Monday, June 28, 2010

Private Policies with Public Benefits



In honor of San Francisco's 40th Gay Pride celebration that took place this past weekend, we've been awarded a fabulous gift: extra-curricular college club equality and a reality check for Christian organizations throughout the US. Happy Pride!

It all started when University of California Hastings Law School refused to provide state funding for a Christian college club, the Christian Legal Society, who openly discriminated against gays by disallowing homosexuals to hold officer positions. Though they claimed homosexuals were allowed to attend their meetings, they maintained that their lifestyle is misaligned with Christian beliefs and sinful, and required members of the organization to sign a Statement of Faith, acknowledging and upholding that belief. Hastings argued that it was against university policy to recognize and support organizations that discriminated against any group of minorities and they were not legally obligated to fund the religious club. The CLS fought the decision, taking it to the Supreme Court and arguing that their First Amendment Rights had been trampled. Now, many chapters of the group have fought similar battles with colleges and won, however, the US Supreme Court was about to throw a curve ball. In a narrow 5-4 ruling revealed today, they decided that the University was not required to financially support the group or acknowledge its existence on campus.

Many have lashed out at the decision, even one Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Alito, who wrote that the finding was a "serious setback for the freedom of expression in this country". However, as the ruling ripples through the US, no doubt the details will blur and fade, and this will become a misunderstood decision of religion on campus. So let's set the record straight here. No one is arguing that Christians cannot convene on campus. No one is banning the formation of Christian organizations at college universities, and no one is telling these organizations that they cannot be anti-gay. This decision, at it's base, simply states that an anti-gay Christian organization cannot receive financing from a state-funded educational institution. As another Justice wrote, "while the Constitution protects CLS's discriminatory practices off-campus, it does not require a public university to validate or support them".

It's not only policy on a state level, but a federal level, that any organization that engages in discrimination or exclusion of members cannot receive tax-payer money for funding. However, despite this landmark court decision, it is not glitter and rainbows for equal rights advocates all over the country. Just last week a federal jury determined that a chapter of the Boy Scouts of America in Philadelphia could remain rent-free in a city owned building after the city demanded payment on the basis of their anti-gay practices. The city of Philadelphia had allowed the Boy Scouts to use this building without charge based on a 1928 city agreement that declared nonprofit organizations can use public property for free. However, they recently argued that due to the discriminatory policies of BSA, they felt it inappropriate for the group to remain in the building for nothing. They argued the organization should have to pay an annual rent or be evicted. The jury sided with the BSA, claiming the city cannot infringe upon their First Amendment Rights as a private organization to disallow any group of people they choose and the city can neither charge nor evict them for the reason given.

For you regular readers (the few and far in between), you know my policies on First Amendment Rights. While I do not agree with these ignorant, idiotic, hate-filled religious nut-jobs and their un-American principles, private organizations have the right to single out whomever they choose, to hate whomever they want, and exclude people they don't like from their special clubs (and I don't mean special as in "unique"). However, when the private sector crosses over into publicly funded buildings and institutions or when they receive public financing, they cannot operate as a private organization. In some places, the BSA pays only $1 a month (yes that's one dollar, un dolar, one hundred pennies) for public buildings to hold their meetings. And, much to the disdain of the Christian Legal Society, the BSA also holds many meetings at public elementary and high school buildings as well. Perhaps they should have aimed for the local high school instead. In addition, the BSA receives close to 30% of their funding from the US government, and holds their Boy Scout Jamborees every four years on the federal property of a Virginia military base, at the expense of tax-payers. How much do they pay to rent a military base for a week and a half? Yep, one dollar. Four whole shiny quarters. How much does it cost the government? Five million. Over the nearly 30 years they've been holding these events, that's a total of $37.5 million. And guess what kids? They have another jamboree coming up in July. Feel Uncle Sam sifting around in your wallet? That's you supporting anti-gay organizations without any say in the matter whatsoever.

While few significant lawsuits have popped up over the matters of discrimination, one involving a gay Boy Scouts Leader being banned, another because an Atheist child was not allowed to join (yeah, they don't like those people either), no one has won because the US courts refuse to acknowledge that the Boy Scouts of America are a publicly funded organization. They are registered as a private club, so whatever other funds they receive are irrelevant to court justices. However, based on recent exposes, they are steadily losing funding and support from private donors and public advocates of the group.

I could go on, god knows I would love to tear the BSA up for their ridiculous policies of traditional families, extreme interjected religious beliefs, and attempts to avoid those rampant pedo-gays (which obviously didn't work since they just lost a massive suit for child sex abuse in the organization, perpetuated by non-gay Scout Masters). I would love to check these God Fearing, Hate Mongering Bible Thumpers who are slowly losing ground in the Human Rights Movement across the nation, but I'll refrain, since this blog is purely about private organizations that need to remain such in every sense of the word. You want to exclude, you want to hate, you want to be narrow-minded bastardly cowards hiding behind "morals and values", you go right ahead. This is America. But, you pay for it, you support it, you keep it away from the rest of us. We're sure as hell not going to shell out any more money in the name of hate and have no desire to join your shady clubs.

Side Note: As a former Girl Scout and an advocate for youth activity programs, I would like to say the Girl Scouts are in no way tied to the Boy Scout organization and do not maintain any discriminatory policies against gays, atheists, or any other group. For the boys, send 'em to Indian Guides! They teach the same values of team work, respect, and self-reliance along with father-son bonding and a deep-seated respect for the Native Americans of this country. Plus, they're funded by the YMCA, so you know it's gay-safe...all together now! "Y-M-C-A! It's fun to stay at the...."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Israel: Bringing Antisemitism Back?

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So unless you're living under a rock right now, you've probably heard of the recent Israeli attack and seizure of the Flotilla ship which resulted in 9 deaths. And if you're like the majority of the world, you were as outraged and offended as the rest of us. An aid ship carrying humanitarian supplies to the people of Gaza attempted to cross a sea-blockade instated by Israel to deliver these goods. Before they even reached the blockade, the IDF met the ship in international waters and overthrew the vessel. However, they did not succeed without a struggle ensuing, and many activists fought the unlawful takeover, attacking soldiers with knives and lead pipes, resulting in the mortalities. Now Israel is wiping their tears with blood-soaked handkerchiefs claiming to be the everlasting victim in the decades-long dispute with Palestine that has turned most of the world and the UN against them. Amidst claims of justification, cries of antisemitism, and concern for their own safety, Israel has gone from the Golden Child everyone sympathized with to the Red-Headed Stepchild no one likes.

The dispute began over Israel being recognized as a state and land divisions the Palestinians didn't agree upon, including some very holy grounds deeply significant to both religions. Backed by the US, Israel steadily gained strength and political power, as the state of Palestine faded into oblivion, not even recognized as an independent country today (but for the purposes of this blog, we will consider it rightfully as such). Bombings and militant attacks from both sides intensified hostility, but the Palestinians were fighting a losing battle. Israel, in an attempt to weaken and ultimately purge the region of Palestinians, has constructed an illegal apartheid wall, dividing the region and separating families from one another, children from schools, adults from jobs, people from medical facilities, etc. The Israeli Defense Forces also continue to surge into restricted territories, illegally seizing Arab and Muslim settlements, bullying, terrorizing, arresting, and even killing individuals who stand in their way, people who are only fighting for their right to exist on the small part of earth they have left. Would it be inappropriate of me to draw parallels between modern day Israel and past Germany, with a concrete divider not unlike the Berlin Wall and a militant movement of ethnic cleansing not unlike the Nazi Party? It would? Okay, we won't do that then. But just in case the thought had crossed your mind, it crossed ours too.

Now, on top of bombings, the great regional divide, and irate IDFs running about, Israel's newly instated Gaza Blockade (created just three years ago) has been devised to limit, if not fully stop crucial supplies from getting to the Palestinians, on the grounds of security, and concerns that weapons will reach the hostile region. A list of the banned products includes carpentry tools such as iron, steel, or cement, livestock such as horses, goats, and donkeys, food items such as fruits, vegetables, chocolates, nuts, jam, and coffee, and even frivolous items such as A4 paper, laptops, and musical instruments. While some strange concoction of iron, steel, and cement could create some crude weaponry, if Palestinians are versed in constructing catapults or Trojan Bunnies (Run Away!), and I could see how they might try to drive the IDF back with a poor rendition of Pachelbel's Canon in D major, but what is the point of keeping out foods and livestock? These are livelihoods, animals help with transportation, with farming, they're a source of food, these foods obviously provide nourishment to a country that is currently starving and poor. And what better way to destroy a people than to take their sustenance? There is no other value of this extreme deprivation, no other purpose, there is no real threat to Israel in chocolates and apples.

The UN stepped in long ago, demanding the surge into illegal territories stop and the apartheid wall be destroyed, but Israel has long since ignored their restrictions and has continued it's draconian rule of the land without reprimand. Though a recent announcement declaring Israel's intention to remain in and move forward into illegal settlements has forced the US to question it's relationship with the Jewish state, the US government has not taken an official stance against them following the Flotilla raid, and it's unknown if we ever will.

After a significantly delayed response to WWII which resulted in the slaughter of 6 million Jews, the US, acting in what I believe to be a guilty conscience, practically granted Israel a free pass to do what they like. In order to compensate them for the heinous crimes of the Holocaust, we have supported them without fail and without question. But the Jews of Israel are not the Jews of Europe. One cannot be compensated for bloodshed with more bloodshed, and Israel is not making anymore friends with their despicable tactics.

Many have openly criticized Israel for the blockade, to which they responded that the world is simply reviving antisemitism and discriminating against them. While the disdain flowing their way is not motivated purely by religious purposes, can it morph into such? Can antisemitism make a comeback? Sadly, the actions of Israel are leading towards what could be the resurgence of antisemitism, only this time it would be almost justifiable. A war mongering state feeding on the helpless, starving them out, keeping them in what Queen Rania called an "open air prison". And, sadly still, they are dragging other Jews with them. Many Jews across the globe are speaking out against Israel's actions upon Palestine, citing the misalignment between Israeli policy and the Jewish religion. If people begin to connect the actions of Israel with the Jewish faith, as many have done with terrorists and the Islamic faith, antisemitism will run rampant again across the world, and a reborn hate will thrive.

Not helping the Israeli cause is a satirical video that was not only created by Jews as a mockery of the Flotilla Raid, but circulated by the Israeli Government itself. The video shows Israeli individuals who parodied American and Middle Eastern activists on the boat singing a re-written rendition of Michael Jackson's famous "We Are the World", renamed "We Con the World". A poor comedic attempt at best, given the timing and the events that inspired the video, it is nothing more than a sickening display of disregard and disrespect to the individuals who were killed and captured on that day, and the Gazans who suffered from the loss of supplies. The Israeli Government apologized for releasing the video, but an official stated the video reflected what most Israelis felt about the incident. If this is all the compassion they have to offer, they're going to be royally screwed in the long run. Follow the link below to watch the video: