Category Archives: Politics

Sunday Double Feature: Politics and Pride

What Would Jesus Do?

He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.

—John 8:7

Religion fanaticism fueled by hatred and hatred fueled by ignorance is destroying the United States. Fascist politicians are using hatred, just as they did in the 1920s and 1930s to further their power-hungry ambitions. All across the world, there are politicians who are either fighting against democracy or strengthening their existing authoritarian rule. Conservatives, whether Republican, Fascist, Nazi, etc., have used religious fanaticism to take away the rights of people. Religion was used to justify slavery, subjugate women, kill or imprison LGBTQ+ individuals, and any number of horrible inhumane actions.

For those who claim they are Christian and vote and support hatred-fueled religious fanaticism, they do not follow the teachings of Jesus. Jesus taught love, hope, charity, mercy, and acceptance. In John 4:3–39, Jesus was headed to Galilee from Judea. This was early in His ministry. He stopped to rest and refresh Himself at a well in Samaria during one of His journeys. A woman came to the well to draw water, and the Savior engaged her in conversation. She was astonished that He would speak with her, “for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” But He overlooked the traditions that devalued her in others’ eyes. He taught her about the living water of the gospel, and He testified to her, “I who speak to you am [the Messiah].” 

Jesus did not teach hatred and discrimination like many modern Christians. Instead, he taught acceptance. There are two remarkable stories showing how Jesus cared for all types of people. The religious fanatics of his time called the Pharisees were offended because in their view God loved only the righteous who kept the law as they interpreted them. They, therefore, distanced themselves from so-called ‘unclean’ sinners in their delusions of self-righteousness. But Jesus was often eating and drinking with those the Pharisees deemed disreputable sinners. He met people where they were and healed them. He protected those who committed adultery and prostitutes. Jesus proclaimed that both law-keepers and law-breakers are sinners in need of forgiveness. In John 8:7, Jesus told the Pharisees who wanted to stone a woman to death for committing adultery, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” In Matthew 7:1-3, Jesus warned, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”

A day of reckoning will come for those who use the name of God to further their hatred and claim that they do so in Jesus’s name. We can start by going to the polls in November and voting out the hypocrites and modern-day Pharisees. We need to vote in such great numbers that we make the elections of 1932 a minor Democratic victory. For anyone who is not familiar with the 1932 elections, Democratic New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated Republican incumbent president Herbert Hoover in a landslide, with Hoover winning only six Northeastern states. In addition to Hoover’s defeat, the Republicans also suffered crushing defeats in both congressional chambers: they lost 101 seats in the House of Representatives, with the Democrats expanding their House majority to a supermajority (a gain of 97 seats), and also lost twelve seats in the Senate, giving Democrats a total of 58  out of 96 seats in the Senate (Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states). The other Senator, Henrik Shipstead of Minnesota, was a member of the Farmer-Labor Party before switching back to being a Republican in 1940. (He’d been a Republican prior to 1923.) This landslide election was the last time that an incumbent president lost re-election and his party lost control of both chambers of Congress in a single term until 2020. 

If we don’t keep a majority in the House and gain at least 2 seats in the Senate (to counteract Manchin and Sinema) and do away with the filibuster, hate has won. Furthermore, we must expand the Supreme Court and institute ethics reforms in the federal government including SCOTUS. If you live in a state with a Republican majority, work as hard as you can to change that. We have to have election reforms and protections. We need stronger and sensible gun laws. We need meaningful reforms to healthcare and student loans. Most importantly we must preserve equality in the United States. We can no longer allow religious fanatics to have sway in this country. Republicans have pushed for overturning Roe v. Wade, and now they’ve done it. This will only empower conservatives and religious fanatics to push forward with taking away marriage equality, access to birth control, the right to privacy, and due process. In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the justices “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell” — referring to three cases having to do with Americans’ fundamental privacy, due process, and equal protection rights. Anyone who did not see this coming with the overturning or Roe was incredibly naïve. I beg of you not only to vote but encourage all those who are sympathetic to equality to also vote. If someone needs a ride to the polls, give it to them. If someone is not registered to vote, get them registered.

I don’t think that the majority of people who claim to be Christian would follow Jesus if the Second Coming happened today. They set aside all of their values and beliefs to elect Donald Trump. They sold their souls to make sure that Roe was overturned. Now, we must come out fighting (peacefully, of course). Vote! Vote! Vote! Let’s take back our country and make it a country in which we can be proud to live.

Prayer for Pride 🙏🏻🏳️‍🌈

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.”1

—Matthew 6:5-8

I love Pride because it shows the diversity of our communities. Different skin colors, different body types, different genders (and even more gender expressions!) From promiscuous to monogamous married couples, from kinky to vanilla, and everything in between. The LGBTQ+ community is varied and beautiful, and that’s what makes us such a fabulous community.

Recently, I received an email form Queer Theology which shared a wonderful prayer for Pride. I have adapted it a little to fit my situation better, and I encourage you to do the same. (My edits with notes are in parentheses.) So, I give you a Prayer for Pride:

There was a time when I prayed asking you to help me become straight. Thank you for ignoring that prayer. Or rather, for answering it differently than I expected: 

“I will help you become more fully you.” 

Thank you for the gift of queerness, for the liberation it has sparked in my own life (and in the lives of my family2).

Thank you for this body and for the courage to explore all the ways I can use it to make myself and others feel good, connected, healed, whole. (And let’s not forget sexy and desired.3)

Though my journey here has not been easy, I am grateful for it. Let the shame I felt with my body, with my desires, with my love, with myself, be a reminder to do everything I can to not contribute to another’s shame but to instead support them in their own self-love and self- determination.

I pray for those still living with shame, help them to shake it off; and embolden me to work to create a world which breeds pride, not shame. 

I pray for those who, knowingly and unknowingly, fed my own shame. May they have everything they need in their lives and if they seek forgiveness, help them to know that they are forgiven. 

And I pray for those in the in-between spaces–myself included, if I’m honest–give us strength to continue the journey, to lean into the tender places, to do the work, and to celebrate the victories. 

Thank you for the victories. Though the Kingdom of Heaven is still not fully realized on earth, let us be glad in all the ways in which it is alive and present, here, and now. 

In Christ’s name we pray, 

Amen.

________________

Notes: 

1. One of my greatest pet peeves is when people make a huge deal about praying in public. My sister’s in-laws always insisted on holding hands and praying when at a restaurant. And often, when people pray in church, they drone on and on. A simple prayer is always best, and in my opinion, it is much better to pray alone and in private. Prayer should be between you and God. It need not be with anyone else.

2. I hope that it has made positive changes in your family. Mine is still a work in progress.

3. This one I leave up to you.

I had planned on only posting the “Prayer for Pride” but with the SCOTUS news on Friday, I wanted to say more.


Why?

I think President Biden said what all sane people are thinking. When is it going to end? When is enough, enough? In God’s name, when will Republicans wake up and realize that sensible gun laws are not going to take away their right to own a gun?

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in response to a question from NBC News, immediately dismissed the prospect of new efforts to pursue gun control measures. “That doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime,” said Cruz, who instead said it would be better to go “after felons and fugitives and those with serious mental illness, arresting them, prosecuting them when they try to illegally buy firearms.” If sensible gun control measures don’t work, why is the United States the only country in the world to have so many mass shootings? The answer is simple. It’s because other countries have sensible gun laws. They have the same criminals and mentally ill, but most also have better prisons and healthcare. 

Cruz’s remarks sparked a sharp rebuke from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who was elected to the Senate just weeks before the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his state. “Spare me the bullshit about mental illness. We don’t have any more mental illness than any other country in the world,” Murphy told reporters. He also urged Congress to act.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., also lashed out at Cruz. “F— you @tedcruz,” Gallego tweeted, “you care about a fetus but you will let our children get slaughtered. Just get your ass to Cancun. You are useless.” Gallego appeared to be referring to Cruz’s opposition to abortion rights and his trip to Mexico last year as Texas faced a crippling winter storm.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the shooting a cold-blooded massacre. “For too long, some in Congress have offered hollow words after these shootings while opposing all efforts to save lives,” she said in a statement. “It is time for all in Congress to heed the will of the American people and join in enacting the House-passed bipartisan, commonsense, life-saving legislation into law.”


Civil Rights in Jeopardy

A major news story broke Monday night. It is not something I would usually talk about on my blog, but the seriousness of the issue is frightening to me for many reasons. The online news media site, Politico, obtained what it calls a draft of a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that would strike down Roe v. Wade. For those of you who may not be in the United States or may not know what the 1973 Supreme Court case is about, Roe v. Wadewas a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. What Politico released is only a draft. The final opinion has not been released, and votes and language can change before opinions are formally released. The opinion in this case is not expected to be published until late June. However, Republicans have been pushing to pack the Court with conservative justices who want to overturn Roe v. Wade for many years, and they finally succeeded under the twice-impeached, previous loser president.

Prior to the Senate confirmation of the very conservative and young Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts had served as a swing vote and attempted to balance the Court between liberal and conservative justices. If this draft is accurate, Roberts voted against overturning Roe v. Wade. Overturning it would be unprecedented (as far as I am aware) in that it would be the first Supreme Court case to overturn a major precedent that granted rights. Most, if not all, overturned decisions have been done so to correct cases where the Supreme Court took away rights, such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Brownended racial segregation in schools and overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) in which the Court had ruled that racial segregation laws did not violate the U.S. Constitution if the facilities for each race were equal in quality, a doctrine that came to be known as “separate but equal.” Other examples exist, but this is by far the most famous. However, with some recent decisions by the Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education is slowly being chipped away. The same is happening regarding the constitutionality of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But I am going down a rabbit hole. The fact is, the Supreme Court for the past seven decades has expanded rights of individuals not taken them away. This is beginning to change under the new make-up of the Court. Overturning Roe v. Wade may be the most dramatic of what may become a series of setbacks for civil rights.

I am not going to debate the rights and wrongs of abortions, but I am going to give a little history lesson on abortions for those who think that abortions have always been illegal in America. (Here, I am speaking of the Americas, including colonial times, not just the United States.) In colonial America, abortion was dealt with in a manner according to English common law. Abortion was typically only frowned upon if anyone even thought of it at all. If abortion was penalized, it occurred after “quickening,”—when a woman felt fetal movement—because it suggested that the fetus had manifested into its separate being. Quickening could vary from woman to woman, and sometimes went as late as four months. And, it was only penalized when it was typically seen as a cover-up for improper sexual relations. Also, abortions were much more common than believed and usually performed by midwives, not doctors. (Midwives were always much safer than doctors for pregnant women.) 

States did not begin to draft abortion legislation until the first half of the 19th century; by 1880, every state had an abortion statute. These abortion statutes were not passed because of a belief that the fetus was a living being. Children were not seen as fully humans until they reached adulthood. Most of these early abortion statutes were designed to protect women from medical quacks far from the established centers of American medicine—Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, for example. These early statutes (for the most part) punished only the provider of the abortion, not the woman, and either did not apply to physicians or did not apply if the abortion was necessary to preserve the life of the woman. 

Not until late 19th century did Americans—writers, journalists, preachers, and physicians—began to describe abortion with moral absolutism that had never existed before. In the late 19th century, targeting abortions and abortion providers—like midwives and “irregulars”—occurred within the context of the professionalization of the medical field. Doctors attempted to legitimize themselves as professional medical men, and they did so at others’ expense largely because women knew having your baby delivered by a midwife was much safer. (Midwives sterilized their hands and equipment, whereas male doctors, and nearly all doctors were male, did not believe in sterilization and did not understand germ theory.) In claiming that pregnancy and childbirth were not natural events, where women and midwives could maintain authority, they argued that pregnancy and childbirth were medical conditions requiring physician intervention. 

Abortions were dangerous in the early 20th century, but by the 1920s and 1930s, sterilization of equipment, specialization, and, later, antibiotics, all worked together to decrease mortality. But the laws and the changed view of the morality of abortions had made getting an abortion from anyone, even doctors, illegal. By the 1970s, illegal back-alley abortions were again very dangerous affairs, so when the case of Roe v. Wade came before the courts in 1973, some states were already moving toward allowing abortions so they could be legally and safely obtained.

That was a lot to read, and I hope you are still with me. I mention all this because of a flaw in Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. The conservative justice attached to his draft a 31-page appendix listing laws passed to criminalize abortion during that period. Alito claims “an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment…from the earliest days of the common law until 1973.” This is just not true. It is not until the 19th century, 300 years after the first English settlement establishing common law in the Americas, that abortions started to become illegal, and only then to protect a women’s health. Abortions are much safer now, which makes citing those laws illegitimate.

What worries me is if the Supreme Court begins overturning precedents that established rights for certain groups of people, especially those despised by Republicans, what is going to be next? Alito’s draft misleadingly argues that rights protected by the Constitution but not explicitly mentioned in it—so-called unenumerated rights—must be strongly rooted in U.S. history and tradition. That form of analysis seems at odds with several of the Court’s recent decisions, including many of its rulings backing gay rights. Liberal justices seem likely to take issue with Alito’s assertion in the draft opinion that overturning Roe would not jeopardize other rights the courts have grounded in privacy such as the right to contraception, to engage in private consensual sexual activity, and to marry someone of the same sex.

Alito explicitly denies that the Court will overturn any other precedents when he says in the opinion, “We emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” However, how can we believe him? Conservatives in the United States have increasingly made lying a part of their everyday life. Just look at the claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. The only voter fraud that has been found was committed by Republicans and did not change the outcome of the election to re-elect their twice-impeached loser candidate. They also have consistently denied there was an insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, aimed at stopping the certification of Joe Biden’s presidency. Therefore, I cannot feel safe that Obergefell v. Hodges which granted the right for same-sex couples to marry or Lawrence v. Texas which struck down sodomy laws in the U.S. are not next on the Supreme Court’s chopping block.

I fear with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court and the fascist leanings of the current Republican Party which remains loyal to a lying, idiotic, twice-impeached, orange menace, we are looking at even darker days in the future of the United States and the world. Conservative backlash is not limited to the United States. Authoritarianism is on the rise, and it is not being kept in check by democratic institutions. I encourage all Americans, and people who read this blog in other parts of the world, to back liberal candidates who believe in fundamental human rights and decency. If the Democratic majority in Congress is lost, we are looking at a minimum of two years of intense gridlock; if Republicans win in 2024, we are looking at a wholesale rollback on human rights. Democrats not only need to retain a majority in Congress, but need to gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. We must fight, and we must vote for candidates who will protect our rights. If we don’t, we are surely doomed to lose many of our civil rights as U.S. citizens. Backlash against LGBTQ+ rights are already infiltrating even liberal and LGBTQ+-friendly states like Vermont. In the last few weeks, a trans woman was murdered in a hate crime in Vermont, someone vandalized the offices of the Pride Center of Vermont, and a pride flag was stolen from a flagpole at Northern Vermont University in Lyndon, Vermont. Since I moved to Vermont, I have rarely faced any type of hate or discrimination, but hate is on the rise everywhere.

With all of this said, I must admit, I also find it disturbing that this draft opinion was leaked to the press. I’m glad it was, but I still find it disturbing. The Supreme Court remains one of Washington’s most secretive institutions, priding itself on protecting the confidentiality of its internal deliberations. It is one of the hallmarks of the Supreme Court which allows for deliberation of cases before the Court to happen without intense media scrutiny. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was fond of saying, “At the Supreme Court, those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.”  

And a final word that I couldn’t have said better myself to anyone who wants to make one of the stupid, hateful, and misleading arguments made by Republicans:


A Proclamation on Veterans Day, 2021

A Proclamation on Veterans Day, 2021

NOVEMBER 09, 2021 • PRESIDENTIAL ACTIONS

For generations, millions of Americans have answered the call to serve — taking the sacred oath to defend and preserve our Nation’s ideals of liberty and democracy.  These patriots represent the best of us.  On Veterans Day, we honor their service, dedication, and valor and are forever grateful for their sacrifice. 

Our Nation has only one truly sacred obligation:  to properly prepare and equip our service members when we send them into harm’s way and to care for them and their families when they return home.  For our 19 million veterans, that means ensuring that they have access to the support and resources for a future of security, opportunity, and dignity.  This is even more important as we continue to recover from the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

Our obligation to support our Nation’s veterans and their families is personal for me and the entire Biden family, and I remain committed to ensuring that every veteran receives the care and support they have earned.  The recently passed bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will create millions of good jobs for veterans and grow opportunities for veteran-owned businesses. My Build Back Better framework also prioritizes improvements to VA health care, ensuring that every veteran — including our often-underserved female and LGBTQ+ veterans — receives competent, world-class health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Last month, the White House Gender Policy Council released the first-ever United States Strategy for Gender Equity and Equality, which included the unique needs and contributions of women service members and veterans.  And the Department of Veterans Affairs is also working to get every eligible veteran the information and opportunity they need to register and vote, protecting their voice in the democracy they fought to preserve. 

Ensuring veterans have timely access to services and benefits is at the center of my Administration’s commitment to fulfilling our sacred obligation.  This includes addressing the adverse health effects of service-related exposures.  In August, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will begin processing disability claims for respiratory conditions connected to exposure during military service in Southwest Asia and other areas.  My Administration also added three conditions to the list of those presumptively associated with exposure to Agent Orange, ending the long wait for disability benefits for many Vietnam era veterans.  In the coming months, we are committed to taking additional action to address potential adverse health effects associated with military environmental exposures.  

So many of our veterans carry the scars from their service — both visible and invisible — and it is our Nation’s responsibility to help them heal. Too many veterans and service members have considered suicide or taken their own lives, and addressing this tragedy is a national responsibility. That is why I have made military and veteran suicide prevention a top priority, and earlier this month, I released a new comprehensive, cross-sector public health strategy to reduce military and veteran suicide. Implementing this approach will unite us around a common mission and accelerate meaningful improvements in suicide prevention programs, helping us live up to our sacred obligation to those who have served in our Nation’s Armed Forces.

Fulfilling our Nation’s promise to our veterans and military families, caregivers, and survivors is not only a moral imperative — it is crucial to our national security and to maintaining the finest military the world has ever known.  We are a Nation that keeps our promises.  That is why my Administration is dedicated to a whole-of-government approach in responding to the needs of our veterans and their families, caregivers, and survivors. 

Through the First Lady’s work with Joining Forces — the White House initiative to support veteran and military families, caregivers, and survivors — my Administration is addressing employment and entrepreneurship, military and veteran child education, and health and well-being for veteran families.  Earlier this year, the First Lady met with military and veteran families to learn how we can better support and prioritize their needs, and in September, Joining Forces and the National Security Council released a report outlining the first round of Administration-wide commitments and proposals that support veteran and military families, caregivers, and survivors.  These efforts will honor our sacred obligation to support our veteran families and ensure they receive the resources they need to thrive. 

On Veterans Day, we honor our Nation’s veterans, who have given so much to protect our freedoms and the freedom of others around the globe.  They represent the highest ideals of our country.  While we can never fully repay the debt we owe these heroes, we will honor their service and provide them the care and support they deserve.  We also salute and show gratitude for all who ensure our Armed Forces remain strong, united, and unmatched.

In respect and recognition of the contributions our veterans and their families, caregivers, and survivors have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided (5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall be set aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation’s veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2021, as Veterans Day.  I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor, courage, and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate ceremonies and private prayers.  I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of the United States of America and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities.  And I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities, to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this ninth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.

                                 JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.


Erasing History in Schools

This past Pride month, as revelers hit the streets to celebrate LGBTQ+ history, Republican state legislatures were hard at work trying to erase it. And it’s not just momentous events like the Stonewall riots or towering figures like Harvey Milk that could be wiped from classroom instruction. In public schools in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Montana, it may soon become illegal even to mention Bayard Rustin, the openly gay co-organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, or educate kids about the AIDS crisis. Republicans don’t want our nation’s children to know that a gay black man organized one of the most pivotal events in the Civil Rights Movement, and they still insist that AIDS is the result of/punishment for immoral behavior.

In May, Tennessee became the first state to pass what queer-rights advocates have branded as “Don’t Say Gay” laws, which either forbid the teaching of LGBTQ+ history in K-12 schools outright or allow parents to choose whether their children participate in lessons that include it. Within days, Montana followed suit. Yet another bill in Arkansas awaits the signature of the state’s Republican governor. Similar bills have been considered in West Virginia, Iowa, and Missouri. Red-state legislatures are introducing more proposals to hinder education. 

Akin to bans on the teaching of critical race theory (If you are not familiar with what critical race theory means [check out the link above and see note below*]. It’s been around for forty years and is merely teaching history as it should be taught.), these laws seek to preserve the myth that the story of America is one of destined progress and unblemished virtue. These laws claim that we stand exceptional among nations as the gleaming embodiment of democracy and, in turn, imply that a significant number of us do not matter. In particular, legislation forbidding the teaching of LGBTQ+ history aims to solidify what remains of society’s moral disapproval of LGBTQ+ people and endangers LGBTQ+ youth who are most susceptible to suicide.  

The Republican efforts are a false representation of the past. They want to pretend that LGBTQ+ people have never even existed. They do not want students to question their Pollyanna view of American history. They do not want to open up questions about the failures of the past to allow students to question whether the United States is living up to the goals of the republic—”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.” This whitewashing of history is less about the past than about not wanting to change the present, to hold in place the status quo, and not allow for genuine moments of debate and change. I have always believed that education is more about teaching students how to think critically than it is about memorization.

The Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association released a joint statement in May condemning the recent spate of “Don’t Say Gay” bills, which the organizations say perpetuate homophobia, distort the historical record, and deprive students—LGBTQ+ and not—of a complete education. Among the many dangers of these laws is that they will create a two-tiered system that will harm students by keeping them from learning about the complexity of our larger society and their place in it, depriving them of a fully rounded education. Maybe if I and those of my generation had been taught just a little LGBTQ+ history, we would not have spent so much of our lives questioning our sexuality or hating ourselves for the way we were born. Teaching tolerance raises self-esteem, and if our sexualities were not constantly demonized, then maybe, just maybe, there would be fewer suicides by LGBTQ+ youths.

Politically, the bills reflect the resurgence of culture-war politics at the state level now that Republicans are out of power in Congress and the White House and the religious right’s expanding moral panic over the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights. As with the bill in Arkansas, the laws in Tennessee and Montana are in one sense narrow—designed, it seems, to invite legal challenges when an overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court is inclined to grant religious exemptions. In Tennessee, parents must now be given thirty days’ notice to examine any curriculum materials related to sexual orientation or gender identity. They can request their children be pulled from such instruction. Montana gives parents forty-eight hours to “withdraw the child from a course of instruction, a class period, an assembly, an organized school function regarding human sexuality.” A similar notification law in Arkansas requires school districts to tell parents in writing about “instruction of any kind” about “sex education, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”

The emphasis on telling teachers what they can and cannot teach is totalitarianism at its worse. What will happen when a student asks a teacher about Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, the Stonewall Riots, AIDS, etc.? Will that teacher have to say, “The law does not allow us to discuss this in class without your parents’ prior permission”? Critical thinking, along with intellectualism, is the enemy of conservatives and the religious right. Just think of Christianity before the Reformation and the Catholic Church’s fear of translations of the Bible in the vernacular, especially as literacy become more common between 1500 and 1800. Conservatives have often feared education throughout history. The elite could be educated, but everyone else was discouraged from education. Conservatives realized that expanded educational opportunities led to greater knowledge and could lead to the questioning of authority. Now conservatives often fear that knowledge could lead to equality and greater power in the hands of the masses. Republicans in the United States know that if more people have access to voting, they stand a lesser chance of winning elections.

According to the Pew Research Center, Democrats hold advantages in party identification among blacks, Asians, Hispanics, well-educated adults, and Millennials. Republicans have leads among whites – particularly white men, those with less education, and evangelical Protestants – as well as members of the Silent Generation. Just 36 percent of registered voters have a four-year college degree or more education; a sizable majority (64 percent) have not completed college. Democrats increasingly dominate in party identification among white college graduates – and maintain wide and long-standing advantages among black, Hispanic, and Asian American voters. Republicans increasingly dominate party affiliation among white non-college voters, who continue to make up a majority (57 percent) of all GOP voters. 

*Here is one example of critical race theory: the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, a.k.a. the G.I. Bill. African American veterans benefited less than others from the G.I. Bill, and it was designed that way. The G.I. Bill aimed to help American World War II veterans adjust to civilian life by providing them with benefits including low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans, and financial support. African Americans did not benefit nearly as much as White Americans. The law was deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow laws. Banks and mortgage agencies refused loans to blacks, making the G.I. Bill even less effective for non-whites. Once they returned from the war, blacks faced discrimination and poverty, which represented a barrier to harnessing the mortgage and educational benefits of the G.I. Bill, because labor and income were immediately needed at home. Most southern universities refused to admit blacks until the Civil Rights revolution. Colleges accepting blacks in the South (numbering about 100) were of lower quality, with 28 classified as sub-baccalaureate. Only seven states offered post-baccalaureate training, while no accredited engineering or doctoral programs were available for blacks. By 1946, only one-fifth of the 100,000 blacks who had applied for educational benefits had been registered in college. Furthermore, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) came under increased pressure as rising enrollments and strained resources forced them to turn away an estimated 20,000 veterans. Though blacks encountered many obstacles in their pursuit of G.I. benefits, the bill greatly expanded the population of African Americans attending college and graduate school. In 1940, enrollment at Black colleges was 1.08 percent of total U.S. college enrollment. By 1950 it had increased to 3.6 percent. However, these gains were limited almost exclusively to Northern states, and the educational and economic gap between white and black nationally widened under the effects of the G.I. Bill. With 79 percent of the black population living in southern states, educational gains were limited to a small part of black America.

Did any of you learn this in school? Is there harm in teaching failures in history? If we do not know about the failure to live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, then how can we begin to correct these mistakes and move forward? And this fear, my friends, is what the Republicans (and conservatives throughout history) fear the most: progress and equality.


Call to Liberty

For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

—Galatians 5:13

Today is the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Churches across America will likely sing “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The songbook from my church did not have the “patriotic songs” section found in the Baptists, Methodist, or Presbyterian hymnals of my youth, so we never sang these songs in my church. We only sang very traditional hymns, like “Rock of Ages,” “Amazing Grace,” etc. Nothing adorned the knotty pine walls of the small church I grew up in. The only decoration in the church was a side table with a large Bible on a lower shelf and a vase of flowers on top. Two very plain simple cane bottomed deacon chairs sat behind the pulpit. It was the only church I knew with such simple décor. The Southern Baptist church where I was forced to attend vacation Bible school every summer was far more elaborate. Behind the pulpit stood the Christian flag and the American flag. The same was true of the Presbyterian church where I had piano recitals and the Pentecostal church my best friend attended. 

Politics or patriotism rarely made an appearance in my church, but it did in many other churches across the country. In many churches, patriotism and religion have been interwoven into their theology. These churches believe in a Christian faithfulness where God desires America to do great, to be great, has ordained America to be at the top, and that America has been baptized by the Church. While this is not something I was taught or ever believed, it’s unrealistic for us not to realize that in the United States, Christianity and patriotism are seemingly inextricably woven together. As the world changes and equality and acceptance grows, the United States will no longer be able to claim (whether it was ever true or not) that America is a beacon of freedom, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” If we do not either follow the ethical tenets of most religions, including the teachings of Christ or throw off the chains of the uniquely American version of Christianity, then America will fall further and further behind the quest for human rights for all.

Even though the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” religion has been intricately laced in with American history. In 1630, the first ships of the Great Puritan Migration sailed to the New World, led by John Winthrop. During the crossing, Winthrop preached a sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity.” He told his followers that they had entered a covenant with God according to which he would cause them to prosper if they maintained their commitment to God. In doing so, their new colony would become a “City upon a Hill,” meaning that they would be a model to all the nations of Europe as to what a properly reformed Christian commonwealth should look like. Since then, politicians have used the “city upon a hill” analogy for political purposes to push for American exceptionalism.

“A Model of Christian Charity” serves as an important text in United States history, conveying the optimistic, confident, community-focused mindset in which the New England colonies were founded. Perry Miller, a historian considered one of the founders of American Studies, wrote that the sermon “stands at the beginning of [the] consciousness” of the American mind. Several figures in U.S. politics—beginning as early as John Adams—have referenced this text in public speeches when trying to convey themes of unity and idealism, most often citing the symbol of “a city upon a hill.” In his 1980 Election Eve speech, Ronald Reagan asserted his belief that “Americans…are every bit as committed to that vision of a shining city on a hill, as were those long-ago settlers.” More recently, public figures have utilized the sermon to argue how far the United States has strayed from its values. In his blistering critique of the then-presidential candidate and future twice impeached and disgraced former president, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney posited that “[Hair Führer’s] personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.” The disgraced former president tried his hardest to destroy the United States, ironically, with the help of American evangelicals.

However, most politicians do not pay attention to the rest of Winthrop’s sermon. They focus on the “city upon a hill,” but not on the rest of the message. Winthrop used logical reasoning combined with a sympathetic nature to make his point to the new Puritan settlers. To remove this work’s central arguments about love and relationships is to lose the sense of the whole completely. The Governor laid out his argument for charity and decent human behavior in the community. While exceptionalism was one of the sermon’s themes, Winthrop explained how God chose the few people on the boats to go to America to carry out their mission. He also mentioned how the rest of the world would watch them. This is the part that politicians have always latched onto, but they often ignore the other main points of the sermon. Winthrop believed that charity, giving to others who need help—not only the poor but also the community—would make the new lands the “city upon a hill” in his view of exceptionalism. Winthrop also believed that communalism reflected the Puritan ideals of “love, unity, and charity.” He mentioned that people have different things to offer each other, and this induced a need for each other, helping the community. He also said that different types of people were on the ship during the sermon but had the same goal of serving God. This was also represented by people being different parts of one body. Through his use of language connected to women’s work, such as “knit,” Winthrop suggests the importance of women in holding the community together. It’s amazing how much is forgotten by the politicians who use a small part of the sermon for their purposes.

Many patriotic evangelical Christians use the Bible to defend their ideas that God is pro-government (or, more specifically, He favors their preferred brand of government). They often use Matthew 22:21, in which Jesus says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It’s a radical statement publicly declaring that Caesar and Rome weren’t God. Most Roman emperors advocated the belief that they were gods and should be worshiped. In this passage, Jesus is warning us to avoid such thinking.

Romans 13:1 is also often used by people to defend their political allegiances: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. But these texts have a significant caveat, where the authors presuppose that this “submitting” is coinciding—and never contradicting—the supreme call to love God and love others. This becomes obvious when looking at other passages that explicitly say so, such as Matthew 22: 36-40:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Christians using Romans 13 as a defense to support various political viewpoints at the expense of loving others are also ignoring the words of Peter in Acts 5:29 when he tells the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” and the teachings of Jesus himself when he proclaimed in Matthew 6:24, “no one can serve two masters.” Separating patriotism and Christianity is difficult for many modern American Christians to comprehend because they often incorporate nationalism and patriotism into much of their religious expression and even their faith. Churches celebrating the Fourth of July by adorning their sanctuaries with American flags and incorporating America and American nationalism into songs of worship would have been alarming and even considered blasphemous for the very first followers of Jesus.

The challenge for Christians is to simultaneously honor the virtues of sacrifice, service, and freedom without idolizing American exceptionalism and Christian nationalism, celebrating bravery without romanticizing violence, and realizing that our salvation comes from the sacrifices of Jesus and not the wars of men. For those raised in churches that interwove Christianity with patriotism, it may not seem a big deal that our country’s flag stands alongside a pastor onstage but try to imagine the apostle Paul and the earliest churches pledging their allegiance to Caesar and the conquering legions who were slaughtering anybody who stood in their way. As citizens of the United States, we’re trying to follow Christ within a similar context as the earliest Christians—living within a powerful empire and susceptible to state-sponsored religion, where it’s socially, politically, and economically advantageous to adhere to certain political beliefs and leaders—even to the point of becoming a pseudo-theocracy.

Unfortunately, Christians have been historically gullible to nationalistic “Christianity.” They often treat our faith as a civic religion to establish a voting bloc and create enough influence to legislate laws, gain wealth, and consolidate power rather than sacrificially serve and love others. The American version of Christianity often perverts the life and mission of Jesus because instead of forgiving enemies, the state spends billions of dollars to kill them, instead of caring for the poor, we villainize them, instead of accepting the foreigner we ban them, and instead of helping the oppressed we further alienate them. While it’s clearly possible to be both an American and a Christian, we must realize that the goals of our country’s government and those of Christ are rarely the same and often directly contradict each other, especially under Republican administrations.

Many right-wing politicians and evangelicals Christians are terrified of the phrase “separation of church and state.” The problem with the comingling of church and state is that only one brand of religion gets instituted for all people in the country. In America, it is often the perverted version of American Christianity that tries to legislate our morals and bodies. Suppose American Christianity had latched onto the charity, communalism, and unity in Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” instead of American exceptionalism. In that case, the link between religion and politics might not be so bad, and that’s why the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Founding Fathers knew that when it came to church and state if you gave an inch, religious leaders would take a mile. There had to be a clear separation of church and state.

Two hundred forty-five years ago today, fifty-six delegates to the Second Continental Congress put their signature to the following words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

LGBTQ+ Pride and the White House

The White House has installed an exhibit dedicated to “celebrating LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2021” on the Ground Floor Corridor. The exhibit is the first physical display of historical items dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community. The items were borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution and in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum on American History.

The exhibit features artifacts from historic LGBTQ+ community figures like Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, and Jerame Davis, the former executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. Another figure highlighted in the exhibit is Rose Cleveland, who was the sister of the 23rd and 25th President, Grover Cleveland.

“Rose Cleveland, President Grover Cleveland’s sister, served in the role of White House hostess until his marriage in 1886,” the exhibit reads. “For almost 30 years, Rose Cleveland maintained a romantic relationship with Evangeline Marrs Simpson Whipple. The women lived together in Italy from 1910, until Rose’s death from the Spanish flu in 1918.” The exhibit notes that Rose and Evangeline rest “side by side” in Italy today. Correspondence between them was published in 2019 by the Whipple Collection from the Minnesota Historical Society, where they are housed today.

There are artifacts describing major events in LGBTQ+ history such as the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Photos shared online show the corridor illuminated in Pride colors, the first known time in history, the Advocate reports.

LGBTQ+ activist, columnist and Philadelphia Gay News founder Mark Segal reported that upon visiting the National Museum this week, personal artifacts of his “from that first Pride in 1970, which we called Christopher Street Liberation Day March” were among those included in a series of items shared with the White House. The items included a flyer given out over 50 years ago promoting the march and Segal’s marshal badge worn that day. “That 18-year-old boy at Stonewall never expected that not only would he be asked to dance with his husband at the White House, but that one of his personal artifacts would be on display there,” Segal wrote. “Fifty-two years ago that was inconceivable to me. Now, it’s a joyous reality.”

The exhibit is curated from the LGBT Pride exhibits currently at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. One is the “Illegal to be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall” exhibition on display at the museum since 2019, and planned to close on July 6, 2021. The items I took he ongoing Smithsonian exhibit showcase different aspects of LGBTQ+ American history, activism and the “everyday experience of being queer,” according to curator Katherine Ott. The display includes knives used to lobotomize gay men during the ’70s, lab equipment from 1980s HIV researcher Jay Levy, a full figure skating costume from gay Olympian Brian Boitano, shoes from trans tennis player Renée Richards and cosmetics used by irreverent gay director John Waters.

LGBTQ+ Pride Month was established by President Bill Clinton in June 1999, though back then it was called Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. Clinton said at the time that he signed the 1998 executive order that made it possible for people of any sexual orientation to work in the federal government and to receive security clearances. “Today, more openly gay and lesbian individuals serve in senior posts throughout the Federal Government than during any other Administration,” Clinton’s June 2000 proclamation stated.

The previous twice impeached, traitor’s administration did not even acknowledge Pride Month until 2019, and only half-heartedly then. In the first two and a half years of that administration, the former president took numerous steps to curtail LGBTQ+ rights, from nominating judges aligned with anti-gay hate groups to banning transgender people from the military. George W. Bush declined to recognize June as Pride Month during his eight year administration.

President Barack Obama issued a proclamation every year he was in office. “All people deserve to live with dignity and respect, free from fear and violence, and protected against discrimination, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Obama’s June 2015 proclamation read. “During Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, we celebrate the proud legacy LGBT individuals have woven into the fabric of our Nation, we honor those who have fought to perfect our Union, and we continue our work to build a society where every child grows up knowing that their country supports them, is proud of them, and has a place for them exactly as they are.”

On June 25, President Biden declared “pride is back at the White House,” delivering remarks in a day of events intended to mark the contributions of LGBTQ+ Americans. He spoke after signing H.R. 49, which designates the site of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting as the “National Pulse Memorial.” Biden recognized that much work remains to be done to give equal rights and protections to LGBTQ Americans. The president invoked Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, and said he was right when he said it “takes no compromise to give people their rights.” He called on the Senate to pass the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

“When a same-sex couple can be married in the morning but denied a lease in the afternoon for being gay, something’s still wrong,” Biden said. “Over half of our states — in over half of our states, LBGTQ+ Americans still lack explicit state-level civil rights protections to shield them from discrimination. As I said as a presidential candidate and in my first joint address to Congress, it’s time for the United States Senate to pass the Equality Act and put the legislation on my desk. On my desk.” 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke before the president was introduced, and both the secretary and Biden gave a shout-out to Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten. “Us even being here proves how much change is possible in America,” Buttigieg said. Also at the Friday afternoon ceremony were members of the Congressional Equality Congress, including Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congressman David Cicilline; one of the highest-ranking openly trans service members, Lieutenant-Colonel Bree Fram; and state legislators.


Legalized Religious Discrimination

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

— Galatians 3:28

On Thursday, the Supreme Court decided unanimously that religion supersedes the law, at least regarding LGBTQ+ rights. In Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the justices voted nine to zero to allow a Catholic adoption agency, Catholic Social Services (CSS), to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. The adoption agency sued after the city refused to refer cases to the agency due to its refusal to consider LGBTQ+ foster parents. The city argued that the agency’s willful violation of local nondiscrimination law meant the agency wasn’t qualified to get city business.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” the Court ruled. “Under the circumstances here, the City does not have a compelling interest in refusing to contract with CSS. CSS seeks only an accommodation that will allow it to continue serving the children of Philadelphia in a manner consistent with its religious beliefs; it does not seek to impose those beliefs on anyone else.”

The decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, was signed by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch didn’t sign the majority decision, and three concurring opinions were filed. In essence, the decision creates an exemption for existing protections for LGBTQ+ people. Combined with the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commissiondecision of 2018, which sided with a baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, the conservative justices have made it clear that the rights of LGBTQ+ people are subject to exemptions.

The decision should hardly be a surprise. For one thing, the Court is packed with a particular kind of Catholic. Six of the justices are Catholic—Roberts, Barrett, Kavanaugh, Alito, Thomas, and Sotomayor. The first five are conservative Catholics; only Sotomayor represents the views of the majority of Catholics, who tend to be Democrats. While we have some racial diversity on the Supreme Court, there is little religious diversity. Breyer and Kagan are Jewish. Gorsuch is the first member of a mainline Protestant denomination to sit on the Supreme Court since the retirement of John Paul Stevens in 2010; he was raised Catholic, but married an Anglican and now attends an Episcopal Church. After marrying in a non-Catholic ceremony and joining an Episcopal church, Gorsuch has not publicly stated if he considers himself a Catholic who is also a Protestant or simply a Protestant.

I cannot fathom how claiming to be a religious organization or claiming to be religious allows you to break/ignore laws against harming others. How many children have been in foster homes or orphanages over the years who have suffered abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to be protecting them? How many of those were under the tutelage of a religious organization? Let’s face it, the Catholic Church does not have a great track record with children. The child sex abuse scandals of the Catholic Church have plagued them for decades (they’ve plagued the church for centuries, but only in recent decades has the problem been made public). Just one of many examples of this is in my own backyard as former residents of St. Joseph’s Orphanage have recounted horrific abuse at the hands of “religious” individuals.

The tension between religious freedom and civil rights stretches far back in American history. In battles over slavery and racial segregation, proponents of discrimination and opponents of progress have often cited religion and scripture to justify maintaining inequality. Until the civil rights era, refusals to serve African Americans were often cloaked under the guise of religious freedom. As social norms changed, the religious justifications for this bigotry became legally untenable. Religious freedom has been weaponized so frequently in civil liberties debates because of the cultural and constitutional weight it carries. Such appeals have the potential to reshape cultural and religious worlds: to make a group’s political convictions and cultural practices appear more “religious,” or more central to their religion than they otherwise might have been. For this reason, the scope and meaning of religious freedom have been constantly contested throughout American, which is why religious freedom must always be balanced against other American ideals, lest we allow it to trample on other deeply held values.

In the 1982 case Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom did not give Bob Jones the right to claim tax-exempt status while practicing racial discrimination. So why are these organizations allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans and retain their tax-exempt status? The constitutional right to religious freedom protects the sanctity of personal belief; however, that freedom ends when the exercise of one’s faith harms the rights or well-being of another. Religious freedom and nondiscrimination protections are complementary values rooted in the fundamental principle that every person should be treated equally under the law. Taxpayer dollars should never pay for programs that exclude or discriminate against participants.

Galatians 3:28 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Churches have ignored this passage throughout history, much like they ignore many verses of the Bible that are inconvenient for them. When will LGBTQ+ Americans be given the same rights as all other Americans? Religion should be a tool to lift people, not knock them down. It should never be used as a weapon of hate, fear, or discrimination. 

I am all for the First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Speech, press, and assembly all have limits, so why does religion also not have limits. When the government starts allowing religious organizations to dictate how our laws are implemented or what laws should be enacted, then this is an “establishment of religion.” If religious organizations are going to provide a charitable service, they should not be allowed to discriminate against anyone. Religious organizations can no longer discriminate based on race, so why should they be able to discriminate based on sexuality? 

In the decisions of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia and Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court has done the opposite of what they claim they are doing. They have forced others to bow to the religious dictates of another person’s beliefs. They have essentially established a religion by claiming that religions are exempt from following the law. They infringe on Americans’ rights to practice a belief that is in disagreement with a more powerful entity (By that, I mean large, wealthy religious organizations, not God). The Bible tells us that we “are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we are all one, why is CSS allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people? They are not following their own religious beliefs, but they are following the prejudices of man.

Shame on the Supreme Court for forcing the City of Philadelphia to follow the beliefs of CSS when they are contrary to what God commands CSS to do. Besides, why should Philadelphia be forced to send adoption cases through CSS when they have a track record like St. Joseph’s in Burlington, Vermont, or any number of Catholic organizations. And this goes far beyond the Catholic Church. It is part of all organized religions. Why should we protect a church’s religious freedoms when they disrespect and disregard the religious liberties of others? We should be protecting individuals’ right to practice religion not organizations. And no one, not even under the guise of religious freedom, should a person or organization be able to hide behind religious freedoms and the First Amendment to discriminate legally. 


The Equality Act, et al.

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA)

Democracy is in peril. Though it has yet to fully register as the national story it deserves to be, America is currently in the throes of what may well be the most concerted effort at voter suppression and discrimination in living memory. Since the beginning of the year, Republican state legislators have introduced a deluge of new laws intended to restrict voting, suppress traditionally non-Republican constituencies, and overturn election results. These laws represent the greatest assault on voting rights since the end of Reconstruction. If you look at the number of bills introduced, the number of bills passed, and the intensity of the effort behind it, I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Many of these efforts were blocked under the Voting Rights Act — and since the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013, voter suppression has gotten worse. But this seems to be the worst it’s been in the past decade.

It’s not like this is the first time there have been efforts to suppress the vote, but we are seeing a greater number of efforts at suppression, more restrictive bills than before, and more intensity within the Republican party to pass them. On a national level, Republicans in Congress refuse to support the For the People Act (also known as H.R. 1), which would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders. Republican know that they cannot win the majority of elections if free, fair, and accessible elections are allowed to occur. The GOP knows that they are a minority party led by extremists who fear true democracy. It is not election fraud that Republicans fear; they fear easier access to the polls. The 2020 election proved their worst fears: if people are given greater voting access, Republicans will remain in the minority. So, they are doing everything possible to make it more difficult to vote.

In addition, thirty-three states have introduced more than 100 bills that aim to curb the rights of transgender people across the country, with advocacy groups calling 2021 a record-breaking year for such legislation. LGBTQ+ people in America continue to face discrimination in their daily lives. While more states every year work to pass laws to protect LGBTQ+ people, we continue to see state legislatures advancing bills that target transgender people, limit local protections, and allow the use of religion to discriminate. With an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ measures sweeping through state legislatures across the country, 2021 is on the cusp of surpassing 2015 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history, according to new tracking and analysis by the Human Rights Campaign.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last month that the Senate could take up the Equality Act, which would enshrine legal protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, in June. Still, it’s not yet clear whether the Senate will consider the House-passed bill during Pride month. The Equality Act, if passed, would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit, and jury service. The Supreme Court’s June 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, protects gay and transgender people in matters of employment, but not in other respects. The bill would also expand existing civil rights protections for people of color by prohibiting discrimination in more public accommodations, such as exhibitions, goods and services, and transportation.

Twenty-nine states do not have laws that explicitly shield LGBTQ Americans from discrimination, resulting in a patchwork of protections that vary from state to state. The Equality Act would extend protections to cover federally funded programs, employment, housing, loan applications, education, and public accommodations. In addition, the Equality Act would prevent discrimination under federally funded programs based on sex or sexual orientation, including barring discrimination by faith-based organizations that receive federal funding, such as Catholic Charities, which has refused its adoption services to same-sex couples in the past. Senator Joe Manchin, the problem child of Democrats in the Senate, is the lone Democrat who is not a co-sponsor of the bill. Manchin said in 2019 that he would not support the bill without changes, explaining at the time that he was “not convinced that the Equality Act as written provides sufficient guidance to the local officials who will be responsible for implementing it, particularly with respect to students transitioning between genders in public schools.” I personally believe that any tax-exempt faith-based organization that involves itself in politics, then it should lose its tax-exempt status. Politics and discrimination have no place in religion, and it is time for religious institutions to realize this. Furthermore, I don’t believe any political and partisan organization should be tax-exempt. If you’re non-partisan and don’t discriminate, then you can have tax-exempt status.

The protections offered by the Equality Act are broadly popular among most Americans. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 76% of Americans support protections for LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodation. Although support is stronger among Democrats and independents, the poll found that most Republicans, 62%, also support anti-discrimination laws. Advocates argue that given the popularity of anti-discrimination measures even among Republicans, senators from GOP-dominant states should vote with their constituents on the issue. However, we have found out from the Republican Party that they do not care about the majority of their constituents. They want to restrict access to the ability to vote, especially for people who disagree with them. They also do not care what even those who largely agree with them want. For example, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 without a single vote from a Republican, even though most Republican voters supported the stimulus bill. Even though they all voted against it, Republicans across the country have promoted elements of the legislation they fought to defeat.

The opposition to the For The People Act and the Equality Act are not the only threats to democracy. The Washington, D.C. Admission Act (and the possibility of the admission of Puerto Rico as a state) and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 would also expand democracy and safety for minorities in the United States. Republicans know that if Puerto Rico became a state, it would likely add five members with full voting rights to the House of Representatives and two members to the Senate, which would likely result in an almost guaranteed seven electoral votes in a presidential election. Since the House of Representatives is limited to 435 members under the Reapportionment Act of 1929, Minnesota, California, Texas, Washington and Florida would each lose one electoral vote. Washington, D.C. would likely get one Representative, giving it three electoral votes, which are also almost guaranteed to be cast for the Democratic nominee in a presidential election.

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021would hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies. To me, the most essential provision of this bill is that it will establish a federal registry of police misconduct complaints and disciplinary actions. Currently, there is no such registry. As a result, if a law enforcement officer does something that warrants misconduct and disciplinary action and is dismissed from one department and applies for another, there is no way to know why they left their former employment. Furthermore, nothing requires their former employer to report misconduct to a new employer. In fact, current laws discourage a former employer from making any statements that might be seen as derogatory about their former employee.

To get any of this done, the Senate must reform or get rid of the filibuster. The filibuster is an archaic rule that the House of Representatives did away with in 1888. By the way, it was Republicans who ended the filibuster in the House. Democrats tried to bring it back in 1891 when they regained control, but Republicans used the reinstated filibuster to such frustrating effect that Democrats had no choice but to re-abolish it two years later. Opponents of abolishing the filibuster in the Senate often claim that the filibuster was part of the original design of the Senate. It was not. In fact, the traitor Aaron Burr introduced the idea of the filibuster in the Senate in 1805, and the Senate enacted it in 1806. But no Senator used it until 1837, when it was used for the first time. 

The Senate has been a problem to democracy from its beginning. The so-called “Great Compromise” (aka the Connecticut Compromise) was never popular with our Founding Fathers. It passed at the Constitutional Convention by one vote, 5–4–1. If we are talking about majority will, this was not a good example. Those five state delegations voting in favor did not represent most state delegations because 12 states sent delegates to the convention. Although there were thirteen states, Rhode Island did not send any delegates. The Senate has always been an elitist institution. State legislatures initially chose senators, but that ended in 1913 with the Seventeenth Amendment, which established the direct election of United States senators in each state.

The Senate’s operations result in partisan paralysis due to its preponderance of arcane and undemocratic rules. The Constitution specifies a simple majority threshold to pass legislation, and the filibuster is mentioned nowhere in the document. Representation in the Senate is not proportional to the population and is “anti-democratic” and creates “minority rule.” The Senate, like the rest of the U.S. government, does not represent minorities well. The approximately four million Americans that have no representation in the Senate (in the District of Columbia and U.S. territories) are heavily African and Hispanic American. D.C. and the territories at least have nonvoting delegates in the House. While we cannot get rid of the Senate, it is the most undemocratic institution in the American government, followed closely by the Electoral College. Reforms are desperately needed, and the laws mentioned above need to be enacted at all costs. We are guaranteed just under two years to have a majority in both houses of Congress. Someone needs to get Democratic Senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both of whom have frustrated Democrats with their defense of the filibuster. The Senate has to be made more democratic, and while the Seventeenth Amendment was a start, more needs to be done to promote equality in America.


Benefits of Being Fully Vaccinated

I debated whether or not I wanted to write a blog post about this particular subject, but then I decided, why not? Before the pandemic, I had met a guy that I got along with very well. We had a lot of the same interests in science fiction and enjoyed each other’s company. We would occasionally get together for a bit of fun (if you know what I mean), and sometimes, we’d watch a movie, usually we did more than just watch a movie. It was always a lot of fun. I have not been able to see him since the pandemic began. He has some health problems that didn’t allow him to even take the slimmest chance of getting COVID. We have talked a few times over the course of the pandemic, and we always said we would get together again when all of this was over or when we were both fully vaccinated.

Last week, he texted me to tell me that he was fully vaccinated, and I was able to tell him that I too was fully vaccinated. He suggested that we get together last night. Of course, I am writing this before I went over there, but I am anticipating we will have a fun time catching up and maybe even making up for lost time. It feels like things are beginning to get back to normal as more and more people are getting vaccinated. There is light at the end of the tunnel and Vermont is thankfully leading the way.

Vermont leads the nation in vaccines with 52.7 percent of the state’s population being fully vaccinated. We have 69.7 percent of the state’s population with at least one dose of the vaccine. New England has done remarkably well, with only Rhode Island and New Hampshire having less than 50 percent of their populations fully vaccinated. Rhode Island is close with 49.9 percent, but New Hampshire appears to be a bit of an anomaly in New England with only 35.6 percent being fully vaccinated. Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts are the top four states for vaccinations, respectively. Rhode Island is fifth, but New Hampshire is twenty-third.  New Jersey, Hawaii, New Mexico, Maryland, and New York round out the top ten. All of the top ten are Democratic-leaning states. 

In contrast, South Carolina, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi make up the bottom ten states with Mississippi having the lowest vaccination rates. The fact is the U.S. vaccination map looks a lot like a map of how states vote in presidential elections, with most blue states vaccinating at levels well above the national average and GOP states bringing up the rear. Sadly, the politics of COVID-19 have been partisan from almost the onset of the pandemic, and polls consistently show that Republicans, particularly men, are more hesitant than Democrats to get vaccinated.