The Justice Chronicles, Volume 35: Who Can We Discriminate Against?

Every year the Supreme Court begins its term on the first Monday of October. This year’s docket promises to be important as the Court has accepted several important issues.

I don’t wish to discuss all of them in this post but one of the cases caught my attention. The Supreme Court agreed to decide on whether employers have the right to fire employees who they find to be gay, lesbian, or transgender. The Court consolidated a few cases and I wish to look at two of them: Bostock v. Clayton County and Harris Funeral Home v. EEOC.

Gerald Bostock worked in Clay County, Georgia as a child welfare service coordinator from 2003 to 2013. Mr. Bostock was a gay man but this wasn’t known to his employer until 2013 when he joined a gay softball league. Even though his job performance reviews were positive, when his orientation became know he was fired.

In Michigan Anthony Stephens worked for R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes. After many years of employment, Anthony told his employer that he intended to transition to a woman and be known as Aimee Stephens and was fired.

The Court will decide on a specific point: The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination because of sex. At the time this was assumed to cover only employers who refused to hire women. At the time we knew little of sexual orientation and virtually nothing about men and women who chose to change or merge their sexual identity.

The Court needs to decide whether or not sex discrimination includes gay or transgender Americans. Supporters claim that the 1964 Act includes those who will suffer discrimination in the future. Opponents claim that it protects only straight women who wish to work at jobs reserved to straight men.

Those who know me know that I hold a progressive view of the law. Decisions made today affect future generations in ways that we can’t imagine. And that’s good.

I’ve written about this before but the decision in 1967 of Loving v. Virginia prohibited the ban on international marriage. Before that several states ruled that men and woman of different races couldn’t marry.

In the 50 years since then we’ve needed to confront another marriage issue: can adults of the same sex marry, and can those who wish to change their sexual identity be accepted?

I’m all in with the belief the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects both Mr. Bostock and Aimee Stephens and the Court should find in their favor.

Many remember a time when some thought it would make our lives easier if nobody of different races wanted to marry, but didn’t happen and they needed to accept something they didn’t like. A few decades later these same people were told to not only accept interracial marriage but also accept same sex marriage (or “marriage equality”) and it was a bridge too far.

And many of those who disapprove of marriage equality or transgender status point to a few passages in the Bible.

Well, I read the same Bible and have come to different conclusions: I’m all in with the belief that God is Love and we are called to love each other in a way that goes beyond our understanding. Others are all in with the belief that we are called to follow rules, especially those that make us comfortable.

But here’s my problem: seeing the Bible as a set of rules doesn’t respect the fact that we are adults. Children are supposed to be obedient and adults are supposed to be faithful. Adults should read Scripture recognizing that the authors lived in a place and a time where they dealt with certain realities.

Those who wrote the books we now recognize as Scripture had no concept of different races (though they probably had an understanding of different skin shades) or different sexual orientations. But they did have a concept of a God who loves all of us. The fact that God did not explicitly bless interrational or same sex marriages in the Bible doesn’t mean that God condemns them.

But today we recognize that we live in a world with different skin colors and different orientations. We live in a world where some of us choose to transition from what the Bible says to what the Bible means.

If we believe that God is Love and demands us to love each other, can we look beyond skin color and sexual orientation? I hope so.

And I hope the Supreme Court agrees with me.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 34: Fifty Years After Stonewall

Fifty years ago it wasn’t easy to be gay. Everyone assumed every adult was attracted to a person of the opposite sex. Men fell in love with women and women fell in love with men.

Except for some people it was different. Some men fell in love with other men, and some women fell in love with other women. We can argue about what percentage, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is this: how do we treat people with different sexual orientations?

Frankly, fifty years ago most of us didn’t even know about this. But some did and they criminalized not only homosexual behavior, but even homosexuality itself. In many places homosexuality was a crime and in some parts of the world it still is.

In 1969 in New York City gay men and women lived with a secret that prevented them from being open with their family, friends, and coworkers. But they knew there was a place where they could be themselves: the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. There they could connect with other and find love.

But they couldn’t feel entirely safe because they were subjected to police raids. Patrons of the Stonewall Inn grew wearily used to police raids where officers would enter the bar and arrest men dressed as women and others who “looked gay.” But on the night of June 28,1969 something new happened. Patrons of the bar fought back. It led to three days of riots.

In the fifty years later, much has happened. The Stonewall riots empowered gay communities locally, nationally, and globally to demand equal rights. They called us, shamed us, and ultimately persuaded us to understand that they are created by the same God and are called to the same goals: to find love, to live with joy, and build families.

In 2003, in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that we can’t legislate against gay sex. Twelve years later they ruled that marriage was legal for all adults, regardless of orientation. I encourage you to read it: Obergenfell v. Hoges.

There’s lots to say about this, but let me say this: those opposed to gay marriage argued that if we allowed gays to be gay they would try to make our children gay. No gay person I know has even wanted to do this and they find this argument deeply offensive. The opponents of gay marriage also argue that if we live in a society that accepts homosexuality God will bring down fire and destruction. Except God hasn’t.

I am straight but not narrow. My gay friends have enlightened (and sometimes challenged) me to understand that they want those things I take for granted. They want to fall in love with someone who loves them. They want to be able to hold hands without being accused to “forcing an agenda.” They want the things I never had to fight to expect.

To those who fought back on June 28, 1969 I say this: Thank you for your courage and thank you for teaching the rest of us that you only want what I never had to demand.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 33: It’s Time to Change the Discussion on Abortion

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court, in the case of Roe v. Wade, ruled 7-2 that the government cannot prohibit a woman from having an abortion. In the history of the 20th Century this decision ranked as one of its most important decisions alongside Brown v. Board of Education.

From day one Roe divided out nation into camps: Those who think abortion murders unborn babies v. those who think a woman’s right to her body is absolute.

If asked where I stand, I will say this: I think every abortion is a missed chance for a new life and it’s a tragedy. But I’ll also say that we live in a society that should value life, all lives and lives at every stage.

From the moment of publication the lines were drawn. Those who supported the opinion called themselves “pro-choice” (and were called “pro abortion” by their opponents). Those who opposed the opinion called themselves “pro-life” (and “anti-choice” by their opponents).

I remember that day and was surprised at how it divided the nation like no other issue since slavery. In the past 46 years I have watched the invective grow stronger and more hateful, and I have seen little in the way of bringing the two groups together and find a common solution.

In the mid 1980s I was a youth minister at a church in Virginia and I attended a conference in Washington D.C. where one speaker spoke about abortion in a way that caught my attention. He was a Catholic priest who periodically met with young women who had an abortion and regretted it. They told him that they had nowhere to go. If they sought help from the pro-choice movement they were told that they shouldn’t regret their decision. If they sought help from the pro-life movement they were told that what they did was unforgivable. He argued that there needs to be a voice that listens to these women and care for them.

But I think we need to move beyond that. I think both sides need to move to a point where it doesn’t matter if abortion is legal or not because we live in a place where all life is precious and abortion is unthinkable. I think we are called to move to a place where life is valued in all its stages: before birth, as children, as adults, and as the elderly. A place where our society ensures that we all have what we need to lead healthy, valued lives.

But here’s my problem: the pro-life proponents generally oppose government programs that provide assistance to young families. We find a bright line from those who oppose abortion and those who oppose government assistance for the poor. Former Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank famously stated this: “The Moral Majority supports legislators who oppose abortions but also oppose child nutrition and day care. From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

I’m not writing this to take sides, but instead to claim all sides need to embrace what late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called the “seamless garment of life.” He argued that those who oppose abortion and claim to be pro-life should not only oppose abortion but also support the protection and respect of life in all stages. He argued against abortion, but also euthanasia and capital punishment.

It means we should ensure that children born into poverty are valued as much as children born into wealth. They should have as much access to nutrition and care. It means that no child should be denied medical care or vaccinations.

But more than that, being pro-life should challenge us to see men and women (boys and girls) as equals. Many women who seek abortions can speak with authority about how they didn’t fully consent to sex. Some were (frankly) raped by men that they knew and shouldn’t have trusted, often by family members. Others felt pressure to have sex with boyfriends out of a fear of loneliness. Decades ago I had a conversation with a teenage mother who told me that her pregnancy resulted from her boyfriend’s claim to “not like” condemns. When I told her she had the right to demand that he wear a condemn she had no idea what I was talking about.

The best path forward to decrease abortions is clear: make birth control easier to obtain and teach sex education to our children. We can learn a great deal from the Netherlands.

Simply put, if we can teach young men that sex should be a dialogue instead of a demand, and if we can teach young women that they have a voice in the decision to have sex, we will decrease unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

I’m not arguing that this will be easy. For much of our history as humans we’ve assumed sex was something that men could demand and women needed to regulate. For much of our history women balanced the desire for intimacy with the fear of pregnancy and abandonment. Too many women faced the task of single parenthood out of the inability to choose to claim the power to negotiate.

It takes two people to make a baby. It should take all of us to value that baby without condition. Only then we will be truly pro-life.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 32: We Mourn For those in the Chabad Center in Poway

For decades now we’ve learned about terrorism directed at places of worship. For those of us who live in the world of faith it’s been hard. We’ve looked at places of worship as sanctuaries, as places where we can feel safe. In the Middle Ages churches were seen as places of refuge: places where, no matter what you did or who was after you, you could find safety.

In the past few years we’ve witnessed acts of terrorism in Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, and other places of worship. This past weekend it came a little close for me. I live in San Diego, about 15 miles from Poway; it’s in my territory for hospice. On the last day of Passover a gunman who had posted antisemitic remarks walked in with an assault rifle. He killed one person and wounded three before being captured.

Any type of religious hatred or bigotry is unacceptable, but antisemitism appears in a league of its own. Jews have been persecuted, going all the way back to Pharaoh, and even today they find their homeland under siege.

I recently heard something that has stayed with me: antisemitism isn’t a disease. It’s not something that comes and goes. Instead it’s like a virus. It’s always there but sometimes it’s dormant. We’re never free from it, and between flareups we can fool ourselves into thinking it gone. But flare up it will, as it did last Saturday.

Our latest example happened, as I said, in nearby Poway. It was the Chabad center. Members of a Chabad center are Orthodox Jews who encourage other Jews to be more observant. They honor the sabbath (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) by refraining from work of any kind. Their members walk to services and they take their faith seriously.

And they are kind. The Chabad members I’ve known have moved me with their generosity and inclusion. They take life seriously, and in case you haven’t heard this, the one fatality was a 60 year old woman named Lori Gilbert-Kaye who took a bullet that was aimed at her rabbi. She gave her life to save another.

Let us pray that the virus of antisemitism remains dormant for long enough that we can truly eradicate this virus.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 31: Fifty Years Ago A Shot Rang Out In The Memphis Sky

I suspect we all sometimes think about the first national event we remember. For me it was the assissination of Martin Luther King (1929-1968).

At the time I was living in Woodbridge, Virginia, about 20 miles south of Washington D.C. I remember April 4, 1968 because of the riots that burned parts of the city. It was a scary time.

Dr. King spent his short life battling against discrimination. He was in Memphis that day to support sanitation workers who were treated horribly. They were virtually all African Americans and they struck against the city of Memphis after the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker. On February 1, 1968 they sat on the back of a sanitation truck to find shelter from the rain. The truck malfunctioned and they were crushed to death. Their coworkers decided that they’d had enough and went on strike. Dr. King traveled there to support them.

Meanwhile, James Earl Ray (1928-1998) saw an opportunity to become a hero in the White community. He learned that Dr. King was staying at the Lorraine Motel and rented a room that gave him a clear shot at Dr. King. At 6:01 PM Mr. Ray aimed a rifle at Dr. King and killed him.

I lived briefly in Memphis and walked to the Lorraine Motel several times. It’s now a museum that educates future generations on discrimination.

We may never eliminate discrimination in our nation but let us all take a moment to honor Dr. King.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 30: No Roy Moore, Character Does Count

On November 9th the Washington Post broke a story about Roy Moore who is running for Senate in Alabama. They reported that in 1979, when he was the District Attorney for Etowah County, he was well known for his attraction to teenage girls. As I write this 9 women have accused him, one of whom was 14 at the time.

Mr. Moore continues to deny any of these allegations and is giving thought to suing them.

At first several members of the Republican Party called for him to drop out of the race and even President Trump said he should drop out of the charges are true. But that has changed. President Trump now endorses him because he doesn’t want the Senate to gain another Democratic seat.

But here’s the thing: character matters. We shouldn’t respect anyone who can vote for somebody who promises to vote their way while, at the same time, has shown he is not safe around our children. Moore claims to be pro life but sees no problem being a man in his 30s who sexually assaults a 14 year old girl. Decades later he sees no problem in accusing her of lying.

We all falter sometimes in what we do and we are all works in progress. But I find no excuse in someone not recognizing this and trying to do better. He told one of his accusers that there was no point in telling anyone because “nobody will believe you”. Sure enough when she came forward, he denied her claims.

The good people of Alabama will choose their senator next month and I pray they care about Moore’s character. Running against him is Doug Jones who is a Democrat. I pray that enough Republicans look at their daughters and recognize that Roy Moore does not represent their values.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 29: Do We Need to Revisit the Limits of Free Speech in the Age of Twitter?

We Americans revere few things more than Freedom of Speech. We are told in the First Amendment of our Constitution that “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech.”

Alas, it’s a right that’s little understood. It means you cannot be arrested for what you say. But it’s often misinterpreted to mean you can say whatever you want without consequences. Here’s my favorite example: in 2010 the popular radio advice hostess Laura Schlessinger came under criticism for her use of the “N word” on her show. When an African American caller (in an interracial marriage) objected to her use of that word, Laura responded: “If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.” You can read about it here. After being criticized for her remarks she appeared on Larry King Live and demanded return of her “first amendment rights.” She believed that freedom of speech protected her from criticism for her words. She didn’t understand that others have the same right to express their opinions, and she was not Constitutionally protected from having her feelings hurt.

But from the beginning we’ve struggled with limits to the rights of free speech. Can you say anything? This debate goes all the way back to President Adam’s infamous Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 which criminalized criticism of the government.

I have no desire to give an entire history of this debate, but we all look to the 1919 Supreme Court decision of Schneck v. the United States. In his majority decision Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote this: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater and causing a panic.”

This make sense. You don’t have the right to speech that directly causes injury to others. But there is also legal precedent that you don’t have the right to prohibit speech that offends you. Many of us remember well the issue of flag burning. In 1989 the Supreme Court decided, in the case of Texas v. Johnson, that burning the American flag is protected speech.

But what about today? If you burn a flag across the street of a VFW hall you’re certainly going to anger the veterans gathered but we can all agree that nobody is in danger. That’s changed.

We’re all still talking about the events last week in Charlottesville but I heard a story that frightens me. The marchers were filmed by many who posted pictures on Twitter, with the hope that the marchers could be called out and recognized for their racist views.

That may be OK with many of us, but it’s not OK with Kyle Quinn. Kyle works for the University of Arkansas and committed the unforgiveable sin of looking like someone who marched in Charlottesville. In an excellent article you can see that someone saw a picture of someone who looked like Kyle and identified him as Kyle (even though Kyle was 900 miles away in Little Rock, Arkansas).

Kyle got a call from someone at the university who verified that he was in Little Rock and suggested that Kyle’s life just got more complicated. He was right.

Soon his Twitter account, email account, etc. blew up. His home address was posted and Kyle and his wife retreated to a friend’s house out of fear for their safety.

I write this because (much like those in the theater when someone shouts “fire”) Twitter, Facebook, and other social media make all of us potential victims of danger. Kyle well knows that a someone with a gun and an agenda (and his home address) may pose exactly the same danger to him as to the theater goers who are stampeded after someone yells fire.

I love freedom of speech as much as anyone. I revel in my ability to disagree with, and even lampoon, politicians I don’t agree with. But I don’t think our founders intended to protect those whose words lead directly to mobs who show up with clubs and torches. And I don’t think they intended to protect the 21st century mobs who traded in clubs and torches for Twitter accounts.

So where do we go from here? Whoever misidentified Kyle made an honest mistake, but hate groups created the environment that made this possible. The march on Charlottesville was organized by a group called Unite the Right.

Previous generations looked on groups like this as reprehensible but protected by the First Amendment. Today we need to look on them as hate groups that can no longer hide behind free speech.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 28. The Money Chronicles, Volume 13: At Last Kansas Can Begin Its Recovery

On October 31, 2014 I blogged about how Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law a massive state tax cut. In that post I spoke about how Governor Brownback (and many others) hitched their wagon to “supply side economics.” Simply put, he claimed that if he made massive tax cuts (for both individuals and business) they would put massive amounts of money “back in the pockets” of individuals and businesses. They would then spend that money and so stimulate the economy that even reduced tax rates would bring in more money and put the state on Easy Street.

Unfortunately, supply side economics behaves much like the Atkins Diet: it appeals not because it works, but because it sounds good. Telling overweight people that they can eat bacon omelettes and still lose weight feels just too good to pass up. And telling Americans that they can pay less in taxes and live on Easy Street does the same thing.

OK, did it work? The Kansas Legislature didn’t think so. This week they passed a bill to repeal the tax cuts, and overrode the Governor’s veto. Interestingly enough the legislature is controlled by Republicans.

The tax cuts did nothing except bleed the state dry. Hardest his were Kansas’ 286 school districts. The Kansas State Court of Appeals demanded that the state provide adequate funds for public schools last March.

Even conservative Republicans recognized they needed to bring in more money to educate their children and grandchildren. Even they knew that Kansas’ future depends on an educated citizenry.

I’m writing this because I care about children in Kansas, but I also care about children in all of America. President Trump has proposed a tax plan that also massively cuts taxes and revenues.

I guess he thinks he can do the same thing and get a different result. The rest of us call this dysfunctional thinking.

I pray Congress don’t make the same mistake Kansas made.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 28: We Should All Be Concerned About the Holman Rule

The last few months I’ve written extensively on President Elect Trump out of a concern over where our nation is heading. I’ve also wanted to chronicle his Presidency for future reference; I got the idea from James Fallows who wrote The Daily Trump.

But in the last few days I’ve come across something that concerns me and it comes from the House of Representatives, something called The Holman Rule.

In 1876 the House passed a resolution (the Holman Rule) that allows individual members of Congress to target individual federal employees and reduce their pay to $1.00 per year (effectively firing them). On January 3rd this Congress voted to bring it back. Proponents claim this will allow the firing of dishonest, ineffective or lazy federal workers.

My fear, and the fear of others is that individual members of Congress will use this rule as a way of settling scores.

Career federal employees are often tasked with delivering bad news to elected officials. In it’s January 10th edition, The Washington Post spoke about Arthur Katz, who worked for FEMA, testified before a Senate subcommittee. He said: “I testified before a Senate subcommittee regarding the gross mismanagement of FEMA, including our lack of preparedness for natural disasters. My bosses weren’t at all pleased, but my civil service and union protection meant that I couldn’t just be fired. A few months later, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, and my warnings about FEMA’s problems were proved correct. I kept my job and continued in federal service until my retirement.” Imagine if his bosses at FEMA were able to ask Congress to have him fired?

The General Accountability Office (or GAO) is tasked with overseeing that federal monies are spent properly. Since their job is essentially telling Congress when money isn’t being spent properly, can we imagine any scenario where they will feel their job is secure?

Can anyone feel they can speak truth to power when power has shown its eagerness to stop them?

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 26: What's the Ethical Answer Here?

Nancy and I are currently on vacation in Boston and we’re staying in a nice hotel. When we arrived there was a tag on our door, much like the “do not disturb” sign we’re used to seeing. But this one told us that if we are willing to forego housekeeping service the next day we’d get a gift card for $5.00 in the hotel gift store.

The catch is this: we have to hang it on the doorknob by 2AM. Clearly the early time gave the hotel management the opportunity to call off part of the housekeeping staff and not pay them. In a sense it makes the entire housekeeping staff per diem.

But it also makes good environmental sense. They won’t use water to wash sheets and towels or electricity to vacuum the room.

So as someone who cares about the earth and also cares about economic justice, I’m in a bit of a dilemna. The $5.00 doesn’t affect my decision but I am chewing on deciding between the earth and the housekeepers.

Of course I’m aware that the hotel chain has created this dilemna.

I’m open to feedback on what you think of this.