On picking the right battles.

jesusr-no-runningSo there’s been a couple of news items recently about restaurants causing an uproar by offering discounts to customers displaying their religiosity. In one case Mary’s Gourmet Diner in Winston-Salem, NC was offering a 15% discount to customers they saw praying before eating their meals.

The owner claimed it was more about public displays of gratitude than religion, but the receipts did list it as a ‘praying in public’ discount, which makes that claim seem a bit dubious. That said, it was never officially advertised and was handed out entirely at the discretion of the service staff for years before a pleasantly surprised customer posted a photo of their receipt with the discount to Facebook and it went viral. It wasn’t long after that the the owner was contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation — a group I support — with a letter informing them that the practice was a violation of the Civil Rights Act. The owner ended up deciding to discontinue the discount despite a lot of offers of free legal representation and visitors to the diner are now greeted with the following note:

“While you may exercise your right of religious freedom at this restaurant by praying over your meal to any entity or non-entity, we mush protect your freedom from religion in a public place. We are no longer issuing the 15% praying in public discount. It is illegal and we are being threatened by a lawsuit.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told News & Record that the group didn’t threaten a lawsuit, but a lawsuit “would not have been off the table.”

She added that it’s illegal to “charge an atheist more than a Christian.”

Now the FFRF has contacted Bailey’s Pizza in Arkansas for offering a 10% discount to people who bring in church bulletins:

Sent earlier this month, the letter alleges that Bailey’s owner, Steven Rose, is discriminating against patrons who have not attended church.

“The law requires places of public accommodation to offer their services to customers without regard to race, color, religion or national origin,” wrote FFRF representative Elizabeth Cavell.

Bailey’s, which opened last month, also allows patrons to write Bible verses on one of the restaurant’s walls.

In an interview with local media, Rose denies that the discount violates the Civil Rights Act, telling CBS affiliate THV11 that the discount “has nothing to do with excluding anybody.”

“It’s not specific to any church. It’s another way to bring people in and make them feel welcome,” said Rose.

“I offer discounts to others too — like college students, teachers, military, police and senior citizens.”

Now, technically, the FFRF is correct in that both of these policies violate the Civil Rights Act which includes religion as one of the criteria that public businesses cannot discriminate on and offering discounts for public displays of religiosity or church bulletins is a form of discrimination. Steven Rose disagrees and is vowing to fight the FFRF if they sue saying that if atheists really want the discount they can just download a church bulletin off of a website and bring it in and no one would question them on it. Which, yeah, you could do if you don’t mind dishonestly misrepresenting yourself to knock a few bucks off your pizza. I don’t think atheists should be forced into essentially lying to a business just to net a discount.

So, yes, I think the FFRF is right that this is a violation of the law, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort to pick a fight over it. I don’t really care if religious folks get slightly cheaper food from a particular restaurant. If anything, it just makes me want to avoid that restaurant.  If they don’t mind alienating part of their potential clientele then so be it. Atheists in general, and the FFRF in particular, already take a lot of shit for fighting battles over displays of the Decalog and crosses on government property and I think those are worthy fights to be had. I’m not sure the extra ill-will we get from forcing a restaurant to cease offering preferential treatment to religious people is worth it.

That said, I would be sure to make it known to the owner of any restaurants that I did visit that had such a policy that I find it disappointing and wouldn’t recommend folks eat there as a result. Maybe that would make them rethink it and maybe it wouldn’t, but there’s plenty of places to eat that don’t discriminate to choose from. If their goal was to make people feel welcome and I don’t feel welcome, well, they failed in their goal.

One of the neat things about having had a blog for 13 years is that you can figuratively go back in time and see the person you once were simply by browsing through the archives. I was 34 when I first started blogging and back then I probably would’ve been right there with the FFRF decrying this as something that should not be! It’s an injustice against my people and will not stand!

fuckloadingfailI don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and just don’t have the energy I did 13 years ago, but these days my reaction to hearing about eateries like these was “meh.” It seems like you hear about this sort of thing every week now and it seems like a huge waste of resources trying to fight each one.

There’s also the fact that religious belief in America has been on a downward trend for some time now so it’s a problem that’s likely to take care of itself by the end of the century:

Every piece of social data suggests that those who favor faith and superstition over fact-based evidence will become the minority in this country by or before the end of this century. In fact, the number of Americans who do not believe in a deity doubled in the last decade of the previous century according to both the census of 2004 and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of 2008, with religious non-belief in the U.S. rising from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001. In 2013, that number is now above 16 percent.

If current trends continue, the crossing point, whereby atheists, agnostics, and “nones” equals the number of Christians in this country, will be in the year 2062. If that gives you reason to celebrate, consider this: by the year 2130, the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christian will equal a little more than 1 percent. To put that into perspective, today roughly 1 percent of the population is Muslim.

The fastest growing religious faith in the United States is the group collectively labeled “Nones,” who spurn organized religion in favor of non-defined skepticism about faith. About two-thirds of Nones say they are former believers. This is hugely significant. The trend is very much that Americans raised in Christian households are shunning the religion of their parents for any number of reasons: the advancement of human understanding; greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over-zealousness of the Christian Right.

So let them have their little discounts if they want them and save those resources for the bigger fights. Consider it a consolation prize as they’re headed out the door. Hell, if anything, this sort of thing does more harm to their cause than good. This sort of subtle discrimination only contributes to their downfall because it reveals them for the bigots they are.

[SEB Guest Post] “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repealed

Hello, this is my first time posting on my father’s blog, but…I thought his readers might enjoy this essay I wrote for my political science class.  So, here you go.

Pic of editoral cartoon.Last month, or rather last year, a very controversial military act was repealed, which banned those who were gay or lesbian from revealing who exactly they were.  While advocates of the repeal viewed this as a success, opponents viewed the repeal as a major hit against military personnel currently fighting overseas.  One side claims that men and women are dying in the name of this country while lying about themselves in order to be able to serve.  The other claims that the repeal will put lives in danger as those who were hidden before come out to their fellows.  Both sides think theirs is the right one, and that the other is in the wrong.  Interwoven throughout the controversial debate are the thoughts that this repeal was pushed through by the democrats to spite the republicans about to enter office.  At the forefront, however, is the issue at hand.  Should gay and lesbian individuals be allowed to openly serve in the military?

This entire debate has to do with the Fourteenth Amendment, most specifically equality.  This has been a civil rights issue for several decades.  In fact, it seemed to first rise up in the 60s when the Civil Rights Movement was occurring.  Chapter Five in my Political Science textbook discusses the varying degrees of equality that have either been gained or are still being fought for by the people of the United States.  In fact, the book even lists gay and lesbian rights in the same chapter as rights for blacks or women, which might lead a reader to think that they are all on the same level.  In fact, they are.  All three movements have to do with equality, but for different reasons.  One has to do with color, another with gender and the third with sexuality.  The linked article deals with the third equality issue.

If the military does not discriminate based on gender or color, why should it then discriminate based on sexuality?  That seems to be what the senators who voted for the repeal are asking.  These men and women are dying for us, regardless of their sexuality.  In fact, these men and women are lying in order to get into the military so that they can fight for a country that discriminates against them.   The book lists a poll done in 2007 that said three quarters of service members had no qualms about serving with gay men or lesbians.  Three quarters, that’s a lot of people.  My Political Science course is about considering and thinking about how the government affects my life.  This topic is something that affects my life in that I will finally no longer read stories about individuals who are dishonorably discharged due to their sexuality.

As a citizen, I view this as another act against discrimination.  In my mind, if discrimination against sexuality is allowed to continue and even encouraged then where is the line drawn?  Discrimination falls across everything and sexuality seems to be just the latest trench war.  For seventeen years individuals had to lie about who they were, as sexuality is a fundamental part of a person’s identity, those same individuals may have died fighting for our rights as Americans while living under a policy that could get them kicked out of their career.

If the military and, through it, the government takes the first steps in this form of equality perhaps businesses will follow.  Currently someone might be fired due to their sexuality.  This is the same as firing a woman due to the fact that she is pregnant. Nowhere on a job application is it asked what the potential-employee’s sexuality is, and why not?  The simple reason is that it’s not important.  The capabilities of the individual applying are what’s important.

This repeal might be the first, historical step in getting closer to “equality for all.”  As a citizen of a country that claims such a thing is important, that’s important to me.  I’d like to see a society where a person, regardless of age, disability, gender, skin color or sexuality is treated as just that – a person.  In the 1960s and 1970s, the Civil Rights Movement forced a lot of massive changes, but then that was a love of different minorities fighting for their rights as citizens of this great country.  The Movement seems to have become quieter, smaller as various groups adjusted to new times.  The one group that seems to have always gotten the short end of the stick are homosexuals; even the government refused to support those of a sexuality different from the ‘norm.’  This repeal is just one act of a much longer play, and it will stop the discharging of perfectly capable individuals.

One of the major problems with the dishonorable discharge was that it is usually reserved for those who have acted criminally.  By using the same discharge for those who were revealed to be homosexual, the government was saying that those people were doing something illegal or completely wrong.  This is not a message our government should want to promote to the people as a whole, especially not when everyone is fighting so very hard for the exact same thing – Equality.  There may be people against the idea of gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, but these people have been serving and even dying for us, so why should they not be given the same rights as their fellow military personnel?  They should have the right to be who they are without fearing punishment.

As a citizen, I think this is a step forward toward equality, and believe that to have permanently banned homosexuals from performing in the military would have been a massive step backwards.  For seventeen years, the military has basically promoted the idea that it is acceptable to treat homosexuals like dirt and fire them for a job well done due to the fact that they like others of the same gender.  This mistake has hopefully been changed permanently.  I’d like to see the men and women serving our country able to stand tall without fearing for their military careers.

The Article

The Presentation

Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Crossposted from Degrees of Oddity.

Holy shit! Think I will have to cancel that trip to Cuba.

US says it has right to kidnap British citizens.

If the link doesn’t work for you try going to http://www.timesonline.co.uk and look up the story from there.

This just blows me away. It is possible I am making to much of the story, but still the implications seem extreme.

David Leppard

AMERICA has told Britain that it can “kidnap” British citizens if they are wanted for crimes in the United States.

A senior lawyer for the American government has told the Court of Appeal in London that kidnapping foreign citizens is permissible under American law because the US Supreme Court has sanctioned it.

The admission will alarm the British business community after the case of the so-called NatWest Three, bankers who were extradited to America on fraud charges. More than a dozen other British executives, including senior managers at British Airways and BAE Systems, are under investigation by the US authorities and could face criminal charges in America.

Until now it was commonly assumed that US law permitted kidnapping only in the “extraordinary rendition” of terrorist suspects.

The American government has for the first time made it clear in a British court that the law applies to anyone, British or otherwise, suspected of a crime by Washington.

Legal experts confirmed this weekend that America viewed extradition as just one way of getting foreign suspects back to face trial. Rendition, or kidnapping, dates back to 19th-century bounty hunting and Washington believes it is still legitimate.

The US government’s view emerged during a hearing involving Stanley Tollman, a former director of Chelsea football club and a friend of Baroness Thatcher, and his wife Beatrice.

The Tollmans, who control the Red Carnation hotel group and are resident in London, are wanted in America for bank fraud and tax evasion. They have been fighting extradition through the British courts.

During a hearing last month Lord Justice Moses, one of the Court of Appeal judges, asked Alun Jones QC, representing the US government, about its treatment of Gavin, Tollman’s nephew. Gavin Tollman was the subject of an attempted abduction during a visit to Canada in 2005.

Jones replied that it was acceptable under American law to kidnap people if they were wanted for offences in America. “The United States does have a view about procuring people to its own shores which is not shared,” he said.

He said that if a person was kidnapped by the US authorities in another country and was brought back to face charges in America, no US court could rule that the abduction was illegal and free him: “If you kidnap a person outside the United States and you bring him there, the court has no jurisdiction to refuse — it goes back to bounty hunting days in the 1860s.”

Mr Justice Ouseley, a second judge, challenged Jones to be “honest about [his] position”.

Jones replied: “That is United States law.”

He cited the case of Humberto Alvarez Machain, a suspect who was abducted by the US government at his medical office in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1990. He was flown by Drug Enforcement Administration agents to Texas for criminal prosecution.

Although there was an extradition treaty in place between America and Mexico at the time — as there currently is between the United States and Britain — the Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that the Mexican had no legal remedy because of his abduction.

In 2005, Gavin Tollman, the head of Trafalgar Tours, a holiday company, had arrived in Toronto by plane when he was arrested by Canadian immigration authorities.

An American prosecutor, who had tried and failed to extradite him from Britain, persuaded Canadian officials to detain him. He wanted the Canadians to drive Tollman to the border to be handed over. Tollman was escorted in handcuffs from the aircraft in Toronto, taken to prison and held for 10 days.

A Canadian judge ordered his release, ruling that the US Justice Department had set a “sinister trap” and wrongly bypassed extradition rules. Tollman returned to Britain.

Legal sources said that under traditional American justice, rendition meant capturing wanted people abroad and bringing them to the United States. The term “extraordinary rendition” was coined in the 1990s for the kidnapping of terror suspects from one foreign country to another for interrogation.

There was concern this weekend from Patrick Mercer, the Tory MP, who said: “The very idea of kidnapping is repugnant to us and we must handle these cases with extreme caution and a thorough understanding of the implications in American law.”

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: “This law may date back to bounty hunting days, but they should sort it out if they claim to be a civilised nation.”

The US Justice Department declined to comment.