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Archive for the ‘first amendment’ Category

History Lesson for Rick Santorum

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TRC approved. From Salon.

As Madison argued in a 1788 letter to Jefferson, religious fanaticism was as serious a danger to religious liberty as excessive state authority.  In his words, “rights of conscience” were undermined by “overbearing majorities” who were intent on advancing the interests of a particular “religious establishment.”  In plain and simple terms, the founders meant to protect individuals against excessive encroachments by church as well as state.

We might all wish to heed Madison’s further warning:  “It is a melancholy reflection that liberty should be equally exposed to danger whether the Government has too much or too little power.”  Religious liberty required the protection of state authority, in creating a barrier around the individual and guarding against intrusions from religious institutions.

The fact remains that President Obama is no more a French Revolutionary Jacobin than Jefferson or Madison.  It appears, in fact, that the president has a very clear understanding of religious liberty, appreciating the boundaries between church and state just as Madison intended.  His promptly conceived compromise solution, respecting religion without restricting rights, fits the balanced, reasonable approach our founders prescribed when they fought, state by state, to eliminate state funding and sanctioning (i.e., disestablishment) of privileged sects.


Written by Christopher ZF

February 14, 2012 at 16:37

Anoka-Hennepin School Board replaces Neutrality Policy with Respectful Learning Environment Policy

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Last week at TRC we posted a link to the Rolling Stone article on the Anoka-Hennepin School District and its neutrality policy that has garnered national attention in the wake a string of tragic student suicides. This issue is very emotional and very contentions in the district, throughout MN and around the country. Check my inbox for evidence.

Yesterday, the School Board for the Anoka-Hennepin School District voted 5-1 to replace the neutrality policy with the ” Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy.”

Whether the new policy will result in an improvement remains to be seen. But it does at least seem to provide a new starting point for teachers and others who work in schools, and will hopefully provide those men and women more confidence as they seek to provide an equally safe environment for all students. Let’s hope the vote is a first step towards resolving this divide, moving towards equality and protecting everyone in the halls of high school, which can be a very difficult environment.

As the outspoken, local  anti-gay activist Barb Anderson told the School Board just yesterday:

You are the gatekeepers…This decision will affect our children and grandchildren and will have a ripple effect for years to come. On this one issue you will be remembered forever for your vote.”

True. Thankfully, they did not listen to Barb Anderson.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 14, 2012 at 10:05

a few comments on the contraception and “religious freedom” argument underway

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I am following the argument between the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration over how Catholic hopsitals and other non-church Catholic institutions are to pay for contraception. It is a fascinating debate about religious freedom from government, health-care, contraception (which I must say I cannot believe we still fight over), but also the role of religion in government.

I am presuming, since the argument has been made by the Church that this is a religious freedom fight, that today’s compromise requiring insurance companies and not employers to cover the costs will resolve the issue. The Church has claimed this is not political, it is not about the services, it is about the Church’s freedom of conscience, and so this should just about wrap that problem up.

Anyway. There has been much written on this subject. And I wanted to share a few things that I have valued as I learned about the subject.

New York Times blogger Andrew RosenthalIn case you haven’t been paying attention – and I guess I wouldn’t blame you – the issue is this: The rule exempts religious institutions, like churches, but not religiously affiliated institutions, like Catholic hospitals, that serve the general public. Some social conservatives are calling this an unconscionableassault on religious freedom, since Catholic doctrine prohibits women from using artificial contraception. 
It’s pure election-year shenanigans, led by Republicans who want to make Mr. Obama seem godless. There are already 28 states with similar rules in place, and the Catholic Church continues to operate in all of them (last I checked, anyway).

Sarah Kliff (whose work on the Komen debacle and this issue has shown what modern internet journalism can be) at the Washington PostOutside the political punditry, most Catholics agree with the administration on the issue,” says one Obama campaign official, explaining the view that this could be a political win.
And a lot of this likely isn’t about Catholic voters at all.
Rather, it may well be about the demographics that are most supportive of this particular health reform provision: young voters and women. In the PRRI poll, both groups register support above 60 percent for the provision.

New York Times Opinion Page, Linda Greenhouse: These institutions, as well as Catholic universities – not seminaries, but colleges and universities whose doors are open to all – are full participants in the public square, receiving a steady stream of federal dollars. They assert – indeed, have earned – the right to the same benefits that flow to their secular peers. What they now claim is a right to special treatment: to conscience that trumps law.
But in fact, that is not a principle that our legal system embraces… 
In a 1990 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court disagreed. Even a sincere religious motivation, in the absence of some special circumstance like proof of government animus, does not merit exemption from a “valid and neutral law of general applicability,” the court held. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion, which was joined by, among others, the notoriously left wing Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. 

Star Tribune Opinion Page. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, member of the Minnesota House.The church, with one hand, waves the bus of government through the intersection of Church and State, and into your choice of spouses; with the other hand it seeks to halt otherwise free access to contraceptive health care for its employees.
In lamenting the requirements for equal birth-control coverage for women, a spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops bewailed, “Government has entered the sanctuary.”
Is it ironic that this holy hand-wringing comes just as those same bishops seek to stand in your polling booth on the issue of marriage?

Daily Beast blogger David Frum:  If the audience is paying attention, for example, it will notice that Republicans are not proposing to allow employers and plans to refuse to cover blood transfusions if they conscientiously object to them (although there are religious groups that do). Or vaccinations (although there are individuals who conscientiously object to those as well). Or medicines derived from animal experimentation. (Ditto.)
No, Marco Rubio’s Religious Freedom Restoration bill provides for one conscientious exemption only: contraception and sterilization.
Which means it will be very hard if not impossible to persuade the target audience that this debate is not in fact about contraception. Everybody quite sure that’s a wise debate to have?

And finally, for TRC the worst part here is not the argument that the government is overreaching into areas where the government has no legal or moral right to be. The story is the opposite: the Catholic Church is once again attempting to insert itself from the pulpit into policy making. The Church can disregard modern science and the irrefutable preference for contraception all it wants. But it cannot keep our government from providing Catholics and non-Catholics with services it opposes.  The Church is opposing access to women’s birth control services, and that is a fight it is going to lose.

Mary Sanchez in the Chicago Tribune. The truth is, the desire to control, to assert one person’s view of morality over another’s choices, is coming from the other direction — from religious conservatives who see this as a skirmish in a new culture war. It’s being played that way because it’s politically expedient to do so in 2012, an election year.
The backlash is an effort to limit a women’s right to have access to health care, including the right to make decisions about reproduction. If that reminds you of the abortion issue, you’re not alone. That was the old cause. This is the new one. Access to contraception is the next target for religious conservatives bent on their version of morality trumping individual rights.
This isn’t primarily about the separation of church and state. Health care is the issue. It is a woman’s right to have access to contraception if she so chooses. And that means including it in prescription drug coverage.
And those “feminist allies” Buchanan talks about. Who are they?
When it comes to users of birth control, it’s nearly every woman in America. 

Written by Christopher ZF

February 10, 2012 at 13:16

Prayer in School–clearing up the very clear law in the US

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A follow up to yesterday’s rant against the evangelical Rick Perry’s evangelical commercial about President Obama’s War on Religion. You’ll remember the key quote from the political spot: ““You don’t have to be in the pews every Sunday to know that there is something wrong with our country, when gays can openly serve in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Besides being totally aggravating, Perry is actually wrong. TRC was in no place to highlight legal nuance yesterday, but today this is still bothering us, so here you go.

There is nothing keeping prayer out of schools in the United States. There is no law banning school prayer. At least, not in the manner that Rick Perry, and many other religious individuals in America think there is.  For some reason, it has become a de facto position of many evangelicals, and the Religious Right, and the Catholic Church, among others, that the Supreme Court banned prayer from public schools in the 1960s.

In the interest of people knowing what the hell they are talking about, here’s some clarification. Prayer is allowed in public schools. It has never been banned, and the right to pray in schools has been defended by the US Gov’t, the ACLU, the American Center for Law and Justice, etc, etc, etc. Prayer in school is legal and safe and well protected by the Constitution. Glad we cleared that up. Unfortunately, that point has been quite difficult to make to the public. Jeffrey Weiss at Real Clear Religion points out the key distinction that was made in the Supreme Court, and the sloppy coverage from the press that accompanies the infamous prayer in school decision.

No matter what one thinks of Perry’s candidacy, this one is another major “oops” for the campaign.
I admit, he’s not alone in making his error. The Associated Press’s analysis of the ad was critical, but also veered off the tracks and into the legal abyss.
Wrote AP political reporter Beth Fouhy: “The Supreme Court prohibited school prayer in two landmark decisions in 1962 and 1963, calling it an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.”
Which is sooo close to being correct. The court actually prohibited mandatory school prayer. And that one word makes all the difference. (See: Twain, Mark on lightning-bug vs. lightning.)
The truth is that kids pray in schools and on school grounds all the time. Many surely do it silently before the math midterms. But they also pray very publicly, in organized events. They do it plenty in Rick Perry’s Texas, as a matter of fact.

As an example, Weiss highlights See You at the Pole, a very public, Pray-to-Jesus-oriented event that happens once a year at schools around the country. I remember that event from my high school days. Such an activity is quite constitutional, as it should be.

And due to such events, every student who has ever gone to a public school is very much aware that prayer, quiet and self-contained or over-the-top public displays of hand-holding, is allowed. To suggest otherwise is to deceive. Is Rick Perry in favor of mandatory prayers in school? Or does he just not know that prayer is actually allowed in school? Or is he an idiot? Liar? These seem to be the options.

Again, Rick Perry’s political advert is not important. It’s a politician abusing religion and religious individuals to make hay in a primary election that Perry won’t win anyway. But sticking up for the actual legal rights of Americans is a worthy pursuit. Clarifying misrepresentations of the US Constitution matters a lot more than Perry’s forgetful campaign for President. No one may learn the difference, but that doesn’t make the difference any less important.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 8, 2011 at 10:40

Scott Walker: First Amendment, sure, but not for Free

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How much is it worth to you to be able to exercise the First Amendment right to Free Assembly? In Wisconsin, the going rate starts at $50/hour.

 Groups of four or more people must obtain permits for all activity and displays in state buildings and apply for those permits at least 72 hours in advance. The policy requires permits for 100 or more people outside the Capitol. The policy does provide some leeway for spontaneous gatherings triggered by unforeseen events.
 Groups holding demonstrations could be charged for the costs of having extra police on hand for the event. Costs associated with a counterprotest could be charged to that second group. The costs would be $50 per hour per Capitol Police officer – costs for police officers from outside agencies would depend on the costs billed to the state. The police could require an advance payment as a requirement for getting a permit and also could require liability insurance or a bond.

This is an example, to TRC, of the short-sightedness of policy-makers. It is true that protests can be terribly obnoxious, disruptive, loud, uncomfortable, ugly, stupid, pointless, racist, offensive, wasteful, misunderstood, small, large, male, female, white, non-white, mixed race, gay, super-gay, anti-gay, and directed specifically at you, if you are Scott Walker. But among all these things, they are also legal and protected by our constitution.

Charging citizens to exercise free speech, even writing the idea down, is awful. Seems by now our government, state and federal, should know to err on the side of granting too much access to constitutional rights, rather than too little. A pattern which has, of late, been creeping up.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 2, 2011 at 14:51