Uncommon Sense

August 7, 2018

A Religious Freedom Smokescreen

The concept of religious freedom is being used as a smokescreen for something else. Just as the act after the events of 9/11 was called the Patriot Act when it had nothing to do with patriots, the religious freedom movement of today has actually nothing to do with religion per se nor freedom, other than freedom from anti-discrimination laws.

Most famously we had a county court clerk in Kentucky who refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. Her job was to make sure that all applicable state and county laws were abided by in the issuance in the license. Since the local polity had authorized licenses to be issued to gay couples, she had no recourse but to do her job and issue those licenses. There was no part of her job description that allowed her to insert her personal feelings into the process. There were no exceptions for issuing licenses to ugly people, or short people, or gay people. She just decided that there was to be one more step in the process of getting a marriage license, the approval of the county clerk, aka her.

The same can be said for the baker in Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, on artistic grounds as well as religious. What was being purchased was a wedding cake, something this baker did often. On top was to be a groom, something the baker did often, and a second groom. Whoa, Nelly, that’s offensive to his religion! Not the customer’s religion, but the baker’s religion! WTF? There is a religious test for doing business? “I will only serve Muslims” or “I will only serve Christians” is okay?

The baker was being asked to do something that was ordinary and not a stretch of his “artistic” skills. In fact, he could have taken a wedding cake that was not picked up and plucked the bride off of the top and added a second groom and ta da! Nothing extraordinary was being asked here. But his religious sensibilities were inserted into his business when they were not required. His claim was that by making the cake, he would be endorsing the wedding. WTF? Do the florists know this? The people who rent halls for receptions? The people who sell wedding gowns? (Buy a gown and we will personally endorse your marriage! Come with this cool certificate!)

The Trump administration is gearing up to use a “religious freedom” excuse to discriminate against anyone of whom they do not approve. The term religious freedom sounds like preserving the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is not being infringed upon anywhere I know of. What they are talking about is practicing their religion on people not of their religion, in other words, in my religion I can’t do this, so you can’t do this either. What we really need is a “Freedom from Religion” for the secular sphere.

People who do not want to sell cakes to gay couples should probably find another line of work. People who do not want to do their job as county clerk, should be fired, as Kim Davies should have been for refusing to do her job.

Even if you open a Christian bookstore, you cannot refuse service to atheists. I have been in a few of these stores and even made purchases and they had no idea who they were serving. (Bwah hah ha hah!) There needs to be a simple statement that if you open a business, that you cannot deny service to a law abiding customer. This is not currently the case, but it should be. Our federal administration is working in a direction opposite to this right now. If they get their SCOTUS nominee placed, expect a landslide of such religious freedom cases. Soon it will be acceptable for stores to not serve Muslins or Catholics or Scientologists and we will soon be immersed in religion wars that the Founding Fathers tried like crazy to avoid, to which end they created a secular state that protects religion but does not participate … until now in any case.

July 21, 2018

Things to Consider When Selecting Another Supreme Court Justice

This is not yet another post about who should be selected or how, but some background on how the SCOTUS fits into our system of government.

In a quite brilliant post [Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton by Paul Street (July 13, 2018)] at www.counterpunch.org the author points out quite clearly that the Constitutional Authors were more than fearful of popular democracy, that they felt the “natural” leaders were people like themselves, wealthy landowners who had the time and education and sensibilities (Sniff!) to lead well.

Here are a few telling quotes:

At the Constitutional Convention, Madison backed an upper U.S. legislative assembly (the Senate) of elite property holders meant to check a coming “increase of population” certain to “increase the proportion of those who will labour under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings” [emphasis added]. “These may in time outnumber those who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former.”

In Federalist No. 35, the future first U.S. secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, argued that the common people found their proper political representatives among the small class of wealthy merchant capitalists. “The idea of an actual representation of all classes of people by persons of each class,” Hamilton wrote, “is altogether visionary.” The “weight and superior acquirements of the merchants render them more equal” than the “other classes,” Hamilton proclaimed.

Mr. Street goes on to say this:

Checkmating Popular Sovereignty
The New England clergyman Jeremy Belknap captured the fundamental idea behind the U.S. Founders’ curious notion of what they liked to call “popular government.” “Let it stand as a principle,” Belknap wrote to an associate in the late 1780s, “that government originates from the people, but let the people be taught…that they are unable to govern themselves.”

It wasn’t just about teaching “the people” that they were incapable of self-rule, however. The Constitution was designed to make sure the popularity majority couldn’t govern itself even if it thought it could. The rich white fathers crafted a form of “popular government” (their deceptive term) that was a monument to popular incapacitation.

The U.S. Constitution divided the federal government into three parts, with just one-half of one of those three parts (the House of Representatives) elected directly by “the people”—a category that excluded blacks, women, Native Americans and property-less white males (that is, most people in the early republic). It set up elaborate checks and balances to prevent the possibility of the laboring multitude influencing policy. It introduced a system of intermittent, curiously time-staggered elections (two years for the House, six years for the Senate, and four years for the presidency) precisely to discourage sweeping popular electoral rebellions It created a Supreme Court appointed for life (by the president with confirmation power restricted to the Senate) with veto power over legislation or executive actions that might too strongly bear the imprint of the “secretly sigh[ing]” multitude.

It sanctified the epic “un-freedom” and “anti-democracy” of black slavery, permitting slave states to count their disenfranchised chattel toward their congressional apportionment in the House of Representatives.

The Constitution’s curious Electoral College provision guaranteed that the popular majority would not directly select the U.S. president—even on the limited basis of one vote for each propertied white male. It is still in effect.

U.S. Americans did not directly vote for U.S. senators for the first 125 years of the federal government.  The Constitution said that senators were to be elected by state legislatures, something that was changed only by the Seventeen Amendment in 1913.

It is true that the Constitution’s Article V provided a mechanism technically permitting “We the People” to alter the nation’s charter. But the process for seriously amending the U.S. Constitution was and remains exceedingly difficult, short of revolution and/or civil war.

I know this is a lot to absorb, so I recommend you read the entire article. I will add a couple of comments.

Regarding the quotation from New England clergyman Jeremy Belknap “Let it stand as a principle,’ Belknap wrote to an associate in the late 1780s, ‘that government originates from the people, but let the people be taught…that they are unable to govern themselves (my emphasis).’” I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that a clergyman would oppose people thinking and acting for themselves! Realize that in the New Testament, the only descriptions of how Christians practiced their religion were very democratic. There were no clergy per se, unless you think wandering guides such as “Paul,” qualified. Congregations of Christians met in homes and “shared” with one another with no middlemen involved. But if there are no middlemen, there is no power structure and the early days of Christianity (first three-four centuries) was all about creating a power structure … by those wanting the power.

So, to hear that some clergy, although I suspect close to all clergy, believed that people could not rule themselves is hardly a revelation. In their religion, the people could not govern themselves, they needed “guidance,” otherwise they might believe the wrong things (“wrong” as determined by those in power).

Regarding “The Constitution was designed to make sure the popularity majority couldn’t govern itself even if it thought it could.” This is a stunning revelation to me. I knew quite a bit of this background and the attitudes of the “Founding Fathers,” but I had not had this point made so clearly and forcibly before.

Regarding “The Constitution’s curious Electoral College provision guaranteed that the popular majority would not directly select the U.S. President.” Isn’t it curious that the Electoral College was the instrument that got a populist President elected in 2016. The “best laid plans of mice and men,” indeed!

Oh, and on which side of this argument do you think Judge Kavanaugh is on?

 

 

July 16, 2018

SCOTUS: Fair and Balanced?

Since the Supreme Court is floating in the discussion air, I am reading more and more comments like this:

And just when we thought SCOTUS was done trying to unravel the moral fabric of America, Justice Kennedy gently whispered, “Hold my beer” and announced his upcoming retirement, thus simultaneously signaling the end of an era of a [kind of] fair and balanced Supreme Court. I won’t use his name.

Fair and balanced my ass.

Again, reasonable journalists are giving sops to the status quo to suck up to all segments of their potential audience and doing us all a disservice. Judge Kennedy is being called a “moderate,” because he voted with the liberal wing a couple of times. But he is solely responsible for the “Citizens United” ruling and voted with the conservative wing far more often (way more often) than he voted with the liberals. That makes him a milder conservative, but in no way was he a moderate.

And, “fair and balanced?”

The current court, minus Justice Kennedy, has 4.5 Catholics on it (Gorsuch was raised a Catholic but now is part of an Episcopal church. Episcopalians consider Catholics to be catholic in name only, they being considered back sliders.)

Three of Trump’s four finalists for Kennedy’s seat on the court were Catholic as is the one he finally “chose,” Brett Kavanaugh. The remaining three Justices are Jewish. So, if Kavanaugh gets confirmed that will make three Jews and six Catholics as the representation of the court. Fair? On occasion. Balanced? In no way.

Catholics represent 22% of the U.S. population and Jews represent 2%. What about the other 76% of Americans? The Protestants, the Atheists, the Agnostics, the Muslims? What about them? And please don’t try to tell me that their religious worldviews have no effect on their decisions. Give me a break. (Freaking Scalia believed in the literal existence of the Devil!)

I guess candidates from the “out groups,” don’t get chosen off of lists created by the like of The Federalist Society, the strongly Catholic organization that prepared the list from which Trump got to choose “his nominee.” (The Federalist Society is already responsible for placing three justices: Alito, Roberts, and Gorsuch on the high court.)

Fair and balanced my ass.

And, if you are wondering why so many Republicans are scoffing at the idea of the “Deep State,” you might want to consider that they are protecting their benefactors, like the Federalist Society, part of the Deep State.

January 21, 2012

The System Ain’t Broke; It’s Fixed!

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:19 am
Tags: , , , ,

I can’t claim originality for the title of this blog entry. It seems that political discourse is a creative driving force, at least for sloganeers. (My current other favorite is: “I’ll believe a corporation is a person when Texas executes one!”)

On the two year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision we are now seeing how it is playing out and even conservatives are questioning its wisdom. I feel that it is time to reconsider this decision.

Ignoring for the time being that SCOTUS picked this fight by asking those bringing the suit to ask them to address the bigger question of corporate free speech, it has been a long standing power of Congress to regulate elections, e.g.:

U.S. Constitution / Article 1, Section 4
1: The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

Plus a long history of Supreme Court decisions have backed up Congress’s ability to do so, for example:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision Buckley v. Valeo (1976) held that limitations on donations to candidates were constitutional (because of the compelling state interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption), but limitations on the amount campaigns could spend (spending limits or caps) were an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech under the First Amendment.

So, we end with, two-years ago today, SCOTUS voiding nearly a century of settled law and declaring corporations “persons” for political reasons when they had been declared persons only for business reasons prior to that point. Of course, conservative icon Antonin Scalia voted in the majority on this opinion. Scalia describes himself as an originalist, which means he claims to interpret the Constitution as it would have been understood when it was adopted. When the Constitution was adopted, in 1789, modern corporations weren’t anywhere on the horizon. In fact, all of the Founding Fathers and every participant in the Revolutionary War was dead by the time the modern corporation was first conceived, albeit in a weak and feeble state at that time.

So, how does Scalia defend his decision? He does so by rejecting the argument made in a dissenting position that the Founding Fathers only thought of free speech in terms of citizens, not organizations. So, the “originalist” Justice basically stated, the Founding Fathers and citizen’s general understanding of the Constitution don’t count . . . because he says so.

This court has picked any number of fights that previous courts have generally shunned for the purpose, apparently, of empowering corporations as that is how they have ruled in every such case.

There is only one solution to this bias in the Court—amend the Constitution. Here is the rule that applies:

U.S. Constitution / Article 5 (in part)
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress.

Since there is a snowball’s chance in Hell that Congress will do such a thing, I suggest we try something novel. In at least two-thirds of the state legislatures, pass a Constitutional amendment bill (something like “Corporations are not people” but more careful considered to have the needed effect of curbing corporate political power). Then Congress would have a decision to make. Since it takes only two-thirds of the state legislatures to call for a Constitutional Convention, a zoo all would probably like to avoid, the only other option would be to pass the appropriate bills triggering the ratification process, ratification being almost a foregone conclusion.

Of course, Congress would have the option of invoking it’s favorite strategy, doing nothing, so political pressure would have to be applied continuously throughout (those reluctant to do the right thing being branded corporate lackeys, etc.).

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