Open Season On Abortion Providers

The true test of your beliefs is your willingness to give up your life for them. For anti-abortionists this has been a test that many have “passed” with flying colors (the following list of atrocities comes from Wikipedia).

  • March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn of Pensacola, Florida was fatally shot during a protest. He had been the subject of wanted-style posters distributed by Operation Rescue in the summer of 1992. Michael F. Griffin was found guilty of Dr. Gunn’s murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
  • July 29, 1994: Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, a clinic escort, were both shot to death outside of another facility in Pensacola. Rev. Paul Jennings Hill was charged with the killings. Hill received a death sentence and was executed September 3, 2003.
  • December 30, 1994: Two receptionists, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, were killed in two clinic attacks in Brookline, Massachusetts. John Salvi, who prior to his arrest was distributing pamphlets from Human Life International, was arrested and confessed to the killings. He died in prison and guards found his body under his bed with a plastic garbage bag tied around his head. Salvi had also confessed to a non-lethal attack in Norfolk, Virginia days before the Brookline killings.
  • January 29, 1998: Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer who worked as a security guard at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, was killed when his workplace was bombed. Eric Robert Rudolph, who was also responsible for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, was charged with the crime and received two life sentences as a result.
  • October 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death at his home in Amherst, New York. His was the last in a series of similar shootings against providers in Canada and northern New York state which were all likely committed by James Kopp. Kopp was convicted of Dr. Slepian’s murder after finally being apprehended in France in 2001.
  • May 31, 2009: Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed as he served as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kansas.

The last one in the list is currently being prosecuted in court. It was apparently perpetrated by Scott Roeder who admitted to it both to reporters and in a court filing. Open and shut case, right? Right.

Except that a recent ruling by the judge in the case has created a whole new problem, not only with this case but possibly with all future cases of this type.

Let me ask you this. What do you think the effect would be if the penalty for murdering an abortion provider wasn’t life in prison or the death penalty, but rather a sentence of only 5-20 years? People obviously feel strongly enough to give up their lives, so what happens when it’s no longer your life at stake, but only a few years of it?

This may actually be a possibility now thanks to one of the judge’s recent rulings. According to the Associated Press “…Sedgwick County Judge Warren Wilbert decided he would allow Roeder to build a defense case calling for a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter because he sincerely believed the May 31 slaying would save unborn children.” So what does that mean exactly? Well, here’s the definition of Voluntary Manslaughter and the penalty (from the Office of the District Attorney in Sedgewick County, KS)

Voluntary Manslaughter is the intentional killing of a human being upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion or upon the unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.

The sentencing guidelines provide a range of sentence from a minimum of 55 months imprisonment [or about 4.5 years] to a maximum prison term of 247 months [or about 20.5 years].

Even if the judge eventually tells the jury that they aren’t allowed to consider a Voluntary Manslaughter conviction, simply allowing the defense to present their case for it means that the damage is already done. By allowing it he is implicitly saying that anyone that thinks abortion is murder can make the claim that killing abortion providers is justified, and even though we may disagree the fact that it’s an “honest belief” means that it’s not murder.

And if the worst happens, and the jury is allowed to consider, and subsequently convicts Roeder of, Voluntary Manslaughter then it’s truly open season on abortion providers. After all, killing an “abortionist” would no longer be murder. It would still be a crime, but one with consequences that I think far too many people could probably live with.

Arkansas Winter Solstice Display Goes Up

A while back I told you about the Arkansas Winter Solstice Display. I didn’t really follow it like I should have (it got lost in the shuffle), but apparently quite a bit has happened since I first posted that story. The ACLU eventually did file a lawsuit about it (which they won, of course), and at least one interesting fact came up that I didn’t know about. Quoting now from the latest story in the Arkansas News:

During Monday’s hearing, it was revealed that the secretary of state’s office has a written policy that allows anyone to apply to put up a display at the Capitol. The policy was established by Daniels’ predecessor, Sharon Priest. The nativity scene was exempt from the application process because it has been a temporary holiday display on the Capitol grounds since the 1940s.

In other words every display except the nativity scene had to get permission. Way to be neutral, eh? Anyway, I just learned about this and haven’t really looked much deeper into it. I’ll dig a bit and let you know any other details that I find.

Atheist Victory?

Demonstrating that they have no clue what the real “War” is about, FoxNews once again frames it as an atheist attack on Christianity.

The reality is that it’s about preventing the government from saying that ONLY Christian symbolism is allowed on public property. It’s not an atheist issue, but a 1st Amendment issue. Atheists “won” last year by being allowed to put up a display of their own. This year is a “victory” only in the sense that all religions are being treated equally for once. That is to say that Christian symbolism is not allowed, just as Buddhist, Islamic Jewish, etc… symbolism is not allowed.

EDIT: Forgot to thank the Atheist Media Blog for the heads up.

Winter Solstice Display

It appears that one of the first shots in the so-called “War On Christmas” has been fired. Last year the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers tried to get a Winter Solstice display put up at the State Capitol. After they submitted the request, and after many follow-up calls they were finally denied with the following response:

[The] Arkansas Secretary of State is charged with the responsibility of preserving and maintaining proper order and decorum on the State Capitol Grounds. At this time, we are unable to fully determine the appearance or qualities of your proposed display. You may submit additional photographs or drawings of your proposed display if you would like us to reconsider your request.

The ASF tried for awhile after that to get (and give) more info, but eventually decided to just try again in a year.

So here it is 2009 and they’re a bit more prepared this time. They submitted another application for a Winter Solstice Display, and since they were denied for being too vague last year, this year they’ve got detailed descriptions and images of exactly what they expect the display to look like. Of course, you’ve probably already guessed that they were once again denied. What reason was given this time? No reason except for the same vague statement about maintaining proper order and decorum:

As we stated last year, the Arkansas Secretary of State as the custodian of the Capitol Grounds is charged with the responsibility of preserving and maintaining proper order and decorum on the State Capitol Grounds…

Obviously part of the reason that the reply was so vague was to avoid any language that could be construed as pro-christmas and therefore pro-religion (i.e. pro-christian). Not being a lawyer myself, I’m not sure exactly what the legal situation actually is. The ACLU says they are looking into it (“the situation is under review”), which I can only assume means they’re trying to determine what, if any, legal recourse the ASF has. I’m guessing that the next step is getting some definitive reason about why the application was denied instead of some vague notion of proper decorum.

In any event, the path is pretty clear. The state is apparently going to put up as many roadblocks as possible, and the ASF is going to steadily work their way around them. If they don’t succeed this year, then they’ll use what they learned to try again next year. In the end one of two things are likely to happen: 1. The state finally relents and allows the Winter Solstice Display to be erected (not likely), or 2. the state finally somehow lets slip that they’re denying the application simply because it’s not a christmas display, and then the legal battle is on.

So why is this even an issue? The religous folks would like you to believe that it’s a direct attack on Christianity by evil atheists for no better reason than because they’re atheists and that’s what they do. The reality is that it’s a very clear First Amendment issue. The relevent wording is here:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

In this case they are doing both by granting rights to Christians which they are denying to everyone else. In other words, by saying “Christmas decorations are allowed, but Solstice decorations are not” the state is saying “Only christian’s may be represented on state owned land.”

It’s late now, and I’m getting tired. To see what my views are on this type of case, see my post on the Mojave Desert Cross (Deep In The Mojave Desert) and it’s followup (Deeper In The Mojave Desert). The situations are very similar, and have the same underlying constitutional problems.

Texas Bans Marriage

Apparently, in their zeal to ban gay marriage, Texas may have overshot a little and banned all marriage. The line in their state constitution (added in 2005) causing problems is this one: “This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” One way to look at it, and apparently a valid legal view, is to say that marriage is identical to marriage and therefore the state of Texas may not recognize it as a valid legal status.

At first blush I thought, you know, that’s one of those little snafu’s that is likely to simply be ignored. Yeah, technically marriage isn’t recognized in the state of Texas any longer. However, no one is likely to pursue that, and so even if it remains unchanged in the constitution it’s not likely to have any real effect.

But as I thought about it more I realized that it’s actually likely to come up at some point or other. The most likely avenue for a challenge to this amendment will be in the case of a divorce. Some lawyer somewhere is going to recognize that it will be a lot easier and more profitable, both for them and their client, to simply argue that the couple was never technically married at all. In that case, I’m not so sure that it won’t have to be upheld. Logically it’s a bit silly, but legal has never necessarily equaled logical.

Deeper in the Mojave Desert

As Mein Zy so kindly pointed out, the actual case before the SCOTUS is whether the end run around the Constitution attempted by Congress is valid or not. I knew that as a basic idea, but I hadn’t really explored it in depth. Allow me to do so here. Just so we can be a little bit more clear about what we’re talking about here is a basic time-line of events (shamelessly stolen from Stanislaus Skeptics…blame them if it’s wrong*):

  • 1934: A cross was erected as a WWI memorial by the Barstow VFW Post 385 with a sign that reportedly said, “The Cross. Erected in memory of the dead of all wars”. At the time the land was managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • 1934-1984: The memorial (probably several different crosses during this time) was cared for by John Bembry (a veteran) until his death. The original cross and sign were eventually torn down. The cross was occasionally replaced and repaired. The cross has been the site of Easter sunrise services nearly every year since it was erected and is the site of the Mojave Cross Christian Church.
  • 1984-1994: At the request of Mr. Bembry, Henry Sandoz (who is not a veteran) agreed to take over care of the memorial; it is not clear if the memorial was in continuous existence during this time.
  • 1994: The site of the cross became part of the 1.6 million acre Mojave National Preserve administered by the National Park Service (NPS); maintenance of the site became the task of the NPS.
  • 1998: The current cross was built by Mr. Sandoz and bolted and cemented to the rock; there was no communication with, or permission from, the NPS to erect the cross.
  • 1999: The NPS denied a request to erect a Buddhist stupa (a hemispherical shrine or monument) near the site. Frank Buono (former deputy superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve and self-professed Catholic) brought the cross and the denial of the Buddhist shrine to the attention of the ACLU. The ACLU contacted the NPS and asked them to remove the cross since it violated the establishment clause of the constitution. The NPS asked Mr. Sandoz to remove the cross; he refused and threatened to put it back if NPS removed it.
  • Oct 2000: The NPS sent a letter to the ACLU announcing that it would remove the cross within the next few months.
  • Dec 2000: Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands, CA) added a rider to a House appropriations bill specifying that Federal funds could not be used to move (or remove) the cross.
  • March 2001: The ACLU filed a lawsuit (Buono v. Norton) on behalf of Frank Buono seeking removal of the cross.
  • July 2002: US District Court (Central District of California) found that the presence of the cross on federal land was in violation of the First Amendment since the “presence of the cross on federal land conveys a message of endorsement of religion” and ordered the cross removed. For the District and Circuit Courts, there was no question of unconstitutional conduct, in part, because the NPS restricted the site to religious symbols of only one religion
  • 2003: Rep. Jerry Lewis inserted an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act to designate the “five-foot tall white cross first erected by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States in 1934 as well as a limited amount of adjoining Preserve property” as a “national memorial commemorating United States participation in World War I and honoring the American veterans of that war”, allocate $10,000 for a plaque, and to exchange 1-acre of the Mojave National Preserve around the cross with a 5-acre private parcel located elsewhere in the preserve. The land exchange would effectively remove the cross from federal land. [Note that the “five-foot tall white cross” that was erected in 1934 no longer existed]
  • June 2004: The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2002 District court decision and declared the cross was in violation of the establishment clause and that “…carving out a tiny parcel of property in the midst of this vast Preserve-like a donut hole with the cross atop of it-will do nothing to minimize the impermissible government endorsement [of a particular religion].”
  • April 2005: US District Court (Central District of California) found that the land exchange was a “scam” and “an attempt by the government to evade the permanent injunction enjoining the display of the Latin cross” on federal land.
  • February 2009: The US Supreme Court said it would decide on the case (Salazar v. Buono) and will begin hearing arguments in October. Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar will defend the Interior Department’s right to maintain the cross. The ACLU will represent Buono (as they have done previously). Currently the cross is covered by a plywood box.

Of course, we are now waiting on the Supreme Court decision about the land exchange. What a lot of people don’t understand is that it’s not been about the cross being on federal lands for a long time now. That case was won by Buono 8 years ago, and it was a pretty clear win. If the land transfer is found to be constitutional, the property will be considered private and thus will not be on federal lands. In that case the cross can stay because it’s on private property. If on the other hand the land transfer is found to be un-constitutional, then the property will still be considered federally owned, and the cross will have to be torn down since it sits on public property. In either case, the original question of whether a cross can be placed on public property has been decided, and the answer is a clear “NO!”

So why does the land transfer matter? After all the cross is no longer on government lands so it shouldn’t be an issue anymore, right? The problem is that the government is still showing preference for one religion over all others. The government is clearly acting to allow a christian display while rejecting any similar deal for any other religion. The actions necessary to make the display constitutional are unconstitutional for exactly the same reason that the display itself was unconstitutional. In the end the choices are exactly the same: either the government must allow a similar deal for every religion, or it must reject all such deals.

I had kind of hoped to have a more in depth analysis, but I honestly think that it really is just that simple. I can’t think of any additional information that’s really needed.

* Of course I’m kidding. If it’s wrong and I posted it, it’s still my fault for not checking on it’s accuracy myself. Be warned that I did not in fact check it for accuracy. Feel free to insult me mercilessly for that.

Deep In The Mojave Desert

Deep in the Mojave Desert is a war memorial, erected 75 years ago. Above it stands a large homemade cross placed there and cared for by the locals. For 62 of those years there was nary a problem with it. Then in 1996, two years after the land become government owned, a group of Buddhists asked for permission to put a shrine next to the cross to represent the fallen Buddhists in the military. They were turned down. And thus began a decade long legal battle which is now being decided by the Supreme Court.

The reason this became an issue at all is because of the wish to erect a shrine to Buddha near the Christian cross. The exact wording of the constitution as it pertains to this case is as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. By disallowing the shrine, the government was prohibiting the free exercise of one religion (Buddhism) in a place where such free exercise is obviously allowed (Christianity).

Another way to look at it: “The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a national religion by the Congress or the preference of one religion over another, non-religion over religion, or religion over non-religion.” (from Wikipedia) By allowing the Christian cross to be displayed while preventing a Buddhist shrine from being displayed, the government was demonstrating a clear preference for Christianity over Buddhism.

There are two alternatives given this situation. One: allow the Buddhist symbol, as well as a symbol for any other religious group that wishes to be represented. Two: don’t allow any religious symbols to be placed at all. There is a third option, but as I demonstrated above it is explicitly prohibited by the constitution. That is to allow the Christian cross to remain but not allow any other religious symbols to be added.

Option one (allowing all religious symbols) is perfectly valid as far as I’m concerned, but I suspect that things would get crowded (and expensive) once we’ve added a Jewish Star of David, a Buddhist shrine, an Islamic Crescent and Star, a Taoist Yin Yang, a Wiccan Pentagram, a Bahá’í Ringstone, an Pastafarian fish, an Ásatrú Horn of Odin, etc… to the monument. In reality if even the tiniest fraction of the non-christian population wanted representation it would cause serious logistical problems that the government would be REQUIRED to resolve if it was to remain true to the constitution.

Option two on the other hand requires only the removal of a single symbol and the difficulties are over. This is why this is the option being pursued. It’s not an attack on Christianity. It is not an attempt to rid the U.S. of religion. It’s not an atheist plot to take over the world. It’s only the simplest solution to a problem created by an obvious constitutional violation.

For you christians out there, perhaps this is a better way to think about it. What if it were a Buddhist shrine up there instead of a cross? Of course there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re not offended just because there’s a buddhist shrine up there. You’re not a Buddhist, but you realize others are, so it’s no big deal. However, you would like to get a cross put up there because you’re a veteran too and that would more closely represent your own religion. But when you ask to do so, the government says “Nope, only Buddhist shrines are allowed on government property.” Would you fight for the right to put up a cross, even if you knew in the end it would only result in the shrine being taken down instead?