The Week in Review – Law and Secularism 2/21/13

The Week in Review – Law and Secularism 2/21/13 February 21, 2013

Anne’s back…

Frankenhand’s post-surgical bandages are off. I can type again! This is good news, because I can’t dictate well enough for Dragon Naturally Speaking to understand me. When I complained about this to my former secretary the other day over lunch, she cleared her throat awkwardly, shifted uncomfortably in her chair, and changed the subject. She typed my dictation for about 12 years, so I can’t imagine what all that was about.

Anyway… on to the news. Let’s start with something fun. How about:

Pope Benedict’s Resignation

Yes, it was a definite Valentine’s Day surprise to click on my Addicting Info feed and see the article claiming that a week before his resignation Pope Benedict got wind of a possible arrest warrant with his name on it. Seems upvotesomeone wants to hold the church hierarchy responsible for allowing child-molesting priests to stay within reach of their serial victims for decades on end. While no warrant has been issued, and no criminal charges have been filed, it gives us pause to see how seriously the Vatican itself is treating the rumors.

The Vatican released a statement confirming that the the soon-to-be-ex-Pope will continue to reside in the Vatican after his resignation to preserve what immunity he can get from possible criminal charges. Allegedly, he is going to request immunity from Italy’s president later this week. The Vatican has confirmed  meetings between the Pope and both Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti (Feb. 16) and  Italian President Giorgio Napolitano (Feb. 23) but not the substance of the meetings.

A litany of reports of Vatican corruption have only added to the sex-abuse scandals that have rocked Catholic communities worldwide. Money laundering allegations, the “promotions” to demote troublesome high-ranking Vatican officials, and a recently-pardoned tell-all butler who leaked documents are the biggest headline grabbers, but these stories hint at more insidious problems within the Holy See.

Reproductive Rights News

Want some good news on reproductive rights and women’s health issues? There actually is some, thanks to New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He is working on legislation that would permit late term abortions when a fetus is nonviable or when a pregnant woman’s health – but not her life – is in danger. The bill will remove criminal penalties associated with abortions, and will allow licensed health care workers who are not physicians to perform abortion procedures. Of course, he’ll get plenty of opposition.

More good news on this front comes from the left coast: Washington’s state legislature is working on a bill that would require abortion coverage in health insurance policies.

But, Amnesty International released a report about sexual and reproductive rights worldwide. It’s an interesting read. Warning: It will make you angry.

Arkansas has moved a step further toward banning most abortions.  The bill closest to passage sets a limit of 20 weeks. The governor has said he doubts the bill passes constitutional muster. It doesn’t. That hasn’t stopped Arkansas legislators from passing, by voice vote, a bill to ban most abortions after just 12 weeks, though. On the bright side, a bill has been introduced to allow women to shoot anyone she thinks is threatening her fetus. I couldn’t help but notice that someone suggested extending pregnant women’s gun rights to protecting other civil rights, too. That way when some idiot blocks her way into the abortion clinic, she can stand her ground and blast away.

North Dakota is working just as hard as Arkansas to make legal abortions nonexistent within its borders. Illegal abortions are sure to take the place of those that were once done legally.

South Dakota, which already has the longest waiting period for abortions in the country, is working to make the wait even longer.

Alabama is honing in on Mississippi’s turf by passing laws that effectively outlaw abortion because the regulations permitting it are so cumbersome. Alabama Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin’s logic was absolutely mind-boggling: A fetus is the largest organ in a woman’s body, she said. (If you disregard the skin and intestines and the liver, of course – but those really are organs so they don’t count.) Which leads us to ask: now that a fetus is an organ in its mother’s body, does that mean all our other organs get personhood status, too? Because Rep. McClurkin has introduced a fetus personhood bill, too.

And that’s not all. Alabama passed a bill this week that attempts to skirt Obamacare’s contraception requirement: if an employer is “religiously motivated,” the new law says they don’t have to provide coverage for contraceptives. You can bet the coverage will include Viagra, though.


Same-Sex Marriage News

A new poll reported by the Blaze, of all sources, shows that 76% of all Americans believe that people should have the right to marry whomever they want, regardless of gender. This includes 56% of the Republicans polled. Even the right catches on to the notions of freedom and civil rights after awhile.

In the U.S. Supreme Court

The two same-sex marriage cases pending before the the U.S. Supreme Court cases get so many inquiries from the public that that they have their own special link on the SCOTUS website.

In an amicus brief filed in the DOMA case last week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) claims that an inadvertent aspects of the ill-conceived Defense of Marriage Act was that same-sex couples employed by the federal government don’t have to comply with federal ethics laws. “Because DOMA was imposed in a blunderbuss, across-the-board manner, Congress failed to consider its impact on more than 1000 federal laws in which marriage is relevant,” the brief claims.

Its unanticipated impact on other laws reinforces a basic truth: DOMA was not driven by rational considerations, but instead by a desire to strike out at same-sex married couples regardless of the repercussions. DOMA would be unconstitutional under rational basis review even absent such perverse consequences, but the senseless subversion of meritorious statutes crystalizes its irrationality.

For instance, if a government employee is straight, he has to comply with laws preventing nepotism, financial disclosures, and conflicts of interest.  But those laws apply only to opposite-sex spouses, according to the very specific language of DOMA. “In its zeal to discriminate against same-sex couples, Congress inadvertently gave them a free pass to violate the very same ethics laws with which opposite-sex married couples must comply.”


Around the Nation

As promised, the Illinois Senate passed its marriage equality bill on Valentine’s day. The bill still has to pass the house, which is a bigger, but perhaps not insurmountable, hurdle.

Indiana won’t take up the measure to ban same-sex marriage this year, because it wants to see how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the two cases pending before it this term. Last week, Virgina lawmakers were unable to pass a resolution to repeal their state’s ban on same sex marriage.

Minnesota Senator Scott Dibble plans to introduce a bill this week to remove the ban on same-sex marriages there. The bill may have a Republican co-sponsor, Brenden Peterson. Peterson wants to wants to add language permitting religious leaders to opt out of performing weddings for same-sex couples if their consciences or dogma prohibit it. He also wants to ensure that children in same-sex marriages have the same financial guarantees as children of other married couples in time of divorce. That last seems pretty obvious.

Oregon’s initiative permitting same-sex marriage is a bit closer to reality. Oregon governor John Kitzhaber and one of his predecessors, Barbara Roberts, both signed the petition to get the initiative on the ballot, as did other elected officials and religious leaders.


Creation Science News

Oklahoma public school education may join the ranks of the scientifically bankrupt: on Tuesday, the Common Education Committee of the Oklahoma legislature narrowly approved (9-8) HB 1674, which provides that “No student will be penalized because the student subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories.” That’s codespeak for deniers of evolution and climate change that means kids don’t have to know science to pass science class. They can claim opinion and get an A.

Lawrence Krauss says that teaching creationism is child abuse, and that the tactics employed by schools that do this resemble those of the Taliban. Watch, listen and enjoy.


Blasphemers Under the Gun

Pakistan’s blasphemy accusations are on the rise. The latest target is Sherry Rehman, the woman Pakistan has sent to the U.S. to be its ambassador. Really. And it isn’t that she uttered something awful about the Prophet. It’s because she said on a Pakistani talk show that the blasphemy law needed to be changed.

A citizen, and not the police, brought the charges. If she were to be convicted of the crime of blasphemy, the ambassador would face the death penalty. People accused of blasphemy are often killed by angry mobs before they are ever convicted.

Wouldn’t it be something if Pakistan’s ambassador has to ask for political asylum in the US?



upvoteMegan and Grace Phelps-Roper, two more of the child abuse victims of the Phelps family are free of the hate that they were taught their entire lives. Despite that little setback, WBC plows ahead with its agenda of intolerance and spreading its special brand of misery.

Later this month WBC is planning to picket Gulf War hero Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf’s funeral, after which its Hate Brigade will mosey on down the road a bit to Vassar College, apparently because the school is a hotbed of whorishly liberal lesbianism. The Vassar community is doing something about it. A peaceful counter-protest is planned, and the Vassar community has pledged to raise $100 for every minute that Westboro plans to protest at the campus, or $4,500, for the Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, according to its website.

The counter-protest has exceeded its goal by about 2000% (you read all those zeroes right), and the protest is still a week away.

Contribute to the Vassar counter-protest on the fundraising site, and maybe pen a thank-you note to WBC for helping raise serious money for the people it persecutes. WBC didn’t mean to, I’m sure, but even accidental good deeds deserve recognition.



Got a legal question? Email me at 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, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.

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