Posts tagged ‘religion’

Environmentalists Break the Establishment Clause

Skeptics like myself often see parallels between environmentalism (as practiced by many people) and religion.  Now, they are going one step further to actually establish a state church:

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made national news last year when he fought to pass and signed a tax bill that levied a tax on Marylanders, businesses and churches for the amount of “impervious surface” they have on their property.

Though the O’Malley administration calls it a “fee,” it is commonly called the “rain tax” throughout the state. It is wildly unpopular and the promise to fight to repeal the tax was a large factor in Maryland electing Republican Larry Hogan governor this month.

Now Prince George’s County is offering a way for churches to avoid paying the tax, which is estimated to be an average of $744 per year for them — preach “green” to their parishioners.

So far 30 pastors have agreed to begin “‘green’ ministries to maintain the improvements at their churches, and to preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations” to avoid being hit with the tax, The Washington Post reports.

Hobby Lobby, Obamacare and Contraception

A few thoughts

  1. This is one of those "bad policy conflicts with bad policy" decisions that I have trouble getting excited about.   The government should not be mandating tiny details of health insurance policies.  On the flip side, personal religious beliefs should not trump the rule of law (example:  the fact someone has a religion that says it is legal to beat his wife should not create an exception allowing spouse abuse).
  2. That being said, the case only seems legally difficult if one completely ignores the existence of the 1993 RFRA, which most on the Left seem to want to ignore.
  3. I have zero patience with the facile argument that corporations have no individual rights.  Corporations are just assemblies of people.  Our right to assembly should not cause us to lose our other rights.  If I have freedom of speech as an individual, I don't give it up when I create a corporation.
  4. I am even more exhausted with the argument that opposing government subsidies of an activity is the same as opposing the activity itself.  Though half the readers who see this post will assume that I am anti-abortion or anti-contraception, which I am not. (Update:  This seems to be a prevalent argument today, though -- see here)
  5. The most ignored fact of this case in my mind is the absolute insanity of the government mandating that regular, predictable purchases be covered in an insurance policy.  Intelligent health insurance policies should no more cover routine contraception than home insurance policies should cover the cost of light bulb replacements.   Sure, I have no problem if some private person wanted such a policy and a private company offered one -- but mandating this craziness is just amazingly bad policy.
  6. If you really want to help women and reduce their net cost of contraception, stop requiring a prescription for certain contraceptives, like birth control pills.

When Sustainability is not Sustainable

After my post the other day on how new award-winning supposedly environmentally sustainable parks are far more resource intensive than the old parks they were replacing, I have gotten a lot of feedback -- this is obviously a topic that strikes a chord with folks.  In particular, a reader (I always forget to ask if I can use their names) sent me this article on the new LEED Platinum-certified building in New York

When the Bank of America Tower opened in 2010, the press praised it as one of the world’s “most environmentally responsible high-rise office building[s].” It wasn’t just the waterless urinals, daylight dimming controls, and rainwater harvesting. And it wasn’t only the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification—the first ever for a skyscraper—and the $947,583 in incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. It also had as a tenant the environmental movement’s biggest celebrity. The Bank of America Tower had Al Gore.

The former vice president wanted an office for his company, Generation Investment Management, that “represents the kind of innovation the firm is trying to advance,” his real-estate agent said at the time. The Bank of America Tower, a billion-dollar, 55-story crystal skyscraper on the northwest corner of Manhattan’s Bryant Park, seemed to fit the bill. It would be “the most sustainable in the country,” according to its developer Douglas Durst. At the Tower’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Gore powwowed with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and praised the building as a model for fighting climate change. “I applaud the leadership of the mayor and all of those who helped make this possible,” he said.

Gore’s applause, however, was premature. According to data released by New York City last fall, the Bank of America Tower produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses more than twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building. It also performs worse than the Goldman Sachs headquarters, maybe the most similar building in New York—and one with a lower LEED rating. It’s not just an embarrassment; it symbolizes a flaw at the heart of the effort to combat climate change...

“What LEED designers deliver is what most LEED building owners want—namely, green publicity, not energy savings,” John Scofield, a professor of physics at Oberlin, testified before the House last year.

I will go out and get a picture today of our local Bank of America branch.  It is LEED certified at some level, proudly displaying the certificate in the lobby.  Out front it has two parking spaces near the door for electric cars - it does not have a charger for them, just reserved preferred parking.  I am sure they got their LEED points this way.

Postscript:  I am not religious but am fascinated by the comparisons at times between religion and environmentalism.  Here is the LEED process applied to religion:

  • 1 point:  Buy indulgence for $25
  • 1 point:  Say 10 Our Fathers
  • 1 point:  Light candle in church
  • 3 points:  Behave well all the time, act charitably, never lie, etc.

It takes 3 points to get to heaven.  Which path do you chose?

Equal Marriage Arizona

Today I have registered as the chair of Equal Marriage Arizona.  We are seeking to place a proposition on the ballot in Arizona in 2014 to broaden the definition of marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two persons".  We are also adding language to protect religious freedom, specifically

a religious organization, religious association, or religious society shall not be required to solemnize or officiate any particular marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of its Constitutional right to free exercise of religion."

Our press release is here.  Gary Johnson's Our America organization has been kind enough to sponsor us, as have the Log Cabin Republican's national organization.  My co-chair in Arizona is also chair of the Arizona chapter of Log Cabin Republicans.

I suppose in an ideal libertarian world, marriage would not even be subject to state administration.  But the fact is that there are scores of provisions, from inheritance laws to financial and medical privacy laws, that give special privileges to couples who are officially married, such that it is a real equity issue that some couples are denied the ability to marry.  Perhaps there was a time when some hoped that contracts or civil unions might be an adequate substitute, but I know too many single-sex couples struggling with the deficiencies in these alternate, and deficient, marriage substitutes.

We are not seeking a referendum on sexual choices or lifestyles.  We are seeking a initiative expanding liberty by providing for equal marriage, for what could be more fundamental to personal freedom than choosing who one will marry?

More to follow.

 

PS -- I am turning off comments on this for a while, as it likely will get some media attention today.  Y'all know I traditionally have the most open comments policy on the web, moderating for spam only.  However, many people, including some in the media, still do not understand the difference between blog posts and comments, and tend to try to count political coup over the more outrageous comments.  As a minimum, since most bloggers moderate, they assume that I do as well (no matter how many times I say I don't) so that any obscene or deeply insensitive statements are assumed to be tacitly approved by me, since I did not moderate them.  Rather than moderate comments for content, I would prefer just to turn them off.

Free Speech -- We Were Just Kidding!

The First Amendment is nearly the last portion of the Bill of Rights that courts seem to take seriously -- treating all the others as if the Founders were just kidding.  The 9th and 10th went early.  The 2nd has been nibbled away at.  The 4th has become a bad joke under the last several Administrations.  We abandoned the 6th somewhere out in Guantanamo Bay and the 5th has fallen victim to the drug war.  (The 3rd is still alive and well, though!)

But today freedom of speech is under fire by those who increasingly claim [some] people have a right not to be offended that trumps free speech.  Just who has this new right and who does not (certainly white males don't seem to have it) is unclear, as well as how one can ever enforce a standard where the victim has full discretion in determining if a crime has been committed, are left unexplained.

We have seen this theory of speech gaining adherents in Universities, for example, so while its continued gains are worrisome though not entirely unexpected.  The one thing I never saw coming in the increasingly secular west was how much momentum anti-blasphemy laws would gain, and how much these laws would be pushed by the Left**.

Jonathon Turley has a good article on this topic in the Washington Post, as linked by Reason

Ken at Popehat has a roundup of creeping ant-blasphemy law over the last year (it is hard for me to even write that sentence seriously, it sounds so Medieval)

**It is in fact insane that the Left has so many people coming out in favor of protecting Islam from blasphemy.  I know it is not everyone, but it is just amazing that a good number of people who call themselves liberal can excuse violence by a misogynist culture that is meant to suppress speech in the name of Gods and Churches.  We have actual children of the sixties arguing that threats of violence are sufficiently good reason to suppress speech and that a religion that basically enslaves women needs laws that protect it from criticism  (these  same children of the sixties that all protested the Christmas bombings of Cambodia are also launching drone strikes willy nilly on civilians and claiming that the President can assassinate Americans solely on his say-so, but those are different topics.)

This all goes to prove my long-time conviction that the political parties have very little foundation in any real morality, and that they tend to simply take positions opposite of the other party.  Since Conservatives staked out the anti-Islam position, the Left feels the need to find some way to be pro-Islam.  Weird, but I can't think of any other explanation.  The only exceptions to this rule are 1) expansions of Presidential power and 2) taking the drug war to new stupid extremes.  Both parties seem unified in supporting these two things, at least when their guy is in office.

Enforcing the Emerging Right Not To Be Offended

What I wish Obama had said day one:

I didn't care for this particular YouTube video.  I don't think many in my State Department would agree with it in any way.  But in this country, that does not matter.  In this country, we allow people to speak their minds, whether or not they agree with those of us in office.  No, that's not quite right.  We protect their right to speak particularly when they don't agree with those of us in office.  I have sworn an oath to do so.  Browse YouTube and you will see hundreds of videos charicaturing me personally in ways I find hurtful.  You will find videos supporting and attacking nearly every religion, political party, or idea you can imagine.

Many nations are sometimes awed, overwhelmed, angry, envious at the power and wealth of this country.  But this did not happen by accident.  We are wealthy and successful because we hold ourselves consistently to a set of principles, and among the most important of these is freedom of expression.

All These Years I Was Driving Right Past...

Apparently, the home in which L. Ron Hubbard invented Scientology is right here in Phoenix.  In fact, it is right by my kids' school and I drive past it almost every day.  In the next few days I will take a camera and snap a picture or two.

I was a fan of Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth"  (the book, not the movie) as a young adult -- it is a classic example of 1950's pulp science fiction -- though I picked it up a few years ago out of nostalgia and found that it did not wear very well.  I do not know much about Scientology, though I wonder why folks who go all-in for it aren't at least a bit suspicious of a religion involving ancient aliens that was cooked up by a science fiction writer.

The whole thing makes for a fascinating story, and I think it would be fabulous book material for someone who is not either a proselytizing Scientologist or an angry ex-Scientologist with an ax to grind.

One of the Year's Most Distasteful Activities

The government just sent me a letter informing me that it is time, in the name of creating a race-blind society, to categorize all my employees by race, count them up, and report everyone's color to the government.

As an aside, I found this bit of privacy reassurance to employees to be pretty funny.  This is suggested language for an employer to use when asking, "um, by the way, can you tell me what race you are?"**

"The employer is subject to certain governmental recordkeeping and reporting requirements for the administration of civil rights laws and regulations. In order to comply with these laws, the employer invites employees to voluntarily self-identify their race or ethnicity. Submission of this information is voluntary and refusal to provide it will not subject you to any adverse treatment. The information obtained will be kept confidential and may only be used in accordance with the provisions of applicable laws, executive orders, and regulations, including those that require the information to be summarized and reported to the federal government for civil rights enforcement. When reported, data will not identify any specific individual."

So the private data you share will only be used if Congress writes a law, the President issues an executive order, or a bureaucrat writes a rule saying they can use it.  And this is comforting?  Our President claims the right to assassinate Americans by executive order, for God sakes, and this paragraph makes people feel better about categorizing themselves with the government in ways that, in the past, have been used by numerous governments in a variety of pogroms.

 

** I do not allow my supervisors to even ask.  We just do our best from our knowledge of all the employees.  My vision of the relationship I have with my employees does not include inquiring about their race (or religion, or sexual orientation) in an official capacity.  It also, does not encompass testing their bodily fluids, which is why I refuse to bid on management contracts that require drug testing of our employees.

 

Post-Modern Science

Would Copernicus and Galileo have been right to lie about the nature of the solar system if that lie prevented the undermining of the Catholic Church, which most everyone at the time felt to have substantial positive benefits?

I think the answer for most of us is "no."  Science is about finding the truth, and the effects of those truths on social and political institutions are what they are.

But we have now entered the era of post-modern science, where writers on scientific ethics now conclude that its OK for scientists to lie as long as they are on the right team

James Garvey, a philosopher and the author of The Ethics of Climate Change has written a defence of Peter Gleick at the Guardian:

What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action. Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change? If his lie has good effects overall – if those who take Heartland's money to push scepticism are dismissed as shills, if donors pull funding after being exposed in the press – then perhaps on balance he did the right thing. It could go the other way too – maybe he's undermined confidence in climate scientists. It depends on how this plays out.

Post-modernism has been quite fashionable in the social sciences for decades, but this entry into the hard sciences is new and disturbing. For reference, here is the Wikipedia entry on post-modernism

In its most basic form, postmodernism is an intentional departure from the previously dominant modernist approaches such as scientific positivismrealismconstructivismformalismmetaphysics and so forth. In a sense, the "postmodernist" approach continues the critique of the Enlightenment legacy, fundamentally seeking to challenge the traditional practices and intellectual pillars of western civilization just as the Enlightenment challenged tradition, theology and the authority of religion before it.

Postmodernism postulates that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change. It emphasises the role of language, power relations, and motivations in the formation of ideas and beliefs. In particular it attacks the use of sharp binary classifications such as male versus female, straight versus gay, white versus black, and imperial versus colonial; it holds realities to be plural and relative, and to be dependent on who the interested parties are and the nature of these interests. It claims that there is no absolute truth and that the way people perceive the world is subjective.

"Fake but accurate" is a good example of post-modernist thinking.

Real Rights vs. Fake Rights

Good stuff from Roger Pilon at Cato:

It’s true that our Framers, unlike many others, especially more recently, did not focus their attention on rights. Instead, they focused on powers— and for good reason. Because we have an infinite number of rights, depending on how they’re defined, the Framers knew that they couldn’t possibly enumerate all of them. But they could enumerate the government’s powers, which they did. Thus, given that they wanted to create a limitedgovernment, leaving most of life to be lived freely in the private sector rather than through public programs of the kind we have today, the theory of the Constitution was simple and straightforward: where there is no power there is a right, belonging either to the states or to the people. The Tenth Amendment makes that crystal clear. Rights were thus implicit in the very idea of a government of limited powers. That’s the idea that’s altogether absent from the modern approach to constitutionalism—with its push for far reaching “active” government—about which more in a moment.

During the ratification debates in the states, however, opponents of the new Constitution, fearing that it gave the national government too much power, insisted that, as a condition of ratification, a bill of rights be added—for extra caution. But that raised a problem: by ordinary principles of legal reasoning, the failure to enumerate all of our rights, which again was impossible to do, would be construed as meaning that only those that were enumerated were meant to be protected. To address that problem, therefore, the Ninth Amendment was written, which reads: “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Over the years, unfortunately, that amendment has been misunderstood  and largely ignored; but it was meant to make clear that the people “retained” a vast number of rights beyond those expressly enumerated in the document....

The idea, then, that our Constitution is terse and old and guarantees relatively few rights—a point Liptak draws from the authors of the article and the people he interviews—does not explain the decline in the document’s heuristic power abroad. Nor does “the commitment of some members of the Supreme Court to interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning in the 18th century” explain its fall from favor. Rather, it’s the kindof rights our Constitution protects, and its strategy for protecting them, that distinguishes it from the constitutional trends of recent years. First, as Liptak notes, “we are an outlier in prohibiting government establishment of religion,” and we recognize the right to a speedy and public trial and the right to keep and bear arms. But second, and far more fundamentally, our Constitution is out of step in its failure to protect “entitlements” to governmentally “guaranteed” goods and services like education, housing, health care, and “periodic holidays with pay” (Article 24 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights). And right there, of course, is the great divide, and the heart of the matter.

Ground Zero Mosque and Limited Government

It appears that for a principled defense of property rights, the exercise of religion in America, and limited government we have to turn to ... liberal blogger Kevin Drum

We already know that a large majority of Americans are opposed to building it, but here are the results of an Economist poll on a slightly different question:

Whether or not you think the Islamic cultural centre and mosque should be built near the World Trade Center site, do you think that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque there?

Technically, I think the wording of this question should have been turned around: not whether Muslims have the right to build a mosque on Park Place, but whether the government has the constitutional right to stop them from building a mosque on Park Place.

Still, I think everyone probably understands what this means, and it's just depressing as hell. It's one thing to oppose the mosque just because you don't like the idea, but to deny that Muslims even have a constitutional right to build it? That should be a no-brainer. Of course they do.

Seriously, this is from a man who probably does not think you have the Constitutional right to choose your own doctor. Why are Republicans ceding the high ground on this to Democrats? Well, it turns out that is the theme of my new column this week in Forbes.

...prospective mosque-banners would argue that I simply don't understand how utterly, deeply offensive the proposed location of this mosque is to them. But that is not the case. I am offended as well by what might be a laudatory memorial to a terrorist incident. But the question for me is, do we have a right not to be offended?

The irony is that for the last decade or so, conservatives have fought the political correctness movement over exactly this issue. Conservative commentators, rightly I think, were up in arms over the "hate speech" trial of Mark Steyn in Canada, and more recently the cancellation of Ann Coulter's Canadian speaking tour. In both cases Canadian government and university officials argued that Steyn's and Coulter's criticisms of radical Islam were too divisive, too defamatory to Muslims, and in general too offensive to be allowed public voice....

This is what truly floors me about the Ground Zero controversy: Republicans all over the country are standing up and begging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama to void the property rights of a private entity, shut down the construction of a church, and do so to protect some mythical right not to be offended, a right that, until recently, conservatives argued did not exist. Do Republicans really want to encourage the federal government to tear up property rights and First Amendment protections, all in the name of hurt feelings? If conservatives set this precedent today, they are almost certainly not going to like how it is used tomorrow.

Postscript: I notice something in this poll that I have seen several times lately.  Traditionally, poll results for independents always fell somewhere between Republicans and Democrats.  In this poll, as in several others I have seen, Independent responses actually fell outside of these bounds.  Increasingly independents are shedding the "moderate" label and actually pacing the two political parties.  I find this encouraging, though it is probably too much to hope for that this is the leading indicator of some type of radical ideological restructuring of the Coke and Pepsi parties.

Exhibit A For School Choice

For years I have argued that the killer app that may someday actually lead to school choice will not be individual liberty (because no one in government gives a rip about that any more) and not education quality (because again, its clear no one really cares) but speech and religion.  If the right messes up schools enough, the left might finally be willing to shed their alliance with the teachers unions and consider school choice.  From a live-blog of a Texas Board of Education meeting (via Radley Balko)

9:27 - The board is taking up remaining amendments on the high school world history course.9:30 - Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with "the writings of") and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson's ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don't buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar's problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.

9:40 - We're just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board's far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America's exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America's Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.

The Only Compelling Narrative Supporting Increases in the Power of Rulers

Via Greg Pollowitz:

Environmentalism should be regarded on the same level with religion "as the only compelling, value-based narrative available to humanity," according to a paper written two years ago to influence the future strategy of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the world's would-be environmental watchdog.

The purpose of the paper, put together after an unpublicized day-long session in Switzerland by some of the world's top environmental bureaucrats: to argue for a new and unprecedented effort to move environmental concerns to "the center of political and economic decision-making" around the world "” and perhaps not coincidentally, expand the influence and reach of UNEP at the tables of world power, as a rule-maker and potential supervisor of the New Environmental Order.

The positions argued in that paper now appear to be much closer at hand; many of them are embedded in a four-year strategy document for UNEP taking effect next year, in the immediate wake of the much-touted, 11-day Copenhagen conference on "climate change," which starts on Dec. 7, and which is intended to push environmental concerns to a new crescendo.

The major difference is that the four-year UNEP plan expresses its aims in the carefully soporific language that U.N. organizations customarily use to swaddle their objectives. The Swiss document makes its case passionately -- and more important, plainly -- than any U.N. official document ever would.

I would have said that classical liberalism and the protection of human liberty would be a competing such narrative, but its not surprising the UN wouldn't think so.

It is interesting that after years of skeptics being derided for comparing modern environmentalism to a religion, this characterization is starting to be accepted by the environmentalists themselves.

Our Rights are Threatened by All These New Rights

I have shared before the main problem with all these new fake "rights"  (e.g. right to healthcare, right to a job, etc.).  Our original Constitutional rights were merely checks on government - they said the government could not pass laws to prevent us from doing certain things or invade our homes without some sort of due process, etc.  But these new rights require that some previously free individual be coerced into providing money or labor or both to supply others with these new rights.    I often use the desert island test - if you can't have the right alone on a desert island, its not a right.

But what I had not realized until recently is that many of these new fake rights also share in common a level of compulsion on the beneficiary  (not just the payer and provider).  For example, you have the right to bear arms and engage in free speech, but you are not required to own a gun or speak in public.   But you will be required to use, and pay for, your new "right" to health care, at the threat of a term in prison.   In this light, its doubly perverse to call something like health care a "right."  How can something which government uses compulsion on the payers, the providers, and the users be associated with so clean and moral a notion as a "right."  Freedom of religion is a right.  Health care is a want.

I got to thinking about this even more with "the right to a job at a fair wage," embodied in such laws as the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Proponents of such a right would consider it a victory that employers have been compelled to not pay less than $7.25 an hour for labor.   But the beneficiary is the subject of compulsion as well.  This law also means that I cannot sell my labor at less than $7.25, even if I am willing (even eager) to do so.    This means that if my choices are to sell my labor at $6.00 or for nothing, the government compels me to be unemployed.  My son is 16 and would like a retail job, preferably around books this summer.  Having real job experience and customer contact experience, for him at his age, is worth enough that he would likely work for free.  But he can't work for free, because the Fair Labor Standards Act only allows compensation to be valued in monetary terms - non-monetary benefits like skills improvements don't count.  So, given the economy, my son will likely not work next summer.  All for his own good, of course.

It's Official: Global Warming Alarmism is a Religion (at Least in the UK)

Via Anthony Watt, from the UK Telegraph:

An executive has won the right to sue his employer on the basis that he was unfairly dismissed for his green views after a judge ruled that environmentalism had the same weight in law as religious and philosophical beliefs.

In a landmark ruling, Mr Justice Michael Burton said that "a belief in man-made climate change "¦ is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations".

The ruling could open the door for employees to sue their companies for failing to account for their green lifestyles, such as providing recycling facilities or offering low-carbon travel.

John Bowers QC, representing Grainger, had argued that adherence to climate change theory was "a scientific view rather than a philosophical one", because "philosophy deals with matters that are not capable of scientific proof."

That argument has now been dismissed by Mr Justice Burton, who last year ruled that the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore was political and partisan.

The decision allows the tribunal to go ahead, but more importantly sets a precedent for how environmental beliefs are regarded in English law.

Wow!  Its a  religion, not a scientific position.  I probably should be laughing, but I'm not.

Yet More Assaults on Speech

I am a bit late on this, but this is from Jonathon Turley in the USAToday:

Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any "negative racial and religious stereotyping." The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians. Though the resolution was passed unanimously, European and developing countries made it clear that they remain at odds on the issue of protecting religions from criticism. It is viewed as a transparent bid to appeal to the "Muslim street" and our Arab allies, with the administration seeking greater coexistence through the curtailment of objectionable speech. Though it has no direct enforcement (and is weaker than earlier versions), it is still viewed as a victory for those who sought to juxtapose and balance the rights of speech and religion.

I continue to be confused why the Left in this country is so absolutely hostile to Baptists in Alabama but are so deferential to Muslims in Saudi Arabia.  Is it simply because one group makes credible threats of violence while the other does not?

Missing the Whole Point

The Bill of Rights were originally restrictions on government power.  Period.  Many people do not want to read them this way today, because they have a strong interest one way or another in the increase in government power.

Take the First Amendment.  "Congress shall make no law..."  In other words, there can be no justification of any kind for the government taking away free speech, press, association, religion, etc.

Unfortunately, forces have been at work for decades from both political parties to undermine this hard and fast protection.  Our most recent assault comes from the Democrats in the guise of the hate crimes bill:

Republican Sam Brownback offered an amendment to the Senate version which said the bill could not "construed or applied in a manner that infringes on any rights under the First Amendment" and could not place any burden on the exercise of First Amendment rights "if such exercise of religion, speech, expression, or association was not intended to plan or prepare for an act of physical violence or incite an imminent act of physical violence against another."

With that amendment, GOP Senators supported the final bill. However when the bill went to the conference committee, key changes were made to the Brownback amendment by the Democrat controlled committee:

Where Brownback had insisted, and the full Senate had agreed, that the bill could not burden the exercise of First Amendment rights, the conference changed the wording to read that the bill could not burden the exercise of First Amendment rights "unless the government demonstrates "¦ a compelling governmental interest" to do otherwise.

That means your First Amendment rights are protected "” unless they're not.

"A compelling governmental interest" leaves the door wide open for your free speech rights to be trampled on the government's whim. Where the First Amendment was designed as a limit on government power (as was the entire Constitution), this law is a blatant attack on those limits and an attempt to expand government power.

So, the government's power is checked unless there is a "compelling governmental interest" in not having its power checked. We're doomed.

OK, I Give Up. Maybe Environmentalism is a Religion

I have generally rejected comparisons of global warming activism to religion as unproductive.  But I give up.  Apparently global warming activists are digging into the Catholic playbook and stealing shamelessly.  Not satisfied with token acts of faith (e.g. sorting the recycling), indulgences (carbon offsets), and refusing to tolerate heresy, they have now adopted meat-free days of the week, switching only the day, from Friday to Monday.   I can see the Catholic bumper sticker now --  "the Catholic Church:  Fighting Global Warming Since the Year 858".

Reformation, 21st Century Edition

I have been taking a series of courses on reformation-era Europe. Having just completed a general course on the Reformation, I am now completing a course on the Tudors and Stuarts in England, a period of time whose history is highly colored by the Reformation.

One of the issues that Protestants had with the Catholic Church (and later with the Anglican Church) was the church hierarchy. Of course, the Pope always came in for criticism (this probably being too mild a word for burning in effigy) by English protestants, but bishops and other elements of church hierarchy also came in for attack. In fact, the Presbyterians, probably the largest non-Anglican Protestant sect in 17th century England, took their name from the presbyters, who were essentially a council of laymen or elders who ran the church (as an alternative to Popes and bishops and such).

One of the difficult issues for the modern American mind to wrap around is the state involvement with religion on these times. Taking just this one issue of church organization and hierarchy, we see a dizzying back and forth in the Anglican Church as a result of swings in religious affiliation and outlook of the monarch and the Parliament. Bishops get tossed from the Anglican Church, then Bishops are reinstated, then they get tossed, and then they get reinstated.   All this punctuated by the occasional execution or locking in the Tower of the odd bishop.  It was deadly serious at the time, but seems a silly pursuit for government today.

Except, I guess, in Connecticut, where the spirit of Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads is alive and well. Because, apparently, the state legislature has introduced a bill to remove priests and bishops from the management of Catholic Church corporations and insist on a council of laymen instead. Weird how history repeats itself, even when you thought it was most unlikely to do so.

Disclosure: I am not Catholic, nor Presbyterian, nor particularly religious.

May the Farce be With You

Here is something I really, really did not know, or probably even want to know, before a friend emailed me a link today:

In the 2001 United Kingdom census, 390,000 people - 0.7 per cent of the population - listed Jedi as their religion.

They are not alone - 20,000 Canadians also listed their religion as Jedi in 2001...

Some may list such a choice only as a joke, but there are apparently real churches set up in the model of the Jedi religion as detailed in the Star Wars franchise:

The two cousins and Barney Jones' brother, Daniel, set up the Church of
Jediism, Anglesey order, last year. Jedi is the faith followed by some
of the central characters in the "Star Wars" films.

The group, which claims about 30 members, says on its website that
it uses "insight and knowledge" from the films as "a guide to living a
better and more worthwhile life."

Oh, but it gets even better:

A man who dressed up as Darth Vader has been spared jail time for assaulting the founders of the Jedi Church in Britain.

Twenty-seven-year-old Arwel Wynne Hughes was given a suspended sentence for the crime by a judge in Wales on Tuesday.

Prosecutors told Magistrates' Court in Holyhead that Hughes attacked
Jedi church founder Barney Jones - a.k.a. Master Jonba Hehol - with a
metal crutch, hitting him on the head.

He also whacked Jones' 18-year-old cousin, Michael Jones - known as
Master Mormi Hehol - bruising his thigh in the March 25 incident.

 

Flaws with the Constitution

From the Arizona Republic:

Three day laborers filed a lawsuit Tuesday that seeks to overturn a
suburb's law prohibiting people standing on public streets from
soliciting employment from occupants of cars.

The federal lawsuit alleges Cave Creek's law passed is unconstitutional
because it restricts the free speech rights of people trying to find
work as day laborers.

"Cave Creek does not have the right to pick and choose who has free
speech rights," said Monica Ramirez, an attorney for the American Civil
Liberties Union, one of the group's representing the day laborers. "The
town cannot bar people from peaceably standing in public areas and
expressing their availability to work."

The stated reason for the law is this, but don't believe it:

Mayor Vincent Francia said the law was a response to concerns raised by
residents over traffic being impeded by people congregating on street
corners.

If you followed the genesis of this law, it has less than zero to do with traffic.  It was crafted as a way to prevent people of Mexican birth, with or without the proper papers from the US government, from seeking work in Cave Creek.  Which explains why sheriff Joe Arpaio is so eager to help enforce the law, and why, by some statistical fluke, everyone arrested under the law seems to be of Mexican Latin descent  (the three laborers filing the suit are Mexican and Guatemalan and are in this country legally).

I am happy to see this suit get filed under whatever auspices that it can, and have in the past supported using the first amendment to protect free commerce.  Further, I am thrilled to see the ACLU, given its Stalinist origins, for once actively support the right to publicly advertise and conduct commerce.  However, it is sad to me that Thomas Jefferson and company did not think it necesary to enshrine the right to free commerce as an protected right up there with speech and association.

One might argue that the enumerated power concept and the 9th amendment should be protection enough, but obviously Jefferson did not think so or he would not have pushed for the Bill of Rights.   And saying the following may just prove that I am not a Constitutional expert, but it strikes me that another problem with the original Constitution that probably wasn't fixable at the time was the fact that the Bill of Rights did not originally restrain the states, only the Federal government.  Only with the beat-down of states rights concepts in the Civil War and the passage and later interpretation of the 14th amendment did the Supreme Court begin to apply the Bill of Rights to states and municipalities as well.  It is good that they have done so, but these protections enforced on states only tend to be the enumerated protections of the Bill of Rights.  In fact, in this context, the 9th is meaningless because it reserves unenumerated powers to the people or the states, so it contributes nothing to reigning in municipalities, only the Feds. 

All that being said, it should would have been nice to have three extra words such as "or conduct commerce" inserted after assembly:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the
freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble [or conduct commerce], and to petition the Government for a redress of
grievances.

 

Cost of "the Right to Build"

Virginia Postrel has a really interesting article in the Atlantic.com.  Often, home construction costs are disaggregated into the cost of land and the cost of the home.  She adds a third piece -- "the right to build" related to regulation and land use restrictions.  She cites a study that most of the cost of new homes in expensive markets like California are not building costs or even land acquisition costs, but the enormous costs involved in getting the government to let you build the house you want on your own land.

In a 2003 article, Glaeser and Gyourko calculated the two different
land values for 26 cities (using data from 1999). They found wide
disparities. In Los Angeles, an extra quarter acre cost about
$28,000"”the pure price of land. But the cost of empty land isn't the
whole story, or even most of it. A quarter- acre lot minus the cost of
the house came out to about $331,000"”nearly 12 times as much as the
extra quarter acre. The difference between the first and second prices,
around $303,000, was what L.A. home buyers paid for local land-use
controls in bureaucratic delays, density restrictions, fees, political
contributions. That's the cost of the right to build.

And that right costs much less in Dallas. There, adding an extra
quarter acre ran about $2,300"”raw land really is much cheaper"”and a
quarter acre minus the cost of construction was about $59,000. The
right to build was nearly a quarter million dollars less than in L.A.
Hence the huge difference in housing prices. Land is indeed more
expensive in superstar cities. But getting permission to build is way,
way more expensive. These cities, says Gyourko, "just control the heck
out of land use."

These differences cascade into a number of areas:

Dallas and Los Angeles represent two distinct models for successful
American cities, which both reflect and reinforce different cultural
and political attitudes. One model fosters a family-oriented,
middle-class lifestyle"”the proverbial home-centered "balanced life."
The other rewards highly productive, work-driven people with a yen for
stimulating public activities, for arts venues, world-class
universities, luxury shopping, restaurants that aren't kid-friendly.
One makes room for a wide range of incomes, offering most working
people a comfortable life. The other, over time, becomes an enclave for
the rich. Since day-to-day experience shapes people's sense of what is
typical and normal, these differences in turn lead to contrasting
perceptions of economic and social reality. It's easy to believe the
middle class is vanishing when you live in Los Angeles, much harder in
Dallas. These differences also reinforce different norms and
values"”different ideas of what it means to live a good life. Real
estate may be as important as religion in explaining the infamous gap
between red and blue states.

The Dallas model, prominent in the South and Southwest, sees a
growing population as a sign of urban health. Cities liberally permit
housing construction to accommodate new residents. The Los Angeles
model, common on the West Coast and in the Northeast Corridor,
discourages growth by limiting new housing. Instead of inviting
newcomers, this approach rewards longtime residents with big capital
gains and the political clout to block projects they don't like.

The Most Important College Football Poll of the Year

The most important college football poll of the year is out, and the top five are as follows  (rank, team, #1 votes record so far, total points):

1. USC (45)  0-0 1,481
2. LSU (4)  0-0 1,372
3. Florida (9)  0-0 1,278
4. Texas 0-0 1,231
5. Michigan (2)  0-0 1,218

The rest of the list is here.

Many of you might notice that all of these teams have a record of 0-0.  So you might ask, "Coyote, are you crazy, why did you call this the most important poll of the year?"  Well, since I answered that last year, I will go back a year ago and quote myself:

In theory, voters in the college football polls each week come up
with their current ranking of teams, which in theory could be very
different from how they ranked things the previous week.  In practice,
however, voters start with their rankings of the previous week and then
make adjustments up and down for individual teams based on that week's
game results....

In effect, the college football rankings are a bit like a tennis ladder. Each
week, losers drop down 3-8 spots and all the winners and no-plays move up to
fill in the vacated spots. Sometimes a team will leapfrog another, but that is
rare and it is extremely rare to leapfrog more than 1 or 2 spots. In this sense, the
initial football poll is the most critical, since only those in the top 10-15
have any chance of moving up the ladder to #1.

In
effect, the pre-season poll is the baseline off which all future polls
start.  I haven't done the research, but you could probably refine my
statement in the previous paragraph to a set of rules such as:

  • A three-loss team can never win the championship
  • A two-loss team can win but only if they start in the top 5 of the pre-season poll
  • A one-loss team can win but only if they start in the top 15
  • An undefeated team can win even if they were left out of the
    initial top 25, but only if they play in a major conference.  A minor
    conference team, even undefeated, will not ever end up #1 unless they
    started the season in the top 25.

Again, the numbers in these rules may not be exactly right, but I
think they are directionally correct.  This is what I call my theory of
College Football Calvinism (the religion, not the cartoon character)
since one's ultimate fate is in large part pre-ordained by the polls
even before the season is born.  So, if your alma mater has any shot at
the title, you should hope your AD is out there in the summer lobbying
the writers like hell to up their pre-season poll standings. Every spot
you gain in the pre-season poll is one you don't have to win on the
playing field.

The Battle Against Freedom of Association

Freedom of Association is not explicitly listed in the First Amendment, but the Supreme Court has never-the-less upheld association rights in expressive organizations and for intimate associations, such as the family and more broadly in private social clubs.

The State of California continues its attack on Craigslist and Roommates.com trying to make these organizations liable for California Fair Housing Law violations when they publish a classified ad that breaks the law.  In short, it is illegal in California (and some other states) to advertise for a roommate who is a specific gender or race or religion, even if there are strong compatibility reasons for doing so (As in most states, it is A-OK to discriminate against smokers).

I won't get into the whole legal argument about these listing services, except to say that it is absurd to hold third parties accountable for other people's speech.  I want to ask a more general question.  How do laws that prevent me from choosing a roommate (however I want to) pass constitutional muster?  Taking on a stranger for a roommate is a scary proposition, especially in states like California that make it well nigh impossible to evict someone once they have moved in.  Short of marriage, it is hard to imagine a more intimate relationship -- in fact, many roommates probably see more of each other than some spouses.  On average, most people are probably not a compatible roommate for me.

Beyond this, most of the people who run afoul of the housing law do so with their speech, not the actual selection of a roommate.  Most fair housing complaints are against people's advertisements or public statements.  This strikes me as a double violation - the banning of speech about my association preferences. 

Lou Dobbs and Howard Beale

Is it just me, or does anyone else sense that, after years of being moderately normal on the air, someone took Lou Dobbs into the back room a few years ago and changed his outlook on life in a manner similar to Arthur Jensen taking Howard Beale aside in the movie Network?  He really seems to have turned into the first prophet of the secular religion of xenophobia and racial purity, much the same way that Howard Beale spread the religion of corporate feudalism before the network finally had to "take him out" for poor ratings.