Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Idaho Gay Marriage Lawsuit Moot – City Backs Down

I’ve covered the Idaho “Hitching Post” gay marriage case. I started with a relatively in-depth look at the legal issues involved on Monday, and then covered some inconsistencies in the history of the Hitching Post’s religious designation yesterday.

Today, though, it has all been resolved. The Hitching Post’s recent change from performing civil marriages as well as religious marriages to performing ONLY Christian religious ceremonies, and explicitly forming themselves as a religious business 3 weeks ago, have now exempted them from the anti-discrimination ordinance.

From Boise State Public Radio:

Initially, the city said its anti-discrimination law did apply to the Hitching Post, since it is a commercial business. Earlier this week, Coeur d’Alene city attorney Mike Gridley sent a letter to the Knapps’ attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom saying the Hitching Post would have to become a not-for-profit to be exempt.

But Gridley said after further review, he determined the ordinance doesn’t specify non-profit or for-profit.

“After we’ve looked at this some more, we have come to the conclusion they would be exempt from our ordinance because they are a religious corporation,” Gridley explained.

Now, it’s partly incorrect to draw some links between this case and Hobby Lobby. That of course involved a federal law whereas this is a city ordinance, and that case was decided on the grounds of the federal RFRA, where the religious exemption is what protects the Hitching Post here. (That said, Idaho has an RFRA, and virtually everyone is in agreement here that forcing the ministers themselves to officiate the ceremony would violate it.)

But at the same time, there were a few things in that decision (and the precedent discussed in the decision) that are instructive.

The first is that Hobby Lobby held that a “closely held” corporation could have religious beliefs, in the sense that it was the direct expression of a very small-knit group of owners. While a publicly-traded corporation wouldn’t have the same protection, a corporation held by a small religious family is entitled to the same protections under RFRA that the owners themselves would be, because the corporation is not truly separable from them as owners.

The second is that under previous RFRA cases, generally any sincerely-held religious belief is taken at face value. The Court isn’t in the business of deciding what religious beliefs are “valid” and what religious beliefs aren’t. Thus, as long as the actions of the Hitching Post are consistent as a religious corporation, forcing them to offer services to same-sex engaged couples violates their religious freedom. Thus, from the Boise article again:

Leo Morales of the ACLU of Idaho said the exemption makes sense as long as the Hitching Post primarily performs religious ceremonies.

“However, if they do non-religious ceremonies as well, they would be violating the anti-discrimination ordinance,” Morales said. “It’s the religious activity that’s being protected.”

So while some of the red-meat Conservatives were hoping that this would be the wedge that destroys gay marriage, I think everyone’s out of the water.

And to the Knapps, while I profoundly disagree with your belief, and sincerely hope that you come to my side of the aisle on this one, I am glad that you won’t be going to prison or subject to fines. As a libertarian, I think you’re wrong, but as you haven’t taken anyone’s rights away by failing to offer them services, I’m not in the camp that wants to throw you in a cage for it.

H/T: Reason

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That Idaho Gay Marriage Lawsuit? It Just Got Murky.

On Monday, I posted about the Idaho pastors who filed a lawsuit as Couer d’Alene’s anti-discrimination ordinance threatened them with large fines and possible jail time for a refusal to perform same-sex weddings at their chapel, The Hitching Post.

As background, I posted excerpts from the Hitching Post’s lawsuit regarding their employee policy:

Then, the Employee Policy specifies the following Rules and Regulations:
• Only the Hitching Post owners and employees may perform wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post Chapel and other locations scheduled by the Hitching Post. Outside ministers may not perform wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post Chapel or other locations scheduled by the Hitching Post. Brides and grooms may not invite outside ministers to perform such ceremonies. Outside ministers may come and stand alongside the Hitching Post owner or employee who performs the wedding ceremony. But only the Hitching Post owner or employee may perform the ceremony.
..snip..
• In accordance with the religious beliefs and ministerial vows of the Hitching Post owners, Hitching Post owners and employees will perform ceremonies for those of different faiths and religious beliefs (so long as those marriage ceremonies are consistent with the beliefs set forth herein) because marriage is a common grace and creational gift bestowed by God upon all humans for the benefit of human society.

And my analysis, with a bit of added emphasis which will soon be clear:

Is the Hitching Post a religious entity, or is it a non-religious business? I have a feeling it’s going to come down to under what circumstances they’ve turned away traditional couples based on other violations of their Christian beliefs. If they have a history of turning away open atheists, or turning away Muslims, or perhaps frowning on Christian/Muslim unions, they may have a leg to stand on. In that case, they can show that they’ve turned away opposite-sex couples (and their dollars) based upon the sincere religious nature of their business.

But if they’ve got a history of taking money from pretty much any opposite-sex couple that walks through the door and it’s only the gays that they turn away, I think they may be considered a public accommodation. Even then, they have an extrajudicial way out. If they do allow same-sex couples to bring their own officiant, they would thereby be excluded from having to do the specific act (solemnizing the wedding before God), which I think many courts would view as not substantially burdening their Free Exercise.

So, what’s the history of the Hitching Post? Well, that’s where it gets murky. Walter Olson of Overlawyered tipped me off on this one.

You see, the lawsuit pointed out all the ways in which the Hitching Post was a deeply religious business, using their ceremony as ministry to bring couples to the Lord.

Only, the Operating Agreement was signed on October 6, 2014. It was submitted as an exhibit to the lawsuit here (scroll down to page 91). Now, it’s one thing to find a document with a date on it… After all, for all we know, the previous Operating Agreement might have been substantially the same as this one.

But Google Cache doesn’t lie. Jeremy Hooper from Good As You points out that as recently as Oct 9, the Hitching Post web site said that they offer marriages of both the religious and civil variety, and even of ceremonies of other faiths. (Screen shots available at that post).

Some “ministry”.

Now, I still don’t doubt that the Knapps have sincere religious beliefs against gay marriage. But it certainly seems that the Hitching Post, as a legal entity, just seems to have found God recently.

And it seems to me that the ADF is manufacturing a victim of the Couer d’Alene ordinance.

I’m finding my sympathy level for all parties involved is beginning to wane.

What American Christians Can Learn From A Muslim Woman Calling Out Her Own Community

There’s a Facebook post that has gone viral of a Georgia woman, who is Muslim, essentially blasting her fellow Muslims for demanding a special increase in food stamp benefits to offset the higher cost of halal food. One of this young lady’s followers screen capped the image, drew a line through her name and eyes to protect her privacy and posted it in Imgur.

Here it is:

L8yrtlK

I know the young lady who wrote this post. She’s a Bosnian immigrant who came to America with her family to escape the Bosnian Civil War of the 1990s. She grew up in the U.S. and became a political activist who lives outside of Atlanta. I have the privilege of knowing her and I am proud to call her a friend.

Obviously I with the post, however it got me to thinking, are American Christians also asking the state for special treatment? Unfortunately, the answer is yes and it is just as wrong as when American Muslims ask the state for special treatment.

All members of religious groups (and those who don’t belong to or believe in any religion for that matter) are entitled to is to practice their religious beliefs in peace, as long as they do not harm others. This applies whether your religion is the majority religion in the country or has very few adherents.

There are many American Christians who want the government to fight poverty and support increased welfare spending to do it. Other American Christians want the government to enforce their definition of marriage and base the laws upon their version of morality. This manifests itself in everything from blue laws to abstinence only sex education.

The worst example of this is Mike Huckabee or as we like to call him around here, “Tax Hike Mike.” Tax Hike Mike believes that God wants him to do everything from support Common Core, to fight global warming, to oppose same sex marriage. Essentially, Tax Hike Mike wants special, religious based privileges for himself and his followers above and beyond the protection of the freedom of religion.

Christians are called to fight poverty by giving to the poor, not to have Caesar redistribute the wealth of your neighbors to fight poverty. Christians are called to demonstrate their faith by living by example, not to have Caesar pass laws to mandate how their neighbors live. Christ instructed us to fufill the Great Commission by bringing the Gospels to the four corners of the world, not give that duty to Caesar. American Christians, on both the right and the left, need to stop outsourcing their own duties as Christians to the government.

 

The day may come that Christianity will not be the majority religion in the United States. It wouldn’t be unparalleled in world history for a nation to change its religious beliefs over a generation or so. One day, Christians even in America may find themselves at the mercy of a government determined to promote its own views that maybe contradictory to Christianity. It’s an experience many Christians around the world already experience daily.

If we as Christians want to be free to practice our beliefs in peace, we must acknowledge the right of all faiths in this country to practice their own faith. We cannot complain about Muslim special privileges if we ourselves are using the state to secure special privileges.

I believe that freedom and virtue go hand in hand and reinforce each other. Sometimes, we Christians need to be mindful of the “freedom” part. After all salvation itself is a gift from God through his son Jesus that must be freely accepted.

 

 

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Idaho Pastors Threatened With Jail Time Over Refusal To Marry Gays

Opponents of gay marriage have consistently predicted that legalization of gay marriage would force churches to perform the ceremony. Supporters have said that this was highly unlikely, and not the intent of legalizing gay marriage.

It appears the first shots have been fired in this fight, and it’s an extremely interesting case. As usual, in a case like this, hyperbole is flying FAR ahead of knowledge, so I’ll do my best to give you the whole picture. Hyperbole aside, the Alliance Defending Freedom–who I’m somehow now linking twice in a week?–gives a pretty solid summary:

The Hitching Post Wedding Chapel is across the street from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office, which issues marriage licenses. The Knapps, both in their 60s and who themselves have been married for 47 years, began operating the wedding chapel in 1989 as a ministry. They perform religious wedding ceremonies, which include references to God, the invocation of God’s blessing on the union, brief remarks drawn from the Bible designed to encourage the couple and help them to have a successful marriage, and more. They also provide each couple they marry with a CD that includes two sermons about marriage, and they recommend numerous Christian books on the subject. The Knapps charge a small fee for their services.

Coeur d’Alene officials told the Knapps privately and also publicly stated that the couple would violate the city’s public accommodations statute once same-sex marriage became legal in Idaho if they declined to perform a same-sex ceremony at their chapel. On Friday, the Knapps respectfully declined such a ceremony and now face up to 180 days in jail and up to $1,000 in fines for each day they decline to perform that ceremony.

First, of course, we need to make an assumption. The assumption is that anti-discrimination laws are just and good and necessary. There are many areas within libertarianism in which this comes into question. I do not intend to cover that here. As a result, we get into questions of competing rights regarding access to a “public accommodation” vs the Free Exercise protection of the First Amendment.

An example. If you own a restaurant, serving the public, and refuse to serve a married same-sex couple because their lifestyle offends your religious beliefs, you’re pretty clearly in the wrong. Why? Because your religious beliefs are not central to the service you perform. If you are a conservative Christian wedding cake maker or a wedding photographer who refuses to provide services, you’re also legally in the wrong. Operating a camera or baking a cake is not an inherently religious act. Barring services impedes a same-sex couple’s access to a public accommodation MORE than it impedes your right to Free Exercise of your religious beliefs.

When it comes to performing marriages, however, this changes. For example if you are a same-sex couple who wants to force the Catholic Church to host your wedding, you’re out of luck. In that case the religious purpose of the institution is key. It is clearly a religious institution for which performing marriages is a sacred rite, and you don’t have the right to force them to officiate marriages contrary to their sincerely-held religious beliefs. As a result, the Coeur d’Alene statute does have an exemption for religious institutions.

So where does the Hitching Post sit? Here’s where it gets complicated. Are they a “public accommodation” because they’re primarily a business, not primarily a church, performing marriages for a fee? Or are they primarily a ministry advancing the teachings of Christ through the marriages they perform, and should be exempt from Coeur d’Alene’s law based on the religious exemption. I’m 50 pages into ADF’s lawsuit, and I’m having a hell of a time figuring it out.

For example, even the facts asserted in the lawsuit suggest that the Hitching Post is primarily a business, situated where it is in a very opportunistic location out of convenience.

72. This current location is 524 N Government Way, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
73. In this location, the Hitching Post Chapel is approximately 300 feet from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office.
74. The Hitching Post Chapel and the Kootenai County Clerk’s office are located on the same street.
75. The Kootenai County Clerk’s office issues marriage licenses.
76. A person can walk from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office to the Hitching Post Chapel in roughly 1 minute.
77. Couples often do precisely this. They get their marriage license from the Kootenai
County Clerk’s office and walk across the street to wed at the Hitching Post Chapel.
78. Because the Clerk’s office is so close by, the Hitching Post Chapel is a very convenient and popular spot for couples wanting a wedding service.
79. Roughly 50% of Hitching Post customers come to the Hitching Post Chapel on the same day they receive their marriage license from the Kootenai County Clerk’s office.

Having been married in the Catholic Church myself, I can tell you that nothing I’ve read in the facts of this lawsuit suggest that the ministry offered by the Knapps is anything like the excruciating Engaged Encounter my wife and I had to sit through! And the 12-minute ceremony on youtube officiated by the Knapps doesn’t seem to carry the mass of the 1 1/2 hour Mass at our wedding…

Nor, IMHO, are they helped by the fact that they’re doing 1400 weddings a year, and don’t seem to offer any other religious ministry outside of the ceremonies they perform. They limit officiation of weddings to only themselves, but one can suggest that this is done to ensure their site is not used for same-sex weddings. They certainly don’t seem to have any issues officiating the weddings of other faiths:

Then, the Employee Policy specifies the following Rules and Regulations:
• Only the Hitching Post owners and employees may perform wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post Chapel and other locations scheduled by the Hitching Post. Outside ministers may not perform wedding ceremonies at the Hitching Post Chapel or other locations scheduled by the Hitching Post. Brides and grooms may not invite outside ministers to perform such ceremonies. Outside ministers may come and stand alongside the Hitching Post owner or employee who performs the wedding ceremony. But only the Hitching Post owner or employee may perform the ceremony.

• In accordance with the religious beliefs and ministerial vows of the Hitching Post owners, Hitching Post owners and employees will perform ceremonies for those of different faiths and religious beliefs (so long as those marriage ceremonies are consistent with the beliefs set forth herein) because marriage is a common grace and creational gift bestowed by God upon all humans for the benefit of human society.

One can imagine that a same-sex couple bringing their own officiant [while still paying the Knapps full price] would not substantially burden the Knapps’ religious Free Exercise, but as you can read, their own policies ensure that this is not acceptable.

On the opposite side, the fact that they DO only perform the marriages themselves, and specifically DO provide quite a bit of Christian-oriented material to the couples they marry (see pages 28-31 of the lawsuit). I do honestly believe their religious beliefs are sincerely-held. I do believe they view their business as doing the Lord’s work, as their ministry to the world.

That’s why this is so hard. The question is not whether churches can be forced to perform gay marriages, but the degree to which certain businesses are religious or non. Coeur d’Alene city attorney Warren Wilson, while arguing that the Hitching Post probably falls under the “public accommodation” designation, had this to say:

“I would think that the Hitching Post would probably be considered a place of public accommodation that would be subject to the ordinance.”

In Washington, no clergy person is required to marry a couple if doing so would violate the dictates of their faith tradition. Idaho does not have a similar exemption in place, but religious entities are exempt from the Coeur d’Alene ordinance, so pastors in the city are not obligated to perform same-sex weddings. But any nonreligious business that hosts civil ceremonies would fall under the city law, Wilson said.

Is the Hitching Post a religious entity, or is it a non-religious business? I have a feeling it’s going to come down to under what circumstances they’ve turned away traditional couples based on other violations of their Christian beliefs. If they have a history of turning away open atheists, or turning away Muslims, or perhaps frowning on Christian/Muslim unions, they may have a leg to stand on. In that case, they can show that they’ve turned away opposite-sex couples (and their dollars) based upon the sincere religious nature of their business.

But if they’ve got a history of taking money from pretty much any opposite-sex couple that walks through the door and it’s only the gays that they turn away, I think they may be considered a public accommodation. Even then, they have an extrajudicial way out. If they do allow same-sex couples to bring their own officiant, they would thereby be excluded from having to do the specific act (solemnizing the wedding before God), which I think many courts would view as not substantially burdening their Free Exercise.

So what does this all mean? It means we’re probably in for a very long, protracted legal battle. If this goes to a judge for ruling rather than some sort of settlement or extrajudicial recourse, it’ll probably be decided on grounds VERY unique to the specifics of the Hitching Post and their history of exerting their religious will vs acting like a for-profit business, and not on the wider legal issue of discrimination in general.

What does that mean? It means that this case will probably be useless when it comes to deciding future precedent, and will be highly technical. Of course, that won’t stop whichever side loses from considering it the end of their world.

Rant: People Who Don’t Link To Source Material

Earlier today, my new co-contributor Matt wrote about the ridiculous Houston city council subpoena on a group who was against the transgender bathroom-rights law.

Where did the original story come from? Right here at The Washington Times.

It’s a busy article.

It comes complete with a picture from the San Francisco gay pride parade. What does San Francisco have to do with Houston bathrooms? I’m not quite sure.

It has a minute-long vapid video featuring a reading of the first two paragraphs of the article, because apparently 300 words is such a weighty article that it elicits “tl;dr” from typical readers of the Washington Times.

And of course it has a rather superficial 300-word article touching only ever-so-slightly on the merits of the case. The article which doesn’t even summarize the basic legal rationale for the group who is challenging the subpoena. The basic legal rationale that’s so simple that I’ll summarize it for you in two sentences:

The law states that subpoenas may only ask for evidence likely to result in admissable evidence on the merits of the case and doesn’t violate various legal privileges. ADF asserts that the subpoenas are overly-broad and violate the law by asking for such wide-ranging materials (some of which are Constitutionally-protected expression and others that are attorney-client privilege or protections against nonparties to lawsuits) that it cannot possibly be within the law.

You know what the Washington Times article is also lacking? ANY GODDAMN LINK TO THE ACTUAL SOURCE MATERIAL!!

It’s not like it was hard to find. A 10-second Google search led me to the ADF web site. A prominent link on the front page of the site got me to their press release in the first 10 seconds on their site. And ADF, to their credit, linked both the subpoena and their motion to quash in the first paragraph. And it’s not like links are expensive. Hyperlinks are free.

So I read them. I realize, this is ridiculous in the days of blogging when everyone has an opinion on Supreme court decisions despite the fact that none of them ever actually reads the opinions. When I read the subpoena and the motion to quash, it was pretty apparent that the subpoena was overly broad. When you dig into it, though, there are a lot of areas of the subpoena that are quite likely to result in admissible evidence. Hence why in the motion to quash, you’ll see this statement:

The Nonparty Pastors respectfully request that the Court issue an order quashing their subpoenas. Alternatively, the Nonparty Pastors request an order modifying the subpoenas to clarify that they do not include (or a protective order declaring that the Nonparty Pastors need not produce) the requested documents that are not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and the requested documents protected by the First Amendment privilege, the deliberative-process privilege, the attorney-client privilege, and the work-product doctrine.

In a lawsuit alleging that a city council unfairly determined that an insufficient number of petitions were gathered, the portions of the subpoena related to the records of petitioners are certainly likely to result in admissible evidence. The content of sermons discussing the Mayor, on the other hand, are clearly not. So if the city attorneys narrow the scope of their subpoena (as the WSJ–an entity which deserves kudos for actually linking the subpoena and motion!–reports they’re already backing away from), they’ll probably still be able to get the discovery information they need to prepare an adequate defense to the lawsuit.

Of course, IANAL, and it’s entirely possible that I got my legal analysis wrong. But what I do know is that I’ve already given you, the readers of The Liberty Papers, a more cogent (and more entertaining, I hope) analysis of the issues than Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times. And unlike Valerie Richardson, I actually gave you the links to go form you own opinion if you doubt my reporting in any way. Because frankly, my dear readers, you’re worth it!

Publications that give you opinion without linking to original source material are trying to keep you dumb. They either want you to keep coming directly to them for analysis (likely), or don’t want you to read the source material and realize they’ve gotten something terribly wrong. Or maybe they’re just terrified that you’ll click on the link and not come back. Or maybe all of the above. Either way, they treat you like infants.

Don’t let them get away with it. Demand better. This is 2014. I hate to use the term “mainstream media” in such a derisive tone that went out of style in about my third year of blogging–right about the time Sarah Palin started calling it the lamestream media–but even The Washington Times should have figured out how to hyperlink by now.

Hobby Lobby

Now, before you all lose your collective shit, I want to remind everyone of one critical fact:

The Supreme Court doesn’t exist to make the morally right decision.

I’m going to repeat that, blockquote it, and bold the damn thing because it’s that important.

The Supreme Court doesn’t exist to make the morally right decision.

Now, I know that this may come as a shock to most of America. But then, Americans have never exactly had a good grasp of civics. In fact, some of the worst law comes from the Supreme Court trying to work a moral decision into the law. When you already know the outcome you want, and you start looking for any legal justification you can muster for that outcome, you’re bound to stretch in the wrong places.

No, the Supreme Court exists to make the legally right decision. And no matter your view on Obamacare, the mandate, religious liberty, and contraception, I think the Court in this case made an entirely justifiable decision that is consistent with the law.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Congress has declared in the ACA a compelling government interest in ensuring that women have insurance coverage for contraception.
  2. They have created a national health insurance mandate forcing employers (of a certain size, etc etc) to cover the cost of said contraception.
  3. In 1993, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that laws which violate someone’s religious beliefs must pass two conditions:
    • The law must be furthering a compelling government interest.
    • The law must be the least intrusive method of accomplishing its goal.
  4. Congress has created an exemption to the contraception mandate. If the mandate violates the religious beliefs of certain types of organizations, they have passed the burden of cost to the insurance provider or to the government itself.

So what’s the takeaway? Nothing in Hobby Lobby decision will stop women from having access to birth control. In fact, the way the system is set up, they will still have insurance coverage for free birth control!

Congress’ exemption ensures that insurance will cover these costs, even for women working for Hobby Lobby. This cost will not come out of the worker’s pocket. In fact, the very alternative accommodation that Congress created was pretty much the only reason that the Supreme Court didn’t force Hobby Lobby to pay for the insurance (from Lyle Denniston’s analysis @ SCOTUSblog):

Is that enough of an accommodation of the owners’ religious objection? The two key opinions on Monday seemed, literally speaking, to say it was.

Justice Alito wrote: ”An approach of this type . . . does not impinge on the [companies’ or owners’] belief that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion, and it serves [the government’s] stated interests equally well.” (The government’s interest here is to assure that women have access to the birth-control services.)

Alito’s opinion for the Court went on, saying that the dissenters’ on Monday had identified “no reason why this accommodation would fail to protect the asserted needs of women as effectively as the contraceptive mandate, and there is none.”

Justice Kennedy, in his separate concurring opinion, made the same point. And, in fact, he was more emphatic. Taking note of the “existing accommodation the government has designed, identified, and used for circumstances closely parallel to those presented here,” Kennedy said flatly that “RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] requires the government to use this less restrictive means.”

It is rather difficult to read those comments by those two Justices as anything other than a declaration that religiously oriented owners of closely held companies must be satisfied with letting the “middle man” take on, in their place, the obligation to provide the birth-control coverage. That, the comments seem to say, is good enough.

If there was no alternative accommodation in the law to cover the cost of insurance for contraceptives, the correct legal result would have been to force Hobby Lobby to pay for it. After all, I don’t think any justice disputed the idea that an insurance mandate for contraceptive coverage was NOT furthering a compelling government interest. The only question was whether the compelling government interest was satisfied in the least intrusive means consistent with the RFRA. The Court found that it was.

Now, back to the lede. Many of you out there think that it’s absurd that a corporation would be exempted from providing basic health insurance because God says contraception is abortion. And many of the rest of you think that it’s unconscionable that someone be forced to pay for something that goes against their most closely held religious beliefs; in essence funding murder. And the libertarians out there worry that if the government can make you pay for something that violates one of your First Amendment rights, there’s nothing they can’t make you pay for. These are all moral questions. These are not legal questions. The Supreme Court didn’t even try to answer these questions.

The Supreme Court found a legally consistent way to accommodate the compelling government interest declared in the ACA and the least restrictive means test demanded by the RFRA. And at the end of the day, lest I repeat it one more time, the net result is that Hobby Lobby employees will still have insurance coverage for all the free contraceptives they care to use.

Seems pretty cut and dried to me. This is much ado about nothing.

UPDATE: Now that I’ve actually read the ruling, I see an error in the above. The HHS accommodation for employers who have religious objection to these methods of contraception TODAY only applies to religious non-profits. It doesn’t apply today to for-profits. The argument of the court is that applying the accommodation to for-profit employers is a less-restrictive means to achieve the compelling government interest than the mandate, and for that reason the mandate violates RFRA. I would expect the HHS to quickly expand their accommodation in response to this ruling.

Freedom, Group Identification, and Consequences

To anyone trying to make the Cliven Bundy issue, or the Donald Sterling issue, or the Brendan Eich issue about freedom of speech…

…PLEASE STOP…

They are unrelated, and MOSTLY irrelevant, to free speech.

None are a question of freedom of speech.

All three are a question of bad PR and violating contract terms.

These idiots are not victims of oppression… at least as far as speech goes.

“Well, that’s just your perspective… this is mine”

No… You can have your own opinions, you cannot have your own facts.

This is not an opinion or a perspective, it is a fact. In making this argument, you are entirely and completely incorrect, in both fact and in principle…

That’s not so bad… it’s OK to be wrong… everyone is wrong about many things, every day.

What IS so bad, and why you must be corrected, is that by passionately advocating such a patently false viewpoint, and making weak and specious arguments to support it, you weaken the very important ACTUAL battle to restore and maintain free speech.

Using bad arguments for your cause HURTS your cause, it does not help it.

There are some very serious threats to free speech in this country, particularly on college campuses and in schools. There are supreme court cases in this session, and coming up addressing these issues right now… and the picture is decidedly mixed.

    We are dangerously close to criminalizing, or at least accepting some kind of official sanction, on “hate speech” in this country. We already HAVE criminalized “suspect motivations”, through “hate crime” law.
    The Government is spying on and intimidating reporters, with the DOJ going after those it perceives as enemies.
    Witnesses are being suppressed out of fear of government retaliation.
    The IRS has gone after conservative political groups, simply for being conservative.
    We have enacted insane regulations about who can say what, when, and with how much and whose money, when it comes to politics and elections.

These are HUGE REAL PROBLEMS.

By equating things which are not about rights and freedoms, to things which are, you weaken rights and freedoms, and make them more difficult to defend.

Freedom of speech means you have the right to say as you damn well please and the government can’t stop you or punish you for it (except in some very strictly limited ways).

It doesn’t mean that private persons or organizations have to publish you, support you, employ you, associate with you, provide you with a forum or an audience, or listen to you.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequence.

If you can’t back everything you say, and accept the consequences, then perhaps your problem is not one of lack of freedom, but of lack of courage.

“But… but… political correctness… thought police… BAD”

Yes.

I never said that political correctness WASN’T a chilling force on freedom of speech and even freedom of conscience… Of course it is.

…But that is not the same as government using force against you because of it (though with “hate speech” and things like campus “speech codes”, we have to be very careful of that).

The problem with believing in freedom is that you have to believe in it for everyone, including people you don’t like, or whose ideas you don’t like, or who do bad things with it.

Private individuals and organizations can choose who they wish to associate with freely, and who they wish to support or oppose freely (or at least they are supposed to be able to).

That means both things and people that you like, and things and people that you don’t.

That means you can be fired for expressing yourself. It means you can be fired for your political and social views. It means you can be fired for your private behavior. It means you can lose your customers, your money, your reputation…

In fact, everything but your life, and your freedom.

A free society means we have to put up with that.

We don’t have to like it, but we DO have to put up with it.

And many of us actually have very little problem with it… so long as it’s aligned with THEIR personal beliefs.

Frankly, I don’t see very many “social conservatives” complaining very much when it’s “progressives”, gays, atheists, muslims, “perverts” etc… who experience negative consequences for their beliefs (admittedly, that is certainly not true of all. Some do decry all of this as suppression of free speech and freedom of conscience).

Most “social conservatives” aren’t complaining when church groups or conservative groups try to get certain things banned, or removed from libraries or schools, or have teachers, or school administrators, or abortion providers fired…

…because you don’t like their ideas or how they express them.

…Really, most anyone who you would identify as the enemy, or the “other side” or whatever other outgroup identification it may be…. seems it’s ok to you if THEY have to live with the consequences of their choices, actions, and words…

Most of you are only complaining when it’s happening to those you identify as YOUR ingroup, or for people whose opinions and ideas you agree with.

Again, not always, not everyone… but most.

The same of course is true of “the other side”… starting to see the point yet?

So really… What you’re asking for is not “freedom of speech”, it’s “freedom of speech that you like”, and freedom FROM both speech, and consequence that you don’t.

That’s not freedom. That exactly the same as “the other side”… you just like the opinions better.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The own goal of Okcupid

The ousting of Brendan Eich from his post as CEO of the Mozilla Foundation is seen by many as a blow against intolerance. It is in fact the opposite, and if gay rights groups expand such ‘outings’ as a tool to suppress opposition, they risk deepening the antagonism and resistance by people who view them as a threat to our culture.

Let us start by examining Eich.  Eich is a well regarded software developer, one of the numerous people whose brilliant inventions have made the Internet the powerful, revolutionary tool it is.  In 1995, he was hired by Netscape to produce a tool for an upcoming release.  Rather than producing the limited implementation that his bosses had envisioned, Eich invented a new scripting language, now known as Javascript.  Javascript allowed local browsers to execute code to control browser behavior.  It revolutionized the Internet; rather than browsing through static web pages served by an overworked server, it allowed a website to push logic such as form validation to a user’s computer, allowing web pages to become dynamic entities that interacted with a user.  Javascript continues to be actively developed and is used universally to this day. Anyone who spends more than a few hours on the Internet a week is almost certain to benefit from it, and thus is the beneficiary of Eich’s wonderful invention.

Given his nearly two decades of experience in maintaining and improving a critical piece of the Internet infrastructure, Eich was a logical choice to lead the Mozilla foundation.  The flagship product of this non-profit is the Firefox browser, which traces its lineage to the Netscape browser, and Eich had been one of the people who had shepherded the project as it grew like a phoenix from the ashes of a defunct company.

Now let us turn to the OKcupid complaint that was served to people using Firefox.

Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.

Politics is normally not the business of a website, and we all know there’s a lot more wrong with the world than misguided CEOs. So you might wonder why we’re asserting ourselves today. This is why: we’ve devoted the last ten years to bringing people—all people—together. If individuals like Mr. Eich had their way, then roughly 8% of the relationships we’ve worked so hard to bring about would be illegal. Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid. But it’s professionally important to the entire company. OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.

If you want to keep using Firefox, the link at the bottom will take you through to the site.

However, we urge you to consider different software for accessing OkCupid.

Now, let us be clear: the complaint against Eich had nothing to do with his job. Firefox was not an anti-gay software platform.  In fact, I doubt that it’s codebase contains any logic pertaining to sexual orientation.

The Mozzilla Foundation produces open source tools that allow people to publish informsation and communicate with each other via the Internet.  If anything the Mozilla Foundation has and will continue to help members of marginalized groups or groups that are discriminated against to connect with and support each other.

That wasn’t going to change with Eich at the helm.

So, OKCupid wasn’t upset at the way Eich was doing his job, they wanted to fire him because they hated that he had once supported a political movement they hated. They wanted nothing but failure for him.

But what was his crime?  The political movement he had given $1,000 to that lost in the courts.  Proposition 8 cratered.  Completely.  And with changing demographics, it will be decades before something like it has a chance of winning at the polls and being upheld by the courts.

In short what the senior officers of OKCupid were hoping to do was to intimidate the opponents of gay marriage into silence.  Rather than being gracious victors who foster peace, they wished to continue fighting.  And in doing so, they will only embolden their opponents in the culture war to fight harder.

Most of the opponents of gay marriage fear the cultural upheaval that would result from such a massive change to an institution that they see as the foundation of society.  The way to get them to accept the change is by showing them that the inclusion of homosexual relationships in the set of legally sanctioned unions will not destroy society, that their lives will continue, their communities prosper, and their children will be allowed to grow to realize their potential.

Attempting to destroy their livelihoods and drive them out of civil society will go against that goal.  Persecuting them will only harden their hearts against those who persecute them.   OK Cupid did not strike a blow for tolerance.  Rather, they flamed the fires of intolerance, and who knows what those flames will consume should those fires burn out of control.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

ACLJ Threatens Lawsuit Against Public School that Supports Muslim Missionary/Charity Efforts

The following, unbelievable story is happening in America of all places!

DEARBORN, MI This past fall, Emily Sanders enrolled her son Adam into Haigh Elementary School in Dearborn. Emily a devout Evangelical Christian is a single mom trying to make ends meet and faces additional challenges as a minority in a majority Muslim community. “I don’t normally let these kinds of [religious] differences bother me,” Emily said. “But when my child brought home a note from the school requesting a donation to a Muslim charity with an agenda to spread their faith with my tax dollars, I had to take a stand.”

The letter Emily is referring to one sent to all the parents from the school’s principal, George Ellis. Part of the letter read: “We are very proud to be part of this charity that provides hope to poor children of Somalia. Please send a care package (shoe boxes work great!) filled with toys, candy, coloring books, crayons, and other such goods along with a $7 check (to cover shipping) made out to Crescent Hope. We will be collecting these donations, Friday, December 5th during Eid al-Adha.”

Emily, being unaware of the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha and the charity Crescent Hope at first shrugged it off. “Sending toys and candy to poor children sounds like a great thing at first glance but when I saw that there was more to this charity than this, the alarm bells started going off.”

The alarm bells were triggered primarily from a key section of text on Crescent Hope’s home page: “We provide spiritual and physical aid to the children of Somalia with the purpose of sharing the Prophet Muhammad’s message of hope and peace.” Further down on the home page reads: “[T]he children receive the packages, each complete with a pledge they are encouraged to sign that states that they agree to the statement: ‘There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.’”

Upon reading this, Emily decided to take action by contacting the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a religious rights advocacy organization which primarily files lawsuits on behalf of Christians who have been victims of religious discrimination. The very next day, Emily was contacted by the ACLJ’s Chief Council Jay Sekulow. After about an hour long conversation with Emily, Sekulow promised to take action against the school.

On Wednesday, November 20th, Sekulow made good on this promise sending the school’s principal a cease and desist letter. After mulling over his options, Principal Ellis announced to the school children that the packages would be returned to the students and no other donations would be accepted adding: “It’s disappointing some meaningful efforts of our students were misinterpreted.”

Manahil Al-Asmari, mother of three students who attend Haigh Elementary had a typical response of many of the parents: “I don’t understand why the ACLJ wants to deny these gifts to these poor children. I mean the school wasn’t forcing any of the students to participate who didn’t want to participate.” Another mother who didn’t want to be named said: “This is discrimination against Muslims pure and simple! If this was for a Christmas toy drive, no one would bat an eye.” Her son agreed adding “This is the definition of bullying.”

Others such as the Dearborn Chapter President of CAIR, Aahil Muhammad is organizing a protest against the school’s decision. “Whether the Christians like it or not, this is a majority Muslim community and they are the minority. We shouldn’t be denied our religious freedom because the minority is offended by our beliefs. I should also point out that it was the student body who decided to support Crescent Hope and the administration supported that decision – at least until ACLJ came along.”

Outrageous isn’t it? The idea taxpayer funded government schools can be used as a vehicle to promote a religious agenda different than your own? Before you continue reading, think about what you are feeling at this moment. Is this right or should Emily have just respected the will of her community?
» Read more

Gay Marriage, Religious Rights, and Freedom of Association

(Re-post: originally posted November 23, 2008)

California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure aiming to outlaw same sex marriage, passed on a very close vote. Prop 8’s supporters* pushed a campaign of fear, misinformation, and a complete distortion of the meaning of individual liberty. This campaign commercial is typical of the intolerance and hysteria being promoted from the “yes” campaign.

Argument #1: Churches could be forced to marry gay people.

Argument #2: Religious adoption agencies could be forced to allow gay couples to adopt children; some adoption agencies would close their doors as a result.

Argument #3: Those who speak out against gay marriage on religious grounds will be labeled “intolerant” and subjected to legal penalties or social ridicule. Careers could be threatened.

Argument #4: Schools will teach students that marriage is between “party a” and “party b” regardless of gender. Schools also teach health and sexuality and would now include discussions of homosexuality.

Argument #5: There will be “serious clashes” between public schools and parents who wish to teach their children their values concerning marriage.

Argument #6: Allowing gays to marry will restrict or eliminate liberties of “everyone.” (Example: Photographers who do not want to work at same sex weddings)

Argument #7: If Prop 8 fails, religious liberty and free speech rights will be adversely affected.

My response to these arguments is that we should be advocating for more freedom for everyone rather than restrict freedom of a group or class of people. The state should recognize the same contract rights** for a gay couple as it would between a man and a woman. To get around the whole definition of marriage issue, I would propose that as far as the state is concerned, any legally recognized intimate relationship between consenting adults should be called a “domestic partnership.” From there the churches or secular equivalent to churches should have the right to decide who they will marry and who they will not (just as they do now).

Rather than subject an individual’s rights to a vote or either party forcing their values on the other, we should instead advocate freedom of association and less government in our everyday lives. Somewhere along the way, we as a people decided that the government should involve itself more and more into the relationships of private actors. The government now has the ability to dictate to business owners quotas of who they must hire, family leave requirements, how much their employees must be paid, and how many hours they work (among other requirements). For the most part, businesses which serve the public cannot deny service to individuals for fear of a lawsuit.

A return to a freedom of association society would remedy arguments 1, 2, 6, and 7 from this ad. As to Argument #3, the anti-gay marriage folks are going to have to realize that in a free society, they are going to have to deal with “social ridicule”*** or being called intolerant. Anyone who takes a stand on any issue is going to be criticized and called names. In a freedom of association society, an employer would have every right to decide to layoff individuals who hold views or lifestyles they disagree with.

While we’re on the subject of intolerance, perhaps we should take a moment to consider if people who would deny equivalent rights which come with marriage are intolerant. This ad is exactly the same as the previous ad except that the words “same sex” and “gays” have been replaced with “interracial.”

Believe it or not, there was a time in this country when there were such laws against interracial marriage. Those who argued against interracial marriage made very similar arguments to what the anti-gay marriage people are making now. Today most of us would say those people were intolerant.

Intolerance aside, Arguments 4 and 5 can also be answered by reducing the role of government in our lives. What the “yes” people should be arguing for is a separation of school and state. While we as a nation are trending toward more government involvement in K-12 education, those who do not want the government schools to teach their children the birds and the bees or enter into discussions of homosexuality can put their children in private schools which share their values or home school. School Choice is the obvious answers to these concerns.

Prop 8’s supporters have turned the whole idea of individual liberty on its head. They claim that in order to preserve the rights of the greatest number of people a minority of people necessarily must sacrifice their rights. This is absurd and dangerous. Perhaps it is this complete misunderstanding of individual rights among Californians which contributed to Prop 8’s passage.

When explained properly, the rights of life, liberty, and property is the easiest concept to understand.

Hat Tip: The Friendly Atheist

Posted Elsewhere:

Dan Melson @ Searchlight Crusade has written a very thought provoking post on this issue. Some of his arguments I agree with, others I don’t but all of his points are well argued.

» Read more

Dr. Ben Carson Speaks Truth to Power

Until yesterday, if someone asked me what I thought about Dr. Ben Cason, I would have had no idea who you were talking about. After listening to his speech (below) from the National Prayer Breakfast from a few days ago with President Obama just a few feet away, I thought this speech was too good not to share.

As an atheist, there were obviously some points I disagreed with. Theological disagreement notwithstanding, overall there was a great deal of wisdom in what he had to say about history, political correctness, personal responsibility, morality, education, healthcare, the national debt, and the tax code. There was easily more intelligent ideas being spoken here than last night’s State of the Union.

If you don’t watch any other part of this speech, start watching around the 18 minute mark where Dr. Carson talks about the immorality of class warfare the progressive tax code and watch the president’s face (spoiler alert: he doesn’t seem too amused). I honestly don’t know how this guy got in the room, much less had the opportunity to speak!

The Modern Republican Party is a Special Kind of Suck (Part 3 of 3)

Part 2

Did Voters Reject Capitalism?
Some on the Right have said that the 2012 election was a rejection of Capitalism. I’m not entirely sure I agree. Yes, there seems to be a large percentage of the electorate who want money to be taken away from the top 1 or 2% and redistributed to the remaining 99 or 98%. Yes, more people are reliant on some sort of government check than ever before. Is it possible that there was some other reason voters rejected the alternative Barack Obama in this election?

The answer to this question, I think, has more to do with where conservatives come down on certain divisive social issues. The rhetoric on issues like abortion and gay marriage for example have alienated certain people who agree with Republicans on taxes and spending may have otherwise voted for the Republican candidate. For voters who decide these issues are at least as important as economic issues, they either support Obama, support Gary Johnson,* or don’t vote at all.

Anti-choice Extremism of Suck
To be fair, abortion is an issue that even divides libertarians. Sadly, this is not an issue that is likely to disappear anytime soon.** But the way Republicans present the issue needs to change unless they want to continue to chase away the female vote. I don’t think it’s even necessarily about abortion per se but more the cavalier attitude some Republican politicians seem to have about anything concerning women’s reproductive cycles.

While it’s reasonable to say that the government should not force insurance companies to pay for contraception, when someone like Rush Limbaugh calls someone like Sandra Fluke a slut or a prostitute, for advocating the opposite view, this distracts from the argument. There has always been a double standard in our society concerning sex. Men are studs for putting notches on their bedposts while women are sluts for doing the same. Comments like these remind women of this double standard and make it seem that Republicans have not moved beyond this double standard.

They refer to the “morning after pill” (marketed as Plan B) as an “abortion pill” when in fact it is not. In fact, according to this article on WebMD the morning after pill doesn’t work for women who are already pregnant (that’s a different pill). The article further explains that the pill does one of two things depending on where a woman happens to be in her cycle when the pill is taken: 1. prevents or delays ovulation or 2. keeps the egg from being fertilized. Some may also recall that Ron Paul, who was arguably the most anti-abortion candidate in the race and someone who was an obstetrician by trade (i.e. he knows what he’s talking about) said as much in one of the debates when the morning after pill was brought up. Anyone who says the morning after pill is an abortion pill is either uninformed or lying.

You have Republican men like Todd Aiken talking about “legitimate rape,” basically saying to women who are real victims that if her body didn’t “shut that whole thing down,” they weren’t really raped to begin with, therefore; there shouldn’t be a legal exception for rape to allow for an abortion. Another senate candidate, Richard Mourdock, said that a pregnancy that is the result of rape is “a gift from God.” Seriously.

Whether they realize it or not, Republicans are basically saying that pregnant women are second class citizens. For nine months, her rights are second to the concern of the unborn child regardless of the circumstances of how the child was conceived and regardless of legitimate health concerns of the mother. It should come to no surprise that some women might object to these attitudes and vote accordingly.

The issues concerning reproductive rights are delicate but often not treated as such among Republicans. Maybe just maybe, the GOP should allow the women to be the spokespersons on these issues, even if they are staunchly anti-choice. Instead of a blanket one size fits all federal policy outlawing abortion; the GOP should say the issue should be decided state-by-state.

Anti-Gay Attitudes of Suck
Face it Republicans, gays are serving in the military and they will eventually have the ability to get married in all 50 states. The train has left the station a long, long time ago. You can concede that you have lost on this issue or you can continue to take a beating at the polls, and deservedly so.

So what’s a socially conservative person to do?

No one says you have to like the gay lifestyle. Go ahead and preach from your tax exempt pulpit about the immorality of homosexuality. Go ahead and write blogs or write on your Face Book wall about how much you disapprove. Whatever. It’s your right to be as intolerant as you want to be.

The problem for libertarians at least is when you want to use force via the government to get your way. Libertarians would also say that churches should not be forced by the government to marry gay couples (or any couple for any reason for that matter). Let the churches discriminate but also allow gay couples to have the same legal contract*** rights as heterosexual couples. And if a gay couple can find a church that will marry them, that should be the end of it. Who are you to infringe on their religious liberty?

Conclusion: Slaying the Suck
The days of appealing only to white Christian men over 50 are coming to an end as white Christian men over 50 are quickly becoming a minority. The Republican Party must learn to reach out to minorities, to women, and to younger voters.

Sure, Republicans had minorities speaking at their convention and I’m not accusing the GOP of tokenism (though I’m sure others, particularly on the Left will make that charge). But it simply is not enough to have Condoleezza Rice, Susannah Martinez, and Marco Rubio in the party to say that you are “inclusive.” Minorities need to be included in the conversation, heard as opposed to talked at. How are your policies better for them than the Democrats’?

Ask yourself: “If I were female, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Muslim, atheist, or gay, would I feel welcome in the Republican Party?” If the answer is “no,” the Republicans have some serious work to do if they want to win in the future. While none of these minorities in of themselves cost Romney the election, together they make up a significant voting bloc that would be foolish to ignore.

Some of the issues I have mentioned in this series are popular within the GOP but don’t necessarily play all that well outside the GOP (i.e. independent voters). This doesn’t mean surrendering their principles necessarily but it does mean re-thinking some of them, presenting their ideas better, and deciding which issues are worth fighting for and which (if any) need to be jettisoned.

While some people may have liked Mitt Romney’s economic proposals, they may have also disliked his social proposals. The problem with supporting a candidate for office is that the person you are voting for is a package deal. Some of us are simply unwilling to choose between economic liberties and civil liberties (and when the Republicans are only marginally better on economic liberty than the Democrats AND when Democrats are only marginally better than Republicans on civil liberties, some of us prefer the real deal and vote Libertarian).

In closing, I think Rep. Ron Paul had some very good thoughts in his farewell speech from the House that would serve as a guide on how the Republican Party can slay the special kind of suck that gave a terrible president a second term:

The problem we have faced over the years has been that economic interventionists are swayed by envy, whereas social interventionists are swayed by intolerance of habits and lifestyles. The misunderstanding that tolerance is an endorsement of certain activities, motivates many to legislate moral standards which should only be set by individuals making their own choices. Both sides use force to deal with these misplaced emotions. Both are authoritarians. Neither endorses voluntarism. Both views ought to be rejected.

Yes, these views ought to be rejected and the GOP should return to the strategy they used to win in 2010: economic issues front and center and social issues on the back burner.

*I am proud to say I was one of the 1% or roughly 1 million who supported Gary Johnson for president. Though in terms of the election is a small number but set a new record for the Libertarian Party.

**Call me cynical but I think both Republicans and Democrats want abortion to always be an issue for fundraising reasons. This is an issue that animates the bases of both parties.

***Don’t waste my time with the slippery slope arguments “that if gays can marry what’s next, people marrying their dogs?” or “marry children” or “marry their cars.” The key here is contract rights. Dogs, children, and cars all have one thing in common: none have the legal ability to enter into a contract.

Resistance is Not Always Futile

There’s no question that the 2012 campaign has been full of disappointments for those of us who want less government, more liberty, and more prosperity in our lives. Very clearly, the game is rigged in large part due to the establishment media, powerful special interest groups, and the political parties themselves. It’s very easy to become disillusioned by the entire process and sometimes it’s tempting to give up and say “to hell with it!”

But rather than bring down you readers out there (as I often do), I want to share something very inspiring with you from Cato’s David Boaz (below). In Boaz’s lecture, he explains how everyday heroism hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. We libertarians complain – often with good reason, about how difficult it is for our voices to be heard in the two party system. For all practical purposes, the U.S.S.R. had only one political party and dissent was strongly discouraged…to put it mildly.

Yet somehow, ordinary people were able to rise up, demand the liberties we all too often take for granted, and prevailed! How did they do it? What can we learn from how these ordinary people brought down the Evil Empire, and more importantly, how can we apply these lessons here in the US?

Rule of Thumb: If it Makes Santorum Sick, it’s Probably Good for Liberty

One of the more distressing things for me concerning this 2012 campaign is the religious test being imposed on some of the candidates by the voters and encouraged by other candidates. There are at least some voters who will not support Mitt Romney under any circumstances because he is a Mormon. Once upon a time, the idea of a Catholic being president was just as much of a scandal but today very few non-Catholics would consider this a deal breaker.

Ironically devout Catholic Rick Santorum, one candidate who benefits from fellow Catholic JFK’s election 52 years ago, says that when he heard JFK’s famous separation of church and state speech he “almost threw up.”

Here’s an excerpt from the speech that made Santorum almost hurl:

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured–perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again–not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me–but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute–where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners [sic] for whom to vote–where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference–and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source–where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim- -but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

IMO this is JFK at his very best. This speech could just as easily apply to Mitt Romney; all he would have to do is replace the Catholic references with Mormon ones and it would have the same exact meaning. Kennedy had to give this speech because of the fear that he would impose his dogma on the country or bow to the Vatican. Now, 52 years later, we have another Catholic in Rick Santorum who has a very different attitude concerning his Catholic faith and how it relates to how he would govern.

It seems to me that if Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is fair game, so is Rick Santorum’s Catholic faith. Does Santorum approve of how the Vatican has handled the pedophile priests? I think that’s a very fair question. Another good question might be why he apparently doesn’t agree with the Just War Theory (couldn’t it be argued that he’s just another cafeteria Catholic?).

I really couldn’t care less about the personal faiths for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, or Barack Obama. They can believe in many gods or no gods if they neither pick my pocket* nor break my leg nor infringe on my freedoms by imposing his values on me. I do not get why this is so hard for some people to understand.

*A very real concern.

Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Final Installment of “The Plain Truth”

As most of you are aware, Judge Andrew Napolitano’s final episode of “Freedom Watch” on Fox Business Channel aired earlier this week. The segment I will miss the most is the judge’s closing monologue he called “The Plain Truth.” Here is the final installment:

Will Romney Have To Answer For Polygamy?

Over at David Friedman’s blog, he discusses the thorny position Mormon Presdential candidates (which at the time of posting included Huntsman) may face when taking a position against same-sex marriage. Many opponents of same-sex marriage use the slippery-slope argument that if two consenting gays can marry each other, why not three or more consenting adults of any gender? Most supporters of same-sex marriage are loath to acknowledge that this slippery slope is merely a logical progression of supporting freedom. [I don’t share their concern, nor does Friedman.] But as Friedman points out, it is a bit more difficult to justify a slippery-slope argument when the founders of your faith supported polygamy:

It occurs to me that this raises a potential problem for two of the current crop of Republican candidates. Neither Huntsman nor Romney supports same-sex marriage. Both are Mormons. Surely at some point some curious voter will ask one or the other for his view of polygamy. Given that they are trying to get votes from people who regard polygamy as so obviously wicked that the mere possibility of legalizing it is a convincing argument against legalizing same-sex marriage, what are they to say?

It is true that the Church of Latter-Day Saints abandoned polygamy a century or so back. But it is also true that it was founded by polygamists, throughout its early history regarded polygamy as an important part of its religion, and abandoned it only under severe outside pressure, including military occupation by the U.S. army. Can a believing Mormon really hold that polygamy is not merely a bad idea at the moment but inherently evil? Can someone unwilling to say he believes that polygamy is evil win the Republican nomination?

I can see his point… But by changing a few words, you can make a completely different point:

It is true that the United States abandoned slavery a century and a half back. But it is also true that it was founded by slaveowners, throughout its early history regarded slavery as an important part of its national economy, and abandoned it only through the bloodiest war in the nation’s history, a war fought between the states for the very continuance of the union. Can someone calling themselves a “Classical Liberal” and claiming to represent the views of the Founding Fathers really hold that slavery is not merely a bad idea at the moment but inherently evil? Can someone unwilling to say he believes that slavery is evil win the Republican nomination?

Logically, I think we’re at the same place here (although, again, I consider slavery to be inherently evil but don’t consider polygamy/polyandry to be inherently evil — as long as only occurs with full consent of all parties).

As someone who would call myself a classical liberal, or libertarian, I don’t think there’s any particular difficulty maintaining that slavery is evil while still revering the work that the Founding Fathers did to create America. Slavery is an unfortunate blight on our history. It is an affront to the values affirmed in the Declaration of Independence. Slavery was a failure of the time, and while we can’t erase it from the record, classical liberals point to the outstanding positive contributions that the Founding Fathers made implementing the ideas of Constitutionally-limited government and the rule of law in solid practice. And the very nature of the system they put into place allowed for some of their mistakes such as slavery to be rectified by the 13th Amendment (sadly, it required a war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men in addition).

If we wanted to break it down, there are hundreds of things we could force politicians to answer for if we took the worst of their social associations and forced them to answer for it. We don’t ask Catholic candidates whether the history of the Crusades means they’ll engage in wars of religious oppression. We don’t ask Gingrich, a Southerner, whether he plans to re-institute Jim Crow. And we accept that classical liberals can be anti-slavery without hypocrisy. If anything, the problems that Mitt Romney may face is the fact that he follows a minority religion of relatively recent origin, so the folks who believe in long-established fairy tales are already prejudiced against him with distrust. So he may face the question that Friedman brings up, but such questions — contrary to David Friedman’s implication — are unfair.

Politicians have enough problems that we don’t need to invent “gotchas” like these to ensnare them. It may be valid to ask him whether he supported the efforts of his church to spend as much money as it did on the California Prop 8 ballot measure, as it is at least current, but bringing up long-disavowed sins committed by Mormons three generations ago is completely unnecessary.

A stand-up comedian I heard once said that prejudice is simply a sign of laziness, because if you take the time to get to know someone, they’ll give you hundreds of individual reasons to hate them. The same is true of politicians; they all stink, but each has their own distinctly distasteful odor to find offensive.

Quote of the Day: Bill of Rights 220th Anniversary Edition

December 15, 2011 marks the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights – at least what is left of them. Anthony Gregory’s article at The Huffington Post runs through the list of violations of these precious rights from the Adams administration’s Alien and Sedition acts all the way to the present day violations of the Bush/Obama years via the war on terror. I encourage everyone to read the whole article and reflect on what these rights mean to you on this Bill of Rights Day. If you read nothing else from the article, at least read Gregory’s conclusion:

Clearly, we fall far short from having Bill of Rights that we adhere to and that was designed for our future posterity over 220 years ago. In the end, it is public opinion that most restrains political power — not words on paper, not judges, not politicians’ promises. A population that is not decidedly and passionately against violations of their liberties will see their rights stripped away. If we want to have a Bill of Rights Day worth celebrating, we must demand that officials at all levels respect our freedoms — and not let the government get away with abusing them.

Gregory is right: preserving the Bill of Rights ultimately rests with all of us.

Back to First Principles: An Excellent Primer on the Rights of Life, Liberty, and Property

In beginning the 112th Congress, House members took turns reading the Constitution aloud to a nearly empty chamber. While I in some ways appreciate members at least uttering the words, I believe that the members would have been better served not by merely reciting the words but by studying the philosophical roots of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. This two part video does an excellent job explaining the meaning of the Bill of Rights as the document related to the times it was written as well as how it continues to aid us in the difficult times we currently live.

Part 1 deals with the philosophical foundations that came out of the Age of Enlightenment.

Part 2 explains the reasoning behind each of the ten amendments we call the Bill of Rights

As the narrator went through each of the amendments, I couldn’t help but think of the many instances where these very rights have been violated and continue to be violated by federal, state, and local governments throughout the country. For those of you who want to really know what we are about and the larger liberty/small government movement is all about, these are the very principles we are trying to restore. These are our guiding principles.

If ever you are perplexed by a position that we write about be it our opposition to the war on (some) drugs, opposition to conscription, support for sound money, support for the right to bear arms, opposition to ObamaCare, opposition to the so-called Patriot Act, etc. , you might find it helpful to refer back to these first principles.

I would like to encourage others to share these videos because I would like to see these videos go viral to remind our friends on the Left, the Right, and the middle about why these rights are so important and worth fighting for.

Related: The Philosophy of Life, Liberty, and Property Explained

Jon Stewart Has Earned My Respect

I used to think that Jon Stewart was another garden variety left winger but lately, I’ve found him to be perhaps the most reasonable political commentator anywhere. Whether the issue is the controversial South Park episode featuring the prophet Mohammed, Obama’s about face on civil liberties now that he is president, or this most recent ground zero mosque controversy, Jon Stewart, a comedian is the voice of reason as many other pundits take one extreme view or the other.

In this Daily Show segment below entitled “Extremist Makeover – Homeland Edition” Stewart does something that I’ve seen very few pundits do publicly: admit he was wrong. In observing the overreactions of this mosque controversy in which many on the right want to deny freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and property rights to a religious minority out of fear, Stewart realizes that he too overreacted in the wake of the Columbine Massacre when he and others on the left condemned the NRA for going ahead with their scheduled convention in Denver (near ground zero for this tragedy). From there, Stewart plays excerpts from then NRA President Charlton Heston and admits that Heston was right and he was wrong.

Stewart:

If you replace ‘NRA’ with ‘Muslim community’ and ‘Second Amendment’ with ‘First Amendment’ he [Heston] is still right.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Extremist Makeover – Homeland Edition
www.thedailyshow.com
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Jon Stewart has earned my respect for his intellectual honesty even as others (*cough* Wayne Allyn Root *cough*) have lost it.

Christopher Hitchens On The Campaign Against The “Ground Zero” Mosque

Christopher Hitchens may be battling cancer, but he hasn’t lost his talent for saying exactly the right thing in exactly the right way. Take, for example, his new Slate column regarding the ongoing and seemingly endless controversy over the “Ground Zero” mosque:

Take, for example, the widely publicized opinion of Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Supporting those relatives of the 9/11 victims who have opposed Cordoba House, he drew a crass analogy with the Final Solution and said that, like Holocaust survivors, “their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.” This cracked tune has been taken up by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, who additionally claim to be ventriloquizing the emotions of millions of Americans who did not suffer bereavement. It has also infected the editorial pages of the normally tougher-minded Weekly Standard, which called on President Obama to denounce the Cordoba House on the grounds that a 3-to-1 majority of Americans allegedly find it “offensive.”

Where to start with this part-pathetic and part-sinister appeal to demagogy? To begin with, it borrows straight from the playbook of Muslim cultural blackmail. Claim that something is “offensive,” and it is as if the assertion itself has automatically become an argument. You are even allowed to admit, as does Foxman, that the ground for taking offense is “irrational and bigoted.” But, hey—why think when you can just feel? The supposed “feelings” of the 9/11 relatives have already deprived us all of the opportunity to see the real-time footage of the attacks—a huge concession to the general dulling of what ought to be a sober and continuous memory of genuine outrage. Now extra privileges have to be awarded to an instant opinion-poll majority. Not only that, the president is urged to use his high office to decide questions of religious architecture!

Nothing could be more foreign to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment or the principle of the “wall of separation.

Although he doesn’t come right out and say it, Hitchens hints that he’s not at all happy about the idea of this mosque being located so close to the site of the September 11th attacks. Unlike Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and all the others who have taken up the anti-mosque banner in this matter, though, Hitchens recognizes demagoguery when he sees it and, for an Englishman, has more respect for our First Amendment than many Americans do.

Hitchens ends up in about the same position that I am in this fight. I don’t necessarily favor the project, but these people own the building, they’ve complied with all applicable laws, and there doesn’t appear to be any legal means remaining to stop them. Those who want to use government force to stop them are nothing more than thieves motivated by religious bigotry rather than financial gain. The rest ? Well, they seem to think that having “feelings” and are “offended” means they have some special right to be heard. It’s really all rather sad and pathetic.

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