Christian Humanism

Just Published: The Gospel of Christian HumanismChristianity without God will appeal to skeptics, agnostics, non-theists, liberal Christians or former Christians who have difficulty with the mythology and the concept of god in traditional Christian theology but find the life and ethical teachings of Jesus compelling as a way of life and a basis for ethics. The author argues that Christian Humanism is essentially Christian, is justified on historical grounds, and is consistent with the teachings of Jesus and the early Church Fathers so far as we can determine with reasonable historical and literary accuracy. He argues for an approach to Christianity based on rational inquiry, human freedom, individual conscience, and a commitment to the values taught by Jesus as a guide to ethical decision-making; and further that these values are not only compatible with Christianity, they are fundamental to a proper understanding and interpretation of it.

Available on Amazon Kindle. Free e-book download July 5-6. Paperback version.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Making Schools Unsafe for Transgender Students

Four years ago this week I published an article entitled under the same title the gist of which was that the same Neanderthals who brought us the Scopes anti-evolution trial in Tennessee in our grandparents’ generation are at it again.  A cabal of right wing politicians and fundamentalist Christian terrorists are attempting to make schools less safe for gay and transgender kids in Tennessee by means of legislation that uses bad religion and irresponsible Christian ethics to prohibit teachers from talking to students about gay and transgender issues and requires teachers, administrators and counselors who learn that a student is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) to report that information to his/her parents.

That peculiar legislation, done in the name of keeping schools safe for Christians to intimidate and harass students without fear of discipline, was just one of many legislative attempts religious conservatives across the nation to restrict the rights of lesbians, gays and transgender students.

Schools should be safe places for children that teach tolerance and understanding of differences without fear that teachers and administrators will “out” them to their parents and fellow students.  So when President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity it seemed the perfect time to write about the problems faced by transgender kids in schools.  Just as I was in the middle of writing that essay I had a fortuitous contact with Ash, a transgender boy in the Midwest, who provided me with an essay he had written describing his traumatic experiences as a transgender boy.

Some adults are confused by the concept of transgender and assume it is a “phase” arising from sexual identity confusion that teens will outgrow as they mature, but that is an incorrect understanding of a genuine human condition, a distinct gender identity that is most easily understood when you have met teens who are transgender and have faced the tragic consequences of people misunderstanding who they are and refusing to accept them.  Because I am a youth counselor I have met a number of teens who have had to face the implications of who they are.  Perhaps the best way to begin to understand these issues and concerns is to let Ash tell you his story in his words as provided to me except for minimal editing to make it shorter and an occasional grammatical, spelling, word or punctuation change as necessary for clarity or readability.

Here is Ash’s story:

My story begins a long time ago, even times I can't remember.  First off I am female to male transgender. When I was young, we were poor, in baby/toddler pictures you can see me and my sister in boys’ clothing handed down from my older brother.  When we started to get on our feet I preferred the handing downs instead of my new girly clothing. I remember in pre-school kids would ask me if I was a boy or a girl.  Even though I said girl something inside me made me extremely happy.
When I was 5 we went to see my family in Tennessee. (I do not remember this but my mom and my grandma’s sister told me this.)  I guess I thought since I didn't know them, they didn't know me. And I said it over and over again, I am a boy.  I refused to wear the dress for the family picture and I only did because my mom told me I could take it off right after the picture and the last time I wore a dress was to my dad’s funeral.
My mom really didn't care what I wore from the ages 3-8, I mean I still wore girl clothes willingly, but I had a lot of guy clothing too.  Especially when it came to summer time, my mom didn't care as much what I wore.
I remember being 8 years old, always being shirtless and I wore boxers.  I remember one day seeing teenagers with their pants sagging showing their boxers and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  I started doing it all the time.
When I got a Nnintendo DS light I loved writing in the name section the boy names I wished I had. My favorites were Jangoe and Owen.
But when 3rd grade came my mom decided my extreme tom-boy "phase" needed to be over.  When school came she only let me wear girl clothes, I got to keep my boy clothes but at a time when I grew out of them.  From 3rd-5th grade my mom only let me wear girl clothes. But after shopping she would let me buy one guy shirt. When it came to the girl clothes I just got whatever my mom wanted me to get. I didn't fight what she got me but I also didn't ask her to buy me more. When it came to buying that 1 guy shirt I looked down every row looking for the previous one and I always wore those shirts at least once a week.
The years went by and 6th grade was here, my mom decided to let me pick the clothes I wanted and without thinking about it I got all guy clothes. I remember the day they came, I couldn't choose which one to wear. I changed a few times that day.
I started getting bullied and people would call me gay girl and dyke. And I would cry to myself because I didn't understand I was a girl, always acting like a boy.  At this time I couldn't force myself to wear girl clothes, but my mom made me once going to Thanksgiving at my now stepdad's old house.  It was the first time meeting my step sister who was in college and I hated that was my first impression.
6th grade ended and it was summer time. I was about to go to a new school, 7th-12th grade, the school I still go to, and I really wanted to make a good impression.  I wanted friends and to at least be cool to them.  I was excited, I was planning for this great year and then my life changed forever.  It was late June, early July in 2012. I was 12 at the time and I was alone at my grandparents’ house watching YouTube.  While I was watching, in the sidebar a video called FTM timeline came up.  No clue what it meant I decided to watch it, and it explained things.  Talk about how they knew and the struggles they went through and by the time the video ended, I knew I was transgender.
It felt like a weight off my chest for but that weight came crashing down on top of me. When I started to think about my religion, family, kids at school, I wanted to erase my memory.  I prayed to God, crying and begging him to fix me for 2 weeks straight, but got no answer.  After that I just kind of accepted that God hated me (It even says it in the Bible, God hates many people!).
School started and I did make friends.  It was great, I even got invited to y first sleepover and my new friends started asking me who I like and after they went through every single guy and in our grade and I said no to everyone, they said I had to like someone. And I did, a girl and I thought my new friends would at least accept me for liking girls so I told them the name of the girl.  C told me she wasn't gay and had a boyfriend, I told her I understood and please please not tell K that I liked her and they both promised.  The next day S told e C told K and all their friends plus the volleyball team that I liked girls. And I started getting bullied bad, very bad.  People pushed me, called me names.  No one even wanted to do class projects with me, I sat alone at lunch every day. (Side note, the harassment only came from middle schoolers, high schoolers couldn't talk to us.)
I went down to the principal many times, sometimes he gave a warning and even one time he yelled at me in front of the bullies and said maybe he should just call my mom because I seemed to be the problem.  Then I went to the counselor and she made excuses for the bullies.  “Well, gay means happy, how do you know they didn't mean that?”  And of course the kids will say that is what they meant.  She said it RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.
I got so depressed, my grades were horrible, I didn't eat because I was sleeping all the time and after another day of hell I wrote a Facebook status stating I got bullied every day at school and I couldn't seem to find a teacher who cared.  A lot of high schoolers were on my side and some messaged me asking who the bullies were, and I told a few, and some kids started threatening the bullies.  Next day at school I get called down to the office and the school called the cops on me.  They said everything I wrote on Facebook was lies.  People were screaming at me and getting in my face and when my mom and the cops got there they asked me why I was getting bullied, and I said I wanted my mom to leave the room first, and then my principal said I had 10 seconds to tell my mom why I was being bullied or he will tell her.  Yeah he forced me to out myself!
Then my life just crashed, my stepdad took away the wi-fi for 4 months, and my depression just got worse. I just stayed in my bedroom all the time because it felt like my parents hated me. The neighbor’s wi-fi worked in my room and I got a boyfriend who was in 6th grade, and even though I still only wore guy clothes I got ungrounded because I was dating a boy. But after dating him for 5 months I told him I wanted to be a guy and he broke up with me. During that summer I cut my long hair to my shoulders.
October 31, 2014 is the day I told my mom I was transgender, I thought my stepdad was the only problem, I thought she would accept me, I was SO wrong. She screamed at me, told me she would never accept me, looked me in the eyes and said I will NEVER be her son and then told my stepdad. They didn't take away the wifi, but I wished they did. I was no longer allowed to go to friends’ houses or even have a friend in my room with the door closed. They made me get this super girly haircut and made me grow my hair out months at a time.
In the summer of 2014 when they went on vacation I cut my hair short.  It was my first boy haircut. High school had started and I decided to come out as trans. And even though most people didn't care or accepted me, it felt good not to hide anymore.  In 9th grade I fell in love for the first time with a girl. She was a senior while I was a freshman. We were both in band and she lived close to me, my parents didn't take me to the games so she did. And I would say the games were earlier so I could spend time with her. We never did it, but we made and showed our love in different ways. After about 4 months I ended it because I knew in the end she would pick her boyfriend over me.
In April of 2014, I made a transgender page on Facebook and to this day it has 53K likes and I post every day and it is just not helping educate others, it has helped me.  It opened my mind that there are more than two genders. Most of all it made me know that I am not alone….
Every day I go to school I'm forced to use the girls bathroom were people look at me like I don't belong but the school would never let me use the boys.
Sometimes I sit and think it would have been truly better if i never came out, more friends, more freedom, less hate from family and strangers. Teachers don't even try to use male pronouns on me because it causes problems in class. Why are you calling HER a him? Don't you know SHE is a GIRL?  I've been publicly humiliated in class twice for being transgender, once in 9th grade my boxers were showing and one kid was loudly talking about how gross I was and it started a verbal war --"Wait are you a boy or a girl? Yeah that is weird/gross/ disgusting. So does that mean you have a weiner?" That's when I walked out of class.
Then in 10th grade my class was talking about how wrong and gross it was to be transgender and when the teacher asked what everyone was talking about, someone pretended to throw up in his mouth.  I sat at my desk trying not to cry.
People don't bully me any more. I'm just labeled as the freak now a days, and I'm okay with that. Sure, no one talks to me at school except for my best friend, but at least I don't get bullied anymore.  Now I'm a Junior in high school, everyone still calls me female pronouns, but I'm used to it.
In 8 months I will be moving out because I will be 18 and free. I can move out of this house, live with my supportive grandparents and start male hormones. Spending my senior year hopefully getting breast surgery, male hormones, name change and gender change. So when I go to college no one will know I am a girl, no one will call me she, they will just know me as Ash, not what's in my pants, or that I lived the first 12 years of my life as a girl. Just a normal person—what I've always wanted.  
Transgender kids deserve what every kid deserves--to be treated with respect.  Being safe in their own schools seems like a good place to start.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sexual Abuse and Pornography: My Name is Adam

Sexual abuse of minors is in the news regularly but only gets headlines when it involves large numbers of abused and abusers over many years as in the Catholic Church, or the Boy Scouts, or orphanages and schools in Australia or Ireland, or public schools in general or the New England boarding schools in particular.  Most of the interest seems to be on the institutions (their negligence and their silence) and the abusers (how did they get away with it so long and what will happen to them, if anything or is it too late because of statutes of limitation) but not much attention is paid to the abused victims and what they suffered at the hands of their perpetrators.
One crime involving sexual abuse of minors is not talked about very much—child pornography.  The back pages report that “John Doe, a teacher at Lost Children Primary School, was arrested at the school today and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography.  An investigation of his computer revealed 731 images of child porn.  The school reported that happily none of the victims so far identified were students at their school.”  There is nothing said or reported about the victims who, after all, are just digital images.  They are not real so our concern about them is not real either.

I counsel teens.  One of the teens I am currently working with was a victim of sexual assault starting when he was 10 years old.  From age 11 onward he was kept as a virtual prisoner by his family until he reached puberty and was no longer useful in porn for pedophiles.  During the long years he was a victim of pornographers he kept his sanity and his humanity from the daily degradation of his life by writing in a journal.  He has sent me pages from that journal and what he sent me a few days ago was difficult to read without wiping the tears from my eyes.  His graphic writing demonstrates the struggle of the human spirit against evil personified.  Pornography is not just illegal, it is an assault on the victim’s humanity, it destroys what is essential in being human, it kills the human spirit.  

This young man’s ordeal ended when he was 15 after four years of hell.  He is a survivor and in the past three years he has been healing.  He is a remarkable young man.  Here is his story, written when he was 12 or 13, in his words:

My name is Adam*.  I see men, big men, their faces hidden by shiny black leather, men in a circle, men without clothes. I can’t look up, I don't want to see. I look down, I'm so relieved, I have my pants on.  Maybe its ok.
In a mirror on the wall I see a boy, a small thin boy, standing on a low table surrounded by naked animals, circling like a pack intent on the kill. I look into his eyes. I see the fear and confusion. I see the hands like the claws of some crazed animal, tearing at what clothes I have left, pulling clothes, tearing clothes.  Now I'm naked before them all.  The hands, so many hands, touching, pulling, prying.  Inside I'm dying.  The hands are pulling me down.

They are above me now, filthy black faces with mouths that will touch the filthiest places.  My body betrays me like everything else—mumbled comments about size and beauty, about how he seems to really enjoy this.  At the edge of what’s left of my mind is a flashing light… flashing… flashing…  getting closer and farther way.  It’s very close now and I can see it’s my uncle with his camera…  snap!... a part of my soul taken away… snap!... a moment of my pain captured forever… snap!... my shame preserved for all time… my face frozen in time… the lights are bright… I am so hot.

They are smothering me now, sweating huge bodies, rolling and thrusting, my body like a leaf in a storm.  I scream out in pain… snap!... gotta get that one!... how many of you were there?  I was too scared to count. I marked time by times of intense pain followed by minutes of relief as the next one stepped up. 

They are holding me up now.  I can’t even hold myself up.  I am gagging, choking.  They are on me, they are in me.  I am not there anymore.  I am a shell with nothing inside.  I don't know who you were.  I don't know about your lives.  Your black hoods made you invisible to me. 

Why didn't I get a hood?  Did you need to see who I was?  Did you need to see my face?  Did you want to see yourself in my pain?  Did you want to know this boy?  Was I more than just an object?  Was I everything you could never be?  Did it make it better to see how innocent I was?  Was the innocence part of it? 

I know I'll never know your names, but I want you to know mine—my name is Adam*.

*I proposed using an alias but Adam said, as his last line indicated, that to all the perpetrators of this evil, which includes anyone that saw the pictures, he wants them to know that he is a person by the name of Adam.  That is not his birth name, it is the name he has chosen for himself for his new life as a survivor.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Subversion and Treason

My evening routine usually includes watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, one of the more interesting,  insightful  and provocative political commentators on television.  Last week Rachel reported that she and other observers in the West had been looking for some signs in Russia that might hint at confirmation of the U.S. intelligence report last December that unequivocally stated not only was Russia behind the hacks but the hacks were ordered by Putin and the distribution of the resulting  information that was detrimental to Hillary Clinton and helpful to Donald Trump was specifically directed by Putin. 

They found the smoking gun.  News sources inside Russia reported that Russian police entered a routine meeting of the security service’s cyber security unit, arrested and dragged out one of its top agents from the meeting and subsequently charged him with treason.  Later an official of the counter intelligence unit disappeared from his position.  Rachel concluded with good reason that the Russian actions confirmed that the Russians had been behind the hack and that Putin was now eliminating the agent who leaked Putin’s involvement to the former British intelligence agent who had assembled the dossier about the hacking and provided it to U.S. officials.

I think the conclusion should go beyond the obvious, that we now have pretty clear circumstantial evidence that Putin ordered and directed interference in the U.S. electoral process to help a candidate favorable to his strategic objectives.  We also have pretty good evidence that not only did Donald Trump and his campaign officials have substantial business and personal ties with Russia and with Putin, but that Trump and his senior advisors were aware of Russian interference but had regular contacts with Russian officials prior to and subsequent to the election. 

There are implications that go beyond the election.  Trump and his cronies have indicated their support for Russian interference in the Ukraine and for removal of sanctions imposed on Russia by the international community.  They have also contended (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary) that the Russians did not do the hacking and the release of political information damaging to Hillary Clinton.

Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that Trump and some of his immediate devotees and supporters are knowingly supporting a foreign power’s interference in our internal affairs and subverting our foreign policy to assist an enemy of the United States?  Isn’t that subversive activity? Isn’t that precisely the definition of treason?

Here is a recapitulation of facts that have been reported widely in the press and assembled from multiple sources and do not appear to be in contention.

Mr. Trump, and several persons close to him who serve as official or unofficial advisors, personal friends and nominees for Cabinet positions are also friends, advisors to, business associates of, or lobbyists for Russia, Russian business entities, Vladimir Putin or his business associates, or others with power and interests in Russia.

A few examples:  

Donald Trump has business relationships with Russian billionaires including Aras Agalarov and other Russian oligarchs including some members of Russian crime families and Russian banks.  Trump has bragged about Russians being the biggest investors in his properties.  He is a partner of the Bayrock Group, an entity owned by wealthy Russian emigres to the U.S. 

Trump has frequently praised Putin for running a strong government and has urged stronger ties to Russia (all the while ignoring the fact that Russia is a long standing enemy of the US who wants to weaken NATO’s resistance to Putin’s seizure of the Crimea from its neighbor Ukraine, for which the US and its European allies have imposed sanctions on Russia).

Donald Trump, Jr., participated in a conference in Paris in October 2016 at which the topic was building closer ties to Russia and Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and has publicly stated his support of the position of the Russians and the Syrian dictator, contrary to the U.S. position to support the rebels against al-Assad and his brutal oppressive regime. 

Long-time Trump associate Paul Manafort, his campaign manager until his substantial business ties to Russia became a public embarrassment, was a key advisor to Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's former president, an ally of Putin in the takeover of the Crimea, now residing in Moscow.  

Carter Page, a senior advisor to the Trump campaign, spent years in Moscow where he ran the Merrill Lynch office.

General Michael Flynn, an advisor to the campaign and now National Security Advisor, has been a paid spokesman for Russian propaganda network RT, is an outspoken supporter of Russia and closer US-Russia ties, and has socialized with Vladimir Putin.  

Rex Tillerson, formerly President of Exxon Mobil and a personal friend of Vladimir Putin, is now Trump’s Secretary of State.  Exxon has billions of dollars of business deals in Russia that have been halted as a result of the sanctions on Russia, and Mr. Tillerson has lobbied against the sanctions on Russia.  Does anyone seriously think that Tillerson is not going to do what he can to have the sanctions removed to benefit his friends and associates at Exxon Mobil?

Trump has also nominated Wilbur Ross, a reported business associate of Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire oligarch and Putin ally, to be Commerce Secretary.

However the person we should be most concerned about with respect to subversion of the national interests of the U.S. is “the man behind the throne”—Steve Bannon, former editor of Breitbart News, a flame-throwing ultra right wing periodical that traffics in white nationalism, racism, and conspiracy theories.  Bannon has been described by some who know him as “America’s Rasputin.”  He is a disciple of Lenin and of the modern Russian advisor to Putin, Aleksander Dugin, a political theorist and fascist.  Bannon is an advocate of the destruction of the political class of Western society who has made no secret of his objective in destroying the Republican and Democratic parties.  He seems to have made a good start.

The subversion of the United States is underway.  Its destruction as a major power is being engineered from the top.   Half the nation seems to be in shock and unable to function.  The other half seems to be giddy with the delusion of power and too drunk to realize what is going on is different than the bill of goods it was sold during the election.

Update February 5, 2017: 

[1] Trump has removed sanctions on Russian intelligence agencies imposed on Russia by Obama in response to the hack of the Democrat Party.  It has been widely reported that a notice on the Treasury Department website references elimination of the sanctions initially ordered in 2015 and extended in 2016: “All transactions and activities otherwise prohibited pursuant to Executive Order 13694…as amended by EO 13757, are authorized.”

[2] The Economist reports that on January 29, one day after Trump talked with Putin, Russian troops renewed their attacks in Ukraine.  After the attack, the American ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that the attack was by both Russian troops and separatist forces.  Under the Obama administration there were immediate condemnations of the Russian incursions.  The Trump administration only said it was deeply concerned about fighting in the Ukraine but did not blame Russia.  There is widespread fear in Europe that this is a worrisome sign that Trump is too cozy with Russia and intends to further eliminate sanctions so that U.S. businesses can once again do business with Russia. 

The Economist quotes a Russian spokesman on Trump’s lack of condemnation: “Washington does put the blame on the [separatist] republics, does not express support for Kiev and does not say a word about Russia’s role,” Rossiiskaia Gazeta, the official government newspaper, wrote jubilantly.
In an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News scheduled to be aired prior to the Super Bowl later today, Trump declined to be critical of Putin, saying he admires him.  When pushed by O’Reilly that Putin was a murderer, Trump responded that the U.S. is not innocent of the same behavior. 
Is there any doubt that Trump is undermining the U.S. and European policy of containing Russian aggression in his treasonous pursuit of financial and political gain for himself and his friends?

Update  February 10, 2017:

Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Advisor, has lied several times in interviews for the press when he said that his only talks with the Russian Ambassador were to arrange a meeting with the President for after the Inauguration.  Aware that the FBI was investigating him for possible violation of U.S. law, he is now conceding that he “might” have talked about the sanctions being lifted once Trump was in office. That is more than a violation of U.S. law, it is treason to give comfort and aid to an enemy of the U.S. See the full story in the New York Times.

Update  February 11, 2017:

Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York has introduced a Resolution of Inquiry to force a vote of Congress on Trump’s conflicts of interest, ethics violations and ties with Russia.  There are serious violations of law by Trump that need to be investigated by Congress in the interest of our nation.

Not only are Michael Flynn’s ties with Russia under investigation and his actions as national security advisor under question, but one of his top deputies has been denied a security clearance by the CIA that is necessary in order for that deputy to serve on the National Security Council.

Final Update  February 13, 2017:

Michael Flynn was forced to resign this evening.  This is the final update.  Nothing more to be said

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Speaking Truth To Power

Government officials have a duty to be open, honest and truthful to our citizens and to the press--an expectation that has been absent in Donald Trump and his staff--they have repeatedly lied openly in speeches, press conferences and interviews in such a brazen way that it is breath-taking to those of us who have the reasonable expectation of integrity in our officials, whether elected or appointed, regardless of political leanings. This is a new and startling phenomenon not seen before in our history.  It is corrosive to our public discourse, it is intolerable and it must be called out, not only by the press, but also by any of our institutions including churches that care about democracy, Christian values and integrity. 
Sojourners is an important Christian publication with a focus on Christian ethics that routinely speaks truth to power.  The article below, written by Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, was passed along to me by a friend because it raises issues that we as Christians, as humanists, as Americans must take seriously.  The notion that “facts” are what the President says they are, that they are fungible and in the eye of the beholder, that facts are negotiable, undermines rational public discourse.  “Alternative facts” are not facts—they are fiction, they are lies.  Speaking truth to power is an ethical duty of anyone claiming to follow the the teachings and example of Jesus.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

This has become the biggest question in the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency, “What is truth?”

Since becoming president, Trump — both directly and through his top aides — has made a number of demonstrably false statements. Rather than backing away from these statements when confronted with the truth, he and his team have doubled and tripled down on claims that defy reason, logic, evidence, and just common sense….

Trump’s own narcissistic personality makes him incapable of acknowledging his own unpopularity. More deeply, these lies and Trump’s determination to stick to them show that he is obsessed with the image of his own legitimacy as president, despite having won an electoral victory by the rules in an election that experts and authorities across the political spectrum agree was not tainted by major fraud….

If you are successful in delegitimizing fact checkers and truth-tellers, pretty soon nobody knows what the truth is — and the strongest and most powerful voices, especially the one controlling the highest bully pulpit, get to define the truth as they see it….

This cannot be a political or partisan issue for people of faith. Truth-telling is a matter of faith for us and a fundamental principle of how we hold politics accountable. We cannot let our knowledge of both objective scientific facts and deeper spiritual truths become causalities of this administration. The free press has a critical role to play in protecting the truth — but so do people of faith and conscience….

To read the whole article, click here

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Legal and Political Strategy To Oppose Trump Policies

Trump is a man without experience or integrity who is under the influence of evil and self-serving extremist right wing advisers intent on launching dangerous and destructive policies that are outside the mainstream of American, Christian and humanist values.  He must be stopped.  Here is a brilliant legal and political strategy from the New York Times that can be used to stop Trump's ill-conceived policies:     

How Antonin Scalia’s Ghost Could Block Donald Trump’s Wall
The New York Times JAN. 25, 2017

President Trump may stumble on an unexpected obstacle as he tries to build a wall along the Mexican border: Antonin Scalia.
This may seem surprising, considering that Mr. Trump has called him a “great” justice. But in one of his last opinions, Justice Scalia supplied a powerful weapon to resist Mr. Trump’s plans for a border wall.
Justice Scalia’s June 2015 opinion in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency may not seem helpful at first sight. It blocked an E.P.A. rule that would have limited mercury emissions from power plants. The Clean Air Act instructs the E.P.A. to issue “appropriate and necessary” regulations, and Justice Scalia said that language required the E.P.A. to consider the costs of its proposed rules, which it did not properly do. “No regulation is ‘appropriate’ if it does significantly more harm than good,” Justice Scalia wrote. And even though the final vote in the case was 5-4, all nine members of the court agreed that the E.P.A. could not ignore the costs of its actions when deciding whether or how stringently to regulate.

Read the Article

Monday, January 16, 2017

Religious Freedom Day - January 16

In my youth as a member of a Southern Baptist church in northern Virginia I became acquainted with an organization called Protestants and Others United for Separation of Church and State (now called Americans United), an advocacy group supported by my church to remind us that the Constitutional principle of the separation between Church and State was a key construct of both the Virginia and the Federal constitutions.  

Since Religious Freedom Day occurs today (January 16) and Donald Trump will be inaugurated later this week with Republicans coming to power with threats against our religious freedom, it seems a good time to remind ourselves that our nation was founded on this bedrock principle.  Since the religious right in our country has regularly and intentionally distorted the facts by a stubborn insistence that Christianity was an integral part of our Nation’s founding documents and history, I want to correct the record by extensively quoting from an article entitled “The Christian Right Does Not Want You To Know About This Day” by Frederick Clarkson, originally published December 27, 2014 and just republished in Daily Kos.  I have written on this subject before [See Is The United States a Christian Nation?] and because Mr. Clarkson has stated the issues so clearly I am quoting extensively from his article because there is no point in my writing again when he has stated the issues so clearly.

"For all of the shouting about religious liberty — from the landmark Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, to the passage of the anti-gay Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Mississippi, and more — there is barely any mention, let alone any observance, of the official national Religious Freedom Day, enacted by Congress in 1992 and recognized every January 16 by an annual presidential proclamation.

The day commemorates the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786.
Why is this seemingly obscure piece of Revolutionary-era legislation so vital? And why doesn’t the Christian Right want you to know anything about it?

The bill, authored by Thomas Jefferson and later pushed through the state legislature by then member of the House of Delegates, James Madison, is regarded as the root of how the framers of the Constitution approached matters of religion and government, and it was as revolutionary as the era in which it was written.

It not only disestablished the Anglican Church as the official state church, but it provided that no one can be compelled to attend any religious institution or to underwrite it with taxes; that individuals are free to believe as they will and that this “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

As a practical matter, this meant that what we believe or don’t believe is not the concern of government and that we are all equal as citizens.

Following the dramatic passage of the Statute in 1786, Madison traveled to Philadelphia, where he served as a principal author of the Constitution in 1787. As a Member of Congress in 1789 he was also a principal author of the First Amendment, which passed in 1791.
Jefferson was well aware that many did not like the Statute, just as they did not like the Constitution and the First Amendment, both of which sought to expand the rights of citizens and deflect claims of churches seeking special consideration.

So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant. The Statute, he wrote, contained “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”

That is a powerful and clear statement. Jefferson, almost 200 years ago, refuted the contemporary claims of Christian Right leaders, many of whom not only insist that America was founded as a Christian nation, but that the framers really meant their particular interpretation of Christianity. (And they are sometimes encouraged by a surprisingly wide array of pundits.)

Jefferson further explained that the legislature had specifically rejected proposed language that would have described “Jesus Christ” as “the holy author of our religion.” This was rejected, he reported, “by the great majority.”

No wonder the Christian Right does not want us to remember the original Statute for Religious Freedom — it doesn’t fit their narrative of history! Nor does it justify their vision of the struggles of the political present, or the shining theocratic future they envision.

Religious Freedom Day is nothing but bad news for the likes of Religious Right leaders like Tony Perkins, who argue that Christians who favor marriage equality are not really Christians. They can believe that if they want, but it can make no difference in the eyes of the law. That is probably why on Religious Freedom Day 2014, Perkins made no mention of what Religious Freedom Day is really about — instead using the occasion to denounce president Obama’s approach to religious liberty abroad.

This barely commemorated day provides an opportunity for LGBTQ people, and progressives generally, to reclaim a philosophical, legal and constitutional legacy that the Christian Right is busy trying to redefine for their own purposes.

Alright. So the Christian Right really does not want us to know about this day, but if we do, they certainly don't want us thinking about this stuff -- and so the standard fare of faux outrage about president Obama and various conspiracies against faith in general and conservative Christianity in general is likely to dominate our foreseeable future.  

But it doesn't have to be this way. And the Christian Right probably knows it.

When I say that the Christian Right does not want “us” to think about it, I mean everyone who is not the Christian Right and their allies, and especially not LGBTQ people and the otherwise “insufficiently Christian.”  I think that is why the Christian Right is mostly so eerily quiet about it, even though religious freedom is so central to their political program.

But what if we did?

What if we seized this day to think dynamically about the religious freedoms we take for granted at our peril; freedom that is in danger of being redefined beyond recognition.  What if we decided to seize this day to consider our best values as a nation and advance the cause of equal rights for all?

If we did, we might begin by recalling the extraordinary challenge faced by the framers of the Constitution when they gathered in Philadelphia. They met to create one nation out of 13 fractious colonies still finding their way after a successful revolt against the British Empire; and contending with a number of powerful and well-established state churches and a growing and religiously diverse population.

Their answer?   Religious equality.  And it is rooted in Jefferson’s bill. Let's remind ourselves about the origins of the bill.

Jefferson wrote the first draft in 1777 — just after having authored the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  And it was James Madison who finally got the legislation passed through the Virginia legislature in 1786, just months before he traveled to Philadelphia to be a principal author of the Constitution.  The Virginia Statute states that no one can be compelled to attend or support any religious institution, or otherwise be restrained in their beliefs, and that this “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities . . .”

The Constitution, framed according to “The Virginia Plan,” drafted primarily by Madison, contains no mention of God or Christianity.  In fact, the final text’s only mention of religion is in the proscription of “religious tests for public office,” found in Article 6.  
In other words — Jefferson’s words — one’s religious identity, or lack thereof, has no bearing on one’s “civil capacities.”

If we thought about the meaning of Religious Freedom Day, we might start thinking about things like that — and not capitulate to the Christian Right’s effort to redefine religious freedom to include a license for business and institutional leaders (both government and civil) to impose their religious beliefs on employees and the public.

If we thought about things like that, then we might consider them in light of a host of initiatives in recent years, often advanced under the banner of religious freedom, but which, in fact, restrict the religious freedom of others.

We might consider, for example, the recent federal court decision in the case of General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper, which found that North Carolina’s ban on clergy performing marriage ceremonies without first obtaining a civil marriage license, was unconstitutional.

Since state law declared that same-sex couples could not get marriage licenses, this subjected clergy in the United Church of Christ, the Alliance of Baptists, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, among others, to potential prosecution for performing a religious ceremony.

As religious equality advances, so does equal rights for all. So you can see why the Christian Right might not want people—people like us—thinking like Jefferson. And that is why we must."

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