A Unanimous Court Slaps Down the Obama Administration

January 17, 2012

Last week the Supreme Court issued a ruling involving the application of the 1st amendment with regard to a church hiring and firing those it considered ‘ministers’ within the church. The specific case concerned Cheryl Perich who worked as a teacher for a school run by the church. Fearing the school would fire her because of her narcolepsy, she began an effort to bring a claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The church had a policy that those who were working as ministers in the church were required to resolve disputes within the church.  Because she was a trained minister in addition to being a teacher and because she brought the claim to the EEOC, Perich was subsequently fired.

The case, Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission arose as a result of the EEOC and the administration pursuing a lawsuit against the church on Ms. Perich’s behalf. As the New York Times put it, the reaction by religious groups to the Obama Administration’s support of the EEOC was as vociferous as one would expect:

Many religious groups were outraged when the Obama administration argued in support of Ms. Perich, saying this was evidence that the administration was hostile to historically protected religious liberties.

Indeed, those lining up on either side of the case read like a who’s who of cultural warriors – it was American Bible Society, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Rutherford Institute and Wallbuilders verses the People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Humanist Association and American Atheists. In many ways this was a strong test case for claim by secularists that the acceptance of their views about church and state are gaining ground. What most expected was the usual split decision with a slim majority falling on either side of the issue and no strong precedent being set. The resulting decision was virtually the opposite of this. In a rare 9-0 decision the Supreme Court dealt a stinging rebuke bot to the Obama administration and to secularists who would like to diminish the power of religious organizations to order their own affairs. It granted, via the clear wording of the 1st amendment a “ministerial exception,” – that the 1st amendment protects the right of religious organizations to hire, retain, and fire its own leaders in accordance with its own doctrines, not in accordance with the employment laws of the US government.

As Justice Alito put it in the decision, “The Constitution leaves it to the collective conscience of each religious group to determine for itself who is qualified to serve as a teacher or messenger of its faith.”

Given the 1st amendment’s clear prohibition against ‘prohibiting the free exercise’ of religion this result would seem obvious but this administration’s propensity for using its regulatory powers to impose it’s agenda on religious organizations and individuals is becoming its hallmark.

It’s good we still have courts to limit that overreach.


Here there be Vampires

July 27, 2011

There have been over the years been number of attempts to explain why people become atheists. Some think it may be because they had a bad childhood experiences with the church, other have suggested links to certain personality disorders like Aspergers. Perhaps it is a genetic defect. Like the Grinch, many causes have been suggested for their inherent antipathy to all people religious, but few answers explain what would cause an individual to become a brooding, anti-social misanthrope who sees the vast majority of humanity as dumb, dangerous and deluded sheep. Of course, up until now no one has considered that they might be vampires.

Evidence of such a link comes in the form of the most recent lawsuit by the American Atheists organization to remove the World Trade Center Cross at the 9/11 memorial site. The text of the motion describes the effects the site of the cross has on those who view it:

The plaintiffs, and each of them, have suffered, are suffering, and will continue to suffer damages, both physical and emotional, from the existence of the challenged cross. Named plaintiffs have suffered, inter alia, dyspepsia, symptoms of depression, headaches, anxiety, and mental pain and anguish from the knowledge that they are made to feel officially excluded from the ranks of citizens who were directly injured by the 9/11 attack and the lack of acknowledgement of the more than 1,000 non- Christian individuals who were killed at the World Trade Center.  

Now I have never seen the Twilight series, but I read ‘Salem’s Lot as a teen and as a child I spent many a late night watching Bela Lugosi mesmerize his victim’s via the weekly Acri Creature Feature, so I consider myself somewhat of an expert here.- and in my expert opinion only one creature reacts so viscerally to the site of a Cross;  vampires.

While this description is damning evidence (NPI) for the link between vampirism and atheism, it is not the only one. It explains why atheists often associate themselves with symbols of evil, why they stalk lonely women late at night, and why Sam Harris always wears black. The evidence here seems incontrovertible.

Of course, I’m not one to go in for such superstitions – there is likely to be a simpler, more logical reason why atheists suffer physical ills when they encounter a cross.

Of course if the American Atheists bring lawsuits to remove garlic from restaurants and mirrors from public places, I may have to reconsider.


A Little China in New York

June 20, 2011

I wrote recently about the persecution Chinese Christian were receiving at the hands of the atheistic Chinese government.

In the post I made the claim New Atheism would have little basis for opposing such repression given their low opinion of religious belief to begin with. The closest any atheist response came to defending religious freedom in China was this one:

However, official government active discouragement of religion is a non-starter in the United States or any Western society. I’m an American, I can’t solve all the world’s problems, and I have limited interest in and limited influence on Chinese government policy. The Chinese government is fundamentally the business and problem of the Chinese people: they, not I, have to live with the consequences.

Unfortunately, thanks to a recent court ruling, this defense no longer applies in New York where a court has ruled churches cannot meet in schools on weekends:

New York City may again block religious groups from using school facilities outside of regular school hours for “religious worship services,” a federal appeals court inManhattan ruled on Thursday.

Deciding 2 to 1, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the city had “a strong basis to believe” that allowing the religious services to be conducted in schools could be seen as the kind of endorsement of religion that violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

“When worship services are performed in a place,” Judge Pierre N. Leval wrote for the majority, “the nature of the site changes. The site is no longer simply a room in a school being used temporarily for some activity.”

In many ways it is this last bit of reasoning that is most troubling. The idea that a particular activity in a place can ‘change the nature of the site’ by its mere presence within the four walls of a building would suggest that words and ideas and purposes are tangible things that taint physical buildings.

It would suggest a few students have religious conversations or pray in a dorm room at a State University wouldturn it into a church. Or that a faith-based organization helping drug addicts would turn a community center room into church by quoting Scripture. If a few people met at a house for a Bible study, would zoning laws that determine where churches could be built come into effect?

This is an issue that hits close to home for me. I have both been the member of a church that met in a school, and am a school board member of a public school that has a church meeting at it. There are actually many benefits to schools for such arrangements. Beside paying rent and providing extra income to budget starved schools, churches (especially in low income areas) will often provide supplies and other goods that impoverished students don’t have, like clothing and meals. Many times churches will help upgrade equipment and facilities that are mutually beneficial. And quite often the churches extend their involvement to the community at large. That has certainly been my experience.

Like China, those who oppose the presence of religious organizations inNew York don’t actually have to jail congregants or physically harm believers to diminish their ability to exercise their faith. All they have to do is find bureaucratic or legal reasons to keep them from occupying spaces within a community – and they effectively keep them from having a presence in the society at all.

There is of course no basis for this in our history – church services were famously held at the US Capitol building for over 50 years, services which were attended by Jefferson and Madison.

Given the reluctance of American atheists to speak out against religious suppression in other countries, one wonders if they can find a reason to oppose it in their own?


San Francisco Seeks to Evict Jews

May 26, 2011

 

As well as a few Muslims and Christians.

 In what is becoming a frequent practice of a secular left, the city of San Francisco has put on November’s ballot a proposal to ban the circumcision of children under the age of eighteen. In many ways the proposal is the inevitable result of certain aspects of secular leftist thinking, amongst them being that parents shouldn’t be able to influence the choices of their children with regard to lifestyle and belief, that the state is the primary protector and provider of health and wealth for it’s citizens, and that the most critical knowledge we have about any subject is the knowledge we acquired most recently. These elements compose what is rapidly becoming a recipe for overt and intrusive statism and despotism.

And it is no coincidence that such initiatives are occurring in our largest cities. Unlike most of theUS, many metropolitan areas are ruled by small cabals of the extreme left whose thinking would otherwise be unacceptable by populations not dominated by bureaucrats, public unions and radical academics.

In a very real sense this is where liberty and tradition coincide. Most people see tradition and communities based on tradition as conservative organs who are intrinsically resistant to change and ‘science’. And that can sometimes be the case – but they are also extremely valuable at protecting individuals from the overt power of the state which is ever seeking to impose its current political will. There is a tyrannical aspect to social engineering which urgently seeks to impose the latest political fashion on people fueled by the latest research. Rule by state imposed political correctness can be every bit as despotic as rule by gun or army; the difference between denying Jews the right to practice their cultural and religious distinctives and seeking to eliminate the Jews themselves is really only a matter of degree.

There have been many bellwethers of our eroding liberty, and this move by San Franciscois is just the latest. But until we decisively seek to preserve and respect the right of groups to act according to their traditions and beliefs (a right which should be safely ensconced in the 1st amendment) we are going to face increasing intrusion into our lives by the state, and an increasing denial of our basic liberties – and there may be no remedy for this at the ballot box.


The National Day of Prayer That Almost Wasn’t

May 5, 2011

Today is the National Day of Prayer, an opportunity for people of many faiths to act on what is certainly a universal human inclination; the impulse to give thanks, to forgive and ask forgiveness and to petition God for provision and blessing and greater wisdom. We live in a time of great need for such activity – a time of economic trouble, war, and division.

As a nation with deep and extensive Christian roots, such observances have always been a part of our cultural activity. Beyond religious institutions, we have recognized the importance of prayer for the unity and consolation of our nation. The first proclamations for days of national prayer came with the Continental Congress and were advocated by our first presidents. In fact the practice has been relatively uncontroversial – until recently.

A recent lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation sought to render unconstitutional the accepted practice of US Presidents since the founding of the nation; and they almost succeeded.

In April of 2010, a US District Judge Crabb (an apt name) ruled for the Foundation writing that the practice was unconstitutional, crossing the line from mere acknowledgement of religious practice to encouragement. It isn’t clear where the Constitution forbids the encouragement of prayer via Presidential proclamation, as it is not law nor does it establish a religion but the courts have greatly expanded understanding of the 1st amendment in recent years to suit the desires of secularists. While her ruling was definitive, it was uncertain what power a District court had to control what a President proclaimed.

Nonetheless, the ruling was rightly appealed (for which the Obama administration deserves praise) and recently overturned by a 3-0 decision of a US Court of appeals. As the court employed ‘lack of standing’ to overturn decision in the same way the  Supreme Court did in the recent Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn case, the ruling is likely to persist through appeals. In the ruling Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook rightly noted of Obama’s proclamation that, “… no one is obligated to pray, any more than a person would be obligated to hand over his money if the president asked all citizens to support the Red Cross and other charities…The president has made a request; he has not issued a command. No one is injured by a request that can be declined.” It seems a rather obvious conclusion.

So we are again free to do what we have been doing for over 200 years.

The upside to these challenges is they give us an appreciation for the freedoms we have and remind us how fragile and rare the liberties we enjoy are. This is more than appropriate for a day of prayer as gratitude is the best motivation for prayer. Though there have been significant recent rulings in favor of religious liberty it is obvious there is concerted effort afoot by emboldened atheists and secularist fellow travelers to diminish the religious character and practice of our country.

This fact alone should encourage us to pray today with greater fervency.


Is the Homosexual Agenda Fascistic?

June 29, 2010

As they pursue their agenda, the homosexual lobby attempts to frame itself as advancing fundamental freedoms. They liken themselves to civil rights advocates that came before – those that pursued greater freedom and fundamental rights for racial minorities and for women. To the degree that they can do this, they find great sympathy amongst the American electorate who are ever interested in advancing such freedoms as indicated by our 200+ year history.

But the question has to be asked, does the homosexual agenda actually advance freedom? Two recent events suggest the opposite.

The first takes place in my home state of Minnesota at the Twin Cities ‘Pride’ festival in Minneapolis’ Loring Park, which is a yearly gay celebration event. For the past ten years, Brian Johnson has passed out Bibles at the event, partly in protest of the event. He was even allowed to have a vendor booth there – until last year. This year he sought to continue to pass out Bibles and literature in the public park during the event – and the event organizers then sought a restraining order to keep him from doing so. A US District Court Judge then ruled in favor of the protestor and he was allowed to express himself at this public venue.

In attempting to restrict the rights of Brian Johnson, the Gay Pride Event organizers were actually being consistent with the effects of laws in place elsewhere that presumably protect homosexual rights, as has been noted before on this blog. Already in certain places in Europe one can be arrested for expressing criticism of the homosexual lifestyle or homosexual behavior. This demonstrates how, unlike other civil rights groups, the homosexual lobby seeks not only to prevent obvious discrimination, but they also want require acceptance of their behaviors, affirmation of their lifestyles, and a state sanction of their point of view. As much as this is true they seek to limit the religious and free expression rights of other. But in a recent Supreme Court decision they go even farther.

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled along these lines in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case where a Christian student group was uniquely denied recognition at a University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. They were denied access because they failed to comply with the college’s view of homosexuality by not allowing those who advocated a, “sexually immoral lifestyle” from having membership in the organization. Notice that the criteria made no specific mention of homosexuality or sexual orientation – merely that the choice of advocating certain lifestyles deemed immoral by their Christian faith (which would include adultery and sex outside of marriage) was contrary to the purposes of the organization.

It is notable that certain Christian beliefs would be contrary to the tenets of a gay advocacy group as well, and for such a group to exclude Christians who didn’t agree with the purpose would be exactly the same. Just as avowed Republicans could be excluded from a student Democrat group, or an avowed capitalist from the Young Communist League. Diversity on campus derives not from forcing every group to admit members who oppose the primary purpose of a group, but from allowing all sorts of groups to advocate on behalf of their own beliefs and interests. Forcing a Jewish organization to accept Neo-Nazi’s or a feminist group to be taken over by men is not to enhance ‘diversity’ but to subdue the messages and purposes of those groups. In the same way the policy of Hasting’s Law College abrogates the fundamental rights of CLS to express and advocate on behalf of a particular point of view – which incidentally is exactly the precedent held by previous Supreme Court rulings like Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston and Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. Both these decisions affirmed the right to association and its importance in preserving our 1st amendment rights.

In a matter of a few years we have gone from recognizing this freedom to completely rescinding it with CLS v Martinez. The primary reason we have done so is because of the influence of the homosexual lobby and its political agenda, which is consistently antagonistic to the rights of others. In fact, other than Islam, the most repressive force in Western societies is political correctness which is consists in large part of advancing the gay agenda. As Justice Alito brilliantly observes:

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that today’s decision is a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country. Our First Amendment reflects a “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 270 (1964). Even if the United States is the only Nation that shares this commitment to the same extent, I would not change our law to conform to the international norm. I fear that the Court’s decision marks a turn in that direction. Even those who find CLS’s views objectionable should be concerned about the way the group has been treated—by Hastings, the Court of Appeals, and now this Court. I can only hope that this decision will turn out to be an aberration.

This decision will only be an aberration to the degree that the American electorate rejects the homosexual agenda – otherwise we can expect that our rights will continue to be reduced in the name of political correctness.


Free Exercise and the Welfare State

May 10, 2010

In recent years there has been an increasing antagonism to public displays of religious faith. Whether it concerns the those national symbols which historically refer to our inherited religious beliefs as in the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem, or whether dealing with more explicit religious expressions, as in prayers offered at public events, the opposition to such expressions has grown if not in numbers, certainly in volume.

 In the recent past such conflicts usually occurred as the result of what was perceived to be the direct imposition of religious belief on unwilling participants by the state via  of the Federal or state government agencies. For this reason the Establishment Clause, that portion of the 1st Amendment which is understood to prevent the government from becoming excessively entangled in religious matters, is understood to be violated when publicly funded educational institutions express in any manner religious sentiments via a state agent like a teacher or curriculum.

 More recently, this idea of undue entanglement has begun to grow with the expansion of the welfare state. One recent example, reported by WSBTV in Georgia illustrates the problem:

 On Thursday, the usual open prayer before meals at the center was traded in for a moment of silence.

 The dilemma is being hashed out by the Port Wentworth city attorney, said Mayor Glenn “Pig” Jones.

 Tim Rutherford, Senior Citizens Inc. vice president, said some of his staff recently visited the center and noticed people praying shortly before lunch was served. Rutherford said his company provides meals like baked chicken, steak tips and rice and salads at a cost of about $6 a plate. Seniors taking the meals pay 55 cents and federal money foots the rest of the bill, Rutherford said.

“We can’t scoff at their rules,” he said of federal authorities. “It’s a part of the operational guidelines.”

 Rutherford said the moment of silence was introduced to protect that funding. He said although the change may have been misinterpreted, perhaps his company could have done a better job selling it.

 “It’s interpreted that we’re telling people that they can’t pray, but we aren’t saying that,” he said. “We’re asking them to pray to themselves. Have that moment of silence.”

 That such a thing should happen, whether we believe it to be right or wrong, should come as no surprise because bureaucracies are dumb. By this I don’t mean government workers are unintelligent, but rather that collectively the state acts mindlessly in accordance with the rules and regulations it is given, not in accordance with cultural realities, or traditions, or personal sensitivities. The state is no respecter of individuals, and it’s activities reduce every situation down to the lowest common denominator – in the case of religious liberty, this lowest denominator is always state imposed secularism. And the larger the state gets, the more it imposes on every aspect of our lives.

So then there is growing conflict between the ever-expanding welfare state and the liberty our Constitution affords each of us to express our religious beliefs. As the state intrudes itself financially into virtually every aspect of our lives – our education, our medical needs, taking care of us in our retirement, etc – it gains the power (or claims to) to dictate to us the manner and degree of expression of our respective faiths. Whether it is limiting personal prayers shared between individuals, or, as in the example above, corporate prayers shared at a meal, the growth of government as our caretaker inevitably entails the imposition of secular restrictions on our lives.

 So the Progressive advancement of the welfare state has the potential not only to impoverish us in a material sense, but also in a spiritual sense. The ‘generosity’ of the state comes with not with mere strings attached, but with chains – chains which invariably reduce our hard won and most precious individual liberties. Ultimately interested in our most basic liberties must also oppose the growth of the welfare state on every level.