The New Religious Right to Discriminate

There is an old axiom that history repeats itself. Some may dispute this claim, but it is hard to argue with what a person can witness happening right in front of them. One just has to pay attention and know history to know what the outcome of certain things will be.

After the Reconstruction period ended following the Civil War, southern states (the old Confederacy) began enacting Jim Crow laws. These laws mandated that all public facilities be segregated. They were also used in an attempt to keep African-Americans from voting and even to keep interracial marriage illegal.

School segregation was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The rest of the Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, bans on interracial marriage were not fully struck down until Loving v. Virginia (1967), when the Supreme Court ruled that they violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The same arguments that were used against interracial marriage are now being used against same-sex marriage, i.e. it’s against someone’s religious beliefs, it’s a sin in the Bible, etc.

Now, I’m not here to attack anyone’s religious beliefs as even I have my own. But we must remember that we are a secular country and that the U.S. Constitution is the law of our nation and not the Bible. No local, state, or federal law can violate the document, the individual rights that are enshrined within it, or its subsequent amendments.

This includes the Fourteenth Amendment.

Our Founding Fathers were mostly Christians, but we are not a Christian nation. That particular point was emphasized in the Treaty of Tripoli (1796), which states that the U.S. “is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

Our Founding Fathers were mostly Christians, but we are not a Christian nation. We were set up to be a secular nation. We have the right to peacefully worship and practice whatever religion we choose to without government interference, but that right does not extend beyond one’s self. We do not have the right to force others to believe the same way we do.

Britain still has an official religion (the Church of England) and France was under the Catholic Church at the time of our independence. Both religion and government intermingled in these and many other European countries. Our Founding Fathers designed our government to discourage this relationship.

Today, we see the ongoing fight between religion and our secular government on the issue of same-sex marriage. In the past two years, bans on same-sex marriage have been struck down from coast to coast in federal court on the same grounds as the Loving decision.

Now, the Supreme Court has taken up the case once again and this time could make an official ruling for the entire country.

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However, though same-sex marriage could soon be legal nationwide, some are finding new ways to treat the LGBT community like second-class citizens.

Instead of being called something like Jim Crow laws, these laws are referred to as “religious freedom laws.” In much the same way that the old Jim Crow laws allowed businesses to legally refuse service to African-Americans, these new laws allow any business or institution the right to refuse service to anyone based on the operator’s religious beliefs.

The purpose of these laws is to “protect” people who work in the service industry from having to provide their services for same-sex weddings if it goes against their religious beliefs.

In February 2014, Republican Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona vetoed SB 1062, which critics argued would have legalized discrimination against the LGBT community. Brewer was pressured to reject the law by several business leaders who believed it would hurt the state’s economy.

More states are now taking up this exact same issue and some are poised to put these policies into law. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, for example, signed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” on Thursday after it cleared both chambers of the state Legislature.

Some of these laws are written so vaguely that they could extend well beyond just same-sex marriage. The “religious freedom laws” will eventually end up in the courts and will be subsequently overturned via the Fourteenth Amendment.

If someone is a Christian, can he or she refuse service to someone in the Jewish community based solely on a difference of religion? No.

The Bible states that women are inferior to men and that women should obey men. So do Christians have the right to refuse service to a woman if she is not accompanied by a man or has a different opinion than a man? No.

Why? Because in a secular society, though a person may have the right to practice his or her religion freely, they do not have the right to force those beliefs on others. Everyone is supposed to be treated equally under the law.

Again, people have the right to their religious views. No one can force an individual to accept same-sex marriage if it goes against their religious views.

However, that right still does not extend to discriminatory actions against the LGBT community. If a person runs a business that provides a service to weddings and doesn’t want to provide that service to a same-sex wedding, there are a couple of options:

  1. They can find a new job that will take them out of that situation; or
  2. They can grow up and act like a rational adult and do the job they are paid to do.

There are times when we blur the line between religious freedom and secular government. It is imperative that we remember why this line was put in place by our Founding Fathers, and why we’ve amended the Constitution to specify that all citizens are free and equal under the law.

Using religion to discriminate is still discrimination and is still wrong. And as history has proven before, it is also unconstitutional.

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Are the Causes of the French Revolution Present in the US Today?

There once was a time when the wealthy upper class and the Catholic Church didn’t pay anything to the government in terms of taxes and had special socioeconomic privileges. It would fall upon the largest class of citizens, the peasantry to pay taxes and keep the coffers of the country full.

I’m talking about pre-revolutionary France but the description of that society would almost tend to describe the way U.S. society is currently.

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Taxes and the Wealthy

The wealthy of today are generally considered the one percent. Though they do pay taxes, many people still consider the system to be unfair.

Though the wealthy pay more in taxes than the average citizen in terms of dollar amount, it is the overall percentage of their income that is significantly lower. They use offshore bank accounts and tricks written into the tax codes specifically for them to pay a lower percentage and to even avoid paying federal taxes on some of their income.

Billionaire Warren Buffett brought this topic into the political spotlight in 2012 when he announced that it was unfair that he paid a lower percentage in taxes than his personal secretary.

There have been calls for an overhaul of the tax code, but Congress has been in no hurry to act. The IRS though has begun to crack down on those who have foreign bank accounts and are not filing appropriate tax returns on the money that is contained within them.

Religious Exemption

According to University of Tampa professor Ryan Cragun, the U.S. government loses approximately $71 billion a year with religious exemptions. Cragun looked to his own home state of Florida as an example:

  • The state loses approximately $26.2 billion in property taxes every year;
  • Capital gains exemptions were estimated at $41 million;
  • And the clergy can claim up to $1.2 billion in tax exemptions through the parsonsage allowance

Though we can trace back the religious exemption, it hasn’t always been accepted.  James Madison, for instance, opposed tax exemptions for religious institutions.

Religious tax exemptions are seen as a privilege and not a right as they are granted by the government because of the positive contribution religious institutions are presumed to make to society.

A 1954 law bans political campaigning by tax-exempt groups which does include religious organizations. It should come as no surprise that there are several religious organizations that defy this law, including the Church of Latter Day Saints’ work to pass Proposition 8 in California. However, none of these organizations have lost their tax-exempt status.

The Third Estate

This is the bulk of society, yet it is the part of society that often feels as though it is left out and not heard. Even in pre-revolutionary France, the nobles (the wealthy) and the Church would often vote as a bloc to overrule the Third Estate (the commoners) though they had the largest delegation. What was then called the Third Estate can now be termed the working class.

Today, the working class doesn’t feel as though its elected leaders are working for their best interest or hearing their concerns.  It is often felt that the working class bears the tax burden of the country.

In the 2014 legislative session in Missouri, lawmakers approved a reduction in the state income tax, but are now asking residents to approve a sales tax to fund transportation/infrastructure projects. Both actions are largely seen as a benefit to the wealthy while placing a heavier burden on the working class and the poor.

The taxes part gets a bit complicated and murky, but Politico does it’s best to explain it in better detail.  On top of paying income taxes, the working class must also pay payroll taxes which are used to fund Social Security and Medicare.

Global Empire

In 1789, there were two main powers: Britain and France. At the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), both England and France were broke. To solve the problem, Britain attempted to levy taxes on its American colonies which led to the American Revolution.

Even with the coffers dry, France still entered the American Revolution on the side of the colonies.  It wasn’t because the French monarchy believed in the liberty the American colonists were fighting for but rather to humiliate Britain.  French forces were spread throughout the world to protect their overseas empire as our forces are spread out in a similar fashion to intervene wherever it is needed to protect American interests.

Our military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address in 1961 is still growing and becoming even more powerful and costs our nation a lot of money to maintain.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the US spent 19% ($643 billion) of its budget on defense in 2013.

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Our American Society

There were a lot of factors that led up to the start of the French Revolution… more than what I’ve gone into here.  But an underlying theme does still present itself.  The bulk of the population, the working class, is feeling as though it’s paying more than its fair share and being asked to bear more and more of the burden while the wealthy get off and religious institutions are exempt.

But is there a possibility of the US erupting into a French-styled revolution?  Despite the vast similarities that have been described, our societies are very different.  We do not live under a monarch.  The President is elected every four years and can only serve 2-terms, and we do have a representative body of our government that we elect.  Though we feel as though our voices are largely ignored, we do have ways to fight for change within the process… something that the people of France didn’t have.

But we must remember those causes for they should not be ignored.  When the vast majority of people feel as though they are being taken advantage of, they will institute change.  First they will try through the democratic processes that we are accustomed to, but if that doesn’t work, I wouldn’t put it past any society to rise up against their oppressors.  Afterall, we, as Americans, have already done it once before.

By Order of the Executive

With any administration, we tend to hear from time to time the mention of Executive Orders being issued by the President.  Even in his last State of the Union speech, President Obama stated that he would use Executive Orders to move things forward where he could when Congress could not or would not act.  But what are Executive Orders and what can a President do with them?

No where in the US Constitution does it mention Executive Orders.  The most basic definition is that they are orders to help officers and agencies of the Executive Branch enforce the laws that are passed by Congress.

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” Article I, Section 1

The President cannot use Executive Orders to legislate though under Article II, Section 3, Clause 2, he is allowed to make suggestions to the Congress on legislation.  Under Clause 5 of the same Article and Section, the President must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” that are passed by Congress.

All Presidents dating back to George Washington have issued orders that can be counted as Executive Orders even though they didn’t officially have the name.  Washington’s first one stated that the US was remaining neutral in the war between France and Great Britain.  The numbering system we use today when referring to a specific order was not done until later, though they have been retroactively back-numbered to an order issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.  Since a Supreme Court decision in 1952, Presidents have also made sure to cite which specific laws they are acting under when they are issuing the Executive Order.

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Though the President cannot use Executive Orders to make laws, the orders can still have a very wide-range effect.  President Harry Truman issued an Executive Order to integrate the armed forces, and President Dwight Eisenhower issued one to integrate public schools.  Executive Order #9066 was issued by President Franklin Roosevelt for the relocation of Japanese-Americans and German-Americans living in war zones during World War II.  He claimed it was within his power under his military authority.

Lately, there has been criticism from Republicans as President Obama has signed several Executive Orders that delay certain parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) even though the law makes no specific mention of the President having that ability.  Their claim is that the President is “cherry-picking” which part of the law to obey and which not to.  Executive Orders cannot violate the laws passed by Congress or the responsibilities delegated to the Executive Branch.

But with no clear constitutional authority, where is the line drawn for an Executive Order?  The Supreme Court ruled in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States that the President must obey the law.  He/She has no authority under the Constitution to suspend the enforcement of the law.  By this definition, the President’s actions described above in regard to the ACA are not valid without congressional approval.

So when any President states that he/she is going to issue an Executive Order to do something, one must not blink.  We must make sure that it falls within the responsibility of the President in executing laws passed by Congress.

“Presidential claim to a power at once so conclusive and preclusive must be scrutinized with caution, for what is at stake is the equilibrium established by our constitutional system.”
Justice Robert H. Jackson

We the People of the United States…

Do Ordain And Establish This Constitution

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

On September 17, 1787, after months of discussions, arguments, and compromises, the United States Constitution was signed by members of the Constitutional Convention and sent off the Confederation Congress for its approval and then to the 13 states for ratification.  It was a complete overhaul of the federal government that had been organized by the Articles of Confederation up until that point.  The President of the Constitutional Convention was the greatest American of that time (and possibly still today), General George Washington.  Washington had been hoping to retire to Mount Vernon after the war had ended, but he knew the nation he helped to found was in need, and that only he could provide the unifying factor and give legitimacy to the proceedings.

When it was completed, the Constitution set up the three branches of government and their duties, the roles between the various states and those states and the new federal government… which still only had limited powers, the ratification process, and for the addition of amendments.  In 226-years, the Constitution has only been amended 27-times.

Constitutional Convention // National Constitution Center Blog

Constitutional Convention // National Constitution Center Blog

The Constitution is far from perfect, even back when it was signed and ratified.  Though they had taken parts of it from various other international laws, the type of government it was setting up was unheard of.  It was a way to united the various states into a federal union with a limited federal government to oversee various things and give the states one unified voice.  But for those that signed, their country was still the state they resided in.  Their nation came in second.  And even in those early days, no one was sure what the role of the federal government would be.

Two men that were absent from the constitutional proceedings were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who were both serving as ministers overseas in Great Britain and France, respectfully.  Since the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention were held in secret, they were not aware of the final outcome until many months later.  In a letter to John Adams on November 13, 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

How do you like our new constitution? I confess there are things in it which stagger all my dispositions to subscribe to what such an assembly has proposed.  The house of federal representatives will not be adequate to the management of affairs either foreign or federal.  Their President seems a bad edition of a Polish king.  He may be reelected from 4. years to 4. years for life. […]  I wish that at the end of the 4. years they had made him for ever ineligible a second time.

John Adams would reply in a letter dating December 6, 1787.

You are afraid of the one — I, of the few.  We agree that the many should have a full fair and perfect Representation. — You are Apprehensive of Monarchy; I, of Aristocracy.  I would therefore have given more Power to the President and less to the Senate.  […]  Faction and Distraction are the sure and certain Consequence of giving to a Senate a vote in the distribution of offices.  […]  Elections, my dear sir, Elections to offices which are great objects of Ambition, I look at with terror.

Jefferson had every reason to be concerned about the presidency and the establishment of a monarchy.  That’s all anyone had known.  Luckily for our young republic, George Washington was selected to be our first President under this new government.  And after serving 2-terms (8-years), he set one of the most important precedents.  He stepped aside.  It was a precedent adopted by the rest of the “founding Presidents” and was established as the next generation came to be, and it would remain so until President Franklin Roosevelt won a 3rd and 4th term and thus the passage of the 22nd Amendment limiting a person to be President for 2-terms (or 10-years total) afterwards.  With certain individuals of the time that saw larger pictures of grandeur (i.e. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr), those first years and those precedents could have easily been in jeopardy.

As for Adams, we can see what he had partially predicted.  We see certain posts that require Senate confirmation being left vacant because one party objects.  We tend to elect those that serve in Congress and the President with a minority of voters.  Almost half of the voters feel disenfranchised and thus do not participate.  This leaves those to be elected by a small group of people, and those elected are supported by an even small group of people… all of whom have high ambitions for themselves and what they represent.

It has withstood the test of time including the greatest threat of all… the issue of slavery and states’ rights, the very thing that threatened to tear the entire nation apart.  In the end, the Constitution would stand tall.  We still interpret its meanings today and how they apply to our modern times.  These range from electronic surveillance, what Congress can and cannot do, the war powers, Senate confirmation of Cabinet nominees, judicial review, the separation of powers, etc.  We must continue to adapt, but we must also continue to secure and uphold the founding principles we were founded on.  Too many times, we have turned away and allowed the federal government to overstep its boundaries by violating the limited power the Constitution created.  And too often do we allow the federal government to trample on our rights as citizens defined in the Bill of Rights without going through the proper procedures to amend the Constitution.

The Constitution is not irrelevant today.  It has served us well for 226-years… even despite its flaws.  We must educate ourselves on this document and what it entails.  “We the People of the United States” are its guardian and protector.  We are the ones that determine the role in plays in today’s world.  Let us continue the tradition that has been handed down to us.

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