Category Archives: Church and State

And the Republican Party still can’t figure out why they keep losing elections…

hankFor some time, the national libertarian community has been paying attention to the Free the Hops movement in Alabama.  A brief overview provides:

Of the Top 100 beers of the World at BeerAdvocate.com, a renowned beer review site, 98 cannot be sold in this state. Why is our choice so limited?

Currently, Alabama is one of only three states in the country that limits alcohol by volume (ABV) for beer to only 6%, and the only state that limits beer containers to a size of no more than 1 pint (16 ounces).

Free The Hops drafted the Gourmet Beer Bill to modify existing laws to allow more specialty and gourmet beers in Alabama. Specifically, the Gourmet Beer Bill would raise the limit on ABV in beer to just below that of wine. Free The Hops presented the Gourmet Beer Bill to the Alabama Legislature in 2006 and 2007 and has presented it again for 2008.

Right now, the bill is being held up by one authoritarian imbecile in the State Senate.  Here’s the scoop:

Republican State Senator Hank Erwin has been an outspoken opponent of this bill.  Instead of letting it go to a vote, he places his moral code above the legislative process. Erwin has been filibustering the bill and plans to continue until this legislative season ends.

Erwin’s strange views on morality have already placed him in the national spotlight.

“New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast have always been known for gambling, sin and wickedness,” wrote Erwin about why Hurricane Katrina hit. “It is the kind of behavior that ultimately brings the judgment of God.”

According to stories I’m hearing today, Senator Morality doesn’t mind breaking his word when it gives him political leverage.  Two reliable sources close to the Free the Hops effort have relayed pretty much the same story to me.  According to them, a Free the Hops lobbyist approached Erwin about not filibustering the bill.  Erwin had a gun rights bill he was pushing and a deal was cut: Erwin wouldn’t filibuster the gourmet beer bill if the lobbyist would support the gun bill.

As I hear it, the lobbyist did push hard for the gun bill, but it failed anyway.  Now Erwin isn’t holding up to his end of the bargain.

Not that I’m suggesting that anyone give Senator Erwin a call at his home number of (205) 620-0116 or pop him an e-mail at senatorerwin@aol.com, but I just did.  While I’m still riled up over the issue, I do feel a bit calmer after completing the call.

Erwin is such a joke that I reserved a special place for him in my recent lineup of dumbass Alabama politicians.   However, the joke could be on Alabama, as Erwin has recently announced his intention to run for Lt. Governor in 2010.  I don’t think he’ll win, as I know too many Republicans who’d cross party lines to vote against him.  This video clearly indicates how loved he is even in his home district.

Photo courtesy of The Birmingham Free Press

United Nations Opposes Freedom of Religion

Some group calling itself the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution yesterday opposing what they see as the leading human rights issue of our time. You’re probably thinking, maybe they’re now addressing the situation in Darfur, or perhaps they’re talking about Communist China’s treatment of Tibetians. Perhaps there maybe a resolution about Cuba’s continuing persecution of its citizens. If you guessed any of the above, you were wrong. Instead, this little cabal decided to pass a resolution condemning “defamation of religion”.

A United Nations forum on Thursday passed a resolution condemning “defamation of religion” as a human rights violation, despite wide concerns that it could be used to justify curbs on free speech in Muslim countries.

The U.N. Human Rights Council adopted the non-binding text, proposed by Pakistan on behalf of Islamic states, with a vote of 23 states in favor and 11 against, with 13 abstentions.

Western governments and a broad alliance of activist groups have voiced dismay about the religious defamation text, which adds to recent efforts to broaden the concept of human rights to protect communities of believers rather than individuals.

What exactly is defamation of religion? Is criticizing certain Islamic practices such as stoning adulterers defaming Islam? Is criticizing Sharia law because it is a barbaric, seventh century legal code defaming Islam?

Or is flying jetliners into skyscrapers defaming Islam? Maybe the Pakistani government should answer that instead of handing the Taliban parts of their country and demand we shut up.

Of course this is nothing more than an attempt by the nations of the Islamic conference than to further exempt themselves from the conduct of civilized nations, especially on matters of freedom of speech, thought, and coinscience. Under this resolution, just about anything from criticizing an “Islamic government” to demanding human rights for religious minorities and certain groups such as homosexuals as “defaming religion”. This resolution is nothing more than the criminalization of thought.

Another curious thought, what does the Islamic conference in particular and this cabal in general think about anti-Semitism?

Of course there was some opposition to this resolution by more civilized nations.

India and Canada also took to the floor of the Geneva-based Council to raise objections to the OIC text. Both said the text looked too narrowly at the discrimination issue.

“It is individuals who have rights, not religions,” Ottawa’s representative told the body. “Canada believes that to extend (the notion of) defamation beyond its proper scope would jeopardize the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of expression on religious subjects.”

Perhaps Canada’s objections would have a little more merit if Canada wasn’t engaged in its own war on thoughtcrime.

Finally, a simple question of morality. Why does the world take a body seriously that calls itself the “UN Human Rights Council” that has Nigeria as its president and includes such members as Egypt, Russia, Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan? Isn’t this really letting the fox guard the henhouse?

If these countries won’t protect human rights at home, why would they protect human rights around the world?

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

A Good Compromise On Gay Marriage ? Not So Much

David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch, who come from totally opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate, offer this compromise in a New York Times Op-Ed this morning:

It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill.

(…)

Linking federal civil unions to guarantees of religious freedom seems a natural way to give the two sides something they would greatly value while heading off a long-term, take-no-prisoners conflict. That should appeal to cooler heads on both sides, and it also ought to appeal to President Obama, who opposes same-sex marriage but has endorsed federal civil unions. A successful template already exists: laws that protect religious conscience in matters pertaining to abortion. These statutes allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions, for example. If religious exemptions can be made to work for as vexed a moral issue as abortion, same-sex marriage should be manageable, once reasonable people of good will put their heads together.

The first problem with this proposal seems to be rather self evident to me. Namely, where in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is Congress granted the power to regulate marriage ? Some might argue that Section 5 of the 14th Amendment creates such a power to the extent that marriage is a “privilege or immunity” contemplated by Section 1 of that Amendment, or that depriving homosexuals of the rights and benefits of civil marriage constitutes a deprivation of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; or that it denies them equal protection of the laws. However, that argument would run head-on into the fact that there’s little evidence that the framers of the 14th Amendment intended it to be such complete a usurpation of state’s rights as this argument would contemplate. Moreover, such an interpretation of the 14th Amendment would effective mean that the 10th Amendment had been repealed by it’s ratification; and there’s no evidence that was the intention back in 1865.

So, at the very least, we’ve got a significant federalism problem that shouldn’t be dismissed.

A second problem with this proposal is that it continues with the idea of creating two separate statuses. What, exactly, would be the difference between marriage and these civil unions ? Unless the differences are in name only, then we’re not talking about real equality. Would heterosexual couples be able to enter into these civil unions instead of marriages ? If not, then you really are creating two different classes of people. And, finally, what would be the rules regarding dissolution of a civil union ? Would it be easier ? Harder ? Would traditional domestic relations law apply ?

If the only difference between “marriage” and “civil union” is the name, then what’s the point of having two different institutions ?

A final problem with this proposal is that it raises what is clearly a straw man in this whole debate. Except in the mind of the truly wacko, the idea that same-sex marriage poses any serious threat to religious liberty. Modern marriage is a civil institution governed by the state, so long as that is the case then the state has no right to discriminate against people when it decides who is and is not entitled to claim the benefits of that relationship. Churches, on the other hand, are free under the First Amendment to confer their religious marriages under any circumstances they deem fit.

The problem, of course, is that marriage today is still a hybrid institution.

Is it a civil relationship governed by the state, or a religious one governed by the laws of whatever deity(ies) you happen to worship, or, is it a combination of both ?

The solution, as I’ve mentioned before, seems rather obvious:

If that’s what you believe a marriage is, the union of a man and woman before God and man, then what does the state have to do with so fundamentally a religious institution ? Why does the state need to recognize it at all and why does it need to grant that religious institution preferntial benefits in the form of tax breaks and a protected legal status that is not available to unmarried persons ?

Kellie and I were married in the Roman Catholic Church, which has requirements for marriage that exceed, and are different from, those of civil marriage. That wedding ceremony is what made the marriage official in the eyes of God, not the little piece of paper we got from Cuyahoga County, Ohio the day before.

Here’s my proposal. Get rid of civil marriage licenses entirely. Let people decide for themselves what they believe about marriage and let them, if they wish solemnize that union in a church of their choice. We are hundreds of years past the day where the state was involved in religious affairs, it doesn’t need to be involved in this matter either.

It’s really not as radical an idea as you might think. Contrary to what some of the “traditional marriage” advocates would have you think, state involvement in marriage is a relatively recent thing historically:

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

That practice carried over to the American colonies and, later, the United States, where marriage licensing laws quickly became a way to prevent socially disapproved inter-racial marriages and to limit the rights of women:

By the 1920s, 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, “mulattos,” Japanese, Chinese, Indians, “Mongolians,” “Malays” or Filipinos. Twelve states would not issue a marriage license if one partner was a drunk, an addict or a “mental defect.” Eighteen states set barriers to remarriage after divorce.

So, the idea that the marriage must be something defined by the state isn’t as historically grounded as some would have you think.

And what about the supposed threat to religious liberty if homosexuals were allow to declare themselves married ?

Well, it ain’t there:

[N]obody is saying that your church has to approve or consecrate same-sex unions. Heck, you could have a religion that said people with different hair colors can’t get married if you wanted to, just don’t make it the business of the state to codify your religious prejudices.

Exactly.

Blankehorn and Rauch make a good effort at trying to find some middle ground on this issue. And that alone I take as a sign that the rigid opposition to same-sex unions that we’ve seen in the past is melting away far quicker than anyone anticipated (just look at Utah for more proof of that assertion). As a practical, Constitutional solution to the problem, though, I’m afraid they’ve fallen short.

Originally posted at Below The Beltway

The Un-American Pledge of Allegiance

One aspect common to totalitarian regimes is the forced loyalty oath. Nazi Germany, for example, forced all pastors, civil servants and soldiers to take an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. In the Soviet Union, in Communist China, and numerous other nations, the state demanded that people swear loyalty to the government as a condition for a jobs, for education, or to receive any service that the state had arrogated for itself. Typically regimes demand routine public displays of loyalty before everyday events such as sporting events, theater performances, or the beginning of the school or work day.

Why do totalitarian regimes demand that people publicly announce their loyalty and subservience? The answer is simple – the totalitarian regime typically does not have the people’s willing loyalty. Rather, they must compel the people’s loyalty. And, if they can’t have the real thing, a fake version is just fine. The forced loyalty oath is a sign of a unpopular regime, that fears the people because it acts in a manner that not in the people’s interest.

Is the forced loyalty oath ineffective? Are totalitarian regimes fooling themselves, making people say empty words that the people don’t believe? To the contrary, the forced loyalty oath is common because it is very effective, being one of the cruelest attacks on freedom.

The forced loyalty oath attacks the freedom of speech. With it, the regime seizes control of a person’s mouth, and compels that mouth to say words that its rightful owner wishes not to say. The monstrosity of the crime arises from the fact that it is through our words that we construct society. It is with our words that we build our bonds with our fellow men. We are social animals, we need to talk to our fellows for our basic sanity. That is why one of the cruelest punishments that men visit upon each other is solitary confinement. Seize control of a man’s words, and you have effectively imprisoned him in his skull. That is why I feel that the right to speech is second to the right to life.

While most people recognize that that the freedom of speech is the right of every person to say whatever he or she wants to say, they often forget that it also includes the right of every person to not say things that he or she does not want to say. Forcing a person to say what he does not want to say is as bad as gagging him and silencing him.

We can decry pictures of children standing at attention wearing the red scarf of the Young Pioneers uniforms or the shorts of the Hitler Jugend as adults order them to pledge their undying loyalty to a state that plunders them and enslaves them. However, the sad fact is that while many Americans who would condemn other nations in a heartbeat for demanding such false displays of loyalty are supporters to a systematic version of it being practiced here at home.

Every day, millions of children living in the U.S. are compelled to utter the following words:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all.”

Allegiance is a state of loyalty or devotion. A declaration of allegiance is not something to be taken lightly. It is a modern form of a declaration of fealty, the oath that a person took under feudalism that bound him to obey his lord’s commands, even unto death. The oath these children are ordered to make is loyalty not to any idea or set of principles, but to a flag, a symbol of the state. Change three words, and a Cuban child could utter it in devotion to Castro, a North Korean to the government of Kim Il Sung, a Scottish child to the British Queen or a French child to the Republic. This emptiness did not go unnoticed to the public who demanded that politicians correct the matter. They did not want to give it any principle that would challenge the legitimacy of the state, so they decided to add a loyalty oath to God to distinguish it. Of course, God is conveniently very lax in enforcing such oaths and so no practical impediment to the power of the state. Furthermore, I am told that the champions of adding a religious component to the oath carried the day by arguing that no “godless communist” could take the oath, marking them for ostracism.

It is not surprising that public schools make this demand of children. From their inception in 1642 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, U.S. government schools have had on main purpose: to indoctrinate children in the religion or mores that the state feels most useful. Useful skills like reading and writing, critical thinking, knowledge of the arts and sciences are all secondary to the goal of indoctrination. In the case of Massachusetts, the schools were originally intended to induct the children into the state’s official version of Protestant Christianity rather than the heresies of their parents. In modern times, the religion is not some strain of Christianity, but rather the worship of the state. One can see this in the original version of the pledge, which is short and to the point:

Text Meaning
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: I will be loyal to the state and obey it’s commands.
one Nation The state is the people
indivisible People are not allowed to secede or withdraw from the state.
With Liberty and Justice for all.
Standard boilerplate conditions that all states, from Iceland to the People’s Republic of North Korea, claim to establish for the people under their control.

The details of the pledge are damning. The person who makes it is claiming not only loyalty to the state, but a loyalty that is devoid of any principles and irrevocable under any conditions.

The change to add “under God” does nothing to lessen the totalitarian nature of the pledge other than to make the laughable claim that the state is subservient to God.

The United States was originally founded as a nation of conscience. We can see this in an odd passage early in the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation, signed in 1794. This was the treaty which reestablished diplomatic relations between Britain and the United States of America. In it the U.S. government made the following pledge towards British subjects remaining in the former colonies after the British Army evacuated it:

“All settlers and traders, within the precincts or jurisdiction of the said posts, shall continue to enjoy, unmolested, all their property of every kind, and shall be protected therein. They shall be at full liberty to remain there, or to remove with all or any part of their effects; and it shall also be free to them to sell their lands, houses or effects, or to retain the property thereof, at their discretion; such of them as shall continue to reside within the said boundary lines, shall not be compelled to become citizens of the United States, or to take any oath of allegiance to the Government thereof; but they shall be at full liberty so to do if they think proper.”

Every few years, some organization sues a school district because it compels children to state the pledge with the clause “under God”. These suits invariably claim that it violates the clause in the U.S. Constitution forbidding the establishment of a state religion. Unfortunately, these lawsuits miss the main point. The human rights violation is not that children are forced to pledge their loyalty to God – t is the fact that the children are forced to make any loyalty oath at all!

The pledge of allegiance is not compatible with a free country. Written by a socialist who sought to indoctrinate children with the idea that they should be servants of the state, it opposes the very principles underlying the Declaration of Independence. It is the duty of every patriotic American, whose loyalties are to those principles rather than some flag or body of men, to oppose it. Let the enemies of freedom distinguish themselves by compelling people to take oaths against their will. Let us once again embrace freedom and expel the rotten pledge of allegiance from our schools.

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.

Gay Marriage, Religious Rights, and Freedom of Association

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

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