Posts tagged ‘religion’

Why Does the Left Defend Actions by Muslims that Would Horrify Them in Any Other Context?

In the late 1970's, I guess it was OK to mock Islam because Gary Trudeau sure did it a lot in his Doonebury comic.  I remember one panel where the Iranian Chief Justice was in the states for his college reunion, telling his old school mates he stayed in such great shape by "flogging" rather than jogging.

Today, though, the Left seems to feel that Islam is off-limits and even needs their protection.  It's OK to mock Indiana for not forcing every photographer to work gay weddings but God forbid anyone mock countries that kill gays just for being gay.   In Trudeau we have an icon of the 1960's radicals advocating for limits on free speech and for blasphemy laws.  Too bizarre for words.  Eugene Volokh has a good commentary on Trudeau's remarks.

Look, sometimes commentators like myself adopt a sort of feaux confusion on the actions of folks we disagree with.  But I am being honest here -- I really, really don't understand this.

I will say that I think this position tends to support a pet theory of mine.   Remember that I start with a belief that American Republicans and Democrats are not internally consistent on their politics, and not even consistent over time (e.g. Republicans opposed wars of choices in Kosovo under Clinton, supported them under Bush in Iraq, and then opposed them again under Obama in Libya).

So here is my theory to explain many party political positions:   Consider an issue where one party is really passionate about something.  The other party might tend to initially agree.  But over time there is going to be pressure for the other party to take the opposite stand, whether it is consistent with some sort of party ideological framework or not.   After 9/11, the Republicans staked out a position that they thought that Islam as practiced in several countries was evil and dangerous and in some cases needed to be subdued by force of arms.  In my framework, this pushed Democrats into becoming defenders of modern Islam, even at the same time that domestic politics was pushing them to be critical of Christian religion as it affected social policy (i.e. abortion and later gay marriage).  Apparently, the more obvious position of "yeah, we agree much of the Islamic world is illiberal and violent, but we don't think we can or should fix it by arms" is too subtle a position to win elections.   I fear we have gotten to a point where if either party is for something, they have to be in favor of mandating it, and if they are against something, they have to be in favor of using the full force of government to purge it from this Earth.  And the other party will default to the opposite position.

The counter-veiling argument to this is two words:  "drug war".  This seems to be a bipartisan disaster that is generally supported by both parties.   So my framework needs some work.

Should I Just Give Up Expecting Consistency in Public Discourse

I generally have refused to even participate in the debate over Indiana's RFRA because most of the discourse is so incredibly ill-informed that it is impossible to have a serious discussion.  But I would like to make one observation:

Here is Ruth Marcus with as good a proxy for the anti-RFRA position as I can find:

Hold whatever religious views you want: about whether women should drive, or the morality of having children out of wedlock, or whatever. Your church gets to choose (and enforce its rules). You can practice whatever your church may preach. But if you operate a business, you shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against people based on who they are, or whom they love.

OK, that is clear enough -- if you have a business that serves the public, you must accommodate all the public equally.  You can't decide not to do business with some group of people.  But this leaves me with a question -- many of the opponents of Indiana's RFRA, from Apple Computer to the NY Times editorial page to the governor of Connecticut (which has its own RFRA, lol) called for businesses to boycott the citizens of Indiana.  Why isn't such a boycott, essentially a refusal to do business with anyone from the state of Indiana irrespective of his or her position on the RFRA, illegal/immoral under exactly Marcus's logic?  Most folks see boycotts as an important first amendment right, a way to express displeasure with a group using the power of markets, without government coersion.  But it seems to be proscribed by Marcus's definition.   Am I missing something here?

I suppose supporters of the boycott would argue that it is OK to refuse business based on political opinions but not on race or gender or sexual orientation.  But supporting the legality of gay marriage is a political opinion.  Now what?

Try as I might, I can only think of two internally consistent positions on this issue:  1.  Businesses have the freedom to accommodate whomever they want; or 2.  All businesses, perhaps as a part of the state business license requirements, must accommodate all comers no matter what.  Number one leads to some ugly, but probably rare, incidents.  Number two causes a lot of friction with other first amendment rights such as speech and religion.

Any other position must take the form of "it is legal to refuse accommodation based on some things but illegal to refuse accommodation based on other things."  There is no way to derive a dividing line between the two based on first principles, so the line becomes a political football, with no viewpoint neutrality.   Basically, accommodation law is whatever the politician of the moment says it is.  Unfortunately, this seems to be what most folks are advocating.

Setting Terrible Legal Precedents Just To Hammer on People We Don't Like

First, we got FCC title II regulation of the Internet because a lot of people hate Comcast and saw net neutering as the perfect way to stick it to Comcast.  Now, we get a terrible copyright precedent because people don't like Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke.

The Internet appeared to rejoice that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke lost their lawsuit to the estate of Marvin Gaye over alleged copyright infringements in their mega hit song "Blurred Lines." It's not that the notoriously copyright-unfriendly Internet culture found religion on intellectual property privileges but that the Internet doesn't seem to like Robin Thicke. Fair enough. But as a number of commentators have noted, it's a silly reason to support such an awful ruling. And that ruling is awful even if you believe in relatively expansive intellectual property rights because it wasn't based on any copyright Marvin Gaye's estate owns on paper....

As the author notes, are we going to soon have competing claims (and lawsuits) claiming origination of the four chord progression?

India: One Foot In, One Foot Out of the Modern World

I just filled out a tourist visa application for one of my kids going to India.  I found it intriguing that on the one hand:

  • If you are a student, you had to give employment information on your source of support, but the only options were spouse and father.  No option for mother's occupation
  • You had to specify a religion -- no option for "atheist" or "none" or "none of your freaking business"

On the other hand:

  • There was a gender option for "transgender".

Anyway, the Indian online visa process had the Italians beaten hands down.  Actually the Chinese beat the Italians as well.  And, everyone I know who is not American tells me the US is the worst about visas.

How Do I Get To Qualify for Tolerance from the Left?

The Left has absolutely bent over backwards to make sure we understand that Islamic terrorists are not representative of the Muslim religion or Islam in general.  Further, they seem really quick to excuse or at least ignore a lot of really awful illiberal behavior by Islamic nations, including systematic abuse and near-enslavement of women, execution of gays, harassment of any non-Muslims, or even of Muslims from competing sects, etc.   We need to be tolerant, dontcha know.

So why is it that all this absolute cascade of bad behavior by various Muslims is not representative of true Islam but a tiny tiny few American males who are violent sex offenders are somehow totally representative of the entire gender, such that all men have to constantly humble ourselves, avoid speaking certain facts, apologize and bear guilt, go to college re-education programs, etc?

Christians vs. Muslims

I think this author, like many others, gets it wrong by comparing Jesus and Mohammad to try to get at the roots of modern Islamic violence.  I don't think you can explain the (relative) non-violence of Christians today vs. the prevalence of violence among certain portions of the Islamic religion by looking at their scriptures.

The reason is that for hundreds of years ago, Christians were the world's crazed terrorists.  They would burn you to death for being a heretic, or being gay, or being suspected of witchcraft.  When the first Crusade was called by the Pope, hordes of Christians in the Rhine Valley headed north (rather than south and east) to forcibly convert or kill Jews in numerous German communities.   The Christian on Christian sectarian violence of the 30 years war was perhaps the worst cataclysm Europe ever endured until the 20th Century.

I am sure Christians would say that such violence is inconsistent with true Christianity, etc. but never-the-less history shows that Christians have no less inherent propensity to religious violence than Muslims.  Christians have moved on -- matured, maybe?  I am not sure what the word is.  Unfortunately, parts of Islam have not, which makes it dangerous today in a way that Christianity is not.

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.