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Category: Civil Liberties

This Does NOT Represent Family Values

This Does NOT Represent Family Values

In a blog on the American Family Association web site, Bryan Fischer has named Jessica Ahlquist, the High School student in Rhode Island who was plaintiff in a case against a prayer banner in her school, to his “American Association of Religious Bigots.” In doing so he calls her a “little atheist bully” and a “small-minded and vengeful brat.”

One may, of course, disagree with Jessica Ahlquist. One may think such a banner harms no one. One might even think it’s helpful. But even so, does that justify those words about a teenager who acted in precisely the right manner if she felt her rights were violated? She went to court. She didn’t pull the banner down herself. She didn’t start a riot. She hasn’t been guilty of the kinds of nasty threats that so-called Christians have issued against her. (For a summary of more recent responses to the school board’s decision not to appeal the case, see Dispatches from the Culture Wars – Public Response to Decision Not to Appeal Prayer Case.)

If one believes what happened in Rhode Island is wrong, one has the recourse of the political system and the courts. That’s the proper forum. I happen to think having a proclamation of one religion in a public school is not a good idea and that Jessica Ahlquist was right to oppose it. But the important thing here is that the disrespect, vengefulness, and brattiness have all come, not from her, but from the other side.

Bryan Fischer’s column makes elementary school playground taunts look good by comparison. He should be ashamed of himself. The American Family Association should be ashamed of itself. This is not an example of family values.

(HT: The Agitator)

Florida May Remove Church-State Separation from Its Constitution

Florida May Remove Church-State Separation from Its Constitution

SJR 2550 was passed out of the Senate Judiciary committee today. It would remove the provision that prohibits state money being spent “directly or indirectly to aid any church, sect or religious denomination.” It would also prohibit discriminating against someone who wanted to spend state program money they receive at a religious institution, such as a school.

I’m guessing quite a number of things this might make legal under Florida law would still fail in federal court, but thus far Florida’s efforts at voucher programs paying for religious schools has failed at the state level.

The official summary of the bill as filed reads:

2 A joint resolution proposing an amendment to Section 3
3 of Article I of the State Constitution to provide that
4 an individual may not be barred from participating in
5 any public program because of choosing to use public
6 benefits at a religious provider and to delete a
7 prohibition against using public revenues in aid of
8 any church, sect, or religious denomination or any
9 sectarian institution.

You can find more information on the bill here.

A similar bill has been filed in the Florida House of Representatives, HJR 1399. The house version is different in wording, but I’m not sure what the legal result would be.

This would have to go on the ballot in November, as it is a constitutional amendment.

(HT: Post on Politics)

Chuck Baldwin on Assaults on Personal Liberties

Chuck Baldwin on Assaults on Personal Liberties

I frequently disagree with Chuck Baldwin, and am disturbed when I see the forest of American flags that appear frequently around his church. I live near enough that I drive by that church frequently. But in this article he is absolutely on target.

One of my great hopes for the Obama administration was an improvement in our foreign policy, less dependence on the use of force overseas (especially an end to the Iraq war), and greater support for certain civil liberties. The Republicans always seem to be after one set of our liberties, while the Democrats go after another. I hoped that perhaps we would improve just by shifting the sets. Of course we’re in real trouble when some liberty becomes the target of both parties, as is too frequently the case.

In particular, I would mention warrantless wiretapping, on which then Senator Obama himself flipped during the campaign, and which should be blamed both on the Republican administration for proposing and carrying it out, and on the Democrats in congress for failing to blow the whistle and work effectively against it.

The people who can truly call a Republican administration to task are the conservatives; those who can call a Democratic administration to task are the liberals, and libertarians can get in there in both cases. We’d better get to it!

Obama Administration Opposes Fairness Doctrine

Obama Administration Opposes Fairness Doctrine

… or so a spokesman told Fox News (HT: Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire). This is good news considering the number of people who are inclined to revive it. (The Fox News report even includes the claim that Congressman Henry Waxman is interested in an internet fairness doctrine, for which idea he is being quite justifiably ridiculed. But then the story is by Fox News reporting on an American Spectator story, so …)

I belive the fairness doctrine is an obvious infringement of free speech and liberals should be embarrassed to support such an idea while claiming to be in favor of civil liberties.

(Personal note: Blame two book deadlines and a few days of flu for the low level of posting here for the last week or so.)

Willful, Crusading Ignorance

Willful, Crusading Ignorance

I took the title of this post from one of the speakers in the video embedded below. I’ve followed this IUPUI case for some time, mostly via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, but also through the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

This case is particularly egregious, but political correctness, or the idea that people have the right not to be offended often manifests itself in much less obvious ways. Frequently the label “politically correct” is used as a weapon against simple courtesy, but at the other end, it’s used to suppress freedom of expression, or in this case, simple reading.

I think this deserves the maximum publicity, and the university officials who either carried it out or turned a blind eye to it deserve the maximum ridicule.

Chuck Colson says Scripture Commands Limited Government

Chuck Colson says Scripture Commands Limited Government

Chuck Colson writes a guest column at the Christian Post, in which he argues in favor of limited government from the Bible.

In it, he tells the story of a friend of his who bought some property to create a children’s camp for inner city children, surely a most desirable goal. Over the next two years, his friend was harassed by various regulators and bureaucrats with overlapping and incomprehensible regulations. The delay, he says, cost millions of dollars and considerable delay.

Now assuming all the facts of this story are correct, I’m certainly in sympathy here. One of the major problems of modern government is the complexity of regulations as we solve problems with one set of standards by creating another, and create new federal jurisdiction, for example, where we see failure at the local government level.

I would like to see the government forced to simplify things and to move out of numerous areas of regulation. In other words, I like limited government.

But Colson finds a way to make his view the Christian view by claiming to take it from scripture. I wanted to say that he is prooftexting, because that is the best I can do imagining just how he might derive such a thing from scripture. In actuality, he doesn’t even prooftext–he just asserts conclusions about what is scriptural. While I can imagine where he might get these conclusions, I cannot be certain of the texts.

He says:

There is a profound Christian question at stake here. Scripture says government has just two objectives: to preserve order and do justice. How did we get from that simple function to a government that requires 18 different permits before you can build a new bathroom—or expand a campground for needy kids?

I can imagine a hermeneutic that would derive part of that from Romans 13:1-4, but it wouldn’t do too well. There are numerous passages about justice in the prophets, but I don’t see the part about limiting the function of government.

In fact, in Israel, where the prophets worked, there were regulations about what to eat (Leviticus 11), how to worship, even how to handle the blood of an animal you kill while hunting (Leviticus 17:13-14). Israel was, in addition, a monarchy, with only relatively informal constraints on the power of the king from prophets and sometimes people (the details are debatable). People’s sex lives were also intensely regulated (Leviticus 18), something that surely goes beyond the bounds of limited government. Oh, but I forgot. Modern conservatives think it’s a disaster if the government interferes with our economic freedom, but it’s open season on personal moral issues like sexuality.

So in the context of such a government, just how much could the prophets be calling for “limited” government? It simply isn’t there. There are certainly discussions that condemn rulers for immoral acts, but still there is no limitation that says, for example, that the king can’t take in taxes and assign them to whatever he wants within the limits of moral behavior.

But what about the New Testament? In Romans 13, for example, which I cited (and I confess I don’t know which scriptures in particular Colson is bending to his will on this matter), Paul is urging subjection to the Roman government, which was certainly not terribly limited as to its activities in the provinces, and only slightly so in Rome proper. Paul is calling for Christians to be subject to a government that was quite susceptible to not just overstepping it’s bounds a bit, but to rampant evil and destruction.

So while I’d like to support the idea of limited government, and indeed might do so even more consistently than does Colson by including limitations on the government invasion of private sexual activity, I don’t see that the Bible explicitly espouses it, and in the only government directly commissioned by God the government was not terribly limited.

Let me give one more example for those who doubt this. Compare the need to get permission to deal with wetlands, however small. That’s an issue that comes up regularly here in the Florida panhandle, and I think regulators are sometimes over the top and lack common sense on the issue. Landowners, however, also frequently lack good sense. But compare that to the sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee, when one would be ordered not to plant and harvest for an entire year. How does that relate to absolute control of one’s property?

I absolutely do not want to argue that the Bible supports me rather than Chuck Colson. In fact, I don’t think the Bible provides us with any blueprint for a secular or religiously diverse state at all. To the extent that one can support limited government and civil liberties from scripture, it would be via the route of supporting the dignity of each person and their importance before God, and not by means of explicitly stating how government should function.

I truly object to one major thing in this entire article, and that is contained in this next paragraph:

When we go to the polls in November, we should beware of any candidate promising that government will solve all our problems. We need to work to keep government doing its right roles and no more, because if we do not, it will eventually cease to function at all.

This paragraph follows immediately the paragraph stating that the Bible states the limited function of government which I quoted previously. Now we have it. If we vote for “that other guy,” you know, the one who wants to use government programs to solve problems, we are not behaving properly as Christians.

Which is, bluntly, hogwash. As Christians we know how we should be motivated. I can argue with Chuck Colson or any other conservative about the means by which they would accomplish Christian goals, but unless I want to become a judge in the sense intended in Matthew 7:1, I should stick with criticizing the means and not try to pretend that my particular views on means or my particular candidate is the right one for all Christians to support, nor should I question the motives they claim.

Oppose Fairness Doctrine

Oppose Fairness Doctrine

Here’s a case where I support a position taken by a number of religious right groups–the fairness doctrine. I don’t think it was ever appropriate, and it is both inappropriate and unnecessary now in the information age. The story is on the Christian Post.

In the information age, all we need to do is refrain from censoring speech. It is quite possible for the most marginal idea to find its way to some kind of a hearing, often more than it deserves.

Liberals should favor free speech–let the market direct.



. . . but on target. I refer to this post on Pursuing Holiness. My own preference is that churches and religious organizations define marriage for their own constituents, and the state simply define households. Laura’s words about free speech destroying human rights committees are also on target.

Against Personal Freedom on the Left

Against Personal Freedom on the Left

Ed Brayton reports on a victory for FIRE against the University of Delaware, which had a diversity training seminar that was mandatory for all students. It was followed up by big brother style watch-dogging.

Just in case some of us might get the idea that it is only right-wing ideologues who would like to indoctrinate people, there is plenty of evidence for the same behavior on the left. Where a particular ideology manages to hold unchallenged authority backed by force, there is an unfortunate tendency to act in this manner.

FIRE is to be congratulated for challenging this type of activity. They are continuing to challenge such practices at the University of Delaware, which, though defeated on this program, has not explicitly agreed to end certain other practices.

Burma/Myanmar Reminder

Burma/Myanmar Reminder

On October 4, 2007 I participated in Free Burma Day by posting just a banner reading Free Burma and nothing else all day.

I received an e-mail today from the U. S. Campaign for Burma, asking that we not forget what’s going on there. They mentioned several avenues for action, one of which works well for me–posting a blog entry reminding people of the situation. Very often our attention span for issues like this runs in days and weeks when actual reform requires months or years. Let’s keep paying attention.

Check out the U. S. Campaign for Burma web site if you’re in the United States, or find organizations in your country to support.