Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

31 December 2008

Happy New Year!

By Unknown

Yet another holiday is upon us: Happy New Year!

I'm very pleased with the work that CSG has done in its first year, particularly our contribution to the fight against Colorado's Amendment 48. Of all the opposition, we alone focused on the fundamental philosophic issue -- that neither an embryo nor a fetus is a person with the right to life.

If you haven't been reading Politics without God regularly, then you might find our archives worth perusing:

Happy New Year!


29 December 2008

Overturning Stem Cell Nonsense

By Unknown

Good news from The Denver Daily News:

U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., and Michael Castle, R-Delaware, chief architects of legislation expanding stem cell research, led a bipartisan group of lawmakers yesterday in sending a letter to President-elect Barack Obama, urging him to immediately remove existing federal barriers to embryonic stem cell research by executive order upon taking office.

DeGette and Castle recently introduced new stem cell legislation overturning President Bush's executive order, updating previous legislation to ensure that it is current with the field of stem cell research and bringing the National Institutes of Health to the forefront.

"I am excited that we are on the brink of expanding stem cell research under a responsible, pro-science administration," said DeGette, vice chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. "After two vetoes of strong bipartisan legislation that would have overturned President Bush's restrictions, millions of patients and their families can now finally have hope again. I look forward to working with the Obama administration to develop a robust research agenda in America."

The letter from DeGette and Castle states a need for strong federal leadership by NIH in carrying out a responsible stem cell research program due to the fact that there is no overarching set of federal guidelines to serve as a standard. The letter goes on to reference diseases that stem cell research may affect.

"Medical and scientific research, including embryonic stem cell research, holds great promise for alleviating the suffering of the 100 million American patients who are living with devastating diseases - from Parkinson's disease to spinal cord injuries to diabetes - for which there are no good treatments or cures."

Opposition remains steadfast

The stem cell debate is a very controversial one due to the involvement of human embryos. The use of embryonic stem cells for research ties into the abortion issue and raises the debate on exactly when a human life is defined.

"Part of responsible science is making sure we're respecting every life involved," said Kristi Burton, who championed the "personhood" ballot initiative that would have defined life as beginning when a human egg is fertilized. That issue failed this November. "There are effective ways to pursue stem cell research without using embryos. I support finding cures to diseases without destroying life. Why not choose the way to protect life and find cures?"

DeGette and Castle want to immediately revoke the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. They want NIH to establish guidelines based on scientific needs and an outline determining eligibility for federal funding of stem cell lines that are already in existence. Some organizations are adamantly opposed to the use of federal funding.

"If his (Obama) record is an indicator, we expect the directive to be rolled back, though we do not support that," said Ashley Horne, federal policy analyst for Focus on the Family. "We believe that is it fiscally irresponsible and ethically wrong to use the federal money for treating human embryos, which has not been proven to be effective."
For a good analysis of the morality of embryonic stem-cell research, see the op-ed The Anti-Life Opposition to Embryonic Stem Cell Research by David Holcberg and Alex Epstein.


24 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

By Unknown

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope that you have a delightful December 25th! And I hope that you've been nice rather than naughty -- unlike those bailout-seeking politicians.


22 December 2008

Paul Hsieh LTE on GOP in Christian Science Monitor

By Paul Hsieh

The December 17, 2008 Christian Science Monitor featured an article on the internal debate within the Republican Party entitled, "Young Republicans seek a new kind of party".

I sent them the following LTE in response, which they published in the December 22, 2008 issue:

GOP's 'social conservatism' alienates young Republicans

In regard to the Dec. 17 article, "Young Republicans seek a new kind of party": I voted Republican in 1996, 2000, and 2004, but not in 2008, because I was finally fed up with the ever-increasing influence of the religious right on the Republican Party – especially on issues such as abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage.

If the GOP returned to affirming individual rights, limited government, and fiscal responsibility, then I would be glad to support it again.

But as long as they support the toxic "social conservative" agenda of the religious right, then they will continue to alienate many young and independent voters and lose elections. And deservedly so.

Paul Hsieh
Sedalia, Colo.


19 December 2008

Evangelicals Leverage Downturn

By Ari

(Reposted:) An article in the New York Times verifies what many of us suspected: economic downturns are good for certain churches. The paper notes that "evangelical churches around the country... have enjoyed steady growth over the last decade. But since September, pastors nationwide say they have seen... a burst of new interest..."

There seem to be two main reasons for this. As one pastor told the paper, "When people are shaken to the core, it can open doors." The article also discusses an economist who sees the increased attendance as more related to economic concerns: churches provide a safety net, and people without jobs aren't busy on Sundays.

The article mentions "Good Sense," a church-based financial management program. A downloadable document reveals some of the details. It praises "avoiding consumer debt and saving for the unexpected" -- good advice -- but it also advocates greater political control of the economy, demonstrating yet again that evangelicals hardly advocate economic liberty as a rule. The document states:

On a macro level, increased regulation of certain sectors of our financial markets, about which some have warned of excesses for some time, will become reality and will hopefully prevent repeats of the abuses that have led to the situation we are in now. Capitalism must have moral restraints and while those can’t be legislated, regulations can at least make it harder to do wrong and easier to punish those who do.

Most significantly, we are reminded that earthly treasures can succumb to rust, moths, thieves and to economic upheavals and that it is our treasures in heaven that are safe for eternity.
This also shows the tension within the Christian movements for financial planning. I've heard claims that God wants us to be rich, that the Bible counsels hard work and the prudent accumulation of wealth. Yet the stronger Biblical strain is egalitarianism and the call to renounce wealth. One televangelist told the Times we're living in a "time of fear and greed." Yet this fails to distinguish the "greed" of political manipulations and wealth transfers from the self-interest of free markets and individual rights.

Thus, the evangelical movement offers two conflicting messages: be responsible in how you accumulate wealth, but realize that wealth doesn't matter relative to an eternity in heaven.

I did find this line from the Times humorous: "At the Life Christian Church in West Orange, N.J., prayer requests have doubled -- almost all of them aimed at getting or keeping jobs." Yes, all we need is a divine stimulus package.


17 December 2008

A Profile in Influence: The Family Research Council

By Gina Liggett

The next in my profiles of religious right organizations is the Family Research Council, founded by James Dobson of Focus and the Family and headed by Tony Perkins.

The Family Research Council (FRC) doesn't even pretend to be an "educational" organization. Its intent has always been to change the culture to comply with their religious perspective through passing legislation at the federal and state levels:

Since its inception in 1983, Family Research Council has been shaping public policy, as it relates to our nation's families and our religious freedoms, in Washington D.C. and in state capitals across the country. We have successfully crafted and promoted policy initiatives..
There is so much going on with this organization, that I almost don't know where to begin. But let's start with their "25 Pro-Family Policy Goals."

Before the 2008 election, he FRC encouraged pastors to pass around their 25-point proposal for a new America. This booklet contains so many proposals to regulate our most private lives, that it's beyond the scope of this post to describe it in detail. Needless to say, it is worth reading to get the impact of how broadly the Family Research Council is targeting their efforts. Below is a sampling of some of the FRC's goals in summary form:
  • Prohibit embryonic stem-cell research.
  • Prohibit women from voluntarily donating their eggs for research or to infertile couples.
  • Ensure that pro-abortion judges (whom they call "activist") are not appointed.
  • Further restrict access to abortion.
  • Support "faith-based" programs in prisons.
  • Require the teaching of "creationism" in the schools as a companion to the teaching of the facts of evolution.
  • Censor the publication of adult pornography to "protect children."
  • Require the teaching of "abstinence before marriage."
  • Pass and uphold state and federal constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
  • Promote the maintaining of a marriage through the manipulation of divorce laws.
  • Prohibit gays from joining the military.
What is striking about the Family Research Council's approach in selling their plan is the scare tactics and disinformation they use to justify their proposals. For example, in their recommendations that restrict access to abortion, they claim that women are not being given proper informed consent before their procedure:
The failure to provide information concerning the risks of abortion for women's reproductive and overall health represents a major gap in the promotion of true health care.
This is just a laughable and flagrant falsehood, as there are already very strict regulations and ethical requirements concerning informed consent about any surgical-type procedure. And Planned Parenthood, enemy number one at the FRC, educates its clients about all their options concerning pregnancy, including those preferred by the religious right.

Another example is the FRC's distorting claims about embryonic stem-cell research:
The claims made for embryonic stem cells are wildly oversold and exaggerated, and cruelly give patients and their loved ones false hope. Meanwhile, the real facts about their potential are ignored or distorted. In 27 years of embryonic stem cell research, not a single patient has been treated.
This is a ludicrous statement. There is absolutely no false promises being made whatsoever. The science explicitly brands itself as being in the "early stages" of basic biological research in the field.

And as a science-based, fact-based education will teach you (as opposed to one based on mythical stories like creationism), it is a long, arduous road from basic biological research to actual application of treating disease. Moreover, President Bush implemented one of the religious right's favorite policies by restricting federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research back in the early 2000s, slowing the whole process down.

Besides the FRC's basic 25-point framework, this organization has begun to change its strategy. Not deterred by the underwhelming support for religious candidates and initiatives this November, the FRC has already begun to broaden their base of support beyond the Republican Party. The FRC's plan is stated in a new book, "Personal Faith Public Policy," by Harry R. Jackson, Jr. and Tony Perkins:
While some argue that evangelicals lose influence when they fail to vote as a bloc for a particular political party, the ability to seed both parties and operate as a political 'free agent' could prove to have a much greater impact on actual public policy.
In their book, they advocate expanding FRC's influence beyond the traditional so-called "pro-family" activities to: "immigration policy, poverty and social justice, racial reconciliation, and global warming."

The Family Research Council is soliciting a $250,000 matching donation. They have the money -- they have the determination -- they have the networking -- and they have a broadening political strategy to foster a new America in their religious image. Let's keep our eyes and ears out for this group, and counter their influence with pro-reason and pro-reality values.


15 December 2008

Abortion Rights are Pro-Life

By Unknown

Leonard Peikoff's classic essay Abortion Rights are Pro-Life is a must-read for anyone interested in the philosophic basis of abortion rights. The op-ed begins:

Thirty years after Roe V. Wade, no one defends the right to abortion in fundamental, moral terms, which is why the pro-abortion rights forces are on the defensive.

Abortion-rights advocates should not cede the terms "pro-life" and "right to life" to the anti-abortionists. It is a woman's right to her life that gives her the right to terminate her pregnancy.

Nor should abortion-rights advocates keep hiding behind the phrase "a woman's right to choose." Does she have the right to choose murder? That's what abortion would be, if the fetus were a person.
So what's the proper defense of abortion? Read the whole op-ed to learn. For a more detailed defense of Dr. Peikoff's approach to abortion rights, see Ari Armstrong's and my issue paper Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person, particularly the section on "Personhood and the Right to Abortion."


12 December 2008

Secular Right

By Unknown

Via this Volokh Conspiracy post, I recent found a new group blog for conservative non-believers: Secular Right. They describe their views as follows:

We believe that conservative principles and policies need not be grounded in a specific set of supernatural claims. Rather, conservatism serves the ends of “Human Flourishing,” what the Greeks termed Eudaimonia. Secular conservatism takes the empirical world for what it is, and accepts that the making of it the best that it can be is only possible through our faculties of reason.
While I'm sure that I'll find much to disagree with, that sounds better than the usual political fare!


10 December 2008

Dobson Insists on Faith-Based Politics

By Ari

(Reposted:) James Dobson of Focus on the Family makes two main argument in a recent posting that was brought to my attention by 5280 magazine. First, the religious right didn't really lose in the last election, and second, the religious right should continue to make explicitly religious arguments to advance their faith-based politics.

As I've pointed out, the religious right got trounced in Colorado. Voters rejected McCain and his evangelical running mate, picked a United States Senator who penned a particularly eloquent defense of the separation of church and state, ousted a House member known for her faith-based views, rejected an anti-abortion candidate for state senate, and defeated the "personhood" initiative (which Dobson endorsed) by 73 to 27 percent. The religious right hardly could have taken a worse beating.

To "refute" this obvious fact, Dobson points out that voters in "California, Florida and Arizona voted to define marriage in their constitutions as the union of one man and one woman..." But that hardly proves Dobson's point. Defining marriage as heterosexual is hardly the same thing as endorsing the religious right's vicious anti-homosexual agenda. It is common to want to restrict "marriage" to heterosexual couples and still confer full legal rights to homosexual couples. In this case, many voters side with the religious right by coincidence.

Dobson simply ignores all of the other electoral outcomes.

But here is the more substantive point: Dobson calls on Christians to attempt to enforce their distinctly religious views through politics. Dobson rejects Barack Obama's stance that political policies must be based on "some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.” Dobson calls on Christians to reject the "invitation for believers to show up, but then only to be allowed to make arguments that are not based in their deepest beliefs."

And what are Dobson's priorities? "We will continue to stand up for the sanctity of human life, the sacredness of marriage and the right to have a say in the principles that will continue to guide this nation founded on biblical principles."

Banning abortion is his first priority; discriminating against homosexuals is his second. (No serious person protests Dobson's right of free speech; that's hardly the issue.) And Dobson frankly admits that both these causes are particularly religious in nature. With an agenda like that, it's no wonder that most Americans (particularly in the Interior West) have rejected the faith-based politics of Dobson and the Republican Party.


08 December 2008

Focus Offers Obama Nightmare

By Ari

(Reposted:) Westword pointed to a document from Focus on the Family titled, "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America." I figured I'd take a peek.

The document purports to describe events that could happen. "Many of our freedoms have been taken away by a liberal Supreme Court and a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate," the letter predicts. How might this happen?

Obama could select three Supreme Court justices who are "far-Left, American Civil Liberties Union-oriented judges." (Apparently the ACLU is still a scare word in some circles.) What is the harm in that? Does Focus on the Family worry about eroded economic liberties? Eroded personal liberties? After all, the purported concern of the letter is freedom.

The answer is no:

The most far-reaching transformation of American society came from the Supreme Court's stunning affirmation, in early 2010, that homosexual "marriage" was a "constitutional" right that had to be respected by all 50 states because laws barring same-sex "marriage" violated the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The first thing to notice is that such a ruling would in no way restrict "our freedoms" in any way, unless by "freedom" Focus on the Family means the freedom for the majority to impose controls on the minority. Such a ruling would expand the freedoms of some. My freedom is in no way restricted if my gay friends get married. This hardly raises a blip on the Scarometer.

I am not much concerned whether gay couples go the route of "marriage" or "domestic partnership." But what is interesting is that this is the top concern of Focus on the Family, even though such a ruling would have no practical significance for the day-to-day lives of most Americans.

The Court might also further violate rights of contract and free association in the name of anti-discrimination. Obviously I'm against that. However, conservatives have hardly taken a consistent position on the matter.

Government-school training on the virtues of homosexuality? I doubt it. If it were a problem, the solution is to separate school and state. But, generally, evangelicals have been more interested in capturing tax-funded schools for their own purposes, not restoring liberty in education. Those who want school prayer and the tax-funded teaching of creationism can hardly whine when their opponents want to capture the same system for their own purposes.

"There are no more Roman Catholic or evangelical Protestant adoption agencies in the United States." It's unclear to me why religious organizations should have the "freedom" to place children according to religious doctrine. Those organizations don't own the children.

Outlawing "offensive" speech from the Bible? Well, if the justices are ACLU types, we hardly need to worry about that. The irony of the evangelical movement whining about censorship is palpable. The evangelical movement poses the much more dangerous threat to free speech.

Controls on doctors? Again with the hypocrisy. Hello! Focus on the Family wants to throw doctors in prison -- or worse -- for performing abortions. I share the concern about controls on association and contract. But the religious right hardly offers a better alternative than the left.

Focus on the Family's concern with fertility treatments is especially laughable. Remember that Focus praised Amendment 48, which would outlaw most fertility treatments because they involve the destruction of fertilized eggs.

Focus on the Family then tries to argue that outlawing abortion and censoring pornography is somehow consistent with freedom. Notice that, in the same document, the same organization laments censorship of religious speech even as it advocates censorship on religious grounds.

For demographic reasons -- evangelicals tend to be more rural and suburban -- the religious right sides with gun ownership. Well, that's great. But in the general context of faith-based politics, such a right is practically meaningless, as the greatest threat to our liberty is the government.

Focus on the Family worries about Obama's foreign policy and health policy. But of course George W. Bush, the evangelical president, was a complete disaster on both fronts. (Bush did allow Health Savings Accounts, but at the cost of a massive expansion of health entitlements.)

The letter's closing paragraph states, "I still believe God is sovereign over all history, and though I don't know why he has allowed these events, it is still his purpose that will ultimately be accomplished." In other words, all of this concern expressed by Focus on the Family about freedom is merely a front. The organization doesn't fundamentally care about freedom; it cares about seeing God's alleged will imposed on earth.


05 December 2008

Is the U.S. a Christian Nation?

By Unknown

Sociologist Dr. William Martin -- the author of the excellent history of the rise of the religious right, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America -- recently debated the question Is the US a Christian Nation? on Opposing Views.

Dr. Martin's careful approach to the debate is exemplified in his first comment -- What Do You Mean By That? -- in which he clarifies the question and his position.


03 December 2008

The World Of The Framers: A Christian Nation?

By Unknown

What were the religious views of the major Founding Fathers? University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone answers that question in this excellent podcast. The description reads:

The World Of The Framers: A Christian Nation?

It has become commonplace in American political discourse for Christian evangelicals to assert that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation" and that in recent decades secularists have gained control and distorted our nation's founding traditions and values. In this lecture, Professor Geoffrey Stone examines the beliefs of the Framers on this question. What did they think about Christianity, about the role of Christianity in the American nation, and about the relationship between religion generally and self-governance? The answers to these questions are important not only to constitutional interpretation, but even more fundamentally to an understanding of who we are -- and who we are supposed to be -- as a nation. Geoffrey Stone is Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School. This talk was recorded April 21, 2008 as part of the Chicago's Best Ideas lecture series.


01 December 2008

Christian Law = Hell on Earth

By Unknown

The American legal system is built on a foundation of respect for individual rights, particularly the rights of life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

Unfortunately, that foundation is only very imperfectly understood and even more poorly implemented. Throughout the history of America, the principle of rights has been corrupted to varying degrees by statist ideals -- worst of all by slavery but also by collectivist claims for the sacrifice of individuals to "the common good," environmentalist demands to sacrifice human life and values to pristine nature, and much more.

Today's list of violations of individual rights is as long as the Federal Register and then some. Yet despite those corruptions, some core respect for individual rights -- for the fact that each individual ought to be free to use his own resources as he sees fit, based on his own independent judgment, without forcible interference from others -- remains in our legal system.

Unfortunately, many Christians seek to inject Christian principles into the American legal system. Christians on the right seek to outlaw abortion and prevent gays from marrying. Christians on the left seek to tax the rich to care for the poor. Neither of those schemes is consistent with the principles of individual rights. Consequently, I -- and the Coalition for Secular Government -- oppose them. However, those schemes are child's play compared to the attempt to wholly remake the American legal system according to Biblical law. For a sample of what that view would entail, read this blog post from Dani, a self-described "right-wing Christian fanatic":

This is how it should be according to the Bible if this were truly a Christian Nation:

YOU SHALL NOT MURDER: Judges will execute those convicted of murder (Gen. 9:6; Ex. 21:12-14; 20:13; Lev. 24:17, 21; Num. 35:16-21, 31; Deut. 19:11-13; 1Ki. 18:22, 39-40; 1 Tim. 1:8-10) including those euthanizing, starving, or aborting (Ex. 21:22-23) human beings from the moment of fertilization to natural death. Judges will flog those guilty of assault and impose restitution for lost income and medical expenses (Ex. 21:18-19), and for permanent injury also require an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, life for life (Lev. 24:19-20). Judges will carry out all corporal and capital punishments swiftly and painfully, within twenty-four hours of conviction; and limit floggings to forty blows (Deut. 25:1-3; Lev. 24:19-20; 19:16-21; 1 Pet. 2:20). Judges will not convict for the use of force in defense of property and the innocent, in escalation to match the perceived threat up to lethal force; nor for purely accidental homicide (Deut. 19:4); will execute those guilty of negligent homicide (Ex. 21:28-30; Deut. 22:8); and flog those who could have avoided otherwise accidental homicide, and anyone committing revenge killing (Num. 35:26-27) of those guilty of capital crimes.

YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY: Judges will execute those convicted of bestiality (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16); those convicted of incest including with in-laws (Lev. 11-12, 14-15, 17, 19-21); of homosexual acts (Lev. 18:22, 29; 20:13); of child molestation; of kidnapping or rape (Ex. 21:15-16; Deut. 22:25-27; 24:7); and of adultery with a married woman (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22; Ex. 20:14). Judges will flog those convicted of fornication; of public use of vulgar sexual and excretory language; of sexually suggestive dress or behavior; of intoxication; and of possession of pornography. Judges will flog more severely those convicted of transvestism; of public nudity; and of distributing pornography. And judges will flog more severely still those convicted of prostitution; of producing pornography for any use; and of sexual acts in public places.

YOU SHALL NOT STEAL: Judges will flog and require restitution for convicted thieves, negligent recipients of stolen goods, and those who violate contracts (Deut. 25:1‑3). Judges will impose double restitution for recovered goods, the return of the goods plus one-hundred percent value (Ex. 22:4, 7-9; 20:15); quadruple for destroyed or sold goods; quintuple for intellectual, irreplaceable and sentimental goods (Ex. 22:1); seven times for insignificant goods (Prov. 6:30-31); and twenty percent for voluntarily surrendered goods (Lev. 6:1-7). The judge shall impose corporal punishment and life for life penalties for collateral damage from any crime, including bodily injury resulting from the destruction of property which warrants greater than even restitution. A person or his resources causing unforeseeable or unavoidable property damage including by natural disaster without negligence shall pay no restitution, or with negligence shall pay even restitution. Persons taking shared risk shall pay mutual restitution (Ex. 21:32-36; Lev. 24:18). Avoidable accident without negligence, including the malfunction of a maintained resource requires even restitution but with negligence, including by a neglected resource demands double restitution. Gross negligence requires quadruple restitution and intentional destruction demands quintuple restitution. Excepting those executed, judges will sentence those who cannot pay restitution, to indentured servitude for up to seven years with the victim receiving all service or earnings.

YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS: Judges will punish those convicted of perjury, false confession, credible threat, conspiracy, abbeting, attempt, fully as though they had personally committed the crime (Deut. 19:16-21; 2 Sam. 1:15-16; Ex. 20:16). Judges will flog and impose restitution on those convicted of slander. Judges will flog those in contempt of court, and execute those guilty of treason and violators of court orders which protect victims (Deut. 17:12-13). A man is not innocent until proven guilty. He is guilty the moment he commits a crime, but presumed innocent (Deut. 22:22-27) in court until convicted. Convicting the innocent and acquitting the guilty are equally unjust (Pro. 17:15). A judge at his discretion, suspends the rights of liberty including the use of weapons, for the credibly accused, and mandatorily confines one facing a likely sentence of maiming or capital punishment, until the rendering of a verdict. Reasonable evidence from two or three witnesses, whether from eyewitnesses, physical, or strong circumstantial evidence, shall suffice for conviction; individual rights shall not supersede the judge's God-given right to impose punishment on the guilty. Judges shall not grant nor have special immunity from prosecution; shall not give more lenient punishment to minors; shall not give special recognition to lawyers or experts in the law; may observe and advise other judges during trial; shall not allow witnesses to swear or give an oath (James 5:12, Mat. 5:34-37; 2 Cor. 1:17); and shall question witnesses directly. Judges shall not accept no-contest pleas or bargains; shall punish criminals for all collateral damage; shall permit witnesses and victims to participate in punishment (Deut. 13:9; 17:7); and shall show no mercy to the guilty (Num. 35:31; Deut. 19:13, 21; Pro. 6:30-31).

America's Criminal Code shall be enforced by the King as authorized in The Constitution of America.
Dani is right about one thing: that's what it would mean for America to be a "Christian nation." And that's why all freedom-loving people -- whether Christian or not -- must fight to strengthen the respect for individual rights in the American legal system. If American law is remade in the image of scripture, the result would be the worst kind of tyrannical hell on earth.


28 November 2008

Ted Haggard in the Pulpit Again

By Unknown

Ted Haggard -- the disgraced figure of the religious right from Colorado Springs -- has returned to the pulpit:

Earlier this month, a guest took the pulpit at Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill., a 350-member church surrounded by cornfields. The speaker was an insurance salesman from Colorado named Ted Haggard.

The former superstar pastor, disgraced two years ago in a sex-and-drugs scandal, had returned — this time as a Christian businessman preaching a message that was equal parts contrition and defiance. Haggard linked his fall to being molested in second grade and apologized again.

His two sermons were posted, fleetingly, on Haggard's Web site under one word: "Alive!"

While his exact plans remain unclear, Haggard is unmistakably making himself a public figure again, nine months after his former church said he walked away from an oversight process meant to restore him.
Christian ethics are impossible to practice. Jesus explicitly demands that a person renounce all the values that make life on earth possible: reason, wealth, planning, pleasure, justice, and more. As a result, the worst kind of power-lusting fakers -- like Ted Haggard -- are sure to rise to the heights of power. Only they can maintain the necessary fraud. And like his disgraced predecessors, Ted Haggard can't seem to let go of his once-great power to bend people to his dishonest will.


26 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

By Unknown

Happy Thanksgiving!

Although I'm deeply concerned for the future of America -- particularly for the lack of respect for individual rights in all corners of the culture -- I'm deeply grateful to live in a country with a tradition of respect for a person's choice in basic beliefs, including those concerning religion. So tomorrow, I will openly celebrate Thanksgiving as a purely secular holiday, in the company of my other openly secular friends, without a prayer to God heard at any time. In many other times and places past, that would not have been possible.

For that liberty, I thank the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, particularly for the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."


24 November 2008

Religious Right Is Set Back

By Gina Liggett

The Religious Right has been trying to breach the wall of separation of church and state for 30 years, and has enjoyed especially close access to the White House during the two Bush Administrations. They have achieved significant successes: Bush's faith-based initiatives, the partial-birth abortion ban, the passage of parental-notification laws, the Bush appointments of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and the constitutional amendments against gay marriage just passed in Florida, Arizona and California. There are doubtlessly many other successes I've left out, especially at the state and local level.

But this election, there have been some defeats; and I think it is important to highlight them in the battle between those who want to create a Christian theocracy and those who value not only religious liberty, but freedom from religious-based morality.

The first is the significant rejection by Colorado voters of Amendment 48. The passage of that amendment would have granted full legal rights to a fertilized egg, resulting in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and the opening of a Pandora's box of legal wrangling over everything from birth control to fertility treatments to inheritance rights.

Washington state passed the nation's second assisted suicide law in the country. Now individuals who are suffering and who rationally decide to end their life with dignity have more opportunity to do so humanely. This is a "right-to-life" issue: the right to choose to control your life, and that includes ending interminable suffering. Evangelicals who want to prevent people from taking their own life into their own hands are deeply "anti-life."

Another attempt to severely ban abortion in South Dakota failed. Proponents tried to make a previous draconian abortion bill more palatable by allowing rape and incest victims or women in danger for their health to have an abortion if necessary. For anti-abortion Christians to decide on behalf of a woman what reason is good enough to justify an abortion is a negation of her right to life. An fetus has no rights to a woman's body without her consent under any circumstances.

Finally, candidates favored by the Religious Right suffered some losses at the polls. In five of eight Senate races, the Religious Right's favorite candidate lost (Colorado, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Dakota); and two races are in a run-off (Georgia and Minnesota). In eleven races for the the House, six incumbent Representatives favored by the Religious Right were ousted (Colorado, Florida, Idaho, North Carolina, Michigan and Virginia). And three incumbents held off religious challengers (Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania). This means that it will be more difficult for evangelicals to forcibly decide for all of us that we should abide by a biblical morality.

While we must be ever-vigilant in upholding this most sacred of principles--the Separation of Church and State--these defeats of the Religious Right show that it can be done.


21 November 2008

Paul Hsieh LTE on Compassionate Conservatism in WSJ

By Paul Hsieh

The November 14, 2008 Wall Street Journal printed my LTE supporting the November 7, 2008 OpEd that former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey wrote on the future of the Republican Party.

His piece was: "'Compassionate' Conservatism Was a Mistake"

My LTE (no longer available online) read as follows:

Compassionate Conservatism Is Dead. What's Next?

Dick Armey is right. Americans still want small government. Voters in Colorado rejected three tax measures to provide more social programs "for the children." But they also resoundingly rejected the antiabortion Amendment 48 (which would declare a fertilized egg a legal "person") and defeated pro-life conservative Republicans Marilyn Musgrave and Bob Schaffer.

This indicates that the Republicans would do well by turning away from the divisive "social conservative" agenda favored by the religious right and instead reaffirm limited government, fiscal responsibility and individual rights.

Otherwise, the Republicans will continue to alienate many young and independent voters and continue to lose elections.

Paul Hsieh
Sedalia, Colo.


19 November 2008

How The GOP Lost My Vote

By Paul Hsieh

The November 13, 2008 Denver Post has published my OpEd on the Republican Party.

"How the GOP lost my vote"
Paul Hsieh

After a resounding electoral defeat, in which voters in this once-red state rejected Republicans McCain, Schaffer, and Musgrave, the Colorado Republican Party will undoubtedly be asking themselves, "Why did we lose?"

I want to let them know that they lost the vote of many former supporters (including myself) because they have chosen to embrace the Religious Right.

I voted Republican in 1996, 2000, and 2004. I believe in limited government, individual rights, free market capitalism, a strong national defense, and the right to keep and bear arms - positions that one normally associates with Republicans.

But I didn't vote for a single Republican in 2008. I've become increasingly alienated by the Republicans" embrace of the religious "social conservative" agenda, including attempts to ban abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage.

The Founding Fathers correctly recognized that the proper function of government is to protect individual rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But freedom of religion also implies freedom *from* religion. As Thomas Jefferson famously put it, there should be a "wall of separation" between church and state. Public policy should not be based on religious doctrines.

Instead, the government's role is to protect each person's right to practice his or her religion as a private matter and to forbid them from forcibly imposing their particular views on others. And this is precisely why I find the Republican Party's embrace of the Religious Right so dangerous.

If a woman chooses not to have an abortion for reasons of personal faith, then I completely respect her right to do so. But she cannot impose her particular religious views on others. Other women must have the same right to decide that deeply personal issue for themselves.

The Religious Right's goal of outlawing abortions would violate that important right, and sacrifice the lives of actual women for clumps of cells that are only potential (but not yet actual) human beings, based on religious dogma. As a physician, I find that position abhorrent and deeply anti-life.

In his October 24, 2008 radio broadcast, Rush Limbaugh told pro-choice secular supporters of limited government such as myself that we should leave the Republican Party. Many of us have already taken his advice and changed our affiliation to "independent."

The Republican Party stands at an important crossroads. The Republican Party could choose to follow the principles of the American Founding Fathers and promote a limited government that protected individual rights but otherwise left people alone to live their lives.

This includes affirming the principle of the separation of church and state. If they did so, I would happily support it.

Or the Republican Party could instead choose to become the party of the Religious Right and seek to forcibly impose the religious values of one particular constituency over others (thus violating everyone else's rights).

In that case, it will continue to alienate many voters and lose elections -- and deservedly so.

Even though I no longer regard myself as a Republican, I definitely regard myself as a loyal American.

My parents immigrated legally from Taiwan to America over 40 years ago. They had very little money, but they worked hard, sent two children to college and medical school, and are now enjoying a well-earned and comfortable retirement.

Their life has been a real-life embodiment of the American dream. America is a beacon of hope to millions of people around the world precisely because our system of government allows honest, hard-working people to prosper and thrive.

Our system is a testament to the genius of the Founding Fathers, who recognized that the proper function of government is to protect individual rights, such as our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Hence, I believe the Republican Party should choose the first path - the path of limited government, separation of church and state, and protection of individual rights.

This is the America that brought my parents from a ocean away in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children. This is the America I want to live in. And this is the America I want the Republican Party to stand for.

Paul Hsieh is a practicing physician in the south Denver metro area and co-founder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (FIRM). He lives in Sedalia.


17 November 2008

LTE: The Republican Party Has Gone Bankrupt

By Gina Liggett

My following letter to the editor was published in the Denver Post Editorial page of November 15 in response to David Harsanyi's column, "Getting out of the Republican coma."

I would like to add to David Harsanyi's comments about Republicans needing renewed idealism and intellectualism. To put it bluntly, the Republican Party is bankrupt. Their "statism-lite" support of the massive growth in government is a pathetic imitation of the the sacred policies of the left. And their hijacking by the religious right has turned them into "theocrat-lite." There is nothing of the idealism of limited government and individual liberty -- policies they give only lip service to. They deserve the whooping they got; and as an advocate of reason, individual liberty and laissez-faire capitalism, I'm hoping that out of the ashes will emerge a leader who won't let America go down in flames.

Gina Liggett, Denver


14 November 2008

Southern Baptist Convention: For the Separation of Church and State, But...

By Gina Liggett

The next in my series of profiles of the Religious Right is the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The Southern Baptist Convention, with a yearly revenue over $200 million dollars, represents over 42,000 Baptist churches in the U.S., holds an annual convention, and sponsors missionary campaigns all over the world to spread their gospel and build more Baptist churches. The Southern Baptists explicitly lay out their basic beliefs, such as the Bible being written by divinely-inspired men, that those who accept Christ as their savior will go to Heaven and those who don't will go to Hell, and that a "wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband," etc, etc.

The Southern Baptist stance on "Religious Liberty" is this: "Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal."

Even Richard Land, the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, speaks like a strong advocate of church-state separation -- but not because he's a man of reason, but because it would ultimately threaten religious belief: "I do not want state-sponsored religion, because state-sponsored religion destroys religion. And it interferes with what I call, and Pope John Paul II called, the 'sacred sanctuary of the soul.' No government has a right to interfere with a person’s relationship with God."

That ideal would be compatible with what the Founding Fathers wrote in the freedom-of-religion clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. But actions speak louder than words. And Richard Land and his Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission have been on the front lines of the religious invasion of Republican Party politics for years.

Joining other Religious Right activists' frustration with getting the Republicans to advance their public policy agenda, Richard Land said in 1998: "The go-along, get-along strategy is dead. No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage."

It was time for the Religious Right to consolidate their forces and push the Republican party to impose Christian morals on society by outlawing abortion, censoring pornography, prohibiting marriage between homosexual adults, reintroducing prayer in the schools, obtaining tax deferrals for tuition at religious and private schools, and eliminating financial support for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Looking to the 2000 election, Land said, "It's time for candidates who will not only work with us, but for candidates who are us." Well, they got their man, George W. Bush, and Richard Land couldn't be happier with the results: "There's no question this is the most receptive White House to our concerns and to our perspective of any White House that I've dealt with, and I've dealt with every White House from Reagan on." The Bush administration has been right in step with what the Southern Baptists claim the bible says about their most significant social issues of "abortion,.. homosexuality,.. [and] anti-obscenity enforcement."

Much to their dismay, the Bush administration is over. The fact remains that the Southern Baptists are blatant hypocrites when comes to their dogma about religious freedom. Despite their self-interested credo supporting the separation of church and state, they nonetheless have deeply entrenched themselves within the Republican political machinery to impose a religious morality on all Americans. Consider Land's own words about the Religious Right's fight against gay marriage:

We believe that marriage is a divinely ordained institution... In a representative democracy like the United States, if we believe that certain lifestyles should be affirmed and other lifestyles should be merely tolerated, we have a right to have that made into law. And that's not called a theocracy... We want a federal marriage amendment to keep the judiciary from forcing a secularist agenda on this country that this country does not want in the area of marriage. The only way to protect ourselves from that, given the current power of the judiciary, is to trump the judiciary by passing an amendment to the Constitution, which is aimed like a rifle -- not a shotgun, but a rifle -- at same-sex union.
What could better exemplify not only this hypocrisy but what Ayn Rand calls the corollaries of faith and force? The Southern Baptists have lost their poster-boy, but they haven't lost the will to fight. And neither should we.


12 November 2008

Paul Hsieh's Letter to the Editor on the Republican Party

By Paul Hsieh

In the wake of their massive 2008 electoral defeat, the Republican Party is going through a process of self-examination.

Some Republicans, such as former House Majority leader Dick Armey (now chairman of FreedomWorks) are arguing that the Republicans should turn away from the agenda of the Religious Right, and instead stand for small government and fiscal responsibility.

Mr. Armey states his case in this November 7, 2008 OpEd in the Wall Street Journal, "'Compassionate' Conservatism Was a Mistake".

Other Republicans, such as former Congressman J.C. Watts (at one time the number 4 ranking Republican in the House), argue that the Republican Party needs to cater more to the Religious Right.

Mr. Watts states his case in this November 9, 2008 OpEd in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Winning football and winning politics".

I believe that Dick Armey is on the right track and J.C. Watts is on the wrong track. Hence, I was pleased when the November 11, 2008 Las Vegas Review-Journal printed my LTE on this topic (fourth one down the page):

GOP recipe

J.C. Watts is prescribing the exact wrong formula for the Republican Party's problems (Review-Journal, Nov. 9).

I'm an independent voter who supports strong national defense, fiscal responsibility and individual rights (including Second Amendment rights). But I did not vote Republican in 2008 precisely because of their alliance with the Religious Right.

Americans still want small government. In my home "swing" state of Colorado, voters rejected three tax increases to provide more social programs "for the children." But they also resoundingly rejected the anti-abortion Amendment 48 (which would declare a fertilized egg a legal "person") and defeated pro-life conservative Republicans Marilyn Musgrave and Bob Schaffer.

If Republicans reaffirmed the principles of limited government and separation of church and state, then I'd be happy to support them again. But if they stay in bed with the Religious Right, they will continue to alienate many independent voters and lose elections. And deservedly so.



10 November 2008

Time to Speak

By Unknown

GOP aims to rebuild, refocus:

Colorado Republicans, sifting through the ashes of three disastrous election cycles, are in the midst of a vigorous debate over how to win again in a state where their future looks bleak.

That struggle is likely to play out over the next few months, key players say, starting with a fight over the party's leadership.

Insiders say big defeats Tuesday at the presidential, Senate and House levels could play out two ways: an invigorating period of rebuilding and new ideas or a divisive fight over the party's direction that could debilitate it for years.
The Democrats might be the big winners in 2008, but advocates of individual rights should take advantage of the Republican defeat by clearly and forcefully arguing for a separation of the GOP from Jesus. You can tell your state and local Republican Party officials that they will continue to lose elections unless they reject the theocratic ambitions of the religious right.

To win, the GOP must become the party that champions fiscal responsibility and individual rights. More particularly, as Ari Armstrong has argued, the Republican Party can form a winning coalition based on (1) religious freedom, (2) freedom of speech, (3) free trade and economic freedom, (4) immigration sanity, and (5) a foreign policy for America. If the GOP does that, it might just recover from the evangelical legacy of "W."


06 November 2008

Election Results

By Unknown

Ari Armstrong has a great review of Colorado's election results vis-à-vis the religious right. In essence, "by hitching their party to the religious right, Republicans have driven themselves to overwhelming losses." I couldn't be happier about that!

In particular, Amendment 48 -- the measure that would have granted full legal rights to fertilized eggs -- was beaten by a stunning margin: 72% against and 27% in favor (91% of precincts reporting). That means that such "zygotes are people too" measures likely won't be tried again in the near future. Or, if they are, they likely won't gather much support.

I'm quite pleased with the small part that the Coalition for Secular Government played in the defeat of Amendment 48. Unlike the "No on 48" campaign, we focused on the fundamental philosophic issue, namely whether a zygote (or fetus) is a person. You can find the full list of our op-eds, letters, to the editor, and press releases at the bottom of this page. Our issue paper -- Amendment 48 is Anti-Life -- was downloaded over 3700 times.

Go read Ari's blog post for the full details, plus more good news for secular government in Colorado. Also, in another blog post, he argues that the Republican Party can create a new winning coalition -- if it embraces the right principles. I hope they're listening.


04 November 2008

Election Day

By Unknown

Today, voters will have their say on Colorado's Amendment 48. Whatever the outcome, I'm pleased with the Coalition for Secular Government's work against the measure, particularly given our limited resources. To see our full list of published writings, visit ColoradoVoteNo48.com. A few were published just recently, most notably a Rocky Mountain News op-ed yesterday.

I offer my hearty thanks to everyone who spoke out against Amendment 48. I particularly appreciate the tireless efforts of Ari Armstrong. His writings on faith and politics are at AriArmstrong.com.

Whatever the results on Amendment 48 -- and I very much hope that it is thoroughly defeated -- our work fighting for a secular government based on the principles of individual rights is far from over. The entrenched religious right and the emerging religious left will continue to push for faith-based violations of rights. The Coalition for Secular Government will oppose any and all such measures in its fight for a free society.


Op-Ed Against Amendment 48

By Unknown

My op-ed on abortion rights was published in the Rocky Mountain News yesterday. Here it is:

There's Nothing Wrong with Abortion, But 48 Is Wrong
By Diana Hsieh
November 3, 2008

On November 4th, voters in Colorado will face a stark moral choice: vote yea or nay on Amendment 48 to alter the "Definition of a Person" in our state Constitution. This amendment would grant fertilized eggs the legal standing of persons, including "inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law."

If fully implemented, all abortions would be outlawed in Colorado, including in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the woman's health. Any woman who terminated a pregnancy would be guilty of murder, subject to life in prison or the death penalty. Colorado would also ban forms of birth control preventing the implantation in the womb, including the birth control pill.

Roe v. Wade would not necessarily protect women against these ominous legal restrictions. Rather, supporters of the amendment hope to use it as grounds for challenging that landmark case in the Supreme Court -- or perhaps as fuel for a nationwide movement for a similar federal constitutional amendment.

Despite its draconian implications for reproductive freedom, this proposed amendment has gathered solid support from Colorado voters. Polls show that 35 percent favor it, 52 percent oppose it, and 14 percent are undecided.

Why such strong support? Over the past two decades, the religious right has effectively waged a holy war on abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent human life, they say. It violates an unborn child's right to life.

It is part of a "culture of death." Consequently, most Americans regard abortion as morally suspect except in those rare cases when a pregnancy threatens the woman's mental or physical health.

Yet the religious right's attacks on abortion are completely and utterly wrong. They evade the true meaning of the basic biological facts of pregnancy.

The opponents of abortion claim that embryos and fetuses have the same right to life as babies because they are distinct, living human beings. Certainly, a fetus is alive, not inert matter. It's also human--not canine or hippopotamus. Yet every distinct, living skin cell a person washes off in the shower also contains human DNA. A tumor is human tissue distinct from its host. The embryo or fetus is different because it's a potential human person. That human person will become actual at birth. Then, and only then, does this new person have a right to life.

The fetus is only a potential human person, even when well-developed, so long as in the womb. In the womb, it is not a biologically separate entity capable of independent action, like a baby. It exists as part of the woman carrying it, wholly contained within and dependent on her. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as she lives, as an extension of her body. A fetus cannot act independently to sustain its life, not even on the basic biological level possible to a day-old infant.

That situation changes radically at birth. A baby lives a life of its own.

Although still very needy, he maintains his own biological functions. He breathes his own air, digests his own food, and moves on his own. He interacts with other people as a creature in his own right, not merely as a part of a pregnant woman. He has a life of his own that must be protected as a matter of right.

The fundamental biological differences between a fetus and a baby show that a woman has every right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy--for any reason.

If an abortion will protect and further her own life and happiness, then she ought to pursue that option with a clear conscience.

That's why, to protect a woman's moral right to her own life and happiness, the people of Colorado must answer a resounding "NAY" to Amendment 48 tomorrow.

Diana Hsieh is founder of the Coalition for Secular Government.


03 November 2008

Burton Backtracks on Amendment 48

By Ari

Reposted:) As I've pointed out, Kristi Burton likes to pretend that Amendment 48 wouldn't have the nasty legal implications that her opponents claim.

But on October 14, Burton even backed away from her opposition to abortion, telling a crowd, "We're not saying outlaw abortion, do this, do that. It's simply a definition."

Apparently, Burton believes that Amendment 48 has a shot only if she lies about her intentions. The advocates of the measure most certainly are "saying outlaw abortion." Burton herself has said elsewhere that she sees Amendment 48 as an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.

What should we make of Burton's claim that Amendment 48 is "simply a definition?" As I wrote in an e-mail in reply to that question, "Amendment 48 would amend the Colorado constitution. Constitutional provisions are laws; they are laws of higher order than legislative statutes. If a statute contradicts a constitutional provision, courts will look to the constitution as the higher law. Many laws contain definitions, and the definitions are critical for how the law is interpreted and applied. So it's a mistake to think of Amendment 48 as merely a definition; it would add a definition to the state's constitution, thereby becoming part of the fundamental law that guides the passage and application of legislative statutes."

Of course, as Diana Hsieh and I point out in our paper, whether and to what extent Amendment 48 is implemented depends on federal as well as state court rulings. As Ed Quillen points out, neither the legislature nor the courts always follow existing constitutional language. However, in our paper Diana and I explain why that's hardly comforting:

The legislature and courts in Colorado might be strongly tempted to pretend that Amendment 48 doesn't mean what it plainly says in order to avoid its absurd implications. Such a course of legislative and judicial winking might save Colorado from the worst effects of the measure, but it would do so by undermining the basic principle of rule of law so essential to a free society.

Alternately, the Colorado legislature could try to rewrite the myriad statutes mentioning "person" or "persons" to exclude fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. However, anti-abortion lawyers could effectively challenge such legislative changes based on the constitutional language of Amendment 48. The measure would be subject to interpretation by Colorado courts, but those courts would be legally bound by the constitution, including Amendment 48.

If Amendment 48 passes, its exact effects would depend greatly on the decisions of future legislators and judges. However, we can be sure that the advocates of Amendment 48 will work doggedly to force the Colorado government to fully implement and enforce the measure.

As Burton demonstrates, "half the truth is a great lie." True, Amendment 48 would not automatically be enforced. However, the advocates of Amendment 48 have put it forward precisely because they want to outlaw abortion and in every other way legally protect a fertilized egg. For Burton to pretend otherwise proves only that she knows she cannot win an honest debate.


Amendment 48: Burton's Equivocation

By Ari

Reposted:) At least Kristi Burton and I agree on something: the tag line of "it simply goes to far" is a terrible critique of Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's constitution. Beyond that, Burton simply refuses to honestly discuss the implications of Amendment 48 or to answer her serious critics.

Burton writes for the October 18 Vail Daily:

It has been interesting to watch the strategy of the "no on 48" campaign. They know if they attempt to contend human life doesn’t begin at conception they’re arguing with virtually every geneticist and embryology textbook available. So instead, they take issue with the dictionary. They concede that human life begins at conception, but claim "personhood" doesn’t begin until some later, yet to be determined, date. They never come out and say it, but they assume it's OK to "terminate" a developing human until he or she reaches that undefined point of "personhood." If they simply pick up any dictionary and look up "person," they will find the definition: "A human being." That’s what it's meant for the last several centuries. "Person" and "human being" have always been the same thing, but the no on 48 folks plan to change all that. And, they do it as though no one should even question their totally illogical and false premise. They simply assume it's true and expect you to do the same.

But Diana Hsieh and I have directly addressed Burton's arguments. Burton cannot have failed to become aware of our paper, as Diana and I have promoted it widely in newspaper columns, letters, online comments to news articles, and the internet. For Burton to completely ignore our arguments reveals her intellectual dishonesty.

Notice Burton's progression: she claims that a fertilized egg is "human life," then she jumps to "person," which she equates with "human being." Burton's argument is incredibly rationalistic, so silly on its face that it obviously disguises her real motive for supporting the measure: she believes the Bible forbids abortion and that God has declared a fertilized egg to be a person, with all the same legal rights as you and me.

Obviously a fertilized egg is "human life." It is alive, and it contains human DNA. Every cell in our bodies is "human life" for the same reason. Burton is quite wrong in claiming that "human life" begins at conception; both the sperm cell and unfertilized egg are also human and alive. What Burton steadfastly refuses to consider are the very real biological differences between a fertilized egg and a born baby. Diana and I discuss these differences at length, and in the process we clearly define the beginning of personhood.

For the answer to Burton's claims, see pages 10-13 of our paper. First Diana and I point out Burton's equivocation:

[T]he advocates of Amendment 48 depend on an equivocation on "human being" to make their case. A fertilized egg is human, in the sense that it contains human DNA. It is also a "being," in the sense that it is an entity. That's also true of a gallbladder: it is human and it is an entity. Yet that doesn't make your gallbladder a human person with the right to life. Similarly, the fact that an embryo is biologically a human entity is not grounds for claiming that it's a human person with a right to life. Calling a fertilized egg a "human being" is word-play intended to obscure the vast biological differences between a fertilized egg traveling down a woman's fallopian tube and a born infant sleeping in a crib. It is intended to obscure the fact that anti-abortion crusaders base their views on scripture and authority, not science.

Here is the most relevant passage on personhood (sans citations):

[S]o long as the fetus remains within the woman, it is wholly dependent on her for its basic life-functions. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as she lives, as an extension of her body. It is wholly contained within and dependent on her for its survival. So if the woman dies, the fetus will die too unless delivered quickly. The same is true if the fetus's life-line to her body is disrupted, such as when the umbilical cord forms a tight knot. A fetus cannot act independently to sustain its life, not even on the basic biological level possible to a day-old infant. It is thoroughly dependent on the woman in which it lives.

That situation changes radically at birth. A baby lives his own life, outside his mother. Although still very needy, he maintains his own biological functions. He breathes his own air, digests his own food, and moves on his own. He interacts with other people as a whole and distinct creature in his own right, not merely as a part of a pregnant woman. He can leave his mother, either temporarily or permanently, to be cared for by someone else. He has a life of his own that must be protected as a matter of right, just the same as every other person. That's why the killing of a just-born infant is immoral -- and properly forbidden by law. However, while just a fetus within the woman, the only person with rights is the woman.

Recently Diana posted some comments by William Stoddard along the same lines:

Aside from the question of self-awareness, the other critical point is that the fetus does not meet a necessary condition for having individual rights: It is not an individual.

Individualism works, ethically, because we can draw a line of separation between individuals. It's possible to benefit one individual without doing so at the expense of another; individual rights provide a legal structure that makes such results not merely possible but reliable. We are not forced to trade off benefits to one individual against injuries to another. And what makes collectivism evil is that it does force such tradeoffs on us.

But if ever there was a case of collectivism in human existence, it's in the relationship between a pregnant woman and her unborn child. The fetus cannot be neutral with respect to the woman carrying it; its very existence alters her hormones, her entire physiology, and her emotional state. Even if the woman wants to be pregnant, it's all too possible, despite the achievements of medicine, for situations to arise where a benefit to the fetus entails harm to the mother, or vice versa, and where it's necessary to decide which benefit is more important. Trying to sort this out by applying the concept of individual rights just doesn't work.

And there's only one decision maker there: the pregnant woman. The fetus lacks sufficient rationality, purposefulness, and self-awareness to make choices. The pregnant woman has to decide where her priorities are. Some pregnant women will choose to take terrifying risks for the chance to have a child, and that's their right; they can say "Price no object" if they want. Others will abort, for whatever reason. Either way, they pay the price of their choices. Having someone else, who doesn't have to pay that price, make the decision for them, or tell them what they can and can't do, cannot be expected to produce better decisions.

Burton wishes us to forget the actual language of Amendment 48. It does not merely say, "We think a fertilized egg is human life" or even a person. Rather, it grants a fertilized egg the same rights to life, liberty, property, and due process of law that born babies have. Thus, it would have radical implications for the law. Burton pretends that the measure does not mean what it says. In her Vail Daily piece, she writes:

The rest of the arguments of the no on 48 campaign are designed to convince you the amendment will interfere with women's health care and cause women who have miscarriages to be carted off to jail. These scare tactics aren't true. Dottie Lamm and Linda Campbell go on at length about the possible affects of the amendment. They keep using the term, "it could" do this or that in their attempt to frighten voters.

The amendment merely extends protection to both mother and baby. It recognizes that women also are persons. I’m a woman and will probably marry and have children someday. Would I help create a law intended to unduly endanger myself?

Here we move on from Burton's Equivocation to Burton's Bifurcation. As I've pointed out at length, Burton simultaneously wants to claim that Amendment 48 would lay the basis for banning abortion, but that it would not lead to other nasty implications. Yet, if a fertilized egg is a person, with all the same legal rights as a born infant, and if such a definition is legally enforced, then the logical implications are these: all abortion must be banned, even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and health risks that are not immediately life-threatening to the woman; all forms of birth control that may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus must be banned; all fertility treatments that may result in the destruction of fertilized eggs must be banned; and all abortions and intentional miscarriages must be criminally prosecuted. Burton keeps repeating that these implications are "scare tactics" that "aren't true." Yet they are logical implications of Amendment 48, and Burton has never offered a single argument otherwise.

Burton does let slip a concession, however: notice that Amendment 48 would not "unduly endanger" her life. What does that mean? It means that, if doctors believe that failure to abort necessarily would kill the woman, and they don't fear criminal prosecution if they abort, then Amendment 48 likely would permit the abortion. However, as I've pointed out, rarely are risks so clear cut. Amendment 48 would endanger the health and lives of some women; whether that endangerment is "undue" would depend on how the legislature and courts decided the criminality of abortion. There can be no doubt that, in some cases, Amendment 48 would result in the deaths of women.

While Amendment 48 certainly is no laughing matter, I did get a chuckle over Burton's projection:

Resorting to repetitive use of a meaningless phrase is a propaganda tactic commonly employed when there is no substance to an argument. Opponents of 48 are hoping for what psychologists call a "conditioned response." You step into the voting booth and when you see Amendment 48 that little phrase automatically jumps into your head and you vote no.

Changing "opponents" to "advocates" and "no" to "yes," that pretty much summarizes Burton's case for Amendment 48.


01 November 2008

Amendment 48 Sponsor Hedges on Implications

By Ari

Reposted:) A recent debate about Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's constitution, pit the obfuscater against the appeaser, as a story by David Montero of the Rocky Mountain News makes clear. We begin with Kristi Burton, the measure's sponsor:

She criticized those who argue that her amendment would create a legal morass because the word "person" appears in more than 20,000 state statutes.

"A definition doesn't have that power," she said. "A definition lays down the foundation . . . but it doesn't guarantee any particular result."

Yet Burton has made clear that her intention with Amendment 48 is to ban abortion except to save the life of the woman. So clearly she does think that a mere definition -- in reality a fundamental change in the state constitution -- can "have that power," contingent on federal changes.

If Amendment 48 can ban abortion based on the legal fiction that a fertilized egg is a person, then it can also do all the other things that Diana Hsieh and I outline in our paper, Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life." It can ban the birth control pill and other forms of birth control that can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. It can ban fertility treatments that often involve the destruction or freezing of fertilized eggs. It can ban medical research involving fertilized eggs. And it can subject women and their doctors to criminal prosecution for obtaining an abortion or intentionally causing a miscarriage. These are not merely hypothetical scare stories; they are logical implications. True, the amendment may not be consistently interpreted or enforced, and its implementation depends on federal changes, as Diana and I write in the paper, but if the measure is implemented those other consequences naturally follow.

Against Burton, Pat Steadman said, "I think it's hard to imagine there not being unintended consequences." That response is pathetic. First, the consequence that even Burton openly advocates -- a near-complete ban on abortion -- is horrific. It would massively violate the rights of women of reproductive age, along with their partners and doctors, and it would lead to police-state controls. It would force women to bring to term pregnancies even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and health risks -- that is, when the health risks did not cause the woman to die first.

Second, the other consequences that Diana and I outline are fully intended and openly stated by the honest advocates of Amendment 48. Various members of the religious right openly call for bans on the pill, bans on select medical research, and severe criminal penalties -- including the death penalty -- for women who get abortions. It is true that Amendment 48 would have many other consequences that are unintended, but it is evil precisely because of what its backers intend.

Burton also continued her unsubstantiated assertions that a fertilized egg is a person. Montero begins, "Science now knows that life begins at the moment of conception, the initiator of the Personhood Amendment told an audience of 30 at the University of Denver Thursday night." Yet life does not begin at conception; it precedes conception.

Burton claimed "that medical science tells us that when an egg is fertilized at conception, a human being has been created." Yet as Diana and I write in the paper, Burton relies on an equivocation on the term "human being" to fudge her case. A fertilized egg is human, in the sense that it contains human DNA, and it is a potential person, but it is not an actual person. But Burton is not interested in promoting honest debate or answering her critics. Hers is an agenda of religious faith, and the facts be damned.


Amendment 48: Reply to the Gazette

By Ari

An October 29 editorial by the Colorado Springs Gazette urges voters to "get real," yet in endorsing Amendment 48 the editorial ignores all the realities about the measure and its flaws. Here I reply to the editorial point by point (all indented text is from the editorial).

The moment the egg is fertilized... it becomes a microscopic person with a unique genetic code. Similarly, the acorn becomes an oak tree, in seedling stage, when it germinates. Basic science tells us a sprouted acorn is not a lifeless mass; nor is a zygote.
A fertilized egg has a unique genetic code, true, and it is not a "lifeless mass," for it is definitely alive (as are the unfertilized egg and the sperm cell). But where does the Gazette get the notion that a fertilized egg is a "person," with all the same rights as a newborn? The editorial offers no answer.

Let us review what Amendment 48 would do. It would add a new section to Colorado's constitution stating, "As used in Sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms 'person' or 'persons' shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization." Those other articles explicitly bestow the rights to life, liberty, property, equality of justice, and due process of law.

Amendment 48 does not say that a fertilized egg is alive, nor that it has human DNA, nor that it is a potential person. It says that a fertilized egg is a person, with all the legal rights of a born infant. And that is a key point that the Gazette steadfastly ignores.

The comparison to an oak tree is interesting though peripheral. I've never heard a single person call a sprouted acorn an "oak tree," and the two have obvious differences. Regardless, the comparison goes only so far, because a germinated acorn is not contained within and completely dependent upon the body of an oak tree, as a zygote is relative to a woman. That fact matters when it comes to individual rights, yet it is another crucial point the Gazette ignores.
Amendment 48... would establish a rational, scientific, reasonable and legal definition of when human life begins.
This is wrong on two counts. First, Amendment 48 does not attempt to define when life begins; it attempts to define when personhood begins. Second, life does not begin at conception; it precedes conception.
Voting "yes" on Amendment 48 is a vote for honesty, not a decision to outlaw contraception, abortion, cloning or fetal stem cell research. ... The highest court in the land told all 50 states they must protect the rights of mothers to kill fetuses that haven't progressed into the third trimester of pregnancy.
However, the stated goal of the advocates of Amendment 48 is to use the measure in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. If Amendment 48 were enforced -- which would depend on rolling back federal provisions -- then it would outlaw any act harmful to a fertilized egg, except perhaps abortion to save the woman's life.
But few Americans would support the needless torture of a fetus. Few would support the killing of a preborn child by a drunken driver or an attacker, against the mother's will. Some of America's most pro-choice citizens would object to gratuitous experimentation, abuse or killing of fetuses. A definition of unborn humans as "persons" would aid society in protecting some rights of the unborn, should society choose to do so.
The pregnant woman has rights, and thus anyone who harms her fetus is subject to criminal prosecution. It is simply not possible to harm a fetus without harming the woman in the process, and the woman as the carrier of the fetus has the right to protect it. Amendment 48 is not about banning gratuitous injury to a fetus; it is about granting a fetus full legal rights. (Anyway preventing gratuitous injury does not rest on the definition of personhood; for example, rightly or wrongly the law prevents gratuitous injury to dogs.)
Opponents of the measure have raised alarming concerns. They claim that any woman who takes the morning-after pill, which can abort a fertilized egg, could be convicted of first-degree murder should Amendment 48 pass. They say the law would outlaw abortion, even resulting in criminal investigations each time a woman suffers a natural miscarriage. They don't happen to mention that Colorado is forbidden by federal law to outlaw abortion.
Diana Hsieh and I certainly do discuss the interplay between federal and state law in our paper; see pages 2-3. We also point out that Kristi Burton, sponsor of Amendment 48, wants to use the measure to overturn Roe v. Wade.

I have heard nobody claim that "natural miscarriages" would "each" be subject to criminal investigation. Rather, Hsieh and I have correctly claimed that any miscarriage suspected of being intentional could be subject to criminal prosecution, if Amendment 48 were enforced.
[Opponents] say state law forbids the killing of a "person," so under 48 abortion is doomed. Yet Colorado has the death penalty, and there's no question that death row inmates are "persons."
Nobody argues that any fetus is guilty of felony murder, so the comparison is bizarre.
Abortion is legal in Colorado because state law says it's legal. ...
Yet Amendment 48 is a constitutional provision, and as such it would trump any statute.
Perhaps there was a time of primitive science when intelligent adults didn't know when life begins.
Again, this point is irrelevant, and the claim that life begins at conception is obviously false.
The debate regarding legal rights of a fetus should no longer center on the myth that our science is fuzzy. That's a dishonest discussion. Instead, it should focus on what fetal rights a society shall or shall not defend, with full acknowledgement that a fetus is human from the moment of conception.
The fact that a fetus is human does not establish that it is a person. My kidney is human, for example. As Hsieh and I point out, advocates of Amendment 48 routinely rely on an equivocation on the term "human," jumping from the meaning of having human DNA to personhood without argument or evidence.
If abortion laws depend on a misconception that a fetus isn't human, they will not last. If they're based in a societal decision that unborn humans have limited rights, then abortion laws are safe.
Perhaps the Gazette could offer a single example of somebody who claims that a fetus is something other than human, in the sense of having human DNA.
Amendment 48 would merely bring the legal definition of "person" in line with the fact that a fertilized egg is a person in the earliest stage of life.
You notice what argument the Gazette uses to establish this point: none. Yet the Gazette manages to leave between the lines the only "reason" yet offered for thinking that a fertilized egg is a person: religious faith.


31 October 2008

Gay Marriage Should Be Recognized by Law

By Unknown

The Ayn Rand Institute just published a good press release on California's Proposition 8, arguing that it should be opposed on the ground of the separation of church and state:

Church and State: A Marriage Not Made in Heaven
October 31, 2008

Washington, D.C.--Californians will soon have the chance to vote on Proposition 8, which would define marriage in the state constitution as being only between a man and a woman, denying marriage to same-sex couples. The proposition is heavily supported by the religious community. Said one religious leader who supports the measure, "We believe it is a religious issue as well as a political issue. That's where we feel the Church must have a word."

According to Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, "Regardless of how one thinks 'marriage' should be defined, there's a much graver issue at stake: this is a flagrant attempt to inject religion into politics.

"As our Founders understood, religion is properly a private matter--not a legitimate basis for government action. The government's only role is to protect our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Under our secular political system, individuals are free to hold any religious views they wish, but they cannot impose their views on the rest of us. That is the meaning of freedom of religion.

"Once we accept the view that the 'Church must have a word' in the political sphere, we are accepting a principle completely opposed to freedom. If gay marriage can be barred because, as one supporter of Prop. 8 put it, 'I don't think God has ordained it,' then why, for instance, can't speech that similarly offends religionists also be banned? Indeed, this is the very principle that motivates the religious right's crusade against broadcast 'indecency'--and the brutal principle that recently led the Afghani government to sentence a journalism student to 20 years in prison for blasphemy.

"The separation of church and state is a cornerstone of liberty. It protects our right to live by our own judgment, free from the dictates of ministers and mullahs. To protect that right, we should oppose any attempt to bring religion into politics."
I wholeheartedly support gay marriage. Why? As I explained in this NoodleFood post:
The essence of marriage is the total integration of two lives: sexually, legally, socially, financially, geographically, sexually, morally, etc. The fact that most marriages involve two people with contrasting genitalia is not of any grand significance.
My husband's and my relationship is likely to be far more similar to that of a loving gay couple also living by the philosophy of Objectivism than to many common types of straight marriages. My marriage does not much resemble that of a couple voluntarily celibate to better worship God, that of a couple together only due to fear of being alone, that of a couple prone to violent arguments, or that of a couple prone to cheating, for example. Such people can marry -- and they ought to be able to do so. And if such a diversity of relationships counts as marriage, then surely a loving, stable gay couple should be able to marry too.

In short, I see no rational basis whatsoever to limit marriage to just straight couples. In fact, I'm quite certain that gay marriages would be recognized in every state in the union were it not for the faith-driven (and often frighteningly hateful) hostility of fundamentalist Christians to homosexuality.


Abortion Is a Woman's Right

By Unknown

On October 23rd, the Pagosa Daily Post published my most recent op-ed on

OPINION: Abortion Is a Woman's Right
Diana Hsieh, 10/23/08

Colorado voters face a stark moral choice in this election: vote yea or nay on Amendment 48. That ballot measure would grant fertilized eggs the legal standing of persons--including "inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law"--in the state constitution.

If fully implemented, almost all abortions would be outlawed in Colorado, including in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity. Any woman who terminated a pregnancy would be guilty of murder, subject to life in prison or the death penalty. To take the birth control pill, which might sometimes prevent the implantation of an embryo in the womb, would be a criminal act. Miscarriages might be investigated by zealous prosecutors.

Roe v. Wade would not necessarily protect women against these ominous legal controls. Rather, Amendment 48 might be used to challenge that landmark case -- or to inspire a nationwide movement for a similar federal constitutional amendment.

Despite its draconian effects, this proposed amendment has gathered solid support from Colorado voters. A recent poll shows that 39% favor it, 50% oppose it, and 11% are undecided.

Why such strong support? Over the past two decades, the religious right has effectively waged a holy war on abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent human life, they say. It violates the God-given right to life of a "preborn child." It is part of a "culture of death." So most Americans regard abortion as morally wrong except when a pregnancy threatens the woman's mental or physical health.

Yet the religious right's attacks on abortion are completely and utterly wrong. They evade the true meaning of the biological facts of pregnancy.

Opponents of abortion claim that embryos and fetuses have the same right to life as babies because they are distinct, living human beings. Undoubtedly, an embryo or fetus is alive, not inert matter. It's also human--not canine or hippopotamus. Yet every distinct, living skin cell a person washes off in the shower also contains human DNA. A tumor is human tissue distinct from its host. The embryo or fetus is different: it might develop into a born baby. Yet the differences between an embryo or fetus and that born baby are vast.

In the early stages of pregnancy, the embryo has nothing in common with an infant except its DNA. Its form is similar to the embryos of other mammals; it cannot survive outside the womb; it lacks any kind of awareness. To call that clump of cells a "person" is sheer nonsense.

Even when more developed, the fetus is not a biologically separate entity capable of independent action, like a baby. It exists as part of the woman carrying it, wholly contained within and dependent on her. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as she lives, as an extension of her body. It is not yet an individual human life; it is not yet a person.

That situation changes radically at birth. A baby lives a life of its own. Although still very needy, he maintains his own biological functions. He breathes his own air, digests his own food, and moves on his own. He interacts with other people as a creature in his own right, not merely as a part of a pregnant woman. His life must be protected as a matter of right.

So a woman has every right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy--for any reason. If an abortion will protect and further her own life and happiness, then she ought to pursue that option with a clear conscience.

Amendment 48 would obliterate the moral right of every pregnant woman to control her own body. It is based on sectarian religious dogma, not objective facts. Please vote "No" on 48.
The Pagosa Daily Post published a lengthy reply on October 27th. (I won't reproduce it here; it's too long and too wrong.) On the 29th, they published an excellent letter in reply by Gideon Reich:
Van Horn Opinion Misses the Point
Gideon Reich

Steve Van Horn's rebuttal in the Post to Diana Hsieh's excellent article on abortion shows a complete lack of understanding of the one crucial concept in the abortion debate: Individual Rights. Far from being mythical supernatural endowments implanted at conception, or social conventions subject to popular vote, rights derive from a human being's nature as a rational being. His existence requires the free exercise of his rational faculty to sustain his own life.

A "right," as Ayn Rand pointed out, "is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context." Thus, the freedom of action that ought to be guaranteed to an individual is the freedom to think and act without interference from others in society for the achievement of his goals, as long as he respects the right of others do the same.

The very first requirement for such a freedom to apply is that the "individual" in question actually be a separate individual in a social context — not a mere potential that is part of another actual individual. As Ms. Hsieh has eloquently shown, the unborn fetus, to say nothing of the embryo or zygote, has not met that requirement.

The pregnant woman, on the other hand, clearly has — and has every moral right to act accordingly.


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