Tag Archives: First Amendment

State using religion to discriminate?

Indiana seems like a nice enough place, with nice people motivated to do nice things to and for others.

Why, then, does the state’s legislature send to Gov. Mike Pence a bill that allows people to possibly concoct a religious belief in order to discriminate against others?

Pence this past week signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prevents someone from suing, say, a business owner from doing business with you based on the business owner’s religious beliefs.

Pay attention here: The bill is aimed squarely at gays and lesbian who could be denied service from those business owners.


Reaction to this law has been furious. Business owners across the nation have declared their intention to cease doing business in Indiana as long as the state sanctions discrimination against their employees. With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four tournament set to be played in Indianapolis, there could be a serious backlash that inhibits the money the state hopes to earn.

This law looks for all the world — to me at least — as if the state is using “religious freedom” as a shield to protect those who wantonly discriminate against those who have a certain sexual orientation.

What we have here looks like a misuse of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which guarantees the right of those to hold whatever religious belief they wish. The state is suggesting the First Amendment takes precedence over the 14th Amendment, which guarantees all citizens “equal protection” under the state and federal laws.

Imagine a couple wanting, say, to buy a home. Can a lender refuse to loan the couple the money to buy the home simply by pulling the “religious freedom” statute out of thin air — or out of some bodily orifice, for that matter? The law, as I understand it, prohibits the gay couple from suing the lender because the law protects the lender from being hassled over his or her religious beliefs.

The appearance of using religious liberty and freedom as a pretext to allow overt discrimination is a disgrace.

What about the 'Three Rs' in South Carolina?

South Carolina legislators want to teach public school students there a lesson about the Constitution. They want also to require teachers spend three weeks each school year teaching students about the Second Amendment, the one that deals with gun ownership.

Three weeks on one amendment to the nation’s founding document?

And it’s the one dealing with guns?

What kind of craziness is occurring over yonder in the Palmetto State?


Take a look at this: “As Ian Millhiser at Think Progress points out, that’s an enormous chunk of the school year, especially given that some South Carolina schools devote just two weeks to slavery and a week and a half to World War II.”

OK, that comes from Mother Jones, a publication not exactly friendly to the issues favored by the National Rifle Association. But Millhiser makes a good point about educational priorities.

Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has an A+ NRA rating. Both legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans. Of course, the Second Amendment is arguably the favorite amendment among the GOP, right along with the 10th, which lays out powers that states can assume when they aren’t covered by the federal government.

South Carolina’s public school students don’t need to be required to study one amendment — even if it’s the one that allows Americans to “keep and bear arms.”

That’s more important than the that guarantees free speech and freedom of religion? Or the one that guarantees all citizens “equal protection” under federal law?

As Mother Jones reports: “‘Even amongst a conservative constituency in South Carolina, I think they can rate that they have more abiding problems than this,’ says Dave Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University who’s long served as a political consultant to Republican candidates in South Carolina.

“‘Most people are more concerned with math and science, and the fact that historically, South Carolina’s rankings in education have been abysmal. Nobody, I think, would say ‘The best way to improve education is to have a three-week segment on the Second Amendment. Boy, that’ll move us up in the national rankings!'”

The idea is nutty.


County official won't sue after all

Kirby Delauter says he’s sorry. He erred in threatening to sue a local newspaper for using his name without “authorization.”

He’s a Frederick County, Md., county councilor who got upset with a local newspaper’s account of things he had said in public. So he threatened to sue the paper and any reporter who used his name without first getting permission — from Delauter himself.

That’s a very bad call, councilor.


Today he says he’s sorry. He won’t sue. Delauter understands what the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides, which among other freedoms is a free press.

Delauter said in part: “Of course, as I am an elected official, the Frederick News-Post has the right to use my name in any article related to the running of the county — that comes with the job. So yes, my statement to the Frederick News-Post regarding the use of my name was wrong and inappropriate. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong.”

The threat drew a loud chorus of criticism from around the country.


So, with that, he has apologized.

Apology accepted, Mr. Delauter.


Keep 'em out in the open

Larry Pratt runs an organization called Gun Owners of America.

His policy on guns makes the National Rifle Association seem almost mainstream and reasonable.

Media Matters, a left-wing media watchdog organization, now wonders why the media keep giving this guy air time and space in mainstream newspapers to spew what it calls “extremist views.”


I think I can answer that one. It’s called freedom of speech.

Let me stipulate that I oppose Pratt’s views with every fiber of my being. Media Matters takes its opposition a step further, accusing him of making anti-Semitic statements and espousing “insurrection” against the government.

Well, we have laws against “insurrection” talk. They call such rhetoric “sedition,” and it’s dangerous, indeed, to hear such language coming from supposedly responsible American citizens.

I generally tune this guy out. He’s one of those Second Amendment purists who believes any effort to regulate firearms is tantamount to tearing up the U.S. Constitution and throwing it in the trash. It is utter hogwash to believe such a thing.

I met Pratt once, in Beaumont, where he came to talk to my editor and me about gun-owner rights. My editor, who’s since retired, happens to be a gun enthusiast himself and is — or at least was — an NRA member. We differed from time to time on gun policy issues, but since I worked for him, I relented in my view about these matters.

My strong belief in freedom of speech in the First Amendment, though, requires that we give this individual the opportunity to speak his mind.

Besides, a friend once offered this piece of wisdom regarding those with ideas that some may consider to be those of crackpots: It’s better to keep them out in the open — in plain sight — than to let them scurry around in the darkness.

Let the bozos speak.


Reason prevails at Berkeley

Reason, common sense and an understanding of mission is rearing its head at the University of California-Berkeley.

University administrators are declaring that liberal comedian/pundit Bill Maher will be allowed to speak at a campus event despite protests from students who are angered by his recent comments about Islam.


Students have circulated petitions seeking to rescind Maher’s invitation to speak at Cal-Berkeley over comments he made that said, essentially, that Islam fosters terrorist acts.

The effort to pull back the invitation is silly on its face and is offensive at many levels.

Maher’s freedom of expression is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. His comments, while controversial and (to some folks) offensive, do not rise to the level of something that should be censored. Finally, universities should be a place where all ideas are heard, discussed and debated.

Finally, Cal-Berkeley is known around the world as a sort of Ground Zero of progressive thought. By definition, progressives should be open to all points of view. Let’s not take some namby-pamby view that allows thoughts that don’t rile us up, get our hearts started, cause us to hyperventilate.

Cal-Berkeley issued this statement: “UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher’s opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech.”

So, let the man speak. Those who don’t want to hear him are free to do something else … like study.


No threat to freedom of speech

So … I’m watching a bit of news at work the other day when a colleague walks up and says of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, “I don’t think he should have to pay a damn thing for what he said. Whatever happened to freedom of speech?”

He wasn’t finished. Then he took off on the controversy over that New Hampshire police chief who called President Obama an “n-word,” and then said he wasn’t going to apologize for saying it. “He’s got a right to say what he wants,” my colleague said.

He said a bunch of other things. I chose not to engage him at that moment, as there were customers present.

I’ll answer him here.

Freedom of speech? He thinks it’s threatened by so-called “political correctness.” That’s what I got from him. If that’s the case, he’s wrong.

Donald Sterling has the right to say the things he did to his, uh, girlfriend. You know, the stuff about his disliking her hanging out with black athletes and bringing them to his basketball games. He can say those things.

The National Basketball Association to which he belongs as a team owner, however, has the right to impose certain codes of conduct upon team owners, players, coaches, ball boys and girls, and cheerleaders. Sterling broke the rules when he spouted off as he did with those reprehensible comments about African-Americans. His comments entered the public domain and the NBA has acted according to its bylaws.

It banned him for life, fined him $2.5 million and is pressuring other team owners to get him relieved of his team.

As for the n-word-spouting police chief, he also has the right to say what he said. He’s also a public official in a community that has the right to demand better of the people it pays with the taxpayer money.

The Constitution’s First Amendment isn’t in jeopardy here. It still stands. The Neanderthal cop and the sad-sack NBA team owner have just been caught saying things decent human beings shouldn’t say about other human beings.

Long live freedom of speech — and long live those who demand better of those who say disgraceful things.

Talking past each other on religion

One of the frustrations I encounter occasionally when I debate the issue of our country’s founding is that my friends and I talk past each other when we disagree on this particular matter.

The recent Supreme Court ruling that sanctions sectarian prayer at public meetings provided that example.

I agree with the court’s ruling on constitutional grounds. I would prefer, though, that public meetings would begin with ecumenical prayers — and not prayers lifted directly to those of specific faith, notably Christian.

I make that point as a practicing Christian, OK?

Recently, I took note of the founders’ desire to create what I’ve called a “secular nation.” My point is that the Constitution contains an amendment that prohibits the establishment of a state religion, but also ensures that Americans shall be free to worship as they please.

Several of my friends out there in Blogger Land took issue with that view. They contend that the founders were men of faith and that they intended the nation to be based on “Judeo-Christian principles.”

Well, I don’t disbelieve any of that. It’s debatable, of course, that some of the key founders were devout Christians. Many historians have debated whether, say, Thomas Jefferson was a “deist,” or someone who believed in a more universal God. It’s been speculated that he believed in a holy deity, but did not necessarily believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to win our forgiveness for our sins.

I only can rely on what I know to be contained within the Constitution.

It does not contain the words “Christian,” or “Christianity,” or “Jesus.” The founders wrote the First Amendment and contained the religious freedom clause in its very first provision. Did they debate whether to establish a state religion? Surely they did. They settled, though, on a government framework that is decidedly non-religious.

What’s more, the founders also wrote in one of its constitutional articles that there should be no religious test for those seeking any public office. What does that mean? It means that you cannot require candidates to be of any particular faith, nor can you even demand candidates to believe in any faith at all.

Thus, by my definition of the term, the United States is a secular nation. We are governed by laws written my mortal, fallible and flawed human beings.

Despite their flaws, the founders created a nation that — absent any requirement to worship a particular faith — has emerged as among the most religious of any nation on Planet Earth.

It is because we are granted us the freedom to worship as we please, or not worship at all.

May I have an “amen”?

Amen to High Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it’s all right for governing bodies to begin their meetings with a prayer.

Good. I’m glad the court honored the First Amendment’s provision that disallows laws that establish a state religion but also prohibits any restriction on religion.

What’s a bit troubling, though, is that the court was so split on this one. It voted 5-4 — conservatives on the majority side and liberals on the other side — to allow “sectarian” prayer at town council, school board and county commissioners meetings.

I’ve never quite understood the strenuous objection to these prayers. They are, as Justice Anthony Kennedy noted in his majority opinion, meant to call attention to the solemn nature of an event, not to indoctrinate anyone.


The court heard a case out of Greece, N.Y., where a Jewish resident had complained that the city’s governing council opened its meetings with Christian prayers. He felt excluded from the blessings sought at the beginning of the meeting. So he took it to court and it ended up in front of the highest court in the land.

This would seem like a no-brainer decision.

Congress starts its sessions with daily prayers. They aren’t Christian prayers, or non-Christian prayers. They are all-encompassing. Indeed, Congress has members of many faiths, Christian and non-Christian alike. It even has non-believers in its ranks. Are the non-believing members of Congress going to protest? Surely they know better, given the constituencies they represent.

The court ruling doesn’t place any restriction what’s long been a tradition in many communities across the land. Amarillo’s City Council meetings begin with prayers. They’re usually given by Christian clerics and they often invoke Jesus’s name.

Still, no one should feel threatened by prayer. As Justice Kennedy wrote, “Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable. Legislative bodies do not engage in impermissible coercion merely by exposing constituents to prayer they would rather not hear and in which they need not participate.”

Mozilla boss done in by intolerance

Brendan Eich was under some illusion, apparently, that the First Amendment means people are free to express their political beliefs without retribution.

I guess not.

Eich was canned by Mozilla, the Internet browser, because he gave some money in 2008 to political organizations that favored a ban in California of gay marriage. Proposition 8 became a battle cry for those seeking “marriage equality.”

I do not care to comment on the merits of Prop 8. I do care, though, to suggest that Eich got the shaft by his company.


Whatever this man thinks of gay marriage, Prop 8, or whether the moon is made of green cheese has zero relevance to the company he runs.

Is he smart enough to be chief executive officer of a multi-bazillion-dollar Internet company? Apparently so. The company reportedly is in good financial shape in the cut-throat world of big business and matters relating to the Internet.

The most troubling aspect of this man’s dismissal — to my way of thinking — is that it suggests an intolerance of views that don’t comport with progressive thinkers. My understanding of the term progressive, which is synonymous with “liberal,” is that one should keep an open mind and judge everyone’s views on their merits. An unwritten element here is that the view should be relevant to something broader and more far-reaching than merely the individual who has expressed that view.

So what if the guy gave money to Prop 8 supporters? Does that make him less qualified to run his company? The link attached here suggests that his view restricts Mozilla’s ability to hire first-rate engineers and other geeks who might be dissuaded from working for someone who believes as he does about gay marriage.

Come on!

It pains me to say that we have a case of political correctness running amok. The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment has been stomped on in the process.

U.S. a ‘Christian nation’? Hardly

Ron Reagan has fanned the flames of anger by recording a radio ad in which he proclaims himself to be an “unabashed atheist.”

He’s signed on to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and has declared his disgust with those who keep interjecting religion into public policy discussion.


OK, here’s where I’ll make a couple of disclaimers.

One is that I am not an atheist. I was baptized a Christian as a baby and am now more of a believer in Jesus Christ than I’ve ever been.

The other is that I believe Reagan — the younger son of the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan — happens to be correct in asserting that the United States is a secular nation.

I’m not going to get into bashing others today; it’s a vow I made the other day about commenting on Thanksgiving. I intend to keep it positive — at least for the remainder of this day.

I merely want to refer to the U.S. Constitution, the document that establishes the framework for this nation’s greatness.

I believe the founders mentioned religion precisely twice in that document.

The first time is in Article VI. There, they said officeholders shall swear to uphold the Constitution, then they added: “but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The second time is when they got around to establishing the Bill of Rights. The very First Amendment in part says this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ” The amendment goes on to give Americans the right to speak freely about the government, it allows for a free press, gives citizens the right to assemble “peaceably” and to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

You’ll notice that in the First Amendment, the founders laid out the religion part first. Why is that? I only can surmise that they did so because their forebears had come here to escape religious persecution. They did not want to told they had to worship a certain way. They wanted freedom from all of that, so they set sail for the New World, where they could be free to worship — or not worship — as they pleased.

I also believe the founders were guided by religious principles. They did refer to “the Creator” when they wrote the Declaration of Independence. I hasten to add, though, that the reference is to a universal deity — and not necessarily a Christian deity.

Ron Reagan’s declaration speaks to the trend in recent decades to keep insisting that the United States is a “Christian nation.” It isn’t. It’s a secular nation with no national religion. Our founders sought to separate the church from the state.

Moreover, to those who keep insisting that the words “church and state separation” do not appear in the Constitution, I only can refer them to the First Amendment. I know what it means. So do they.

And I give thanks for the founders’ wisdom in ensuring our government should be free from religious doctrine.