Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Patriotism incorrect in England

When Australian Kay Rowland was sacked from her job for sending what she thought was a patriotic email about England to colleagues she couldn't believe it. The temp [secretary] was sacked from Castrol Oil after forwarding the email, which the Pipers Way-based company and Reed Employment, deemed to be inappropriate, to five other employees. But Miss Rowland, of Oakhurst, North Swindon, doesn't think the email was offensive and says people have the right to express their own opinion.

Part of the email said: "I am not against immigration, nor do I hold a grudge against anyone who is seeking a better life by coming to Britain. However, there are a few things that those who have recently come to our country, and apparently some born here, need to understand. "This idea of London being a multicultural centre for community has served only to dilute our sovereignty and our national identity. As Britons we have our own culture, our own society, our own language and our own lifestyle."

Miss Rowland, who has been temping at Castrol as a telebusiness operator since January, said: "I was sent the email last Thursday by an employee at the same company and I then sent it to five other employees. "Nothing was said at the time but I overheard some colleagues saying it was true. "But now I know that some of the people I sent it to complained to management."

On Monday morning Miss Rowland says that she felt something wasn't right when a representative from Reed Employment arrived at her office. She said they usually check up on their temps in the afternoon. "My team leader and the Reed lady were both in the meeting room and then I was called in," she said. "They told me some people had complained about the email and that my employment was terminated immediately. I was escorted from the building.

"I didn't think people would enjoy reading the email but I could see where this man who wrote it was coming from. I wasn't offended by it. "I thought the people who I sent it to would look at it and see this man had guts to say what a lot of people are afraid to say."

But Miss Rowland didn't think that the email would land her in such hot water. "In the meeting I was very upset. It was a very big shock and every word came behind a tear. I have been told I was sacked because of the content of the email. "They also said, not in so many words, that I'm not welcome back there." She added: "I think I've been made an example of but I don't think it's an example that should have been made." Miss Rowland, who is moving back to Australia at Christmas is now looking for work elsewhere. Sarah Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Reed Employment, said the company was unable to comment.


The French way does not work

Radical Muslims in France's housing estates are waging an undeclared "intifada" against the police, with violent clashes injuring an average of 14 officers each day. As the interior ministry said that nearly 2,500 officers had been wounded this year, a police union declared that its members were "in a state of civil war" with Muslims in the most depressed "banlieue" estates which are heavily populated by unemployed youths of north African origin. It said the situation was so grave that it had asked the government to provide police with armoured cars to protect officers in the estates, which are becoming no-go zones.

The number of attacks has risen by a third in two years. Police representatives told the newspaper Le Figaro that the "taboo" of attacking officers on patrol has been broken. Instead, officers - especially those patrolling in pairs or small groups - faced attacks as soon as they tried to arrest locals. Senior officers insisted that the problem was essentially criminal in nature, with crime bosses on the estates fighting back against tough tactics.

The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also the leading centre-Right candidate for the presidency, has sent heavily equipped units into areas with orders to regain control from drug smuggling gangs and other organised crime rings. Such aggressive raids were "disrupting the underground economy in the estates", one senior official told Le Figaro.

However, not all officers on the ground accept that essentially secular interpretation. Michel Thoomis, the secretary general of the hardline Action Police trade union, has written to Mr Sarkozy warning of an "intifada" on the estates and demanding that officers be given armoured cars in the most dangerous areas. He said yesterday: "We are in a state of civil war, orchestrated by radical Islamists. This is not a question of urban violence any more, it is an intifada, with stones and Molotov cocktails. You no longer see two or three youths confronting police, you see whole tower blocks emptying into the streets to set their 'comrades' free when they are arrested." He added: "We need armoured vehicles and water cannon. They are the only things that can disperse crowds of hundreds of people who are trying to kill police and burn their vehicles."

However, Gerard Demarcq, of the largest police unions, Alliance, dismissed talk of an "intifada" as representing the views of only a minority. Mr Demarcq said that the increased attacks on officers were proof that the policy of "retaking territory" from criminal gangs was working.

Mayors in the worst affected suburbs, which saw weeks of riots and car-burning a year ago, have expressed fears of a vicious circle, as attacks by locals lead the police to harden their tactics, further increasing resentment. As if to prove that point, there were angry reactions in the western Paris suburb of Les Mureaux following dawn raids in search of youths who attacked a police unit on Sunday. The raids led to one arrest. They followed clashes on Sunday night when scores of youths attacked seven officers who had tried to arrest a man for not wearing his seat belt while driving. That driver refused to stop, and later rammed a police car trying to block his path.

The mayor of Les Mureaux, Francois Garay, criticised aggressive police tactics that afterwards left "the people on the ground to pick up the pieces".


Below is a comment on the above received via email:

There are many "no go" areas where Police basically don't police. These areas have esssentially become concrete islands run by a strange alliance of Imans imposing Shaira law, to which only the women and married and older men are subject, and unemployed youths hypocritically victimizing those who don't comply because they know the Imans will allow it for ulterior reasons) and not complying themselves (in other words, to be exempt from Shaira expectations of piety, join a gang!).

These areas are out of sight and out of mind for most in France. Ironically, St. Denis, the tomb of French Kings, is now becoming almost a completely Muslim neighborhood.

The game of chess is a metaphor for warfare in medeval thinking, and has interesting roots in the conflict between east and west and the Crusades. But in France it looks like Islam has learned the Chinese/Japanese game of "Go."


It doesn't question the regulations of course -- and it certainly does not suggest that the exemptions help America to breathe. Excerpts below:

In recent years, many politicians and commentators have cited what they consider a nationwide "war on religion" that exposes religious organizations to hostility and discrimination. But such organizations - from mainline Presbyterian and Methodist churches to mosques to synagogues to Hindu temples - enjoy an abundance of exemptions from regulations and taxes. And the number is multiplying rapidly.....

Federal law gives religious congregations unique tools to challenge government restrictions on the way they use their land. Consequently, land-use restrictions that are a result of longstanding public demands for open space or historic preservation may be trumped by a religious ministry's construction plans, as in a current dispute in Boulder County, Colo.

"When you fly in to Denver at night, you can always pick out Boulder," said Ben Pearlman, an athletic young lawyer who grew up there. "It's the only one with big patches of darkness around it." As one of Boulder County's three governing commissioners, the soft-spoken Mr. Pearlman talks about protecting the county's spectacular beauty as if it were a sacred trust. In 1978, the county limited intensive development to already urbanized areas, buffered by large swaths of prairie and farmland. The landscape therefore now stands in stark contrast to the spreading carpet of subdivisions, office parks and malls in neighboring counties around Denver.

To Alan Ahlgrim, the mellow and mesmerizing preacher who founded Rocky Mountain Christian Church in eastern Boulder County in 1984, those encroaching subdivisions look like spiritual vineyards, full of families ready to be transformed by his church's call for them to become "blessed to be a blessing" to others. "The church has never grown fast enough to suit me," Pastor Ahlgrim said with a grin that showed he was almost, but not quite, serious.

But the church, one of more than 200 in the county, did grow fast enough in the last 22 years - from about three dozen families in 1984 to more than 2,200 people today - to burst from its original building and five subsequent expansions approved by the county. Today, its enthusiastic young congregation is once again bumping up against the walls of its 106,000-square-foot home, which sits on 55 acres in an agricultural buffer zone around the small town of Niwot. It is holding multiple services to handle the overflow congregation, but its Sunday school space is full, with some classes spilling out into hallways and temporary buildings set up in a parking lot.

The church wants to almost double the size of its facilities so it can accommodate up to 4,500 people. The church could then provide a new children's wing, more rooms for adult classes and a gymnasium with room for two basketball courts or potluck suppers for 1,000. The new wings, linked to the existing building by spacious galleries, would be surrounded by more than 1,200 landscaped parking spaces, 60 percent more than today. But the county's land-use plan and zoning rules for the agricultural buffer zone where the church stands would limit any construction on the site to a single residential building. So the church cannot build without the approval of the Boulder County commissioners. And in February, after an emotional public hearing attended by more than a thousand people, Mr. Pearlman and his two fellow commissioners said no. [The horror! People wanting to use their own land in their own way!]

"People are always trying to develop their properties to the limits of the law and sometimes beyond," Mr. Pearlman said. But the worst suburban sprawl is the consequence of "lots of little decisions that have this cumulative effect," he continued. "We're trying to resist this death by a thousand cuts, and preserve the land where we can."

Like the leaders of large, fast-growing churches across the country confronting zoning restrictions on their expansion plans, Pastor Ahlgrim is unhappy. The decision "is severely restrictive to our mission," he said. Like worshiping, teaching and gathering for fellowship, the practice of sharing with the community - in this case, allowing certain outside groups to use the church when it's available - is "vital to our mission," he continued. "When one of your core values is generosity and you are restricted from sharing what you want to share - what God has provided - we consider that to be a severe limitation." The church had no choice but to go to court, he said.

The church has sued the county under a federal land-use law enacted by Congress and signed by Bill Clinton in 2000 to protect religious organizations from capricious or discriminatory zoning restrictions by local governments. The unusual law came after a decade-long bipartisan tug-of-war between Congress and the Supreme Court. Before 1990, the court had generally held that any government restriction on religion must serve a compelling public interest in the least burdensome way - a standard known as the "strict scrutiny" test. But in one Oregon case dealing with two Native Americans' sacramental use of peyote, an illegal drug, the majority concluded that there was nothing unconstitutional about states expecting citizens to comply with valid, neutral and generally applicable laws - like those criminalizing peyote - even if compliance conflicted with religious beliefs.

This "Smith decision," Employment Division v. Smith, provoked a fierce reaction that has energized the drive for more legislative protections for religion ever since. In 1993, under pressure from a broad coalition whose members ranged from the Anti-Defamation League to the Southern Baptist Convention to the American Humanist Association, Congress adopted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which restored the "strict scrutiny" test to any federal, state or local government action affecting religious practice. A new tool had been added to the First Amendment emergency kit, although no one was quite sure how to use it.

Then the Supreme Court tugged back. In 1997, it ruled that the religious freedom act could not be applied constitutionally to the states. In reaction, 13 states have subsequently adopted similar measures of their own. But Congress thought the decision left room for it to address zoning restrictions and, separately, religious restrictions imposed on prisoners. In 2000 Congress adopted and Mr. Clinton signed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which restored the "strict scrutiny" test to local zoning decisions, making it easier for churches to challenge those decisions in court. The act also made it easier for prisoners to challenge restrictions on their religious practices.

The provisions that apply to prisoners have been upheld, but the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the land-use provisions that Rocky Mountain Christian Church is invoking in its lawsuit against Boulder County. One of the church's allies in the fight is the Justice Department's civil rights division, which is defending the law's constitutionality in cases around the country.

Defenders of the law say that some cases invoking its protections have addressed actions by local governments that seem to reflect blatant religious bias. For example, Rabbi Joseph Konikov of Orlando, Fla., successfully sued his local government under the law in 2002 after county officials repeatedly cited and fined him for holding small worship services in his suburban home, in violation of a zoning provision later found to be an unconstitutional burden on religious freedom.

"It was like Communist Russia," said Rabbi Konikov, who said his grandfather had fled the Soviet Union to escape religious oppression. He has continued to hold services in his home. "It was very satisfying to see that, at the end, our Constitution and our American values and freedoms came through for us."

Other zoning challenges, all invoking the 2000 law, have been filed by a Sikh society that wants to build a temple in a low-density residential area of Yuba City, Calif.; a Hindu congregation seeking permission to expand its temple and cultural center on a busy highway in Bridgewater, N.J.; and a Muslim organization that has been trying for years to build a mosque on land that the local government in Wayne Township, N.J., now wants to buy for open space.

Seeking a Protective Balance

Critics of the 2000 law argue that the First Amendment itself has long prohibited religious discrimination in zoning, and that such zoning decisions could have been challenged just as successfully in the courts if the law had never been passed.

When Congress considered the law, "what was actually being discussed was `How do we make sure churches don't get discriminated against,' " said Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in Manhattan and the author of "God vs. The Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law" (Cambridge University Press, 2005), which calls for closer scrutiny of some religious exemptions, especially those affecting land use and family law.

"Unfortunately, the answer was to give such an expansive remedy that not only are they not getting discriminated against, but they are now capable of discriminating against all other landowners," added Professor Hamilton, who is advising Boulder County in its case.

The financial stakes in the Boulder lawsuit are large.

Under the 2000 law, if the county loses, it will have to pay not only its own legal bills but also those of the church. If the church loses, it will sacrifice the money it has spent on legal, architectural and public relations fees, but it will not be required to pay the county's legal bills. And unlike the county, it could seek free legal help from various religious advocacy groups, although it has not yet done so.

While a county victory might provide other local governments with a template for defending against similar challenges, some lawyers fear that if Boulder County, with its long history of careful land-use planning and its environmentally demanding voters, cannot successfully argue that preserving open space is a "compelling public interest," few local governments could.

"Religious institutions have realized that land-use authorities are vulnerable to the threat of litigation," David Evan Hughes, the deputy county attorney, asserted in the county's court filings. Without greater clarity from the courts, he continued, the new law's reach "will expand to the point where religious institutions are effectively dictating their own land-use regulations."

Like most Boulder County residents, several church members said they cherish the open space preserved by the county's past land-use decisions. But they think the county was wrong to reject the church's proposal.

Lanny Pinchuk, a church member who formerly served on the county planning board, praised all that the county has done to preserve the environment. "But you can't keep people from coming to the religious institution of their choice," he said. "I feel that is just, well, un-American."

Church leaders and members said their current proposal was the "forever plan," the last expansion the church would make on this site.

But they all struggled to explain why it is an unconstitutional burden for them to have to turn away newcomers now when, if they continue to grow, they will inevitably have to turn away people when their "forever" building is full.

"At some point, we're going to have to say we can't accommodate any more; I mean, we're not going to have a 100-story building over there," said Gerry Witt, a founding church member who has recently put his house on the market so he and his wife, Carole, can move to a less developed area on the western slope of the Rockies.

"So is there any limit?" He thought a moment, then answered his question. "Yes," he said. "There's God's limit. When he says, `You're at your limit,' that's when we will stop."



Say something derogatory about homosexuals and you are in immediate trouble. Otherwise they're not much interested

An inquiry has been ordered after police failed to respond to five 999 calls from a primary school reporting an armed intruder. The man broke into the school brandishing a lump of wood and threatened staff by telling them 'you're dead'. School had finished for the day, but there were still children inside and frantic staff rang 999 on five occasions over a 50-minute period. Eventually the man left of his own accord, but officers never turned up to investigate.

Kent Police chief constable Michael Fuller has ordered the investigation following a complaint from headteacher Stuart Pywell, of St Stephen's Junior School in Canterbury. The drama at the school unfolded last week, when five young men were seen fighting with lumps of wood in the school grounds. At 4pm one of the men burst into the school through a back door brandishing a lump of wood and threatened staff. Mr Pywell said there were still children at an after-school club, but they were kept away from the intruder.

He said: 'He was standing in a corridor armed with a thick stick being very aggressive and abusive to everyone. He was clearly high on drugs. I told him the police had been called but he just kept threatening us, saying "you're dead". He was very agitated and had the lump of wood but, for all we knew, he could also have had a knife so we were reluctant to physcially tackle him. 'We do not expect the police to put people's lives at risk by failing in their duty to respond to situations like this. There was at least a dozen children and staff at risk yet no officer attended.' Mr Pywell said the man was escorted from the site, but suspicious men in a four-wheel drive vehicle remained outside the school gates. He said he even gave the control room his mobile number and no one 'bothered' to call him.

There have been other previous incidents, including vandalism at the school, when police failed to respond to calls, he said. A superintendent had previously apologised for police failures. 'It has got to the stage now where we have employed our own security guard at weekends.'

Deputy Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle said: 'We treat all incidents at schools seriously. We're concerned about how this matter was handled.' A police spokesman confirmed an internal inquiry into the handling of the incident has begun and said tapes of 999 calls made by the teachers will be examined. Senior officers are expected to meet with the headteacher.

Earlier this year Police Federation leaders claimed forces were struggling to cope withcalls because they were too busy 'chasing statistics' for the Government. In a scathing attack on Labour's law and order strategy, the Federation said crimes such as burglaries and car theft were being downgraded by control room staff because there were not enough officers to deal with them.

There have been a number of reported incidents in which emergency services have failed to turn out to 999 emergencies. In April police took an hour and a half to react to 999 calls about violence that led to the mob murder of two brothers. Mohammed and Hayder Ali were dragged from a van in a suburban street in London, stabbed with machetes and beaten around the head with wooden posts. In the 90 minutes before they were killed, five emergency calls was made to Scotland Yard detailing running battles and youths wandering around with weapons.

Last May John Lockley, 60, died after police and ambulance took six hours to respond to 999 calls that he was lying unconscious in the street in Stoke-on-Trent.


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