Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Fascist social workers in Austria too
But I guess they've had more practice in the "Ostmark des Deutschen Reichs "
Social workers seize a baby after his GRANDmother failed to pay a TRAFFIC fine! A total abuse of power. Even hate-filled British social workers have not gone that far yet. Though give them time, I guess
A mother has spoken of her struggle to be reunited with her baby after authorities seized him because the child's grandmother faced jail over an unpaid speeding fine.
Social workers in Austria took one-year-old Jonas Leitner from Ann-Kathrin, two months ago, insisting she would not be able to cope if her mother, Heidi, 50, who helped with babysitting, was imprisoned over the £800 ticket.
But authorities have still not reunited mother and son, despite the fact Heidi quickly paid off the debt.
Distraught Ann-Kathrin, 18, now has even missed her child's first steps and understands he is with his second foster family, while social workers process the case.
Ann-Kathrin said: 'When they took him into care we rushed to borrow the money from family and friends and paid off the fine. 'But they didn't bring him back. It's now been seven weeks and apparently he's already with the second foster family. I don't know why they changed from the first family.’
Social workers in Wels in the province of Upper Austria have refused to discuss the case. Spokesman Josef Gruber said the decision had not been taken lightly and that they were unable to comment on individual cases.
The young mother has now got a lawyer, Ronald Gabl, who has made a request at court for the child to be handed back. He said: ‘Quite apart from the fact that the child was taken away because of the traffic offence, the question is how did social workers find out about the speeding ticket and was that a breach of data protection laws.’
Ann-Kathrin, who lives with the boy's father, Andreas, said they would have been able to manage even if her mother had gone to jail over the unpaid ticket.
Gran Heidi said: ‘Of course a young mother needs support but they were managing fine. The youngster even has his own room. ‘When I realised it was a problem the fine was paid within two hours but it didn't seem to make any difference.
‘Now we're only allowed to see him once a week for an hour. The only exception was on his birthday on 26 January and we were allowed an extra hour. ‘It has had a devastating effect on my daughter- she missed her baby's first Christmas and his first tooth. Apparently he is also now walking.'
Alain de Botton has reinvigorated the conversation on religion. His new book, Religion for Atheists, moves away from the tedious debates of recent years to a more reflective consideration of religion's role in sustaining shared values.
Religion as a human phenomenon is too vast, pervasive and complicated to be discussed in simple binary terms of belief and unbelief. The evangelical atheists of the past few years may not be notable for sceptical doubt, but religious practitioners are often quite uncertain in their beliefs. De Botton is writing for the sceptics, whether they belong in any religion or not. It's a welcome shift of focus.
Atheists who aren't bigoted enemies of religion will agree that it has made many positive contributions. They are less likely to accept they should have a religion of their own - complete with a temple in London - as de Botton goes on to propose. Establishing atheist places of worship isn't exactly a new idea. As de Botton himself notes, an ambitious program of atheist church-building was part of the Religion of Humanity, invented by the 19th century French thinker Auguste Comte.
An obsessive and at times unbalanced personality, Comte - a fervent believer in phrenology - developed an elaborate daily ritual that included tapping the forehead at the points where science had supposedly located the impulses of progress, altruism and order. He also created a ''virgin mother of humanity'', based on a married woman with whom he had fallen in love. When she died, he appointed her grave a place of pilgrimage.
Such eccentricities were not destined to last but a number of atheist temples were established - not only in Paris, Comte's base, but in Rio de Janeiro, New York, Liverpool and London. In line with Comte's creed, these were temples where disciples could worship the new supreme being - humanity. As far as I know, none of the buildings is used for religious purposes today, though the Brazilian church seems to have been active until late last century.
When he proposes building a temple for unbelievers, de Botton is reinventing a wheel that never really turned. The fad for atheist temples lasted for perhaps 60 years, while places of worship dedicated to something bigger than humanity have been around for thousands of years. There is a nice irony here. For all his loony notions, Comte was more intelligent than most of the atheists who came after him. He saw clearly that religion is an enduring human need that cannot be denied. Yet despite the formative influence it had on writers and philosophers such as George Eliot and John Stuart Mill, Comte's religion of humanity disappeared, leaving hardly a trace.
Even if Comte's church was ephemeral, he was right in predicting religion would not die out. The world is awash with formless religiosity. During most of the last century, politics was the principal vehicle for religion. Communism and the cult of the free market are examples of large, flimsy ideas being turned into articles of faith.
Today, faith is more often channelled through science. Not only the pseudo-science of crop circle enthusiasts and UFO cultists, but genuine advances in science and technology are being used to promote hopes and dreams that are quintessentially religious. People who believe the human mind can be uploaded into virtual space and so be immune to death are recycling the fantasies of 19th-century spiritualists, who also argued their beliefs were based on science.
The very idea of a science-based religion is an absurdity. The value of religion is it points beyond anything that can be known by the methods of science, showing us a mystery would remain even if all could be explained.
Rather than trying to invent another religion surrogate, open-minded atheists should appreciate the genuine religions that exist already. Better spend the money that is being raised for the new temple on religious buildings that are in disrepair than waste it on a monument to a defunct version of unbelief.
Will the Church of England ever find peace?
Unlikely. The dressup queens in its clergy are killing it
Arguments about women bishops will dominate public proceedings of the Synod, but gay marriage is one of the burning issues behind the scenes.
Across the country, the 477 members of the Church of England’s governing body are bundling reports, agendas and background papers into suitcases ready for next week’s four-day General Synod in London.
But while the wood-panelled walls of the circular chamber at Church House, Westminster, echo to the sound of debates on such matters as the Draft Parochial Fees and Scheduled Matters Amending Order, the real decisions will be made furtively in the tearoom during breaks and, for those lucky enough to have received their gilt-edged invitation card, at the white-tie Dinner to the Archbishops and Bishops held at Mansion House every two years.
At the heart of the most important discussions is the question of whether the Church wants to go along with the increasingly liberal mood of English society, or whether it chooses to stick with its traditions.
There is, as always, a list of contentious issues gripping the Church, but such is the speed at which its bureaucracy moves that only one of them – the decades-long argument over women bishops – is on the order paper at General Synod. Meanwhile, at the top of the “shadow” agenda, and certain to be the subject of heated argument, are same-sex partnerships – specifically, the urgent question of whether or not clergy should be allowed to host civil partnership ceremonies in church.
Thanks to an amendment attached to the Equality Act at the last minute in the House of Lords, and passed into law last December, civil partnerships can now be held in places of worship. But because of fears of lawsuits against conservative clergy, the rules require that the governing body of a religion voluntarily agrees to “opt in” to host the events.
The Church of England’s lawyers say it is under no obligation to perform civil ceremonies, using the memorable analogy that a “gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women’s clothes”. Even blessing services for such unions are banned by the Church of England, although that did not stop one rector from allowing two male priests to exchange vows and rings in his church, the picturesque St Bartholomew the Great in the City of London.
But now 100 clerics in the diocese of London, among them Giles Fraser, the former Canon of St Paul’s who resigned during the Occupy London protest, have signed a letter stating that they should have the right to host civil partnerships on grounds of “individual conscience”, just as they can choose to marry divorcees in their churches.
Their letter follows remarks made by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph last week, in which he insisted that the state did not have any power to change the long-settled definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. “We’ve seen dictators do it in different contexts and I don’t want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way,” he said.
Although he was immediately branded “Archbigot” by equality campaigners, despite his making clear he did not disapprove of civil partnerships, no senior clerics have spoken out publicly against him. Many are no doubt weighing up the effects on their existing congregations, and the likelihood of attracting new churchgoers, if they were to declare themselves open for gay weddings. Church of England attendance is now down to 923,700 on an average Sunday. And despite a 4 per cent rise in 2010, the number of church weddings has been in decline for years, so gay couples who have resisted civil partnerships as “second-class” could provide a welcome boost.
However powerful the voices of the 100 London rebels may be, they must know that any move to grant them rights of individual conscience would have to be considered by Synod first and would also wait on a House of Bishops review of policy on civil partnerships in general.
While that issue fizzles in the corridors and tearoom next week, the Church will once again put its arguments about women bishops centre stage. Although most in the Church now accept that women will soon be fitted for mitres, about 1,000 outright opponents have departed for Rome over the past year and more are expected to follow, and it is still by no means sure that the lengthy legislative process will proceed smoothly. The Synod will be an opportunity for substantial revisions to the plans, which could see them sent back to the 44 dioceses for further consideration rather than sent forward for the deciding vote at York this July.
Yesterday’s visit by the Prince of Wales and the Bishop of London to a bastion of traditionalism, three Anglo-Catholic churches in north London where no women are allowed to preach, may be seen by liberals as a glimpse of the vanishing world of “smells and bells”. But others may view it as supportive of an important statement made by both Archbishops in the Synod background papers – that they want the C of E to remain a broad church “in which conscientious difference of theological judgement is fully respected”.
The question of how the Church is perceived by the outside world is of crucial importance to its future, though it is likely to be ducked at Synod. There will be much back-slapping in the corridors over the recent performance of the Lords Spiritual – the 26 bishops who sit in the House of Lords. Long regarded by the Left as an embarrassing anachronism in multicultural, democratic Britain, they became the toast of liberals last week for leading a defeat of government plans to cap benefits at £26,000 a year (though that has since been overturned in the Commons).
What most bishops will be talking about is the intervention of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who missed the Welfare Reform Bill debate but then used a newspaper article to declare that benefits dependency encourages “fecklessness”.
A remarkable degree of unity was on show in the Church as clerics weighed in against their former leader, who faced accusations of buying into evil Tory ideology as well as being “yesterday’s man”. But few seemed to consider that Lord Carey, who previously had a column in the multi-million-selling News of the World, was expressing the views of many ordinary people, as well as government ministers.
Next week will also be the first gathering of Synod since the “debacle” – to quote Lord Carey again – at St Paul’s, another example of how the leadership of the Church, convinced of its moral superiority and used to getting its way, was unable to see how it looked to the outside world. First it welcomed the protesters, then it tried to blackmail them into leaving by closing the cathedral doors, then it sided with the Corporation of London in trying to have them evicted, then it backed down and was forced to deal with the resignation of its dean and canon chancellor.
Since then, we have been treated to a stream of articles by bishops declaring that Jesus would have camped out with the Occupy crowd and denouncing the robber barons of capitalism (who for years have funded their cathedral restoration projects). Again, of course, none of this will be discussed on the record at Synod.
All present will be wondering if the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, will be making his last appearance in the chamber. Lambeth Palace has noticeably failed to deny reports circulating since October that Dr Williams is to return early to his natural home of academia, and the choice of his successor will help determine how the Church is seen by the public as well as affecting its internal wranglings.
Dr Sentamu is the bookies’ favourite, with opinion divided over whether his strident opposition to gay marriage will dent or boost his chances. Despite his meteoric rise through the Church’s ranks, he accepts that Canterbury is a near-impossible job and he would likely be happier were he to remain in York.
After all the unwanted headlines generated by Dr Williams – such as his comments on sharia law and the democratic illegitimacy of radical Coalition policies – Church officials are now expected to put up younger bishops who rarely express their opinions on contentious issues and are not associated with either the conservative or liberal wings.
But it remains unclear if this stance will be welcomed by the people who still make their way to the pews every Sunday, whose average age is now 61 and who have long been characterised as the “Tory party at prayer”.
But, of course, none of this will be discussed in public at the General Synod next week.
Trial by jury: The case for the defence
We should fight hard to defend the right to a jury trial, which remains the ‘lamp that shows that freedom lives’
This week, the UK Ministry of Justice revealed plans to save £30million by restricting the right to trial by jury in ‘minor cases’. The reforms would target offences currently referred to as ‘either way’, because the defendant has the right to choose between being tried by a jury in the Crown Court or by a magistrate in the Magistrates’ Court.
The reforms have been championed by the Magistrates’ Association and the ‘victims’ champion’ Louise Casey, a one-woman quango who in March 2010 was appointed by the New Labour government to represent the interests of victims in the criminal justice system. In November 2010, Casey called for identical restrictions to trial by jury in her report, Ending the Justice Waiting Game: A Plea For Common Sense, in which she derided ‘the administration of law that concerns itself with due process and the rights of offenders’. Speaking to The Times (London) this week, she said: ‘We should not view the right to a jury trial as being so sacrosanct that its exercise should be at the cost of victims of serious crime.’
Many have pointed out that Casey is just the latest in a long line of members of the English establishment who have sought to limit trial by jury. Lord Roskill’s 1986 report on trial by jury in cases involving serious fraud advocated abolishing juries in fraud trials to make the process more ‘expeditious’, despite finding no evidence that jurors were less capable of understanding fraud than judges were. The Runciman report in 1994 recommended abolishing the right to elect trial by jury for certain offences, saying that for many crimes the view of the jury was ‘unnecessary’. Jack Straw called the right to trial by jury ‘frankly eccentric’ in his failed bid to push his doomed Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill on to the statute book in 2003.
Judges, politicians and quango-staffers may see the system of trial by jury as an ‘eccentric’ waste of time and money. But at a time when successive governments have engaged in a prolonged assault on the rights of defendants in criminal trials, standing up for the jury system - famously described by Lord Devlin in the 1950s as the ‘lamp that shows that freedom lives’ - has never been more important. Its value in rebalancing the hugely unequal relationship between the accused citizen and the powers of the state cannot be underestimated.
Juries ensure that the law is applied in a way which is consistent with the social values of the day. This is why juries have the power to acquit a defendant in the face of overwhelming evidence of their guilt. In the nineteenth century, juries in the United States used this power to acquit law-enforcement officers charged with offences under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 for harbouring escaped slaves, even when they had been directed to convict by the judge. These acquittals led the Wisconsin High Court to become the first state court to rule the Fugitive Slave Act to be unconstitutional in 1854. Later, in the 1930s, many juries acquitted those charged with producing alcohol during the days of Prohibition. These acquittals eventually forced prosecutors to stop taking Prohibition cases up in the first place.
More recently, juries have acquitted defendants accused of murder even on overwhelming evidence of their guilt, if they have taken the view that they are not deserving of punishment. For example, Kay Gilderdale was cleared of attempting to murder her 31-year-old daughter, who was suffering from chronic ME, despite clear evidence that her daughter was unconscious when she injected her with morphine. The unfettered discretion afforded to juries enables them to hold the black letter of the law up to contemporary social norms and to make a democratic decision as to whether the defendant is guilty or not.
The jury also represents one of the last areas of public life where we, as members of the public, are absolutely trusted to make important decisions for ourselves. The judge is highly restricted in what he can ask a jury about their deliberations; if he is seen to be putting undue pressure on them to convict, the verdict will be overturned. This esteem has ancient roots. The Athenian speech writer Lysias described the jury’s verdict as ‘sovereign over all the city’s affairs’ and said juries had the power to decide whether the law was ‘powerful or powerless’. In the Roman republics, the decision of the single magistrate was only appealable to the citizen courts made up of up to 1,000 citizens, the verdict of which was absolutely final.
Today, however, the idea that a defendant’s guilt should be determined democratically is being eroded. More and more criminal offences are punishable by way of a fixed-penalty notice, dished out without any need to go before the courts. Bureaucratic organisations like the Independent Safeguarding Authority can effectively punish individuals by restricting their right to work without the need for any criminal conviction. Reams of new legislation encourage defendants, through discounts on their sentence or with prohibitive restrictions on legal aid, to plead guilty as quickly as possible.
All of these measures, along with the attacks on the jury system, are part of the same anti-democratic trend that places efficiency and cost saving before the rights of defendants to a fair trial. We should resist this trend by standing up for the principle of the jury trial, as one of the last remaining guarantors of our stake in criminal justice.
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.
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