Friday, March 4, 2011

Only United States Laws

Only United States laws that are enacted by legally elected representatives of the people of the country should be followed by all branches of government. No religious, ethnic, cultural or social laws should be enforced. Additionally, all laws that are enacted should also pass the constitutional test to ensure that it is not violating individual rights that are granted explicitly and implicitly by the Constitution.

There, that is about as clear of a statement that can be written defining what laws courts and the other branches of governments should enforce. That means that Christian religious laws should not be enforce. Neither should Jewish, Hindu and any of the other 4,200 religious and cultural groups in the country.

Recently, lawmakers in Tennessee have proposed legislation that says judges can not consider Islam’s Sharia law in making rulings in their courts. Similar laws have been proposed in other states and Oklahoma passed a citizen’s referendum that also prohibits Sharia Law from being used in a judge’s decision. A responsible community should support this law if it included the other 4,200 other religions that are found in the country. But, by selecting only one religion’s law, it both sets up a situation that can be much too easily abused and shouldn’t pass the constitutional test.

The only reason lawmakers in those states, conservative Republicans all, are proposing such legislation is for political gain. They make their supporters feel good about them instead of working with them to do the right thing. Sharia law is no more likely to be recognized by the United States’ Court system than any other religious based laws. Yet, these legislators continue.

What is also disturbing, this type of law, directed solely at one group of people, begin to move us in the direction of pre-world war Germany. At first, Jews were just blamed for the bad economy. Once it took hold in the country, they were excluded from everyday life by being barricaded in the ghettoes. We all know where that ended up.

Don’t fall for any of this. The proposed legislation in Tennessee and elsewhere has nothing to do with reality. It wastes governments time, creates laws that are not necessary and is unconstitutional.

A Responsible Community can’t support any law that directly targets a religion.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Members of Westboro Baptist can continue to demonstate

“The only way for a different ruling is to shred the First Amendment,” said Margie Phelps, the lawyer defending the minister of the Westboro Church. Members of the church routinely demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers who have died in in the service. In a 8 to 1 margin, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the church’s right to continue those demonstrations.

In May of 2006, Albert Synder held funeral services for his son, Matthew, who died from a non combat-related vehicle accident in Al Anbar province, Iraq. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas demonstrated at the funeral. Church members believe that the military is being punished by God for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality. A few weeks after the funeral, Albert Synder found a particularly hateful poem on the internet by Margie Phelps. It was about Synder’s son and how terribly he was raised. Synder sued the church for emotional distress. Lower courts sided with Synder, but the Phelps pursued the case to the Supreme Court.

The Responsible Community wrote about the suit when it reached the Supreme Court last fall, “Phelps is disgusting, but should receive our support.” The closing of that post was, “it would be difficult for the Supreme Court to rule any other way other then expressing their disgust with the church even though they support their right to say it.”

Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t disappoint. Writing the opinion for the majority, he said, "Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker."

No right has any value if it can’t be expressed. To silence the members of this church would be to deny the most fundamental of all rights, the freedom of expression. If that expression causes harm that can be measured in the loss of property, defames someone or places people in harm’s way then it can be restricted. But, the content of their speech was a political opinion that just happened to involve Synder. The frequency of the demonstrations and the church’s practice of showing up at the military funerals of Catholics, Jews and many other groups clearly indicates they were expressing an outrage of policy, not of Synder or his son.

As the father of a son, I can only image the pain that Albert Synder experienced when reading those hateful words. But, if we silenced all speech that caused pain, we would silence one of the things that makes us strong, the public forum of ideas that allow us to self examine our collective soul.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Personal responsiblity in the news this week

Personal responsibility is making head line news this week. Two of the best examples – or worse, depending on your point of view – are Bernie Madoff and Charlie Sheen. 

Let’s start with Madoff. Most of us know that he took billions of dollars from the rich and poor to run his own ponzi scheme. Banks, the government, security firms and other organizations that were suppose to catch this type of criminal activity missed it for many years. The organizations missed it because Madoff was making money for everyone and nobody wanted to risk that changing.

In an interview with Madoff that has received a lot of air play recently, we never hear him say he accepts full responsibility for his actions without conditions. He may say he did the things he is accused of, but says he is a good man. Madoff says that the many people that gave him money enabled made him. Or, that it was just a mistake that he could not get out of. The bottom line is, he is a crook and is right where he belongs, in prison. Those that looked the other way all this time should be there with him.

In another high profile interview, Charlie Sheen never takes full responsibility for any of his actions. He is in his mid forties and has the behavior of an unrestraint teen. Beside his abuse of alcohol and drugs, he has abused his wives, children and friends. (I am using a loose definition for abuse that includes mistreatment and not just physical abuse.) If it wasn’t for his money that enables him to continue his lifestyle, he would be a bum on the street if not in jail. Right now, CBS has cancelled the rest of the season of the show he headlined in, “Two and a Half Men.” The other stars in the show most likely are financially okay. But consider the others that work for the show that are just regular people. They are now out of a job because Charlie is a drunk.

Charlie has a high profile interview being shown on many media outlets. Again, like Madoff and many other people like the two of them, Charlie never takes full responsibility without any conditions. He says that he is a misunderstood person. That people need to see things from his point of view to understand his behavior. But the irony is that his self centered ego doesn’t allow him to see things the responsible way, that he is hurting other people.

In a community, let’s set about being responsible. The two of them certainly are wrong, we can all agree to that. But the reason Madoff did so well is because everyone around him didn’t do the responsible thing of asking questions. The most basic being, how is it you are doing so well when everyone else is not? As for Charlie, the show, “Two and a Half Men” is one of the most watched shows on television. With so many people tuning in each week to see Charlie act out his real life, all of us have enabled him to continue abusing the people around him. Stop watching the show and CBS will replace it with something else.

A responsible community can set a goal of a safe environment. But, unless people accept responsibility for their actions; not only after, but before; the community will never be able to fully achieve that goal.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Separation of powers

Why is it that we have three branches of government?

In the Constitution, the legislative, the executive and the judicial branches of government were created. Very wisely, each was created with autonomy that prevented each of the branches from interfering with the other. The legislative branch received the power to make the laws. The executive branch received the power to enforce the laws. In the end, the judicial branch was given the power to decide if a law was violated and what the punishment should be.

The Defense of Marriage act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in September of 1996. It was passed by both the House and the Senate with wide margins. It states, in simple terms, that no state is required to except the marriage license of two people of the same sex solely based on that union being excepted in another state. It also states that a marriage is between one man and one woman.

A federal court in July 2010 declared that the portion of the law that states a marriage is only between one man and one woman unconstitutional. The federal government challenged that ruling in October 2010. But recently, United States Attorney General Eric Holder withdrew the challenge at President Obama’s request.

The ruling by the federal court doesn’t invalidate the law. That would take a ruling by the Supreme Court. And, the executive branch has not withdrawn completely from the case. This allows the challenge to continue and the House of Representatives can join the fight by ordering the judiciary committee to defend the act if it wishes.

The issue about the morality of same sex marriages aside, the National Organization for Marriage and other conservative groups are challenging President Obama’s authority to withdraw the challenge of the federal court ruling. They say, it is his responsibility to defend the laws of the country. But, the constitution allows the President to be silent on the issue because of the separation of powers. But, those same conservative groups, as far as the research on the issue revealed, have not leveled the same criticism at the House of Representatives who didn’t join the challenge in the first place. The House, because of the separation of powers, can also opt out of the fight, even though they were party to the original act.

The Constitutional issue is clear here. The separation of powers concept doesn’t compelled the executive branch to enforce a law it if feels it is not within its priorities. If the House challenges the court ruling of the law and wins, it can then challenge the President’s priorities and the go back to the courts again.

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