Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Freedom of religion, a right so often misunderstood

Recently the Tennessee House of Representatives attempted to pass a law that would have made the Bible the official state book. Their Senate realized, after their State’s Attorney General opined this, it would violate the First Amendment by approving the Book. It was establishing a religion. The attempt ended.
 Bobby Jindal, Governor of Mississippi, had made a public point in an invitation to a Christian event in January 25, that the US was founded by Christians and this is a Christian country.  That this country was founded by Christians is true. The majority of the US practices Christianity today, but  the Constitution defined freedom of religion quite differently than that envisioned by our earliest settlers.
The Pilgrims, Christians, came to the US to seek freedom to practice their religion, but not to establish freedom for others. The Mayflower Compact, the document written aboard their ship, was an understanding of what kind of colony they were founding and what the attitude should be of the non-Pilgrims accompanying them. They wrote as their purpose, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith.”  By the time of the Declaration of Independence and later officially when the US Constitution was written, freedom of religion was meant for all practitioners of religion and even non-practitioners. The First Amendment made it clear that there should be no state religion. It reads:Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religions, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” 
The definition of freedom of religion addresses freedom for whom to do what.   The Pilgrims and Puritans came to establish freedom of religion for themselves free to practice their own brand of Christianity free of the King of England. Tolerance of others was not their purpose. The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony hung Quakers for not going along with their concept of purification.  Roger Williams left the Colony to found Rhode Island because “As faith is the free work of the Holy Spirit, it cannot be forced on a person.” 
 Nearly every colony had established their state approved religion before 1776.  Maryland tried to legislate tolerance. Unfortunately it got tangled up in the religious conflicts of the Cromwellian era and intolerance of Catholics lasted until the signing of the Declaration of Independence when Baptists and Presbyterians demanded disestablishment of state churches and protection of religious freedom
It was the son of the Age of Reason, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1779 and the concepts were incorporated in the First Amendment and who argued for separation of church and state.  The Supreme Court has upheld the concept but modern  applications have raised  issues never envisioned by our forefathers, leading  to many hair splitting rulings and more to come.
 Yes, Christian protestants were the first founders of our nation but it took another 160 years for our forefathers  to understand  that separation of church and state was crucial to freedom for all to practice their religion and that there should be no  established state religion.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Musings on difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day

I realized I was a bit confused about Memorial Day (May 25 this year)  and Veterans Day (November 11) so I searched the internet.  The difference is that Memorial Day honors those who died in defense of our country and it became a federal holiday in 1971. Veterans Day honors living veterans of all wars.
 Memorial Day was “ originally called Decoration Day and was initiated to  honor the soldiers for the Union and Confederate armies who died during the American Civil War in  the 1860s. The holiday, per www.publicholidays.us/memorial , was meant to unify the celebration as a national day of remembrance instead of a holiday celebrated separately by the Union and Confederate states.”  Confederate flags are always planted on the graves of Confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.
 In spite of the attempt at a unified memorial day, some southern states also still hold their own Confederate memorial day (Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina) though it is not always a holiday closing offices or schools in every state. The dates are not uniform nor are the names of the celebrations. Texas for example calls it Confederate Heroes Day and is held on Martin Luther King’s birthday Jan. 19.
 Veterans Day names and celebrations differ from country to country. Originally called Armistice Day, it is to celebrate on the day the combatants signed the end World War I. Most countries (except France and Belgium) the holiday name.  The United Kingdom and Canada in 1931 adopted the name  Remembrance Day, while the United States chose All Veterans Day (later shortened to 'Veterans Day')  in 1938 and later extended it to  honor military veterans of all conflicts. When I was a child in Oklahoma in the 1950s we still referred to it as Armistice Day. I remember wearing a crepe paper poppy on that day to remind us of the end of World War I and those that died in it.
 I have often found myself on British Commonwealth territory in November. Artificial poppies, red with a distinctive black middle, are worn in remembrance of the fallen in the poppy covered Flanders Fields in Belgium inspired by a poem by John McCrae. Poppies are sold as fund raisers to provide charity to veterans of all wars. I always bought a poppy to remind me that our close allies in the British Commonwealth suffered even more than us in World War I.

In remembering my relatives and ancestors who fought on our behalf, I do have a special prayer. It contains thanks for their service but I also pray that the leaders who will send them to battle in the future have the wisdom to avoid putting them in harms way in vain and first seek other options to settle conflicts. War should only be a defensive action against an attack on us and our allies. To launch wars as a pre-emptive strike should never be in our country’s traditions.


http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/confederate-memorial-day

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News Friday May 22, 2015

Friday, May 8, 2015

The long, hot urban unrest

We have just gone through a long, hot period of urban unrest, accusations and videos of police violence against minorities, from white ruled Ferguson to minority governed Baltimore.  We in a mountain valley far from those maddening crowds come up with all kinds of theories of why, including a statement  from a writer in this paper that Democrats rule the cities so the problem “apparently” is  corruption.
 In a long hot summer of the  1960’s a Denver neighborhood called Five Points burned.  Five Points at one time was the thriving center of African American life, but as a post war economy boomed, it was clear that neighborhood was left behind.   Resentment boiled over against those in charge, including the white, good ole boy mayor who put his eggs in the basket of developing urban renewal skyscrapers.  Even the health center where my husband was a staff doctor was fire bombed and anger seethed in streets where I have walked door to door registering voters and running surveys of grocery stores that revealed the poor paid more.   
It was not until the 1980’s  that a series of  Denver mayors,  one Hispanic, two Blacks, and a far-sighted  Anglo  led  about as clean a local government as one could wish. And, oh yes, they were all Democrats.  Infrastructure   attention was paid to Five Points, including light rail to transport them to jobs.  From time to time, police brutality is still alleged, but police chiefs are reprimanded or fired.  Their schools are underperforming, but improving.  Few however doubt that the city administration does not care about them. Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock, an African American, was elected to his second term with 80% of the vote last week in a city that is over 50% white.
Often ignored are the demographic and economic shifts that characterized the last century. It was the migration of southern African Americans to the north or Latino immigrants to the west in search of jobs requiring little education. That worked until those manufacturing jobs moved to the lower wage south or replaced workers with robots. That is particularly true in Baltimore that recently lost its auto manufacturing base.
 Indeed, policy decisions have consequences, but policy is not always dictated by corruption.  Baltimore put its development money into a harbor front renewal project where wealth failed to trickle down to its neighborhoods. Those projects are often a Chamber of Commerce dream, but provide little hope for the urban poor if the tax money they generate fails to address their needs, especially to provide good schools to make their citizens employable.
So why are big cities nearly always governed by Democrats? The party’s makeup has more potential for a chance their voices will be heard.  The GOP is heavily composed of white men from the south and mid west rural areas . Urban dwellers understand the GOP has few policies that address their concerns. The GOP budget now in Congress, like others before, will worsen income inequality with tax policies.  It propose to take away some of what little the government provides in assistance and opposes job generating infrastructure projects.  At the same time, the GOP crusades to make it harder for them to vote and be heard.  

A version of this appeared in the www.skyhidailynews.com May 15,2015

http://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2015/04/28/why-baltimore-burned/

Felicia Muftic served in the administration of Denver Mayor Federico Pena as Clerk and Recorder and his liaison to City Council.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The cartoon contest to insult the Prophet Mohammed sponsored by an anti-Muslim hate group was the target of an armed attack in Garland, Texas, yet to be called a terrorist attack, reminds me of a column I wrote after the charlie hebdo attack posted here March 11, 2015.  This may have been billed as a freedom of speech event, but it may be more like shouting fire in a crowded theater. It certainly is not in the tradition of America that has set as a standard for respect and tolerance. I am reposting the column about the differences between the US and Europe regarding the views of freedom of speech.

Freedom of Press and Speech...differences between Europe and the US

The shootings in Denmark and the attacks in Paris against Charlie Hebdo had much in common.   Both targets were writers or publications that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed and they were twinned with a deadly assault on a Jewish site.   Differences between Europe and the United States reacting to the shootings revealed different interpretations of freedom of speech and press.

We in the US cannot be smug; we have and will have home grown terrorist attacks by those disaffected, whether in Oklahoma City or Boston.  The US mainstream media would not, had not,  and did not publish cartoons offensive to Muslims.. We know we have the freedom to do it, but we also know we have the choice, respect, and responsibility not to do it. On the other hand, Europeans had no qualms about a press offending anyone. They had the freedom to do it and they felt a need to continue so they would not be cowed by fear.  The Je Suis Charlie demonstrations in Paris delivered that defiant message.

There was an instructive exchange on MSNBC Morning Joe February 16 between the hosts and an editor of the newspaper in Denmark who had published cartoons offensive to Muslims.   Both saluted the shared values of freedom of the press but differed about the approach. . The Americans talked about taking into account the feelings of those who were the object of the hate speech.  The Danish publisher said he was exercising his right of freedom of the press, would not be cowed by fear, and “we should get a ‘thicker skin’”.

Some governments in Europe suppress any display of expression of faith in the name of fairness including banning wearing headscarves, burkas, stars of David, or crosses in schools. Their minorities feel such laws, however, communicate they and their religions are not welcome. US freedom of expression and speech means that all may wear symbols of their religion.

Our tradition of tolerance and respect is actually a new phenomenon and it was born of a multi- cultural, multi- racial society with a 200 year history of intolerance and discrimination. With new generations a consensus of most of us believe that discrimination and hate speech are wrong.

 That awareness was not caused so much by fear of violence as it was a sense of fairness and doing what was right. We did not ask media or those who resented discrimination to get a thicker skin.  Instead individuals, media and political institutions, shouldered the responsibility not to publish or spout hate speech. Some laws and court decisions interpreting the Constitution support the action.


True, attitudes of some are still evolving. A fraternity’s racist chant in March resulted in the University of Oklahoma’s administration taking swift action, expelling the fraternity and the instigators. What happened in North Carolina recently when three Muslim-American students were shot dead was especially significant and encouraging because it came spontaneously from the hearts of fellow non-Muslim students. The world saw television reports of the thousands who demonstrated out of sympathy with the victims as they filled a sports stadium in solidarity.