Category Archives: religion

I think I’ll just go ahead and say it…

I’ve seen Spotlight.  In fact I watched the DVD twice.  I know what happened, and believe the victims, although I know nothing like this abuse happened to me, or to anyone I know personally.  But then, we came from ‘privileged’ homes, small city, suburban, professional, more stable than most for longer than most.  We weren’t the “type” whatever the type was, to attract the attentions of abusive priests.  That said, I’m not inclined to offer any more explanations, any more explications, and certainly not any rationalizations for why the Catholic Church as an institution can’t get its act together to prevent abuse at the hands of its ordained clergy.  I would rather simply go ahead and say it — the institutional Church could start to implement some serious reforms if it could manage to divest itself of some ancient mythologies and modern biases.

Let me start with some of the modern ones.  No, Monsignor Malaprop, gays in the priesthood are not your major source of pedophiles and ephebophiles.  [NewRep] It’s entirely too convenient to blame gay priests for the malfeasance of others. After all, (1) statistically speaking most sexual abuse occurs in family settings, and therefore (2) a solution to ‘the problem’ isn’t to screen out gays from seminary training — it’s to screen out pedophiles and ephebophiles from seminary training.  Here’s a thought: How about NOT ordaining individuals who have a predilection for abusing children.  Blaming gays merely adds to the homophobic stereotyping all too common in, and entirely too counter-productive for the modern ministry.

Secondly, there’s an old wisecrack out in the pews about priests who have an inclination toward “Punch and Judy.” (That would be booze and women, the major reasons for most exits.)  So, arguing that celibacy causes sexual abuse doesn’t quite come off as a complete response to the problem of pedophiles and other abusive members of the clergy.   A man can be celibate or non-celibate and still not have any desire to molest children.  What the Church needs to see the back of are the abusers, celibate, non-celibate, whatever.  And to do that it needs to talk about sex.  At least the Archdiocese of Seattle is able to mention that universal human attribute with regard to the training of individuals in its seminary:

Human formation is really concerned with someone’s growth as a healthy individual.  It even includes the integration of human sexuality so these men are able to live as a joyful, happy, fruitful and celibate priest.  Obviously it takes time to grow into these vows, so this seminary environment provides a great environment to pray and reflect upon how they can sustain their life in the church and in their ministry.  [Arch/Seattle]

This comes close, but I find the phrase “even includes the integration of human sexuality”  a bit off-putting.  “Even?” As if the discussion of something as basic as human sexuality is a topic to be highlighted and remarked upon?  Prayer and reflection are great, as far as they go, but those conferences and instructional sessions better include some good old fashioned education, and the mentors and spiritual advisers better be capable of offering more than bromides and superficial information.  The following description of ‘human formation’ doesn’t leave me with a warm feeling about the practicality of seminary training in human sexuality:

“Regularly scheduled Human Formation Conferences seek to address issues surrounding the seminarian’s physical well-being; habits of good nutrition and exercise, freedom from addictive behaviors; as well as addressing the essential issues in the development of a healthy emotional life; the establishment of mature friendships, maturity in dealing with authority, the formation of a settled disposition for celibacy and the qualities necessary for leadership and positive social interaction within a community.” [SCBS]

All right, they’ve addressed the “Punch” part, but “Judy” is left,  I presume, under the heading of the establishment of mature relationships, healthy emotions, and whatever a “settled disposition” might be.  One can hope that some obviously unhealthy emotional issues like attraction to under-aged children comes up regularly enough to make a difference.

For a moment let’s assume a happy premise, that modern seminary training is going to address human sexuality in a way that allows seminarians and their mentors to sort out and exclude from the priesthood those who display a potential for abuse, especially the abuse of young people.  Would ordaining women make a difference?  Maybe, but let’s not put too many eggs in that basket.  Remember, the task is to sort out and exclude abusers — all abusers.  So, ordaining women simply because they statistically don’t have the “record” of their male counterparts doesn’t pass the no tolerance test for ordination.  However, it might help along some other lines.

Ordaining women would move the priesthood out of the good old boys environment.  One of the primary complaints against the institutional Church is that the good old boys are very good at protecting the good old boys.  Some good old girls tossed into the mix might help?  There are profound theological and institutionally historical arguments for maintaining the all male priesthood, however the ordination of women hasn’t caused the spires of Episcopalian churches to collapse, nor their naves to cave, so there is that.  Further, there’s a tiny handful of priests who’ve moved from the Anglican to the Roman church complete with wives and children, and those spires and naves haven’t fallen into debris either.  A few good women might also have the salutary effect of addressing the “Judy Problem.”

However, we’re still moving around the periphery of the issue.  Children were abused. The abusers were protected.  The victims were silenced. Thus, it’s the silence that needs to come to an end.  There’s some hope to be taken from Article 4 of the “Dallas Charter” from the USCCB.

“Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities with due regard for the seal of the Sacrament of Penance. Diocesan/eparchial personnel are to comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question. Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor. In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and support this right.” [pdf]

Even with the Confessional seal notation, there’s some good news herein, especially in the clear enunciation of regard for “the law of the jurisdiction in question.” That would be the civil authorities, not those of the Church.  Additionally, it’s not enough to advise a victim of the right to report abuse to the civil authorities, the leadership is to support that right.   At least the system looks good on paper. It’s a start.

A move closer to the finish line would be to say that not only must the Church cooperate with civil authorities when the victim is no longer a minor, but the Church will also stop opposing efforts to extend the statute of limitations on child abuse.  There’s also a tricky element of canon versus civil law to deal with in these matters.  A bishop is to permanently remove an abusing priest from ministry for an act of abuse if “admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law.”  Inserting “if admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon or civil law,” might tie things down a bit more tightly?

As for the ancient mythologies… could we just get over the “sex is sin” stuff? Please.  Could we get over the sex is just for procreation thing? Please.   Could we stop telling boys they’ll go blind if they’re in the bathroom too long? That girls shouldn’t touch their Satan Spot? Please and Please again.   Could we get to the point where the Padre’s eyes don’t have that baffled look when the woman in the confessional says her favorite position is “The Lioness on a Cheese Grater?”  Could we get to the place where a healthy intimate relationship is to be prized to the same extent as the successful healthy acceptance of celibacy?   Could we get to the part wherein sexuality is part of our human existence. Please.

Could we stop burying a discussion of human sexuality under tons of euphemisms like “mature relationships,” and “healthy emotional lives?”  For the institutional Church to deal with sexual deviancy in its midst it’s going to have to start talking, realistically, publicly, about sex.  It’s going to have to talk to its seminarians, its parishioners, and its leadership.   It’s going to have to move the action from the paper of the Dallas Charter to the pulpit and the pews.  Then, perhaps, it can deal with issues of ordination, clericalism, seminary training, and pastoral evaluation.  I think I’ll just go ahead and say it: It Can’t Happen Too Soon.

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Culture Wars in the Potty

Iron Age

Once upon a time, for example back in the Iron Age, patriarchal bands hunted, planted, and herded.  Their story was collected, passed down, and now is accepted by some as literal. [AlterN]  Unfortunately, the Iron Age Rules of the Game don’t fit for everyone in the 21st century.  If one of the central rules was an “iron-clad” patriarchal system in which women were only “help-meets,” and daughters could be sold into slavery, [Exodus 21:7]   then it’s plausible that the biblical literalists might be disturbed by the autonomy of the modern era.  However, that’s no excuse to badger everyone into believing urban myths and blatantly false propaganda about women and members of the LBGT community.

As the backlash builds to the HB2 law in North Carolina, die-hards in Texas are doing a bit of chest pounding, declaring that the President can’t tell them to accommodate the needs of transgender children. [TPM]  The Lt. Governor offering:

“We will not yield to blackmail from the President of the United States,” Patrick said in a press conference responding to the administration’s letter. “We will not sell out our children to the federal government. And the people of Texas and the legislature will find a way to find as much of that money as we can if we are forced to. There is no compromise on this issue.”

He said that the debate over bathrooms “is the biggest issue facing families and schools in America since prayer was taken out of public schools.”

The biggest issue facing families and schools? Really?  This potty issue would be more important than the fact that the 2011 educational budget cuts are still having an effect [TXTrib], and that current budget levels have Texas ranked 38th in the nation? [DMN]  Or, perhaps there’s a more simple way of addressing the issue, such as the logic put forth by an Oklahoma legislator speaking of a bill to ban abortions:

“This is our proper function, to protect life,” said Senator Nathan Dahm, the Republican lawmaker who authored the bill, with fellow state Republican colleague David Brumbaugh confusingly adding, “Everybody talks about this $1.3 billion deficit. If we take care of morality, God will take care of the economy.” [InJust]

That’s right. If “we take care of morality then God will provide for the schools,  infrastructure, revenue streams, median household incomes, and corporate profits?  Surely, if we just follow all those Iron Age rules in the book – or at least the ones we want to – eating shrimp is OK? Wearing blended fabric clothing is all right? – then Life will take care of itself.  Leaving a person to wonder what ever happened to “God helps those who help themselves?”

Golden Rule

Or perhaps more importantly, what ever happened to the rules and advice imparted by Luke 6: 31, or by Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, or Sutrakritanga 1.11.33, or Udana-Varga 5:18?

If we take a step further into Biblical territory we find:

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6: 16-19

Thus, spreading false information about gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered people is abominable? Publishing misinformation and outright lies about Planned Parenthood is hateful?  Disseminating that which is harmful to individuals who do not share a particular interpretation of the Iron Age Rules is abominable?

It is NOT true that homosexuals are more likely to be pedophiles and child molesters. [UCDavisEdu] It is NOT true that transgendered people are a hoax. [MMA] It is NOT true that transgendered people just want to ogle the opposite sex in the restroom.  That’s the province of the immature.  What’s required to play the Potty War Games according to the Iron Age rules is to discount and discredit actual scientific research with statements like:

“I am not convinced by any science I can find that people with definitively male DNA and definitively male anatomy can actually be locked in a cruel joke of nature because they are actually female.” [MMA

The correct interpretation of this statement is  “I am perfectly willing to deny and discredit any scientific findings which don’t comport with my opinions,”  even if doing so is harmful to others.

And, accommodating the needs of transgendered children certainly isn’t harmful.  The LAUSD has already implemented a policy of accommodation for a decade with positive results:

“Opponents of A.B. 1266 have expressed concerns that students will abuse the policy, imperiling the safety of others. But our experience stands in stark contrast to such fears: In all the years since the LAUSD implemented its policy, we have encountered nothing but positive results. We are committed to providing safe schools for all children. Our equal access policy enhances, rather than diminishes, school safety.” [HuffPo]

Absent anything other than acceptable results in states that do have statutes protecting transgendered individuals, conservative media has resorted to contriving situations designed to make people uncomfortable and then reporting it as “news.” [EM.org]

rest room sign

What would happen if we were to follow the Big Rule, the one in Luke 6:31 et. alia., and thought of our rest room accommodations accordingly?  A single person’s discomfort is not an excuse for discrimination against – a transgendered person, a person in “gastric distress” who needs to find the first facility immediately available, a young father who wants to change his baby’s diaper, a father or mother escorting a child to the toilet – anyone who’s just trying to get by doing to others as he would have them do unto him.

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Filed under abortion, conservatism, gay issues, privacy, religion

Oh The Kids These Days! Young GOP laments Oldsters’ Platform

Little Old Lady Someone, somewhere is going to craft an article or blog post pointing out the obvious: That the old GOP coalition of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives was a marriage of convenience, not a mutual love match for time immemorial.  Perhaps it takes the kids to say it.

“The Washoe County Republican Party adopted a platform at their county convention on Saturday many young Republicans felt was too focused on socially conservative issues – and might turn potential voters away during the general election.” [Reno GJ]

I’m not advocating holding one’s breath until the Big Pundits begin talking about the Republican Party in disarray.  However, the combined efforts of the Trumpery and the Cruz Seven Mountain Dominionists, are not conducive to drawing fiscally conservative but socially moderate younger people into the GOP fold.  The identity crisis among Republicans is in full view and the kids are watching.

As the right wing of the right wing becomes the voice of the GOP, consider how these comments would sound to younger ears:

“Titus warned that if conservative Christians give up on trying to shape government to biblical specifications, they will end up like the Amish, with special protections for their religion but “no influence in the greater society”

“God didn’t call us to just be in a closed-off, religious community, God called us to exercise dominion,” he said.

He repeated that public officials who disagree with marriage equality should defy the law and “make people remove us from office, if that’s what it’s going to take you, ‘you can remove me, but I’m not going to just ask you to give me a special privilege, or resign and will no longer function in a civil capacity.’ What that does, I think, is basically sounds the bugle of retreat.” [RWW] (emphasis added)

That’s right kids, the Christianist Right doesn’t want respect – they want dominion, and they don’t much care if your gay friends are mowed down in the cross fire.  In fact, they welcome it. And so, the Washoe County GOP voted on their platform, without debate:

A majority of party members ratified the platform without debate, including planks such as denying man-made climate change, defining marriage as between one man and one woman and abolishing legal prostitution in the state. [Reno GJ]

This platform option assumes the old coalition of Money and God, but it also presupposes a foundation based on Cruz-ian theocratic philosophy:

‘Cruz resonates with the evangelical culture warriors. He mixes what New York Times columnist David Brooks describes as political “brutalism” with a belief that he is engaged in a fight with the devil for the soul of the nation. It is only a matter of time before Cruz assumes the role of the Old Testament prophet Elijah and tries to cast down fire from heaven to destroy the “prophets of Baal” who oppose his campaign.

When Cruz says he wants to “reclaim” or “restore” America, he does not only have the Obama administration in mind. This agenda takes him much deeper into the American past. Cruz wants to “restore” the United States to what he believes is its original identity: a Christian nation.” [WaPo]

That this nation never existed isn’t relevant to Cruz or other socially conservative (mostly white) Republican voters.  It’s simple,” His (Cruz)goal is to lead a Christian occupation of the culture and then wait for the Second Coming of Christ.” [WaPo] It doesn’t sound like the kids are into that.

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Filed under Nevada politics, Politics, religion, Republicans

100 Days, ESAs and Sectarian Education in Nevada

Sectarianism There was this announcement from the State Treasurer’s Office this past August regarding the eligibility of homeschooled students to qualify for the school voucher (ESA).

“The Treasurer’s Office has been notified by the Nevada Department of Education that pursuant to NRS 388.850, a private school or “home school” student may not participate in a program of distance education (online class) to satisfy the 100 school day requirement. Nevada Revised Statute 388.850 prevents a private school or “home school” student from enrolling in a program of distance education (online class). However, a private school or “home school” student may qualify for an ESA by taking one or more classes in a public or charter school, pursuant to NRS 386.580(5) and 392.070(3).” [NPRI]

Thus, a child can be enrolled in a public or state chartered school for 100 days, then be eligible for a voucher to pay for homeschooling curricula.  And, here we run into some problems – or, perhaps one big problem. Sectarian classroom materials.

Sectarianism is mentioned seven times in the Nevada Constitution. The first reference comes in Article II, and the fundamentals are clear as a bell.   “The legislature shall provide for a uniform system of common schools, by which a school shall be established and maintained in each school district at least six months in every year, and any school district which shall allow instruction of a sectarian character therein may be deprived of its proportion of the interest of the public school fund during such neglect or infraction, and the legislature may pass such laws as will tend to secure a general attendance of the children in each school district upon said public schools.”

[Amended in 1938. Proposed and passed by the 1935 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1937 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1938 general election. See: Statutes of Nevada 1935, p. 440; Statutes of Nevada 1937, p. 550.]

In  Section 9:  “Sectarian instruction prohibited in common schools and university.  No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.”

And Section 10: “No public money to be used for sectarian purposes.  No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”

Home Sweet Home

In the home-school proponent perspective, a child who enrolls in 100 days of online (homeschool/distance) education should be eligible for ESA grants.  However, what distance learning or home-school curricula matters.  Thus, we’d have to ask if an ESA grant may be used to pay for sectarian home-school curricula and support materials?   If we look to Article II, sections 9 and 10, the answer appears to be a resounding NO.

The parent of a  child who is to be home-schooled must submit an “educational plan” for the child in order to be exempt from state mandatory attendance laws.  And:

“No regulation or policy of the State Board, any school district or any other governmental entity may infringe upon the right of a parent to educate his child based on religious preference unless it is:

  1. Essential to further a compelling governmental interest; and
  2. The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” [NHSN]

Okay, a parent may choose to home-school a child, using a religious curriculum, without discrimination.  The question becomes: Can the state funds be used to pay for it?

So far the parent may choose any curriculum – the district cannot discriminate based on religious affiliation – and who pays for the Stuff?

Stuff from Abeka K-12? Their 8th grade science book explains:

“From earthquakes and volcanoes to clouds and galaxies, show your child the features of God’s Creation here on earth as well as the Great Beyond with Science: Earth and Space! This textbook guides your child through a study of geology, oceanography, meteorology, astronomy, and environmental science. A thorough study of rocks, soil, and fossils will give your child ample proofs that this earth was created by God and not evolutionary processes.”

In brief, the last time I looked such an explanation was described as “creationism,” and “creationism” isn’t science, it’s theology.  Perhaps some materials from Bob Jones University Press?  Right off the bat the website tells us, “We want students to think, so we use inductive teaching, discovery activities, and probing discussion questions to develop thinking skills.”   Let’s step back a moment, there’s inductive and deductive reasoning; and, inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations.  By contrast deductive reasoning, the basis for most science, proposes an hypothesis and then tests observations. [LiveSci] Inductive reasoning is used in the crafting of theories and hypotheses, after which deductive reasoning is appropriate for testing those theories.  So, if we’re going to start and stop with inductive instruction we won’t get to the part where the evidence is truly tested?  However, there’s more, as the Bob Jones University curriculum describes its Biblically based instructional mission:

“The Bible teaches that in the Fall, human cognition and affection became broken. Verses like Jeremiah 17:9 and I Corinthians 2:14 teach that the fallen human mind cannot understand the world the way it was meant to be understood. Proverbs 1:7 teaches that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Here we learn that proper affection (“fear”) for God is the key to proper cognition (“knowledge”) regarding His world.”  […]

Good biblical integration has not happened until the student learns how the Bible is relevant to the subject at hand. This involves three levels of effort.

“In Level 1 biblical integration, the Bible is referenced while the subject is being taught, using biblical analogies or examples. In Level 2, the teacher shows the student how the Bible should guide him as he applies the academic discipline to real-life situations. The final level focuses on rebuilding the academics for the glory of God. Remembering the fallenness of the human mind, the teacher should call into question the secular assumptions of each subject and then encourage the student to rebuild the discipline from biblical presuppositions. The work of Christian education is the work of redeeming what has fallen.  We study all aspects of human culture because we see in that study the potential for redemption. As we view the academics through the lens of Scripture, we learn how we may be used to redeem those disciplines back to God.” [BJUpress]

If this isn’t sectarian, then I’m really not sure what would be.  To cut this bit short before it becomes a litany of examples of sectarian based instruction readily available from all manner of sources, and ranging widely in terms of quality, it’s fair to ask if a home-schooling parent should be remunerated for materials and supplies which teach creationism and centralize “redemption” as a focus of instruction?

Of course, there’s the other side of the issue – there are other religions which provide instructional materials – the Islamic Bookstore devotes a page to materials geared for young people, from pre-school to grade six.  One quick Google and you can find support groups for humanist and atheist home-schooling parents.  Seriously pagan or Wiccan? There’s a page for that too.

Meanwhile back at the Establishment Clause

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”

Somewhat lost in all the recent rhetoric about “religious Freedom,” are the two pieces related to “religious liberty” incorporated in the First Amendment. Fundamental to understanding the first part, or the Establishment Clause, is the nature of the word “respecting:”

“The first of the First Amendment’s two religion clauses reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … .” Note that the clause is absolute. It allows no law. It is also noteworthy that the clause forbids more than the establishment of religion by the government. It forbids even laws respecting an establishment of religion. The establishment clause sets up a line of demarcation between the functions and operations of the institutions of religion and government in our society. It does so because the framers of the First Amendment recognized that when the roles of the government and religion are intertwined, the result too often has been bloodshed or oppression.”  [1st AmdCent]

Witness: the wars associated with the Reformation – the German Peasants’ War (1524-1525); the battle of Kappel (Switzerland 1531); the Schmalkaldic War (Holy Roman Empire 1546-1547); and then we move on to the Eighty Years War in the Low Countries (1568-1648), the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) and the Thirty Years War (Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Bohemia, France, Denmark, Sweden (1618-1648).    Not that the British Isles escaped the religiously based slaughter – there was the Scottish Reformation and attendant civil wars; and, the wars probably best recalled by the founders of this nation – the English Civil War (1642-1651).  The carnage is difficult to assess for the English Civil Wars – historical records count 84,830 dead as a result of the conflicts, other estimates range as high as 190,000 dead out of a total population of about 5 million people.

One doesn’t have to go too far back to be reminded of the effects of sectarianism in Northern Ireland, or do much more than turn on a television news broadcast of the latest atrocities perpetrated by Sunnis on Shias or Shias on Sunnis.

Little wonder the founders inserted the Establishment Clause.  And the State of Nevada acquiesced to this in Article I:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers as the same have been or may be defined by the Supreme Court of the United States; and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith or perform any act tending to impair[,] subvert, or resist the Supreme Authority of the government of the United States.” (emphasis added)

Loud rhetoric, and even imprecations, from the radical religious right don’t change the overall framework – we do have an Establishment Clause, it was enacted with a mind to historical precedent and human nature, and the state of Nevada adopted it in its own Constitution.

What Does This Mean At the Bookstore?

According to the provisions of SB 302, money from the ESA may be spent to pay for:

Textbooks required for a child that who enrolls in a school that is a participating entity; … Textbooks required for the child at an eligible institution that is a participating entity or to receive instruction  from any other participating entity; … Purchasing a curriculum or any supplemental materials required to administer the curriculum.

A science text book that teaches “Creationism?” A “Biblically-Centered” curriculum?  Supplemental materials which amplify and explain doctrines such as: “When a child is born it is a cause for much happiness and celebration.  In Islam there is no preference for either a male or female child.  Quran says that both the male and the female were created from a single person (Adam) and that are equal except in terms of piety and righteousness.” [IslRel] And, that the Prophet categorically stated female children are a blessing and that raising them to be righteous believers is a source of great reward.  [IslRel]  Materials for Torah study?  Have we missed the Hindi? The Sikhs? The Jains? The Buddhists? The spirituality of Native Americans? …

If the state allows remuneration for the purchase of some sectarian materials and curricula then it must do it for all?  In light of the Establishment Clause, the question is reversed – Is there any condition in which the state is allowed to subsidize sectarian education? And, the answer is … NO.

To say that the state may not discriminate against those whose educational plans are religiously based is one thing, to say that the state must pay for the materials to implement religiously based education is quite another. It’s certainly going to take more than 100 days to get this mess sorted.

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Filed under education, nevada education, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, religion, schools

It’s the Planning Part That Makes Them Crazy: GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood

Sanger

It must be campaign season: the Republican Party is once again attacking Planned Parenthood.  This current manufactured outrage moment was coordinated with the debunked video from a shadowy outfit whose “investigators” come complete with phony identification documents. [HuffPo]  [DemoNW] Since the GOP seems to have nothing on offer regarding national infrastructure, comprehensive immigration policy reform, Middle East Peace negotiation, manufacturing policy, minimum wage levels, job training and education, or any substantive proposals on the expansion of health insurance coverage – it must be time to look for Distractions. And, what better distraction than Planned Parenthood?

These attacks appeal to the rabidly anti-contraception/abortion advocates in the Republican base.  We can assume that this element is a small minority of the U.S. population because (1) more than 99% of women aged 15-44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. (2) Approximately 62% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method. (3) 83% of Black women, 91% of Hispanic women, and 90% of Asian women of child bearing age currently use a contraceptive method during intercourse. (4) 92% of all women with incomes of 300% or more of the federal poverty standard are currently using contraception, as are 89% of those with incomes at 0-149% of the poverty line.  [Guttmacher]

Contraception method chartAs the statistical reports, and the chart, demonstrate, those who oppose contraception are a definite minority, and the religious argument begins to unravel when another survey is highlighted: “Some 68% of Catholics, 73% of Mainline Protestants and 74% of Evangelicals who are at risk of unintended pregnancy use a highly effective method (i.e., sterilization, the pill or another hormonal method, or the IUD).” [Guttmacher]

As with the polling and survey reports on contraception, the polling on the abortion issue also illuminates the minority position of the radical anti-abortionists.   Note the trends reported by Gallup:

abortion polling It doesn’t even require a calculator to see that as of 2015 approximately 80% of the U.S. population believes that abortion is acceptable, at least under some circumstances.  Only 19% believe the medical procedure should be illegal in any situation.  [Gallup]

Thus we have circumstances in which 99% of those women who have had sexual intercourse using some form of contraception, and 80% of the nation believing that under some circumstances (usually involving the welfare of the mother) abortion procedures should be legal.  Why would a major political party attempt to use contraception/abortion as a political issue?

If it worked before – it will work again?  Republicans have utilized “wedge issues” with some effect before – gay marriage, gun safety, contraception/abortion.  And, Thomas Frank’s book concluded:

“…the Republicans use social issues in a bait-and-switch routine: people are enticed into voting Republican over social issues like abortion or gay marriage, and then Republican pols, once elected, ignore all that and govern like the pro-business, rich-people’s party that they are at heart.”  [Atlantic]

The problem for Republicans is that while they are the pro-corporate (not small business) party of the hedge fund managers and the large banks, the bait is becoming harder to find.  Therefore the need to find another way to access the anti-contraception/abortion vote – let’s try fetal tissue research!

The GOP has two problems with this wrinkle – first, they were for it before they were against it. [Think Progress] and secondly, who wants to argue that fetal tissue should be turned into medical waste instead of having the family opt for tissue donation for medical research?

Nor is fetal tissue medical research a new thing – it’s been done since the 1930s, and the 1954 Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded for work with fetal tissue that lead to the development of the polio vaccine. [USNWR] Current work with fetal tissue involves studies related to birth defects, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s Disease, eye diseases, and HIV/AIDS. [Reuters] Fetal tissue research also yielded vaccines for chicken pox, rubella, and shingles. [CNN]  If one is truly “pro-life” in the comprehensive meaning of the term, then the research into finding a vaccine for rubella is instructive:

“From 1964-1965, before the development of a vaccine against the disease, a rubella epidemic swept the United States. During that short period there were 12.5 million cases of rubella. Twenty thousand children were born with CRS: 11,000 were deaf, 3,500 blind, and 1,800 mentally retarded. There were 2,100 neonatal deaths and more than 11,000 abortions – some a spontaneous result of rubella infection in the mother, and others performed surgically after women were informed of the serious risks of rubella exposure during their pregnancy.”  (CRS = Congenital Rubella Syndrome) [HistVac]

Interesting isn’t it: The use of fetal tissue in medical research to develop a vaccine against Rubella meant FEWER abortions (both natural and medical)  and 2,100 fewer neo-natal deaths.  OK, now stand at a podium and tell the voters that you are in favor of bringing all fetal tissue research to a grinding halt even if it means more miscarriages and abortions? In the name of “Life?”  There’s a purpose for fetal tissue research at the other end of the age spectrum:

“Stem cell therapy for retinal disease is under way, and several clinical trials are currently recruiting. These trials use human embryonic, foetal and umbilical cord tissue-derived stem cells and bone marrow-derived stem cells to treat visual disorders such as age-related macular degeneration, Stargardt’s disease and retinitis pigmentosa. Over a decade of analysing the developmental cues involved in retinal generation and stem cell biology, coupled with extensive surgical research, have yielded differing cellular approaches to tackle these retinopathies…” [NCBI]

The radical anti-abortionists haven’t mentioned the research into how to attack the 2.7 million cases of macular degeneration in the U.S. [NEI]  Do we dare tell them that most of those cases are among Caucasian Americans?

Mac Degeneration by race And, here we have it: attacks on an organization, often the target of radical anti-abortionists, which lawfully provides fetal tissue to medical research facilities  currently working on ways to prevent, cure, or alleviate diseases prevalent in America, many of which are  deadly (ALS, Parkinson’s) or debilitating (macular degeneration).  All for what?

For an issue most Americans don’t have at the top of their priorities?

abortion issue

To attract 21% of the respondents in the 2015 polling?  To appease those for whom family planning is anathema?  Nothing better illustrates the hold over the Republican Party like its pandering to a small minority in the national audience, a minority like Quiverfull (see Duggars), for whom women are merely the instruments of men’s procreation?  To appeal to those who follow the Army of God manual and bomb abortion clinics or kill providers? To address those ignorant enough to miss the connections between significant medical research and the use of fetal tissue?

Or, to appeal to those who firmly believe that the Little Woman should be barefoot and pregnant – in the kitchen – not the Senate or the House.  Families which plan for their children, which can assume two incomes, which can maintain intimacy without unintended pregnancies, and who can afford the $3500 it costs for the average uncomplicated birth of a child in a hospital [Parents] are generally better off, and so are their kids.  Here we hit the rough patch. 

Planning is Everything.   It’s impossible to attack those families which are practicing birth control for rational reasons —  in the face of irrationality.  Critics of social welfare programs offer, “If you can’t afford them then you shouldn’t have them.”  If we accept this criticism, then what rational premise might one have for defunding the organization which promotes responsible parenting by making contraception available? 

However, “If you give’em birth control they’ll just be promiscuous!”  Notice the emphasis is on the female, “boys will be boys.”  It’s hard to separate this attitude from good old fashioned garden variety misogyny.  If we actually want fewer unplanned pregnancies, especially among younger women, then what is the rational argument for cutting funding for clinics like those sponsored by Planned Parenthood which inform young women about contraceptive options?

Only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s medical procedures involve abortion at any stage and in any manner. For the radicals this is 3% too many.  For the deluded among us – every woman must carry every pregnancy to term, no matter the cost to her physical well being or to her mental health. Every pregnancy must end in a birth – even if the fetus is so badly deformed that it won’t survive outside the womb for more than 24 hours?  How many of the radicals are even aware of anencephaly,  exomphalos and gastroschisis? [Patient]  Pre-natal care is required in order to detect abnormalities like anencephaly, and where do women – especially low income women – get pre-natal care? From their local Planned Parenthood clinic.  Which, we should add, provides pre-natal care for the pregnancies, planned or unplanned, of many middle and lower income women.

If the Republicans who are chanting for Investigations! Funding Cuts! and other assaults on Planned Parenthood understood just how ridiculous they sound, and how close to the radicals associated with the Army of God and the  Quiverfull movement they’ve moved, then they’d have a much better grasp as to how counter-productive their shift to the radical right will be received in a general election.  In their attempt to manufacture another “crisis” in “poutrage” and to generate a wedge issue, they’ve only succeeded in forming alliances with the most misogynistic elements of the Right Wing: Those who neither want nor countenance Planning in family relationships. 

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Catechism Isn’t The Chess Club: Nevada’s AB 120 and its implications

Prayer in Schools As if the State of Nevada had nothing else with which to concern itself – infrastructure needs, including building maintenance and upgrades, attendance to the backlog of maintenance needs in our parks and other tourist attractions, the need to diversify the economy, the need to address issues surrounding living wages – the Assembled Wisdom will be spending some time on AB 120 – the Put Proselytizing in Public Schools Bill.

Here’s the LCB summary:

“Section 2 of this bill clarifies that pupils at public schools are entitled to: (1) pray to the same extent and under the same circumstances as pupils are allowed to meditate, reflect or speak on nonreligious matters; (2) express a religious viewpoint to the same extent and under the same circumstances as pupils are allowed to express a viewpoint on a nonreligious matter; (3) possess or distribute religious literature to the same extent and under the same circumstances as pupils are allowed to possess or distribute literature on a nonreligious matter; and (4) organize or participate in any prayer group, religious club or religious gathering before, during or after regular school hours to the same extent and under the same circumstances as pupils are allowed to organize and participate in any extracurricular group or activity before, during and after regular school hours.”

There are some problems herein.  The first of which is constitutional. Not the Federal Constitution, but the State one.  The issue is raised in Article XI:

“Sec: 9.  Sectarian instruction prohibited in common schools and university.  No sectarian instruction shall be imparted or tolerated in any school or University that may be established under this Constitution.  Section Ten.  No public money to be used for sectarian purposes.  No public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose. [Added in 1880. Proposed and passed by the 1877 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1879 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1880 general election. See: Statutes of Nevada 1877, p. 221; Statutes of Nevada 1879, p. 149.]”

If a statement, tract, pamphlet, book, audio recording, video recording, etc. is to be distributed among students where does one draw a line between what is an “expression of a viewpoint” and an element of “sectarian instruction?” 

Secondly, the Nevada Constitution is abundantly clear that no public funds of any kind may be used for sectarian purposes.  If a proposed “religious club or religious gathering” is sponsored by the school is a faculty adviser to be assigned? If so, and most districts do require a faculty adviser for the supervision of extracurricular activities, then if the advisor is paid for supervision activities does this create a Constitutional question? Similarly, if the sectarian organization or gathering uses the public school facilities who pays for the heating, cooling, or the light bill?  Since AB 120 says that the access to sectarian activities must be “before, during, and after school” then a reasonable person would have to assume that the schools would be subsidizing the facilities during those times.

There are more tangential issues which need to be explored. For example, what is the origin of the “religious literature,” are these published by a sectarian organization for distribution or are they cranked out on the school copier?  If the latter, is the lease for the copier or attendant fiscal considerations, part of what should be considered the expenditure of public funds?

In some ethereal abstract way giving equal access to everyone sounds nice and tidy, fair and equitable – but the proscription on sectarian instruction creates all manner of issues for which litigation seems the only natural recourse for their resolution.  Natural, but expensive.

There are some other practical considerations which deserve some attention.  For example, does the language in AB 120 imply that religious organizations which have institutional programs for elementary and secondary school students are free to utilize the facilities of the public schools? Does this mean that LDS Seminary programs or Roman Catholic Catechism sessions are included? Does this mean there should be a Melamed tinokos’ (children’s teacher) available for Talmud Torah instruction as in a Cheder?

Bible Study groups present a plethora of issues.  If there is provision for an informal Bible Study group, then must the school make time and space equally available for the Koran? The Talmud? The Buddhist Suttas?  And, while we’re on the subject – which Bible? The King James? The New American Standard? The Revised Standard version? The RSV Catholic Edition?  If there is a “study group” using the King James version, then if parents object must the school offer time and space for the RSV-CE group?

Another practical consideration is predicated on the notion that children, especially adolescents, tend to be pack animals and parents tend to be attuned to individual preferences.  If, for example, instruction or Bible study tends toward a congregationalist  or individualistic interpretation of Scripture then what might be the reaction of parents who tend toward the more  episcopal interpretation?

Assuming the school population mirrors that of an average community, the majority will be some version of Christian – but what version? Further, if the majority is some version of Christian, and the majority of the school population does participate in a morning prayer session, what of the minority students who don’t?   What provisions or accommodations are made for students who come from homes in which it is considered improper to ask God for anything – homes in which only thanks and praise are appropriately  addressed to the deity?  Again — assuming that peer pressure is a profound thing among adolescents – how does the school deal with the individual preferences of the parents? How does it deal with children from the homes of non-Christians, or non-believers?  How does it cope with the feelings of those who feel “left out?”  Or, under pressure to “conform?”

Then there is the matter of what is appropriate in public schools.  There are extremists in nearly all forms of organized religion.  Would materials from the Westboro Baptist Church be appropriate in the Small Town Central Elementary School?  Would the teachings of an Imam associated with the Wahhabist version of Islam be appropriate? Would publications from the Radical Traditional Catholics be appropriate given their hard-core anti-Semitism?  How is a public school to differentiate between the radical and the mundane if ALL “religious viewpoints” are to be given “equal time?”

AB 120 is shot through with both constitutional and practical problems.  The best solution in a public setting might very well be to leave the religious instruction of children in the hands of their parents, and to have the school concentrate its energies and resources on reading, writing, math, science, and the other basic elements of its curricula.

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There were some weddings in Las Vegas

Rainbow Flag 2 Some couples got married in Las Vegas, NV yesterday, a headline which now joins “Dog bites man,” and “Spring Flowers Bloom” in the archives of conspicuous banality.   The question in Nevada shifted from “could it ever happen?” to “will it happen?” to “how come it has taken so long?”  [more from Ralston]

Conservatives who are still uncomfortable with the idea of letting a relatively small number of homosexual citizens in the state take on the joys and obligations of marriage may not take much comfort in the thought that part of their message over the last 30 years has been received:  Government should not intrude on our private lives.  And, when we’re talking about truly private matters – who can argue with that?

It’s never been a simple matter to claim religious authority in the public sphere.  It’s especially difficult in a country in which initial religious practice ranged from the Brownists in Plymouth – marriage was an invention of man without scriptural authority, to Catholics in Maryland – marriage was a sacrament. [CJPH]   However, it’s also never been a simple matter to avoid entangling religious beliefs and political ideologies – witness the Rovian formula welding Patriotism and Christianity for the benefit of the Republican Party.

The result has been a right wing conglomeration of the fiscal ultra-conservative (Grover Norquist) added to the religious ultra-conservative (Patriot Pastors) mixed with the military/financial interests (Koch Brothers, Wall Street).  At some point the seams start ripping.

Small But Not Too Small?

It’s impossible to have “small government” if the government is tasked with supervising individual sexual behaviors.  It’s impossible to have “small government” if the government is charged with executing statutes on family matters and women’s individual healthcare decisions.

It’s impossible to have “small government” while maintaining a military budget of at least $682 billion – as large as the combined military budgets of the next ten highest national budgets combined. [WaPo]  And, it’s impossible to have “small government” if we also want to secure fiscal and economic stability.  We tried ‘de-regulation’ and what we got was Enron and Lehman Brothers – and the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Now the frazzle shows up in the religious realm.  It’s now impossible to anchor a political ideology on a  floating buoy – public opinion has moved remarkably on same sex marriages in the last decade.  What was a useful wedge issue in 2004 has become something to avoid in 2014.  Witness the palaver over Blundermeister John Boehner’s decision to campaign on behalf of a gay Republican in California? [TDB]

No majority is ever permanent. No radical ideology is ever secure.

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Filed under Nevada politics, privacy, religion, Republicans, Rove