Category Archives: Religious Liberty

Help Reduce Child Abuse: Legalize Polygamy Now!

A great deal of attention is focused on the recent raids on the FLDS compound in Texas. The behavior of the state has rightly been condemned, most effectively by Les Jones who wrote:

Imagine that some parents in a school district were accused of child abuse. Now imagine that the authorities took every child from the elementary, junior high, and high school away from their parents and put them in foster care. That’s a rough analogy of what’s happening in Texas.

There is no question that that the people in charge of the FDLS abuse their members. The church leaders will evict dissidents, break up families, particualrly by ordering women to leave their husbands.

Why do church members allow the abuse to happen?

The interesting question in this matter is why do the members of the church tolerate the mistreatment? Why do fathers who presumably love their daughters permit them to be given to men as trophies? Why do mothers who love their sons permit them to be sent to slave away in coal mines at a young age? The members of the FLDS are human beings, with all the emotional attachment to their children that is inherent in humanity. Why are people making these horrible choices?

When people are stay in a hostile environment, it is generally for one of three reasons:

1) They are too lazy to leave/change.

2) They are afraid to leave, because leaving would be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

3) They are afraid to leave, because they will be forced to abandon something so precious that leaving is more unbearable than staying.

The Sources of Fear:

It is readily apparent that people are afraid to leave for both sets of reasons:

1) Children who leave find themselves cut off from family. Poorly educated, they lack the ability to support themselves and live a mean, impoverished lifestyle. They are literally ‘foreigners in their own country’.

2) The church owns most of the property. Thus a person who wishes to leave usually owns only the clothes on their back and little more. People are not paid; rather their salaries are held in common in a bank owned by the church leaders. They are not permitted to bank elsewhere or to withdraw their money without permission. Church leaders have been known to arbitrarily reduce the balances credited to dissidents.

3) The members of the church are afraid of the outside world. They fear that they face persecution by outsiders. they are terrified of law enforcement.

Predator Pressure and Feudalism:

But why is the church so powerful? Why can it make such demands of its members? The sad fact is, the people who are members of the church have little choice; their fears of persecution are well justified – Mormons have faced persecution throughout their history. Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob who was outraged by his advocacy of polygamy. In the mid 19th century, there were anti-Mormon pogroms. The Federal Government insisted that the Mormon leaders repudiate polygamy before permitting Utah to become a state. The raids in the 1950’s solidified hatred and distrust of the outside world. The fear of persecution exists because polygamists are persecuted in the U.S.

Furthermore, because of the persecution, devout church members faced a difficulty in finding business partners and naturally banded together and did business largely with other church members. This lack of trade allowed church leaders to gradually take over the community’s wealth. In effect the fear of persecution recreated feudalism. The church leaders became the noblemen, and the common church members became the peasants.

As the church gained a totalitarian control of their members’ economic activities, the church was able to isolate their members from being able to function in outside society. The church could exert a totalitarian control of how the young are educated. It could make or ruin men.

Furthermore, the members of the church are denied access to the court system; after all if a man is vulnerable to prison-time for bigamy he is hardly likely to sue the church for ripping him off.

Ending the Dark Ages

By criminalizing their deepest religious beliefs, the state in effect empowers church leaders to abuse the members of the church at will. If the malignant power or the church elders were an arch, the laws banning polygamy would be its keystone. Legalizing polygamy would doom the feudal system.

Parents who felt that telling a church elder to go to hell would not leave them poor would be far less likely to permit their children to be sexually abused or kicked out of their community. Church elders who were aware that their flock could leave at any time would have a great deal of incentive to treat their followers kindly rather than abusively.

There is nothing inherently evil in polygamy itself. Most people would not choose to be part of a polygamous marriage. Some though, for a variety of reasons, do. Absent the violence and fear that is caused by prohibition, there is no reason why their experiences should not match that of Janet Averett who writes:

I was raised in a polygamous home. My dad had two wives, and each wife had her own house and kids. As kids we wore blue jeans, listened to rock ‘n’ roll music and watched TV. We went to public school and many attended college. We fell in love and married whoever we wanted, at or above the legal age.

We now work and live all over the country. I am no longer in a polygamous group, and neither are most of my brothers and sisters.

The laws against polygamy are holdovers from a dark ages where homosexuality and interracial marriages were similarly outlawed. The proponents of outlawing homosexuality and interracial marriage could point to many problems associated with those practice when they were outlawed. However, upon close inspection, all of the violence, degradation, social harms, and psychological problems associated with these former illegal activities were in fact caused by their prohibition. The same is true of polygamy.

Legalization would go a long way to ending the culture of subjugation and child abuse that is alleged to exist within the FDLS community.

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.

Huckabee: My Supporters Are Scarier Than Ron Paul’s!

Ron Paul has attracted the support of a few unsavory characters, but we’re all sure that Ron Paul doesn’t agree with them on their unsavory beliefs, and his record proves it.

Mike Huckabee? Not so much. He seems pretty certifiably wacko, and his supporters are most definitely unsavory:

I read in Robert Novak’s column this morning that Mike Huckabee held a fundraiser earlier this week at the Houston home of Dr. Steven Hotze. As Novak notes, Hotze is “a leader in the highly conservative Christian Reconstruction movement.”

Christian Reconstructionists, for those unfamiliar with the term, are Religious Right radicals who believe that America, and the rest of the world besides, should be governed in accordance with strict Biblical law. And yes, that includes stoning adulterers. Here’s a snippet from “A Manifesto for the Christian Church,” a 1986 document from an outfit called the Coalition on Revival that was signed by, among others, Steven Hotze:

We affirm that the Bible is not only God’s statements to us regarding religion, salvation, eternity, and righteousness, but also the final measurement and depository of certain fundamental facts of reality and basic principles that God wants all mankind to know in the sphere of law, government, economics, business, education, arts and communication, medicine, psychology, and science. All theories and practices of these spheres of life are only true, right, and realistic to the degree that they agree with the Bible.

So let’s ask Mr. Huckabee. “Do you want to institute a theocracy?” He won’t exactly say “yes”, but look at what he will say:

This is not a man that I would trust in the Oval Office.

Congress Set To Declare That Christmas Is Important

In light of tarran’s excellent post about government recognition of religious holidays, I found this article from The Politico to be both amusing and disturbing:

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has introduced a resolution (H.Res. 847) saying, and I am not making this up, that Christmas and Christians are important. The House is scheduled to vote on this groundbreaking resolution on Tuesday.

Not surprisingly, King’s inane resolution has 58 co-sponsors.

And, just in case you didn’t know that a lot of people really like Christmas, here’s the text of the resolution:

Whereas Christmas, a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world;

Whereas there are approximately 225,000,000 Christians in the United States, making Christianity the religion of over three-fourths of the American population;

Whereas there are approximately 2,000,000,000 Christians throughout the world, making Christianity the largest religion in the world and the religion of about one-third of the world population;

Whereas Christians identify themselves as those who believe in the salvation from sin offered to them through the sacrifice of their savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and who, out of gratitude for the gift of salvation, commit themselves to living their lives in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Bible;

Whereas Christians and Christianity have contributed greatly to the development of western civilization;

Whereas the United States, being founded as a constitutional republic in the traditions of western civilization, finds much in its history that points observers back to its roots in Christianity;

Whereas on December 25 of each calendar year, American Christians observe Christmas, the holiday celebrating the birth of their savior, Jesus Christ;

Whereas for Christians, Christmas is celebrated as a recognition of God’s redemption, mercy, and Grace; and

Whereas many Christians and non-Christians throughout the United States and the rest of the world, celebrate Christmas as a time to serve others: Now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–

(1) recognizes the Christian faith as one of the great religions of the world;

(2) expresses continued support for Christians in the United States and worldwide;

(3) acknowledges the international religious and historical importance of Christmas and the Christian faith;

(4) acknowledges and supports the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the United States and in the formation of the western civilization;

(5) rejects bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the United States and worldwide; and

(6) expresses its deepest respect to American Christians and Christians throughout the world.

Left unstated is where in the Constitution Congress is even authorized to pass a resolution like this.

Should Governments Promote Religious Holidays?

A perennial question that comes up this time of the year is the question of how Christmas should be celebrated in public places, with a significant amount of anger and heated accusations being traded between proponents and opponents of the idea.

The Argument For

Christmas is a major part of American culture, especially since it was heavily commercialized in the late nineteenth century by nascent department stores and mail order businesses. Since the majority of the citizenry in nearly every polity on the local, state and federal levels that make up the United States are self-described Christians, governments universally make concessions to their holy day by refusing to conduct public business on or around that day. In order to maintain vital services, fire-fighters and police-men are paid bonuses for working on that day. Since governments are already marking this Christian holy day, since they are spending extra public monies for it, so why not go the extra step? After all, Christmas is a cheerful celebration marking birth and life, and God knows generally when the state shuts down business to mark an anniversary, it usually is about death; the day a war started or ended, or the day some war-maker was born or something.

Argument Against #1

Of course, a substantial minority of Christians don’t celebrate Christmas as it actually has little to do with Christianity itself. Jesus was not born anywhere near the Winter Solstice. The earliest recorded celebration of Christmas on or about the winter solstice as a Christian holiday occurred in Egypt. Their worship of the holiday bears a strong resemblance to the celebration of the resurrection of Osiris, which were also celebrated on the winter solstice. It is very clear that the leaders of the late Roman Empire folded the popular festival of Saturnalia into the new imperial Christian religion. Much like Jews making a big deal about Hanukkah, and black Americans celebrating Kwanzaa, it is clear that the early Christians made up the holiday to basically have an excuse to participate in the holidays of the non-Christian cultures they were embedded within. The Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas and view its observance as a heresy, are quite understandably upset to see it promoted anywhere. This would have included many of the colonists in new England. As frequent Reason Hit and Run commenter joe observed:

Here is Massachusetts, they had a fight a few years ago about whether the Town of Lexington should be paying to put a nativity scene on the town common. One of the arguments often made was, “What would the Minutemen say if they found out we couldn’t have a nativity scene for Christmas?”

The desired answer was, they would be aghast at the hostility of the government towards Christianity.

The correct answer was, they would be aghast at such a blatant display of papist idolatry, and smash it to bits with the butts of their muskets.

Why should people be forced to pay for blasphemy?

Argument Against #2

Some people pay taxes but don’t like to see the money spent on things that they don’t like, including Christmas celebrations. The reason they don’t approve is immaterial, perhaps they are not Christian, perhaps they are but think that Christmas should be a private matter. These folks are, of course, aghast at the misuse of money. It is one thing to compel people to pay for a good like fire-prevention. It is another to force people to pay for something frivolous like a manger scene. They want their tax money spent on other things, perhaps ensuring that children have adequate health care or for more policemen or better radios for firefighters. If they were in charge the public monies would go to those things and not be frittered away on displays.

Argument Against #3

Of course, a significant number of people aren’t Christian, yet they too have their own ways of celebrating the Winter Solstice. Why shouldn’t they have their traditions celebrated as well? Where should one draw the line? At having the 49% of the population who are non-believers subsidize to 51% who are? 25%? 5%?

Again, why should a man be forced to pay for another religion’s celebrations?

Christmas at Disney-world: Where’s the Controversy?

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?” [asked Inspector Gregory]

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” [answered Holmes]

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Every year, Disney-world has a massive extravaganza in celebration of Christmas. This celebration elicits little or no controversy. People don’t file lawsuits or get in shouting matches over their choices of how to celebrate the holiday. Why is that? It’s not that a single individual or sect owns the property. Disney’s board of directors answer to the shareholders, and there are millions of shareholders who own Disney, more than the thousands of voting taxpayers living in Lexington, MA. Surely there must be atheists, Jews, or people opposed to ostentatious displays of Christmas cheer in their ranks. Why do these millions not get angry while a mere ten thousand or so get into shouting matches? The answer lies in the fact that people who are unhappy with Disney’s decision are free to end their involvement with the company. They can sell their shares. They can refuse to give their custom to Disney-world.

But when it comes to government, people are denied that freedom. In his wonderful 15+ hour Commentaries, Robert LeFevre recounts the story of an exchange he had with a town commissioner. At the time, he was a newspaperman, and he was asked to publish an announcement on behalf of the town government to the effect that a local park would be closed to public access on a certain night. The commissioner explained that they had invited a youth group from a neighboring town to have a party of some kind in the park. LeFevre, apparently feeling a little mischievous, challenged the commissioner and asked him by what right he could make such a decision. The commissioner explained that he had been appointed by the townspeople who collectively owned the park. “Aha” LeFevre said, “you see, I know something about the guests you have invited, and they are rough customers.” He told the commissioner that he feared the guests would damage the park, and as an owner he would be on the hook for repairs. Since he thought his ownership share in the park was about to become a liability, he told the commissioner that he would like to sell his share. The commissioner, of course was apoplectic at the idea; “you can’t sell your share!” he cried. Regardless or Robert LeFevre’s concerns, he was a prisoner. So long as he lived within the commissioner’s zone of control, he was yoked to the wagon of state, compelled to go where the commissioner directed it, and forced to yield his back to the commissioner’s whip. As LeFevre predicted, the guests caused a significant amount of damage to the park. The damage was repaired at cost to the taxpayers.

Government Action Inevitably Causes Conflict

By forcing people to bear the costs of government, government officials are setting people at each other’s throats. Rather than being a force for peace and civilization, the government becomes a divisive entity, weakening the bonds of fellowship. People who otherwise would get along and have good relations with each other find themselves driven into conflict.

If the fans of Christmas really which to honor the Prince of Peace, they should eschew government-funded displays in favor of privately funded ones. Otherwise they are nudging society in a more conflict-prone, violent direction.

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.

Germany’s War Against Scientology

CNN reports that the German Government is moving to ban Scientology:

BERLIN, Germany (AP) — Germany’s top security officials said Friday they consider the goals of the Church of Scientology to be in conflict with the principles of the nation’s constitution and will seek to ban the organization.

The interior ministers of the nation’s 16 states plan to give the nation’s domestic intelligence agency the task of preparing the necessary information to ban the organization, which has been under observation for a decade on allegations that it “threatens the peaceful democratic order” of the country.

The Church of Scientology, in a response sent to CNN, denounced the German proposal, calling it out of step with various international court rulings.

Now I don’t hold much grief for Scientology and find most of what I know about it to be, well, just a little bit wacky. But then I find most of what most religions believe to be a little bit wacky.

But that doesn’t mean that Scientologists shouldn’t have the right to be Scientologists.

This, you see, is what happens in a nation where freedom of religion doesn’t really exist.

Quote of the Day: Mitt Romney’s Bigotry

Mitt Romney was deluged today with questions about yesterday’s speech on faith, specifically about the statement that: “Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom.” “It was a speech on faith in America, first of all,” Romney said, during a testy exchange with reporters after a town hall forum here. He said he was paraphrasing what John Adams and George Washington once said and added that, “For a nation like ours to be great and to thrive, that our Constitution was written for people of faith, and religion is a very extraordinary element and very necessary foundation for our nation. I believe that’s the case.”

- Hotline On Call December 7, 2007

h/t: Ryan Sager

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 and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

A Religious Test For Office

Doug has posted over the last day or so about Mitt Romney’s speech on religion and politics… Romney, as a Mormon, is facing some interesting attacks from the evangelical wing of the Republican party, who don’t regard Mormons as “true Christians”. Doug’s opinion is that such a worry is pointless, and that voters should spend more time worrying about his policies than his piety.

Such an idea is echoed by the founding fathers, and enshrined directly into the Constitution.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Now, in another comment thread, Doug and I both believe that what’s going on is not a religious test as described in the Constitution.

But should voters consider religion when they decide who to vote for?

In a democracy, I would think that voters would most definitely consider religion when voting. After all, religion is a core belief system tied at the root level to morality for most voters, and putting someone into a position of power who shares your morality is the best way to ensure that your morality is that which is law.

As an example, look at the fight between those who desire sharia law and those who do not. Many Muslims in the mid-east regard Islam as a religion that cannot be separated from law. Even in Western society, artifacts such as blue laws show that there is a desire within human nature to mandate or prohibit that which follows your core beliefs, as described by your religion.

Humans, by their very nature, will gravitate to politicians that agree with their own religious beliefs. I, of course, am no different. I am an atheist, and believe in a secular, reason-based justification for individual liberty and natural rights theory. Thus, my religious test for a candidate is one that puts his own reason and respect for individual rights above that of his religion, at least as it pertains to his goals for governance. I realize that in America in 2007, I am not going to find a candidate in any major party that self-describes as an atheist. But at the same time, in America in 2007 there are many people inside and outside of politics who view their religion as less of a driving force in their lives, and more of a social activity. Thus, I do not fear electing theists to office, but I certainly fear those who I believe would decide policy based on faith, and not on reason, like Mike Huckabee (and George W. Bush).

One may suggest that evangelicals should not automatically rule out Romney due to his Mormon faith, and that is true, if one considers reason and liberty to be the goal of America rather than upholding a Christian society. However, that belies a misunderstanding of the evangelical movement. An evangelical may not be primarily in favor of the sort of liberty someone like I might favor. After all, I’m in favor of civil unions for gays and pro-polygamy. I have no problem with drinking, gambling, or the legalization of drugs. I think that Sunday is a great day to buy beer, because the last thing I want to experience is a Super Bowl party without beer!

For me, I will vote for a politician who I believe will vote for liberty, regardless of whether he’s a Christian or a Scientologist. As long as I believe that a politician will place the value of individual liberty above his personal religious beliefs (given the non-piety of most Americans, usually this is not a difficult test), I can vote for him.

But this says that I value individual liberty more than religious beliefs, not surprising for a self-described atheist. This is not the case for many devoutly religious people. They value piety to the Lord above individual liberty, and thus have a much different calculation when they head to the polls. They would never vote for an atheist, a Muslim, a Wiccan or a Scientologist, because they view the goals those politicians to follow as opposite to the goals they want to achieve.

To argue that one should not take this into account when voting is a futile argument. The fact that Romney is or is not a viable candidate is an effect of a change in American society, and not a cause. To argue with current evangelicals whether they should vote for Romney is bound to be fruitless; it’s like arguing with a vegetarian whether you should get your steak medium rare or well done. At best, the argument that many are making to the evangelicals about voting for Romney is like arguing to a vegetarian that eating fish is okay, because fish isn’t quite like a normal animal (and thus that Mormonism is “close enough” to their brand of Christianity to vote for him over some godless heathen Democrat).

The simple fact is that we’re talking about core principles here. I refuse to vote for someone like Mike Huckabee, because I believe that he is guided primarily by his religious principles, and his interpretation of religion guides him far away from individual liberty (as his nationwide smoking ban proposal shows). For an evangelical, someone like Mitt Romney may be simply too far away from their core principles in order to receive a vote, as they view Joseph Smith as a heretic to their true religion, not a prophet.

When you’re talking about core principles, the only way to argue is on the principle level. That can’t be done in the sound-bite world of today’s politics.

Quote Of The Day: Religious Liberty Edition

Ron Paul with, so far, the sanest thing I’ve heard anyone say on the subject of religion and politics:

“We live in times of great uncertainty when men of faith must stand up for American values and traditions before they are washed away in a sea of fear and relativism. I have never been one who is particularly comfortable talking about my faith in the political arena, and I find the pandering that typically occurs in the election season to be distasteful.

Our nation was founded to be a place where religion is freely practiced and differences are tolerated and respected. I come to my faith through Jesus Christ and have accepted him as my personal savior. At the same time, I have worked tirelessly to defend and restore individual rights and religious freedom for all Americans.

The recent attacks and insinuations, both direct and subtle, that Gov. Romney may be less fit to serve as president of our United States because of his faith fly in the face of everything America stands for. Gov. Romney should be judged fairly, on his record and his character, not on the church he attends.”

Further thoughts on faith, politics and religious liberty can be found here.

Faith, Religious Liberty, And Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney gave his much anticipated speech on faith and politics today:

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Republican Mitt Romney, confronting voters’ skepticism about his Mormon faith, declared Thursday that as president he would “serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause,” and said calls for him to explain and justify his religious beliefs go against the profound wishes of the nation’s founders.

At the same time, he decried those who would remove from public life “any acknowledgment of God,” and he said that “during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places.”

In a speech less than a month before the first nomination contests, Romney said he shares “moral convictions” with Americans of all faiths, though surveys suggest up to half of likely voters have qualms about electing the first Mormon president.

“I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it,” Romney said. “My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs.” Nonetheless, he strove to clarify his personal line between church and state, recalling a similar speech delivered by John F. Kennedy in 1960 as Kennedy sought to become the first Catholic elected president.

“I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith,” Romney said at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, 90 miles from Kennedy’s speaking site in Houston.

“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin,” Romney said.

He added: “If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.”

It will be interesting to see watch the reaction to this speech. On the whole, I thought that Romney did a pretty good job of answering the unjustified questions that some have asked about his faith — and this is coming from someone who opposes Romney’s candidacy. Whether that will be enough to change the minds of Evangelicals who continue to believe that Mormons are not Christians is another question.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, though, Romney’s plea for religious tolerance has one very big gapping hole:

A president of the United States does not just represent people of all faiths, he also represents those who have none. There is a lacuna in Romney’s vision of religious tolerance, and it is a deliberate lacuna. In order to appeal to evangelicals, he places himself on their side against the other: the secularists. But that is simply another form of the religious test. By insisting on faith – any faith – as the proper criterion for public office, Romney draws the line, oh-so-conveniently, so as to include Mormonism but exclude atheism and agnosticism. And so he side-steps the critical issue in the debates over religion in public life: what if there is no unifying faith for a nation? What if faith itself cannot unify a nation – and, in fact, can divide it more deeply than any other subject? That is our reality. An intelligent and wise conservative would try to find a path to a common discourse that does not rest on religious foundations.

Exactly. And this is the problem with the Republican Party today. Because it has tied it’s fortunes to the continued loyalty of a group of people to whom religion is not only important, but who believe that the lack of religion is an sign of moral defectiveness, Romney turns the idea of religious tolerance on its head — under the new definition it doesn’t mean that you’re entitled to believe whatever you want, including nothing but that you are entitled to believe in something.

Romney is right to argue that being a Mormon does not make him less of an American, and that his faith should not be an issue in this political campaign. In listening to his speech, though, its clear that he would not extend the same right to an athiest or an agnostic running for political office who believed in the American ideals of individual liberty and freedom of thought, but refused to believe in the civic religion that some Republicans seem to think exists in this country.

There’s one more problem with Romney’s argument and it lies in this quote from his speech today:

“There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation’s founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams’ words: ‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.’

“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

You’re wrong there Governor. Freedom, in the sense of individual liberty, does not require religion and more than it requires one to believe in the existence of extraterrestrials. Individuals possess rights because of their nature as individuals, not because of doctrines established 1,000 years ago at a religious conference. And, more importantly, one can believe in individual liberty without believing in any god.

Before he continues down the path that he laid out in his speech, perhaps Romney should consider the words of America’s 3rd President:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

It’s time to extend that wall and separate religion and politics.

Contrasting Quotes Of The Day: How Times Have Changed Edition

John F. Kennedy on September 12, 1960:

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 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.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

Mitt Romney, in a speech to be delivered this morning:

“We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

“The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.

“We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from ‘the God who gave us liberty.'”

Thoughts On Mitt Romney’s Religion Speech

Later this morning, Mitt Romney will give what the media is, perhaps, inaccurately calling his Mormon speech addressing questions that have arising regarding his faith. On some level, it seems absurd that he should have to do this at all, but Romney’s presence in the race has made it clear that, more than 40 years after America elected it’s first Catholic President, religious bigotry is still alive and well in the United States:

PALMYRA, N.Y. — Mormon missionary Laura Bergeson is getting used to The Question. It comes from the curious who wander into this rural outpost of western New York to explore the exhibit hall of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church.

” ‘So, are you guys Christian?’ ” Bergeson repeats The Question with a weary smile. The answer, Mormons say, is emphatically yes.

The question is on the minds of voters on the religious right as Mitt Romney, a Republican presidential candidate who is also a Mormon, prepares to deliver an address today designed to convince evangelical Christians that he shares their religious values.

That could be a tough task, because many of those voters, a core Republican constituency, believe Romney’s church lies far outside the bounds of Christianity. His task has taken on a new urgency since GOP rival Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, has soared in the polls with less than a month before the Iowa caucuses.

Almost one-third of Americans of all faiths surveyed in August by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said they do not regard Mormons as Christian. Among white evangelicals who attend church at least weekly, more than half said they believe that the Mormon religion is not Christian.

The funny thing is, they were saying the same thing, and worse about Catholics back in 1928 when Al Smith was running for President and then again in 1960 when JFK ran for office. I don’t support Romney, but that’s because of his record of Governor and what the policies he proposes, not because of his religion. It would be nice of the rest of the country judged people the same way.

Religious Tolerance, Teddy Bears, And The Insanity Of Sharia Law

Today, an English teacher who went to Sudan to teach was sentenced to jail and deportation for letting her students name a teddy bear Muhammed:

KHARTOUM, Sudan (CNN) — A Sudanese court found a British teacher guilty of inciting religious hatred and sentenced her to 15 days imprisonment Thursday for allowing a teddy bear to be named “Mohammed,” British authorities and her lawyer reported.

Gillian Gibbons also faces deportation from Sudan after her prison term, her lawyer told CNN. He said he was “very disappointed” with the verdict and that Gibbons planned to appeal.

Gibbons, 54, was arrested Sunday after she asked her class of 7-year-olds in Khartoum to name the stuffed animal as part of a school project, the British Foreign Office said. She had faced charges under Article 125 of Sudan’s constitution, the law relating to insulting religion and inciting hatred.

Although there is no ban in the Quran on images of Allah or the Prophet Mohammed, Islam’s founder, likenesses are considered highly offensive by Muslims.

And, of course, the fact that its offensive gives them the right to punish people, right ?

Wait a minute, isn’t that the same thing the FCC said about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction ?

Mitt Romney’s Religious Test

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has stated that he would not appoint an otherwise qualified person who happened to be Muslim to his cabinet if he became President:

I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that “jihadism” is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, “…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration.”

Romney, whose Mormon faith has become the subject of heated debate in Republican caucuses, wants America to be blind to his religious beliefs and judge him on merit instead. Yet he seems to accept excluding Muslims because of their religion, claiming they’re too much of a minority for a post in high-level policymaking. More ironic, that Islamic heritage is what qualifies them to best engage America’s Arab and Muslim communities and to help deter Islamist threats.

Romney’s reasoning for excluding Muslim’s from the cabinet, based apparently on their representation in the general population is, to say the least peculiar; especially when you consider that there are apparently more American Muslims than there are American Jews. So even if you accepted Romney’s inane suggestion that the makeup of the cabinet must somehow mirror American society, Romney’s position wouldn’t be consistent with reality.

More importantly, Romey’s blanket ban on Muslim cabinet members would appear to be unconstitutional. Specifically, Article VI states in part:

[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

In a Romney Administration, the religious test would be pretty straight-forward — you can serve in my Administration as long as you’re not a Muslim.

Of course, it’s ironic that Romney, whose Mormon faith has been, unfairly in my opinion, mentioned on several occasions as a reason we should be concerned about him, should be the one to say that someone’s religious faith per se disqualifies them from serving in his Administration. More than once, in fact, Romney has stated that his faith should not be an issue in the campaign.

But who ever said hypocritical politicians were something new on the scene ?

Update: The New York Times is reporting that Romney says that he was either misquoted or misunderstood:

“His question was: ‘Do I need to have a Muslim in my Cabinet to be able to confront radical jihad and would it be important to have a Muslim in my Cabinet?’” Mr. Romney said, according to ABC News. “And I said no. I don’t think that you have to have a Muslim in the Cabinet to be able to take on radical jihad.”

To be fair to Romney, this explanation would seem to be consistent with the tone of the original article, in which the author basically argues that we should put Muslim’s in the cabinet because failing to do so could lead to another terrorist attack:

[Romney], and other candidates for the presidency from both political parties, should actively begin searching for American Muslims and Arab Americans who can serve in primary decisionmaking cabinet level posts. To do otherwise is to risk promulgating policies that once again put the US straight in the sights of the terrorists who seek to bring America down.

This is, of course, an absurd suggestion. The only considering that President’s need to give in selecting appointees is (1) is the person qualified for the position in question and (2) are they in basic agreement with my agenda ? Everything else, including the religious faith, or lack thereof, of the candidate in question, is irrelevant.

Update No.2: It looks like Mitt’s flip-flopping on this story may get him in more trouble than the comment itself:

Presidential canidate Mitt Romney has discounted appointing Muslims to his cabinet on more than just the one occasion reported in a CSM op-ed yesterday.

TPM Election Central has learned that at a private fundraising lunchleon in LV three months ago, Romney said he would probably not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet and made other comments that one witness described as “racist.”

Making this story potentially worse for Romney, the witnesses, Irma Aguirre, a former finance director of the Nevada Republican Party, paraphrased Romney as saying: “They’re radical. There’s no talking to them. There’s no negotiating with them.”

A second witness, a self-described local registered Republican named George Harris, confirmed her account.

The sad truth of the matter is that there’s enough anti-Muslim bigotry out there that Romney’s remark may not hurt him at all in the primaries.

H/T: James Joyner

Could Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Visit to Columbia University be a Good Thing?

NEW YORK – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced sharp criticism Monday about his opinions on women, gays, Israel, nuclear weapons and the Holocaust in an appearance at Columbia University, where protesters lined the streets bearing signs reading, “Hitler Lives.”

Inside a crowded lecture hall, the university president issued blistering introductory remarks. Ahmadinejad exhibits “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” declared Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, who questioned the Iranian leader’s record on human rights and his statements that the Holocaust was a myth.

Ahmadinejad bristled at Bollinger’s comments, calling the introduction “an insult to the knowledge of the audience here.”

At first I was not that fond of the idea of such an evil man visiting an American college campus. Why should we give him the platform? We give him the platform for a couple of reasons: the American people and the free world hear his words and those words are challenged in a free society. In American soil, Ahmadinejad can only condemn Lee Bollinger and other dissenters with words rather than torture or death. On American soil, Ahmadinejad’s words can be challenged. When the despot says that there are no homosexuals in Iran, the audience can laugh and mock him and there isn’t one damn thing he can do about it!

The only one insulting the knowledge of the audience at Columbia University, the American people, and the free world is you, Ahmadinejad. You vile, cruel, evil, sick, man! I’m not afraid of your words. I laugh at them.

Free speech is perhaps America’s greatest strength. One would only imagine what would have happened to Mr. Bollinger had he called the Iranian despot a “petty and cruel dictator” in Iran.

Contrast this with what is common in America. We criticize our leaders on a daily basis. Sometimes the criticism isn’t even particularly intelligent. Just the other day a student at Colorado State University wrote a particularly intelligent, concise, four-word editorial in the Rocky Mountain Collegian: “Taser this. FUCK BUSH.”

While it is true that the author of this brilliant opinion piece may be fired from the paper (the paper lost $30,000 in advertising within hours of the article’s publication), he does not have to worry about being thrown in prison or executed for criticizing the president. Rather than the government taking action the free market does the job.*

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia University is a shining example to the world that we support free speech even if we despise the speech. Who knows, maybe the Iranian people who yearn for freedom will be emboldened by this?

Now as for the idea of this animal visiting ground zero…

» Read more

That Sam Brownback Sure Can Draw a Crowd!

This photo just warms my heart. Here we have the Christian Right’s dream candidate Sam Brownback drawing…let’s just say a less than impressive crowd in New Hampshire. Could it be that his vision of government imposed family values isn’t resonating even within the G.O.P.? Could this be a sign that maybe, just maybe the Christian Right is losing some if its control over the party? That would probably be too optimistic of an assessment but hope springs eternal.

Not Even to Save the Life of the Mother

Does von Eschenbasch deserve a pension or probation?

In 2001, two parents were convicted of manslaughter in Colorado for allowing their daughter to die from untreated diabetes-related infection. Had she been taken to a doctor, she would likely have lived. Several of her surviving siblings were also found to be sick with strep throat, with which they had apparently been infected for months.

The parents were punished with probation in lieu of confinement and are marked with the stigma of being felons.

This is most unjust, since regulators working for the FDA are committing the same crime and are being praised and rewarded, even though they are harming not a handful of defenseless children, but millions of their countrymen as the CATO institute points out:

Over the past five years, the Alliance has pushed for access to 12 exceptionally promising investigational cancer drugs which have subsequently been approved by the FDA and now represent standard care. At the time we began our advocacy, each of the drugs had cleared at least preliminary Phase 1 testing, and in some cases more-advanced Phase 2 or Phase 3 trials. In other words, they obviously worked for some patients. …

In sum, these 12 drugs — had they been available to people denied entry to clinical trials — might have helped more than one million mothers, fathers, sons and daughters live longer, better lives. We have actually underestimated the number of “life-years” lost at more than 520,000, because we have not included other safe and effective uses of these drugs that the FDA has yet to approve. …

The American Cancer Society reports that some 550,000 cancer patients die annually, making the number of cancer deaths from 1997 to 2005 about 4.8 million. Over that same period, the FDA reports granting individual access to an investigational drug to not more than 650 people per year for all diseases and drugs — a pathetic, even cruel, pittance. A few thousand more patients managed to gain access by enrolling in relatively small clinical trials or exceedingly rare expanded access programs. The other 4.7 plus million cancer patients, not to mention millions more with other diseases, were abandoned to die, denied access to progress by their own FDA when they needed it most.

The FDA, and its supporters put a different spin on the matter:

Public policy should discourage access to investigational drugs outside of clinical trials. Investigational treatments made available outside of clinical trials have the potential to undermine the clinical trials system. There is little incentive for a patient to participate in a clinical trial if she can obtain the investigational drug outside of the trial. This makes trial accrual difficult, and may significantly undermine the ability of the investigators to determine the efficacy and safety of the intervention. That was certainly the case with bone marrow transplant for breast cancer – because it was so widely available outside of clinical trials it was extremely difficult to accrue patients to trials, and it took many years longer than it should have to learn that the high-risk and expensive procedure provides no benefit to women with breast cancer.

Investigational treatments are by definition unproven; even the most promising data in earlier stages of trials often do not hold up. Further, there may be significant safety issues that do not emerge until well into a phase III trial. For example, the cardiotoxicity of Herceptin was not apparent in the phase II data, but emerged in the much larger phase III trial. …

It is compelling to argue that there is little harm in making an investigational therapy available to a seriously ill individual for whom there is no effective therapy, if someone is willing to pay for it. This argument does not hold upon scrutiny. To follow this to its logical conclusion completely undermines research and the concept of evidence based care. Where would the line be drawn? It would mean that any individual should have access to any drug, as long as she is willing to pay for it Emphasis added – tarran.

Single patient INDs or INDs with small numbers of patients under Tier 1 approval raise serious issues of fairness. Granting access to investigational drugs with Tier 1 approval to patients who can pay for them at a price higher than cost makes this proposed system highly inequitable. Patients with access to them would likely be very knowledgeable, well-connected, and financially privileged. They would have access to physicians who have the ability to develop a protocol for them, and are willing and able to implement it. This is not the case for most cancer patients. Resources devoted to fighting cancer should be based on the best evidence available. The off-trial process involves a great deal of time and expense for clinicians, regulators and investigators, with very little likelihood of benefit to the patient, or to accumulation of knowledge about the intervention in question, that would benefit all.

The FDA justifies its democidal campaign by claiming that while the testing delays kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people, the testing delays prevent millions more from being killed or injured by unsafe, or ineffective treatments. This is horseshit.

Dr Mary Ruwart, a former drug researcher, estimates that tens of millions of people who have died since 1962 have had their lives shortened by the FDA preventing new treatments from being sold, or having their benefits advertised. She calculates that these regulations have prevented at most 7,000 deaths from drug toxicity. Folks, these numbers are on a par with the number of people slaughtered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Furthermore, even if the FDA and its boosters were correct, that FDA roadblocks on treatments save more lives than they take, the FDA’s actions would be unjustified. Their actions would be unjustified for the simple reason that when an FDA official orders a pill-maker not to distribute a drug, it is an identical form of assault to the one I would be guilty of if I were to show up at the CEO’s office with a gun making a similar demand.

There is no doubt in my mind that many people who work in the FDA sincerely believe that they are, in the aggregate, helping people. I’m certain that Randy and Colleen Bates felt that they were helping their dying daughter too as they anointed her fevered forehead with oil and prayed over her as she gasped her last breaths. In the end, good intentions are no excuse for slaughter on an industrial scale. We cannot subject Randy and Coleen to the sanction of law while lauding government officials who do the same thing.

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.

One Man’s Freedom of Expression is Another Man’s Hate Crime

We seem to have strayed a long way from our valuing of free speech, perhaps best stated by Voltaire “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In this age of political correctness, both the Right and the Left has bastardized the idea of free speech to a more politically correct attitude: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend your right to say it until someone else is offended.”

As I was driving in to work, I caught a couple of segments of The Mike Gallagher Show (a show I do not normally listen to). Gallagher brought up a case which happened at Pace University where a 23 year-old man by the name of Stanislav Shmulevich allegedly threw a Quran in a toilet on two separate occasions. The university originally reported the crime as an act of vandalism but later decided to report the act to the NYPD as a hate crime instead. I assumed that Gallagher would go on to criticize this as political correctness run amok but to my astonishment, he said that treating this act as a “hate crime” was completely appropriate. Gallagher went even further to say that certain acts such as desecrating a “holy book” (regardless of the faith), the American flag, or burning crosses should all be exempt from First Amendment protection. In his view, there are just some things which should be held sacred; those who commit “crimes” against what he or others consider “sacred” should be punished criminally.

Gallagher’s arguments got even weaker from there. Several callers challenged him on this notion and Gallagher would ask questions like (paraphrasing) “Should we consider it free speech when someone paints swastikas on a Jewish person’s home?” and “What about burning a cross in the lawn of an African American, is that free speech?” Perhaps his most absurd example was whether or not a person dressed in Nazi uniform goose stepping in a Jewish neighborhood should be protected by the First Amendment.

All of these questions can be easily answered if only we go back to the basic idea that each individual has the natural rights of life, liberty, and property (“your freedom ends where my nose begins”); nowhere in our Constitution is there a right to not be offended. Painting swastikas on a Jewish person’s home or burning a cross in an African American’s yard are both violations of these individuals’ right to property, and therefore, the perpetrator should be prosecuted on those grounds.

So, what about the racist bastard goose stepping in a Jewish neighborhood? Assuming the idiot does so on public property, s/he is protected by the First Amendment. Being an anti-Semitic moron, while infuriating to most sensible people, is not a crime nor should it be.

One could argue that these above acts would be acts of intimidation and could warrant criminal prosecution (certainly in the first two examples would be prosecutable without “hate crimes” laws, the last example would still be a bit of a stretch) but I fail to see how desecrating a book which some people deem as “holy” even rises to this standard. There’s no question that desecrating a holy book is offensive to a great majority of people, but a crime? Thomas Jefferson found fault with much of the Bible and therefore proceeded to physically cut and paste the portions of the Bible that he found to be authentic to create his own interpretation of the Bible and discarded the rest. References to the virgin birth, the resurrection, angels, and other miracles were all omitted from the Jefferson Bible. Clearly, if someone like Gallagher knew of someone doing something like this today, he would regard this person as a hate criminal.

The whole purpose of the First Amendment is to protect speech that can be and often is offensive to the sensibilities of a person, a group, or even a majority. Popular speech does not need to be protected nearly as much. I might not like it if someone chooses to burn an American flag, desecrate a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness, or wishes to write terrible things about me on a post I have written but unless such an individual does these things without threatening my life, liberty, or property, I have to put up with these things. It’s the price I pay for living in a free society and a price I am quite willing to pay.

Cross posted here at Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds

Related Posts:
The First Amendment Explained: Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses (Part 1 of 2)
The First Amendment Explained: Free Speech (Part 2 of 2)

America: More Likely To Elect A Gay, Muslim, Former Drug User Than An Athiest

That is the somewhat interesting result of a recent New York Times poll:

THE probing about his Mormon beliefs has by now become familiar to the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. But when Mary Van Steenis, a teacher at a local Christian school, took the microphone at a recent “Ask Mitt Anything” forum in Pella, Iowa, to ask her question, it still felt as if some sort of unspoken boundary of social etiquette had been breached.

Mrs. Van Steenis wanted Mr. Romney to say where the Book of Mormon would figure in his decision making as president.

“Where would the Bible be?” she asked. “Would it be above the Book of the Mormon, or would it be beneath it?”

Although the Constitution bars any religious test for office, if polls are to be believed, Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, faces a serious obstacle to winning the presidency because of his faith. Surveys show a substantial percentage of Americans would be less likely to vote for a Mormon, or for that matter a Muslim or an atheist. But how rigid is that sentiment?

Just take a look at the numbers and it seems pretty rigid.

This is why candidates appearing at churches and Presidents invoking God are part of the public religion of the United States. The voters expect it, heck in some parts of the country I’d go so far as to say they demand it. This is hardly surprising, since the United States has always been a far more openly religious country than most of the West.

And repression has often been part of the package.

The Puritans, for example, didn’t come to the New World for religious freedom so much as they came so that they’d be able to impose their own brand of religious tyranny free from interference by the Church of England. And it happened in other colonies as well, with the exception of Quaker dominated Pennsylvania. That’s why we have a First Amendment and that’s why the Constitution specifically provides that there is no religious test for holding office.

But Constitutional amendments can only go so far. Toleration for other’s beliefs is not something that can be imposed, it must be learned. And it would seem we still have a long way to go.

H/T: Althouse

Faith Based Charity Not Open To The Faithless

The Supreme Court ruled today that atheists don’t have standing to challenge their exclusion from President Bush’s faith-based initiatives programs:

The Supreme Court today handed President Bush’s faith-based initiatives program a victory, ruling that federal taxpayers cannot challenge the constitutionality of the White House’s efforts to help religious groups obtain government funding for their social programs.

In a 5-4 decision, the court blocked a lawsuit by a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics against officials of the Bush administration, including the head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

The court ruled that the suit, by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and three of its taxpaying members, could not go forward because ordinary taxpayers do not have standing to challenge the expenditures at issue. The ruling reversed a 2-1 decision in favor of the foundation by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in January 2006.

Liberal groups blasted the court’s decision in Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation as a setback for the First Amendment and a paean to the religious right, while religious conservatives hailed it as a major triumph for the faith-based initiative.

The foundation had complained that parts of the faith-based initiatives program favored religious groups over secular ones, violating the Establishment Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment, which says in part that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

In its suit, filed in 2004, the foundation claimed that the faith-based initiatives office, formed by Bush in January 2001 through an executive order, unfairly used taxpayer money to provide an edge to religious groups seeking federal funding, and effectively endorsed “religious belief over non-belief.”

Under current Establishment Clause precedents, it would seem fairly clear that an expenditure program that explicitly favored religious groups over non-religious groups would be unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court didn’t even reach that issue, they agreed with the Bush Administration’s argument that individual taxpayers do not have standing to challenge an expenditure of money, even if it is unconstitutional:

In an opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that “the payment of taxes is generally not enough to establish standing to challenge an action taken by the federal government.”

Given the size of the federal budget, “it is a complete fiction to argue that an unconstitutional federal expenditure causes an individual federal taxpayer any measurable economic harm,” Alito said. “And if every federal taxpayer could sue to challenge any government expenditure, the federal courts would cease to function as courts of law and would be cast in the role of general complaint bureaus.”

He noted that “Congress did not specifically authorize the use of federal funds to pay for the conferences or speeches that the plaintiffs challenged.” Rather, those activities were funded from “general Executive Branch appropriations,” he wrote.

Not only does that seem to contradict a 1968 Supreme Court decision which the Court did not overturn today, it raises the question of who, if anyone has the right to challenge an unconstitutional expenditure in Court if it isn’t a taxpayer.

Justice Souter puts it best:

In a dissenting opinion, Justice David H. Souter wrote that today’s ruling “closes the door on these taxpayers because the Executive Branch, and not the Legislative Branch, caused their injury.” He added, “I see no basis for this distinction in either logic or precedent. . . .”

In this case, “there is no dispute that taxpayer money in identifiable amounts is funding conferences, and these are alleged to have the purpose of promoting religion,” Souter wrote. “When executive agencies spend identifiable sums of tax money for religious purposes, no less than when Congress authorizes the same thing, taxpayers suffer injury.”

And so does the Constitution.

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