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

30 April 2010

Why James Taranto is Clueless on Mohammed Drawings

By Ari

[From Ari Armstrong's blog:] James Taranto just doesn't get it with respect to "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," which I have endorsed and promoted.

Here are the essential lines of Taranto's April 26 column entitled, "Everybody Burn the Flag: If we don't act like inconsiderate jerks, the terrorists will have won!"

[H]olding an "Everybody Burn the Flag Day" would be stupid, obnoxious and counterproductive if one seeks to persuade others that flag burning should be tolerated.

"Hate speech"--for example, shouting racial slurs, positing theories of racial supremacy or denying the Holocaust--is illegal in Canada and many European countries. In the U.S. it is protected by the First Amendment--but it has been known to provoke a violent reaction. ... This column is also of the opinion that hate-speech laws are pernicious and that the First Amendment does and should protect the expression of even ugly and false ideas. But we would not endorse or participate in an "Everybody Shout a Racial Slur Day" or an "Everybody Deny the Holocaust Day" to make the point.

Why is "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" different? Because the taboo against depictions of Muhammad is not a part of America's common culture. The taboos against flag burning, racial slurs and Holocaust denial are. The problem with the "in-your-face message" of "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" is not just that it is inconsiderate of the sensibilities of others, but that it defines those others -- Muslims -- as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders. It is an unwise message to send, assuming that one does not wish to make an enemy of the entire Muslim world.
Taranto is totally wrong in all of his comparisons. (He is right to defend the First Amendment even in troublesome cases, so he gets full credit for that.) Drawing Mohammed is not remotely like burning the flag, shouting racial slurs, or denying the Holocaust. Nor does drawing Mohammed to protest Islamist death threats have anything to do with defining Muslims as cultural outsiders.

Even though people have the right to burn the American flag, it is the wrong thing to do because burning the flag is an expression of hatred against America, in its essential founding principles of liberty the greatest nation in the history of humanity. Shouting racial slurs, while properly legally protected, is wrong because racism is immoral and rooted in irrationality. Denying the Holocaust, again while properly legally protected, is wrong because the Holocaust is an objective fact of history, and denial of it is inextricably tied to racism (antisemitism).

In contrast, there is nothing inherently immoral about drawing Mohammed or any other religious figure. The Islamic taboo against drawing Mohammed is sheer irrationality and utterly ridiculous. Therefore, not only is drawing Mohammed properly legally protected, it is entirely morally proper, unlike burning the flag, shouting racial slurs, or denying the Holocaust.

For Taranto to miss this key distinction is simply stunning.

(Update: however, I can think of a hypothetical circumstance in which burning a U.S. flag would be acceptable, if unsavory. Let us say that some Americans were making death threats against some leftist group or some Muslim group for burning the flag. Let us further say that such a threat had actually been acted on or carried out, as is the case with Islamist threats, and that there was a legitimate fear of more murders. In that case, burning the flag with the express purpose of protesting the death threats and alleviating the plight of the threatened parties (by providing moral support and by spreading the risk) would be acceptable. In that case, burning the flag would not be a sign of hatred for America, but an act of solidarity for the core principles of America, which involve the protection of individual rights. Similarly, if the U.S. passed "hate speech" censorship laws, there might be a way to violate the technical aspects of the law without actually endorsing racism or Holocaust denial. Notice that no such contextual nuance is possible regarding an outright taboo against drawing Mohammed, precisely because such a taboo is by its nature inherently irrational.)

Now, I also went out of my way to make my drawing of Mohammed otherwise blasphemous, in that I refer to Mohammed as a "false prophet." However, in my view, Mohammed really is a false prophet, and in reality Mohammed in no way represented any god.

My wife, by contrast, drew a great picture of Mohammed that is not on its face blasphemous, beyond the fact that any drawing of Mohammed is considered by Islamists to be blasphemous. (Whether scholarly Islam in fact prohibits any and all drawings of Mohammed is a theological point beyond my interests.)

A free society requires a clear distinction between what is moral and what is legally protected, and Taranto largely grasps this critical point. People properly have the legal right to do all sorts of immoral things, ranging from getting roaring drunk and lying to their mother to expressing racist views. What is properly outlawed is any action that violates the rights of another individual by initiating force or fraud.

Taranto is noting a superficial similarity between drawing Mohammed, expressing racist views, etc. -- namely, that all those things are properly legally protected -- and inappropriately drawing a moral equivalence between all those things. But expressing racist views is inherently immoral, while drawing Mohammed is inherently within the bounds of morality. Taranto grasps that not everything that should be legal is moral, but he fails to notice that, in the case of drawing Mohammed, what is properly legal is also perfectly moral.

Regarding the alleged definition of Muslims as outsiders, Taranto is simply Making Stuff Up. While perhaps some who participate in the "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign may wish to define Muslims as outsiders, there is nothing involving the campaign itself that does so. Taranto seems to forget that plenty of U.S. citizens are Muslims. Taranto also seems to assume that all Muslims everywhere think it's wrong to draw Mohammed. I'm sure that lots of Muslims throughout the world regard the taboo against drawing Mohammed as stupid, irrational, and counter to an enlightened religious view.

Regardless, what is relevant is that some Muslims (who happen to be American) have made death threats against other human beings. While I am especially motivated to participate in the campaign to draw Mohammed because the most recent threats were made against people from my home state, the point of the campaign is to protest such death threats, regardless of where they are made and against whom they are made.

If (counterfactually) it were the case that drawing Mohammed made "an enemy of the entire Muslim world," that would only prove the irrational hatred and violence of the entire Muslim world -- hatred and violence that would be sparked by any number of faux "offenses." But, thankfully, Taranto is wrong; a significant portion of the Muslim world -- particular within the U.S. -- is more enlightened than to display hostility over some drawing. However, obviously violence and rights violations are all too common in the Muslim world, and we have a moral responsibility to condemn that.

* * *

Taranto also quotes Ann Althouse as condemning the "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign because it "doesn't show enough respect and care for the people who are trying to tolerate the expression that outrages them."

By that logic, the recent works of the "new Atheists" never should have been published, because those works did not adequately respect Christians.

Althouse's argument is bunk.

The primary and overriding purpose of free speech is to allow us to express our ideological views without fear of punishment or reprisal. I think Platonism is false. I think Kantianism is false. I think Christianity is false. I think Islam is false. And by God I'm going to say as much, and I'm not going to be intimidated into silence because Platonists, Kantians, Christians, or Muslims may be offended by my statements.

I'm certainly not going to refrain from drawing some religious figure because of an absurd, antirational, ignorant taboo.

I do not believe that it is a sign of respect to someone to pander to his or her blatant irrationalism. I believe it is a profound sign of disrespect. For, apparently unlike Taranto and Alhouse, I believe that Muslims, as people with a rational capacity, are potentially open to reason, rather than hopelessly mired in insane superstitions.

While it is true that a drawing of Mohammed, as such, is not an argument, it is also true that my drawing contains an explicit message, and that a drawing can point toward a rational argument.

It is precisely because I define Muslims as "insiders" -- as fellow members of the human race -- that I insist on engaging them in reasoned dialog and refuse to accept their threats of violence as substitute.

It is Taranto and Althouse who disrespect Muslims and define them as outside the realm of reason.

* * *

Taranto does provide some useful background on the matter. While I had credited Dan Savage with the idea for "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," in fact he in turn picked up the idea from Molly Norris. Norris, it turns out, was quite surprised by the attention her little cartoon generated.

Of course, having seen Norris's cartoon, I understood that her "group" was fictional and intended in jest. I had noticed the line from her cartoon: "Sponsored by Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor or CACAH (pronounced ca-ca)." I remember enough Spanish to understand that was a joke. Also, Norris drew the "likeness" of Mohammed as various silly objects, such as a coffee mug and a cherry.

Regardless of its origins as a jest, the "Everybody Draw Mohammed" campaign is a great idea, and it has a very serious purpose. The point of it, beyond illustrating the lunacy of prohibiting the drawing of a religious figure, is to provide so many targets that the violent Islamists cannot hope to intimidate everybody. They can send a handful of Danish cartoonists into hiding. They can suppress South Park. But they cannot intimidate, suppress, or harass all of us. Drawing Mohammed is a legitimate and important way to express our outrage over such death threats, to show our solidarity with the threatened, and to stand up for freedom of conscience.

For what it's worth, here is Norris's recent statement, as posted on her web page:
I make cartoons about current, cultural events. I made a cartoon of a fictional 'poster' entitled "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" with a nonexistent group's name -- Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor -- drawn on the cartoon. It was in specific response to the recent censoring of a South Park episode, a desire to bring home the importance of the first amendment. I did not intend for my cartoon to go viral. I did not intend to be the focus of any 'group'. This particular cartoon has struck a gigantic nerve, something I was totally unprepared for.

Personally I can feel afraid of Muslims because I really have no idea if in their hearts they hate non-Muslims. There are so many interpretations of the religion that I hear told -- sometimes it is a very extreme translation (that's the scary part, the radicals that believe that Westerners should die), then at other times it sounds more peaceful.

I hope for the sake of this country that moderate Muslims will speak out with everyone else against any violent members of that or any other religion. That way I would know that there is a difference. Maybe this cartoon I made, this fictional poster of "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" had such a wildfire effect because it is finally time for Muslims and non-Muslims to understand one another more.

I am going back to the drawing table now!

Thanks,
Molly
My response is this: Hang in there, Molly! You did nothing wrong. Those of us who have chosen to draw Mohammed have done so for our own reasons, and not because of you. I respect you for standing up for the First Amendment, and I encourage you to be even more bold in that stance.

The Minnesota Fox affiliate posted a follow-up story about Norris, which is a little sad:
In more fallout around the decision by Comedy Central to censor an episode of "South Park" that contained comedic depictions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a cartoonist has now censored herself. ... Now Norris has backed off from that position. She no longer has the illustration on her website and she claims responses to the idea were overwhelming.
When did we get so damned afraid in this country speak our minds?

* * *

Throughout the debate over South Park, various commentators have been extremely sloppy in their use of the term "censorship." That's a real problem, because censorship is a horrible evil, but it's hard to fight if people don't even know what it is.

While in other contexts "censorship" can carry a broader meaning (as with the term "self-censorship"), in the political context censorship means the use of political force to ban or suppress expression. For example, if the government fines, arrests, imprisons, or harasses you for what you say or write, that is censorship.

The actions of private parties never constitute censorship. If a newspaper decides to fire a writer or pull a writer's article, the newspaper is NOT censoring that writer. If I write a blog post but then intentionally erase it, that is NOT censorship.

While Comedy Central capitulated to terrorist threats and suppressed the expression of the South Park creators, Comedy Central did not technically censor the show. You can call the acting executives at Comedy Central damned cowards, but you oughtn't call them censors. They have the right to broadcast whatever they want on their station, consonant with their contractual obligations.

To conflate government censorship with nonviolent private acts is to obliterate the very concept of censorship and to open the gates to actual censorship.

If somebody calls you on the phone or writes to you and threatens you over an article you've written (as I have been threatened), that certainly constitutes the criminal suppression of speech, something that is properly outlawed and that the government properly protects against. However, such criminal action is not properly considered censorship, a term that refers only to government action.

Now, a government can sanction the criminal suppression of speech, by failing to protect those who have been threatened, and that becomes censorship. Or, as with the case of the Taliban, the street criminals effectively constitute the government, so criminal suppression of speech amounts to censorship. Morally, government censorship and criminal suppression of speech are equivalent evils.

The U.S. government has, by my understanding, taken measures to protect the creators of South Park, even if those measures have been too weak. If President Obama has condemned the death threats, I have not heard of it.

It is absolutely critical that we understand and articulate the meaning of censorship, for there is nothing more important to the maintenance of a free society than the protection of free speech, which requires the eradication of criminal suppression of speech and of (government) censorship.

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28 April 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed

By Ari

[From Ari Armstrong's blog:] Americans do not cower over death threats made against those practicing their First Amendment rights.

Americans do do stand idly by while terrorist thugs treat our Bill of Rights like toilet paper.

As an American, I may hate what you say, and I may loudly condemn you for saying it, but I will fight -- to the death -- to defend your right to say it.

Our First Amendment guarantees freedom of conscience -- properly a universal human right -- a cornerstone of a free society:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Americans do not equivocate between freedom of speech and rights-violating action. You are free to say whatever you please, using your own resources and in voluntary association with others, so long as you steer clear of violence, including such indirect forms of force as fraud and incitement to violence.

Offending somebody's religious sensibilities is NOT incitement to violence. The fact that somebody may respond to free speech by destroying property or threatening or murdering people is no legitimate reason to squelch free speech; it is instead an overriding reason for the government to take defensive action against the aggressors. If speech is held hostage to the irrational violence of some, then there is no such thing as freedom of speech. There is only tyranny.

The latest targets of death threats by Islamofascist terrorist thugs are Colorado's own Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of the television show South Park. As the Associated Press reports:

Muhammad appeared on Wednesday night's [April 21] episode of the cartoon with his body obscured by a black box, since Muslims consider a physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous. Last week, the character was believed to be disguised in a bear costume.

When that same costume was removed this week, Santa Claus appeared.

The bear costume had angered the New York-based group Revolution Muslim, which posted a message on its website saying that producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone had insulted their prophet.

The message included a gruesome picture of Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after making a movie about a woman who rejected Muhammad's teachings. The message said the "South Park" producers would "probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh" for airing the show.
Fox News offers more details. See also my 2006 report on the terrorist response to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed.

Unfortunately, Comedy Central, the station that airs the show, capitulated to these threats of terrorism. Stone and Parker posted a statement to their web page on April 22:
In the 14 years we've been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we'll see what happens to it.
David Harsanyi brilliantly critiques the terrorists -- and Comedy Central's capitulation to them -- in an April 23 column for the Denver Post, noting that today all that is needed to trigger censorship is a "a violent temperament, a demented ideology and a poorly constructed website." He concludes:
[I]f those who bankroll satirists can be so easily intimidated, shouldn't we all be troubled about the lesson that sends religious fanatics elsewhere? And what does it say about us?

"South Park" might be offensive, but I assure you there would be few things more unpleasant than watching a cable lineup dictated by the members of Revolution Muslim.
Thankfully, not all Americans are prepared to cower in some corner as terrorist goons shred the First Amendment and impose theocratic censorship. Some Americans are taking a stand.

Dan Savage proposed May 20 as "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day." This idea has been picked up by Michael Moynihan at Reason and Allahpundit at Hotair.

I propose only a slight modification to the plan: to protest death threats made by freedom-hating terrorists, Americans should draw Mohammed -- and publish their drawings -- by May 20.

Below is my entry. For I am an American. Give me liberty, or give me death.

mohammed

Update: See the CNN segment in which Ayaan Hirsi Ali discusses the death threats made against the creators of South Park.

My wife drew a very nice likeness of Mohammed and added a poignant message:

mohammed2a

April 25 Update: Below are links to other drawings of Mohammed.

AisA Academy

Creatures of Prometheus

Armchair Intellectual

Craig Biddle of The Objective Standard

April 27 Update: See also my follow-up article, "Why James Taranto is Clueless on Mohammed Drawings."

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19 April 2010

CSG Redesign

By Diana Hsieh

As you might have noticed already, I've overhauled the design of CSG's web site and blog. In the process, I updated some content, and I switched the blog comments from my own scripts to Disqus. The old design was downright awful from the outset, and it didn't age well with time. I think the new design looks pretty spiffy though!

Everything seems to be working okay so far, but please do drop me an e-mail if you notice anything amiss. I'd really appreciate that.

Some content updates remain to be done, but those will have to wait until I get my other blogs and web sites updated. (Blogger is discontinuing its FTP service on May 1st, so I've got to transfer all my blogs to custom Google domains before then.)

That's all for today! I'm beat!

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15 April 2010

No Personhood or Victimhood for a Fetus

By Gina Liggett

The Case

A prior felon accused his girlfriend of becoming pregnant by another man, so he stabbed her in the abdomen on Dec. 31, 2006. She survived, her 6-month-old pregnancy did not. It turned out by DNA testing that this loser was indeed the father, so it seems his vicious little tirade was for naught.

The Sacramento Superior Court judge in the case sentenced him to 50 years-to-life on the charge of first degree murder--for killing the fetus. For brutally attacking the girlfriend, he was given 12 years for "corporal injury and assault with a deadly weapon."

A Problem Here

First of all, I must say it's a good thing this beast and his DNA are off the streets.

The big however is the charge of first-degree murder being applied to a non-person, a fetus. This grievous application of a law to an entity with no rights sets a dangerously contradictory precedent about the legal status of a fetus or embryo, including ones frozen for in vitro fertilization.

This case could potentially give fuel to the "personhood" advocates. They claim that embryos and fetuses should have rights, and that all abortion, many forms of birth control, and embryonic stem-cell research should be outlawed. Ultimately, personhood arguments are based on religious dogma, not on facts of reality.

The only person whose rights were violated in this case was the girlfriend. And her attacker should have been charged with attempted first-degree murder -- a charge significantly more serious than "assault." (Big deal, a punch in the nose is assault!) The involuntary termination of her pregnancy by her attacker was an added violation of the woman's rights, and additional penalty should have been assigned accordingly.

The woman's life and body and pregnancy belong to her, and laws should only apply to her, not to a non-person who is not yet born and who has not yet acquired rights as a person.

In a civilized human society governed by laws that separate church and state, it doesn't matter what the Bible or the Koran or the Torah or the Kojiki or the Tig-Veda claim is the will of a supernatural creator. All that should matter is the protection of individual rights of persons who are indeed persons in reality.

In this case, justice was served and the goon is in jail, but it wasn't served to the true victim of his crimes.

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12 April 2010

Church and State

By Ari

[From Ari Armstrong's blog:] I delivered the following talk on the separation of church and state at Denver's Liberty Toastmasters on April 3. Obviously neither the national nor the local group sanctioned or endorsed the content of my talk. In six minutes I could touch on only a few of the key points, not delve deeply into the matter. I found Onkar Ghate's longer lecture on the topic quite helpful, though of course I do not claim his approval for my handling of it.

Read more...

08 April 2010

ObamaCare and Abortion

By Ari

[From Ari Armstrong's blog:] One of the big fights leading up to the vote on the Democratic health bill (ObamaCare) was over abortion funding. The basic dilemma is whether tax-subsidized health care -- and taxes already fund most U.S. health costs -- will cover abortions.

What both sides seem to forget is that, when politicians control health care, it turns out that politicians control health care. So whether politicians will permit tax funds to subsidize abortions depends entirely on which politicians get into power.

Anti-abortion Christians who think that an executive order or even an explicit legislative declaration can permanently prevent the tax subsidization of abortions are simply delusional. Various Catholic groups endorse politically run medicine but insist that it not subsidize abortions. But when you render unto Caesar the control of medicine, Caesar will dip into tax funds to pay for whatever medical procedures he damn well pleases. That U.S. medicine is controlled by thousands of pigmy Caesars who vote, bicker, and draft reams of regulations first does not alter that basic fact.

Leftists who wish to protect a woman's right to choose to get an abortion, but who deny to all women and men the right to associate freely to obtain medicine and insurance, should contemplate a possible future in which the religious right seizes control of the political machinery built by the left. Prohibitions on the tax funding of abortions will be the least of our worries.

I have some questions for the religious right. Do you really care, at all, about liberty in medicine? Does forcing somebody to finance a kidney transplant register a blip on your moral radar? Or are you perfectly fine with the forcible redistribution of wealth to fund health care, so long as it doesn't include abortions? If the left offered to completely ban abortions, in exchange for the complete political control of medicine, is that a bargain you'd happily accept?

I have only a couple of questions for the left. What sort of world do you think we'll be living in if the religious right takes over the Democratic health law? How is politically run health care remotely consistent with the exhortation to "keep your laws off of my body?"

I don't really expect either the religious right or the left to attempt to answer these questions. Even the attempt to answer them would indicate some residual concern with liberty and individual rights, which I do not believe that many on either side any longer possess.

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06 April 2010

Obama's Faith-Based Initiative: Throw the Constitution a Bone

By Gina Liggett

When President Obama introduced the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in Feb. 2009, an expansion of the Bush-Era faith-based initiative, he explained its underlying purpose:

[The Golden Rule] is an ancient rule, a simple rule... It asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well-being of people we may not know or worship with... or agree with... on any issue. ... That requires a living, breathing, active faith. It requires us to not only belief but to do. To give something of ourselves for the benefit of others and the betterment of our world. In this way (we can) bring about a greater good for all of us... Our beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted... rebuild what has broken. ... To lift up those who have fallen on hard times. This is not only our call as people of faith, but our duty as citizens of America, and our duty of citizens of the world. And it will be the purpose of the White Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. ... The goal... will not be to favor one religious group over another or even religious groups over secular groups... And to do so without blurring line that our Founders so wisely drew between church and state.
Obama promised to undo the Bush Administration's Constitution-be-damned permissiveness towards faith-based grant recipients, namely their evangelism and proselytizing. Another criticism of the Bush-era program, religious-based hiring discrimination, was officially sanctioned by a Justice Department ruling that okayed hiring discrimination by faith-based groups. Such groups as World Vision flaunted their lack of intention to hire anyone for their faith-based social programs who didn't meet their Christian standards.

One year ago, Obama formed a 25-member Advisory Council to examine the Faith-Based program and to draft recommendations for reform and to set goals for the Obama Administration's Office. It is noteworthy that many of Obama's appointees to that Advisory Council also happen to have received millions of dollars of Faith-Based grant money over the past 10 years, like Catholic Charities ($521 million), Catholic bishop conference ($304.8 million), World Vision ($405.9 million), and other groups such as Orthodox and Jewish organizations.

Granted these groups are on the front lines of doing the "community" work, but it is hard not to take notice of an obvious conflict of interest. On the other hand, perhaps they reasoned that a few concessions to a little piece of paper like the Constitution would keep the cash flowing. But the deed is done.

The multi-million dollars of Faith-Based programming carried on business-as-usual while Obama awaited the Council's recommendations. Finally, this month the Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships presented its final report of recommendations to senior officials of the Obama Administration.

If you're really interested, the 176-page report can be read word-for-bureaucratic word.

In the report is a section on "Reform." It includes several recommendations:
  • Strengthening constitutional and legal footing of partnerships
  • Fidelity to constitutional principles
  • Increasing transparency and monitoring
  • Grant making decisions be free from political interference
  • Participants in the grant-making process refraining from taking religious affiliations or lack thereof into account in this process
  • Prohibiting the use of direct aid to subsidize "explicitly religious activities, such as worship, religious instruction, and proselytization"
  • A majority of the Council (16 members) believe that the Administration should neither require nor encourage the removal of religious symbols where services subsidized by Federal grant or contract funds are provided, but instead should encourage all providers to be sensitive to, and to accommodate where feasible, those beneficiaries who may object to the presence of religious symbols.
This last issue may be significant. I think Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, makes a valid point in saying, "What is a more potent promotion of any religious system than having the central symbols of that faith (a Christian cross, for example, or religious statements like "Jesus said, 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Life'") on the walls of a soup kitchen or counseling center? Many religious groups promote the idea that a single encounter with the core message of the faith can lead to spiritual conversion."

As far as the hiring bias problem, the Advisory Council was instructed not to address it because it has been remitted to the Justice Department, which has yet to make a ruling.

So, as it stands, no reforms of the Faith-based initiative have actually occurred since Obama has taken office. But the Advisory Council has issued some reform recommendations, addressing constitutional issues bashed during the Bush era, and the Justice Department still has the hiring bias problem in their court.

Obama's Faith-Based program is here to stay, and my guess is he will be highly motivated to ensure that any Constitutional glitches get fixed.

In the world view of a President who was spiritually indoctrinated in a Black Liberation Theology which links "economic justice" with "race, ... freedom, and dignity for humanity", these Faith-Based programs aren't just on the periphery of his grand purpose for "Change." In justifying the Faith-Based program, he outright declares that as Americans we are duty-bound, not only to anybody and everybody in America, but to the world to sacrifice for the betterment of others.

The fact that he throws defenders of the Constitution a bone with his promise to avoid "blurring" the line separating church and state (a pretty weak wall) is a feeble compromise to keep his duty-driven welfare train running at the expense of the wealth-creators in society -- and at the expense of the American Dream of the individual pursuing his own happiness.

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02 April 2010

Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia are Fundamental Rights

By Gina Liggett

A Real-Life Story of Dying With Dignity by Physician-Assisted Suicide

The PBS show, “Frontline,” documented the story of Craig Ewert, a 59-year old American with Lou Gehrig’s disease who chose to die by assisted suicide in Zurich, Switzerland in September, 2006.

Assisted suicide is legal in the U.S. for residents of Washington, Oregon and Montana; and for citizens of Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg (where euthanasia is also legal). In physician-assisted suicide, the physician writes the prescription for the lethal medication, but the patient administers it. In euthanasia, someone else administers the lethal medication with the patient’s consent. But it is only in Switzerland that non-citizens can seek physician-assisted suicide.

Mr. Ewert first considered suicide only five months after his diagnosis, when he “had deteriorated enough.” As his wife was doing his morning shave, a task he could no longer perform himself, he said “You can only watch so much of yourself drain away before you say this is an empty shell. Once I become completely paralyzed, I will take in some nutrients through a tube in my stomach and I will have to excrete and be cleaned and washed. And it’s painful.”

The Ewerts, who had settled in England, sought help through a Swiss organization called Dignitas, which caters only to foreigners seeking assisted suicide. In compliance with Swiss Law, Mr. Ewert himself activated a timer on his breathing-assistance device (using his teeth) to cause it to stop working so it wouldn’t continue to ventilate him after his own respirations ceased. Given his love of music, Mr. Ewert wanted a recording of the First Movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to play during his final journey. He and his wife kissed and said goodbye to each other, then he drank a lethal-strength prescription sedative. Within minutes, he peacefully fell asleep. The ventilator turned off. And he never reawakened.

Assisted Suicide is Legal But Not a Right

Unfortunate for advocates for the right to die, bills being considered by the Swiss legislature this year may place more legal restrictions on right-to-die organizations in Switzerland.

The concern over Switzerland’s “Suicide Tourism” has come about recently because of controversies concerning Dignitas and such cases like the assisted suicides of a rugby player that had become paralyzed and a couple in which one spouse was relatively healthy.

In Washington and Oregon, assisted suicide is legal because the majority of voters approved it, and court challenges upheld the law.

In Montana, the newest state to permit physician-assisted suicide, the state supreme court ruled on Dec. 31, 2009 that physicians who write lethal prescriptions for mentally competent, terminally-ill patients, would be shielded from homicide liability. The court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the issue.

Because assisted suicide is not recognized as an absolute right, not everyone who wants to end his or her life has been able to. As an example, in Switzerland, a couple who wanted to die together was declined services because the husband, who had serious heart disease, was not considered sick enough and his wife was healthy. Months later, the wife unexpectedly died of cancer, and the husband continues to survive without her. They were unable to fulfill their wish to die together as they had lived---inseparable from the start.

The Religious Right Continues to Oppose Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

Not surprisingly, the Religious Right remains opposed on Christian religious grounds to physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. This was reiterated at the Religious Right’s September, 2009 summit called the “Manhattan Declaration” where Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Christian leaders drew the line in the sand on their well-known positions on social issues.

What About the Religious Left?

While the Religious Right opposes physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia for biblical reasons, the religious left seems to oppose it on “social” grounds.

In a 2007 Pew Forum interview, self-called “Progressive” theologian Robert P. Jones argues that assisted suicide/euthanasia could end up being performed in a biased fashion on the poor, disabled, or those without health insurance. That is, they could be pressured into choosing to prematurely end their lives for financial or social reasons. He said, “in our current health care context we can't justly implement it in a way that doesn't lead to increased risk to the disadvantaged and the vulnerable in society.”

But when asked by the interviewer, “Is there any evidence in Oregon that the sorts of problems that you've raised have actually occurred?”, Jones answers,
“On their face, the official reports out of Oregon so far don't seem to indicate that these sorts of problems have occurred.”

Ezekiel Emmanuel, a physician-ethicist and close advisor to the Obama Administration on health care policy, wrote in 1997 about his opposition to the right to die. He argues, first, patients do not need physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia because, “Patients who are being kept alive by technology and want to end their lives already have a recognized constitutional right to stop any and all medical interventions, from respirators to antibiotics.” And second, survey data show that a “significant majority of Americans oppose physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia except in the limited case of a terminally ill patient with uncontrollable pain.”

The only statement I could find from Obama was when he was questioned during the presidential campaign about physician-assisted suicide. He said, “I am in favor of palliative medicine in circumstances where someone is terminally ill. ... I'm mindful of the legitimate interests of states to prevent a slide from palliative treatments into euthanasia. On the other hand, I think that the people of Oregon did a service for the country in recognizing that as the population gets older we've got to think about issues of end-of-life care.”

What's Wrong With Arguments Against the Right To Die?

As far as the Religious Right’s intransigent opposition to assisted suicide and euthanasia, their argument is entirely based on religion beliefs about what God says. If their argument were to prevail legally, it would be an horrific violation of the separation of church and state (a quest they appear never to give up on).

Ezekiel Emmanuel’s arguments derive from pragmatism and collectivism when he says that patients can refuse life-sustaining care anyway (and then supposedly die), and that society should do what the majority wants according to polls. What about what the individual wants? Mr. Ewert said, “If someone wants to take their own life, you may not think it’s a good reason, but it’s that person’s life.” Nothing in Dr. Emmanuel’s argument says that an individual owns his own life.

Theologian Robert Jones is making a theoretical allegation that the poor, disabled and uninsured will be unjustly pressured to prematurely end their lives because of economic circumstances or perceptions of their “value” as human beings (in the case of the disabled). He provides no evidence to support this absurd and inflammatory position.

As far as Obama, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Palliative Care is a specialty medical service that deals with the relief of symptoms and stress associated with serious illness, regardless of the prognosis. Palliative care has nothing whatsoever to do with assisted suicide or euthanasia, and it is ridiculous to consider some possible “slide” from Palliative Care to assisted suicide/euthanasia. His ignorant argument is a nothing, and no more can be said of it.

The Right To Die is a Corollary of the Right to Life

Assisted suicide in the U.S. and Europe, and euthanasia in Europe are not Constitutionally-protected. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1997 ruled unanimously that assisted suicide is not Constitutionally-protected, but up to the states to decide. In Europe, laws were enacted by parliamentary law and subject to revision.

Ayn Rand said, “There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life."

As well-stated by Thomas Bowden in a 2007 Op-Ed,

The Declaration of Independence proclaimed, for the first time in the history of nations, that each person exists as an end in himself. This basic truth--which finds political expression in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--means, in practical terms, that you need no one's permission to live, and that no one may forcibly obstruct your efforts to achieve your own personal happiness.
I would argue that the right to die is a corollary of the right to life. A free person does not belong to God, to the State, to the medical establishment or to anyone else. If a rational, competent person decides that life is not worth living because of illness, suffering, loss of a loved one, untreatable hopelessness, or whatever reason, then that person has the right to end his or her life. Just as one should be left free to pursue rational values that do not violate others' rights, one should be free to terminate their life on their terms (excluding obvious instances when that's not possible, like getting struck by lightening or a bus).

The right to choose one’s own death (if such a choice becomes possible) is as absolute as the right to one’s own life. Period.

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