A comma rule goes to court

dont_take_my_oxford_comma_tshirtWhich is correct?:  men, women, and children.  Or men, women and children.

Some authorities, including many newspaper style sheets, say that you don’t need a comma after the last item in a series when it is preceded by a conjuction.  The reasoning is that the conjunction (e.g., and) separates the last item from the rest of the list.

Other authorities insist that you do need the comma before the conjunction.  This so-called “Oxford comma” is necessary because a conjunction joins words.  It makes no sense to have a conjunction both join and separate the items in a list.  (This is the rule that I have taught and live by.)

But now a court has weighed in, sort of.  Consider this phrase in a legal description of work rules that define what does not merit overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

Look at the conjunction “or.”  Is “packing for shipment or distribution” one thing.  Or is it referring to two separate processes as part of the previous list?:  “packing for shipment, or distribution. . . .”?

“Packing for shipment or distribution” would not earn overtime pay. But just plain distribution–the guys who drive the trucks–would get overtime.  If there is an Oxford comma, however, “distribution” would be a separate category that would not get overtime and the truck drivers would be out of luck.

I would say that what governs the series is not so much whether or not there is a comma but another rule for series:  that they have grammatically parallel constructions.  This is a series of gerunds:  -ing added to a verb to make a noun.  We have eight of them:  processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marking, storing, packing.

At stake in the grammar and punctuation of this sentence is much money in overtime pay and back wages.  See how the judge ruled after the jump. [Read more…]

Judge blocks Trump’s new travel ban

Derrick_K._WatsonPresident Trump’s new travel ban, revised to eliminate the legal difficulties that a judge found in his first order, has also been thrown out by a federal judge.

A Hawaii federal court blocked the ban, which was to go in effect today.

The judge said that Trump’s campaign comments about Muslims show that the restrictions on travel or immigration from six terrorist-infected countries have the true purpose of discriminating against a religion.

But if the target is Muslims, why aren’t Muslims from the rest of the world blocked?  Why just those six countries?

It seems strange to me that a judge insists on interpreting a policy according to  campaign rhetoric.  This, even after the policy was revised to remove the apparent connection.  What if the president had a complete change of heart about things he said in the heat of the campaign?  Would his policies still be interpreted according to what he said back then?  I just don’t understand how legally the effusions of a campaign speech can have the force of law in determining the meaning of a statute.

Photo of Judge Derrick K. Watson, by United States District Court for the District of Hawaii [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Forcing pro-life centers to advertise abortions

TyrannyHawaii is on the verge of passing a law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs or distribute flyers referring clients to abortion providers.  California and Illinois already have similar laws on their books.

Most of these pregnancy centers have a Christian mission.  Some even operate out of churches.  These laws force religious people to violate their religious beliefs.

And even apart from the religious liberty issues, it is surely tyranny to coerce pro-lifers to promote abortion.

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Saying Christ is the only way to God is “abusive and criminal”?

coexist-1211709_640Two British street preachers were arrested for publicly reading the Bible, particularly the parts about Jesus being the only way to God.

In their trial, the prosecutor said,“To say to someone that Jesus is the only God is not a matter of truth. To the extent that they are saying that the only way to God is through Jesus, that cannot be a truth.”

The prosecutor apparently thought that those teachings were just quirks of the King James translation of the Bible, rather than basic doctrines of Christianity.  He said, “to use words translated in 1611 in a very different context, in the context of modern British society, must be considered to be abusive and is a criminal matter.”

The court agreed, sentencing the two Christians to a fine of £2,016 each ($2,452.42). [Read more…]

The ACLU “resistance”

American_Civil_Liberties_Union_The American Civil Liberties Union conducted livestreamed training across the country Saturday, teaching people how to stage protests and other acts of “resistance” against the Trump administration.

The ACLU also said that it would be organizing “freedom cities” to defy immigration laws.

The Executive Director of the ACLU promised new lawsuits.  “We’ll do the work in the courts,” he told participants in the workshops. “You do the work in the streets.”

The ACLU’s priorities, he said, would be immigration, free speech, religious freedom, “reproductive rights” (a.k.a., facilitating abortion),  and LGBT issues.

Honest questions:  Does the ACLU defend free speech on college campuses?  Does the ACLU restrict its “freedom of religion” activities to Muslims and other minority religions, or do they also defend Christians who have been restricted or punished for acting on their beliefs?  Is there any “civil liberties” emphasis left in the organization, or has it become just another leftwing political group?

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LCMS judge is censured for following her church

We blogged about (here, here, and here) the case of Judge Ruth Neely, a municipal judge in Pinedale, Wyoming, who mentioned to a reporter that, as a Lutheran Christian, she would not be able to preside at a same-sex wedding.  Uproar ensued.

Never mind that no gay couples have ever asked her to do their wedding, so that she never discriminated against gay couples.  Never mind that Wyoming law does not require judges to do weddings of any sort.  But the enforcers of the new morality complained to the Wyoming Supreme Court, demanding that she be removed from office.

The court has now issued its decision:  Judge Neely will be censured, but she will be allowed to keep her position.

After the jump, an AP story about the decision, as well as the reaction of the president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Matthew Harrison.

The title of his message puts the case in vocational terms:  “Living Out Vocation under the Cross.”

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