The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 25th, 2015: Just Say No to FRC

Yesterday I received an email from Faithful America, an organization of what I would consider to be ‘true’ Christians, who speak out against social injustices perpetrated and perpetuated in the name of Christianity. The email said that Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council – or NAMBLA, er, FRC – is supposed to be a guest on Face The Nation tomorrow. The email said, in part:

“With the Supreme Court about to issue a historic decision, CBS News is turning to an anti-gay hate group leader to speak for Christians.
This Sunday, Face the Nation is scheduled to feature Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Perkins has repeatedly accused gay men of molesting children, causing the Southern Poverty Law Center to formally name FRC to its list of hate groups.

Perkins was once a regular on CNN and MSNBC, but those networks have increasingly abandoned him as mainstream Christians have challenged his decades-long record of spreading ugly misinformation about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people…Tell CBS News: Cancel Tony Perkins. He doesn’t speak for Christians.”

If Bob Schieffer would take a few minutes to just check out the FRC’s website, I’m sure that he would understand that this is a group that should NOT have a voice in the same-sex-marriage debate.

First, an excerpt from FRC’s “Washington Update” from Thursday, under the heading “What About Bobby?”:

“If liberals want to pick a fight over religious liberty, they’ll have their hands full with my home state: Louisiana. Unlike other governors who have been quick to raise a white flag, Bobby Jindal is leading the charge for his state’s Marriage and Conscience Act, warning that he won’t back down. “In Indiana and Arkansas, large corporations recently joined left-wing activists to bully elected officials into backing away from strong protections for religious liberty. As the fight… moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath.”

“Although corporations are already turning up the heat on Jindal, the Governor says, “They are free to voice their opinions, but they will not deter me.” Realizing that this is a watershed moment for religious liberty, Jindal writes, “Liberals have decided that if they can’t win at the ballot box, they will win in the boardroom. It’s a deliberate strategy. And it’s time for corporate America to make a decision. Those who believe in freedom must stick together: If it’s not freedom for all, it’s not freedom at all.” With the Left’s attack dogs on the loose in Louisiana and elsewhere, religious liberty is almost certainly going to be a major issue in 2016 — in more ways than one.

While conservatives scratch and claw for their right to exercise the same tolerance the Left enjoys, leaders like Speaker Boehner have their eyes on the global crisis. Religious liberty is at the center of ISIS’s storm, as dozens of innocents are slaughtered for the faith our country is so reluctant to protect. In a new blog post, the Speaker’s office catalogues the latest horrors, and asks: Is the Obama administration doing “all it can” to protect Christians all over the world?”

There’s just so many things wrong with that last paragraph alone, my irony-meter went past 11, then shattered.

1) “Conservatives scratch and claw for their right to exercise the same tolerance the Left enjoys”? What they are scratching and clawing for is their right to exercise INTOLERANCE.

2) “Religious liberty is at the center of ISIS’s storm…” ISIS’s brutal acts have nothing to do with “religious liberty”, and if these conservatives had an honest bone in their collective bodies, they’d admit it.

3) “Is the Obama administration doing “all it can” to protect Christians all over the world?” Why on earth should the Obama administration, or any other president’s administration, have to “protect Christians all over the world”? The U.S. government cannot feasibly protect U.S.citizens “all over the world”, how could it be expected – no, demanded – to protect all “Christians”? More importantly, how would using the U.S. government to favor the lives of one religious group possibly be Constitutional? Not to mention that it would certainly require “big government”!

Under “HOMOSEXUALITY”:

“Family Research Council believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects. While the origins of same-sex attractions may be complex, there is no convincing evidence that a homosexual identity is ever something genetic or inborn. We oppose the vigorous efforts of homosexual activists to demand that homosexuality be accepted as equivalent to heterosexuality in law, in the media, and in schools.”

What the FRC believes doesn’t mean squat when it comes down to science and biology. Just because there is no evidence that will convince the FRC “that a homosexual identity is ever something genetic or inborn” doesn’t mean that there isn’t evidence in medical science. And just how does FRC separate the “homosexual identity” from the person? It would appear that, since they do not look upon homosexuals as individual human beings, they would not accept homosexual people, U.S. citizens, “as equivalent to heterosexual[people] in law, in the media, and in schools.” So what class of citizen would these braying amoral charlatans demote homosexual Americans to?

“Sympathy must be extended to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attractions, and every effort should be made to assist such persons to overcome those attractions, as many already have.”

I haven’t noticed anyone from FRC, or any other anti-gay faux-religious group, extending “sympathy” to gays – maybe they just extend sympathy to gay people who don’t want to face the fact that they’re gay? And hasn’t FRC heard that there’s no scientific or medical evidence that “praying away Teh Gay”, or any other “treatment” purporting to turn gay people “straight”, is actually effective. They should just ask Marcus Bachmann about that.

And take a look at the titles of some of their “Policy Publications”:

“Leviticus, Jesus, and Homosexuality – Some Thoughts on Honest Interpretation” They wouldn’t know “honest interpretation” of any part of the bible even if Jesus appeared and called a convention of alleged “Christians” to set them straight. So-to-speak.

“The Other Side of Tolerance – How Homosexual Activism Threatens Liberty” Goddammit, will someone, any one of these people who glibly (and probably incorrectly) spout words like “freedom” and “liberty” please tell the rest of us exactly how they define those words? I hear them used with regularity by people who seem to want to limit others’ freedoms, so I’m pretty sure that such people don’t consult the OED, they just make up their own definitions.

Okay, enough ranting from me. For now, anyway.

This is our daily Open Thread – go ahead, have at it.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 18th, 2015: This Week In Faux News

I was going to write about Rand Paul’s “Libertarian” followers, but thankfully Wayne steered me to PoliticusUSA’s “Friday Fox Follies”, which is a bit more entertaining. Well, that’s if by “entertaining” one means ‘laughing because screaming is the only other alternative.’

Rand Paul acolytes are NOT “entertaining”, by any definition in any dictionary on this or any other planet.

On the other hand, Friday Fox Follies, put together by Headly Westerfield, is a stupefying roundup of the past week’s non-stories, conspiracy theories, idiotic commentary and other nonsense, all hacked up from the fine folks at Fox “News.” This week, the Follies ‘2016 Presidential hopefuls’ edition’ provides links to anything and everything, from Media Matters’ Fox coverage, to Hillary Clinton and “Chipotleghazi” [term courtesy of Evan McMurray of Mediaite], to Jon Stewart ranting at the media**, to Bernie Sanders schooling Bill O’Reilly, to Donald Trump-or-Monkey [thank you, David Letterman, for linking those two forever in my mind.] There are so many links, you’re sure to find more than one story to pique the interest.

**Jon Stewart Watch: I’ve noticed for the last week or so, Jon has been using the first segment of his show to ream, eviscerate, and generally rant about various topics, including his amazing tirade about Dick Cheney. I think that Jon is taking advantage of the time his show has left to really get everything off his chest, in his own inimitable style. The “real news media” should sit up and pay attention, because Jon seems to be pointing in their direction.

This is our daily Open Thread – have at it!

The Watering Hole, Saturday, April 11th, 2015: OMG, We’re Missing the Bundy Reunion!

Yes, it’s been a year since the Cliven Bundy Ranch standoff – time flies when your country’s going crazy, doesn’t it?

Since the standoff at the Bundy Ranch, it appears that Cliven has found enough like-minded idiots in the Nevada assembly to have had one Assemblywoman, Michele Fiore (R-duh!) introduce a “Bundy Bill” last month. According to an AP story on the local CBS affiliate Channel 8 NewsNow, KLAS:

“The original proposal would require the federal government to obtain permission to use land within the state’s borders. The proposal also strips the federal government of state water rights and would allow county commissions to parcel out state land for commercial use.”

After wasting time and taxpayer money on an obviously unconstitutional bill, the final version supposedly “…deletes core proposals and instead says local sheriffs can enter into an agreement to patrol federal lands. It also states that sheriffs are the primary law enforcement officers in unincorporated parts of their counties.” Oh, yeah, that’s MUCH better, because everyone knows that Federal law enforcement just LOVES to take orders from the local LEOs. KLAS’s 8NewsNow investigative “I-Team” also provides a brief rundown of the ten other States who are producing similar legislation. Yesterday’s ThinkProgess thread on this topic lists those States as: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. TP links to “Keep Our Land American” at www.americanpubliclands.com for more details and a petition.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Bundy family and their fellow miscreants are celebrating the anniversary with a “Freedom Reunion” aka “Liberty Celebration.” (I guess they couldn’t figure out a way to squeeze both “Freedom” and “Liberty” into the name without sounding redundant – oh, who am I kidding, they don’t know what the word “redundant” means. [“Hey, who ya callin”redundant’? Take it back!”]

Take a look at the actual invitation and its accompanying re-written idealized “history.”

From the Bundy Ranch Facebook page:

THERE ARE PLENTY OF PLACES TO CAMP OR MESQUITE HAS LOTS OF ROOMS TO STAY IN – COME AND ENJOY BUNDY RANCH LIBERTY CELEBRATION

Date: April 10-12, 2015 (Fri, Sat, Sun)
Location: Bundy Ranch – Bunkerville NV 89007 – Exit 112 off of I-15, follow the American flags
Purpose: To gather in celebration of our liberties, agency and stand with God, for our U.S. Constitution, State sovereignty, Property rights and to enjoy access to our lands.
Who is Invited: All people who enjoy freedom
Activities: Camping, Off Roading, Hiking, Playing in the River, Evening BBQ (Bundy Beef), Shooting- Come camp all weekend if you would like.
Stage Activities: Slide/Video Show, Live Band, Cowboy Poetry, Guest Speakers
Program: Friday & Saturday Evening; Stage activities and BBQ
Sunday; Testimony meeting, share your feelings for God and country

Special Invitation: Those who express music, poetry, words, documentaries and other arts. Those who hold political office. The cowboys. Those who supported with prayers and finances. The militia who keep us safe. [emphasis mine] Media outlets both friendly and unfriendly (TV, radio, internet, books, magazines and other). All those who have invited the Bundy family to speak and teach around the world.

*If you would like to be a participant in the stage activities please contact the Bundy family at rancherbundy@gmail.com

Some of the replies/comments:

Janae Hutchins: Wish I wasn’t so far away now. I’d love to come. enjoy the anniversary of your victory against tyranny! God bless America! 🇺🇸

Scott Saragoza: I will be there to stand with all of you for our Liberties…………. Absolutly!!!!!!!! Thank you.

Robert Brooks Bob: God Bless yall from N.W.Ar…Wish we could be there.

Shirley Pitcher: I wish I was heading back to Utah.
I would love too.
Good bless the Bundys

Ray Herrera: This Sounds like a lot of Fun !!! God Bless the Bundy Family !!! They are my Hero’s

William Morgan: Great thing here Mr. Bundy I wish I could be there to support you and Our freedom

Now, c’mon, don’t you wish that you were there?

 

This is our daily open thread – talk about whatever you’d like.

The Watering Hole, Monday, March 30, 2015: Indiana Wasn’t First, Connecticut Was, But Not For The Reasons You Think

Indiana Governor Mike Pence made headlines this past week when he signed into law Indiana’s version of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Proponents say the bill is necessary to protect the rights of Christians to practice their beliefs freely. There is a growing belief (entirely misplaced IMHO) on the right that Christians who wish to discriminate against certain customers on religious grounds are being denied the right to practice their religion under the First Amendment. Opponents say that’s precisely why the bill should not be passed, because it will be used as an excuse to discriminate against the LGBT community on alleged religious freedom grounds (even though there’s no evidence that Jesus said to discriminate against “teh gays”, but we’ll get to that later.) The opposition has been calling for a boycott of Indiana ever since, and there is speculation about how this would affect the NCAA March Madness Men’s Basketball Tournament, whose Final Four competition is to take place in Indianapolis, Indiana. The NCAA says it isn’t sure right now. (Fun Fact: Indianapolis is one of only four state capital names that begin with the same letter as their states. Can you name the other three? The answer is at the end.) The push for the boycott spread to other cities, as the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco joined in the boycott. The news came that Angie’s List, based in Indianapolis, announced it was cancelling its $40-million headquarters expansion project because of the RFRA.

Writing for The Washington Posts’s column, The Fix, Hunter Schwarz observed that nobody has been calling for a boycott of the nineteen (possibly more) states that previously passed some version of the RFRA. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), there are nineteen states that have passed some version of the RFRA. How did there get to be so many states passing what some see as an unconstitutional law? Simple, the Supreme Court said that the National RFRA passed in 1993 could not be applied to the states. Wait a minute, you mean there’s a National RFRA? You might be wondering when the Republicans got that first discriminatory bill through, and which Republican president signed it? One of the Bushes, right? Wrong. It was passed in 1993 by a Democratic-controlled Congress (my now US Senator Chuck Schumer introduced it), and signed into law by a Democratic President Bill Clinton. Was anybody calling for a boycott when Clinton signed the National RFRA law? No, and there’s why. It had nothing to do with protecting the rights of Christians to discriminate against gay people back then. The rights of Christians to practice their religious beliefs, yes. Sort of. But not the ones you’re probably thinking about. Actually, Jesus really had nothing to do with the story at all. Let’s step into the Way Back Machine.

The First Amendment says that Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion (which means for those who wish otherwise that The Bible can never be the foundation of our laws, as that would constitute establishing a religion), nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Technically, this meant that your state could still pass a law respecting establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Until the Fourteenth Amendment came along, which says

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This meant that no state could pass a law which violated your rights as a citizen of the United States. Or so you would think. It took a long time before the Incorporation Doctrine was applied to guarantee that states could not violate your gifts under the Bill of Rights, which are not the only rights you have. (Apparently there is debate over this doctrine.) But from time to time the question would arise, “Can the government compel someone to do something that violates that person’s religious beliefs, or can the government prohibit someone from doing something that is part of that person’s religious beliefs?” At what point, in other words, is the government prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

For a long time, religious objectors only got exemptions to laws if the statute provided for them. Judges could provide common law exemptions, but these could be overridden by state laws. The right of a clergy to keep confessions confidential was an exemption provided by state laws. Things changed in the early 60s. The blog The Volokh Conspiracy explains:

But then in Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) the Supreme Court seemed to suggest that the Free Exercise Clause might sometimes constitutionally mandate exemptions. And in Sherbert v. Verner (1963), the Court expressly adopted the constitutional exemption model, under which sincere religious objectors had a presumptive constitutional right to an exemption. Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) reaffirmed this, and the period from 1963 to 1990 is often labeled the Sherbert/Yoder era of Free Exercise Clause law.

Of course, a constitutional exemption model can never simply say “religious objectors get an exemption.” A wide range of generally applicable laws — murder law, theft law, rape law, and so on — must be applicable even to religious objectors. Even as to more controversial cases, such as bans on race discrimination in education, or generally applicable tax laws, the Court has found (even under the Sherbert/Yoder regime) that religious objectors’ claims must yield.

To distinguish cases where religious objectors win from those in which they lose, the Sherbert/Yoder-era Court used what it called “strict scrutiny” when the law imposed a “substantial burden” on people’s religious beliefs (e.g., when it banned behavior that the objectors saw as religiously compelled, or mandated behavior that the objectors saw as religiously prohibited). Under this strict scrutiny, religious objectors were to be given an exemption, unless denying the exemption was the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

But while the strict scrutiny test in race and free speech cases was generally seen as “strict in theory, fatal in fact” (Gerry Gunther’s phrase), almost always invalidating the government law, in religious freedom cases it was “strict in theory, feeble in fact” (Larry Sager and Chris Eisgruber’s phrase). The government usually won, and religious objectors won only rarely.

Then in 1990, the Court changed course: In Employment Division v. Smith, a 5-Justice majority returned to the statute-by-statute exemption regime, and rejected the constitutional exemption regime. So long as a law doesn’t discriminate against religious objectors, but generally applies to people regardless of their religiosity, it’s constitutionally valid. If religious objectors want an exemption, they need to go to the legislature. (This is an oversimplification, but let’s go with it for now.)

But before going with it, a little more background on the Smith, because it’s important to understand how it has nothing whatsoever to do with a business discriminating against someone based on religious beliefs. [From Wikipedia]: “The Court upheld the state of Oregon’s refusal to give unemployment benefits to two Native Americans fired from their jobs at a rehab clinic after testing positive for mescaline, the main psychoactive compound in the peyote cactus, which they used in a religious ceremony. Peyote use has been a common practice in Native American tribes for centuries. It was integrated with Christianity into what is now known as the Native American Church.” (See? Not the kind of Christians you were thinking about.) Back to the blog for more of the story.

Smith was broadly condemned, both by the Left and the Right. That coalition has since largely fallen apart, but it was strong back then: In 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gave religious objectors a statutory presumptive entitlement to exemption from generally applicable laws (subject to strict scrutiny). “Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person . . . is the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest.” The vote in the House was unanimous, and in the Senate was 97-3.

RFRA was meant to apply to all branches of government, and both to federal and state law. In City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), the Supreme Court held that RFRA exceeded federal power when applied to state laws, but didn’t touch it as to federal law. Since 1997 (and in some measure before), about a dozen states enacted similar state-level RFRAs as to state law, and about a dozen more interpreted their state constitutions to follow the Sherbert model rather than the Smith model.

Therefore, the rule now is that there is a religious exemption regime as to federal statutes (under the federal RFRA), and as to state statutes in the about half the states that have state RFRAs or state constitutional exemption regimes. Religious objectors in those jurisdictions may demand exemptions from generally applicable laws that substantially burden the objectors’ practice, which the government must grant unless it can show that applying the laws is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

All of that was written prior to the decision in the Hobby Lobby v. Burwell. Professor Volokh explains a bit about how the RFRA is supposed to be interpreted.

In interpreting the terms of RFRA — such as “substantial burden,” “compelling government interest,” and “least restrictive means” — courts look to Sherbert/Yoder-era Free Exercise Clause case law. The “findings” section of RFRA states that “the compelling interest test as set forth in prior Federal court rulings is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing prior governmental interests” (emphasis added), and cites Sherbert and Yoder favorably. And the whole point of RFRA was to “restor[e]” a body of rulings that were overturned by Smith — rulings that recognized a constitutional right to presumptive exemptions from generally applicable laws.

Unfortunately, this body of preexisting case law is not terribly broad or deep. As we’ll see later, for instance, it tells us less than we’d like to know about what counts as a compelling interest. But what counts as a substantial burden is somewhat clearer; we’ll see this in more detail in a later post, but for now, note that the following all constitute a substantial burden:

1. The government’s compelling someone to do something that violates his religious beliefs, or prohibiting someone from doing something that is mandated by his religious beliefs.

2. The government’s denying someone a tax exemption or unemployment compensation unless he does something that violates his religious beliefs, or refrains from something that is mandated by his religious beliefs.

3. As to state and federal constitutional regimes, it’s not clear whether the above also applies when the objector’s conduct is merely motivated by his religious beliefs (e.g., the objector thinks it’s a religiously valuable thing for him to stay home on the Sabbath, rather than a religious commandment) and not actually mandated by those beliefs. The federal RFRA, many state RFRAs, and RLUIPA expressly apply to “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by … a system of religious belief.”

4. The beliefs need not be longstanding, central to the claimant’s religious beliefs, internally consistent, consistent with any written scripture, or reasonable from the judge’s perspective. They need only be sincere.

Recall, though, that a finding of substantial burden on sincere religious beliefs simply shifts the burden to the government: The government may still justify the burden by showing that applying the law to the objectors is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

As I said before, all of that was before the Hobby Lobby ruling. My first thought was that Hobby Lobby couldn’t argue that they had these rights under the RFRA because Hobby Lobby is a corporation, not a person. It turns out that I was wrong. Title 1, Chapter 1, Words denoting number, gender, and so forth:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise—
words importing the singular include and apply to several persons, parties, or things;
words importing the plural include the singular;
words importing the masculine gender include the feminine as well;
words used in the present tense include the future as well as the present;
the words “insane” and “insane person” shall include every idiot, insane person, and person non compos mentis;
the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals;
“officer” includes any person authorized by law to perform the duties of the office;
“signature” or “subscription” includes a mark when the person making the same intended it as such;
“oath” includes affirmation, and “sworn” includes affirmed;
“writing” includes printing and typewriting and reproductions of visual symbols by photographing, multigraphing, mimeographing, manifolding, or otherwise.

And Justice Alito did indeed say the RFRA applied and that Hobby Lobby had standing as a person based on Title 1, Chapter 1. And despite the fact that Hobby Lobby was wrong in their beliefs, and despite the fact that they really weren’t sincere in their claims since they offered birth control coverage in their health care plans right up until the ACA became law, Hobby Lobby was granted their exemption. But that case had nothing to do with a business trying to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation. How did we get there by the time Indiana became the 20th state to pass their own RFRA?

When the Native Americans lost their centuries long-held right to use peyote in their religious ceremonies, everybody agreed this was wrong. Before the federal RFRA was passed, Connecticut and Rhode Island had passed their own versions of an RFRA, with the standard being the same as the one Smith reversed. Then Congress passed the RFRA, and in his signing statement, President Bill Clinton even mentioned that the purpose of this law was to reverse the Smith decision, which was about peyote use, not discrimination. This law was written to apply to both the federal government and to the states, so they stopped passing their own versions of the RFRA until the Supreme Court ruled it could not be applied to the states. Then in 1998 Illinois passed its own RFRA, with the language specifically saying it was in response to Smith (and to City of Boerne v. P.F. Flores, the decision which ruled the national RFRA could not be applied to states.) This was followed by Florida‘s RFRA law (which did not mention Smith or Flores), but Alabama‘s RFRA did mention them. BTW, an interesting thing about the Alabama legislation is its language that the bill be “liberally construed to effectuate its remedial and deterrent purposes.” That kind of talk from a very Conservative legislature? The following year saw a state RFRA law get vetoed. Arizona passed its own RFRA, but it was seen by many as being too broadly worded. In fact, the public outcry over how this bill could be interpreted (and the fact that Gov Jan Brewer wanted to address her state’s broken Child Protection System before anything else), led to Gov Brewer issuing a veto. This bill went further than its predecessors in that it contained a section that specifically allowed state licensed professionals to refuse their services to clients based on their own religious beliefs about anything, including sexual orientation. Remember, their beliefs do not have to be accurate, just sincerely held. After Arizona, South Carolina was the next to pass an RFRA. This bill is no more controversial than earlier ones in that it restores the standards put forth in the national bill that was intended to let Native Americans use peyote in their religious rituals. But pending legislation would allow clerks to deny marriage licenses to gay people based on the clerk’s personal religious beliefs. Idaho also has its own RFRA that’s harmless enough, but they also have legislation lending to amend the bill to include the right to discriminate based on bigotry. New Mexico passed just a basic RFRA bill, which declares the government must show a compelling interest in denying a presumptive right on a generic law. Oklahoma, on the other hand, also went pretty far in their RFRA bill, even specifying that nothing in the bill could be construed to “Authorize same sex marriages, unions, or the equivalent thereof.” But they don’t want to stop there, either. They also have bills pending that would allow anybody to deny doing anything for anybody else based solely on personal religious beliefs (however misguided, wrong, or not in accordance with the religion upon which they are supposed to be based.) I’m sure we’ll hear calls for boycotts of the Cowboy Hall of Fame when they pass. There was an eighteen-month lull in state RFRAs before Pennsylvania passed its version called the “Religious Freedom Protection Act.” This one should have triggered calls for boycotts, too, as it not only allows the same kind of personal discrimination based on personal religious beliefs the other bad bills did, but it also appears to directly refute the point of the national RFRA law that overturned Smith so Native Americans can legally use peyote. It would be hard for PA to argue this bill was in response to the Smith decision. Seven months later, in July of 2003, Missouri passed their basic RFRA. It did specify a number of ways in which the Act could not be used, such as supporting a defense to not pay child support, or as an excuse to harm anyone else. I’m glad one of the states thought about that. Their proposed amending legislation would apply religious freedom protection to students. Then things went quiet on the RFRA front for about four years.

In April 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia showed all those religious bigots how to do it by re-passing a law originally passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, before we officially became the United States under our current Constitution, weird language and spellings and all. Don’t believe me? After declaring that the following was passed in 1786, here’s the first sentence:

“Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who, being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do; 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 endeavoring to impose them on others, have established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical, and even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors, for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though, indeed, those are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet, neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he, being of course judge of that tendency, will make his opinions the rules of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere, when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail, if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

As the Break-Up Song says, “They don’t write ’em like that anymore.” But as fancy and high-falutin’ as this was (and I’ll thank Virginia not to mention my burthens in public again), they still want to amend this law with a specific right to discriminate by saying no one can be denied a state-issued license just because something they refused to do something that “would violate the religious or moral convictions of such person with respect to same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior.” Once again, it’s only the gays against whom “religious freedom” can be sanctioned. No mention of people wearing tattoos, customers at Red Lobster, women wearing clothing made from two different fabrics, or people who work Saturdays, though they should all face the same Biblical punishments as gay people.

It was about another year before Utah passed its RFRA. If you looked at some of the previous links, you may have come across laws regarding religious land use. Utah’s bill took this form, primarily, but it also adds a protection for religious organizations or people acting on behalf of same if they wish to discriminate based on their alleged religious beliefs. Are you noticing a pattern here? In the beginning, the RFRAs were passed to make up for the SCOTUS saying the national RFRA could not apply to the states. And most of the early ones simply said that the government had the burden of proof if they wanted to infringe on religious freedom, such as banning the use of peyote in religious ceremonies like your ancestors did for centuries. But then the bills started to evolve into declarations that you don’t have to do anything that infringes on your religious beliefs, especially if it involves gay people. Again, not all sinners, just the gay ones. It’s hard for me to believe you can justify it as a religious belief when it’s the only such belief you have when it comes to who to discriminate against. More than a year after Utah, Tennessee passed its RFRA, and while it seems on the surface to be the same as the early RFRAs in that it sets the proper legal test for violations of religious freedom, it also defines “substantial burden” in a way that could be interpreted to mean “not all that substantial.” Almost a year to the day later, Louisiana passed its version of an RFRA. Like many of the overly-broad versions, this ones allows a person “the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely-held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or central requirement of the person’s religious belief.” The problem I have with this kind of language is the “sincerely-held” part. I don’t dispute that these folks think gay people should not have equal rights. I strongly dispute that it’s their religious beliefs that makes them feel this way. Three years after them, Kentucky passed something they claim to be some kind of RFRA, but it’s very short (compared to the other bills), and doesn’t go into as much detail. The KY legislature overrode the governor’s veto. I think the devil was in the details of other bills that set the parameters for when it’s okay to discriminate. Kansas followed up in July 2013 with its RFRA. As you’d expect from a hard-right state government, they allow people to refuse to act in a way that goes contrary to their supposedly deeply held religious beliefs. And, finally, Mississippi passed an RFRA law in 2014. Not only does it restore the Sherbert/Yoder compelling government interest test, it also has these two gems: 1) “Nothing in this act shall be construed to authorize any government to burden any religious belief.” (Notice they no longer mention “substantial burden.”); and, 2) “Nothing in this act shall create any rights by an employee against an employer if the employer is not the government.” In other words, the government can’t suppress your religious freedom, but your non-governmental employer can. Because unless you’re a business owner, your rights are meaningless.

When you go through these laws, it’s impossible not to notice the gradual transition from simply ensuring that the government applied the same legal test to claims of religious infringement that it did before Justice Scalia decided Native Americans had no constitutional right to do something they were doing before we invaded their land and stole it from them, to enshrining the right to discriminate based solely on claims of religious belief. You don’t have to actually believe these things to claim they permit you to deny service to people you don’t like. You just have to say they do, and it’s up to the government to prove why you shouldn’t be an exception to the rule. Despite being members of a Christian faith, the Oregon Native Americans weren’t claiming a right to deny another person their services because of their religious beliefs, they were claiming a right to do something their people were doing long before anyone came along, took their lands, and set up new laws. But the Christians who support RFRAs are undeniably using them to justify treating some of their fellow citizens in ways their Lord & Savior would undoubtedly disapprove (if he ever existed.) Nor can it really be argued that the original intent of the RFRA laws had anything to do with codifying a right to discriminate, yet that is clearly what was being done by Conservative legislatures that passed recent versions. And do not, for a moment, believe that this right to discriminate has anything whatsoever to do with religious freedom or beliefs. I call bullshit on that one. This has nothing to do with Religion and everything to do with Hate. Are any of these businesses who refuse to sell goods or services to gay people because of their religious beliefs refusing to sell their goods and services to any other category of people not living in accordance with Scripture? Are the ones who won’t sell wedding cakes to gay people also refusing to sell wedding cakes to divorced people looking to marry again? Are they open on the Sabbath, when many weddings take place? If there are things your religious beliefs compel you to do but you don’t, then you shouldn’t be allowed to claim your religious beliefs compel you to act in a particular way, especially if that particular way is a trivial aspect of your religious beliefs. It makes a mockery of the free exercise of religion. Nothing in the Christian faith compels followers to treat anyone the way Conservative Christians want to treat gay people, and only gay people. If these so-called Christians want to claim the Bible justifies their actions (a justification not supported by anything in the Constitution), then they should be required to be consistent and apply the same rules to other people they encounter. Or maybe they have to accept the fact that their religious beliefs are inconsistent with their Capitalistic beliefs. You cannot operate any business in accordance with Biblical Law without violating either the US Constitution or federal Civil Rights laws. It was one thing to simply restore the legal test in place before Smith, but as expert on religious extremism Marci A. Hamilton explains, these RFRA bills have gone too far. They are not about protecting religious freedom, they are about protecting religious bigotry. Too many people forget that before the United States came along, every nation had an official religion. And everybody was expected to practice that official religion, sometimes under severe penalty (death), and sometimes under threat of ostracism by the people around you. And, of course, in many countries you were not allowed to even think of practicing another religion. Our Framers said that was wrong. This continent was invaded by Europeans seeking a place to practice their religion their own way, which was a much more extreme version than that practiced back home. They didn’t think their fellow countrymen were religious enough. That’s right. The people who founded what the religious right claims is a Christian nation were religious extremists.

You can visit the Religious Freedom Restoration Act Perils site here.

Oh, and for those breathlessly waiting to find out who rounds out the Final Four of state capital names that begin with the same letter as their states, the other three are:
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(look away if you want to work it out for yourself)
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Dover, Delaware; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Honolulu, Hawaii. How many did you get right? And how many did you get right without Googling the answer? Let us know. Thanks for playing.

This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss Religious Freedom, its Restoration, or anything else you wish to discuss.

The Watering Hole, Saturday, March 21st, 2015: More of Teh Stupid

You may want to have a barf bag ready, or an alcoholic beverage, or a Xanax, or your favorite recreational drug. You’ll need to prepare yourself for the putrid pile of prevarications puked up by Son of Satan Saint Ronald of Amurka, Michael Reagan. Although I’m providing the link to his opinion piece, titled “The GOP’s Stupid Letter”, published in the Farmington, CT, Daily-Times, I’m putting the entire mess up here so that you can more readily count how many things are wrong with it. Michael obligingly makes that easier by ‘formatting’ his piece in ‘single-sentence-double-space mode:

There we go again, Republicans.

We keep shooting ourselves in the feet — and at the worst possible times.

Things were going pretty well for the GOP. 

President Obama was getting major grief from Republicans (and even some Democrats) for preparing to sign America on to a horrible nuclear arms deal with the Iranians. 

Hillary Clinton was ensnared in an email-deleting scandal of her own making that was so obviously unlawful and politically devious that even the liberal media were attacking her. 

So what did 47 Republican senators do? 

They attracted the full attention of the mainstream media by sending a letter to the Iranian ayatollahs reminding them that any agreement the president signs without approval of the Senate can be undone by the next president faster than you can spell Bibi Netanyahu. 

Nice job, Republicans. 

Yes, what you told the Iranians in the letter was right. Any B-plus middle-school civics student knows that the Senate gets to ratify or reject treaties made by the president.

But sending an open letter to Iran was dead wrong — and politically stupid.

It merely gave Democrats — and their media buddies — a chance to change the subject and accuse Republicans of irresponsibly trying to sabotage the president’s foreign policy.

What rookie Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and his co-signers did with their letter was nothing new.

Ted Kennedy did it in the late 1970s when he tried to get the Soviets to do something to embarrass Jimmy Carter so he could take the nomination from Carter in 1980.

In 1987 Democrat House Speaker Jim Wright stuck his congressional nose into the negotiations between the Reagan administration and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

More recently, who can forget Nancy Pelosi’s jaunt to Syria in 2007, when she and a gang of House Democrats made nice with Bashar al-Assad at the same time the Bush administration was trying to put pressure on Syria to work with it on Mideast peace talks?

Those 47 Republican senators didn’t need to send a public letter to Teheran to remind the Iranians how America’s separation of powers works.

What was wrong with Sen. Cotton and a few others writing an op-ed piece about the Senate’s treaty-ratifying powers for the Wall Street Journal?

I bet the Iranians would have gotten the message just as well.

Instead Republicans only brought attention — bad attention — on themselves for doing exactly what many of them had rightly criticized Pelosi for doing.

Republicans in the Senate should have shut up and let Obama negotiate and sign the treaty with Iran, bad as it is bound to be.

Then they could have pointed out to the Iranians and everyone else that the deal needed to be ratified by two-thirds of the U.S. Senate — and that 47 Republicans were strongly against it.

The letter was a blunder. Until the senators sent it, Iran was exclusively Obama’s problem.

All the media attention was on the president’s defense of his treaty and Netanyahu’s concerns about how dangerous and naive it was.

But now the Iran nuke deal is not just Obama’s issue. It’s the Republicans’ too.

And if anything goes wrong, which it probably will, you can bet that Republicans will — as usual — get most of the blame.”

After the column it says “Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan and a political consultant”, in case readers didn’t recognize the author.

I’ll just sit back and let you all rip this into teeny-tiny little shreds.

Next:

Just as delusional, but in a totally different vein: I ran across this piece authored by Bethany Blankley, a former aide to Senator Susan Collins, and currently “…a conservative political analyst and columnist who regularly appears on Fox News Radio.” Ms. Blankley contends that the majority of Congress (both houses) and President Obama are guilty of treason. She asserts that an omnibus bill passed in December and signed by the President “authorized the State Department to transfer $11.9 billion in cash payments to Iran by June 2015.” Ms. Blankley goes on to say that “[t]ransferring any form of aid/comfort to Iran, a sworn enemy of the United States, is a treasonous act.”

The first link within the article led me to this January article by Adam Kredo at The Washington Free Beacon. While still written with a right-wing slant, i.e., the title being “U.S. to Award Iran $11.9 Billion”, this piece finally provided the kernel of truth: these “cash payments” are actually releases, at intervals, of Iranian assets that were previously frozen as part of the sanctions against Iran. The State Department isn’t sending $11.9 billion in U.S.-taxpayers’ money to Iran, it’s letting Iran access some of its own money:

“When final negotiations between the United States and Iran failed in November, negotiators decided once more to extend the talks through June of this year. The terms of that extension granted Iran the 10 payments of $490 million, a State Department official said.

“With respect to sanctions relief, the United States will enable the repatriation of $4.9 billion of Iranian revenue held abroad during the extension,” the official said.

The first two payments were made in December, followed by Wednesday’s payment. The next release is scheduled for Feb. 11, with two more scheduled for March. The rest of the frozen cash assets will be given back to Iran on April 15, May 6, May 27, and June 22, respectively.”

The same author, Adam Kredo, also penned this March 20th article of interest, which says in part:

“Congressional leaders have begun pressuring their colleagues to cut off all U.S. funding for the ongoing talks with Iran over its contested nuclear program as the Obama administration rushes to hash out the details of a deal in the coming months, according to multiple sources and a letter that will be sent next week to appropriators in the House of Representatives.

With the deadline approaching, congressional Republicans have been exasperated by the Obama administration’s efforts to prevent them from having any oversight over the deal.

Reps. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.) and Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.) are now petitioning their colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee to prohibit all taxpayer funding for the talks, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

This would purge all U.S. funds available to Obama administration officials for travel abroad, hotel stays, and any other activities related to the P5+1 talks with Iran.”

So, I guess that Republicans feel that, if they couldn’t derail the Iranian nuclear negotiations by inviting Iran’s worst enemy to speak before a joint session of Congress, and if they couldn’t derail the talks by pulling an end-around on the President and the P5 + 1 negotiators, well, they can just defund the logistical side of the talks. Jeez, there is simply no end to their despicable efforts to thwart anything and everything that President Obama is trying to do.

Interesting note: on the first site that carried the Blankley article, there were no links within it at all. So I tried a search for information on this alleged $11.9 billion in “cash payments”, but the only links I found were mostly obscure right-wing websites, which just repeated the same article. I say “mostly obscure” because I found that “The Unofficial Megyn Kelly” website also featured the article. Take a look – warning, it may temporarily blind you – at this Newsmax-like mess of a website. Who on earth designed this tasteless crap? But also take a look at the mash-up of what I would consider to be real RWNJ story links, including – in the “You might also enjoy” section, one titled “What a Bargain! Only $80,000 for Mooch’s Rental Cars in Japan” Disgustingly, “Mooch” refers to First Lady Michelle Obama. After recent death threats to our Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, does it not occur to these “people” that a special armored vehicle to protect the First Lady and the Ambassador is obviously necessary and actually costs money? On the sidebar, another link to this story is titled “NO JOKE: Michelle O’s Rental Car Fleet For Her Jaunt To Shrine Of Rice God Is Costing…WHAT?” Un-fucking-believable.

Going back to the $11.9 Billion story, I noticed something odd: none of the more popular right-wing websites, i.e., Breitbart or Redstate, came up when I googled the story. Not Fox News, either. I’m guessing that none of them want to broadcast the idea that their darling Republicans who ‘voted for’ the releasing of Iranian assets – oh, sorry, the ‘authorization for the State Department to transfer money to Iran’ – were committing what they call “treason” right along with President Obama. No, they’re not gonna touch THAT one.

Finally, I just HAVE to post this one last excerpt from Bethany Blankley’s ‘opinion’ piece, simply because it’s so jaw-droppingly insane:

“Under President Barack Hussein Obama, many believe the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the White House, multiple layers of government, and is largely directing American domestic and foreign policy. (A powerful and growing Islamic influence also extends throughout the Republican Party.)”

This is our Daily Open Thread – go on, have at it!

The Watering Hole; Thursday March 19 2015; “The Most Dangerous Woman in America”

Earlier this week a link to “The Most Dangerous Woman in America” popped up in my email inbox. I immediately assumed ‘she’ had to be either Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren, and was surprised to see, when I got to the link, that she was instead a woman I’d never before heard of, a woman by the name of Kshama Sawant, a Socialist who first sat on the Seattle Washington city council in January 2014 and is up for reelection this year. The article describes her as one who has, during her just over one year on the council,

“. . . helped push through a gradual raising of the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Seattle. She has expanded funding for social services and blocked, along with housing advocates, an attempt by the Seattle Housing Authority to allow a rent increase of up to 400 percent. She has successfully lobbied for city money to support tent encampments and is fighting for an excise tax on millionaires. And for this she has become the bĂŞte noire of the Establishment, especially the Democratic Party.

With a resumĂ© filled with such populist accomplishments, she’s “become the bĂŞte noire of the . . . the Democratic Party”??? WTF?? The article continues:

The corporate powers, from Seattle’s mayor to the Chamber of Commerce and the area’s Democratic Party, are determined she be defeated, and these local corporate elites have the national elites behind them. This will be one of the most important elections in the country this year. It will pit a socialist, who refuses all corporate donations—not that she would get many—and who has fearlessly championed the rights of workingmen and workingwomen, rights that are being eviscerated by the corporate machine. The elites cannot let the Sawants of the world proliferate. Corporate power is throwing everything at its disposal—including sponsorship of a rival woman candidate of color—into this election in the city’s 3rd District.

So apparently it’s not only Republicans that are underneath the corporate thumb, but Democrats as well? How disgusting is THAT??

I followed the link to her website and found this, her own synopsis of her accomplishments:

Dear friends and neighbors,

We have officially completed a year in office and what a year it’s been!

• Thanks to our hard-fought 15 Now campaign, we passed the historic $15 minimum wage in Seattle.

• To crack down on rampant wage theft in our city, we won additional funding for the new Office of Labor Standards.

• Together with indigenous activists, we established Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

These and many other victories have shown what is possible when we build movements—we can overcome resistance from the political establishment and its corporate backers to improve ordinary people’s lives. We should celebrate our successes, and then build on them to win even bigger victories.

I hope you will join with me. Let’s take our city forward and make Seattle affordable—for all.

Solidarity!

Kshama Sawant

OK, NOW I get it! NOW I understand why even the Democrats want her out of there. It’s because her accomplishments and agenda are UN-AMERICAN (!) because they favor the worthless bums in the lower and middle classes and NOT the filthy rich of the upper crust! Wow, suddenly it all makes perfect sense. IT’S THE MONEY! :shock:

Back to the original article; its author (Chris Hedges) describes Sawant as one who “is as intense as she is articulate.” He continues,

Sawant, born in India, is a leader of the Socialist Alternative Party. She holds a doctorate in economics from North Carolina State University and before her election to the City Council was a professor at a community college. She knows that there will be no genuine reforms, let alone systemic change, without the building of radical mass movements and a viable third party.

“A viable third party” is undoubtedly Hedges’ key phrase. But is it possible? Speaking for myself, I had huge hopes that when Barack Obama was elected in 2008 together with a Democrat-controlled House and Senate, the chances were very good that we as a nation could finally overcome the middle class disaster wrought by decade after decade of “elite” control. I was wrong. There are far too many “elite” buggers on both sides of the aisle, and too, with a Supreme Court already over-packed with justices owned by those same “elites,” the consequences were predictable. The once loud and proud voice of ‘We the people’ is now under the firm control of the monied “elites,” and there it shall remain until the bums are tossed. It’s also clear that the only way we’ll ever accomplish same is through a mass movement that makes no claim to either the Republican or Democratic Party philosophy of money-based power. A third party? Maybe, but not really necessary. The real task is to elect people like Sawant to public office at all levels, including Congressional and Executive. In Sawant’s words,

“The idea that things have to get a lot worse to have some sort of awakening and bring about an alternative to this corrupt and defunct corporate political system is inaccurate. What we need is a big surge for an independent working-class political alternative while people are experiencing a sense of confidence, after decades of bitter defeat. . . .

“We have to provide a place for people looking for something different, especially the younger generation. Any presidential campaign cannot be run as an end in itself. That will dishearten people. People know what is going to happen in 2016. It is going to be Hillary Clinton or some Republican. Our campaign needs to be a launching pad for something bigger. It needs to be about building a mass movement, a viable radical alternative. This is what is happening in Greece and Spain.”

The concept of returning this nation’s government to “We the people” — to retrieve it from the oligarchic and fascist entities which have worked diligently since Roosevelt’s death in 1945 to further enrich and empower themselves at the nation’s expense — is a most intriguing concept. The possibility that a vibrant surge of the working class embedded in a Socialist movement could actually serve to revitalize the Constitution and a functional Democracy beggars the imagination.

Count me in. Anyone else?

OPEN THREAD

The Watering Hole, Monday, February 2, 2015: Speaker Logan?

After the French Revolution, tensions had risen between the USA and France. Many French revolutionaries felt we had not aided them enough, and after we signed the Jay Treaty with Great Britain, France authorized the seizing of American ships and taking prisoners. In 1797 President Adams sent John Marshall, Charles C. Pinckney, and Elbridge Gerry (who would later try to redraw political districts that reminded people of a salamander in order to give him an electoral advantage, thus giving birth to the term “Gerrymander”) to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Instead, the result was what would become known as the XYZ Affair and an unsuccessful trip. After their return, a Philadelphia Quaker named Dr. George Logan decided on his own to try to negotiate a peaceful settlement. He was successful and France agreed to stop seizing ships and to release their prisoners. This did not go over well with President John Adams and he recommended that Congress pass a law to stop the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” The result was the Logan Act. As amended today, the act reads:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

The Act does grant an exception for private citizens who wish to sue a foreign government for injuries, but that’s it. And when you think about it, it makes sense. For example, would you want the Koch Brothers to be allowed to legally negotiate their own agreement with the government of Canada regarding the tar sands oil? Would you want them to then be allowed to go into court and demand that the Keystone XL Pipeline be built because they had a contract and that contract must be honored? Bad idea. Better to not let them have that negotiation in the first place, especially if our government is not in favor of the project. (The Republicans are, because they only care about businesses earning huge profits, even foreign ones. President Obama will veto it.)

In the 200+ year history of the Logan Act there has never been anyone prosecuted under it. There was a farmer who was indicted, but that was over something he had written regarding the land which eventually became the Louisiana Purchase. He was never prosecuted and the Purchase quelled the entire argument being made. (Plus, I’m not so sure he would have been prosecuted, since he only advocated in a letter to a newspaper for something. I don’t believe he actually negotiated with anyone in France.) There have been arguments made (not in court) that the Logan Act may be unconstitutional, but there have also been numerous references to it in other court decisions. And the basic idea that the President is the only one who can negotiate on behalf of the United States has been mentioned several times in court rulings. So while nobody has been prosecuted (including Rev Jesse Jackson and Jane Fonda), the law remains in effect. Which brings us to Speaker John Boehner.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama said this about Iran:

Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material. Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies — including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict. There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.

But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; making it harder to maintain sanctions; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.

Iran has made it clear that they will stop enriching uranium and negotiate with other countries about its nuclear program provided the United States does not pass any sanctions bill before the talks are concluded. So what do Republicans want to so? They want to pass a sanctions bill anyway that would take effect if the talks break down. What they seem unable to grasp is that the very act of passing a sanctions bill (even if and when it does get vetoed by Obama) could be the trigger that ends the talks. It truly makes me wonder if Republicans want Peace or not. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views Iran as an existential threat, which is just another way of saying, “Even if they don’t try to harm us today, they probably might try to tomorrow, or they might decide to help someone else harm us, so let’s go to war with them before anyone attacks us.” This is not a workable foreign policy, this is paranoia. But since Republicans want to deny Obama any kind of victory at all, on any subject at all, they decided to try to thwart Obama’s foreign policy by inviting Netanyahu to address our Congress, specifically on why we shouldn’t enter into this agreement with Iran. It’s pretty clear that this invitation, arranged and negotiated without the knowledge of the White House (until a few hours before it was publicly announced), is a violation of the Logan Act. The purpose of both the invitation and of the address is to “defeat the measures of the United States,” and it clearly violates the Logan Act. The President has already said he would not meet with Netanyahu because they have an election coming up. And we know that Netanyahu thinks it’s wrong to do something like this because he said so himself, almost 20 years ago. When then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres visited the US in 1997, just before he faced an election, opposition leader Netanyahu said, “I can’t find an example of any previous Israeli government whose prime minister, on the eve of elections, made a cynical attempt to use relations between Israel and the United States as a party advertisement.” Being so hypocritical, it’s no wonder he enjoys such support from the Republican Party (a/k/a The American Likud Party.)

This is our daily open thread. Talk about anything you want, just don’t invite any foreign heads of state to address our Congress. That would be bad.