214. coterie

800px-UssupremecourtinteriorGoodness, so much has been happening the last couple of weeks. It’s been hard enough keeping up with my own personal writing, so I haven’t had as much time to blog. I’ve started a new job in document control with a construction company, and the learning curve of both a new environment and a new industry has been challenging.

In case you missed it, yesterday morning the United States Supreme Court handed down its ruling on Town of Greece v. Galloway. Spoilers: it didn’t go very well for religious liberty.

Brief summary on the case: From time immemorial, city council meetings in the town of Greece, NY, have opened with prayer. Specifically, Christian prayer. Then Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens sued the town, arguing that the prayers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against the town, so the issue that came before the Supreme Court last year, and that they ruled on yesterday, was whether the prayers were constitutional.

And yesterday, the Court decided that the Town of Greece may open each legislative session with a Christian prayer, so long as they make a reasonable effort to reach out to all religious groups within city limits and invite their leaders to open sessions as well.

Justice Elena Kagen wrote the dissenting opinion, beginning with an acknowledgment that our country has a tradition of opening legislative sessions with prayer, and that we also have a diverse religious landscape. “I believe that pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality,” she wrote. “Such a forum need not become a religion-free zone… when a citizen stands before her government, whether to perform a service or request a benefit, her religious beliefs do not enter into the picture.”

However, she notes on page 57 that

Greece’s Board did nothing to recognize reli­gious diversity: In arranging for clergy members to open each meeting, the Town never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve, accommodate, or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions. So month in and month out for over a decade, prayers steeped in only one faith, addressed toward members of the public, commenced meetings to discuss local affairs and distribute government benefits. In my view, that practice does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.

By intentionally or unintentionally favoring one religion over all others and forcing a citizen to “make her dissent from the common religious view, and place herself apart from other citizens, as well as from the officials responsible for the invocations,” religion becomes a dividing rather than unifying element.

Kagen again: “When a person goes to court, a polling place, or an immigration proceeding… government officials do not engage in sectarian worship, nor do they ask her to do likewise. They all participate in the business of government not as Christians, Jews, Muslims (and more), but only as Americans.”

Justice Breyer also dissented from the ruling, noteing that “Greece is a predominantly Christian town, but it is not exclusively so,” and that a map of the town “shows a Buddhist temple… and several Jewish synagogues just outside its borders.”

He also noted on page 51 that “during the more than 120 monthly meetings at which prayers were delivered during the record period (from 1999 to 2010), only four prayers were delivered by non-Christians. And all of these occurred in 2008, shortly after the plaintiffs began complaining about the town’s Christian prayer practice and nearly a decade after that practice had commenced.”

Those actions and inactions included (1) a selection process that led to the selection of “clergy almost exclusively from places of worship located within the town’s borders,”  despite the likelihood that significant numbers of town residents were members of congregations that gather just outside those borders; (2) a failure to “infor[m] members of the general public that volunteers” would be acceptable prayer givers; and (3) a failure to “infor[m] prayer-givers that invocations were not to be exploited as an effort to convert others to the particular faith of the invocational speaker, nor to disparage any faith or belief different than that of the invocational speaker.”

The decision handed down yesterday by the Court seems to assume that the vast majority of Americans will treat each other with fairness and without prejudice. It assumes that, given a plurality of religious views in a given setting, leadership will take the high ground in making sure that all views are represented.

Which is why, I suppose, in 2007, when Rajan Zed, the first Hindu priest to open a session of the U.S. Senate, began his invocation, three protesters immediately interrupted him.

Lord Jesus, forgive us for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight. This is an abomination. We shall have no other gods before You. Lord Jesus, have mercy on our nation for allowing this abomination, this idolatry, for violating the First Commandment, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ God forgive our nation!

The first man was taken out, loudly quoting Bible verses as he was dragged from the chamber. Another shouted, “Father, forgive us for betraying your Son Jesus!” before she, too, was escorted out. As they left, they shouted directly at Zed, “No Lord but Jesus Christ!” and “There’s only one true God!”

According to the Wikipedia page on the incident, the protesters were there “to lobby against a hate-crimes bill that would extend certain protections to gay people.”

The fact is, religion isn’t going anywhere for a long time. I’m willing to work with religious people to find ways to live together peaceably. And a vast number of religious people are happy to do the same.

It’s a vocal minority (fundamentalist Christians, mostly), however, who refuses to come to the table and is resisting change and stirring things up. How are we supposed to work together when they won’t even budge?


157. canonize

I started this as an email to my friend Christy, but figured I’d share it as an open letter instead.

Basically, here’s my pitch for voting NO on the constitutional marriage amendment in Minnesota — even for Christians.

Contrary to how it’s framed, this amendment isn’t about voting to legalize same-sex marriage. If it doesn’t pass on Tuesday, it still won’t be legal on November 7. There will still be a law in place. It’s about limiting the rights of citizens in order to enshrine a religious doctrine: i.e., God’s design for marriage is 1 man + 1 woman. It’s forcing the Minnesota constitution to take sides in a religious debate. This is a violation of the First Amendment, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

If there were secular reasons for banning same-sex couples from marriage, it would be one thing. But there aren’t any.

I’ve been through the “evidence” from Minnesota for Marriage, and it’s highly suspect.

  • Churches won’t be forced to marry same-sex couples. (Actually, in every state where same-sex marriage is legal there is specific language in the laws prohibiting religious institutions and clergy from being forced to perform same-sex ceremonies.)
  • Christians won’t be fired from jobs for speaking out against same-sex marriage or gay people.
  • Children won’t be taught about same-sex marriage in school any more than they’re already being taught about heterosexual marriage.

It’s all scare tactics.

The CDC released a study in 2010 on the results of a 6-year study that found that the only factor researchers could identify for raising healthy children is a two-parent home. The gender of the parents was not a factor for success. Children of same-sex parents were just as happy and healthy as those raised by opposite-sex parents.

If this were about protecting marriage, we’d be banning divorce. If it were about protecting family, we’d be incentivizing marriage by limiting it to couples who are able to or choose to produce children. But infertile couples are free to marry, just as couples who don’t get pregnant are also free to. And they’re free to marry and divorce as many times as they like. Yet same-sex couples can’t even get married once.

So for me this is about returning sanctity to marriage. When I want to make that kind of commitment, it’s not because I can. It’s because I will want to share my life with someone in a very meaningful way. After all, what is it that has kept same-sex couples together for decades when there was no incentive to do so? Most had to keep their relationships a secret, or had to live in insular communities where they could be safe. If anti-gay conservatives are right and relationships are just about sex for gays, why shackle yourself to one person when you could be out enjoying the smörgåsbord?

When a heterosexual person gets married, they are unwittingly bestowed with over 1,138 federal rights and benefits from the government. (There are 515 laws in MN that discriminate against same-sex couples.) It’s like the government sneaks a huge binder in amongst all the wedding present.

  • You can’t be compelled to testify against your spouse in court. I would be compelled to testify against Jay since the law would consider us “roommates.”
  • You’re entitled to the disposal of your spouse’s body and property in the event of death. If Jay and I bought a house together and his parents didn’t approve of our relationship, they are legally entitled to swoop in and take everything if he were to die, and I would have no legal rights over how to bury him. There are awful, heartbreaking stories about this. Heterosexual couples don’t have to have lawyers to ensure this doesn’t happen.

There’s more. Believe me. (Check out www.project515.org.) So how is all of this not discrimination against committed, same-sex couples? Why is the relationship between a man and a woman so different that gay people need to be excluded from marriage?

Marriage will NOT be redefined when same-sex couples are permitted to marry. (Yes, I said when.) Predictions made when Loving v. Virginia hit the Supreme Court in 1967 are being made today — and society is still standing. Bottom line: we’re not asking the government to redefine anything. We merely want to be included, the same as everyone else. The Supreme Court even called marriage a civil right:

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival.

Last night during the Minnesota Public Radio marriage amendment debate, Kerri Miller asked Brian Brown what the consequences would be if same-sex marriage were legalized. He kept changing the subject and speaking in generalities, but he couldn’t name specifics. Instead, he kept kept bringing up the Bible — but this isn’t about religion. It’s about law.

Constitutions should expand the rights of citizens, not limit them. This amendment not only expands the role of government in permanently banning same-sex couples from marrying, it also enshrines a religious belief and the prejudices of those who hold it, enabling them to discriminate with impunity.

This is about the Golden Rule: do to others as you would be done by. Would you want someone voting on who you can’t marry? I don’t think so.


American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota:

Marriage Matters

Minnesotans United for All Families

Project 515


Southern Poverty Law Center