The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Theocracy on Slow Boil

And here’s one more thing almost no one was talking about yesterday with the all the news about Mark Foley. While we were looking the other way, the House took a brick out of the wall between church and state threw it at lawyers who successfully challenge government actions advancing religion. Oh, and at their clients too, of course.

With little public attention or even notice, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that undermines enforcement of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. The Public Expression of Religion Act – H.R. 2679 – provides that attorneys who successfully challenge government actions as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment shall not be entitled to recover attorneys fees. The bill has only one purpose: to prevent suits challenging unconstitutional government actions advancing religion.

A federal statute, 42 United States Code section 1988, provides that attorneys are entitled to recover compensation for their fees if they successfully represent a plaintiff asserting a violation of his or her constitutional or civil rights. For example, a lawyer who successfully sues on behalf of a victim of racial discrimination or police abuse is entitled to recover attorney’s fees from the defendant who acted wrongfully. Any plaintiff who successfully sues to remedy a violation of the Constitution or a federal civil rights statute is entitled to have his or her attorney’s fees paid.

… Without this statute, there is no way to compensate attorneys who successfully sue for injunctions to stop unconstitutional government behavior.

Under this law, if you’re going to go to court over government promoting religion, or favoring a particular religion, you’d better have deep pockets or a lawyer who can work pro bono. You see, if you win you also lose.

How would a law like this affect the Dobrich family or the Smaklkowskis? (What does it mean for Cuyahoga County’s Orthodox Jews who must go to church in order to vote, or vote absentee? The Dobrich family’s former neighbors would probably approve.) Well, they and most of the rest of us probably couldn’t afford to challenge state-sponsored religion, at least not without considerable backing from sympathetic organizations or individuals. What it means for those of us who are religious minorities or who are non-religions is pretty well laid out by Bruce at Crablaw.

This is a blatant attempt to lock the courthouse door and to mark the territory for a new “fascism lite.” This is not about saving money or fiscal responsibility, this group of Republicans in Congress pissed that one out a very long time ago. This is about making sure that the majority religion of the Republican Party’s southern base gets a privileged position to dictate a religious agenda on the dime of everyone. They WANT atheists, Jews, Catholics, Unitarians, Buddhists, Muslims, etc., to “know their place”, that being a concept with which the theocratic South is very familiar. It is about establishing a religious “Christo-fascism lite” – not mean enough to kill people, but mean enough to show the hell-bound “heathen”, “Kike”, “Pope-worshipper” or “sandnigger” “their place,” that die sind hier nicht erwuenscht. Or, actually, maybe it IS mean enough to kill people or at least to make them fear for their safety.

Like the Dobrich family feared for their safety enough to move to a different city; a fear that was borne out when a conservative blog published their address and phone number.

And what it means in a larger sense, where we are right now as a country, is described well by Philip Rappa.

The only moral authority We the People have given the State is defined by its social contract. That contract is the Constitution and The Bill of Rights. It exists only because we the people affirm its promise.

It’s been said the world has changed since 911. That’s true for our government is indiscernible. It’s unrecognizable. It no longer adheres to the principles of our founding papers. It no longer accepts The Bill of Rights as the law of the land. No longer does it recognize treaties, proclamations or conventions.

Our leader leads by fiat. No longer does congress proclaim their responsibility to be both check and balance. Signing statements have become the law of the land. We the people look for justice. We look towards the courts that used to represent mankind’s last resort against tyranny.

But they may not any longer if Archbishop Donald Wuerl’s words, at a mass attended by four Supreme Court Justices, are true.

At a Mass attended by four U.S. Supreme Court justices, Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl said yesterday that religious faith is an enduring “cornerstone” of American life and that morality and ethics “cannot be divorced from their religious antecedents.”

The archbishop delivered the homily as he celebrated his first Red Mass, held annually as the Supreme Court convenes at which worshipers seek God’s blessing and guidance for those who administer justice.

… Religious faith, the archbishop said, has long played an important role in U.S. society, from the Mayflower Compact, which established law, to the Declaration of Independence. George Washington, he said, told Americans in his farewell address that “we cannot expect national prosperity without morality, and morality cannot be sustained without religious principles.”

Because, of course, non-religious people cannot be moral, cannot be ethical. So, if you’ll pardon me, I’m running behind on my quota of raping, killing, stealing, etc., and should probably get caught up, unless I willing to consider this assertion by Sam Harris.

If religion really provided the only conceivable objective basis for morality, it should be impossible to posit a nontheistic objective basis for morality. But it is not impossible; it is rather easy.

…In The End of Faith, I argued that questions of morality are really questions about happiness and suffering. If there are objectively better and worse ways to live so as to maximize happiness in this world, these would be objective moral truths worth knowing. Whether we will ever be in a position to discover these truths and agree about them cannot be known in advance (and this is the case for all questions of scientific fact). But if there are psychophysical laws that underwrite human well-being—and why wouldn’t there be?—then these laws are potentially discoverable. Knowledge of these laws would provide an enduring basis for an objective morality. In the meantime, everything about human experience suggests that love is better than hate for the purposes of living happily in this world. This is an objective claim about the human mind, the dynamics of social relations, and the moral order of our world. While we do not have anything like a final, scientific approach to maximizing human happiness, it seems safe to say that raping and killing children will not be one of its primary constituents.

And all without a belief in any particular god or gods? But surely, as a non-religious person, if the Archbishop is correct Harris must simply be refusing to turn around and face the corpse-strewn destruction he must have left behind him because of his lack of faith.

If religion is a prerequisite for morality, how far is that from the right religion being a prerequisite for morality? And how far from there to morality being a prerequisite for being human?

I’ve written before about assertions that talk of theocracy amounts to paranoia, but what I’ve read and what I’ve seen in the news (along with the above) lately makes me think it’s something to be taken very seriously, while there’s still something to be done about it. But it’s like the analogy of the frog in a pot of boiling water. The temperature increases so gradually that it’s easy not to notice it until the boiling point creeps up on you and it’s too late to jump out Jumping out, in that context, isn’t paranoia. It’s foresight.

Update: Apparently folks like Harris and yours truly are responsible for yesterday’s shooting at an Amish school. At least according to last nights CBS commentary.

I’m saddened and shaken by the shooting at an Amish school today, and last week’s school murders.

When my son Dan was murdered on the sidewalk at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, I hoped that would be the last school shooting. Since that day, I’ve tried to answer the question, “Why did this happen?”

This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.

Suicide has become an acceptable action and has further emboldened these criminals. And we are seeing an epidemic increase in murder-suicide attacks on our children.

Sadly, our schools are not safe. In fact, we now witness that within our schools. Our children have become a target of terrorists from within the United States.

Gee, I swear I was at work when the shooting happened, and I don’t even know the guy who did it. (If there are any natural disasters I’m to blame for this week, I plead ignorance.) But take this guy’s message, and add it to the stuff mentioned above and tell me how far we have to go before blaming non-religious folks for every awful thing that happens leads to action against those same folks when this kind of stuff happens? Read the stories of the Smalkowski’s and the Dobrich family and tell me we’re nowhere near there.

In the meantime, I’d humbly suggest that if you’re looking for someone to blame you should (a) start with the guy who did the shooting, and (b) maybe ask how/why he managed to get his hands on the 600 rounds of ammo and other weapons he took in there with him. (That is, unless you want to blame it on gun control laws preventing the Amish students and teachers from being armed.) That assumes, of course, that one can or would apply logic.

There’s video available at the link above.