Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Promoting one’s Religion

Perhaps I am influenced by the teachings of my own religion, but I do not understand why anyone needs to flash her or his religion around town to feel comfortable with it. After all, religion is a matter of faith and a very personal matter as well.

Of course, this is leading to my feelings about the recent cases dealing with the display of the Ten Commandments in a court house and on the grounds in front of the Texas capitol. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the former must be removed, but the latter may remain. The decision has, perhaps, left Conservative nation disappointed, and while those in Liberal nation have expressed agreement with the decision, this Liberal was not happy with the Texas half of the decision. Following is a copy of my letter to the New York Times on the subject, which was not published by the Times:

To the editor:

When the Chief Justice states that "the Ten Commandments have an undeniable historical meaning,” he does not sufficiently advance an analysis under the First Amendment, since all religious symbols have both a religious and historical meaning. And when he states that “Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause,” he does not tell us why.

In fact, the question is not mainly what religion is and what it is not. The principal question in the recent cases regarding the display of the Ten Commandments in courthouses or outside a state capital is, when the government seeks to display a religious symbol, can the government give a clear rationale as why doing so does not run afoul of the First Amendment. The burden is on the government to show that it is clearly not promoting one religion over another or establishing one of its own making by such displays.

In other words, the burden is on the government to show that its action in displaying a religious symbol is in the context of some permissible purpose. For example, a discussion of the history of the law in a public classroom would be deficient unless it included the Ten Commandments, in their various versions. Similarly, a course in comparative religion would also necessarily include discussing the Ten Commandments. Such purposes do not promote the Ten Commandments.

However, the naked display of the Ten Commandments in or around government buildings is more difficult to explain in a permissible context. It is the job of the government to explain it, however, not the people.

There will also be times that the government may technically be in violation of the First Amendment either due to the course of history or in some immaterial way. Examples might be including the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance or by including the words "in God we trust" on our money. Such violations are not significant and largely ignored by the public. In such cases, our Courts would be reasonable in not applying its decisions retroactively or beyond what is necessary to correct a material violation.

As with any discussion of Constitutional rights, a line must be drawn somewhere to define them. Had the Founders wanted a simple way to draw a straight line, they would have given us one ruler.

Bruce Neuman

The red herring in all of this is the often made claim by Conservative nation that the First Amendment does not require that we be free from religion. What a silly point that is. In fact, the very reverse is true. We are all free to practice our religions to our heart’s content, including in very public ways, and we have made the most of that freedom. Just turn on the television and religious programming is everywhere. Churches line our streets, children attend religious schools and religious symbols abound. I agree that the First Amendment does not require that we be free of religion; it only requires that the government be free of religion, and it’s a good thing too.

Aside from the Constitutional issues, I can not understand why it is important for some to display religious symbols on government grounds. The promoters of such displays are obviously trying to promote their religion above others, but why? Religion is not an athletic event, despite the fact that we practice religion and often have to wear uniforms to pray in.

There are times when public religious displays do not bother me in the least. Christmas time is a good example. I am not a Christian, but I love looking at Christmas trees and Christmas lights, whether they are on homes or in government places. Whatever their conflict with the First Amendment is immaterial in my eyes. In fact, I see such displays as an invitation for all to partake in a joyous celebration.

However, symbols such as the Ten Commandments (remember these are commandments from God) go to the heart of one’s religion. Even within the Judeo-Christian religions the text of Commandments are not the same, there being differences between the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish texts (see http://www.positiveatheism.org/crt/whichcom.htm). A historic reference to the “Ten Commandments” is one thing, but the display of the text of the Commandments on government grounds implies something quite at odds with the First Amendment. So, why do it?

The principles underlying the First Amendment are friendly to all religions and to all who do not believe in any particular religion or in no religion. That is the genius that underlies those principles. We should all embrace them as such. America may be a Christian nation in terms of its numbers, but not in terms of its laws.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

Schiavo and the Rule of Law

I have been saying for some time now that if you oppose the politics of Conservative Nation, the best way to defeat it is to let them have their way, but not without clear objection. Conservative Nation’s politics is extreme and focused on such a small minority of the population that to let them have their way is to give them enough rope to hang themselves.

There would be no point in rehashing the Schiavo case here, as people likely have their own thoughts on the matter that are, by this time, well formed. Suffice it to say that all of the state and federal courts that have considered the matter, some several times, have concluded that Ms. Schiavo received a fair trial, there was more than sufficient evidence to allow the Order to remove her feeding tube and thereby allow her to die naturally, and that no other right remains that should disturb that final judgment. The case has proceeded for almost a decade and Ms. Schiavo has remained in her vegetative state for approximately fifteen years.

For whatever their individual motives, the Florida legislature, the Governor of Florida, the Congress and the President of the United States, have all gone to extraordinary lengths to change the judgments having been rendered by the courts. None have succeeded because, essentially, the courts have upheld the rule of law and their own function to decide cases based upon the law and the facts presented to them and not upon the forces of politics.

Now, AO (Ann Coulter – see other articles below for the initials AO) suggests that the Schiavo case is tantamount to a civil rights case in the 1960s and that “there is nothing in the law, the Constitution or the concept of "federalism" that mandates giving courts the last word. Other public officials, including governors and presidents, are sworn to uphold the law, too.” (“Starved for Justice,” Thursday, March 27, 2005).

Regarding her first point, she is correct, but not in the way she intends, to the extent that the right of Terri Schiavo to refuse medical treatment and to be allowed to die with dignity in the circumstances she has been in for the past fifteen years is her right under the Constitution (oh, by the way, the Constitution does not expressly say that, but the Supreme Court has). She has been trying to exercise that right for the past eight or nine years. AO is more concerned about the rights of others to control Ms. Schiavo’s decisions for their own motives, whether good, bad or indifferent.

Regarding her second point, both under principles of the separation of powers and federalism, each branch of government upholds the law according to the powers granted to it and no further. And, since 1803, a decision of the Supreme Court that has been the law since at least that time, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the meaning of the Constitution. AO knows all of this. She is a highly trained and experienced lawyer, who clerked for an appellate court judge and was the editor of her law review at the University of Michigan, one of our great law schools. So, who is she kidding?

Presumably, AO is now so firmly entrenched for the fanatics of Conservative Nation that she is willing to abandon what she must know to be true in order to side with their causes, whatever her motives, good, bad or indifferent. I must assume that she would defend to her last contract the right of the Governor and the President to say to hell with the courts and to send in the troops to remove Ms. Schiavo from her hospice bed, to have State employed doctors reinsert the tube, and to keep her alive for as long as her parents, or in their absence, the State might decide.

Thankfully, neither the Governor nor the President has suggested that he would go to such lengths. Even the lengths they have gone to so far have prolonged the agony of the case. But, my point is that if they did and AO would defend them in their pursuits, the American public would get a better view of the nature of the government they have elected.

One last point: AO’s comments that “the husband also happened to be the only person present when the oxygen was cut off to Terri's brain in the first place. He now has two children with another woman;” and “despite all those years of important, searching litigation we keep hearing about, Terri has yet to receive either an MRI or a PET scan — although she may be allowed to join a support group for women whose husbands are trying to kill them;” and not to be outdone by the comment that “Gov. Mitt Romney will never recover from his acquiescence to the Massachusetts Supreme Court's miraculous discovery of a right to gay marriage. Neither will Gov. Bush if he doesn't stop the torture and murder of Terri Schiavo;” (Starved for Justice, ibid.) are almost unbelievable. The claim that Michael Schiavo might have killed his wife and the comparison of court decisions regarding gay marriage with the life of Terri Schiavo is, in my mind, evidence of a desperate and perhaps unbalanced person.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Color Wars Continue – Red versus Blue That Is.

AO lifted her head this week to go after liberals/Democrats for outing the gay children of conservative/Republican families. I love the way AO and her brethren construct their positions. For votes they oppose gay rights and then argue for privacy. In other words, closets were made for gays and similar clutter. The privacy concerns are not about gay children but about their parents. AO is smart, but on the wrong side of most issues. That must pay well.

But, let’s get back to the issue. We should all be for gay rights and privacy rights. We believe in freedom and equal treatment under the law, don’t we? We expect a certain amount of privacy in our lives, don’t we? This is not revolutionary stuff, at least not since King George III.

Of course, lots of people don’t believe in that stuff. Maybe that is why it took so long to acknowledge equal rights for people with dark colored skin and women of all colors, not to mention people of certain religions. And, we have not fully gotten their yet. Gay people are simply the latest people front and center who are “rights challenged” in our free land.

A lot of those people who tend to be uncomfortable with freedom for others reside in the red areas of the country (Red used to be a dirty color for Conservative Nation, you know. Communists liked red, but CN has now come to embrace red as a color of honor. Even AO hasn’t been able to figure out how to secure the color blue for her cause). There are a lot of those people, as there have always been in the country.

AO and Conservative Nation know all of this. It is how they get votes, with a little help from the fact that there are lunatics in the world willing to strap on suits lined with explosives in order to kill us, red or blue. So, AO came out this week to protect the privacy of conservative parents with gay skeletons in their closets.

Friday, January 21, 2005

I listened to the Vice President on the Imus in the Morning radio program, yesterday. The questions were soft and so the interview a waste of time for the rest of us. Even in the soft pillow atmosphere, the Vice President answered the ubiquitous question about why we went to war if there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction. The Vice President is better than most on this question.

First, he never entirely gives up on the point. After all, just because we didn’t find any doesn’t mean that there weren’t any. And, even if there weren’t any, Hussein would have made them just as soon as free to do so. In other words, Hussein was the mother of all weapons of mass destruction. As for actually going to war, the V.P. asked what if we had been wrong the other way. What if we did nothing and there were weapons? What would we be saying then?

Working backwards, while the V.P. thought it was better to be wrong the way we were wrong, rather than being wrong the other way, he made no mention of the possibility that could have ever been right. Now, doesn’t that give you a feeling of confidence?

While Hussein was about as bad as they get, he wasn’t an immediate danger, was he? We could have kept him boxed in, while we continued to pursue bin Laden. In fact, had 9/11 not taken place, was there a hint that we were planning to invade Iraq because Hussein was a murderer? And even if that was the intention of the government, perhaps they could have taken some time to make sure of their intelligence, planning, preparedness and diplomacy, all badly lacking as things have worked out.

Finally, if we did not locate weapons stockpiles that did exist, then we either made a dangerous situation worse or will be leaving a potentially dangerous situation if we ever actually leave Iraq. But, the V.P. keeps repeating the same rhetoric.

The Bush Administration operates as some sort of revival meeting. But, despite having sent him back to office, if you can believe the polls (itself an act of faith), the public no longer thinks invading Iraq was worth it, and only half the public thinks he is doing a good job. This term, it will not be enough to be less wrong on the issues; the President will have to find something to be right about.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

AO was feeling defensive this week. Predictably, she reacted to the criticism being leveled at the Bush Administration for spending $40,000,000 on the inauguration ceremonies this year. So far, some $25,000,000 has been paid for by contributions from rich people and corporations. AO wants us to leave her alone and let her have her party. Of course, her first reaction was to state that Clinton spent $25,000,000 in 1993. Funny that AO likes to rely on Clinton as a benchmark when her own folks are acting badly.

In one sense she is right, most every President spends too much on inauguration festivities. And, it's not as if we have to avoid having parties altogether, but $40,000,000 is still a mind boggling figure, no matter how they came up with it. It's worse when corporations are asked to pay the tab.

Besides, this year we are at war. The families of soldiers who lose their lives will collect between $12,000 and $250,000, depending upon whether they could afford the $240 a year premium to collect the latter. Imagine, in this day and age having to pay for your own insurance when you volunteer your life in the service of your country. When that kind of fact sinks in, who really wants to go to a $40,000,000 party, anyway?

AO reminds us that billionaires are spending their money helping to elect Democrats. Then, again, the same is true of Republicans. That isn't the point. The inauguration is a public event and not a private one, nor is it a coronation.

Of course, it is all symbolic; $40,000,000 doesn't really pay for very much when you are talking about the problems of war or natural disasters. Then, again, it seems like a lot of money to pay for people getting dressed up and drunk for the evening.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Let’ Face It, I Will Not Live Forever

I have been thinking about death recently and have been working on my last words, which has resulted in the following ideas and other thoughts:

It’s all gone by so quickly, except for the last 60 years, or so.
Life was like a merry-go-round; I was never so nauseous.
My mother never thought I would amount to anything, and I spent my whole life trying to prove her wrong, or at least to create a reasonable doubt.
I guess it was to be expected that on the occasion of my death, my blue suit would not be back from the cleaners.
Why is it that after a full life, all I can think about were the good parking spaces?
I came into this world with nothing and am leaving 50 pounds overweight.
My life has been like a pot roast, or was it the other way around.
About the best you can say about me is that I never passed gas in a crowded elevator, despite one or two close calls.
I regret that I have but one life – that’s it.
If I get to meet God: If all men are created equal, are some damaged during transportation?
If I get to meet God: Were two coats of paint really necessary? What’s so funny?
If I get to meet God: How do you decide who gets to drive a new BMW and who the used Plymouth Valiant? No, really.
I don’t believe in reincarnation; I can’t even believe my life actually took place
If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I would like to come back as part of a majority, any majority.
What a relief it will be not to worry about where I put my keys.
It is a far, far better place I go than the three and a half rooms I have been living in for 32 years.
Though I cannot specifically recall, I must have taken a vow of poverty somewhere along the way.
If I get to meet God: Make it a Scotch and water.
My only regret is that I cannot remember anything I haven’t regretted.
Yea, I am about to walk in the shadow of death – doesn’t that sound like fun?
I was never of sound mind and body all at the same time.
To all of my friends at MasterCard, up yours.
If I get to meet God: What was this some kind of sick joke?!
All of my life I wanted to move south. Now, as my life is coming to an end, all I want to do is go north.
If I get to meet God: I was just kidding when I said that George Burns was probably better looking than you.
If I get to meet God: Funny thing is I thought all I wanted to know was the meaning of life. Now that I’m here, questions about death seem to be at the top of my list.
If I get to meet God: Why do Jews like smoked fish so much? And why is it that you cannot slice it thin enough to satisfy us?
If I get to meet God: Do you have a plan, or are you playing this whole thing by ear?
I have always wished for peace on earth, although there were a couple of days when I begged God for a yacht in the Mediterranean.
I can’t remember having had a particular calling in life, or even a mere suggestion.
I lived my life much as my father, who ate what he wanted, smoked, drank and didn’t exercise much and still lived the better part of 50 years.
I wish I would have been taller. I would have been the same schmuck, but taller.
I lived my life best I could; that pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?
I lived my life according to the adage that a penny saved is a penny earned. I just didn’t get that wasn’t supposed to be my only goal.
When I was a young boy, my mother dreamed I might be a judge one day. Later, she just wanted me out of the house.
I didn’t live a very good life. Was that my responsibility?
It is a great comfort to have ones faith as death draws near. Strangely, it is just as comforting to be holding the hand of a young blonde hired for the evening.
Life is a mystery. Personally, I think the butler did it.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Giving AO a story like CBS News airing a negative report about President Bush without being able to authenticate the documents it relied upon and then arrogantly defending its report without a leg to stand on is like throwing an underhand pitch to Barry Bonds with the fence 100 feet away. She had fun with it, including, of course, taking a poke at President Clinton for being a rapist. That’s AO’s job.

Of course, AO ignored the other story about lies that was wound up this week, that being the official report that the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has turned up empty. But, that story was sort of unimportant. OK, so far 1,339 US soldiers have been killed in the Iraq war, thousands more have been seriously wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed or wounded, all based upon the US claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction poised to be unleashed against America. The story, of course, pales in comparison to the CBS story when you are a pundit like AO.

Like CBS, the government still defends the Iraq war for a variety of reasons, none of which it proposed for going to war in the first place. Unfortunately, we will not get a final report damning the Bush Administration, as we got for CBS. Instead, the President handed out freedom medals to some of the culprits. Others, like Colin Powell, continue to defend the President’s action, and others still, like Donald Rumsfeld, get annoyed when soldiers with their lives on the line ask for better equipment. Powell has been a particular disappointment; since he told lies about the weapons of mass destruction at the United Nations in the name of the United States.
If AO really wanted to put her intelligence, education and talents to work, she might start by asking why the government lies so often and so profoundly to the American people. Vietnam, Iran-Contra and now Iraq would be pretty good places to get started. However, it’s easier to write about CBS News and calling President Clinton a rapist.