Monthly Archives: April 2015

To My Fellow Civil Libertarians

Early last year, I wrote a blog post explaining why I would never vote for Rand Paul. I also stated that while I would prefer Hillary Clinton not be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, I would absolutely vote for her over Rand Paul due to Paul’s racism and homophobia. I stand by this position, and it applies to all of the other Republican frontrunners. We also now know that Paul has a strong sexist streak, as evidenced by his suggestion that middle-aged women are unfit to lead the country “with all those hormones.” However, as I made clear in a blog post in 2013, “Hillary Clinton: Candidate of Last Resort,” I would much prefer that the Democratic Party nominate someone else for president. This isn’t an attitude I revel in having. I would love to see the first female president, an occurrence very long overdue, but I cannot let this desire trump concerns over a candidate’s mediocre policy. Now to be clear, Clinton isn’t my dead last choice–Jim Webb would be bad enough to make me vote third party–but I consider her to be one of the worst choices out of the people being talked about as the party nominee. In this blog post, I am going to look at five of the issues that showcase why, from a civil libertarian standpoint, the Democratic Party could do a lot better.

1. Gay Rights: Hillary Clinton is better on gay rights than any Republican presidential candidate who has a strong chance of getting the nomination in 2016. However, she is behind the curve compared to the Democratic Party as a whole. As late as 2007, she was supporting Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act, while Barack Obama said he wanted the entire bill repealed despite publicly opposing gay marriage at the time. Obama and Biden also risked reelection by coming out in support of marriage equality in 2012, while Clinton waited until after the election when it was clear a pro-gay marriage candidate could win. In addition, President Obama said last year that he favored a Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, while Clinton favored leaving the issue to the states until just this month. Also bear in mind that among other potential nominees, Martin O’Malley has supported marriage equality since 2011, and Lincoln Chafee and Bernie Sanders since at least 2009. (Additionally, Sanders voted against DOMA.)

2. Government Surveillance: As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has gotten some criticism for the NSA’s spying program. However, her policy shortcomings in the area of government surveillance go much farther back. In 2006, she voted to re authorize the Patriot Act. It is vital to remember that in 2001, every Senator except Russ Feingold voted for the Patriot Act, but by 2006, the post 9/11 surge of trust in the government had cratered, and some other Democratic Senators were strongly resisting George W. Bush on surveillance. Nine Senate Democrats voted against the USA Patriot Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005; Clinton was not one of them.

3. War on Drugs: Clinton has consistently refused to endorse an end to the War on Drugs. A few months ago, an article by Tom Dickinson in Rolling Stone suggested that Rand Paul is actually to the Left of her on drug policy. Aside from the obvious overreach of government power that the War on Drugs entails,  the arguable difference between Paul and Clinton represents a distinct problem from a pragmatic standpoint. It could cause liberals who oppose the War on Drugs to consider voting for Paul if he is nominated by the Republicans, and Clinton is nominated by the Democrats. Ron Paul got support from a significant minority of liberals in the 2008 presidential primaries based partly on his opposition to the War on Drugs and likely would have split the liberal vote had he been nominated against Obama. If Democrats have to lose in 2016, do they really want it to be because their party nominee was arguably more conservative on the Drug War than the Republican nominee?

4. Free speech: To her credit, Clinton voted against a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration, an amendment which would have brought the country to the verge of a police State. However, she also cosponsored the Flag Protection Act of 2005. While the bill would not have outright banned flag desecration, it would have stipulated that, “Any person who destroys or damages a flag of the United States with intent to provoke imminent violence or a breach of the peace, and in circumstances reasonably likely to produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.” The problem is that neither Clinton nor her cosponsor, Senator Robert Bennett, saw fit to define what constituted an attempt at inciting violence. This would have necessarily been left to judges, juries, and district attorneys, and it is not far fetched to imagine many of them using the law to punish people ostensibly for intending to incite violence but really for the act of desecration itself. And since any act of flag desecration is likely to result in violence by angry bystanders against the person doing the desecrating, Clinton’s proposed law was particularly ripe for abuse. Additionally, she introduced a law to ban businesses from selling or renting video games rated “Mature,” “Adults Only,” or “Ratings Pending” to children under 17. I play video games very rarely and am just as against thirteen year olds playing Grand Theft Auto as the next person. But isn’t this a matter best left between children, their parents, and video game store proprietors?

5. Death penalty: If you think capital punishment is bad policy, you may want to find another candidate. According to the New York Times, when Clinton was attempting to get elected as a Senator, “she went out of her way to note her support for the death penalty.” In the 2008 Democratic primaries, she did not disavow her previous support for government executions.

In conclusion, while Clinton would be preferable to any of the major Republican candidates for president, her civil liberties record leaves much to be desired. In fact, as a member of the ACLU, I would venture to say that it makes about as much sense for a fellow ACLU member to vote for Clinton in the primaries as it would for an NRA member to vote for her in the primaries.

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Reflections on the Snowden Case

With the great John Oliver having just interviewed Edward Snowden from Russia, I thought now would be a good time to give my opinion on the Snowden case. In a blog post from August 8, 2013 called “Presumption of Guilt,” I castigated the NSA for violating the privacy rights of Americans and essentially treating everyone as guilty until proven innocent. I did not directly address the issue of whether or not Snowden should be pardoned. I’m conflicted in my feelings about Snowden the man. I found it disturbing when I learned that he had been trying to defect to Russia. It is hard for me to attribute wholly noble intentions to a man who rightfully criticizes the U.S. for its civil liberties violations while attempting to defect to a country that has essentially forced gay people to remain in the closet under penalty of law and is led by a former KGB agent. And I recently found out that Snowden criticized anti-Arab racism in the U.S. military, despite defecting to a country so racist that its ability to host the World Cup has been jeapordized. On the other hand, Snowden may feel that given his precarious situation, he has to take whatever allies he can find. And the U.S. is certainly in no position to lecture anyone about their choice of allies. But regardless of his motivations, Snowden was right to object to the NSA’s misdeeds, and although some of the leaked information could be damaging for national security, the fact remains that these leaks might never have taken place had it not been for these misdeeds. Hence, much of the blame for the leaks must go to the federal government. Furthermore, there was a benefit to these leaks in the sense that they alerted Americans to just how much our privacy was being invaded. Civil liberties cannot be defended if people do not realize that they are being violated.

Bearing in mind that the invasions of privacy by the NSA played a crucial role in causing the leaks, it is unjust to punish Snowden while the agents who invaded our privacy go free. And it is unjust to punish the agents, since they were either allowed to or ordered to commit these invasions of privacy. Therefore, the best solution is to issue a pardon both to Snowden and to the agents who played fast and loose with our civil liberties. Hopefully, once he is allowed to return to his native country without facing punishment, the whistleblower will abandon his allegiance to the reprehensible Putin Regime. I also hope that the leaking of classified information two years ago will serve as a warning to the government to show more restraint in its surveillance programs from now on.

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Shifting Targets (Typo-Free Version)

I’ve always said that one of the ways you can tell that someone who was openly racist during the Civil Rights Movement has repented is by whether they have renounced all bigotry or just shifted focus to a group that is more socially acceptable to target. The same can be said about institutions. Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission hosted an event in Nashville focused on fighting racism. In and of itself, the rhetoric at the event was very admirable. Racism was acknowledged as not only immoral but still a major problem, and practices such as racial profiling and the display of the Confederate Flag was denounced. This is not entirely unexpected. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) now has a great deal of racial diversity and recently had a black president. So why am I skeptical that the denomination has moved past its institutional racism? It is first necessary to examine the SBC’s racial history prior to the 1990s, when the denomination issued an apology for past racial sins. White supremacy was crucial to the foundation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. The Baptist denomination had been gripped by tensions over slavery. An article from, “Abolition and the Splintering of the Church,” sums up these tensions and the split they played a role in causing rather well: “During the 1840s and 50s, several of America’s largest denominations faced internal struggles over the issue of slavery. Even earlier, in 1838, the Presbyterians split over the question. The Baptists maintained a strained peace by carefully avoiding discussion of the topic. But in 1840, an American Baptist Anti-Slavery Convention brought the issue into the open. Southern delegates argued that, while slavery was a calamity and a great evil, it was no sin. The Baptist Board later denied a request by the Alabama Convention that slave owners be eligible to become missionaries. Finally, a Baptist Free Mission Society was formed and ‘refused ‘tainted’ Southern money.’

The southern members withdrew and formed the Southern Baptist Convention, which eventually grew to become the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. The Baptist denomination officially split in 1845, with the North Carolina State Convention ‘cordially approving’ of the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention.” As time went on, more liberal people acquired representation in the church. Writing for the Baptist History and Heritage Society, Andrew M. Manis explains that “In other words, their annual conventions were attended by the theologically educated at a much higher percentage than was typical of the denomination’s state conventions, (usually) county associations, or local congregations. As a result, meetings of the SBC tended to be more liberal and less antagonistic to the civil rights movement than most Southern Baptists at the local level really were.”

This fact was reflected in the passage of a courageous SBC resolution supporting Brown v. Board of Education, even though most Southern Baptists opposed the decision. As Manis states, “though there were important exceptions and qualifications to be considered, the generalization still holds true that the majority of Southern Baptists upheld racial segregation and rejected claims of Christian brotherhood and the civil rights movement.” One such minister who defended segregation was W.A. Criswell, who became president of the SBC in 1968. “Let them integrate,” Criswell pontificated against Northern civil rights supporters during the 1950s. “Let them sit up there in their dirty shirts and make all their fine speeches. But they are all a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up.” Around the time of his election, Criswell distanced himself from his old segregationist views. Yet still later, the aging preacher would rather startlingly admit, “My soul and attitude may not have changed, but my public statements did.” Of course, Criswell insisted that this time, he really had repented. The liberal leaders of the SBC were eventually stripped of most of their power by fundamentalist church figures in the “Conservative Resurgence.” Criswell was a supporter of this resurgence, which among other things led to an official policy banning female ministers.

So, acknowledging the SBC’s racist history, has the denomination turned over a new leaf with regard to race? My own gut feeling is that it has not. In addition to its refusal to ordain women, the SBC is against gay rights in virtually every area. It supports the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)’s ban on gay adults and opposed the BSA’s decision to allow gay youth leaders, opposed the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and opposes gay marriage and ENDA. It is impossible for me not to conclude here that the SBC has simply masked its racism and shifted its focus to other groups of Americans that are more socially acceptable targets of overt bigotry. To be sure, we have made great progress on women’s and LGBT rights, and there is still much racism in America as well as sexism and homophobia. Yet it is still more socially acceptable in America to be openly sexist and homophobic than it is to be racist. The fact that America no longer has large Christian denominations which preach racial segregation, ban African Americans from becoming ministers, or refuse to perform weddings for interracial couples demonstrates this.

Please understand that I am talking about the SBC as an institution. There are individual Southern Baptist congregants and ministers who reject racism, sexism, and homophobia and support equal rights and fair treatment. But until the SBC reverses its old policies on women and gays, I cannot help but see its leadership’s image of anti-racism as a con game. Call me crazy.

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