Symbolic Speech vs Business Discrimination

Someone ought to alert the media. For decades—if not longer—many conservatives have insisted that “symbolic speech” is not protected by the First Amendment. On issues ranging from antiwar armbands, to pornography and flag desecration, they have long argued that if it’s not spoken words, it isn’t protected by the First Amendment. But now, it has become a common right-wing argument that the First Amendment actually extends far beyond what even civil libertarians believed when they defended the right to armbands, pornography, flag desecration, and other forms of expression. Now conservatives are aligning with more consistent libertarians to argue that the First Amendment gives businesses the right to refuse service to the public, provided that this service involves any kind of artistic expression. The argument that antidiscrimination laws can violate free speech has come up before regarding photographers who refuse to take pictures for same-sex weddings. It has also been made in defense of bakers who insist that their religion forbids them from making wedding cakes for gay couples, including Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker whose case was recently argued before the Supreme Court. The argument goes that cakes (and photographs) are an artistic expression and that forcing bakers and photographers to serve customers equally, regardless of sexual orientation, is therefore a violation of their right to free speech.

There are several problems with this idea. Firstly, bakers are not being forced to or forbidden from creating any type of cake that they want, in accordance with their personal artistic vision. But if they choose to make cakes, they should not be able to refuse to make them for customers based on sexual orientation, race, gender, or other immutable traits. This is different from what civil libertarians generally define as censorship, banning forms of expression entirely, at least in certain venues. The ACLU aptly summarizes this distinction by stating, “The Colorado anti-discrimination law doesn’t tell the bakery how to make its cakes. What it says is that if the bakery chooses to sell cakes, it can’t refuse to sell them to certain people based on their sexual orientation.” If a baker were forced to include political messages on a cake (generic platitudes about love and marriage don’t really qualify in that regard), that would be a free speech violation. In this scenario, a baker would be forced to explicitly endorse a political message that they disagree with. But providing a service to customers is not the same as making a political message, and it is certainly not an endorsement of their “lifestyle.”

Secondly, arguing that bakers have a First Amendment right to discriminate necessitates creating such a broad exemption to antidiscrimination laws as to risk gutting them. Any number of services provided by businesses could be exempt from antidiscrimination laws based on qualifying as artistic expression or symbolic speech. A barber could claim that haircuts were a form of artistic expression and that they had a right to refuse to cut women’s hair. An advertising agency could refuse to advertise black-owned businesses. A carpenter could refuse to make furniture for gay customers. In fact, since films are clearly an art form, filmmakers could refuse to cast any nonwhite actors for any roles. To be clear, businesses should enjoy very broad First Amendment protections. For example, distasteful as it may be to many people, video game companies and television networks should be free to include whatever content they and their customers see fit. But these examples are different from that of anti-gay bakers, because they involve businesses being allowed to choose what they want to create, not which customers they want to serve.

Finally, this argument creates an unnecessary conflict between anti-discrimination laws, which have existed in some capacity in at least some parts of the United States since the nineteenth century, and free speech. It has long been understood that while people have the right to hold whatever hateful or bigoted beliefs they want and express them in a host of ways, they are not allowed to discriminate based on race and gender if they operate a business open to the public. Why should that be any different for LGBT Americans, as increasingly more states and cities include them in antidiscrimination laws? (The federal government should also include LGBT Americans in its antidiscrimination legislation but has not thus far.) As the ACLU has demonstrated for decades, it is perfectly possible and indeed necessary to stand for both antidiscrimination laws and freedom of speech. We do not need to sacrifice one to save the other.



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Ben Shapiro Tries To Prove That the U.S. Wasn’t Partly Founded on Slavery and Fails Miserably, Part 2

Shapiro next addresses the infamous Three-Fifths Clause in the Constitution. Here, he actually makes a correct point: the clause dealt with counting slaves, who obviously could not vote, as part of state populations, for purposes of Congressional representation. Had slaves been fully counted, slave states would have amassed even more political power. Had they not been counted at all, Northern Congressmen would have had a freer hand to pass antislavery legislation. Five-and-a half years ago, I warned about the decision by many liberals to focus on the Three-Fifths Clause when this was playing into the hands of people like Shapiro. Nevertheless, Shapiro fails to demonstrate that the Constitution was not proslavery, as he does not even bother to address the Fugitive Slave Clause. Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 stated that, “No person held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labour, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due.” This, in effect, meant that a slave who ran away from, say, Virginia to a free state like Massachusetts or Pennsylvania was required by federal law to be returned their their master. In order to enforce this clause, George Washington signed a new federal fugitive slave law in 1793. He admits that the Constitution forbade Congress from outlawing slavery for twenty years but emphasizes the fact that Congress banned it almost as soon as the twenty year limit had elapsed. But of course, there is a huge difference between abolishing the African Slave Trade and abolishing slavery itself. And many Virginia slaveholders such as Jefferson had economic motivations to ban the importation of slaves from Africa. In his book, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson, Finkelman describes how Virginians felt that importation of slaves from outside the state decreased the financial value of every individual slave. After all, an important law of economics is that supply decreases demand. Having already amassed a large labor force of enslaved blacks, Virginia’s powerbrokers decided that it was in their best interests to support ending the African Slave Trade. James McHenry, a slaveholding Maryland delegate to the Constitutional Convention, wrote privately, “That the population or increase of slaves in Virginia exceeded their calls for their services.” Hence, a ban on the African Slave Trade “would be a monopoly” for Virginia.

Shapiro goes on to try to refute the idea that America’s economy was built largely on slavery by pointing out that the South’s slave-based economy was far weaker than the North’s industrial wage labor-based economy. This is true as far as it goes, but it fails to take into account the extent to which the North and South were economically linked. Both depended on each other for trade, which was made possible not only by the North’s industrial products but also the South’s slave labor products. This is a key reason why many Northern industrialists opposed the abolitionists and Radical Republicans. In fact, Eric Foner has argued that rural Northern communities tended to be more sympathetic to emancipation and civil rights in part because of big Northern cities’ “commercial ties to the South.” In 1858, James Henry Hammond, a proslavery South Carolina Senator, secessionist, and incestuous child molester, used the previous year’s economic panic to bring up this economic codependency. He boasted that, “Fortunately for you it was the commencement of the cotton season, and we have poured in upon you one million six hundred thousand bales of cotton just at the crisis to save you from destruction.”

Shapiro brings up the multitudes of Americans who died in the Civil War, concluding, “So no, America wasn’t founded on slavery. It was founded in spite of slavery. And we fought the bloodiest war in American history to end it.” It is refreshing that he admits the South seceded over slavery–while also supporting the display of the Confederate Flag on war memorials. Unfortunately, he lumps together the South’s reason for seceding and the North’s reason for stopping them. It is indisputable that the primary cause of Southern secession was a desire to protect slavery, and those who try to argue that it was simply one of many major causes argue against the historical record. However, the North did not go to war primarily to free slaves. While many abolitionists supported the war mainly as a vehicle for emancipation, abolitionists were only a small percentage of white Northerners. And while Abraham Lincoln, like the majority of his fellow Republicans, was morally opposed to slavery and played a key role in ending it, he was also willing to allow slavery to continue in the South if it would prevent secession. (He did, however, refuse to sign on to any compromise that would allow slavery to expand into the West.) Historian Bell Irvin Wiley once estimated that only about ten percent of white Union soldiers fought to free the slaves. In 1861, the United States Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution asserting that the North was not fighting the war to interfere with “established institutions” of the South. So in essence, it would be more accurate to say that America was founded partly on slavery, the federal government actively supported slavery for three quarters of a century, and a large portion of the country broke away to continue slavery.

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Ben Shapiro Tries to Prove that the U.S. Wasn’t Partly Founded on Slavery and Fails Miserably, Part 1

You never know exactly what to expect when a man who opposes Titles II and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while taking pro-government positions on many, many, many different issues decides to tackle the issue of American slavery. But you know it probably won’t be good, and Ben Shapiro did not surprise us there. On November 21, he released a video running at slightly over three minutes called “Was America Founded on Slavery.” A caveat is important here. I would not attempt to argue that the United States was founded entirely or primarily on slavery in the way that the Confederacy was. What I would argue is that the United States was founded partly on slavery in the sense that slavery was a fundamental aspect of America in the 18th and much of the 19th century from a social, political, and economic standpoint and that it received active federal support through the U.S. Constitution.

Shapiro starts off with a major logical fallacy by stating that this “myth” of America being founded on slavery has been used “to justify everything from affirmative action to federal transfer payments to low-income minorities. It’s used as a scapegoat for elevated levels of black crime and for black educational under-performance.” I don’t know what “federal transfer payments to low-income minorities” are, since reparations have virtually no chance of ever passing and are opposed even by most liberal politicians. It’s possible he’s referring to public assistance programs, but these programs transfer money to poor people of all races. In any case, proving that the country was “founded on slavery” is not actually essential to making the case for affirmative action, let alone for making the case that slavery is the root cause of aggregate racial disparities in crime and academic performance. Rather, these arguments are more based on an indisputable fact: African Americans were subjected to slavery for two hundred years, and this has left a major impact on modern America. (There was also little things like Jim Crow and de facto segregation that came after slavery, but we’ll leave those alone for now.) Shapiro then states that slavery was “common at the time of the founding” in other countries. This is a non-sequitur, because the claim he’s responding to is that the United States was built on slavery, not the fringe, straw-man claim that only the United States had slavery. He correctly states that the South seceded to protect slavery but goes on to reiterate that other countries practiced slavery and that some Africans participated in the Slave Trade–again, important information to know but not very relevant to assessing whether or not America was founded on slavery. If I were to claim that America was founded on capitalism, someone could not refute my argument by stating that many other countries have had capitalist economies.

Shapiro then points out that the United States was one of the early countries to ban the African Slave Trade. He circles back to this point later, so I won’t dwell on it yet, but he quickly goes on to make a point that weakens his own case and then a trio of factual errors. He claims that Britain gradually abolished slavery in 1833, Denmark in 1846, France in 1848, Brazil in 1851, and the United States in 1862. While he is correct that Britain passed gradual emancipation legislation that outlawed slavery over the following decade and that France abolished it in 1848, he is wrong about Denmark, Brazil, and America. Denmark outlawed slavery in 1848, Brazil in 1888, and America in 1865. (In fairness, 1846 is often wrongly listed as the Danish year of emancipation, so I don’t think Shapiro should lose points, so to speak, for that part of his statement.) The fact that Britain, Denmark, and France all outlawed slavery a generation before the United States did shows that America was not on the cutting edge of freedom with regard to this issue. And in fact, other countries that outlawed slavery well before the United States include Chile, Mexico, and Sweden. Ironically, Brazil’s late emancipation could have supported Shapiro’s contention that America was not uniquely reactionary on slavery had he not misstated it.  He goes on to mention nations such as Saudi Arabia that continued to allow slavery long after the United States. While this is a good refutation of attempts to romanticize Islamic countries, it once again does little to answer the question of whether the United States was founded on slavery.

He goes on to claim that from its founding the United States “tried to come to grips with slavery and phase it out.” While the first part of this statement is correct, the “phase it out” portion is nonsense. For his first piece of evidence, he cites Vermont’s passage of antislavery legislation in 1777. But of course, Vermont does not represent the United States as a whole. It also never banned interracial marriage, legalized gay marriage legislatively when even most Democratic politicians opposed it, has an openly Socialist Senator, and voted less than 30% for Donald Trump. He then brings up Thomas Jefferson’s much-vaunted attempts to put language in the Declaration of Independence attacking slavery/the African Slave Trade. Unfortunately, Jefferson’s words did not match his actions. He was a lifelong slaveholder who had slaves whipped for running away/disobeying him and tried to discourage a neighbor from freeing his own slaves. While some people have argued that Jefferson could not free his slaves because of debts, historian Paul Finkelman deftly dismantled this argument a quarter century ago: “Throughout his life Jefferson was profligate. He bought and bought and bought. Had freeing slaves been even a mildly important goal, he might easily have cut back on his consumption and lavish life-style. That he did not suggests where his priorities lay.” In any case, Shapiro scores a shot into his own goal, so to speak, immediately afterwards. He claims that Jefferson’s initial language on slavery was removed from the Declaration because Southern colonies would have otherwise refused to vote for independence, and the vote had to be unanimous. In his effort to excuse Jefferson, Shapiro actually concedes that this country would not have been founded had slavery not been permitted to continue. What more evidence do we need to say that America was partly founded on slavery?


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Can We Please Stop Pretending Lindsey Graham is Reasonable and Moderate Now?

So since Lindsey Graham was whinging recently about how unfair it is that the media portrays Trump as a kook, even though he called Trump a kook last year, I thought it would be nice to recap some of the many, many times Graham has come down against civil rights and in favor of authoritarianism:
1. Voting in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in all 50 states and reiterating his support for the amendment in 2008. While he stated in 2015 that it would be unwise for Republicans to try to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, he reiterated that he disagreed with the ruling and still opposed same-sex marriage.
2. Consistently voting against anti-discrimination laws for LGBT people.
3. Has repeatedly refused to take a definitive stance on whether or not transgender Americans should be allowed to serve in the military.
4. In 2011, he with regard to the display of the Confederate Flag at the South Carolina Capitol, “The statehouse has resolved this in a bipartisan way,” and suggested that Republican presidential candidates “who brought that up wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors.” Even after the 2015 Charleston Church Shooting, he initially refused to endorse taking down the flag until public pressure forced him to.
5. Has consistently voted to ban flag desecration and cosponsored a proposed constitutional amendment against it with conservatives such as Jeff Sessions in 2015. (Maybe he’s only OK with unpatriotic displays when they glorify slavery?)
6. While Bob Jones University had an official policy in place restricting interracial dating by students, Graham received an honorary degree from the school. When New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli introduced a resolution criticizing the school for racism, Graham called it, “political grandstanding.”
7. Has stated that children born in the U.S. should not automatically be considered citizens if their parents are illegal immigrants. He expressed this stance in 2010 and reiterated it in 2015.
8. Consistently opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
9. In a speech to the all-male Hibernian Society of Charleston, he promised that, “white men who are in male-only clubs are going to do great in my presidency.”
10. Stated during his 2002 Senate campaign that he opposed allowing same-sex couples to adopt.
I am, of course, happy to provide citations for all of these stances if anyone would like. Suffice it to say, Lindsey Graham is the Dolores Umbridge of American politics. He is not substantially different from Trump and is in some ways more dangerous due to the misconception that he is moderate and reasonable. The idea that he is a moderate Republican shows the extent to which the term has lost its meaning. Time was, a moderate Republican was someone who supported civil rights. Nowadays, “moderate Republican” is becoming a term for anyone who opposes Trump. We have seen people with racist/sexist/anti-LGBT records, such as Graham, Bob Corker, Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney, George and Jeb Bush, Ben Shapiro, Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, David French, William Kristol, and Erick Erickson get portrayed as reasonable Republicans simply for opposing Trump. We should make common cause with Rockefeller Republicans, libertarians, and socially moderate Neocons who are willing to stand against Trump, but we can’t just label everyone who dislikes Trump as an ally.

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Roy Gets Even Moore Scary

My first blog post about Moore was obviously written before the pedophilia accusations were made public. So I figured I would do another blog post to address that, as well as another alarming statement that the former judge made.

I actually hesitated for awhile to publicly call Roy Moore a sexual predator because I consider him a crypto-racist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic totalitarian theocrat even scarier than Trump, and I didn’t want to let my dislike of him cause me to prematurely assume he was guilty before I had adequate evidence.
We’re past that now, though. I have no problem honestly saying that I think Roy Moore is guilty of everything he’s been accused of. At this point, we have two women accusing him of sexual violence, one person accusing him of trying to date them when they were 14 and he was over 30, and a slew of other people corroborating the claim that he had a pattern of pursuing teenage girls. While dating sixteen to eighteen year olds would have legal, if bad on many levels, for Moore, it does lend more credibility to the accusations that he did engage in criminal behavior with other teenagers. None of these women have, to my knowledge, made any attempt to try to get money from him or pursue criminal charges. At least one is an avowed Trump supporter. So if you think Moore is innocent, you have to come up with an explanation for why eight women would falsely accuse him out of spite.
Now, I’ve heard the argument that the timing of these accusations so close to Election Day, is suspicious. Actually, I don’t believe it is. Unluckily for Moore and his supporters and luckily for the rest of us, Moore happens to be running at a point in time when very large numbers of sexual abuse victims have started coming forward. We’re in a political and cultural climate currently that is more conducive to victims telling their stories than probably ever in U.S. history.
And finally, we have to consider how Republican politicians are reacting here. They’re largely throwing Moore to the wolves, metaphorically speaking. Mitch McConnell, who wouldn’t rescind his endorsement of Trump after the “pussy grabbing” audio came out, is backing Moore’s accusers. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama conservative with friends on the Moore campaign, has said he believes the women also. So if you believe Moore to be innocent, another assumption you’d have to make is that a bunch of Republican politicians are willing to lose what would normally be a slam dunk election based on a false accusation.
There may not be enough evidence to convict Moore in a court of law–although before all is said and done, there very well might be. But we’re at a point now when we can reasonably conclude that he’s probably guilty. And the Senate doesn’t function like a regular job. With most jobs, you can wait until the investigation has concluded and then decide if you have enough evidence to fire the accused person. With the Senate, it’s very hard to remove somebody once they’re in office, so if Moore gets elected, he’ll likely serve at least six years.

But this isn’t all. Moore seems determined to prove my description of him as a “crypto-racist” correct. Last week, he said, “By 1962, the United States Supreme Court took prayer out of school,” Moore griped. “Then they started to create new rights in 1965, and now, today, we’ve got a problem.” When I read this, my historian’s brain went into hyperdrive. There are two possibilities as to what he could be referring to. The first is Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruling striking down state laws against birth control. The second is the Voting Rights Act. If the “they” in his statement is the Supreme Court, it probably refers to Griswold. If it means the federal government in general, it may be a reference to the Voting Rights Act. So there we have it. The Alabama GOP Senate nominee either thinks states have a right to ban birth control or have a right to prevent black people from voting. Oh, and by the way: the 1962 Supreme Court decision did not outlaw prayer in public schools. Instead, it outlawed official, school-sponsored prayers. It did nothing to forbid students from praying in school. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., “Contrary to what many have said, it sought to outlaw neither prayer nor belief in God. In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right. I am strongly opposed to the efforts that have been made to nullify the decision. They have been motivated, I think, by little more than the wish to embarrass the Supreme Court. When I saw Brother [Alabama Governor] Wallace going up to Washington to testify against the decision at the congressional hearings, it only strengthened my conviction that the decision was right.”


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Alabama Politics Get Less Strange, Moore Totalitarian

If ever I am asked why I spend so little time criticizing Social Justice Warriors on the Left despite my disagreements with them and instead devote most of my time to attacking the bigoted Right, I will bring up a couple of points. Firstly, Social Justice Warriors, despite my disagreements with them, are reacting to the historical and ongoing marginalization of groups such as racial minorities, women, and LGBT people in this country, so I prefer to address the root of the problem. Secondly, Social Justice Warriors control some universities, bigoted right-wingers control the country. We are now reminded of this again as the state of Alabama looks poised to trade a run of the mill, authoritarian right-wing bigot, Luther Strange, for a straight-up theocratic totalitarian, Roy Moore. First becoming famous for his refusal to remove the Ten Commandments from a courthouse in Alabama while serving as a judge, Moore has compiled a record of racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and support for big government that make Donald Trump look like Russ Feingold. Let’s take a look!


Roy Moore speaking next to a seven star version of the lesser-known original flag of the Confederacy, aka “The Stars and Bars.”

In 2004, Alabama had a ballot initiative to remove a number of racist portions of the state’s legal code pertaining to school segregation and poll taxes. The state had voted on a similar initiative dealing with interracial marriage in 2000. In both cases, the laws had been rendered invalid by federal edicts a few decades ago, but it was still insulting to black residents and embarrassing for the Heart of Dixie that such laws remained on the books. The initiative was voted down, partly due to fears over one of the provisions proposed for repeal, the provision that denied, “any right to education or training at public expense.” Some Alabamans expressed concern that removing this provision would open up a floodgate of new regulations forcing the state to increase public funding of education. Roy Moore was on record as staunchly opposing the ballot initiative. Clearly, opposing more funding for education does not make one a bigot. However, it begs the point: in 2004, Alabamans had had fifty years since Brown v. Board of Education and over forty years since poll taxes were outlawed to remove the unambiguously racist portions of their legal code without removing the clause about education not being a right. More to the point (or perhaps, in this case, Moore to the point?), Moore and others could have easily lobbied in 2004 to repeal the provisions on segregation and poll taxes without repealing the provision on education not being a right. They did not bother.

Moore began claiming that President Obama was not a natural-born citizen back in 2008. According to Andrew Kaczynski and Paul LeBlanc of, Moore stated that he still did not believe Obama was a natural-born citizen in December of 2016. This was even after Trump himself backed off of these rumors.

On one of the rare occasions that Moore acknowledged that black people had suffered in American history, his goal was to claim that homophobic people suffered worse. After the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015, the Alabama judged fumed that, “In 1857 the United States Supreme Court did rule that black people were property. And of course that contradicted the Constitution and it took a civil war to overturn it. But this ruling in Obergefell is even worse, in a sense, because it forces not only people to recognize marriage [as] other than the institution ordained of God and recognized by nearly every state in the union, it says that you now must do away with the definition of marriage and make it between two persons of the same gender.”

LGBT Rights

If Moore dances on the edges of overt racism, there’s no ambiguity when it comes to his LGBT rights views. At, Gregory Krieg states that, “he defied a federal court decision — this time striking down state laws banning same-sex marriage — and found himself facing off with the same ethics body that effectively ousted him nearly a decade earlier.” Krieg goes on to recount that, “A child custody case in 2002 was less of a national cause célèbre, but Moore used the outcome, and his concurrence, to author a vicious attack on same-sex parents.

‘I write specially to state that the homosexual conduct of a parent — conduct involving a sexual relationship between two persons of the same gender — creates a strong presumption of unfitness that alone is sufficient justification for denying that parent custody of his or her own children or prohibiting the adoption of the children of others,’ he said in one of the opinion’s more tame passages.

In others, Moore labeled ‘homosexual conduct’ by parents as being ‘detrimental to the children,’ writing that it ‘is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this nation and our laws are predicated.'” In 2005, he stated that, “homosexual conduct should be illegal.” When asked if it should be a capital crime, he answered, “I’m not here to outline punishments for sodomy.” In 2015, he reiterated his longstanding view that, “Homosexuality should be illegal.” During his current election campaign, Moore said, “We don’t need transgender bathrooms and we don’t need transgender military and we don’t need a weaker military.”


In 2006, Keith Ellison became the first Muslim elected to Congress and declared that he would take the oath of office by placing his hand on the Koran instead of the Bible. Moore wrote a column insisting that, “In 1943, we would never have allowed a member of Congress to take their oath on ‘Mein Kampf,’ or someone in the 1950s to swear allegiance to the ‘Communist Manifesto.’ Congress has the authority and should act to prohibit Ellison from taking the congressional oath today!” Now please understand that I agree with people who feel that the phrase “Islamophobia” often gets thrown around to squelch criticism of Islam. Obviously, making negative comments about Islam does not make someone an Islamophobe. But what we see here is Moore, a la Trump, explicitly declaring opposition to equal rights for Muslims. After all, whatever we think about the Koran, in a nation that does not privilege members of one faith above another, we cannot discriminate in terms of which “holy books” we allow people to use for their oath of office. Additionally, this statement is hilarious coming from the same person who insisted that his religious liberty was being violated if religious insignia was removed from public property

Freedom of Speech

When Donald Trump called for NFL players who did not stand for the National Anthem to be fired, his right-wing defenders argued that it was not a free speech violation because the NFL was a private company, and Trump was not forcing team owners to fire anyone or advocating that the State censor these players. Never mind the sheer inappropriateness of a president using his office to try and get workers fired from their jobs for protesting, the fact that he tried to intimidate the NFL on this issue by threatening to revoke their tax breaks, or his previous statements in support of flag burning bans. But it is as if Moore heard conservatives saying, “Nobody is advocating that the government punish people for kneeling,” and said, “Hey, hold my beer.” Moore recently claimed that, “It’s against the law, you know that?” He elaborated, “It was an act of Congress that every man stand and put their hand over their heart. That’s the law.”



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Francis Scott Key Was a Slave Master And Other Hard Truths

I am going to do something somewhat unusual for my blog post today and cover several distinct topics in one article, based on several issues that I have covered on my Facebook page in the last few weeks. Readers may find themselves agreeing with some points I raise and disagreeing with others. That is fine. In fact, I have come to expect it.

It May Be Biblical, But It Isn’t Christian

The recent Nashville Statement by over 150 conservative Christian leaders is a disgusting display of homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. (I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that some of the prominent signatories have also engaged in racist statements or behavior.) Those who hold bigoted attitudes have a right to express them in public. And I have the right to call those views out for exactly what they are. As a Christian Unitarian Universalist, I believe that while bigotry is consistent with some individual Bible passages, it goes against the overall spirit of Christianity. There is no possible way to treat people the way that you want to be treated while hurling bigoted statements at them and opposing their rights. It is a longstanding fact that, in the aggregate, Christians who treat the Bible as partly inspired by God but not infallible have generally been better at respecting people’s civil and human rights than Christians who believe every single part of the Bible is the pure word of God. This certainly does not apply to every individual, but it is true as a general rule. The abolitionist movement was a deeply religious one, but many of its adherents were theological liberals and, in some prominent cases, would not have even been considered “saved” from a fundamentalist standpoint. During the Civil Rights Movement, theologically liberal Protestants and Jews were far more likely than white fundamentalist or evangelical Protestants to march against segregation. Even MLK was a theological liberal. These days, it is the so called “cafeteria Christians” who are more likely to defend feminism and LGBT rights than Biblical inerrantists as a group. The great historian Eric Foner once said that in order to improve itself, America had to embrace the best parts of Abe Lincoln while rejecting the worst. The same is true of the Bible.

What Else Can We Unfairly Blame Bernie Sanders For? 

I want to propose a hypothetical and ask people to think about it. Let’s say that Bernie Sanders had managed to pull off a Hail Mary and win the Democratic Party nomination for president, then lost to Donald Trump. In this scenario, after the election, Sanders then wrote a book about why he lost in which he made some reasonable points but also claimed that Hillary Clinton was partly at fault for him losing because she accused him of sexism and not being liberal enough on gun control during the primary and tried to blame him for the actions of some of her supporters. Wouldn’t this have across as ridiculous? If you think so, then you can see how Clinton’s attempts to give Sanders partial blame for her loss looks to a lot of people, including me. Yes, Sanders made some attacks on Clinton during the primary. She made attacks on him also. That is how primaries work. You cannot win the nomination with the backing of the party establishment, partly by making the argument that your opponent is unelectable, lose in the general election, and then reasonably blame your loss partly on the candidate who DID NOT GET THE NOMINATION. Nor does the fact that Clinton was undeniably subject to a lot of sexism mean that all criticisms about her record are baseless. And trying to spread blame to Sanders for her loss is a pretty lousy thing to do after he swallowed his personal feelings and endorsed her for president. Perhaps some Clinton supporters feel that he should have campaigned harder for her, but he is currently serving as a U.S. Senator, which means he had other responsibilities besides being at Clinton’s beck and call 24/7. And finally, I do not know whether Sanders would have won. Maybe he would have, maybe he would not have, but the claim that Clinton had to be nominated over him because he was unelectable is looking very questionable since she herself lost. And I strongly disagree with the suggestion that somehow even suggesting that Bernie might have won makes me a bad feminist.

Land of the Free and the Slaves

As we observe the increasing number of people refusing to stand for the National Anthem, it might behoove us to take a look at Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote it. Key was a lifelong slaveholder. He called black people “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” As the District Attorney of Washington, D.C. during the 1830s, he prosecuted abolitionists for exercising their right to free speech. At one point, he brought a man named Reuben Crandall to court to be “charged with publishing seditious libels, by circulating the publications of the American Anti-Slavery Society.” Key felt that Crandall should be executed for his “crime.” In another case, he pursued the death penalty for a slave named Arthur Bowen who was accused of trying to kill his de facto owner. Abolitionists, in Key’s view, were dangerous not only because they might cause slave rebellions but also because they wanted to “associate and amalgamate with the negro.” In still another case, he prosecuted a writer named Benjamin Lundy for libel after Lundy declared that, “There is neither mercy nor justice for colored people in this district of Columbia.” Indeed, the part of the “Star Spangled Banner” that we normally hear is only one part of a longer song. Another portion reads, “And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Some scholars have argued that the “slaves” whom Key gloated about being killed were black people who fought for the British hoping to gain their freedom. It is worth noting that while most white Americans (though not most abolitionists) at the time shared Key’s basic racial views, his views on slavery were quite controversial even in the 1830s. John Quincy Adams, for instance, hardly a fringe radical, spent significant time during that decade defending the free speech rights of antislavery activists that Key was trampling on. Slavery had become quite controversial by this point as well. It is important to remember, as those who refuse to stand for the National Anthem are criticized, that the person who wrote the song itself believed in neither free speech nor equality under the law. A great summary of Key’s iniquity can be found at the link I am sharing here:

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