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Onward, Christian Soldiers

June 20, 2010

The Southern Baptist Convention plans to fight repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I think one of the most noteworthy points in that article is that the SBC has more military chaplains than any other denomination, including more than the Roman Catholics (there are over four-times as many Catholics in the US as Southern Baptists, but the SBC has nearly twice as many chaplains as the Catholics).

Notable quote from the article:

Southern Baptists, who say their presence in the military chaplaincy totals 1,300 chaplains when Reserve and National Guard units are included, have told Congress and the Pentagon that chaplains could lose their freedom to preach and counsel against homosexuality if openly gay members are accepted by the military.

“For instance, a chaplain could be told there are certain passages of the Scripture that you shouldn’t preach from,” said the Rev. David Mullis, the Southern Baptists’ military chaplaincy coordinator. “If there was a prohibition about certain kinds of literature that did not espouse homosexuality, I can see the Bible being banned in the military.”

Wow.

Just. Fucking. Wow.

To my knowledge, the SBC chaplains don’t “preach and counsel against” cheeseburgers, lasagna, pork chops, bacon, sausage, shellfish, working on the sabbath, wearing clothing made of mixed fibers, shaving with a razor, cutting hair in certain ways, tattoos, piercings, and so on. The Bible is replete with rules which Southern Baptists and other fundamentalists break on a daily basis. The Southern Baptists also express nary a concern that one can walk into nearly any grocery store in this country and find various kinds of meat from animals God calls an abomination.

Why the goddamn silence on those rules? And what is it about homosexuality that makes it a deal-breaker when it comes to whether Baptist chaplains can serve in the military?

Chaplains from many religions serve our military. They’re supposed to be ecumenical but with the growth of fundamentalist Christians in the chaplaincy has come various proselytizing issues. Sometimes Congress has tried to enable sectarianism. Chaplains aren’t supposed to refuse counsel and comfort to those of other religions. But they say they’ll do it when it comes to others with whom they have disagreement? In the end, why is it more unreasonable to minister to an openly gay soldier than to a proud Jew or Hindu or Muslim who rejects that Jesus is the only way to eternal life?

The chaplaincy exists for the benefit of the military — to serve all members of our armed forces. It’s not the other way around: the military doesn’t exist for the benefit of sectarian indoctrination, for proselytizing, for fomenting hate and intolerance of other soldiers on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or anything else.

Perhaps we’ve had it wrong all along. Maybe “don’t ask, don’t tell” should apply to fundamentalists instead of gays. After all, our secular Constitution is silent on the issue of sexuality but it’s very clear that we don’t hold religious tests for public office and government can’t make laws establishing religion or infringing upon practice. Fundamentalists in the military could still practice their religion, just do it on their own time and on their own dime but leave the taxpayers out of it.

Military service is patriotic and commendable. We should encourage everyone who’s fit for service and wants to serve to do so without discrimination. It’s time to do away with bigotry in the ranks. We aren’t a theocracy, and we shouldn’t run our military as if it were.

The Religious Right versus Judge Crabb’s Strict Constructionism

April 17, 2010

On Thursday of this past week, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that 36 USC § 119 is unconstitutional.

The irony of a Carter appointee interpreting the Constitution strictly and the Religious Right (and some who aren’t) disagreeing is kind of amusing. Detractors say and write that she’s “banned the National Day of Prayer” when all she’s done is rule that the congressional mandate of a proclamation of such a thing by the president is unconstitutional. And she is absolutely correct.

For those who won’t bother to look at the links, Section 119 of 36 USC says:

The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating
the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the
people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and
meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.

Some of the proponents of this measure suggest historical antecedents dating back to 1775. That would pre-date the Constitution, and our government is defined by and our civil liberties are protected by the Constitution rather than tradition.

The first codified version of the National Day of Prayer goes to 1952, during the national freak-out over communism just before the height of the McCarthy hearings. Senator Absalom Willis Robertson introduced legislation calling for a day of prayer as a bulwark against communists. Robertson was one of 19 senators (and 82 US representatives) to sign the Southern Manifesto, a rebuke of the Supreme Court’s Brown versus Board of Education ruling.

By the way, Robertson’s son Pat is a famous televangelist.

In its current form, the National Day of Prayer as required by Section 119 traces its history all the way back to 1988. It was pushed by the Religious Right. The “National Prayer Committee,” which sets up public events for the National Day of Prayer, is a fundamentalist group. So, too, is the “National Day of Prayer Task Force” — it’s an arm of Focus on the Family and is chaired by the wife of James Dobson.

Why do I bring these aspects of “councils” and “task forces” in relation to the current law’s origin? Because this whole thing has been orchestrated as a sectarian event, not as some kind of civil or even ecumenical exercise.

That wasn’t lost in Judge Crabb’s ruling:

…the statute seems to contemplate a specifically Christian form of prayer with its reference to “churches” but no other places of worship and the limitation in the 1952 version of the statute that the National Day of Prayer may not be on a Sunday.

The First Amendment is patently clear:

Congress shall make no law respecting an 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 courts have ruled repeatedly that “establishment” extends beyond setting up a national church. It includes anything government might do that coerces religious exercise or expression. Section 119 of USC 36 certainly does that by requiring the president, the nation’s highest executive office, to declare one specific day a national day of prayer. Prayer is religious exercise, not a secular matter, and Congress may not make such laws. Plain and simple.

Let me also point out that Judge Crabb’s decision in no way is a slap against religious exercise in general or prayer in particular. She wrote in her decision,

A determination that the government may not endorse a religious message is not a determination that the message itself is harmful, unimportant or undeserving of dissemination. Rather, it is part of the effort to “carry out the Founders’ plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society.”

And,

It bears emphasizing that a conclusion that the establishment clause prohibits the government from endorsing a religious exercise is not a judgment on the value of prayer or the millions of Americans who believe in its power.

So why did she rule against Section 119 if she concedes prayer is important to so many people for so many reasons? Because Congress is prohibited from influencing private expressions of faith. This, she writes, goes beyond national days of prayer to encompass other activities which government, left unrestrained by the Constitution, could enact:

…recognizing the importance of prayer to many people does not mean that the government may enact a statute in support of it, any more than the government may encourage citizens to fast during the month of Ramadan, attend a synagogue, purify themselves in a sweat lodge or practice rune magic. In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray.

That hasn’t stopped her detractors from calling her godless or anti-Christian. Some have claimed she isn’t following the Constitution or (more laughably) that her ruling makes the Constitution unconstitutional. Oh yeah, on what grounds?

I’ve read the entire decision and find it both convincing and within the mainstream of judicial thought. Moreover, given the fact that the Justice Department is reviewing the ruling and could very well challenge it, I think it would be upheld by the Supreme Court. Even in recent years, the Supreme Court has ruled in such ways that the precedents in Lemon versus Kurtzman, including the “Lemon Test“to which Crabb deferred in her decision, have been upheld. That three-question test remains the measure the Surpreme Court has continued to use in these kinds of cases, even though Justice Scalia (in his dissent to Lee versus Weisman) argued that the Lemon Test shouldn’t be used on grounds that it “if applied consistently it would invalidate longstanding traditions.”

Well, slavery was a longstanding tradition. And so was only giving land-owning white males the right to vote. We’re a nation founded on laws — on the Constitution — not on tradition.

Yet this whole National Day of Prayer movement, rooted in fundamentalist sectarianism, is predicated on a false view of history peddled by people like David Barton. They claim all kinds of religious antecedents in the founding of the nation, and, of course, for the national day of prayer. This has become a day which they use to spread their revisionist history and their peculiarly fundamentalist brand of Christianity. They don’t deserve the imprimatur of government when they do it. And that’s what the National Day of Prayer has become, which is why it was unconstitutional in the first place.

Speaking of tradition and the Constitution, it’s true James Madison proclaimed days of prayer. He later wrote in regret, “They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion.” Thomas Jefferson likewise wrote, “Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to  their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it.”

That’s where we, too, should leave the matter. Judge Crabb reached the right decision for the right reasons. Nobody is prohibiting individuals or groups from praying for the country or anything else. It’s just that “Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion.” That’s what the founders wanted. That’s how Judge Crabb ruled.

Those who oppose this ruling oppose the founders and, in order to prevail upon appeal, will need a bit of judicial activism to expand or alter the original intent of Madison, Jefferson, et al., when they wrote and ratified the First Amendment. Politics makes strange bedfellows. Unfortunately, that opposing group presently includes President Obama who will go ahead with the proclamation despite the ruling. That won’t stop his critics from lying that he’s banned the day of prayer, or that he’s not properly observing it.

The best way to observe it is to follow this ruling and let private citizens — individually or in voluntary groups — set aside their own day for prayer without state intervention establishing, endorsing, or prohibiting it.

Bad Night for the Religious Right

April 14, 2010

Just a quick election update; I’ll add more to this later.

The Religious Right in Texas suffered more defeats in yesterday’s GOP run-offs. Candidates backed by the pro-life, home-schooling, history-revisionist groups lost to candidates considered to be much more moderate.

Marsha Farney won the GOP nomination in  the SBOE 10th district race. She took 62% to home-schooler Brian Russell’s 38%.  Russell had endorsements from the usual Religious Right suspects, including incumbent Cynthia Dunbar who was leader of the SBOE’s majority Religious Right bloc. Farney outspent Russell by a greater ratio than her vote total but also had party establishment support (even though Russell sits on the Texas GOP Executive Committee).

In a much closer race, Debra Lehrmann defeated Rick Green for the GOP nomination for the  Texas Supreme Court. Green, who works for David Barton’s far-right Wallbuilders revisionism outfit and has zero experience as a judge, ran on a platform opposing abortion, gay rights, and past decisions against organized sectarian prayer in the classroom. Lehrmann outspent Green by about four-to-one.

Amend 1: This is on top of clear-out losses by Religious Right candidates like creationism-pundit Don McElroy of the Texas SBOE last month.

This is in the Republican primaries, presumably dominated by more-conservative-than-average voters. Have Texas GOP voters had enough of the Religious Right’s grasp on the state? And what will happen come November? Can more moderate GOP candidates hold their own against Democrats?

Amend 2: Dan has more at TFN Insider about the Bad Day for the Religious Right in Texas. So does Lee Nichols at the Austin Chronicle from last night before totals were in (but the writing was already on the wall). PFAW’s RightWingWatch also has an update about Rick Green’s loss in the Supreme Court run-off.

w00t! sboe robocalls!

April 13, 2010

I got robocalls on behalf of both SBOE-10 candidates within an hour of each other. First up, former Lt Gov Bill Ratliff on behalf of Marsha Farney:

Now, I’d be voting tomorrow if Farney had stuck with this kind of message and used this tone in her mailers.

And next up it’s Davida Stike of Texas Alliance for Life PAC (hey, where’s Joe Pojman when ya need’em?) called for Brian Russell, personally vouching for him despite the false attacks on him. How reassuring…

The interesting thing is the amount of difference between these two calls. One has a former state senator and former Lt Gov, the other has a pro-life activist calling under the auspices of the pro-life PAC. One talks about the importance of experience and qualifications, the other is about pro-life endorsement and a decade-long personal relationship. One talks about dedication to the system by participating in it, the other is silent about that.

I wish Farney hadn’t sent those mailers. I want to believe she’s different from her opponent because I really don’t trust Brian Russell. From the fact that he opted his own kids out of the system that he now seeks to run to his backers being outside the mainstream to his robocalls touting things that don’t seem to have anything to do with the business of the state board of education but, rather, have a lot to do with what’s gotten the SBOE off-track the past few years.

Alas, Farney did send out mailers that tried to out-flank Russell on the right. I can’t trust her once she’s done that, because either she really is as far out as Russell is or she’s disingenuous and will do anything to get votes. I still don’t think I’m voting tomorrow.

Where are my robocalls?

April 12, 2010

Gosh, here it is Sunday night before the SBOE 10th District GOP run-off and to date I’ve received one call — from Marsha Farney (has it been two or three weeks ago before early voting started?). Maybe tomorrow Joe Pojman’s call will come in. After all, Farney’s last mailer said that I should beware of last minute calls trying to scare me from voting for her… as if her increasingly alarming mailers didn’t do a good enough job of that by painting her way to the right of a candidate I considered way outside the mainstream.

One of the GOP precinct chairmen has been putting messages on Farney’s Facebook page throughout the weekend, and all of them appear to be without any reply from Farney. In the most recent, he comes right out and suggests former Travis County GOP chairman Alan Sager is behind her mudslinging, bringing up old tales of party in-fighting.

Whatever she’s done, she’s put herself into a box and it would be ironic if Sager — who was deemed much more moderate than some of the precinct chairs (especially mine at that time) — was behind getting Farney to move right. If Farney spent enough to overcome the grassroots support of Russell, how will she be able to win them over after demonizing him in the manner she did, hold onto her own base, and run as a sensible-enough candidate to appeal to moderates and independents after trying so hard to one-up her far Right cred against the far, far Right candidate who had the endorsement of far, far, far Right outgoing incumbent Cynthia Dunbar?

I should have more about this race for tomorrow, even if I don’t get any scary calls from the pro-life organizations. But if I do get some of those calls, they’ll be posted to my youtube account ASAP.

SBOE-10: Another Farney Mailer. Russell Compared to Obama. Plus Some Gay-Bashing.

April 9, 2010

This run-off is getting wackier every day. I opened the mailbox while ago and found another mailer from Texas SBOE 10th District GOP candidate Marsha Farney. This is the third I’ve received this week.

This repeats some of the points from earlier mailers. She reminds GOP primary voters she contributed money to GOP candidates but her opponent didn’t. She also takes another dig at him for not sending his own kids to public schools. That point resonates a lot stronger with me than which candidates she’s backed.

This mailer also includes an ominous red warning box. It warns that future robocalls on Russell’s behalf may try to paint her as a RINO. She even quotes Russell saying that he’s never said as much. We’ll see if Joe Plojman still calls using his PAC money to tout Russell as the only real pro-lifer in the race like he did in the primary.

The other side is interesting. Farney likens Russell to President Obama.

This time, though, Farney tries to trump Russell on the supposed “family values”issue by claiming “Russell supports judicial candidates who voted to legalize homosexual conduct.” Maybe Farney hasn’t heard about Lawrence v. Texas yet. Then again, she’s the one with teaching experience and Russell is the one with legal experience. Something tells me Russell will object to this particular characterization of his record.

At least we now know just what Farney means by “traditional family values.”

Then she assails Russell for lacking a moral compass and keeping secrets. I think those two should go together. You wouldn’t want anyone to know you lack a moral compass, would ya? Nahhhh. Especially after accusing them of being too cozy with the “gay agenda.”

Finally, Farney accuses Russell of fiscal recklessness and using a “defeated candidate” to make robocalls on his behalf. She sums it all up with yet another comparison to Obama via Alan Sager. Who needs “Obama-style intimidation tactics” when you can find so much mud to sling.

I’m so glad her campaign is setting such a fine example to our school children about civil discourse and party politics.

Oh yes, one more thing. She also revisited the Facebook “approval” Russell gave when Tony McDonald of Young Conservatives of Texas came to Russell’s defense. McDonald wrote “that it is nearly tantamount to child abuse to put one’s kids in one of these institutions nowadays” and suggested that Russell was better qualified because he’d taken his kids out of the system (wtf??). Read the comments on that link for some questions I had for McDonald after he suggested he’d been attacked by TFN.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I voted in the GOP primary and, thus, am eligible to vote in this run-off. I was prepared to vote for Farney until I got this particular mailer even though I had reservations about the increased frequency from both candidates of things like abortion, “traditional family values,” and other issues I wish the SBOE would leave alone. I suggested in the previous headline that Farney was also a Religious Right candidate and she’s increasingly proving it. I realize she has to run way to the right to get into the general election in November but this is getting to be very off-putting.

I’m really tempted to sit out the run-off but the idea of a home-schooler — particularly one with the views Russell has expressed about public education — being one more election closer to sitting on the SBOE is very unappealing. But it’s also unappealing to give the same shot to a gay-bashing mud-slinger.

I agree that Texas school children don’t deserve Brian Russell. After reading this latest mailer, I’m thinking they really deserve a lot better than Marsha Farney, too.

UPDATE: How did I miss the part on the front part of the mailer about being a “strong supporter of the Sanctity of Marriage Act”? What the hell does that have to do with SBOE matters? How does that qualify Farney? That’s the nail in the fucking coffin. I won’t bother to vote in the run-off since there’s no substantive difference between a kook who home-schools and a kook who doesn’t.  I’m going to vote for Judy Jennings, the Democrat in the SBOE-10 race, in November.

UPDATE 2: I’m not the only one unimpressed by the turn of events in this run-off. From Farney’s Facebook wall comments:

One still for, one turned against. Can you win a run-off like that? Can you win in November like this?

Texas SBOE 10th Run-Off Between Religious Right Candidates

April 8, 2010

I’ve received two mailers for the run-off in the race for the 10th District seat on the Texas State Board of Education. The original primary race pitted three candidates, two of whom have education backgrounds and one of whom is a home-schooling lawyer. The primary vote was nearly evenly split between the three candidates. One of the educators, Marsha Farney, is now in the run-off against the home-schooling lawyer, Brian Russell.

Both mailers are from Farney. The first thing that caught my attention about both mailers was a red label affixed on or next to Farney’s picture. It says, “100% PRO-LIFE Answers” and is circled by “Texas Right to Life PAC Questionnaire.” I’d been caught off-guard by a robocall on behalf of Russell during the primary race; I posted the audio of the call on my youtube Linux-related account. It had been done by Texas Alliance for Life PAC, noting Russell was the only one of the candidates to score 100%.

Now, what does abortion have to do with our SBOE? As many people around the country are finding out, Texas holds a lot of clout with book publishers and our current SBOE has seen fit to adjust the curriculum for science and history to accommodate the prevailing views of its members; currently, the SBOE is ruled by a bloc of Religious Right fanatics. Education is taking a backseat to partisan politics, and this includes health education.

The Religious Right/pro-life people are continuing to try to stack the deck to continue and expand the revisions they’ve made to the curriculum. Brian Russell is the hand-picked successor to current SBOE chair Cynthia Dunbar.

I was hoping Farney would give GOP primary voters — yes, I am one of them — a significantly different choice over the Religious Right for the run-off. The two flyers with the red “certified pro-life” label don’t give me such assurance. Neither do other things I’ve read in the past couple days, including the claim by the Democrat either Farney or Russell will face in November that Farney introduces herself at gatherings by saying, “The first thing you need to know about me is that I’m a Christian.”

Here is the front side of the second mailer. It was the larger of the two pieces. (The close up of the picture is located below.)

The inside folds out into a comparison chart. It was too large to do in one scan, and I apologize for not editing the two halves together. I haven’t had time to put this together the way I want. It would’ve been a lot more helpful if the Farney campaign put its mailers on the website like it has the tv and radio ads. I kind of wish she’d stuck to job qualifications rather than who’s the real Republican, but I know this is a run-off that’s only going to draw a tiny segment of the GOP primary voters and they’re most likely going to be swayed by such things.

The chart part of the following duplicates the last two rows of the table above. The relevant part is the footnotes.

Here’s the back side of the folded mailer.

And here’s a higher-resolution scan of the picture with the “100% Pro-Life” certification label.

Below is the first mailer I received. It includes endorsements and basic principles. I don’t know why candidates have to state that they believe in “protecting traditional family values,” let alone exactly what that’s supposed to mean (or to whom). Code words? Maybe. I’ll give her benefit of the doubt for now. I’d really like to know what she intends to do on the SBOE about that. I’m glad, though, that she’s for the other things: a strong curriculum, reducing drop out rates, responsibility with the school fund, and open communication. I have no doubt that her credentials make her much more suitable than her opponent.

Speaking of her opponent, she takes dead aim at him on the back of this mailer. The first point is the one that first drew me into looking at the other two opponents in the primary. If you’re not going to put your kids into the system, you don’t get to make the rules for everyone else.

I agree with the white text on red background. Brian Russell has no business sitting on the State Board of Education. The question I still have is, Do Texas public school children also deserve better than Marsha Farney?

That’s hopefully a question we’ll answer — and get right — in November.

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