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Mythical Religious Persecution Narrative and a New Jim Crow

Earlier this week, a story spread like wildfire about two pastors threatened with jail time and massive fines for not performing gay weddings. Attorneys from the right wing ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) filed a lawsuit on behalf of the pastors. The story was breathless, controversial and inaccurate.

The pastors in question run a for profit business that as recently as two weeks ago was very clear that they offered both religious and civil ceremonies. They run a marriage mill, performing something like 1400 weddings per year. Oh, and the big error? The city of Coeur d’Alene had not threatened them with fines or jail time, there have been no complaints filed against them. The couple in question asked the city attorney what would happen if they failed to comply with the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance and refused to marry a same-sex couple; the city attorney spelled out the possible legal consequences. End of story. Not really. I’ll let Jeremy Hooper explain:

When I first learned about the story of Idaho’s Hitching Post, which was suddenly the far-right’s latest marriage “victim” for supposedly being threatened by the city of Coeur d’Alene for not marrying a same-sex couple, I thought the whole thing was too coincidental to be true. I didn’t focus on it in my last post on the subject since I had the much more newsworthy discovery that the business had changed its website so that they could seem much more faith-driven than they had been operating in the past. But a part of me was wondering how the same business that went to the press back in May with its preemptive marriage fears, well before Idaho had marriage equality, could now be in the spotlight in such a major way. it just seemed too perfectly orchestrated.

To wit (Gridley is the city attorney):

“Their lawsuit was something of a surprise because we have had cordial conversations with them in the past and they have never disclosed that they have recently become a religious corporation,” Gridley wrote.

Gridley wrote that the city will not prosecute legitimate nonprofit religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies or other exempt organizations or anyone else as a result of their lawful exercise of their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion.

In addition to exempting those groups, Gridley wrote that the anti-discrimination ordinance states that it “shall be construed and applied in a manner consistent with First Amendment jurisprudence regarding the freedom of speech and exercise of religion.”

When contacted by The Press for comment, Don Knapp said the Hitching Post is not operating as a not-for-profit religious corporation. He also said he does not know ADF Attorney David Cortman.

Let’s be clear – almost everything you’ve heard about the case is wrong. No complaint has been filed against The Hitching Post. If they are a legitimate religious organization, they are exempt from the city’s ordinance. (It’s worth noting that they have been an ordinary, for profit business up to this point and have a history of performing both religious and civil ceremonies; they have not been, up to this point, a church or religious organization.)

The facts haven’t stopped hosts of religious people sanctimoniously declaring that “no one should be forced to do something that violates their conscience” and “no one should be forced to participate in a same sex wedding.” Utah legislators have obviously seen the story and are alreayd discussing a bill that would allow people to declare they have a religious objection and exempt themselves from participating in same-sex weddings (if history is any guide, the bill will pass, but will be so overly broad it will fail constitutional muster and be struck down, leading to all sorts of public hysterics over activists judges and repeated sharing of bathetic overhyped tales of bakers and florists and photographers and poor picked on pastors). It’s clear that a great many religious persons oppose same-sex marriage, and believe their opposition is entirely based on theological reasons and fear that at some point, some legal change will force them to “accept” same-sex marriage.

I don’t want to minimize the difficulty marriage equality presents for many religious persons. People do not lightly give up tradition or traditional teachings about sexuality and relationships.

Until very recently, most people casually accepted the idea that something was “wrong” with gay and lesbian persons. The idea that sexual minority persons are not inherently sick, immoral or incapable of forming long-lasting, stable relationships is relatively new in our society. The idea of same-sex marriage is also relatively new (although the Boston Marriage is a fascinating bit of history). Many socially and religiously conservative persons continue to embrace the belief that gay persons can become straight through therapy and prayer, that being gay is a choice and a bad one.

For some persons, the idea of a same sex couple marrying seems absurd at best. These individuals define marriage as a man and a woman and exclude anything else (one suspects Utah State Rep. Kraig Powell is such a person). It’s not uncommon in discussions to hear someone declare that marriage is between a man and a woman and anything is fake and the law can’t make “real” what isn’t real. The “love the sinner hate the sin” motto employed by religious persons reveals more than most people think – for many religious persons, gay people are less than straight people and same-sex couples are less than heterosexual couples.

With the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the various cases coming to them, the number of states in which same sex marriage is legal increased dramatically in one week (at JoeMyGod, Joe observed that there had been 9 separate marriage equality maps in the week of October 6).

Religious conservatives have very visibly and vocally expressed their dismay. We’ve heard all the usual buzzwords about out of control judges, judicial activism, and the usual predictions of coming tyranny. Religious conservatives are asking “What next?” with a combination of weariness and trepidation.

There is a challenge for religious conservatives. They’re being asked to acknowledge and live with the reality that same sex marriage is legal and to recognize that means some changes on how they conduct their business. I am certain there will be some lawsuits when religious business owners try to refuse family insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. We will, no doubt, hear paeans to the free market and dreamy invocations that gays can just go elsewhere for jobs and services. Thus far, the courts have not be amenable to such arguments. From a legal standpoint, a marriage is a marriage. Treating married couples differently will not be acceptable.

Religious conservatives are also going to have to face activism within their churches. Although legally there’s no reason to fear that churches will be forced to recognize same-sex marriage, gay persons can be incredibly effective activists. Churches will feel pressure to perform marriages for same-sex couples.

The Hobby Lobby case was probably the most high profile but it is one of many in which the religious right is trying to carve out a separate public and legal sphere for itself in which the devout serve solely the devout and can refuse to serve the sinful masses – a modern Jim Crow – using religious freedom as the rationale. I get this – I’ve read Martha Nussbaum’s Hiding from Humanity: Disgust Shame and the Law – it’s about fear of moral contagion. Although it’s emotional appeal is undeniable, I think it will ultimately fail of its own weight.

This afternoon, I read that The Hitching Post has re-incorporated itself as a religious corporation. The ACLU and the city of Coeur d’Alene agree that in keeping with their newly filed corporate status, The Hitching Post is a “religious corporation” and exempt from the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. IOW, the whole brouhaha has basically evaporated.

The public spaces from which religious conservatives can exclude gay people are going to become increasingly constrained. The option of declaring one’s self a religious corporation isn’t going to be available to a great many religious conservatives. If, however, claims of religious freedom and religious conscience become publicly linked with discrimination – against women, gays and lesbians, “immoral people” – then very quickly the mythical “war on Christianity” will become a very real public disgust for anyone claiming to be Christian and for Christianity itself.

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Proof: I’m a Communist!

me and kruchev

I have no idea what sort of fowl play was going on there, but that’s me on the left; a dead ringer for Nikita Khrushchev.

Later in life:
trib photo me

The jury is in.

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People’s Climate March Livestream

Because cable TV news has this event blacked out, even MSNBC. It’s happening in Manhattan, right under the noses of the media elite, and they won’t report about it.

Tom Engelhardt: Is Climate Change a Crime Against Humanity?

From two scientific studies just released, for example, comes the news that the West Antarctic ice sheet, one of the great ice accumulations on the planet, has now begun a process of melting and collapse that could, centuries from now, raise world sea levels by a nightmarish 10 to 13 feet. That mass of ice is, according to the lead authors of one of the studies, already in “irreversible retreat,” which means — no matter what acts are taken from now on — a future death sentence for some of the world’s great cities. (And that’s without even the melting of the Greenland ice shield, not to speak of the rest of the ice in Antarctica.)

UPDATE: OK, MSNBC is now reporting that well over 100,000 marchers are on the streets. They have a reporter doing a live shot now (10:30 am).

UPDATE: Hundreds Of Thousands Turn Out For People’s Climate March In New York City

NEW YORK — More than 400,000 people turned out for the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, just days before many of the world’s leaders are expected to debate environmental action at the United Nations climate summit.

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Surprise! Federal Charges Brought Against Illegal ATV Ride

Venomous
Salt Lake Tribune photo

Did anybody actually think that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was serious about enforcing the non-motorized trail restrictions in Recapture Canyon? It took four months, but yesterday acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen brought charges against the five organizers of last May’s illegal ATV ride.

These guys are innocent until proven guilty, and even if found guilty the penalty will probably be a small fine. However it’s nice to see the rule of law kick in once in a while.

The BLM closed the canyon to motorized vehicles in 2007 after some locals constructed an illegal ATV trail, damaging several archaeological sites. The closure has been a sore point with the southeastern Utah off-road crowd.

Note: I know one of the accused, and he’s a great guy. If he did break the law it would have been intended as a sincere act of civil disobedience, and I respect that even if I don’t agree with all his opinions about public lands.

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The Bacon-Christian Connection . . .

The blogosphere has been chuckling – okay laughing uproariously – at Bryan Fischer, spokesperson for the American Family Association. Fischer, you see, recently declared “proof” that America is a Christian nation because . . . bacon.

“You want one single item of proof that America is a Christian nation and not a Jewish nation and not an Islamic nation?” he asked. “One single bit of proof is all you need: we freely allow restaurants and grocery stores to sell and to serve bacon. That can only happen in a Christian country.” “So the sheer fact that we freely allow the sale and consumption of bacon,” he continued, “is absolute proof that we are, in fact, a Christian nation”

The part that fascinates me is that Fischer offered this bon mot as if it were an actual argument. I can’t help but wonder – are there conservative Christians out there for whom this argument is persuasive?

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Fox’s Manufactured Benghazi Scandal by the Numbers

Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly highlighted a report from Media Matters, detailing the depth and breadth of the right’s bizarre Benghazi! obsession. Ed noted:

Short of gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Watergate hearings, I’m not sure we’ve seen anything quite like it in modern electronic media. And we wonder why in the strange alternative universe of the conservative movement, jabbering about Benghazi! is like discussing the weather.

From the Media Matters report:

Media Matters reviewed Fox News transcripts and identified segments including significant discussion of Benghazi on The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity, and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren between September 11, 2012, the night of the attacks, and May 2, 2014, when House Speaker John Boehner announced the formation of a select committee to investigate the attacks and their aftermath. This report does not include The Kelly File or Fox Report because they did not run for the full period of the study.

Key Findings
?1,098 total Fox News evening segments that included significant discussion of Benghazi — an average of about 13 segments per week
?In 18 of 20 months studied, Fox ran at least 20 Benghazi segments per month, with a high of 174 in October 2012
?382 segments aired on Special Report, the network’s flagship news program
?478 segments invoked the talking points used for Susan Rice’s 2012 Sunday show appearances
?281 segments alleging a “cover-up” by the Obama administration
?144 interviews of GOP members of Congress versus only five interviews of Democratic members of Congress and Obama administration officials
?120 comparisons to Iran-Contra, Watergate, and the actions of the Nixon administration
?105 attempts to link Benghazi to Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential ambitions
?100 segments promoting the lie that the administration issued a “stand-down order”

Media Matters points out that Fox’s talking points have been repeatedly refuted by actual facts but that hasn’t stopped the sludge from flowing. The right’s obsession with Benghazi is a perfect example of the mighty wurlitzer at work. It’s depressing – people on the right have an almost religious belief that Benghanzi! was some sort of scandal and that if they just keep digging the nefarious, black-hearted truth will emerge.

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Only One Depressing Moment At The Paul McCartney Concert

I’ve lived in Salt Lake City all my life and although I’m not religious, I think we used to have a great culture and a fascinating history which includes the federal government sending troops out here to gain high ground and point their guns at the populous. It’s ,undoubtedly, a good thing that nothing came of that.

Bully for me; a lifelong friend got me a ticket to see Paul McCartney perform at [the-venue-I-refuse-to-name] last night. The Tribune did a good review and so did the Deseret News.

Disclaimer: I love what The Beatles did to improve music and politics. The concert was chaotic perfection.

If The Beatles did nothing else, they served to bridge Britain and American music. They invoked a healthy competition of creative music the world will never forget. Kudos to whatever happened between Brian Epstein and Ed Sullivan.

During the last encore, Paul carried an American Flag onstage, and other band members carried a Britain flag and a Utah Flag.

Besides the fact that the concert was un-flawed in my mind, was the fact that I was sitting next to two teenage boys who were around the same age as I was when The Beatles hit the scene. They knew the words to the old songs and the ones I hadn’t even heard by McCartney.

My eyes were drawn to a couple who looked liked they had never exercised a day in their life, who danced vigorously for the entire three hours.

Here’s the bad part, and subject of this post:

Paul asked the audience how many of us were from Salt Lake City and I raised my hand before clapping. He, then, asked how many were NOT from Salt Lake City and the response was overwhelming by twice.

I don’t like polls. :(

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House Intelligence Committee Finds No Wrongdoing by the Administration in Benghazi

Conservatives have now spent 2 years shrieking hysterically about BENGHAZI, convinced of some sort of malfeasance or deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama Administration. According to the Republican led House Intelligence Committee, not so much.

Among the key findings:

– Intelligence agencies were “warned about an increased threat environment, but did not have specific tactical warning of an attack before it happened.”

— “A mixed group of individuals, including those associated with al Qaeda, (Moammar) Khadafy loyalists and other Libyan militias, participated in the attack.”

— “There was no ‘stand-down order’ given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening, no illegal activity or illegal arms transfers occurring by U.S. personnel in Benghazi, and no American was left behind.”

— The administration’s process for developing “talking points” was “flawed, but the talking points reflected the conflicting intelligence assessments in the days immediately following the crisis.”

Anyone betting this will mean conservatives will stop hysterically shrieking about Benghazi is taking a sucker’s bet.

,

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The Short Hilarious Saga of ReaganBook

When Sofonda Cox, Dixie Normous, and Johnny Hotballs are some of your sites most prominent users, you’re either a gay porn site or a new conservative social media site known as ReaganBook.

Yes, my friends, anti-gay nutjob Janet Porter was offended by Facebook and the fact that some of its employees walked in a pride parade, so she launched her own, independent social media site and named it ReaganBook. Let’s be clear, the name was not intended ironically.

Porter, for those who don’t know her, is a conservative of the evangelical sub-variety. She was previously known a Janet Folger. She founded and runs Faith2Action from which she endlessly advocates for her “heartbeat bill” which would ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected in the fetus. She’s a young earth creationist and a diehard believer in the myth the Christians are persecuted in the US. IOW, she’s a garden variety wingnut, bigot and loudmouth.

Anyway, so Janet Porter got her ever bunchable panties in a bunch over something Facebook did, she decided to launch a Facebook for patriots. The site launched and had about 30 or so members. Then various websites noticed it – namely Joe My God. Within hours, the number of users swelled into the hundreds, including the previously mentioned Sofonda Cox, Dixie Normous and Johnny Hotballs. ReaganBook was quickly swamped in a flood of porn, pages dedicted to Ronald Reagan’s titties, and generally offensive and surreal content. Users such as Al Zheimers, Ben Ghazi and Parah Salin signed up to participate in the fun and games.

The Dailybeast observed:

ReaganBook shows no discernable signs of longevity. It’s already been forced to temporarily shut down, after many of its thousand-plus members are trolls calling themselves things like “Albradorft Lincler,” “Al Zheimers,” and “Ben Ghazi.” The site runs tremendously slowly, and its attempts to interact with members through a messaging platform have proven fruitless. There’s hardly any involvement in thought-provoking (and clearly troll-created) pages like “Cut Dicks for Christ,” which simply says: “Calling all cut dicks.”

Everytime you start feeling sorry for Porter and her naive, non-ironic ways, remember this:

Is this immature? Oh, you bet your ass it is. It’s also hilarious. As mean as it may seem to just never let the right have anything nice, let’s not forget that their whole schtick in the first place is to deny actual human rights to a good portion of the country, which is a lot meaner–and quite frankly far more petty and immature than making fun of their sad Ronald Reagan Facebook. They are actively horrid to the left, and really, all we have these days is the fact that we’re right and we’re funnier. Which, my god, they really do hate–so it is important that we keep this up.

Porter and her minions (by minions I mean minion and by minion I mean an IT student from a Christian university), tried frantically to salvage the situation. At one point, the site included a message to users:

Everyone note: We’re under attack. All the disturbing posts and new members are coming from another site. This site is another site. We’ll fix it soon. If you see a friend who has posted disturbing images, tehy (sic) have been hacked.

Within 24 hours of going live, Porter and her abused IT student switched the site into offline mode, effectively shutting it down.

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What’s the worst that can happen?

This is a question that must have been asked 12 years ago when the US invaded Iraq. Well the initial predictions were positive. The war will be quick, cheap, we will be hailed as liberators, there will be peace, so on and so forth. Of course none of that happened. They were dead wrong, but even me when I witnessed the reports of chaos in Iraq, I could not comprehend that this would happen. What is the worst that can happen? ISIS can happen. The relatively new Islamic terrorist group is different from other organizations because they are successful. They have the oil fields, they are surrounding Baghdad, they have both Iraqi and American weapons in their inventory and they are gaining more ground. This is made worse by their tendency to be very destructive. So far, over 1,700 Iraqi troops have been executed. So yes, that is the worst that can happen and the Bush administration is completely at fault no matter how indirectly this is. Maybe this is a question Obama should consider, especially with an upcoming midterm and a country filled with pissed off liberals.

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Priesthood and Women

Twenty-five years ago I delivered the McDougall Lecture at the Cathedral of the Madeleine. Some modest part of that essay recommended that it is time and beyond time to ordain women to both the Mormon and Catholic traditions and, by implication, all other faiths. A productive firestorm erupted that continues still. How tragic, how brutal, how disconnected to real people with real hearts, real children, dear mates to be so abused as the Mormon church discards with no more than a pious statement, or simply a sniff, their best and brightest.

I’ve said before that Mormon leadership all too often reflects an anti-Darwinism, that is, the survival of the least fit, by cultivating a culture that obeys leadership with no sense of the necessity of checking any act of leadership with one’s own brain, one’s own agency. This tendency,if unchecked, will produce at least two terrible results: poor leadership at the top and right on down the ecclesiastical ladder. Second, leadership will continue to boast of growing membership but it will be looking only at those coming in the church’s front door but not noting those exiting the back door either formally, or just by staying home on Sunday, de facto un-churched.

Mormons need not fear its loving critics. Mormonism, Catholicism, and all faith traditions really should be terrified at the prospect that huge numbers now see churches as irrelevant to their lives. People who engage their leadership quite obviously care very much about their faith, or they would not give such enormous time and energy to help, as they see it,their churches. The really scary elephant in the room is apathy. An even scarier specter is when hundreds of thousands of members, each year, determine that perhaps, just perhaps we really don’t need priests or bishops to mediate between God and all of us. We can, after all, talk directly to God and cut out the middleman and his ten percent finder’s fee. Women should hold any priesthood for which they qualify by abiding neutral rules. And priests and sisters should have the god-given right to choose marriage or celibacy, as they choose, by serious thought and by prayer.There is nothing in holy writ that requires that men mediate God to women.

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‘Bidder 70′ On Netflix

Bidder 70Tonight I watched the terrific documentary “Bidder 70″ (2012) by Beth & George Gage, that tells the story of what happened after Tim DeChristopher disrupted an illegal BLM oil & gas lease auction in the last days of the Bush administration, December 19, 2008. It’s on Netflix now!

The message of the film is that in corporate-controlled America, the only power we have as individuals is the power of not backing down and not going away. DeChristopher provided everyone with a perfect example of how we can do that. That’s why the PTB had to send him to federal prison. Not the Wall Street fraudsters who crashed the economy. Not the greedy oil companies who polluted the Gulf of Mexico. Not the right-wing protesters who defy the BLM by riding ATVs in the wilderness. Not the millionaire ranchers who refuse to pay their grazing fees on public land. Anybody who’s onboard with the corporatist agenda has nothing to fear.

Judge Dee Benson actually admitted that he sentenced Tim DeChristopher to two years imprisonment not for anything he did (“bid-walking” in a BLM lease auction is so common they have a name for it, and it has never been prosecuted before) — it was for what he said. The First Amendment does not protect you if you go against Corporate America.

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