Your Ox Will Eventually Be Gored (Re-post)

It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.

As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.

Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:

The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […]
[…]
African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.

The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.

Tragic chapters such as Tuskegee have been cited as a reason why African-Americans distrust the medical establishment and are hesitant to participate in clinical research. One study found that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical profession, compared to half of white parents.

As I read this, I wondered why there isn’t a similar distrust of the government as the medical establishment by blacks in general. The Tuskegee experiments were done at the behest of the U.S. Public Health Service, after all!

After finishing the article, I decided to read through the comments section (this is a blog that is dedicated primarily with concerns of the black community; the comments can sometimes be very illuminating). The very first comment by a user with the handle “Blackheywood Heywood” did not disappoint:

The US government began spying on Black folks before this government was created, yet it was no outrage.Give me a break, it seems slowly mainstream America is discovering how it feels to be thought of as suspicious or guilty before being accused, never mind arrested. Welcome to the world of the American Black male.

Heywood has a valid point. The answer to the question why the lack of outrage by the black community concerning the NSA and IRS scandals could just as easily turned against what Heywood called “mainstream America.” Indeed, where was the right (for lack of a better term) on these outrages? Where has the Tea Party been on the question of “stop and frisk,” in New York in which minorities are especially targeted to be searched, supposedly at random? Is this simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”

I believe there’s also another phenomenon at work: the memory hole. Near the close of the article, Love mentioned an event that took place in Philadelphia in 1985 I was completely unaware of:

On May 13, 1985, following a standoff, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on the house on Osage Avenue occupied by the black “radical” group known as MOVE. Police reportedly fired on MOVE members as they escaped the burning home […]
[…]
The 1985 bombing—which killed 11 people, including 5 children and destroyed an entire neighborhood of 61 row homes in West Philadelphia—marked the first such attack on U.S. citizens by government authorities. The survivors and victims’ families received $5.5 million in compensation from the city of Philadelphia.

I try my best to be informed about historical events as well as current events. How is it that this is the first I had ever heard about the Philadelphia Police dropping a freaking bomb on a neighborhood in an American city?** I must have been sick that day in American History class (I also didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments until well into my twenties; maybe I was sick on that day as well).

Maybe MOVE was a radical organization maybe it wasn’t*** but nothing could justify the police dropping a bomb on a neighborhood. Perhaps this atrocity is well known by people in the black community, both young and old but not so much outside the black community (or maybe I’m one of the few Americans who never heard about this but I doubt it).

MOVE probably wasn’t the first group the government described as “extreme” to a point where government officials ordered and used military force against its members; it certainly wasn’t the last. How many people out of a hundred know about what happened at Ruby Ridge? The Weaver family, why they were “extremists” after all and therefore, why should anyone care about their rights? How many people out of a hundred know about the conflicting accounts of what really happened at assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? (Here’s a hint: a great deal more than what the MSM reported at the time). I suppose because these people were part of some sort of cult, their rights didn’t matter either!

This is where the real problem of indifference lies. I’ve heard far too many people with the attitude “it’s not my problem” or “it doesn’t affect me”. Even more disturbing is the attitude some people have that they are happy when someone of an opposing view has his or her rights of life, liberty, and/or property trampled on (i.e. “Screw them, they are ‘extremists’”). Far too often, concerns about civil liberties depend on whose ox is being gored at that particular time.

I would like to humbly suggest that if you are not as upset when its someone else’s ox, even if it’s the ox of your opponent’s, one day it will be your ox that will be gored. Perhaps Martin Niemoller said it best in his very short work “First they Came” describing how the Nazis took freedom away from the whole population, one group at a time. By the time the Nazis got around to taking freedom from what remained of the population, Niemoller concluded “there was no one left to speak for me.”

To be clear, I am not comparing the U.S. government to the Nazis. Such hyperbolic comparisons are not constructive and minimize the very crimes against humanity the Nazis committed. I am making a comparison about how populations respond to encroachments on liberty, however. As demonstrated in Love’s article, there are plenty of examples of injustice from American history.

Here are just a handful more:

  • The Indian Removal Act
  • Slavery
  • The internment of Japanese Americans
  • Jim Crow
  • McCarthyism

And many, many more.

Each of these policies were permitted to happen because the majority apparently felt that curtailing freedoms of these minorities would somehow not affect their own freedoms. We should acknowledge that these injustices occurred and try to learn the right lessons (rather than pretend the U.S. government or the American people have committed no wrongs ever) and move on.

Every injustice and every violation of rights of life, liberty, and property must be answered by all of us as if it’s our own liberty that is at stake.

*Yes, I’m aware that Obama is actually half black. However, if a man of his description was accused of committing a crime and at large, he would be described as a black man.

**In light of this, Rand Paul’s questions about government using drones to attack Americans on American soil no longer seem so far fetched, unfortunately.

***All I know is what I read in the cited article.

Conservative Blogger Advocates Religious Oppression in America

first-amendmentNot much shocks me anymore but once in a while, I run across something that is so idiotic I wonder if there some sort of serious glitch in the matrix. It wasn’t but a few weeks ago that conservatives were standing up for private business owners’ right to discriminate against gay people on religious grounds. The rights of individuals to practice their religion as they see fit trumps nearly all else according to Christian conservatives.

What I’m about to share with you next may well make your head explode (it might be a good idea to get some duct tape to prevent your brains from splattering all over the place).

Ready?

Conservative blogger writing for Western Journalism Steven Crowder is praising China for “banning” Islam within its borders. Not only is he praising China, Crowder also believes the same policies should be enacted here in the U.S.

So what is China doing? It’s declaring an all-out war to make sure Islam doesn’t take over and never gains the strength to attack them. So let me simplify it:

– Female head-coverings are banned. Period.

– Men are discouraged from growing long beards (often poorly grown ones, might I add).

– Even Islamic restaurants are forced to sell cigarettes and drinks. And …

– They must display them prominently. Any business owner who does not follow this order…will lose their business. Gone.

[…]

In other words: China learns. Unlike our inept government, it realizes, ‘Hey, Islam wants destroy us.’ It realizes that Islam is political in nature, not just religious. Don’t get me wrong: communism is terrible, but it’s also what absolves China from the shackling burdens of political correctness. They’d rather survive than be politically correct.

Full disclosure: I have not checked out for myself if China is actually implementing these policies. It wouldn’t surprise me but whether or not China is oppressing Muslims is beside the point. What concerns me is the idea that there are certain Americans who would cheer these kind of policies here (provided that it doesn’t apply to their faith, of course). I never thought I would see the day when conservatives would praise China for religious oppression.

To Mr. Crowder’s point about our “inept government” in how Muslims are being allowed to freely exercise their religion. In most cases, I would not argue against the notion that our government is inept but this isn’t the case this time. You see, Mr. Crowder, here in America we have something China does not. It’s called the First amendment. What part of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” do you not understand? And no, the First amendment does not just apply to Christians but everyone.

As bothersome as this is that someone would write such inane garbage on a conservative* website, it’s even more concerning that there are so many people agreeing with him in the comments section. These people are a much greater threat to our liberties than a minority of American Muslims ever could be.

Idaho Gay Marriage Lawsuit Moot – City Backs Down

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

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

From Boise State Public Radio:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H/T: Reason

That Idaho Gay Marriage Lawsuit? It Just Got Murky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some “ministry”.

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

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

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

Idaho Pastors Threatened With Jail Time Over Refusal To Marry Gays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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