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Fearing the ‘Other’

25 March, 2010

I strongly suspect that (((Wife))) and I scare the shit out of many extremely religious people.  I bet dollars to donuts that my best friend does, too.  Why?  We’re boringly normal.  

We are married (first (and only)), I have two kids (older boy, younger girl (same father and mother and born more than 9 months after our wedding), four cats, five fish, a snail and two rats.  We own our home (well, we actually lease it from the bank, but close enough), have a minivan, we rarely drink, pay our taxes and don’t cheat.  So why would we scare the shit out of people like Palin?  Because we are atheists and we are boringly normal. 

My best friend takes vacations in Italy and England, drives a Lexus, is extremely active in the local Catholic Church, owns his own home, takes care of his elderly parents, and is active in both the local political and arts scene.  So why would Al (name changed) scare the shit out of Rick Warren?  Because he is gay and is boringly normal. 

The radical religious right, in many, if not all, of the various incarnations — the American Family Association, the Roman Catholic Church, Focus on the Family, the Faith and Freedom Institute, the Christian Coalition, the Catholic League, American Life League, Personhood USA, Roe-No-More Ministries, etc. ad nauseum — tend to be xenophobic.  Fear of the other — atheists, gays, Muslims, liberals, progressives, Europeans, women — feeds the tribal identity. 

Yet the others are both the enemy and the ally.  The ‘others’ are seen as a threat to their worldview because the Bible either shows them in a negative light (read that as abomination) or doesn’t even mention the subject which (I guess) automatically means it or they are of Satan.  These others, though, are also informal allies — they are the enemy and, as such, create opportunities for fundraising and feeding the fears of the base.  If these ‘others’ did not exist, the leaders of the radical religious right would have to create them (much as their philosophical ancestors created god(s), devils, demons and the very concept of hell). 

These individuals and groups against their version of god(s) and thus, by definition, are allies of Satan.  Negotiating with evil is not an acceptable option.  Giving ground in any aspect of the self-proclaimed culture wars is seen as a defeat of their interpretation of god(s).  Which, of course, can lead to situations in which charity organizations are punished, or created controversies, no matter how idiotic, take on a life of their own. 

In Oklahoma, the state legislature has apparently decided, almost unanimously, to abandon useful legislation such as jobs, education, transportation or health care.  Instead, they are tossing red meat to the radical religious base (from the Oklahoma House‘s web site): 

The proposed amendment would prohibit all Oklahoma courts from considering the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, even in cases of first impression. 

“Unfortunately, some judges in other states and on the federal bench have begun to cite international law in their court decisions, effectively undermining our own democratic system of government,” said Duncan, a Sand Springs Republican and attorney who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. “Our nation’s laws were developed through a democratic process and should not be undermined by haphazard reliance on foreign rulings developed in autocratic societies. Oklahoma court decisions should be based on the U.S. Constitution, Oklahoma Constitution, and our state and national laws – period.” 

The proposed amendment declares that courts “shall not consider international law or Sharia Law.” 

The mind boggles at the amount of time the Oklahoma legislature spent solving this non-existent problem.  I’m also curious what would happen if, say, a contract entered into in a foreign country came up in a lawsuit. 

Of course, they weren’t happy with just that;  they then decided to nullify federal law (I could have sworn we nullified nullification back in the 1860s).  Specifically hate crime legislation. Of course, they had no problem with federal hate crime legislation when it protected Christians, but protecting all humans?  including the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender humans?  In order to prevent a good Christian gaybasher being prosecuted, the “state would not cooperate with any federal hate crimes investigation and even mandating that files of potential hate crimes be withheld or destroyed so that they cannot be used to assist in any such investigation” (from RightWingWatch).  And they fucked it up: 

A bill intended to remove hate crime protections from gays and lesbians actually takes away rights from everyone else because of a “legislative error,” according to one lawmaker. 

Oklahoma State Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, said when the Senate passed Senate Bill 1965 on March 10, it eliminated hate crime protections for race and religion. 

The bill states local law enforcement agencies should not enforce any sections of federal law under hate crimes statutes listed under Title 18 U.S. Code Section 245 unless they are in correlation with Oklahoma’s hate crimes laws. 

But the protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes, which passed Congress last year, are not listed under Section 245, but Section 249 

“The bill in its current form doesn’t take away rights from gays and lesbians,” Rice said. “It takes away rights for religion and race.”  (My emphasis) 

Read that again.  Rice is actually upset that the law does not take rights from gays and lesbians.  He is upset that the law doesn’t take rights away from people he perceives as ‘other.’  I guess to him the Constitution really is ‘just a piece of paper.’  Rights are only for people like him. 

Oklahoma is not alone, though.  In DC, Catholic Charities refuses to cover any new spouses because human rights were extended to the dreaded ‘other’.  Up in Maine, the rights of GLBT Mainiacs was put up for vote.  And, since a bare majority voted to discriminate, the archdiocese is cutting off funding for charities which supported human rights (from the Portland Press Herald): 

PORTLAND – A social service agency’s support for same-sex marriage has cost it local and national funding from the Catholic Church’s anti-poverty program.  Preble Street’s Homeless Voices for Justice program has lost $17,400 this year and will lose $33,000 that it expected for its next fiscal year. 

Officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Washington-based Catholic Campaign for Human Development say that Preble Street violated its grant agreement by supporting Maine’s “No on 1” campaign last fall. 

 Luckily, Maine is a little less extreme than Oklahoma.  Others are stepping in to help (BRAVO!!!!): 

Catholics for Marriage Equality has begun an effort to replace the lost funding by raising $17,400 for Homeless Voices for Justice. Anne Underwood, a co-founder of the group that advocates for same-sex marriage, said Bishop Richard Malone is punishing the homeless because of politics. 

“This is petty vindictiveness,” she said. “After the election is over, suddenly the money is revoked from poor people because of a political opinion held by the bishop.” 

Underwood said that many Catholics in Maine will now think twice before donating money to the church to help fight poverty. “People who are homeless should not be used in political games,” she said. 

Petty vindictiveness pretty much sums it up. 

Sometimes, though, the radical religious right’s crusades become downright laughable.  Up in Missoula, Montana, a group is mobilizing to fight an anti-discrimination bill working up through the city council.  The worry?  That men might dress up in dresses to peak into ladies restrooms.  Even funnier?  The name:  NotMyBathroom.com.  (From their website): 

NOTMYBATHROOM.COM is an action to defeat Missoula anti-discrimination ordinance.  A review of the  ordinance that will be voted on in the Missoula City Council on April 12th reveals the extreme nature of the ordinance and the effect it will have on businesses, churches and virtually all organizations in Missoula City limits. In addition to great expense for businesses to provide toilet facilities, with the additional peril of lawsuits and loss of business licenses, it could also force ministers to perform homosexual marriages.  In addition, Missoula ’s taxpayers will probably find themselves paying large attorney fees and court costs when this unconstitutional ordinance is challenged.  This could also force the Boy Scouts of American to have homosexual Boy Scout leaders and force them to allow girls to be part of the troops – even though the US Supreme Court has ruled against these requirements.   

<<snip>> 

This type of law, mentioned in the email below, is on the docket in Missoula and plans are to move it to  Bozeman.  Don’t allow men in women’s bathrooms, lockers or shower areas in these cities or yours.  Read about the rape by a man in a girls bathroom. The champions of the Homosexual Agenda in Montana, the Montana ACLU, have announced plans to take this ordinance all over our state.  This is the place to stop their plans.  

Bathroom safety and the ability of the Missoula city council to overrule the United States Supreme Court are fueling this bit of weapons-grade right-wing xenophobia.  According to the Missoulian

The Web site notes 17 affiliated groups but spokesman Dallas Erickson of Stevensville said most of the entities would remain nameless this week. 

“We probably won’t talk about names because some of them don’t want their names revealed,” Erickson said. 

Erickson represents HOME – Help Our Moral Environment – and has long opposed obscenity and pornography in Montana. He said HOME counts 3,000 members statewide. 

So far, the only other group willing to identify itself as affiliated with NotMyBathroom.com is Concerned Women For America, said Erickson. CWA representatives already have come out against the proposed ordinance. 

Seventeen groups and only two are willing to go on record?  It must be all that anti-Christian persecution we keep hearing about that keeps them quiet. 

Our schools are falling apart.  Bridges are falling down.  Cities, counties and states are laying off thousands to balance budgets.  We are involved in two voluntary wars.  Our financial system is now in the hands of a dozen companies too big to fail.  And these idiots are scared of Sharia law in Oklahoma?  They explicitly say they want to take away rights from some Americans?  The Catholic Church wants to punish spouses and the homeless because they oppose gay marriage (but are (apparently) quite okay with adult clergy sexually abusing children)?  And a self-proclaimed morality group wants to protect the sanctity of our bathrooms?  

The question, then, is whether or not America will succumb to tribalism? Will we continue to fear the ‘other’?  Or will we become the nation we imagine ourselves to be — a nation based on the rule of law and a beacon of reason and freedom for the world? 

At this point, my bet would be on the shitty choice.

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19 comments

  1. Wow. That’s not a post; it’s a term paper. Well-written and full of information. A+.

    Obviously, I can’t address all the points, many of which I agree with. But I’d like to take you to task over the entire concept of “hate crime.”

    As a freethinker, I’m kind of frightened by a system that rates crimes by motivation — the alleged feelings that led to the criminal activity — rather than by the criminal activity itself. Is it somehow better to kill a person because he’s your annoying neighbor than because he’s gay? Is It preferable to rape a woman because she’s got black hair than because she’s got black skin? Is it worse to molest a Jewish child than a Baptist child?

    Why should our society be in the business of punishing thoughts at all?


  2. Larry, I agree, we should not punish ‘thoughts’ as such. I do, however, agree (not 100% (this is a grey area for me)) with the idea that the motive behind the crime can mitigate or maxigate the level of punishment. There have always been restrictions on speech (yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, for instance) in which the motivation and circumstances are considered in determining the appropriate level of punishment.

    Do you agree with differentiation among, say, voluntary manslaughter, second degree murder and first degree murder? A crime of passion murder is (usually) treated differently than a cold-blooded murder. Killing a person because they are percieved as ‘other’ should also be a mitigating (make that maxigating) circumstance.


  3. I think that in most states, one of the main differences between murder (both first- and second-degree) and manslaughter is that murder is committed with “malice aforethought.” To me, that seems a sufficient measure of “hate.” Do we now have to weigh malice in increments, using snarls as our unit of measure?

    The whole concept of a murderous hate that’s more murderously hateful than the usual murderous hate makes me very uncomfortable.


  4. I understand and, as I said before, I really am conflicted about the idea of a hate crime. Motive does matter, though.

    I gave the murder/manslaughter example as a situation in which we already consider the motive and thoughts when charging/trying/convicting someone. We already have differing punishments based upon the offender and the victim. The availability of a civil-rights-based criminal case at the federal level would seem to prevent or mitigate local nullification in cases involving a tribal outsider as the victim. Certainly not perfect. Certainly could be abused.

    Damn. I am too tired to make my case clearly. The case I keep thinking of is the one from Pottsville, PA. Two local white kids beat an undocumented Hispanic man to death. The local cops tried to help them cover it up. The charges were reduced to simple assault. One was acquited even with the evidence provided by the other one. Both still face federal hate crime charges based on civil rights laws. The local police, district attorney, judge and jury saw a tribal member being tried for defending the tribe against an outsider and gave preferential treatment to the offenders. Considering the racial epithets used during the attack (there was a witness who was not even interviewed until months later), the crime was a hate crime. The state and local courts are moderately well equipped to handle murder or assault cases. Civil rights violations are a little out of their league.

    Does any of that make sense?

    I’m tired and my bracket is in shreds.


  5. Cutting straight through to the crux here:

    The proposed amendment declares that courts “shall not consider international law or Sharia Law.”

    Why the mention of Sharia Law? Has any US court ever considered Sharia? Or is this just a pre-emptive bit of Islamic phobia?

    I can understand the attempt to prohibit reference to international law, since the US has got in trouble for ignoring a few cases (usually executions of foreign nationals where the Consular Relations Treaty wasn’t followed).

    Unfortunatley (or fortunately if you accept the rule of law) the US has to pay attention to international law. Refusal to apply it internally leaves the nationa externally culpable. Moreover, as each separate State was originally a State in the international sense, the Supreme Court has long applied principles of state relations and treaty interpretation when ajudicating on disputes between states. There have also been issues where international law has been activated, for instance the Migratory Birds Treaty Act of 1918 implementing the Migratory Birds Treaty with Great Britain, Canada and Russia, and Missouri v Holland which held that the Federal governments right to make treaties superceded any states concern about abrogating 10th Amendment rights.

    So pretty much in attempting to say that Oklahoma Courts should only consider American law, the Oklahoma legislature is actually violating American Federal law rather than upholding it.

    Oh, and Oklahoma should really have a word with every law school in the US. Since the US started out as a series of British colonies, it brought English law over with it. Officially, all English legal decisions predating 4 July 1776 have full legal standing in US courts, as they are part of the common legal system that distinct US law grew out of. Indeed, Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England are still a useful and respected interpretative text in US law schools, or at least it was when I was at UNC.

    I have some concerns about the generic term “hate crime”. I don’t believe we should have special categories of murder and assualt based on race, gender, sexuality, religion etc. However, a solution to that is to take the motive into consideration as an aggravating factor when sentencing someone.

    The major problem with a hate crime is that if you try to hang too much on it, then you make the motivation part of the mens rea. Say someone kills another because they are gay. If the prosecution argues for a hate crime killing, but fails to make the case that you killed someone because of sexuality (rather than just being a violent person), then you fail to prove the mens rea, and so fail to prove the crime. Since the facts of the case cover murder as well as a hate crime murder, you could argue double jeopardy would come into play, and a murderer could walk free.


  6. Excellent post and good comments. I’m conflicted about the notion of “hate crimes.” I understand the felt need to address bigotry, but I am leery of creating yet another category that someone likely will use to excuse, rather than judge, a heinous act. I agree with Larry that “The whole concept of a murderous hate that’s more murderously hateful than the usual murderous hate makes me very uncomfortable.”

    Paul, thanks for your insights about these legal issues.


  7. Excellent post! Personally, I fear the rejection of international copyright laws as companies like Corbus are trying to push their Orphan Works bill which would strip artists of their inherent copyrights recognized internationally (except for China, where piracy is an institution (not like Har! Piracy, but pirating media, software, etc.))

    Anyway, I hate the idea of hate crimes, but I’ll challenge Larry on his objection to consider motivation when assessing punishment. Clearly motivation has been and should be a consideration, however I see no point to giving special consideration to a motivation of hatred due to race, gender, orientation or any other general category. I think what I’m more upset with is hate speech legislation, since I don’t feel one’s delicate sensibilities being upset warrants punishment, nor do I think it does if it inspires someone to do something criminal. The only reasons for limiting free speech are in cases where the speech directly causes real harm, such as libel/slander or the infamous yelling of “fire” in a theater.


  8. (((Billy))):

    I understand your argument against “tribalism.” Unfortunately, tribes are not defined only by ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion, etc. Juries sometimes reach a verdict through tribal considerations because the perpetrator and they fall into the same financial class, or because the criminal and they do similar work, or simply because the perpetrator and they share a geographical location. So, following your argument: Is it a hate crime if a poor man robs a rich man because the victim is better off? Is it a hate crime if a letter carrier, who once had a bad experience with a toothache, kills a dentist? Is it a hate crime if a Kentuckian assaults a New Yorker?
    I don’t see how we can make laws that classify some groups as hate-worthy while excluding others.

    Philly:

    Some motivations — self-defense, protecting your loved ones, sudden extreme anger, insanity — are mitigating considerations already factored in by our justice system.

    But “hate” is so vague as to be essentially meaningless.


  9. The Southern Poverty Law Center provides a service by investigating hate crimes. They list the event/circumstance clearly xfrom major to minor (depends on whose ox is noosed). Their magazine “Intelligence Report” is discouraging as hate groups continue to exist. Issue 137 is “Rage on the Right The year in Hate and Extremism”.

    Ah well, three cats are insisting that it is feeding time. Pippin did not walk on the key board! Progress.


  10. Rats. I left a pretty good comment…and it has evaporated. Not fair.

    In short: sThe Southern Poverty Law Center publishes a chilling “Intelligence Report” #137 “Rage on the Right”. Covers events from minor to major.

    Sue…Maine


  11. I don’t feel one’s delicate sensibilities being upset warrants punishment.

    I agree wholeheartedly.


  12. I have been informed that I am a “crypto-atheist”, and have heard those like us who simply go about our lives as the most dangerous of all. Even worse than O’Hare, Hitchens, or Dawkins.

    Almost in the terms of the Inquisition.


  13. you little liars do nothing but antagonize…

    and you try to eliminate all the dreams and hopes of humanity…

    but you LOST…

    THE DEATH OF ATH*ISM – SCIENTIFIC PROOF OF GOD

    http://engforum.pravda.ru/showthread.php?t=280780

    Einstein puts the final nail in the coffin of atheism…

    *************************************

    *************************************

    atheists deny their own life element…

    LIGHT OR DEATH, ATHEISTS?

    ********************************
    ***************************LIGHT*********
    ************************************
    LIGHT


  14. Hey! There’s an illustration right there!


  15. This really is a nation of f*cking morons.

    That’s it; that’s all I had to contribute.


  16. DEATH TRAP

    ******************************************

    http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/FaceOff/
    *****************************************

    THE REAL QUESTION:

    DOES ATHEISM HAVE A FUTURE?

    AND THE ANSWER – NO!

    Atheists

    GET OUT OF MY UNIVERSE…

    you little liars do nothing but antagonize…

    and you try to eliminate all the dreams and hopes of humanity…

    but you LOST…

    THE DEATH OF ATH*ISM – SCIENTIFIC PROOF OF GOD

    http://engforum.pravda.ru/showthread.php?t=280780

    Einstein puts the final nail in the coffin of atheism…

    *************************************

    *************************************

    atheists deny their own life element…

    LIGHT OR DEATH, ATHEISTS?

    ********************************
    ***************************LIGHT*********
    ************************************

    or do you want to meet our BUDDY….


  17. but you have NO ANSWER TO DEATH… therefore you FAIL…

    THE DEATH TRAP

    http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/FaceOff/
    ********

    THE REAL QUESTION:

    DOES ATHEISM HAVE A FUTURE?

    AND THE ANSWER – NO!

    http://www.disclose.tv/forum/does-ath-ism-have-a-future-no-t19859.html


  18. Wow. Dma or dmabus- you are a blithering, ignorant idiot. Your imaginary friend does not exist. You are devoting your life to a lie. No matter how many capital letters you use, your comments come across for what they are- the deluded ravings of a small-minded sheep who leans on the crutch of religious dogma. All
    you are accomplishing with your trolling is the further denigration of the intellectual standing of theists everywhere. Hope you get over that mind virus, buddy.


  19. Keep up the excellent work , I read few blog posts on this website and I conceive that your blog is really interesting and has got lots of fantastic info .



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