Category: Civil rights

SCOTUS Blows it Big Time on Free Speech

abortion_clinic_protestI’m no lawyer, but I do have some background in the law. The unanimous ruling today by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCullen v Coakley that struck down a Massachusetts law barring anti-choice protesters from approaching abortion clinics within 35 feet was ill-considered on at least two levels.

First, it extended the sanction of free speech to a forced captive audience. Second, it extended the sanction of free speech to harassment.

Traditionally, protesters on opposite side of issues have been physically separated by police in the interest of keeping the peace. That practical and workable idea ought to have been enough by itself to sustain the state law here. But, no, the justices in their infinite Bible-driven wisdom must bend over backwards to protect those who claim to be protecting the unborn.

Intelligent people can and do disagree about when human life begins. A dialog between those of differing views can have a positive outcome for one or both people if they are open-minded. But the type of speech this ruling has now enshrined in the Constitution isn’t informed, meaningful dialog. It is attacking, harassing, in-your-face speech intended to shock and offend. From one news report on the ruling: “The law was challenged on First Amendment grounds by opponents of abortion who said they sought to have quiet conversations with women entering clinics to tell them about alternatives to abortion.” 

Exactly. Confrontation is the clearly stated intent here. A woman entering a reproductive health clinic — who may or may not be considering or planning a perfectly legal abortion and who may or may not welcome the “information” from the anti-choice protesters — can be forced to listen to a “quiet [read, up-close-and-personal] conversation” (as if a “conversation” can be one-sided) from an ardent opponent of what she has a perfectly legal right to do.

Shouldn’t the right of free speech include the right not to be forced to listen?

Let’s hypothesize a couple who have decided to take their child to a doctor for some vaccinations. Can someone who thinks vaccinations are dangerous stop them on the way into their doctor’s office to harangue them about why what they are about to do is wrong? Perhaps even more on point, can an anti-vaccination protester stop everyone going into that doctor’s office to ask them if they’re planning to get a vaccine? How far can this idea of one-on-one forced persuasion be taken?

I guarantee you it will be taken a lot farther than a short-sighted Supreme Court considered in its suspect ruling today.

It’s highly unusual these days for the Court to rule by any margin greater than 5-4, but that doesn’t make a unanimous ruling correct.

EU Ruling on “Right to Be Forgotten” is Insane and Naive

European Union Logo

European Union Logo

The whole Internet is on fire today over a European Union court ruling that search engines must respond to individual complaints about inaccurate and irrelevant data that can be found when searching for a particular individual online. I’m not sure why I think adding my tiny voice to the din will do any good. But even if it’s just cathartic, here goes.

This ruling is even dumber than most of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings about voting rights and free speech in the past few years. It is naive and insane.

First, it’s absolutely impractical and unenforceable. It will lead to a glut of tiny civil suits where people bitch about Google search results finding and displaying an old or embarrassing photograph of someone.

Second, the ruling goes after the wrong outlet. It’s the publisher of the source material, not the search engine that in the normal course of operations happens to find it, that is the offending party here. (And all too often that’s going to turn out to be the individual who’s bitching. Can you say Facebook?)

Third — and this s perhaps the most important here — the whole idea of a “right to be forgotten” is so stupid as to not bear up any real scrutiny. As many have pointed out, the mere fact that some bit of data isn’t found by Google doesn’t mean it’s “forgotten”. People who have stuff they want forgotten need to pursue the sites where the data is hosted, not the innocent search engine.

This whole thing is akin to a reporter being sued for reporting a true fact about the subject of a story that the subject finds irrelevant or embarrassing.

Intelligent, aware, educated Europeans must be cringing this morning at the idiocy of these judges.

Surely Google will appeal, fight, and hold this action up in court for as long as its reserves hold out.

Still More Reasons to Kill the Death Penalty

The botched execution of a prisoner in Oklahoma yesterday provides just one more reason — as if more were needed — for the United States to join 20th Century Western culture and do away with the barbarism of the death penalty with a national law.

death_penalty_badgeClayton Lockett’s execution Tuesday night was halted after about 20 minutes due to an issue with a vein. He later died of a heart attack which was undoubtedly connected medically to the stress of the prolonged and unsuccessful effort to kill him in the name of the people. As one consequence, the state postponed the planned second execution Tuesday of Charles F. Warner.

Amnesty International — whose findings we cherish and ballyhoo when they point out human rights violations in other nations — has long criticized the United States for continuing the long-discredited policy of killing people for crimes. The litany of reasons for not engaging in the practice is long and well known. Yet we continue to demonstrate our inhumanity.

I know of course that my lone voice in the wilderness isn’t going to impact a single person reading it. Your mind is already made up one way or the other and politicians don’t, for the most part, have or vote consciences. Rather they look at polls which consistently show Americans in favor of capital punishment. Except, of course, when the survey offers the alternative of life without possibility of parole, which then typically draws the larger majority of support. (See this recent poll for an in-depth look at the issue.) Still, 60% of Americans favor the death penalty, the lowest level in almost 40 years but still higher than it would be with perhaps greater public education and awareness.

We Don’t Need to Allow More Immigration to Solve the Farm Labor Shortage, We Just Have to Pay More

Sometimes I wonder how anyone gets elected to public office in this country. Or perhaps more accurately, how anyone deserves such treatment.

Take the current crisis shortage of farm labor in California’s Central Valley, a shortage that is likely to result in fewer available fresh fruits and vegetables across America and higher prices for what is offered. Those charged with addressing the issue are ticked off at the Republican Party for not being willing to embrace comprehensive immigration reform as the last generation of farmworkers ages out of heavy labor. And (this is the kicker here), “Americans do not want the jobs.”

farm_laborersReally? Says who? Americans don’t want the jobs at slave wages while being forced to live in sub-standard housing and getting no health care. That much is true. But there are millions of Americans out of work right now, most of whom I’d wager  would jump at those jobs, hard as they are, if they paid a decent wage and included basic benefits packages. But of course Big Ag would have to cut into its obscene, federal-subsidy-engorged profits to accommodate such a change. So they sit in the corner like infants and rail at a system that won’t let them import and exploit cheap labor whose illegal status prevents them from complaining about the horrendous treatment they experience here.

I’m in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. I’m in favor of the Obama Administration taking its lead foot off the gas pedal of deportation (worst record ever, eclipsing W’s track record by miles). I’m in favor of keeping immigrant families together and allowing them to pursue the American Dream. But we don’t need millions of them to be allowed to cross the border from Mexico to solve the farm labor shortage; we just have to force Big Ag to treat its workers humanely and fairly.

Will that drive up the cost of fresh produce and other food? Probably. But I suspect the amount of money we’d save in providing welfare support to out-of-work Americans would more than offset that increase.

Besides, it’s just the right thing to do, wouldn’t you agree?

Corporations Holding Religious Beliefs is a ‘Laughable’ Idea

corps_people_executeLegal scholar David Cay Johnson takes the Hobby Lobby case apart bit by irrational bit in a column today on Al Jazeera America. He concludes with this statement:

if we could resurrect the framers, they would surely find the idea that a corporation has First Amendment religious rights laughable. We should too.

A corporation cannot attend church, pray to a deity, be baptized or otherwise initiated, or engage in dozens of other practices of religion that a human being can. Johnson makes a clear and useful distinction between viewing corporations as “people” (a mistake of legal language that should have long since been corrected) and viewing them as “human beings,” which they clearly are not.

There were posters and bumper stickers during the 2012 Presidential campaign in which GOP nominee Mitt Romney was fond of saying, “Corporations are people, my friend.” They conveyed some variation of:  “I’ll believe corporations are people as soon as Texas executes one.”

Amen.

 

We Can’t Let “Religious Liberty” Become a Way for Laws to be Abrogated

If the United States Supreme Court finds in the case of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby that a corporation can hold “sincere religious beliefs” and if it concludes that in this case Hobby Lobby’s allegedly sincere belief should allow it to ignore the law requiring corporations to provide contraceptive coverage to employees, one of the biggest slippery slopes in the history of the country will begin its destructive reign.

corps_not_peopleThe argument that a corporation is capable of holding a belief is patently absurd. A corporation may be a person as a legal fiction for some limited purposes but only its owners can be said to hold beliefs. And the very purpose of forming a corporation is to protect individuals from being held liable for corporate misdeeds and damages. It makes no sense that on the one hand a corporation is a shield for the individuals and on the other hand the corporation can be said to reflect in any true sense the sincerely held religious beliefs of its owners. The two are mutually exclusive ideas.

To get some idea where this ludicrous proposition could take the country, one need look no farther than a Federal case in the 1980’s (EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION v. FREMONT CHRISTIAN SCHOOL, 781 F.2d 1362) in which a private Christian school sought to exempt itself from offering health care coverage to all married women in its employ. The grounds? The school as a business organization believed that men are the head of the household in a marriage and therefore responsible for providing health insurance for their wives. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? But it did happen.

As Katie McDonough points out in her brief Salon.com piece, quoting Ian Milhiser of ThinkProgress.com, “To side with Hobby Lobby in this case, the high court will either be ‘abandon[ing] its longstanding neutrality among religions, or it will need to allow every sect to exempt itself from health coverage laws that it does not want to follow — including, potentially, sects like the one in Fremont Christian.’”

These are the extremes to which the religious Right — and perhaps the fanatical religious Left as well — will resort if the Court makes the wrong-headed ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby in the pending case. One can only hope that even this ridiculously biased panel will be able to see through the sham of “sincerely held religious belief” by a corporate entity and to the heart of yet another attempt by businesses to avoid having to follow a law which generates social good.

Elizabeth Warren Waxes Eloquent on MLK and Poverty

In this, the richest and most powerful country in the world, we can expose the symptoms and causes of poverty, just as Dr. King’s nonviolence “exposed the ugliness of racial injustice.”

In this, the richest and most powerful country in the world, we can come together to build an economy that works for all our children, just as Dr. King’s movement helped make “justice a reality for all God’s children.”

“In the final analysis,” Dr. King said, “the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent.”

Elizabeth Warren: A Nearly Lone Liberal Voice in the Wilderness

Elizabeth Warren: A Nearly Lone Liberal Voice in the Wilderness

Those words are taken from an email I received this morning as a supporter of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). I have not found one thing for which this incredible leader stands with which I disagree. And her ability to articulate — not only brilliantly but clearly — the ideas she espouses is sometimes almost breathtaking. It’s no wonder that she has been referred to by many political observers as “Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare.”

She wrapped up her email on Dr. King’s birthday with this soaring challenge:

The struggle may be fierce, the climb uphill, the obstacles tall. But in a democracy, we, the people, get to choose our destiny, and we can choose a country that lives up to America’s founding promise and achieves Dr. King’s dreams.

I could get to like her on the national stage.

Let Any Twitter Follower Send You a DM? Someone’s Eating Stupid Pills

sendandreceivetwitter

Courtesy of The WEEK

Twitter announced a new policy today that allows you to agree to let anyone who is following you send you a Direct Message (DM), whether or not you’ve followed them. Good thing it’s opt-in because I expect damn few people to check that little box. But this could signal the top of a slippery slope.

Until now, only people you followed could send you a DM. Your followers whom you have not chosen to follow have no way to reach you directly.

But with the new policy, there is a checkbox in your user settings that, when checked, allows any follower to DM you.

Don’t check the box! If nobody takes advantage of this new “feature” maybe it will fall into the dustbin of terrible ideas Twitter, Facebook and other social networks have tried to use to monetize their platforms at the expense of their users/members.

 

WTF? Christian Judge Orders Baby Named Messiah to Be Renamed

This has to be illegal, unconstitutional and a few other things besides stupid and ill-advised, right? A judge in Cocke County, Tennessee, has ordered that a baby whose last name was in dispute be given a new first name. The baby’s mother named him Messiah. Not, she says, because of religious reasons but because it sounded good with the names of her other two kids.

But Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew decided that the baby’s name would cause him problems in the future in the predominantly Evangelical community and ordered it changed. The mother is appealing.

The judge may be right. The kid may get some ribbing and harassment when he gets older if he keeps using Messiah as his first name in public in a narrow-minded community dominated by the Christian Right. But he may not. And who is the judge to decide? I mean, how many kids did you know growing up who took heat for their names? How about “A Boy Named Sue”?

Give me a break. This is the Nanny State on steroids. I hope the mom wins her appeal.

Religious Freedom Protection Carried a Bit Far

According to this piece in The Week, a group determined to keep the military from acting unconstitutionally with respect to individual religious practices is threatening to sue the Marines over what seems to me to be a silly issue.

It seems the Marines, in assembling a checklist of danger signals  that could indicate a possible suicide, included one labeled  “lack or loss of spiritual faith.” The civilian organization, The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, sees this as an attack on atheists in the military. Now, I am as big a defender of religious liberty and you’re likely to find. But, seriously, one item on the checklist hardly constitutes an attack.

Certainly, the loss of faith could in fact be an indicator or predictor of suicidal intent or behavior. One who has a life-long adherence to a specific faith tradition and who suddenly loses interest or faith is quite possibly experiencing upheaval in other aspects of his or her  life.

Despite the old saying about there being no atheists in foxholes, there undoubtedly are atheists in our military. If they were being singled out  solely because of that fact, there might be an interesting case here. But as one item on the checklist?

Give me a break.