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

29 December 2010

Atheists Unfit to Serve

By Diana Hsieh

Al Stefanelli blogs on the implications of the "Soldier Fitness Tracker" for atheists in US Army: Atheists Unfit To Serve

Did you know that the United States Army is concerned with the spiritual well-being of their soldiers? Did you know that if you choose not to believe in the supernatural that the United States Army can consider you unfit to serve? Allow me to enlighten you about an issue that was brought to my attention by my friend, Sgt. Justin Griffith, Fort Bragg, NC. The US Army distributes a mandatory survey called an SFT, which stands for “Soldier Fitness Tracker”. The purpose of this survey is to measure an individual soldier’s competency in four areas, Emotional, Social, Family and Spiritual. Justin is an atheist, as well as a highly dedicated soldier, but according to the SFT, he is “unfit” to serve specifically because he is a non-believer.
Go read the whole thing.

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22 December 2010

Catholic Policy: Women Should Die Rather Than Terminate Any Pregnancy

By Diana Hsieh

The Catholic Church has cut ties with a Arizona hospital because doctors aborted an 11-week old embryo in order to save the mother's life from a blood pressure problem that would have resulted in her death.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted called the 2009 procedure an abortion and said St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center -- recognized internationally for its neurology and neurosurgery practices -- violated ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"In the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld," Olmsted said at a news conference announcing the decision. "The mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph's medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed."
To speak of the Catholic Church's view on abortion -- a position that seeks to force women to maintain pregnancies so dangerous that the only result will be the death of both woman and fetus -- as "pro-life" is an abuse of language worthy of 1984. On this matter, as on many others, the Church is explicitly, consciously, and deliberately anti-life and pro-death.

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20 November 2010

How Abortion Cost Ken Buck the U.S. Senate Race

By Ari

Ken Buck's anti-abortion stance cost him the U.S. Senate seat in Colorado.

True, Buck had other problems. He made a few gaffes, as when he jokingly said he should win because he he doesn't wear high heels (a response to his primary opponent's many references to gender), and when he likened homosexuality to alcoholism. The left unfairly attacked Buck for his prosecutorial work on a gun case and a rape case. Moreover, the Democrats did a good job getting out the vote for Michael Bennet.

But Buck's anti-abortion position made more difference than any of those other things, alienating many women and independent voters. And it was only in the context of Buck's perceived antagonism toward women's right to control their own bodies that the "high heels" comment and the claims about a mishandled rape case gained traction.

A couple of claims Buck simply could not rebut, because they were true: he opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and he initially endorsed Amendment 62, the so-called "personhood" measure, even though he later backtracked and said he wasn't taking positions on state ballot measures.

The result? Bennet "led Buck with female voters, 56 percent to 40 percent, according to the [exit] polls, and... Bennet beat Buck among unaffiliated voters in the polls, 52 percent to 41 percent." Moreover, "Bennet also did better among Republicans than Buck did among Democrats in the polls." My guess is that the number of Republican women to voted for Bennet or at least declined to vote for Buck was substantial.

Buck whined after the election, "I wasn't going to derail my message to have an election decided on abortion, or any social issue, for that matter." But when you endorse a ballot measure that would totally ban abortion (along with various forms of birth control and fertility treatments), what you've done precisely is make the election largely about abortion.

Consider some of the other relevant news about the issue.

"Gov. Bill Ritter... agreed [with Republican Mike Rosen] that Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck’s hard-line stance on abortion helped cost him the election."

"Ken Buck Hit Hard On Birth Control, Abortion In New DSCC Ad."

Bennet ran partly on "protecting [women's] rights to safe, legal abortion."

"Rape, incest victims rally against Buck."

"Ken Buck: Opponents rally rape and incest survivors to decry his abortion policy."

"Dem ads on reproductive rights aim to sharpen Sen. Bennet's appeal to women."

Bennet "seems to be the only candidate that's not anti-abortion... I'm not really excited about him as a candidate -- he's kind of overspent in Washington."

Or consider a first and second ad hammering Buck on his anti-abortion stance and related issues.

Or consider a few of the flyers mailed to my wife, an unaffiliated voter. These mailers, paid for by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, take some unfair shots at Buck but effectively hammer him on abortion. And they clearly link Buck to Amendment 62 and note that Bennet opposed the measure.

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This article originally was published on Ari Armstrong's blog.

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10 November 2010

Anti-Gay Culture

By Diana Hsieh

Sometimes, it's worth remembering just how hostile our culture has been -- and still is -- to gay people.

First, Portia de Rossi on coming out:



Second, Trey Givens reports on being physically assaulted, even if only a minor way, for being gay in My First Gay Bashing.

Read more...

08 November 2010

Hsieh PJM OpEd: "GOP: Dance With The One Who Brung You"

By Paul Hsieh

The November 3, 2010 PajamasMedia published my post-Election Day OpEd, "GOP: Dance With The One Who Brung You".

My theme is that I voted for the Republicans because I want them to pursue an agenda of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and defending individual rights -- not the "social conservative" agenda.

Here is the opening:

Republicans are rightfully celebrating their recent successes in the midterm elections, recapturing the House and making major gains in the Senate. But before House GOP leader John Boehner starts measuring the curtains for the speaker's office, he and his fellow Republicans would do well to remember the old proverb popularized by legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal: "Dance with the one who brung you."

In this case, that means: Don't forget who put you in office and why -- namely, the independent-minded Tea Party voters.

Hence, the Republicans should take to heart three key lessons...
Those lessons include:
1) Americans don't want "ObamaLite".
2) Don't mistake this as a mandate to pursue a divisive "social conservative" agenda.
3) Respect the Constitution and the principle of individual rights.
(Read the full text of "GOP: Dance With The One Who Brung You".)

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03 November 2010

Election Results: Personhood Defeated!

By Diana Hsieh

I'm delighted to report that Colorado's "personhood" measure was defeated strongly, yet again. Ari Armstong and I were certain of its defeat, but we worried that it would gather significantly more support than did Amendment 48 in 2008. (Amendment 48 was defeated with 73% NO and 27% YES.)

Much to my delight, the results so far (with 88% of precincts reporting) show that "personhood" is almost as unpopular as ever, with 70% NO and 30% YES. That's despite the more confusing language of Amendment 62 and far less of a campaign in opposition by the major coalition, Protect Families, Protect Choices -- in comparison to 2008's Amendment 48. While "personhood" is still a threat, particularly in the long-run, I'm hopeful that enough Colorado voters understand its moral and practical evils to vote against it, time and again.

Once again, I want to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone who pledged to support our hugely revised policy paper on it: The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. That paper was viewed 3,000 times in HTML format, and downloaded 500 times as a PDF and 100 times as in e-book format.

Unfortunately, Stephen Bailey did not prevail in his race against Jared Polis, but I'm so glad that he ran. And Amendment 63 -- for health care choice -- looks like it will be defeated by a narrow margin. The rest of Colorado's election results -- including the dead-heat in the Senate race between Ken Buck and Michael Bennet -- can be found on 9 News.

Read more...

01 November 2010

A62, A63 Reveal Ideological Rifts

By Diana Hsieh

As I mentioned in a prior post, Ari Armstrong's and my op-ed on Colorado's Amendments 62 (personhood) and 63 (health care choice) was published in the Denver Daily News on Friday, October 22nd. It was a non-exclusive op-ed, so we hoped that some of the smaller papers around the state might choose to print it too. That hasn't happened that we know of, so I thought I'd post it here before the election. Hence:

A62, A63 reveal ideological rifts
Friday, October 22, 2010
By Diana Hsieh and Ari Armstrong

This year's ballot presents voters with a mystery. Amendments 62 and 63 are based on opposite political premises, yet many prominent groups either endorse both or oppose both. What explains this contradiction?

Amendment 62, the so-called "personhood" measure, would grant full legal rights to embryos. Its goal is to eliminate a woman's choice to get an abortion, use the birth control pill, or obtain common in vitro fertility treatments.

Amendment 63, Health Care Choice, seeks to protect people's choices in health care by forbidding state government from assisting in the enforcement of ObamaCare. It would preserve people's choices in insurance as well as ensure their ability to pay directly for health care.

Amendment 62 destroys liberty and choice in health care, while Amendment 63 protects those values. Yet few seem to recognize that.

In an Oct. 15 e-mail, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains opposes both 62 and 63. The group alleges that Amendment 63 "drives up health care costs by reducing insurance coverage."

In fact, those rising costs are due to government controls and welfare programs, and the mandate to buy insurance will only exacerbate the problem.

Likewise, Progress Now opposes both measures. Planned Parenthood and Progress Now follow the standard left-wing approach on these issues, advocating some choices in health care while denying others.

Religious-right advocates of Amendment 62, on the other hand, attempt to package their measure with Amendment 63. In an over-the-top video complete with Obama as the Angel of Death, proponents of 62 attempt to appeal to Tea Partiers. They suggest that the same movement responsible for legal abortion led to the bailouts and ObamaCare.

Amendment 62 supporters also endorse a "Blue Book Alternative," which features one-sided praise of their measure along with positive language about Amendment 63.

Both the left and the religious right, then, express contradictory views about liberty and individual choice. They support it in some cases, but not in principle. Why is that?

The left rejects America's founding ideal of liberty as each person's freedom to pursue his own life and happiness using his own property. They regard rights as entitlements to goods and services provided by others, not freedoms to think and act without coercive interference.

That's why Planned Parenthood does not merely want to protect the freedom of women to obtain abortions from willing doctors using their own funds, health insurance, or private charity. Instead, Planned Parenthood wants to force people to fund others' health care, including abortions. Therefore, the organization seeks to protect the right to abortion while denying any right to choose what health insurance to buy, if any.

The religious right claims to support individual rights, but its conception of rights is little more than sectarian dogmatism. Rights are whatever God declares them to be, on this view.

By contorting some Bible passages and ignoring others, advocates of Amendment 62 claim that newly fertilized zygotes -- even before implantation in the uterus -- must be declared persons with full legal rights. By similar methods, they ignore the Bible's overt hostility to individual rights and capitalist values.

The consistent, secular view of individual rights is opposed to both the entitlements of the left and the dogmatism of the religious right. Rights, on this third view, define the individual's proper sphere of freedom in a social context. They enable each person to act by his own judgment and for his own life and happiness.

Such rights are based on the facts of man's rational nature, not the whims of the majority or the arbitrary commands of God. They apply equally to every person, to individuals living in society, as opposed to an embryo or fetus entirely contained within a pregnant woman's body.

By this secular view of rights, any attempt to dictate the choices of others is morally wrong. Nothing can justify the forcible seizure or control of another person's property, whether via Medicare taxes or insurance mandates. And nothing can justify forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or banning the pill.

Under a consistent, reality based view of individual rights, Amendment 62 violates rights while Amendment 63 protects them.

Philosopher Diana Hsieh and political writer Ari Armstrong coauthored the paper, The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life, available at SecularGovernment.us.

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29 October 2010

Free Speech Versus Regulated Speech: My Experience

By Diana Hsieh

As some of you might recall, the Coalition for Secular Government is subject to Colorado's campaign finance laws due to our pledge-funded policy paper against Amendment 62: The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life.

For those of you curious about the ins and outs of the speech regulations with which I must comply, I present this excerpt from Colorado Campaign and Political Finance Manual:

Issue committees

Definition: Any person, other than a natural person, or any group of two or more persons, including natural persons, that has a major purpose of supporting or opposing any ballot issue or ballot question, AND that has accepted or made contributions or expenditures in excess of two hundred dollars to support or oppose any ballot issue or ballot question OR has printed two hundred or more petition sections.

Issue committee status applies to organizations made up of members who support or oppose an issue in their community. Please familiarize yourself with the laws concerning issue committees before you as a group engage in political activity, to ensure that you comply with any campaign finance laws that may apply.

You must register an issue committee if you:

* Are a group of two or more individuals (natural persons) or businesses (or both);

* That supports or opposes a ballot issue or ballot question (see below for definition); AND one of

* You have accepted or made contributions or expenditures of $200 or more to support or oppose that ballot issue or ballot question; OR

* You have printed more than 200 petition sections or more than 200 petition sections have been accepted. (This provision effective 1/1/2011)

Registration and reporting requirements

Registration is required within 10 calendar days of accepting contributions or making expenditures in excess of $200 to support or oppose any ballot issue or ballot question.

Issue committees at the state, county, or special district level, or those active in multiple counties or special districts, register with and report to the Secretary of State. Municipal issue committees (those supporting or opposing ballot measures at the local municipal only) register with the municipal clerk. Filing dates vary depending on whether your issue committee is statewide, county, special district, school district, etc. Please consult TRACER for the filing calendar applicable to your committee.

Only the registered agent may sign and electronically file the committee's reports.

Any amendments or changes to your registration must be filed with the appropriate officer within five days of the change.

There are no contribution limits or prohibitions for contributions to issue committees.

The name and address of the contributor must be reported for all contributions of $20 or more, and the contributor's occupation and employer must be listed for contributions of $100 or more.

An issue committee may only be closed by filing a termination report indicating a "zero" balance. Issue committees may return unexpended campaign funds to the contributors or donate them to a charitable organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service.

A disclaimer statement is required on communications produced by expenditures of more than $1,000 made by an issue committee.

Major Contribution Report

Contributions received within 30 days before a primary or general election, which exceed $1,000, must be reported as "major contributions" in the TRACER system in addition to reporting such contributions on regular reports.
The Coalition for Secular Government is clearly subject to those regulations: we're a group, our major work is our policy paper against Amendment 62, and we're accepting and spending more than $200, thanks to the generous people who pledged to support the policy paper. Hence, we must comply.

Initially, I thought that those campaign finance instructions were clear enough. They'd be a pain, but at least I'd know what to do. However, now that I've submitted two reports, I can't say that any longer. For example:
  • I've promoted the policy paper via Facebook advertisements. I used my own personal credit card for that, and I've not yet reimbursed myself from CSG's funds. So when does that become an expenditure that I must report -- when my personal credit card is charged or when I reimburse myself?
  • Many people paid me through PayPal, which was awesome, because that's more convenient than checks. However, PayPal automatically takes a small percentage in fees from such transactions. So what do I report as the donation amount -- the amount given or the amount received?
  • When I receive checks, I don't report them until they're deposited in the bank. However, does the same apply to payments via PayPal? And in my case, I had limitations placed on my PayPal account for a while that prevented me from accessing the funds. Was I obliged to report those funds, even though temporarily inaccessible?
In short, the laws are just not clear. As a result, I've tried to do whatever seemed like the safest option open to me. I don't have an army of lawyers to guide me... and even if I did, that might not be enough! With every wrong move, I risk $50 per day in fines.

Of course, the fundamental problem with such regulations is not that compliance is difficult, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking. That's true, and it's important, but it's not essential. These campaign finance regulations would be wrong, even if compliance with them was easy, quick, and fun. Even in that case, the regulations would be a blatant violation of every person's free speech rights. People should not have to register with the government to speak their minds. They should not have to register with the government to donate money so that others can speak for them.

Speaking personally, I feel that violation of free speech rights more clearly and more personally now than ever before. I've been forced -- coerced, at the point of a gun -- to spend hours of my time attempting to comply with these regulations, so that I might have permission to speak my mind. That's vile -- and it's disheartening to me.

And I'm not alone in those feelings. The practical result of such speech regulations that is that ordinary citizens keep quiet, while well-funded "special interests" dominate the political debates. That's not an unintended consequence: that's what the politicians and bureaucrats want, I think. Free speech in America is under assault -- not by outright censorship but rather by devious regulations in the name of "transparency" and "fairness."

I hope that makes you angry -- angry enough to want to strike back at the politicians and bureaucrats muzzling all of us. If so, then let me suggest that you donate to the free speech work of the Institute for Justice. IJ is the only organization that I know to be fighting for free speech, including against campaign finance laws, on principle and by concerted effort. And they're effective too! I plan to write another check to IJ -- once again, directed toward their free speech projects -- in the next few days. If you want to protect free speech rights in America, then I urge you to do the same.

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28 October 2010

Bad News for Mississippi: Personhood on the Ballot in 2011

By Diana Hsieh

Unfortunately, Personhood USA won a major victory in court recently: a "personhood" measure has been cleared to appear on the ballot in 2011 in Mississippi. Here's their press release:

Victory for Personhood Mississippi, Planned Parenthood/ACLU Lawsuit Dealt Major Blow

Sponsors of the Mississippi Personhood Amendment, Initiative Measure Number 26, have been notified that the motion to remove the Amendment from the Ballot, filed by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, has been denied.

ACLU and Planned Parenthood attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Secretary of State in July, seeking to disallow Mississippi voters from voting on the Mississippi Personhood Amendment.

Amendment sponsors and volunteers exceeded state signature requirements on February 17, becoming only the fourth successful ballot initiative since 1992. The amendment, Initiative Measure Number 26, reads, "The term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

The ACLU then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the Personhood amendment, which seeks to define the term "human being", modifies the Bill of Rights, which is expressly prohibited by Section 273(5). Steve Crampton, Liberty Counsel attorney for Personhood Mississippi, explained that Section 273(5) does not prohibit the definition of an otherwise undefined term, such as "person". Crampton went on to explain that the Personhood Amendment complies with section 273(5)(a) because it does not propose any new right and does not modify or repeal any existing right guaranteed under our bill of rights. Instead, the Personhood amendment merely defines the term "person", and does not modify the Bill of Rights in any way.

The Court decision read "Initiative Measure No. 26 has received more than the required amount of signatures to be placed on the ballot and the Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to amend their Constitution." The decision was ordered by Judge Malcolm Harrison.

"Isaiah 59 tells us that, 'the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear' so we first give all praise and honor to our Lord Jesus Christ for hearing our prayers and giving us the victory in this round" explained Les Riley, amendment sponsor. "We are grateful from this clarification. From the early days of the petition drive those opposed to the amendment have claimed that our amendment was flawed and did not meet the Constitutional muster based on a surface level researching of the law. We have been certain that we have the right to define the term 'person', and that right was affirmed by the Circuit Court and Judge Harrison. The Personhood Amendment, in defining the term 'person', merely seeks to recognize the rights of every innocent human being in Mississippi. The people of Mississippi have spoken - they want to vote to recognize those Personhood rights in November 2011."

"It is time for Mississippi voters to recognize that all human beings are people, and every person should be protected by love and by law," added Cal Zastrow, co-founder of Personhood USA. "We are praising Jesus that Planned Parenthood was thwarted in their efforts to protect their billions with frivolous lawsuits."
First, it's clearly false that a personhood amendment would not "propose any new right" or "modify or repeal any existing right guaranteed under our bill of rights." Sections 14 and 15 of Mississippi's Bill of Rights say:
Sec. 14. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by due process of law.

Sec. 15. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state, otherwise than as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.
To grant rights to embryos and fetuses would violate the life and liberty rights of every pregnant woman. At the moment of fertilization, the woman would be be legally bound to provide life-support to the embryo or fetus. She would be obliged to subordinate her values, her goals, her health, and perhaps even her life to it. That's involuntary servitude. For details, see Ari Armstrong's and my discussion of rights in pregnancy in in our policy paper on the "personhood" movement.

Second, when an organization quotes scripture and thanks Jesus in its press releases, you need not doubt that it's goal is to impose theocratic law. Such appeals to religious dogma are the life-blood of the "personhood" movement, and that's part of why "personhood" measures violate the proper wall of separation between church and state. For details, see Ari Armstrong's and my discussion of "personhood" and the separation of church and state in our policy paper.

And third, we have a year to inform the public and fight this measure. Sadly, that's the only good news.

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26 October 2010

Interview with Stephen Bailey

By Diana Hsieh

On September 23rd, I interviewed Stephen Bailey -- Republican candidate for US House of Representatives for Colorado's Second District -- about his principles and prospects. For more information about Stephen Bailey, visit his web site: www.StephenBaileyForCongress.com.

Stephen Bailey is that rare breed of politician today who supports free markets and the separation of church and state. If you can assist his campaign by donating your time or money, please do so!

Here's the high-definition version of the main interview on YouTube, split into three parts:

Interview with Stephen Bailey, Part One



Interview with Stephen Bailey, Part Two



Interview with Stephen Bailey, Part Three



There's also bonus footage of Stephen Bailey with his wife Reiko:



I've also made an audio-only version. You can listen now:


    35:01 minutes
Or download it:
Or get it on iTunes as part of my NoodleCast feed:
For more information about Stephen Bailey's views -- and to contribute to his campaign -- please visit his web site: www.StephenBaileyForCongress.com.

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25 October 2010

Abortion Rights and Health Care Choice

By Diana Hsieh

Ari Armstrong and I published an op-ed on Colorado's Amendment 62 (personhood for zygotes) and Amendment 63 (health care choice) in Friday's Denver Daily News: A62, A63 reveal ideological rifts.

Our article observes that many groups either oppose or endorse both Amendments 62 and 63. Yet these measures are based on opposite political premises. Amendment 62 (personhood) violates rights, while Amendment 63 (health care choice) protects them. The article then explains how both the entitlement left and religious right advocate a false view of rights. And it sketches a secular view of rights whereby each person is left free to act by his own judgment and for his own life and happiness.

Go read the whole thing!

For more information on Amendment 62, see Ari Armstrong's and my policy paper: The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception.

For more information on Amendment 63, visit the Independence Institute and Patient Power Now. You might also read Paul Hsieh's op-ed, "The 'Right To Health Care Choice'is right for Colorado."

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22 October 2010

Focus on the Homosexuality

By Ari

On Meet the Press, David Gregory asked U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck about homosexuality, "You don't think it's something that's determined at birth?" Buck answered, "I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically, you have a choice."

I address his comment in a recent video on Colorado elections:



Buck quickly clarified his unfortunate comments. The Denver Daily News reports:

...The Hill reported that after the show Buck attempted to clarify his position on his views on gays.

"I said I thought there was some element of predisposition and I thought there was some element of choice," Buck said, according to The Hill. "I'm not a biologist and I haven't studied the issue, but that's my feeling on the issue." The Hill also reported that Buck did not believe that being gay is a disease like alcoholism, nor was he equating alcoholism with being gay -- only that some people are born with a predisposition to be gay, just as some people are born with a predisposition to be an alcoholic.

"I was talking about predisposition," said Buck, according to The Hill. "I wasn't talking about being gay as a disease. I don't think that at all. What I meant was that I think there are a variety of factors."
Notably, the exact same thing that Buck said about homosexuality can also be said of heterosexuality. It is influenced by "a variety of factors," including genes and individual choice.

But, while Buck was trying to downplay his comments, Focus On the Family was trying to out-crazy Buck. The Colorado Springs Gazette reports: "Jeff Johnston, Focus on the Family social policy analyst, said Monday, 'Alcohol affects your whole body, and so does sexual behavior. The highly addictive (aspect of both) is an apt comparison.'"

So now homosexuality is an addiction? Of course, as psychologist Jeffrey Schaler has pointed out, heterosexual sex can also be addictive.

Meanwhile, the rest of us wonder why homosexuality is such a divisive political issue. Some people are gay, and that's fine, so get over it.

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21 October 2010

Subjectivism and Relativism in Arguments about Personhood

By Diana Hsieh

Advocates of "personhood" for zygotes often claim to be opponents of the subjectivism and relativism that dominates the left. In fact, they're good friends -- in two ways.

First, the Christians pushing personhood are advocates of a specific form of religious morality, namely Divine Command Theory. They hold that right and wrong is not based on any objective facts of reality, but rather God's commands. So if God decrees the stoning of a blasphemer (Leviticus 24) or the sacrifice of a man's only and beloved son (Genesis 22), then that's morally obligatory. Such is subjectivism: the content of morality depends on the arbitrary decrees of divine will, rather than facts of reality.

Second, the subjectivism and relativism of the left cannot articulate or defend proper principles of ethics or politics -- as Ari Armstrong and I discussed in the section on Today's 'Pro-Choice' Rhetoric in our policy paper, The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life. To many people, the pseudo-secular arguments of "personhood" advocates seem substantive and perhaps even compelling in comparison to the silence of most "pro-choice" advocates.

However, the more perfect exemplars of the subjectivism and relativism of the left are not merely silent on basic questions about the nature and basis of rights. They're downright hostile to any definitive claims. A dramatic example of that view was just published in the Denver Post, in a column by Susan Greene: Personhood extremes born of nonsense. She claims to be pro-choice and opposed to Amendment 62, yet she portrays "personhood" advocates as wholly sympathetic, with logic on their side:

If you're old enough to know how babies are made, you'd be disingenuous to deny a certain logic in proponents' belief that an undeveloped fetus is a form of life. At least as an intellectual exercise, it's not a leap to equate life, more or less, with personhood.
Meanwhile, the opponents of "personhood" are, in contrast, boorish extremists wholly lacking in good argument.
Opponents [of 62] would do better sticking to that point than pretending to know when personhood starts. They offer up a cast of walking wounded like Jen Boulton, who, after three failed pregnancies, asserts that an undeveloped fetus is "no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree."
With that, Ms. Green only confesses that she's ignorant of the importance of actuality versus potentiality in the debate about "personhood" and rights.

Frankly, I couldn't imagine a better way to undermine abortion rights than with a column like that of Ms. Green. And that's why the subjectivism and relativism of the left is the best friend of the religious zealots crusading for Amendment 62. Her viewpoint concedes everything to the religious crusaders, even logic itself.

Happily, I see a silver lining in her column: Ms. Green reports that she was "booed by pro-choice veterans when making some of these points at a recent luncheon."

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14 October 2010

Amit Ghate PJM OpEd: Values and the Defense of Freedom

By Paul Hsieh

The October 9, 2010 PajamasMedia has published Amit Ghate's OpEd, "Values and the Defense of Freedom".

In it, he responds to the question, "Is faith necessary for defending natural rights, or is reason sufficient?" Here is the opening:

In the wake of the recent Values Voter Summit, a worrisome question arises: will the Tea Parties or a reformed GOP be able to champion limited government and fiscal responsibility, without also importing the religious right’s so-called "social values"?

HotAir's Allahpundit raises this issue, noting that speakers at the summit repeatedly asserted the idea that limited government must ultimately be based on religious beliefs -- on the existence of a "Big God." Uncomfortable with these assertions and searching for a better, secular defense of freedom, Allahpundit asks how Objectivists (adherents of Ayn Rand's philosophy) would respond.

It's a perceptive question. Though many recognize Rand as a stalwart defender of freedom, few appreciate how radically her defense differs from that of traditional religionists. Key to her innovative approach is an original conception of values and morality -- one which ultimately puts her at odds with much of the religious program...
(Read the full text of "Values and the Defense of Freedom".)

Congratulations, Amit!

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12 October 2010

Citizen Speech Campaign: Colorado Blogger Wrapped Up in Red Tape

By Diana Hsieh

The Institute for Justice recently launched its Citizen Speech Campaign against campaign finance laws. Here's their announcement:

Freedom of speech and freedom of association are so important that they are enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yet across the nation, in nearly every state, government regulation stifles the ability of citizens to exercise their rights to speak and to associate with one another to discuss the most pressing issues of the day. The culprit? So-called campaign finance laws.

For example, in 24 states, citizens who wish to spend money to speak out about ballot issues must register as political committees or "PACs" and navigate a complex maze of regulations. As a result, a group of citizens in Florida who want to pool their funds to speak out against a controversial amendment that would inhibit development in the state must register with the government, appoint a treasurer, open a separate bank account, and track and report every penny that they raise and spend for their efforts. In Colorado, a group of citizens was sued under these laws for putting up lawn signs opposing a local initiative and sending post cards to neighbors.

Another 22 states add contribution limits to these regulatory burdens for citizen groups that spend money on speech supporting or opposing candidates. For example, in Rhode Island, individuals may contribute no more than $1000 per year to such groups. The result is that although individuals and even corporations may spend unlimited amounts on ads saying vote for or against a candidate, individuals in Rhode Island who join together in unincorporated groups are limited to $1000 each.

To remedy this, the Institute for Justice launched its Citizen Speech Campaign on September 29, 2010. Kicked off with a lawsuit, Andrew Nathan Worley, et al. v. Dawn K. Roberts, et al., that challenges Florida ballot issue campaign finance laws, the campaign is a nationwide effort to ensure the promise of the First Amendment's command that government "shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech."

To catalogue the various state laws that restrict citizen speech, the Institute today released a new research report, Keep Out: How State Campaign Finance Laws Erect Barriers to Entry for Political Entrepreneurs. The report, written by University of Missouri economist Jeff Milyo, explains why citizen speakers are important and how state campaign finance laws get in their way.

Along with the report, the Institute is launching a public campaign calling on officials in the 22 states that impose both contribution limits and PAC requirements on groups that wish to speak out about candidates to bring their laws into compliance with the First Amendment.
As part of this campaign, IJ is highlighting stories of political entrepreneurs -- and I'm pleased (sort of) to report that I'm one of them: Colorado Blogger Wrapped Up in Red Tape.

The story concerns the onerous campaign finance laws applicable to me (or rather, the Coalition for Secular Government) because -- horror of all horrors -- we're a group receiving and spending more than $200 in opposition to a ballot measure, namely Amendment 62.

The sidebar begins:
Diana Hsieh was a blogger when few people knew what the term meant. A passionate advocate for individual rights, she launched her now-popular blog Noodlefood in 2002 while working as a programmer as a way to get herself to write regularly on political and philosophical issues. Today, Diana presides over a mini-empire of online activism including blogs, discussion groups and even a small nonprofit. A recent Ph.D. in philosophy, Hsieh regularly speaks at philosophy conferences, writes articles and podcasts on various subjects--and still manages to find time to care for a small farm's worth of dogs, cats and horses at her home in Sedalia, Colorado.
Go read the rest of the story!

The campaign also released a fun video about "Camp Politics":



I've not yet read the primary report -- Keep Out: How State Campaign Finance Laws Erect Barriers to Entry for Political Entrepreneurs -- but it looks like more good work from IJ in defense of freedom of speech. If you like what IJ does here, please consider donating for its free speech work. Our very ability to advocate our ideas depends on our freedom of speech -- and IJ is acting in defense of everyone willing to speak his mind.

Read more...

07 October 2010

Cushman AT OpEd: Is America A Christian Nation?

By Paul Hsieh

The October 3, 2010 American Thinker has published Charlotte Cushman's latest OpEd, "Is America a Christian Nation?"

As she writes, "This is the idea that we need to return to and defend, not that we are a Christian nation, but a nation based on individual rights."

I left the following supportive comment:

The bad policies of Obama and the Left have sparked a healthy opposition from many ordinary Americans in the form of the Tea Party protests. But it would be wrong to frame the choice as between the socialist Left and the Christian Right. I find both choices unpalatable and un-American.

The real choice is between a government that violates our individual rights and a government that protects those rights. Any attempt to cast Christianity as the only proper basis for opposing the Left can only undermine the cause of freedom and will do more damage to America in the long run.
Cushman's article comes at a perfect time and it deserves to be widely disseminated within the Tea Party movement. Read the whole piece.

Read more...

04 October 2010

'Personhood' Blue Book Challenge Lacks Merit

By Ari

I never have liked the Blue Book. It forces Colorado taxpayers to finance the distribution of beliefs with which they disagree, thereby violating their freedom of conscience. The state's Constitution (V(1)(7.5)) requires that "the nonpartisan research staff of the general assembly shall prepare and make available to the public... a fair and impartial analysis of each [ballot] measure, which shall include a summary and the major arguments both for and against the measure." Moreover, "any person may file written comments for consideration."

Such language is a recipe for conflict. Calling the research staff "nonpartisan" doesn't make it so. Proclaiming that it shall issue "a fair and impartial analysis" doesn't mean that it will. Allowing "any person" to file comments invites trolls as well as idiots. The Blue Book guarantees biannual strife and litigation, and this year is no different.

The assembly should mail out a notice of elections with the language of the proposals, and nothing more. It should leave the analysis of the measures to outside individuals and groups. To accomplish this end, the legislature should refer a measure to the ballot in 2012 correcting that section of the Constitution.

But, all that said, the recent Blue Book challenge brought by the advocates of Amendment 62 ("personhood") is utterly without merit. Or, rather, it has a great deal of merit as a publicity stunt, but legally it is groundless.

Electa Draper has the story for the Denver Post. (See also the story in the Denver Daily News.) Draper writes, "Sponsors of Amendment 62... sued the Colorado Legislative Council on Tuesday afternoon to stop distribution of its 2010 State Ballot Information Booklet."

Gualberto Garcia-Jones, a leading proponent of the measure, said, "They have not included a single word -- not a single word -- of our arguments."

His statement is ridiculous.

As is standard, the Blue Book summarizes the arguments for and against the measure, in three sections each. While Garcia-Jones might complain that the "Arguments For" the measure are not as detailed as he would like, certainly they do offer the gist of the case.

It is worth pointing out that the "Arguments Against" section also fails to offer the most fundamental and compelling arguments against the measure. For details, see the paper by Diana Hsieh and me. Certainly, as an opponent of the measure, I have as much legitimate grounds to complain about the Blue Book's language as Garcia-Jones does (which again illustrates the absurdity of a legislative body issuing "a fair and impartial analysis").

In part, Garcia-Jones dislikes the Blue Book because it tells the truth about Amendment 62. Draper writes:

Garcia-Jones said that the Blue Book's arguments against Amendment 62 are false because it could never, as the booklet states, cause women to be denied medical treatment for a miscarriage. The amendment could not, he said, put doctors and other health professionals at risk of legal action for providing medical care to women of childbearing age.

It is also demonstrably false, Mason said, that "the beginning of biological development" has no established legal meaning and is not an acceptable medical or scientific term, as the Blue Book states. Supporters said they provided statements by scientists and lawyers to the contrary.


But the "personhood" proponents ignore the fact that these claims are made in the "Arguments Against" section. They also ignore the fact that the claims in question are legitimate.

Let us review the exact language of the Blue Book:

Arguments Against

1) Amendment 62... could be used to prohibit or limit access to medical care, including abortions for victims of rape or incest, and even when a woman's life is in danger. Amendment 62 may also limit access to emergency contraception, commonly used forms of birth control, and treatment for miscarriages, tubal pregnancies, cancer, and infertility. The measure may restrict some stem cell research that could lead to life-saving therapies for a variety of disabilities and illnesses.

2) Amendment 62 allows government intrusion in the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship and could limit the exercise of independent medical judgment. The measure could restrict a doctor from using certain medical procedures and treatments. Further, "the beginning of biological development" cannot be easily and conclusively pinpointed. Therefore, the measure may subject doctors and nurses to legal action for providing medical care to a woman of child-bearing age if that care could affect a "person" other than the identified patient.

3) The effects of Amendment 62's change to the constitution are unclear. The measure applies certain rights from "the beginning of biological development," a term which is not defined within the measure, has no established legal meaning, and is not an accepted medical or scientific term. ...


It is important to notice that, among those many claims, the only ones the proponents of Amendment 62 took issue with pertain to treatment for miscarriages and the meaning of "the beginning of biological development." Most of the rest of the points are quite obvious and beyond dispute. Amendment 62 would ban every elective abortion, including for rape, incest, and terminal fetal deformity. It would ban every form of birth control that could prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, including the pill, IUD, and "morning after" drugs. It would ban fertility treatments and medical research involving the destruction of embryos. Nobody disputes these points. The remaining points of contention involve medical intervention and the meaning of terms.

As Diana Hsieh and I exhaustively explain, Amendment 62 would indeed sometimes threaten the health and lives of pregnant women. Garcia-Jones specifically mentions medical treatment for miscarriages. True, if the doctor knows the miscarriage has already occurred (and therefore that the embryo is already dead), he would have no fear to intervene. The problem is that a doctor might face criminal prosecution for intervening prematurely, before a miscarriage. Thus, the language of the Blue Book on that score is correct.

What of the dispute over the meaning of the phrase, "the beginning of the biological development of that human being?" As Diana Hsieh and I argue, the phrase is indeed ambiguous. While I do not doubt that "personhood" advocates could find innumerable quack doctors and scientists to testify that the phrase obviously pertains to the moment of fertilization, in fact it does not. Certainly the point is quite appropriate for the "Arguments Against" section.

The "personhood" challenge to the Blue Book is ridiculous. But it is an effective way to abuse the legal system for free publicity.

This article originally was published on Ari Armstrong's blog.

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01 October 2010

The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Part 17

By Diana Hsieh

This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong's and my new policy paper: The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I'm currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.



The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception


By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010



Amendment 62 Is Not a 'Message'



Ironically, the fact that Amendment 62 is so outrageous in its implications may cause some Colorado voters to not take it seriously. Many voters may be tempted to think: "surely they don't really want to ban abortions even in cases of rape, incest, deformity, or risks to the health of the mother; surely they don't really want lengthy prison sentences or even the death penalty for women who get abortions; surely they don't seriously want to outlaw the birth control pill; surely they don't want to shut down fertility clinics; surely not." But the most consistent advocates of Amendment 62 do intend those effects--and they will strive to use "personhood" laws to make them the law of the land.

The religious right typically packages the issue of abortion with a variety of other cultural issues, such as relativism, postmodernism, promiscuous sex, violent video games, and pornography. They claim that voting for "personhood" laws will send the "message" that "all human life has value."[175] Dan Maes, the Republican candidate for governor of Colorado in 2010, endorsed Amendment 62 but then stated, "People are overestimating the personhood amendment. It simply defines life as beginning at conception. That's it. Who knows what the intent of it is? They are simply making a statement. That is all I see it as. Do they have another agenda? I don't know."[176]

Yet Amendment 62 is not merely a "message" or a "statement." It does not say, "Resolved: All human life has value." Nor does it say, "Resolved: Life begins at conception." (Nobody doubts that a zygote is alive.) Rather, Amendment 62 is a specific measure with specific, foreseeable political implications. A vote for it is a vote for those sweeping political changes. It is a vote for granting full legal rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization--at the expense of the real men and women of Colorado.

As this paper has shown, Amendment 62 and comparable proposals would fundamentally change Colorado law. If Roe v. Wade were reversed, the consistent enforcement of the measure would outlaw abortion in all cases except perhaps for extreme and immediate risk to the woman's life, outlaw popular forms of birth control, outlaw all embryonic stem-cell research and the most common in vitro fertilization techniques, and impose severe police and prosecutorial control over the sexual lives of most couples. Not only would it cause some women to suffer and die needlessly, but it would violate the rights of many actual persons and prevent them from making the best choices for their lives.

In its essence, Amendment 62 is profoundly anti-life.

Some who endorse Amendment 62 hope that Colorado voters will overlook the real and frightening implications of the measure, and instead vote based on their disapproval of irresponsible sex and their affection for cuddly babies. Yet in this case, an irresponsible vote would be worse than irresponsible sex. The way to change the culture in the direction of greater responsibility and stronger moral values is not to pass a law that would endanger women, foster a police state, foist parenthood on unwilling couples, and severely violate the rights of millions of actual people.

If you believe that "human life has value," the only moral choice is to vote against Amendment 62.

Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

Read more...

30 September 2010

The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Part 16

By Diana Hsieh

This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong's and my new policy paper: The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I'm currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.



The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception


By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010



'Personhood' and the Separation of Church and State



To the world at large, advocates of "personhood" might seem to be little more than unusually devoted and consistent opponents of abortion. They might seem to be motivated by a commitment to scientific fact and inalienable rights. Yet in fact, they are religious zealots seeking to impose the tenets of their faith by force of law. Consequently, any "personhood" measure, in addition to the other harms they threaten to unleash, would violate the proper separation of church and state.

"Personhood" advocates do not conceal or disguise their religious agenda. They proclaim it, loudly and persistently. Consider a few representative claims.

Kristi Burton, the public face of Amendment 48 in the 2008 campaign, explained her reason for fighting to ban abortion: "It just came to me. I prayed about it and knew God was calling me to do it."[159]

As noted previously, Personhood USA's founders proclaim their religious motives:
Personhood U.S.A. is led by Christian ministers Keith Mason and Cal Zastrow...who are missionaries to preborn children. ...They also lead and participate in peaceful pro-life activism, evangelism, and ministry outside of places where preborn babies get murdered [sic]. Personhood USA is committed to...[h]onor[ing] the Lord Jesus Christ with our lives and actions.[160]
In Personhood USA's "Amendment 62 Campaign Video" for 2010, a spokesman (erroneously) claims that the Declaration of Independence declares that "the rights of the unborn...come from the Creator." The video follows this statement with a Bible passage purportedly supportive of "personhood." Personhood USA thanks the "thousands of volunteers and hundreds of churches that made Amendment 62 a reality." For background music, the video uses the Bluetree song, "God of this City," which begins, "You're God of this city, you're the King of these people, you're the Lord of this nation."[161]

Personhood Colorado (while misrepresenting the arguments against "personhood") tailors its message to the religious:
Now the Church must unite and act boldly for the child in the womb. Amendment 62 needs men and women of faith to promote the culture of life in our churches by organizing campaigning events and prayer teams.

In 2008, an unprecedented number of churches awoke from their slumber to put the Personhood Amendment on the ballot. This year, we are on the ballot and need to reach out to even more churches so that we may continue to educate and advocate for the preborn child.

Personhood is a Spiritual Battle. The secular world and their false gods have no reason to protect the preborn child. However, with the power of God's promises, and the loving support of His people, all of the lies and scare tactics used by the secular world will be defeated.

God's word is clear. The only real question is, will we be faithful? ...There are a number of resources available for you to use in your churches. One is a letter by the Alliance Defense Fund, a national Christian law firm, assuring pastors of the legality of working on a constitutional amendment vis-a-vis their non-profit status. ...

The most important aspect of our outreach to the churches is 1) to have God's people praying for the preborn child and for this campaign, and 2) to have God's people work to get Amendment 62 [passed].[162]
Colorado Right to Life, whose vice president helped submit Amendment 62 to the Secretary of State, "commits to never compromise on" what it holds to be "God's law," which is that "[e]very human being has a God-given right to life from the beginning of that person's biological development [fertilization] through natural death."[163] The organization also includes a web page titled "The Bible and Abortion" to highlight the many Biblical passages the organization deems supportive of "personhood."[164]

The "About" web page for Personhood Florida begins and ends with Bible passages. The organization declares, "As the hands and feet of Christ it is up to us to safeguard this most fundamental of these rights--human personhood."[165]

Personhood.net, a website of Georgia Right to Life, proclaims four "laws of personhood," where the first two are explicitly based on God's will, as revealed through Judeo-Christian scripture:
Law 1: A person is a living physical/spiritual being created in the image of God, male and female, from their earliest biological beginning until natural death.

In a Judeo-Christian worldview the human being as such is afforded a special status and dignity on account of being created in the image of God: "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Gn 1:27) ...Because we bear the image of God, all mankind, and, by extension, each and every human life has a "specialness" and worth that demands respect.[166]
And:
Law 2: A person's right to life is inalienable regardless of age, race, sex, genetic pre-disposition, condition of dependency or biological development.

Genesis 2:7 (ESV) "...then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." The right to life is inalienable because it originates with God.[167]
Abort73.com, a website featured prominently by Personhood USA, is a project of Loxafamosity Ministries.[168] "Motivated by our Christian calling," the organization works to "establish justice" and "expose evil injustices" in accordance with its religious views. The organization's seven-point statement of religious faith, which discusses among other things the Christian's need to evangelize, concludes with a call to recognize the "social implications" of the "announcement of the gospel of Jesus," which the group holds to include the policy goal of totally banning abortion.[169]

Such proclamations of deeply religious motives are representative of the "personhood" movement and pervasive within it. "Personhood" activists leave no doubt that their political agenda is fundamentally motivated by religious faith. For example, upon turning in signatures for what would become Amendment 62, supporters cheered for Jesus and broke out in the song, "Onward Christian Soldiers."[170]

Undoubtedly, "personhood" advocates offer a secular argument to supplement their appeals to God's will--as seen in a prior section. Yet even that argument is fundamentally religious, in that the logical leap from the human biology of the embryo and fetus to its personhood requires an assumption of God's gift of rights at conception. The secular argument is mere veneer for the thoroughly religious worldview that animates the calls for "personhood."

In fact, American Right to Life, "The Personhood Wing of the Pro-Life Movement," explicitly warns against appealing to science rather than focusing on basic religious dogmas:
Don't make excuses for Planned Parenthood murdering countless children by saying, "Now that we have 4D ultrasound, we know that this is a baby." Long before ultrasound, the mutilated body of the first aborted child, and the millions since, testified to the wickedness of child killing. 3,500 years ago the Mosaic Law in the Hebrew Scriptures recognized the unborn child as a person...[171]
Evidently, even "personhood" advocates don't take their own secular arguments very seriously--and no wonder, since they're so simplistic and fallacious.

In all likelihood, "personhood" advocates resort to secular claims only to appeal to mainstream voters, and perhaps to ward off future legal challenges. In that respect, they resemble the Christians promoting creationism under the pseudo-scientific banner of "intelligent design."

Ultimately, we should take "personhood" advocates at their word: they seek to impose God's law on America. They want to force all Americans, whatever their religious beliefs, to conform to the dictates of their faith. As such, Amendment 62 and other "personhood" measures must be regarded as prime examples of faith-based politics--or worse, outright theocracy. They violate the separation of church and state--and that's an additional reason to reject them.

Despite the frequent claims from the religious right that America was founded as a "Christian nation," the U.S. Constitution is a thoroughly secular document, referring to religion only to forbid any mingling of faith and politics. Most importantly, the First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

In his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, Thomas Jefferson expounded the significance of this basic law:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.[172]
What does that analogy of a "wall of separation" imply about the relationship between church and state? As philosopher Onkar Ghate argues, its original and proper meaning is two-fold. First, the state ought not use its powers of coercion to shape people's religious beliefs or practices, such as by requiring people to accept Islam or attend church. Instead, the state must only consider whether people's actions, regardless of any religious motivation, violate the rights of others. So the state should intervene to stop men from beating their wives, even if sanctioned by religious scripture. And it should allow people to speak in tongues, even though that is foolish. Second, churches cannot be permitted to harness the power of the state to promote or enforce their preferred religious beliefs and practices, such as if priests acted as television censors or received special tax refunds. Instead, churches must respect the rights of others, using only persuasion to motivate belief.[173]

In essence, a proper government cannot give any more or less weight to certain beliefs just because they are religious in nature. The government must allow people freedom of conscience--including the freedom to act on their beliefs, however wrong or even absurd--provided that they do not violate the rights of others in the process. Yet the government itself must act solely based on rationally provable facts about man's nature, including secular principles of individual rights--not based on any claims of religious faith. Such is the true meaning of a separation of church and state.[174]

Despite some secular veneer, "personhood" advocates aim to force Americans to comply with their notion of divine law. As we have seen, they proclaim that purpose, loudly and clearly. As such, they seek to violate every American's freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

Of course, "personhood" activists have every right to attempt to persuade others to follow divine law, as they see it. They have every right to condemn abortion on religious grounds--and attempt to persuade pregnant women not to abort. However, to impose their views by force--whether as vigilantes or political activists--constitutes a grave violation of rights.

In sum, due to their inherently religious motivation and justification, "personhood" measures violate the separation of church and state--and thereby threaten the very foundations of our freedom. A just and proper government must determine the rights involved in pregnancy on the basis of empirical fact, informed by an objective theory of rights. It must recognize and protect the rights of actual persons, not invent rights for merely potential persons. It must uphold the right of the pregnant woman to terminate her pregnancy at any time, for any reason.

Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

Read more...

29 September 2010

The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Part 15

By Diana Hsieh

This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong's and my new policy paper: The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I'm currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.



The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception


By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010



The Morality of Abortion



In addition to the political debates about abortion rights, many people condemn abortion on moral grounds as an evasion of responsibility for the known consequences of sexual intercourse. In fact, however, the termination of a healthy pregnancy can be--and usually is--a morally responsible choice.

Most people do not object to abortions in cases involving rape, incest, deformity, or risk to the woman's life. Yet they question or even condemn abortions obtained for seemingly less weighty reasons, such as financial hardship, the demands of career or school, problems in the romantic relationship, or not wanting another child. Moreover, when birth control was not used--or used carelessly--people may condemn the abortion as particularly irresponsible. Undoubtedly, these moral objections to abortion stem from implicitly regarding the embryo or fetus as a person, at least in part. People often suppose that the interests of the embryo or fetus should be weighed against the interests of the pregnant woman, such that the termination of a healthy pregnancy cannot be morally justified. In the face of these views, we should ask: Is abortion a morally proper choice simply because the pregnancy and resulting child is unwanted? If so, why?

People should not allow themselves to be buffeted through life by accidental circumstances, for to do so is to court disaster and misery. Instead, people ought to consciously direct the course of their lives by their own rational judgment and long-range planning. With respect to procreation, a woman and her partner ought not bear a child just because she happens to become pregnant. Instead, they ought to consider the impact of the pregnancy and resulting child on their health, finances, careers, and overall well-being. They ought to consider whether their relationship is stable enough to withstand the strain of raising a child. They ought to have a child only if they are willing and able to be good parents.

As Ayn Rand wrote in her essay "Of Living Death," in defending the morality of abortion:
The capacity to procreate is merely a potential which man is not obligated to actualize. The choice to have children or not is morally optional. Nature endows man with a variety of potentials--and it is his mind that must decide which capacities he chooses to exercise, according to his own hierarchy of rational goals and values. ...

It is only animals that have to adapt themselves to their physical background and to the biological functions of their bodies. Man adapts his physical background and the use of his biological faculties to himself--to his own needs and values. That is his distinction from all other living species.

To an animal, the rearing of its young is a matter of temporary cycles. To man, it is a lifelong responsibility--a grave responsibility that must not be undertaken causelessly, thoughtlessly, or accidentally.[156]
A couple seeking to live fully rational, purposeful, and hence human lives must decide for themselves whether and when to have children, based on their interests, capacities, and circumstances. To fail to do that--to assume the enormous responsibility of a child simply due to the accident of pregnancy--would be self-destructive. As such, and given that neither the embryo nor the fetus is a person with a right to life, abortion can be a moral choice.

These same basic considerations apply, even when irresponsible sex causes the pregnancy. Unfortunately, such is common. One study found that 46 percent of women who got pregnant unintentionally weren't using any birth control. Among the rest, only 13 percent of birth-control users and 14 percent of condom users reported correct use.[157] The undesirable outcome is not surprising, as the difference in outcomes between "perfect use" and "typical use" of birth-control methods is dramatic.[158]

Couples who cannot be bothered to use birth control or who use it carelessly, then terminate the resulting pregnancy by abortion, deserve some blame. Yet the problem in such cases is not the abortion. If an unwanted pregnancy was caused by irresponsible behavior, then that behavior ought to be morally blamed, not any ensuing abortion. (Similarly, if a skier breaks his leg by skiing too fast in dangerous terrain, we ought to blame him for that skiing, not for his sensible choice to restore his leg to health by surgery.) In the future, the couple ought to resolve to always use birth control properly, in order to avoid the distress, expense, and risks of another unwanted pregnancy. Yet they should feel no guilt for the abortion, if that best served their interests--but only for engaging in irresponsible sex. Moreover, to the degree that a couple's irresponsible use of birth control indicates habits of irresponsibility, to demand that the couple forego abortion as a matter of moral duty would itself be terribly irresponsible. Such a couple would likely be ill-prepared for the immense burdens of parenthood, and a child should never be inflicted as punishment for the irresponsible decisions of its parents.

Opponents of abortion often present adoption as the moral alternative to abortion for an unwanted pregnancy. Yet adoption is not a viable option for many couples, often for good reasons. To carry any pregnancy to term itself involves some risk, as well as time, effort, and endurance. For some women, that burden might be too great. Moreover, putting up a child for adoption can involve severe and enduring emotional costs, precisely because the born infant to be bestowed on strangers is a person--and one's own child. That is not true of the embryo or fetus destroyed in abortion.

Opponents of abortion also claim that couples can protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy by refraining from sex entirely. However, sex is a magnificent human value integral to any healthy, developed romantic relationship. To advocate this course is to demand that a woman and her partner choose between abstinence and procreation. That is morally wrong: it is not a choice that couples in a modern society should be obliged to make.

In sum, anti-abortion activists often gather support for their cause by associating abortions with promiscuous, irresponsible sex and other self-destructive behaviors. However, women often become pregnant unexpectedly through no fault of their own. In other cases, the error was not the abortion but the irresponsible sex. Whatever the cause of the pregnancy, the embryo or fetus is not a person whose interests must be balanced against those of the woman. So a couple faced with an unintended pregnancy ought to consider the impact of bearing a child on their own lives, as well as the kind of life they could offer that born child. In many cases, abortion might be not just a moral option, but the best one too.

Read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.

Read more...

28 September 2010

The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Part 14

By Diana Hsieh

This post is drawn from Ari Armstrong's and my new policy paper: The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. I'm currently posting the full paper as a series of blog posts. You can read the full paper in PDF format or HTML format.



The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception


By Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, Ph.D
A policy paper written for the Coalition for Secular Government (www.SecularGovernment.us)
Published on August 31, 2010



Individual Rights and Abortion



...

Rights in Pregnancy

On its surface, the secular argument for "personhood" might seem so simple as to be unassailable. Yet in fact, that simplicity conceals fatal defects in its implicit view of the nature and source of rights. Rights are not inherent in human biology: the right to life is nowhere stamped on our DNA. Rather, rights are principles identifying the freedoms of action required for human flourishing in a social context. As we shall see, such rights can and do apply to born infants, but they cannot be legitimately or coherently extended to embryos or fetuses.

The basic biological facts cited in the secular argument for "personhood" laws are not controversial. The fertilization of an egg by a sperm creates a new human life, distinct from that of its genetic parents. By an active, complex, and gradual process of development, that zygote may grow into an embryo and fetus, emerge from the womb as an infant, develop through childhood, mature into an adult, and finally age until death. However, contrary to the argument for "personhood," that process of biological development does not establish that the zygote, embryo, or fetus is a human person with a right to life. Why not?

"Personhood" advocates assume that each and every human life, whatever its qualities or situation, must be a person too. They offer no argument for or explanation of that view. Yet in fact, the concepts are distinct, such that they need not perfectly coincide. In other words, the concepts of "person" and "rights" may not apply to all forms and stages of human existence. The distinction is simple. The concept of "human life" or "human being" used in the first half of the argument for "personhood" is purely biological. It identifies an organism as part of the human species. The concept of "person" used in the second half of the argument for "personhood" concerns politics. It identifies some entity as entitled to claim rights. To slide between these two distinct concepts using the term "human being"--as "personhood" advocates consistently do--is to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

The scope of the political concept "person" cannot be specified by science. That is a question for philosophy, to be answered based on an objective theory of the nature and source of individual rights. That these biological and political concepts might not coincide perfectly is hardly appalling, as "personhood" advocates suggest.[143] Rather, the very purpose of the political concept "person" is to enable us to specify the scope of rights apart from any rigid biological criteria.

The advocates of "personhood" dogmatically assert that every human life is a person for a very simple reason: their secular defense of "personhood" is mere veneer on a deeply religious worldview whereby rights can only be understood as gifts arbitrarily bestowed by God. By creative and selective readings of their scriptures, combined with distorted appeals to America's founding principles, the advocates of "personhood" believe that God bestows the right to life at conception. That is why they consider embryos and fetuses persons. However, that is a matter of faith, not rational conviction--and unsurprisingly, the facts show otherwise. Hence, even the secular argument for "personhood" is ultimately religious at its root.

To understand the rights applicable to pregnancy, we must sketch an objective theory of rights. In short, the rights of persons are not gifts from a divine creator, nor found in scripture, as conservatives often imagine. Nor are rights mere entitlements and permissions bestowed and rescinded by majority vote, as modern liberals suppose. Rather, rights are principles identifying our proper freedom of action. And they are rooted in facts about human nature, particularly the conditions for survival and flourishing in society.[144] How so?

Humans cannot survive and flourish by tooth and claw--nor by our feelings, instincts, or faith. We live by exercising our distinctive capacity to reason in order to produce the values required for life--or we perish. That simple fact of human nature is the source of our rights. As Ayn Rand explains:
Since man's mind is his basic tool of survival, his means of gaining knowledge to guide his actions--the basic condition he requires is the freedom to think and to act according to his rational judgment. ...If men are to live together in a peaceful, productive, rational society and deal with one another to mutual benefit, they must accept the basic social principle without which no moral or civilized society is possible: the principle of individual rights."[145]
So what are rights? Again, Ayn Rand explains:
A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action--which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)[146]
In essence, "to recognize individual rights means to recognize and accept the conditions required by man's nature for his proper survival."[147]

On this objective theory of rights, a person's rights are absolute and inalienable, yet they arise in and pertain to a social context. That's because individual rights are the most basic principle of justice in a society. They're neither innate qualities--nor gifts bestowed by divine powers, constitutional tradition, political leaders, or voters. Moreover, genuine rights cannot conflict, nor require the sacrifice of some persons to others. That's because rights protect each person's power to pursue his own life and happiness, free of forcible interference from others. Rights are freedoms to action, not entitlements to goods and services provided by others, nor duties imposed on others.

Given this understanding of the nature and source of rights, we can now ask: Is an embryo or fetus a person with a right to life, like an infant? No. To see why not, we must compare its basic nature and situation as it develops through pregnancy to that of a born infant.[148]

From the moment of fertilization to its implantation in the womb a few days later, the zygote consists of a few largely undifferentiated cells. It is invisible to the naked eye. It has no human organs, and no human form. It has no brain, and so no capacity for awareness or emotions. It is far more similar to a few skin cells than an infant. Moreover, the zygote cannot develop into a baby on its own: its survival beyond a few days requires successful implantation in the lining of the woman's uterus. If it fails to do that, it will be flushed from her body without anyone ever knowing of its existence.

If the embryo matures normally after implanting into the lining of the uterus, it gradually develops primitive organs. Yet its form is not distinctively human in the early stages: it looks very similar to the embryo of other species.[149] As it develops its distinctive human form, the fetus remains wholly dependent on the woman for its survival. Even with the most advanced medical technology, many fetuses born in the 22nd to 25th week of pregnancy will die, and many of those that survive will suffer from "some degree of life long disability, ranging from minor hearing loss to blindness, to cerebral palsy, to profound intellectual disability."[150] So before viability, the fetus is not capable of an existence independent of the pregnant woman.

After 26 weeks, when a fetus would be viable outside the womb, its organs continue to mature in ways critical to its survival and well-being after birth. It is aware, but that awareness is limited to the world inside the womb. Most importantly, however, so 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 does not interact with the outside world. 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.[151] 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 and solely 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.

These important differences between the mode of life of the zygote, embryo, and fetus on the one hand, and the born infant on the other, show that the former cannot be persons. Rights, in other words, cannot be applied until birth. Why not?

First, the utter biological dependence of the zygote, embryo, and fetus on the pregnant woman shows that, until birth, it is not yet living its own life, but rather partaking in the life of the woman. It exists as part of the pregnant woman, not as an individual in its own right. Yet rights pertain only to individuals, not parts thereof. Such is the case, even when the fetus would be viable outside the womb. Even then, it is only a potential individual, not an actual one. The fetus only becomes an actual individual when birth separates it from the woman's body. Until then, it cannot be a person with a right to life. The pregnant woman, in contrast, is always an individual with full rights.

Second, the zygote, embryo, or fetus does not exist in a social context until birth. Due to its enclosure within the body of the pregnant woman, the new life cannot interact with other people: it experiences only muffled sounds and indirect pressure through the woman. It cannot be touched or handled, nor can it even engage in the primitive communication possible to infants. Even the pregnant woman cannot directly interact with her fetus, as she will do with her newborn infant. Until birth, she can only act as a biological host to the life inside her, not as a mother. A woman, in contrast, lives in society whether pregnant or not--and her rights are therefore absolute and inalienable.

Given these facts, to ascribe any rights to the zygote, embryo, or fetus before birth is a profound error. It is not a person--or rather, it is only a potential person, not an actual person. To suppose that mere potentiality is sufficient is to commit the fallacy of the continuum. The fact that a zygote may develop into a born infant does not prove the zygote to be the same thing as a born infant--any more than an acorn is an oak tree and a caterpillar is a butterfly. As philosopher Leonard Peikoff observes, treating a zygote--a potential person--as though it were an actual person makes no more sense than treating an adult human--a potential corpse--as though he were an actual corpse.[152]

The conclusion that rights begin at birth is confirmed by the serious conflict between any rights ascribed to the embryo or fetus before birth with the rights of the pregnant woman.

The pregnant woman's most fundamental right--her right to life--is not merely a bar against murdering her. Her right to life encompasses all the actions that she deems necessary to promote her flourishing and happiness, provided that she does not initiate the use of force against others (and hence violate their rights). Her right to life protects her capacity to act by her own rational judgment, in pursuit of her own self-interest--and such is the very purpose of rights.

The advocates of "personhood" deny the pregnant woman's right to life in asserting rights for the embryo and fetus. Abort73.com, for example, frames the issue in terms of competing rights:
Politically speaking, abortion is an issue that involves competing rights. On the one hand, you have the mother's right not to be pregnant. On the other hand, you have the baby's right not to be killed. The question that must be answered is this. Which right is more fundamental? Which right has a greater claim? Abortion advocates argue that outlawing abortion would, in essence, elevate the rights of the unborn over and above those of the mother. "How can you make a fetus more important than a grown woman?", they might ask. In reality, outlawing abortion wouldn't be giving unborn children more rights, it would simply gain for them the one most fundamental right that no one can live without, the right to life.[153]
This analysis is utterly wrong. Rights are trumps: they identify the scope and limits of each person's freedom of action in society. To assert conflicts between rights is to confess that one's theory of rights contradicts itself, and a self-contradictory theory of rights cannot be true.

Yet that analysis by Abort73.com is correct, in one sense. By the very nature of pregnancy, any rights ascribed to the embryo or fetus would conflict with the rights of the mother to her own body. Since pregnant women are clearly persons with full rights, that fact only confirms that embryos and fetuses are not persons with rights. Moreover, Abort73.com acknowledges (to some extent) that pregnant women would be obliged to sacrifice themselves to provide life support to the embryo and fetus: "If a baby is not to be aborted, then the pregnant mother must remain pregnant. This will also require of her sickness, fatigue, reduced mobility, an enlarged body, and a new wardrobe. Fortunately, it is not a permanent condition."[154] Yet that demand for forced sacrifice contradicts the very nature and purpose of rights. How so?

Rights enable people to flourish by ensuring that they interact by peaceful, voluntary, and mutually beneficial trade--rather than violence, theft, and fraud. In particular, the right to life guarantees one's own freedom of action in pursuit of one's life: it's not a duty imposed on others to preserve one's life. The responsibility of care for another can only be acquired by the voluntary consent of the care-giver, such as when a man takes a friend out to sea on his boat for a week or when parents take an infant home from the hospital rather than abandoning it under a "Safe Haven Law."[155] However, to grant rights to the embryo and fetus would be to impose such an unjust duty on pregnant women. Regardless of her own plans for her life, every pregnant woman would be obliged to provide life-support to the embryo and fetus, perhaps at great personal cost to herself and her family. That's not freedom; it's slavery.

Significantly, the inalienable right of the pregnant woman to her own life--and hence, her own body--confirms that even a viable fetus cannot be properly regarded as a person with rights. Undoubtedly, for a pregnant woman to seek to abort a healthy, viable fetus without some overriding concern (such as her own health) would be a bizarre and possibly vicious act, e.g., if done to spite the father or due to evasion of the pregnancy for months. Yet the fact remains that even when a woman is deeply committed to her pregnancy, serious conflicts can arise between her welfare and that of the fetus, such as when receiving emergency medical treatment during childbirth or after a car accident. Due to such cases, the law must reflect the fact that the woman has an absolute right to make her own choices about her body. The potential for such conflicts only ends once the fetus is born, when the woman and baby become--and can be treated as--fully separate individuals.

Of course, when a woman wants to bear a child, she will value her fetus tremendously. She will do all she can to ensure the birth of a healthy baby, protecting it from myriad harms. Moreover, she has every right to expect that the police and courts will protect her and her fetus from criminal assault. Indeed, the law should severely punish criminals who intentionally harm a woman and her fetus. However, the only rational basis for such laws is the woman's rights to her own body--coupled with a recognition of the value she places on her fetus--not any false rights attributed to the fetus. Just as the fetus depends on the woman's body for its survival, so it depends on the woman's rights for its legal protections.

In sum, the fundamental biological differences between a zygote, embryo, or fetus versus an infant show that a woman has every right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy--for any reason. The pregnant woman is a human person with the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So is an infant. However, neither a zygote, nor an embryo, nor a fetus is a person. It has no right to life-support from the pregnant woman. For the state to force a woman to provide such life-support under penalty of law would be a gross violation of her rights. Yet that's precisely what "personhood" measures would demand--based on the irrational fantasy that a zygote has the same moral and legal standing as an infant.

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