Throughout the ages, individuals and organizations have employed “religion” to justify the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, and oppression of entire groups of people based on their social identities. At various historical periods, people have applied these texts, sometimes taken in tandem, and at other times used selectively, to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and groups targeted by these texts and tenets.
Proponents of the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRA) recently passed in states like Indiana and Arkansas argue that these laws promote religious freedoms and freedom of speech – two tenets already covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court opened the flood gates for the enactment of new and enhanced RFRA laws in its 2014 decision Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. While human and civil rights anti-discrimination laws primarily have never covered bone fide religious institutions, the Hobby Lobby ruling extended such exemptions to “closely held” (where no ready market exists for the trading of stock shares) for-profit corporations when these owners claim that to follow anti-discrimination statutes would violate their religious beliefs.
“I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.”
Thus, Dennis Shepard, speaking for himself and his wife Judy during a heart-wrenching and nearly unbearable emotional court-room speech to one of his son Matthew’s convicted murders, Aaron McKinney, 22, spared both McKinney and his accomplice, Russell Henderson, 21, of the death penalty. As he spoke, his voice often breaking as he wiped tears streaming down his face and falling to the floor, the sound of weeping throughout the courtroom including men and women in the jury box, Dennis Shepard called his 21-year old son his hero, and he talked of Matthew’s special gift for reaching out and helping others.
Though President Obama has been roundly criticized for having a soft foreign policy, he continues to prove the value of dialogue. Credit: CreativeCommons / Gage Skidmore.
A corollary to the old saying “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” is the reverse, “If it’s broken then fix it.” Well, the U.S. and other nations’ policies of imposing sanctions alone to inhibit Iran’s nuclear ambitions and capabilities has been tried, and it has failed in its stated purpose. It has, though, succeeded in at least pressuring Iranian leaders to talk with us and some of our European allies at the negotiating table.
While the full terms of the agreement are to be drawn up by the end of June, the framework coming out of Switzerland garnered support from our chief European allies, the British and the French.
The movement gaining support in State Houses around this nation, as exemplified through Indiana’s new ironically named “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” permits businesses to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* people, and members of all other groups they consider nonconformists to their judgments and precepts.
So what can we infer from those religions that justify such discriminatory treatment of other human beings? On what sacred tenets would a baker refuse to bake a confectionery delight; a photographer refuse to preserve joyous moments; a caterer refuse the pleasures of delectable sustenance; a florist refuse the beauties from the garden; a jeweler refuse a band connecting human souls; a realtor refuse showing shelters signifying new chapters in one’s book of time; a shop owner refuse selling the common and special objects supporting and enhancing life; a restauranteur refuse anyone a time away from the kitchen; a spiritual advisor refuse to treat one’s neighbor as oneself?
Florida is proposing a law that would impose criminal penalties on those who knowingly enter restrooms of a sex not designated on their birth certificates, implicitly discriminating against transgender citizens. Credit: CreativeCommons / Matthew Rutledge.
Florida, one of the states known for its infamous so-called “stand your ground” law (“justifiable use of force” law), has now proposed standing its patriarchal ground once again, this time in its “Single Sex Facilities” (what I am calling its “Stand Out of My Loo”) law. If passed by the state legislature, CS/HB 583 would impose criminal penalties on persons who knowingly enter restrooms of a sex not designated on their birth certificates.
Sponsors of this clearly discriminatory bill designed it specifically to ban trans* people from using restrooms that most closely align with their gender identities. Legislators see the writing on the bathroom walls signaling the establishment of gender inclusive restroom facilities throughout the nation, which have existed in a number of nations around the world for decades.
Some may refer to these spaces as “gender neutral,” though “gender inclusive” has become the preferred terminology to describe a space – most notably restrooms and floors in college and university dormitories and in many businesses – denoting a cite of inclusion welcoming individuals of all genders and gender identities and expressions. The terminology “gender neutral” overlooks the actual hierarchal power dynamics among genders, and the implications on the lived experiences of virtually everyone in our society.
Only hours after the results revealing the Likud Party’s lead in obtaining the most seats – 30 to its closest competitors’ 24 of the Zionist Union (formerly the Labor Party) — in the next Israeli Knesset (Parliament), the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the U.S. sent an email message to millions of U.S. residents congratulating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what most likely will result in his re-election for a fourth term. The announcement includes a congratulatory petition for people to sign, and states in part:
“The people of Israel have spoken: Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was just reelected to office, in a sweeping victory for those who value freedom and democracy around the world.”
Yes, this election is a “sweeping victory,” but not for those of us “who value freedom and democracy around the world.” Right-wing politicians who run and rule by fear and division stand as the only winners in this travesty: those hardliners who promote intolerance, hatred, xenophobia, and racism.
I took the opportunity of watching both of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s U.S. speeches this week – in front of over 16,000 attendees at AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) and at a joint session of the Congress – and I followed the process and developing controversy from the time Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, first announced that he had extended and the Prime Minister had accepted his invitation to present.
During both speaking venues, with all his praise at the beginning of his speeches for President Obama and his support for the state of Israel and the safety and prosperity of the Israeli people, the clear subtext was to plant distrust of the President’s negotiating abilities with Iran specifically, and to call into serious question his foreign policy initiatives more generally.
Rudy Giuliani's continuing criticism of President Obama is neither informed nor constructive. What, exactly, is he saying, asks Dr. Blumenfeld. Credit: CreativeCommons / DonkeyHotey
I realize that you don’t know me, but I hope you won’t mind if I refer to you as “Rudy.” Anyway, I am writing to you because, frankly, you said some things about President Obama that confused me. I hope you can clarify some things.
During a private dinner held in New York City for possible GOP 2016 presidential contender, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, you said:
“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
“I do not believe that the president loves America.”
So, Rudy, let’s break down your statement. When you say that “I do not believe that the president loves America,” what indication do you have or what criteria are you using? I really want to know,
Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein reminded us in one of the songs, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” in their 1949 Broadway musical, South Pacific that:
You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught….
President Obama echoed this sentiment at the recent White House Countering Violent Extremism Summit when he said that “Children learn to hate.”
“What parents have done for decades who have children of color, especially young men of color, is train them to be very careful when they have…an encounter with a police officer.”
- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, ABC’s “This Week”
The Mayor added that “With Dante, very early on, we said, ‘Look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do. Don’t move suddenly. Don’t reach for your cellphone,’ because we knew, sadly, there’s a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”