Friday, December 16, 2016

Stand by the 1st....even if it hurts

This past week had a day that celebrates the Bill of Rights.  The original first 10 amendments to the Constitution that limits the role of government to control our lives.  Also during this week the 1st of those amendments took a beating in the Indianapolis area.  I wrote about Knightstown, the ACLU was approached by a resident who felt that a cross on the tree in the town square was a violation of the prohibition of government from picking one religion over another.  The town took the flag down to avoid a lawsuit that they would certainly lose.  The reaction was swift and in many cases epic in its ignorance.  One comment I heard was that the majority of people wanted the government to promote Christianity so the minority should be quiet.  The point of the Bill of Rights is that we don’t vote on them.  The rights are there to protect us all.  In this case, the town has trouble seeing the danger of allowing governments to promote a faith tradition.  But what is worse is the concept of our rights can be at the whim of the majority.  When the founders decided what kind of government they wanted they made a point of leaving God out of it.  At a time when the very language of daily discourse included references to God the Constitution is devoid of religious references.  Their brilliance has kept us from falling into problems that we have seen in many other countries that try to balance religion and civic culture.  When any sin is also a crime against the state and any crime is an affront to God we lose a great deal of freedom.  Knightstown is a place where many see the cross as a symbol of hope, but that is not enough.  Government should not be in the business of religion.  So while the Knightstown decision was a victory of the 1st amendment, I fear many people, including a local editorial cartoonist, doesn’t understand and that is sad and scary.
But the 1st also seemed to lose a battle this week.  In Carmel High School an Anti-Abortion poster was put up by a student group.  The poster, seen below, was simple to understand and the poster fairly unobtrusive as far as anti-abortion posters can go.  The school took the poster down, for no reason other than it offended someone.  Now schools have some ability to limit what can be on the walls, this is not at issue.  If a student group follows the rules and gets the right permission then the message itself should not be disqualifying because some people don’t like the message itself.  In fact the 1st amendment MUST be defended for those whom we disagree with.  I am pro-choice and have harsh criticism for many in the so-called pro-life movement.  However it troubles me greatly that a school would suppress an opinion because some people don’t like it.  There is case law on this.  Students can have opinions and student groups can promote those opinions within the structure of acceptable behavior but the school cannot squash ideas because they don’t like them.  Carmel High School is attacking these students’ rights.  Schools should be a market place of ideas and this should be a teachable moment.  I think the students were making a strong statement in a forum that other groups have done the same thing.  They weren’t being offensive, even if they were slightly provocative.  But I can’t see how this poster rose to the level that it was disruptive to the education process nor was it in any way that I can see offensive. 
It is clear to me that the 1st amendment was never meant to protect only what we believe or are comfortable with but exactly those things we don’t agree with nor are happy about.  I find the message of the poster simplistic, I am staunchly pro-choice, but I think the school needs to allow these kinds of messages to be part of the tapestry of opinions that are allowed to grace the same walls.  The school, as an agent of the government, must have a compelling reason to stop a student’s voice.  This poster doesn’t seem to have a reason I can find.  I hope we can all see that these students should be allowed to voice their opinion and that if we want to challenge it the school should be a place they can do so in a safe and fair environment. 

The 1st amendment is a treasure in many ways, we can’t let it be chipped away.  Not for the sake of the majority nor that we don’t like the message being expressed.  When the Nazis marched in Skokie is was not a victory for them, it was a victory for all of us.  To have stopped them would have given value to their ideology.  Freedom is hard.  It means we have a diversity of culture and thought.  That is what makes our country strong.  Let’s remember what the founder’s dreams were and stand with me to defend the Constitution and acknowledge that we will encounter ideas, thoughts, phrases that make us uncomfortable.  Here is the secret, my voice and your voice make someone uncomfortable too.  I would rather be uncomfortable at times then to be silenced.  I think you do too. 

This is the poster in question from Carmel High School.  What do you think?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why The ACLU is Right.

In a small town about one hour from Indianapolis, the city is removing a cross from their Christmas tree in the town center.  The cross stood atop the tree in Knightstown IN until a local resident questioned its legality and engaged the ACLU to file a suit.   The city, in its wisdom, realized that the cross violated the 1st amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court and removed the cross, stating they couldn't win.  Of course a wave of people attacked the ACLU as anti-Christian suggesting they should leave Christmas alone.  This is a common tome coming from people who think their rights are being violated if they can't have their government support their religious view.  But the 1st amendment is there to protect us all.  The ACLU has been a champion for that protection since its beginning.  They want to hold the government accountable to the limits placed on it by the Constitution.  While the cross might seem innocent it makes a statement of the government is choosing to elevate a single faith tradition over another.  That is what the court and the founders both were worried about.  It isn't that the cross if offensive it is more about the fact that it is picking the life choices of some citizens over another when it comes to faith.  Some people are worried that if we take the cross off the tree that the next thing will be taking them off churches.  That is not a good argument as the ACLU would fight FOR the churches in that situation.  What is more likely is that the more we allow the government to support a single religion the more likely they will discriminate against another.  We have seen it in the past and thankfully we are more aware of the diversity that has been part of our country from the beginning.  To point out that the ACLU will fight for religious rights for Christians (one of the accusations was that the ACLU is anti-Christian remember) you can look here and pick any of the cases where the ACLU championed Christian rights

In the case of Knightstown the majority of people there want the cross, but the Constitution is not concerned with the majority.  Just like communities that have a majority of people who would ban guns, the Constitution stops them because the founders felt freedoms were more important that the opinions of a group of people.  Rights are not up for a vote.  But the people of Knightstown do have a response that is both powerful and legal.  They are putting crosses on their lawns and windows.  Where they should be.  No one is stopping the people from celebrating their important holiday but the government should be free of choosing a religion to elevate and that is good for all of us.

Monday, December 5, 2016

It's Not a Monkey

I love zoos and have visited many.  My favorite thing about zoos is often not the animals but the people who visit them.  You see, for some reason, people think they know what they are talking about when it comes to the animals at the zoo.  The is a zoo I visited with a central exhibit of gibbons who would swing through the branches.  Signage around the exhibit was labeled clearly in tall letters:  It's NOT A MONKEY.  The sign went on to explain the difference between monkeys and lesser apes.  At least 10 people approached the exhibit, stood near this sign, and said to their children or friends, "look at the monkey".   For the rest of the day "It's not a monkey" became a code phrase.  But that is not the worst thing I have seen.  I once took a class that one project was to visit the Baboon enclosure at the zoo in Syracuse.  A large room with a variety of baboons of various ages.  One time a woman came in with a few children, may have been a teacher.  She points to the large alpha male and says, "See he is the only boy and all the others are girls".  The problem, standing, facing the glass that this woman is viewing through, is a male, clear as day by biology.  A quick read of the sign in the room would explain what the make of of the troop is.  However she knew for sure what was going on so why bother to read.

This is what I fear we can look forward to in a Trump administration.  A few days ago, President-elect Donald Trump decided that it would be a good idea to call Taiwan.  Without talking to the State Department or apparently anyone who has had a mote of understanding of the United States China policy since the Reagan years, Trump rings up the new President of Taiwan.  Now one can be critical of our one China policy but for the man who will be President to breech protocol like that is a stunning thing.  He seemed to act like the people who didn't read the sign at the zoo, he thought he knew what he was doing.  Unlike the people at the zoo, the mistake is not without consequences.  If this was about ignorance, this is a dangerous ignorance.  What is even scary is that there are people close to him who are taking advantage of his ignorance and getting him to do things that meet their agenda, even if it puts US in danger.   The fallout from these kind of diplomatic blunders can have far reaching implications.  However, like him, many of his supporters don't care, in part because they don't understand the world of diplomacy.

One of the things that people say about why they voted for Trump was that he doesn't talk like a politician.  But they are the people who call baboons with penis girls.  But Trump is not only ignoring reality but he is trying to redefine it.  He would go up to the sign at the zoo and erase the NOT at the gibbon exhibit.  He simply lies when his is caught in some new idiocy and his people say things like "There is no such thing as facts".  When Trump was out marketing his name and running a reality show his detachment with reality was comedy and not important.  But now, everything he says or does has world-wide implications.  He has said so many things since the election that are troubling, including lying about the election he won and the Carrier deal that he can claim.  This is troubling.  Regardless of the Trump team's worldview, facts matter, a lot.  We aren't at the zoo, gibbons are not monkeys and the Presidency is not a game.  Can someone please tell Mr. Trump?   

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