Things have been sort of insane in my life over the last few weeks, so I’m horribly late posting legal updates – for which I apologize. I was the target of a home-invasion robbery the night of December 6 – you can read about it on my blog – and the details of putting my home back together right before Christmas have been more than a little challenging and time-consuming. I still don’t have a cell phone, for instance, and my normal Christmas shopping has consisted of just giving up and getting gift cards for everyone – not exactly my usual holiday modus operandi. Hopefully things will return to normal relatively soon.
In the meantime, here are a few updates of important legal maneuverings around the world. I’ve tried to hit the highlights of those that haven’t gotten a ton of press coverage over the last month. If there’s something specific you want to hear more about, just ask.
An open letter signed by 260 Christian and Jewish religious leaders in Illinois supports the proposed Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Illinois already has a law allowing civil unions or domestic partnerships. The bill could come up for a vote in early January, before the new members of the state legislature elected in November take office, but its sponsors say they don’t want a vote at all if they aren’t sure the bill will pass.
In a rare “no” to the Catholic Church, the Philippines has approved birth control even for poor women. According to an LA Times article:
The measure, which President Benigno Aquino III has pledged to sign, would override the de facto ban on contraceptives in Manila’s public health clinics, make sex education mandatory in public schools and require hospitals to provide postabortion care, even though abortions will remain illegal.
The Catholic Church and other religions that prohibit birth control are not just out of step with their own followers, but out of step with modern thought on basic human rights. Poor parents who cannot control the number of children they must feed have few choices of ways to improve their lots in life, and those of those children. The Philippines has the second highest teen pregnancy rate in Southeast Asia, and maternal mortality rates in the Philippines have soared more than 33% just in the last seven years. Healthcare and education are not easy for poor Filipinos to get, which compounds the problem.
American politicians should to pay attention to this, too.
In a story with a weird twist, FFRF successfully got the illegal nativity scene removed from public property in Century, Florida, but local news station WKRG reports that the proponents of the nativity scene – but not the city officials – claim, “next year the the nativity scene will be bigger and better with plans to use the whole building for the manger scene, complete with angels and live music.” I’m not sure if that means that the people who capitulated to FFRF this year are going to dig in and have themselves a little lawsuit next year, or what. Maybe some outside group is fired up to file something. It sounds like what they want ought to be banned in the interest of good taste, not just in the interest of separation of church and state.
Want to know the real reason that socialist Muslim Kenyan Barack HUSSEIN Obama won the election? According to Catholic Online, the atheists are totally to blame. Seems we wanted a “secular agenda.” And not only do we want a secular agenda, but our numbers are growing so significantly (up to 20% of the whole American population! OMG!) that the voters among us (12% of all the voters nationwide! ZOMG!) can elect whomever we please. I guess this means we’re in charge now, and can run our Evil Satanist Empire™ exactly as we damn well please. What a relief to know that my job here is done! Finally, I can relax and watch Honey Boo-Boo in peace.
I doubt that I have to tell you that Westboro Baptist Church is a hate group if ever there was one. They’ve threatened to picket the funerals of those killed in the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting – because clearly, those 6 and 7 year old first graders were fag lovers who deserved to die for their sins. Someone started a couple of petitions to have the White House declare them a hate group. The Supreme Court has said that these hatemongers have a right to protest, even though to the rest of us it appears that the church members prey on bereaved people at their lowest emotional ebb and at the most stressful moments of their lives.
What will an executive order declaring Westboro Baptist Church to be a hate group accomplish? Not much. But their tax status might be jeopardized, which apparently is the point of the exercise.
The Anti-Defamation League (focused mostly on antisemitism and racism) and the Southern Poverty Law Center both maintain lists of violent and nonviolent hate groups, and Westboro Baptist Church is on both lists. The FBI monitors the groups, too, but its list of hate groups is not public. The FBI will only act if federal law is violated, which generally means violence must be involved. Unfortunately, Westboro Baptist Church is made up of a family of lawyers, so they know to be nonviolent and they make their money by suing cities whose police forces do not protect them from counter-protests.
Arizona has some of the most restrictive laws in the nation on matters of birth control and abortion. The anti-abortion law that was to go into effect in August, and which is now awaiting a decision on its constitutionality by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, basically declares women pregnant any time they are not actively menstruating. Enter the Secular Coalition of America and the Secular Coalition for Arizona. Because the religion-motivated policy shapers in Arizona are determined to set human rights, women’s rights, and reproductive choice back to the days before Roe v. Wade, the Secular Coalition of Arizona has become the first in the 50 states to hire its own full-time lobbyist for secular issues for the upcoming legislative session.
Serah Blain, executive director of the Secular Coalition of Arizona, says that the goal is “to stop [the] reign of terror” by the ultra-conservative Center for Arizona Policy, a group with an innocuous name but deadly and horrific ideas for controlling women’s health.
The Secular Coalition of Arizona is not just focused on women’s health. It plans to lobby hard for a death-with-dignity law that resembles Oregon’s, as well as for science-based sex education in public schools.
Remember Alber Saber, the Egyptian man who was attacked by a mob and imprisoned for being an atheist and posting about it on Facebook? He has been convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to three years in prison. He’s out on bond pending his appeal, though, and insists, “I’m not a criminal, but I’m being judged and sentenced on my opinion.” His family is Coptic Christian in the predominantly Muslim country. Under the Mubarek regime, blasphemy was against the law, but was not an constitutional offense. Because Egypt’s new constitution declares blasphemy to be a crime, human rights groups expect more blasphemy charges to be brought against religious dissenters.
The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, also commonly known as Atheists in Foxholes, has succeeded in stopping a live nativity that was planned on a US military base in Bahrain. The military atheists’ concerns were twofold: first, that the nativity unconstitutionally promoted Christianity as the official religion of the military base; and second, that local Muslims would believe that the military was Christian rather than secular.
The live nativity was to have taken place in the base’s main courtyard, but was moved to a more private chapel area, where religious activities normally take place for military personnel. Naturally, the MAAF is accused of ruining Christmas for everyone, because if Christmas can’t take place in the front yard, it doesn’t happen.
We in the Bible Belt think that we are working behind enemy lines. Given the evangelical bent of much of the military, these guys are not just behind enemy lines, but in the thick of hostile fire. Bravo for their perseverance!
Got a legal question? Email me at email@example.com. I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. I’m on Twitter as @aramink, and you can see my regular blog at www.aramink.com, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.