At Maryam’s place

Feb 12th, 2012 12:53 pm | By

Maryam’s post on the Free Expression Rally is up.

So is her post on Malaysia’s outrageous deportation of Hamza Kashgari.

Malaysia’s home ministry has said that ‘The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities’. Which basically means that any asylum seeker or refugee must be returned as it is a case for the government in question!?

Maryam is kept very busy by all these attacks on our right to say what we think.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Malaysia extradites Kashgari

Feb 12th, 2012 12:18 pm | By

Malaysia has deported Kashgari back to Saudi Arabia.

Police confirmed to the BBC that Hamza Kashgari was sent back to Saudi Arabia on Sunday despite protests from human rights groups.

Mr Kashgari’s controversial tweet last week sparked more than 30,000 responses and several death threats.

That’s the BBC doing it again – his tweet “sparked” more than 30,000 calls for him to be executed (or “responses” as the BBC put it). It’s just a little bit his fault for being controversial. Just ever so slightly.

Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Slightly random, since Kashgari didn’t actually “insult” Mo. But the BBC wants to make sure everyone realizes it blames Kashgari just a little.

Mr Kashgari apologised and deleted the tweet, but when he continued to receive threats, he left for Malaysia.

The two countries do not have a formal extradition treaty but Malaysia has good relations with Saudi Arabia as a fellow Muslim country, says the BBC’s Jennifer Pak, in Kuala Lumpur.

Ah yes, how cozy and communitarian and ummah-ish – a fellow Muslim country that executes people for “insulting” a “prophet” who’s been dead for 14 centuries.

“The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities,” Malaysia’s home ministry said in a statement.

But he wasn’t in Saudi Arabia - he’d left it. Countries don’t automatically extradite people to countries that have insane disgusting rights-violating laws. Lots of countries won’t extradite murder suspects to the US because the US has the death penalty.

This is loathsome.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

However unwise

Feb 12th, 2012 11:06 am | By

The long arm of the law shouldn’t be helping theocratic hell-holes like Saudi Arabia to arrest people for non-crimes like saying something critical about Mohammed.

Interpol has been accused of abusing its powers after Saudi Arabia used the organisation’s red notice system to get a journalist arrested in Malaysia for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Police in Kuala Lumpur said Hamza Kashgari, 23, was detained at the airport “following a request made to us by Interpol” the international police cooperation agency, on behalf of the Saudi authorities.

Kashgari, a newspaper columnist, fled Saudi Arabia after posting a tweet on the prophet’s birthday that sparked more than 30,000 responses and several death threats. The posting, which was later deleted, read: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you … I will not pray for you.”

More than 13,000 people joined a Facebook page titled “The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari”.

Notice that that “insulted” in the first para should have scare-quotes on it. That tweet is not “insulting.” It’s thoughtful dissent, at most.

Notice the disgusting fact that 30 13 thousand people are willing to say he should be killed for uttering such a mild and thoughtful dissent.

Clerics in Saudi Arabia called for him to be charged with apostasy, a religious offence punishable by death. Reports suggest that the Malaysian authorities intend to return him to his native country.

Religious offences should not be extraditable. Nobody should ever be extradited to Saudi Arabia for any perceived “religious offence” under any circumstances.

Jago Russell, the chief executive of the British charity Fair Trials International, which has campaigned against the blanket enforcement of Interpol red notices, said: “Interpol should be playing no part in Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of Hamza Kashgari, however unwise his comments on Twitter.

Oh just leave off the last bit, dammit. What was unwise about it? Unless “unwise” just means “risky to self,” but it can’t mean that, because Saudi Arabia wouldn’t be pursuing Kashgari for risking his safety nor would Interpol help Saudi Arabia for that reason. Russell apparently felt some horrible need to appease the murderous theocratic bullies by pretending to think Kashgari really did do something just a little bit wrong. Don’t do that.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Councillor Imran Khan understands religious freedom

Feb 11th, 2012 10:48 am | By

There was, unsurprisingly, mixed reaction to the Bideford council ruling. But one reaction stood out – a Tory councillor’s, at that.

Imran Khan, a Conservative councillor on Reigate and Banstead Borough Council, welcomed the ruling.

Mr Khan is a Muslim but said he was not particularly religious.

“Religion has no place in politics. The High Court judgement is a victory for everyone who believes that democracy and religious freedom is the cornerstone of Western free society.

“The judgement clearly states that councillors are welcome to pray before meetings, thus respecting religious values.

“Under the old regime I had to wait outside the room while everyone else was praying. This meant that it appeared I was being late or just plain rude to other people’s religions as I walked across the floor afterwards,” he added.

Bishop of Exeter, please give that your careful attention. Please think again about your reaction.

The Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Michael Langrish, said he would encourage councils in his area to continue holding prayers before the start of their statutory business.

He added: “I think it’s a great pity that a tiny minority are seeking to ban the majority, many of whom find prayers very, very helpful, from continuing with a process in which no-one actually has to participate.”

Think about it from the point of view of the tiny minority, you big bully.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Real vigilantes of Karachi

Feb 11th, 2012 10:27 am | By

You know how it’s impossible to keep up and you’re always missing stuff? I missed Maya Khan. I saw a mention somewhere, but didn’t have time to follow it up.

One morning last week, television viewers in Pakistan were treated to a darkly comic sight: a posse of middle-class women roaming through a public park in Karachi, on the hunt for dating couples engaged in “immoral” behavior.

It shouldn’t be called comic, not even “darkly.” It doesn’t sound the least bit comic to me. I’ve heard too much about posses of that kind in Gaza, in Saudi Arabia, in Malaysia. There’s nothing funny about them. Mohammed and Tooba and Hemat Shafia were a kind of posse of that sort, restricting their vigilantism to their immediate family.

…trailed by a cameraman, the group of about 15 women chased after — sometimes at jogging pace — girls and boys sitting quietly on benches overlooking the Arabian Sea or strolling under the trees. The women peppered them with questions: What were they doing? Did their parents know? Were they engaged?

Some couples reacted with alarm, and tried to scuttle away. A few gave awkward answers. One couple claimed to be married. The show’s host, Maya Khan, 31, demanded to see proof. “So where is your marriage certificate?” she asked sternly.

What business is it of hers? None, obviously. Furthermore, putting the whole thing on tv could get her victims killed.

Images of moral vigilantes prowling the streets have an ominous resonance in Pakistan, where many still recall the dark days of the Islamist dictator Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, when the police could demand to see a couple’s nikkahnama — wedding papers — under threat of imprisonment.

See? Not comic.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

And more stupid

Feb 10th, 2012 4:57 pm | By

The decision on Bideford Town Council’s opening prayers gave another opportunity for people to talk crap.

The National Secular Society and an atheist ex-councillor won a test case ruling that Bideford town council, Devon, was acting unlawfully by putting prayer on meeting agendas.

It is understood the ritual dates back in Bideford to the days of Queen Elizabeth I, and the council has recently voted twice to retain it.

Lots of things date back to the days of Queen Elizabeth I; what of it? In the days of Queen Elizabeth I church attendance was mandatory and you had to pay a fine if you didn’t go. Is that a good arrangement? Miss that, do we? The mandatory attendance was also, of course, to one church only, all others being outlawed. Mosques and temples weren’t even thought of.

In short, Britain under the Tudors was a theocracy and that was that. No muttering there in the back row, or we’ll have your arm off. Council prayers shouldn’t be seen as a cozy old custom but as a vestige of an authoritarian godbothering society of a kind that pretty much no one in the UK wants to live in now.

Harry Greenway, a former Tory MP and ex-chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast, said: “I trust this ruling will be quickly reversed. If people do not want to attend prayers of this nature, they can stay away instead of meddling and busybodying with other people’s beliefs.

“Non-believers are not harassed in this way by believers. Why cannot the non-believers show the same kind of tolerance? I find this ruling puzzling in the extreme.”

The same kind of tolerance as what? How would believers go about harassing non-believers in this way? By telling them to stop not praying? Non-believers can’t show the same kind of tolerance because tolerance of not doing something is not the same as tolerance of doing something. A nuisance is not comparable to the absence of a nuisance. Cigarette smoke is not comparable to no cigarette smoke; loud music at 3 a.m. is not comparable to quiet at 3 a.m.; and so on. Non-actors are not making the nuisance, so other people are not “tolerating” anything by not hassling them; people who are making the nuisance are the ones requiring some kind of “tolerance.” Not all kinds of nuisance should be tolerated. It’s quite simple really.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Incomplete nostalgia

Feb 10th, 2012 4:35 pm | By

Eric has an excellent post on a Telegraph article by Peter Mullen fuming about the terrible dreadfulness of the C of E in the matter of women bishops and priests. One thing in Mullen’s article snagged my attention right out of the gate.

There is now no doubt that the Church of England will consecrate its first  woman bishop within the next couple of years. This will happen without any statutory provision for those who in conscience cannot accept women’s  episcopacy. The significant minority of clergy and laity who oppose this innovation will simply be told to like it – or lump it and go elsewhere.  Thus tens of thousands of traditional and faithful Anglicans will be unchurched.

What a ludicrous thing to complain of. When was it ever otherwise? Was the Church of England until recently run like a democracy? Were significant minorities of clergy and laity who didn’t like something the church decided until recently not told to like it or lump it? 

Of course bloody not! It’s a church.

Funny that someone who makes such a point of being reactionary and kind of oblivious should have fallen for this trendy modern idea that Everybody is Special and no one should ever be told to like it or lump it (except people who think there should be women priests and bishops, of course).

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Freedom of secularism

Feb 10th, 2012 9:28 am | By

The Catholic bishops have been gearing up for this fight for months.

Hours after President Obama phoned to share his decision with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who is president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishops’ headquarters in Washington posted on its Web site a videoof Archbishop Dolan, which had been recorded the day before.

“Never before,” Archbishop Dolan said, setting the tone, “has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

Ah yes Archbishop Timothy Dolan. We’ve encountered him before.

In April 2009, for example, claiming that “traditional, one-man/one-woman marriage is rooted in people’s moral DNA.” In March 2010, for another example, arguing that it’s all so unfair because other people failed to stop child abuse too so why pick on the Catholic church? Yes really. He kept a blog, the then archbish of New York did.

What causes us Catholics to bristle is not only the latest revelations of sickening sexual abuse by priests, and blindness on the part of some who wrongly reassigned them — such stories, unending though they appear to be, are fair enough, — butalsothat the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone.

That, of course, is malarkey.  Because, as we now sadly realize, nobody, nowhere, no time, no way, no how knew the extent, depth, or horror of this scourge, nor how to adequately address it.

The Catholic church, which wants us to think it’s morally better than the rest of us, pointing at others like a three-year-old and shouting that they did it too. This is the man who thinks he’s entitled to tell Obama and all of us what to do. This is the man at the head of the organization which officially believes that a mother of four in Phoenix should be dead now, instead of having an abortion that saved her life.

This is the man who is bitterly aggrieved that not everyone bows the knee to his church.

The speed and passion behind the bishops’ response reflects their growing sense of siege, and their belief that the space the Catholic church once occupied in American society and the deference it was given are gradually being curtailed by an increasingly secular culture.

When, exactly, was that “once”? When was that lost Golden Age when the Catholic church was given deference in American society? Not in 1960 when Kennedy was running for president, certainly. Not before that, when immigration from mostly-Protestant countries was heavily favored over immigration from mostly-Catholic ones. So, when, then? After 1960…and probably not during the later 60s either, given the fact that deference wasn’t much in fashion then. Shall we date it from Jimmy Carter’s run for the presidency? Let’s do that. 1976 to now – not a very long Golden Age, is it. Not such an extended Golden Age that the bishops have much reason to think they have a permanent right to it.

And as for an increasingly secular culture…well let’s hope so, because the alternative is letting Timothy Dolan and his few benighted male officially-celibate colleagues tell us all what to do and what we can have. I don’t want Timothy Dolan having any say whatsoever in what I do and what I can have. I think he’s wrong about nearly everything, and that he got there for all the wrong reasons.

The bishops have found allies among conservative evangelicals, who do not share the Catholic Church’s doctrinal prohibition on contraception but are delighted to see the bishops adopt the right’s longstanding grievance that government has declared a war on religion. They have been joined by the bishops of Eastern Orthodox churches (like Greek, Russian and Ukrainian) and two Orthodox Jewish groups — small constituencies but ones that lend the cause a touch of diversity.

Diversity shmiversity. I don’t care how “diverse” they are; I don’t want them and their bossy unavailable god telling me (or anyone) what to do and what we can have.

Catholics may be persuaded by the argument that the mandate is a violation of religious liberty. One indication is that several prominent Catholic Democrats who supported Mr. Obama in 2008, supported the health care overhaul and defended the president at many junctures, have broken with him on the birth control mandate.

Michael Sean Winters, a writer for National Catholic Reporter, a liberal independent weekly, said: “I think they misjudged that no matter what people think about contraception, that’s an internal Catholic debate. Catholics do not like interlopers.”

But they are running hospitals, hospitals that are used by non-Catholics, often hospitals that are the only ones available for hundreds of miles. Therefore it’s not an internal Catholic debate. The bishops are the interlopers in the health care system.

It is of course possible to see the whole thing as an issue of religious liberty, but that’s a good reason not to let the Catholic church take over chunks of the health and education sphere the way it has.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Grovel for the sake of it

Feb 10th, 2012 8:25 am | By

Brilliant. The Obama admin knows the bishops and the Republicans won’t be mollified but the admin is submitting anyway. Worst of both worlds! Lose-lose! Give way on the principle but gain no actual votes or support. Good thinking!

The Obama administration, seeking to rein in a runaway political furor over birth control and religious liberty, is set to announce a possible compromise on Friday that is meant to calm ire from the right about a new administration rule that would require health insurance plans — including those offered by Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and charities — to offer free birth control to female employees.

Administration officials called the expected announcement an “accommodation” that they said sought to demonstrate respect for religious beliefs.

Well piss on them. It’s not their job to demonstrate respect for religious beliefs. Religious beliefs aren’t respectable as such. Beliefs are respectable if they’re reasonable; the very term “religious beliefs” implies the opposite of reasonability; this sick-making cant about respecting religious beliefs amounts to encouraging people to be unreasonable and dogmatic and stupid – artificially stupid, in the name of religion.

The administration announced the birth-control rule last month, and since then, Republican presidential candidates and conservative leaders have sought to frame it as an example of the administration’s insensitivity to religious beliefs, prompting Mr. Obama’s aides to explore ways to make it more palatable to religious-affiliated institutions, perhaps by allowing some employers to make side insurance plans available that are not directly paid for by the institutions.

Mr. Obama’s aides need to start exploring ways to demonstrate backbone and commitment to principle.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The sleep of reason

Feb 9th, 2012 4:29 pm | By

One of the things “faith” is good at doing – giving people a feeling of righteousness about doing something poisonous and horrible. Like the woman whose daughter

who suffers from bipolar disorder and limited cognitive abilities, went missing last Monday.  For more than 48 hours, we had no idea where she was.  Without all the gruesome details, after she was found, it came to light that she’d been brutally and repeatedly sexually assaulted.

A nurse gave the mother Plan B and told her she had 24 hours to use it.

But no. The woman decided not to give it to her daughter.

If the being that had done this to my daughter had been in front of me at that moment, I likely would have killed the bastard.

But Plan B is a whole other thing, isn’t it?  It’s about taking the life of an innocent child.

My daughter, though, you see, is adopted.  For all I know, she herself is the product of rape.  Her birth [mother] was known to prostitute herself, and for women in that life, rape is common.

And even if this wasn’t the case, what child deserves to die due to a parent’s sins and brutality?  Taking an innocent life is wrong – I know it, and every genuinely honest person on the face of the earth knows it.

She’s in a glow of righteousness, because she’s pretending to think a few cells are “a child.”  She’s in a glow of righteousness because she’s more concerned about the non-existent child than she is about her real, existing daughter…Or because she’s not but she’s forcing herself to sacrifice her daughter’s interests for the sake of the non-existent child anyway.

“Faith” can do this and I’m not sure anything else can. Ideology can beget monsters but not of quite this kind.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Your personal freedom? You must be joking

Feb 9th, 2012 10:55 am | By

A candidate for Egypt’s presidency by the name of Hazim Abu Ismail, “with affiliations to both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis,” says how things are.

Host: You have already begun to try to impose a particular dress code for us.

Abu Ismail:  I’ve begun to? It’s the Lord of the Worlds [Allah] who said so. I have nothing to do with it!

Host: Allah left it for me to decide as a personal freedom.

Abu Ismail: Who said that?  Where’d you get that from. See, that’s the whole point: If you claim that Allah considers it your personal freedom, show me your reference? Nobody has ever said that – except for people have no understanding of Sharia.

Admirably blunt. Makes it very clear what is wrong with theocracy. It’s not the clerics or “scholars” who make these rules, it’s “the Lord of the Worlds” – who is not currently available, so the rules can’t be amended – nor, of course, can they be ignored. They can only be obeyed.

Host: So when He says “today I have perfected your religion for you” [Koran 5:3], He is only talking about the “creed.”

Abu Ismail:  Yes; for example, when you say “no coercion to join the Military Academy,” it means that you are free to join or not—but if you do join, then you are obliged to wear their uniform, to attend their classes, to attend the training with them, and to obey their leader.

Host: There is a problem here—shall I say to the unveiled woman who wants to avoid hijab that she should change her creed?

Abu Ismail: Exactly, bravo.  If she is a Muslim. You see, this is the difficulty; this is Islam.  Does she want to be a Muslim and not obey Allah’s rules? Let them say so; that’s all I ask; let them be honorable and just speak up.

What does he mean “Does she want to be a Muslim and not obey Allah’s rules?” What does wanting have to do with it? Most Muslims are simply born as such, and they are never given the opportunity to say they don’t want to be a Muslim and are therefore going to stop being one. It’s an incredibly obnoxious, taunting question. It’s like kidnapping someone and then asking, “Does she want to be kidnapped and not obey the kidnapper’s orders?”

What a joke: in one breath saying that order are orders, and they come from the Lord of the Worlds so they are absolute and permanent, and that people “want” to belong to this authoritarian system.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

This god certainly hates women

Feb 9th, 2012 10:12 am | By

Another one gets away. Deborah Feldman was raised in the reactionary Hasidic Satmar community based in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. She escaped.

In her memoir, “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” out Feb. 14, she chronicles her oppressive upbringing and arranged marriage.

At 23, emboldened by classes at Sarah Lawrence College, she left her husband and the community for good — taking her 3-year-old son with her.

So often the way – college classes inspire and/or embolden people to escape. Fundamentalists are right, in their terms, not to want their children to get tertiary education.

She was married at 17, to a man she had met once. Their sex life was creepy beyond belief.

After the first time, you have to call a rabbi and he asks the man questions — did this happen? And he declares you either unclean, or not yet consummated. Once you’re consummated, you’re unclean, because you bled. So after the first time, your honeymoon is a no-sex period.

For two weeks every month, he can’t touch you. He can’t hand you a glass, even if your fingers don’t touch. He has to put it down on the table and then you pick it up. Secondary contact can’t happen. If you’re sitting on a sofa, you have a divider between you. It makes you feel so gross. You feel like this animal in the room. If there’s a question about your period, you take the underwear and put it in a zip-lock bag, and give it to your husband. He takes it to the synagogue and pushes it into this special window and the rabbi looks at it and pronounces it kosher or nonkosher. It’s so disgusting.

Maybe a little.

She says things are getting worse.

Over the past 10 or 20 years [the Hasidic community] has gone from being extreme to being ultra-extreme. They’ve passed more laws from out of nowhere, limiting women — there’s a rule that women can’t be on the street after a certain hour. That was new when I was growing up. We hear all these stories about Muslim extremists; how is this any better? This is just another example of extreme fundamentalism.

And notice the common element: it’s all about controlling women. It’s all about making the restraints tighter…and tighter…and tighter. God is always A Man; men are always the people, and women are always the others; the people always have to keep the others down; down down down. The people always have to strip the others of all rights, all capabilities, all modes of escape and autonomy. This kind of religion seems to be about almost nothing but puffing up men and stamping down women. It’s religion as constructed by stags in rut.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Disagreement is life

Feb 8th, 2012 5:33 pm | By

Libby Anne did a great post on disagreement the other day – on the value of it, and especially the value of being allowed it. She hasn’t always had that, you see.

Growing up on the line between fundamentalism and evangelicalism, in a family influenced by the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, disagreement was not allowed. Or to be more specific, disagreement simply did not happen. I have to be completely honest, the first time I learned that mainstream couples are okay with not agreeing with each other on everything regarding religion or politics I was shocked. Coming from my background, that made no sense. 

As a child and teen, I never disagreed with my parents, or with my church. Why would I? What we had was truth. When I reached college and began asking questions, my parents and my church had no ability to agree to disagree. Why? Because if I disagreed with them, then I disagreed with truth, and that meant I was flat wrong.

And that means you can’t find anything out for yourself (you can only be told things), and you can’t explore.

This is similar to the feeling of claustrophobia and exasperation I always have when religious apologists talk about the questions that science can’t answer but religion can.  No it can’t. The answers religion gives aren’t answers; they’re pseudo-answers, and dead ends. They’re not fascinatingly complicated and difficult, they’re short cuts.

When you believe you have absolute and final truth, and that having that truth is necessary to keep you from eternal torture and send you to the bliss of heaven, you lose the ability to agree to disagree. You also lose the ability to look beyond what you have and consider other ideas.

This was one of the biggest problems I faced when I started to question the things I’d been taught. Disagreement was not accepted. It was not okay. It could not be tolerated. This put me on a collision course not only with my family but also with the friends I grew up with and the church I grew up in. I had gone from one of them to an outsider overnight.

It makes me twitch just to think about it. It’s the death of thinking, and I can’t stand that idea.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Obama goes belly-up to angry bishops

Feb 8th, 2012 10:20 am | By

The New York Times puts it a little differently. More politely. Too politely.

Facing vocal opposition from religious leaders and an escalating political fight, the White House sought on Tuesday to ease mounting objections to a new administration rule that would require health insurance plans — including those offered by Catholic universities and charities — to offer birth control to women free of charge.

That’s much too polite. What “religious leaders”? What are “religious leaders” anyway? And since when do they get to dictate to the elected government? Since when do unelected self-appointed so-called “religious leaders” get to tell secular representatives what to do? Since when did we give “religious leaders” a veto?

The White House, meaning the Obama administration, could just say that. It could and it should. It could just firmly say that a tiny number of men at the top of the Catholic hierarchy has no standing to boss the administration around.

Really. It should. It should point out, with cold politeness, that Catholic bishops don’t in fact represent anyone, they just act as if they do. They’re not elected, they’re not accountable, they can’t be recalled by the membership – they don’t represent anyone. They boss people, but they don’t represent them.

As the Republican presidential candidates and conservative leaders sought to frame the rule as showing President Obama’s insensitivity to religious beliefs, Mr. Obama’s aides promised to explore ways to make it more palatable to religious-affiliated institutions, perhaps by allowing some employers to make side insurance plans available that are not directly paid for by the institutions.

But that’s not their job, and it’s not something they should be doing. The government shouldn’t be trying to make laws “more palatable to religious-affiliated institutions.” That’s just an opening wedge for theocracy, so it’s a really crappy idea.

Even though Roman Catholic bishops and some Catholic institutions have sounded vocal opposition to the law, recent polls, which Obama officials were pointing to on Tuesday, show that a majority of Catholics favor the new contraceptive rule…

So what business can Obama possibly have helping their autocratic rulers take the new contraceptive rule away?

“I can’t tell you how many times we went over this,” one administration official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity. In the end, it was Mr. Obama himself who made the decision, aides say, calculating that at the end of the day, the issue of public health access outweighed the concerns of the religious institutions.

Good. Quite right. Now stick to it. When the Republicans bleat about “religious freedom,” defend the principle.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Why the Supremes are unlikely to overturn the Prop 8 ruling

Feb 8th, 2012 9:39 am | By

Guest post by Rieux.

There is a very real chance that this decision has cemented marriage equality in California permanently. Yes, it’s possible that five flaming assholes on the Supreme Court will jump in and take it all away—but to my eyes that outcome doesn’t look nearly as likely as previous commenters think it is.

To explain, in inordinately long-winded fashion:

Court decisions striking down homophobic marriage laws always make for terrific reading. Goodridge in Massachusetts, Varnum in Iowa, the Marriage Cases in California state court, and the federal district-court decision in this case, Perry, are all inspiring examples of jurisprudence—I find it hard to avoid tearing up while reading them. This is what law, legal rhetoric, and legal institutions are supposed to do for human beings; decisions like those make me feel that my profession is an honorable and valuable one.

The current Ninth Circuit opinion (I just finished reading the majority; I’ll get around to the dissent some other time, bah) evokes some of the above emotions, but not really the tear-jerking ones: this is an honorable decision as well, but more than that it’s a careful, even crafty decision.

The majority decision is by Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt, who happens to be the same judge who found in favor of Michael Newdow and held that public-school teachers and staff can’t lead students in a Pledge of Allegiance that includes “Under God.” Reinhardt wrote the initial (2002) decision in Newdow’s favor, and then after the Supreme Court overturned that decision in flagrantly absurd and cowardly fashion (fabricating a new rule of law out of thin air to decide that Newdow didn’t have standing to bring the suit in the first place), he wrote a scorching 123-page dissent when Newdow’s subsequent attempt to bring the case with new plaintiffs was rejected by the other two judges on the Ninth Circuit panel. You’ve got to imagine that Reinhardt has a hell of a bone to pick with the Supremes, and it really looks to me like he’s structured this decision (with, it appears, an assist from the attorneys for the intervenor-plaintiff City and County of San Francisco) in such a way as to make it difficult for Roberts and company to take the case up in the first place.

As a quick primer on how these processes work: Ordinary cases in U.S. federal court are filed in one of the eighty-nine U.S. district courts; the Perry case, here, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Once a district court makes a final judgment on a case before it, the losing party has the right to appeal to the applicable Circuit Court of Appeals. Appeals from all of California’s district courts (as well as eight other western states’ and two Pacific U.S. territories’) go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—which, to my understanding, is the biggest and busiest of the twelve federal circuit courts. There are numerous judges in each circuit court, but each appeal from lower courts is heard by a panel of only three judges, who then issue a decision. Tuesday’s outcome in Perry was a 2-1 majority decision, with Reinhardt and Judge Michael Daly Hawkins in the majority and Judge N. Randy Smith (“N. Randy”?) in dissent.

After that, the next step for the losing party is to request a hearing in front of “the en banc court,” which means in front of all of the judges of the circuit court. In the Ninth Circuit, that’s currently forty-four justices. For logistical reasons that might be self-evident, such a request is seldom granted. It’s a common request, though, because it’s a necessary prerequisite to the next step, which is….

Petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari (“cert” for short), which is to say asking the Court to take up the case and review the circuit court’s decision, whether it was en banc or the far more common three-judge panel*.

Anyway. The Supremes get a huge number of cert petitions every year, and they accept only a small fraction of them. A very large proportion of the petitions they accept, moreover, stem from issues on which one circuit court of appeals has ruled one way and another circuit court has ruled in a different way (creating what’s called a “circuit split”); in that situation, the notion is that the nation needs the Court to step in and resolve the discrepancy. A circuit split isn’t an absolutely mandatory condition for the Court to take up a case, but it’s the most common and uncontroversial one.

And that’s where Reinhardt’s craftiness in putting together his decision comes in: unlike the courts in Goodridge (Massachusetts), Varnum (Iowa), and even the district court in this litigation (N.D. Cal.), the Ninth Circuit majority opinion in this case doesn’t even directly hold that denying marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples is, in and of itself, unconstitutional. It seems likely that Reinhardt and Hawkins would have been willing, and maybe even happy, to issue such a ruling—but if they had done so, that would immediately create a circuit split, because one other federal circuit (mine, ugh) has already held that bans on same-sex marriage don’t violate the U.S. Constitution. See Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, 455 F.3d 859 (8th Cir. 2006).

Instead, the Ninth Circuit majority opinion only holds that California’s decision (via ballot-proposition constitutional amendment) to take away a marriage right that had previously existed violates the Constitution. That’s a notably narrower ground than the clean’n’simple “Bans on gay marriage violate equal protection” holding that we supporters of marriage equality would like to see, but it makes the entire decision far less relevant to any jurisdiction outside of California—and therefore far less worthy of a place on the Supreme Court’s docket.

That narrower basis for the panel majority’s decision also allows Reinhardt to draw a strong parallel between this case and (what I think is) the nicest American gay-rights decision in the pre-Goodridge era: the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996). In Romer, the state of Colorado had passed, by ballot initiative, a state constitutional amendment providing that state and local governments were barred from recognizing gays and lesbians as a protected class in any anti-discrimination law. The Romer Court struck this “Amendment 2″ down, holding that “[i]t is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort”—laws that “singl[e] out a certain class of citizens for disfavored legal status,” which “raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected.” The Court concluded that the Colorado provision violated the Equal Protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, because it “classifie[d] homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else.”

The Ninth Circuit decision published Tuesday holds that Prop 8 is just Romer all over again:

The relevant inquiry in Romer was not whether the state of the law after Amendment 2 was constitutional; there was no doubt that the Fourteenth Amendment did not require antidiscrimation provisions to be afforded to gays and lesbians. The question, instead, was whether the change in the law that Amendment 2 effected could be justified by some legitimate purpose.

The Supreme Court’s answer was “no”—there was no legitimate reason to take away broad legal protections from gays and lesbians alone, and to inscribe that deprivation of equality into the state constitution, once those protections had already been provided. We therefore need not decide whether a state may decline to provide the right to marry to same-sex couples. To determine the validity of Proposition 8, we must consider only whether the change in the law that it effected—eliminating by constitutional amendment the right of same-sex couples to have the official designation and status of ‘marriage’ bestowed upon their relationships, while maintaining that right for opposite-sex couples—was justified by a legitimate reason.


This seems to me downright sneaky: the Ninth Circuit panel majority is openly avoiding the broader issue of the constitutionality of bans on gay marriage, which is relevant all across the country, in favor of focusing on a peculiar set of facts that currently only applies, and probably only will ever apply, in California. “Possibly you can refuse to give gay couples the right to marry, but once you’ve given it to them you can’t (constitutionally) take it away again.”

There can’t possibly be a circuit split on that issue, because it can’t currently happen in any other circuit. (Maine, which is in the First Circuit, came close in 2009… but gay couples there never actually had a chance to get married before a homophobic ballot initiative took the right away.)

The upshot is that it’s going to be substantially more difficult for the Supremes to reach down into the Ninth Circuit, grab this case, and overturn it than it would have been had Reinhardt not written the decision this way. It’s not impossible to imagine that Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito would vote to grant cert here, but it’s a little hard to understand how they could argue that the panel’s actual ruling—regarding taking away a marriage right that had already been granted—is some kind of (a) pressing legal issue for the whole nation or (b) drastic departure from the American jurisprudence that the Supremes supervise.

Presuming that they do take it up, then, should we be pessimistic? Well, regarding those four guys’ votes, sure. Scalia and Thomas, especially, have made their drooling homophobia (not to mention callous disregard for Court precedent, and indeed for common decency, when it doesn’t suit their prejudices or politics—see Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000)) more than clear. But it’s hard to imagine Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, or Kagan overturning the Ninth Circuit decision, given how narrowly Reinhardt drew it.

So we get to the kicker, the swing vote that everyone has been wondering about for years (I’m still wondering whether Sili was making a cute joke about this @3): Anthony Kennedy. Would Kennedy vote to uphold this decision? Conceivably not, but guess who wrote the Court’s Romer opinion in 1996? Guess who composed that whole argument about the evils of “classif[ying] homosexuals not to further a proper legislative end but to make them unequal to everyone else?” Anthony Kennedy did!

And so Reinhardt’s crafting doesn’t just limit the chances of a successful cert petition—it’s also aimed directly at appealing to the swing vote that would determine whether the Ninth Circuit decision survives. C’mon, guys, we’ve gotta like those chances. (And, not surprisingly, the right wing is already virtually burning Reinhardt in effigy again. Too bad he’s 80 years old; he’s doing an awful lot of good for the country.)

Even in the worst case scenario, the Ninth Circuit decision being overturned means that we’re back where we started in November 2008: Prop 8 back in force, and GLBs in California being shit on by the law again. That’s certainly an ugly possibility, but given the potential upside (and the fact that the worst-case scenario is awfully similar to the status quo), the outlook looks awfully sunny on balance to me.

So cheer up—this decision is great news!

*See comment 2 for amendments.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Oh no, the bishops are livid, we must give in!

Feb 7th, 2012 2:28 pm | By

What was that about US Catholic bishops insisting on imposing Catholic dogma on the entire US population by telling presidents and legislators to obey their rules? Well it worked.

White House advisors, including one of President Obama’s top faith consultants, are signaling a potential compromise on a controversial new mandate that requires some religious institutions to cover contraception costs for employees.

David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser for the Obama reelection campaign, said Tuesday that Obama may be open to a compromise that would expand a religious exemption in the new Health & Human Services mandate to satisfy religious groups.

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms,” Axelrod said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “So we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said later on Tuesday that the adminstration is eager to allay the concerns of Catholic leaders livid over the contraception mandate.

Why? Why, why, why, you fucking bastards? Why are you eager to allay the concerns of Catholic “leaders”? And they’re not “leaders,” by the way – they’re just self-appointed bosses of an unelected unaccountable godbothering organization. They’re just some men at the top of a vicious antiquated hierarchy. The laws are none of their god damn business and they have no right to interfere with them. They can be livid all they like, but you guys should not be eager to allay their tantrums. We don’t live in a theocracy. We don’t have that form of government. We’re not all Catholics. We don’t need or want Catholic bishops telling us what laws we can have. We don’t need or want you collapsing before their wrath.

It’s simply revolting.

H/t Melody Hensley.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

That would come in handy

Feb 7th, 2012 2:05 pm | By

Jen offers “The Justifications for Saying ‘Cunt’” bingo card. Hilarious but pathetically true.

I got nothin to add. Just go play Cunto.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Falangists in Fleet Street

Feb 7th, 2012 11:11 am | By

It’s interesting how cheerfully unabashed the Telegraph is in its belief that Catholic bishops should tell US presidents and legislators what laws to make. It’s interesting that they take theocracy – and reactionary all-but-falangist Catholic theocracy at that – for granted. It’s interesting and somewhat surprising. Would they really like reactionary Catholic bishops making laws in the UK?

Roman Catholic leaders have furiously criticised President Barack Obama for approving new regulations that compel religious organisations to include morning-after pills and other contraceptives in employee health insurance coverage.

New rules, introduced under Mr Obama’s overhaul of the US healthcare system, mean that religious charities, universities and other groups must now provide contraception in staff insurance packages.

At least 153 US bishops have spoken out against the change. A letter from a leading bishop, accusing the president of waging a “severe assault on religious liberty”, has been read to dozens of congregations.

“We Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees and suffer the penalties for doing so,” wrote Alexander Sample, the Bishop of Marquette.

Mr Obama has been accused of backtracking on an assurance that he made in a 2009 speech at the University of Notre Dame, a leading Catholic university in Indiana.

Speaking specifically about his planned health reforms, he said: “Let’s honour the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause”.

Interesting that the Telegraph so casually conflates abortion with contraception.

Timothy Dolan, the Cardinal-designate of New York and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged Catholics across America to bring political pressure to bear.

“Let your elected leaders know that you want religious liberty and rights of conscience restored and that you want the administration’s contraceptive mandate rescinded,” he said.

A very uncritical report of a very theocratic illegitimate power-grab by the Catholic bishops. The Telegraph is strange.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Prop 8 ruled unconstitutional

Feb 7th, 2012 10:30 am | By

Breaking news: the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that limited marriage to one man and one woman, violated the U.S. Constitution.

“Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California,” the court said.

The ruling upheld a decision by retired Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who struck down the ballot measure in 2010 after holding an unprecedented trial on the nature of sexual orientation and the history of marriage.

Next stop: the Supreme Court.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Feb 7th, 2012 10:07 am | By

Meet Opinionista. She has a great post about “the double whammy of disadvantage one faces for being a secular minded individual from a Muslim community living in the UK.”

Identity anti-racists such as the Stop the War Coalition have dismissed and continue to dismiss secular activist voices like those of Gita Sahgal or secular organisations such as Just Peace (a young organisation founded by progressive and secular Muslim activists) and Women Against Fundamentalism. Instead they befriend the likes of Muslim Association of Britain which is an offshoot of the Arab Muslim Brotherhood. It makes my blood boil. It’s a form of racism masquerading as cultural cohesion and tolerance. In reality, such high tolerance for fundamentalists in the UK  just  exacerbates some of the inaccurate national (and global) perceptions of what all British Muslims are like. Such  alliances completely ignore the fact that people like me do exist. There are  secular, non-religious Agnostic (or Atheist) cultural Muslims who have needs that can not be served by Muslim fundamentalists, conservative Muslim values, nor by the Ken Livingstones of the world.

Read the whole thing. Tell her she rocks.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)