Published: Sun, 23 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2017 13:49:39 -0400
Fri, 14 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0400
(image) This morning from 9-12 ET I will be guest-hosting on Sirius XM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick show, which you can find at 121 on your channel-finder. (I will also be hosting next Monday and Tuesday at the same time, and in fact hosted Tuesday of this week as well.) It's a loose-limbed and interactive format, so call anytime at 1-877-974-7487 to give me some ideological backup (and fashion critiques), though of course it will also be jam-packed with guests. To wit:
* Delaware Dave Weigel, the beloved if commenter-controversial former Reasoner-turned WashPost politics guy. We will be talking mostly about his marvelously named forthcoming book The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, with maybe some politics sprinkled in.
* Benjamin K. Bergen, cognitive scientist and author of the new What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves. We will be talking about self-censorship in book titles.
* Michael G. Long and Chris Lamb, academics and co-authors of the new book Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography: The Faith of a Boundary-Breaking Hero. We will be mashing up Good Friday and Jackie Robinson.
* And finally, Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week and The Slurve. We will be discussing our own personal Jesuses.
Thu, 06 Apr 2017 04:00:00 -0400
(image) An anonymous group wanted to donate $50,000 for a new turf field at the high school in Indiana's Greenfield-Central Schools. But school board members balked at the group's one request: to use the hashtag #BlessTheWorld to acknowledge their gift. School board members were afraid of using the word "bless." "There was some apprehension about if that was a gray area. If that was a breach of the separation of church and state that is often quoted from the first amendment," said Superintendent Harold Olin. The group withdrew its donation.
Fri, 24 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400
(image) Ruslan Sokolovsky faces up to seven and a half years in prison for playing Pokemon Go inside a church in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Officials have charged Sokolovsky with inciting religious hatred and insulting the feelings of religious believers.
Wed, 15 Mar 2017 00:01:00 -0400I am in Austin this week for the South by Southwest conferences, and I had planned to pick up some whiskey this Sunday before flying back home to Jerusalem, where brown spirits cost much more. Then a friend pointed out that my plan was not feasible in Texas, which is one of 11 states that still prohibit liquor sales on Sunday. Until recently there were 12 such states, but last week Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill allowing liquor stores to operate on Sundays. He thereby eliminated an arbitrary inconvenience that over the years has been justified in the name of piety, paternalism, and protectionism, none of which is a morally acceptable reason to use force against peaceful people. Minnesota's new law, which follows similar moves by 16 other states since 2002, takes effect on July 1. But Jim Surdyk, proprietor of Surdyk's Liquor & Cheese Shop in Minneapolis, did not wait to exercise his new freedom. He was open for business last Sunday, prompting a $3,500 fine and threats against his license. It is not hard to understand Surdyk's impatience. In the 159 years since Minnesota became the 32nd state, it has never deigned to let people buy packaged beer, wine, or liquor on Sunday. Minnesotans who wanted to have drinks at home on the Christian Sabbath had to plan ahead or make a run to neighboring Wisconsin, which has allowed Sunday sales since 1874. You might wonder whether it is constitutional to foist a religious day of rest on people who choose not to observe it. According to the Supreme Court, it is. The Court's reasoning highlights the petty tyranny of blue laws. In the 1961 case McGowan v. Maryland, seven department store employees challenged their criminal convictions for daring to sell people "a loose-leaf binder, a can of floor wax, a stapler, staples and a toy" on a Sunday. The Court rejected their argument that Maryland's blue law violated the First Amendment's ban on "an establishment of religion." "There is no dispute that the original laws which dealt with Sunday labor were motivated by religious forces," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the majority opinion. But he added that "as presently written and administered, most of them, at least, are of a secular rather than of a religious character." Warren's secularization of Maryland's blue law was a bit of a stretch, given that the statute explicitly addressed "Sabbath Breaking" and repeatedly referred to the "Lord's day," demanding that people not "profane" it through inappropriate activities. But the chief justice argued that the state had a legitimate interest in promoting "the health, safety, recreation and general well-being" of its residents by mandating not only "a periodic respite from work" but "a general cessation of activity, a special atmosphere of tranquility, a day which all members of the family or friends and relatives might spend together." More recently this pious paternalism has given way to a nakedly protectionist argument. The main opponents of Sunday sales nowadays are independent liquor stores whose owners worry that competition will force them to work harder without guaranteeing a commensurate increase in revenue. "Small-business owners argued that allowing Sunday sales would stretch six days of purchases over seven days and increase their operating costs," the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. "They also worried it would bring more chain and big-box stores," which "can undercut smaller stores on pricing." The point of banning Sunday sales, in other words, is not to protect consumers from themselves but to protect merchants from their competitors. High-handed promotion of "the general well-being" has been replaced by an open conspiracy against consumers. Jim Surdyk, the Minneapolis liquor retailer who dismayed city and state officials by selling on Sunday before he was legally permitted to do so, has a more customer-friendly attitude. "You have to be on top of the game or get out of the game," he says. "I'm just trying to do what everybody wants." © Copy[...]
Fri, 10 Mar 2017 11:22:00 -0500In a new feature for America magazine, I explore how worried people of faith should actually be that their religious freedom is under assault. Some believers' claims can seem outlandish, as when one woman incorrectly told CNN before the election that pastors can be taken to jail if they refuse to solemnize a same-sex wedding. Surely the state knows better than to, say, try to dictate a church's operations. Doesn't it? But as a recent court hearing in New York makes clear, the line between something the government would obviously never do because it would clearly be a violation of the First Amendment, on the one hand, and something the government obviously has the right to do and how dare you suggest your fairy tales should let you get out of following the law, you bigot, on the other hand, is moving all the time. In its 2012 decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the Supreme Court held that anti-discrimination laws could not be used to interfere with a religious institution's right to select its own faith leaders. The ruling rested on a principle known as the "ministerial exception." In the U.S., a company isn't allowed to refuse to hire someone to a leadership position (or most other positions) because of the applicant's gender or religion. But if that rule were enforced against religious organizations, a Catholic church could be prosecuted for not ordaining women (or, even more absurdly, Protestants, Buddhists, and atheists) as priests. If that prospect doesn't disturb you, try substituting "Islamic mosque" for "Catholic church" and "imam" for "priest." It's an important precedent. In fact, people sometimes point to Hosanna-Tabor as evidence that conservative Christians who are worried the government is coming for them should cool their jets. In my America piece, I quote the University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock noting that "The ministerial exception decision was unanimous. It's not going anywhere." But even a ruling from all nine justices doesn't foreclose the possibility of expensive lawsuits, as one Christian school is discovering. Earlier this week, St. Anthony School and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York were forced to appear in a Manhattan courtroom to argue that the state can't interfere in their hiring and firing decisions. The suit was brought by a former principal, Joanne Fratello, who says her employment termination violated civil rights law. The key dispute is over what counts as a minister. A pastor clearly is, while a landscaper clearly isn't. But what about a school administrator? In this case, as in Hosanna-Tabor before it, there is copious evidence the role in question did involve at least some religious ministry. A summary judgment siding with the school last year noted that Fratello's responsibilities included leading students in daily prayers and meditations, overseeing the religious education curriculum, and generally acting as a spiritual shepherd to pupils and faculty. Before she was hired, she was required to submit a letter confirming she's a practicing Catholic. She also signed a contract certifying she "recognizes the religious nature of the Catholic school and agrees that the employer retains the right to dismiss [the] principal" for any one of a series of reasons, including rejection of tenets of the faith. But Fratello's attorney argues the ministerial exception should apply only to clergy and—importantly—only within the four walls of an actual house of worship. He wrote in a brief that "a Church itself" but "not Church-affiliated entities operating in the secular world" are protected from interference, later adding, "organized religion must not be allowed to trump American democracy's need for an [sic] non-indoctrinated and educated citizenry." If the lawyer gets his way, it would constitute the rolling back of a precedent set unanimously by the Supreme Court just five years ago. (Hosanna-Tabor similarly featured a conflict between an educator and a religio[...]
Thu, 23 Feb 2017 12:15:00 -0500A man in Denmark will be prosecuted under the country's blasphemy laws for burning a Koran and posting video of the book's immolation to Facebook in 2015. The Associated Press reports that the man (whose name was not released) will be the first Dane since 1971 to be charged under a law forbidding "publicly mocking a religious community's religious doctrines or worship," and only the fifth person ever to be prosecuted for blasphemy in Denmark, according to The Independent. The man faces up to four months in prison but, if convicted, will more likely face a fine. Prosecutors had considered charging the publisher and editors of Jyllands-Posten—which in 2006 published cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammad that were met with violent reactions in various countries—but ultimately declined to do so. In recent years, Denmark had considered repealing its blasphemy ban, but in 2015 decided to reaffirm it during a session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council. A poll conducted in 2012 found 66 percent of Danish citizens supported the almost-never-used prohibition on blasphemy. Despite the rarity of blasphemy charges in Denmark, prosecutions against "hate speech" are quite common. Writing for Columbia University's Global Freedom of Expression platform, Jacob Mchangama argues that "scope creep" among such prosecutions appears to be happening in Denmark, and that Denmark's stance at the UN has international implications—especially among certain countries which punish blasphemy with heavy prison sentences, or even death: The conflation of blasphemy and hate speech goes to the heart of the debate at the UN between (primarily) democracies on the one hand and Muslim states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on the other. In 2011 the annual and highly divisive OIC resolutions on "Defamation of Religion" (an attempt to create a global blasphemy ban under international human rights law) were ended by the passing of Resolution 16/18 at the Human Rights Council. The resolution is essentially a compromise brokered by the United States and the OIC and protects individuals, rather than religions, from religious discrimination and intolerance, as well as promoting "open, constructive and respectful debate." Yet, OIC member states have since attempted to interpret the obligation to prohibit certain forms of hate speech in Article 20 (2) of the ICCPR, so broad as to include criticism and mockery of religion. Mchangama adds: Undoubtedly these states will have been encouraged by the actions of the Danish police and the District Court of Elsinore. However, the fates Asia Bibi on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, Raif Badawi serving 10 years for insulting Islam in Saudia Arabia, and Ayatollah Kazemeini Boroujerdi serving a lengthy prison sentence in Iran for "waging war against God," show that criticism of religion is an essential human right for all, including devout religious believers of all faiths. Watch Reason TV's interview with former Jyllends-Posten editor Flemming Rose below, where Rose talks with Nick Gillespie about "the Worldwide Suppression of Free Speech": src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pzdaoBsUW88" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]
Tue, 14 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) Organizers of a Valentine's Day dance in Henryetta, Oklahoma, canceled the event after a local resident pointed out the venue is only about 250 feet from a Church of Christ and a city ordinance bans dancing within 500 feet of a church.
Wed, 08 Feb 2017 17:00:00 -0500
(image) The folks over at Gallup have just released their data comparing the religiosity of Americans by state. Mississippi wins with 59 percent of the Magnolia State's residents describing themselves as "very religious." In comparison, only 21 percent of the flinty inhabitants of the Green Mountain State would so describe their religious convictions. But does the propensity to sinning correlate with a lack of religious belief? Not so much.
For example, folks in Mississippi are, on the face of it, less inclined than those in Vermont to turn the other cheek when it comes to violent crime, especially murder. In 2015, Mississippi ranked number 2 (just behind neighboring Louisiana) in the nation with a homicide rate of 8.7 per 100,000 citizens. Vermont ranked 47 out of 50 with only 1.5 murders per 100,000 (New Hampshire and Hawaii were more peaceable).
What about sexual mores and family structure? With respect to the prevalence of the sexually transmitted diseases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, Mississippi ranks 5, 3, and 12, whereas Vermont's rank is 46, 49, and 46 respectively. Mississippi ranks number 1 in percent of births to unmarried mothers (54 percent in 2014) compared to Vermont's rank of 28 (39.5 percent in 2014). The national average was 40.2 percent of all births in 2014. Mississippi came in at number 2 after the District of Columbia with regard to the percentage of children living in single parent homes, 53 and 48 percent respectively. In Vermont 28 percent of kids live in single-parent families.
What about overall happiness? After all, it frequently reported that religious people are happier than non-religious folk. Surely, the stronger faith of Mississippians must make them happier than more doubtful and dour Vermonters? Well no. Mississippians ranking at 48th out 51 jurisdictions surveyed are only a bit happier than folks living in Kentucky, Alabama and West Virginia. Vermonters at number 14 are lot happier than Mississippians but aren't nearly as joyous as folks in Utah which stands as our happiest state.
Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:01:00 -0500Earlier in the week, the White House put out a statement that President Donald Trump is going to maintain President Barack Obama's executive order prohibiting federal agencies and federal contractors from discriminating against gay and transgender employees. So why are some people afraid this is just a big smoke screen? People might be a little confused at news reports that there's an executive order floating around the White House that does nearly the opposite of what they said they were doing—an order that blows big holes in discrimination policies in order to protect religious freedom. Prior to the White House's announcement on Tuesday that it would be maintaining the order, some media outlets had gotten their hands on something titled "Executive Order—Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom." Even after the White House announcement, civil liberties and LGBT groups expressed concerns about the possibility that despite what Trump declared, something was coming down the line that was going to harm their interests. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and others even had a media teleconference Wednesday to express concerns about the contents of this semi-mysterious order. Wednesday evening The Nation finally published the executive order that had been circulated within the beltway, along with some analysis by legal and civil rights experts. It's a four-page, broadly-written, and pretty complicated order, both in what it attempts to accomplish and what its hidden consequences may be. There are parts of the executive order fans of religious freedom and freedom of association would support—it spells out that religious organizations (and individuals) cannot be forced comply with mandates to fund birth control or abortions, for example. But it also has some deep constitutional and rule-of-law issues. The order establishes that federal employees (and contractors) must be "reasonably accommodated" for acting or refusing to act in accordance to a set of beliefs outlined within the order. The very particular beliefs protected: Marriage should be reserved to heterosexual couples; biological sex is immutable (in other words, transgenderism isn't real); and life begins at birth conception and abortion is bad. This whole part of the order, then, establishes a particular set of beliefs that are protected by government order. It's not a "religious freedom" order at all. It's saying that the government will recognize and protect a particular set of religious beliefs, which is a violation of the Establishment Clause. It literally establishes a set of religious beliefs the government will give special preference to. Mississippi passed a law with similar carveouts last year. Its implementation has been blocked by a federal judge, for now. So after all that explanation, what is the real story here? Is this order legitimate? Is Trump going to sign it? The answers so far are that yes, the executive order appears to be legitimate and was circulating within federal agencies, but no, the Trump administration is not considering it. At least for now. A White House official told ABC News Trump has no plans to "sign anything at this time." The vague possibility hangs in the air, and so apparently gay and civil rights groups are continuing activism against an the executive order anyway and treating it though it's a Sword of Damocles about to fall at any moment. If these opening weeks of the Trump administration are an indicator, we are going to see a very, very leaky government. In most ways, this is great. It's awesome. Trump certainly doesn't appear to be a fan of transparency (at least not when it's about him, anyway). But internal resistance and conflict between parts of his admini[...]
Mon, 23 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) A Finnish politician faces up to two years in prison after being charged with inciting religious hate. Sebastian Tynkkynen, chairman of the youth wing of the nationalist True Finns party, made a series of Facebook posts following attacks by Islamic terrorists in France, including "The fewer Muslims in Finland, the better" and "Muslims get out of this country!"
Wed, 28 Dec 2016 13:30:00 -0500
(image) Jackson (Miss.) Police Officer Brandon Caston tried to bring some holiday cheer by flagging down motorists and handing them autographed Christmas cards last week.
One delighted citizen recorded her encounter with Officer Caston and posted the video to Facebook. Thinking the officer was stopping drivers at some form of checkpoint, she instead found out Caston was merely handing out Christmas cards adorned with a Bible verse. The Clarion-Ledger quotes Cassandra Welchlin as writing, "Now this is protecting and serving!" after receiving her Christmas greeting.
By all accounts, Caston is a hard-working, dedicated police officer who cares about his community. He was even commended by the department for thwarting two carjackers while off-duty earlier this year. And it appears he didn't use his police cruiser to stage a fake traffic stop to deliver his Christmas greetings, nor did he bring along a camera to help self-promote his holiday cheer for the good of his and his department's image.
But he was in uniform and he was standing in the middle of the street, which makes his attempt at sharing Christmas blessings and biblical verses borderline compulsory.
Reason has covered a series of happy police pranks that were far more egregious than Caston's—who by all accounts wasn't trying to briefly terrify anyone before showing them how great cops are by giving them a gift card to a chain restaurant—but since we last reported on the "kindness squads," even more instances of police pulling people over to give them "Christmas citations" for obeying the law continue to pop up all over the country.
Lest you think we here at Reason are joyless constitutional curmudgeons, other media outlets to both our left and our right concur that these well-meaning attempts at strengthening police and community relations might seem cute on video, but they're both unconstitutional and cruel.
As National Review's Kevin D. Williamson puts it, "Some of these videos are hilarious. But do you know why they are hilarious? Because that unsuspecting citizen who is minding his own business and following the law is terrified."
As far as Officer Caston's Christmas greeting cards, it doesn't appear that he was trying to fool anyone using the force of his uniform. But perhaps next time he wants to spread Christian well-wishes while dressed as an agent of the state, he could do it on the sidewalk where his presence won't be perceived as a compulsory traffic stop.
Fri, 09 Dec 2016 11:25:00 -0500On December 4, Edgar M. Welch carried a rifle into the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. Welch had stumbled on the "PizzaGate" conspiracy theory, which claims that the restaurant is part of a sex-trafficking ring tied to Hillary Clinton and her associates; children are supposedly being held prisoner and transported through secret tunnels beneath the business. Welch was armed because he wanted to rescue the kids. He didn't find any prisoners there, but he wound up firing his weapon anyway. No one was injured, fortunately. You've probably heard about that, since it's been all over the news this week. What hasn't been all over the news is the long American tradition that Welch belongs to. This is hardly the first time someone has filled up on fantasies that a conspiracy was holding innocents captive and exploiting them. It isn't the first time a fantasist has set off on a potentially bloody rescue mission either. Take the mob that burned down the Ursuline convent and boarding school in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834. The resentments toward that institution had very specific local roots, but the rumors that prompted the riot took an oft-told form: Girls were being held prisoner, and they needed to be saved. These stories were spread not just orally but via anonymous placards and handbills—if a pundit from late 2016 were somehow sent back to 1834, he'd probably call them "fake news"—that said things like this: GO AHEAD! To Arms!! To Arms!! Ye brave and free Avenging Sword unshield!! Leave not one stone upon another of that curst Nunnery that prostitutes female virtue and liberty under the garb of holy Religion. When Bonaparte opened the Nunnerys in Europe he found cords of Infant sculls!!!!!! That wasn't the only Catholic institution to be raided by would-be heroes. Throughout the era, paranoid Protestants became convinced that convents contained sex slaves, secret tunnels, and other staples of the modern pizzeria; more than once, they invaded intending to liberate the nuns. Nor was Catholicism the only faith to be afflicted by captivity rumors. A couple decades before the Ursuline Convent riots, for example, a youngster named Ithamar Johnson was "rescued" from a Shaker community in Ohio. He promptly returned the next day, and remained a Shaker until he died in his eighties. Much more recently, the cult scare that took off in the 1970s produced a whole profession of "deprogrammers," some of whom felt the best way to liberate a cultist was to kidnap and torture him until he declared himself cleansed of the religion's worldview. The cult scare helped shape the Satanic panic of the 1980s and '90s, when the notion took hold that a web of devil-worshippers was raping, kidnapping, and even killing children. In this case, it wasn't vigilante deprogrammers who would browbeat an alleged victim into saying what they wanted to hear. It was agents of the state. In the most infamous case, the authorities embraced the idea that the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, was run by a coven of child molesters. Interrogators badgered the preschoolers into confirming their suspicions, and the children's imaginations then produced still more lurid details. Naturally, there were tales of secret tunnels beneath the day care center. You'd think it was a convent or a pizza joint or something. Not every captivity fantasy involved unpopular religions. In the white-slavery panic of the early 20th century, a flood of exposés—there's that "fake news" again—made lurid claims about prostitution, greatly exaggerating both the number of women coerced into the profession and the extent to which the trade was controlled by a centralized conspiracy. (In his 1914 book The Girl Who Disappeared, a former Chicago prosecutor called t[...]
Fri, 02 Dec 2016 13:15:00 -0500The Thanksgiving leftovers are gone by now. Memories of oppressive Black Friday crowds (or the social signaling from those who refuse to participate) are fading. The Christmas holiday season is in full swing, and with it comes all the news hooks from people being just stupid about it all. Welcome to another viral outrage Christmas, full of media stories about how the tidings of comfort and joy are cultural appropriation, or colonialization, or denials of the glory of Christ (the reason for the season!), or bad for children's psychological development, or in some other fashion not being observed the way it ought to be. Let's take a look at what's on the menu just today. It's too soon to say whether this may end up being a recurring feature across the month, but all these stories bouncing around all at once already suggests the culture war has something important to say about egg nog and candy canes. The Myth of Santa Claus May Cause Kids to Distrust Adults. So … What's the Downside? If CBS wants to pay to read some British psychologist muse in the pages of Lancet Psychiatry over whether it's wrong to lie to children about the existence of Santa Claus, more power to them. I'll politely decline and draw from their reporting. What does researcher Christopher Boyle think is the problem? When kids find out the truth, it challenges their perception of their parents as the ultimate omniscient narrators of how the universe works: The paper, entitled "A wonderful lie," suggests that children's trust in their parents may be undermined by the Santa myth. "If they are capable of lying about something so special and magical, can they be relied upon to continue as the guardians of wisdom and truth?" the researchers write. "If adults have been lying about Santa, even though it has usually been well intentioned, what else is a lie? If Santa isn't real, are fairies real? Is magic? Is God?" For psychologist Christopher Boyle, a professor at the University of Exeter in the U.K., one of the authors of the paper, the "morality of making children believe in such myths has to be questioned." "All children will eventually find out they've been consistently lied to for years, and this might make them wonder what other lies they've been told," he said in a statement. "Whether it's right to make children believe in Father Christmas is an interesting question, and it's also interesting to ask whether lying in this way will affect children in ways that have not been considered." God, just imagine if the kids grow up and start questioning other things they're told by authority figures! Just think what terrible, terrible outcomes those would be! Surely Somebody on Twitter Must Be Offended by Black Santa! Mall of America in Minneapolis has a black Santa Claus for the very first time this year, the result of a lengthy search for a "diverse St. Nicholas that kids of color would relate to," according to the Star Tribune. They tracked down Larry Jefferson, who will be at the mall for four days before heading back to the Texas to play black Santa down there. Yes, see, it turns out that Jefferson has been playing Santa Claus since 1999 for kids and it's no big deal. It's easy to see why the Star Tribune would want to report on the first appearance of a non-white Santa in its major mall, but the story for some reason has gone national. I suppose it would be cynical and unseasonably mean of me to wonder if there are other media folks combing the Twittersphere looking for four or five random people to express outrage that Santa is not white in order to write a piece about angry racists? Sure enough, it turns out the Star Tribune has turned comments off on the story, though the Daily Dot was unable to determine whether there were any co[...]
Thu, 01 Dec 2016 13:15:00 -0500My public reaction (on Twitter) when I saw BuzzFeed's strange, now-viral piece about a couple of HGTV hosts going to a church whose pastor doesn't support gay marriage was to wonder if the media outlet was going to write a similar piece about every single Catholic in America or just the famous ones. Whatever the stated intent for running a story about the church attendance of some C-list home improvement show hosts (they do well in cable ratings, anyway), the subtext is clearly intended for us to look askance at Chip and Joanna Gaines for belonging to a church whose pastor preaches against gay marriage. The weirdest part of the piece is that it's entirely speculative. The Gaineses didn't respond to requests for comment, so it's a piece that cannot even tell the reader whether the Gaineses themselves support or oppose gay marriage. Robby Soave noted this morning a couple of media outlets like Jezebel and Cosmopolitan running with the story. There's also been a much larger blitz of responses that are critical of the BuzzFeed piece. Here's some critical analysis over at the Washington Post from an engaged gay man who worries that the digital media environment under the Donald Trump administration is going to end up as "four agonizing, tedious years of 'gotcha' non-stories like this one." There is some possible good news here amid the media feeding frenzy surrounding the story: At the time that I'm writing this, a host of outlets have written about and linked to the BuzzFeed story. But I haven't seen a peep at the major blogs or media outlets (such as The Advocate) that specifically cater to LGBT readers. I may have missed a blog link somewhere given the size of the internet, but this "controversy" doesn't seem to be a focus of sites that are narrowly focused on LGBT lives and issues. Why is this good news? Because it's a sign that the people who are actually affected by cultural attitudes toward gay marriage recognition understand where the battles truly are (to the extent that there are any battles left). Whatever the Gaineses and their retrograde preacher believe about gay marriage is not relevant to whether the practice will continue. There is no indication that any of these people in this story have influence to alter the state of legal recognition (or any interest in doing so). There is a lot of focus at LGBT sites about who will be serving the Trump administration and fears about what they may do. Trump actively courted LGBT voters, which is remarkable on its own for a representative of the Republican Party. Let's not forget that the Republican Party's opposition to gay issues hasn't been just a plank in the platform—it's also historically been an issue to campaign with, something largely absent from this year's race. Trump nevertheless did terribly with gay voters, according to exit polls. But while Trump doesn't seem to personally have much opposition to the LGBT agenda, the same cannot be said for the people he's selecting for his administration, and that's where all the power will be. I've noted previously fear over Trump's selection of Rep. Tom Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services, given his record of opposition on gay issues. Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for secretary of education, didn't just oppose legal recognition of gay marriage; she actually bankrolled ballot initiatives to block it. Her family has significant connections to organizations that have done everything they could to halt the legal normalization of same-sex relationships, and it's worth analyzing how that might affect what she does in Trump's cabinet. So having said that, what I'm seeing from pieces like this bizarre one from BuzzFeed, and from things like a gay politician's at[...]
Tue, 15 Nov 2016 10:30:00 -0500The FBI just released new information on hate crimes—defined as "crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity"—that occurred in America last year. Here are six key points and takeaways that are crucial to understanding the data. 1. The new report covers incidents that occurred in 2015. This seems like the first important fact to note, since some people have already been trying to pass the data off as a response to Donald Trump's election as president. That's obviously impossible. Trump did start his campaign seriously in the summer of 2015, which leaves open the possibility for his influence on bias-based crimes last year. But other influential events of 2015 include major Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris and Turkey; the mass shooting carried out by ISIS supporters in San Bernardino, California; the rising refugee crisis in Europe; an array of "officer involved shootings," anti-police brutality protests, and Black Lives Matter activism within the U.S.; and the transgender bathroom issue breaking into the mainstream media/political scene for the first time, to name a few. Any serious explanation for a shift in violence against various minorities last year must take all of that (and many other factors) into account, so it's disappointing to see people immediately leap to pin new data to "Trumpism." One needn't feel love for Trump and his fan club to find any explanation that starts and stops with them woefully lacking, partisan, and, to the extent that it clouds out analysis of other factors, possibly destructive. 2. The data is incomplete + inherently increase-prone every year. The FBI collects national data on all sorts of crimes as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. It has done so since the 1930s. In 1990, it started specifically collecting data "about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity," or what it calls "hate crimes." The first FBI hate-crime statistics included reporting data from just 11 states. Since 1990, the number of law-enforcement agencies participating in the FBI's hate-crime reporting program has grown relatively steadily, meaning that in terms of sheer number of incidents, part (or perhaps all) of any increases may be attributed to an increase in the number of jurisdictions and agencies reporting hate-crime data to the FBI. The 2015 statistics include information from law-enforcement agencies representing some 283,884,034 people, or about 89 percent of the U.S. population. This is actually down from 2014 and 2013 (when 15,494 and 15,016 agencies participated, respectively), but up from 2012, when just 13,022 participated.* 3. Hate-crimes against persons are down over last year. The FBI reported a total of 5,850 incidents from 2015 that it categorized as hate crimes, up slightly over 2014, when 5,479 incidents were reported. Overall, 65 of these biased-based incidents were classified as "crimes against society," 3,646 as "crimes against persons," and 2,338 as property crimes (with some incidents counted in more than one category). This represents a decrease in crimes against persons since 2014, when 4,048 such crimes were reported. 4. Nearly two-thirds of all hate crimes involved no physical violence. Of all 2015 incidents that the FBI deemed hate crimes, a little more than one third—36.5 percent—involved some sort of physical violence against an individual or group of individuals. Simple assault accounted for 24.5 percent of all incidents, aggravated assault for 11.6 percent, rape for 0.22 percent, and murder for 0.14 percent. Looking at just crimes against people, the most common occur[...]