Friday, December 14, 2012

Declaration of Independence 2.0

Over two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote a document that forever changed our understanding of politics, of society, and of the citizens’ role in change. Now, events here in Michigan call on us once again to evolve beyond our current political structure, and to assume a more perfect state of equality and justice. A decent respect for the diversity of humanity and the complex demands of living in an interconnected environment requires us to declare the causes of our discontent and the elements of our vision for a better future.

We hold these truths to be self-evident; the People deserve equal rights under the law, regardless of any personal attribute, self-identity, social class, or status. The People have the right to a core level of health care, education, legal representation, and access to employment. The People own their bodies, their identities, their labor, and their privacy. All People should be accountable to the same rule of law and held responsible for their actions. The People have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness and should not be made to fear their safety and well-being as a tool to manipulate their actions, guarantee their compliance, or demand their obedience.

To secure these rights, a nation consists of three important bodies – the People, government, and the private sector. Government exists to protect the People from harm, whether from external or internal sources. When the private sector proves itself incapable of providing services that abide by these core values, then Government must create regulations that guarantee the maintenance of the People’s basic human rights. The People and the private sector each benefit when the implicit social contract between the two is kept in proper balance. The private sector provides the People with jobs, fair wages, and products for consumption. The People provide the private sector with a lasting social infrastructure that allows the private sector to function and grow. The People each have one vote and no one human person or non-person entity should have the capacity to unduly influence free elections. Society must provide all of the basic freedoms guaranteed to the People as human beings – freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, a free press, the free practice of religion, and the ability to redress grievances.

Nations exist within the larger framework of a global society. The United States is one of 200 sovereign states in the world. Each of these states deserves the same consideration for self-determination and existence for its People that we demand for ours. Any global call for assistance or intervention should be coordinated by global or regional representative bodies. Violent intervention should always be the very last resort, and only considered after every possible diplomatic effort has been fully exhausted.

We also live as part of the interdependent web of all existence. The People must acknowledge the rights of other life forms and our responsibility as stewards of our planet. All nations, their People, governments, and private sectors must place equal emphasis on the future of our global society as on the immediate gratification of needs. Any action that threatens future generations, regardless of the short term benefits, should be considered a non-viable alternative. The highest aspirations of all humanity can only be achieved if love is our most important core value – love of self, family, community, society, and the world.

Whenever the social contract between the People, government, and the private sector becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles. Such change should not be undertaken lightly, but when a long train of abuses results in insurmountable corruption and tyranny, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of our planet requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors. A democratic government derives its just power from the People, but the private sector does not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.

Democracy in the State of Michigan is under siege from a well-funded horde of marauding savages. Their names are Greed, Selfishness, Hatred, Bigotry, Misogyny, Ignorance, and Elitism. We call for a revolution of the spirit of our nation and of our world; not a revolution of bloodshed and violence, but a revolution to win back the souls of the People.

We absolve ourselves from allegiance to this government and to the private sector as currently constituted. Instead, we pledge allegiance to the People, to the heart and spirit of our human community. We pledge allegiance not to dogma, but to our capacity to reason, to love, and to courageously seek to build the best society for all. We pledge allegiance not to hollow promises and creeds, but to honesty, integrity, and openness in our words and our actions. We pledge allegiance to no status quo, but to respecting ourselves and others and to helping everyone gain and maintain the basic freedoms guaranteed to all. We pledge allegiance not to blind obedience to ancient voices, but to a respectful consideration of all the sacrifices made and being made by all people so that future generations can be empowered to continue the legacy of peace and freedom.

We pledge allegiance not to any flag or other symbol, but to the inherent rights of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We pledge allegiance not to any currency, but to fair compensation, free speech, freedom to believe, freedom to define one’s own identity, and the freedom to love.

The War on Democracy in Michigan

Here is what passed for logic and reason for Republicans in Lansing this week.
  • We must restrict access to abortions in order to eliminate abortions,
  • We must increase the rights of gun owners to carry concealed weapons in order to reduce gun violence
  • Religious organizations using public funds to do the work of the state may discriminate based on their religious beliefs
  • Someone with a few hours training has the right to bring a concealed, loaded handgun into your church
As Rep. Brandon Dillon said on the floor of the House on Tuesday, Michigan is now the place where democracy goes to die.  Despite the clear voice of the people last November, the Koch-funded governor is recreating the emergency manager function, which creates total autocracy in a local government and the suspension of everything you would view as the democratic process.

The nation awakes this morning to the shroud of shame woven by Michigan Republicans last night.  If you call yourself a patriot and American, the events of this week should jolt you into action.
  • Bills introduced and voted on before legislators or voters have the slightest chance to read them
  • Bills passed without any Committee review or opportunity provided for public comment
  • Bills rammed through the House and Senate without legislators being given the opportunity to discuss them or to offer amendments
If this is democracy, then what moral superiority does this country have the gall to claim?  Even if you support this legislation, you cannot support the manner in which it is being passed in Michigan.

When the wealthy can write the legislation and purchase its passage, then our elected officials before whores.  And if the people say nothing in opposition, then we are their pimps.

I do not want to live in an America betrayed by greed and selfishness.  I cannot live in a country where the people are too apathetic to stand up to rich bullies who maraud our state and our nation with impunity.  I cannot enjoy a season promoting the principles of the Sermon on the Mount knowing that we now mourning the death of democracy have no hope; that the gentle will inherent a barren landscape; and that those who thirst for righteousness will choke on the dust of corruption.  If we are pure in heart, perhaps we will see God someday.  But, right now if the pure in heart do not start overturning some moneychangers' tables, then the people in the here and now will suffer increasingly grave injustice.

I mourn for the women soon to die from medical complications because clinics are forced to close.  I mourn for the innocents soon to fall to the bullets of "law-abiding citizens."  I mourn for the workers and their families who will endure decreased wages, outsourced jobs, and increased job-related accidents and illnesses.  I mourn for GLBT folk who will be legally denied their rights.  I mourn for a generation that will not know the benefits of public education.  I mourn for people of color, many of whom will live under the dictatorial rule of politically-appointed cronies.  I mourn for all of us as we watch the dream of Adams and Jefferson die.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Legalizing Concealed Weapon Violates Religious Freedom...and Common Sense

I returned to Lansing today to testify before the House Committee considering SB 59, a bill that would allow gun-owners with a modicum of training to carry concealed firearms into churches, day care centers, schools, hospitals and other "no-carry zones."  The following were my prepared notes.

This proposed legislation is one of several recent bills that directly impact churches and other religious facilities. Some lawmakers feel that these bills protect religious freedom in this state. A few weeks ago, testifying before his own committee on one of this bills, Representative Kenneth Kurtz said, “…we need to make sure that government doesn't force these organizations to operate in a manner that violates their beliefs…We should never put faith-based organizations in a situation where they have to violate their faith in order to carry out their social mission.”

Now, I testified against that particular piece of legislation, not because I disagree with the need to defend religious freedom, but because I believe Rep. Kurtz’s reasoning for that instance was faulty. So, to stress the relevance of bills such as SB 59 to the issue of religious freedom, let me reference Thomas Jefferson, the father of our legal concept of religious freedom. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was written by Jefferson and enacted into the state's law in 1786. In part, the Statute reads:

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;
  • That all attempts to influence it...beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion…
  • That the impious presumption of legislators…who, being themselves but fallible…men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible…
  • That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry…
  • 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… destroys all religious liberty…
  • 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…
SB 59 promotes the further dissemination of the most heinous tools of violence and human injury in our society into our most sacred spaces – our schools, our day care centers, and of course our churches and religious sanctuaries. This bill tells religious communities that the decision of the state to expand the free reign of gun owners matters more than centuries-old traditions and beliefs, and more than the moral tenets of religious people in search of places safe from the sorrows and concerns of the secular world. And this bill threatens our religious freedom.

And as Jefferson asserted, religious freedom is not about legislators imposing their particular moral and religious beliefs on the populace, or acting as agents of those who would have government restrict the free practice of religion. Religious freedom is not about imposing the will of fallible human beings on the citizenry, but freeing us to make their own informed choices and seek Truth in an atmosphere free from coercion and violence. To protect religious freedom, then we should protect our schools and churches, where the presence of guns will only increase the likelihood of overt acts against peace and order.

Personally, if the powers of the universe granted me the capacity, I would eradicate every handgun from the face of the earth. I loathe handguns and the evil made more easily committed by their possession. But I realize that I do not have that power, nor can I even prevent them from existing in our streets. But I can fight for stronger laws regarding their purchase and registration. I can advocate for sterner measures regarding their use. And I can plead for you to protect important areas of our communities from their presence.

I will never allow handguns through the doors I was called to protect. I believe that handguns in my church are an anathema to my moral beliefs and to the religious tenets of my faith. Handguns present a vile assault on the universal religious principles of love and peace. A handgun presence in a religious facility is a depraved violation of the sacred protection our sanctuaries provide.

I also added a couple of comments based on assertions made by the bill's proposer at the hearing.
  • Many of the people who walk into churches and schools with loaded guns were "law-abiding citizens" up to the point that the first bullet flew.
  • Predictions of tragedy are not exaggerated - shootings have already occurred that this legislation would simply make more possible and less preventable.
  • Empowering gun owners only emboldens those with no respect for the safety of children or the sanctity of sacred spaces.