How Do You Solve A Crisis? By Closing the Door and Ignoring It

At its essence, the United States is a country that has been and continues to be built upon immigrants. Someone from nearly every nation in the world has crossed the borders of the U. S. and given up their birthright citizenship, with those immigrants in pursuit of what the signers of the Declaration of Independence penned more than two centuries ago, the pursuit of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Furthermore, there are those that have come to the U. S. of no desire of their own as refugees due to dangerous situations that are occurring in their home countries.

These refugees come to the United States usually because of warfare that either targets an ethnic group (such as the situation in the 1990s in Bosnia) or a religious or political conflict. The ongoing civil war in Syria is the latest in these myriad of situations where the world has found it necessary to take in those forced out of their home country due to the deteriorating conditions on the ground. Another situation, however, has now sprung up threatening those refugees even more.

Blame for the terrorist attacks in Paris have, by some conservative outlets, been laid at the feet of those Syrian refugees after someone opined that a member of ISIS (who has taken responsibility for the attack) infiltrated Europe with a refugee group from that country. Despite the fact that this has been debunked by officials on the ground in France, this irrational fear has sent a sizeable chunk of the U. S. and one of the two parties in its political system into a frenzy. It has also presented the dilemma of how do you solve a refugee crisis…if you’re a part of that group in the United States previously mentioned, it seems you handle it by closing the door and ignoring it.

The sheer inhumanity of some of the statements coming out of those running for the GOP nomination for President of the United States in 2016 is appalling. Speaking to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started off the blowhard bluster by saying he “wouldn’t even let 5-year old Syrian orphans into the country.” Christie believes that the United States, the richest nation on the planet, can’t support any orphans and they shouldn’t be admitted because they have no family. Oh, by the way, he also “doesn’t trust the administration” to make sure any refugees coming in aren’t a terrorist threat. Governor, would that be different if there were a Republican in the White House?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, his own father a refugee himself from the power struggle in Cuba decades ago, upped the ante with his opinions. On the campaign trail Cruz espoused a “religious test” to determine who would be able to come in. Of course, no Muslims would be able to pass that test, but Christians would be given the proverbial “cheat sheet” because “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror.” To be fair, one of Cruz’s fellow Senators, 2008 GOP Presidential nominee John McCain, blasted Cruz for this viewpoint.

Another player in the GOP race that is struggling to make any headway, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, chided the Obama Administration in pushing his denunciation of accepting refugees because of their Muslim faith. “The #1 job of the President is to protect America, not protect the reputation of Islam,” Huckabee said as he condemned an entire religion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He continued with his derision of the Muslim faith in making a similar statement that Cruz made in that “Christians” wouldn’t commit acts of terror and should be let in freely.

The stupidity coming out of the GOP continues even today. Beside the factor that Dr. Ben Carson can’t seem to grasp the idea of foreign policy and Donald Trump believes we should just “bomb the shit out of ISIS” and close a few mosques to thwart terrorist threats, there aren’t many voices that are looking for a reasonable solution. There are some calls for sanity, most notably from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Ohio Governor John Kasich, but they lack any concrete approach to solving the issue. Meanwhile, more than two dozen Governors across the U. S. have said they won’t accept any refugees from Syria (tough shit, guys; according to the Refugee Act of 1980, the federal government can put the refugees anywhere they want) and conservatives across social media are vehemently against allowing any Syrian refugees into the U. S.

This is all an outrageous embarrassment to U. S. citizens, not only as a country but also on our alleged “faith-based” background.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that we’ve been down this path before. Instead of living beside several Indian nations in the 19th century, the answer by the U. S. government was to round up those tribes by force and send them 1000 miles from their homes, removing them from their tribal lands in the southeast U. S. In 1838, the “Trail of Tears” (a term coined by the Choctaw Nation in 1831 when they were moved west and since applied to the overall plan of removal), the forced march by military units of the Cherokee Indian nation (the final tribal removal), would result in roughly 5000 people dying on the trip, something that is a crimson stain on this country’s reputation and history.

Even in the 20th century, the shortsightedness and intolerance to others by U. S. citizens was apparent. In what some might find to be a shocking statement, U. S. citizens were against taking in Jewish refugees from Europe prior to the start of World War II. In evidence uncovered by Historical Opinion and tweeted throughout this week, some of the same claims used against the Syrian people and their refugee situation were used against the Jewish people.

Then there is the fact that, as many are wont to say, that the U. S. is a nation founded on “Judeo-Christian” values. Besides the fact that the Founding Fathers wanted the U. S. to be as far away from a theocracy as humanly possible, if those principles were put into effect it would be a good step. Respect for your neighbor, reaching out to assist the poor and needy, looking out for your fellow man…all great tenets of most religions, not only Christianity. The reality is that the “religious” in the U. S. aren’t even close to this mission statement.

Accepting in the downtrodden is something that is a traditional statement in the Bible. There are a host of scriptures that state a follower of Jesus Christ should take in those that need help, provide shelter for those that are threatened. Instead of reaching out to help those in need – and the Syrian refugees definitely fall in that category – some of these “Christians” turn their backs on those people when they need the help the most.

Finally, what does the very statue that many of our ancestors saw when they immigrated to the U. S. say about the subject? On the Statue of Liberty (ironically a gift from France on the U. S. centennial), the poem of Ezra Lazarus defines the base thought that should be held by every citizen of the U. S.:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I life my lamp beside the golden door.

This is what the United States is based on. Freedom, the “unalienable rights” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the ability to come to this country with nothing and become anything…this is the basis of who we are, the thread that holds the fabric of the United States together. If we are to start unthreading that fabric by deny those principles to those looking for entry to the United States – to those very people that perhaps need it the worst – then the dream of what the United States truly is and the beliefs that it is built on have been pissed down the gutter in the name of “security” and “tranquility.”

We do not uphold the traditions of this country – nor of our founding fathers or even our religious figures – if we cannot find it within ourselves to assist those in life-and-death situations. Sure, we have to screen the people coming into the country, but it is also said in today’s Wall Street Journal by former U. S. Ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker that “the U. S. vetting system is strong.” Crocker also puts in the second caveat, something that all U. S. citizens should remember:  “So is (the U. S.) tradition to welcome the oppressed.”

The current response of many people in the U. S., including those in one of the two major political parties, is a monumental embarrassment to citizens of the U. S. It is time to make a return to what this country once was – a country that was strong, that didn’t cower to terrorist’s threats, that stood for those we might not agree with in their time of strife – otherwise that “shining city upon a hill” that Ronald Reagan once spoke of has been extinguished and is nothing more than a bland political posture point that hypocrites can hang their hat on.

Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You the Right to Break the Law

Two things we’ll establish from the start here. A long time ago (and I mean a LOOOONG time ago), I attended Butler University with the ambition of going to law school following completion of my undergraduate work. I enjoyed the pursuit of the truth, figuring out the “right” answer to an investigation (a court case) and, perhaps most of all, the debate that came along with the profession. Secondly, I’ve never had a particularly close relationship with religion; I’ve personally always believed that the separation of Church and State isn’t a flimsy one and, quite honestly, that religion doesn’t take science into its canon to be able to answer the myriad questions of life (“you have to have faith” isn’t an answer, unfortunately). Thus, the recent hubbub in the state of Kentucky has particularly intrigued me.

In June, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry in the United States. After heartfelt and legally well-thought oral arguments from both sides, the Court decided by the slimmest of margins (5-4) that states could not deny those that sought to marry someone of the same sex that ability, basically asserting that marriage, under the “pursuit of Happiness” clause in the U. S. Constitution, was a right. As expected, the Court broke along philosophical lines, with the four conservative justices dissenting, the four liberal justices concurring and Chief Justice Anthony Kennedy, famous for being the “swing” vote in many decisions in front of the Court, joining the liberal justices and even writing the majority opinion in the decision.

This set about a shitstorm that only reached its apex last month. The state of Texas initially decried the ruling and, for a period, refused to issue licenses for same sex couples. The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, decided that the ruling by a court superior to his own wouldn’t apply to his jurisdiction. Both of these states decided, after further review and a look at the costs of pursuing a lengthy legal battle, that the issue was settled and apparently have reluctantly begun to issue the licenses. Then, last month, an elected official decided to take the fight the ultimate distance.

In August, a woman elected to the Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk of Courts office began refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples, citing that it conflicted with her “religious beliefs” in “God’s authority” (as if issuing a piece of paper would sentence her to fiery pits of Hell). The woman, Kim Davis, did take the right approach in that she didn’t issue ANY marriage licenses in the county, even to those of the opposite sex, but that wasn’t going to hold up for long (in fact, when a lawsuit was brought against her by the American Civil Liberties Union, it was filed by two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples). Davis went to the U. S. District Court, which shot her arguments down and ruled she had to issue the licenses.

Give Davis her due, she does have a true commitment to her beliefs. She continued to appeal the decisions up the ladder to the Appellate Courts for the Sixth District and, eventually, to the desk of Chief Justice Elena Kagan, the overseer of the Sixth District and one of the nine Supreme Court Justices who made the ruling back in June. Kagan filed Davis’ request for a stay on Monday morning; the full Court declined to issue a stay without any comment early on Tuesday, with the previous decision by the District Court standing and ordering Davis to start issuing same-sex couples licenses or face ramifications.

The ramifications are potentially significant, especially for Davis. Should she continue to defy the “law of the land,” Davis could be forced from the position that the people of Rowan County elected her to hold at the minimum and, at the maximum, could be jailed for her refusal to issue a piece of paper. As it stands at this time, the offices of the Clerk of Court of Rowan County are darkened as Davis considers her next step.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion over “religious freedom,” the right to exercise your religious beliefs in society, and Davis’ fight is only the most recent example of the discussion. I personally have never thought this was a problem – Can you worship openly? Can you wear a religious medallion or trinket without having your head hacked off? Can you openly have holidays that are religiously based? If the answer to these questions are “Yes,” then you’re not being subjugated and you have “religious freedom.” – and it really isn’t a problem now except for the fact that the laws of the U. S. aren’t in relation with the beliefs of some of those religious factions. When it comes to operating the government – be it local, state or national – religious beliefs have to be left at the door.

Many like to state that the “Founding Fathers” brought the concept of democracy and the United States as a God-ordained and religiously ruled governmental philosophy. Truth be told, there couldn’t be anything further from the truth. You need some examples?

“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.” George Washington, 1792

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”Thomas Jefferson, 1814

“The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.”James Madison, 1819

This is just scratching the surface. I could go on, but you get the point.

The oath that military members take upon enlistment says you will follow the orders of the Commander in Chief (the President of the United States) and defend the U. S. and the Constitution against all enemies “foreign and domestic” (maybe we’ll get into that one of these days). When you’re in the military, you don’t get to decide which orders you want to follow. You have to follow ALL orders (unless it can be proven that the order is an “illegal” one, a bar that is set very high and for good reason). Although Davis’ situation may not be as extreme as that of being in the military, as an elected official you also take an oath to uphold the laws of the United States and defend the Constitution.

Once an elected official takes that oath, they no longer have the right of refusing an action, order or law because of their religious beliefs because if you choose to serve in a public forum as an elected official, then you have to abide by the public law. . If the position is an appointed one, then there might be a different answer to the question, but that isn’t what has come up in any previous situation in Texas, Alabama or Davis’ situation in Kentucky. If we allowed for the “picking and choosing” of which laws people wanted to follow, the U. S. would descend into a chaos that would be unimaginable.

So what should be Davis’ potential punishment and the outcome of the case? I personally believe that jailing Davis would be the worst move possible in that it would only give certain groups a “martyr” to hang the hat of their cause on. A fine isn’t going to do any good either as those same groups would just head over to GoFundMe to start an ever-refilling account. There are only two actions that can be a just outcome for this case:  Davis can come out, state that she still holds her religious objections to same-sex marriage but will abide by the law and issue the licenses, or that Davis resigns her elected position in the Rowan County government immediately and a new person is elected.

There are some areas where the “religious freedom” argument can still be discussed. I am still personally debating the usage of the argument for individual businesses and, as of yet, have been unable to come up with a concrete answer for that situation. When it comes to Church and State, however, the concrete is quite firm in that never shall the twain meet. If we undermine that situation, then we move closer to a theocracy, something that U. S. citizens continually rail about with the government of Iran.