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Your brother’s on his own September 29, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Music.
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My favorite song on Aimee Mann’s new album, Charmer, is the bonus track entitled “Brother’s Keeper”.

There’s not a man alive who could wake this sleeper
Oh, tie the rope, hide the dope, sure there’s hope, but denial’s cheaper

And when we’ve all collected a
spectacular sum
We’ll get a holy roller in
to rattle the drum

You can justify what happens then
‘Cause how could you have known
Leave the dust to dust and say amen
Put ‘sorry’ on the stone
You’re not your brother’s keeper now, your brother’s on his own
That’s how the seeds of avarice are sown…

On either side September 25, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Politics, Religion.
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It’s a joke, right? A parody? A satirical mockery of the suicidal, cowardly, obscene, morally-bankrupt farce that postmodern, politically-correct multiculturalism has become?

The European Union has issued a joint statement with the African Union, the Arab League, and (I kid you not) the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

We share a profound respect for all religions. We are united in our belief in the fundamental importance of religious freedom and tolerance. We condemn any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility and violence. While fully recognizing freedom of expression, we believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to.

The anguish of Muslims at the production of the film insulting Islam, posting of its trailer on the internet and other similar acts, is shared by all individuals and communities who refuse to allow religion to be used to fuel provocation, confrontation and extremism.

We condemn any message of hatred and intolerance.

We know that the behaviour of small groups of people does not speak for the larger communities from which they hail; but the damage they can inflict can be considerable. We must ensure that the recent events do not undermine the relationships of trust and respect we have built up over so many years among our peoples, communities and states. The international community cannot be held hostage to the acts of extremists on either side…

We reiterate our strong commitment to take further measures and to work for an international
consensus on tolerance and full respect of religion, including on the basis of UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/18.

Yes, that’s clearly what we need: More respect for religion. Full respect, in fact. For Islam, and Mormonism, and Scientology, and Voodoo, and Wicca — we must respect them all, equally and profoundly. And all prophets, too — no matter what they preach. (Don’t they all preach the same thing, really?) We must take “further measures” against the extremists — on either side — who are holding the international community hostage: those who murder diplomats, on the one side, and those, on the other side, who provoke and incite by posting insulting films on the internet.

It must be a joke, right?

Although, come to think of it, not really very funny at all.

(via Butterflies & Wheels)

Crimes and insults September 22, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Freedom, Law, Religion.
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As U.S. embassies were being attacked and innocents murdered throughout the Muslim world, the Prime Minister of Pakistan had this to say:

The Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has called upon the world community to declare blasphemy despicable and a criminal act.

Addressing Ishq-e-Mustafa Conference held at the Prime Minister House, he said denial of holocaust is met with punishment but Muslims’ sentiments are absolutely disregarded, adding it is incumbent upon all as a Muslim to protest against any insult to the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

“The anti-Islam movie has harmed the sentiments of all Muslims including me,” he asserted, adding the issue does not pertain to the freedom of expression as it was intended to provoke the feelings of Muslims…

He said if denying Holocaust is a crime then demonizing holiest personalities is not less a crime. Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf said an attack on the Prophet Hazrat Mohammad [Peace Be upon Him] is an attack on the core belief of 1.5 billion Muslims.

The Prime Minister of Turkey agrees:

Erdogan said he will continue to give messages at the next UN General Assembly meeting about adopting international legislation against insulting religion. “I am the prime minister of a nation, of which most are Muslims and that has declared anti-semitism a crime against humanity. But the West hasn’t recognized Islamophobia as a crime against humanity — it has encouraged it. [The film director] is saying he did this to provoke the fundamentalists among Muslims. When it is in the form of a provocation, there should be international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred, on religion. As much as it is possible to adopt international regulations, it should be possible to do something in terms of domestic law.”

He further noted, “Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others start. You can say anything about your thoughts and beliefs, but you will have to stop when you are at the border of others’ freedoms. I was able to include Islamophobia as a hate crime in the final statement of an international meeting in Warsaw.”

Erdogan said the government will immediately start working on legislation against blasphemous and offensive remarks. “Turkey could be a leading example for the rest of the world on this.”

The only thing more depressing than the depths of moral confusion and ignorance displayed by heads of state in the 21st century, is that the international community’s response so often consists of apology rather than derision.

Allow me to offer some remedial civics instruction for those who are stuck in the Iron Age: One person’s freedom of speech ends only when another person would be materially harmed.  The classic example is incitement to violence — which, incidentally, is widespread in the Muslim world. Antisemitism, like racism and sexism, should only be illegal when it is codified into discriminatory policy (also widespread in the Muslim world).

What must never be curtailed, however, is the right to freely criticize people and ideas — no matter how offensive or blasphemous such criticism may seem to some. Surely, anyone who cares about the truth has nothing to fear from allowing dissenting voices to be heard. If the opinions being expressed are clearly stupid and wrong, that should make them all the more easy to refute. And if the critics are simply too repugnant for words, if they’re being deliberately provocative and insulting, then everyone is free to ignore them. But not to harm or threaten or imprison them.

Holocaust denial, by the way, should not be illegal, even though it currently is illegal in some countries (not in the United States). The way to deal with liars and bigots is by exposing their lies and shaming them with evidence.

Are we all clear, now? Illegal: violence and discrimination. Stupid but legal: voicing nonviolent antisemitic opinions; denying the Holocaust; respecting Islam and its barbaric Prophet.

(via Butterflies & Wheels)

Forced ignorance is legal in Virginia September 15, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Education, Freedom, Religion.
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Denying children a basic education severely harms them for life: it restricts their opportunities and limits their ability to think for themselves and make informed choices. Obvious, right? That’s why we have compulsory education laws, right?

Nearly 7,000 Virginia children whose families have opted to keep them out of public school for religious reasons are not required to get an education, the only children in the country who do not have to prove they are being home-schooled or otherwise educated, according to a study.

Virginia is the only state that allows families to avoid government intrusion once they are given permission to opt out of public school, according to a report from the University of Virginia’s School of Law. It’s a law that is defended for promoting religious freedom and criticized for leaving open the possibility that some children will not be educated.

I’ll bet you saw that coming: “promoting religious freedom.” I wish I didn’t have to keep repeating the obvious: The religious freedom of a parent does not include the freedom to harm his children. Not by abusing them physically, and not by keeping them ignorant (which is also a form of abuse). Parents are free to teach their religion to their children as persuasively as they can, but they have no right to keep them cut off from the world, denying them the freedom to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives.

Home-school advocates say the law is essential to preserving the rights of families who believe that any state control of their children’s education would violate the tenets of their faith. It takes on particular importance in the state where Thomas Jefferson helped define religious freedom as a bedrock principle for the country.

“They feel that their deity has given them that responsibility,” said Amy Wilson of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. For such families, she said, to have to file paperwork and evidence of progress would put them in a crisis of conscience.

What about parents who believe that any state control over their ability to beat their children would violate the tenets of their faith and put them in a crisis of conscience? Must the law preserve those parents’ rights, too?

The statute does not allow exemptions for political or philosophical beliefs “or a merely personal moral code,” but the beliefs do not have to be part of a mainstream religion.

In other words, you don’t need any rational justification for your position; you just need to say the magic word — “religion” — and you’re exempt from the law that applies to everyone else.

In Fairfax County, which reported nearly 500 children who had been granted the religious exemption as of the 2011-12 school year, parents and children older than 14 must submit a letter explaining their religious beliefs, and letters of support vouching for the authenticity of their beliefs.

Steven Staples, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said that once families have written to the district to request the exemption, superintendents tend to honor the families’ wishes. “Most folks who choose religious exemption have some very strongly held beliefs that we want to respect,” Staples said.

I’m asking you now, Mr. Staples: Would you honor and respect folks who very strongly believed in beating their children? Regardless of how many letters they submitted vouching for the “authenticity” of their beliefs?

Parents who seek the exemption, [Yvonne Bunn of the Home Educators Association of Virginia] said, “would probably rather go to jail rather than put their children in school, because they have very strong convictions that they’re following what God has directed them to do.”

Actually, jail sounds like an appropriate place for them — together with all the other abusive parents. Better to imprison the parents than to let them imprison their children’s minds.

(via Butterflies & Wheels)

There is no manual September 8, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Law, Politics, Reason.
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Besides God, there’s something else the Republican Party’s 2012 platform worships:

We possess an owner’s manual: the Constitution of the United States, the greatest political document ever written. That sacred document shows us the path forward…

We salute Republican Members of the House of Representatives for enshrining in the Rules of the House the requirement that every bill must cite the provision of the Constitution which permits its introduction…

We affirm that all legislation, rules, and regulations must conform and public servants must adhere to the U.S. Constitution, as originally intended by the Framers…

…some judges in the federal courts remain far afield from their constitutional limitations. The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land. Judicial activism which includes reliance on foreign law or unratified treaties undermines American law. The sole solution, apart from impeachment, is the appointment of constitutionalist jurists, who will interpret the law as it was originally intended rather than make it.

The Framers of the Constitution were definitely smart people, but they were not infallible; and in any case, they lived in a different world, with no ability to foresee all the issues that confront us in the age of genetic engineering and atomic weapons and the internet. We have the right and the obligation to change our laws as necessary, correcting past mistakes and adapting to new circumstances, regardless of the intentions of our predecessors. There is no reason, for instance, why the Framers’ concerns about militias should forever dictate our policy on personal gun ownership — just as our schools no longer teach science using 18th-century textbooks.

It seems to me that this yearning for an “owner’s manual” — an authoritative rulebook containing the answers to all society’s problems — betrays a desire to avoid having to acknowledge uncomfortable realities and think for oneself. Why work hard to propose and evaluate new policies in the face of risk and uncertainty, when you can suppress doubt and achieve instant righteousness as an uncompromising defender of venerable traditions? If we care about reality, however, we cannot afford such blind faith. No document should ever be treated as sacred, and all laws must be perpetually open for reevaluation. There is no infallible, eternal manual for building a perfect society — it’s always a work in progress.

Dominion over the faith of others September 2, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Freedom, Politics, Religion.
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The Republican Party’s 2012 platform talks an awful lot about freedom and equality, but it seems to apply them rather inconsistently. For instance, it says this:

We are the party of the Constitution, the solemn compact which confirms our God-given individual rights and assures that all Americans stand equal before the law… We will strongly enforce anti-discrimination statutes and ask all to join us in rejecting the forces of hatred and bigotry and in denouncing all who practice or promote racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice, or religious intolerance.

But just a few paragraphs later, there’s this:

… Congressional Republicans took the lead in enacting the Defense of Marriage Act, affirming the right of States and the federal government not to recognize same-sex relationships licensed in other jurisdictions… We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We applaud the citizens of the majority of States which have enshrined in their constitutions the traditional concept of marriage, and we support the campaigns underway in several other States to do so.

In other words, discrimination and bigotry towards homosexuals is to be applauded and supported.

On the subject of religious freedom, the platform invokes Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute,

which declared that no one should “suffer on account of his religious opinion or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion…” That assurance has never been more needed than it is today, as liberal elites try to drive religious beliefs — and religious believers — out of the public square… The most offensive instance of this war on religion has been the current Administration’s attempt to compel faith-related institutions, as well as believing individuals, to contravene their deeply held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs regarding health services, traditional marriage, or abortion.

But the current Administration has not been attempting to compel anyone to use a health service, marry, or get an abortion in contravention of his or her religious beliefs; the Administration has merely been attempting to ensure that these options are available to those who want them. Whereas Republicans are saying that if something goes against their religious beliefs, no one should be allowed to do it.

It’s a shame they didn’t read the rest of Jefferson’s Statute:

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 endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time…

He divides us against each other September 1, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Politics, Religion.
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At the Republican National Convention this week, Florida senator Marco Rubio gave a speech introducing Mitt Romney — and reminding Americans what makes them special:

Under Barack Obama, the only “Change” is that “Hope” has been hard to find. Now millions of Americans are insecure about their future. But instead of inspiring us by reminding us of what makes us special, he divides us against each other…

We are special because we’ve been united not by a common race or ethnicity. We’re bound together by common values. That family is the most important institution in society. That almighty God is the source of all we have…

Our national motto is “In God we Trust,” reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.

Well, that motto was adopted only in 1956, whereas the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of a “Creator” and mandates separation between religion and the secular government. And obviously, faith in an almighty God — the “most important American value of all,” according to Rubio — is not, in fact, common to all Americans. What, then, would a Republican administration’s attitude be towards nonbelievers, and towards the separation of church and state? Who is actually dividing us against each other?

(via Pharyngula)