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Archive for the ‘congress’ Category

Senator Craig has apparently voted against the Kennedy hate crimes amendment, which would add gays to the federal hate crime statute.

If he voted against gays, he can’t possibly be gay, right?

Let’s see if the court reviewing his bathroom sex sting case buys it.

UPDATE: the hate crimes measure passed the Senate this morning by a vote of 60-39.

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Roll Call is reporting that Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) was arrested in June for soliciting gay sex in a public restroom.

Of course Craig is a ‘family values’ conservative who voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment and DOMA.

The whole conservative politician getting caught up in a (gay) sex scandal is getting a little old, but it never ceases to make me simultaneously chuckle and sigh.

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Congressman Bill Sali (R-ID) believes religious freedom for non-Christians will remove “the protective hand of God” from the United States. Sali lamented religious pluralism saying, “we have not only a Hindu prayer being offered in the Senate, we have a Muslim member of the House of Representatives now, Keith Ellison from Minnesota. Those are changes — and they are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers.”

Perhaps the Congressmen should take a look a the Constitution, which he gave an oath (before God nonetheless) to uphold. Article VI reads, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

This is not the first time Sali has tried to push the ‘Christian Nation’ myth. In a speech to the House floor in March commemorating the 220th Anniversary of Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom, Sali argued that Thomas Jefferson never really supported the “wall of separation.” He said:

the ‘wall” was designed not to prevent people of faith from expressing their views in the public square, or to discourage them from applying their faith to public life, but rather to prevent the Federal Government from suppressing Judeo-Christian beliefs or their adherents.

I wonder if Sali actually read Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom? I’m guessing he either missed this point, or couldn’t understand the irony of it before writing his speech:

that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time

Seeing as the Congressman had difficulty reading and/or comprehending the Virginia Statute, there’s probably a good chance he missed this bit from Thomas Jefferson’s autobiography:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

It’s always frustrating to me that the American people continue to elect guys like Sali who are not only religious bigots, but are also ignorant of the basics of American history.

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Here’s a fun video clip of the shouting match that occurred last Thursday in the House after a Democratic maneuver that effectively denied the Republicans their win over a procedural motion which would ensure that illegal immigrants would not get benefits from an agriculture spending bill. Full story here.

Looks more like the British House of Commons than the US Congress.

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The Senate Juiciary Committee just approved the nomination of of Leslie Southwick to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Lindsey Catlett of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights reported on Judge Southwicks questionable record:

In Richmond v. Mississippi Dept. of Human Services, Southwick joined the 5-4 majority that upheld the reinstatement of a white social worker who was fired for calling a black employee a “good ole n****.”

“[T]he opinion that Southwick joined accepted without any skepticism Richmond’s testimony that her use of the racial slur was ‘not motivated out of racial hatred or animosity directed at her co-worker or toward blacks in general, but was, rather, intended to be a shorthand description of her perception of the relationship existing between the [co]-worker and [a Department of Human Services] supervisor,'” said Ralph G. Neas, president of the People for the American Way (PFAW) and Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in a May 8 letter
of opposition
to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

The four dissenting judges in Richmond recognized this as a faulty argument and a threat to civil rights: “The word “n****” is, and has always been, offensive. […] There are some words, which by their nature and definition are so inherently offensive, that their use establishes the intent to offend.” The dissenting opinion was confirmed when the Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously overturned Richmond.

In another case, S.B. v. L.W., Southwick joined the 5-4 majority that denied a woman custody of her child. The majority considered the sexual orientation of the mother to be a legitimate factor in deciding custody.

But Judge Southwick even went further by joining a concurrence which held that homosexuality is a “choice that bears consequences.” As PFAW and HRC stated, “the concurrence appears to have been written for the sole purpose of underscoring and defending Mississippi’s hostility toward gay people and what it calls ‘the practice of homosexuality.'”

Unfortunately for blacks and gays in the 5th Circuit, Judge Southwick is likely to be confirmed by the Senate.

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Yesterday in the House, Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) introduced H.RES.598, supporting the goals of the Ten Commandments Commission and congratulating the Commission and its supporters for their key role in promoting and ensuring recognition of the Ten Commandments as the cornerstone of Western law. It has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Where even to begin? First, it is a horrible waste of legislative time to address a purely symbolic resolution, especially with all of the far more pressing issues the country is facing.

Second, even though it is a symbolic resolution that will have no effect on the law if passed, I find it problematic that the legislature would support an organization whose goal is to restore the Ten Commandments in public places in spite of the 1980 Supreme Court Decision Stone v. Graham, which found that the Commandments are “undeniably a sacred text,” and that their public display violates the First Amendment.

Third, the language of the H.RES.598 is facetious. It seeks to congratulate the Ten Commandments Commission for “promoting and ensuring recognition of the Ten Commandments as the cornerstone of Western law.” The Commission is not actually concerned with dubious premise that the Ten Commandments are the base of Western Law, they wish to prop up the Commandments as the Word of God itself, in hopes of giving the Bible greater authority in our laws and daily lives. Their mission statement reads:

As committed people of faith, we have an obligation to stand up together for God. His law is not only a profile of His character, but also a moral mirror to show humans where we have fallen short in both honoring the Creator, and in respecting our fellow man. Therefore, as we witness the degradation of society, we must come together in a spirit of unity, harmony, and reconciliation to bring the Word of God back to the forefront of our national conscience.

Now to address this claim that the Commandments are the foundation of Western law. For starters, the first four are explicitly religious and have nothing to do with secular law.

Further, the first documentation of written law was Hammurabi’s Code, which was written in approximately 1760 BC, 1000 years before the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments actually echoes many of the provisions of Hammurabi’s Code.

Then there’s the Magna Carta. Marci Hamilton, professor of law at Yeshiva University writes a nice column on the Ten Commandments, where she writes:

The Magna Carta, which forced the British King John to give up many rights to the aristocracy, was first set down in 1215 A.D. It was the first declaration that the people’s ruler was under the law, the first check on royal power, and it introduced nascent concepts of due process, jury by one’s peers, freedom of religion, and no taxation without representation.

Other monarchs agreed to future Magna Cartas, and it came to be considered central to the law of England. Even though it took a back seat during the 1500s, it was re-discovered and embraced in the 1600s to fight the tyranny of the Stuarts. Parliament used it as a wedge against the monarchs, in effect, creating the beginnings of the separation of powers we now take for granted. It is common
knowledge that the principles of the Magna Carta were carried across the
Atlantic to the New World and the colonies, and bore fruit in the United States
Constitution and state laws.

The most recent copy was recently installed with much pomp and circumstance in a handsome display in Philadelphia’s Independence Visitors’ Center. There is no question that the Magna Carta–which was the first written declaration of rights by landowners against the monarchy–was a strong influence on later rights declarations, including the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

The vast majority of American law, including the rules against killing and stealing, was borrowed in whole or in part from the British common law–which itself was viewed either as rising from natural law or from custom, not from the Ten Commandments.

With all of that being said. Americans who support the separation of church and state should reject even symbolic encroachments of religion in the public square. However we should not loose site of the substantive encroachments that the Religious Right continue to push for such as: Bush’s Faith-Based Initiatives, religious school voucher programs, the teaching of Creationism in science classes, and the denial of equal rights to gay Americans.

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The home of Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), former Chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, was raided by FBI and IRS agents yesterday as a part of a corruption probe.

This is the same Senator who placed a secret hold on a bill that was aimed at increasing government accountability by requiring the government to publish and online database of federal spending.

This is the same Senator who, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, was able to attach a $2 billion project for the ‘Bridge to Nowhere‘. And the same Senator who threated to resign if the funds for this monument to government waste were redirected to rebuild a major thoroughfare bridge destroy by Hurricane Katrina.

It is a relief to see that Senator Stevens seems to be unraveling from his own corruption and arrogance. It is somewhat disheartening that it had to be the FBI to do it. Where were the people of Alaska, who voted Stevens into office for six terms? Enjoying the pork projects he showered upon his state, I suppose (Alaska is number one recipient of federal pork funds, though it is the 48th most populous).

The beauty of democracy is that it is supposed to create institutionalized checks on power. Instead our democracy, through cronyism and special interests, allowed Senator Stevens to be untouchable for nearly 40 years.

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