Monday, August 9, 2010

Califormia's Proposition 8 ruling

Looking at the recent Proposition 8 decision in California (ruling against the gay marriage ban), I think the most disturbing thing about the case has nothing to do with the decision.

This was a standard court case challenging a law. The plaintiffs sue the government, but because the government can't be sued directly (sovereign immunity), they instead sue state officials, in this case the governor, attorney general, and a few others. In a normal case, the government then defends the case in court.

However, in the case of Proposition 8 this didn't happen. All of the government officials named said they didn't like Proposition 8 and would not defend against the lawsuit. The groups which pushed Proposition 8 on the ballot had to be added to the case so there would be somebody to argue both sides.

This is a disturbing precedent. It's the job of California's state officials to defend the California constitution. By failing to defend a legally enacted amendment, they are stating that they will only enforce laws they agree with.

This is a dangerous precedent. You might cheer those who didn't defend Proposition 8, but next time it may be a law you support that a politician decides to ignore.

It's the job of government officials to enforce and defend legally enacted laws. What would gay rights activists say if next California governor opposes gay marriage and decides to ignore the court ruling making it legal?

Officials must defend and enforce the law regardless of their personal feelings.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"No man is killed for any reason more than in the name of God"?

"No man is killed for any reason more than in the name of God".

I saw this quote in a blog recently and starting thinking. This is often brought out as a criticism of religion, implying that religions are somehow violent and intolerant by nature rather than peaceful. But how true is it?

A quick look through history says that there is truth to this statement. A lot of people have been killed in the name of God. And before the 20th century this statement would likely be true, especially if one discounts disease under the heading of "killed" (counting disease, the plagues of the Middle Ages were easily more deadly than any sort of religious killing).

In the 20th Century religion has a reprieve. While there have been religious conflicts (the Arab-Israeli conflict, Northern Ireland, the breakup of Yugoslavia, etc) the biggest killers were communism (Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot) and National Socialism (Hitler), both political ideologies. Other major killers are national / tribal conflicts which have killed millions in the Congo, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and other nations. In the 20th Century religious conflict is dwarfed by these other conflicts.

Looking before the 20th century, there was certainly a lot of killing in the name of God, though some of it might be qualified. Much is made today of Islam as a violent religion, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks. However, while Muslims have engaged in wars of conquest, they have generally not engaged in a lot of bloodshed. There was little "convert or die" in the Muslim expansion of the 7th and 8th centuries. Rather, Islam was given a privileged position and people naturally converted to the official religion. Even conflicts which might be considered explicitly religious (such as the Mahdi in Sudan in the latter 1800's) were likely more a response to colonialism. In fact, much "religious" conflict might be more properly judged to be political revolt which uses religion as a rallying point.

So certainly religion has been the reason for much killing. However, it must always be remembered that religion is often an excuse for a war rather than religion causing the war. And even when a conflict is overtly religious, it is likely that the underlying causes are economic, tribal, or national differences which are encompassed in religion.

Destroying Shirley Sherrod or how conservatives shoot themselves in the foot

Andrew Breitbart has just confirmed all of the left wing critiques of conservative criticism of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. In the blog entry at he posted a couple short clips from a speech by Shirley Sherrod, an Agriculture Department employee to the NAACP. In these clips Ms Sherrod comes out as a black racist.

The internet and conservative media (e.g. Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity of Fox News) jumped on the story, demanding Ms. Sherrod's resignation, though she has already resigned by the time their shows aired. The NAACP was left accused of racism and trying to do damage control.

Since then a video of Ms Sherrod's full speech has been posted ( The full video shows not a black racist, but somebody who has learned the world isn't just about race. After coming out, Ms Sherrod has received apologies, a new job offer, and an apology from Bill O'Reilly (who should have done his homework, as he says in the apology).

By taking Ms Sherrod's comments out of context Mr. Breitbart has implied that since he couldn't find a real criticism of the current administration, he'd have to create one. It has lumped him in with MSNBC (when they showed a man holding a gun and implied the Tea Party movement is racist, cutting off the man's head since he was black) and others who distort the truth to fit their own political agenda.

Watching the full video, there are a lot of things conservatives can criticize. While Ms. Sherrod isn't racist, she does seem to have fairly left wing politics, dividing people into "haves" and "have nots". Mr. Breitbart could have written about this aspect of the speech, been perfectly accurate, but would not have stirred up near the controversy.

Even worse, while I don't agree with Ms. Sherrod's politics and she did push some government subsidized programs, the overall message of the speech was for people (blacks in this case as the audience was the NAACP) to be responsible and take responsibility for your life.

Mr. Breitbart might have done better praising Ms. Sherrod.,