Saturday, December 10, 2011

To live peacefully together, we some times have to step back

Despite what you believe is right or wrong on a personal level, in a civil society you sometimes need to step back. Two different stories from the news make the case, even if they aren’t alike. One is institutional, the Supreme Court Justice’s responsibility to the community. It is a case involving a defendant’s right to face his accuser. The other is about an individual’s community responsibility. It involves a woman working in a department store that gets fired for her actions.

On the institutional level, Sandy Williams was convicted of rape in Chicago (Williams v Illinois). He was arrested on a separate charge and police had taken a DNA sample from him. Evidence on the rape case was gathered from the victim and was sent to a lab in Maryland. The lab created a profile from the evidence that included DNA. The DNA from Williams and the rape case matched. Based on this evidence, Williams was then picked out of a line by the victim. At the trial, no one from the lab was called to testify about the examination of the evidence, because the prosecutors thought it too expensive to bring someone from the lab. Williams was convicted and given a life sentence.

Williams’ defense lawyers appealed and took the case to the Supreme Court. Their argument is, that since the prosecution didn’t have the person who did the test at the Maryland lab testify, Williams wasn’t given his right to face his accusers. The court sat for oral arguments and the case will be decided in the spring.

It appears that Williams is guilty. The evidence points to him and the woman identified him. The justices on the court are aware of the facts. Yet, they can’t just say, “he is guilty and don’t let this misstep of justice happen again.” They need to step back from the situation and determine if he did receive a fair trial. Not just for him, but as guidance in the future for all the similar cases. (A ruling for the defendant in this case may mean that not only does he go free, but many others like him will also.)

The other situation is about the clash between an individual’s personal beliefs and the society around them.

At a major department store, a transgender woman finds an outfit she would like to try on in the fitting room. When she asked the clerk, Natalie Johnson, to use the fitting rooms, the woman was told that she couldn’t use the women’s fitting room. Johnson said that even though the woman had make-up on and wore women’s clothes, she was not a woman because of her appearance, say she had a beard. Johnson was fired the next day after a long meeting with her superiors.

Johnson is a Christian and followers her faith very closely. She felt that by letting the woman use the women’s fitting rooms she would be violating her faith.

“I had to either comply with Macy’s or comply with God,” Johnson said. She is a 27 year old student at San Antonio College. Johnson is also a member of Tabernacle of Prayer, a nondenominational church.

When Johnson was asked to help the woman use the fitting rooms, she should have stepped back for a moment. It may indeed violate her faith and the evidence that she observed may have been correct. Johnson should have found someone else to help the woman or directed her to another department.

People in civil societies and cultures don’t peacefully co-exist based on narrowly defined social norms. They live peacefully by stepping back and allowing others to make their own choices – as long as those choices, of course, don’t purposely injure someone else. Individuals do this not only so others may live the lives they choose, but also that the individual can live their life. This is true for the institutions that we create to help facilitate the goals of the community but also for each of the individuals that live in the community.

It can sometimes be inconvenient at best and ugly at worst. But, this is at the core of a responsible community. It is the individual and the community sharing the responsibility to help insure that everyone can fulfill their personal and community lives.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Right is right until it interferes with business in Alabama

The legislature in Alabama, prodded by the attorneys general of the state, is looking at making some changes to the strict immigration law that was passed earlier in the year. In the court of world public opinion, all negative, it catapulted Alabama ahead of other states in the country with immigration laws that run counter to the role of state government.

Why is this happening?

Part of it was a backlash from big business – mind you, not everyday citizens, but big business – after two executives from Honda and Mercedes were stopped for not carry proof of their immigration status. The governor of the state responded very quickly with an apology to the individuals and the companies. This didn’t look good in a state that is seeking foreign investment. The executives were released without charges even though they broke the law. How about all the other everyday citizens that have been stopped, detained and charged with not carry proof of their immigration status?

But, at the core of the issue is a position a pro-business organization has taken. The Birmingham Business Alliance expressed that the law was damaging Alabama’s image around the world. Plus, (I love this one) “it is a burden for business and local government.”

Immigration and citizenship is a responsibility of the federal government. It says so right in the Constitution. If every state, county and city in the country were to enact their own immigration laws, it would be confusing to even to the local hardware store that hires kids in the neighborhood. We could never be really sure who has the right to be here.

But, Alabama seeking to change the law in response to big business complaints is especially disturbing. Their response makes it very clear that from the start this was just political. If it wasn’t, why was it right to place all these restrictions in the law in the first place then back out of parts of the law because big business complained? The legislature was told about the law being in violation of the Constitution. Many parts of the law have been placed on hold by the courts. Individuals lobbing to stop the law told them that citizens and immigrants in good standing would be negatively profiled. But, they didn’t listen because they wanted to make a political statement that they were hard on illegals.

Business, and the bigger the more responsible they are, is the biggest trouble maker with illegal immigrants. They hire those that come to this country seeking jobs with little or no identification checking. A blind eye is turned as long as they get docile workers that don’t complain and just do their job, no matter how little they are paid. By stopping illegals from getting jobs, those crossing the border without permission would slow dramatically.

As a country, we do need to work on immigration. But, that is the job of congress and the president not individual states. The Constitution makes it their responsibility. It also means that there will be one set of rules for everyone instead of 50, or more if counties and cities get in to the act like many already have.

Congress needs to act.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

No religion in public schools

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal to overturn a ruling by an appeals court to allow religious services in New York City school buildings after hours. The appeal was made by the Bronx Household of Faith, an evangelical Christian church. The religious group wanted to use a local middle school for its Sunday morning services that included singing of hymns, prayer and preaching from the Bible.

The appeal was made on the grounds that the denial by the New York City Board of Education was “viewpoint discrimination” and the appeals court authorized “censorship of private religious speakers.” The Supreme Court rejected the appeal without comment. This usually means that a majority of the justices found no merit in the request.

In a community, places represent things. The police station, the fire station and schools are places in the community that have very clear meanings. When you go to any of those places, like the place station, you are expecting to see police conducting their official business. We expect the same experience when we visit the fire station and schools.

Private buildings have the same expectations but are also distinctly different then public buildings. The local hardware store, the auto repair facility and churches are different places than public. The owners and managers of private places have control over the image that they project and can refuse to allow entry to people as long as it isn’t based on certain issues.

Allowing religious activities in a public school building would confuse its purpose of learning. It sends a message that this is the religion you should learn about. If you attended a religious school building you would expect to hear about one particular religion. But, public schools need to be a place where learning can be conducted without the influence of any religion.

The New York City School Board made the right decision to keep religion out of their buildings. This maintains a clear division between public and private purpose. It was good to see that the appeals court and the Supreme Court agreed with their decision.


Monday, December 5, 2011

We don’t need a victim in the highest office in our community

It looks like Herman Cain is out of the race for the presidency. He put his campaign on hold because of all the allegations about sexual harassment and a possible affair that lasted much longer than a one nighter.

While none of these accusations have been proven in a court of law, one thing seems clear… no other candidate has so many women coming forward saying similar things. You have to wonder, if these tales were just women telling “lies” for their own enrichment, why haven’t other women come forward about other candidates?

There were other things as well. He didn’t know about China’s nuclear program. He wasn’t sure about Libya – or where it was. He couldn’t articulate his positions clearly on abortion. He was unaware of the affect his 9-9-9 tax plan would have. These are all things that should be feathered out early in the planning stages of any campaign. If you are running for the highest office in the world, you need to get a quick education on the world and developed a position statement on all you positions.

But, at the foundation of all of these problems, Cain played the blame game. None of this was his fault, it was the liberal press. The press didn’t like his position on the issues, so they decided to go after him. Can anyone tell me where the liberal press met to talk about this and make their plans? None of the women that I know of have any ties to the press of any kind.

Another reason was Cain’s fatigue. When Cain didn’t know the answer to how he would handle Libya, the campaign staff later said he was just tired. Hmm, how many phone calls come in the middle of the night as president and tired or not, you need to make quick decisions?

The blame game is not a good play in everyday life; it certainly isn’t when you are in a position of responsibility. To paraphrase a bit attributed to Lincoln, you can fool some of the people for a while, but after a while you need to step forward. Because Cain didn’t step forward and take some responsibility for his actions and mistakes, he is now stepping back.

Glad it was not instead of when he was in office.