Aramink

Engaged with the World

Category: Politics (page 1 of 6)

Enlightened Ancestor: Dr. Benjamin West

I can thank my migraines for Dr. Benjamin West.

When I am anxious or don’t feel well, I often do genealogy research to take my mind off things. I have always enjoyed learning about family history, but really got bitten hard by the bug the first time I had cancer, in 1994. I was at home recuperating, on painkillers and other drugs that made concentrating difficult, and I found message boards on AOL that were all about genealogy. And my ancestors were there! I connected with some very distant cousins and compared notes. I started learning more and more about my origins.

It occurs to me that we are all the products of our parents, who are the products of their parents, who were the products of theirs, and so on. Our parents don’t just pass genetics on to us. Even when we disagree about things like politics or religion or how to raise our children, the values of our parents are distilled into us, just like the values of their parents were distilled into them. We find that professions tend to run in families -a  certain branch of the family may tend to be lawyers, writers, preachers, doctors, architects, artists, military, etc.

An obituary notice in a newspaper from 1822 led me to him. He was named as the father of one of my 5th great-grandmothers, a woman whose origins were completely unknown to me before that moment.  The man was phenomenal, and I don’t understand why every generation after him hasn’t continued to hold him up as the pinnacle of the Enlightenment. This guy’s brain was so huge and active I don’t know how it managed to stay confined in his skull.

benj-west

Benjamin West, from the Brown University Portrait Collection

Benjamin West was born in Bristol, Massachusetts in March 1730. I think of him as the Stephen Hawking of his day. His accomplishments in math and science are truly remarkable because he was an autodidact – his formal schooling lasted a whopping three months of his childhood. He was poor and had to borrow every book he read until about 1758, when he managed to find some backers to open a dry goods store. A couple of years later, he opened the first bookstore ever to grace the commercial avenues of Providence, Rhode Island. He managed to pay for the books he so desperately wanted by selling them to other people.

He married Elizabeth Smith, daughter of Benjamin Smith, in 1753 when he was 23.  They were married for 53 years and had eight children, only three of whom survived Benjamin. The 1822 death notice for his daughter, Mary Smith West (wife of Oliver Pearce), in a Providence newspaper, alerted me to him. The death notice that mentioned her father was “Dr. Benjamin West of Providence.” Mary West Pearce died in Fayetteville, NC. Her daughter, Eliza West Pearce, married Dr. Benjamin Robinson, that guy from Vermont who tested out that newfangled smallpox vaccine on his little brother and his brother’s friends and basically got run out of Bennington for his efforts. The science is strong in my family!

Benjamin West was a brilliant mathematician and astronomer. His buddies were the founders of Rhode Island College, which later became Brown University. He loved mathematics and astronomy, and conferred with some truly fantastic minds of his day. He published annual almanacs for Halifax, Nova Scotia and Providence, Rhode Island for nearly 40 years. He didn’t have the formal schooling necessary for good academic chops, though, and before he opened that dry goods and book store, he failed at operating a school. He tutored students privately for all of his adult life.

Astronomical Genius

In 1766, something would happen that ultimately would reverse his fortunes and open some gilded doors for him. A comet appeared in the constellation of Taurus on the evening of April 9. Being a good astronomer, Benjamin took careful measurements. The next day wrote a letter to an astronomer named John Winthrop who was at Cambridge College (now known as Harvard University). He had never met or corresponded with Winthrop, but was so excited about his observation he simply had to share it.

Providence, April 10, 1766

Dear Sir:

For the improvement of science, I now acquaint you, that the last evening, I saw in the West, a comet, which I judged to be about the middle of the sign of Taurus; with about 7 degrees North latitude. It set half after 8 o’clock by my watch; and its amplitude was about 29 or 30 degrees. Nothing, Sir, could have induced me to this freedom of writing to you, but the love I have for the sciences; and I flatter myself that you will, on that account, the more readily overlook it.

I am, Sir, yours,

Benjamin West

He and Winthrop became great friends and continued to write each other. For the rest of their lives they would share observations about the night sky.

1769 Transit of the Planets

Johannes Kepler and Edmund Halley figured out how to apply the theory of parallax to determine the distances between astronomical bodies.  With both Mercury and Vanus predicted to pass between the Earth and the Sun in 1769, astronomers world-wide were anxious to test the theory . Since this was the first really good opportunity to view the transits of both inner planets since Kepler’s original accurate prediction in 1627 of the 1631 transit, everyone in the field of astronomy was excited. Captain Cook would famously observe the 1769 transit of Venus from Tahiti while on his ill-fated circumnavigation and while bringing European diseases and disharmony to the South Pacific. At the time of the last transit of Venus in 1761, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, who had just finished their survey of the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, had traveled to the Cape of Good Hope to observe it. All of these men used astronomy as an important part of their lives – navigating the oceans and surveying the land required precise measurements, and measurements started with the stars.

benjamin-wests-1769-telescope

Telescope used by Benjamin West, at Providence, Rhode Island, to observe the 1769 transit of Venus. Ladd Observatory, Brown University

There was no telescope in Providence in 1769. Benjamin West, Stephen Hopkins (the signer of the Declaration and great-grandson of the Mayflower passenger) and the Brown brothers – founders of Rhode Island College, later known as Brown University – were determined to see the phenomenon, though, so they managed to import a telescope from England at the incredible expense of 500 pounds.  They set up on the outskirts of Providence. Transit Street in Providence is named after the spot where they viewed the transit on June 3, 1769. There are photos of the telescope on the Brown University website – the school still has it.

benjamin-wests-diagram-of-the-1769-transit-of-venus

Benjamin West’s diagram of the transit of Venus, 1769, from the Ladd Observatory, Brown University

As was his habit, Benjamin West made careful measurements of the transit. He published a tract (and dedicated it to his friend Stephen Hopkins) about the event. A copy of the tract made its way to John Winthrop at Harvard, and on July 18, 1770, Benjamin West – the man with only three months of formal education – was awarded an honorary Master of Arts from Harvard. Here’s the text of the notification letter from John Winthrop:

Cambridge, July 19, 1770

Sir —

I have the pleasure to acquaint you that the government of this college were pleased, yesterday, to confer upon you the Honorary degree of Master of Arts; upon which I sincerely congratulate you. I acknowledge the receipt of your favour, and shall be glad to compare any observations of the satellites.

Yours, &c.

John Winthrop

 

American Academy of Arts and Sciences: the American Philosophical Society

That same year, Benjamin West was unanimously elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia – the American colonial version of Great Britain’s Royal Society. He would meet another author and publisher of almanacs there: a fellow named Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin West was still primarily a merchant at this time, and the Revolution was on its way. When full-blown war finally arrived, commerce dried up. He went to work manufacturing clothing for the American troops. He continued his studies and his correspondence with the other great minds, though.

Mathematics was Benjamin’s first love. In 1773 he wrote to a friend in Boston of a theorem he had developed to extract “the roots of odd powers” that was probably his greatest contribution to the field of mathematics. That’s right – he discovered a math formula that I can’t even begin to hope to understand, but other really smart people who could math really well understood it and lauded him for it. When he finally explained his theorem to other math geniuses in 1781, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences not only published it in one of their earliest journals, but unanimously elected him to membership and awarded him a diploma. It was his second honorary academic degree, and he still supported by only three months of formal education. The theorem caught the attention of the European mathematical geniuses, who, giddy with discovery, also published it. Benjamin West, already pretty cool, became seriously hot stuff.

He didn’t stop at math and astronomical observations, though. One of the biographies I found explained a physics problem he cogitated upon for more than two years in conjunction with John Winthrop and a Mr. Oliver. It had to do with the properties of air in a copper tube that was then put into an otherwise airless container. The qualities of invisible gases – basically, the scientific understanding of the very concept of the physical nature and properties of “air” – was in its infancy. Our ancestor speculated about the attractive and repulsive nature of the tiny particles that made up the matter of air – what we now call its molecules – and how they would behave under different conditions. Gravity, matter, magnetism, and ultimately the behavior of the tails of comets played into his understanding of the question. This is stuff my brain simply isn’t big enough to handle.

Benjamin West’s mind was at the peak of its illuminating brilliance as the world around him heaved. His most important discoveries and writings happened as the American Revolution was about to explode.  By the end of the Revolution he had returned to academic pursuits. He tutored students in math and astronomy. He still wasn’t rich; despite his prominence in academics he never became particularly wealthy. The well-endowed founders of what would become Brown University had not forgotten their friend, though. In 1786, he was elected to a full professorship there.

For some reason he did not begin teaching at Brown for a couple of years. Probably because of his honors and his friendship with Ben Franklin and the rest of the gang at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, Benjamin West was invited to teach at the illustrious Protestant Episcopal Academy there. The name of that school is familiar to members of my father’s family.  Although Benjamin West was the direct ancestor of my Arkansas-born mother, my dad, an Irish-Italian kid who grew up in the Philly suburb of Gladwyne, went to school at Philadelphia’s Episcopal Academy while his dad coached its sports teams. (Insert refrain from “Circle of Life” here.)

Brown University awarded Dr. West his first non-honorary degree, his Doctor of Laws, in 1792. He taught mathematics and astronomy there from 1788 until 1799. Then he opened a school of navigation and taught astronomy to seafaring men. Like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, this man loved to teach other people the wonders of the universe.

I’m proud of him for another reason, too: Benjamin West was a member of an active abolitionist group in Providence.

I’ve found several contemporary biographical accounts for Benjamin West. They are typical of their time: purple prose and flowery metaphors abound. They all reach one conclusion: Benjamin West was a genius. He was a determinedly self-educated man who contributed considerably to the arts of science and mathematics during his lifetime. He was truly a product of the Age of Enlightenment: a self-educated, self-made man whose gifts and prominence considerably exceeded his bank account.

This discovery of my ancestor Benjamin West is exactly why genealogy research is so rewarding. And given the anxiety-provoking events of November 8, I expect to be doing a lot more of it – in between my stepped-up schedule of political activities, that is.

______

Bibliography:

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Book of Members  (2016 edition), p. 252. Entry for Benjamin West, elected 1781, Fellow. Residence and Affiliation at election: Providence, RI. Career description: Astronomer, Educator, Businessperson, Book of Members; American Academy of Arts & Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Leonard Bliss, The History of Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts:  Comprising a History of the Present Towns of Rehoboth, Seekonk, and Pawtucket, From Their Settlement to the Present Time (Boston:  Otis, Broaders, and Company, 1836). Google Books

Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment, Entry for Benjamin West (1730-1813), pp. 1096-1097. https://books.google.com/books?id=qZ2yBwAAQBAJ&lpg=PA1096&dq

Louise Hall, “Family Records: Newby Bible”, New England Historical and Genealogical Register 122 (Apr 1968):  125-128, 125.

Martha Mitchell, “Benjamin West”, Encyclopedia Brunoniana (1993). https://www.brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/Databases/Encyclopedia/search.php?serial=W0170

John Chauncey Pease, John Milton Niles, A Gazetteer of the States of Connecticut and Rhode-Island:   (Hartford:  William S. Marsh, 1819), 331-333. Biographical entry for Dr. Benjamin West.  Google Books.

Unattributed, “Biography of Benjamin West, L.L.D.  A.A.S.:  Professor of Mathematicks, Astronomy and Natural Philosophy, in Rhode Island College – and Fellow of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, &c.”, The Rhode Island Literary Repository Vol I, No. 7 (October 1814):  137-160 (337-360), http://books.google.com/books?id=HLQRAAAAYAAJ.  Google Books.

Benjamin West Papers; Rhode Island Historical Society Library, 121 Hope Street
Providence, RI 02906. http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/Mss794.htm.

It’s Her Gender

Image Source: NBC News

Image Source: NBC News

When they say it’s not her gender, well, it might be her gender.

Americans love to hate Hillary Clinton, but she has been consistently rated the most admired woman in America for two decades. Why the hate in spite of all that apparent love? Is it because she has dared to shatter every glass ceiling put in her way?

They claim it’s her honesty.

It’s not. Check Politifact if you don’t believe me.

They claim it’s her conflicts of interest.

It isn’t. She can give speeches to whoever asks her to speak, including the KKK, including Wall Street, including kindergarten classes. Her family’s charitable foundation can accept donations from anyone, anywhere. Bill Clinton established the Clinton Foundation to improve the lives of people internationally.  It does good work and it has considerable bipartisan support.

They claim it’s her judgment.

Seriously? Internationally and at home, Hillary Clinton consistently ranks as the most admired woman alive.  For twenty  of the last twenty-three years, she’s been the single most admired woman in the United States. I do not suggest everyone should agree with every decision she has ever made, but come on. She’s done something right to be that popular, hasn’t she?

Her email scandal fits in this “lack of judgment” category. The press has pilloried her for doing exactly the same thing her Republican predecessors did. In fact, former Secretary of State Colin Powell  told Clinton that using a private email server was preferable to the government server in most instances.

Oh, and about Benghazi? The GOP has investigated that situation ad nauseam and still can’t find sufficient fault with her conduct, policies, or decisions. As hard as her political enemies have tried, they cannot accuse her personally of any wrongdoing.

They claim it’s her war-mongering.

Her detractors characterize Hillary Clinton as hawkish, eager to use military force. She cannot refute this point. She counseled President Obama to use military force when the country was not subject to imminent attack by any foreign entity.

Clinton voted to go to war in Iraq. She has explained her vote ad nauseam.  She cast her vote – one of a hundred Senate votes – based on the information she had at the time. That information was flawed at best and fabricated at worst. Bush lied to America and the world. Cheney manipulated for personal gain. Powell lied to the UN on their behalf. Rumsfield had no plan and didn’t listen to advisors.  None of that is Hillary Clinton’s fault, and none of it came about due to her actions. Even had she cast her vote the other way, nothing – absolutely nothing – would have changed.

That includes the use of drones. The National Security Council made the decision to use drones. As Secretary of State, Clinton was only one of the five members of that council. She could not unilaterally decide war policy. While she may have argued in favor of specific actions – the Lybian revolution during the Arab Spring, most problematically –  she did not have the final say on any of them.

Despite all of that, our international allies consider her the hands-down favorite in this race. Whether or not our citizens do, our allies understand the importance of a responsible, experienced person leading the U.S.

They claim that electing her will be politics as usual.

Maybe. Not many candidates have been more qualified for the office, and there have been none so qualified in our lifetime.

They claim that it’s time for a change.

I couldn’t agree more. Personally, I’d like to see the two-party system disbanded and a different method of electing leaders that means we won’t ever have to choose between the lesser of two evils. But in this election cycle, no other candidate but Donald Trump has a realistic shot at the office. Without getting into the reasons why – that would be another blog post entirely – it is an incontrovertible fact that we must choose between two candidates.

Perhaps the nation would be better off with a man in power who rises to the bait of a tweet. Maybe the world will be safer if a loose cannon has the nuclear codes. Perhaps someone without one iota of a clue as to how to govern should have the most powerful position in the entire world.

But I seriously doubt it.

They’ll never claim it’s her gender.

Just like they never claimed it was Obama’s race.

Voting Right

In honor of today’s primaries, here’s a an old argument about voting rights. It hasn’t yet died.

Even though Arkansas’s Supreme Court struck down the voter ID law on the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, many other states still have burdensome voter ID laws. These laws effectively prevent legally eligible people from voting. There’s another problem, as well: too many young people think their votes don’t matter. (Spoiler: they DO!)

President Jimmy Carter, that stalwart champion of international democracy, supports voter ID requirements, at least to an extent. He has cautioned that voter IDs must be free and people living in remote locations must have some way of getting them. Proponents of Voter ID laws heard the first part of Carter’s statement, but not the last.

Republicans seem to promote these laws, while Democrats oppose them. Why? Because these laws target the young, minority, and elderly voters. These voters are the least likely to have an official government ID that is accepted at the polls.

Why are all those silly liberals so upset about this? The Founding Fathers didn’t let poor people or minorities vote either. They even had the good sense not to let women vote!

According to the Brennan Center, which conducted a notable investigation into the issue, as many as 11 percent of the voting population does not have one of these state-issued IDs. That’s a lot.

Seriously, many Republicans touted these laws as a way to ensure voter fraud doesn’t happen. The only type of voter fraud these laws address, though, is in-person voter impersonation. The ID laws are an undue burden intended to address a problem that simply doesn’t exist.

voter fraud stats

Source: voterfraudfacts.com. Check out the site for more info about the frequency and types of voter fraud in the United States.

 

To prevent 13 fraudulent votes from being cast, we should prevent 65 million votes from being cast. That certainly ensures a good representative democracy, now doesn’t it?

Republicans knew this. They still promoted passage of these laws, claiming that floods of illegal aliens inundated the polls and entire cemeteries emptied as their zombie residents tried to vote progressive politicians into office. A zombie without an ID could be turned away only if this law was in place.

Haha! Gotcha, Democrats! If your zombie base can’t vote, you don’t get elected! Those cocky Republicans just couldn’t resist tweaking the noses of their Democratic counterparts once the laws were passed. They brazenly admitted on multiple occasions that these laws were intended to prevent Democrats from being elected-not by keeping down the hoards of immigrants and stopping the zombie apocalypse, but by preventing the poor, young, old, and minorities from voting.

In one hotly-contested 2014 election in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, the Democrat lost to the Republican by less than 2500 votes. There were 386,434 registered voters in the 23rd District, and only 115,429 actually voted. A research team from the University of Houston and Rice University conducted a poll of a representative sample of the 271,005 registered voters who did not vote in the midterm election. They found that 12% of those polled believed they did not have the type of ID required to cast a ballot. Upon further questioning, the survey established that only 2.7% of those polled actually lacked proper identification. Still, that accounted for more than enough votes to have changed the outcome of the election.

Voter fraud is anything that tampers with a fair voting process. Inciting fear of non-existent fraud to pass laws that effectively disenfranchise a tenth of the population ought itself to count as voter fraud on a massive scale. It sure worked in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District in 2014.

Arkansas Republicans were not above inciting this kind of baseless fear. In 2012, when these laws were being promoted all over the country, our Republican Secretary of State’s spokesperson publicly claimed that there was rampant voter fraud being committed in all 75 Arkansas counties, mainly by Democratic county clerks who let illegal immigrants register to vote. According to Alex Reed, who used to handle press relations for Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, it was absolutely essential to get rid of all county clerks who ran for office on the Democratic ticket because of this.

They might even illegally register on their illegal voter registration forms in Spanish that the Secretary of State’s office resented supplying. (All illegal aliens are Hispanic, and all Hispanics are illegal aliens. That’s a Venn Diagram with only one circle. Really.)

Almost the moment he was elected, Martin made it clear that here in ‘Murica English ought to be the official language. As if the Arkansas Secretary of State has any power over such things. (Source)

In August 2012 Reed spoke to the Union County Republican Party while on the state’s clock. He was there because he worked for the Secretary of State, who is the state’s chief election officer. In response to a question from the audience about how illegal immigrants get on voter registration rolls to begin with, Reed said:

Under federal law, we are required to print Hispanic voter registration applications and send those out. Then they send them back to us. The Secretary of State, they’re not the main registrar of voters. It’s the county clerks. That’s why I preach around to the county officials that it’s so important to have a Republican county clerk in every county. Because that’s the main person there and that’s who we work with the most. Either through error, or, they register and have the wrong address and it’s, ‘Oh well, they’re registered voters.’ … I don’t know what to say about it, other than it’s kind of a disgrace.

“It’s kind of a disgrace,” he said.

We suspect we know where the disgrace lies, and it isn’t with phantom illegal alien voters or county clerks.

Understandably, the county clerks in Arkansas were somewhat bemused by these irresponsible remarks. The Association of Arkansas Counties checked into Reed’s allegations and released a statement. The Association found no evidence in any of the 75 counties that Reed’s claim was accurate. Stung by the accusation of rampant misfeasance, Crystal Gaddy, the Republican secretary of the Association and a county clerk herself, rebuked Reed:

“I’m a proud Republican, but what’s important to me is to serve the people of Arkansas and my county regardless of political views. I am disappointed by the comments and the ensuing false perception of county clerks. I think it is vital to represent your office in a nonpartisan manner.”

Association president Rhonda Cole, a county clerk of the Democratic persuasion, agreed. “We’re here to serve the taxpayers regardless of political affiliations…. To describe county clerks or their actions as ‘disgraceful’ is unjust, unwarranted, and uninformed.”

If only all elected officials remembered that they represent all taxpayers, and not just those who share their party affiliation! Why, there might be less nasty rhetoric among politicians. We might even get some governing accomplished.

Might anyone in Washington be listening? No? I thought as much. Certainly local partisan hacks like Jason Rapert aren’t. If a constituent doesn’t support him 100%, that constituent gets blocked from Rapert’s social media, and maybe even gets threatened.

This man has a future in politics. (Source)

 

What the flap with these voter ID laws around the country underscores is not that there’s fraud-there’s precious little of that-but that partisan politics have sunk to a new low.

Then again, maybe it’s the same old low that Jim Crow enjoyed.

A voter denied his voting rights and an eligible voter whose ballot isn’t counted have both been disenfranchised. Disenfranchise enough people and the outcome of an election changes.

I keep hearing that Millennials feel their votes won’t count, so they don’t bother going to the polls. Guys guys guys guys guys! If your vote didn’t count, the people you’d vote against wouldn’t be so dead set on preventing your peers from voting. Your vote counts, and if you vote in large enough numbers, your votes rule.

 

Americans have long made a big deal of sending high-profile politicians to other countries to observe voting as fledgling democracies get off the ground. President Carter has gone on these poll-watching romps regularly. Why do we make a big deal out of observing the democratic process in new democracies? Because the validity of the election, and therefore the validity and authority of the elected government, depend upon those elections being conducted openly and honestly.

The validity of the election depends on the validity of the voting process.

Supporters of the voter ID laws claim that illegal voters will swarm the polls and elect the crazy “liberals” if swift, certain measures are not immediately taken.

Proponents of Democracy counter that the more people who vote, the better the people’s chance of being represented by someone they can tolerate.

VOTE. It matters.

Why I Don’t Want My Country Back

I keep hearing people say, “I want my country back.” I don’t understand why they want to regress rather than progress.

We have within our voting booths, email accounts, and voices the ability to make this country truly great. We should use them to make great things happen.

But, to go back?

I would not want to take my country back to a time when a state religion was mandated. The autodidacts of the Enlightenment gave us a gift when, first in the Virginia Declaration and then in the First Amendment, they mandated that states have to stay out of the religion business. By necessity this meant that religion also has to stay out of state business. The last “established church” (in Connecticut) was done away with in 1813 .

conn church

Congregationalist Church in Enfield, Conn. Remember Jonathan Edwards and his bombastic sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“?

There are political leaders today who claim they want to take the country back to a time when religion invaded every nook and cranny of political life. They’re asking for witch trials, criminal prosecutions for wearing lace, fines for not going to church, taxes that support one church but not anther.

Whose religion will the state support in that scenario? And whose interpretation of that religion? Will we end up in a bloody civil war over predestination and evangelism? Will atheists be burned at the stake? We have a lot of work to do in this area so that the American public understands what the founding fathers did: a secular state is the only one that can possibly serve all of its citizens. I sure wouldn’t go back to a time when states were able to mandate religion, before the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1864 that finally required all of the states to abide by the Bill of Rights. I don’t want that country back.

Other important Amendments to the Constitution were also passed in those heady days immediately following the Civil War, like the one that abolished slavery and the other one that extended the right to vote to every citizen regardless of race. I wouldn’t want to take my country back to a time when an entire demographic was enslaved and marginalized, disenfranchised and dispossessed of even basic human dignity.

30VOTING-tmagArticle

Credit: Bob Daugherty/Associated Press, 1964

We’ve already lost some of the protections minorities had against the privileged majority with the loss of the Voting Rights Act. The ballot box is still under siege from people who would make it harder for the poor, the young, and the elderly to vote. We have to get more people to the polls on every election day, and we have to pass laws reforming campaign finance so that elections are actually decided on the merits of the candidate’s platform and not on the size of their sponsor’s bank accounts. Who wants to live in a country where elections go to the highest bidder? Not me.

As a woman, I wouldn’t want to take my country back to an era when I would not have  had a voice in politics. That means I wouldn’t go back to a time before the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919.

suffragettes

Suffrage parade, New York City, May 6, 1912

I wouldn’t ever want to go back to a time when a woman’s “place” was barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Shackling women to their homes and children, shaming them for working and for success in other endeavors, removing from them their rights to own property or even have guardianship of their own children does an extreme disservice to half the population. That means I wouldn’t take my country back to the time before World War II, when so many women joined the iconic Rosie the Riveter in the workforce.

apron and satan

Discouraging girls from achieving their dream occupation shortchanges not just them, but our entire society. We can all benefit from the power of a brain enthusiastically focused on doing something worthwhile. If we tell boys they can be firemen or doctors  but tell girls they’ll be someone’s wife, we effectively tell our daughters that they will identify themselves by someone else’s name and someone else’s achievements. We send our girls the message that they aren’t good enough tall by themselves.  If that’s what we would return to, I don’t want that country back.

MRS degree

We hear people say they want to return to the values of the 1950’s, when June Cleaver vacuumed her comfortable home in heels and pearls, when Wally and the Beav could roam the neighborhood without supervision, where Ward wore a suit and held the same white collar job for years without stress. I have news for those people: The Cleavers were fiction. They didn’t exist except on television. Neither did that perfectly well-adjusted, large, blended Brady family in the 1970’s. When we say we want our country back, we say we long for only the good parts of a fictional, idealized era where no bad happened. It doesn’t exist and it never did.

Now is better, but it still isn’t good enough. There aren’t enough women yet in positions of power.  Women are capable business and community leaders. There still aren’t enough female CEOs of major corporations, there aren’t enough women in politics, there aren’t enough women of high rank in the military, there aren’t enough women in STEM fields, and women still don’t have the earning power of men.

We made progress in this country when becoming pregnant didn’t automatically trigger wedding bells at the business end of the proverbial shotgun.  We made progress when not just women but men were given the option of leaving bad marriages without suffering social opprobrium. We still need to improve our laws so that single parents have more support from society, so that they can earn a living wage and still have time to spend with their children. Child care needs to be more affordable and widely available so that single parents as well as married women who want financial independence aren’t prevented from reaching for it because they can’t afford to. Truly, as a society, we can’t afford for them not to.

I wouldn’t go back to a time when Jim Crow was not only the unwritten law of the land, but enshrined in statutes. This means I wouldn’t go back to a time before Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, or even before Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law.

Let’s not take our country back to a time when a family was prevented from moving next door to us simply because of the color of their skin, or when our a playmates were prevented from going to the same school as we did – again, because of the color of their skin. This means I wouldn’t want take the country back to a time before 1968 when the Fair Housing Act became law. My hometown’s schools were integrated in 1968 – the year I started first grade – and I’m glad it didn’t take still longer.

No, I would not want to take this country back to a time when people I knew and enjoyed as friends were treated like second-class citizens, not considered good enough to drink from the same water fountain as I could or to use the same public restroom as I did. We got rid of those statutes and are still fighting an uphill battle for racial equality and equal opportunity. We still have to deal with privilege and marginalization. It’s better, but it still isn’t good.

We haven’t made enough progress in this department: we are incarcerating practically the entire demographic of black males, forever foreclosing their capacity to contribute to society or even to their families in any meaningful way. Young black men get profiled and executed in the streets. The sentences imposed for minor crimes are not only excessive,m they are applied disproportionately along racial lines. Our prisons are focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation and successful reentry to society. They days of lynchings aren’t really over – they just look different. We have a lot more work to do.

15.0212.lynching

Image from a 1920 lynching in Texas, via Wikimedia Commons

Our society made progress in my lifetime when women were finally granted the right to defend our bodies against unwanted intruders, be they marital rapists or unwanted pregnancies. We haven’t made nearly enough progress in this area, even though we thought we had won it 40 years ago; a woman’s right to decide how and when her body will be used is under a concerted and coordinated attack from those who would reduce women to incubators.  That means I don’t want to take the country back to a pre-1973 world, where Roe v. Wade didn’t protect my body from involuntary servitude to an organism that might kill me. I was eleven years old when that case was decided. No, I wouldn’t go back, even though summers seemed to last forever back then.

I would never, ever want to go back to a time where education of the young was the province of churches, or that religion was allowed in the classroom. We made excellent progress in this regard – again, within my lifetime – and it is under constant threat from teachers who tell children they aren’t Christian enough (this is a state mandating religion again) or who deny evolution and other proven scientific theories (because their preachers tell them to).

In fact, we as a society don’t do enough to ensure that our population is educated. There is a significant segment of the American population that is anti-intellectual and proud of it. (I’m looking at you, Sarah Palin.) These people not only stymie the efforts of good brains, they threaten our nation’s ability to compete in the world’s markets, our health, and our standard of living. We have a lot more work to do in this area. Until every person in the country has access to affordable higher education, we undermine our growth both intellectually and economically.

And this brings me to pseudoscience. We may not have stereotypical snake oil salesmen on every street corner, but we do have quacks on television and Playboy Playmates (TM), all of whom have large soapboxes from which to sell modern-day snake oil in the form of fad diets, homeopathy, and “nutritional” supplements, and who undermine and misrepresent scientific progress.

Polio has become almost nonexistent in my lifetime. Diphtheria has virtually disappeared during my parents’ lifetimes. Smallpox was eradicated in my lifetime.  I would never want to take my country back to a time before antibiotics, vaccines, and modern surgical techniques. That means I don’t want last year’s country back.

But we need to do more to improve health and welfare. We can’t do it if our teachers won’t teach the theory of evolution and idiots without scientific training claim vaccines cause autism. We also can’t do it if every poorly-tested drug is advertised to the uneducated masses. We need to make more progress in this area.

I’ve now brought us into the present. I definitely don’t want to go back to any of what I’ve described.

Moving forward is the only option I see.

country back

You can get this on a t-shirt. Click the image to order.

Vote for the best solution

A number of my friends have said they will not vote for the Democrat if their preferred candidate isn’t the nominee for president.

Vote for Bernie or Hillary

copyrighted image: Nigel Parry for CNN

I think that’s short-sighted. There is an awful lot at stake in the 2016 election, not the least of which is the Supreme Court.

Sometimes our vote can’t be for the change we really want to see. Sometimes our vote has to be for the person who we think will do the least damage to the world, who will do the least to wreck the world as we want it to be.

No, it’s not a perfect solution. But because we have a two-party system, it’s the best option we have.

I’ve held my nose in the voting booth a lot over the years, mostly because the lesser of two evils really was significantly less evil. I’ll be doing it in one of the judicial races for the Arkansas Supreme Court. I don’t like either candidate, but one is likely to do less harm than the other, so he will get my vote.

I despair for our country if any of the Republican candidates win the presidency. I have read and heard nothing to indicate that any of them want to make the country a better place for all citizens. I am smothered by their bully attitudes, their regressive policies, bigotry, and anti-intellectualism. I see them pander to fears whipped up by Fox News. I see a theocracy in the making.

Neither Hillary nor Bernie is perfect. I have an opinion as to which would be better for the country, but if he doesn’t win the nomination I will vote for her. She’s the most moderate of all the Republicans running and the one who is likely to do the least amount of damage. She calls herself a Democrat. If it comes down to it, then she will have my vote, because I won’t be responsible for allowing one of those bombastic fools on the Republican side get elected. The blowhards, the bigots, the theocrats, the loose cannons – I cannot help them into office by abdicating my vote for their Democratic opponent. And, yes, if I end up voting for Hillary it will twist my guts knowing that yet another corporate sycophant is being elected. But that’s what happens when we choose who is the least of the evils – they’re all evil. We have to determine where the harm is likely to be done, and vote accordingly.

If the Republicans get into office, we can say goodbye to all the progress made in the last 45 years on women’s rights. We can expect that the Supreme Court will be stacked with intellectually dishonest conservatives like Thomas and Scalia. We can expect that the line between church and state will be blurred even further. We can expect people to lose insurance coverage, we can expect families to be ripped apart as half of their members are deported, and we can expect that children will go hungry.

I just can’t live with myself if I help that happen.

I like the way Allen Clifton put it in his post on Forward Progressives:

If you don’t plan to “vote blue, no matter who” this November because your candidate didn’t win and you didn’t get your way, before you cast your “symbolic vote,” I would encourage you to:

    • Find a Mexican family (or any immigrant family for that matter) that has lived here for years and has been praying for immigration reform to get passed so they can become American citizens. Tell them that it doesn’t really bother you that they’ll likely be deported if a Republican becomes president.
    • Find someone who’s living in poverty, who obtained health care thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Tell them you don’t care that a Republican president will take their health care away from them.
    • Find a Muslim and tell them you’re okay with a Republican president spending the next four to eight years vilifying their religion, potentially setting up registries where they would be tracked like criminals.
    • Tell every woman you meet that you’re okay with a Republican president potentially appointing 3-4 Supreme Court Justices who will almost certainly deem abortions illegal, thus taking away her right to have control over her own body and putting millions of women’s lives at risk as they seek out desperate measures to end unwanted pregnancies.
    • Find a homosexual couple and let them know that you’re not concerned with a Republican president potentially appointing 3-4 Supreme Court Justices that will almost certainly deem bans on same-sex marriage legal and strip away gay rights any chance they get.
    • Find non-Christians and atheists and let them know that it doesn’t bother you that a Republican president will undoubtedly try to force Christianity on Americans, thus violating their First Amendment rights. Rights that will also be under attack if that same president stacks the Supreme Court with 3-4 ultra conservative Justices.
    • Find someone with a pre-existing condition. Tell them that you don’t have a problem going back to the “old system” of health care where individuals born with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage and discriminated against by the health insurance industry, because a Republican president will damn sure repeal the Affordable Care Act.
    • Find climate scientists and everyone you can who cares about combating climate change. Tell them that it doesn’t really bother you that a Republican president would undo all the progress we’ve made to try to save our planet.

Please do all of that before you vote. Because when you don’t support either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, everything I just listed is exactly what you’re saying.

To those who have said they’ll vote for a third party candidate or decline to vote at all, please reconsider. Your vote, and the votes of people who feel the same way you do, really matter. It’s important.

Religion of Peace

Ten French humor writers and cartoonists and other magazine staffers were murdered in their offices, along with two police officers, by a trio of adherents to Islam, the “religion of peace.” The victims’ crime? They had dared to make and publish a cartoon of Mohammed. According to the BBC, at least seven others were wounded.

French Mohammed

Killing the people who criticize religion is probably as old as religion itself. Yesterday’s massacre was nothing new. The murderers themselves are nothing special. They are nothing but yet another face of religious extremism.

They are not the mainstream of their religion. In fact, the Arab League and Al-Azhar mosque, Egypt’s top Islamic institution, condemned the attack. I can almost hear the protests by these leaders of Islam: “Islam is a religion of peace,” I imagine they gently protested – just like they did after 9/11.

There is no such thing as a “religion of peace.”

In the name of religion human beings have forcibly removed entire populations from their homelands and taken their livelihoods. Religion has slaughtered entire towns from the youngest child to the oldest woman. It has pitted people against hungry predators in public arenas. Because of religion, people have gone on crusades, gone on jihads, and attacked their neighboring countries. Religion has prompted governments to burn people at the stake and hang innocents. Religion was at the basis for Hitler’s final solution, when he tried to cleanse the world of a certain people. Because of religion we humans have bombed ourselves, bombed others, hijacked planes to fly into buildings, beheaded people, and executed apostates. We have done all of these atrocities all to appease or defend some “higher” power that is apparently, despite its magnificent omnipotence, incapable of defending itself.

The Catholic Church actively protects priests who persistently rape children. Scientology officials stalk and smear anyone who dares to disagree. Anders Breivik murdered 77 Norwegians in the name of right-wing political beliefs and Christianity. Charismatic psychopath  Jim Jones convinced 900 people to kill themselves and their children in Jonestown. Preachers claiming the Rapture is imminent persuade their gullible followers to give up their jobs, their homes, and their possessions in preparation for an apocalypse that never happens. Doctors are murdered in their clinics for offering legal health services to pregnant women contrary to the religious beliefs of people who aren’t patients of the clinic. Westboro Baptist Church – need I say more? It’s such a lovely thing that Christianity is a religion of peace.

Jewish people in the US sponsor political parties in Israel, which in the name of its “God-given authority” then breaks international laws with its settlements and holds a million people in a gigantic cage. Is Judaism a “religion of peace”?

Hinduism and Buddhism have their share of religious atrocities, too. When a pig wandering into a public place causes riots, there’s a problem. When little girls are forced into marriage and virtual sexual slavery, the religion commits war against half of its own adherents. When history is revised to support a narrative of exclusion and religious fervor, no one wins. It’s child abuse to send young boys and girls to camps and schools to radicalize their religious beliefs and to instill in them a commitment to die for their religion. Nationalism based on adherence to a religion – whether Hindu or Jewish – makes no room for dissenters, which will always appear in the population, just because some people in every population will question authority.

In the name of their religions, people have sacrificed perfectly healthy young members of their society, tortured and killed suspected witches, rounded up dissenters and executed them, justified enslaving an entire race, and sacked entire cities.

Even today – in this “enlightened” era – people pass laws forcing others to bow to the religious sensibilities to which those others do not ascribe.  They reject and ostracize their own LGBT children. Governments expatriate religious dissenters like Sanal Edamaruku. Religious leaders put out hits on authors like Salman Rushdie. Because of the baseless assertions of priests and shamans, people burn suspected witches alive – including “witches” who are still infants. Religious rigor demands that parents deny education to their female children. Religion instigates the torture and murder of gay college students. Uneducated religious leaders encourage their followers to reject proven science. Because of religion, parents genitally mutilate their children (both boys and girls). Religion permits men to disfigure women by throwing acid in their faces and shoot little girls who want to go to school. Religious people deny life-saving medical treatment to their family members. Citing their religion and that of their constituents, legislators pass national and state laws to allow horrific treatment  of and discrimination against LGBT people. Religion insists that its adherents ignore decades of psychiatric progress. Nauseatingly, the list or atrocities and injustices due to religion just never seems to end.

There is no “religion of peace.” There is just religion. It is utterly disgusting what someone can get desperate or gullible people full of fear and anger to do in religion’s name.

Rapert’s Utopian Theocracy Defines Marriage

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette gave significant print space today to state senator Jason Rapert to let him deny that he ever called for Judge Chris Piazza’s impeachment. (It seems the paper printed the story, and then refused to issue a correction despite Rapert’s demands, so they allowed him to submit a “guest column.”)

You may recall that Judge Piazza declared the ban against same sex marriages unconstitutional, which raised Rapert’s Neanderthal hackles. Rapert’s screed focused on the will of the people as opposed to the foundational laws of our country – at least, the will of 753,770 people who voted a decade ago against letting any pair of consenting adults marry.

Oh, and God, God, God. Because God. Or, at least, Senator Rapert’s version of a god.

From Rapert’s essay:

I believe the current culture war on marriage between one man and one woman is a symptom of the degradation of the fundamental principle that is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution–that our government is based upon “We the People.”

We, the people of this country and of each state, do indeed elect those who make our laws. Occasionally, in the case of a referendum (the ban on same sex marriage was a referendum back in 2004), we the people actually vote on whether something should be a law. But we don’t all vote – not even when we’re eligible.

Judge Piazza decided that 750,000 individual citizens of our great state, representing 75 percent of the electorate at the time, were wrong, and their sense of morality and beliefs no longer mean anything in Arkansas. In reality, he rendered a judgment essentially saying that the will of an overwhelming majority of the people in our state means nothing and their votes do not count.

But did the majority of Arkansans, actually reject same sex marriage? Did we, the Arkansas people, actually speak with a strong voice about this matter?

Arkansas has a population of around 3 million people, 3/4 of which are over 18. According to the United States Election Project, 54% of the population eligible to vote in Arkansas made it to the polls in November 2004, when the legislature’s referendum was on the ballot. The total turnout was 1,070,573 – about a third of the actual population of the state. Nearly 2 million Arkansans were eligible to vote.

About 1/4 of the population of the state was sufficiently incensed over the notion that equality might happen that they beat a path to the polls in that election to vote against equal marriage rights for their LGBT neighbors, friends, and family members. Not a majority of the population. Not even a majority of the population over 18 or a majority of eligible voters. Just a majority of people who voted on that issue decided to maintain an unequal status quo.

It gets better:

Judge Piazza and activist judges like him … are saying they no longer respect the values, traditions and mores of the majority of the population in our nation and that they singularly have the right to impose the will of a small vocal group upon the rest of our state and the nation.

More than anything, this quote from his essay underscores Sen. Rapert’s lack of understanding of both the concept of separation of powers and the role of the judicial branch of government. It also tells me that a man charged with the responsibility of making laws does not understand that there is this foundational document called the United States Constitution that gives him – and the judges who overrule him – that authority. The U.S. Constitution and the Arkansas Constitution define the roles of each branch of government and explains how checks and balances work. Where state and federal laws conflict, federal law trumps.

Changing that foundational document takes much more than the proverbial “act of congress,” and ever since Marbury v. Madison was decided in 1803, the judicial branch was confirmed as that branch of government endowed with the responsibility of interpreting how laws should be applied. Therefore, judges like Chris Piazza are doing their jobs – not engaging in activism – when they interpret laws withing a constitutional framework. We don’t have to like their decisions. If we don’t like their decisions enough, we can appeal them to a higher court, until the buck stops with the US Supreme Court. Ultimately, the language of the United States Constitution applies.

Jason Rapert and his ilk don’t like the decision. Rather than wait for the appellate process to weave its constitutional magic, they scream like banshees at the idea that other human beings – human beings who are a tiny bit different from them – will get treated like actual full citizens of this state and country.

Rapert felt the need to make a number of points about how awful it is for the nasty homos to call themselves a family:

As for the context of the debate raging in our nation and now in Arkansas over same-sex marriage, there are a few things that must be said.

First, honoring the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman whether out of a sense of morality or based upon one’s religious faith does not mean that a person hates homosexuals.

With this quote, we see what the problem is. Jason Rapert really wants to live in a Christian theocracy. Of course, not a theocracy defined by, say, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Quakers, or Evangelical Lutherans. Nope – he wants a Southern Baptist or fundamentalist evangelical theocracy. In other words, if someone else’s religious beliefs don’t mesh with Rapert’s, then they obviously shouldn’t have the right to hold those beliefs.

And he doesn’t hate homosexuals – he just doesn’t think they are really “people” and that they shouldn’t have the same rights to the pursuit of happiness as “real” people. Of course he doesn’t hate them. How can you hate someone that isn’t really a person? It would be like hating a doll or a tree or a puppy. It’s like accusing an atheist of hating God. It’s not possible to hate something that doesn’t exist.

Rapert’s claim of a “sanctity” of marriage is the big giveaway. Marriage is a contract between two people. It isn’t a sacred state; it’s a legal one. Sure, the couple can have their marriage blessed, and because that blessing is important to many people the state generously allows religious leaders to file their credentials with the state and empowers them to confirm the existence of the marriage in a religious ceremony. The bottom line, though, is that the state has the final say over whether someone is married or not and over who can sign the marriage license. The legal documents have to be in order. The mere act of blessing the couple’s union is not sufficient to marry them. And by virtue of their elected or appointed office, nonreligious people also have the power to marry people.

Furthermore, to dissolve a marriage is akin to dissolving any other legally binding contract. What the state has joined together, the state must split asunder.

barbados-gay-marriage

This is the sanctity Rapert wants to protect. Seriously.

Rapert goes a step further in his “I don’t hate” insistence:

I do not personally hate anyone who has chosen a homosexual lifestyle and I believe they should be able to live their lives in peace like anyone else.

Really? Then why is he so gung-ho to deny them the basic and fundamental right to form a family with the partner of their choice? Why does he want to deny them the rights that heterosexual spouses have when it comes to matters like health care decisions? Why does he want to deprive them of inheritance and property rights like dower and curtesy? Why does he want to deprive them of the parental rights to children they have raised together? Why does he want to deny them the tax status granted to legally married partners? Why does he want to deny them the ability to obtain insurance as a family?  Why does he want to deny them retirement benefits a spouse would normally get automatically? Why does he want to refuse them the privilege of not testifying against each other in court? Clearly, he does not want them to be able to have the same rights, privileges, and protections “like anyone else.”

Oh, there’s a reason for that, according to Senator Brother Rapert. “[M]arriage is integral to the concept of family, and research shows that children are given the best opportunity for well-rounded social development when they are raised in homes with a mother and father.”

Sure, children do better when there are more adults with a hand in child rearing. The gender of the parent-figure doesn’t matter, nor does the gender orientation of that parental figure. The fact that there is a stable home with the same adults in the household matters.

Not just one, but several factors tend to forecast a happy, successful child. Stability of the family is a paramount predictor of a child’s success. Based on all the research gathered to date, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has concluded that “[l]ike all children, most children with LGBT parents will have both good and bad times. They are not more likely than children of heterosexual parents to develop emotional or behavioral problems.”

Canada agrees. In 2006, the Canadian Psychological Association reiterated its 2003 position on the issue:

CPA continues to assert its 2003 position that the psychological literature into the psychosocial adjustment and functioning of children fails to demonstrate any significant differences between children raised within families with heterosexual parents and those raised within families with gay and lesbian parents. CPA further asserts that children stand to benefit from the well-being that results when their parents’ relationship is recognized and supported by society’s institutions.

Therefore, if this is all about the children, validating the union of same-sex parents will go much farther to stabilize families than telling the kids that they don’t have a “real” family at all.

Senator Rapert calls a marriage between one man and one woman “natural” marriage. Once again, he displays his ignorance on a sleeve.

Marriage is whatever the law deems it to be. Let’s look at how marriage laws used to be:

Biblical-Marriage-Infographic

Click to embiggen and read this wonderful infographic that comes complete with citations.

 

Out of all that, he picks only one style of marriage to be “natural.” Blinders make the world a lot less expansive, don’t they?

Mildred Loving might find his comments ludicrously funny. She would have noted the irony that completely escaped Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissent in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases that were decided a year ago: but for a US Supreme Court finding that equal protection was violated by the anti-miscegenation statutes on the books of many of the states, his own marriage and family would not be recognized as valid.

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his melanin-challenged wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas

US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his melanin-challenged wife, Virginia Lamp Thomas

Senator Rapert claims he’s not prejudiced.

Fourth, the tactics of intimidation toward those who object to same-sex marriage, including comparisons to racism, are unfair, unwarranted and shameful. When I was invited to join over 100 African American pastors on the steps of the Arkansas Capitol just a few days ago as they took a public stand for marriage between one man and one woman, that argument began to fall completely apart.

He actually wants us to believe that his embarrassingly solitary white face in that crowd of black pastors was because they invited him, not the other way around.

black rapert

Jason Rapert lies, therefore his argument is invalid.

The comparison to racism is unfair? Why? Because giving equal rights to people born with a different skin color is different somehow from giving equal rights to people born with a different gender orientation?

Let’s imagine for a moment that in 1859, there was a vote in some slave state (just for giggles, let’s pick Arkansas) to preserve the status quo and make it illegal for the government to free the slaves. Heck, let’s take it one step further and suggest that in this vote, any black people who weren’t slaves would automatically become slaves unless they left the state before the end of the year. The state was determined to maintain an unequal status quo.

Impossible, you think?

Nope. That totally happened.

Rapert then claims that the bad press he’s gotten is because people don’t like his “stance on marriage and also as the sponsor of the Arkansas Heartbeat Protection Act.” He is absolutely right. His ideas are completely repulsive to those of us who value our individual liberties, autonomy over our own bodies, and the freedom to make very personal choices for ourselves. He claims that these are the acts of “liberal extremists.”

If only “liberal extremists” are in favor of same sex marriage, then we have generations of “liberal extremists” to look forward to. Liberal policies are the hallmark of progress, while conservative policies tend to be just the opposite. Senator Rapert, like many Tea Party Republicans, goes beyond maintaining a status quo, though. His policies are regressive and authoritarian. Passing statutes for no good reason other that wanting to deny equal rights to a segment of society they find distasteful is a reprehensible way to govern. He does not deserve the office he holds, nor do his like-minded comrades in office. Their policies are fascist.

It’s all about Senator Rapert’s religion, when it comes right down to it:

The America I was taught to honor and respect would never force Christians to do anything that violated the tenets of their beliefs. We have freedom of religion in this nation, not freedom from religion altogether.

No one is forcing anyone else to get gay-married. They aren’t forcing them to go gay-grocery shopping or to gay-teach students. No hate-filled Christian has to have gay sex or even decorate with glitter or rainbows. They don’t have to hire gay interior decorators, get their air trimmed by gay stylists, or wear clothes designed by gay designers. They also don’t have to benefit from the use of computers conceived by gay Alan Turing or read books and plays by gay Oscar Wilde or Gore Vidal. They can switch the channel when Ellen comes on. They can boycott Wachowski films like the Matrix trilogy, Cloud Atlas, and V for Vendetta. They don’t have to patronize LGBT businesses and art any more than LGBT people have to patronize those who proudly proclaim their prejudices and hate.

What they cannot do, though, is refuse service to any LGBT person on account of their hate. As it did upon the demise of Jim Crow laws, the Heart of Atlanta case will provide the precedent to prevent discrimination by businesses through the application of the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.

Oh, and that dig about freedom from religion? Yes, that’s actually a thing. It’s also the law. If we don’t have freedom from religion, we can’t possibly have freedom of religion. Otherwise, courts would be in the business of establishing religion, and telling us which tenets we have to observe and which we don’t. And the First Amendment to the US Constitution says that can’t happen.

But Senator Rapert feels victimized:

It is very interesting that Christians are targeted so heavily with the venom of the homosexual lobby because most all other major faith traditions do not embrace homosexual marriage either, including Islam.

I would suggest to Senator Rapert that perhaps because they invoke their religion as the reason someone else can’t do something, they seek to establish their religion as the law of this country. And like I mentioned above, they don’t want to establish the denominations that are tolerant of other people’s private behaviors. They want to establish an authoritarian, restrictive, invasive religion. That is entirely, absolutely, completely, and decidedly unacceptable. If the Muslims were the ones doing the screaming and quoting the Qur’an as the reason we shouldn’t allow certain people equal rights, Senator Rapert and his troglodyte cronies had better believe that the American people would object to that, too.

I’m not even going to respond to the whole God thing Senator Rapert spewed on and on about in his column. The United States of America is not a theocracy, and Senator Rapert and his ilk may not cherry-pick their favorite version of the Bible to oppress people with Iron Age laws. If immigration rates continue the way they have been, pretty soon a majority of Americans will be Papists. Does he want a Catholic nation just because the majority of the population attends mass?

If the basis for a law is Biblical, it should immediately be suspect, and it should bear intense scrutiny. The science and research do not support these laws, no matter what they are.

Arkansas voters and legislators have an unpleasant history of maintaining an unequal status quo. When men make decisions for how a woman may take care of her own body, when straight people make decisions for how gay people may create and care for their families, when white people make decisions about whether black people can take part in the electoral process, there is a very real danger that the dominant and privileged among our population can – and will – oppress those whose voices are not as strong. That’s why the constitutional safeguards of equal protection and due process exist.

Oh, and

P.S. It’s not “activism” for a judge to uphold the constitution.

Same Sex Marriage: Arkansas Just Became Gay-Friendly!

(Source)

It’s a hard climb to the point where Equality is a Thing. (Source)

Arkansas is now added to the list of states that permits same sex marriage. Judge Chris Piazza’s decision did not come with an automatic stay, and the Pulaski County Clerk (the county where Little Rock is located) says that starting Monday morning, his office will be able to issue gender-neutral marriage licenses.

The decision strikes down more than Amendment 83 to the Arkansas Constitution, which was passed by the state’s voters in 2004. It also declared several laws aimed at preventing same sex marriage that were passed by the Arkansas legislature in 1997.

Arkansas Attorney General had said privately that he wouldn’t oppose a ruling striking the same sex marriage laws in Arkansas, but last week said he believed he had to continue to defend the laws on appeal as part of his duties as the state’s chief lawyer.  Among practicing attorneys, there has been hot debate about whether McDaniel would be more ethical to defend the laws or not.

Unless the attorneys on the case get cracking, though, it’s unlikely that there will be a decision before next year, when the make-up of the Arkansas Supreme Court may be more conservative after the mid-term elections.

But come Monday, if any same sex couples want to get married, they should hurry to the courthouse, get their licenses, and let me know. I’d be proud to do the officiating.

Read the court’s decision here.

Patriotic Atheist American Heritage

Recently I posted some hate mail on Facebook that the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers received. This email said that atheists have no heritage in the United States, that we aren’t real patriots, and that we don’t have the courage to step up and play with those who are.

Carey Dove

 

Dear Carey Dove:

I’ve studied constitutional law, history, and my own genealogy. I know what my heritage is. Apparently, you don’t know me at all.

Carey Dove

So, let me give you a little introduction to me, my knowledge about the constitution, and whether or not I have any American heritage.

We’ll start with the constitutional lesson.

GeorgeMason-painting

George Mason (1725-1792), portrait by John Hesselius (1728-1778)

George Mason wrote the first bill of rights to be adopted in the Americas. His Virginia Declaration of Rights, written in the spring of 1776, influenced revolutions on two continents. The Declaration of Independence drew heavily from it. The Bill of Rights plagiarized it. The French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen tracked it. Its final provision was to grant religious freedom to Virginians.

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952). See the three men huddled off to the right, looking on disapprovingly as the Constitution is signed by the other delegates? They are George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Edmund Randolph.

George Mason was a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, when fifty-five men from twelve of the newly formed states argued about how to replace the unworkable Articles of Confederation. Mason dominated the discussions. Ultimately, he was one of three delegates who voted against it, primarily because it did not contain a bill of rights – there were no constitutional guarantees of personal liberty.

He would be vindicated four years later, when the bill of rights was adopted. The first of those rights was religious freedom.

BillOfRights-1024x673

So, now we have established that our constitution, and the history that preceded it, includes religious freedom. That means the freedom to dissent and to reject religion, because without the freedom to dissent and reject what we find to be wrong with religion, there can be no freedom in our practice of religion. And if we ultimately reject it all? That is the ultimate freedom.

So now I’ll embark on explaining the pedigree I have in this country.

A few years ago I was chosen to be on the Board of Regents that oversees the maintenance and operation of George Mason’s historic home in Virginia.

Gunston

Diorama of Gunston Hall

I was invited to sit on that board because of who my ancestors were. My European ancestors not only lived in colonial America, but they gave their time, talents, efforts, and money in public service to their colonies. They were politicians, military officers, doctors, judges, ministers, founders of schools, and founders of towns. They spoke out. They acted. They were patriots.

Who they were and what they did has shaped our country and its government. They shaped our states and our institutions. Their words and actions are this country’s heritage, and this country is their legacy.

On a very personal level, who they were and what they did has shaped who I am personally, and what I do. Their behavior, values, strengths, words, intelligence, and deeds are my heritage, and I am the culmination of their legacy.

anne21

Anne Marbury Hutchinson (1591-1643)

My favorite ancestor is my 11th great aunt, Anne Marbury Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson was a well-liked and respected mother of 15 children. She was brilliant, charismatic, and a passionate intellectual. She was also the polestar of a controversy that nearly shattered the religious experiment that was the infant Massachusetts Bay Colony.

john-cotton1

John Cotton (1585-1652)

Anne and her husband Will came to America in 1634 with a Puritan minister named John Cotton, who would eventually become the most preeminent theologian in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Unlike the Puritan ministers already in Boston when he and the Hutchinsons arrived, John Cotton believed that a person had no control over his own salvation, but had to depend on God’s grace. This was Calvinist predestination in its purest sense, but it was contrary to what other Puritan ministers were teaching. They taught that the good works done by a person were the only ticket to salvation.

Boston 1634

Boston was a small town in 1634. Click to embiggen, and note that every single household is listed. Will & Anne Hutchinson and their large extended family stayed with friends and relatives while their own home was being built. The population of the entire Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Plantations was about 5,000 people. (Map from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Collection at the Boston Public Library)

The Hutchinsons were wealthy in England, but even wealthier in the colony. They built one of the largest homes in Boston. After church services, Anne Hutchinson would invite other women to gather in her home to discuss the sermons and the Bible. Anne’s meetings were very popular with the women of Boston, and soon men joined in.

Anne-Hutchinson-preaching howard pyle

Anne Hutchinson Preaching at her House in Boston (Howard Pyle, 1901, from the Library of Congress)

Like her mentor John Cotton, Anne emphasized the importance of a state of grace over good works. People liked what she had to say. They were focused on feeding their families and running their businesses; they didn’t have time for unlimited acts of charity. As the number of people at her meetings escalated, Anne’s philosophy quickly leaked back to the Puritan clergy. Boston was a very small town in 1634.

The ministers claimed that Anne’s “unauthorized” religious gatherings “might confuse the faithful.” They argued the theological point of predestination – good works versus inherent grace – among themselves, and ultimately Anne was charged with heresy.

John Cotton, however, was not.

anne hutchinson trial

Anne Hutchinson on Trial (Edward Austin Abbey 1901)

Anne was a woman, so was not authorized to preach.

Left to her own devices, Anne Hutchinson, the first female defendant in any trial in America, defended herself at her heresy trial, which was prosecuted by John Winthrop, her neighbor and the governor of the colony. Governor Winthrop was most displeased with Anne’s religious dissent, because his wife, Margaret, was very fond of attending the meetings in the Hutchinson home, and brought home with her ideas he found unbecoming in a woman.

And like the Reverend Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, who was modeled after him, John Cotton essentially betrayed Anne to the powerful citizens who brought the charges against her. When he was called to testify, Cotton denied that he had incited any dissent in Anne, and smiled and shrugged, claiming he did not remember the substance of any of his conversations with her.

Atheist-A

It is no accident that this red A, the icon of the secular movement, evokes the scarlet letter Hester Prynne was required to wear in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel.

Upon hearing his repudiation, Anne Hutchinson did something she had been forbidden to do: she began to teach the men. While her teaching had been in private before, here, now, at her trial for heresy, she took off the gloves and came out punching. “If you please to give me leave, I shall give you the ground of what I know to be true.” Without waiting for permission, Anne continued speaking, explaining her own history, her dissatisfaction with the Church of England, her search for the truth she knew had to exist.

Governor Winthrop attempted to interrupt her. She ignored him and continued.

“God did discover unto me the unfaithfulness of the churches, and the danger of them, and that none of those ministers could preach the Lord aright.” Scripture fell from her lips as she brazened on, daring to teach, despite an exchange with Governor Winthrop earlier in her trial during which they had exchanged barbs about the ability of women to teach. (“What, now you would have me teach you what the Bible says?” she mockingly exclaimed to him.)

I don't know who painted this image of Anne and her persecutors. If someone else does, please notify me. I've found it in several places on the Internet,but never with attribution.

One of my favorite quotes from Anne is:
“How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?” Nevemind that, chronologically speaking, Abraham knew nothing about any commandments.

Governor John Winthrop was also, conveniently, one of the judges, so naturally Anne Hutchinson was convicted, and in November 1637, she was banished from Massachusetts.

Anne was 43 years old at the time of her trial. She was also pregnant, and during the trial she suffered a miscarriage. The superstitious Puritans allied against her saw the severely malformed fetus as proof that Anne had fallen from God’s grace.

Anne’s youngest sister was my 10th great-grandmother, Catherine Marbury Scott. Catherine and her husband, a shoemaker named Richard Scott, came to America on the Griffin with the Hutchinsons and John Cotton in 1634. They left Boston with Anne, first joining Roger Williams at a place he called Providence, in the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations secured by Williams as a separate colony. Williams had himself been banished from Boston in 1635, the year after the Hutchinsons and Scotts had arrived, for preaching that one did not need a a church in which to worship.

richard-scott-signature-on-providence-charter

Richard Scott’s signature on the Providence Compact that chartered the town

In Providence, the Scotts, along with many other of Anne’s followers from Boston, created a new community. Richard Scott wrote the Providence Compact, which was then signed by each of the 39 heads of household to come to that place. They became Baptists for a while, then Quakers. Then, in 1660, Catherine returned to Boston to protest the punishment of two young Quaker men. For her efforts she was stripped to the waist and flogged in public. Even though Boston had been unspeakably cruel to her sister 23 years before, Catherine did not hesitate to speak out when she saw the government do something wrong-headed. She was a worthy bearer of her sister Anne’s torch.

Anne herself was afraid to stay in Providence, especially after her husband’s death. Massachusetts had rattled its saber at the Rhode Island settlers, claiming it had the right to govern them, so she fled with her children to Long Island. There, in 1643, she and all but one of her children were murdered by natives. How long might she have lived had she not been run out of Boston? How much more might she have contributed to the ideas of women’s rights and freedom of conscience had she remained in Boston?

Far from being dour, rigid Puritans, Anne and Catherine were firebrands.

anne hutchinson

Statue of Anne Hutchinson and her youngest child, Susannah, at the Massachusetts State House. Susannah was the only survivor of the family’s massacre by natives at their New Netherlands home in what is now Pelham Bay Park, NY.

Anne Hutchinson is a key figure in the development of religious freedom in the U.S., and in the history of women in ministry. She challenged authority, and she didn’t back down. A monument to her at the Massachusetts State House calls her a “courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration.” She is easily the most famous – and infamous – Englishwoman in colonial American history.

Anne Hutchinson was a freethinker in the truest sense of the word: Dogmatic as she was in her own way, she seriously contemplated her religion, a deity, and the teachings of those who claimed to know, and then she drew conclusions for herself. The conclusion she reached was not the one that was favored in Boston in 1637. Nevertheless, she did not back down. She had the courage of her convictions, and today she is admired and even revered for her steadfastness.

I admire her enormously. Her courage in the face of adversity, her sustained intelligent wit, her sublime sarcasm – right to the face of the most powerful man in Massachusetts! This – this is a woman I can only hope to live up to as I exercise the courage of my own convictions.

600_183814952

Firebrand atheism: an in-home “revival,” with Sam Singleton, Atheist Evangelist, at my house in December 2012

When I speak up and speak out, when I hold meetings in my home, when I dissent from religion, when I give my time and my money and my talents to my community and to issues I care about, I am following the legacy of my heritage. I am doing exactly what my ancestors have done ever since they first came to this continent.

For the 392 years that we’ve been in America, it’s been my family’s tradition to speak up and speak out, and to act on our convictions.

And that, Carey Dove, is a very proud heritage, with full knowledge of where our religious freedoms came from, with full knowledge of when they did not exist here, and with full knowledge of what happens when dissent is not allowed – and why it most definitely and wholeheartedly is.

Using Tax Money to Rebuild Churches

On July 10, two senators introduced Senate Bill 1274, which would add religious buildings to the list of nonprofit facilities eligible to receive federal disaster relief aid after catastrophic events like hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes. The Senate bill and its House counterpart, H. R. 592, address aid to nonprofit facilities damaged in Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and afterward.

The Secular Coalition of America opposes the bill because tax dollars would directly fund the repair or replacement of damaged and destroyed churches, synagogues, and mosques, not to mention other nonprofit organizations.

SCA is encouraging a campaign to remind our Senators that one of the longest standing principles of our nation is that no citizen should be required to fund any religions with which they disagree, and not to permit  taxpayer money to be used to repair or rebuild churches destroyed in natural disasters.

I’m usually right on board with the Secular Coalition of America in anything it does, but this brought me up short.

No, I don’t want my tax dollars to build new churches, fund their missionary programs, or finance a church-supported school’s science-denying science curriculum. It makes me sick that religious institutions get a pass when April 15 rolls around. Frankly, I think all nonprofits ought to pay taxes. If their profits are reinvested for public benefit, or set aside in specific funds intended for that purpose, then that should be credited to them. But should churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues be treated differently than any other nonprofit when they are hit by a natural calamity?

I looked into the status quo, without the passage of this Senate bill.

FEMA’s current policy addressed aid to individuals and their households as well as to government facilities. It does not permit disaster assistance to nonprofits unless they provide “essential services to the general public customarily provided by the government.” Whether nonprofit or for-profit, facilities used primarily for religious, political, athletic, recreational, or vocational purposes don’t qualify for FEMA funds. Churches, the DNC headquarters, the Superdome, Disney World, and Joe’s Body Shop don’t get government money. They are expected to be adequately insured.

The new law would allow virtually any nonprofit organization to benefit, though, which may indeed be desirable when we consider that the gift shop at Hurricane River Cave in the Ozarks (one of the coolest caves I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit) might be taken out when the next big New Madrid quake hits, as might the collection of historical buildings at the Scott Plantation Settlement.

On the other hand, it would also, in this time of high budget deficits and sequestration, open the FEMA coffers to more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations. It does this by removing the requirement that, in order to receive FEMA funds, the organization provide a service that would otherwise be an essential government service. Cool gift shop or not, amazing caverns, even if operated by nonprofit organizations, do not supply an essential governmental service. Nor do historic preserves of bygone eras.

Having a church building is definitely not an essential governmental service.

And, as the SCA points out in its letter to Senators, two-thirds of the American population doesn’t use churches. Nonbelievers and the nonreligious constitute 20% of the American population, and that number is growing. And by expanding FEMA’s coverage in this era of sequestration, 2.3 million nonprofit organizations would immediately become eligible for FEMA funds in the event of a natural disaster. (Only 1.6 million are registered with the IRS. The others haven’t filed their forms to obtain official approval of their nonprofit status.)

“While the services of these nonprofits may provide great benefit to the general public, federal funds should not be diverted away from essential governmental programs toward nonprofits with access to a charitable and generous base of donors nationwide and around the globe,” says the SCA. Being on the boards of a few nonprofits that are always struggling for money, I kind of take issue with the “generous base” description, but I can’t help but acknowledge the definite difference between “great benefit” and “essential service.”

Currently, FEMA funds can go to any

private nonprofit educational, utility, irrigation, emergency, medical, rehabilitational, and temporary or permanent custodial care facilities (including those for the aged and disabled) and facilities on Indian reservations…

[as well as any] [p]rivate nonprofit facility that provides essential services of a governmental nature to the general public, (including museums, zoos, performing arts facilities, community arts centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops, and facilities that provide health and safety services of a governmental nature)…

Language proposed by the Senate bill and the House resolution would add community centers and houses of worship to the list.

To be fair, the bill contains a restriction for religious facilities that does not apply to the other nonprofits. Taxpayer-funded disaster relief would be allowed to religious institutions only for the actual buildings damaged. Its language is pretty specific:

In spaces used primarily for religious worship services, contributions…shall only be used to cover the costs of purchasing or replacing, without limitation, the building structure, building enclosure components, building envelope, vertical and horizontal circulation, physical plant support spaces, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems (including heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and fire and life safety systems), and related site improvements.

The SCA sent a letter to all Senators about this bill. It cited two U.S. Supreme Court cases, Tilton v. Richardson and Hunt v. McNair, to support its position.

A three-prong test has to be passed in order for government funds to be used by religious institutions, including religious educational institutions:

  1. The funds must be used for a secular purpose that does not promote religion;
  2. The effect of using the funds must not promote religion; and
  3. Enforcement of the secular purpose should not unnecessarily entangle church and state.

In the Tilton case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that grants for non-religious school facilities did not violate the Establishment Clause because the purpose and effect of the Act that authorized the grants was not to aid religious institutions but to aid education generally. The students affected by the act were secondary students, who the Court determined to be less susceptible to religious indoctrination that elementary school students. Significantly, though, the decision in the Tilton case did not address whether granting schools affiliated with a particular religious sect would enable those schools to further their religious instruction. It did, however, determine that taxpayers were not themselves harmed if their ability to practice their own religion remained untouched.

The Hunt case came out of South Carolina, and addressed whether revenue bonds intended for capital improvements at institutions of higher education could be used by sectarian colleges. Because higher education is a secular purpose, and constructing buildings to house educational facilities does not promote religion, and because at the college level, religious indoctrination is not as significant as it is in elementary schools.

It would seem that an actual church is not a school, though, and its primary purpose is to promote religion. While Tilton and Hunt both seem to say that FEMA funds can be used to rebuild the local Catholic High School, there does not seem to be any justification, based on the Supreme Court’s three-prong test, to use taxpayer funds to rebuild a church, even if the rebuilding is limited to the facility alone and not to providing the pews within it.

An ordinary nonprofit organization exists for the public benefit, and the public does indeed benefit from its existence. These facilities all provide valuable community services. But it can be argued that churches do, too. They are community centers, even though they serve a much smaller slice of the population. Then again, rehabilitation centers and senior citizen centers only serve a portion of the community, too.

While we as secularists may disagree vehemently with the mission of religions in general, are we really any differently situated than, say, someone who believes zoos to be cruel? The argument feels somewhat like saying that if our trashy neighbors’ home got washed away during the flood or flattened by a tornado, they be denied emergency relief to rebuild just because we don’t like them.

I hate feeling mean-spirited. It puts me in a bad mood.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed suit to do away with the favored tax status of churches, and to have them treated like all other nonprofits. If churches want to be nonprofit organizations, they should have to file the expensive tax form that goes along with being awarded that status. If they want to endorse specific candidates or political parties, they should lose their 501(c)(3) and have to satisfy themselves with 501(c)(4), which has stricter reporting requirements. I firmly stand with FFRF on this, as, I suspect, do many readers of this post.

But should a church be treated differently when it comes to disaster relief just because it is a church?

As long as the damaged church isn’t violating its tax-free status by politicking, do you see a problem with treating it like any other nonprofit, and allowing the use of taxpayer funds for it to rebuild after a disaster?

And what about extending FEMA coverage to all nonprofits? It is a noble intent, for sure. But is it practical, given our current economic issues? Why should nonprofits be treated differently than Joe’s Body Shop when it comes to disaster relief? I would think that helping businesses recover from disaster would be a pretty noble investment, too.

I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say, and whether you feel strongly enough about this issue to contact your Senator.

 

Older posts

© 2017 Aramink

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: