Archive for the 'Politics – Local' Category

What does freedom of religion mean?

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

I’m a pretty precise kinda guy.  I like things to have clearly defined lines, particularly when it comes to the goverment.  The reason I bring this up is because I find myself more and more confused as time goes on with what exactly the 1st Amendment means and should mean.  In my latest moment of confusion I read this blog post about a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco for their resolution condemning the morals of the Catholic Church.

Obviously I think the city of San Francisco is run by anti-Catholic bigots who are the biggest hypocrits ever for their constant message of “just let people live their lives the way they want… unless you want to live a Christian life.”  But just because I think it was a horrible resolution doesn’t mean I think it is worthy of a lawsuit based on 1st Amendment grounds.

Just for clarity, The 1st Amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

It’s a pretty broad statement that says more than just “freedom of religion”.  But in regards to religion is says 3 things:

  1. It is illegal for the government to set up its own religion (called ‘the establishment clause’)
  2. It is illegal for the government to prevent people from practicing their own religion (called ‘the free exercise clause’)
  3. It is illegal for the government to prevent people from preaching their religion to others (called… um… the free speach clause?)

Generally the thing that I find difficult to determine is what a “religion” is from a legal standpoint.  Lots of people have religious beliefs that are illegal.  I’m pretty sure it is still illegal for canabals to eat human flesh, even human flesh of someone who consented to be eaten after their natural death.  As such, for obvious reasons, there is both a history and a good reason to bound the free exercise clause to mean “within reason”.  But who decides what “within reason” means?  It’s not just about infringing on the rights of others, as my canabal example shows.  And who is to decide what “within reason” means?  It can’t be the general population/majority because this clause is a right that is there to protect the minority.

So it’s all very confusing to me from a purely theoretical standpoint.  What I do know is that my Catholic faith should be protected because it historically and currently falls “within reason” and I’m fairly sensitive to the way our country is going with regards to infringing on Catholics right to practice our religion.  There are currently laws on the books in regards to abortion and birth control that place minor limit the rights of Catholics to practice their religion by compelling them to either act in a way their religion finds objectionable or refer others (which is in itself an afront to Catholics) to someone who will act in an objectionable way.  I fully believe that this trend will continue and there will be more significant legal abuses of the 1st Amendment against Catholics that will have to be fought all the way up to the Supreme Court.  As such, despite my theoretical confusion, I find in practice the 1st Amendment essential for Catholics in this country, despite being vague and confusing.

But this case against the city of San Francisco has nothing to do with my above confusion.  The city council is in no way preventing people from exercising their faith nor from having free speach.  So really, at least based on numbers two and three in my list, there is no case against SF.

Which brings me to my new confusion.  What does the establishment clause really mean?  And I guess in some way this comes back to the original confusion of, what exactly defines a religion?  We know that athiesm is indeed a religion from the various lawsuits athiests have brought forward protecting their right to practice their religion, so “having a God” is not a requirement for a religion.  So is all that is required a set of moral beliefs?

If that is the case, any time the goverment speaks to what is right and what is wrong (separate from what is legal and illegal), they’ve broken the establishment clause.  They have created a moral framework and if that’s all that is required to call your beliefs a religion, the government does it ALL THE TIME.  It does this on both sides.  We’ve got the various sex education measures that are constantly pushing a certain morality.  Yet on the other side, the Catholic Church in the US, which is very aware of the issues surrounding the 1st Amendment and is very protective of its freedom is constantly calling on the government to make moral proclamations.

So it’s all very confusing to me.

One take-away I have from this case is that I think it would be wise for the government to take a step back from the highly public service announcement model it has evolved into, including how it teaches things in public schools.  While there are minimums that can reasonably be taught without getting into murky areas, we long ago crossed over that line.  Somewhere the line between reasonable minimums like “don’t break the law” or getting the facts out like “AIDS can kill you” and making moral pronouncements like “teen pregnancy is bad” (purposely chosen for it’s lack of controversy) got blurred and then forgotten.  Perhaps it is time to re-draw that line.

As to whether there is actually a case against SF, I’m still not sure.  My gut says yes because not only were they making a moral statement, one that reeks of a anti-Christian religions mindset, but also because their statement was directed at a specific religion as opposed to a general “this is good” statement.  At the same time, I’m not so sure how to specifically corolate that to the specifics of what the 1st Amendment requires without breaking tons of reasonable precident.

Upcoming political endorsements

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

I know all of the candidates along with my loyal readers have been waiting patiently for me to hand out my endorsement for the upcoming election.  I wanted to let everyone know that I’ll be making a series of posts over the remaining days leading up to the election on most of the state propositions, a few of the state wide positions and the notable local elections.  Expect to see these over the next few days with the last one coming by Sunday evening.

Also expect to see a post on the Catholic position on two topics that should impact a number of the races I’ll be making endorsments on:

  1. Torture
  2. Ethics of business.

Of course the Church teaches on a number of issues and I’ve spoken frequently about many but these are two I haven’t commented on much and are new areas of concern this election cycle, at least in my locality.

Expect to see the first couple of posts later this evening.

Slimy politics

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

I have some exposure to all of the stuff that happens behind the scenes in politics and it continues to amaze me to what levels political groups will go to.

And today I saw another example of this.

See the key to politics is peer pressure/influence.  They’ve done study after study that shows people vote not on a politicians record but based on what the voter’s peers say about him/her.  What this means is that they key to winning elections is making it seem like the regular joes out there that we know support the right guy.

And of course they’re using every tool they can to make it seem this way.  The Internet is on the bleeding edge of this.  See, a single person can seem like 200 people online.  So when I read the article about whether my congressman is a fraud my political manipulation censor started going off when I read the reader comments on the article.

In my opinion, this is clearly a case where two or three political operatives for the democratic candidate are purposefully posting tons of comments under multiple names to make it seem like the public is ready to fry the incumbant.  The comments are just WAY too imbalanced to be anything else.  Heck, even the “is this comment helpful” numbers are way out of what with each of the comments slamming the incumbant having near perfect “approval” numbers.

To be clear, I’m undecided whether Doolittle will get my vote.  I’m suspicious that he has indeed been a tool of business interests without any political checking.  However, it’s ridiculous that his opponent will go around acting like the general public is in their corner.  Nice to see that politics has delved to this low level.

Oakland is a 2nd-class city?

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Over at my brother’s blog he shares a quote about San Francisco, Oakland and sports:

“Oakland teams will always be second fiddle to the San Francisco teams — regardless of records — because Oakland is a second-class city. When people around the country think of the Bay Area, they think of San Francisco. If there was no San Francisco, nobody would ever even hear of a city called Oakland, except when they break their own record for homicides each year.”

I’m going to ignore the sports angle (mostly because it is ludicrous to state that teams deserve coverage based on the size/prestige of their city (Green Bay Packers anyone?)) and focus on the merits of the two cities.

First of all, there is no denying that SF is an elite city, higher in stature than Oakland.  It’s in that list of cities everyone in the world has heard of: New York, Chicago, Paris, London, etc..  That said, I think it is a stretch to call Oakland 2nd-class unless we’re scoring on an 10 class scale where SF is greater than Oakland is greater than Sacramento is greater than Modesto is greater than Roseville is greater than Rocklin is greater than Newcastle is greater than Gridley is greater than Biggs is greater than nothing kinda way.  The reality is that any city in the US that has 3 pro-sports franchises is in the top tier, at least in the tiers I would have.

But more importantly, since the above argument is just an argument for how to split up the tiers, is that this person seems to think that SF is a better city because of the people and the way the city is run.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If you look at 9 out of 10 elite cities, they are elite cities because of geography.  They are in genuinely unique places often very a great shipping port, well sheltered from the ocean.  The reality is that SF would be an elite city no matter what they did.  Heck, the current policies of SF pretty much prove the point.

So his statement “If there was no San Francisco, nobody would ever even hear of a city called Oakland” is completely false.  If SF were to fall into the ocean Superman I style, some other city in the Bay Area would be the elite one (and I’m guessing it would be Oakland).  The geography of the area dictates it.

So the next time somebody tries to sell you some crap about how awesome their elite city is, especially if that person is from the pathetically run San Franciso that no longer even has a substantial port despite being in one of the worlds best locations for one (and it should be noted that the reason is because the Port of Oakland put them out of business), know in your heart that their arogance is unfounded.

Indian gambling shows its true colors

Monday, October 17th, 2005

I’ve said for a LONG time that allowing indian gambling was a bad thing for California. More importantly I’ve said for the same period of time that indian gambling has nothing to do with “Native American Self Reliance” and everything to do with greed and a desired monopoly on gambling.

Well, it’s becoming more and more clear how right I am/was. Case in point, measure G on the ballot in Yuba county (that’s north of Sacramento for those not familiar with the intricacies of California geography). Measure G would give public support for a indian casino in the county at a defined location off of highway 65. Guess who the major financial supporter of the ‘No on G’ campaign is? If you guessed the indian casino about 30 miles down highway 65 in the Sacramento area called Thunder Valley, you’d be right!

See it’s not about “self reliance for all native americans”. If it was, the Thunder Valley folks would be happy to see another casino join in the mix so that they too could be “self reliant”. No, it’s about greed and the Thunder Valley folks, now that they’ve got their cash cow rolling, are willing to protect in whatever way necessary their cash cow.

See this article for the needed references.