“The immeasurable and sacred worth of every human being”

June 18, 2009, 3:51 pm | Posted by

Last week’s tragic shooting at the Holocaust Museum shocked the nation. This terrible act of hatred not only took a life, but also nudged us to look more deeply at the growing prevalence of crimes motivated by hate, fear, and bias.

Multiple hate crimes in the past years have made the news. There was the horrific shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church (the shooter targeted the congregation for its liberal views) and the murder of a Jewish college student at Wesleyan, by a shooter with anti-Semitic views. At the end of May, a Mexican-American and his nine-year-old daughter were killed in a home invasion by suspects tied to anti-immigrant militia white supremacy groups. The murder of Dr. George Tiller because of his occupation as a late-term abortion provider was an act of hate against the pro-choice community. The brutal murder of Angie Zapata was an act of hate against the transgendered community, and part of a frightening 63% increase in serial hate crime incidents in Colorado in 2008.

The anecdotes are chilling, and the statistics aren’t any better. Recently, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups and hate crimes, reported that the number of hate groups have risen by more than 50% since 2000. Additionally, the number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people killed in bias-motivated incidents increased by 28 percent in 2008 compared to 2007 and are at the highest level since 1999, according to a recent report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Latinos are being targeted in increasing numbers too– the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights finds that for the fourth year in a row, the number of reported crimes directed against Hispanics increased — from 576 in 2006 to 595 in 2007.

Religious leaders from across the spectrum joined their voices to condemn the hatred and violence behind the shooting at the Holocaust Museum. Similarly, many in the faith community have spoken out in support of strong hate crimes legislation. As David Gushee has said, “As a Christian, I believe in the immeasurable and sacred worth of every human being as made in the image of God and as the object of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ… This bill deserves Christian support because its aim is to protect the dignity and basic human rights of all Americans, and especially those Americans whose perceived ‘differentness’ makes them vulnerable to physical attacks motivated by bias, hatred and fear.”

Voices like this are ever more needed in this climate of hostility, fear, and hatred. As people of faith, we’re called to stand against injustices like these. Particularly because many of these crimes are religiously-motivated, we must present a different religious vision– one in which all people’s inviolable worth is recognized and no one lives in fear because of his or her identity or connection to a specific community. Furthermore, we must also acknowledge that hate speech often leads to these acts of violence. As Americans, we treasure our robust First Amendment rights to free speech. As Jim Wallis says, “Government censorship and the abridgment of [free speech] rights is not the answer to hate speech.” But a societal, and especially a religious, response must be unambiguously clear– hatred is not consistent with our faith traditions. Jim goes on to say that, “Societal censorship, public outcry, and condemnation of these words is what’s necessary.” People of faith must step up and condemn hate-filled rhetoric and work for a world in which no human being lives in fear.

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Contrasting responses to the murder of George Tiller

June 1, 2009, 11:29 am | Posted by

Pro-choice and pro-life leaders who work to build common ground on abortion have released a statement condemning the murder of Dr. George Tiller and reiterating their commitment to civility and common ground.

Just hours later, at a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court anti-abortion leaders led by the Christian Defense Coalition condemned the murder, called on President Obama and Congressional leaders not to use it “for political gain,” and then proceeded to use the platform provided by the abhorrent attack to misrepresent Pres. Obama’s record on abortion and otherwise spread misinformation about the issue.

Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the coalition, claimed that the administration is dismantling conscience protections for healthcare providers who refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds. This is false. In February the administration initiated a review of the broad, last-minute conscience clause Pres. Bush put in place before leaving office. Although the outcome is still pending, three separate federal laws protect — and will continue to protect — medical professionals who do not wish to perform abortion procedures for religious or moral reasons.

Rev. Mahoney also claimed that the administration supports late-term abortions and “partial-birth abortion.” This claim too is false. Pres. Obama has stated his support for restrictions on these procedures if there are protections for the health of the mother. He has also stated that his votes in opposition to legislation restricting the late-term abortion were based on a lack of such protections.

Speakers at the press conference also misleadingly repeatedly referenced a recent Gallup poll which found that a majority of Americans consider themselves pro-life. Rev. Mahoney said the poll showed that the majority of Americans reject appointing a judge who would uphold Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court. The Gallup poll actually showed that 51% of Americans consider themselves “pro-life” — not that a majority of Americans oppose appointing a Supreme Court Justice who would uphold Roe. In fact, polling consistently shows that more than 60 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Several analyses have shown the Gallup poll to a) be an outlier, b) not pertinent to the legality of abortion, and c) so vague that it means little at all.

The anti-abortion leaders who spoke at the Supreme Court this morning could have condemned the murder of George Tiller and reiterated their opposition to abortion without politicizing the tragedy and making misleading claims for political gain — a maneuver they claim to denounce.

Now more than ever, we must all come together to recognize our shared humanity and find common ground. That’s what Americans really want out of our leaders.

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Prop. 8 and Religious Liberty

May 26, 2009, 3:13 pm | Posted by

Today, California upheld Prop. 8, taking away same-sex marriage rights in the state but leaving as valid the marriages of couples who wed under California’s same-sex marriage law before election day.

With the ruling comes the resurfacing of serious misinformation opponents of same-sex marriage have been spreading in the Prop. 8 fight and in campaigns across the country.

For instance, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) celebrated the ruling as a victory for “civil rights.”

One of NOM’s leading arguments (see their “Gathering Storm” ad that got a lot of play in the media) has been that same-sex marriage is a threat to religious liberty. While there certainly have been clashes between particular religious groups and proponents of GLBT rights, NOM’s claim that marriage poses a particular threat to religious groups is overblown, at best.

Take the examples from their very own “Gathering Storm” Background Facts site. While each of these cases does appear to present a conflict between religious groups and gay rights, a closer look reveals it’s not so cut and dried.

While NOM claims to focus only on marriage, not other legal benefits and rights for same-sex couples (scroll down to talking point 6 under FAQs) one of their examples takes place in a state where same-sex marriage isn’t even legal. As HRC points out, the New Jersey and California examples “are really about state laws against sexual orientation discrimination, rather than specifically about marriage.”

NOM’s third example, the “Massachusetts parent helplessly watching public schools teach… that gay marriage is OK,” doesn’t seem to take a very high view of a parent’s ability to shape his/her child’s values.

After all, the government’s willingness to re-marry divorced persons does not render a conservative Catholic parent “helpless” in teaching her child that divorce (without an annulment) and remarriage are wrong according to their values.

The Catholic example is actually pretty fitting when it comes down to arguments about same-sex marriage and religious liberty. As Andrew Sullivan has noted:

…Catholic doctrine is that marriage is for life. Divorce is not the end of that marriage in the eyes of God. And yet Catholics can tolerate fellow citizens who are not Catholic calling their non-marriages marriages – because Catholics have already accepted a civil-religious distinction. They can wear both hats in the public square.

Catholics and other people of faith would be able to continue to wear both of these hats should same-sex marriage continue to be legalized across the country. In fact, we already see the results of robust legal protection for religious groups, particularly for clergy, who are allowed to practice the teachings of their religion even when it conflicts with state employment laws. Churches will not be forced to ordain gay clergy (as Catholics are not forced by the government to ordain women) or marry gay couples–clergy have always been able to decide who they would marry (for example, many rabbis won’t officiate interfaith marriage ceremonies).

As HRC says:

Granting marriage rights to same-sex couples would not require leaders of Christian, Jewish, Islamic or any other religious leaders to perform these marriages. It would not require religious institutions to permit these ceremonies to be held on their grounds. It would not even require that religious communities discuss the issue. People of faith would remain free to make their own judgments about what makes a marriage in the eyes of God — just as they are today.

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Setting the record straight on hate crimes

April 30, 2009, 5:33 pm | Posted by

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act of 2009 passed the House of Representatives yesterday (249-175). Among other things the bill, broadens federal hate crimes protection to include persons targeted because of “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability,” and it’s been the subject of a great deal of misinformation in the media. The spin comes in many forms and appears in many places:

CBN News uses “he said/she said” reporting that puts the bill’s supporters’ verifiable statements and opponents’ highly speculative claims on equal footing:

Conservatives and Christians warn that if the bill becomes law, it could eventually lead to criminalizing preaching against homosexuality. But supporters of the bill say free speech is still protected.

The Washington Times reads hate crime legislation supporters’ minds:

But the motivation isn’t about punishing crime as much as it is about controlling certain thoughts and views.

On Fox News, Molly Henneberg relies on pure speculation to drag the red herring of gay marriage into the issue:

…they may be prosecuted for their religious beliefs if they believe that homosexuality is a sin, that it could gag ministers who preach that, or even if a church may not want to marry a gay couple. There is concern that they could face lawsuits as well.

OneNewsNow relies on a lone source who makes false claims:

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that one conservative Christian activist says protects bizarre sexual orientations and threatens the free speech of those who dare speak out publicly against homosexuality.

These reports disregard the actual content of the bill, which defines a hate crime as follows:

`(A) IN GENERAL- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person-

The bill explicitly protects the religious liberty and free speech of religious groups that oppose homosexuality and preach against it (see Sections 6 and 8). CBN’s false equivalence, the Washington Times’ attribution of sinister motive, Fox’s utterly fanciful speculation, and OneNewsnow’s falsehood all portray the bill as criminalization of religious belief and speech, when in fact it only pertains to physical violence.

See Third Way’s outstanding Q&A sheet for a thorough straightening of the record.

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A reconciliation on gay marriage?

February 23, 2009, 1:47 pm | Posted by

Strange bedfellows Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn mapped out an interesting federal policy proposal on same-sex marriage in yesterday’s New York Times:

It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill…

At the same time, federal law links many important perquisites to marital status, including Social Security survivor benefits, tax-free inheritance, spousal immigration rights and protections against mutual incrimination. All of these benefits are currently denied to same-sex couples, even those living in states that permit same-sex marriage or civil unions. But these same benefits could be conferred by federally recognized civil unions.

This was the first airing of this policy I’ve seen. My quick search for blog reactions today didn’t turn up too many hits, but here’re a few. (Note, please click through — my excerpts don’t encapsulate their entire arguments.)

Mark Silk: Well meaning as it is, the proposal…seems to me a half-way house that will have trouble standing. But the cry of distress from Rod Dreher about the “fast erosion of religious liberty in America” paints with far too broad a brush.

Update: Andrew Sullivan: My worry is the federalist one: I don’t see why the federal government should refuse to recognize what various states decide to call a civil marriage. As for strong religious liberty exception clauses, I have absolutely no objection… I don’t believe that allowing gay couples to marry will violate religious freedom any more than, say, legal civil divorce hurts the Catholic Church.

Street Prophets diarist I T: Yes, I am very uncomfortable with giving basic civil rights a religious exemption. And, what happens to gay people who live in viciously anti-gay states…BUT, if the idea is to find a compromise, a starting place, and if it can bring together such disparate views as the authors’, I think it has merit, at least for discussion.

Pam Spaulding: OK. I have a problem with this already, though I see where they are trying to accomplish — getting same-sex couples access to the rights and benefits of civil marriage and cede the word marriage to those who cannot decouple it from religious marriage in their heads…but Blankenhorn and Rauch’s solution, by accommodating the “misunderstanding” about the word marriage — rather than redefining it (something that has occurred countless times in the past), chooses to draw an institutionalized line of discrimination.

TNR’s Damon Linker: Sounds reasonable to me — provided that the Supreme Court allowed such a law to stand. In its current configuration, tilted slightly to the right, it just might. But after a couple of Obama appointments? I’d put the likelihood of a more liberal court overturning a federal civil unions law on equal protection (or other) grounds as pretty darn high.

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