laws

Jesus or jail? Alabama town offers options for serving time

Well, this sure sounds constitutional…

Jesus or jail? Alabama town offers options for serving time

If you’re charged with a nonviolent crime in one Alabama town, you might just have the chance to pray it all away.

Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each Sunday for a year.

The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed.

Police Chief Mike Rowland said the measure is one that would help save money and help direct people down the right path. Rowland told WKRG it costs $75 a day to house each inmate.

“Longevity is the key,” he told WKRG.

He said he believes 30-day drug programs don’t have the long-term capabilities to heal someone in the ways the ROC program might.

Police in the town said they think it is a simple choice, but others think it’s a choice that shouldn’t even be offered.

The ACLU in Alabama said the idea is “blatantly unconstitutional,” according to the Alabama Press-Register.

“It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity,” Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.

Rowland acknowledged there were concerns about separation of church and state complaints but said he didn’t see it as too big of a problem because offenders weren’t being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option.

The offenders who voluntarily choose church over jail get to pick the churches they attend. If they complete a year’s attendance, Rowland said, their criminal case would be dismissed.

Texas Goes Full Retard

Texas Bill Would Outlaw Discrimination Against Creationists

Unlike many other states, Texas does not ban  workplace discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, or marital status. But don’t be alarmed; the Lone Star State is working on that whole civil liberties thing. Last week, Republican State Rep. Bill Zedler introduced HB 2454, a bill that would establish new workplace protections for proponents of intelligent design. Here’s the key part:

An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member’s or student’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.

And you thought Berkeley was crazy. On the upside, maybe the University of Texas will be able to help a few of the folks who are falling through Texas’ fraying social safety net. Out of a job? Come up with an elaborate theory about how a flying spaghetti monster created the universe. A tenured professorship awaits.

‘Aye, those be slighting words against the Lord:’ Ireland’s blasphemy law

‘Aye, those be slighting words against the Lord:’ Ireland’s blasphemy law

On the first day of 2010 (note: not 1310), Ireland’s new blasphemy law came into effect, making statements about the folly of religion punishable by a 25,000 euro fine. Specifically, the law forbids “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion.” Ireland, yet again, has shown the world the toxic result of religious influence on the state. Fortunately, the Irish specialize in blasphemers as well as zealots; a group called Atheist Ireland is flouting the law by posting on its website 25 quotations selected intentionally to outrage religious sensibilities and daring the authorities to prosecute them. They chose a wide range of blasphemy, which was smart, because the new laws, ironically, are intended to promote tolerance. Blasphemy was already a crime in Irish law; the new legislation merely extends the right not to be offended to people of any faith at all.

Alongside quotes from Frank Zappa about “The Cloud Guy who has The Big Book,” the atheists are promoting attacks on Muslims and even Buddhists, such as Icelandic pop singer Björk’s uncharacteristically hostile comment: “The Buddhists say we come back as animals and they refer to them as lesser beings. Well, animals aren’t lesser beings, they’re just like us. So I say f–k the Buddhists.”

There’s only one blasphemer on the list of 25 blasphemous quotations that’s deemed worthy of two entries, and he is, of course, the greatest blasphemer of them all: Jesus Christ. Two thousand years after his ministry, if Jesus were to choose Ireland as the spot for his return to Earth, he would be fined ¤25,000. I guess the good news is he wouldn’t be crucified. (You have to take progress where you can find it.) Pope Benedict XVI should probably be careful what he says, though. If he were to repeat the remarks he made at the 2006 Regensburg lecture, in the course of which he quoted the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II’s statement that Muhammad’s teachings are “evil and inhuman,” he might well be subject to prosecution.

Surely the problem with a multicultural blasphemy law will be in its implementation: With so many religious violators, whom should the police fine first? The Irish law stipulates that it is meant to punish only people who are “intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents.” Most atheists don’t care enough to blaspheme. Despite the recent spate of atheistic polemics, from Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the rest, we simply don’t have a dog in the fight. Priests, rabbis and imams have to outrage other believers; it’s part of the job description. Muslims are supposed to outrage Christians. Protestants are supposed to outrage Catholics. And they all are supposed to outrage the Jews. Religions are inherently blasphemous against each other, which is exactly why, in successful societies, humanists have managed, through the painful effort of centuries, to kick religion out of government.

Religion is creeping back by any means it can find. The same week that the Irish government redefined blasphemy, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard managed to survive an assault in his house by a Somali man wielding an axe and knife. The assailant wouldn’t have had to attack if they had both been living in Ireland. Rather than being apprehended by the police, the assassin could have contacted them; Westergaard, and not his intended killer, would be the criminal in Ireland.

Religious tolerance has been confused with respect. How can you legislate that people not only put up with other people’s beliefs but validate them? What about new religions? Are they entitled to the same protections? What about people with private religions, i.e., the insane? What about people who believe in gnomes and fairies, an ancient religious tradition? Is it blasphemous to claim that the woods are not possessed by magical spirits? What if you work for the department of forestry? What if you insult little girls’ imaginary friends?

Another problem with the new Irish law is that the truth itself is blasphemous. It’s hard to report the events of the past two decades without “intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents.” The Irish government reported that the Dublin diocese of the Catholic Church tolerated “endemic sexual abuse” and sheltered more than 170 pedophile priests from justice for decades. Could you make a more damning statement about any religious group? The Pope goes to AIDS-ravaged Africa and tells people not to use condoms. He welcomes Holocaust-deniers into the priesthood. He commences the process for turning Hitler’s Pope into a saint. No atheist needs to make stuff up. What’s more blasphemous to the Catholic Church than the newspaper?

Religion is trying to make a comeback into the public sphere through the back door, not by insisting on intolerance, but by demanding a respect that it’s done nothing to earn. Fortunately, there will always be blasphemers to stand in the way.

U.S. opposes bid to bar religious defamation

U.S. opposes bid to bar religious defamation

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration on Monday came out strongly against efforts by Islamic nations to bar the defamation of religions, saying the moves would restrict free speech.”Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters. “I strongly disagree.”

Clinton said the United States was opposed to negative depictions of specific faiths and would always fight against belief-based discrimination. But she said a person’s ability to practice their religion was entirely unrelated to another person’s right to free speech.

“The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faith will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions,” Clinton said. “These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.”Her comments came as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a 56-nation bloc of Islamic countries, is pressing the U.N. Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution that would broadly condemn the defamation of religion.

Anti-Islamic backlash?

The effort is widely seen as a reaction to perceived anti-Islamic incidents, including the publication in Europe of several cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Michael Posner, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights, democracy and labor whose office prepares the religious freedom report, said the resolution “goes too far.”

“The notion that a religion can be defamed and that any comments that are negative about that religion can constitute a violation of human rights to us violates the core principle of free speech,” he said.

Posner was part of a delegation at the Human Rights Council that successfully negotiated with Egypt a compromise over another similar resolution that had aimed to condemn religion-related harassment or discrimination.

He said the administration wanted to differentiate between such harassment and defamation and would do so both in the Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly.

“There are limits to free expression and there are certainly concerns about people targeting individuals because of their religious belief or their race or their ethnicity,” he said.

‘Violation of free speech’
“But at the same time, we’re also clear that a resolution, broadly speaking, that talks about the defamation of a religion is a violation of free speech.”

Clinton and Posner spoke as they released the State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom, which, as in years past, criticized Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea and Sudan for violating religious freedom.

Since this is a free country…  fuck all religions.

Unsafe abortions kill 70,000 a year

Lets all say it together: THANKS RELIGION!

Unsafe abortions kill 70,000 a year

About 70,000 women die every year and many more suffer harm as a result of unsafe abortions in countries with restrictive laws on ending a pregnancy, according to a report.

The total number of abortions across the globe has fallen, the influential Guttmacher Institute says, but that drop relates only to legal abortions and is mostly the result of changes in eastern Europe.

There were 41.6m terminations worldwide in 2003, compared with 45.5m in 1995. But in 2003, says the report, 19.7m of these were unsafe, clandestine abortions. The numbers of those have hardly changed from 1995, when there were 19.9m.

Almost all the unsafe abortions were in less developed countries with restrictive abortion laws.

“Virtually all abortions in Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean were unsafe,” says the report. In Asia, safe procedures outnumbered unsafe because of the large number of legal abortions in China. Most of those in Europe and almost all in North America were safe.

The figures are hard to obtain in countries with restrictive laws from hospitals dealing with women damaged by backstreet or self-induced abortion. But the institute, which has been monitoring the numbers for many years, is confident of the picture it paints and hopes it will influence policy makers.

“Our hope is that the new report will help inform a public debate in which all too often emotion trumps science,” said the institute president, Dr Sharon Camp.

Fundamental to turning the tide is preventing unwanted pregnancy, but in many countries there is little advice on family planning and contraceptive products are in short supply. “Women will continue to seek abortion whether it is legal or not as long as the unmet need for contraception remains high,” Camp said. “With sufficient political will we can ensure that no woman has to die in order to end a pregnancy she neither wanted nor planned for.”

The US has always been the biggest funder of family planning in developing countries, but a significant amount of it stopped under the presidency of George Bush, who reinstated a policy known as the “global gag rule” on arrival in office in January 2001.

It removed funding from any family planning organisation overseas that had anything to do with abortion, including counselling. Although European governments, including the UK, stepped up contributions, funds were short at a time when more couples were becoming interested in smaller families. “It really was a lost decade,” said Camp.

President Barack Obama has rescinded the policy and more US funds are expected, but the process of ordering increased contraceptive supplies from manufacturers and getting them to where they are needed will take time.

Where contraceptive use has risen, such as in the former Soviet bloc countries, abortion rates have invariably fallen. Worldwide, the unintended pregnancy rate has dropped from 69 for every 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1995 to 55 for every 1,000 in 2008. The proportion of married women using contraception increased from 54% in 1990 to 63% in 2003.

However, only 28% of married African women use contraceptives. Lack of availability is the biggest issue.

The report points to a global trend towards the liberalisation of abortion laws, which has allowed women with an unwanted pregnancy to end it safely. Nineteen countries have relaxed their restrictions since 1997. But in three countries, Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua, tougher legislation has been introduced, the latter two prohibiting abortion even when the woman’s life is at risk.

“We have seen an increase in women’s deaths and teenage suicides in Nicaragua,” said Dr Kelly Culwell, of the International Planned Parenthood Federation at the report’s launch.

Camp deplored the exit of the pharmaceutical companies from research and development work on contraceptive products. “There used to be 13 major pharmaceutical companies with full-blown programmes of contraceptive R&D. Now there are none,” she said.

Yet there was a real need for products women could use if they were having occasional rather than regular sex apart from the condom, which requires the consent of the man.

Ireland’s Bizarre War On Blasphemy

Ireland’s bizarre war on blasphemy

It does seem bizarre that, in 2009, a modern European nation would seek to shield religious belief from criticism – yet that is what is happening in Ireland right now. In repealing the 1961 Defamation Act, the Irish government sought to expunge the worst excesses of Ireland’s draconian laws restricting free speech, but in the process it has ended up making offending religious belief a criminal offence.

Aside from a €25,000 fine (reduced from the €100,000 originally sought by the government), the new Defamation Act gives the authorities the power to stage raids on publishers: the courts may now issue a warrant authorising the police to enter, using ‘reasonable force’, premises where they have grounds for believing there are copies of ‘blasphemous statements’.

Many are asking why on earth blasphemy should be criminalised, particularly at a time when the Catholic Church in Ireland is being investigated for widespread child abuse and its public image has hit rock bottom.

The government has responded to its critics by saying there is a constitutional requirement for a specific blasphemy law in Ireland. Indeed so: freedom of speech is guaranteed by Article 40.6.1 of the Irish constitution. However, it goes on to prohibit the publication of ‘blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter’. One might call the Irish constitution a clear case of the left hand giving and the right hand taking away.

The fact that this has been the case since the constitution came into effect in 1937 seems to have blinded the government to its usual option: the traditional Irish response to divisive issues is to pretend that they don’t exist. It is not for nothing that Ireland’s acceptance of abortion for those with enough money to travel to Britain is called ‘an Irish solution to an Irish problem’.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the constitution, only one case was ever taken under the blasphemy prohibition since the introduction of the constitution in 1937 (a 1999 case against a newspaper, in which the Supreme Court concluded that it was not possible to say ‘of what the offence of blasphemy consists’ and that ‘the state is not placed in the position of an arbiter of religious truth’). So, at the very least, it seems peculiar to bring the issue into the light of day in 2009.

It is true that the repeal of the 1961 Defamation Act and its replacement with (slightly) less outrageous legislation would leave a hole in the statute books if blasphemy were not outlawed. Yet the obvious answer is to amend the constitution, which, in Ireland, requires a popular referendum. Yet the minister behind the update to the defamation laws, Dermot Ahern, says that a referendum would be ‘costly and unwarranted’. The government is, however, perfectly happy to pay to send the country to the polls on the issue of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty for a second time. Presumably no cost is too high so long as the people make the decision the establishment wants.

Thanks to JT for the tip.