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Padre Steve Plays Devil’s Advocate: The Complex and Often Confusing Issue of Religious Liberty

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“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

Religious freedom is a central tenant of the Bill of Rights and has been a central facet of American life since our inception as a country, in fact pre-dating our founding in some of the original 13 colonies most notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Now before anyone gets the idea that I am about to write something in favor of limiting the freedom to worship or for that matter any limitation on religious practices I am not in fact I am a stalwart supporter of religion in the Public Square and not just mine. You see I am a bit of a purest about this and my view is as long as the religious practice is not harming anyone who cares?

I believe like Thomas Jefferson who wrote in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Some might take me to task for that as a Christian, but my point is not to argue for the Christian faith in this article. Instead my intent is to point out some of the inconsistencies of those who proclaim their rights also seek to limit the religious and even the civil rights of others based on their religious beliefs.

What I will do in this essay is to play the “Devil’s advocate” in the matter of the free exercise of religion as it currently exists in the United States.

This has to be done because of the number of laws being passed by various states which are labeled as acts to protect religious liberty. Unfortunately the reality is that these laws grant license for the Christian majority in those states to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious beliefs. These individuals and religious organizations loudly proclaim their defense of the right to free exercise, but it is more their free exercise rights that they are defending than the rights of others.

In fact those that shout the loudest are also those who seek to limit the religious rights of others using the laws of the Federal Government and the various States and Commonwealths that make up the United States. Since law in the United States is based on legal precedence everything that goes to court on matters of religious liberty as well as the actions of various legislatures matters. Precedent matters and once legal precedent has been established it is very hard to change. Thus each decision sets a precedent and these precedents can effect decisions in entirely unrelated matters.

Our First Amendment Rights are marvels which are envied by the citizens of most of the rest of the world and why shouldn’t they be?

In many nations simply being born as a member of a minority religion, or other hated minority group is enough to ensure that you will never have full legal rights and may even face persecution and death at the hands of those in power. The list is long. Some of the countries include Sudan, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uganda, Nigeria, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. Of course there are many more but those are just some of the places where members of minority religious face discrimination, persecution and even death.

The rights we have as Americans provided the opportunity for churches that were suppressed on the European continent and elsewhere to thrive free of government persecution. The Baptists are a good example. In the early 1600’s the first Baptists, English Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs by the English Crown in particular by King James who despite authorizing the Bible given his name and loved by many Baptists as the “only” valid English translation was a notorious homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that, hated those early Baptists and persecuted them throughout the land.

On the continent itself the Anabaptists and Mennonites as well as others referred to as “enthusiasts,” the forerunners of the Pentecostal movements of the 20th Century were brutally suppressed in many European lands. The example of the siege and destruction of Munster Germany by combined Catholic and Lutheran forces after “enthusiasts” seized power is just one example.

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The Jews were persecuted often brutally almost everywhere in Europe for centuries. They were the “Christ killers” and that was even enshrined in the liturgies of churches. But the Jews had a surprising amount of freedom and influence in the Ottoman Empire where in places like Baghdad they composed a rather sizable part of the population and were quite prominent in the Empire.

Catholics were heavily persecuted in England and could not hold public office for many years following the English Reformation. Hundreds of Catholics martyred for simply practicing their religion in private, simply celebrating Mass could get them a death sentence.

Then there were the Huguenots in France. They were French Protestants who had gained a great deal of influence and power that were brutally suppressed and many killed by the French Crown and the Catholic Church.

The Lutherans were not big fans of other religions in Germany and worked with their archrival Roman Catholics to kill off the Anabaptists and the Enthusiasts.

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Spain was another brutal place for religious liberty. Even some Roman Catholics now canonized as Saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila were brought before the Inquisition. Protestants, Jews, Moslems were all persecuted in Spain, and Spain was equally repressive of native religions in the lands that it colonized in the “New World.”

The Russian Empire was known for its toleration of Catholics, Protestants and Jews especially in the equal treatment given to them in various Pogroms conducted by the government and the Orthodox Church.

The Ottoman Empire had a limited amount of religious toleration so long as you didn’t make trouble and paid your taxes. One cannot really call it liberty for the Empire and persecuted anyone equally that threatened the Caliphate or that they thought were heretical. These included the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

Then along came the United States where our forefathers ensured religious liberty in our Bill of Rights along with freedom of speech, assembly and the press. It is a wonderful thing, but we have not always done well with it and there are always those trying to carve out addition “rights” for themselves or their faith communities. Sometimes the more religious people have had a negative influence in this experiment, often being involved with acts of religious and civil intolerance worthy of our European ancestors.

That being said many religious people, particularly Christians and churches have done many good things in promoting human rights, religious rights and the civil rights of all in our country.

In Colonial America most of the colonies had official state religions. In Massachusetts that was the Congregationalist Church and it conducted many of the witch trials and the persecution of people deemed heretic including Quakers and Baptists.

dyer-hanging1Hanging the Quakers in Massachusetts

While Christians were in the forefront of the Abolitionist movement whole denominations split on the issue of Slavery. These denominations included the Southern Baptists, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Curiously neither the Episcopalians nor the Catholics split over the issues although the war found them heavily engaged on both sides of the conflict.

After the war many American Christians worked for the rights of workers, the abolition of child labor and even something that I oppose, Prohibition. Some Christians and churches advocated for the full civil rights of African Americans though few spoke up for rights of the Native Americans and the Chinese immigrants to California who were frequently mistreated and worked for almost nothing on the most demanding jobs like building the trans-continental railroad, mining gold and building stone walls for ranchers.

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While enshrining the right to the free exercise of religion the Founding Fathers kind of ignored the human rights of a whole class of people, African American slaves. They allowed the practice of slavery counting Blacks as 3/5ths of a person, which 3/5ths I don’t know but nonetheless only 60% of a full human being. my own family owned slaves and the family patriarch who fought as a Confederate officer in the American Civil War and after the defeat of the Confederacy refused to sign the loyalty oath, which good honorable men like Robert E Lee did and lost the family lands to the Federal Government.

We drove the Native Americans off of their lands, hunted them down and confined them to reservations all while ignoring the treaties that we made with the various Indian Nations. This practice was actually recently defended by the faux “historian” of the Christian Right, David Barton.

If we believe Barton’s “history” the vast majority of the people perpetuating these acts were solid Bible Believing Christians. But then how do we reconcile these crimes against humanity, even crimes against fellow Christians with the Christian faith? If you are Barton you assume that what happened was due to the sin of the Native Americans who had to be subjugated by Christians.

Likewise nearly every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States has experienced some form of discrimination, often religious from the good citizens of this land. It turns out that throughout history we have had some problems in the matter of religious liberty and toleration, especially of those whose customs, language, culture and religion are different than our own.

But the crux of all of this comes down to religious liberty which as Americans we hold dear, at least our own religious liberty. The problem is that those who fight the hardest for their religious liberty frequently want to deny the rights that they have to others that they disagree with in belief, practice or even politics.

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Now everyone is for religious liberty in the Public Square until a loathsome man like Fred Phelps and his family owned and operated “Westboro Baptist Church” shows up to protest and hurl vile epithets at those grieving the loss of family members killed in war, taunting these people in the most abhorrent of ways.

However, as grievous as these people are they do this under the right to the free exercise of religion. Some Fundamentalist Moslems have as a stated goal of instating Sharia Law in this land, at least for Moslems. This they proclaim under the banner of religious liberty, however the imposition of Sharia Law on Moslems in the name of their religion also takes away their civil rights under the Constitution and the various laws of the Federal Government of the States that make up our fair land.

The Roman Catholic Church at the direction of the Vatican has attempted rather successfully until a recent Supreme Court ruling to shield Bishops that were complicit in personnel moves and cover ups regarding Priests accused or convicted of sexual misconduct and the sexual abuse of minors from criminal prosecution and civil suits under the guise of diplomatic immunity as the Vatican is a nation state. Could any other religious organization shield its clergy from the laws of the land that any other citizen would be subject to? Not on your or my life, but in the past the Vatican has blatantly done so and hopefully under Pope Francis this too will change.

One of the key issues of religious liberty is the right of those of various beliefs and practices that use television, radio and the internet to espouse hatred and violence in the name of their religious beliefs and under the banner of religious liberty? I may not agree with what they broadcast but they have the right to do it.

Many Conservative Christians, especially Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are keen to support their rights to publicly exercise their religion, even in the government. But they are not good when it comes to other branches of Christianity or non-Christian religions.

The Metropolitan Community Church comes to mind. It is a predominantly Homosexual Christian church many of whose members were driven from their home churches due to their sexuality. Many, except for being gay are very conservative in their theological beliefs. That church has been in the forefront of the fight for marriage equity as well as the right for homosexuals to serve openly in the Military.

The part about marriage is particularly fraught with peril because both the Church and the State have interests in marriage. For many marriage is primarily a religious act with civil overtones, in fact ministers of all denominations are licensed by the state to perform marriages on behalf of the State becoming in effect de-facto officers of the courts and at the same time most states deny homosexual couples the right to marry, regardless of one’s position on the legitimacy of such unions who could say that it is right for the states to approve and license the clergy of almost every religious tradition to conduct weddings that have the full civil effect, including tax breaks for all but a certain group? We have this enshrined in our culture but would deny it to the Metropolitan Community Church to perform weddings for its members. What if someone said that any other minister could not marry members of their own church under their church laws, ordinances and beliefs? There would be a public outcry, but not for the Metropolitan Community Church or other denominations that sanction Gay marriage.

There are so many issues regarding religious liberty. What about adherents of Wicca and other Earth based religions or Native American religions? Some of their practices would not be welcomed by those of many Christian denominations as well as secularists and atheists but if they are not hurting anyone else why should others object?

Likewise why should people object if a religious symbol is displayed on private property or on state property where it has been displayed for decades or longer? Is it hurting anyone? Not really but hurt feelings and being offended count as much as real injury to the litigiously minded. Usually these cases are long, expensive and divisive court proceedings that have served little purpose. I am not in favor of government using such symbols to advance the rights of any given religion, even Christianity. But that being said there are times where religious symbols are part of our American culture where we have memorialized our war dead without the intent of promoting a religious cause. However, if one symbol is present we should not object to others.

Likewise there are those that would attempt to limit the free speech rights and religious rights of Christians and others that protest the practice of abortion using civil disobedience to do so. Some in polite and well-mannered but others are pretty unseemly. That being said I do not think that the religious beliefs of anti-abortion people should be the law for unbelievers or for that matter a believer with different views on abortion.

The problem is that many who call themselves “pro-life” are not pro-life at all but simply anti-abortion. Many Christians who call themselves “pro-life” bless and baptize practices condemned by the same Church Fathers and Biblical writers who they use to support the rights of the unborn. They support the death penalty despite the aversion and opposition to it by the Early Church a and the evidence that in many states that the practice is abused and sentences often wrong. Many advocate for harsh treatment of aliens and exhibit a xenophobic attitude towards some immigrant groups, especially those that are not Christian. Likewise the belief that the economic Social Darwinism of unfettered Capitalism is not only Biblical but God’s best ordained economic system is promoted as the Gospel. The same people often treat the poor and the elderly with distain and treat their political opponents as agents of the Devil rather than people that God might actually care about.

Local governments and even home owners associations have acted to quash home churches and Bible studies. Some have acted to zone land so that the construction of religious buildings, edifices or displays is illegal all of which have been protested and fought in the courts by the groups involved particularly Evangelical Christians of various denominations. Even churches that neighbors have deemed to be too loud in their expression of worship have been penalized by local governments and courts.

Yet many Christians had little problem with using the government to suppression other religious or splinter groups. The tragic example of the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound looms large. David Koresh was a labeled as a “dangerous” cult leader. Nor do many Conservative Christians have a problem in limiting the rights of American Moslems and protest if a Moslem clergyman becomes a military Chaplain or if Moslems want to build a Mosque in their neighborhood. I think that religious intolerance is often in the eye of the beholder. As David Barton the President of “Wallbuilders” an organization that seeks to promote America’s “Christian heritage” quoted William Penn “Whatever is Christian is legal; whatever is not is illegal.”

Barton’s friend and ally Gary North wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

So as you can see the subject of religious liberty and the freedom to practice our religions is one that is not as clear cut as we would like to admit.

To play the Devil’s advocate here let me ask this question: “Should we limit the rights to the free exercise of religion for any group?” If we do so where do we draw the line? If we say “everything goes” does this mean for everyone or just us? Could it be that in the enshrining of this right that the Founders actually meant the expression of rational and enlightened religion and not religious expression that limits the rights of other groups or supports the abolition of others Constitutional Rights? Those are all hard questions. As you can see there are a tremendous amount of issues at play when we attempt to legislate or regulate religious practice.

I think that our religious liberty is something to be cherished. But I can see times and places where there would be a need for the community or state to limit such expression. This would not be to take it away but to ensure that such expression is not used as a weapon against others, just as religious beliefs have been used in the past and present by people and governments around the world.

You see the lawyer that dwells deep within my heart that my fellow seminarians saw could argue the point for any position in this debate, which I guess kind of, makes me a bit of a prostitute. But still there are valid points to be made on all sides of this issue and to the extenuating civil, social and even economic and national security concerns that the absolute right to the freedom of religious expression impacts.

The waters get pretty muddy and my concern is that those on various sides of this issue are more about promoting their agenda, be it religious or secular. As I said at the beginning of this essay the issue is about legal precedence and sometimes the unintended consequences of decisions reached hastily when those on the various sides of an issue go to court or establish a new law which enshrines any group with the ability to discriminate against others based on the majority’s religious beliefs.

The question of religious liberty and the tension between competing Free Exercise rights and concerns about the “excessive entanglement” of religion in government will be with us for a long time. I think the result of the heated and often litigious nature of the debate will actually turn people away from the Christian faith and will actually do great damage to the First Amendment protections that we all enjoy.

This causes me great concern as I value the right to the free exercise of religious expression and the right of others not to have the religious views of any group made the law of the land.

Religion can and often has been abused and used by the faithful as a dictatorial bludgeon and those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Trayvon Martin and the Pro-Life Movement: Do the Post-Born Matter at All?

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I am perplexed tonight. I see people, many of whom are friends fight stridently against all abortion. I am not for abortion, but I do not think that it should be banned. That aside what I think the pro-life movement as a whole in the United States has become is simply an anti-abortion movement. Sometimes one where demented individuals in it feel justified in killing people who work in abortion clinics, even murdering them in church.

I am perplexed because I seldom see any of the high level culture warriors that fight the abortion battles ever raise a cry about issues of justice concerning people that are already born.

The Trayvon Martin murder and acquittal of the man that killed him should send a chill down anyones spine. In some places like Florida all someone has to claim is that they “felt threatened” to justify the use of deadly force against unarmed people. That is the law, and if there are no videos of the incident or eyewitnesses willing to lay it all on the line then there is a strong chance that the killer will go free. That is a fact and I will not go deep into the racial component of this but it doesn’t seem to me that we have advanced that much since young Emmett Till was murdered and his murderers also acquitted.

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But going back to my main point I don’t think that we really have a true “pro-life” movement in this country. We have an anti-abortion movement which to some degree say that they are fighting for the lives of unborn babies. One does not have to agree with the theology, philosophy or science that they use, but that certainly has to be considered a part of a comprehensive pro-life ethic, abortion for the sake of eugenics including the selection of the sex of an unborn child or solely as a means of birth control are ethically problematic. That being said there are many times, more so than we would want to admit that abortions are tragically necessitated for the life and health of the mother. Sorry, the woman carrying the child should also have the right to her life.

You see I don’t think that simply being anti-abortion is being pro-life, unless you are willing to apply that right to life to already living people.

I have a hard time with people that claim to be pro-life not fighting against the death penalty, against unjust wars of aggression, against targeted assassinations, against the use of drones to kill supposed militants in the remote parts of Pakistan notwithstanding the fact that many infants and pregnant women carrying unborn babies are killed as well. But then I guess that they are just collateral damage and don’t count. After all they are all Moslems and not Americans.

I have a hard time with those that are anti-abortion who would fight against government programs designed to care for pregnant women such as good pre-natal care for the child and primary care for the medical needs of the mother.  I wonder why they are not fighting for the medical and nutritional needs of babies born to poor people and assist young families from impoverished areas get decent jobs and ensure that affordable child care is available. I wonder why supposedly “pro-life” people are not out marching against gun violence, why many will not lift a finger to help the poor, care for the needy, care for the sick and dying, including the elderly who our society seems to be throwing under the bus in every imaginable way unless they are fabulously well off.

Why does it seem that many pro-life leaders are not concerned about issues that effect the lives of pro-life people who happen to be poor, or members of racial or ethnic minorities? But what seems to be the case is that the most vocal and prominent leaders that call themselves “pro-life” or “family values” conservatives both the preachers and the politicians are more concerned about low taxes for the wealthiest people and corporations than they are about people.

Some conservatives and libertarians will say that these are not government responsibilities but the responsibility of churches and charities. I understand the philosophy and in fact I would love to see more churches doing more to alleviate the need for the government to step in. But by and large churches in general and especially conservative evangelical Christian churches have abdicated this responsibility which is mandated in the Gospels and exemplified in the lives of people like Saint Francis of Assisi and so many others. But now even churches that run hospitals frequently subordinate care to the insurance industry and while considered “not for profit” are as for profit as any non-religious hospital.  If evangelicals put half the money that they did into Sunday morning entertainment sessions masquerading as worship and building massive mega-church, media and television empires dominated by the families and friends of their pastors maybe I would have some faith that they were indeed “pro-life.”

I know that some of my conservative friends will see this as some sort of liberal screed. I get that but please, I ask that if people only want to be anti-abortion and not rest of the pro-life ethic then be honest and say that.

The fact of the matter is we are not a pro-life society now in any way shape or form and from our history including slavery, the genocide committed against native Americans, the exploitation of poor countries for the sake of our economy I have a hard time believing the myth that we ever were such a society.

Trayvon Martin is dead. The Florida law was followed, but justice was not done. A young black man was denied his right to life and it doesn’t seem to matter to the “pro-life” movement as a whole. I can’t wait to hear some of the political preachers and politicians that claim to be pro-life defend this verdict.

I guess that is why I am perplexed. It just doesn’t seem to me that the post-born matter to supposedly pro-life people.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is a central tenant of the Bill of Rights and has been a central facet of American life since our inception as a country, in fact pre-dating our founding in some of the original 13 colonies most notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.  Now before anyone gets the idea that I am about to write something in favor of limiting the freedom to worship or for that matter any limitation on religious practices I am not in fact I am a stalwart supporter of religion in the Public Square and not just mine. You see I am a bit of a purest about this at least most of the time and my view is as long as the practice is not hurting anyone who cares. Some might take me to task for that as a Christian, but my point is not to argue for the Christian faith in this article but rather point out some of the inconsistencies of those of various faiths who while proclaiming their defense of this fundamental right of all American citizens who seek to limit the practice of others that they find disagreeable or even repugnant. What I will do in this essay is to do what I did back in my seminary days, where fellow students asked me why I hadn’t gone to Law School instead of seminary, which mind you was not a complement and actually play the “Devil’s advocate” in the matter of the free exercise of religion as it currently exists in the United States.

You see my gentle readers it is my view that while many individuals and religious organizations loudly proclaim their defense of the right to free exercise it is more their free exercise rights that they are defending than the rights of others. In fact many that proclaim this the loudest are also those that would seek to limit the religious rights of others using the laws of the Federal Government and the various States and Commonwealths that make up the Untied States to do so.  Since law in the United States is based on legal precedence everything that goes to court on matters of religious liberty as well as the actions of various legislatures matters, precedent matters and once precedent has been established it is very hard to change. Thus it is a matter of importance to all that no one acts hastily and emotionally on any issue that I might bring up since each decision sets a precedent and can effect decisions in entirely unrelated matters.

Our First Amendment Rights are marvels which are envied by the citizens of most of the rest of the world and why shouldn’t they be?  In many nations simply being born as a member of a minority religion is enough to ensure that you will never have full legal rights and may even face persecution and death at the hands of those in power, Sudan anyone? Kosovo? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Indonesia?  These rights have provided the opportunity for churches that were suppressed on the European continent and elsewhere to thrive free of government persecution, take Baptists for instance.  In the early 1600’s the first Baptists, English Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs by the English Crown in particular by King James who despite authorizing the Bible given his name and loved by many Baptists as the “only” valid English translation was a notorious homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that, hated those early Baptists and persecuted them throughout the land.  On the continent itself the Anabaptists and Mennonites as well as others referred to as “enthusiasts,” obviously forerunners of the Pentecostal movements of the 20th Century were brutally suppressed in many European lands.  The Jews were persecuted often brutally almost everywhere except surprisingly in places like the Ottoman Empire where in places like Baghdad they composed a rather sizable part of the population and were quite prominent in the Empire.  Of course Catholics were heavily persecuted in England and could not hold public office for many years following the English Reformation.  In fact there were hundreds of Catholics martyred for simply practicing their religion in private, simply celebrating Mass could get them a death sentence. Then there were the Huguenots in France, they were French Protestants who had gained a great deal of influence and power that were brutally suppressed and many killed by the French Crown and the Catholic Church.  The Lutherans were not big fans of other religions in Germany and worked with their Archrival Roman Catholics to kill off the Anabaptists and the Enthusiasts.  Spain was a great place to be anything but Roman Catholic but I jest, even some Roman Catholics now canonized as Saints were brought before the show called the Inquisition, Protestants, Jews, Moslems, none had a good time in Spain and Spain was equally repressive of native religions in the lands that it colonized in the “New World.”   The Russian Empire was known for its toleration of Catholics, Protestants and Jews especially in the equal treatment given to them in various Progroms conducted by the government and the Orthodox Church.  The Ottoman Empire had a limited amount of religious toleration; one cannot call it liberty and persecuted anyone equally that threatened the Caliphate or that they thought were heretical including the Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula that practiced something called Wahabi Islam.

Of course one can go around the world to see other stirring examples of religious toleration and expression.  Then along came the United States where our forefathers said to each other “gee wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along” or something like that and enjoined that right in our Bill of Rights right up there in the number one spot along with freedom of speech, assembly and the press.  Well it seems that we have a few contradictions in the applications of these rights in our history and sometimes the more religious people have had a negative influence in this notwithstanding all of the good things that many have done as religious individuals, particularly Christians and that churches have done in promoting human rights and the civil rights of all in our country.

While Christians were in the forefront of the Abolitionist movement whole denominations split on the issue of Slavery including the Southern Baptists, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Curiously neither the Episcopalians nor the Catholics split over the issues although the war found them heavily engaged on both sides of the conflict.  After the war many American Christians worked for the rights of workers, the abolition of child labor and even something that I oppose, Prohibition. Notwithstanding the unbiblical and inhuman temperance movement, at least some Christians and Churches advocated  for the full civil rights of African Americans though few spoke up for rights of the Native Americans. Chinese immigrants to California were frequently mistreated and worked for almost nothing on the most demanding jobs like building the trans-continental railroad, mining gold and building stone walls for ranchers.

While enshrining the right to the free exercise of religion the Founding Fathers kind of ignored the human rights of a whole class of people, African American slaves and allowed the practice of slavery every allowing Blacks to be counted as 3/5ths of a person, which 3/5ths I don’t know but nonetheless only 60% of a full human being.  We also did wonderful things to Native Americans driving them off of their lands, hunting them down and confining them to reservations all while ignoring the treaties that we made with the various Indian Nations, try that with a European Country and see what happens.  Of course if we believe the “history” promoted by some on the Religious Right we have to believe that the vast majority of the people perpetuating these acts were solid Bible Believing Christians, but then how do we reconcile these crimes against humanity, even crimes against fellow Christians with the Christian faith?  In fact nearly every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States has experienced some form of discrimination, often religious from the good citizens of this land.  It turns out that throughout history we have had some problems in the matter of religious liberty and toleration, especially of those whose customs, language, culture and religion are different than our own.  My goodness my own family owned slaves and the family patriarch who fought as a Confederate officer in the American Civil War and after the defeat of the Confederacy refused to sign the loyalty oath, which good honorable men like Robert E Lee did and lost the family lands to the Federal Government.

But the crux of all of this comes down to religious liberty which as Americans we hold dear, at least our own religious liberty though I cannot be sure about the extension of this right to others that we disagree with in belief, practice or even politics.

Now everyone is for religious liberty in the Public Square until a loathsome man like Fred Phelps and his family owned and operated “Westboro Baptist Church” shows up to protest and hurl vile epithets at those grieving the loss of family members killed in war, taunting these people in the most abhorrent of ways.  However, as grievous as these people are they do this under the right to the free exercise of religion.  Fundamentalist Moslems have as a stated goal of instating Sharia Law in this land, at least for Moslems. This they proclaim under the banner of religious liberty, however the imposition of Sharia Law on Moslems in the name of their religion also takes away their civil rights under the Constitution and the various laws of the Federal Government of the States that make up our fair land.  The Roman Catholic Church at the direction of the Vatican has attempted rather successfully until a recent Supreme Court ruling to shield Bishops that were complicit in personnel moves and cover ups regarding Priests accused or convicted of sexual misconduct and the sexual abuse of minors from criminal prosecution and civil suits under the guise of diplomatic immunity as the Vatican is a nation state. Now I ask you dear reader could any other religious organization shield its clergy from the laws of the land that any other citizen would be subject too? Not on your or my life, but the Vatican has blatantly done so and since we all value religious liberty we have as a nation turned a blind eye to this until now.  What about those of various beliefs and practices that use television, radio and the internet to espouse hatred and violence in the name of their religious beliefs and under the banner of religious liberty?

What about the question of the Metropolitan Community Church, a predominantly Homosexual Christian church wants to see the legalization of Gay Marriage as well as the right for homosexuals to serve openly in the Military.  The part about marriage is particularly fraught with peril because both the Church and the State have interests in marriage. For many marriage is primarily a religious act with civil overtones, in fact ministers of all denominations are licensed by the state to perform marriages on behalf of the State becoming in effect de-facto officers of the courts and at the same time most states deny homosexual couples the right to marry, regardless of one’s position on the legitimacy of such unions who could say that it is right for the states to approve and license the clergy of almost every religious tradition to conduct weddings that have the full civil effect, including tax breaks for all but a certain group?  We have this enshrined in our culture but would deny it to the Metropolitan Community Church to perform weddings for its members.  What if someone said that any other minister could not marry members of their own church under their church laws, ordinances and beliefs? There would be a public outcry, but not for the Metropolitan Community Church or other denominations that sanction Gay marriage.

What about adherents of Wicca and other Earth based religions or Native American religions? Some of their practices would not be welcomed by those of many Christian denominations as well as secularists and atheists but if they are not hurting anyone else why should others object? Likewise why should people object if a religious symbol is displayed on private property or on state property where it has been displayed for decades or longer? Is it hurting anyone? Not really but hurt feelings and being offended count as much as real injury to the litigious and as such there have been long, expensive and divisive court proceedings that have served little purpose.  Now am I in favor of the government using such symbols to advance the rights of a given religion?  Absolutely not, but there are times where religious symbols and American culture, particularly that which seeks to honor veterans from previous wars is not about the advancement of any religion but simply a memorial with intent of promoting a religious cause.

Likewise there are those that would attempt to limit the free speech rights and religious rights of Christians and others that protest the practice of abortion using civil disobedience to do so, some in polite and well mannered demonstrations but others in pretty unseemly manners.  At the same time there are Christians who call themselves “pro-life” who bless and baptize practices condemned by the same Church Fathers and Biblical writers who they uses to support the rights of the unborn. They support the death penalty despite evidence that in many states that the practice is abused and sentences often wrong. Many advocate for harsh treatment of aliens and exhibit a xenophobic attitude towards some immigrant groups, especially those that are not Christian. Then there is a now popular belief that the economic Social Darwinism of unfettered Capitalism is not only Biblical but God’s best ordained economic system while treating the poor and the elderly with distain and treat their political opponents as agents of the Devil rather than people that God might actually care about.

Local governments and even home owners associations have acted to quash home churches and Bible studies, acted to zone land so that the construction of religious buildings, edifices or displays is illegal all of which have been protested and fought in the courts by the groups involved particularly Evangelical Christians of various denominations.  Even churches that neighbors have deemed to be too loud in their expression of worship have been penalized by local governments and courts.

Yet many Christians had little problem with the suppression of the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound after all David Koresh was a “dangerous” cult leader.  Nor do many seem to have a problem in limiting the rights of Moslems that happen to be American citizens and protest if a Moslem clergyman becomes a military Chaplain or if Moslems want to build a Mosque in their neighborhood.  I think that religious intolerance is often in the eye of the beholder.  As David Barton the President of Wallbuilders an organization that seeks to promote America’s “Christian heritage” quoted William Penn “Whatever is Christian is legal; whatever is not is illegal.”

So as you can see my dear friends the subject of religious liberty and the freedom to practice our religions is one that is not as clear cut as we would like to admit.  The question, to play the Devil’s advocate here is “Should we limit the rights to the free exercise of religion?”    If we do so where do we draw the line? If we say everything goes does this mean for everyone or just us?  Could it be that in the enshrining of this right that the Founders actually meant the expression of rational and enlightened religion and not religious expression that limits the rights of other groups or supports the abolition of others Constitutional Rights?

You see that I think that our religious liberty is something to be cherished but I can see times and places where there would be a need for the community or state to limit such expression, not to take it away but to ensure that such expression is not used as a weapon against others as religious beliefs have been used in the past and present by people and governments around the world.

You see the lawyer that dwells deep within my heart that my fellow seminarians saw could argue the point for any position in this debate, which I guess kind of makes me a bit of a prostitute but still there are valid points to be made on all sides of this issue and to the extenuating civil, social and even economic and national security concerns that the absolute right to the freedom of religious expression impacts.  It seems that the waters get pretty muddy here my concern is that those on various sides of this issue are more about promoting their religion if they have one and do not really care about the religious rights of others while the devoted secularists would seek to expunge religion from the public square.  As I said at the beginning of this essay the issue is about legal precedence and sometimes the unintended consequences of decisions reached hastily when those on the various sides of an issue take it to court.

The question of religious liberty and the tension between competing Free Exercise rights and concerns about the “excessive entanglement” of religion in government will be with us for a long time. I think the result of the heated and often litigious nature of the debate will actually turn people away from the more strident groups in the debate and will actually do damage to the First Amendment protections that we all enjoy.  This causes me great concern and if you value your rights to the free exercise of your religion or expression or your right not to have the religious views of any group made the law of the land.  Religion can be abused and used as a dictatorial bludgeon and those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, laws and legislation, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

Religious Freedom…Do We Really Want or Believe in It?

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Worship done in response to Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms”

“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is a central tenant of the Bill of Rights and has been a central facet of American life since our inception as a country, in fact pre-dating our founding in some of the original 13 colonies most notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.  Now before anyone gets the idea that I am about to write something in favor of limiting the freedom to worship or for that matter any limitation on religious practices I am not in fact I am a stalwart supporter of religion in the Public Square and not just mine. You see I am a bit of a purest about this at least most of the time and my view is as long as the practice is not hurting anyone who cares. Some might take me to task for that as a Christian, but my point is not to argue for the Christian faith in this article but rather point out some of the inconsistencies of those of various faiths who while proclaiming their defense of this fundamental right of all American citizens who seek to limit the practice of others that they find disagreeable or even repugnant. What I will do in this essay is to do what I did back in my seminary days, where fellow students asked me why I hadn’t gone to Law School instead of seminary, which mind you was not a complement and actually play the “Devil’s advocate” in the matter of the free exercise of religion as it currently exists in the United States.

You see my gentle readers it is my view that while many individuals and religious organizations loudly proclaim their defense of the right to free exercise it is more their free exercise rights that they are defending than the rights of others. In fact many that proclaim this the loudest are also those that would seek to limit the religious rights of others using the laws of the Federal Government and the various States and Commonwealths that make up the Untied States to do so.  Since law in the United States is based on legal precedence everything that goes to court on matters of religious liberty as well as the actions of various legislatures matters, precedent matters and once precedent has been established it is very hard to change. Thus it is a matter of importance to all that no one acts hastily and emotionally on any issue that I might bring up since each decision sets a precedent and can effect decisions in entirely unrelated matters.

Our First Amendment Rights are marvels which are envied by the citizens of most of the rest of the world and why shouldn’t they be?  In many nations simply being born as a member of a minority religion is enough to ensure that you will never have full legal rights and may even face persecution and death at the hands of those in power, Sudan anyone? Kosovo? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Indonesia?  These rights have provided the opportunity for churches that were suppressed on the European continent and elsewhere to thrive free of government persecution, take Baptists for instance.  In the early 1600’s the first Baptists, English Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs by the English Crown in particular by King James who despite authorizing the Bible given his name and loved by many Baptists as the “only” valid English translation was a notorious homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that, hated those early Baptists and persecuted them throughout the land.  On the continent itself the Anabaptists and Mennonites as well as others referred to as “enthusiasts,” obviously forerunners of the Pentecostal movements of the 20th Century were brutally suppressed in many European lands.  The Jews were persecuted often brutally almost everywhere except surprisingly in places like the Ottoman Empire where in places like Baghdad they composed a rather sizable part of the population and were quite prominent in the Empire.  Of course Catholics were heavily persecuted in England and could not hold public office for many years following the English Reformation.  In fact there were hundreds of Catholics martyred for simply practicing their religion in private, simply celebrating Mass could get them a death sentence. Then there were the Huguenots in France, they were French Protestants who had gained a great deal of influence and power that were brutally suppressed and many killed by the French Crown and the Catholic Church.  The Lutherans were not big fans of other religions in Germany and worked with their Archrival Roman Catholics to kill off the Anabaptists and the Enthusiasts.  Spain was a great place to be anything but Roman Catholic but I jest, even some Roman Catholics now canonized as Saints were brought before the show called the Inquisition, Protestants, Jews, Moslems, none had a good time in Spain and Spain was equally repressive of native religions in the lands that it colonized in the “New World.”   The Russian Empire was known for its toleration of Catholics, Protestants and Jews especially in the equal treatment given to them in various Progroms conducted by the government and the Orthodox Church.  The Ottoman Empire had a limited amount of religious toleration; one cannot call it liberty and persecuted anyone equally that threatened the Caliphate or that they thought were heretical including the Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula that practiced something called Wahabi Islam.

Of course one can go around the world to see other stirring examples of religious toleration and expression.  Then along came the United States where our forefathers said to each other “gee wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along” or something like that and enjoined that right in our Bill of Rights right up there in the number one spot along with freedom of speech, assembly and the press.  Well it seems that we have a few contradictions in the applications of these rights in our history and sometimes the more religious people have had a negative influence in this notwithstanding all of the good things that many have done as religious individuals, particularly Christians and that churches have done in promoting human rights and the civil rights of all in our country.

While Christians were in the forefront of the Abolitionist movement whole denominations split on the issue of Slavery including the Southern Baptists, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Curiously neither the Episcopalians nor the Catholics split over the issues although the war found them heavily engaged on both sides of the conflict.  After the war many American Christians worked for the rights of workers, the abolition of child labor and even something that I oppose, Prohibition. Notwithstanding the unbiblical and inhuman temperance movement, at least some Christians and Churches advocated  for the full civil rights of African Americans though few spoke up for rights of the Native Americans. Chinese immigrants to California were frequently mistreated and worked for almost nothing on the most demanding jobs like building the trans-continental railroad, mining gold and building stone walls for ranchers.

While enshrining the right to the free exercise of religion the Founding Fathers kind of ignored the human rights of a whole class of people, African American slaves and allowed the practice of slavery every allowing Blacks to be counted as 3/5ths of a person, which 3/5ths I don’t know but nonetheless only 60% of a full human being.  We also did wonderful things to Native Americans driving them off of their lands, hunting them down and confining them to reservations all while ignoring the treaties that we made with the various Indian Nations, try that with a European Country and see what happens.  Of course if we believe the “history” promoted by some on the Religious Right we have to believe that the vast majority of the people perpetuating these acts were solid Bible Believing Christians, but then how do we reconcile these crimes against humanity, even crimes against fellow Christians with the Christian faith?  In fact nearly every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States has experienced some form of discrimination, often religious from the good citizens of this land.  It turns out that throughout history we have had some problems in the matter of religious liberty and toleration, especially of those whose customs, language, culture and religion are different than our own.  My goodness my own family owned slaves and the family patriarch who fought as a Confederate officer in the American Civil War and after the defeat of the Confederacy refused to sign the loyalty oath, which good honorable men like Robert E Lee did and lost the family lands to the Federal Government.

But the crux of all of this comes down to religious liberty which as Americans we hold dear, at least our own religious liberty though I cannot be sure about the extension of this right to others that we disagree with in belief, practice or even politics.

Now everyone is for religious liberty in the Public Square until a loathsome man like Fred Phelps and his family owned and operated “Westboro Baptist Church” shows up to protest and hurl vile epithets at those grieving the loss of family members killed in war, taunting these people in the most abhorrent of ways.  However, as grievous as these people are they do this under the right to the free exercise of religion.  Fundamentalist Moslems have as a stated goal of instating Sharia Law in this land, at least for Moslems. This they proclaim under the banner of religious liberty, however the imposition of Sharia Law on Moslems in the name of their religion also takes away their civil rights under the Constitution and the various laws of the Federal Government of the States that make up our fair land.  The Roman Catholic Church at the direction of the Vatican has attempted rather successfully until a recent Supreme Court ruling to shield Bishops that were complicit in personnel moves and cover ups regarding Priests accused or convicted of sexual misconduct and the sexual abuse of minors from criminal prosecution and civil suits under the guise of diplomatic immunity as the Vatican is a nation state. Now I ask you dear reader could any other religious organization shield its clergy from the laws of the land that any other citizen would be subject too? Not on your or my life, but the Vatican has blatantly done so and since we all value religious liberty we have as a nation turned a blind eye to this until now.  What about those of various beliefs and practices that use television, radio and the internet to espouse hatred and violence in the name of their religious beliefs and under the banner of religious liberty?

What about the question of the Metropolitan Community Church, a predominantly Homosexual Christian church wants to see the legalization of Gay Marriage as well as the right for homosexuals to serve openly in the Military.  The part about marriage is particularly fraught with peril because both the Church and the State have interests in marriage. For many marriage is primarily a religious act with civil overtones, in fact ministers of all denominations are licensed by the state to perform marriages on behalf of the State becoming in effect de-facto officers of the courts and at the same time most states deny homosexual couples the right to marry, regardless of one’s position on the legitimacy of such unions who could say that it is right for the states to approve and license the clergy of almost every religious tradition to conduct weddings that have the full civil effect, including tax breaks for all but a certain group?  We have this enshrined in our culture but would deny it to the Metropolitan Community Church to perform weddings for its members.  What if someone said that any other minister could not marry members of their own church under their church laws, ordinances and beliefs? There would be a public outcry, but not for the Metropolitan Community Church or other denominations that sanction Gay marriage.

What about adherents of Wicca and other Earth based religions or Native American religions? Some of their practices would not be welcomed by those of many Christian denominations as well as secularists and atheists but if they are not hurting anyone else why should others object? Likewise why should people object if a religious symbol is displayed on private property or on state property where it has been displayed for decades or longer? Is it hurting anyone? Not really but hurt feelings and being offended count as much as real injury to the litigious and as such there have been long, expensive and divisive court proceedings that have served little purpose.  Now am I in favor of the government using such symbols to advance the rights of a given religion, absolutely not, but there are times where religious symbols and American culture, particularly that which seeks to honor veterans from previous wars is not about the advancement of any religion but simply a memorial with intent of promoting a religious cause.

Likewise there are those that would attempt to limit the free speech rights and religious rights of Christians and others that protest the practice of abortion using civil disobedience to do so, some in polite and well mannered demonstrations but others in pretty unseemly manners.  Many Christians including leaders and members of my own denomination have gone to jail over their opposition to abortion, been brutalized by police for their expression of faith and their opposition to the practice of abortion which they believe to be not only against their beliefs but against their belief in the fundamental rights to life of the unborn.

Local governments have acted to quash home churches and Bible studies, acted to zone land so that the construction of religious buildings, edifices or displays is illegal all of which have been protested and fought in the courts by the groups involved particularly Evangelical Christians of various denominations.  Even churches that neighbors have deemed to be too loud in their expression of worship have been penalized by local governments and courts.

Many Christians had little problem with the suppression of the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound after all David Koresh was a “dangerous” cult leader nor do many have a problem in limiting the rights of Moslems that happen to be American citizens and protest if a Moslem clergyman becomes a military Chaplain or if Moslems want to build a Mosque in their neighborhood.  A big controversy is the plan to build a Mosque on or near the site of the World Trade Center which was destroyed by Islamic terrorists and applauded by many Moslems around the world to include some in the United States. While I have no problem in general with the religious groups including Moslems to be able to build a religious facility wherever they want the construction of one on or near this site would seem to be less of a religious liberty issue but more of a propaganda victory for the terrorists groups that brought down the Twin Towers, a mosque on the site of the hated symbol of American economic power and capitalism would be a propaganda victory for declared enemies of the United States.

So as you can see my dear friends the subject of religious liberty and the freedom to practice our religions is one that is not as clear cut as we would like to admit.  The question, to play the Devil’s advocate here is “Should we limit the rights to the free exercise of religion?”    If we do so where do we draw the line? If we say everything goes does this mean for everyone or just us?  Could it be that in the enshrining of this right that the Founders actually meant the expression of rational and enlightened religion and not religious expression that limits the rights of other groups or supports the abolition of others Constitutional Rights?

You see that I think that our religious liberty is something to be cherished but I can see times and places where there would be a need for the community or state to limit such expression, not to take it away but to ensure that such expression is not used as a weapon against others as religious beliefs have been used in the past and present by people and governments around the world.

You see the lawyer that dwells deep within my heart that my fellow seminarians saw could argue the point for any position in this debate, which I guess kind of makes me a bit of a prostitute but still there are valid points to be made on all sides of this issue and to the extenuating civil, social and even economic and national security concerns that the absolute right to the freedom of religious expression impacts.  It seems that the waters get pretty muddy here and I am curious to what others think. My concern is that those on various sides of this issue are more about promoting their religion if they have one and not really caring about the religious rights of others and that the devoted secularists would seek to remove religion from the Public Square in its totality.  As I said at the beginning of this essay the issue is about legal precedence and sometimes the unintended consequences of decisions reached hastily when those on the various sides of an issue take it to court.

I’m glad to hear from all sides of the issue even from those that disagree with anything that I have said in this little essay, just don’t get too nasty or personal if you are criticizing me, unless you know me well and would join me for a beer later and remember I am playing the Devil’s advocate here and not espousing any particular viewpoint, I only want to see people get spun up so I can have a little fun so feel free to tell me what you think.  Tell me whose rights you want to protect or take away, this should be fun.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

The Danger of Right Wing and Left Wing Extremism

“Let everyone regulate his conduct… by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.”  William Wilberforce

The past two weeks have been a watershed in modern American History.  For the first time in memory we have had a series of ideological, political and religious murders committed by men who believed that their actions were justifiable homicide.  The first was the murder of a physician who had a fair amount of his practice devoted to abortions including late term abortions.  George Teller was killed by Scott Roeder a militant anti-government member of the Freemen and a fringe player in anti-abortion groups who was influenced by the militant anti-abortion group The Army of God which believes in justifiable homicide.  The murder was in Tiller’s church.  The clinic which Tiller operated is being shut down by his family.  Roeder believes it a victory but many in the pro-life movement are concerned that it will lead to crackdown on mainstream pro-lifers, and also that the closing of the Tiller clinic could lead to similar attacks by those emboldened by Roeder’s action.

The second killing was that of Army Pvt. William Long outside of a recruiting station in Little Rock.  The confessed murderer used an assault rifle to kill Pvt. Long and wound another soldier serving as home town recruiters prior to reporting to their unit following their initial entry training.  The suspects, an American convert to Islam named Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he didn’t consider the killing a murder because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified.  “I don’t think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason.”  Mujahid Muhammad warned soldiers and their families in the US that they were also targets: “The battlefield is not just in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Muhammad says.  “A battlefield is anywhere we see you at.  And those people in the Army and those families of the people in the Army and the military and personnel all over the country, if you don’t want to die or get shot for this so called war on terrorism, war on Islam, then get out of the Army.  Get out of the Army and don’t walk, run.” This attack followed other attacks on recruiting stations including the bombing of the Armed Forces Recruiting station in Times Square last year.

The most recent attack occurred today as an 88 year old White Supremacist and Holocaust denier James Von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum killing a guard.  Von Brunn’s sites as well as other Neo-Nazi websites such as Stormfront prominently spew Von Brunn’s hatred toward minorities in the United States.   His book, “Kill The Best Gentiles,” embraces Adolf Hitler’s view that Jews concocted World War I as part of a scheme to stab Germany in the back — a myth the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust. He is called an “independent investigator by some and has issued statements on the citizenship controversy pushed by some on the far Right about President Obama’s eligibility to serve as President  and comments about the religion of then CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks.

All three of these men evidently believe in justifiable homicide and are willing to kill for their ideological or religious beliefs.  What makes this sudden spike in assassination for ideological reasons significant is that the nation is polarized by the extreme Right and extreme Left which both see the world and their causes no matter what they are in black and white terms.  There is no intent by any extreme group to dialogue or find compromise with their opponents, even if such compromise would gain them at least part of what they want.  Instead, the rhetoric of the extremes has continued to increase and find airtime on supposedly “mainstream” media outlets both liberal and conservative.  This provides some manner of legitimacy to the extremist groups even as their more boisterous political and media supporters ratchet up the rhetoric.  This makes for an incredibly volatile situation which is fraught with danger for all as more and more people see violence, including justifiable homicide as a legitimate option to push their agenda.  In our country we cannot forget that John Brown, though right in his desire to end slavery engaged in tactics which helped push the country to civil war, a war that while freeing African-Americans from the yoke of slavery imposed a yoke nearly as heavy on them, know as Jim Crow laws that lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King and the Voting Rights Act of 1964.  Even still racism is still a reality for many blacks and other minorities.  Brown’s desire to end slavery may have been righteous but he destroyed the political center which could have ended it peacefully in time just as William Wilberforce and his allies in Parliament had done in England.

The perilous situation that exists now is that which erodes the center on which all depend on to hold.  Neither Left Wing or Right Wing extremists give a damn about the majority who are somewhere in between.  As a passionate moderate I see this as a dangerous trend.  In Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s both the Communists and Nazis polarized the nation.  The more moderate Social Democrats, Catholic Center Party and other smaller middle of the road parties were marginalized as time went on.  Eventually the Nazis won that power struggle with dire consequences which extended far beyond Germany.  As the rhetoric rises and those who justify violence be it against people, institutions or property are emboldened to act it will further fracture the middle.  It is imperative that the Center to hold, as Edmund Burke said: “All it needs for evil to prosper is for people of goodwill to do nothing.”

These actions could well be harbingers of things to come.  What is even more concerning as they take place at a time of worldwide economic crisis when we have hundreds of thousands of troops deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Additionally, North Korea rattling sabers and several critical nations, some with nuclear weapons on the brink of collapse, failure or civil war.  I pray that men and women of goodwill and courage arise in the center and passionately advocate not for a particular party or cause, but the good of all.  People of faith need to pray not for a particular political resolution favorable to them, but for God’s peace and healing in our country.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, Political Commentary

Mid-Week Review-The Loss of a Shipmate, Hospital Duty is Not Easy and No Rational Thought Goes Unpunished

Today has been tough, actually it began yesterday.  We lost a dear shipmate this week. Hospital Corpsman Chief Pam Branum passed away while deployed on the USNS Comfort while on a humanitarian deployment.  She was the Leading Chief Petty Officer for our Critical Care Department, a great leader, genuinely nice person, and dear friend to many in our department.  She was passionate about her work and her people.  She set high standards for herself and worked hard to make sure that her Corpsmen were trained and became good not only what they do, but to help develop them as leaders with character.  She supported the nursing staff that she worked with as a friend and mentor.  She was like a mom to a lot of our staff.  Her loss at the age of 41 was shocking.  This has been a tough year for us in the Medical Center, back in April we lost a 4th Year Medical Student who just in a few weeks would have become a physician and started his internship and residency here.  We have lost a number of other staff members, active duty and civilian since December.  When we lose them we lose part of our family.  Those who have never served in the military cannot fully fathom how losses like this affect the rest of us.  I will be working with our staff and helping to plan Chief’s memorial service and maybe depending on the location the funeral.  Chief Branum will be sorely missed, I am still somewhat in shock.  Please keep her family, friends and co-workers in your prayers.  A link to the Blog of the Executive Officer of the USNS Comfort is here:   http://comfort-xo.blogspot.com/2009/06/thank-you-chief-may-you-rest-in-peace.html?showComment=1244112525886#c1602797664780974312

Another aspect of this difficult year is the number of our military staff being deployed.  Our “deployers” support current operations in Iraq, the Gulf, Horn of Africa and the Afghanistan surge.  Many have already been deployed, are getting ready to do so or are waiting for word.  Many have made other combat deployments in Iraq either with the Marines, Expeditionary Medical Facilities and Shock and Trauma units.  Sometimes they are sent on joint assignments helping train Afghan and Iraqi medical personnel.  Additionally they do humanitarian work in the combat zones in cooperation with Army and Air Force medical personnel.  Some of these Sailors have lost their lives after leaving home and the supposed security of a hospital assignment.  It is sometimes frustrating to listen to those who do not work in a place like this refer to hospital duty as easy.  Our clinicians deal with life and death every day here and are called upon to deploy at a moment’s notice.   They fight for life every day and sometimes when things go badly are as traumatized by the events as people in combat.  It’s hard to watch someone die or suffer and realize that sometimes you can’t win.  There are deaths, especially of children that I cannot get out of my head and I know from my relationships with physicians and nursing staff that they also have similar experiences.   Programs are being developed to help people before they become victims of operational stress, but these are just getting off the ground.  Please keep these heroes in your prayers.

I think today I was also a victim of my logical and reasonable brain.  I am now a declared enemy of at least one person in the anti-abortion movement.  I invested myself heavily the past three days in discussing the events of this weekend in Kansas.  I will not regurgitate this here, read those posts.  However there is something interesting.  I basically had someone comment that “they knew whose side I was on” and pretty much labeled me as someone who is not pro-life.  If they knew me they would know otherwise, but some people cannot take even constructive criticism of tactics and strategy.  Sorry but the confrontational strategy has not worked over a 30 year period and the escalation of rhetoric and violence will get the whole pro-life movement labeled as a domestic terrorist organization. Hell, even David Kupelian of the ultra conservative news site World Net Daily and I agree on this.

The guy who posted to my blog even used a line that was eerily reminiscent of Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men.  “What happened to the “doctor” was wrong, it probably saved hundreds of lives.”  (Comment on yesterday’s post) The person who wrote this has adopted an end’s versus means situational ethic to make the leap that the murder while wrong is okay because it stopped one person from doing abortions.  Unfortunately that strategy will not stop others from doing abortions and may very well in fact lead to the dismemberment of the legislative gains of the mainstream pro-life movement which guess what will happen?  It will lead to more abortions.  If you make your living by fighting abortion like Randall Terry does this is a good thing.  You won’t lack for work or money unless however you are doing time in a Federal penitentiary as a domestic terrorist.   That aside it means as long as abortion is legal you can keep drawing a paycheck to fight it.  That is the kind of thing that makes me suspicious of Mr. Terry’s motives.  You use the same tactics for 30 years without any real change to the situation and then say we have to keep doing this.  I have to wonder when I see this. Is Mr. Terry truly committed to life or is this a means to stay in the spotlight?  I’m not accusing, just wondering.  I have met Randall on a number of occasions, never by the way at any rally or event, and he can be charming.  Personally he seems like a good guy to go out and get a beer with and maybe even engage in spirited discussions. However, his actions have planted a seed of doubt in my mind about his motives.   If he is really committed to the pro-life cause of saving babies why does he stick with tactics that only drive potential supporters away from him?  He seems to me  like Generals in wars who decide to take some enemy strongpoint.  They make an attack and it fails and they continue to do so until they bleed themselves dry and eventually lose the battle.  The real progress in the right to life movement has not been through protest. Instead it has been through prayer, practical help to women in need and legislative efforts of pro-life men and women committed to working through legal means.  These people do not vilify thier opposite numbers but seek engagement and redemption and reconcilliation.    I made sure that I allowed the comment so others can see just how this mindset plays out when guys like this judge people on the pro-life who advocate less incendiary tactics.

Well I chased that rabbit for what it was worth.  Anyway, things with my family in California still are difficult. My dad continues to worsen, the insurance company has been a pain in the ass causing my mom and brother much grief.   I covet your prayers for them.  The hospital is very busy and I have a number of very sick patients that I am caring for their families, both adults and children.  Likewise, I will be trying to make sure that I care for my ICU staff and help them get through this period of shock, grief and loss.  There may be a possibility of activating our SPRINT team to assist sailors in the medical center or on the Comfort and this could make things even more interesting.

In the midst of this I still deal with my own stuff.  In times like this I get the “electrical current” sensation running through my body.  I become more edgy, hyper vigilant and at times anxious.  Sleep is still difficult.  However, this too I will get through.  I have completed day three in a 12 day “home-stand” at the hospital.  I’ll have duty this weekend.  At least the Tides are in town. I’m taking Judy to the game against Buffalo tonight.  While there I will be keeping an eye on the scoreboard to see if Randy Johnson will get his 300th career win pitching for the Giants aganst the Nationals.  Only 24 major league pitchers have reached this mark and only one is active, that being Tom Glavine.  I’ll post a game synopsis later.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: In spite of the threat of thunderstorm we got through the game with barely a sprinkle. The Tides beat the Bisons 5-3. Kam Mickolio got the win in relief and Jim Miler got his 13th Save.  Bobby Livingston pitched 7 shutout innings but went away with a no-decision.  Jolbert Cabrerra of the Tides hit a 2 run double in the bottom of the 8th to give the Tides the win.  The Tides improve to 35 and 17 and lead the Durham Bulls by a game and a half in the International League South,  Despite the loss of several pitchers as well as Outfielder Nolan Reimold and Catcher Matt Wieters to the Orioles the Tides with a bunch of AA promotions from the Bowie Baysox continue to win.  It is fun to see a team that plays in an organization that has a solid farm system.

Speaking of teams that don’t the Bison’s are now the AAA affiliate for the NY Mets.  They have the worst record in the International League. The Mets as they did in Norfolk have no hot prospects and many of their players are former major leaguers  The sad thing is that Buffalo under the Indians had a consistently good team. The city is not happy with the Mets.  Join the club Bison fans. It sucks to be the Mets AAA affiliate.

Second Post Script: The “Big Unit” Randy Johnson and the Giants had their game with the Nationals postponed by rain.  The game will be made up Thursday as a part of a double-header.  Johnson will get his chance for 300 tomorrow. Meanwhile the Braves released Tom Glavine. This could be the end of the line for the future Hall of Fame Pitcher.

Third Post Script:  The rain which held off throughout the game decided to hit after we got home. This happend to coincide with our little dog Molly’s trip to hunt for squirrels and do her evening business. She hates rain and started barking to be let back in.  The wet little dog got the payment of her cookie, gave us a good laugh and started playing with aplush toy fox that looks somewhat like her.  She is funny.

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Filed under alzheimer's disease, Baseball, ER's and Trauma, healthcare, iraq,afghanistan, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion, PTSD, Religion

You Arrogant Ass, You have Killed Us! Randall Terry and the Destruction of the Pro-Life Movement

“You arrogant ass. You’ve killed us!”  Andrei Bonovia, First Officer of Soviet Alpha Submarine Konovalov in The Hunt For Red October.

I have few thoughts about the past few days.  In the past several days we have seen a watershed event take place.  This was the killing of Dr. George Tiller in Reformation Lutheran Church, Wichita Kansas, by one Scott Roeder.  A large part of Teller’s practice was late term abortions, which made him and his clinic a target not only of peaceful protest, but threatening protests and violent acts.  Teller himself was shot and badly wounded in a 1980’s assassination attempt.  His death in his church on Pentecost Sunday by a man who appears to be fringe player in the anti-abortion movement with long ties to various violent anti-government groups was a watershed.  The pro-life movement will never be the same after last Sunday. It will both adjust and stop using vitriolic and incendiary language; graphic images, bullying protest tactics, or it will continue down this path and be rightfully declared a domestic terrorist movement.  The label will not only apply to the violent who conduct such acts as the murder of George Tiller but it will be hung on those who believe that they are engaging in peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience.

Unfortunately this is the culminating point of the pro-life movement. It actually was the logical outcome of radicals who raised the rhetoric so high that they could not back down.  It is the high water point much as Pickett’s charge was the high water mark of the Confederacy.  All the legislative gains of those who patiently and diligently within the law, those who treated their opponents with grace and compassion, those who actually tried to assist and give options to women who might have had abortions will be lost in the coming years.  From now on the pro-life movement will fight a rear guard action trying to protect whatever gains that it has.  It is a sad end to the movement and it can be laid squarely at the feet of Randall Terry and others who engaged in this use of confrontational and de-humanizing rhetoric to the debate.

The reason for this is clear.  Many anti-abortion leaders decided to adopt the tactics of the 1960s, only instead of emulating Dr King, they emulate radical revolutionaries such as the “Weathermen” or groups such as the German “Red Army Faction.”  They adopted a strategy of open confrontation and belligerence toward their opponents. Likewise they attacked people who were somewhere in the middle, opposing abortion but having legitimate questions and concerns about actual medial ethical problems, such as when the fetus is killing the mother.  The leaders of the radical wing of the movement led by Randall Terry and groups such as Operation Rescue have set a tone where people who would probably support their goals now want nothing to do with them.   Without these people, the pro-life movement becomes irrelevant in the national debates about life, not only abortion, but all life.  The language and behavior of Mr. Terry after the shooting of Dr. Tiller has shown that Mr. Terry intends to go down fighting and take the movement with him.

Like the First Officer of the Soviet submarine pursuing the Red October tells his Captain when the sub is about to be struck by its own torpedo which has had the safety’s removed “You arrogant ass. You’ve killed us!”  The leaders of the mainstream and peaceful pro-life movement should say the same to Mr. Terry and others like him. Terry and others pursue a jihad against all who oppose them.  This weekend was the logical outcome of a pattern of persistent escalation of both rhetoric and protests which often showed no grace, no love, and no redeeming purpose other than to hurl epitaphs and curses at abortion providers and their traumatized customers.  They have ensured the irrelevance and demise of the pro-life movement as we know it today.  They have ensured that even peaceful and law abiding demonstrators will be seen in the same light as them.  It was a suicidal strategy which can only end badly. Though the tactics helped Terry and others raise funds, support themselves and build an anti-abortion industry, they did not advance the cause of life. That cause was advanced by those who prayed, worked through legal and legislative means and those who offered loving and caring help to women considering abortion.  Their efforts have been dealt a devastating blow by the radicals.  The radicals thrive on confrontation and actually needs for Roe v. Wade to remain on the books to justify their existence and their paychecks.

In light of last week’s actions, and the subsequent comments by Mr. Terry at the National Press Club, any pro-life group which is foolish enough to protest this weekend is asking for trouble.  No matter how peaceful, law abiding and correct they are now pained with the same brush as Mr. Terry and radical groups.  The leaders of mainstream pro-life groups need to do some serious soul searching.  If they do not in thought, word and deed condemn the radicals, call their own members into account to behave peacefully, lawfully and in a manner consistent with the redemptive message of the Gospel, they will end up shipwrecked with Mr. Terry.  It will take only one more violent act which can be traced to a member of a anti-abortion group, or attributed to the exhortation of radicals for the government to declare all of them to be domestic terrorist groups.  If this happens the government will be well within its right.  No one, no matter how righteous they believe their cause to be can take the law, especially capital punishment into their own hands.  Mr. Terry’s remarks were chilling and if he continues down this path of bellicose confrontation without the Catholic Church or other pro-life leaders stopping him, they will all suffer the consequences of his foolishness.

It is a sad day.  Randall, you arrogant ass, you have killed us.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion, Religion