Discretion, Discrimination, Preference, and Prejudice

Posted March 29, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in 1993 with an almost unanimous vote in the House and Senate and was signed by President Bill Clinton. I don’t think anyone questioned the intent of the wording of the bill which was basically an affirmation of the First Amendment. I don’t know the intent or need of the introduction of that bill in 1993.

The Indiana Legislature has just passed and Governor Mike Pence has signed a similar bill. The impetus for this was to validate the right of a business or retailer to refuse to provide a service or product for same sex couples. This was proposed as a religious freedom restoration or protection act to protect businesses for decisions made on religious grounds. Some opponents of the bill see it as enabling religious bigotry. The passage has evoked accusations of discrimination and prejudice. Many businesses and promoters of entertainment or sports events and convention activities have suggested cancellation of events in Indiana.

Among the definitions of discrimination is “To make distinctions on the basis of preference or prejudice.” Some business owners claim the right of discretion, the freedom of action or judgment based on firmly held religious values, including sexual orientation and denial of service for any lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender persons. This is a similar claim of objections of some businesses opposing contraception coverage in employer funded health coverage.

Unlike racial discrimination, sexual orientation is not easily discernible other than transactions that are part of same-sex marriage photography or catering. Religion is a faith based freedom, which in theory is based on commands within the Bible, Koran, or other sacred document. The debate is about whether one person, at their discretion and judgment, can legally deny a service offered to the general public, based on religious objection.

Businesses have traditionally been allowed to deny service to people with animals, for improper dress, and to eject customers displaying offensive behavior on the premises. The prevailing counter argument is that sexual orientation is one of the many categories of protected civil rights.

In the long history of discrimination, we have assigned a different status to objections based on real or contrived religious directives and opinions based on secular or philosophical objections. During the civil rights movement and the integration of public facilities, owners of businesses denied service based on race. Some defended this with the argument that integration of their clientele would cause them to lose customers. Ultimately this was found to be unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The specificity of the Indiana legislation has caused a rift within the Christian community. Some denominations and individual congregations within other denominations endorse the official position that prejudice toward sexual orientation is not consistent with Christian principles and the New Testament teachings of Jesus. This is another liberal/conservative divide on biblical interpretation. Some Christians believe this legislation gives legal sanction to promote religious bigotry, similar to denying equal legal status to atheists and members of other religions.

In public schools we have found that students often bring the religious values of their parents, or secular philosophical views from non-religious family traditions. This often leads to peer proselytizing of overzealous evangelical religious dialogue, or ridicule from the detractors of religion. Schools are a microcosm of our culture.

Our God-given or constitutional rights guarantee us discretion and preference. We have the right to our own distinct and differentiated identity, whether by birth or preference. We may choose our enclaves of separation and preferential customers, friendships and associates. The validity of religious freedom for Christians should require some evidence of reasonable compassionate discretion.


Disqualification for Belief or Disbelief

Posted March 26, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

The Tennessee Constitution in Article 9, Section 1 reads: “Whereas Ministers of the Gospel are by their profession, dedicated to God and the care of souls, and ought not be diverted from the great duties of their functions; therefore, no minister of the Gospel, or priest of any denomination whatever, shall be eligible to a seat in either House of the Legislature. “

This seems contradictory, since Article 1, Section 4 reads: ”That no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and of this state, shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state.” This wording is almost verbatim with Article 6 of the United States Constitution.

I don’t understand why this has not been challenged. Many fundamentalist religious denominations are lenient on the subject of ordination. Some people have full time employment and preach as a second career. The intent of the prohibition has good intentions in deferring to a higher calling. It does not address matters of faith or challenge any worldview or religious ideology.

However, the next section of Article 9 reads, “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.” One would think that if either of the preclusions were taken to court they would be found to be in conflict with the United States Constitution.

This raises the question about persons seeking public office. Is it the responsibility of the voter to identify persons who do not believe in God and persons who convey their faith in the open forum of a political campaign? For example, if a candidate for President who is not a preacher quotes Scripture or delivers a speech that contains religious content would it lead a voter to vote for or against this candidate? The same would be true if someone who has not “come out as an atheist” were to include some denial of a supreme being within the context of a political speech.

This kind of wording in our Constitution perpetuates the false perception that there is war on Christians or a war on atheists. If you are a student or an adult and you are reading your Constitution for the first time, there is nothing there to tell you this is unconstitutional. It just says that some people are not allowed to hold public office.

I don’t know that Tennessee Courts have enforced or overturned a specific infraction of these laws. However, this raises the question of whether a voter would vote for or against a candidate because he (or she in some denominations) was a preacher, and would similar or diametric opinion preclude voting for or against an atheist.

In the same week that Ted Cruz opened his presidential candidacy with an overtly religious speech to a compulsory attending student audience at Liberty University, the group Openly Secular has initiated an effort to get the discrimination of nonreligious persons off the pages of our Constitution.

Since Christianity is the majority religion of the United States and Tennessee, some use the terminology Christian Nation or Christian State. Both Constitutions establish and define a secular nation or secular state with unrestrained freedom of religion. I think one could argue that being a minister should not impede ones dedication to public service, and being a member of the Legislature should not diminish one’s time or ability in the role of minister. Neither should anyone be disqualified from public office for religious belief or disbelief.

Secular Humanism and Christian Humanism

Posted March 20, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

There are two references to religion in our Constitution. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Article VI reads, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” As the political parties in America divide along liberal and conservative ideologies we continue our arbitrary labeling of our adversaries.

On the left, most Democrats or Liberals are reluctant to include references to church or religion in campaign speeches. President Obama ends many of his presidential addresses with, “God bless the United States.” Yet a surprising percentage of people still believe he is a Muslim, and remember the infamous words of his former preacher. Many Liberals recite the Pledge of Allegiance in its original wording omitting the religious content. Much of the early posturing for the 2016 presidential election includes the implied equation of conservatism and Christianity, and the association of liberalism with some status of secularism or less religious persons.

The position generally held by most conservative evangelicals is a desire to see leaders who are shaped by a Judeo-Christian ethic and making governing decisions according to that ethic. Many conservatives reject what has come to be thought of as an absolute separation of church and state, a phrase not found in the Constitution.

This should be distinguished from Christian Reconstructionism, which is also known as Dominion theology, or theonomy. This is the conviction that governments should rule according to principles to the same extent that the nation of Israel was to be ruled according to the law that God had given them in the Old Testament. This includes a blending of religious or church authority and civil authority, as well as other spheres of life. Sometimes, as in Old Testament history, the belief that God rewards or punishes a Christian or secular nation for compliance or departure from ecclesiastical law.

There is a similar division or distinction within the Democratic or Liberal political camp. Some would insist that the phrase liberal Christian is a contradiction in terms. Most liberal political candidates interpret the writings and speeches of the Founding Fathers that ethics and morals are behavioral principles in humans that determine what is right and wrong. This is not in conflict and very much the same rules as the belief of the common man that Christianity is a religion bound by a certain set of ethical and moral rules imposed by the Almighty.

As Christianity became part of the Roman Empire, Christian ethics became primarily centered on grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Christian teaching includes the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Many Christians believe that goodness exists only from God. There is no other form of legitimate, genuine, and absolute good except from God.

After years of church authority during the religious Reformation and the secular Renaissance, in the writings of Protagoras, Petrarch, Erasmus, and others there was a return to academia, science, the arts more focused on Greek sources and individual criticism and interpretation of religious teaching. The position called secular humanism promotes ideals in the face of an indifferent universe.

Today, as in the Middle Ages, religion has shifted its emphasis to grace, mercy, forgiveness, and other-world reward and punishment. Somewhere between these extremes is the Christian Humanist, who also believes in the value of intellect, science, philosophy, and political science. Humanism implies good deeds and morality derived from human logic and empathetic charity and tolerance. The secular humanist excludes God in this; the Christian Humanist does not, accepting a loving and indiscriminate God.

The Government Role in Educating Children

Posted March 15, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

In the political debate in the Tennessee Legislature there is much lobbying pressure from for-profit charter schools and from parents from public schools and home schools. The proposed legislation includes the controversial subjects of charter schools, vouchers, home schools, testing and teacher evaluation, and the safety of children on athletic fields in the presence of open or concealed firearms.

Included in the list of bills is one that would allow students that are home schooled who are enrolled in an umbrella school outside the jurisdiction and accountability of the local district to participate on the athletic teams of the public school to which the student would be zoned. This comes concurrent with a movement to transfer public funds to parents who choose an alternative to public education in the form of a voucher.

Other legislation involves federal, state, and local funding of public education and the transfer of those funds to non-public schools. There is another bill related to the selection of superintendents which could impede school boards in the search, hiring, and retention of superintendents. There is increased influence of political action committees, for-profit charter corporations, and competing philosophies about academic standards and textbook content.

There is unquestioned support for parental rights to choose an alternative to public education, whether it is a private, parochial, or home school. Something that gets lost in this discussion is the state standards of not only highly qualified teachers but the new academic standards for students. Teaching is a profession, in addition to being a dedicated calling. The professional rigor for a degree, certification, and continuing education exceeds the demands of most professions. This involves not only the methodology of teaching multiple subjects in elementary school but also a greater depth of subject material in middle and high school.

In Tennessee, the laws that govern home schooling require the parent only have a high school diploma or equivalent to teach through the 12th grade. The most visible public images of the voices of advocacy for home schooling are college graduates, many with teaching degrees and certification. With individual and differentiated methods many parents are able to accomplish a quality of education equal to, or better than the individual child might have received in a public school.

Those of us in public education have concerns when the home school community enumerates the reasons for choosing to opt of public education in a language that is often intrinsically specific to a special need unfulfilled by public schools. From the other side, those of us in public education see children coming to public schools after a few years of unsuccessful home instruction. We don’t see the thousands of home schooled students who excel academically and score well on ACTs and SATs and are admitted to some prestigious colleges. Public schools more likely get the home schooled children with limited reading skills, with deficiencies in specific areas of subject content in which the parents are less skilled, or considered less important in the home school curriculum.

In the early inception of home school legislation many home school children were registered with the local school district as independent students with accountability to the school district. Now, most home school students are under a faith-based umbrella school with instructional materials primarily from faith-based publishers.

Any parent who chooses the advantages of home school instruction and not enrolling in public schools forfeits the association and participation in the public school academic, social, and extra-curricular benefits. Public school parents obviously insist they also home school their children, with their academic skills and validation of moral and ethical values in the time they spend with their children before and after their public school learning experience.

Parental Choice: Secular or Religious Education

Posted March 11, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

The Tennessee Legislature continues to introduce legislation that would make public funds available for vouchers, or scholarships to attend non-public schools. This comes under the heading of parental choice. I don’t know if there is yet a fixed amount for the voucher, but it is based on a formula of percentage of the state average per pupil expenditure. This legislation is different from charter school legislation. Charter schools are run by for-profit entrepreneurs, but function within accountability to the local school district and subject to standardized tests.

The legislation as currently being proposed is targeted at the lowest performing schools in four or five counties with identifiable low performing student test scores. Here is the contradiction. If you remove the highest performing students, the public school average scores decline; if you remove the lowest performing student then public school average scores improve. Statistics seem to indicate that low performing students do not perform better in a non-public environment.

The premise of parental choice is misleading. The prestigious college preparatory private schools require entrance exams and tuition probably three times the amount of the voucher. Therefore the likelihood is that students from the lowest performing schools are not going to gain admission or have access to these schools.

In Colonial days in America, the Bible was the primary textbook. Children learned to read using the Bible. This was later supplemented by readers, many of which still included Bible stories. Many of the colonies, and later as states, had official religions which were taught in the schools within that state.

After the introduction of public education and eventually compulsory attendance, public schools continued, by state laws, opening the school day with a prayer and Bible reading. Three Supreme Court decisions in 1962 and 1963 affirmed that government sanctioned religious instruction and compelled religious speech in public schools were unconstitutional.

Parents and politicians who wanted religion in schools equated prayer and Bible reading as essential to moral instruction and often argue the decline in morality is traceable to the removal of religion from public schools. Many of those parents choose to send their children to religious schools, or Christian academies, for classroom instruction that convey the Christian worldview. Much of the support for vouchers is coming from parents whose children are already in religious schools, and often from politicians who believe religious schools are more inclined to promote conservative political leanings. Politicians on the right and religious school officials often interpret the public school classroom to be humanistic or secular. One member of the board of trustees of a local religious school in reference to public schools used the words secular humanism and atheism.

Politicians on the right and religious fundamentalists have successfully and correctly identified textbooks without religious content as secular. That is the definition of secular, i.e. not religious. Math and science textbooks are obviously secular. Literature and history include references to religion as part of literature and history. The guideline for public schools is that we teach about religion, but we do not teach any religion. There is no way to teach the Old Testament, the Koran, or any sacred book without offending diverse denominational parental religious traditions, nor should we include the creation story in a science textbook.

Parental choice is contingent on admission to their school of choice. Private schools and religious schools can deny admission or expel students. Public schools do not have that option. Public schools are essential for an educated populace. Passage of voucher legislation will take public money from public schools and eventually is designed for current parents of children in private and parochial schools to receive vouchers for tuition for religious schools or to supplement tuition for private schools.

Deporting Twelve Million Undocumented Residents

Posted March 4, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

We are a nation of immigrants. Even Native Americans may have had a distant origin and homeland. The argument over immigration took us to the brink of denying funding for the Department of Homeland Security, our one instrument for interdicting the trafficking of undocumented aliens.

I am trying to identify phrases and definitions in the debate on immigration. Sealing the borders is something on which we all agree. We need to arrest and convict the coyotes who run the buses and trains across our southern border. The adults should be detained and returned to point of origin or previous link in the trip. It seems a little inhumane to arrest and deport minor children searching for family or at risk of predation.

We need to differentiate between citizenship and permanent or temporary residence and the misunderstanding of the word amnesty. There are many guidelines for qualifying for a green card or permanent residence. Most include relationship to legal American citizens. Interchanging the words undocumented and illegal is confusing. The list of qualifications for green cards is primarily based on ability and need, including labor certification by a sponsoring employer. It includes qualifying entrepreneurs willing to invest specified amounts of capital; international managerial executives; professionals with bachelor’s degrees; religious workers; and physicians willing to work in under served areas.

Politicians with differing ideology debate paths to citizenship, and whether “illegal” or “undocumented” residents should be deported and forced to come back for a path to citizenship. I don’t know all of the details of the proposals in President Obama’s executive order. I did not interpret it as amnesty or usurpation of the responsibility of Congress. There are estimates ranging from 12 to 15 million undocumented persons in the country now. It would be logical to identify, regardless of date of entry, those who are eligible for green card work status, refugee status, or within a qualifying legal family structure. It also is complicated if the parents are undocumented and have children who are citizens.

The argument about illegal immigrants taking American jobs is valid. This is less offensive economically than corporations with factories in third world countries and child labor enabling untaxed off-shore profits. We need to eliminate the underground economy of undocumented immigrants. We need to enforce the laws governing employer verification. We need to impose fines or revocation of licenses for employers who hire illegal employees and evade minimum wage laws, do not deduct withholding, social security, and Medicare taxes. We should limit hiring to documented persons who pay payroll and income tax.

Part of the executive order included identifying those with criminal records or those who committed crimes other than illegal entry. This would supplement the essential first step of sealing our borders to interdict and deport or incarcerate the criminals or risks of potential terrorist activity. Much of what is in the executive order is logical action that should be included in congressional comprehensive legislation. America has a long history of presidential executive orders related to delayed deportation or amnesty. We don’t yet know if the court ruling on constitutionality will prevail or not.

The logical solution would be to expand the Department of Homeland Security with adequate staff to enforce existing immigration laws, and for Congress to draft and pass comprehensive immigration law that would include allowing the millions of immigrants who already have jobs and who would be eligible for temporary or permanent residence a starting point for a green card, and if eligible and with a background check to begin the lengthy path to citizenship. This is an economic issue and a humanitarian issue.

Loving Our Country and Hating Our Presidents

Posted February 27, 2015 by billpeach
Categories: Uncategorized

Two very low points in American History in my lifetime were the resignation of Richard Nixon and the decision by Lyndon Johnson to not seek reelection. I recently watched the movie Selma. I felt the pain of President Johnson struggling with the Voting Rights Act, knowing that it would lose the South for the Democratic Party for years to come. The office of President of the United States is the most visible and most important role in shaping human destiny, at least since World War I.

I was fortunate to have had a sidewalk vantage point for the inaugural parade of John Kennedy in 1961 when I was 24 after having cast my first vote. In 1993, I watched the inauguration of Bill Clinton from a distance beyond recognition of anyone on the podium, an experience I shared with my 18-year-old daughter. There is excitement in watching the inauguration of your President of choice.

As history is written and revised, former presidents are mocked in ridicule or deified; remembered with belated praise or defamation, and compared to and listed among the best and the worst. There are parallels in the elections of 2000 and 2008. As the Florida Court decided to suspend the count of contested ballots we witnessed the contradiction of the popular and electoral vote majorities. While Democrats were still in a state of denial, we were attacked on 9/11 and the nation rallied behind President Bush. It was one of our highest moments of national unity and spirit of patriotism.

In the ensuing years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we grew war weary. An eight-year reign of a Republican administration, with mounting casualties and impending financial disaster, came to a painful and unpopular end. Our election cycles of four or eight years are chronicles of the rise and fall of heroic figures.

As we begin the seventh year of the Obama administration, we remember the Bush administration. We watch the comparative numbers of approval and disapproval ratings, and surveys of right track or wrong track for the direction our country.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were elected and inaugurated at times when America was angry at itself, or at least angry at each other. In each case we faced the paradox of wishing for, and contributing to, the failure of each President. We have now spent fourteen years dedicated to demeaning and opposing our presidents. We have questioned their intelligence, their religion, the behavior of their children, and ultimately their love of country. We have perpetuated and exaggerated the anger from our reluctant acceptance of losing.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, like Vietnam, were prolonged, without a clear purpose, and continue to be costly in deaths and broken bodies. The wars were fought by a voluntary military with multiple deployments and dismal support from a disaffected populace and a hawkish but conservative Congress.

Among the most significant moments in the Obama administration, were the earliest meetings of the Republican Congress and the alleged commitment to make President Obama a one-term president devolving into accusations of negativity and active intent to insure his failure.

In the aftermath of the elections of 2012 and 2014, we have the choice of impasse or compromise. We have listened to the Conservative Political Action Conference and Rudy Giuliani; followed the clash between Speaker Boehner and the President over the invitation of Prime Minister Netanyahu. And we ask, “How can we proclaim our love of country, our patriotism, and our moral integrity, in a sustained effort to promote and find delight in the failures of our Presidents?”


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