It is the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court in 1973 which defined a woman’s right of personal privacy in making decisions about her own body, and now four decades later, it remains the hottest social issue in the USA.
Center for American Progress’s Think Progress has lined up powerful numbers:
- 70% of Americans now oppose overturning Roe, the highest number since 1989. Most religious groups also want to leave Roe in place.
- 135 new state-level abortion restrictions enacted over the past two years, the worst years for reproductive freedom since the 1973 Supreme Court decision.
- 87% of U.S. counties don’t have an abortion clinic. At least four states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi — only have a single abortion clinic.
- 45 is the age by which nearly half of American women will have had an unintended pregnancy. About one in three will have had an abortion.
- 20 states allow insurers or employers to deny women affordable contraception by refusing to comply with Obamacare’s birth control guarantee. Studies have shown that Obamacare’s contraception provision will help reduce the national abortion rate.
- $470 is the average cost of a first-trimester abortion. Although most women having abortions carry health insurance, the majority pay out of pocket for an abortion because of the cultural stigma surrounding abortion.
- 42% of women who have abortions whose income levels fall below the federal poverty line. Seven out of ten women who have had an abortion would have preferred to have the procedure sooner, but many were forced to delay because they needed more time to raise money.
- 0.3 is roughly the percentage of abortion patients who experience complications from their procedure that require hospitalization. Studies have repeatedly shown that having a legal abortion is actually safer than giving birth.
The range of issues surrounding Roe v. Wade is readily perceived; ethical and religious positions, political partisanship, health care access, human sexuality, poverty, civil rights, employment benefits, health insurance, social taboos, and willful disinformation. It is truly complicated. Yet in simplest terms today, it amounts to personal choice vs. criminal action.
The so-called pro-choice camp insists that the one best suited to make a decision about a pregnancy is the woman who is confronted by it and experiencing it. It is not a condition that men will encounter, and it is not a decision for which they will likely be held responsible or for which they will likely be penalized, certainly not in the same way as a woman.
To criminalize the early termination of a pregnancy oversteps governmental authority which infringes on a woman’s ability to control what happens to her body. Again, for men, there is no control issue applicable to their body. On the simplest level, if a man was required by law to grow something in his body which he did not want, it would be intensely opposed as a violation of basic human rights. Therefore, those who oppose a woman’s right to choose are often seen as insensitive, oppressive, and even hostile to women. Take, for example, the idiotic comments of conservative political candidates in 2012.
The so-called pro-life camp doesn’t believe there should be any choice. Their focus is exclusively oriented to conception and to the fetus, invoking the will of God to fulfill the promise of a pregnancy, and often over-dramatizing the nascent stages of human life. In their dramatization efforts, they play fast and loose with the acknowledged 26 week standard for routinely permitted abortions, after which time medical necessity must be defined.
What is never mentioned is that the aim to end any choice for pregnant women also means that any act of abortion becomes a criminal matter. The outlawing of abortion is also its criminalization. While prior to Roe v. Wade, there was no basis or history for criminalization, the rhetoric employed over the last 40 years by the various anti-abortion groups makes it clear that abortion is the taking of a human life and recourse to prevent abortions – outlawing them – means criminal penalties.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to expect that women who seek an abortion face criminal prosecution. Suspicion would also be cast upon women who miscarry; they stand to be indicted for attempted murder or manslaughter. Negligence in caring for a pregnancy would easily become criminal, as if the woman was trying to induce an abortion. Of course, there could be no corresponding criminal sanction on any man who brought about the pregnancy.
If nothing else, the agenda for criminalization and the gray areas of culpability which any woman would face leads to the conclusion that government needs to stay clear of women and their pregnancies. Legally remove a woman’s right to decide for herself about a pregnancy and the consequence is turning any attempt at opting out of a pregnancy into a criminal act.
Frankly, no one likes the idea of an abortion. Whether to have one or not must be an awful decision for a woman to have to make. One would hope that if a woman wanted to proceed with a pregnancy that she would be given the complete support and encouragement of our society. However, such full support is non-existent today. In fact, condemnation is more likely to ensue, for ‘having more children than you can support,’ or ‘having children so that our tax dollars can pay for it,’ and similar sentiments which we’ve all heard casually.
Our society can do much to encourage women to proceed with pregnancies, and many worthy organizations with limited resources have that as their mission. However the decision must remain the woman’s about whether to proceed or not. Taking a difficult individual decision and making it criminal is to lose sight of the goal amid ideological confusion and entanglements.
Fulfilled women, happy children, and loving families are not achieved by filling prisons with mommies or forcing women to accept responsibilities and penalties no man has to shoulder. But sadly those positive ideals have been lost in the bitter conflict of the last 40 years. Clearly, Roe v. Wade needs to remain the law of the land.
In one of the most remarkably inept comments from a Florida legislator this year – a huge accomplishment when there is so, so much competition – State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-NRA/ALEC/Ocala) has offered this counsel (includes video):
Responding to the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 20 children dead, Rep. Dennis Baxley said Monday that schools would be safer if principals and teachers were authorized to carry guns…. [emphasis added]
Baxley said that declaring schools to be gun-free zones makes them targets for deranged people who know they can’t be stopped because guns aren’t allowed in schools.
“I do think the observation that in our zealous and intent efforts to try and keep children safe with gun free zones, we have inadvertently created a sterile target for deranged activity,” Baxley said.
The Ocala Republican said schools need to be in a position of meeting force with force when events like that happen.
Realizing that this blindingly stupid notion has caused you to lose your breath, your sight, and your slim grip on reality, let’s pause while you recover. [pause, ed.]
Baxley is even out in front of the National Rifle Association (NRA) which has pulled down its Facebook page and Twitter feed, presumably to avoid hosting un-NRA supportive commentary. Baxley is the NRA’s chief sponsor of legislation in Florida, including the unforgettably foolish “Stand Your Ground – Shoot First” law which this page has covered several times; here, here, and just recently here.
What is obviously wrong with Baxley’s suggestion is that he has omitted so many people who could still be armed. Why simply arm teachers? We must ask:
- Would this measure protect substitute teachers? They could really use the help. How about instructional support staff?
- Would Baxley leave custodians defenseless? Shooting Windex into the eyes of a shooter or swinging the barf mop is simply inadequate.
- How about cafeteria workers? Those stale muffins may be tough, but can they knock out a determined gun man?
- Shouldn’t bus drivers be armed since buses are easy targets?
- Are administrative staff not included and left as sitting ducks?
- Shall we expose School Board members when they are confronted by enraged by citizens (and fellow school board members)?
- Finally, and most obviously, wouldn’t it make the most sense in Baxley’s line of logic to simply arm the children?
On the other hand, Baxley is promoting armament for teachers, like those who teach your children, who taught children at Sandy Hook ES; you know, union thugs. How wise is that?
The old classic TV show, All in the Family, occurred in a time when airliners were being routinely hijacked by armed gunmen and often taken to Cuba. The arch-conservative main character Archie Bunker suggested in a mock video rebuttal in one episode that if you armed all of the airline passengers, the hijackings would end. The ridiculous notion was met with thunderous laughter from the studio audience who recognized instantly how ludicrous Archie’s idea was. Click below to see the video clip.
As asinine and extreme as Archie Bunker’s remarks were regarded in the early 1970s, they are being touted today by a local elected official as a serious response to one of the most tragic massacres – a slaughter of innocents. If Rep. Dennis Baxley has no more sense than this, then the only people who should be more ashamed are the pathetic individuals in Marion County who have returned this sponsor and supporter of some of the most reactionary, destructive, insensitive, and just plain bad legislation for (now) six terms.
In years between his legislative stints, Baxley turned his ardently professed conservative Christian stances into a job as Executive Director of the Florida Christian Coalition. As a Christian, Baxley reads from a different kind of Holy Bible. In the sermon on the mount, when Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ Baxley’s version refers to the famed Colt Single Action revolver known as “Peacemaker.” That’s some Jesus, Dennis! Will you hold a candle to celebrate the Prince of Peace next Monday, or the HALO warrior?
I’m sorry, but such contemptible hypocrisy is utterly unconscionable.
In case you missed it, the Sunday paper’s retail flyer for Gander Mountain featured a great deal on the back page – $100 off – on a .223 Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle complete with a 30 round magazine, the only practical purpose of which would be waging a very violent, sustained attack on other human beings, like at Sandy Hook ES. Only $799 plus ammo.
Here’s a Christmas shopping tip from Dennis Baxley – buy one of these high powered suckers for your child’s teacher. Or better, get one for your kid, or any neighbor kid; they’ll need it in school so long as people like Dennis Baxley are elected to public office.
With Baxley leading the way in Florida by showing just how low the discussion can be submerged, we can all hope that real intelligence will yet become manifest, even among Republicans, and that Florida’s legislators will begin the long overdue circumspection that would repeal the tragic “Shoot First – Stand Your Ground” law for starters. Just for starters. Please.
Just as the School Board District 1 race features sharp contrasts, portrayed in this earlier post, the School Board District 2 race pits former principal Carol Ely – The Mouse – against former talk radio shock jock Robert “Bobby D” Dobkowski – The Mouth.
As the qualifying period came to the last week, Carol Ely stood as the lone candidate for District 2. Then the spoiler emerged, Bobby D.
Ely is petite, soft spoken, unimposing person in every way. Bobby D is a big, strong voiced, imposing person in every way. Neither had ever run for elected public office until now.
This is also a race cited by those (including candidates) who feel that too many former school system employees will skew the functionality of the School Board, answered in a recent blog post here, in a series on bogus arguments that need debunking.
Carol Ely: This writer has been waiting for Carol Ely to make her case. Her resume as a front line veteran of the public schools shows that she knows what life is like on the inside of our large school system. Uncertainty derives from comments that seem contradictory and suggest that while she may get what’s going on inside, she may have a steep learning curve on what has been going on outside her immediate sphere of experience.
Ely has not shown any leadership on the question of budget funding, a key element and current issue on the School Board’s agenda. The recent adoption of a budget for 2012-2013 anticipates the passage of both school funding proposals on the August 14th ballot. If they don’t pass, $5-$6 million will need to be cut. Ely’s response has been that the whole budget needs to be redeveloped from the ground up, or as her website says,
Re-evaluate the distribution of our state and local funds.
This suggestion (mirrored by Jackie Porter) that rearranging the funds will somehow produce $5-$6 million is actually a bit insulting to the highly skilled finance people in the administration and the current School Board members. If they’ve missed something, please tell us what it is. If you’re going to cut something, what exactly will it be? Otherwise, such political evasiveness is quite unhelpful. We deserve real answers rather than the drivel she dished up on the Marions United/ETF questionnaire:
I have many ideas but cannot go forth with them until I become a school board member.
However, despite affirming her opposition to the school funding proposal at last night’s forum at First Methodist, by the end of the evening, she was tacitly admitting that there would be dire consequences if the ballot measures failed, while still assuring that things would all work out somehow. Huh?
To her credit, before retiring as a principal, Ely joined with parents in chartering a bus to protest budget cuts in Tallahassee. That kind of activism from a School Board member would be a welcome relief from the mamby-pamby attitude of incumbent board members who would never rock the Republican boat in public, because … um … they might cut your freaking funding, like they haven’t already! Hey, that’s the kind of leadership our schools need, Mrs. Ely, not warmed-over wimping out and dodging any stand.
Robert “Bobby D” Dobkowski: Bobby D doesn’t sound like he’s from around here, but his vocalisms ring nostalgic for me since we’re both from Long Island. My wife’s family sounds like Bobby D. My classmates sounded like Bobby D. In person, Bobby is a big, warm, likeable fellow.
In front of a radio mic as a talk show host, Bobby D was certainly entertaining, but his harsh political and social views were typically as right wing as you could get, describing his show “Ultra Pro-Life Orthodox Catholic.” He is supported by the Tea Party’s Don Browning and State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Guns, Jesus) among others. Click here to read an old Twitter feed that details topics of interest from the radio show.
It should be no surprise that he is a proponent of school choice, dividing up meager public education funds for charters and online programs which are often privately owned or managed by for-profit corporations. He would surely support vouchers, essentially privatizing the education system and making it hostage to profitable outcomes, not educational success.
To the Star Banner, he stated that his priority is:
First and foremost, we need to move forward in the world of technology. We must strive to utilize every technological advancement to ensure that our children are keeping up with students in the rest of the state, nation and world.
This is curious because he is adamantly opposed to the school funding proposals that share the ballot, including the capital funding which supports the unfunded state mandate for digital textbook technology. If getting first rate technology in the hands of our students truly is a priority for him, what tooth fairy puts this money under our pillow?
On budget funding, Bobby D has focused on in-school administrative compensation (think principals, assistant principals, deans) as the area to cut. Of course, there is nowhere near the $5-$6 million that may be needed. In fact, he has no answer either.
This leads me to my final huge concern. If a very passionate, controversial, social issues advocate like Bobby D gets a microphone, a camera, and an audience, will School Board meetings emerge as a constant battlefield in the local culture wars? It is reasonable to expect that school prayer, human sexuality, teen health education, and even scientific fundamentals would become highly distracting lightning rods with Bobby D on the School Board.
(Bobby D doesn’t have a website, but I did find this awesome picture of him – white suit - from 1979 in high school which shows what happens when writers start scouring the web for info because there is no web site. It cost me 49 cents to purchase (more than I make blogging, really), but he looks utterly awesome, right? Seriously, could you make that look so cool in high school? Click the picture for a full view.)
Look, neither candidate inspires, at least positively. Bobby D could bring us 4 years of strife as the Board works through the whole right wing Christian agenda for public education and society in general. Not a pleasant prospect.
But we also need constructive leaders with the spine to stand up for what the schools need, and while Carol Ely may secretly believe we need to pass the ballot measures, such evasive politicking doesn’t show the needed leadership.
One of them will get elected on August 14th. Whoever it is will have a lot to prove to the voters, the students, and their families, demonstrating that the winner is captive neither to crusading bravado or to cowering reticence.
In his New York Times column, Ross Douthat asks “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?” His answer completely misfires, betraying a superficial, negative understanding that shows little insight or awareness of what has been going on and where the old line denominations are heading today. A response by Diana Butler Bass balances his views and makes a better case, and some of her views are reflected in my post.
What has been happening is a shakeout, a very difficult period of declining membership and revenues, plus bitter division seemingly over key social issues, but moreover about basic values in theology and biblical understanding that are generally too profound to reconcile. Splits needed to happen long ago, but church leaders were loath to see numerical decline hasten, even though it was inevitable.
Now key turning points are being attained, like among the UCC (Congregationalists), Episcopalians, Lutherans, and now the Presbyterians agreeing to ordain homosexuals. The United Methodists continue to struggle with the divisive issue. There are consequences being felt, but these denominations are gaining the chance to move forward without the drag of futile conflict.
Presbyterians have fought over this issue since 1976. The division among Presbyterians actually goes back to 1965 when deep-pocketed individuals bankrolled The Presbyterian Layman and formed the Presbyterian Lay Committee. It sought to roll back progressive reforms and was known for magnifying mistakes, spinning issues, and always seeking to provoke dissension to gain the upper hand. Most all of the old line denominations have had some similar group working to foment dissent in the pews to coerce the advancement of their agenda. Douthat ignores the impact of decades of conflict.
Besides internal conflict, the old line denominations had wrongly assumed their continued cultural leadership as national worship centers who had been at the center of social and community life for decades. This, too, is part of the shakeout.
In the 1960s, as counter-cultural movements hit like a tsunami, old line churches hunkered down, resisting change, and believing the storm would subside. They expected to emerge as the prime mediators of Christian faith to a Christian nation once again. They waited it out.
Meanwhile, as the society around them transformed, the old line churches clung to starchy sermons, organ music, classical hymns, and a host of arbitrary standards, growing inwardly on themselves more and more with every passing year. They became irrelevant to younger families, and the stodgy elderly remaining population reinforced the out-of-touch quality.
By 2012, even the people in the respective denominational pews can hardly tell the difference between the old line denominations, and new, big churches usually admit no formal affiliation with any denomination. Denominations themselves have become rather irrelevant to the common believer.
Spirituality is the broader interest within contemporary society, but the Christian church offers very little, hence the ongoing decline in regular church attendance systemically. Old line churches seem determined to offer irrelevant, multi-faceted stultification and a pot luck, while mega-churches serve up vapid praise music, a poignant skit, a gourmet coffee bar, Powerpoints, and myriad small groups.
Douthat fails to recognize the general failure of Christianity in the USA. Indeed, it is a crisis as the old church has fully tumbled from its position as a cultural leader in a more secular society, and the new mega-church cobbles together a hodge-podge of cultural populism, from rock music to theater to patriotism to therapeutic counseling to the success gospel.
The mega-church near me has a huge July 4th fireworks display. What is that? Blow stuff up for Jesus? Wave the flag for Jesus? Both? The July 4th patriotic-Jesus extravaganza reflects the empty, abject failure of institutional Christianity in the USA.
It isn’t simply the old line churches; the big new ones may have more people, more pizzazz, more chic, but their presence in the community in providing a meaningful ministry is rarely evident. They can’t fathom controversy that would mess up their populism, keeping such activities at arm’s length and hardly ever encountering “activism.”
This mega-church’s pastor has managed to turn off lots of folks as he talks the love of Jesus from one side of his mouth, and harshly condemns and excludes gays from the other. Young inquirers aren’t fooled, but they say, “The church has a great program for children and youth.” Often the parents don’t attend as they drop off the kids. What will they do and where will they go when the kids are grown?
“Liberal Christianity” is falsely defined by Douthat as being the old line denominations. In fact, those churches had liberal leadership, sponsored liberal institutions, and advanced liberal ideas in another era, but between the pulpit and the pews there was always a chasm of meaning and understanding. Eventually that gap was fully exploited. But liberalism has not departed from all of those churches, and liberalism per se is found in other places besides old line denominations.
Douthat looks at the numerical progression and concludes that old line churches are simply going to die eventually. He confuses “decline” with “demise.” Indeed, the decline will likely continue, showing signs of acceleration at certain points, like the departure of many members upon the adoption of liberal social stances. And there will be ongoing attrition as the elderly die off without enough young members to replace them. Churches will close with greater frequency, unable to sustain themselves as viable congregations. But that isn’t the end.
Correctly, Douthat asks what defines Christianity, particularly liberal Christianity, in today’s milieu. That’s the challenge and why there is a shakeout occurring. Other churches, so-called “emergent” churches are striving to be honest, intelligent, spiritual, challenging, and keep integrity with genuinely prophetic Christian mission. They represent more of what the Christian church is likely to become. The church is unlikely to ever be a cultural leader as it once was, and besides, the church should never strive for that role either.
As the shakeout continues, surviving churches will be much smaller, focused on a more prophetic and more disciplined spiritual identity that’s more aligned with historic Christianity at its better moments. They won’t be as popular as the mega-churches, but they will matter far more.
Regardless, the pot luck will never die.
That’s right, join me in picking your face up off the floor: the ACLU and Liberty Counsel actually agree about something. Not that the sky is blue or that water is wet. They agree that the school prayer bill (SB 98) sponsored by Sen. Gary Siplin (D-Orlando) is not worth the court fight.
This page had addressed Sen. Siplin’s ridiculous waste of a bill in a recent post. This comment from that post about sums it up:
[SB 98] is wrong-headed, inept, unnecessary, and doomed to legal oblivion.
Bear in mind, Liberty Counsel sustains itself by taking loser cases just like this – church vs. state cases – and billing their clients liberally, usually right-wing led governing bodies who are convinced that the Constitution is unconstitutional and are willing to spend taxpayer dollars to prove that they are complete imbeciles. SB 98 would have given a truckload of business to Liberty Counsel since each school district would need to litigate its own rules. In legalese, that would mean: cha-ching!
The only reason for Liberty Counsel to not endorse a bill like this is that it couldn’t make any decent billings. In short, they knew they couldn’t even put together a prima facie case, i.e. one that would survive a raised eyebrow in court. Wasting a judge’s time isn’t a smart move and could backfire badly. This law would be a total waste of time.
“I’m an advocate of student speech,” said Mat Staver, founder of [Liberty Counsel - pictured left]. “But this bill will run into constitutional problems and I don’t think it’s right to make school districts litigate this issue again — and they will have to.”
That phrase “constitutional problems” is a bit telling. Since Liberty Counsel’s line of work is “constitutional problems,” that’s like Winnie the Pooh turning down a jar of honey because it is too sweet. It is an indication of just how hopeless this proposal is.
But you also need to realize that this bill isn’t dead yet. No, no. Passions have been aroused and the righteous are unlikely to retreat just because of common sense. Oh, no.
There has been plenty of discussion in the House since the Senate already passed this 31-8. It’s been led by the Rev. Rep. Charlie Van Zant (R-Keystone – pictured left), the right wing nutty quote machine and Southern Baptist pastor whose district includes eastern Marion from the Forest to Stonecrest in Summerfield. This is right up Van Zant’s alley.
In fact, Van Zant, who is also a school board member in Clay County, is already embroiled in a school board lawsuit over prayer policy (no more flagpole prayers) with Liberty Counsel at his side (surprise, surprise). Van Zant is the perfect advocate for this law.
The House Education Committee discussion turned to what constituted an “inspirational message” which is literally what the bill would allow. It also demanded (demanded!) no adult oversight by any school official. What could possibly go wrong?
“What this bill does is open the possibility of messages of hate,” [Rep. Dwight] Bullard [D-Miami] argued. “We are not living in a post-racial society.”
Bullard is an African American and a teacher as well as ranking Democratic committee member.
Van Zant objected as the discussion continued to raise the possibility of racist commentary qualifying as an “inspirational message.”
Van Zant dismissed their concerns and told them to “get away” from saying “African-American … African-American … African-American.” [He said,] “We are all Americans.”
Thank you for another memorable quote, Rep. Van Zant. (No, Van Zant is not an African American, just in case you were wondering. He is an American to the best of our knowledge.) But he was on a roll; here’s another:
“Schools have been restricted from free speech,” Van Zant said …”We need to open up the schools to free speech so that students can say what’s on their minds, without censorship from the administration.”
Another noteworthy remark came from the representative who believes teachers should issue grades for parents, and sponsored a bill to implement it as law in Florida. Yes, you read that right: teachers grading parents.
But supporters of the proposal ridiculed opponents as effectively battling First Amendment freedoms. “What scares me the most is those who think we need to direct what students think,” said Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.
In some circles, that wacky idea of “directing what students think” is part of what’s called “teaching,” part of a process known as “learning.” Of course, you would have to believe that students didn’t come with wisdom built-in, just like parenting is not a built-in skill, nor is teaching a built-in human characteristic, but a profession. Rep. Stargel is full of unusual ideas, but let’s wrap this up.
CS/SB 98 bill passed the House Education Committee 9-6, despite all of the above. It is now with the House Judiciary Committee. Maybe it will mercifully die there. Let’s pray for its demise, shall we?
Democratic State Senator Gary Siplin of Orlando is term limited and has his eye on the new Congressional district being drawn as part of the decennial redistricting process. The Prayer Bill (oh, okay; “inspirational message” bill) – SB 98 – that he has sponsored is a truly useless jot of pandering trash. It is wrong-headed, inept, unnecessary, and doomed to legal oblivion. It may however garner national news coverage as another unbelievably idiotic thing coming out of Florida. It just passed the Florida Senate 31-8.
The bill text is much less than a page, but it seems to address the ever-popular concern that restoration of school prayer will make schools effective places of learning once again. This is traditional seat-of-the-pants logic that one can hear even from the irreligious who believe that big government has silenced the plaintive voice of faith from the public arena. Never mind the over 600 houses of worship in Marion County, if there isn’t prayer in public schools (and preceding Marion County Commission meetings) then God (God!) is apparently stymied from allowing success to occur.
And prayer is cheap, much cheaper than actually funding schools and public services.
Yes, anytime you stitch together religion and politics, it forms a pander zone. Nothing useful will be accomplished. Yet a politician will score points on an emotional issue that is inseparably attached to citizen heartstrings, and is sure to provide billable hours for constitutional lawyers enabling the courts to declare that government cannot be the vehicle for the establishment of religion, like the US Constitution says.
The Siplin Panderama starts as a law that empowers local school districts to act on the basis of this law and thereby incur all of the legal costs once they’re sued as they most assuredly will. Ask Dixie County officials how things worked out for them, and be sure to inquire how much the über-fail Liberty Counsel has billed them.
Then the Siplin bill takes the rather ridiculous angle that if no school official has anything to do with the students selected, the choice the students make about whether to have an “inspirational message,” or the content of an “inspirational message,” it will somehow be nifty okey-dokey for a student to opt to give a Christian prayer at a school event. Or a Muslim prayer. Or a Jewish prayer. Or a Wiccan prayer. Or a Ba’hai prayer. Or an inspirational message that quotes Joseph Goebbels or the Ku Klux Klan. You may now be seeing why a school is going to want/need to have editorial authority at the least.
The reason the school wants (and should have) such authority is because there is no constraint on adults outside the school’s influence to do something contemptible, stupid, racist, or whatever. Such adults range from parents to pastors to politicians to Uncle Billy the Nazi. Kids get the darnedest ideas and say the darnedest things. And they get a lot of that idiocy from their parents, family members, neighbors, classmates, the internet, Facebook, and other dubious sources.
Why should the school care anyway? The bill assumes that the school doesn’t need to have any responsibility.
You mean besides the fact that they will get hammered by angry parents, bad press, and lawsuits?
The crux of the matter is that when a school sponsors an event, it is responsible for what happens at that gathering. A simple bright line is whether the school would be held liable for an injury, for example. If school insurance would cover it, the school is sponsoring that event.
If the school is sponsoring the event, the school cannot allow it to be or become a platform for the promotion of any religious viewpoint or religious practice without violating the US Constitution’s establishment of religion clause. Period.
If parents want to pitch in and have a reception for graduating seniors, and school officials are nothing more than guests, they can have a prayer meeting and animal sacrifices (code permitting) for that matter. It’s a private event.
Siplin’s election year grandstand pandering is a complete waste of time, and potentially a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars for any school or district that adopts such a wrong-headed policy. Yes, more pandering at the local level is always possible … nay, inevitable.
The Florida Senators – mostly GOP – who voted to pass this distraction and abomination should be shamed for their disdain for the US Constitution.
A few questions arose in reflecting on the recent article on the Board of County Commissioners’ proposal to have a brief prayer meeting with a local pastor before every County Commission meeting … and arose and arose.
When the church is invited into the chambers of the state beyond any ceremonial purpose (we need another whole article for that subject) to perform religious services for the state – including its officials – or the state is invited into the church to perform its state services, the ability of one to redirect the purpose of the other gets enabled.
Clergy entering into the chambers of the state to perform a religious function have a unique ability either to endorse the state with a religious affirmation, or gain the endorsement of the state for its religious affirmation, or both.
The same applies inversely when the state enters into the religious space.
The wisdom of the nation’s founders, with regular affirmation by the Supreme Court, has maintained separation of church and state. Actually, the further apart they are from each other, the better.
With regard to the pre-Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting prayer meeting, one can ask loudly, “Huh?” Since the commissioners rotate offering the usual start-the-BCC-meeting -prayer already, why do they need to pray before the start-the-BCC-meeting-prayer, too?
Do they believe more prayer is better prayer? Do they believe prayer only “works” when it’s done outside (just outside, in this case) the venue of governing? If so, then why continue the start-the-meeting-prayer, and are there other places where prayer is nullified by time, location, occasion, etc., as if the Divine could be prevented from eavesdropping?
There is more. The commissioners have invited Rev. Phil Wade of Trinity Baptist (O for the days when Baptists were all separation-of-church-and-state-ish, the old days) to lead their prayer, among other clergy. Surely Wade is a man of God, but one must again ask in loud voice, “Huh?”
It seems it is not the amount of prayer that concerns the commissioners, but their own perceived inability to pray effectively on their own. Not knowing how to pray, they need a professional pray-er to do it for them. In the same way, this religious professional seems to agree with them; they are incompetent at praying and require his assistance.
One wonders, why is Rev. Wade accommodating this prayer incompetency? Wouldn’t building the spiritual life of believers be a priority for him? Shouldn’t he give them lessons in prayer rather than pray for them? You know, teach them how to fish instead of giving them a handout. It would not only be easier than commuting from Baseline Rd to E 25th Avenue for BCC meetings but it would also empower the commissioners to pray at other times than before BCC meetings.
One would have to conclude that, given their prayer incompetency, the commissioners have no experience of prayer and praying outside of start-the-meeting prayers which, as noted above, may not work, may not be sufficient, and may have other undisclosed disabling features. If they attend church on the Sabbath, whatever church they attend has obviously failed in empowering their individual prayer and spiritual lives. If so empowered, they would be able to attend to their personal prayers before, during and after BCC meetings without assistance, and indeed without public fussification (making of fuss). Sadly, they are unable to do so, becoming poor advertisements for the churches they attend, although in the church we would call them “poor witnesses.” Hopefully they don’t attend Rev. Wade’s church; how embarrassing that would be!
The above may have seemed cynical or even snarky (heaven forbid!). Is it possible that this is not about prayer at all? Now it truly does seem cynical, trying to read into this new religious emphasis on the BCC something that is not explicitly being disclosed. The cynical would be led to speculate that there was some agenda within the BCC or Rev. Wade or both that produced this development in order to benefit one or all of the parties.
There is no need to suggest that there is something being gained financially. Fortunately, Rev. Wade’s congregation’s major building expansion is a few years past now. How dicey it would be if that building expansion was unfolding simultaneous with an invitation to pray before the BCC meetings! That would fuel the rumor mill! Amen!
So, is the BCC trying to make a statement about religion in Marion County, that it is a Christian county, or even a Baptist county? Would they be suggesting the second class status or even non-status of those who do not profess Christian faith? Is there a particular Christian tradition that is being promoted, like Southern Baptist? Are Rev. Wade’s theological views the ones that will guide the county into the future? Does the county now have theological views? Is Rev. Wade now the county chaplain? Does the county need a chaplain? It certainly seems unwarranted given the fact that there are over 600 congregations in Marion County. Messy, isn’t it?
It remains unclear for whom this pre-BCC prayer meeting is being provided. Is this a private religious service for the county commissioners, or is it open to others, like the County Manager, the Clerk of the Court and county counsel, other BCC staff, those bringing business before the BCC, or to the general public and thereby acting just like many religious organizations already serving Marion County? Or is it for the commissioners alone, or the commissioners and their families, close friends, campaign donors, golfing pals, or what? Is it for non-Christians, or atheists, realizing they may not be too thrilled with it (but they may recognize the need to play along for their own cynical reasons)?
What if one decides not to attend the pre-BCC prayer meeting? Will the BCC evaluate you differently as staff, as citizens bringing business before the BCC, as a representative of someone else like a lawyer or vendor?
How would someone know what the BCC’s motivations are? Wouldn’t it invite a lawsuit to challenge a BCC decision that disappointed a non-prayer, a non-Christian, a non-Southern Baptist, a non-member of Trinity Baptist?
There are an infinite number of speculations that could entertained, and none make this new feature preceding BCC meetings okay in the slightest.
The point should be clear by now. The commissioners were not elected to arrange their private religious services within the BCC, nor were they elected to arrange for public religious services within the BCC. They weren’t elected to do anything religious.
Their actions would establish religion by the state, something specifically prohibited in the US Constitution. Yes, my revisionist history friends, the Constitution really does prohibit the mash-up of church and state. It isn’t some half-baked liberal plot to persecute Christians and eliminate the faith from the USA, but a stance affirmed by the US Supreme Court repeatedly for over 2 centuries and wisely conceived by the Founding Fathers.
Final question for the commissioners: do you intend to continue this absurd and embarrassing episode, likely coming to use taxpayer funds to defend a losing lawsuit, getting billed bucket loads by some crackpot law firm like Liberty Counsel which has an appalling track record of abject failure, or will you end this promptly?
While CNN took the unusual route of partnering with the Tea Party Express in this Monday night debate in Tampa, FL, this seemed most like a debate rather than a forum of question answering. It meant TX Gov. Rick Perry took the most heat and former MA Gov. Mitt Romney came in a close second as candidates tried to distinguish themselves at the expense of the front runners.
This was Tea Party through-and-through, and the level of crazy was off the charts. Sanity was in such short supply, I was thinking of calling law enforcement to Baker Act all the candidates as well as the whole crowd. Here are 5 scary moments that literally make me worry about our nation and its citizens, that it has elected most of these candidates to responsible leadership positions, and that a group of citizens could be so horribly ugly.
5. Applause for gutting social security.
The big flap on social security remains Gov. Perry’s having termed the plan a “Ponzi scheme,” claiming that it is conning young people into believing that their contributions today will be returned to them with interest when they retire when it supposedly won’t. Perry and Romney have gone a few rounds on this topic with Romney taking the far more affirmative stance in valuing social security.
The crowd was unimpressed by Romney’s comments and cheered Gov. Perry’s response which has now been walked so far back that it mirrors most of the other candidates’ positions. They believe social security needs to be privatized in some way and ended, although none have shown how to do so.
The crowd cheered Perry’s “courage” in insisting social security is irreparably broken and his call to end it for young people. The crowd, most of whom had either contributed their entire working lives or were collecting checks themselves cheered for social security’s dismantlement. The incredible ability of people to enthusiastically support the candidate who will screw them over the worst never ceases to amaze. It is downright scary.
4. Have EPA reviewed and overseen by those who were abused by EPA
This came from Herman Cain, the only candidate who has not been elected to any office. The question concerned what would be done in the first 100 days to progress toward attaining national energy independence. Cain’s response entirely focused on the EPA which apparently explains and simplifies everything in the complex energy equation. He said that we have “the EPA gone wild” which naturally caused me to think of variations of “Girls Gone Wild” about supposed college girls exposing themselves before cameras. What would the EPA be exposing? Now stop that; leave poor Lisa Jackson out of it. Obama left her exposed enough.
The line that achieved this position on the list was that Cain would appoint regulatory reviewers who had been “abused” by the EPA. Clearly some sort of revenge was Cain’s ambition. The crowd loved it. The truly bloodthirsty nature of this crowd was clearer elsewhere, but this was right up their alley. These folks would make a perfect lynch mob.
3. Cancer and death is better than a required government inoculation.
This has been a topic before, but it remains stunning. Gov. Perry had issued an executive order requiring HPV vaccinations to prevent cervical cancer. Perry has expressed regret over using an executive order rather than legislative action, but he insists it was the right thing to do.
Most prominently, MN Rep. Michele Bachmann (along with TX Rep. Ron Paul) has been passionately opposed to such forced government treatment on “innocent 12 year old girls.” Bachmann makes it sound like rape. She is clearly saying that this government mandate, like with the health care reform mandate, is itself a criminal and unconstitutional violation of personal rights.
Former PA Sen. Rick Santorum stood out by saying that unless Texas had something weird in its curriculum, the state of Texas had no business even getting involved in the matter. Since the HPV virus is transmitted through sexual intercourse, Santorum checks out of the discussion altogether.
Either way, young girls die, but at least they die free which is better than living cancer-free. Bachmann got huge applause.
2. Islam is guilty until proven innocent.
Ron Paul had made the statement at the last debate, and apparently had it on his web site over the weekend, that the US was responsible for the 9-11 attacks (mentioned in a closing note on the last debate post) because government regulations prevented effective resistance. Rick Santorum who was chief pugilist of the night bitterly attacked Paul for the statement.
Paul then began explaining why the USA was attacked, and was actually doing a remarkably good job of it. Meanwhile former GA Rep. and House Speaker Newt Gingrich turned, stared and smirked mockingly at Paul, and Santorum openly shook his head and guffawed at what Paul was saying. Paul tried to explain how Muslims had been beset and oppressed and attacked, and the more the USA acted militarily against them, the greater the resentment. Twice the crowd loudly booed Paul for having the audacity to suggest that there was any need to understand Islam, or the difference between Islam and terrorism, or understand how extremism is bred. If you are a Muslim in America and you vote for a Republican, this is the kind of ignorant hate that you will be voting for.
1. Yeah, let him die.
On the subject of health care, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer posed a hypothetical to Ron Paul on the practical propriety of a health care mandate. A man in his mid-30s is healthy and doesn’t purchase health insurance. Something befalls the young man and he needs 6 months of care that he can’t possibly pay for. What do you say?
Rep. Paul maintained that the approach should demand personal responsibility. Blitzer pushed the issue; should we let him die? Paul stammered a bit, but the crowd filled in for him; “Yeah!” they said.
Paul recovered to say that churches and other charities and even neighbors helped make it work in the past. Paul obviously hasn’t seen a hospital bill in many decades.
Former FL Rep. Alan Grayson is once again proven absolutely correct. His bold exposure of the Republican health care plan as ultimately meaning “Die Quickly” was affirmed in Tampa on Monday night.
Chilling crowd. Frightening candidates. A sad night for America and for Florida.
We deserve an apology. They should be ashamed.
Reports about a major new voucher program launched in Indiana should be getting the attention of Floridians. The new program has diverted over 3,000 students and millions of public tax dollars from cash-strapped public education into private, usually religious schools.
As a post on this page noted last week, a universal school voucher program has been long sought by Florida Republican education reformers like former Gov. Jeb Bush who tirelessly chant “choice” and “accountability.” As detailed in last week’s post, Florida has several limited but ever expanding school voucher programs. Florida’s voucher plans are virtually identical to what had previously existed in Indiana:
Until Indiana started its program, most voucher systems were limited to poor students, those in failing schools or those with special needs.
Indiana’s experience may prove to be a model for Florida lawmakers, even as soon as the next legislative session. Indiana may have the nation’s most ambitious program, but it was only one state among several taking up major voucher initiatives in the last year, evidencing a pattern that clearly indicates ALEC-sponsored legislation.
The Indiana plan provides the following:
The new voucher program takes a portion of state funding usually provided to public schools and gives it instead to families who want to send their children to private or parochial schools. It is one of the most expansive programs in the nation because it is not limited to low-income students or those in failing schools.
A family of four with a household income of less than $61,000 is eligible for a grant worth 50 percent of the local district’s per-student funding. A similar family making $41,000 or less would be eligible for a 90 percent voucher. About 60 percent of Hoosier schoolchildren qualify under the income guidelines. The amount of the grant is limited to $4,500 for grades 1 through 8, with no cap for high school.
The number of vouchers available in the first year is capped at 7,500, the second year 15,000 and no cap thereafter. No one expects anywhere near the 7,500 cap to be approached this year.
With taxpayer funds being drawn from the state’s public education budget and directly transferred to qualifying, accredited and participating private religious schools, the program became the target of a lawsuit. Indeed, one report noted that
All but six of the 242 non-public schools so far approved for the voucher program have religious affiliations.
Nearly 70 percent of the vouchers approved statewide are for students opting to attend Catholic schools, according to figures provided to The Associated Press by the five dioceses in Indiana. The majority are in the urban areas of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend and Gary, where many public schools have long struggled.
However, the request for an injunction stopping the program was denied.
Marion County [ed. note: that’s Marion County, Indiana!] Judge Michael Keele denied a request from a dozen plaintiffs, including members of the Indiana State Teachers Association, for a preliminary injunction to halt the program while its constitutionality is determined by the courts.
Keele said laws approved by the General Assembly are “clothed with the presumption of constitutionality,” and ruled the plaintiffs are not likely to prevail on the merits of their constitutional claims, making an injunction unwarranted…
The plaintiffs argued the voucher program undermines the state’s constitutional mandate to provide for a uniform system of common schools open to all, and violates two constitutional provisions prohibiting state support of religious institutions.
Keele said so long as the state continues to fund public schools, the Indiana Constitution does not block the Legislature from also supporting students who choose to attend private schools.
Concerning state support of religion, Keele said since the program is not a direct tax to support a specific church, the vouchers are no different from state scholarship funds awarded to college students used to pay tuition at private, religious schools.
Gigantic holes appear in the logic of Judge Keele that have direct bearing on whether the state is endorsing or supporting any religion with this program. The Indiana Court of Appeals and eventually the Indiana Supreme Court will likely hear the case. To understand why Judge Keele’s logic may actually prevail, click and read this informative editorial.
Nonetheless, you can see how important the church-state issue figures in the legality of implementing the Indiana program, and how Florida’s Amendment 7 – mentioned in the post noted earlier – figures heavily in any Florida voucher program design.
Besides the religious angle, there are a variety of other features in the law:
- The bill requires students to attend public school for one year before being eligible for vouchers, meaning current private school students could not receive a voucher.
- What isn’t clear — and the Department of Education is working on rules — is how the application process will work. For instance, will parents sign up with the state, verify their income and overall eligibility, receive a voucher and then shop for a school off a preregistered list?
- Legislators wrote the law so that private schools could maintain their current eligibility criteria. But if a number of students are eligible for the same few spots, a public random drawing must be conducted.
- The patriotism amendment was added in the Senate to ensure against anti-American teachings. It requires, for instance, schools provide a daily opportunity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. And it says eligible schools enrolling students in grades 6 through 12 must provide within two weeks of a general election five periods of class discussion concerning voting, the system of government, election laws, party structures and the responsibility of citizen participation.
The so-called “patriotism amendment” is the one that got my attention. If that isn’t a gateway to political indoctrination, I don’t know what is. I can see any progressive answer on a test getting marked wrong, can’t you?
Beware Florida! This is coming your way really soon and really fast.
As a pastor as well as an activist, it’s likely no surprise that I find strength and direction in scripture. Some readers may not share my faith-based orientation, and others may even find religion repugnant. Indeed, I find plenty of religionists repugnant, too. But set aside any misgivings for a moment and bear with me.
Archetypal faith stories and great leaders join genuine faith with disciplined practice to achieve remarkable feats. Gandhi and King drew on their faith and their scriptures for strength and direction. Rather than ceding the faith narrative to the allies of oppressors, we ought to be seizing the faith narrative, embracing it and finding strength in it.
Moving forward, many people in many states are facing an unprecedented assault on their own well-being, the well-being of their neighbors and their communities. Wisconsin’s legislature did just what it wanted in the end. In Florida, the same outcomes are almost certain. Activists are aware of the affliction of powerlessness that can sap a movement when it limits itself to words without action. What story can animate the way forward?
In scripture, there is the story of God’s people under Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the most wealthy and powerful ruler of his time. Whatever Pharaoh wanted, Pharaoh got. Pharaoh inspired fear and the people served Pharaoh obediently. To maintain his wealth and power, Pharaoh systematically exploited the people.
Then along came Moses. When Moses sought relief for the people, Pharaoh called it a distraction, accused the people of being lazy, and increased their labor. “Now make bricks without my straw,” he said. “Find your own straw.” Pharaoh apparently believed in “personal responsibility.” The people suffered and frankly they didn’t like Moses.
Moses returned to confront Pharaoh on behalf of the people. Moses was mocked and turned away, defeated. But Moses kept coming back. Day after day and time after time, Moses kept coming back at Pharaoh. Each time, Moses took a new action that challenged Pharaoh. God partnered with Moses, not Pharaoh.
Strange and unexpected events began to occur. Pharaoh mocked these events as nuisances and dismissed them. But it soon became apparent that things were going badly and getting out of control for Pharaoh. Pharaoh made false promises to stop the problems Moses brought. But Moses came back with more. Despite his arrogance, Pharaoh came to realize that whenever Moses showed up, it meant big trouble for Pharaoh and his empire. Finally, Pharaoh gave in. Faithful in his partnership with God, Moses bested the most powerful and most wealthy empire of that era.
So, are you Moses?
How will people respond to the utter contempt shown for the poor, the unemployed, the children, the working families who are being exploited by Florida’s leaders? How will people respond to the utter contempt shown for Florida’s endangered water supply, its natural beauty, and responsible development of its resources? How will people respond to the utter contempt for health care reform, civil rights, reproductive rights, even stopping pill mills? How will people respond to the utter contempt for intelligence and accountability? How will people respond to the utter contempt for the electorate? How will people respond to the utter contempt for fairness and hope? I think people are finally ready to stand up to Pharaoh and the empire, saying, ‘if you hold us in such contempt, we will become contemptible to you.’
This archetypal story transcends the use of facts and figures to support rational policy, is not a sob story bemoaning sad outcomes, or a wild summons to recklessness. The biblical narrative draws on the reality, demands determined and unyielding action, and points to a destiny of justice. Again I ask:
Are you Moses?