Patriotic idolatry

Every nation on this planet has a flag, as do the individual States and territories of the United States of America. Originally written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, the Pledge of Allegiance was published as part of a celebration of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of North America:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

A bold statement, indeed, and it has since become part of the United States Code. Much of the history of the pledge since that time has been controversial. In its current form, the pledge reads as follows:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.1

At first glance, many do not give much thought to this statement. You are declaring your allegiance to the country, or so this statement would have you believe. You are, in actuality, declaring your allegiance to an idol, a material representative of the republic.

This form of political and patriotic idolatry has gone largely unnoticed. The flag is a symbol of the United States, just like the Great Seal of the United States of America is also a symbol of the United States, yet we don’t pledge or swear allegiance to that.

Much of the controversy behind the current pledge deals with two simple words: "under God". Whenever a threat is made to remove those two words, the Christian majority of this country sounds an alarm. How dare those words be removed. After all, this is a Christian nation, right? Does no one see the hypocrisy? I’ll admit I only recently realized it myself.

Recently a dear friend of mine posted this to her Facebook wall (minor corrections included):

I pledge Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it Stands: One Nation, Under GOD, Indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for ALL. REPOST IF YOU THINK OUR COUNTRY AND OUR FLAG DESERVE RESPECT! Let’s see how many Americans will repost it???

My response is this, derived from the Oath of Allegiance provided in the Code of Federal Regulations2:

I do declare and solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.

I bear no allegiance to the flag of the United States, just as I bear no allegiance to the Great Seal of the United States. Both are symbols of this country, and anyone declaring allegiance to either is exercising political and patriotic idolatry and it is inappropriate.

My allegiance lies with the Constitution of the United States, for without it, we have no United States. Everyone’s allegiance should lie with the Constitution, not the flag. Declare and solemnly affirm that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

References   [ + ]

1. 4 USC § 4
2. 8 CFR Part 337

$18,000 cell phone bill, revisited

Well apparently the matter regarding the enormous cell phone bill has been settled, or so everything seems.

Article: "Verizon forgives balance of $18,000 cellphone bill"

From the statement by Verizon Wireless:

Despite making a substantial adjustment to the customer’s bill in 2006, we concluded last week the remaining balance was uncollectible, wrote it off and consider the matter closed.

The balance was deemed "uncollectible". This could mean they turned it over to a collection agency, which means the problem for the St Germain’s is only starting, or they completely forgave the entire balance (which requires a written statement to that effect to be of any substance), in which case they might want to start paying the IRS now and try to pay them about $3,000 between now and the end of the year.

Why? Forgiven debts are treated as income. This balance was a debt incurred by the family to Verizon Wireless. If Verizon forgave the debt, their annual income just jumped by $18,000, and their tax bill will be jumping as well.

Hopefully Bob St Germain also learned a lesson to keep a closer eye on his cellular contract and the plan usage.

Expatriation revisited

Recall an earlier article I posted regarding HR 5237, the Terrorist Expatriation Act. The idea was first the brainchild of Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and was introduced into the House of Representatives by Jason Altmire [R-PA(4)]. This bill, if passed into law, would amend the provisions of 8 USC § 1481 to provide for a paragraph 8 with the following subparagraphs:

  • (a) providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization;
  • (b) engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against the United States; or
  • (c) engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against any country or armed force that is –
    • (1) directly engaged along with the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States; or
    • (2) providing direct operational support to the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States.

When I posted that article, I felt that the provision of 8 USC § 1483 that required the targeted citizen to be outside the United States before they can expatriated — that is, stripped of their United States citizenship — was enough of a safeguard to prevent abuse by our government. I know now that I was mistaken on that mark.

Let us refer to 8 USC § 1481(a)(7), which provides that a person may lose his or her nationality (citizenship) by

committing any act of treason against, or attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States, violating or conspiring to violate any of the provisions of section 2383 of title 18, or willfully performing any act in violation of section 2385 of title 18, or violating section 2384 of title 18 by engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, if and when he is convicted thereof by a court martial or by a court of competent jurisdiction. (emphasis added)

The emphasized text is the key to this paragraph. All other provisions in paragraphs 1 through 6 of 8 USC § 1481(a) are voluntary acts by the person relinquishing their citizenship. Paragraph 7, however, is distinguished from the preceding paragraphs in that citizenship is not being voluntarily relinquished, but involuntarily stripped from the person, and this can only occur if the person has been subject to a trial or court martial and subsequently convicted.

Now look at the proposed paragraph 8 above. What is missing?

As an article from the CATO Institute points out, providing material support to a "foreign terrorist organization" as designated by the Department of State is a Federal crime1, as is engaging in "hostilities" against the United States2. But this bill would allow a person to be expatriated without a trial ensuing, usurping the criminal trial requirement that these facts be determined to exist beyond reasonable doubt and replacing it with a mere preponderance of the evidence.

So the proposed paragraph 8 does not require a criminal conviction before expatriation can occur. A person can be stripped of their citizenship without even being convicted of the associated Federal crimes. Does this smell bad to anyone? No presumption of innocence, no due process, no nothing.

The only safeguard against this is the Supreme Court requirement that the State Department show that the person committed the expatriating offense with the intent of also relinquishing citizenship.3 The expatriated person must also be given the ability to appeal the expatriation.

I stand by my previous statements when I said that I can "fully appreciate the intention behind" the bill. However, in light of these recent revelations, I cannot support it. If a person is to be stripped of their citizenship, it must occur following a criminal conviction and no sooner. The provision of 8 USC § 1483 would still require the person to be outside the United States before they can be expatriated unless the bill is amended to address that section as well.

References   [ + ]

1. 18 USC § 2339B
2. defined in the bill as "any conflict subject to the laws of war" — i.e. treason (see Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States)
3. Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 (1980)

Presumption of innocence

Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat.1

In the United States of America, any person accused of a crime is to be presumed innocent until properly obtained, admissible and relevant evidence is presented to a jury within a Court of Law and that jury determines otherwise.

People are presumed innocent … innocent until a court of law can examine all the evidence and prove otherwise. Until then everything else is … gossip. –Gil Grissom (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation)2

The presumption of innocence is the reason when referring to an accused individual with regard to a crime we use the moniker "alleged": "alleged murder", "alleged rapist", "alleged terrorist". Interchangeably the word "suspect" or "suspected" could be used as well: "murder suspect" or "suspected terrorist".

Our system of justice is established in its current form with the intent of protecting a person’s rights. One could say you have a right of innocence, or a right of presumed innocence — no person has a right to accuse you of a crime without adequate evidence, a standard known as probable cause.

Probable cause is the level of evidence necessary to secure a warrant of arrest.3 It is not, however, the level of evidence necessary for a finding of guilt, which is the far higher standard called "beyond reasonable doubt". I’ll get to that in a little bit.

Yet one major problem we have in this country is the assumption by the general public that when a person is apprehended by law enforcement, they have found the person who actually committed the crime. The reason for this I feel is mostly psychological — people sleep better at night when arrests are made in major crimes, even if the police did not apprehend the right suspect, and there is a loss of faith or trust in law enforcement when the wrong person is apprehended or an accused person is acquitted at trial.

One phrase I’ve heard numerous times from individuals of various levels of education and intelligence can be paraphrased as this: why would the police arrest someone if the arrested person is not guilty?

The level of evidence necessary for a finding of guilt within a Court of Law is known as "beyond reasonable doubt". While not easy to define, the concept of beyond reasonable doubt has a long history in our system of criminal justice. An attempt to define this was made by the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1850 and has become generally accepted even by the Supreme Court of the United States as a proper definition:

[I]t is not sufficient to establish a probability, though a strong one arising from the doctrine of chances, that the fact charged is more likely to be true than the contrary; but the evidence must establish the truth of the fact to a reasonable and moral certainty; a certainty that convinces and directs the understanding, and satisfies the reason and judgment, of those who are bound to act conscientiously upon it. This we take to be proof beyond reasonable doubt.4

Proof to a reasonable and moral certainty. Reasonable doubt itself is the doubt of the account of a matter that causes a person to hesitate in saying to a moral certainty the accused is guilty. This is not the impossible standard of "beyond a shadow of a doubt", but slightly below that.

Laying an undeserving judgment of guilt upon an individual also has severe religious implications, which in post-Renaissance England inhibited a juror’s ability to convict for fear of retribution or vengeance by God. The reasonable doubt standard arose originally not to make it more difficult to convict, but actually to make it easier by way of releasing the juror from the fear of God.

And yet in today’s society we have no problem laying judgment upon people who are accused of a crime. And even beyond accusations of a criminal nature, we have no problem laying judgments upon others, even in our predominantly Christian culture where in the Bible it states:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.5

Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.6

I’m not a Christian scholar, but I interpret these two passages of the Bible to basically say that one should not lay judgment by any measure you would not have judgment laid upon yourself, and one should not judge by appearance alone. If you pass judgment hastily upon others, expect judgment to be passed hastily upon you.

In the context of this discussion, it means this: If you provide your fellow man no presumption of innocence, you have no right to demand it for yourself. Allow others to be presumed innocent when accused, and you shall also be presumed innocent in the face of an accusation.

And note I said "fellow man", not "fellow citizen" or something similar. The presumption of innocence is to be extended to everyone, every individual accused of a crime, regardless of whether that individual is a citizen of the United States or not, legal resident or not. The presumption of innocence is a bedrock principle not only of our criminal justice system, but of the American society.

It is one of the reasons why peoples of all walks of life come to the United States, legally and not, year after year. Here in the United States if you are accused of a crime, you are to be presumed innocent, not just in the eyes of the law, but also in the eyes of our society, unless and until evidence shows otherwise.

Resources

Whitman, James Q. (2008, February 25). "What Are the Origins of ‘Reasonable Doubt’?" History New Network.

Cited Resources

References   [ + ]

1. "The burden of proof rests on who asserts, not on who denies."
2. Donahue, A. (Writer) & Cannon, D. (Director). (2001). "Gentle, Gentle" [Television Series Episode]. In D. Cannon, C. Chvatal, & W. Petersen (Producers), CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. New York: CBS Broadcasting, Inc.
3. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution requires this: "…and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." (emphasis added)
4. Commonwealth v. Webster, 59 Mass. 295, 320 (1850)
5. Matthew 7:1-2
6. John 7:24

Mirandizing terrorists

When you are arrested and taken into custody by a law enforcement officer, the Courts are your last safeguard with regard to your rights. The Court applies the law and the Constitution and examines everything with regard to the crime of which you are accused, being not only the factfinder, but also making sure the government, by way of the law enforcement officer, acted appropriately within the bounds of the Constitution and any applicable laws at every step of the investigation, including the arrest and detention of the accused.

While some could say the government has no obligation to inform you of your rights, the government does have to respect them. Informing you of your rights is the government’s way of acknowledging those rights and remaining in check with respect to your rights.

No one screamed about Timothy McVeigh being Mirandized, and with 160 dead because of him, I think we can all say he was a domestic terrorist who also happened to be a citizen of the United States. The same with John Allen Muhammad, the “DC sniper”. I think we can all agree he was a terrorist as well. Both McVeigh and Muhammad were also military veterans.

When did we suddenly draw the line by saying that US citizens who want to kill a large number of people no longer have their rights? Yes it is certainly alarming that someone would want to kill a large number of people, but there are scumbags out there. There are insane people out there who care for nothing except their frag count, and some of them are US citizens.

Should we now start drawing the line with serial murderers and serial rapists? What about child molesters since we can say they terrorize children and families with children? Should they not be Mirandized either? Many would probably say yes, but the question to ask in that instance is why they should not be Mirandized.

Why are we now saying that terrorists shouldn’t be Mirandized? When did we draw that line? Because the person might have information? So do a lot of people who are arrested — drug dealers can give names of their suppliers, serial murderers can tell you if there are more bodies than you’ve so far discovered, serial rapists and child molesters can tell you if there are more victims than you’ve discovered. We don’t withhold Miranda from them.

When we start drawing lines on who should not be informed of their rights, pretty soon the number of people who are informed of their rights becomes a minority. This should not even be up for question: Mirandize everyone who is apprehended by civilian law enforcement, citizen or not, regardless of why they are being arrested.

Please read my follow-up to this article regarding events surrounding the Boston Marathon.

Elena Kagan

As an attorney, Elena Kagan, currently the Solicitor General of the United States, has a distinguished and accomplished career. However she does not have any experience as a jurist, which makes her nomination by President Obama to replace retiring United States Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens perplexing.

Typically service as a judge in the Federal appellate level is a de facto qualification for the Supreme Court, though one not outlined in the Constitution. Now Kagan is not the first nominee in recent history to not have any service as a judge at any level. The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist was nominated by Nixon for the Supreme Court while Rehnquist served in the Justice Department, and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated by Reagan out of the Arizona legislature.

All currently-serving Supreme Court justices were previously at the Federal appellate level prior to their nomination to the Supreme Court:

As you can see, the currently sitting justices are majority from the DC Circuit, including the Chief Justice. Recently-retired Associate Justice David Souter served on the DC Circuit as well prior to his nomination for the Supreme Court by George H.W. Bush.

Now it unfortunately appears that she will be confirmed by a "rubber stamp" vote by the Senate unless something really damning about her comes up. I expect Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to restate the observation he gave during Justice Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings (the same hearings in which ‘Miss Jane Roe’, aka Norma McCorvey, was arrested for trying to disrupt the hearings1):

Unless you have a complete meltdown, you’re gonna get confirmed.2

Kagan was the only candidate to replace Justice Stevens who is not and never was a jurist. That is the one issue that the Senators on both sides of the aisle need to consider, more so than the fact that it’s easier to learn who Jack the Ripper actually was than determine Kagan’s point of view on many key topics. Many have questioned whether Kagan will be Obama’s Harriet Miers.

Part of Kagan’s past includes a very thin record of legal scholarship. As Paul Campos, writing for The Daily Beast observed:

Kagan’s work reminded me of Orwell’s observation that, if book reviewers were honest, 19 of 20 reviews would consist of the sentence, "this book inspires in me no thoughts whatever." The bottom line regarding Kagan’s scholarly career is that there’s no there there. This is a problem not only because we have no evidence regarding what her views might be on almost any important legal question, but also because Kagan’s supposed academic achievements are being touted as the primary justification for putting someone who has never been a judge on the nation’s highest court. Now the fact that Kagan is more or less an academic nonentity would be of merely academic interest if she possessed unrelated but compelling qualifications for ascending to the nation’s highest court.3

Kagan clearly has no qualifications really for any Federal appellate court, let alone the Supreme Court of the United States. Now while Rehnquist and O’Connor were two very distinguished jurists while on the Supreme Court, and neither previously served on any Court before the Supreme Court, a similar prediction really cannot be made of Kagan.

If the Senate is smart (of which I doubt), they will refuse to confirm Elena Kagan and their advice to the President will be summarized as "find a Circuit Court judge and try again".

References   [ + ]

1. Kane, Paul. (2009, July 13). "‘Jane Roe’ Arrested at Supreme Court Hearing". Washington Post.
2. Real Clear Politics Video. (2009, July 13). "Sen. Graham: Barring A Meltdown, Sotomayor Will Be Confirmed".
3. Campos, Paul. (2010, May 1). "The Next Harriet Miers?" The Daily Beast.

Revoking citizenship

Citizenship of any nation is not something to be taken lightly. It becomes part of who you are, as you have shown a commitment to living under the laws of that nation, becoming a part of that culture while adding a little bit of yourself to it. Making the choice of becoming a citizen of a nation different from that in which you were born is not something to be taken mildly.

Most of us who are citizens of the United States are not citizens by choice, but our continuing citizenship of the United States is by choice. We are natural-born citizens, meaning we were born under the jurisdiction of the United States and were immediately subject to her laws and any protections she affords from that moment onward. If you do not wish to continue your citizenship, you are free to renounce it and leave.

Citizenship has always been a matter of choice. Even if your citizenship of a particular nation was not obtained by choice, continuing to enjoy your citizenship is.

No matter who you are or what you do, the government of the United States does not have the power to involuntarily strip you of your citizenship, essentially leaving you “without country”.

But Lieberman’s intent with creating the Terrorism Expatriation Act, introduced in the House of Representatives on May 6, 2010, by Jason Altmire [R-PA(4)] as HR 5237, leaves a lot of questions open for scrutiny:

I think it’s time for us to look at whether we want to amend that law to apply it to American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations, whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship.

Lieberman pointed out in an interview with Neil Cavuto that there is a process through the Department of State by which a person is deprived of their citizenship, and this process is defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1940 (8 USC § 1481), along with specific conditions that are said to denote a person’s willingness to no longer be a citizen of the United States:

  • obtaining naturalization in a foreign state
  • taking an oath or affirmation of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision therein
  • serving in a foreign military actively engaged in hostilities against the United States, or at any time accepting a commission in any foreign military
  • obtaining employment in a foreign government, if you’ve obtained nationality of that nation or if the post requires an oath or affirmation of allegiance
  • formally renouncing your citizenship before a United States consular officer in a foreign country, in a manner prescribed by the State Department
  • committing an act of treason against the United States (as defined by Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution), or attempting to overthrow the United States or take up arms against her

With all of these criterion, one could reasonably agree that they constitute evidence that a person wishes to no longer be a citizen of the United States. What Lieberman wishes to do is amend this list to include a few other provisions:

  • providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization
  • engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against the United States
  • engaging in, or purposefully and materially supporting, hostilities against any country or armed force that is:
    • directly engaged along with the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States
    • providing direct operational support to the United States in hostilities engaged in by the United States

Under the existing law, in accordance with the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 (1980), no citizen of the United States may be stripped of his or her citizenship unless it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that said person acted with the intent of relinquishing their citizenship. While the elements codified in law may be highly persuasive evidence that one wishes to relinquish their citizenship:

the trier of fact must in the end conclude that the citizen not only voluntarily committed the expatriating act prescribed in the statute, but also intended to relinquish his citizenship.1

In other words, the action does not imply intent to relinquish citizenship.

Further, under 8 USC § 1483, except when a person formally renounces his or her citizenship during a time of war (and such renunciation is approved by the Attorney General of the United States), or in cases where a person has committed an act of treason:

no national of the United States can lose United States nationality under this chapter while within the United States or any of its outlying possessions, but loss of nationality shall result from the performance within the United States or any of its outlying possessions of any of the acts or the fulfillment of any of the conditions specified in this Part if and when the national thereafter takes up a residence outside the United States and its outlying possessions.

This means that had Lieberman’s proposals been law prior to the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001, John Walker Lindh could have been subject to expatriation. But with § 1483 in place, Lieberman’s proposals would still not apply to Faisal Shahzad because he never made it out of the United States after the failed bombing, and neither HR 5237 nor Lieberman’s draft of the bill propose amending this section.

Initially when I read about Lieberman’s plans with the bill, I was enraged. The idea that the government would involuntarily strip a person of their citizenship is disgusting and should enrage any citizen of the United States. But after doing a little more investigation into the bill and the surrounding law, I can now fully appreciate the intention behind it.

If a US citizen leaves the United States and joins a terrorist organization in Pakistan or Afghanistan, then that can be interpreted as intent to no longer be a citizen of the United States. There is a formal process through which the Department of State may revoke a person’s citizenship, however a person’s citizenship cannot be revoked while the citizen is still within jurisdiction of the United States, except under two conditions previously mentioned.

So while Lieberman’s bill appears to have come in response to the Times Square bombing, it would still not apply to Faisal Shahzad because he never made it out of the country.

Follow-up: “Expatriation revisited

References   [ + ]

1. Vance v. Terrazas, 444 US 252 at 261 (1980)

Caveat emptor, to the tune of $18,000

Article: "Family, Verizon far apart over nearly $18,000 phone bill"

Last year there was the story of a cell phone bill that ran… get this… $62,000, after a Sprint customer downloaded Wall-E over his cellular data card that allows you to use your laptop on your cellular carrier’s data network.

Today the feature story courtesy of the Boston Globe is a Verizon customer whose son racked up over $18,000 by tethering his cell phone and using it for browsing the web instead of his parents’ dial-up connection.

Here are the details, according to the article: for two years, the St. Germain’s were customers of Verizon on a family plan that included an unlimited data plan at no cost for the 2 years. After the 2 years, they had to explicitly continue the data plan (it was not opt-out) or they would be charged a per-kilobyte rate.

After the two years, however, the son kept tethering his cell phone, and the parents were unaware of the huge charges being raked in. All of this took place back in 2006.

If you read the comments to the article, there’s a lot of anti-corporate backlash about this. Some of the comments say that Verizon should have informed them of the exorbitant fees being racked up by the data plan, and I agree with that. Those kind of charges are atypical, to say the least, and Verizon should have recognized this and alerted the St Germain’s to the issue.

That would’ve been good customer service, but as we all know, there is no legal or contractual obligation to good customer service.

Absent the alert, the St Germain’s should have been aware that their contract was expiring. Upon the expiration, if you don’t sign a new contract, your cell phone carrier will continue charging you on a monthly basis at the same rate as before, but it’s up to your cell phone carrier to determine if promotional options will be simply dropped from the contract or if they will be added in at a normal rate. If the contract doesn’t say that the options are opt-out, meaning you have to explicitly tell your carrier to not include it, then the options will not be included later.

Either way it means you have to pay attention to your contracts and your bill.

But at the same time, here’s one detail that needs to be kept in mind: the son’s tethering would’ve been interpreted by Verizon as being typical usage, meaning Verizon would’ve concluded that the account’s responsible party was aware of what was going on. If the son’s tethering started after the data plan expired, then the argument that Verizon should’ve informed the family would hold some water, but even then not much.

The onus is always going to be on the customer. You are responsible for your monthly plan. I pay attention to my monthly bill with AT&T. It’s how I discovered my fiancée had signed up to about $100 worth of those "send a text to this number" kind of things. When I discovered them, I told her about it and asked for her cell phone so I could unsubscribe each of them. I paid attention.

My fiancée has also been a texter for as long as she’s had a phone. I’ve had to adjust the texting plan on her line several times to prevent overages — and those adjustments happened mid-cycle, too. When she upgraded to a smart phone, you know the ones with the full keyboard, I upgraded the family plan to an unlimited texting plan.

This is what we in the business world like to call due diligence. There’s another phrase that comes to mind as well…

Caveat emptor.

And here’s one question: is the son helping to pay this down? After all, he was tethering the phone and racking up the huge fees.

Plus there is a provision in the contract that says that if you don’t renew at the end of the contract, they will continue billing you in order to not cut you off — you would just have the option of cancelling at any time without penalty. Imagine if they had been completely cut off from their service at the end of two years because their contract expired without renewal, oh the screaming that would be happening then…

Heck I have that provision on my apartment lease: if I don’t negotiate a new lease, they’ll charge me rent that is about $75/month more than what I currently pay, but I’ll be able to leave the apartment any time without paying any cancellation charge.

The only thing most people appear to be seeing is this: Verizon, a big corporation, charged a retired man $18,000. That’s all anyone appears to be looking at because we’ve become a society where personal responsibility is gone and the entitlement mentality has taken hold.

National Day of Prayer

There has been much fallout recently regarding recent rulings by Federal Courts regarding the National Day of Prayer. I recently had a small, but well-meaning debate with a friend regarding this — he is Christian, I am agnostic.

Recently the the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin declared the government’s declaration of a National Day of Prayer unconstitutional. The ruling was handed down by Judge Barbara Brandriff Crabb, nominated by President Jimmy Carter, confirmed by the Senate on October 31, 1979, and commissioned November 2, 1979. The case focused primarily on 36 USC § 119, which states:

The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.

Under this law, the next National Day of Prayer is May 6, 2010.

The law still stands pending the outcome of appeals. The Obama administration has already said that they intend to appeal the decision.

On my Facebook page, I voiced support of the decision:

It’s amazing how many people think the Court answers to public opinion, especially Federal Courts. Personally the National Day of Prayer is basically the government calling on everyone to pray. This is in essence equivalent to a school administrator calling on all students to pray. As the latter has fallen, the former must as well. The Judge in this instance ruled appropriately.

A Facebook group has started as well called "Christians Who Want A National Day Of Prayer!" This is all well and good, but it’s just another example of specific people wanting the government to enact their point of view into public policy without adequate justification of why it should be public policy. The group’s description restates this view:

The National Day of Prayer is currently under attack by radicals determined to silence any expression of faith. Become a fan and together let our voices be heard in Washington that we want a national day of prayer! Suggest to your friends!

If Christians want a national day for prayer, by all means establish one, but don’t go through the government to do it. The Constitution, by way of the First Amendment, states that the government must be religiously neutral:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

If you look up "respect" in the dictionary, you’ll find a couple definitions pertinent to the First Amendment that clearly show that the government must leave religion alone (from Dictionary.com):

10. to show regard or consideration for: to respect someone’s rights.

12. to relate or have reference to.

To have reference to religion or show regard or consideration for it. By these definitions, the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it respects an establishment of religion, in particular theistic beliefs. With the National Day of Prayer, the Federal government is not just respecting or favoring one religion, but one class of religions in general: theistic systems of belief. This flies against beliefs that are not theistic, such as atheists and agnostics, and belief systems not centralized on a deity that answers personal prayer.

If you are a theist and you want to pray on May 6th, or on the first Thursday of May thereafter, or on any day, go ahead. No one is stopping you. By declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, the Court did not say you cannot pray. The ruling merely states that the government cannot suggest that you do.

The National Day of Prayer is not a holiday recognized by any religion, but merely an invention of the Federal government by act of Congress. And under the First Amendment, Congress may not take any action that shows any kind of consideration for religion in any way.

There has been a lot of misunderstanding and exaggeration regarding prayer, when it is permitted and where. Whenever there is a court ruling against religion in some way, such as the 2005 ruling in the case Kitzmiller v. Dover, theists have interpreted it as a restriction on their rights. This is not the case.

We are not a democracy. The United States is not a democracy. The fact that Christians hold a majority religiously in this country does not give them the right to impose their beliefs on everyone, including members of other theistic faiths, through public policy.

We are a Republic. In a Republic, the will of the majority, such as the enactment of a National Day of Prayer, just be tempered against the rights of not just the minority, but the rights of all Americans. Public policy must not show favoritism toward any majority, whether it be a religious majority (Christians) or economic or financial majority (lower and middle class) at the denigration or dereliction of the opposing minority (non-Christians and the upper class, respectfully).

Religion can be one of the most divisive subjects of conversation. To have the government take a stance, any stance, even the slightest, with regard to religion has the power to divide this country worse than our current economic crisis and even slavery. That is why it is by mandate of the Constitution the government not even touch it.

Are bigger families more environmentally friendly?

Certainly an interesting question, and a point presented in the article "Big Families are the New Green", Simcha Fisher, published on the web site Faith & Family. In the article, the author attempts to argue that bigger families are better for the environment, and in many ways they are, but there are some things that the author conveniently overlooks.

Common cents

Many of what Ms Fisher notes in her article is common sense. When you find your budget feeling like a cantaloupe in a tin can either because of diminished incomes or bigger families, you will naturally search for ways to stretch every dollar you have further.

For example Ms Fisher says that many of the things in her household are used, and because there isn’t the environmental pain of manufacturing something new, she’s being environmentally wise on that mark. This is also an economically common sense way of saving money. Used items tend to be less expensive than new items, and because they don’t take any new resources to deliver to a market, they also don’t diminish the supply of natural resources. Economically this makes sense in the long term as well — reduced demand for new items reduces the market price for new items.

She also points out another common sense observation regarding electricity: more people per light bulb, television, and so on. So while there are a larger number of people in the household, their electricity usage doesn’t go up as quickly as one would necessarily expect.

Larger loads of laundry are more energy efficient, as are larger loads of dishes, and larger meals (to an extent). So for many of the aspects of living, costs aren’t as much of a problem as one could expect.

Diminishing returns

So while these aspects may offset the fact that Ms Fisher and her husband have brought a lot of children into the world, there comes a point where the benefits she cites in her article are reduced by the realities of living.

First is the obvious: food and water. Each mouth needs to be fed, and while a family can certainly look for ways to cut costs by buying food in bulk, saving leftovers, and the like, more food translates into more electricity needed to store perishables and cook it. While larger meals can be more energy efficient to prepare (cooking times do not directly correlate to the amount of food being cooked), all of that food must be kept somehow and larger meals will still require more electricity to prepare.

While you can buy non-perishables such as canned goods in bulk and save a lot of money, the same isn’t true for perishables. Regardless, though, everything has a shelf life, even canned goods. And if you don’t account for shelf life with buying food, you can potentially waste a lot of money instead of save a lot of money. But regardless, an increased demand for food means they are actually increasing their "carbon footprint", and that demand will only go up as each child grows up, though it will eventually go down as children move out of the house (with spikes in demand around the holidays).

Water provides an interesting observation that will not remain constant. First, Ms Fisher says, "Two or three kids fit in a bathtub at a time". While this is true looking at numbers, this will only hold true for a period of time. Once children start growing, you lose this benefit, so unless you’re reusing bath water (not draining the tub between bath rotations), your water usage will go up. Like with food, as the children grow up, your usage will go up.

Along with this are the supplies needed to maintain adequate hygiene: soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, mouthwash, and shampoo (and conditioner). And let’s not forget bathroom tissue and paper towels. The more people you have in one house, the more of these you go through. Hope you can find those bulk savings, and definitely pay attention to expiration dates.

And remember that with any size family, some costs are inescapable and proportional to the size of the household.

"Perfect environmentalists"

Ms Fisher makes the mistake of saying that she’s churning out "perfect environmentalists". For this she can only hope. Once her children grow up and move out of the house, this could easily change.

First, as her children grow up and move out on their own, or go to college, any benefit gained with all of them all living under the same roof goes away. Water and electricity usage will increase as the small "carbon footprint" gets spread out and grows during the years that her children remain single. Eight children under one roof will soon become eight adults under their own roofs. And individual households require their own electricity and water supplies.

Plus unless they move to a smaller home or apartment after all of the children move out (something I find unlikely), their "carbon footprint" will increase as the children move out and establish their own "carbon footprints".

Demand for food, water, and hygienic supplies won’t change significantly, but demand for electricity, gasoline, and the like will. While Ms Fisher wishes to claim herself to be more environmentally friendly than smaller families, this will only hold true for a period of time, something she conveniently overlooks, and a reality she will soon be experiencing when more of her children become teenagers.

Plus because her children lived in a household of tight budgets, conservation, and savings does not mean they will continue to live as such once they have their own incomes and start buying things for themselves, so she is being very presumptuous on that mark.

Conclusion

In short, if you want a large family and can afford it, then have a large family. But don’t at the same time think you’re being more environmentally friendly. In the short term many of Ms Fisher’s assertions may hold true, but I doubt they’ll carry for the long run.