Sunday, November 20, 2005

Freedom of Agreement

George Bush went to church today in Beijing. As usual, he had an agenda. The Washington Post reports that Bush spoke to reporters after the service, saying, "My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly. A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths."

It is interesting that Bush was silent when the Chinese government was cracking down on the Falun Gong. As neo-conservatives mis-label themselves pro-life when they are actually pro-birth, when Bush campaigns for religious freedom, it is only the freedom to agree with him. I’ve been accused of Bush-bashing in the past, so I want to make it clear that my disdain for his actions have little or nothing to do with my disdain for the man.

For the leader of the United States, whose party is doing its level best to abolish the first amendment, to lecture another country on the importance of freedom of religious expression is hypocrisy at its most bald-faced. The religious right have decided that it is time to take over the United States of America, and give it some morals.

Several years ago, a family of our acquaintance decided to “live the Christian values” they held. They home schooled their children, dressed their daughters exclusively in frumpy dresses, never allowed them to cut their hair, and attended church. They also swore off birth control. The mother of the family worked at taking care of the family, which grew by one member each year.

The children were not allowed to watch TV, go to movies that did not have a “G” rating or even look at Pokemon cards. That’s right: they were not allowed to look at or touch Pokemon trading cards. Naturally, nothing was more inviting than those forbidden playthings, which the parents continually derided as the ruination of the soul, as “pocket devils.” The crowning rejection of secular society was when the family (read: parents) decided not to exchange presents at Christmas.

The family,never rich by any standards, descended deeper into poverty with each passing year, as they continued to tithe their stagnant income to their church and add a member to its ranks. The older children, products of previous marriages, quickly bailed out of the family as their lives became more and more constricted.

The parents expressed sadness that their children did not embrace their Christian values, and continued on the path. Their son began to rebel in subtle ways. At eight, he could fearlessly tell me that my buying a single lottery ticket was gambling, then walk into my house and steal Pokemon cards, that soul-scourge of the devil.

The point is that this brand of Christian values has more to do with bondage to a system that preys on the weakest than with freedom. Those on whom it is imposed from above will inevitably rebel. Bush encourages the Chinese to be tolerant of religion, but only the brand of religion endorsed by the neo-conservatives.

When an Episcopal priest preached that the war in Iraq was at root sinful, the church where he preached was promptly (for the government) investigated by the IRS. Religion that encourages people to think about things in the light of their own consciences has not earned the neo-con seal of approval.

Religion is a wonderful tool for keeping people in line. The fear of eternal damnation is a powerful incentive to follow the rules. The founders were well aware of the tyrannical uses of religion, and attempted to short-circuit their implementation by forbidding the establishment of a state religion. Arguments that separation of church and state is an invention of the Supreme Court, rather than a tenet of the U.S. Constitution are not difficult to find these days. Unfortunately, although they are easy to refute logically, those advancing such arguments are not susceptible to logic.
© 2005

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Voice in the Wilderness

President Jimmy Carter's new book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis renews my faith that the United States can turn the ship of state around before it runs aground on the shoals of fascism. His essay in the LA Times yesterday sums up much of what I have been trying to say since I started this blog.

Mr. Carter speaks clearly and unsentimentally about the detour our great country has taken from the course charted for it over 200 years ago. His words have the unmistakable ring of truth and the warrant of Carter's personal integrity to back them up.

Carter admonishes us about the erosion of our first amendment rights. That first amendment is the mother of all civil rights. It begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . ." Churches have turned political, and an alarming number of politicians are exhibiting an unsavory tendency to run on the platform of their personal religious beliefs. In many countries, clergy may not hold parliamentary office. Not so in the United States, but it may be time to consider creating such a law.

". . .or abridging the freedom of speech. . ." While no one has yet attempted the direct public abrogation of free speech, Valerie Plame is certainly an example of the wages of unapologetic refusal to toe the party line. Intimidating against the use of free speech critical of the government is no different in practical terms from making it illegal. The right was not legislated out, but the freedom was still abridged.

" . . .or of the press. . ." Judith Miller recently ended a 2-month jail stay for refusing to name her journalistic sources. While protection of journalistic sources is not a constitutional right, without the ability to assure the anonymity of a source, journalists face the possibility of having access to the party line only. Big Brother hasn't tried to control the press overtly, but nary a journalist in this country missed the handwriting on the wall over Valerie Plame.

". . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble. . ." this right is also an endangered species. The government did not attack it directly; preferring simply to fail to protect it from private-sector poachers. Wal-Mart has usurped their employees' right to associate with others who think building a business empire by cheating employees is wrong. The fastest way to get fired from Wal-Mart is to repeat the magic words aloud: "Labor Union."

“. . . and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The current trend known as tort reform is the final aspect of the abolishment of the first amendment. When persons are limited in their ability to petition the government for relief of wrongs, which is the point of award caps, and other tort reform devices, the government is no longer obligated to protect the weak against the strong. Here, certain power brokers are trying to get Americans to support laws that violate their rights with alarmist chatter about frivolous lawsuits. Certain interests think that the right of American citizens to ask the government to protect them from well-funded commercial enterprises is frivolous. The first thing people seem to think of when tort reform comes up is the woman who sued McDonalds because she got burnt with hot coffee. The last thing they seem to think of, because this part is kept out of the discussion by the tort-reform champions, is that the woman who filed the lawsuit was injured so badly she needed skin grafts. It only sounds frivolous before the facts come out. Tort reform is the final nail in the first amendment’s coffin.

Americans are the only ones who can save the first amendment. It is not the whole of American civil liberties, but without it, maintaining the rest will be difficult, if not impossible. It is good that Mr. Carter has taken the time to warn of the impending crisis. I hope everyone who reads this can find a copy of his book and the time to read it.
© 2005

About Me

I love my country, that is why I criticize its absurdities; I love my freedom, that is why I do it publicly.