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07 October 2011

Praise: SPLC takes on Value Voters Summit

The Value Voters Summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council, a known hate group, and other hate organizations, is happening this weekend in Washington, DC.  This is an annual event that is focused on "family values", that is family values except for families that don't fit their narrow definition.  The list of confirmed speakers includes almost all of the Republican candidates for President (all except Jon Huntsman), and a lot of anti-equality politicians and personalities.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has long been an advocate for civil rights and equality.  They are the best at tracking hate groups in the United States.  I was going to write a long article about the lies and myths that will be perpetuated, but there is a blog entry at the SPLC Hatewatch Blog that is better than what I had started to write.  Thank you SPLC for your great work!

06 October 2011

Praise: Judge Upholds Firing of Ohio Teacher

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Public schools are an extension of the government.  (In many states school districts, because of their relationship with property owners via taxes, are governmental bodies).  In schools, teachers are in positions of authority.  If a teacher tells her or his students that the correct way to spell "legislator" on the next test is "t-u-r-k-e-y", then that is what is correct (if the students want full marks).  [Apologies to any birds who might take offense.]

Students are trained, to varying degrees, to be respectful and docile in the classroom.  When a teacher tells students that something is so, then the students are in a position where it is very difficult to challenge the teacher's authority.  If that teacher, that authority, tells students that they have to believe a particular way, then the students are in an uncomfortable position.

Further, if a teacher advocates a particular religious belief, odds are that some of the students or their parents will not ascribe to that faith.  This is a very real situation.  I have had students who are Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian (both catholic and various protestant denominations), Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Wiccan, and probably other faiths as well as atheist.  If a religious question is asked in class and it is not a distraction from the lesson, the answer must be carefully constructed to be factual and not persuasive.

Not everyone agrees with my understanding of the Constitution and the classroom.  In 2009, John Freshwater was fired for preaching in the classroom.  Very quickly, there were religious organizations taking his side calling for freedom of speech.  (That is the same amendment to the Constitution that begins with the establishment clause).  One News Now quickly backed this "hero of the faith"The ruling that his firing has been upheld is on the AP newswire today.

The story is not really over.  The case is being appealed by the Rutherford Institute, an organization that specializes in religious liberty and civil liberty.  They say that all Mr. Freshwater did was to use religious articles to encourage critical thinking about evolution.  They also note that he forgot to remove a Bible from his desk.

Reading between the lines, this looks very much like Mr. Freshwater was not actively preaching in the classroom but was encouraging his own beliefs as a challenge to science.  That belongs in a church or private event, not in a public school.  Judge Eyster ruled correctly and I am guessing that the ruling will be upheld when appealed.

Pattern: Discrimination Upside Down

I've always assumed that when someone said that they were being discriminated against because of their religion it was because they were being denied access or products because of their faith.  In fact, that is close to what the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says.  This is far more broad than the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which only applies to government (federal, state, and local).

When it comes to the private sector, the EEOC has specific wording about discrimination in the workplace:

The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

Recently, I am noticing more and more cases of people saying that they are victims of religious discrimination because of what they are required to do as part of their jobs.  Here are a couple of examples:

A pharmacist in Idaho refuses to fill prescriptions that are against her faith.

A town clerk in New York refuses to sign wedding licenses that are against her faith.

A graduate student in Michigan refuses to counsel as part of a course as it is against her faith.

My view on this is fairly simple, if one cannot do a job without the duties of that job violating one's beliefs then one needs to find a different type of employment.  In none of these cases are the "victims" being asked to worship or participate in a different religion from their own.  None of these "victims" are being denied access or services, they are the ones who are denying access or services to others.  The discriminator as the one being discriminated against is upside down.

10 October 2011, FollowUp 1 

11 October 2011, FollowUp 2

16 November 2011, FollowUp 3

05 October 2011

Praise: PM David Cameron, Conservative for Gay Marriage

In an article on JoeMyGod, originally on PinkPaper, the U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron had an excellent statement on family values and societal values.

"I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man," he said.

"You applauded me for that. Five years on, we’re consulting on legalising gay marriage. And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.

"So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative."

The arguments here are simple, clear, and conservative.  Equality.  Commitment.  Good, old-fashioned conservatism.  Would that modern U.S. Republicans would embrace such a conservatism.

04 October 2011

Praise: DoD - Stop Bullying Now! Campaign

An article in today's Stars and Stripes begins with:

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Department of Defense Education Activity announced Monday a partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services to bring further anti-bullying support to Defense Department schools worldwide.

 Excellent!  The article is brief and worth reading.

Repudiation: "Defining an Obama Nation"

The Family Research Council has a post that is very different from my review of President Obama's speech at the Human Rights Commission.  Before going into specifics, it should be understood that FRC is a known hate group according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The purpose of FRC is to deny equal rights to gays and lesbians.  Their head, Tony Perkins, has ties with racist hate groups.  I started to learn about them from blog entries by Joe Jervis on JoeMyGod

In their "update", they agree that the 2012 election is a contest of values.  But most of the rest is at least subject to debate.

At the dinner the President sought to chastise a recent Republican debate where he claimed the crowd "booed a soldier." As a young Marine I remember my First Sergeant telling me how he was greeted at the airport on his return to the United States by being spit upon and cursed by anti-war liberals that dominated the college campuses at the time. I strongly condemn any disrespectful behavior toward anyone who has honorably served our nation in uniform. But that is not what occurred at the debate. Anyone who saw the debate could clearly see that the audience was booing not the soldier, but the President's policy to use our military as political pawns to force acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle that is abhorrent to most.

Mr. Perkins is correct that the left was wrong in how veterans of Vietnam were treated.  The soldiers were often drafted and blame for the Vietnam War should be at the feet of the four presidents (two Democratic and two Republican) who were responsible.  That is history.  What happened at the Republican debate is current.  The audience did not declare whether they were booing a policy or a soldier, they just booed.  Here is a two minute YouTube clip of the germane section of the debate.

It is not conservatives who are spitting in the face of the military, it is the President and his liberal allies who are using our nation's brave men and women to advance their radical social policy agenda.

Mr. Santorum does not address Mr. Hill (the now-out gay soldier) by thanking him for his service, as Mr. Santorum normally does.  There reaction of the audience and the candidates was against the repeal of DADT, but it was also personal.  Mr. Hill did not deserve a single boo.  It was wrong.  The failure of those on stage to respond to the boos by at least thanking Mr. Hill for his service, and better would have been to point out that booing a soldier on active duty on foreign soil is unAmerican, shows that each of those candidates is unfit to serve as Commander in Chief.

President Obama's end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell is not a "radical social policy agenda".  Wikipedia cites 42 nations that have homosexuals serving.  This is not radical.  It is also more than a social policy.  There have always been gays in the military.  When they have to keep their sexuality secret, as Mr. Hill and thousands of others serving had to, that secrecy can harm unit cohesion.  That kind of personal secrecy is demoralizing.  The repeal of DADT will result in a better fighting force for the United States.

Mr. Perkins goes on in his article to complain about President Obama not defending the Defense of Marriage Act.  DOMA is, to my eye (not an attorney), clearly in conflict with both Article 4, Section 1 of the United States Constitution and the 14th Amendment, Section 1.  Article 4 says that states must honor judicial proceedings of other states.  Marriage is a judicial proceeding.  The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection of the laws for all citizens.

The President has a much clearer understanding of what the 2012 election is about than many Republican leaders. It is about values, and whose values will guide our nation into the future.


President Obama's values are clear -- marriage, life and the Constitution mean little to him in the pursuit of his radical agenda.


Marriage means a great deal to the President.  He visibly enjoys his marriage.  Allowing full marriage equality extends marriage to all citizens without harming any.  If my partner and I were to wed there would be no subsequent divorce because of our union.  There would simply be equal treatment under the law, as our Founding Documents say there should be.

President Obama has stated that is in favor of reducing but not eliminating abortion.  So, he is not as pro-life as Mr. Perkins, but does not favor more abortion.  Rather, he favors programs that reduce the need for abortion.

The Constitution clearly means a great deal to President Obama.  He was a Professor of Constitutional Law.  That Mr. Perkins has difficulty understanding parts of the Constitution does not mean that the fault is with Mr. Obama.

03 October 2011

Political Landscape: Voting Rights

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law has published a review of Voting Law Changes in 2012.  These changes restrict voting rights for millions of citizens who were otherwise eligible to vote.  The entire sixty-four page document is worth reading.  Here are a few highlights of types of changes and my opinions.

1.  Photo ID laws.  The idea of requiring a government issued photo ID in order to vote makes sense on a gut level.  No one wants voter fraud and showing your id would decrease the likelihood of fraud.  The Brennan Center has a study that indicates that there is little voter fraud in the United States.  Is there another view?  Of course, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners believes that the numbers are much higher in an article they published in 2006.  There are many other studies out there (Google it).

My opinion:  a picture ID is a reasonable requirement only if it is reasonably easy to obtain and free; to do otherwise is a new poll tax.  In Alabama, US Representative Sewell is concerned about people's ability to get to a location where they can get the new ID.  In Kansas, the ACLU is concerned about residents born out of state acquiring valid birth certificates in order to qualify for the new IDRhode Island is different among these states in that any official Rhode Island or federal photo ID is good.  In South Carolina, the new ID requirement may cost hundreds of thousands the opportunity to work; twenty-five were given free rides to acquire their ID.  There is concern in Tennessee about the elderly being able to vote.  In Texas, the voter ID law is being challenged because it may be discriminatory to minorities.  In Wisconsin, the DMV is charging $28 for the new voter ID unless people happen to know to request that it be free.

It does not look like these are all being implemented in a fashion that is free and fair.  Again, I favor requiring a photo ID for voting ... as long as it can be easily obtained by those entitled to vote and that it not be a new poll tax.

2.  Proof of Citizenship laws.  As with photo ID, this makes sense on a gut level.

My opinion:  the problems with these laws are the same as those for photo ID.  In Alabama this slows down automobile licensing and eventually voting.  Republicans feel this enhances the integrity of voting in Kansas.  There are concerns in Tennessee about ambiguous requirements.

3.  Making voter registration harder.  Maine removed same day registration to vote.  Ohio removed same week registration to vote.  Florida and Texas are restricting voter registration drives.  Florida and Wisconsin are changing requirements to vote after moving.

My opinions:  Same day voting sounds problematic at the gut level.  However, we have citizens who are legally entitled to vote whose jobs keep them on the road.  We have ex-patriots who return to the United States for the purpose of voting (or vote using an absentee ballot) all legally.  Requiring them to stay in town for extended periods could be a hardship ... and unfair burden.  There have been experiments with provisional ballots that make more sense than restricting registration.

Restricting registration drives does not make sense.  It simply doesn't.  The principle of one person - one vote (originally one man - one vote) has long been enshrined as a hallmark of American democracy.  Unlike requiring a photo ID, this limits new voters only.  It is partisan and flatly unAmerican.

Similarly, restricting eligibility to vote based on moving does not make sense.  If moving means that there is a need to double check and make sure that the voter is not voting twice, then use provisional ballots until there is verification.  Don't stop people from legally voting.

4.  Reducing early and absentee voting.  I have mixed feelings here.  Eliminating the option for either early or absentee voting would be wrong.  Limiting it depends upon the details.

Florida's early voting has more hours for eight days with extended hours instead of fourteen daysGeorgia is cutting back from forty-five days to twenty-one days but adding a SaturdayOhio's new restrictions in early voting appear to be on hold.  Tennessee and West Virginia have tightened their schedules as well.  Early voting for all states is on-line at long distance voter.

5.  The most controversial of the laws, Florida and Iowa have made it more difficult, if not impossible, for ex-cons to regain their voting rights.  While ex-cons are always uncomfortable to discuss, these are citizens who have already paid their dues to society for their crimes and have been allowed to rejoin society.  Never allowing them to become full citizens again seems wrong.

Conclusion:  While photo IDs may be implemented as a reasonable requirement to vote, I question them way many states are doing so, particularly Wisconsin with its "free if you are in the know" IDs.  The governors and legislatures enacting these laws claimed that their goals were to reduce taxes and increase jobs.  Restricting voting does neither.  Most of these restrictions appear to have the goal of disenfranchising new eligible voters.  Limiting access for those who are legally entitled to vote is unAmerican. 

More changes may be in the works.  Governing the States and Localities has an interesting take on the future of voting regulations.

14 October 2011, FollowUp 1.
22 October 2011, FollowUp 2.
6 November, FollowUp 3.
14 November 2011, FollowUp 4.
14 December 2011, FollowUp 5.
8 March 2012, FollowUp 6.
2 April 2012, FollowUp 7.
3 June 2012, FollowUp 8.

02 October 2011

Praise: President Obama at the Human Rights Commission last night

Last night, President Obama spoke at the Human Rights Commission.  The video begins with a speech by outgoing head of the HRC Joe Solmonese.  Mr. Obama begins to speak at about 9:55 into the video.

Here are a few lines that caught my ear:

Every single American:  gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society.  It's a pretty simple proposition.

The President is, of course, correct.  Equality is called for in the Founding Documents of the United States of America.  It is a simple concept, but will not be a simple achievement.

The President went on to enumerate his important achievements on that path to full equality

  • The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Law
  • Executive Order that hospitals that accept Medicare must allow same gender partners as visitors
  • Lifting of the HIV travel ban
  • Comprehensive National Strategy to fight HIV/AIDS
  • Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)
He then cited the biggest legislation that needs to be done next, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  As the President said, DOMA is in clear violation of the Constitution (both Article 4 and the 14th Amendment).  He has stopped defending its constitutionality in court, which has many Republicans upset.

Mr. Obama went on to speak against state efforts to further limit equality and against bullying.

We're not about restricting rights and restricting opportunity.  We're about opening up rights and opening up opportunity.  And treating each other generously and with love and respect.  And together we also have to keep sending a message to every young person in this country who might feel alone or afraid because they are gay or transgender, that may be getting picked on or pushed around because they are different.  We've got to make sure that they know that there are adults that they can talk to.  That they are never alone.  That there is a whole world waiting for them, filled with possibility.  That's why we held a summit at the White House on bullying.  That's why we are going to continue to focus on this issue.  This isn't just kids being kids.  It's wrong.  It's destructive.  It's never acceptable.  And I want all those kids to know that the President and the First Lady are standing right by them every inch of the way.  I want them to know that we love them and care about them and they are not by themselves.  That's what I want them to know.

Mr. Obama spoke about his pending jobs legislation.  He then spoke about the bigger picture of current politics.

Now ultimately these debates we're having are about more than just politics.  They're about more than the polls and the pundits, and who is up and who is down.  This is a contest of values.  That's what at stake here.  This is a fundamental debate about who we are as a nation.  I don't believe, we don't believe in a small America, where we let our roads crumble, where we let our schools fall apart, where we stand by while teachers are laid off, while science labs are shut down, kids are dropping out.  We believe in a big America.  An America that invests in the future.  It invests in schools and highways and research and technology, the things that have helped make our economy the envy of the world.  We don't believe in a small America where we meet our fiscal responsibilities by abdicating every other responsibility we have, and where we just divvy up the government as tax breaks for those who need them the least, where we abandon the commitment we made to seniors through medicare and social security, and we say to somebody looking for work or a student who needs a college loan or a middle class family with a child who's disabled that you're on your own; that's not who we are.  We believe in a big America.  An America where everybody's got a fair shot and everyone pays their fair share.  An America where we value success, and the idea that anyone can make it in this country.  But also an America in which everyone does their part, including the wealthiest Americans, including the biggest corporations, to deal with the deficits that threaten our future.  

We don't believe in a small America.  We don't believe in the kind of smallness that says it's okay for a stage full of political leaders, one of whom could end up being the President of the United States, being silent when an American soldier is booed.  We don't believe in that.  We don't believe in standing silent when that happens.  We don't believe in them being silent since.  You want to be Commander in Chief?  You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it is not politically convenient.  We don't believe in a small America.  We believe in a big America, a tolerant America, a just America, an equal America, that values the service of every Patriot.  We believe in an America where we are all in it together and we see the good in one another.  And we live up to a creed that is as old as our founding, E Pluribus Unum, out of many one, and that includes everybody.  That's what we believe.  That's what we are going to be fighting for.  I am confident that's what the American people believe in.  I'm confident because of the changes we've achieved these past two and a half years, the progress that some folks said was impossible.  And I'm hopeful.  I am hopeful <cheers> I'm fired up, too.  <pause>  I am hopeful.  I am hopeful.  I am still hopeful.  Because of a deeper shift that we are seeing.  A transformation not only written into our laws but woven into the fabric of our society.  It's progress led, not by Washington but, by ordinary citizens.  

The speech continued.  I'm impressed by the rhetoric of the "We don't believe in a small America.  We believe in a big America."  I think that the old President Obama, the one with fire in his belly who can inspire millions, may finally be back.

Mr. Obama has accomplished a lot in the last several years, but mostly quietly.  He has allowed the Republicans to tell a number of big lies without adequately countering them.  We saw this early on when people complained about "Death Panels".  Republicans complain that government is bad, but this has not been adequately countered.  Republicans complain that we can't spend money that we don't have, but the economics of borrowing has not be used to explain how this Republican simplification is simply wrong.

The speech at the Human Rights Commission is not a major venue.  It is before a group who are already friendly to the Democrats and to President Obama.  As in the election of 2008, this type of fiery speech needs to be everywhere.  The economics of the United States and the fairness of the United States will be seriously hurt if one of Mr. Obama's competitors wins in 2012.