Responding to the Republican platform – "Traditional" marriage

Over a long series of blog posts, I’m going to pick apart the 2008 Republican Platform and respond to it, one or several sections at a time. I won’t be going in order, though, and some statements may be omitted from rebuttal if they are general or introductory statements. Some parts I know I will be stating agreement, while in others I will be stating opposition.

You can find a copy of the Republican platform at the RNC web site.

Now if you’re a Republican and you’re pissed that I’m going to be doing this, don’t worry, I’ll also go over the 2008 Democratic platform as well. To begin with the Republican platform, I’ll start with a topic I’ve yet to address on this blog: "traditional" marriage.

* * * * *

On page 53 of the Republican platform, you’ll find the Republican party’s idea of marriage. Now before I begin rebutting this, let me make this clear that I will not be openly discussing gay marriage or "marriage equality". I will only be responding to the statements made, and such will be the same in subsequent articles.

Amending the Constitution

Because our children’s future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman, so that judges cannot make other arrangements equivalent to it.

One thing I find astonishing about this paragraph is how the Republicans have contended that Democrats want to stifle debate. There is no greater way to stifle debate on a topic than to ratify a strictly-worded Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Republicans don’t like the idea of homosexuals marrying, and they don’t like the idea of polygamy. Great, I understand that being their point of view.

However amending the Constitution is not the way to go on this. It stifles debate immediately and pretty much permanently, assuming of course that there is support not only in Congress but also in the state legislatures to ratify the amendment to begin with. I find the notion of pushing for a Constitutional amendment cowardly.

Plus they say that our children’s future is "best preserved" when there is a "traditional" family. Unfortunately there isn’t much counter-data that might shine light on the potential fallacy of this notion, but something tells me that if a general loving household, whether it be a traditional family or not, is deemed more important through actual research and data, the Republican party won’t waver from this belief.

* * * * *

Children in the household

Republicans recognize the importance of having in the home a father and a mother who are married. The two-parent family still provides the best environment of stability, discipline, responsibility, and character.

This statement is incomplete as it says nothing of the quality of the people raising the child. It doesn’t matter if the child is raised in a home with a married father and mother if the father and mother fight, yell, or are otherwise disrespectful toward each other. Tensions between parents do not reflect well on the child and may have adverse effects on the child’s physical and mental health.

Now one could say that it is implied that the child be raised in a loving household with two parents who are respectful toward each other and are committed parents, but if their opinion is for the child to be raised in a household with two parents who are loving and respectful toward each other, they should say it plainly.

When it comes to the "protection of marriage", the focus seems to always be about children. Why is there this presumption that married couples have children? Yes, okay, most marriages do result in, or result from, children, but not all do. Many couples do remain childless by choice, and that number is rising. To borrow a question asked during the "Prop 8 trial", should we nullify childless marriages? Should couples be given a certain period of time after their wedding day to have or adopt a child or risk nullification? It wouldn’t surprise me if there are people who do believe this.

While a focus on children is understandable, it shouldn’t be central to "preserving traditional marriage". The focus should always first be on the couple getting married. Only if children actually come into the picture should they gain focus, but no sooner.

* * * * *

Defense of Marriage Act

A Republican Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act, affirming the right of states not to recognize same-sex "marriages" licensed in other states. Unbelievably, the Democratic Party has now pledged to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which would subject every state to the redefinition of marriage by a judge without ever allowing the people to vote on the matter.

Believably the Democratic Party does oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, as it so plainly states in their 2008 platform (page 52). And this law didn’t "affirm" a right of the states to not recognize these marriages, it created that right. And as same-sex marriage laws loosen overseas, this law also tells potential immigrant same-sex couples to not bother coming to the United States.

The Defense of Marriage Act made default the status of same-sex marriage recognition between States as not recognized. While the Act doesn’t stifle a State’s ability to say "we’ll recognize same-sex marriages", as some have, the default should not be "not honored". Instead, absent a State’s laws to the contrary, the default should have been recognition of the marriage with the ability for the State to voluntarily say "No".

* * * * *

Restricting appellate review

We also urge Congress to use its Article III, Section 2 power to prevent activist federal judges from imposing upon the rest of the nation the judicial activism in Massachusetts and California.

Again, this is about stifling debate in the Courts. Basically, it says that they want their way, and they don’t want the question of whether laws like Proposition 8 violate the Constitution to be heard by Federal courts. Again, this is also a cowardly tactic.

This also presumes that the judge or court who hears the case will be "activist", which basically means the judge will rule against what they want, and so to prevent the "damage" from going any further than it already has, they want to stifle debate on the topic and prevent any appellate judicial review. Wow.

The Republican party has campaigned themselves to be about personal and individual freedom, and what is freedom without the ability to decide for yourself who you will marry? Further what is freedom without the ability to petition a court for a review of a ruling against you?

Is this really a party that is about freedom? Doesn’t sound like it.

* * * * *

Marriage and Divorce laws

We also encourage states to review their marriage and divorce laws in order to strengthen marriage.

Strengthen marriage or stifle divorce? Wait, stifling divorce will strengthen marriage? I really hope you don’t actually believe that.

In virtually every State it is relatively easy to get married. Pay a fee to get a license, find someone to officiate, find witnesses if required, get married, then file the license and certificate with the proper authority. Some States also require a blood test of some kind (to what end I have no clue).

Divorce is relatively easy as well, that is where there is mutual amicable consent to the divorce, and we all know how common that is. But a couple that is not amicable, loving and respectful should not be married, and attempts to make divorce more difficult ignore this reality. Yes divorce is on the rise, but that doesn’t mean we should make it more difficult, nor does it mean we should make getting married more difficult. Restricting marriage and divorce is restricting freedom of association.

On the contrary, we need to look at why people are getting married and divorced. Did the couple conceive a child and feel obligated, either by society, family, or a "sense of duty" to get married? Were they a young couple in love and got married "on a whim" without fully evaluating what it really means to be married? Did planning the wedding seem to set a bad precedent for the marriage itself — i.e. was one party so overly concerned with the perfection level of the wedding that it bordered on psychosis?

With marriage and divorce, the law isn’t the problem. The problem lies with the people who get married and divorced, and that is where questions regarding the two will be answered and solutions discovered. If you ignore the people and go straight to the law, you’ve not solved the problem, and probably have only made it worse.

* * * * *

Parental rights

As the family is our basic unit of society, we oppose initiatives to erode parental rights.

I’m unsure of what, if anything, this has to do with traditional marriage. Any adult (or teenager) can be a parent, married or not. But I’ll humor the statement, vague as it is.

First, it is actually the individual that is the basic unit of society, not the family. After all we don’t count the population by households or families, but by individuals.

But the big question that needs to be asked is how parental rights are being "eroded". Some cases I’ve read about are just plain stupid. For example in 2006 in Cabell County, West Virginia, a married couple who babysat a child named Senturi sued the child’s mother, Misty, for custody on the grounds that they were "psychological co-parents of the child". The family court agreed, handing down an order for temporary, but full, custody of the child to be transferred to the babysitters.

On eventual appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the order was overturned and Misty’s parental rights were restored.1 During oral arguments, Chief Justice Robin Davis allegedly commented that if they affirmed the family court order, the babysitter of her child could sue and seek custody.2 Definitely a dangerous idea.

A lot of cases that are cited as erosions on parental rights aren’t so cut and dry. For example there is a case cited by the web site regarding a thirteen year-old boy who was removed from his parents’ custody after he complained to school counselors that he was being taken to church too often. There are so many holes in this story it’s difficult to figure out whether this is a legitimate infringement on parental rights, especially since, as their web site points out, their description of the case is merely hearsay from a named attorney.

And then we have legitimate affronts to parental rights, cases where the child is actually taken from parental custody for no legitimate reason at all. One case in point has already been cited above, the case involving Senturi and her mother, Misty.

But I’m also talking about children stolen from lesbian and gay parents with full cooperation and sanction of the court. In September 1993, Henrico County, Virginia, Circuit Court Judge Buford Parsons, Jr, declared as an "unfit parent" Sharon Bottoms, lesbian mother of her son Tyler, stripping custody of Tyler from her and awarding it to Sharon’s mother, Pamela Kay Bottoms, who had sued her own daughter for custody of her grandson.3 The sole reason for removing Tyler from his mother’s home and care is that Sharon is a lesbian.

The case would eventually make it to the Virginia Supreme Court4, who would rule 4 to 3 against Sharon Bottoms, in what is described as a bitterly divided ruling. The Virginia Supreme Court would invoke Virginia’s sodomy laws against the mother, stating that "conduct inherent in lesbianism is a class 6 felony in the Commonwealth; thus, that conduct is another important consideration in determining custody." Those laws would eventually be nullified by the United States Supreme Court.5

I know a lesbian couple living in Virginia raising a girl who, at the time of this writing, either is or will be turning thirteen years of age. I hope what happened to the Sharon Bottoms never happens to her.

Here’s my question: why are Republicans not standing up for the parental rights of gays and lesbians? Conservatives supported the decisions by the Circuit and Supreme Courts as vindicating crusades against legitimizing homosexuality. Are they only concerned with the parental rights of heterosexual couples? I think that question is already answered, and it’s in the second quote I rebutted (emphasis added):

Republicans recognize the importance of having in the home a father and a mother who are married. The two-parent family still provides the best environment of stability, discipline, responsibility, and character.

When you get down to the fundamental issue at hand, the issue isn’t whether the child is being cared for by a mother and father. If that were the fundamental issue or standard on which decisions of custody and parentage were to be decided, Senturi would not have been returned to her mother. What is at issue is whether the child’s needs are being met and whether the child is being raised absent neglect and abuse.

And to anyone reading this, yes, I know I skirted around much of the issue regarding the erosion of parental rights. I don’t feel like writing a book right now, as getting a full idea of how and whether parental rights are being eroded would require scouring every court docket for available opinions, documents, and orders regarding parents.

* * * * *

Final thoughts

Since the defense of "traditional marriage" is about opposing gay marriage, if not homosexuality in general, I will provide a statement here.

Disallowing homosexuals to marry is a violation of their right of association. They have a right to marry whomever they please. It is the law that is stifling this right, and the law is illegitimate on its face for this reason.

Those who oppose homosexual marriage and seek the passage of laws and amendments to constitutions, whether a state constitution or the Constitution of the United States, must, in advance of seeking such a measure, answer several questions fundamental to their effort, and any answers provided must be secular in nature — i.e. not deferring to religious beliefs or quotes from "holy" books.

First and foremost is how the concept of traditional marriage is, itself, impacted by allowing homosexuals to marry. This is one question that opposing forces have yet to adequately and effectively answer. Allowing homosexuals to marry is not the same as excluding heterosexuals from marrying. The power to marry must include everyone.

Second, how is society harmed by allowing homosexuals to marry? Society certainly is harmed by not allowing homosexuals to marry, just as society was harmed by not allowing interracial heterosexual couples to marry for one simple reason: it was an affront to freedom. Riddle me this: how has Massachusetts been harmed since their Supreme Court vacated the laws prohibiting homosexual marriage?

For there to be a law, you must demonstrate how society is harmed absent that law. In other words, just because you don’t like something does not mean it should be illegal.

Feel free to comment below on this article and offer your opinion.

  1. In Re: Visitation and Custody of Senturi N.S.V., 221 W.Va. 159, 652 S.E. 2d 490 (2007). [Full text of opinion]. []
  2. Korris, Steve. (2007, October 19). "Justices defend motherhood in Cabell case". The West Virginia Record. []
  3. Henry, William A., III; Cole, Wendy; McDowell, Jeanne. (1993, September 20). "Gay Parents: Under Fire and on the Rise". Time. []
  4. Bottoms v. Bottoms, 249 Va. 410, 457 S.E.2d 102 (1995) []
  5. Lawrence v. Texas, 539 US 558 (2003) []

"Citizen Congress"

In response to my last article regarding a near-continuous attempt by Rep. Serrano to repeal the 22nd Amendment, I received a rather interesting comment that I ultimately decided to not approve because it was not relevant to the topic at hand:

Here’s a practical Tea Party type strategy to create a “Citizen Congress”

A Congress of career politicians will never represent “We the People”, because their highest priority is getting reelected with the help of Big Money.

But “We the People” have more votes than “Big Money” has, and thus can end Congress as a career for professional politicians by never reelecting incumbents.

We can impose single terms every two years, by never reelecting Congress.

Always vote, but only for challengers. Never reelect incumbents.

Keep this up until Congress is mostly “one-termers”, a citizen Congress.

Then keep it up every election, to make a citizen Congress a permanent reality.

Every American’s only intelligent choice is to never reelect anyone in Congress!

The only infallible, unstoppable, guaranteed way to get a truly new Congress, and a cleaned up new politics is


Now while this idea sounds intriguing, it is rather unfeasible and could actually do more harm to this country than good, and in my opinion, suggesting it shows a lack of understanding of how the government not only actually works but is supposed to work.

I know some will disagree with me on this, but some incumbencies are necessary for sustaining this country. We, however, as responsible citizens, need to be considerate of who will be or continue to remain an incumbent and who will not.

If incumbencies were not intended by our Founders, they would not have written into the framework of our government open-ended terms. The reason is because known lame-duck terms in office can, as the argument goes for lame-duck presidents, render a politician politically weak than he or she otherwise would be had the end of term been unpredictable, as it currently is with Senators and Representatives.

Constantly voting in the opposition has the potential to mitigate risks by incumbent politicians, but if it were to become the norm, it would end up being an implied term limit, rendering our elected officials politically weak. While to some this may sound like a good thing, it is, in actuality, not.

Our Federal government is supposed to be, by design of the Constitution, subordinate to the States and, ultimately, the People. Just as your employer approves of your work by allowing you to remain employed, and firing you if your performance isn’t up to par, so too we show approval or lack thereof for our elected officials by voting.

If we were to continue to vote out our elected officials at the end of their term, they will either take great political risks, thus posing a greater political danger to the United States than a long-serving incumbent, or they won’t accomplish anything at all. Both must be avoided, but it is a delicate balance that is maintained by choosing our incumbents wisely and properly vetting each candidate.

The only time where the States have spoken and said that an open-ended term is not good is with the office of the President of the United States. The Executive Branch carries with it much authority, and with the wrong person sitting there, the President has the opportunity to wield a lot of power in inappropriate directions. However this change in point of view came as a result of the Seventeenth Amendment, which took the choosing of Senators away from the States and placed it with the People.

If you were to read the Constitution, thoroughly, you would discover two things: open-ended terms for both Houses of Congress are intentional, and an open-ended terms for the Presidency is also intentional.

The reason for the open-ended terms is because, originally, only one section of our government was directly popularly elected: the House of Representatives. State legislatures chose the Senators, and that process should be restored. And by appointing Electors, the state legislatures also chose the President of the United States, and may appoint said Electors absent a popular vote.

The Founders never intended the President to be popularly elected, rendering arguments about disparities between the popular vote and the Electoral College moot when properly thought out.

The President of the United States answers to Congress, namely the Senate, and the States, not the People. The Senators answer to the States, not the People. Only the House of Representatives answers to the People, and it is time that balance be restored.

But not permitting any incumbencies is not the way to go. Instead we need to undo the damage that has been done by restoring through the Amendment process the way the Founders initially intended our government to work.


Repealing the 22nd Amendment

The Twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution is one part of the Constitution that should never be touched. Never. A limit on the presidential term is necessary. I warned on Facebook months ago to be immediately alarmed when someone aims to remove this limit.

Well unbeknownst to me at the time I made that statement, a Congressman has been trying for over 13 years to do just that.

Serrano.jpgAt the start of every congressional term since 1997, most recently introduced in 2009, Congressman Jose Serrano [D-NY(16)] has introduced a joint resolution calling for the repeal of the 22nd Amendment. It has never made it out of committee.

Now the big question that needs to be asked is why Serrano wants to see that Amendment repealed.

Bear in mind that he has been trying this since 1997, through Clinton’s second term in office, Bush’s two terms in office, and now in Obama’s first term, so this is not an attempt specifically aimed at eliminating the term limit such that Obama could run indefinitely (assuming he remains popular after this year), as some bloggers have alleged, but it is definitely something of which to be concerned.

Now there are some valid arguments for repealing the presidential term limit. One analogy I saw on a blog is similar to a company telling you that you’ll have your job for another year, but then you’re fired. The “lame duck” term of the President, many have argued, weakens the President politically, or drives him to take greater political risks because another term is no longer a prospect, so long as he doesn’t do something to get impeached.

But while there are good political arguments for the repeal of the 22nd Amendment, there is always that one overwhelming argument: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his four elected terms in office, though he would die in office shortly into his fourth term. Congress did not want that ever to happen again, and the States agreed.

Now term limits were not instituted in the Constitution by the Founders because they thought that the people would be able to determine for themselves when the time was right to replace whoever was in office. However they also intended for the President to be subordinate and answerable to Congress and the States. The proposal and subsequent ratification of the Twenty-Second Amendment confirmed that in a most beautiful manner, and for that reason it should never be repealed.

Update: Please read my follow-up to this topic if you are someone who is concerned about Serrano’s recent re-introduction of his proposal to repeal the 22nd Amendment.


Stripping jurisdiction from the Federal courts

Here is an interesting question to ponder: does Congress have the power to exempt from the United States Supreme Court or Federal courts cases dealing with certain topics?

This question arises from a rather startling trend I’ve noticed within conservative circles, and that is the desire to see certain topics stripped from Federal jurisdiction, the most prominent being marriage laws. Quoting the 2008 Republican Platform (page 53):

We also urge Congress to use its Article III, Section 2 power to prevent activist federal judges from imposing upon the rest of the nation the judicial activism in Massachusetts and California.

To begin the discussion, let us evaluate Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States, beginning with the first paragraph which outlines the scope of judicial power:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between two or more States; between a State and Citizens of another State; between Citizens of different States; between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

The idea that Congress can restrict the jurisdiction of the Federal courts is derived from the second paragraph of the section (emphasis added):

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

This emphasized text known as the Exceptions Clause. Now Congress cannot take jurisdiction away entirely from the Federal courts. The judicial power is strictly set out in the Constitution and Congress cannot muck with it. Where the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction a lower court must have original jurisdiction. Congress cannot usurp the judicial power by failing to provide a court of original jurisdiction, and it cannot append the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court except by way of amending the Constitution.

In other words, under Article III of the Constitution, and in accordance with the First Amendment’s protection of the right to a redress of grievances, there must always be a court of original jurisdiction for the entire scope of the judicial power, but whether there will be a court of appellate jurisdiction is entirely up to Congress.

Congress is able, by the Constitution, at any time, to take away from the Circuit Courts and the Supreme Court the ability to hear an appeal on a specific case, a range of cases, or possibly even all cases. Don’t think this can actually happen? It already has. It is known as "jurisdiction stripping".

With regard to the case Ex parte McCardle, 74 US 506 (1869), Congress stripped from the Supreme Court of the United States the ability to hear the appeal of that case while the Court was hearing and adjudicating the case. Now completely powerless, the Supreme Court was constitutionally required to throw out the appeal.

Worst still is what led to the case. William McCardle was a journalist and Sergeant in the Confederate Army. After the Civil War during Reconstruction, exercising his rights of free speech, he published literature advocating opposition to the Reconstruction laws in place at the time. He was arrested and jailed under by a military officer by authority of the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867.

McCardle invoked his right of habeas corpus. When the writ was issued, it was automatically reviewed by the Court, and the court found his military detention to be lawful. McCardle appealed to the United States Supreme Court under the Habeas Corpus Act of 1867, which granted them appellate jurisdiction of habeas petitions. Oral arguments were heard, but before the Supreme Court could render an opinion, Congress took swift action and repealed the Habeas Corpus Act, effectively removing the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction.

Powerless to act, the Supreme Court, acting unanimously, affirmed Congress’s power under Article III, Section 2, and dismissed the appeal. McCardle had no option for appealing his military detention.

Fast forward to today.

There are two lawsuits currently before United States District Courts for adjudication: the lawsuit by the Obama administration against the Arizona immigration law, and the lawsuit by several States against the Obama administration regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. Think about this for a moment.

Let us presume the Courts rule in favor of the Obama administration on the Arizona law. Congress, with their majorities, could act swiftly to remove from the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court the ability to hear appeals on that case. The same if the Court were to rule in favor of the Obama administration on the PPACA. This has the ability to set a dangerous precedent.

And the Republicans want Congress to do this to take away appellate review with regard to gay marriage and, likely also, abortion. Interesting how the tables can be turned against you on something a little more vital to our republic. I wonder if the Republican party is willing to withdraw from their platform the call for the exercise of Article III, Section 2. Doubtful.

Now Congress cannot take away the original jurisdiction of the Federal judiciary, and there must always be a court of original jurisdiction. But whether any Federal court will have appellate jurisdiction is up to Congress, and they can take away appellate jurisdiction for any to all cases at any time.


Window films

Windmills_D1D4__Thornton_Bank.jpgI typically don’t talk much about energy efficiency. Living in an apartment, unless you can negotiate with the property management about your appliances, you typically have to take what you’ve got.

This means that the options to living more energy efficient are limited.

Now there are some cheap methods you can use to reduce how much energy you use. You’ve probably heard of them, but one of the most cost effective methods I’ve seen is weather stripping. It quite literally pays for itself in a hurry. Only about $3 worth of weather stripping can save you more than that on your energy bill, especially in the winter.

For example, I weather stripped our front door (which leads into a hallway) until it seals like a door to the space shuttle, and that alone dropped about $5 off our first energy bill for our heating system. For the apartment in which I previously lived, which had a natural gas heating system, weather stripping alone on our front door and windows cut our natural gas usage in half compared to previous years.

But what about the summer?

Shortly after moving into our current apartment, my fiancée and I purchased thermal curtains. You know the kind, heavy curtains that are all white on one side that are supposedly able to keep a room cooler than normal curtains? I’ve had mine up for a year and, let me tell you, they don’t do squat when you’re in an apartment on the top floor of an apartment building with bedroom windows facing due west.

The master bedroom and second bedroom (office) in my apartment are always ovens in the afternoon and early evening. And because the living room is shaded and on the east side of the apartment building, our living room ends up freezing cold, partly because of the weather stripped front door, but mainly because our air conditioner is working harder trying to make up for the hotter bedrooms in the afternoon.

There is one simple reason the thermal curtains weren’t doing squat: they can’t stop the heat from getting into the room in the first place. So I started looking around and came across discussions of window films. You can find it at your local Lowe’s or Home Depot. Do they work?

You need to install the window film to a cool window, so for us, we installed the film on Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning, July 13th and 14th. Again, west facing window, so it was either be up late or get up early to do this. We also only did one room, the master bedroom since it has the larger window of the two and the window was easier to access without having to move furniture.

Now one thing about the films they don’t mention, partly because it may not apply to you, is that for the first day after installing the film you may notice a difference in the way the room feels, but you might not notice a difference in your energy usage. But over time after the film cures, you should start noticing a difference, partly because the change in how the room feels will allow you to turn your A/C down to keep your home or apartment from feeling like a freezer.

So what kind of results have I seen? Well again, I’ve only filmed up one window, but the other will be taken care of soon. Now where I live we actually have a power meter on our HVAC system separate from the main power to the apartment. This makes gauging which methods work and which don’t a little easier. Plus our power company has meters that allow for daily tracking of power usage.

Now remember it was in the early morning of July 14th that we installed the film, and Thursday evening (July 15th) at about 8pm (after I got home from work) — or was it last night (July 16th)? — I turned the thermostat to a higher temperature. As you can see with this screenshot from my power company’s web site, the changes are dramatic:


Wednesday was also the peak energy usage day for the month of July on kWh. I estimate that the film for both windows will have paid for itself by the end of September. Isn’t it great so see some real numbers?

HeatControl.jpgOkay so you must now be wondering: which film did we get? Gila Heat Control Platinum. You can find it at your local Lowe’s home improvement store. You can also read more about it on Gila’s web site. Home Depot sells something similar, I believe. If you have a large home, you can also have 3M come out to your house and do a professional installation of their window film products — but you can expect that to be expensive, but probably worth it in the long run.

The film itself will run you about $25 for the smallest roll, which gives you 30 square feet. The 45 square foot roll is only $30, though, so the bigger the window the better the value, but don’t buy a larger roll than you need, but do try to account for multiple windows when buying the film.

Now if you do buy this film, there is a kit that you can buy as well. Get it. It’s only $10 and it comes with several things that make installation of this a lot easier. Plus the installation instructions refer to what is in the kit multiple times. The kit comes with a solution to be sprayed on the film and the window during installation. That bottle should be enough for a 40 square foot window, so if you’re doing multiple windows, pick up a couple bottles (they’re only about $4 each).

And if you’re doing windows that are divided into multiple small panes (our master bedroom window is 24 small panes approximately 11″ x 12″ each), be prepared to spend several hours doing just that one window.

In the kit is a small cutter as well — use it to only cut the film from the roll. To cut off the excess film after you get it on the window (watch the installation videos for details), go to Office Depot or OfficeMax and spend about $5 and get an X-acto knife. Trust me, it makes cutting that film much easier.


Image copyrights


Drive safe out there

It’s become something of a reflex for me. Whenever I part company with someone, I tend to almost instinctively say “drive safe”, or something like that. I started doing that while in college, and I’ll explain why, but I want you to watch this video first if you haven’t already seen it:

Thanks to my friend Stephanie for bringing this video to my attention.

In one week back in 2004, while I was in college, I lost two acquaintances to car accidents. I lost another friend, my college roommate, actually, six months before that tragic week. Last year while I was moving stuff down, I witnessed an accident on I-35, in which thankfully no one was killed, and I see people swerving through traffic all the time in fashions similar to what this video shows.

Please, drive safe out there. I don’t like seeing crosses on the side of the road.


Who is and is not a Christian?

My last article regarding the "No true Christian" fallacy struck a chord with a good friend of mine. I call him a good friend because I’ve known both him and his wife since we were all in college. And as friends often do, we don’t agree on everything, especially religion.

The chord I struck was the fact I was mentioning only negatives of Christianity, and the last sentence of the article drives that notion home with a golden spike:

Jesus may have preached peace, but there is no doubt that a lot of Christianity’s history is penned in blood.

One of my friend’s statements is certainly true: it isn’t Christianity that causes problems, it’s people. This is similar as the oft-quoted notion by gun rights supporters: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. People certainly cause problems and people kill people. It doesn’t matter your religion, race or creed.

Christians today certainly do a lot of good as well. There are many Christian churches and organizations that contribute billions of dollars each year to help the lesser fortunate around the globe. The Salvation Army is a classic example of Christians helping others, and many churches route tithe money to charitable causes and functions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the article, only a side point brought up for the purpose of emphasizing the main point: Christians do not decide who is and is not a Christian.

With many things it is very easy to say whether someone does or does not belong to a particular group. For example my father is a Navy veteran because he served honorably for 12 years in the United States Navy, but he is not a retired Navy veteran because he did not retire from the Navy but was only honorably discharged. I cannot say I am a veteran of any branch of the military because I never served.

Sometimes specific groups have set definitions of who is and is not a member, thus qualifying a person as a member or not becomes easy. Religious affiliation, on the other hand, isn’t so cut and dry.

Now there are specific "qualifications", if you will, that determine if a person is a Christian, but unlike proving the veteran status of a person, there isn’t anything you can go on to prove a person is or is not a Christian, only that person’s own word.

I’ll use myself as an example. I was christened in a Methodist church when I was an infant. I own a couple Bibles and a cross that my mother gave me when I was in middle school. So far it sounds like I’m a Christian, but I’m not. I explicitly disavowed myself from Christianity about 10 years ago, though one could say I "lost my Christian status" in high school.

I am not a Christian, and only I can say whether I am or am not a Christian.

Christians can distance themselves from other Christians who do harm, just like I distance myself from white supremacists. But saying

I wouldn’t refer to those who commit violent acts of murder as Christians.

doesn’t nullify a person’s Christian status. You may not want to think the person a Christian, but that doesn’t make it so.

And if you want an example of this, consider Paul Jennings Hill.

Hill is so far the only anti-abortion activist to receive the death penalty in the United States. On July 29, 1994, he shot abortion provider John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett, killing both of them, and he also shot Barrett’s wife June, injuring but not killing her. Hill was sentenced to death on December 6, 1994, and so executed by lethal injection on September 3, 2003, in the State of Florida.

Hill was also a Presbyterian minister, though he was defrocked in 1993 following a controversial series of television appearances. He also attended Bellhaven College, a private Christian liberal arts college, and was affiliated with the Army of God.

He left behind a manifesto called Mix My Blood with the Blood of the Unborn, published online by the Army of God. His words in that manifesto leave no doubt.

Hill was a Christian, regardless of whether you want to think him one or not. You don’t get to decide, not with Paul Jennings Hill and not with anyone else.

Other resources on Paul Jennings Hill

  • Clarke County, Indiana, Prosecutor’s Office: "Hill, who had told reporters that his death would make him a ‘martyr’ in the anti-abortion movement and that he expected a ‘reward’ in Heaven, was pronounced dead from the lethal injection at 6:08 p.m. Hill became the first killer of an abortion clinic doctor to be executed." (emphasis added)
  • Life Enterprises Unlimited — Paul Jennings Hill: "His actions, known as justifiable homicide to honest believers in the Word of God, were against a murderer –Dr. John Britton– and his driver/escort/guard –James Barrett, an accomplice… He understood his unselfish defensive act –even though he had to leave behind a young wife and three young children– to be just in God’s sight."
  • Army of God — Mix My Blood with the Blood of the Unborn, Paul Jennings Hill

No true Christian…

Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again." Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing."

—Antony Flew, Thinking About Thinking (1975)

This paragraph outlines what has become known as the "No true Scotsman" fallacy. Outside the realms of fiction and more into the realms of religion, we see the "No true Christian" fallacy with statements like this:

I wouldn’t refer to those who commit violent acts of murder as Christians.1

and this one:

Christians who do horrible things are NOT practicing Christianity.2

I think that Shelley Shannon, Michael Griffin, Scott Roeder, Paul Jennings Hill, John Salvi, Eric Robert Rudolph, James Charles Kopp, and Clayton Lee Waagner would disagree. And let’s not forget Otis O’Neal "Neal" Horsley, Jr.

That is, unless you think that what these individuals have done do not constitute "horrible things".

And let’s also not forget the organization called The Army of God, who has a famous history of violence against abortion clinics and providers, having bombed, vandalized, invaded, or set fire to hundreds of abortion clinics across the United States.

The United States also leads the world in anti-abortion violence, all of it perpetrated by Christians. You may not want to call them Christians, but they are Christians. You don’t get to decide who is and is not a Christian.

Jesus may have preached peace, but there is no doubt that a lot of Christianity’s history is penned in blood.

  1. The Right Scoop. (2010, May 28). "Tavis Smiley: Christians blow up more people in America than Muslims" []
  2. "Jaynie59". (2010, July 8). "Jon Stewart: We shouldn’t fear Islam any more than Christianity". [Comment in response to "chrish43".] The Right Scoop. []

Revisiting Kent Schaible

Recently out of a curiosity I decided to see if I could find information on the Kent Schaible case through the court docket. The criminal trial for Herbert and Catherine Schaible is set for December 6, 2010, over which it shall be presided by Senior Judge Carolyn Engel Temin.

Docket No.: CP-51-CR-0012965-2009 and CP-51-CR-0012966-2009

Herbert and Catherine Schaible, you may recall, are the parents of 2 year-old Kent Schaible, who passed away January 24, 2009, from complications related to bacterial pneumonia after the Schaibles allegedly failed to seek proper medical attention, instead opting to pray over their child for healing from God, healing which appears to have never manifested.

It is believed that had obtained proper medical attention been sought for Kent, he would not have died but would have instead fully recovered.

Note: Herbert and Catherine Schaible are presumed innocent of all charges until it has been proven otherwise in a Court of Law.


God is banished from the classroom?

Note: This discussion should be considered applicable to the United States only.

Prayers are one of the dominating themes of religion. They range from simple verbal requests to a deity to offerings, sacrifices, and ceremonies trying to win the deity’s favor or praise, or to ask that they not be vanquished in some weather phenomenon that would otherwise cause half a town to disappear.

So with prayer a theme in religion, and given the majority of individuals in the United States are some brand of theist, it is no surprise that prayer used to be present in public schools, initiated and led by teachers or school officers before being declared unconstitutional.

So what was the issue with school prayer? I mean students who did not want to participate were under no direct obligation to do so. But there’s the key word: direct. There’s the feeling of isolation and humiliation if a student does not participate. A student may be ostracized, harassed, or even physically assaulted because of differing religious beliefs.

School is a tough enough time as it is for students, both mentally and socially. With the school initiating the prayer, the feelings of isolation and humiliation are increased, and the assistance the school may provide to students not participating, should trouble arise from the non-participation, may be minimized if the school is sanctioning the activity.

And if you want proof of this, watch this video:

Schools are not places for prayer. The school should not care if a particular student is Christian or atheist, and the school should not foster an environment where tension may arise due to differences of that nature by favoring one religion.

So how was “prayer in schools” declared unconstitutional and why? Because an “activist” Supreme Court hated the idea of prayer? Because a more progressive culture was trying to eliminate God from our culture? Not quite.

To answer this question, we need to first look back to 1963. The case in question was School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp1. Consolidated into this case is the one that involved Madalyn Murray O’Hair (b. 1919, d. 1995), so if you hear that “Madalyn Murray O’Hair got prayer removed from schools”, consider the phrase to be an exaggeration.

The Abington case centered around a law in Pennsylvania:

At least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day. Any child shall be excused from such Bible reading, or attending such Bible reading, upon the written request of his parent or guardian.2

In Abingdon Senior High School, the opening exercises included reciting the statutory ten bible verses, followed by a recitation of the Lord’s prayer, a flag salute or the pledge of allegiance, then the morning announcements. All of this was broadcast over the school’s intercom or, in schools that had no intercom, the morning prayer exercises were conducted by the teacher.

At the first trial in this case’s docket history, the children of the complainant testified that the practice in question ran “contrary to the religious beliefs they held, and to their familial teaching”. The trial court subsequently struck down the practice and the law compelling it, citing that attendance at the public school was compulsory under law, as were the practices required by the aforementioned statute.

The trial court called the compulsory statutory religious practices a “religious observance”, noting that the government of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania “prefers the Christian religion” and also intended to “introduce a religious ceremony into the public schools”.

Earlier still in 1947, the Supreme Court declared in Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing that the Establishment Clause means:

neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.

[The First Amendment] requires the state to be a neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and nonbelievers; it does not require the state to be their adversary. State power is no more to be used so as to handicap religions than it is to favor them.3

In its ruling in the Abington Township case, the Court further stated:

While the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs.4

In other words, voters can no more use the ballot box to enact laws that concern religion than can they use the legislature to the same end. Both are prohibited.

I’ve said before that the will of the majority must be tempered against the rights of the minority. We are not a democracy where the will of the majority rules always. We are a republic where the rights of all must be considered against the actions of the government, for the purpose of government is to protect the rights of all.

You will notice a common theme in all of these cases as well: the Courts have held that the government cannot compel prayer among students in public schools. This is because students are a captive audience in a public school because their presence in the public school is by mandate of law unless other options provided by law are exercised, such as home schooling.

Any religious practice by students on a public school campus should be entirely of the student’s free will and not compelled or mandated by school rules, city ordinances, or state laws. It should also be on the student’s own free time, outside the classroom such as in a study hall or, if in the classroom, in such a way that it is not disruptive to other students.

Teachers and school officers cannot initiate or lead prayer among the students. And if you look at all of the Court cases, they have been in regard to, and in prohibition of, school officials or teachers in some way initiating or endorsing prayer on a large scale in a public school, and in some of these cases, it was religious families filing suits against the schools.5

Has God been taken out of public schools? No.

But many people seem to think that the Courts ruling that the government cannot mandate prayer in a public school is equivalent to saying no one can pray in a public school. This is not true, yet this idea has so permeated our society and is propagated so far and wide that many have called on Congress to remedy the situation through, you guessed it, and amendment to the Constitution of the United States as Paul here recites from a newspaper’s opinion page (he is talking primarily to other atheists who make videos about religion on YouTube):

Ever heard of the School Prayer Amendment? This is the text of the proposed amendment:

To secure the people’s right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: The people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage, or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. The Government shall not require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, initiate or designate school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny equal access to a benefit on account of religion.

Looking at this proposed amendment, it doesn’t appear that it will change the situation at all. In fact, it looks like it only reinforces the Supreme Court’s rulings on the subject.

The School Prayer Amendment was primarily championed by the late-Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), and failed to pass or died in committee each time it was introduced, most recently in April 2006 where it died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.6 7 If you count the attempts, he tried to introduce the bill about eight times, if I’ve counted them properly.

In 1998 the House of Representatives took up the effort, but in the vote on the proposed Amendment on June 4, 1998, the House of Representatives fell short of the votes needed to clear just one of the constitutional hurdles in the amendment process.8 This appears to be the only time such an amendment proposal has actually made it to a floor vote in either house of Congress.

But let’s get back to the question: is God banished from the classroom? No.

Your child is allowed to pray in school.

For example, a student who is permitted to read non-curricular materials during the student’s free time is permitted to also read the Bible or other religious text, as it would also be a non-curricular material. This free time may include lunch, study halls, or even downtime following a test. Any rules regarding socializing during that free time should be observed.

A student who wishes may also say a small prayer before a test, if the student feels the desire or need to do so, but in a silent manner that would not be disruptive to students who chose to not say a prayer. Should the student be allowed to engage other students in a prayer circle before a test? No, and the reason is because that prayer circle could grow to encompass the entire classroom, and the very feeling that banning school-sanctioned prayer would have prevented suddenly creeps into focus again.

A student who wishes may also say a prayer during lunch before eating. If all students at the same lunch table wish to say a prayer, then by all means, let them. But they should in no way interfere with students at that table who wish to eat without first praying.

Now bear in mind that a teacher or school administrator can ask the student to not pray if the exercise is found to be disruptive, or change the exercise so it is not disruptive or in violation of school rules and/or applicable laws. For example a student standing in a foyer preaching the Gospel can and will be removed, as such preaching actually violates the religious rights of other students.

But the Establishment Clause is clear: the school, its faculty and officers, cannot perform any kind of action that shows or implies favor to one religious denomination over another. To do so is discriminatory to students who do not follow the practices or teachings of that denomination, let alone that religion.

But by all means, students can pray in public schools.

  1. 374 US 203 (1963) []
  2. 24 Pa.Stat. § 15-1516, as amended, Pub.Law 1928 (Supp. 1960) Dec. 17, 1959 []
  3. Everson v. Board of Education of the Township of Ewing, 330 US 1 at 15,18 (1947) []
  4. 374 US 203 at 226 []
  5. Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe, 530 US 290 (2000): A Catholic and Mormon family filed suit under the moniker “Jane Doe” with regard to school-sponsored, but student-led prayer at a football game. []
  6. Associated Press. (2006, April 30). “Sen. Byrd introduces amendment allowing school prayer“. []
  7. Senate Joint Resolution 35: “A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to clarify that the Constitution neither prohibits voluntary prayer nor requires prayer in schools.” []
  8. Van Biema, David (1998, April 27). “Spiriting Prayer Into School“. Time. []