letterstomycountry

Does The First Amendment Protect Atheists?

letterstomycountry:

You’d think so, but not according to a District Court Judge in Pennsylvania:

There is a surprising story out of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania that seems the perfect storm of religious tensions. You begin with Ernie Perce, an atheist who marched as a zombie Mohammad in the Mechanicsburg Halloween parade. Then you add Talaag Elbayomy, a Muslim who stepped off a curb and reportedly attacked Perce for insulting the Prophet. Then you have a judge (Judge Mark Martin) who threw out the criminal charges against Elbayomy and ridiculed the victim, Perce.

There’s video of the attack at the link above.  Jon Turley was kind enough to provide a transcript of some of the Judge’s remarks, which, while admirable in terms of its purported respect for the Muslim culture, is nonetheless an abjectly grotesque butchering of the jurisprudence and history of the First Amendment:

In many other Muslim-speaking countries, err, excuse me, many Arabic-speaking countries, predominantly Muslim, something like this is definitely against the law there, in their society. In fact, it could be punished by death, and frequently is, in their society.

Here in our society, we have a Constitution that gives us many rights, specifically First Amendment rights. It’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others. I don’t think that’s what our forefathers intended. I think our forefathers intended to use the First Amendment so we can speak with our mind, not to piss off other people and cultures – which is what you did.

I don’t know how else to grapple with this other than to simply point out that the judge got the law blatantly and utterly wrong.  Here is Justice Brennan writing for the majority in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989):

A principal function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.

Jon Turley, who represented Dr. Ali Al-Timimi when he was charged with inciting violence against the government, is on the same page:

I fail to see the relevance of the victim’s attitude toward Muslims or religion generally. He had a protected right to walk in the parade and not be assaulted for his views. While the judge laments that “[i]t’s unfortunate that some people use the First Amendment to deliberately provoke others,” that is precisely what the Framers had in mind if Thomas Paine is any measure.

There is absolutely no affirmative defense to the crime of assault that involves invoking your First Amendment right to religion.  Your religious beliefs cannot and will not ever justify physically attacking someone on the grounds that the content of their speech is deeply offensive to you.  This is a concept so deeply ingrained in our legal history that even the most egregious offenses against a 3rd party’s morals and/or conscience cannot be made to justify a violent response.  

Hence the reason why the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church when they were sued for protesting at the funeral of a dead American soldier, despite the fact that it was unquestionably offensive to the friends and family of the deceased, and many of them would’ve probably liked to punch the WBC protesters in the face.  And hence the reason why the Court held in Texas v. Johnson that your right to burn an American flag is constitutionally protected speech, despite the fact that it unquestionably deeply offends people who believe with conviction that the flag represents a body of morals, ideals and beliefs that are worth dying for; that it is not just “another symbol,” and that it is the closest thing to a sacred symbol one can find in American civic culture; to the point where an offended person would undoubtedly have violent designs if you sullied its visage in their presence.

What bothers me most about this case is that it will inevitably be misconstrued by good-faith advocates for the Muslim community and Islamophobes alike.  There will be those in the former camp who will probably sympathize with the man who attacked the protester, and blame the protester for purposefully inciting the passion of devout Muslims.  The latter will undoubtedly use the judge’s ill-advised diatribe and the violent act of the Muslim attacker as evidence that Islamic values are in fact incompatible with American society, and will use this incident as yet another anecdote to justify the imposition of intolerable discrimination and cruelties against the broader Muslim community (such as the Park 51 controversy).  

And therein lies the issue: allowing this sort of violence to stand makes it more difficult to soothe the American body-politic’s trenchant Islamophobia by sending a dubious message: the law will not protect you if you say or do something that is offensive to a devout Muslim.  That is the wrong message to send if we are trying to get people to eschew their parochial fear of Islamic culture and replace it with cosmopolitan cultural values.

That’s why it is so imperative that we apply the law equally in cases like this.  The line is simple and clearly drawn: you don’t get to hit people for saying something that offends you.  It does not matter that your offense comes from deeply and sincerely held religious convictions, or strong secular ideological prescriptions.  You don’t get to use violence to vindicate your offended conscience.  It cannot be gainsaid that we would not likely tolerate this from a member of a different faith. We most certainly would not tolerate it if the attacker was an Agnostic or Atheist vindicating a strongly-held secular moral prescription.  Why then, permit of an exception for Muslims?  Does it not show a deep condescension to the innate morality of Muslim believers that they can’t be expected to restrain themselves from violence if their convictions are impugned?

Protecting the rights of Muslim Americans, and destroying the shibboleths of Islamophobia in America means we must reject the invitation to make exceptions for those who would use faith as an excuse to do violence to others.  We are constantly fighting against a politics which asserts: “All Muslims are like this.”  No, they clearly aren’t.  But if the law assumes that they are, then the struggle to achieve social equality and respect for Muslim Americans is already lost.  Permitting of such exceptions is both absurd and dangerous, and we should reject the invitation to carve out any exception in the law that leads us inexorably down that path.

brooklynmutt
It amazes me to find an intelligent person who fights against something which he does not at all believe exists.

Gandhi (via how-hitchens-poisons-everything)

Yeah, I just want to point out that atheists aren’t fighting against something that they don’t believe exists. Atheists aren’t defying God any more than they’re pissing off unicorns and leprechauns.

What atheists are fighting against are the very real, very damaging, very proveable repercussions of genuine belief in just such a cruel, hateful, misogynistic, homophobic, genocidal, fictitious invention.

I don’t think that’s a surprising thing for an intelligent person to do at all.

(via cocknbull)

Thank you, cocknbull. :)

abokononist-deactivated20120714
nonplussedbyreligion:

divineirony:
Santorum Takes Climate Change Denial To A Biblical Level
Climate change denial has become a litmus test for modern Republicans, but Rick Santorum, in his fondness for melding faith and government, has become one of the precious few to cite the Bible as evidence that the science-accepting crowd has it all wrong — and apparently the first to bring that thinking to the presidential stage.
“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told a Colorado crowd earlier this month.
He went on to call climate change “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.”
Read More

THE ENTIRE WORLD IS WATCHING THIS HAPPEN IN AMERICA! THE ENTIRE WORLD! Yes that was in all caps because I was yelling.  I’m so embarrassed and I’m not the one saying this shit.  But people will say, “Americans are stupid” not just Santorum and his ilk.  I can’t not blog about politics because our politicians have turned into televangelists.  Un-freaking-believable!  ~ Kim

nonplussedbyreligion:

divineirony:

Santorum Takes Climate Change Denial To A Biblical Level

Climate change denial has become a litmus test for modern Republicans, but Rick Santorum, in his fondness for melding faith and government, has become one of the precious few to cite the Bible as evidence that the science-accepting crowd has it all wrong — and apparently the first to bring that thinking to the presidential stage.

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told a Colorado crowd earlier this month.

He went on to call climate change “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.”

Read More

THE ENTIRE WORLD IS WATCHING THIS HAPPEN IN AMERICA! THE ENTIRE WORLD! Yes that was in all caps because I was yelling.  I’m so embarrassed and I’m not the one saying this shit.  But people will say, “Americans are stupid” not just Santorum and his ilk.  I can’t not blog about politics because our politicians have turned into televangelists.  Un-freaking-believable!  ~ Kim

inothernews
inothernews:

“You may not realize this, but the Catholic Church actually offers health plans that cover Viagra — a.k.a. (the) ‘boner pill.’ …I’m guessing that that doesn’t ‘rape the soul.’  That some of your employees, I guess, are getting that subsidized Viagra.  And I guess that some of them are single, unmarried men.  What do you think they’re doing with their erections?  Seriously, we’d love to know.  Send your responses to Brian Williams, care of NBC Nightly News.”

— JON STEWART, responding to a Church spokesman’s charge that forcing religious institutions to provide contraceptive care is akin to “soul rape,” on The Daily Show

inothernews:

“You may not realize this, but the Catholic Church actually offers health plans that cover Viagra — a.k.a. (the) ‘boner pill.’ …I’m guessing that that doesn’t ‘rape the soul.’  That some of your employees, I guess, are getting that subsidized Viagra.  And I guess that some of them are single, unmarried men.  What do you think they’re doing with their erections?  Seriously, we’d love to know.  Send your responses to Brian Williams, care of NBC Nightly News.”

— JON STEWART, responding to a Church spokesman’s charge that forcing religious institutions to provide contraceptive care is akin to “soul rape,” on The Daily Show

squashed
[The left wants] to impose [that] on everybody else while they insist and complain that somehow or another people of Judeo Christian faith are intolerant of their new moral code.

Rick Santorum.

Santorum, stick a sock in it. This schtick is disgusting. Rick, let’s be blunt. You’re a Republican Catholic. That’s a lot like a Roman Catholic—except that the political needs of the Republican Party call the ultimate shots instead of Rome. You do not represent “people of Judeo Christian faith.”

(via squashed)

kohenari

In 1979, McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal.

Sometime after that, it was decided that the Bible teaches that human life begins at conception.

Ask any American evangelical, today, what the Bible says about abortion and they will insist that this is what it says. (Many don’t actually believe this, but they know it is the only answer that won’t get them in trouble.) They’ll be a little fuzzy on where, exactly, the Bible says this, but they’ll insist that it does.

That’s new. If you had asked American evangelicals that same question the year I was born you would not have gotten the same answer.

That year, Christianity Today — edited by Harold Lindsell, champion of “inerrancy” and author of The Battle for the Bible — published a special issue devoted to the topics of contraception and abortion. That issue included many articles that today would get their authors, editors — probably even their readers — fired from almost any evangelical institution. For example, one article by a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary criticized the Roman Catholic position on abortion as unbiblical. Jonathan Dudley quotes from the article in his book Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics. Keep in mind that this is from a conservative evangelical seminary professor, writing in Billy Graham’s magazine for editor Harold Lindsell:

God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: “If a man kills any human life he will be put to death” (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22-24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.

Christianity Today would not publish that article in 2012. They might not even let you write that in comments on their website. If you applied for a job in 2012 with Christianity Today or Dallas Theological Seminary and they found out that you had written something like that, ever, you would not be hired.

At some point between 1968 and 2012, the Bible began to say something different. That’s interesting.

randomactsofchaos

theamericanbear:

Liberal media, war on religion, blah blah blah.

Mitt stagedives into the conservative cult of victimhood. Thankfully, Sarah Posner (and Katha Pollitt) call bullshit:

Today, the Washington Examiner published an op-ed from Mitt Romney, “President Obama versus Religious Liberty:”

The Obama administration is at it again. They are now using Obamacare to impose a secular vision on Americans who believe that they should not have their religious freedom taken away.

This is the same Mitt Romney who could barely utter a word about religious freedom for his own faith when it was under assault by some of his fellow conservatives. Now that he’s expected to be his party’s nominee, he feels compelled to take up its most potent religion crusade this year: the claim that religious institutions who are opposed to contraception should get a special exemption from the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that employers provide contraceptive coverage to their employees, free of co-pays. Even those religious institutions which have been, without complaint, providing contraceptive coverage to their employees for years. 

As I wrote on the night of the Florida primary, and as I predicted earlier in January, these supposed liberal attacks on “religious liberty,” and in particular, the contraception requirement, would become an essential theme of the 2012 presidential campaign.

Romney, fighting off Newt Gingrich’s campaign theme that he is a “Massachusetts moderate,” today jumps on the bandwagon in hopes of sealing the deal with religious conservatives:

But, now, more than two centuries after the drafting of the Bill of Rights, religious liberty is facing the most serious assault in generations. And the assault is coming from liberalism itself. In the process of implementing Obamacare, the Obama administration is pressing forward with a rule that tramples on religious freedom, taking particular aim at Roman Catholics. The Obama administration is forcing religious institutions to choose between violating their conscience  or dropping health care coverage for their employees, effectively destroying their ability to carry on their work.

But note how Romney only builds the case that he’s a politically opportunistic flip-flopper with this op-ed, in particular:

[W]hen it comes to the agenda of the left-wing of the Democratic Party—those who brought us abortion on demand and who fight against the teaching of abstinence education in our children’s schools—their devotion to religious freedom goes out the window. They would force Catholics and others who have beliefs rooted in their faith to sacrifice the teachings of their faith to the mandate of federal bureaucrats.

That’s the same Romney who pledged, while he was running for governor of Massacusetts in 2002, ”I respect and will protect a woman’s right to choose. This choice is a deeply personal one. Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government’s.” (Or the Bishops, right?) In that same campaign, in response to a Planned Parenthood questionnaire, Romney answered ”yes” to the question: “Do you support the teaching of responsible, age-appropriate, factually accurate health and sexuality education, including information about both abstinence and contraception, in public schools?” But here he blames the “left-wing of the Democratic Party” for forcing religious people to violate their consciences.

Katha Pollitt dispenses with the argument that the Catholic institutions are entitled to have an exemption based on religious conscience:

Are Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other pacifists exempt from taxes that pay for war and weapons? Can Scientologists, who abhor psychiatry, deduct the costs of the National Institute of Mental Health? As an atheist, a feminist, a progressive, I ante up for so much stuff that violates my conscience, the government should probably pay me damages. Why should the bishops be exempt from the costs of living in a pluralistic society?… . The vast majority of Catholics long ago rejected the Vatican’s ban on contraception. Catholic women are as likely to use birth control as other women. What about their consciences?

Or, for that matter, the consciences of Romney’s fellow Mormons: the LDS Church permits the use of birth control, all methods. And here’s another one: what would the reaction of the anti-Mormons in conservative-land be to a claim of violation of religious freedom by the LDS Church, should it request an exemption from a law? Wouldn’t they start to worry that the government might be endorsing that non-Christian religion?