Category : America/U.S.A.

The Daily Mississippian profiles a Same-Sex Couple

One thing the couple shares is their faith, a theme that has remained constant throughout their relationship.

“I prayed really hard when we first got together,” Blount said.

Smith was raised Pentecostal, and Blount grew up Southern Baptist, but both converted to Catholicism later in life. Though Blount jokingly refers to himself and Smith as “lazy sinners” who don’t go to church as much as they should, their faith is something they both value.

In fact, Blount believes it’s their duty as a religious couple to show everyone that God is love and what they have together is love.

“I think Christianity sometimes had a bad reputation,” Blount said. “Christianity is love, and, bless our hearts, we don’t always show it.”

Read it all.

I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture, Sexuality

(CC) Bobby Ross Jr–Wissam Al-Aethawi’s long road from Baghdad

The story of Al-Aethawi’s unlikely journey from Baghdad to Dearborn goes back to 1979.

That was the year Saddam Hussein rose to power — and the year Al-Aethawi was born to a poor family who lived in a mud house with steel sheets as the roof. In the winter, rain dripped on the young boy, his sisters and parents as they slept.

Each Friday, Al-Aethawi went to a neighborhood mosque to pray.

But he never felt comfortable with a religion he believed called him to hate people he didn’t know and offered no hope after his 4-year-old sister, Amina, died of food poisoning in 1996.

Wissam Al-Aethawi, right, enjoys fellowship with Steve Spiceland after preaching at the Sunset Church of Christ in Taylor, Mich. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)References to Bible verses in American novels that Al-Aethawi read piqued his curiosity, as did Tom Cruise picking up a Gideon Bible and reading from Job 3:14 in the movie “Mission: Impossible.”

At the massive Al-Mutanabbi flea market in Baghdad in 1997, Al-Aethawi — then an engineering student at the University of Baghdad — bought the Gospel of John….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Iraq, Other Churches, Religion & Culture

(NYT) Conservative Religious Leaders Are Denouncing Trump Immigration Policies

Leaders of many faiths — including JewsMainline ProtestantsMuslims and others — have spoken out consistently against the president’s immigration policies. What has changed is that now the objections are coming from faith groups that have been generally friendly to Mr. Trump.

A coalition of evangelical groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, sent a letter to President Trump on June 1 pleading with him to protect the unity of families and not to close off all avenues to asylum for immigrants and refugees fleeing danger.

The Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative evangelical denomination that is the nation’s largest Protestant church, passed a resolution on Tuesday at its meeting in Dallas calling for immigration reform that maintains “the priority of family unity.” The measure called for both securing the nation’s borders, and providing a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants living in the country. It passed on a near unanimous vote of the thousands of delegates in the room.

“We declare that any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the resolution said.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Immigration, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(NY Post) Salina Zito–How suicide became my ‘family secret’ — and shaped who I am

Three generations later, my great-grandfather’s suicide is still impacting my life.

I distinctly remember the moment my mother told me about the family secret. I was a teenager, and she let me know with the firmness and compassion only a mother possesses that the choice her grandfather made was one nobody should ever face.

Not only did it rob him of his life, it delivered countless blows to his immediate family. His children lost their father, they lost their home, my great-grandmother was forced to become a boarder who worked three backbreaking jobs to make ends meet, but it wasn’t enough.

Eventually, my 12-year-old grandfather was forced to quit school to help support the family.

Despite never meeting him and despite my grandfather never speaking of it, three generations later Clifford’s decision shaped who I became. Not because it was something I ever considered doing, but because I felt the importance of looking for signs of hopelessness and despair in the people I knew.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Children, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Psychology, Suicide

(USA Today) Kirsten Powers–Americans are depressed and suicidal because something is wrong with our culture

In September of 2004, I received the call that every person dreads: My father had dropped dead of a heart attack at the age of 61. It came at a time when I was already grappling with other issues, including watching my mother fight breast cancer for the preceding six months, a breakup with a boyfriend and a lack of structure in my life as I was freelancing as a consultant while I tried to determine what I wanted to do next with my career.

I was in an emotional free fall, so I visited a psychiatrist. He said the antidepressant my general practitioner prescribed to help with my life-long struggle with anxiety wasn’t what I needed, so he prescribed a new one. This seemed to only make things worse. Within a few days, I found myself thinking the unthinkable: I want to die.

I couldn’t imagine a life without my father and our hours-long conversations about, well, everything. The pain was debilitating, getting out of bed was an Olympian event, and life was utterly devoid of meaning. I stopped eating and shed 15 pounds in a month. I couldn’t see any reason to be alive.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Psychology, Suicide

A NY Times Article on this week’s CDC Report–Defying Prevention Efforts, Suicide Rates Are Climbing Across the Nation

The analysis found that slightly more than half of people who had committed suicide did not have any known mental health condition. But other problems — such as the loss of a relationship, financial setbacks, substance abuse and eviction — were common precursors, both among those who had a mental health diagnosis and those who did not.

Other studies have found much higher rates of mental health disorders among people at high risk of suicide, experts noted.

The reason most suicide decedents don’t have a known mental disorder is that they were never diagnosed, not that they didn’t have one,” said Dr. David Brent, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.

Access to guns can make it more likely that an impulsive or intoxicated person will attempt suicide even if he or she has no clear mental health problem, Dr. Brent added.

“We have worked really hard to explain to the public that suicide is not simply a matter of too much stress, but that it involves the identification and treatment of mental disorders as one important component,” he said.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Psychology, Suicide

(NPR Shots blog) CDC: U.S. Suicide Rates Have Climbed Dramatically

Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state over the last two decades, and half of the states have seen suicide rates go up more than 30 percent.

Suicide is a major public health issue, accounting for nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016 alone. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta decided to take a comprehensive look at suicides from 1999 to 2016.

“Suicide in this country really is a problem that is impacted by so many factors. It’s not just a mental health concern,” says Deborah Stone, a behavioral scientist at the CDC and the lead author of the new study. “There are many different circumstances and factors that contribute to suicide. And so that’s one of the things that this study really shows us. It points to the need for a comprehensive approach to prevention.”

She and her colleagues collected data on suicide deaths from all states. In addition, to better understand the circumstances surrounding suicide, they turned to more detailed information collected by 27 states on suicides that occurred in 2015.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Psychology, Suicide

(WSJ) Ryan Anderson–Discrimination Law Isn’t Supposed to ‘Punish the Wicked’

If those playing down the importance of the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling are wrong, those overstating it are also off base. “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane claimed that “it’s a shorter walk than we think, particularly today, from ‘I won’t bake them a cake because they’re gay’ to ‘I won’t seat him here because he’s black.’ ” This wildly mischaracterizes Mr. Phillips’s position. The Masterpiece proprietor serves all customers, regardless of sexual orientation, but he can’t in good conscience communicate all messages or celebrate all events. He is motivated by his Christian belief that marriage unites husband and wife, not his customer’s identity.

This disagreement about the definition of marriage occurs among people of good faith motivated by honorable theological and philosophical premises, as Justice Kennedy recognized in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 same-sex-marriage decision. And as he wrote in Masterpiece, “religious and philosophical objections to gay marriage are protected views and in some instances protected forms of expression.”

That is why states should be careful not to abuse antidiscrimination policy in a way that amounts to an enforcement of an orthodoxy regarding questions about sex on which reasonable people can disagree.

Monday’s ruling won’t open the floodgates to invidious discrimination as critics imagine. But neither should we gainsay its wider applicability. The Supreme Court has said clearly that the government may not punish people because of their religious beliefs. Any generally applicable, neutral law must serve the common good, not punish those whom people in power deem to be “wicked.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court

Masterpiece Cakeshop Analysis (II): Douglas Laycock and Thomas Berg–Scotus Decision not as narrow as may first appear

The Supreme Court has announced a powerful ideal. Even when a law has no explicit exceptions, hostile enforcement is unconstitutional. Single-issue agencies that enforce state civil-rights laws must approach claims to religious exemptions with tolerance and respect. And this is apparently an absolute rule; the court does not consider whether hostility might be justified by some state interest, compelling or otherwise.

But a requirement of tolerance and respect, or even the avoidance of hostility, is difficult to enforce. The opponents of religious exemptions will now start doing the sorts of things done by many other government officials resisting constitutional mandates. They will seek doctrinal and rhetorical manipulations to cloak their hostility to the constitutional right, and their unequal treatment of objectors they agree with and objectors they don’t.

Those manipulations began in the state’s briefs and in the concurring and dissenting opinions. Kagan and Breyer said that the state’s discrimination could easily have been justified with a different explanation: The protected bakers would not have sold an anti-gay cake to anybody, but Phillips would sell wedding cakes to opposite-sex couples.

As Justice Neil Gorsuch explained, this reaches the preordained result by manipulating the level of generality. An “anti-gay” cake is distinguished only by what it displays on the outer surface. So the category is not cakes, or wedding cakes, but cakes with particular messages. If a same-sex couple wants a cake with two grooms, two brides, a rainbow, or any other indication of approval of same-sex marriage, that is a cake that Phillips would not sell to anybody. If they want a cake that could just as appropriately be used for an opposite-sex wedding, then at the surface, Kagan’s rationalization holds — but it is still a rationalization. Everyone would still know what is really going on: The commission agrees with the protected bakers and disagrees with Jack Phillips.

Masterpiece states an important ideal. But the Supreme Court has not been good over the years at identifying government bias or hostility that is the least bit shrouded. In a case without smoking-gun expressions of hostility, objectors will need evidence of inconsistent treatment of tester cases.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court, Theology

Remembering D-Day–General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Speech

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

Read it all (audio link also available).

Posted in America/U.S.A., England / UK, Europe, History, Military / Armed Forces

Ryan Anderson–Supreme Court Upholds Baker’s Right to Disagree With Same-Sex Marriage in Marketplace

…as Justice Neil Gorsuch notes (in a concurring opinion joined by Justice Samuel Alito), either all four bakers violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law, or none did. Gorsuch writes:

[T]here’s no indication the bakers actually intended to refuse service because of a customer’s protected characteristic. We know this because all of the bakers explained without contradiction that they would not sell the requested cakes to anyone, while they would sell other cakes to members of the protected class (as well as to anyone else).

As I argue in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, “Disagreement is not always discrimination.” And this is true when it comes to disagreements about same-sex marriage.

Phillips didn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation when he refused to design and bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. He didn’t take his customer’s sexual orientation into consideration at all. He declined to use his artistic abili­ties to create a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding because he objected to same-sex marriage, based on the common Christian belief that such partnerships (along with many other relationships—sexual and not, dyadic and larger, same-sex and opposite-sex) aren’t marital.

Nowhere need Phillips’ reasoning have even referred to the partners’ sexual orientation, much less any ideas or attitudes about gay people as a class (good or bad, explicit or not).

It wasn’t his customer’s identity that motivated Phillips at all. It is even clearer that Phillips’ reason for refusing to bake the wedding cake was not the invidious discrimination of avoiding contact with others on equal terms. As Phillips said to the same-sex couple, “I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.” He sought only to avoid complicity in what he considered one distortion of marriage among oth­ers—as shown by his refusal to create divorce cakes as well.

Read it all.

Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court

(ABC) How a same-sex wedding cake controversy made it all the way to the Supreme Court

Aided by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian advocacy organization, Phillips petitioned the Supreme Court to take his case, saying the state of Colorado violated his First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and expression.

“What we’re asking the Court to look at is creative professionals, should they be forced to violate the First Amendment, our deeply-held religious beliefs, to create art that violates those beliefs. Which is more important?” he said before the court’s decision. “What I do, I paint on cakes. I sculpt cakes. It’s clearly art. It’s clearly protected.”

Phillips said he couldn’t just create a generic wedding cake available to any customer.

“That would be side-stepping the issue. That’s still the government forcing me to create cakes for ceremonies that go against my faith,” Phillips said.

Mullins said he felt the issue was about whether he and Craig were treated differently based on sexual orientation.

“This isn’t about a cake,” Mullins said. “It’s about the right of the people to receive equal service at a place of business that anyone else would.”

Read (or watch) it all and see how balanced you think it is.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court

Christianity Today Asks Several Religious Liberty Experts to Weigh in on the Implications of Yesterdays Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Decision

Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at religious liberty firm Becket:

Becket urged the court to decide the case on the basis of the free exercise clause, and that is what the court did. And because of that, this case has broad implications for other religious liberty conflicts, involving not just wedding vendors, but many other religious people too.

The decision breaks new doctrinal ground in a couple of places … For example, Justice Kennedy adopts the two-Justice part of Lukumi and turns it into newly binding precedent in this passage: “Factors relevant to the assessment of governmental neutrality include ‘the historical background of the decision under challenge, the specific series of events leading to the enactment or official policy in question, and the legislative or administrative history, including contemporaneous statements made by members of the decisionmaking body.”

What this means as a practical matter is that in a variety of situations it will matter much more what the legislators, adjudicators, and government officials say about the religious beliefs and practices in question, and much less what those same officials think about whether those religious beliefs and practices offend someone. The court used a fairly broad definition of what constitutes hostility toward religion, so referring to “hateful beliefs” could get an anti-discrimination law invalidated. And saying that someone was offended will be no justification for a law.

Read it all.

Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

(NR) David French–In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Justice Kennedy Strikes a Blow for the Dignity of the Faithful

The Court essentially punted on the question, noting that it raised complex and difficult issues. To the extent that the dicta provides any guidance going forward, it seems that the greater the obvious expressive content, the greater the constitutional protection. In other words, a cake that contains words or symbols might enjoy greater protection than a cake with no obvious expressive meaning. But that’s speculation. The case wasn’t decided on that basis.

Instead, the Court focused on Phillips’s second claim, holding (by a 7–2 margin) that Colorado violated his right to free exercise of religion when it held him in violation of state public-accommodation law. Justice Kennedy focused on two critical aspects of the case to support his ruling. He first condemned anti-religious comments made by state commissioners during the hearings before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. He especially singled out a commissioner’s claim that “freedom of religion” has been used to “justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history,” including slavery and the Holocaust. The commissioner called Phillips’s religious-freedom claim “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”

Kennedy’s response was devastating:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical — something insubstantial and even insincere. . . . This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s antidiscrimination law — a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.

Kennedy could have stopped his opinion right there. As he notes, there was no objection to those comments from other commissioners, and they weren’t disavowed at any time during the proceedings. One of the actual adjudicators of the case was expressing outright hostility to Phillips’s religious expression, a situation different from and more egregious than lawmakers’ expressing hostility to religious faith when passing legislation.

Had Kennedy stopped his opinion at that point, Phillips’s victory would have been important, but profoundly limited. The obvious response would be for the commissioners to reconsider the case, cleanse their rhetoric of outright hostility, deliver the same result on a cleaner record, and put the more difficult free-speech claim right back in the Court’s lap. But Kennedy didn’t stop. He found a separate ground for concluding that Colorado was motivated by anti-religious animus, and that separate ground will make it difficult for states to take aim at “offensive” religious exercise, even when it occurs in a commercial context….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

(CT) Christian Baker Masterpiece Cakeshop Wins at Supreme Court

The high court ruled that state penalties levied against Jack Phillips, the Colorado business owner at the center of Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, violated his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion since the regulations were not applied neutrally.

While the court clearly came down in Phillips’s favor, Anthony Kennedy acknowledged in the court’s opinion that similar cases (like those that have come up involving photographers and florists, as well as pizza shops and a range of other businesses) may be adjudicated differently.

As SCOTUSblog wrote in summary, the decision still allows for the government to bar discrimination against same-sex couples, “so long as the law is applied neutrally and without hostility to religion. But whether the very same law could sometimes violate free speech rights is still totally open.”

Today’s decision still has religious freedom advocates celebrating.

“No one should be forced to violate their faith in order to earn a living, and Jack, who I’ve met and consider a friend, just wants to be free to live out his faith in his chosen profession,” stated Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, who was “delighted” at the ruling and its implications for religious freedom.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution, Supreme Court