Massachusetts sues U.S. government over DOMA.

The first state to legalize gay marriage is now suing the federal government to overturn the Defense Of Marriage Act:

The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) interferes with the right of Massachusetts to define and regulate marriage as it sees fit, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said. The 1996 law denies federal recognition of gay marriage and gives states the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Massachusetts is the first state to challenge the federal law. Its lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston, argues the act “constitutes an overreaching and discriminatory federal law.” It says the approximately 16,000 same-sex couples who have married in Massachusetts since the state began performing gay marriages in 2004 are being unfairly denied federal benefits given to heterosexual couples.

“They are entitled to equal treatment under the laws regardless of whether they are gay or straight,” Mrs. Coakley said at a news conference.

[…] Before the law was passed, Mrs. Coakley said, the federal government recognized that defining marital status was the “exclusive prerogative of the states.” Now, because of the U.S. law’s definition of marriage, same-sex couples are denied access to benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including federal income tax credits, employment benefits, retirement benefits, health insurance coverage and Social Security payments, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also argues that the federal law requires the state to violate the constitutional rights of its citizens by treating married heterosexual couples and married same-sex couples differently when determining eligibility for Medicaid benefits and when determining whether the spouse of a veteran can be buried in a Massachusetts veterans’ cemetery.

“In enacting DOMA, Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people,” the lawsuit states.

I am overjoyed at this development as it is long overdue. I’m not a lawyer, but the arguments are valid and I think may have a good chance of succeeding in court. DOMA never should have been allowed on the books in the first place.

Needless to say, the Freepers aren’t happy about it:

“seems some do not know what DOMA is about

this is another angle to attack DOMA working in sync with the homo agenda and special interests up there

Can MA and the north east please just leave the union, please please please.

All conservatives not republicans from there are welcome to move out, in place of you moving out we’ll send our homo’s illegals, child molesters and loony brain dead sheep left wing idiots.”—posted on Wed 08 Jul 2009 06:14:58 PM EDT by manc

“String em all up. We will save billions on retirement benefits.”—posted on Wed 08 Jul 2009 06:38:07 PM EDT by Pikachu_Dad

“fell sick and every person on here and around this country should see that website

That is what America will look like if some go along with the usual “well I know a couple and they are nice who want to be left alone” course they do not see their new friends at their freak parades etc
Or the Govt should not get involved
Well this is not about marriage like on that website but a small platform to a bigger agenda, adoption, into schools to now teaching little kids fisting another man

sick sick sick

there sickos should be put back in the closet or told to seek mental help and not off another sicko perverted shrink”—posted on Wed 08 Jul 2009 08:05:14 PM EDT by manc

Anything that gets the Freeper’s upset is a good thing in my book.

The Contempt of Court judgment Kevin Trudeau Doesn’t Want You to Know About!

Who is Kevin Trudeau? He’s the “alternative medicine” slimeball who sells books full of miracle cures that the Powers That Be supposedly hope you’ll never find out about. With titles like Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About and The Weight Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About this asshole has made millions off the gullibility of desperate people with cancer and other serious illnesses. The FTC finally broke down and successfully sued his ass back in 1998 for making false and misleading claims in his infomercials getting him barred from making such claims again and a $500,000 fine. In 2003 the FTC charged him with violating the 1998 order by making claims that a product called “Coral Calcium Supreme” would cure cancer and got an injunction barring him from making said claims, which he promptly ignored resulting in a contempt of court finding which fined him another $2 million and banned him from appearing in infomercials. If you’ve spent any recent time flipping channels in the wee hours of the morning, however, then you’re probably aware that he ignored that ruling as well. 

Which brings us to his latest run-in with the courts:

A federal judge has ordered infomercial marketer Kevin Trudeau to pay more than $37 million for violating a 2004 stipulated order by misrepresenting the content of his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.”

In August 2008, Judge Robert W. Gettleman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois had ordered Trudeau to pay more than $5 million and banned him, for three years, from producing or publishing infomercials for products in which he has an interest. The ruling confirmed an earlier contempt finding, the second such finding against Trudeau in the past four years.

Urged by both the FTC and Trudeau to reconsider aspects of its August order, on November 4 Judge Gettleman amended the judgment to $37,616,161, the amount consumers paid in response to the deceptive infomercials. The judge also revised the three-year ban to prohibit Trudeau from “disseminating or assisting others in disseminating” any infomercial for any informational publication in which he has an interest. On December 11, the court denied Trudeau’s request to reconsider or stay this ruling.

You’d think by now Trudeau would have gotten the message and taken the money he’s already earned and run, but he’s apparently not that smart. Probably doesn’t help that he has past convictions for larceny and credit card fraud, but it does show he has enough brains to move from outright theft to a form of fraud that apparently carries much less risk of going to actual prison (he spent 2 years in prison for the credit card fraud).

Think this one will slow him down any? I doubt it. The folks who put out the craptastic “Airborne” just modified their packaging to make any beneficial claims as vague as possible after their settlement with the government and the CEO of the company that produced the equally useless “Enzyte” dick embigginer product went to prison and yet their infomercials are still on the air with the company doing better than ever. In fact at the time that the CEO of Berkeley – parent company to Enzyte – was put on trial the company had regular customers in the tens of thousands who apparently thought the pill was doing something for them.

The simple fact of the matter is that you can sell just about anything as a cure for, well, just about anything so long as you make your claims as vague as possible while doing so. The CEO of Enzyte didn’t go to prison because his product doesn’t work, a fact he pretty much admitted to in court, but because the company was automatically signing people up for ongoing purchases under the guise of a “free trial” and then refusing to cancel their orders or fulfill the promised money back guarantee. Now that he’s out of the way the company has turned all credit card processing over to an outside company and is honoring any money back refunds it receives and has had no further problems with the government since. The product still doesn’t do a damned thing, but there are enough people out there who think it does that they’re making plenty of money off of it.

Given all of that, and the fact that Trudeau doesn’t seem to give a shit what the courts tell him to do, I suspect we’ll be seeing him again very soon indeed.

Jewish man sues Frito-Lay for making him deliver Krismas trees.

This news item prompted a couple of questions with me:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—A West Valley City truck driver is suing Frito-Lay Inc. because he says the company retaliated against him after he requested not to deliver Christmas trees, saying it made him feel uncomfortable because of his Jewish faith.

Richard Cleaveland is seeking damages of at least $100,000.

Cleaveland says he complained in December 2004 and was denied his religious accommodation request.

The complaint contends that since making his request, Cleaveland has been subject to insults, jokes and been forced to observe other Christian traditions. It also says he’s been given worse shifts, been denied jobs he’d gotten in the past and had difficulty securing wages.

A spokeswoman for Frito-Lay could not immediately be reached for comment.

The first questions I have are: When did Frito-Lay start delivering Krismas trees? Do they pack them into the extra space between boxes of delicious potato and corn chips? Do the trees come in different flavors?

Other than that this seems like a pretty cut and dried situation. Denying the man’s request not to deliver Krismas trees is probably within the company’s rights (if you don’t like the job, go find a different one), but the harassment that took place after the man filed his request is stepping over the line and probably gives him a lawsuit where he didn’t have one previously.

[Updated to correct type in the title]

Supreme Court to hear case on religious candy canes.

It’s amazing how much trouble you can get into just for handing out a candy cane to your fellow students. Way back in 2003 I wrote an entry about some Boston teenagers who were suspended from school for handing out candy canes. The candy canes themselves had a small note attached that explained the religious significance of the candy cane—they supposedly symbolize aspects of the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ—and the school freaked out, suspended the students, and then said it wasn’t because of the religious message on the candy, but because it was non-school related literature.  The kids sued in Federal Court, but I never heard what the outcome was.

Closer to home here in Saginaw Michigan that same year an elementary student by the name of Joel Curry made some candy cane ornaments with the same religious message on them as part of a class project and was told by school officials to remove the message from the ornaments. It wasn’t long before a lawsuit was filed and today, some five years later, it’s about to be taken up by the Supreme Court:

The U.S. Supreme Court was asked on Monday to consider whether a fifth-grade student’s religious expression on a classroom project can be considered “offensive” and subject to censorship by school officials.

[…] Curry, who copied the message from an ornament at a Christian bookstore, is now a rising sophomore at Heritage High School in Saginaw, Mich.

“It’s unfortunate it has to be pushed this far,” said his father, Paul Curry. “When children step out in the world, they have to deal with different faiths and religions. It’s a good way for teachers to educate students as long as no one is proselytizing or pushing it down someone’s throat.”

[…] The new suit seeks reimbursement of legal fees and clarification of the district’s policy on religious speech.

“Penalizing Christian students for expressing their beliefs in the classroom is unacceptable under the Constitution,” said Jeff Shafer, the senior legal counsel with the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, which petitioned the high court to hear the case.

“The First Amendment exists to protect private speakers, not to enable religious discrimination by government officials. The court of appeals’ unprecedented classification of student religious speech as an ‘offense’ worthy of censorship should be reversed.”

Much like the previous case in Boston, I’m going to have to side with the plaintiffs on this one. While school officials and teachers aren’t allowed to promote religious ideas in the classroom there’s nothing really preventing a student from making it part of his class project if he wishes to do so. The worst this kid could be accused of is plagiarism, copyright infringement (assuming whoever wrote the original story cares), and possibly being too stupid to realize the story he put on his ornaments was completely false. Beyond that I don’t see where there’s a problem with the project from a Constitutional viewpoint.

It seems like there really needs to be a national educational effort to teach school administrators and teachers what is and isn’t allowable in the classroom by staff and students. The news is filled with stories of either school officials proselytizing up a storm themselves or squelching any hint of religious discussion by everyone including the students out of fear of lawsuits. It really shouldn’t take a case like this going all the way to the Supreme Court to get folks educated on the do and don’ts on this issue.

Lawsuit already filed over “I Believe” license plates.

One of the stories making the rounds of various atheist blogs recently was about attempts in some southern states to pass legislation for new vanity plates for True Believers™. The plates would have the words “I BELIEVE” with a picture of a cross on a stained glass window. Needless to say, the imagery raises some church/state concerns. South Carolina is the first state to actually pass the legislation to make these plates possible and it’s already resulted in a lawsuit by the folks at Americans United:

COLUMBIA, South Carolina — A group that advocates separation of church and state filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to prevent South Carolina from becoming the first state to create “I Believe” license plates.

The group contends that South Carolina’s government is endorsing Christianity by allowing the plates, which would include a cross superimposed on a stained glass window.

You just know the conservative Christians are going to have a field day over this lawsuit claiming it’s us nasty atheists trying to push God out of the public square once again, but as it turns out there’s no atheists involved in the lawsuit:

Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Christian pastors, a humanist pastor and a rabbi in South Carolina, along with the Hindu American Foundation.

Not that that’ll stop them from claiming it’s anti-religious sentiment that’s prompting the lawsuit:

Republican House Speaker Bobby Harrell said residents asked for a way to express their beliefs, and legislators responded.

He disputed Lynn’s accusation that they were pandering to constituents in an election year.

“That’s what critics always say when they see something they don’t like,” Harrell said. “I think this has less to do with the First Amendment and more to do with their disdain for religion generally.”

An argument that’s obviously flawed due to the fact that religious leaders are the ones involved in the suit:

But a Methodist pastor who joined the lawsuit, the retired Rev. Thomas Summers of Columbia, said the plate provokes discrimination.

“I think this license plate really is divisive and creates the type of religious discord I’ve devoted my life to healing,” he said.

Another of the ministers, the Rev. Robert Knight of Charleston, said the plates cheapen the Christian message.

“As an evangelical Christian, I don’t think civil religion enhances the Christian religion. It compromises it,” Knight said. “That’s the fundamental irony. It’s very shallow from a Christian standpoint.”

Get ready to cue the gnashing of teeth and whines about us atheists at Wing Nut Daily in 5… 4… 3…