Thursday, January 01, 2009

N.J. rules against church group in lesbian case

The church would seem to have a good first amendment defense

A church group that owns beachfront property discriminated against a lesbian couple by not allowing them to rent the locale for their civil union ceremony, a New Jersey department ruled Monday in a case that has become a flash point in the nation's gay rights battle. The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights said its investigation found that the refusal of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to rent the oceanfront spot to the couple for their same-sex union in March 2007 violated the public accommodation provisions of the state's Law Against Discrimination.

While the ruling is decisively in favor of the couple, Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster, it does not end the case. An administrative law judge still must decide on a remedy for the parties. "What this case has always been about from my clients' perspective has been equality," said Larry Lustberg, the lawyer for the couple. He said they will seek an order that requires the pavilion to be "open to all on an equal basis."

Church plans to push back. Brian Raum, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based group that represents the Methodist organization, Camp Meeting Association, said his clients would keep pushing back against being forced to allow civil unions on the property. "Our position is the same," he said. "A Christian organization has a constitutional right to use their facilities in a way that is consistent with their beliefs."

Meanwhile, the parties in the dispute are awaiting a ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the issue should be decided in the division on civil rights or in federal courts. A lower federal court has ruled that the state could consider the case. The dispute has become a rallying point for both sides in the political battle over gay unions.


Close encounter with Britain's alienating Jobcentre

Jobless executives be warned: humiliation and incomprehension await you in the State's embrace

A friend of mine - let's call her Gill - was one of six directors recently made redundant by a well-known UK consortium. Once she'd recovered from the initial shock of losing a post that she had held for 18 years, Gill set out to find another. She knew it would take time and someone advised her to register as unemployed so that her national insurance contributions would be paid. So, like you, me or any raw school-leaver, she googled "job centre" and phoned the number on the website. She was given an interview slot at a local centre and told not to be late.

There follows a tale of such humiliation, misunderstanding and Stalinist bureaucracy that, on reading it, the shivers will run up the spine of every white-collar worker in the land. When Gill turned up at the given address, she found that the Jobcentre had been relocated to another part of town. By the time she found the new office, she was five minutes late and had missed her slot. "They made me sit on the naughty chair for a bit," Gill said.

The young woman who interviewed her was ignorant but condescending in manner and kept asking Gill why she was there. She was told that in order to get her national insurance paid, she would have to apply for job seeker's allowance, which she did not want. There was no privacy in the room. All around her, Gill could hear other sad citizens getting the third degree. The offical asked Gill what she used to earn, and then - unbelievably - repeated the figure to nearby colleagues, exclaiming: "Hey, I've never had anyone in here with that salary!"

Things went from humbling to comic. Gill's circumstances did not fit any of the boxes on the official's computer screen. And if she defied classification she could not exist. "Tell me what your job was and I'll do a job search for you," said the official. "Operations director for a Footsie plc," said Gill. "It's not coming up with anything. What about `area manager'?" "Yes," sighed my friend, by this time a broken woman, "area manager will do."

Gill must prove that she was looking for work. "You have to send off three job applications a week and you need to keep an exercise book of what you are doing," said the official. "Have you got an exercise book?" "Yes," whimpered the woman, who had once managed thousands of staff and a budget of millions. "Then she told me that she couldn't really do anything for me and I was told to report back ten days hence," said Gill.

My friend, who is in her forties, went away and did what senior executives do, phoning, networking. On the day she was supposed to return, someone invited her for a speculative interview. She called the Jobcentre to tell them. They told her she must fax proof of whom she was seeing and where. "But it's informal," she said. "I have nothing to fax." "If you don't provide those details it will invalidate your claim," they warned her. Sure enough, a week later she received a formal letter confirming that they were taking back 50 pounds of contributions.

The parable has a happy ending, for Gill at least. Within two months she managed, through initiative and contacts, to create another senior post for herself within a big company. But for thousands of white-collar workers who will, as sure as night follows day, follow in her footsteps, the story will not be so happy. How many, in the dark days of middle-class recession to come, will experience similar treatment from a system that is not so much hostile as simply alien?

There was, apparently, no one at the Jobcentre that Gill visited who was experienced in dealing with her circumstances. She felt strongly enough about it to write to Harriet Harman, but has not received a reply. "I amuse myself thinking, what if it had been her? If they did a job search for her - Cabinet minister or secretary of state - they'd probably come up with cabinet maker or office secretary. "As a businesswoman, I could see a system crying out for reform. They need to step up a gear. They need people working there with a commercial background; they need to make the boxes on the computer system more flexible; they need to retrain everyone. They need basic stuff like links on the government website about paying national insurance contributions."

Recently, it was suggested that the Government was thinking of asking universities to step in to provide facilities and to counsel senior jobless people. Meanwhile, companies sacking executives are spending up to 10,000 a head on job placement consultancies as part of their redundancy package. Such firms, which prepare CVs and seek out unadvertised jobs, are - as my friend also discovered - pretty useless. "Chocolate teapot. I found another job by myself," she said.

Bright, thrusting high-achievers have been warned. Should you fall from grace, through no fault of your own, do not expect the State to offer you a safety net. Just appreciate the ultimate irony: you could build and run a better system yourself. Funny, isn't it, when that's what governments are for?


Return of the 1950s housewife in Australia?

She sews, cooks, knits, gardens and raises chooks [fowl]. The housewife is back - with younger women embracing traditional domestic crafts in droves, new figures show. Sewing machines have rocketed off shelves in the past six months, with Lincraft reporting a 30 per cent increase in sales. "There has been a definite trend happening and we have also started to see an increase in dress-fabric sales," said Lincraft spokesman Jeff Croft. "Demand for sewing classes has increased - and one of the biggest growth areas has been knitting yarn, with a 10-20 per cent increase in sales compared to this time last year."

Spotlight spokesman Steven Carey said DIY craft kits were its booming sector.

The new housewife also appears to be turning our backyards into vegie gardens, with sales of vegetables and herbs surging across nurseries over the past 12 months, according to the Nursery and Garden Industry Association. Tomatoes are hot, as are beans, peas and herbs.

New data from social forecaster AustraliaSCAN shows home-based activities are the focus for people. The survey shows a 5 per cent increase in the number of people spending time doing craft and a 4 per cent rise in people devoting time to home cooking, DIY and gardening. "There has been a substantial shift in our mindset to a more old-fashioned, frugal lifestyle - that real waste-not-want-not approach," said social analyst and AustraliaSCAN consultant David Chalke. "There are a confluence of forces - the global financial crisis, enviromental concerns and a new cocooning - which are pulling together to form the new homemaker. "That's why we are embracing the domestic crafts again," he said.


Australia: Hot air is helping nobody

As this year of global financial turmoil draws to a close, it is timely to look at the penchant of our governments, state and federal, to prick the conscience of the community on the varied social crises confronting the country. Creating a public awareness of the lifestyle impact of these problems - ranging from youth binge drinking, gambling and urban violence to homelessness - is one thing but offering shallow, aspirational, politically based solutions is something else. The reality is that a lot of these problems have been exacerbated by governments opting for political expediency, without considering the long-term consequences of their policies.

We are told, for instance, that the homeless crisis in Australia is largely a product of these troubled times, which have triggered mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and other social problems along the way. No doubt this is a significant contributing factor. But let's not forget that in NSW, for example, it was the government some years ago that changed the law covering public psychiatric care, leading to thousands of troubled people being effectively turned on to the streets. This cost-cutting move dressed up as political correctness also led to the vagrancy laws in NSW because scrapped because they were seen to demean those who chose to sleep in public places.

The effect of this was to take police intervention out of the equation and turn the problem over to charitable institutions offering a voluntary service to those who used to be known as vagrants. The upshot has been a huge spike in the number of people, many of them in their teens, now sleeping rough in our cities and towns, often in the worst of circumstances.

We are told that of the 100,000 people now classified as homeless across Australia, about 16,000 sleep on the streets and in parks. Announcing his multi-billion-dollar 2020 scheme last week, Kevin Rudd said Canberra and the states had committed to providing 50,000 affordable rental homes for low and moderate-income earners, along with 3000 homes for those who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. And those sleeping rough will also be offered accommodation under the scheme. But the problem here is that many of the growing number of people who opt, for a variety of reasons, to sleep rough choose not to have a roof over their heads. Why should that change as a result of the Government's largesse until a deeper core problem of societal behaviour is addressed?

This year also saw the Government wringing its hands at the destructive effects of gambling and binge drinking. The latter led to the so-called alcopop tax designed to make pre-mixed drinks a more expensive proposition for young people. Needless to say this was as effective as the government-inspired, multimillion-dollar, feel-good Grocery Watch scheme, and simply encouraged people to drink something else, perhaps something more potent.

What should have been addressed here was the link between government addiction to poker machine revenue, particularly in NSW and Victoria, and extended trading hours in hotels, which have frequently contributed to anti-social behaviour. After resisting the temptation for years, the Victorian Labor government followed NSW down the poker machine path in the early 1990s as it reeled under an economic crisis brought on by its own mismanagement. The Labor Government in NSW, which is in an even worse financial state, simply cannot do without its regular poker machine fix.

And while all this is going on, law and order in NSW is deteriorating, with increasing levels of urban violence. But in what amounts to an insult to the intelligence of the long-suffering NSW public, the Government of Nathan Rees responded just before Christmas by announcing a three-month amnesty for those who turned in knives and some handguns.

Meaningless gestures such as these are just a waste of time and money. What the Government needs to do is to restore the integrity of, and community respect for, its police force, which it has systematically undermined for years through a policy of political correctness. The bottom line message here is that until governments face up to the real issues at the heart of the many serious social problems confronting the community today, the solutions being touted will amount to nothing more than hot air.

With the economic gloom threatening to worsen, Rudd can use 2009 to show leadership on these issues and take the states with him down a path of real and constructive reform, or lapse back into the blame game he claims to have disowned. The choice he makes could well determine his future.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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