muslim inmates. The burden being placed on the inmates had to do with their daily prayers running into their lunch time, not being able to have food when they are done fasting, and not having access to a separate microwave when heating their food that is pork-free. A lawyer with the ACLU in Connecticut, Stephan Pevar, stated that in 2000 Congress passed a law “intending” to protect prisoners’ free exercise as long as there was not a security issue and he is praising the prisons official in Wyoming for upholding that law.
The article also addressed a Native American that wanted access to bald eagle feathers for his religious ritual, showing that across the board, accommodations are being made for the religious minorities in prisons, at least in Wyoming. This reminded me of Goldman v. Weinberger (1986) in which the court ruled that religious accommodation cannot be made for Jews to wear yarmulkes in the Air Force because of the uniformity that is implemented by the military. Obviously someone that is in the military is not in the same situation as someone that is in prison; but they are both in compromising situations where the court has to decide which reigns supreme, an individual’s religious beliefs or the safety and uniformity of an institution and all other individuals. In Goldman v. Weinberger the court basically argued the slippery slope theory, which I do not agree with in this case.
I think there should be religious accommodations in prisons as long as there are not legitimate safety concerns. One issue I think that could be raised by this happening is whether or not prisons make dietary accommodations for secular purposes. I do not think it will become a slippery slope issue because all of the accommodations are strictly related to the consumption of food. If the courts, or even prisons are to remain neutral to religion and non-religion wouldn’t they have to make dietary exceptions for secular purposes? Another issue that may be addressed deals with the wearing of religious clothing, such as turbans and swords for Sikh men, yarmulkes for Jews, and any others that may arise. I am not sure what the 2000 law explicitly states, but in this case it deals primarily with the dietary accommodations, so I do not feel intimidated by the slippery slope claim. If the law is generally applicable to any religious accommodations it should be interesting to see what will happen in the future.
Monday, December 1, 2008
This decision seemed much like the Church of Babalu v. Haileah in which a town in Florida passed a law outlawing animal sacrifices because a new church opened that took part in such sacrifices. The Supreme Court decided 9-0 that this statute was unconstitutional because the ordinance specifically targeted one church's activities. The parish in Louisiana's statute wasn't created until after Katrina when many practitioners of soothsaying moved to the Livingston Parish. Because the ordinance was specifically directed toward one group it wasn't content neutral which made it unconstitutional.
I think that the council made the right decision to overturn the decision because there is clear precedent that shows it was unconstitutional. The Federal court decided that the statute was unconstitutional because it violated free speech, but to me this seems more like a free exercise issue. If Wiccan's are being prohibited from practicing their religion there is clearly an issue. I'm not sure why speech played a role because it seems like a clear violation of free exercise. Although the outcome remains the same, the reasoning behind the decision may have been equally important. If the council had refused to overturn the statute I think the Wiccan's would have had a better case based on religious rights as opposed to free speech.
On the other hand, many believe that a moderate course would be better for the future of the party, even if it sacrifices an immediate advantage. House Majority Whip James Clyburn argues that “We need to have a measured approach. I don’t think we need to be lurching left or right […] Barack Obama has made it clear he wants to have a bipartisan approach. He ran that kind of campaign. How he’s got to govern that way (Dorning).”
Realism similarly tempered the idealism of Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. King was well-versed in Hegel’s philosophy and often borrowed his dialectic model, the belief that “truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two (Washington 491).” He adopted nonviolent coercion as a means of social change precisely because it “an answer to the long debated question of gradualism versus immediacy (Washington 488) through a Hegelian synthesis of the two. He believed that it “prevents one from falling into the sort of patience which is an excuse for do-nothingism” while avoiding “the irresponsible words which estrange without reconciling and the hasty judgement which is blind to the necessities of social process (Washington 488).” Unlike the Black Power movement and other radical groups that emerged later in the 1960s, King sought to win over rather than alienate his opponents because he saw the need for unity in the aftermath of the civil rights struggle. He therefore chose a middle ground that catalyzed a social revolution without widespread bloodshed and violence. Although the choice now facing Obama and the Democratic Party is less extreme, I believe King would still champion a moderate course of action that would unite the country. No temporary political advantage is worth dividing the United States against itself.
Washington, James Melvin. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. San Francisco: Harper Collins.