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A Troubling Supreme Court Nomination on the Anniversary of the 14th Amendment

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was the 150th anniversary of the adoption of the 14th Amendment, that is something to celebrate because the amendment corrected one of the most glaring omissions from the Constitution that put it at odds with the very principles of the Declaration that “all men are created equal.” The amendment struck down the Dred Scott decision which denied that Blacks could ever be citizens and had no constitutional rights. Section One of the amendment stated:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It was the amendment which extended the promise of the Declaration first to Blacks and that would later be the basis of subsequent amendments and court decisions which extended those rights and that promise to other racial minorities as well as women and Gays. In that sense it is the amendment helped all Americans have a constitutional basis to have a chance to realize the revolutionary idea of the Declaration that “all men are created equal…” 

Tonight President Trump nominated Federal Appeals Judge  Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court vacancy left by the resignation of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Since Kavanaugh was suggested as a favorite in the President’s nomination process I have taken the time to read a number of short biographical articles from a number of sources on Kavanaugh’s life, read a number of his legal opinions, decisions and an article on the Separation of Powers and Executive powers in a 2009 Article in the Minnesota Law Review. All that being said I don’t know exactly what he would decide from the Supreme Court even though if I look at his previous opinions from the bench and the Minnesota Law Review article give me pause to be concerned both about the protections of the 14th Amendment as well as the Constitutional separation of powers. The later is especially concerning in light of his remarks in the Minnesota Law Review review article that:

“Congress might consider a law exempting a President—while in office—from criminal prosecution and investigation, including from questioning by criminal prosecutors or defense counsel. Criminal investigations targeted at or revolving around a President are inevitably politicized by both their supporters and critics. As I have written before, “no Attorney General or special counsel will have the necessary credibility to avoid the inevitable charges that he is politically motivated—whether in favor of the President or against him, depending on the individual leading the investigation and its results.” The indictment and trial of a sitting President, moreover, would cripple the federal government, rendering it unable to function with credibility in either the international or domestic arenas. Such an outcome would ill serve the public interest, especially in times of financial or national security crisis.”

He said this despite having served on the staff of Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr during the investigation and impeachment of President Clinton and that he noted that the same article quoted above regarding the decision of the Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones “that presidents are not constitutionally entitled to deferral of civil suits.”

I think this is the most important issue in regard to Kavanaugh’s nomination. Yes I know the concerns many have for so many other vital issues but I think this one is the most concerning and it overshadows every other potential decision that he could be the deciding vote on, for all of those issues because this is the only one that could allow the President to establish an authoritarian regime.

It is so because that the President who nominated him is himself embroiled in multiple civil proceedings as well as potential criminal charges. The latter are dependent on what Special Prosecutor Robert Muller uncovers in his investigation of the President and his campaign’s connection to Russian agents during and after the 2016 election. However, the number of guilty please, convictions, and indictments racked up by Muller are greater in a shorter time than any other special prosecutor, and they include some of the highest ranking and closest advisors to the President during and after the campaign. If the President can circumvent that and have his actions upheld by the Court it would be the end of the Republic and the other issues no matter how important would become moot because for the duration of his term the President would be above the law and it would take a two thirds majority of the Senate to convict him of crimes in an impeachment trial. Even if the Democrats gain a majority in the House and the Senate I cannot see 15 or 16 Republican Senators to join 51 or 52 Democrats voting to impeach.

Based on Judge Kavanaugh’s writings one has to wonder what he would do if moment of national crisis coincided with a civil trial, an indictment of the President, or his impeachment. That is a real concern, especially when the President talks about removing First Amendment protects from the press and frequently refers to his political opponents enemies of the people and proclaims that he is above the law. Would not the opinion of a Supreme Court Justice who has written that the President should at enjoy temporary exemption from civil suits or criminal prosecution while he is in office not endanger the Constitution and the Separation of Powers itself. That is certainly something that the Founders never intended, nor the authors of the 14th Amendment who actually ended up impeaching President Andrew Johnson for his dismissal of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton for not disregarding the authority of Congress in the matter of Reconstruction. Johnson’s actions were designed for him to use his power as Commander in Chief to ensure that the military did not comply with the laws of Congress.

The fact that the President has nominated a man who believes that a President should be above the law during his term in office is extremely troubling. If confirmed Kavanaugh may be the man who uses his position to end the Republic as we knew it by elevating the Executive to a level never intended by the Founders by judicial fiat. Senator Edward Kennedy rightly noted:

“The Supreme Court must serve as an independent check on abuses by the executive branch and the protector of our liberties, not a cheerleader for an imperial presidency.”

I am afraid that the elevation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court along with Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts could well become that cheerleader for an imperial presidency that knows no restraint and disrespects justice. President Trump advocates on a daily basis for an authoritarian presidency that does not respect the law, the Constitution, or the civil rights of most Americans.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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By Then It Was Too Late: Reflections on a Supreme Court Retirement

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In his book They Thought they Were Free Milton Mayer wrote of his conversation with a German university professor colleague after the Second World War:

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late.”

I feel that if we already haven’t reached to point of things being too late that we are not far from that point and we are closer now with the Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announcement of his retirement from the Supreme Court.

Kennedy announced his retirement yesterday after siding with so-called conservatives on President Trump’s Executive Order targeting Muslims primarily from Iran as supposed security threats. It was an ignominious exit from the Supreme Court for a man who though certainly conservative often acted as the conscience of the court who wrestled with difficult issues and sometimes sided with liberals such in the Obergfell v. Hodges case that at least for now legalized marriage equality.

The decision regarding the Executive Order overturned the decision of Korematsu v. United States which upheld the military orders to send Americans of Japanese descent to detention centers, what in were effect American Concentration Camps. JThat ruling along with Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson is considered one of the most unjust in American history. Justice Robert Jackson who later presided as the organizer and chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials wrote in dissent of that ruling:

“A military commander may overstep the bounds of constitutionality, and it is an incident. But if we review and approve, that passing incident becomes the doctrine of the Constitution. There it has a generative power of its own, and all that it creates will be in its own image. Nothing better illustrates this danger than does the Court’s opinion in this case.” 

That is the danger of the Executive Order that the Court upheld. Justice Roberts used the twisted logic of Korematsu to uphold the ruling even as he overturned Korematsu. Justice Kennedy concurred and then retired from the Court leaving a vacancy that will almost be certainly filled by a young, aggressive, and doctrinaire conservative of the new order, unrestrained by precedent or principle. Unless the Democrats go Full Bork Jacket and at least two Republicans grow a set of balls civil rights, civil liberties, and the Constitution are doomed.

The man that nominates Kennedy’s successor is even now under investigation for actions that could be considered by a reasonable person as treason against the United States. That man is the President and almost every day he uses power of his office to demonize any opposition and to dehumanize racial, ethnic, and religious minorities while attacking the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution to free speech and the freedom of the press by referring to his critics as “enemies of the people.” 

The President has invoked violence against his opponents since he was a candidate and then cries foul when political opponents urge non-violent resistance to include the public shaming of his staff members and Cabinet officials who plan (Stephen Miller), execute (Kirstjen Nielsen), and defend (Sarah Huckabee Sanders) his actions against helpless people who he labels as murderers, rapists, and criminals.

Sadly most are refugees from political and criminal persecution and violence in their countries, countries that since the 1840s Americans or the United States Government have treated as subhumans. What is happening now is the result of our past polcies coming home to roost.

Marine Corps Major General and two time Medal of Honor Recipient Smedley Butler wrote in his book War is a Racket:

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

Despite the fact that the United States has been interfering and exploiting their countries for almost two centuries they are criminals because they want to be free. Their crime is being refugees after the United States instituted race based immigration policies in the early 1900s. These policies were later used to deny Jews fleeing the Holocaust from coming to the United States.

Justice Kennedy left after a series of rulings which seemed to undermine his past judicious behavior on the bench. Maybe at 82 years old he simply decided to punt and place his vote in the column of men who gut the Voting Rights Act, support gerrymandered Congressional districts, and support Executive Orders that while refuting the notorious Supreme Court Decision of Korematsu v. United States used the same logic as that majority used to uphold the President’s third attempt at a travel ban directed a Muslims, primarily Iranians. Japanese Americans who suffered under the military orders enforced by civilian courts and upheld by Korematsu were appalled with good reason.

I am going to leave it there for the night.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A Raging Torrent of Friday Musings 

  
Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Just a few thoughts to close out this week. As I said yesterday much of my time lately has been consumed with completing a major revision to my Gettysburg text. I completed that revision yesterday, and while there is still a good amount of editing, a couple of less massive chapter revisions, and a final chapter to write, I am starting to see that the end is in sight, but with the end always comes a new beginning. As Hedley Lamarr, Harvey Korman’s character in Mel Brooks’ classic movie Blazing Saddles remarked, “My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.”  So even as I work on this my mind is thinking about what to write next. 

And speaking of rivulets of thought…

Last week the Y’all Qaida takeover of the wildlife refuge in Oregon by the Bundy Bunch came to an end, not with a bang but with a paranoid delusional wimper. When I heard that the FBI was closing in on the final four self-proclaimed freedom fighters I decided to listen to the live that they maintained with their supporters on the outside. I spent about two hours listening and for a while I honestly thought that at least one of them was going to try to become a martyr for their anti-government crusade. 

Truthfully, as I listened I realized just how paranoid, delusional, and scary these people are. They voiced a convoluted worldview that blended a mixture of extreme-fundamentalist Christian and Mormon thought, conspiracy theories, including UFOs, white-supremacist ideology, and one of the most ill-informed understandings of the Constitution that I have ever heard; as well as myth masquerading as history where they are a new incarnation of the Minutemen who won the American Revolution. Sadly, I have either heard or listened to many of the same thoughts being broadcast on talk-radio and all over the Internet. Truthfully they reminded me of an American versions of the violent Muslim jihadists who do the same thing with their history and religion. 

I was glad that the standoff ended with no more death, and that the whole Bundy Bunch, including the family patriarch Cliven Bundy will likely be going to prison for a very long time. I’m sure that some equally delusional reader will send me a nasty comment or two for saying what I just said, but it takes a hell of a lot of paranoid ideology and misplaced faith to believe the things that these people believe, even if you think the government has too much power. 

Last Saturday as I was pounding away on my keyboard working on the Gettysburg text I got the news that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died alone in a hotel room in a posh hunting lodge in west Texas. Truthfully I take no delight in the death of anyone, well almost anyone; those who use terrorism to attack my country and our allies killing innocent civilians are another matter. But cannot rejoice in the deaths people that I disagree with on matters of politics, religion, or ideology. Justice Scalia was someone that I seldom agreed with in his interpretation of the Constitution, and how harmful his judicial opinions on civil rights, voting rights, the environment, women’s health, and the rights of people in the LGBTQ community were to people who have been long discrimated against. Honestly, I can understand why many people who have been harmed by his decisions rejoiced in his death. I cannot do that but I certainly can understand.

As far as his replacement, I think that the President has a constitutional duty to nominate a fully qualified individual toothed court, and that the Senate has the duty to provide a hearing for the nominee. I really believe that the vacancy should be filled, long before the next President takes office. I say that regardless of who the sitting President is, and regardless of their political ideology. A President’s duty under the Constitution does not end a year before his term expires wither they are a Republican, or a Democrat. Likewise there is no precedent in American history for the Supreme Court to have a vacancy lasting over a year, and there is nothing to say that another justice could die in office as most of them are not spring chickens, and then what? 

Well, that is enough for the day. Enjoy your Friday. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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With Bible in Hand: Anti-Gay Christians & Religious Tyranny

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Protesters outside Judge Bunning’s Home

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I write this I can almost hear people echoing these words of Reverend Brown in the movie Inherit the Wind being uttered by some of my less than happy readers against me:  “Oh, Lord of the tempest and the thunder, strike down this sinner, as thou did thine enemies of old in the days of the Pharaohs! Let him know the terror of thy sword! Let his soul, for all eternity, writhe in anguish and damnation!”

But then, what’s new? Since I have stopped the hijacking of the site by such commentators that is all they can do. I tolerated their crap for too long, my generosity was treated with contempt, so screw them. I totally agree with the words of Frederick Douglass who wrote:

“Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels…He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, — sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, — leaving the hut vacant and the heart desolate. “

According to some readers I represent and stand alongside a vocal minority that is intent on destroying America, minority that is despised and hated by many people in the name of their God. The group I speak of are homosexuals, and their supporters which include me, as well as those people who actually support the rule of law in this country. The 14th Amendment, which was the basis of the Supreme Court’s majority ruling in the case of Obergfell v. Hodges, the ruling which legalized Marriage Equality in all 50 States says:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Sadly, the opponents of Marriage Equality, or for that matter of any kind of civil rights for Gays use the same arguments against the rights of Gays that their Christian ancestors, in both the North and the South did to defend the institution of Southern Slavery. In His book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath observes how “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.” Then he asks a dangerous question, a very important question for modern Christians who might be tempted to support a position using the Bible to deny the rights of others for the same reasons today, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?”

When I see the rabid politicians, preachers and pundits supporting the right of a public official to violate the civil liberties of others in the name of their interpretation of scripture, it is troubling. In this case they support Kim Davis, the Recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky. Mrs. Davis violated the oaths of office that she took, defied the Governor of Kentucky, as well the rulings of multiple courts including the Supreme Court of the United States and was jailed on contempt of court charges.

integration is a sin

It wasn’t that long ago that people used the Bible for this

Sadly I see disturbing parallels in their arguments to the arguments of Christians in the North and the South before the Civil War regarding slavery, and the disenfranchisement of newly emancipated African Americans following the Civil War, during Reconstruction and during the Jim Crow era.

The supporters of Mrs. Davis view the world through the lens of Manichean dualism. Those who agree with them, agree with God and those who do not, are evil, and deserving of no liberty, nor life. Before the Civil War, Southern theologian James Henley Thornwell presented the conflict between northern evangelical abolitionists and southern evangelical defenders of slavery in Manichean terms. He and many others believed that by arguing for abolition that Christian abolitionists attacked religion itself. It was not just an attack on their belief in validity of the institution of slavery, it was an attack on their faith. Thornwell wrote:

“The “parties in the conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders,…They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins, on one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battle ground – Christianity and Atheism as the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.”

Thornwell was joined by Robert Lewis Dabney, a southern Presbyterian pastor who later served as Chief of Staff to Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign and at Seven Pines and who remained a strident defender of slavery, and opponent of civil rights for blacks long after the war was over. Dabney’s words remind me very much of the words of the militants speaking up for Mrs. Davis and condemning all who support the rights of Gays. Dabney wrote:

“we must go before the nation with the Bible as the text and ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as the answer….we know that on the Bible argument the abolition party will be driven to reveal their true infidel tendencies. The Bible being bound to stand on our side, they have to come out and array themselves against the Bible. And then the whole body of sincere believers at the North will have to array themselves, though unwillingly, on our side. They will prefer the Bible to abolitionism.”

But I think one of the most reveling are the words spoken by the Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon of 1860:

“Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.” Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.”

The very personal nature of Leacock’s complaint in his sermon about abolitionists following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 is startling when you compare it to the words of so many anti-LBGT politicians, pundits and preachers, some of who even urge civil war and secession if they do not get their way. Mike Huckabee says that Davis being jailed on contempt of court charges “removes all doubt of the criminalization of Christianity in our country.”

The invective against Judge Bunning, a Republican who was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, and all who support the law is reaching the level where frustrated supporters will resort to violence. It has happened before. In fact, one of the leaders, of the protest outside Judge Bunning’s home yesterday on charges of “violating the law of God” was the Reverend Flip Benham. Benham is no stranger to precipitating violence against those he deems violators of God’s law by stoking the fear and anger of his followers. In 2009 one of those followers, murdered a doctor who performed late term abortions in the man’s church. Likewise, Benham has stalked others and he has defended the murderer of others. If he can motivate people to kill abortion providers, why not gays and their supporters? Thus I have legitimate concerns for the safety of Judge Bunning and anyone who gets in the way of Benham and his followers.

Mrs. Davis was released jail yesterday, and ordered her not to interfere with the issuing of gay marriage licenses. Judge Bunning released her because he was satisfied  that her office is “fulfilling its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples.” Her supporters will claim this as a victory, but it will not change the law, and I imagine that if she interferes with her subordinates, Judge Bunning says that she will end up back in jail. She and her lawyers and Mike Huckabee exited the jail to the cheers of their supporters. Their words and actions showed a arrogance and defiance of law that only American Christians of our era, as well as the ante-Bellum South, and the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras seem capable. We will see what happens, I am not optimistic so long there is a dollar and political point to be gained. 

With this “victory” the lawyers who led her down the primrose path to jail will move on and leave Mrs. Davis behind if she complies with Judge Bunning’s order. Their “success” will encourage others to do the same. These politicians, preachers and pundits who led this charge want a conflict, and they need a conflict to legitimize themselves. They also need it to make lots of money donated by their followers without accomplishing anything. They hate Gays, and liberals and make their money playing the victim, when it is they who seek to deny the rights of others. One of their most influential writers, an adviser to Rand and Ron Paul expressly said so:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

North’s words apply to everyone who stands against his interpretation of Christian Dominionism.

But with Bible in hand they will go forward, and I am reminded of the words of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird:

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

These people are a scary bunch. Their right to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs matters more than the Constitution, and matters more than bearing a true witness of God’s love to the world.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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In Exclusion of All Others: Kim Davis & God’s Authority

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Thomas Jefferson so eloquently and correctly observed, “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” It appears that we have some Christians stooping to that “lowest grade of ignorance” which Jefferson noted.

I have been holding back on the case of Kim Davis, the Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky who has strenuously refused to issue marriage licenses of Gay couples based on her “strongly held” or “sincere” religious beliefs. After the rule went into effect she has refused to issue marriage licenses to anyone in her county, citing fairness. Personally when this started I thought this was a publicity stunt by the Christian Right, and especially her lawyer, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, the legal activist wing of Liberty University and that it would blow over in a few days.

But then forgot just what a self-righteous bigot and extremist that Staver is when it comes to this issue. He has made a fortune demonizing gays over the years and his words are always extreme, polarizing, and play to the basest prejudices of his audience; angry, politically charged conservative Christians. Yes, in some ways this is still a publicity stunt, because Staver and others like him are using Davis, a woman who according to what Jesus said is an adulteress, having been married four times and divorced three, to make a profit and her a martyr for their cause.

So I was wrong and the circus continues. Davis disobeyed orders from the Governor and Attorney General of Kentucky to comply with the law; she has lost in every court including the entire U.S. Supreme Court. Interestingly enough the conservative Supreme Court Justices who were in the minority in the Obergfell v. Hodges case which legalized Marriage Equality; Scalia, Roberts, Alito and Thomas, refused to hear her case and summarily dismissed her appeal. But she still continues.

Today, after the Supreme Court ruling Davis still refuses to obey the law and do the job that by law, and the dictates and responsibilities of the government office she occupies that she is supposed to do. Citing “God’s authority” for her refusal, Davis has again refused to issue marriage licenses. The fact is that she is denying the rights of every couple in Rowan County to a marriage license is of no concern. The fact that if you swear an oath as a public official to uphold the law, likewise, is of no concern to her. All that matters are her rights, not the people she swore an oath to serve, not the law.

It is being framed by Davis, Staver and their allies as s test of religious liberty, in that Mrs. Davis cannot in good conscience issue a marriage license to a Gay couple because it violates her religious beliefs. I do not disregard those beliefs, I defend the beliefs of people like Mrs. Davis on a daily basis. I do not agree with her but I agree that she can believe whatever she wants. But there is an important caviot to this, Mrs. Davis is not a private citizen. She is an officer of the government who has certain legal responsibilities, among them issuing marriage licenses to eligible people in Rowan County, Kentucky. She took an oath to carry out the laws of the State of Kentucky, and she is not doing that. If she does not to comply she needs to resign or face the legal consequences of her actions.  No officer of the government at any level gets to chose what laws they will obey and which they will not. Her actions violate the 14th Amendment rights of all her citizens, as such they are unconstitutional. This is not like abortion where many medical professionals can opt out of based on a conscience clause. In those cases those physicians refer to others. In this case, which is qualitatively different that abortion, in that it does not involve life or potential life, Mrs. Davis gives the people of her county no option. She is the only one who can issue these licenses and she refuses to do so.

The reality is that no one is forcing Mrs. Davis to change her opinion on Gay marriage. She can do that as a private citizen and in her church, but she cannot use her beliefs to deny the legal rights of others. To allow her to do so would set a dangerous precedent, but it seems neither Davis, her lawyers, or many conservative Christian state and local politicians and activists understand this. Once you set the precedent that a public official can use their religious rights to deny the rights of others you open Pandora’s Box. Our founders understood, that, James Madison correctly observed, “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?”

Can you imagine what Staver’s reaction if a fundamentalist Moslem County clerk decided to not issue a marriage license to a Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or an unbeliever of any kind? You can bet that he would not be defending that Moslem’s right to disobey the law. Instead, he would be apoplectic and claiming that the Moslems were attempting to impose Sharia on non-Moslems would be demanding that the official comply with the law or go to jail.

What if an Orthodox Jewish elected official refused to work alongside or in the same office as a Christian woman? Would Staver defend him? I think not.

But that is the problem here. Davis and so many others like her believe that their sincerely held beliefs trump the law, and their sworn duty as public officials. My friends, to allow that is to open the way for a theocracy, where in the name of God and the church, the rights of non-believers are disregarded. Sadly, it goes beyond simply refusing rights, but it ends up in religious tyranny and persecution; “witch trials,” the killing of “heretics and unbelievers.” In fact as far as Gays are concerned, there are militant Christian proponents of theocracy in this country who openly state that Gays should be killed, and they are not limited to the fringe of the late Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. Some of them are frequent speakers at Republican campaign rallies, Tea Party events and court major conservative political leaders and candidates for office.

Barry Goldwater of all people warned us about them as early as 1981, “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

As much as we want to believe differently, we are not nearly as civilized or tolerant as we claim to be; and the words in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” only apply to a certain in group; in Davis’ and Staver’s case, Christians. All others, especially Gays, need not apply. Believe me, while people like Davis and Staver are a minority they are benign. Their words and their actions demonstrate that. Like the Nazis of the 1920s they claim to be the victims and decry laws that do not allow them to discriminate. Should they ever gain the reins of power, or more likely, succeed in carving out exemptions in the law that allow them to discriminate against others based on their personal, strongly held religious beliefs; they will become tyrannical, and Davis, even without a shred of law to back her up is behaving as a tyrant, and being applauded by many so-called Christians.

That is something to ponder.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Religious Right Unhinged: The Aftermath of Obergfell v. Hodges

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In the past coupled of days since the Supreme Court ruling legalizing Gay marriage and Marriage Equality for all, many conservative Christian leaders, especially those with lofty political aspirations have nearly come unhinged in their responses. Mike Huckabee, the Baptist preacher, seminary dropout and former Governor of Arkansas was perhaps the most ludicrous say that if need be he would call fire down from heaven in his opposition to the ruling. Others like Rick Perry and Rick Santorum have stated that they would work to overturn the decision, Ted Cruz encouraged Texas magistrates, justice of the peace, judges and others who hold government office defy the law if it violates their Christian religion; and Bobby Jindal suggested eliminating the Supreme Court. Funny how that last one works as the Supreme Court is established as one of the three branches of Government in the Constitution and Bobby, Mike, the Ricks and Ted never had a problem with 5-4 decisions that aided conservatives, but I digress…

The sad thing is that none of these men’s arguments come at all from any sense of Christian mission, but rather the raw exercise of hatred directed at a group of people they loath covered in theological gibberish.

Atticus Finch, the hero of the book and film To Kill a Mockingbird said: 

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

Eric Hoffer wrote, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” We like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity and supremacy, God is the ultimate trump card and hatred in the name of God is something that many religious groups and people specialize.

This has been especially true in the lead up to and the aftermath of the Obergfell v. Hodges case that was argued at the Supreme Court regarding Gay marriage. The religious opponents of Gay marriage, in particular conservative Christians have many times resorted to the most unmitigated hatred masked in insipidly shallow theology to condemn the gays and anyone that supports them. Of course the final argument they posit is that God will punish the United States for Gay marriage.

That is fascinating. Ted Cruz called the ruling the “darkest time of American history.” Others proclaimed that God would judge the United States for this and others suggested that Christians flee the country, or that the South should again secede from the United States to form a Christian country.

Really? The darkest time Ted? I guess real oppression committed against American citizens by supposedly Christian citizens doesn’t count.

God will punish the United States for Gay marriage but not for waging unjust, illegal and immoral wars? God will punish the United States for Gay marriage, but not for the way we treat the poor? God will punish the United States for Gay marriage, but not for unabashed materialistic greed that is so condemned throughout the Christian Bible? God will judge the United States for Gay marriage but not the extermination of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans? God will punish the United States for Gay marriage, but not the unmitigated quest for material wealth and power that so defines the most popular churches and pastors in the country? God will punish the United States for Gay Marriage but excuse everything else?

I’m sorry these radical supposedly “Christian” politicians, pundits and preachers are the ultimate hypocrites whose hatred is only surpassed by their desire for the temporal power, which if they got it would use against any and all that oppose their theocratic tyranny.

Truthfully I find it stunning that of all the things a supposedly vengeful and just God could punish us for, that Gay marriage is the tipping point. But such is the unhinged message of the preachers, pundits and politicians of the Christian Right who believe in a capricious “God” who coincidently just happens to hate the same people that they hate, which is very convenient. But then as Annie Lamott said: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Of course they are not alone. In fact the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are almost all tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar. The fact is that for all of the, God is their trump card, end of argument as one commenter on this blog wrote yesterday “It is finished” a true heretical and blasphemous bastardization of the words of Jesus on the Cross to end his argument that God was against Gay marriage.

Robert Heinlein wrote: “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians in Putin’s Russia do not have a government to translate those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

One of my heroes of religious liberty is John Leland, a Baptist whose passionate defense of religious freedom prevented Virginia from re-establishing a state church after the American Revolution and whose influence was key in the decision of Madison and Jefferson to amend the Constitution with the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment. In fact, late in life, well after his success in working with Madison and Jefferson Leland wrote:

“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks [Muslims], Pagans and Christians. Test oaths and established creeds should be avoided as the worst of evils.”

Like Leland, I contend for more than tolerance and I contend for acceptance. But that acceptance ends when any person or group is willing to use their religion to enslave, murder, or otherwise dominate other people in the name of their God, not just in this life, but in the next. This is especially true of those who use the police power of the state to enforce their beliefs and hatred on others.  I will do whatever I can to expose them for what they are, regardless of the “faith” they supposedly represent.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

That is why men like Huckabee, Santorum, Jindal, Cruz, Perry and so many others like them are so dangerous for their hatred is unbounded by time, or space, it lasts for eternity, and eternity my friends is a very long time.

With that I wish you a good day, a thoughtful day and try to love someone.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Liberty & Those who Oppose It: the Aftermath of Obergfell v. Hodges

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I rejoiced yesterday when majority of the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality throughout the country. I believe that this was an important continuation in or understanding of ever expanding liberty found in the Declaration of Independence that Abraham Lincoln said in 1854 was the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.” 

Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Samuel Kercheval in 1816 that we should take to heart when we look at changes in laws that religious traditionalists oppose so vehemently:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

When Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the case of Obergfell v. Hodges he made a comment that echoed the words of Thomas Jefferson when he wrote:

Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.

In the aftermath of Obergfell v. Hodges these people are scrambling to carve out exemptions to the law in order to ensure that the prejudices ingrained in their “sincerely held religious belief” can remain. Of course for churches that is not an issue, churches can grant or deny the sacraments or ordinances of their faith to anyone they chose to and this they routinely do. If you desire to get married in a church you must follow the rules for that church, and the clergy of that church are free to deny sacraments, including marriage to anyone. If you are not a Roman Catholic in good standing you are not permitted to receive the Eucharist, you may not be married in the church, and other churches including many Baptists and other “free” churches have similar prohibitions that no court has dared to overturn. This even includes rules that discriminate against women who cannot be ordained clergy. So when I hear pastors screaming that somehow they will be prosecuted or jailed for refusing to marry gays I have to throw the bullshit flag.

Now this may not apply to the “ministers” who set up their own so called marriage chapels where unconnected to any church they operate as for profit businesses. Sometimes courts do find in favor of litigants in civil proceedings when such businesses use their prejudice to deny services to people, especially gays.

While I am a historian and should know better, I am amazed to see many American Christians doing all they can in the name of protecting their Religious Liberty to deny rights to those that they disapprove. I shouldn’t be surprised, Thomas Jefferson wrote of what happens when preachers and priests lead political movements. Jefferson so rightly noted:

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”

James Madison, who crafted the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment wrote:

“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?”

Currently this is the case with the Republican Party, a party that I remind you that I belonged for over three decades, beginning with my work for the Ford campaign as a high school student. I left the GOP in 2008 after years of disillusionment, and lies when I returned from Iraq.

Barry Goldwater, a conservative if there ever was one, a man that would be driven out of today’s GOP spoke on the Senate floor in the early 1980s at the beginning of the Reagan Revolution and the commandeering of the party by politically minded preachers like Jerry Falwell, James Robertson, Dr. D. James Kennedy, James Dobson and of course our local Tidewater Taliban Mullah, Pat Robertson. Goldwater so wisely noted:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Well, now the preachers have control of that party. Every declared candidate for the GOP presidential nomination kowtows to these religious leaders and nearly every one of them has come out to announce their opposition to the Supreme Court ruling.

Some are suggesting that thousands of preachers run for office in the GOP in order to foist their agenda on the rest of the population. Right now Conservative Christians for all intents and purposes run many state legislatures. In the ones that they have controlled for the past number of years they have been enacting all sorts of discriminatory laws against those they find offensive, and have attempted to shackle the study of science, history, and roll back voting rights for minorities.

This is particularly true of the conservative Christian, antipathy towards Gays, Lesbians and others in the LGBT community. In the past number of weeks I have seen proposed legislation in several states that would allow people to discriminate against anyone simply based on a sincerely held religious belief.

Other laws passed within the six moths at the state level in Arkansas and West Virginia to nullify any city or county ordinances banning discrimination against gays. In other words, religious zealots in control of state houses are imposing heir beliefs on cities, towns and counties that are more progressive in regard to the treatment of gays.

The irony is that the people who complain about Federal laws which trump state law are doing the same thing that they object to in order to ensure that citizens of their states are treated less than equal.

The target of these laws are gays and the LGBT community, but anyone with half a brain knows that once they are on the books they provide ample room for religious zealots of any kind to discriminate and even persecute those that they despise.

They may start with the gays, but be assured, those who pass these laws will extend them to apply to anyone to whom they believe harms or interferes with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Jefferson also noted “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

It is something that our founders wisely chose to avoid, not wanting this nation to become like the European nations whose state churches had denied rights, persecuted and killed those that they deemed heretical. While the proponents of these new laws to “protect” religious liberty claim that they are done with no intent to discriminate, there is only one reason to enact them, that to give legal protection to people who want to discriminate. Is this not what is happening throughout the Middle East as Islamic fundamentalists of various sects impose similar laws on Christians as well as others including Moslems of rival sects?

Now just imagine for one moment living in such a society, a society where someone who was not of the right race, or belief did not enjoy the same freedoms of other citizens. Imagine a society where those that started with laws to supposedly defend their religious liberty, or rights then supported other more far reaching laws, laws which deprived those that they demonized and refused to serve of citizenship, freedom of association, freedom of movement, and robbed them of their homes and businesses, banished them to ghettos and eventually exterminated them. While the Nazis primarily went after the Jews, they also went after the gays.

Of course the Nazis did this in the years leading up to World War Two in their actions against loyal German Jews who simply wanted to fit in, and well we Americans, let’s not even go there… but the let’s go there. We have the extermination and the ghettoization of our Native American population, we have the African slave trade and the institution of slavery, we have the human trafficking and exploitation of Chinese workers in the 1800s, the Jim Crow Laws, and yes the incarceration of Japanese Americans in what we called “internment camps” in World War Two.

Now for one minute tell me that those that propose such barbarous laws now to be used against the gays, simply because Christians want to have a law that allows them to discriminate against those they hate and condemn to hell are that much different than those Christians, be they American or German who justified their actions with law based on their deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs? I think not. In fact the whole proposition that we enact such laws flies in the face of the wars that these same people want to send in the ground troops to fight Islamic State over. Heck, the Islamic State is actually acting out the fantasies of the most extreme American Christian anti-gay preachers. They are killing gays, throwing them off the roofs of tall buildings. Sadly, many American Christians so consumed by the hate and paranoia being preached in their churches and by right-wing political groups which pose, as Christian ministries don’t see that their actions are simply a different breed of the same animal. Right now, the difference is just a matter of degree.

I think that is why Thomas Jefferson wrote this very pertinent warning to us who might want to return to the barbarous ways of our ancestors:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

I personally do not want to live under the laws of our barbarous ancestors, and I will fight for the rights of those who are being targeted, primarily the LGBT community, but anyone else, by the lawmakers and supporters of such laws.

That my friends is why I rejoice in the Supreme Court ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges. It is a step to moving forward in liberty and progress and away from barbarism.

So have a great and thoughtful Saturday,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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