Browsing the archives for the Religion tag.


Are Harry Warren And Carl Ford Oathbreakers, Or Merely Dangerous Cranks?

Law, Politics & Current Events

You've probably been wondering. It's a valid question. Fortunately, I'm here to answer it for you.

The Constitution of the great State of North Carolina has this to say about North Carolina's standing with respect to the United States:

The people of this State have the inherent, sole, and exclusive right of regulating the internal government and police thereof, and of altering or abolishing their Constitution and form of government whenever it may be necessary to their safety and happiness; but every such right shall be exercised in pursuance of law and consistently with the Constitution of the United States. …

This State shall ever remain a member of the American Union; the people thereof are part of the American nation; there is no right on the part of this State to secede; and all attempts, from whatever source or upon whatever pretext, to dissolve this Union or to sever this Nation, shall be resisted with the whole power of the State. …

Every citizen of this State owes paramount allegiance to the Constitution and government of the United States, and no law or ordinance of the State in contravention or subversion thereof can have any binding force. …

So it's troubling to see that North Carolina representatives Harry Warren and Carl Ford have introduced the Rowan County, North Carolina Defense of  Religion Act of 2013, which proclaims:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

Especially in light of repeated holdings by the United States Supreme Court that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (guaranteeing citizens "equal protection of the laws" and preventing states from withholding "liberty … without due process of law") makes the First Amendment's guarantee that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" applicable to the states, including North Carolina.

Representatives Warren and Ford are upset that the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the County Commissioners of Rowan County, North Carolina, for opening public meetings with prayers to Jesus Christ.  I suppose, if one believes that Jesus Christ is intimately concerned with the goings and comings of the Rowan County Commission, the lawsuit is troubling, because the plaintiffs will be successful. Their solution: that North Carolina, and its subdivisions including Rowan County, should take upon themselves the power to establish a State religion.

Now I'm not a Christian. But if I were, I would suggest to Representatives Warren and Ford, as a Christian, that they should be concerned with their own spiritual welfare rather than that of the Rowan County Commission.

Because the North Carolina Constitution has this to say about oaths:

Each member of the General Assembly, before taking his seat, shall take an oath or affirmation that he will support the Constitution and laws of the United States and the Constitution of the State of North Carolina, and will faithfully discharge his duty as a member of the Senate or House of Representatives.

We know what the United States Constitution has to say about a State establishment of religion. What does the North Carolina Constitution say?

All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience. …

No person shall be taken, imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties, or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner deprived of his life, liberty, or property, but by the law of the land.  No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws; nor shall any person be subjected to discrimination by the State because of race, color, religion, or national origin.

Under the plain meaning of the North Carolina Constitution, opening public meetings with a sectarian prayer is "control or interference" with the rights of conscience. It is "discrimination by the State" because of religion.

What constitutional blasphemy is it, then, to propose a law permitting the State to establish a religion? This is not the act of a crank. This is the act of two desperate men, entrusted by the people to hold high office, betraying that trust by attempting to subvert the Constitution. There is, from a constitutional perspective, no difference between Harry Waren and Carl Ford on the one hand, and Aaron Burr on the other. Or Jefferson Davis.

Representatives Warren and Ford, I submit, are oathbreakers.  By introducing the Rowan County, North Carolina Defense of  Religion Act of 2013, they have violated their oaths to support the Constitutions of the United States, and North Carolina.

The remedy for "malpractice in office," under the North Carolina Constitution, is impeachment.

Jesus Christ, in whose name Warren and Ford wish to establish a State Religion in North Carolina, had this to say about oaths:

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

North Carolina Representatives Harry Warren and Carl Ford should be impeached. They have violated their oaths, before God and man.

156 Comments

Lowe's, "All-American Muslim," And Living From The Inside Out

Culture, Politics & Current Events

Part One: Lowe's Decision

This week home improvement mega-chain Lowe's pulled its advertising from the TLC channel's show All-American Muslim. TLC describes the show like this:

All-American Muslim takes a look at life in Dearborn, Michigan–home to the largest mosque in the United States–through the lens of five Muslim American families.

Each episode offers an intimate look at the customs and celebrations, misconceptions and conflicts these families face outside and within their own community.

To some Americans — for example, the Florida Family Association — this portrayal was unacceptable. Does "All-American Muslim" portray Hamas suicide bombers sympathetically? Does it glamorize calls for the destruction of Israel? Does it suggest that honor killings are a rational method of maintaining good family order?

No. All that "All-American Muslim" does is fail to depict such issues. The quarrel of people like the Florida Family Association is that "All-American Muslim" portrays a group of Muslim-Americans as regular folks, faced with regular challenges, with blowing people up and imposing Sharia Law on the West not among them. This, to the Florida Family Association, is necessarily propaganda:

The Learning Channel's new show All-American Muslim is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law. The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.

One of the most troubling scenes occurred at the introduction of the program when a Muslim police officer stated "I really am American. No ifs and or buts about it." This scene would appear to be damage control for the Dearborn Police who have arrested numerous Christians including several former Muslims for peacefully preaching Christianity. Dearborn Police falsely arrested Nabeel Qureshi and Paul Rezkalla in 2010 and Sudanese Christian Pastor George Saieg in 2009 for preaching Christianity at the Annual Arab International Festival. Information on these two arrests are posted below.

The first two episodes start off with Muslim youth complaining about non-Muslim Americans’ perception of them as extremists after 911. The show then reports on these youths’ daily, weekly and monthly prayer rituals. Many Imams who are at the head of these prayer rituals believe strongly in Islam and Sharia law. This TLC show clearly failed to connect the dots on this point but then again that appears to be their intent.

In other words, the FFA believes that it is propaganda to portray some American Muslims as regular people without mentioning that there are also some Muslims who are extremists. Imagine, for a moment, applying this logic to other religious groups. Imagine arguing that it's propaganda to portray a Jewish family without mentioning Baruch Goldstein or Irv Rubin or the USS Liberty "for balance." Imagine attacking any of the many television shows portraying Catholics on the grounds that they do not depict clerical molestation of children. Imagine saying that "Big Love" is propaganda not because of its portrayal of polygamy but because it fails to spend enough time depicting Mormons like Ron and Don Lafferty. Imagine saying that it is propaganda to portray conservative Christians (like those in the Florida Family Association) without mentioning people like Eric Rudolph.

Well, actually, it's not too hard to imagine any of those. America is full of nuts saying stupid, stupid things about popular entertainment.

But it is hard to imagine a major company like Lowe's caving to such an argument about other faiths other than Islam. And make no mistake — spin as they might, Lowe's did cave here:

While we continue to advertise on various cable networks, including TLC, there are certain programs that do not meet Lowe's advertising guidelines, including the show you brought to our attention. Lowe's will no longer be advertising on that program.

Our goal is to provide the best service, products and shopping environment in the home improvement industry. We appreciate your feedback and will share your comments with our advertising department as they evaluate future advertising opportunities.

Lowe's is now desperately trying to pretend that it didn't cave to the FFA, and that it just sort of coincidentally decided that "All-American Muslim" is unsuitable:

Lowe's spokesman Katie Cody clarified, insisting that the reason why they stopped their ads was not solely the Florida Family Association.

'We understand the program raised concerns, complaints, or issues from multiple sides of the viewer spectrum, which we found after doing research of news articles and blogs covering the show,' she said.

'It is certainly never Lowe's intent to alienate anyone,' she continued.

The Florida Family Foundation, triumphant, can wander off to pester other advertisers for buying ads on shows that fail to portray homosexuality as an E-ticket ride to Hell. Lowe's, having caved to the FFA, is now reaping the whirlwind and trying desperately to please everybody:

It appears that we managed to step into a hotly contested debate with strong views from virtually every angle and perspective – social, political and otherwise – and we’ve managed to make some people very unhappy. We are sincerely sorry. We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, across our workforce and our customers, and we’re proud of that longstanding commitment.

Lowe’s has received a significant amount of communication on this program, from every perspective possible. Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lighting rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.

Lowe's apologia merely hands a roadmap to anyone who wants them to pull advertisements from shows in the future. It's also bringing out the attitudes of their supporters, and the supporters of the Florida Family Association. The comments on their Facebook post show off the folks who support them and the FFA. Take Dr. Dan S. Gilliam, Sr., apparently a psychologist in Wildorado, Texas, who says "I guess it is time to return to Lowe's. At least they can hear and analyze what customers say about promoting a race that would like to kill Americans. If you don't believe that, then you have your head in the sand." Personally I wasn't aware that Muslims are a race, but then I'm not licensed in Texas. There's Billie Jo Connor of Berwyck, Pennsylvania, who is either confusing Muslims with Latinos or is trolling me: "Welcome to america everyone comes from different backgrounds but i for one believe if u come here u should learn english and we should not press 1 to hear someone who i can understand im not gonna learn another language to live in the good ole USA! Merry Christmas!" Or there's Mary Calkins Malone of Yelm, Washington, who has grasped the core message of the FFA that Lowe's has endorsed through its action: "Yay, Lowe's! I don't think All-American and Muslim should be in the same sentence."

Part Two: Americans Living From the Outside In and From the Inside Out

The Florida Family Association is wrong. Lowe's was wrong to yield to it.

Earlier this year, when I wrote about the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I discussed a theme our pastor emphasizes that has become very significant to me:

A life lived from the outside in is a life defined by what has happened to me. A life lived from the inside out is a life defined by how I conducted myself in reaction to what happened to me. We should not define ourselves as the nation that was attacked on 9/11. We should define ourselves as the nation that stood up again, dusted itself off, looked to the injured, honored its dead, and persevered after 9/11.

It is beyond question that some Muslims are violent religious extremists who will kill Americans if they can. It's even beyond question that some such Muslims are here in America. It's clear that some Muslims favor imposition of Sharia law — antithetical to American values like equality and freedom of expression and worship — upon societies, and that some harbor a grand ambition to impose Sharia law here in America.

But those Muslims — however many of them there are — are powerless to change America's nature by themselves. The most horrific terrorist act, the most aggressive campaign to impose their religious values upon us — none of that can, by itself, alter fundamental American traditions and values. Those traditions and values were born in rebellion and deprivation, raised on the frontier, toughened through slow and painful progress from wrong towards right. They include hard work, fair play, due process, equality before the law, liberty, and individuality. Terrorist bombs cannot quell them.

But Americans' reactions to terrorist bombs could.

Americans could live from the inside out — we could define ourselves as the people who defend equality and free expression and freedom of worship and freedom from government interference no matter what, in good times and bad, come what may. Our we can live from the outside in. We could define ourselves as "the country that was attacked by Muslims and now is at war with Islam." God knows that's how people like the Florida Family Association wants us to see ourselves — a fond wish they share with both actual Muslim extremists and lip-service-paying dictators in Muslim countries, who dream of the power they would reap from America declaring war on all Muslims. By doing that, we'd not only commit ourselves to total and endless war, we'd change what America is in response to the threat of Islamic extremism. Muslim fanatics wouldn't have to destroy America — we'd do it for them by turning it into something different, something else, something small and ugly and inglorious. We would abandon consistent and ordered liberty for the vain hope of safety. "Liberty," said Learned Hand, "lies in the hearts of men and women. When it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it." (Thanks to Mike for reminding me of that quote.)

We've flirted with doing this, after 9/11. We've allowed the government to assume much broader powers, unreviewable powers, upon the premise that "9/11 changed everything." That danger is not past. And the mindset displayed by the Florida Family Association and endorsed by Lowe's threatens to push us much, much closer to the abyss. People like the Florida Family Association believe that there is no such thing as an "All-American Muslim" — that "Muslim-American" is an inherently contradictory term. They might agree in theory that America is a land of freedom of expression, but they will employ some categorical dodge to explain their position on Islam — like the increasingly popular "Islam is a political agenda, not a religion." (Note that this appeal to the categorical is exactly how the government convinces us to hand it more and more power over us — by saying things like "this belongs in the 'terrorism' box, not the 'freedom' box.")

So, such people want to affix an asterisk to "Muslim-American." That asterisk is indelible and stains us all, as surely as if we agreed "there is no such thing as a Jewish-American, because Jews have divided loyalties to Israel" or "there is no such thing as Catholic-Americans, because Catholics have divided loyalties to the Pope." No doubt there are some Muslims divided between American values and the values of Islamic extremists, just like there are some Jews divided between American values and the best interests of Israel and some Catholics divided between American values and papal edicts. But it is a central tenet of the mighty American experiment that we should treat people as individuals based on their abilities and acts, not based upon their origins or creeds. If we accept the proposition "we welcome all religions except Islam" or "we recognize freedom of religion for everyone except Muslims" or "we treat everyone equally except for Muslims, because of what some Muslims have done or want to do to us," or even the milder "any Muslim must be viewed with suspicion; no Muslim can be portrayed without a reminder that some Muslims are grave threats," we become a nation that lives from the outside in. We re-define ourselves based on wrongs done to us, rather than continuing to define ourselves by what we are capable of doing in the face of any challenge or any wrong.

It's fashionable, in some quarters, to call words like these naive. Islam is different, we're told. Sharia law is on the march, they cry. You're a fool to extend protections to people that they would never offer to you. But if hewing to these values is naive, I'll live with being naive. Frankly, I think that the mindset of the Florida Family Association and their ilk offers far more fertile soil for Sharia law than tolerance. I'm not worried about secular humanists (or "liberal" Presbyterians like me) yielding to Sharia law some day. I'm far more worried about the sort of people who invoke "America is a Christian nation!" to every social, cultural, legal, or political issue. These are the people, I fear, who are already susceptible to the belief that dogma trumps everything.

Make no mistake: the Florida Family Association and its members have the freedom to call for boycotts of anything they want. Lowe's can cave to the advertising-related demands of any cultural group they want; they're a private entity and they have rights too. But the rest of us also have freedoms. I submit we should use those freedoms to criticize Lowe's and defy the mindset of groups like the Florida Family Association. Let's define ourselves by continuing to defend core American values even when facing tremendous threats. Let's live from the inside out.

91 Comments

"No Elephant-Headed God-Men Were Killed, Mistreated, Or Blasphemed In The Making Of This Play"

History, Politics & Current Events

If the makers of Ganesh v. Hitler, a play set to debut in Melbourne, Australia on September 29, would like to add that line to their playbill, all we ask is that they credit Popehat (but please don't mention that to the Roman Catholics).

According to the playwright, Hitler stole the swastika from the Hindu religion.  And, much as U2's Bono recovered the song "Helter Skelter" from Charles Manson on behalf of the Beatles and Indiana Jones recovered the Ark of the Covenant on behalf of Uncle Sam, Ganesh just wants to steal the swastika back. 

The publicity blurb for Ganesh versus the Third Reich, from Geelong-based company Back to Back Theatre, depicts the elephant-headed Hindu god of prophecy seeking to go one-on-one with Hitler over the swastika.

Rajan Zed, a Hindu statesman from the United States, said Hindus were concerned about the play, which will premiere at the Melbourne Festival.

"The Lord Ganesh was meant to be worshipped in temples and home shrines and not to be made a laughing stock on theatre stages," Mr Zed said in a statement.

"Lord Ganesh was divine and theatre/film/art were welcome to create projects about/around him showing his true depiction as mentioned in the scriptures," said the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism.

"Creating irrelevant imaginary imagery, like reportedly depicting him being tortured and interrogated by Nazi SS, hurt the devotees."

While Rajan Zed, the Hindu statesman from the United States, isn't explicitly calling for censorship, the thought of Lord Ganesh suffering at the hands of Nazis has gotten some Australians, specifically Dr. Yadu Singh of the Council of Indian Australians, calling for censorship:

Depiction of Lord Ganesha in this manner is going to become an Issue in India and among Indians, and is likely to create a controversy between India and Australia, which is unnecessary.

Further more, agencies which receive public funding in Australia, can’t be associating with any action, commentary, documentary or play, which lampoons the beliefs, deities or feelings of people from any religion.

What seems to be lost in the controversy and threats of international incidents is that this is a play about a giant elephant-headed man clobbering Hitler, which is not to trivialize the giant elephant-headed man, nor his divinity.  While the enormity of his crimes can't be diminished, Hitler himself has become so trivialized and diminished that politicians feel no shame in invoking Hitler to describe the Chamber of Commerce.  Hitler is now a comic book character, and a bad one at that.  Despite the playwright's description of the play as:

a “wildly inventive ride through history, where sacred icons and rituals become weapons” and “brimming with humour”.

it probably sucks, just like a bad comic book.

Surely Lord Ganesh is divine enough to withstand such a trifling indignity, even if some of his followers aren't.

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Christianity, Atheism, And Freakish Anger

Politics & Current Events

There are many things that alienate me from the various groups to which I (nominally) belong. The starkest ones arise in the context of religion. I strive to be a Christian — usually falling fall short of what I understand to be Christianity's ideals. Yet I feel utterly alienated from vast segments of modern, American, public Christendom.

Take the issue of atheism. I can't find it in myself to be threatened or outraged at the existence of atheists — even aggressive, litigious, or obnoxious atheists, who grab headlines but strike me as a relatively small group. I can disagree, or even be annoyed by, some Establishment Clause lawsuits by atheists (just as I can be irritated by Christian legal positions in such matters), but I can't quite get to the point of incandescent rage.

So when a group of atheists filed suit over the presence of a cross at a 9/11 memorial, my reaction was not fury. I noted that my classmate David French was on the case and snarked mildly about the atheists' approach to the standing issue, but it didn't spike my blood pressure. Nor did it provoke rage from David, who is a religious-freedom advocate and as devout a Christian as you are likely to meet, but was also the law school classmate to whom we would appeal for the viewpoint of the hypothetical "reasonable person."

Alas, American Christendom — or what passes for Christendom — is not populated exclusively with people like David. It's an exercise for philosophers (or polemicists) whether it is even made up mostly of such people.

Rather, American Christendom is also made up of people like the visitors to Fox News' Facebook page who commented on the 9/11 cross lawsuit story.

It is made up of people like Hans Anderson, a student at MSU:

It is made up of people like Eileen Rourke:

It is made up of people like Sindy Clock:


It is made up of people like Raylene Ingmire, who no doubt spreads her views to her students at Clinton Middle School:

It is made up of people like Casey M. Jones:

It is made up of people like Michael Perri:

Surely there is a strong component of the GIF Theory here — people perceive using their Facebook accounts as semi-anonymous, even though (as the now-Google-famous people above are finding out) it isn't.

Even so, I find these people, and their ilk, much more threatening and infuriating than even the most vexatiously litigious atheists. I have friends and family members who are agnostic or atheist; many of them keep the spirit of Christ's words about love, compassion, and humility better than I do. Yet segments of our society are prepared to treat them in some contexts as second-class citizens. The self-described Christians above do not think that they will cast themselves outside of acceptable society by talking like that — and they are right. Rather, they are reacting to a sick culture that renders such commentary acceptable or even encouraged. Some [edited to add "some"] Conservative Christians complain that the culture reviles them, and perhaps some segments of it do. But everyone who tolerates this sort of invective — everyone who participates in a culture that signals that this rhetoric is acceptable — is hurting not just American culture but American Christianity.

It's a vicious cycle. To the extent we allow this sort of thing be the face of American Christianity, more people will choose another path — which will make such self-described Christians even more threatened and more prone to saying such things, and so on. Imagining American culture as a struggle between Christians and atheists may lead to short-term political gain for some Christians, but it spells stagnation and long-term spiritual decline.

58 Comments

The War on the War on the War on Christmas Just Got a Little Harder

Politics & Current Events

Ken already ably demonstrated everything that is wrong with fundie caterwauling about the non-existent War on Christmas. It is for that reason that I will do no more than engage in some cathartic name-calling about those idiots before getting to my main point.

The War on Christmas does not exist. It exists only in the minds of pathetic people who wish to substitute themselves for Jesus on the cross and loudly proclaim the martyrdom that they suffer when anyone dares be considerate of people who aren't exactly like them. It isn't enough that their religion represents an overwhelming majority of Americans. It isn't enough that their religion has led them to support profoundly dumb curricula in both history and science. It apparently does not matter at all that the people waging this so-called war are themselves largely Christian. The main difference between the two camps is that only the alleged warriors are living their Christian values.

And yet…

Under the guise of enforcing a non-discrimination provision in federal banking regulations, examiners for the Federal Reserve ordered a bank in Oklahoma to remove "Merry Christmas" buttons, teller's crosses and a bible verse that was on display. And now we have a problem.

As James Joyner at Outside the Beltway notes, this was a bad decision by a low-level official that was quickly reversed in the face of criticism. As such, I would not think it is a very big deal. But I fear that it will be a big deal because someone, someday – and probably soon – will decide it is a big deal. When the next round of War on Christmas moaning breaks out, this dumb incident will become "evidence" that "the federal government" is "trying to eradicate Christianity" or some such bullshit. And the fact that a gigantic fucking cross is sitting on wink-wink-private-land based on an act of Congress or that the Texas Speaker of the House is facing serious opposition from Christian conservatives merely because he is Jewish will do nothing to dispel that notion.

So… thanks for nothing, Federal Reserve regulators. You've reignited a flame that sane believers in the separation of church and state keep trying to put out.

12 Comments

Jesus May Be the Reason For The Season. However, Jesus Is Not the Reason You Are Shopping At Dick's.

Culture, Politics & Current Events

It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas, as the first salvos of the seasonal culture war are fired.

Look, I know that I've ranted about this before. But bear with me. It keeps happening, and earlier every year, so I keep ranting.

It's hard for people who want to be good Christians to raise their kids in a spiritual Christian spirit during the holidays. The overwhelming message kids receive in our society is not about the Christian Christmas, but about the enjoyable (mostly) trappings of the secular Christmas that coincides with the Christian holiday. Christians are supposed to be focused on the advent of Christ and what He means to humanity. The culture is largely concerned — and always will be — with ugly sweaters, eating until we heave, going into debt to buy stuff that may or may not amuse us for more than a week, and indulging in fun traditional winter rituals. It's brutally difficult to keep kids even a little focused on the advent/goodwill-towards-men/peace-on-earth thing and not on the deafening omnipresent roar of the cash registers. My son Evan has been writing and rewriting his Christmas list so obsessively that he's about half an hour away from making it a multimedia presentation. And I can't blame him. That's what the culture teaches him.

If people aren't Christian or religious, and want to enjoy the secular Christmas, or non-Christian religious practices, best wishes to them; may they enjoy their family's seasonal traditions. Those of us who would like our Christmas to be more about Christ have options. We can deliberately re-focus the season: fewer parties in the whirlwind, more modest decorations, less of a cornucopia of presents, more of an emphasis on family activities together and reading stories about Christmas. We've had some success with that: we're part of a happy group of adult relatives who've agreed that to only buy presents for each others' kids and not for adults. We can also work to teach our kids about why the religious meaning of Christmas is important to us, and (as part of a life-long lesson in being skeptical about advertising) help them spot how the culture wants them to buy, buy, buy without regard to whether it really makes them happy or satisfied.

Unfortunately, of the voices calling for a focus on Christ, the noisiest ones are not the ones trying to focus seasonal attention on talking about Jesus' advent in the home and the church. No, the noisiest voices are trying to make the secular, material, consumption-focused side more Jesus-focused.

I submit this is ridiculous.

Typical example: the American Family Association is calling for a boycott of Dick's Sporting Goods because Dick's doesn't feature the word "Christmas" prominently enough in its holiday advertising. The AFA's position is that by failing to say "Christmas" as often as possible in its advertisements, Dick's is being deliberately offensive:

We looked high and low for "Christmas" at Dick's, only to find they couldn't care less if they offend you and other Christians.

But look: Dick's is not in the business of spirituality. Dick's is in the business of selling sporting goods. Dick's will either sell enough sporting goods at a sufficient margin to stay afloat, or they won't — that's true whether they keep Christmas in their hearts or not. Dick's decision to say "Christmas" however many times it has to in order to keep the AFA off of its ass, or not, will depend not on the spirituality of some Dick's executive committee (or the poor cash-register jockey harassed by the angry AFAite), but on Dick's assessment of what advertising sells sporting goods best. And you know what? Christians are missing the point if they care. Because whether Dick's celebrates Christmas with cold, monochrome atheist banners or with Jesuses on pogo sticks handing out bible verses at the register, buying sporting goods is not about the religions, spiritual Christmas. It's about the secular Christmas. Far from putting the Christ back in Christmas, the AFA's queer obsession with merchants' advertising nomenclature is distancing Christians from the spiritual Christmas and promoting confusion between the spiritual and the secular.

The AFA's naughty or nice list of retailers is a further illustration of how the AFA, like other Culture Warriors for Christmas, utterly confuse the secular trappings of Christmas with the spiritual meaning of Christmas to Christians:

Criteria – AFA reviewed up to four areas to determine if a company was "Christmas-friendly" in their advertising: print media (newspaper inserts), broadcast media (radio/television), website and/or personal visits to the store. If a company's ad has references to items associated with Christmas (trees, wreaths, lights, etc.), it was considered as an attempt to reach "Christmas" shoppers.

If a company has items associated with Christmas, but did not use the word "Christmas," then the company is considered as censoring "Christmas."

Companies are not "censoring Christmas" because "censoring" does not mean "failing to utter the message I wanted you to utter." Moreover, the obsession with what our merchants say about Christmas — rather than focusing on what we say to our kids at home and at church about Christmas — misses the point of Christmas entirely. It's like saying that we don't focus enough on Easter representing the death and resurrection of Christ and His transcendent sacrifice, and we ought to remedy that by making more chocolate Jesuses and fewer chocolate rabbits. It's like saying that, instead of throwing the moneylenders and dove-sellers out of the temple, Jesus ought to have told them to hand out free copies of His Sermon on the Mount with each purchase. We're told repeatedly — and correctly, I think — that Christian education begins in the home and continues at church. It's counterproductive to dilute that message by telling kids, in effect, that they also ought to look for spirituality in the food court. The mall is always going to be about commerce, and commerce is not about Christ, and it's sheer lunacy to think otherwise.

Telling a retailer to say "Jesus" a lot or we won't shop there doesn't promote spirituality. It cheapens it. Teaching children that they ought to look for stores that say "Christmas" in their advertisements does not teach kids to be better Christians. It teaches them to be more gullible consumers of advertising. It teaches them to be more secular and less Christian.

I try not to think the worst of people. Okay, you've read me, you're not going to buy that. Let's say: I make an occasional gesture towards thinking about possibly not assuming the worst of people without evidence. But the efforts of the AFA, and of similar Culture Warriors, seem so foolishly, so forcefully, so self-evidently counter-productive to actual promotion of Christian values that I've become convinced that they are actually all about promoting cultural and social orthodoxy in the secular sphere. And I see nothing to respect about that. They, and their allies, trade in bogus urban legends: about hordes of ACLU lawyers going about suing stores that say "Merry Christmas", about stores bullied into taking down Christmas references because they are quaking in fear over offending those nasty Jews or atheists or Muslims, about stores secularizing their advertisements out of conscious secular hostility to religion. Bunk. Stores choose advertising based on what they think will separate customers from their money. They are doing so in a nation that remains overwhelmingly majority Christian (at least, in a cultural sense). The AFA is trading in unbecoming conspiracy theories and persecution complexes that I find, frankly, un-Christian. They are about political and cultural dominance, not about Christ.

Meanwhile, this year I'm going to try to spend less money on geegaws and more on charity, spend less time at parties and more with family, and find new age-appropriate ways to tell each of my three kids why Jesus being born is important to me.

12 Comments

Well, I Guess if God Promised..

Politics & Current Events

One of the candidates for the chairperson of the House Energy Committee believes that global warming is not a problem, because God promised he wouldn't destroy the earth. He goes on to quote the Bible as if it were some sort of scientific record, and not the made up scribblings of someone telling us what some invisible allmighty being told them.

Does anyone think that using the Bible (which has had more ghost writing done to it over the ages than an athlete's "autobiography") as any sort of factual record is a good idea? The Bible is only slightly more historically accurate than the Book of Mormon (which I remind posits that a really lost tribe of Jews was in South America, despite any archaeological evidence to the contrary) or anything from Scientology.

Can I enter Ragnarok into the Congressional record, since it is as well sourced and historically likely as anything God said? We are so screwed.

12 Comments

Taggers For Jesus Fight The Scourge of Atheist Expression

Irksome, Politics & Current Events

Are you an atheist, or an agnostic? Have you ever expressed an atheistic or agnostic view — or for that matter openly questioned some tenet of mainstream Christian faith?

If so, you are an abuser. You are offensive. You are cruelly assaulting decent Christians. You might as well have taken a dump on the Bible.

Just ask Chrissy Satterfield, who writes — possibly as a term of probation, possibly as karmic retribution for molesting children in a past life — at the WorldNetDaily.

Chrissy Satterfield is delighted. She's aglow. Why? Has she seen the naked be clothed? Has she seen the hungry be fed? No. She's thrilled because some pro-atheism signs were vandalized. See, those signs carried hateful, aggressive, anti-Christian propaganda:

Now, you might not see the anti-Christian hate. But you haven't been trained to look. See, this sign blatantly omitted the phrase "Under God" from its excerpts of the Pledge of Allegiance, thus defying God and insulting his devoted servants, President Eisenhower and the 1954 Congress, which recognized that invoking God would further distinguish us from those evil communists. Thus, referring to the pre-1954 language is a slap in the face. It's like burning a cross — in a bad way.

So naturally Chrissy Satterfield is happy that people are defacing these anti-God assaults. She begins "Never would I encourage vandalism," but apparently means "never" in some way that only super-special Christian insiders can interpret. Because she then goes on to encourage and celebrate vandalism. Because open expressions of atheism are an assault on Christianity and Christians, and deserve retribution. Hence:

Atheists have been vandalizing my beliefs for years, so it's about time the shoe was on the other foot.

. . . .

We will only take so much before we stand up against our oppressors.

. . . .

This billboard campaign was a calculated insult to Christians, and the atheists thought it was appropriate. That shows you how spiteful this organization is.

. . . .

Well, let's see them ignore this.

. . . .

At last a silver lining. Someone actually made a difference without broadcasting his name to the world. The vandal stood up for what he believed in and said, "To heck with what anyone thinks." I find it quite refreshing considering all of the negativity our country has accumulated lately. It's nice to reflect on something positive, especially during theFourth of July weekend and the days that follow. The timing was impeccable.

Chrissy Satterfield has also mastered rhetoric and logic. Thus she recognizes that because most people would think it despicable and cowardly anonymously to vandalize free expressions of belief with which you disagree, it must actually be heroic to do so, because you're defying social convention that you're a cowardly loser:

I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the man or woman responsible for this vandalism. I appreciate the action you took. Thank you for reminding me that I'm not alone. It took a lot of guts to do what you did – and the fact that you haven't stepped forward to take credit makes you a hero. It shows everyone that you are more devoted to the message than you are to the spotlight. I encourage you to keep your cover. Don't give the secular world a reason to call your name; instead, let them call for our God.

That's some fancy dancing.

My first instinct is to despise Chrissy Satterfield and the mindless thuggish theocracy she represents. But on reflection, my second instinct is to pity her. I derive an enormous amount of comfort and strength from faith. But what sort of feeble, flabby faith does she cling to? When she goes to church, or prays, what sort of impotent, cowardly, mewling God does she imagine? I can't conceive she believes firmly in a strong God, a powerful God, a loving God. If she did, she wouldn't be so pathologically threatened by people expressing views that differ from hers. If her faith were not meager, she wouldn't be celebrating vandalism of alternate viewpoints. People of genuine faith don't fly into a rage when someone expresses a different belief in their presence. People who fly into an inarticulate rage over differing viewpoints do so out of profound fear and insecurity.

Chrissy Satterfield and her ilk are the people who will say that you are "shoving your lifestyle down their throats" if you simply attempt to exist in their midst without conforming to their every stricture. They're the people who register any dissent, however mild, as an immediate threat. They're people who think that Christians are under siege in a country where they vastly outnumber everyone else, in a country where the populace would elect any previously despised group before they'd elect an open atheist. They are the people who think that being criticized is the same as being censored. They are broken people. But that doesn't make them any less dangerous to the rest of us. Having read Chrissy Satterfield's column, do you doubt for a moment that she could come up with a way to rationalize and excuse violence against people who believe differently than she does?

I'm not an atheist or an agnostic myself. But I am very fond of many of them. I believe that my relationship with God depends upon my treating them with genuine respect. Are a few obnoxious in their evangelical atheism? Sure. A few. But they no more define all atheists or agnostics than Fred Phelps defines Christians. And if the weapons in our armory of rhetoric are insufficient to respond to them, and we have to resort to vandalism in response to the merest, most imagined slight, there's something deeply wrong with us.

Via Radley Balko.

7 Comments

Today Is July 5, Not July 4. In Fact, EVERY Day Is July 5.

Politics & Current Events

You don't believe me?

1.  Scientific and legal proof that every day is July 5.

2.  "How could I go to school after that and pledge allegiance and sit through good government bullshit?"

Every day is July 5.  The 4th of July is a myth perpetuated to keep normals in line, and to oppress God-fearing, and godless, weirdos.

2 Comments

Save the Whales! Even if — and I want to make this perfectly clear — they do say "Jehova."

Law

Heraclitus tells us that character is destiny. But what about naming — are names destiny? Is someone named Misty more likely to become a stripper? If you call a big marine mammal a killer whale, is it far more likely to kill its trainer?

That's a question for the philosophers. But there are more pressing legal, moral, prudential, and zoological questions: what do you do when a killer whale kills its trainer?

This could be a very complicated and frankly humorless discussion, cheering no one. So thank God for the American Family Association.

They think we ought to stone the killer whale to death. Actually, they think that someone should have done it several deaths ago. The whale in question, you see, is a serial killer whale.

What about the term "killer whale" do SeaWorld officials not understand?

If the counsel of the Judeo-Christian tradition had been followed, Tillikum would have been put out of everyone's misery back in 1991 and would not have had the opportunity to claim two more human lives.

Says the ancient civil code of Israel, "When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable." (Exodus 21:28)

So, your animal kills somebody, your moral responsibility is to put that animal to death. You have no moral culpability in the death, because you didn't know the animal was going to go postal on somebody.

I like the way the author is able to transition from "what part of killer whale do they not understand" to "every killer whale gets one free dead trainer" inside barely a paragraph.

Look, the Old Testament contains many ancient legal and social norms that are fundamental to the common law. But the Old Testament is not, itself, the law of this country. Many of its precepts find no echo in modern law — note, for example, the concept of ritual uncleanliness seen in the prohibition against eating the ox once we've stoned it. (I'm reliably informed that angry psycho oxen are delicious.) Sea World's conduct can be evaluated on legal and moral levels without resort to Mosaic law.

5 Comments

'Tis the Season To Compile Dossiers of Politically Incorrect Statements

Politics & Current Events

If one is inclined to complain, there are many, many things to complain about in our society. For instance, I could write nine or ten paragraphs about ABC's "Find My Family" as a sign of the apocalypse, and how I had to go lie down to stop myself from putting a fist through the wall after three minutes of it. And wives — too many wives forbid husbands to deep-fry the Thanksgiving turkey, even though husbands have achieved a reasonably high level of certainty that the deep-frying can be done without life-threatening injuries. And Mr. Salty Pretzels, which had the precisely, exquisitely perfect balance of pretzel and salt, and just the right texture. Why did those bastards at Nabisco stop making them? Was it because it is so very dangerous to Google image search "Mr. Salty?" I just don't know.

So what I'm saying is that there are a kajillion things you could get upset about. So explain it to me, in short words so that I can understand it — why in the name of that is tender and mild are you so upset that the local K-Mart hasn't festooned every single fucking thing in the store with big neon "CHRISTMAS!!!" labels before anyone's even had a chance to haul the turkey carcas to the curb?

I ask because somebody's created a web site to gather intel to support Christmas. Christmas, you may have heard, is under siege by the dark armies of the Left who are devoted to arresting you if you breathe "Merry Christmas" in public. Or something. Anyway, one grim signifier of the War on Christmas is that some stores — now, you better sit down, this may upset you — didn't have explicitly pro-Christmas decorations up on Black Friday. It's exactly people like that what killed Jesus. Thank goodness that the good folks at StandForChristmas.com are here to meticulously document the Commercial Grinches, those Nabobs of Noel, those Quislings of the Season.

StandforChristmas.com gathers your input about your shopping and advertisement-consuming experiences and compiles your ratings of various retailers. Retailers are rated as Christmas-friendly, Christmas-negligent, or Christmas-offensive. There's no category for Christmas-reckless or Christmas-grossly-negligent or Christmas-strict-liability, though perhaps there should be. What kind of things gets a store on the naughty list? Well, surf over and have a gander:

First thing I notice is that they are only playing non-Christian Christmas songs (Jingle Bells, etc.). Unacceptable. I ask a clerk, "What is the reason for the season?" and I get back "What?". I buy a shirt and when they ask me what kind of wrapping paper, I reply that I want nativity paper or something showing the baby Jesus. They say they only have snowflakes and snowmen and green/red paper. What does green and red have to do with JESUS?

When I paid for my Christmas shopping, I said, "Thank you and have a Merry Christmas!" To which the cashier simply said you too.

I absolutely hate the tv ad that lumps the wiccan holiday of solstice and an agnostic holiday Kwanzaa into the mix of Christmas and Hanukkah. They have lost my business forever. There are too many choices of where to purchase and I will only support business that support our country's founding ideals of Judea Christian values and holidays.

. . . and so on. Pause for a moment to thank God that you are not a retail clerk, faced with people who think that retail clerks are responsible for a store's marketing policies.

You know, I normally associate the religious/social/political Right with people who oppose, and criticize, political correctness. But what is this campaign to defend Christmas, if not an campaign against politically incorrect expression? Is the customer who gets shirty when wished "Merry Christmas" any different — or worse — that the customer who gets shirty because the clerk says "you too" when wished "Merry Christmas?" Is the guy who meticulously counts the number of uses of "Christmas" on a store's web site any different than the guy who meticulously counts the numbers of Asians or women in the store's advertisements to determine adequate diversity?

I love Christmas. I love listening to Handel's Messiah and a CD of Pavarotti singing traditional (religious) Christmas music. I love Christmas Eve service at my church, and paid a ridiculous amount at a fund-raiser for a reserved pew for that service.

But I can't fathom the knuckle-rapping spirit that seeks to enforce Christmas orthodoxy upon civil society at large. I find it annoying enough that there are any Christmas decorations up a month in advance at the stores, never mind whether they are secular or religious. How does it diminish my enjoyment of Christmas if someone says "Happy Holidays" to me — unless I am the sort of person who is offended that some people think differently than I do? So long as I keep Christmas well, why should I care about whether the guy who sells me socks keeps it well?

I'm also suspicious of the notion that retailers are suppressing Christmas and promoting secularism for some evil social purpose. I suspect that retailers, in interacting with the public, are doing things that they believe will make the most money. Can Christians vote with their feet, just like any other consumers? Of course. That's part of free speech. But I think there is a level of unbecoming paranoia in the "War on Christmas" hand-wringing about exactly what words stores use in their advertisements. Accusing stores of being deliberately anti-Christian strikes me as more inquisitorial than rational.

Moreover, I think that the vocal defenders of Christmas and critics of "Happy Holidays" are actually undermining their ostensible point — that Christmas is about Christ, not about presents. To some of us, Christmas is about Christ. But Christmas shopping simply is not. Christmas shopping is a cultural gloss that we have imposed upon the Christmas season, and that has voraciously consumed more and more of our thoughts during the season. As a parent, I know how hard it is to focus kids on the advent of Jesus rather than the toys they will be getting. Why, if people are sincerely interested in the religious message of Christmas, are they insisting that Christ and shopping be as intertwined as possible? Why isn't it a good thing for faith that retailers, through secular Santa symbols and "happy holidays" wishes, promote a chasm between the secular orgy of things and the religious celebration of faith? The current arrangement allows offensive inanities like Bill O'Reilly proclaiming that we must win the War on Christmas because Jesus wants people to spend money.

I'll answer my own question. I think that people want to police retailers for apostasy because the War on Christmas is about promotion of cultural and social dominance by a select group, not about promoting genuine faith. Having Target or K-Mart stick labels saying "Christmas!!" on every damn thing does not signify that Christ holds sway there — it signifies that the social/cultural/religious right holds sway. Hence the proclamation, featured so often in complaints on StandforChristmas.com, that "this is a Christian nation." The message is not of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men — the message is "WE belong — you don't."

Despite the fact that I frequently violate it, I've always been fond of the Third Commandment. And I know that it means more than not incorporating God's name into creative swearing. I've always understood it to mean that we ought not invoke the name of God for our own crass purposes. When Christ's name — and the holiday that celebrates His birth — is treated like a rallying cry to promote cultural orthodoxy, I think that the spirit of the Third Commandment is violated. I just can't fathom that Jesus wants anyone cursing our neighbors for failing to put Him on wrapping paper.

39 Comments

Great News For Christian Scientists, Witch Doctors, And Dionne Warwick!

Law, WTF?

Jealous of all those smug oncologists and neurologists getting all the money, while you're left with the scraps and an untreated brain tumor?  You need merely emigrate to the United Kingdom, where anti-discrimination law will guarantee you a living, and a medical degree:

Alan Power, who has been a member of a Spiritualist church for 30 years, argues that his belief in the power of mediums should be placed on a par with more mainstream religious and philosophical convictions.

He has already secured a legal ruling that his principles are covered by laws designed to prevent religious discrimination in the workplace, and is now seeking to prove that they were the reason for his dismissal.

Mister Power was dismissed by the city of Manchester because he consulted psychics.  Oh, did I call him Mister Power? That should be Detective Power. Power was fired from his job as a police trainer because he recommended that budding British cops consult psychics to solve crimes.

Of course it doesn't matter that British courts won't accept psychically derived testimony as evidence, any more than it matters that British tumors won't respond to sincere prayer or ginseng root extract.  Someone has been discriminated against.  It's unfair, and there ought to be a law!

Naturally we can't predict the future.  We can't know, yet, that British courts will recognize a right for Christian Scientists to work as physicians, free of the the twin tyrannies of biology and so-called "good medical practice."  Only a psychic could know that.  But the precedent follows naturally.

As for those wrongly convicted, or whose diseases go untreated as a result of this groundbreaking precedent, at least they'll be free of discrimination in their cells and hospices.

Via Overlawyered.

3 Comments

God Hates Fred Phelps

Law

You have the good fortune to live in a country where your freedom to say, and believe, that God hates Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church is protected by law.  If Phelps ran the government, I'd go to prison or be executed for saying that:

The U.S. fourth circuit court of appeals said Thursday the Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church were within their First Amendment rights to protest at the funeral of Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder.

The ruling reversed a Maryland jury's verdict in October 2007 to award Albert Snyder, a Spring Garden Township resident, $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages for emotional distress and invasion of privacy.

A few thoughts: though philosophically I'm not of the opinion that the First Amendment should provide as much protection from private actions in tort as it does from criminal proscription by the government, the Federal courts, to the extent they've erred in this matter, have tended to do so on the side of free speech, and I approve of that.

A tort action, whether phrased as defamation (traditionally not protected by the First Amendment) or intentional infliction of emotional distress, has just as much potential to shut down controversial, often valuable, speech and debate as a spell in jail.  In this case, a Maryland jury correctly awarded Albert Snyder $10.9 million in damages.

I say that the jury was correct.   Fred Phelps should be bankrupt.  Fred Phelps should live the rest of his days as a pauper, or better still in debtor's prison.  The problem is that the judge should have dismissed this case before it ever got to a jury.  The problem is that if we're going to do that to Phelps, we'll have to pauperize or imprison other people whose ideas and speech upset their neighbors.  Those who blaspheme against the Prophet Muhammad for instance, a direction to which much of Europe and Canada are trending though they're supposedly secular.  Or perhaps those who say cruel things about Republicans or Democrats.  Since I don't want to live in a country where blaspheming against Muhammad, or insulting Republicans or Democrats is a crime, I'm willing to accord Fred Phelps the right to be a non-violent monster, even when he insults dead soldiers.

My heart goes out to Mr. Snyder.  We all know that the best policy with a Fred Phelps is to ignore him, but some provocations are unbearable, and we're human.  The second best might be a punch in the nose, but that is illegal.  As we've observed before, maybe the best practical counter-attack against a Phelps is to do a good deed in his name.

Tomorrow morning Phelps and his crew of bigots will be spewing their homophobic anti-semitic bile at Union Temple, a reform Judaism synagogue in Brooklyn.  If you're reading this, and have a few dollars to spare for a good deed, perhaps a donation to one of their affiliated charities might be in order.

Make it in the name of Corporal Matthew Snyder, for the forgiveness of Fred Phelps.

8 Comments

God Will Forgive Kentucky For Taking His Name In Vain

Law

Demonstrating His generosity and love, God did not smite the State of Kentucky with a terrorist attack today, even though a judge has ordered that references to the almighty in the law creating Kentucky's Department of Homeland Security be stricken:

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate said in Wednesday's decision that references to a dependence on "Almighty God" in the law that created the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security is akin to establishing a religion, which the government is prohibited from doing in the U.S. and Kentucky constitutions. Ten Kentucky residents and a national atheist group sued to have the reference stricken.

"It is breathtakingly unconstitutional," said Edwin Kagin, national legal director for American Atheists Inc. in Union, "and Judge Wingate goes to great detail as to why it is."

The judge wrote in the 18-page ruling: "The statute pronounces very plainly that current citizens of the Commonwealth cannot be safe, neither now, nor in the future, without the aid of Almighty God. Even assuming that most of this nation's citizens have historically depended upon God, by choice, for their protection, this does not give the General Assembly the right to force citizens to do so now."

Earlier reactions from around the blogosphere to Kentucky's "God of Homeland Security law" may be found here and here.  My own view is that, to the extent that God protects us all from evil men, He does not need a special prayer, or a special dedication from a government bureaucracy.  Despite prayers to the contrary, God did not protect early Christians from the fury of the Northmen.  They protected themselves.

Of course the law's sponsor, Democrat Tom Riner of Louisville, disagrees that his bill has anything to do with religion:

Riner said he planned to ask Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway to seek a reconsideration of the order. Conway has 10 days to do that, and 30 days to appeal.

"They make the argument … that it has to do with a religion," Riner said, "and promoting a religion. God is not a religion. God is God."

The terrorists who menace Kentucky no doubt would agree.  The Northmen could not be reached for comment.

5 Comments

Take Off Your Hat!

Law

It's generally considered disrespectful to wear a hat in court.  If you fail to remove your hat before the judge enters the courtroom, you're likely to hear those words.  If you fail to remove your hat when the judge enters the courtroom, you're likely to hear harsher words.  If  you fail to remove your hat on order of the court, well, that would be unpleasant…

But where I practice, the majority of people who hear those words are rustic folk, whose hats feature bills and webbing, and are emblazoned with the names of truck or farm equipment manufacturers.  What about citizens whose religious beliefs require them to wear a "hat"?

That will be the issue in a case filed by Raneen Albaghdady against Judge William Callahan and the Third Circuit Court of Wayne County, Michigan, a jurisdiction with a substantial population of people whose religious beliefs require a "hat," or in Ms. Albaghdady's case, the hijab.

The lawsuit says Callahan "insisted" that Albaghdady, a naturalized citizen, remove her hijab and that she eventually complied.

It says the judge denied Albaghdady's petition for a name change, saying that she had filed her petition five days too early. No further details were offered.

The lawsuit seeks an order declaring the practice of "forcing Muslim women to remove their hijab as a precondition to appearing in court" unconstitutional and illegal. It asks that the judge and Wayne County not be allowed to "take similar unconstitutional actions."

On the face of it, the Michigan Courts' statewide rule, which requires judges to "exercise reasonable control" over witness appearance, seems neutral in application, assuming all hat, veil, hijab, etc. wearers are treated similarly.  But the inquiry may not end there.  After all, most people who wear headgear in court are just louts, not acting out of any spiritual obligation.  And despite what some claim, the United States is not a constitutionally secular nation, like France, nor is it a constitutionally religious nation.  Rather, the First Amendment exists to protect conscience for the believer, of any stripe, and the unbeliever alike.

(It's also worth noting, though miserable CNN from which I draw the story, doesn't, that Ms. Albaghdady's may be a "test case," as she appeared in court the day after the rule took effect, and there was video.)

And while I cannot find a controlling precedent on the issue of religious headgear, particularly as it applies to appearances in court, it's worth noting that most of our case law seems to favor those who have a sincere religious reason for wearing their outlandish attire. Or rather, while the religious objector has a heavy burden to establish some genuine reason for a "special case" deviation from general rules, once that happens, the burden often shifts to the government, especially in relatively trivial cases like those in which a woman wants to wear a veil at a name-change hearing.

Some of the most interesting rules and decisions come not from wearers of the hijab, but from cases involving Sikhs, whose religion requires them to wear a small, harmless ceremonial dagger known as a kirpan, with predictable results from school administrators and the like. And of course, there are situations where  allowing a witness to wear a veil or hijab in court might violate other constitutional requirements, such as the right confront an accuser in a criminal case.  Defendants, and their lawyers, do enjoy the right to stare at the complaining witness's beady little eyes under the Sixth Amendment.

In this case, my gut is that the judge was being an ass.  Ms. Albaghdady wasn't an accusing witness in a criminal case, or a plaintiff seeking blood in a civil case, where confrontation may be constitutionally mandated or cross examination and jury evaluation of credibility may be crucial.  She was just a lady who wanted a name change.  Her "legal case" was about as important to the interests of society as a parking ticket.  And on that note, it's worth quoting this statement, from Judge Frank Easterbrook in the Volokh post above:

Tolerance usually is the best course in a pluralistic nation. Accommodation of religiously inspired conduct is a token of respect for, and a beacon of welcome to, those whose beliefs differ from the majority's. The best way for the judiciary to receive the public's respect is to earn that respect by showing a wise appreciation of cultural and religious diversity. Obeisance differs from respect; to demand the former in the name of the latter is self-defeating.

It is difficult for us to see any reason why a Jew may not wear his yarmulke in court, a Sikh his turban, a Muslim woman her chador, or a Moor his fez. Most spectators will continue to doff their caps as a sign of respect for the judiciary; those who keep heads covered as a sign of respect for (or obedience to) a power higher than the state should not be cast out of court or threatened with penalties. Defendants are entitled to trials that others of their faith may freely attend, and spectators of all faiths are entitled to see justice being done.

As a newly minted attorney, I appreciated the duty of civility and courtesy one owes a judge.  But as I've grown older and been around the block, I've come to appreciate the duty of civility and courtesy that judges owe to people who appear in their courts.  My personal opinion is that Judge Callahan was an ass and a boor not to let the lady wear her veil for a trivial hearing on an issue of importance to no one except her and her family.

I post this merely out of interest, as it's not my field and I can't say who's right.  See this post by Colin Miller (who addresses an earlier Michigan case that may have brought this "test" about) and this by Howard Friedman of Religion Clause (without a doubt the best legal blog on religious freedom and law generally) for more on the topic.

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