Wednesday, April 03, 2013
Assault on Religious Liberty in the USA
Last week, I gave 12 examples of how religious liberty has been assaulted in just the past two years in the U.S. Here are about two dozen more instances just for good measure, as reported by the Family Research Council, the office of Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., and various media outlets.
--The following public institutions recently have joined the growing ranks of those that have banned the use of the word "Easter" in order to diminish or eliminate references to religion: East Meadow School District in New York, Prospect Heights Public Library in Illinois, Heritage Elementary School in Alabama, Manhattan Beach Unified School District in California, Flat Rock Elementary School in South Carolina and West Shore School District in Pennsylvania.
--The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the state's annual Day of Prayer proclamations violated the state constitution.
--Officials in Buhler, Kan., are removing a cross from the city's seal, which was placed on it four decades ago to represent the city's founders, who were immigrants fleeing religious persecution.
--The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that crosses placed on Utah roadsides to honor fallen state troopers violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
--A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that a cross displayed as part of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego was unconstitutional.
--The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that a North Carolina board of commissioners' prayer policy was unconstitutional because the prayers mentioned Jesus too frequently.
--The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that a Florida city commission's practice of offering an invocation at the beginning of each meeting was unconstitutional.
--For decades, the Sussex County Council in Delaware had opened meetings with the Lord's Prayer, but after a yearlong court battle challenging the practice, the council agreed to replace it with a recitation of Psalm 23.
--Other lawsuits by activist groups targeting the tradition of city and county council prayer are sweeping the nation. Here are a few more recent headlines. In North Carolina: "Prayer in public meetings debated in Greenville" (journalists Kristen Hunter and Jonathan Rodriguez). In New Jersey: "New Invocation Policy Includes Indemnification Waiver for All Council Members" (GallowayTwpNews.com). In California: "Rialto City Council defends public prayers before meetings" (The Sun). In Michigan: "Prayer at Oakland Twp. meeting draws ACLU's attention" (The Associated Press). In Georgia: "Cave Spring rethinking Lord's Prayer issue" (Rome News-Tribune). In Washington: "'Christ' ban signals apparent end to Longview council meeting invocation" (The Daily News).
--Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services denied funding for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' successful program for sex trafficking victims because of the church's teaching on human life.
--In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many New York synagogues and other houses of worship discovered that they were ineligible for financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
--Presidential administration officials refused to intervene in the closing of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
--Walter Reed National Military Medical Center drafted a policy that prohibited individuals from using or distributing religious items during visits to the hospital.
--Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, a Delta Force war hero, couldn't speak at West Point because of his Christian faith.
--The Air Force Academy apologized for merely announcing Operation Christmas Child -- a Christian-based charity and relief program designed to send Christmas gifts to impoverished children around the world.
--The Marine Corps considered tearing down a Camp Pendleton cross meant to honor fallen heroes.
--The Navy relocated a live Nativity scene at a base in Bahrain to the chapel area.
--Air Force officials suspended a 20-year-old course on war theory because of its religious aspects.
--Yet, as reported in the Los Angeles Times in November 2011, the Air Force is building "an $80,000 Stonehenge-like worship center" for followers of "Earth-based" religions, including "pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths."
--The Department of Veterans Affairs censored references to God and Jesus during prayers at Houston National Cemetery.
--The Pentagon released new regulations forcing chaplains to perform same-sex weddings despite their religious objections. However, members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus worked tirelessly to ensure that the final version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act included key religious freedom protections for service members generally and chaplains specifically (Section 533).
--The Pentagon revoked approval to use the logo of each service branch on the covers of Bibles sold in military exchange stores.
What is going on in the U.S. military? Apparently, the military's urge for neutrality is officially and fundamentally transforming into hostility toward faith.
What is so difficult for the feds to understand about the free exercise clause in the First Amendment, which says they "shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise" of religion?
Long gone are the days when the commander in chief wrote the prologue to the Gideons Bibles given to service members, encouraging them to find strength and courage from the contents. That's what President Franklin D. Roosevelt did before the start of World War II: "As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul."
The only fight left is for we the people to defend our First Amendment's freedom of religion, not espouse or enable the freedom from religion. Start in your own town, and take the battle all the way to Washington.
Homosexual Activists’ Double Standard
Gay activists know they’ve lost the moral high ground when even their supporters are laughing at their double standards and hypocrisy.
Last week, Slate published a video compilation titled “Flashback: When Democrats swore they would never back gay marriage.” It showed Democrats like Hilary Clinton and Harry Reid affirming that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman. Alex Knepper, a writer for the Huffington Post and a gay man himself, posted the video on Facebook with the caption, “Look at these bigots.”
He was being sarcastic, of course. Liberals and Democrats are never considered bigots.
The most obvious example is the double standard applied to Rob Portman, the Republican Senator from my home state of Ohio. Three weeks ago, Portman publicly switched his position on gay marriage after his son came out.
“I’ve thought a great deal about this issue, and like millions of Americans in recent years, I’ve changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples,” Portman wrote in the Columbus Dispatch. “As we strive as a nation to form a more perfect union, I believe all of our sons and daughters ought to have the same opportunity to experience the joy and stability of marriage.”
You’d think gay activists would welcome a convert to their camp. But no—it was too little, too late. Portman’s op-ed attracted hundreds of hate-filled comments on the Dispatch’s site and elsewhere.
“The senator's inability to empathize with other humans until it directly impacted him makes me puke in my mouth a little,” one wrote.
“What took you so long? Weren't gay people ‘children of God’ when you opposed marriage equality?” another whined.
Nobody said that when Barack Obama and Bill Clinton—who signed the Defense of Marriage Act—switched their positions. Instead, they were cheered for finally saying what the gay activists assumed they always believed.
Really? How do they know the Democrats’ conversions were more sincere than Portman’s? And how come Obama was never labeled a “hatemonger”?
This is nothing new. We all remember the character assassination of Miss California Carrie Prejean back in 2009. By saying that marriage should be between a man and a woman, Prejean did nothing more than restate the official position of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, John Kerry, Bill Clinton—and every other Democrat that liberals had voted into office. There’s no doubt that Prejean’s Christianity—as well as her traditional femininity—determined how the media treated her. As Miss USA owner Donald Trump said, “If her beauty wasn’t so great, nobody really would have cared.”
In her book The New Thought Police, Tammy Bruce, a self-described “lesbian feminist activist,” revisited the gay movement’s crusade against radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Because Dr. Laura opposed gay marriage on religious grounds and called homosexuality “a biological error,” groups like GLAAD tried to force her off the airwaves, mostly by harassing and intimidating advertisers.
“In case you are still convinced that the attacks on Laura Schlessinger, however out of control, were motivated by genuine concern, let me tell you about one person who is not on the gay establishment’s list of people to destroy: the rapper Eminem,” Bruce wrote.
Around the same time Dr. Laura was being hounded by GLAAD, Eminem was releasing songs in which he ranted about killing gays: “Kill you, you f*ggots keep egging me on” and “I’ll stab you in the head, whether you’re a f*g or a les.” Gay activists had little to say about it.
Why the double standard? “Dr. Laura is…a member of the newly marginalized—she’s conservative and she’s religious,” Bruce wrote. “Eminem, it’s safe to say, is neither.”
Fifteen years later, nothing has changed. Gay rights activists reserve the labels “bigot” “hater” and “homophobe” for certain people and not others, even if their professed beliefs are exactly the same. Apparently, only Christians, conservatives, and Republicans are capable of spreading “hate.”
Parliament has become Britain's worst enemy of free speech
Too many of our laws are being used simply to silence 'unacceptable’ views, writes Philip Johnston
The cause of free speech has produced some unsavoury champions down the years, but few can have been less attractive than John Wilkes. During the current debate about press regulation, this 18th-century degenerate has often been cited as an exemplar of the sacrifices made in defence of liberty. Indeed, in his time, Wilkes was a national hero. Yet today, his reputation has dwindled almost to naught, and his name and activities are highly unlikely to feature on Michael Gove’s list of historical facts that all schoolchildren are expected to learn.
But they should – because Wilkes, for all his flaws, embodied the spirit of liberty that is a defining characteristic of this nation, but which is all too easily undermined by indifference and ignorance.
By all accounts, including those of his friends, Wilkes was an unpleasant individual. He was a member of the Knights of St Francis of Wycombe, otherwise known as the Hellfire Club or the Monks of Medmenham Abbey. This libertine group made the Bullingdon look like the Mothers’ Union. It was renowned for its debauchery, its anti-Catholic ribaldry, and orgies with women dressed as nuns (during which members dressed in Franciscan robes).
Wilkes’s renown as a defender of free speech stems from an event that took place 250 years ago this month: the publication of issue No 45 of a radical newsletter called The North Briton. This was a virulently anti-government pamphlet that Wilkes, an opposition MP, penned with his friend Charles Churchill in order to torment the prime minister, the Earl of Bute. It was a scabrous riposte to a government-friendly paper, The Briton, edited by Tobias Smollett, the novelist and historian.
The North Briton was the Private Eye of its day, only without the latter’s customary restraint or attention to facts. Insults, scandal and rumour were its stock in trade, with attacks on senior members of the Establishment that were extraordinary for the time – even if they might now look uncontroversial.
But on April 23, 1763, Wilkes over-reached himself with a sustained attack on the King’s Speech for the new parliament, which was considered an unacceptable piece of lèse-majesté. Wilkes was arrested and charged with seditious libel – only to be cleared by sundry juries and re-elected to the Commons on several occasions, even when the authorities tried to bar him from standing. He was a true people’s tribune, and a hero to the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. The free speech provisions in the US constitution, and several subsequent rulings of the American courts, cite the Wilkes case; yet in his native land he is largely forgotten, save when free speech is under threat, as it is now.
Wilkes fought for the right to publish an opinion, however outrageous or erroneous it might be, without being told by people in power what to say or prevented from saying what they did not want to hear. Until relatively recently in this country, this was the accepted state of affairs. By and large, people were free to say what they thought, provided they did not incite violence; state regulation of newspapers was considered anathema.
Yet today, neither is true. People have been arrested and sent to prison for making “hateful” statements that were not physically threatening. And Parliament, for the first time in 300 years, wants to force the press to subscribe to a set of regulatory structures set up by the state.
The hate laws introduced in recent years are, in reality, the attempted prohibition of ideas that are considered inappropriate because they do not conform to the views we expect to hear expressed in a civilised society. But as long as there is no attempt or intention to provoke violence, should that be a matter for the criminal law? Some take the view that we need laws to protect minority groups from abuse; but the problem is that such laws can also be used to shut down perfectly legitimate opinion, for instance on the rights and wrongs of gay marriage.
There have been attempts to stop this slide. In January, Theresa May announced that it would no longer be an offence under Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 to insult someone. Yet at the same time, the Home Secretary acknowledged that this would make no difference, because the word “insulting” could safely be removed from the Act without undermining the ability to bring prosecutions.
In other words, this was not a victory for free speech at all, since the various cases that triggered the campaign to repeal this provision (like the arrest of a preacher for saying homosexuality was a sin) would still have gone ahead and will do so in future. The amended statute will allow the police to arrest people on the same basis as before – for expressing views that might be considered offensive, but which in a free country they should be allowed to say. That is why, as I argue in my new report for the think-tank Civitas, the relevant section of the Act should be scrapped in its entirety.
We have far too many laws in this area circumscribing free speech – not just Labour’s hate crimes legislation, or the Public Order Act, but also the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988. As a result, the police and prosecutors are able to move from one to the other to close down views deemed to be unacceptable.
The fault here lies with the foe that Wilkes fought, even though he was a member of it: Parliament. The conclusion that the Americans reached when they introduced the First Amendment to the constitution was that the legislature could not be trusted to uphold free speech. It states bluntly that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. That leaves legislators unable to interfere in any way at all with free speech, whereas here they have done nothing but meddle.
We do not have a written constitution – or rather we do not have a constitution that is codified. But as Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said in an important and insightful speech shortly before the Leveson Inquiry began its work, “the fact that there is nothing in statute which states expressly that the independence of the press is a constitutional principle does not diminish the principle”. Lord Judge also quoted Wilkes: “The liberty of the press is the birthright of a Briton, and is justly esteemed the firmest bulwark of the liberties of this country.”
As Lord Judge observed, this was a more profound observation than it at first appears. Wilkes, he said, “was asserting that the liberty of the press is the birthright of every citizen, that is, the community as a whole. It is a birthright of the citizen that the press should be independent. It is therefore not a right of one section of the community, not just a sectional right. It is the right of the community as a whole. It is, if you like, our right, the right of every citizen. And that is why, if you accept it as I do, the independence of the press is not only a constitutional necessity, it is a constitutional principle.”
So, too, is free speech. And as a constitutional principle, it must be inviolable – defended from interference not just by this Parliament, but by those yet to come.
Does religion still have a place in today’s British politics?
The recent row between Churches and state over welfare policy shows how the power of the clergy is waning, argues Paul Goodman
The Church’s report was seen as an attack on the Government, and the counter-assault from the Conservatives came quickly. “Pure Marxism,” said a Cabinet minister. A Tory MP added that it had been produced by “a load of Communist clerics”. The Prime Minister complained to a friend that the document contained “nothing about self-help or doing anything for yourself”.
The indignant vigour of that last sentiment gives the game away. The report in question wasn’t The Lies We Tell Ourselves, the recent attack on the Government’s welfare reforms produced by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland, and the offended prime minister wasn’t David Cameron. It was Faith in the City, issued in 1985 by a special commission to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, and the leader in question was Margaret Thatcher.
Mind you, comparing and contrasting the two rows should indeed bring Karl Marx to mind. After all, they provide yet another reminder that he was wrong. For today, history is repeating itself as farce – without, as Marx claimed, repeating itself first as tragedy.
The contrast between Faith in the City and The Lies We Tell Ourselves is telling. Whatever one thinks of its conclusions – not least the idea that Thatcherism was to blame for the growing spiritual and economic poverty of Britain’s inner cities – the first was a serious and detailed piece of policy work, one capable of inspiring a follow-up report 10 years later. The second contains no recommendations. It is simply a plea on behalf of those claiming benefits – and therefore one on behalf of the benefits system itself.
Indeed, the entire dispute is artificial. The Lies We Tell Ourselves was published over a month ago. It seems to have been rehashed by the BBC over the weekend – on the verge of the Government’s changes to the welfare system going live. (Bias, anyone?). Whatever the background, the diminished vision of the report, and the muted reaction of ministers, says much about how Britain has altered.
Three big social changes have taken place since the rumpus over Faith in the City. First, churchgoing has continued to decline. Roughly 10 per cent of the population did so when that report was issued. Now it is under 5 per cent. While unvarnished attendance figures can be misleading, the long-term trend – and the ageing of congregations – is unmistakable.
Second, Britain has seen the rise of the new atheism – the polemical version mass-marketed by Richard Dawkins. The last census showed that the number of declared atheists has doubled to 14 million. The reasons for the rise are disputed, but one is unmistakable: militant Islamism has inspired a reaction against religion in general. So, too, have child abuse scandals within the Churches.
This has assisted the third cultural shift, and the biggest of all. There was no Human Rights Act in 1985, when Faith in the City was published. And there was no Equalities Act, either. Now we have both – and a human rights culture underpinned by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Religion may be a protected characteristic under this new dispensation. But when faith clashes with the new secularist ethos, the former tends to lose out. So it is that Catholic adoption agencies felt they had no option but to close rather than allow children to be adopted by same-sex couples, and Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar, lost in Strasbourg over her refusal to conduct same-sex marriages.
No wonder, then, that David Cameron is relatively relaxed about criticism from those in dog collars, whether it comes in the guise of those Reformed Churches campaigning against welfare reform or George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, complaining about same-sex marriage. These two strands of criticism combine in being reactionary, in the real sense of the word: both are reflexive protests against the way the world is changing.
Voters’ views about welfare claimants are hardening. The great wave of immigration that has broken over Britain since 1997, the largest in the county’s history, has much to do with that. Social attitudes are changing, too. On same-sex marriage, they divide between the generations. Mr Cameron’s gamble is that the Churches are often out of touch not just with opinion on the street but in the pew, too.
He isn’t always right. The bias in government childcare policy against single-earner couples risks an electoral penalty in 2015, and his backing of same-sex marriage – for which he had no manifesto mandate and for which there was no public pressure – has already cost him dear, given the scale of party resignations and defections to Ukip. And it can also be argued that the Prime Minister’s commitment to protecting Christianity’s place in the public square is shallow: appointing Sayeeda Warsi as Minister for Faith, sticking to his pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of GNP on overseas aid and sending out Christmas messages quoting St John’s Gospel doesn’t add up to a thought-through policy on faith.
But is Mr Cameron letting the Churches down, or vice-versa? The answer lies back in the early days of this Government, when Steve Hilton was in Downing Street and the Big Society was all the rage. Mr Hilton had a vision of clubs, charities, co-operatives and, yes, churches running public services.
To a degree, this has long been happening. Churches and faith communities have always been the Big Society in action – the “little platoons” that Burkean Tories revere. The Church Urban Fund, for example, supports 300 projects that tackle poverty directly.
The Cabinet Office, which contains a strong network of evangelical Christians, is funding evangelical-led projects such as the Cinnamon Network. “Christians on the ground know that Britain faces 10 years of austerity,” one church source told me, “and are bypassing the official structures, providing food banks and housing and employment advice on the ground.”
This raises questions about those “official structures” – in particular, those of Britain’s two largest ecclesiastical players, the Catholic Church and the Church of England. The former was suspicious of Michael Gove’s academies initiative. Although there have been changes at the Catholic Education Service, its energies are still directed inwards – towards preserving the Catholic ethos of its schools.
The Church of England is less centralised: the toing-and-froing between St Paul’s and the Occupy movement last year was but one small reminder of this. But like parts of the Catholic Church and the Reformed Churches, a large part of the bench of bishops harks back, in that reactionary way, to the Attlee government of the 1940s as its ideal, and to the welfare state as that government’s greatest achievement.
Mr Hilton – and the Prime Minister himself – thus have reason to be disappointed. The Churches on the Continent are not so tethered to an ageing model. In Germany, the Catholic Church runs more than 25,000 kindergartens, hospitals, homes and care facilities. Jeremy Hunt’s hospital reforms – a response to disasters such as Mid-Staffs – rely on new discipline from above and visitor pressure from below (with the latter probably to prove the more effective). Hospitals have failed elderly and frail patients because we live in a culture that doesn’t value age and experience. The ethos of the Churches contradicts that culture – indeed, it created our hospitals in the first place. There is a role here that they could revive.
We have grown used to political interventions from Rowan Williams and other churchmen that could double as editorials in the Guardian or New Statesman. But the truth is that until the Church of England and others reoccupy the ground they once held, they will be driven further out of people’s everyday lives. The more ground they are forced to abandon, the safer politicians will feel in ignoring them.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.