Published: Sun, 25 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Sun, 25 Sep 2016 01:23:00 -0400
Tue, 20 Sep 2016 07:30:00 -0400Preventing people from being discriminated against by private organizations is so exceptionally vital that the First Amendment needs to be subjugated to that aim, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights declared last week. That's a paraphrase on my part. So that you don't think I'm making it up, I'll now quote directly from the report, which describes "civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination" as being "of preeminent importance." (The definition of preeminent is, of course, "above or before others" and "superior.") "Although the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) limit the ability of government actors to impede individuals from practicing their religious beliefs," the report goes on, "religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws and policies must be weighed carefully and defined narrowly on a fact-specific basis." Weighed carefully? That's an interesting choice of words. So how is a policy maker to know if the need for the religious exemption outweighs the need to protect people from, say, having a photographer refuse to work their wedding? According to the report, the answer is: It almost never does. The commission showed its hand by writing that the federal RFRA (which Bill Clinton signed to ensure Americans wouldn't be forced to violate their religious beliefs absent a compelling government interest and no less burdensome alternative) needs to be altered so that everyone understands that it "creates First Amendment Free Exercise Clause rights...only to the extent that they do not unduly burden civil liberties and civil rights protections against status-based discrimination." Likewise for the several-dozen state-based RFRAs that have been enacted over the years. In other words, your right to not be subjected to laws that violate your beliefs should be treated as categorically less important than my right not to have anyone discriminate against me. There would be little to take issue with here if the discrimination in question were the work of the government, a la state-mandated segregation under Jim Crow. (When Kim Davis tried to use the power of her office to deny marriage licenses to gay couples, to cite a more recent example, she was ordered to desist—and rightly so.) Unfortunately, the report isn't about public discrimination. It's about private discrimination, such as when a Catholic school wants to hire only people who adhere to the Church's teachings. It's a fact that different people hold different beliefs about morality. Some feel that offering a health insurance plan that covers contraceptives would make them complicit in a behavior they view as sinful. Others say the same about participating in same-sex weddings, or employing individuals who openly flout the strictures of their faith, or stocking abortifacient drugs in their privately owned pharmacies. The point isn't that these are good or bad beliefs to hold. The point is that a subset of people understands these actions to be wrong, and yet government entities (at the federal level in the first example, and at the state level in the latter three) have opted to require everyone to engage in them anyway—people's faith be damned. And these are precisely the types of requirements that the Commission on Civil Rights wants enforced at all costs, and only the narrowest possible exceptions to them entertained. That's a perfect inversion of how it ought to be. It's probably true that, as the report points out, religious exemptions to such laws "significantly infringe upon" the particular class of "civil rights" that statutorily enjoin private discrimination "based upon classifications" like religion and sexual orientation. But it's just as true that the laws themselves "significantly infringe upon" religion and "the free exercise thereof." The whole conversation is a red herring. Religious exemptions might violate the laws—but the laws violate the Constitution. And that's the thing about the First Amendment: It comes first.[...]
Thu, 15 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination says the state's new ban on gender identity discrimination applies to churches when conducting any "secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public." That would seem to include the right to use the bathroom of their choice.
Tue, 13 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) A Norwegian hairdresser faces up to six months in prison for refusing to pay a fine of 870 euros for religious discrimination. Merete Hodne refused to cut Malika Bayan's hair because Bayan was wearing a hijab. Hodne says she regards the hijab as a totalitarian symbol. She also says serving hijab-wearing customers would force her to turn away male customers since they will not remove the headscarf in front of men.
Mon, 12 Sep 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) A Clemson University official told a man praying on a campus lawn he would have to leave because he was not in a free speech area. The official also said that by putting up a sign that said "prayer" the man was soliciting and would need to get a permit for that.
Thu, 01 Sep 2016 00:01:00 -0400Has the great American experiment in diversity ended in failure? That's the impression you might get from an array of recent developments -- Black Lives Matter protests, anti-Muslim sentiment, resentment of undocumented immigrants and, last but not least, Donald Trump. We seem to be loudly fracturing and separating, not coming together. We're all pluribus and no unum. Trump's embracing of the alt-right movement, which was condemned at length by Hillary Clinton in a recent speech, highlights our apparent racial and religious polarization. His new campaign CEO is also head of Breitbart News, which regularly fans white fears and denounces "multiculturalism." A characteristic Breitbart story began mournfully, "Four centuries after white Christians landed in Jamestown and settled what would later become America, a report reveals that white Christians are now a minority in the nation their forebearers settled." (They were also a minority then, by the way.) More mainstream conservatives also fret about the perils of diversity. "Multicultural societies," warned Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, "usually end up mired in nihilistic and endemic violence." It's clear from Trump's capture of the Republican nomination that many whites regard demographic diversity as an evil, not a blessing. When he vows to "make America great again," he harks back to a time when the country was more homogeneous. But the Trump phenomenon is a symptom of growing desperation, not growing strength, among a shrinking faction whose conception of America is obsolete. These people are in a frenzy because they are beginning to realize the battle is lost. Most Americans have come to embrace the inclusion of every race, ethnicity and religion in our society. That wasn't always the case. In 1994, reports the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of Americans said immigrants were a burden. Today 59 percent regard them as an asset. The shift is even more pronounced among young people, 76 percent of whom have a positive view of immigrants. For many people, racial and ethnic lines are increasingly irrelevant. In 2010, 15 percent of new marriages occurred between partners of different races or ethnicities—more than double the rate in 1980. "Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9 percent of whites, 17 percent of blacks, 26 percent of Hispanics and 28 percent of Asians married out," reports Pew. One reason white Christians are a declining share of the population is that more whites are abandoning Christianity. Since 2007, the share of whites with no religious affiliation has risen from 16 percent to 24 percent. Islamophobia is rife among Trump supporters. Two-thirds of them express negative attitudes toward Muslims. But only one-third of all Americans feel that way. Islamic terrorism has obviously fueled worries and suspicions. Even so, in 2011, 82 percent of American Muslims said they were satisfied with their lives—which suggests they don't find prejudice to be a major problem. The biggest source of racial tension is also the oldest one—the divide between whites and blacks, manifested in economic disparities and broadly different views of law enforcement. Most whites express confidence in police, but only 30 percent of African-Americans share that trust. Though blacks continue to feel they face discrimination, most whites believe they don't. Other groups, though, have integrated themselves into American society more fully than could have been expected. Asian-Americans, who once faced intense prejudice, are likelier than any other group to intermarry and to live in racially mixed neighborhoods. Their households also have a higher median income than white households. In a society dominated by racial animosity, you'd see different groups segregating themselves, or being segregated, from others. That's not what is happening. Scholars John Logan of Brown University and Wenquan Zhang of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater fo[...]
Fri, 26 Aug 2016 15:00:00 -0400Holy Hell. CNN. Thursday, September 1, 9 p.m. One man's cult is another man's religion. I remember listening with amusement some years back to an argument between a member of Rev. Moon's Unification Church and a rather strident Christian critic who was fulminating on the obvious absurdity of the reverend's (ambiguous) claim to be the messiah. Why would God, the man snapped, choose a peasant from a remote Korean mountainside village as his messenger? Replied the Moon follower, wide-eyed: "You mean, instead of an illiterate Palestinian carpenter?" So I'm always dubious about the loose use of the word "cults," and even more so about their supposed dangers. As a second-generation atheist, it's not so obvious to me why, say, Rev. Moon's communal group homes are any more sinister than cloistered Catholic monasteries. I say all that so you'll know that when I tell you that Holy Hell, a documentary about a creepily eccentric spiritual community led by an extra from Rosemary's Baby, is aberrantly fascinating and more than a bit unsettling, I'm not just weirded out by the unfamiliar rituals of an off-brand religion. Buddhafield, as the group is called, has left a trail of disillusioned followers with broken hearts and busted bank accounts in its churning wake. One of them is Will Allen, the writer and director of Holy Hell, which has been kicking around the festival circuit this year and gets its first mass exposure next week on CNN. Allen spent 22 years as Buddhafield's house videographer and propagandist before breaking away in 2007, taking with him countless hours of revealing footage. Allen, a recent film-school grad trying to break into the movie business, was introduced to Buddhafield by a sister who bumped into some of the followers in West Hollywood in the mid-80s. They didn't have any of the standard cult accoutrements—no shaved heads or flowing robes or saffron incense. In fact, they were mostly socially conventional and startlingly attractive (that, it would turn out, was not by chance) and formed a lively, funny crowd. "Constantly, your soul was being fed with love and inspiration and awe," wistfully recalls another new recruit of the day. Buddhafield's leader was an elfin former ballet dancer and bit-role actor—you can see him in the crowd at that Satanist party at the end of Rosemary's Baby—who called himself Michel. Frequently clad in little more than a Speedo, striking dramatic poses and leveling smoky gazes apparently stolen from old Valentino movies while he spoke in an intriguing accent of indeterminate national origin, he preached a blend of Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age mysticism that the West Hollywood crowd found irresistible. ("His energy was still, and I thought, 'What a beautiful man,'" explains one follower in the fractured argot of the spiritually overdosed.) Pretty soon they'd all moved into a communal setting from which radio, TV, and sex were banned. (And especially the wages of sex; pregnant women either had to undergo abortions or leave the group.) Compulsory hypnotherapy, in which the Buddhafielders had to disclose their most intimate secrets, took place once a week, at $50 a pop. "Service" was required, too, especially to Michel, who needed drivers, helpers and, after a while, somebody to carry his throne, literally. What service was directed outside the group itself was often hilariously misconceived. One acolyte who hadn't yet moved in with the group recounts spending hours creating artistic fruit salad renditions of scenes like The Last Supper for his roommate, only to discover the guy was simply shoveling them into a blender for smoothies without so much as a glance. The most assiduous of Michel's devotees were invited to undergo The Knowing, which was described as "God revealed to you in its purest form." Which, the elite few who experienced it told their envious colleagues, involved a lot of changing shapes and colors, as if God were the toner runn[...]
Thu, 25 Aug 2016 14:47:00 -0400France's recent crackdown on a garment known as the "burkini," popular among Muslim women who want to remain modest while enjoying a swim, has accrued ample criticism from all over the world this week. But it's just one example of a wave of non-religious fundamentalism, in which the allegedly patriarchal print of Islam and other faiths must be destroyed by the righteous benevolence of public officials. In Germany this week, a Muslim woman was fired from her government internship when she refused to remove her headscarf. In Tajikistan, a country long hostile to Islam, some officials have begun keeping lists of women who sport hijabs, the traditional head-covering worn by Muslim girls and women. "The country's staunchly secular authoritarian government disapproves of attire or grooming that would suggest supposedly radical Islamic beliefs," reports The Washington Post. True, Tajikstan is an extreme example: its government has been known to shut down mosques at random, ban parents from giving their children Arabic names, and otherwise go hard on quashing religious expression. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, "the government of Tajikistan suppresses and punishes all religious activity independent of state control." But France, an allegedly liberal and democratic country, also takes a pretty authoritarian line toward religious expression. Secularity is its own sort of religion there, at least to those in power, who have banned religious symbols such as crosses, yarmulkes, and hijabs in all government buildings and public schools. More recently, some 15 towns voted to ban burkinis on public beaches. This week, the sight of French police publicly forcing a Muslim woman at the beach to remove clothing has (understandably) drawn a lot of outrage, with many rushing to point out why such policies go against the spirit in which they're intended. This takes the state at its word on why Muslim women's garments have been banned: they're a symbol of women's ongoing inequality in some cultures. That is not the culture of France, say leaders, and hence its zero-tolerance policy for such symbols of female oppression. It's a silly scheme for several reasons. For one, it's unlikely to make the lives of actual oppressed women any better; for those whom husbands or families force headscarves and burquas in public, a ban on these items will simply mean many Muslim have to forgo the beach and other public outings entirely. (It's also unlikely to inspire goodwill among Muslim communities already alienated from mainstream French society.) For another, it's contradictory: in the name of women's equality, France is literally forcing women to wear less clothing than they're comfortable in and passing laws that target female attire but not male. And these policies are also hypocritical in how they define symbols of female oppression. As many, many Muslim women have pointed out, hijabs and other traditional Muslim garments don't necessarily signify second-class status, and women may choose to wear them for cultural reasons or personal beliefs about modesty. Some folks counter that the "cultural reasons" are rooted in sexism, so what difference does it make? But surely we could say the same about many women's garments, from the habits worn by Catholic nuns to the wigs worn by Hasidic Jewish ladies to the stiletto-heels and string-bikinis worn by some secular women. Certainly not every woman who dons a skimpy outfits or slaps on bright-red lipstick is doing so to please men, or fulfill cultural norms, but many are, and you don't see France rushing to ban Forever 21 or L'Oréal. But of course this is about more than just women's clothing. France's burkini-beach-party crackdown is rooted in a geopolitical zeitgeist that includes the rise of ISIS, the influx of Syrian immigrants to Europe, and the escalation of "lone-wolf" terrorist attacks in Western cities. T[...]
Wed, 24 Aug 2016 17:55:00 -0400Viral images of a Muslim woman being compelled by police to remove her "burkini" on a beach on Nice, France, combined with reports of women being fined for wearing the modest swimwear (which has been banned in a number of French cities), have sparked quite the debate over gender equality, religious liberty, free expression, and government overreach in legislating morality in France. The Guardian reports that Nice's Socialist mayor, Ange-Pierre Vivoni, called his ban on this particular style of ladies' swimwear a vital act to "protect the population." The mayor was backed by a tribunal ruling calling the ban a "necessary, appropriate and proportionate" response in the interest of maintaining public order following several jihadist attacks in France, including one where 84 people were killed by a maniac in a truck last month, just a few hundred feet from the beach in Nice where the woman in those viral images was forced to dress down by armed agents of the state. The tribunal also justified the ban by stating that the burkini — which resembles a looser-fitting version of a standard wetsuit — was "liable to offend the religious convictions or (religious) non-convictions of other users of the beach," and "be felt as a defiance or a provocation exacerbating tensions felt by [the community]," according to The Guardian. In a recent Reason column, Steve Chapman noted that for proponents of the ban, it's not just the feelings of non-Muslims in terror-scared France at stake, it is concern for Muslim women compelled by what they describe as "sexist oppression" to hide almost all their skin in public: Their argument goes as follows: France must dictate what Muslim women wear to teach them that no one may dictate what they wear. In the name of promoting the freedom of Muslim women, government should deprive them of the right to make their own apparel choices. It's the logical extension of France's law against full-face coverings, particularly the kind worn by some Muslim women. Supporters of that law, enacted in 2010, said it was needed to keep criminals from concealing their identity. That excuse doesn't work for the burkini, which confirms it was just that: an excuse. CNN reports, "Rachid Nekkaz, a wealthy Algerian entrepreneur and human rights activist, has stepped up to the plate to pay the penalty for any Muslim woman who is fined in France for wearing the burkini" and according to the BBC, the controversy has led to "booming" burkini sales. But the burkini bans are just an extension of France's nationwide ban on burqas, which is in keeping with country's strict adherence to the separation of religion and public life. One sociologist was quoted by The Local as saying the burqa ban "created a monster," arguing that despite the government's best intentions, "it has both encouraged Islamophobia as well as given Muslim extremists more cause to feel the need to rise up against the French state." France has also banned wearable religious symbols such as Christian crosses, Sikh turbans, and Jewish kippahs (male head skullcaps) in schools and government buildings. But the banning of clothing — which is inherently an expression of identity, particularly religious identity — is also a logical extension of the many bans on other modes of expression meant to rid French society of wrong thinking. In its (literally) centuries-long quest to foster an enlightened, secular, bigotry-free society, the French government has made Holocaust denial a criminal act punishable by prison time. The same goes for making stupid drunken anti-Semitic comments to cell phone-wielding tourists, as well as making jokes "condoning terrorism." Local government bans on meetings of activists in the anti-Israeli Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement continue to be litigated. Even iconic French actress Brigette Bardot was convicted for "hate speech" for her public opposi[...]
Wed, 24 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) Jordanian Prime Minister Hani Mulki has ordered an investigation of writer Nahed Hattar for violating a law against contempt of religion. Hattar shared on Facebook a cartoon depicting a bearded man in Heaven ordering God around. Hatter said it satirized the view Islamic terrorists have of Heaven and God and was not meant to mock God.
Fri, 19 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) In Colombes, France, the local housing authority has ordered a halal supermarket to sell alcohol and pork or it will shut the market down. The housing authority, from which the market leases its property, says the store is violating its lease, which calls for it to be a "general food store." Officials say the store also violates the nation's republican principles by prioritizing certain groups. The owner of the store says he is just selling what his customers want.
Thu, 18 Aug 2016 04:00:00 -0400
(image) The Turkish government has banned the annual mass at a 1,600-year-old monastery. The Panagia Sumela Monastery is built into a rock cliff 1,200-meters high. It was abandoned for over 80 years after the area's Christian population was forced out but has observed annual services since 2010.
Tue, 02 Aug 2016 08:54:00 -0400"Australia," a country in a galaxy far, far away from America, has been experiencing a remarkable growth in the number of residents who say they adhere to the "Jedi" religion of Star Wars. In the 2006 census, 58,000 people claimed to practice it, and that number jumped to more than 64,000 five years later, or just slightly below the number of Sikhs living downunder. On the eve of the next census (Aussies do one every five years), atheists are worried that Jedis will move even further up the charts, as "as a harmless way to declare their Star Wars fandom and give the government the middle finger at the same time." And that's a problem why, exactly? The folks at the Atheist Foundation of Australia argue, according to Gizmodo, When officially counted, Jedi gets classified as a "Not Defined" religion instead of "No Religion." When that happens, they believe "it makes Australia seem more religious than it really is." Which, again, doesn't sound like a problem, but "data on religious affiliation is used for public policy, city planning, community support facilities and more." In fact, the religious-affiliation question does end up shaping policy and how up to AUS $31 billion in taxes and credits get spent. As in many countries, Australian tax dollars directly go to a wide variety of religious organizations and activities, from education to church-based welfare programs. That's one of the reasons why the Australian Christian League (ACL) is pushing believers to make sure they classify themselves both as religious and Christian: The ACL has previously reminded members about the importance of ticking the right box on the census form. Governments use [Bureau of Statistics] data to "plan for services and infrastructure" and "we need to prove the size of the constituency who hold these values," the ACL told members in August 2011. If popular movies about Australia and its near-future are any indication, this will almost certainly end with some sort of apocalyptic showdown in which scattered remanants of a once-near-great country roam the Outback siphoning small amounts of petrol from abandonend cars while attending performances of a suprisingly good draq-queen show and the occasional Midnight Oil reunion tour and sonic-torture session. So let the coming Jedi-Atheist War be a reminder to the United States of America that we should not only be free from state religion but also state-assisted religion. As Roger Williams, the great religious dissenter who founded Providence, Rhode Island and co-founded the first Baptist congregation in the Britain's New England colonies, used to say, forced worship "stinks in God's nostrils." More on that here. HT: Mike Hewlett's Twitter feed.[...]
Mon, 01 Aug 2016 12:03:00 -0400
(image) The latest issue of Dabiq, the ISIS propaganda magazine, mocks Westerners for being too P.C. to fully embrace religious violence. The Bible is filled with "clear references to violently applying the Law of the Lord," the author argues, but "Christians have cast aside such commandments and instead have followed papal decrees and the sermons of priests—showing that their love for men is greater than their love for the Creator of men." The Islamic State, by contrast, is "not ashamed of abiding by the rules sent down from their Lord regarding war and enforcement of divine law."
And so, the magazine declares,
if it were the Muslims, instead of the Crusaders, who had fought the Japanese and Vietnamese or invaded the lands of the Native Americans, there would have been no regrets in killing and enslaving those therein. And since those mujahidin would have done so bound by the Law, they would have been thorough and without some "politically correct" need to apologize years later.
I'm not sure when the phrase "politically correct" entered the ISIS lexicon, but this isn't the only time the concept has come up in the English-language edition of the magazine. Another article in the same issue scoffs at pundits who profess not to know why ISIS hates them, declaring that such "analysts and journalists" say this only "to keep themselves from becoming a target for saying something that the masses deem to be 'politically incorrect.'"
By the way: If you wanted more details about how the Islamic State claims it would have fought the Japanese, the Vietnamese, and the Native Americans, the magazine is glad to oblige. The Japanese "would have been forcefully converted to Islam from their pagan ways—and if they stubbornly declined, perhaps another nuke would change their mind." The Vietnamese would "be offered Islam or beds of napalm." If ISIS had battled the Native Americans, the conquerers "would have taken their surviving women and children as slaves, raising the children as model Muslims and impregnating their women to produce a new generation of mujahidin." Also, Jews "would face a slaughter that would make the Holocaust sound like a bedtime story," and the African slave trade "would have continued, supporting a strong economy," because God thinks it's fine "to sell captured pagan humans." If your only criterion for supporting a movement is how un-P.C. it is, I guess this sales pitch is for you.
Mon, 25 Jul 2016 15:13:00 -0400
(image) Tim LaHaye has just died at age 90. LaHaye had a long career as an evangelical leader and a conservative activist, and he was among the clergymen who helped Jerry Falwell launch the Moral Majority. But he is best known for co-writing the Left Behind series, a long sequence of novels about the Endtimes that sold like crazy after they started appearing in 1995.
I try to keep up with the big developments in pop apocalypticism, but I've never been able to bring myself to slog through all 16 volumes of that series. But I did read the first one, which begins with the Rapture and then starts skating toward Armageddon. It's a stiffly written story that at times feels like it was composed in an alternate timeline. (LaHaye and his coauthor seem to think, for instance, that secular reporters refer to Israel's boosters as "the Jewish Nationalists.") The only time it comes alive is a scene where a character becomes a born-again Christian—evidence for the old saw that you should write what you know. Or maybe it's evidence for the opposite: Millions of people bought this novel and then ponied up for the sequels without carping. Write whatever you want, fellas!
LaHaye has a cameo in my book The United States of Paranoia, chatting about the Illuminati in the early '70s with a young man named Mike Warnke. Warnke then went on to pose as a defector from a vast Satanic conspiracy he called the Illuminati, and he got a lot of attention on the Christian circuit before he was revealed to be a fraud. Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott, the reporters who exposed Warnke, think LaHaye inadvertently introduced him to the idea of the Illuminati, and thus played an indirect role in spreading one of the most popular conspiracy theories of our time. So that's two big contributions LaHaye made to modern apocalyptic folklore. How many of you have done even one?
Wed, 20 Jul 2016 10:22:00 -0400
It will come as no surprise that Republicans favor giving parents more control over their children's education. But this year, the party took things to a new level by calling for a constitutional amendment to make sure they get their way.
The proposal comes from the 2016 GOP platform that was approved at the nominating convention on Monday. The relevant section reads:
Parents are a child's first and foremost educators, and have primary responsibility for the education of their children. Parents have a right to direct their children's education, care, and upbringing. We support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations.
The Republican Party has always been strongly in favor of keeping decision making as close to students as possible, favoring state and local policies over efforts based in Washington, D.C. Even in 2004 with No Child Left Behind in full swing, the GOP recognized education in its platform as "a state, local, and family responsibility, not a federal obligation."
The 2012 platform put even more focus on state and local control, calling on officials to make sure they're "providing broad education choices to parents and children at the State and local level."
But in the past, "state" and "local" have generally been lumped together. The new proposal to amend the Constitution departs from that trend by listing state governments alongside the U.S. Department of Education and the U.N. as forces that ought to be kept out of educational policy making.
As a whole, this year's GOP plank on K–12 education doesn't differ all that much from the past. Yet the fact that committee members felt strongly enough to call for formally altering the U.S. Constitution is noteworthy—especially coming from a party that as recently as four years ago seemed perfectly comfortable with having some state government involvement in public schools.