Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Why a National Day of Prayer?

May 5, 2010

Tomorrow is, as the first Thursday in May has been for a couple of decades, the National Day of Prayer. I’ve noticed a lot more fuss among Conservatives about the day than most years. perhaps because of misleading rumors that President Obama had canceled the observance and because a federal judge had ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, many seem to have been galvanized to promote the day more enthusiastically than usual.

Their enthusiasm puzzles me. Prayer is only meaningful if motivated by sincere belief and intent. If people of sincere, humble belief are already praying, as they presumably do, what purpose a national day of prayer? If it takes the coercion of government declaration to get them to pray, what would be the purpose? How is that not vain prayer? If it is only a suggestion or encouragement to pray, why do we need to waste government time in message legislation or declarations sanctioning certain forms of observance? Are not the various religious organizations perfectly capable of voluntarily organizing to promote a national day of prayer should they deem it necessary? Why should we call upon the government, which conservatives paint as so ineffective, and which they want out of our personal lives, to lead us in prayer? Are presidents and government proclamations so much more effective than pastors, priests, and bishops in convincing people to pray? If it is a harmless gesture, as some supporters suggest, I wonder how they would react to the similarly harmless suggestion in a National Day of No Prayer?

I’m no lawyer. I don’t know that a National Day of Prayer is strictly unconstitutional. But I do believe that it is inconsistent with the core American value of Freedom of Conscience. While some of the Founders and early presidents, including both Washington and Adams, did champion national days of prayer, others—most prominently Jefferson and Madison, among the strongest advocates of Freedom of Conscience and early Republican values—opposed the practice.

Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it (Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Rev. Samuel Miller,” The Jefferson Cyclopedia).

Altho’ recommendations only, [National Days of Prayer] imply a religious agency, making no part of the trust delegated to political rulers.

The objections to them are 1. that Govts ought not to interpose in relation to those subject to their authority but in cases where they can do it with effect. An advisory Govt is a contradiction in terms. 2. The members of a Govt as such can in no sense, be regarded as possessing an advisory trust from their Constituents in their religious capacities. They cannot form an ecclesiastical Assembly, Convocation, Council, or Synod, and as such issue decrees or injunctions addressed to the faith or the Consciences of the people. In their individual capacities, as distinct from their official station, they might unite in recommendations of any sort whatever, in the same manner as any other individuals might do. But then their recommendations ought to express the true character from which they emanate. 3. They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erronious idea of a national religion. (James Madison, detached memoranda, c. 1817).

Such observances overtly grant government favor to religion and theism over other alternatives. Further, despite some lip service to diversity, the day is, by the National Day of Prayer Task Force’s own admission, inherently sectarian in nature (the purpose includes “Foster unity within the Christian Church,” and “Publicize and preserve America’s Christian heritage,” and otherwise uses language which is specifically Judeo-Christian in nature).

Certainly those who believe in God should pray tomorrow, as on any other day. But we shouldn’t use government to promote our beliefs or to give preference to our religious tradition over others if we truly want the nation to stand for freedom of religion.

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I’ll Pass on the Party Hats and Whistles, Thanks

March 23, 2010

As of last night, the House of Representatives has passed sweeping health care reform. The deed is done. Not really, of course; the bill must go yet again to the Senate, where—despite the euphoria of Democrats—passage is not assured. And if it does, the issue still won’t be settled; several states are planning to fight against the law in court. But the vote is seen by a key moment for both sides, with leaders of both arrogantly claiming to tell us that real Americans are on their side. We’ll see who is right over the course of the next several months and the next election cycle. I suspect that in this, as just about every other issue and election over the past several years, the divide is passionate but pretty even.

(I’m relieved that, whatever the outcome, the Democrats did not resort to the “Deem and pass scheme.” Even had I wholeheartedly endorsed the bill, it would be a tragic betrayal of our values if our leaders were to circumvent the essential democratic process with some procedural chicanery.)

I’m decidedly ambivalent about the whole issue. I’d hoped to write a series of posts exploring the issue in depth while the issue was hot, but other demands and priorities prevented that. Perhaps I’ll still get around to it in the not-too-distant future. Suffice it for now to say that I do strongly believe we need serious health care reform. I support the idea of some form of universal health care, though I find some merits and would be willing to give a chance to some form of a “consumer-driven” system. I hope that the bill accomplishes what its supporters claim. But there are many troubling aspects to this bill that I fear may come back to haunt us.

The Right has been rabid in their denunciations, as can be expected with virtually any Democratic effort. But if you put aside the reflexive cries of slippery slopes, socialism, totalitarianism, and the bungling nature of government, there are some substantive issues. The costs of the bill and the potential to balloon the debt if everything does not go precisely as planned is something which does trouble me. And while I do see the logic of requiring everyone to be in the risk pool by having insurance, I do think that there is a legitimate issue regarding the constitutionality and the ethics of requiring everyone to own insurance simply for existing.

It isn’t just the conservatives who are concerned. In the today’s email message from Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Network of Spiritual Progressives, there was many caveats in the praise for the victory

it’s also ok to acknowledge that this bill does not represent most of what we really want. It is the biggest give-away to the private insurance companies in decades, forcing 30 million people to buy health insurance whether or not they want it without putting any significant price controls in place, so the insurance companies get a huge new group of health insurance purchasers and can (and will) raise their prices just as they have done in outrageous ways in the past decade.

Ralph Nader, dismissed the bill in the New York Times as “a major political symbol wrapped around a shredded substance…It is a remnant even of its own initially compromised self. Chris Hedges referred to it today in Truthdig as “a bill that will do nothing to ameliorate the suffering of many Americans, will force tens of millions of people to fork over a lot of money for a defective product and, in the end, will add to the ranks of our uninsured.”

I suspect that the Democrats have used up their only opportunity to fix health care. I don’t think there will be the chance to revise things over the next few years; after labor that difficult, what you see is what you get. I guess we can only hope that their gamble pays off.

Separation of Church and State II: Necessary for the Protection of Both

July 4, 2009

Some time ago, I wrote a post which I intended to be the first in a series on the separation of Church and State, “Separation of Church and State: A Founding Principle.” I had intended to shortly continue the series, but events required me to scale back my blogging time and postpone the sequel. Today seems a perfect day to resume the series.

Religious conservatives contemporary to Jefferson and Madison assaulted the newborn Constitution as Godless, and persistently accused the two politicians of being atheists throughout their careers. To these religious conservatives a “wall of separation” between the Church and State was nothing less than a scheme to undermine religion. They could hardly have been more wrong. While not conventionally religious, the letters and works of the two men reveal them to be profoundly spiritual people. Like modern religious conservatives who level similar charges against entities such as the ACLU, People for the American Way, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, those religious conservatives manifested a remarkable inability to grasp the difference between advocating liberty in religious matters and attempting to extinguish religion. And like their modern counterparts, they failed to understand that strict separation between state and religion is actually essential for keeping the flames of religion burning.

Within the text of Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, these thinkers were very insistent upon that point. They would have been rather skeptical of Mitt Romney’s claim that “Freedom requires religion.” They were well aware that for hundreds of years people have been imprisoned, tortured, and slaughtered in the name of religion. Religion has been a force in shackling men at least as often as liberating them, particularly when associated with the state. Under those conditions, it seeks to use the force of government to cement its temporal power, stifling new ideas while neglecting the persuasion which is the root of any effectual religion. At the same time, government when united with religion seeks to appropriate the moral authority of its partner, manipulating the modes of religion to promote its own agenda, as we experienced with the Bush administration in their Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

Hardly trying to purge God from the nation, these founding fathers (and their modern separationist counterparts) were trying to create an environment in which religion could flourish. A level playing field allows any moral sentiment the opportunity to make its case, to rise or fall on its own merits. They sought a society in which organizations would be forced to rely on exhortation rather than coercion to promote and defend their beliefs; in which dogma could be challenged and, if found lacking, cast aside. They hoped for a society in which new ideas and new systems of belief—such as the LDS faith—could be explored and, if they drew people through their fruit, take root and blossom. When government either tries to play a role in favoring religious beliefs and practices, or neglects its duty to protect the freedom of conscience which is the root of religious freedom, government hinders that process. Religion as a result becomes superficial and hollow, a matter of compulsion rather than faith. A purely secular, areligious government, one entirely indifferent to religion, best enables religion to achieve its full spiritual potency.

Of all people we in the LDS faith should understand the importance of freedom of conscience. We are taught that the Lord raised up this nation as a land of liberty in order to restore his Gospel where it might not be smothered by the oppression of contemporary religious orthodoxy. The Church suffered great hardship and persecution because the freedom of conscience which Jefferson and Madison favored was so imperfectly protected.

This principle is part of the Church canon, in the Eleventh Article of Faith

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almight God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

D&C 134:4-5 & 9-10 makes the Gospel’s position even more clear on the subject.

We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience

…We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship (emphasis added).

In seeking to instill in government a systematic predisposition towards religion, religious conservatives typically point to the such patriots as George Washington, who spoke emphatically of the importance of religion for the nation in such works as his farewell address. These conservatives balk at the idea of a secular state, protesting that such a state betrays Washington’s vision by favoring atheism. They are wrong. A firm separation of Church and State does not encourage or aid atheism over any other belief. It merely allows atheists the same freedom to follow the dictates of their conscience as anyone else. It grants atheism the same opportunity to make its case as any theology. And Atheists should unquestionably have that right. Freedom of conscience is a lie, the lie of toleration, if it is proffered only to theistic beliefs. Do we as Christians so lack confidence in the persuasive power of the doctrines of Christ as to require atheism repressed by the government, indirectly or otherwise?

Meaningful religion needs no government sanction or support to sustain itself. In Jefferson’s notes for the debate on Virginia’s disestablishment, he outlined such an argument.

Christianity flourished three-hundred years without establishments. Soon as established, decline from purity. Betrays want of confidence in doctrines of church to suspect that reason or intrinsic excellence insufficient without secular prop (The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Julian Boyd editor, vol. 1 p.538-539).

Yes, Washington and other prominent founders expected the United States of America to be a religious nation. But that brings us to the second sense of the phrase “Religious (or Christian) Nation,” one in which the people of the nation upholds Christian virtue by free choice, as dictated by one’s conscience. Jefferson and Madison expected true religion to flourish in the U.S.—a religion which conventional Christians then and now would hardly endorse, but a religion nonetheless—by virtue of its power to touch the hearts of those who freely experiment upon its claims, and the persuasion of those who have experienced its goodness in their lives. They expected religion to be refined and improved through the process of free inquiry and exploration. A Christian (or religious) nation in the first sense of the word—in which government takes a hand in promoting religion, is directly antithetical to that desire. By increasingly seeking to intermingle the two, pursuing government favor for their own religious beliefs, religious conservatives are impeding the very goals they supposedly hope to accomplish. If they would follow Madison and Jefferson in strengthening the wall between the two, they could better ensure that this nation protected the religious and personal liberties we celebrate today.

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  • Separation of Church and State IV: Religious and Moral Legislation

The Life I am Choosing: The Greatest Threat

February 19, 2009

Allie of The Life I am Choosing has a very elegant response to the most recent bile from Chris Buttars.

Reducing Packaging Waste

December 12, 2008

One of the things which drives me nuts about shopping is the amount of packaging. We seem to have been victims of “packaging creep.” Now just about any sort of consumer good has some type of cardboard container, two layers of hard plastic clamshell cases, a few pieces of styrofoam, and soft plastic bags surrounding everything. When you’re done shopping, and after you find a way to break upon the seemingly impenetrable packaging, you end up with half-a-dozen plastic bags. All of this plastic has to be disposed of—most of it ending up preventing natural decomposition in landfills, or collecting in the ocean.

So its nice to see that the tide may be turning. I see more people declining bags when their purchases are easy to carry (something I’ve practiced for years—I don’t need an extra plastic bag for a package of pencils or an apple!). Reusable gift bags are becoming more popular, a more sustainable option than gift wrapping. More people are using reusable shopping bags. More stores are offering bulk bin options for foods and cleaning supplies, which eliminates individual containers. Amazon is trying what should be a common-sense idea of utilizing “frustration-free” packaging, which minimizes the packaging and appears to be fully recyclable.

Small steps, but worthwhile ones to promote. How else can we cut down on the waste associated with shopping?

Stop the Cavalry

December 5, 2008

One of my favorite quasi-Christmas songs, particularly in light of the last few years. It was fun to find the video recently. Rather poignant.

The future is NOW: Renewable Energy in Utah

November 21, 2008

Sponsored by HEAL Utah

  • December 8th, 2008 6:00 PM through 9:00 PM
  • Abravanel Hall: 123 West South Temple Salt Lake City, UT, 84101

Join us for a free panel discussion on renewable energy development in Utah from the people who are making it happen. HEAL Utah Executive Director Vanessa Pierce will moderate a discussion on the current realities, opportunities, and challenges facing renewable development in our state.

  • Richard Clayton, Executive Vice President with Raser Technologies, to discuss Geothermal Power
  • René Fleming, Conservation Coordinator for the City of St. George, to talk about a community approach to solar energy
  • Joe Thomas, the Mayor of Spanish Fork, to talk about a community-scale wind power installation
  • Søren Simonsen, architect, planner, and Salt Lake City Councilman, to talk about energy efficiency and green building

Join us afterward for light appetizers and drinks at the Second Annual Fall Reception where you will have the opportunity to to contribute to a new energy future in Utah by supporting HEAL’s pioneering energy work and nuclear watchdog activism.

Go to their webpage to rsvp.

More on Sustainable Foods

April 23, 2008

I’ve been outdone. Artemis of the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives has written a great little primer on slow food and local foods, with a number of resources I missed. And a fantastic discussion on how to garden and how to eat locally has blossomed in the comments of the post. Its well worth reading.

One of the main participants in that conversation is Chandelle, a local whose knowledge of food is evident in her recipe blog, Authentic Deliciousness. As the primary cook in our family, I can vouch for the quality of her work. Foodies among my readers, especially those interested in sustainable and healthy food, should surf over pronto.

The Cheney Forecast: Warm and Sunny in Iraq

December 8, 2007

Vice-President Cheney is confident that the administration’s war policy is the correct one, and is boldly predicting success by 2009.

…by the middle of January 2009, it will be clear that ‘we have in fact achieved our objective in terms of having a self-governing Iraq that’s capable for the most part of defending themselves, a democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a nation that will be a positive force in influencing the world around it in the future (“Political Bulletin,” U.S. News and World Report).

What a pleasant thought. Maybe we should give this administration a break, since things are going so well. After all, he did so well in his prior prognostication regarding Iraq.

They’re going to welcome us. It’ll be like the American Army going through the streets of Paris. They’re sitting there ready to form a new government. The people will be so happy with their freedoms that we’ll probably back ourselves out of there within a month or two (“The Imperial Presidency,” The New York Times).

I appreciate that Cheney has become a bit less…brash…as his term wanes. But I’m not about to hold my breath over this augury either.

Utah Politicians on Health Care

August 10, 2007

(I posted this last year on OneUtah.org, on which I was active at the time. It was a follow-up to my post “The Value of the Working Poor,” which had I cross-posted there. At the time I chose not to cross-post this one here, but have now reconsidered.)

I received several comments to my previous post on the working poor. Emily Hollingshead shared a recent experience she had at a meeting which was attended by many Utah politicians. One line in particular caught my attention. I hope Emily does not mind if I quote her.

I was shocked to hear some of our legislators talk about the “lazy people” who use medicare, and who “abuse the system” and who “make lifestyle choices” that put them in the hospital in the first place. The most shocking comment came from a gentleman running for the county commission who said the people who use medicare or medicade “use it all the time” because it is available to them and they have unending access to it. (Paraphrasing).

Interesting. I am not familiar with the situations about which this potential county commissioner is speaking. But it seems an odd perspective on health care.

Please correct me if I’m wrong; but isn’t a quality health care system one in which the patrons are able to make frequent and regular use of the system? Where frequent check-ups are the norm, so that potential health issues can be detected and prevented before they become catastrophes or expensive emergencies? “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” I’d been led to believe. Is that only true for those wealthy enough to afford health care?

Are we supposed to turn away those whose lifestyle choices lead to health problems? How charitable.

I shudder to think what that would mean for the increasingly sedentary population, whose diet consists of increasing amounts of sugars, salt, and fats. The LDS community may not drink or smoke, but they are certainly vulnerable to a number of lifestyle choices which can put them in the hospital.

There may be more effective ways to accomodate their health-care needs, but the objections of these Utah politicians are completely off-base.