President Hamilton?

Though the quote has appeared in several different forms over the years, philosopher George Santayana wrote this: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If I may, I would like to reword this famous statement and apply it to a current event: “Those who never learn the past are condemned to misstate it.”

What has prompted me to mess with the immortal words of Santayana? A monumental President’s Day blunder by online coupon provider Groupon, that’s what. According to a plethora of major news outlets Groupon issued a news release last week promoting $10 off of local deals over $40, complete with this explanation of the deal: “The $10 bill, as everyone knows, features President Alexander Hamilton — undeniably one of our greatest presidents and most widely recognized for establishing the country’s financial system.”

Now, in Groupon’s defense, Hamilton is generally credited with laying the foundations of the nation’s financial system, having served as the first Secretary of the Treasury the U.S. ever had. However, as with Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill, Hamilton never served as president of the United States.

Compounding the problem, Fox News has reported that upon being informed of the blunder Erin Yeager, Groupon spokesperson, told MyFoxNY.com, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.” Agree to disagree? Whether or not someone was ever president of the United States is not a matter of opinion; it is historical fact, easily checked and verified.

Groupon’s press release–which, believe it or not, is still available on its web site–refers to Hamilton as president three times and refers to him once as “our money-minded commander-in-chief.”

In the grand scheme of things this is pathetic but not that big a deal. However, it is evidence of a greater problem. That problem is a two-edged sword of ignorance of and disrespect for U.S. history. There is no excuse for having multiple professionals at a major corporation failing to recognize that Alexander Hamilton was never president of the United States. (Presumably more than one person has to approve press releases and ad campaigns). There is no excuse for a company spokesperson responding “we’ll have to agree to disagree” when the error was identified. The error was a result of ignorance or stupidity (or both), and the explanation once the error was identified is a result of ignorance or stupidity (or both, but most likely the latter).

Furthermore, the explanation is a prime example of the foolishness of relativism. Relativism is the idea that there is no absolute truth, that all beliefs and points of view are relative, subjective, and based on the preferences and viewpoints of those who adhere to them. “Agree to disagree” is a shorthand definition of “tolerance” and it works fine for things like which baseball team has a better starting rotation, which fast food chain has the best French fries or even which U.S. president was the best president. Those are topics subject to legitimate differences of opinion and conviction. There are different ways of defining “best” and legitimate, cogent, rational arguments could be made for multiple answers to those questions. Relativism has its place. I see it demonstrated almost daily at family meal times, for example–particularly when it comes to the vegetable of the meal and the opinions of my children as to how good–or not good–the vegetable may be!

Relativism has no place, however, when it comes to verifiable facts. There can be a difference of opinion as to which fast food chain has the best French fries, but whether or not a fast food chain even exists or even serves French fries is not open for discussion; the answer can be found and proven. Which U.S. president was the best will bring plenty of different answers, and you will probably find plenty of them today in particular, since it is Presidents Day. At a minimum I can guarantee you will find arguments for George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. There is no definitive standard by which one can determine “best president” so that range of opinion is fine–healthy, even. But there is no question as to whether or not Alexander Hamilton was a U.S. president.

It is a sad day when a major company errs on what should be basic elementary school history. My favorite professor in college used to refer to some things by saying, “Every good schoolboy or schoolgirl should know this….” Sadly, the number of things every good schoolboy or schoolgirl knows is rapidly diminishing. That is due in no small part to an observation regularly made by my favorite graduate school professor: “Sometimes there is nothing common about common sense.”

Miley was just the beginning

Not all that long ago everyone was all riled up over the lewd performance of Miley Cyrus at MTV’s Video Music Awards. The outcry against the performance came from all sectors, including Cyrus’s peers and other industry insiders. The mother of Cyrus’s partner in that performance, Robin Thicke, called her performance “misbegotten” and “not beneficial.” Lance Bass said he suspected that Cyrus shocked a lot of her fans, and commented that he had not expected to have to warn his nieces and nephews who tuned in to watch him perform on the VMAs that Cyrus would be “naked and humping a finger.” Cyndi Lauper called the performance “so sad, so sad” and said that it was “really raunchy. It wasn’t even art. It was raunch.” Given that those were the comments from others in the industry, you can imagine the responses from conservative groups like the Parent’s Television Council.

The VMAs were in September, though, so why am I bringing this up again now? Simple. The Grammys were just a few days ago, and that ceremony was proof positive that what got everyone so worked up in September has since become more acceptable. The sad truth is that–as with so many other things in culture–what was initially shocking gradually becomes less so and soon what once shocked becomes common place.

On Sunday night the 56th annual Grammy Awards ceremony was held, ostensibly to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry. As Melissa Locker noted in her column for TIME‘s Entertainment section, however, the show “has become less about the awards and more about the eclectic and outlandish performances.” I did not watch the Grammys, so I am using news reports as the basis for my comments here, but it would seem that “eclectic and outlandish” might be putting it mildly. Those reports make it all the more confusing that the Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri would have started her Monday column (the day after the Grammys) with this statement: “The Grammys were remarkably incident free.”

Really?

To quote NFL officials after an instant replay look-see, “after review” the ruling by Petri has been overturned. The Grammys were actually incident-full. Kristen Andersen of LifeSiteNews, in her column appearing on MyChristianDaily.com apparently has a very different perspective on what qualifies as an incident. (That, of course, is actually part of the problem–so much of what would have been shocking and entirely unacceptable not all that long ago no longer even rises to the level of an “incident” in the minds of so many). Andersen begins her column like this: “Sunday night’s Grammy Awards show was all about shock value.” I do not know about you, but “incident free” and “shock value” are really not synonymous in my book. So to what was Andersen referring? She continues with this: “Scantily-clad singers, same-sex ‘marriages’ set to anti-Christian lyrics, simulated sex acts and a performance full of demonic imagery by pop star Katy Perry – who used to be Christian artist Katy Hudson – were just a few of the on-stage stunts that seemed custom-designed to offend Christian believers.” Not to put words in Andersen’s pen, but it would seem that such antics would likely offend more than just Christians.

During the Grammys each of the following occurred: Katy Perry’s performance of “Dark Horse” included her pole-dancing around an inverted broom while flames and demons danced around her; rap artist Macklemore performed a song entitled “Same Love” while thirty-three couples of all sexual orientations were legally married on stage in a ceremony officiated by Queen Latifah; husband and wife Jay-Z and Beyoncé gave a performance in which Beyoncé “wore little more than a thong leotard and simulated sex acts with a chair, her husband, and herself” (Andersen); and Pink “shock[ed] with a sexy performance outfit” consisting mostly of “a sexy, long-sleeved lace bodysuit that hugged her curves” (Hollywoodlife.com).

The UK’s Daily Mail apparently had a different take on the evening’s activities than did the Washington Post‘s Petri. It’s column on Monday ran under a headline snatched from the Twitter-sphere: “‘It’s a sad day when our kids can’t even watch the Grammys’: Beyoncé slammed by parents after VERY risqué performance.” The column began with the statement that many parents deemed Beyoncé’s performance “too explicit for children to watch.” The column went on to describe Beyoncé’s performance as “both seductive and risqué” and included “moves Miley Cyrus would have been proud of.” Based on the photos included in the Daily Mail column I would have to agree–there is no way to blast Cyrus’s performance as raunchy and inappropriate while also commending Beyoncé for hers.

The Daily Mail column included another interesting observation that provides further evidence of the contradictory responses to Cyrus and Beyoncé. First, the column states, “Beyoncé’s performance comes after she admitted in a recent mini-documentary that she is proud to embrace her sexuality. She said: ‘I don’t have any shame about being sexual. I’m not embarrassed about it. And I don’t feel like I have to protect that side of me.'” The column then went on to state that such “embracing” of her sexuality has not stopped President Barack Obama from praising Beyoncé as a role model for children. The column quoted Obama as saying recently, “Beyoncé could not be a better role model for my girls because she carries herself with such class and poise and has so much talent.'” She may have talent, but it is unfathomable to me that any father would encourage his daughters to model themselves after a woman who gave the performance the Beyoncé did on Sunday.

Part of the responsibility of Christians is to shine a light on the darkness in the world. Several Christian artists did that after (and during) the Grammys on Sunday. Natalie Grant tweeted, “We left the Grammys early. I’ve many thoughts, most of which are probably better left inside my head. But I’ll say this: I’ve never been more honored to sing about Jesus and for Jesus. And I’ve never been more sure of the path I’ve chosen.” Despite the fact that Grant did not identify any particular performance or indicate when she left the Grammys the backlash came swiftly, with many accusing her of hatred toward homosexuals. Responding on Facebook, Grant wrote that she would much prefer to use her platform to unite rather than divide, but “I do have my own personal convictions that I live by, and I will continue to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling before the Lord. (Philippians 2:12)”

Grant went to the show and left early. Mandisa opted to not even go–and she won two Grammys on Sunday. She won for “Best Christian Contemporary Music Album” and “Best Contemporary Christian Music Song” but she was not there when her name was announced. Explaining her absence via Facebook, Mandisa wrote, “Both times I have gone to the Grammys I have witnessed performances I wish I could erase from my memory, and yes, I fast forwarded through several performances this year; but my reason is not because of them, it’s because of me. I have been struggling with being in the world, not of it lately. I have fallen prey to the alluring pull of flesh, pride, and selfish desires quite a bit recently. … I knew that submerging myself into an environment that celebrates those things was risky for me at this time. … Perhaps being alone with [Jesus] as my name was announced was protecting myself from where my flesh would have tried to drag me had I been up on that stage.”

If I may, Mr. President, I would like to suggest that Mandisa would be a much better role model for your daughters than Beyoncé.

Bottom line, the performances at the Grammys on Sunday are likely only evidence of what will continue to be; I am afraid things will get worse rather than better. I will leave it to you to prayerfully consider what, if anything, you will do about that, but I would humbly suggest that you consider Ephesians 5:11, which reads, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” That is what I am endeavoring to do here. My purpose is not to chastise or blame Pink, Beyonce, Katy Perry or Macklemore. My point is to expose what happened to expose the serious slide our nation is on away from any modicum of decency in the public arena. Miley was just the beginning….

Follow Up to “I Rest My Case”

Two entries ago I said I was beginning a series of posts about education, and it is still my intention to get back to that ASAP. With all of the shenanigans going on with the shutdown of the federal government, though, I had to speak up on that. And even though I said at the end of that post that I was resting my case, I need to add just a few more thoughts.

Numerous examples have emerged over the weekend of additional ridiculous moves by the Obama administration to make the shutdown as public and as painful as necessary. One example is the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona. The Henderson Press reported on the closing, including the fact that in addition to the closing of the “visitor center, campgrounds, marinas, trails and launch ramps” the folks who own property within the park are also being evicted and are barred from entering their personal property only to retrieve belongings. “Those with personal property within the park, such as boats, trailers or cabins, will be allowed access into the park to either remove their vessels or trailers or to remove belongings from their property,” the Henderson Press reported. Las Vegas station KTNV also reported on the Lake Mead closing, specifically spotlighting Ralph and Joyce Spencer. The Spencers, age 80 and 77 respectively, have owned their home since the 1970’s but the home sits on federal land. Thus, “even though the Spencers own their cabin outright, they’re not allowed in until the government reopens.” Now, according to the report, “The Lake Mead properties are considered vacation homes; one of the lease requirements to own a plot is people must have an alternative residence.” Be that as it may, the shutdown of the federal government cannot be used to justify evicting people from their own property.

The Independent Journal Review, the Washington Post and other news sites also reported that the Department of Justice web site that provides information on the AMBER Alerts was shut down, too. Now the alerts themselves were still operation, but the information DOJ web site was shut down. As of this morning that site is fully operational again, leading me to believe that the outcry over shutting down a web site specifically designed to provide information about kidnapped children was effective. Nice to know the elected officials listen once in a while! However, a service designed to assist protect the lives of abducted children should never have been allowed to be used for political purposes.

Interestingly–as pointed our by several other news sites–First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” web site was never shut down. Now the most recent post on the site’s blog was posted on September 30, so perhaps the site is not being updated, but that fact that it has remained up and operational while so many other government web sites have been shut down speaks volumes on its own. At the site is a government site; its address is http://www.letsmove.gov. As the IJ Review story stated, “Apparently, in the mixed up world of Team Obama’s priorities, continuing to tell America’s kids what to eat and how to exercise is ‘essential’ – while helping to locate missing children who may be in grave danger is not. Go figure.”

You may also have seen the wide-spread story over the weekend that the government is shutting down eleven hundred miles of ocean. Yep, you read that right…the government is shutting down the ocean…specifically, Florida Bay. Charter boat captains who make their living taking folks out into the bay to fish or enjoy the water cannot do so until the government reopens, and there are rangers on duty to enforce the ban. As with so many other examples already mentioned, enforcing the shutdown is going to cost more than allowing normal activities to continue would ever have cost!

Now, in the midst of all of this an anonymous employee of the National Park Service has reportedly stated this: “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.” Now, I do not know the name of the ranger who purportedly said this, nor can I verify its accuracy. All I know is that it has been widely reported. And if this statement is true–if the NPS has issued such instructions to its personnel, it is violating the law. If President Obama has given that order, or sanctioned it, he should be impeached. And I will not make a long, drawn out explanation as to why. Instead, I will present it very simply, in four easy steps:

One, the Preamble to the United States Constitution reads, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” (The unusual capitalization and spelling of “defense” comes directly from the original text, which you are welcome to read for yourself on the National Archives web site which is, oddly enough, still operating).

Two, the presidential oath of office, according to Article II of the Constitution, is, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (The ending “so help me God” is not in the Constitution, but was added by George Washington and has been added ever since).

Three, Section 4 of Article II of the Constitution reads, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Four, there is simply no way to convincingly argue that shutting down open air monuments, evicting people from their privately-owned homes and other examples outlined above and in the previous post are promoting the general welfare or ensuring domestic tranquility. Since they are not, President Obama is not faithfully executing the duties of his office nor is he preserving, protecting or defending the Constitution. Therefore, per the Constitution, he should be impeached, for there can be no higher crime a president of United States could commit than to knowingly and willingly violate the Constitution.

No comment

The realities of the Kermit Grosnell case are exceedingly gruesome, and there is enough information about the case out there that I did not feel the need to address it here–specifically since it is so gruesome that there is really no comment needed. I cannot imagine how any person who is not mentally ill could defend his actions. If you have not heard of him, or do not know what I am referring to, and you want to know, just Google his name and you will find out far more than you want to know. If you would like me to make it easier for you, you can read this article from USA Today. I’ll be honest, though, I suspect most people cannot read the article without becoming physically sick. Just read the opening line of the article and you will know enough to put the rest of what I am going to say in context.

At yesterday’s White House briefing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made no announcements, instead opening the floor for questions from the White House press corps. One of the reporters present, Ed Henry (senior White House correspondent for Fox News), asked Carney about the Gosnell trial (he is on trial for murder) and the president’s reaction to the situation. You can watch the press briefing on the White House web site and/or read the transcript.

Initially Carney said that the president “does not and cannot take a position on an ongoing trial.” Interesting. If you check YouTube for the video clip of the press briefing you will see that most of the comments there correctly point out that President Obama has had no problem at all taking a position on ongoing trials in the past. Just over a year he ago he made comments on the Trayvon Martin shooting, specifically, according to The Huffington Post, because “he and his press handlers were feeling pressure, coming from black activists and others, to make a public comment on the Martin case.” In that instance Obama’s comments were cautiously guarded, because he said he did not want to “impair” the ongoing legal process, but that did not stop him from commenting on the matter.

In July 2009 President Obama did not let his unfamiliarity with all of the facts stop him from addressing the Cambridge, Massachusetts’ police department’s arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In fact, in a press conference the president said, “”Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly….and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.” Maybe so, Mr. President, but that kind of rhetoric did nothing to specifically address the problem, and in fact could serve only to inflame any hostility in and toward the matter. But here’s another fact for Mr. Obama and Mr. Carney–there again the President of the United States was making specific comments on an ongoing legal matter.

So, convenient though it may have been for Mr. Carney to dodge the question by saying the president cannot take a position, the facts speak for themselves and when pressured to do so, when convenient, or, more accurately, when it will play well in the African-American community, Mr. Obama has had no problem taking a position on an ongoing legal matter.

After saying there was no position being taken Mr. Carney said, “Certainly, the things that you hear and read about this case are unsettling, but I can’t comment further on an ongoing legal proceeding.” “Unsettling” is an understatement to say the least. Mr. Henry was not ready to let the issue go, though. He pressed Mr. Carney with this background and question:

I understand the legal proceeding. The President as a state senator in 2003 voted against a bill that would provide medical care, as I understand, to babies who would be born after a botched abortion like this. And the President at the time said he couldn’t support it as a state senator because he felt like any doctor in that situation would take care of a child.

When you hear this kind of evidence that suggests there’s at least one doctor who apparently did not, I understand you can’t comment — you can’t deal with the deliberations of the case, but is there some legislative solution or at least a conversation that needs to happen in Washington? Because on guns, you were just saying, we need common-sense reform, we need to save lives. In this case, do we need to be saving lives as well?

Carney’s response? “Well, again, you’re relating it to a case that I can’t comment on and the President can’t comment on. I would simply say that the President’s position on choice is very clear. His position on the basic principle that, as President Clinton said, abortions ought to be safe, legal and rare is very clear. I just don’t have comment that could shed light on this specific case.”

Mr. Carney was missing Mr. Henry’s point entirely. He was no longer asking for specific comment on the Gosnell case; he was asking whether or not President Obama has the same impetus to seek “common-sense reform” to save the lives of babies who survive abortions as he seems to wont to do with gun control.

The sad truth is that Mr. Carney, and President Obama, had no comment. When a black teenager is shot, he has a comment. When a black scholar is arrested–as it turns out, at his own home–he has a comment. But when a black abortion provider is killing babies who have been born alive, he has no comment. That’s the bottom line, and in my opinion it is inexcusable.

And quite frankly, their “no comment” speaks volumes.

Not going away

The issue of homosexual marriage is not going away anytime soon…which means it will not go away as a topic for this blog, either. It is an issue that is too important to ignore, an issue on which we cannot remain silent.

First of all, I need to state that I am a firm believer in the system of government established in the United States, and despite the fact that I am not always pleased with the decisions that are made or the speed with which they are (or are not) made, I think the system generally works the way the founders designed it to work, and I think they knew what they were doing. In fact, if our elected officials were held accountable for adhering to the requirements that are in place for them, things would work even better.

On that note, despite the fact that I am not an extremist by any means and would ordinarily hesitate to call for something as drastic as the impeachment of the president, President Obama should have been impeached the moment that he announced the he was instructing the Department of Justice not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Constitution (in Article 2, Section One, Clause Eight) requires that the president take the this oath upon being sworn in to office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Of course, though not constitutionally required, every president has added “So help me God” at the end of the oath, following the example set by George Washington at the very first inauguration. So why should President Obama have been impeached? Because he violated his oath, and has been violating it ever since. He cannot “faithfully execute” the duties of his office if he is instructing the Justice Department to not enforce a law that was passed by Congress and signed by a previous president. Whether he likes or agrees with the law or not does not matter one bit; it is the law, and he is sworn to uphold it. Even worse, the DOJ has gone beyond not enforcing the DOMA to actively opposing it. The Congress has had to hire lawyers to defend the DOMA in court against the DOJ! Interestingly, even Steve Weinstein, EDGE Editor-in-Chief, writing on South Florida Gay News, acknowledged that the president is not upholding it responsibilities: “The House has been voting extraordinary funds to fight DOMA repeal on its own, thus making for a historic clash between a presidency that refuses to defend a law (as the Constitution mandates him to do) on the one hand; and a legislative body taking extra-legislative action by intervening in the courts.”

Now, just last Friday, the DOJ filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief with the Supreme Court, urging the Court to strike down elements of the DOMA. Why should the DOMA be struck down? Because “the broad consensus in the scientific community is that, for the vast majority of people (gay and straight alike), sexual orientation is not a voluntary choice.” This statement itself is a lie, but let’s ignore that. After all, the Obama administration could have found a certain segment of the “scientific community,” the majority of which does assert this claim. (Rather like all the toothpaste commercials that claim that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend their brand, right? After all, if you line up enough of them and stick to it long enough, you could find 4 out of 5 people that would recommend or support just about anything).

It is further evidence of an increasing trend by President Obama and his administration to assert in less-than-veiled terms, however, that those who disagree with their position are, well, stupid. He has taken the same approach to his arguments for addressing climate change, too. In his State of the Union address on February 12 President Obama said that climate change is “the overwhelming judgment of science.” He used the same phrase in his second inaugural address when he said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science….”

Back to the DOMA, though, the Supreme Court will hear Harvard Law School professor Vicki C. Jackson argue that it does not even have the authority to hear the case United States v. Windsor since the Obama administration has chosen to stop enforcing DOMA. According to the Harvard Crimson, “Jackson will assert that because the Obama administration has chosen to no longer defend the 1996 law, agreeing with the decision made by a lower court that it is invalid, the court does not have the authority to rule on the case.” So, if the president decides not to enforce a law the Supreme Court cannot even hear cases on it? That’s ridiculous. That flies in the face of the very purpose of the checks and balances system established by our Constitution. If this line of reasoning is followed, we will be well on the way to an autocratic presidency.

Equally troubling–perhaps even more so–is that the Obama DOJ has also asserted in its amicus curiae brief that the lawfully enacted DOMA must be struck down and homosexual marriage must be both granted and protected, the will of the people be damned. Specifically, the brief argues that, in this instance, the Court must not allow the will of the people to run its course. “That approach would be very well taken in most circumstances. This is, however, the rare case in which deference to the democratic process must give way to the fundamental constitutional command of equal treatment under law. Section 3 of DOMA targets the many gay and lesbian people legally married under state law for a harsh form of discrimination that bears no relation to their ability to contribute to society. It is abundantly clear that this discrimination does not substantially advance an interest in protecting marriage, or any other important interest. The statute simply cannot be reconciled with the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. The Constitution therefore requires that Section 3 be invalidated.”

The Constitution requires no such thing. President Obama and his administration are asserting that they know better than the Congress, than the people of the United States, and than the very Constitution of the United States.

Last year Senators Orrin Hatch, Saxby Chambliss, Dan Coats, Thad Cochrane, Mike Crapo, Charles Grassley, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Richard Shelby and Roger Wicker filed an amicus curiae brief of their own in the case of Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management on an appeal being heard in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Their brief provides an excellent overview of the history of DOMA and the danger of seeing struck down by the Court for reasons that are not constitutional. (If you’re interested, you can read the brief here: http://www.hatch.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/d78e55fd-f3bd-459e-b424-9875aabf9ddd/Amicus%20Brief%20of%20US%20Senators%20in%20Golinski%20final.pdf).

Former attorneys general Edwin Meese III and John Ashcroft also filed an amicus brief with the court in the Golinski case, arguing that the Obama administration had seriously erred in its decision not to enforce DOMA, and that because of its unprecedented actions in failing to support the law of the land, its opinions must not be given much weight in the deciding of the case. “Due to the historical landscape addressed above, and the fifteen year history of DOJ’s defense of DOMA, the decision to change course and challenge DOMA’s constitutionality should be viewed as an extreme and unprecedented deviation from the historical norm and, as such, the persuasive weight afforded to DOJ’s brief should be less than in the typical case.”

I could go on, here, but I will stop, because this is already getting lengthy and because there is plenty of information out there already that you can read if you want to explore this subject in more detail. Bottom line, we have a President who is violating his oath of office by refusing to enforce a law that was passed by Congress and signed by a previous president, and we now have him using his DOJ to actively oppose the law in court in an effort to see the law ruled unconstitutional. We need to pray for the nine men and women on the Supreme Court. Specifically, we need to pray that they will hear the case and that they will rule that the DOMA is constitutional, and the president and the DOJ must enforce it.

Which one doesn’t belong?

Do you remember those puzzles you would do as a child, where there was a sequence of pictures and you were supposed to determine which one did not belong? There might be a glove, a baseball, a hockey stick and a bat, for example; clearly the hockey stick does not belong because it is not related to baseball. Well, I felt a bit like I was doing one of those puzzles as I listened to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address. In it, he said this:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall, just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone, to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

The president’s alliterated reference to defining moments in the fight for equality likely went either unnoticed or not understood by many who heard it–especially those of younger generations. As a student and teacher of history, though, it did not escape me.

Seneca Falls is where the first convention focused on women’s rights was held in 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were the most notable names involved probably, but the Declaration of Sentiments that emerged from the convention made it abundantly clear that women wanted the right to vote. Years later, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified these women were up in arms since, for the first time, the Constitution now included the word male when addressing voting rights.

Selma, of course, is the town in Alabama that is usually considered to be the launching pad of the civil rights movement.

But what about Stonewall? Most of us thinking of Confederate general T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson when we think of any historical significance to that term, but the is certainly not what the president had in mind on Monday. Instead, he was referring to the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City where a riot occurred in 1969. The riot was sparked by a police raid on the bar, apparently one of the few bars in the city where homosexuals could gather. Not only were gays openly discriminated against at the time, but it was a crime to serve alcohol to homosexuals. Police were there with a search warrant to investigate reports on the illegal sale of liquor. The result was a riot in which the bar’s patrons began throwing just about anything they could find at the police officers, four of which were injured in the melee. Rioting continued for the better part of a week.

According to Martin Duberman, a professor, author and gay-rights activist who founded the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at City University of New York, Stonewall became symbolic for the gay rights movement. In 1999, the Stonewall Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

My contention is that Stonewall doesn’t fit with Seneca Falls and Selma. I am not suggesting that discrimination against homosexuals is okay in the areas of basic rights–making it a crime to serve alcohol to them, for example–but the connection that President Obama was trying to make was that because gay marriage is still not permitted, homosexuals are still being discriminated against. Not too long after the excerpt above, Obama said,

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

Notice he said nothing about housing, employment, voting, even drinking alcohol. I do not know anyone who reasonably and rationally believes that homosexuals should be denied any of those rights. Rather, the president was focused on gay marriage–“the love we commit to one another” he called it. And for it to “be equal as well” he wants marriage to be redefined to include homosexual marriage.

I have addressed this issue in this blog before; homosexuality and gay rights is not the civil rights issue of our day, as so many people like to assert that it is, and as the president seemed to be suggesting in his speech. Why not? Because gay marriage is not a civil right. Homosexuality is not the same as gender or race. Homosexuality is not an irreversible fact of life over which individuals have no control. Even if I were to grant the argument that there is such a thing as a “gay gene” and homosexuals are born homosexual (something I do not grant, by the way) engaging in homosexual behavior is still optional; being a woman or being black is not optional.

Perhaps it should not surprise me, but it does, that Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president and CEO of the NAACP, had this to say in response to Obama’s remarks:

In his speech, I think the president did ultimately what he does best, which is to really speak to the commonality across so many different groups in our society, the commonality across so many different struggles for rights, and get right down to the core that at the end of the day, what we’re all seeking to do — and what the freedom fighters at Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall are all trying to do — is just simply move our country towards the realization of its own pledge, that this be one nation, with liberty and justice for all.

We need to wake up. The “commonality across so many different struggles for rights” is no commonality at all when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. Gay marriage is not included in the founder’s embrace of “liberty and justice for all.” Gay marriage is not a right, it is not a civil rights issue, and if it ever becomes the law of the land it will result in a fundamental redefinition of the basic unit of humanity. Oh, and it will throw wide open the doorway to redefining just about anything else, too; if homosexuals are granted the right to marry, after all, how can we deny polygamists the right to marry multiple wives? That is but one example of where that doorway might lead; the others are addressed elsewhere on this site, and for the sake of time and space and climbing out of the mud I will not elaborate here.

Bottom line…Stonewall does not belong, and never will belong, with Seneca Falls and Selma.

“We can’t tolerate this anymore”

If you were watching Sunday night football this past Sunday you were taken from the game to President Obama speaking at a prayer vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That is the only way I happened to see it. I am sure, though, that other channels too showed the speech, and the full text of the address is available on washingtonpost.com (as well as many other sites I am sure). If you pay much attention to politics in America than you were probably as surprised as my wife and I were to hear how frequently and apparently-sincerely the President quoted Scripture and referred to God and even Jesus. Indeed right off the bat, immediately after the obligatory nod to the governor, the families, the first responders and guests, Mr. Obama quoted 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. In their entirety. He did not provide the reference, but he did say, “Scripture tells us” before reciting them.

Shortly thereafter Mr. Obama said, “Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation.” After outlining the brave actions of teachers and students alike, naming the teachers who lost their lives and even sharing what the simultaneously touching and funny account of one student offering to lead the way out because he knows karate, and commending the town for their the President said, “This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.”

Mr. Obama was wise to draw from Scripture during such a time of intense grief and inexplicable tragedy. After all, when confronted with the reality of man’s inhumanity to man, where else is there to go for comfort? Relativism offers nothing even remotely comforting. Saying, “that’s just part of life” is not a good way to win friends and influence people. The truth is that when tragedies like the one in Newtown take place humans everywhere shift their attention to God. Some look to Him in anger, some with genuine perplexity, and many with sorrow that is seeking consolation. There is a part of every human that knows that God is there, and that only is He is big enough to wrap His arms around these situations and provide, if not easy-to-understand answers, at least a refuge and a safe place.

Unfortunately Mr. Obama strayed some as his comments continued. He said, “We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.” I agree; absolutely. Immediately thereafter, though, he said, “We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.” I agree as well that there are many times when it is difficult to discern God’s plans, individually and corporately. It is difficult even for those who diligently seek Him. But in the middle of this conversation Mr. Obama used these as examples of what we humans strive for: “wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort.” Sadly, he is not off the mark. Is it any wonder, though, that we have trouble discerning God’s plan when we spend our time focused on making more money, accumulating more toys and/or building a following for ourselves?

It is then that Mr. Obama misses the target completely, though. After citing Scripture and making reference to God’s plans, the President said, “There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other.” At least he did not go so far as to say that there is nothing that we can be sure of. But if the love of a parent for a child is the only thing that we can be sure of, we are in trouble. What hope can we have in that? After all, I doubt a day goes by that we cannot find a story of a parent committing horrible offenses against a child. I do not doubt for one moment that the parents of the children who died in Newtown loved their children and will miss them terribly. I cannot imagine the pain they are experiencing. I cannot, though, find comfort in the statement that the only thing we can be sure of is a parent’s love.

Taken as a whole, I thought that the President’s comments were heartfelt and appropriate. For most of the speech he spoke as a father far more than he did as a politician. And I do not want to use Newtown as an instrument for any agenda. But the President’s remarks serve only to reinforce the fact that Mike Huckabee was right; we cannot expect to teach morality and accountability and responsibility without God any more than we can hope to comfort those who grieve without God. Why is the latter okay but the former is a violation of religious freedom?

Mr. Obama wants to put an end to these tragedies. “We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he said. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

He is right. It will not happen though until we realize, collectively, that we will have to continually comfort grieving hearts if we never try to reach the hearts of those who would commit horrific acts…and attempts to do that without God will continue to be futile. Bringing God and His morality back into the discussion…that is the change we need.

Bridling the Tongue

Mark Ross has an article entitled “Guarding Our Speech” in the October issue of Tabletalk magazine. The article is not limited to discussing political speech, but Ross does use that as an example at the beginning of the article, and it is quite timely for this particular time of this particular year. After all, one week from today the voters of the United States will be deciding whether Barack Obama will serve another four years as president, or whether he will be replaced in January by Mitt Romney. The vote next week will be the conclusion of months and months of campaigning, advertising and debating. According to a recent article, this year’s presidential campaign is going to cost more than $2 billion all told. That’s a lot of speech!

Of course, that is only the paid speech that comes from the campaigns and the various groups that seek to influence the outcome of the election through paid communications. In other words, is does not take into consideration at all the millions of hours of conversation pro and con around cafe tables, kitchen tables and water coolers. And while the content of the paid advertising is relevant, it is this informal conversation that is what I want to address.

Ross writes, “Discussions of politics are especially notorious. Few people hesitate to represent candidates of the opposing party in the worst possible light. Did you know that all Democrats are left-wing liberals bent on turning the whole U.S. economy into a socialist state? Did you know that all Republicans are extreme right-wing conservatives who have no compassion for the poor or any sense of social responsibility? These and other ‘truths’ like them are purportedly discerned simply from a person’s party affiliation. It is not necessary to meet any of these people or speak with them about their views at any length.”

His analysis is sad but true. Far too many of us jump to quick conclusions about politicians based solely on their party, and then we shape our opinions–which shape our speech–around these assumptions.

Even worse, perhaps, is the vitriolic rhetoric that “we the people” tend to throw at elected officials and political candidates. There is nothing wrong with being politically involved (I encourage it, in fact) or with trying to influence the opinions of others, but there is something wrong with hurling insults, half-truths and even outright lies at those with whom we disagree.

Far too often this happens most easily in forums like this one–a blog–or on social networking sites, like Facebook or Twitter. We see or hear something and want to reply, and, let’s face it, we get a kick out of stoking the fires of the debate, so we will post something that is over the top. Maybe we do it specifically to get a reaction, maybe we really believe it; regardless, it’s wrong. The Scripture has plenty to say about bridling our tongues and carefully choosing our words. I believe those passages apply equally to our blog posts, status updates and tweets.

Jesus made it clear that the sixth commandment’s prohibition against murder is violated not only by actually taking a life, but by angry and insulting words. Numerous passages of Scripture refer to the one who is careless in speech as a fool.

Should we engage in political debate? Yes. Should we avoid critiquing or criticizing those with whom we disagree? Not necessarily. But we need to stick to the issues, not attack the people, and we need to, to the fullest extent possible, adhere to the facts. Scripture is equally clear, by the way, that those in positions of authority are there because God has placed them there or allowed them to be there, and as such they are His representatives–and their positions are worthy of our respect.

Lessons We Can Learn

I strive to avoid being overtly political in this blog, but that is not for lack of political opinions or positions. Rather, it is the result of my desire that this space be used for thought-provoking dialogue and not become another political blog that will only be read by people who agree with me.

That said, I have a few comments relating to the handling of the attacks on U.S. embassies in the Middle East, and then some thoughts on what lessons can be taken from these events and applied to the Christian life.

First, I have to join with Mitt Romney, Charles Krauthammer, Mike Huckabee and others and say that I find the statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Egypt to be spineless and inappropriate. While I have not seen the movie, or the trailer for the movie, in question, there is no excuse for the United States, in any way, shape or form to apologize for the freedoms upon which our nation is built. According to the New York Times, the embassy issued the statement before the attack on the embassies in Egypt and Libya occurred. Be that as it may, the statement, which begins with, “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims”–sounds like the result of a politically correct sensitivity seminar. Does the United States really need to apologize that the actions of an individual–actions that are protected by free speech–hurt peoples’ feelings? If the U.S. government is going to assume the role of apologizing every time free speech results in someone’s feelings getting hurt, I have news for you: the government will do nothing else, as this will become a more-than-full-time job in and of itself. There are plenty of people who make comments on a regular basis that I find offensive (yes, Bill Maher, Howard Stern and Roseanne Barr, I am talking to you). I find many of their comments offensive to my sense of decency and politeness, to my Christian beliefs, and to my conservative political tendencies. Yet, never have I received an apology from the government (at any level) for the idiotic statements they make with such regularity, nor do I ever expect to. Why? Because one of the great things about the United States is the freedom that we have to speak our minds without fear of reprisal. I am exercising free speech right now by expressing my dissatisfaction with the actions of the U.S. government. I do not want the government telling me what I can and cannot say, but that means I must also accept that that freedom necessarily allows others to say things that I may find offensive. What should I do about it? Turn it off, ignore it, or, when I feel the need, respond to it, but I would not suggest that the three individuals mentioned above should lose the right to say what they think and I certainly would not expect the government to apology to Christians around the world when those individuals “hurt the religious feelings” of Christians.

(Just to be equitable, by the way, I find plenty of things that Rush Limbaugh, et. al, Ann Coulter and Pat Robertson say to be offensive, too).

The embassy statement ends with, “Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.” Here’s the thing: religious freedom is a cornerstone of American democracy, yes, but no more and no less a cornerstone than freedom of speech–even when that speech “hurt[s] the religious beliefs of others.”

I do not agree with some of the attacks that I have seen directed at President Obama’s statement made Wednesday morning. I do not see in that statement an apology for America. At the same time, Mr. President, you do not have the liberty to say that the statement issued by the U.S. embassy in Egypt does not reflect the U.S. government’s position, because it does, whether you want it to or not. Every U.S. embassy is the U.S. government to the people in those countries, for all intents and purposes, and whether authorized or not, any statement those embassies may issue becomes–even if only temporarily–the position of the U.S. government. What I do find disturbing is that President Obama’s statement does not unequivocally state that the U.S. will punish those who attacked our embassies. A U.S. embassy is sovereign U.S. soil, and an attack on one of our embassies should be treated no differently than an attack on Pearl Harbor or the World Trade Center. Do I want another war? No. But these attacks must not be allowed to pass quietly into yesterday’s news.

So, what lessons are there in this for Christians? First of all, just another clear example of the difference between Christianity and other religions–most strikingly, Islam. Christians do not respond with violence when their faith is mocked, ridiculed or even threatened. Historically, Christians respond in civil disobedience, and they suffer whatever consequences come their way as a result of doing so. Most Muslims are unapologetic about their desire to destroy Christianity…yet Christians do not respond with violence.

Second, we see, through the attack on the U.S., a reminder that what Christians believe and stand for is an offense to some people. Even though no one has suggested that the film that supposedly launched these attacks on U.S. embassies is a product of the U.S. government, the government represents America, and the actions of Americans are reflected on the government. Similarly, Christians will sometimes suffer persecution simply because of what they believe, whether they have taken any offensive actions toward another or not. And, as with the situation described here, Christians must always remember that the actions of anyone claiming the name of Christ will reflect on all others claiming the name of Christ–all the more reason for Christians to demonstrate Christ’s love in all interactions with others.

Violation of an Oath

For those of you who keep current with political news the topic I am about to address, yes, I realize that the topic I am about to address is a few months old. It is not that I am just becoming aware of it. In fact, I was “hot on it’s trail” when it happened…but I decided to put it on the back burner and address it later after I had had some time to “cool down,” so angry did this news make me.

I am well aware of the fact that I tend to pay more attention to politics and care more passionately about it than the average citizen, and so I may get riled up over things that others may not even notice. But if this one goes unnoticed we have a serious problem.

See, in February, U.S. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited Egypt, and while she was there she took a swipe at the U.S. Constitution. She said, “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.” Instead, she suggested that the constitution of South Africa might be a better model, since it “embraced basic human rights [and] had an independent judiciary.” Justice Ginsburg has also been known to express admiration for the Canadian Charter of Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights.

One of the reasons Ginsburg has expressed discontent with the U.S. Constitution is that it originally excluded women, slaves and Native Americans. (Of course, until recently, South Africa excluded blacks, too). I don’t think anyone would argue that the the U.S. Constitution is perfect. It was wrong to tolerate slavery and to exclude the vote from women and other minorities. Those flaws have, thankfully, been corrected. Therein, however, lies part of the beauty of our Constitution; it allows for corrections and amendments.

I do not fault Ginsburg for suggesting the a newly-forming representative democracy look at a field that does not contain the U.S. Constitution exclusively while preparing to draft its own constitution. What I do find egregious is her suggestion that the U.S. Constitution not be looked at at all. Notice she did not say that she would not look exclusively at our Constitution; she said, “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution.”

By the way, are Canada and the EU really examples we should encourage other countries to follow? The freedom of speech in Canada is under attack pretty regularly. The Bill of Rights of Kenya–which was drafted by later-Supreme-Court-justice Thurgood Marshall and is based on the European Convention on Human Rights, guarantees rights to health, welfare and work. We have already seen what has happened in other countries (including Canada and the many members of the EU) who have included rights to health and seen it necessary to provide state-run health care systems in order to do so–and we see now what that looks like as Barack Obama tries to institute the same thing here. We have seen the economies of many European nations crumble as their debts have spiraled out of control, due in no small part to the right to work and absurd guarantees for workers. See, here’s the paradox of socialism: when it becomes essentially impossible to fire someone there is no longer any incentive for someone to work. Look at recent strikes in Spain and riots in Greece, among other examples.

How does any of this relate to her oath, by the way? Well, Supreme Court justices have to take two oaths of office, and if you want to read all of the particulars you can do so on the Supreme Court’s web site (supremecourt.gov). Part of the first oath, which is taken by all federal employees, reads, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” When a justice publicly (and in front of international audience, at that) says that she would not refer the U.S. Constitution if she were drafting a constitution today, it stretches the imagination to think how that can be consistent with supporting or defending the Constitution, or bearing allegiance to it.

Am I suggesting that Justice Ginsburg should be impeached? Not necessarily. But I think her comments are troubling, and I think they point to two very important demands that “we the people” must make of our senators: (1) the responsibility of approving nominations to the Supreme Court must be taken seriously, and we must demand that our justices be faithful to the Constitution; and (2) we have to have justices who see the Constitution as a living document, able to be changed when appropriate and within the prescribed channels, but who will interpret the Constitution with faithfulness to the intent of the Founders and the people. It’s time we say “enough” to those who want to remake our Constitution from the bench to have it more closely resemble those of other nations.