Tag Archives: Muslim

Texas Adoption Bill

The Texas Legislature made some waves earlier this month when the House sent the Senate a Bill about the rights of conscience in Child Welfare Services.  It’s called HB 3859.  This link goes to the text of the bill.  The New York Times, and Atlantic Monthly, have written about it. Equality Texas is particularly opposed to it, saying the bill would trample the rights of Gay and Lesbian couples.  ABC News complains loudly the bill could allow Texas Adoption Agencies to ban Jews, gays, and Muslims.

If you want to, take a few minutes and go to the link and read the bill for yourself. We won’t go away while you’re gone.  We’ll still be here.  We promise.

Are you done reading, yet?  Good.  The whole Bill is about four pages long in 10 point font, a little longer if I make the writing bigger for old eyes.  The Texas Legislature isn’t like Congress in that respect.  Congress likes bills hundreds of pages long, or even thousands, written in complex legalese that require a JD to even pronounce the words.  The Texas Legislature drafts short bills in plane understandable language.

Does the text contain the name of any religion?  It does not.  Does it specifically call out gay, lesbian, transgendered children or couples? It does not.

Then what does it do?  This bill simply protects the right of conscience of any private agency that works in child welfare.

  • If there were a Muslim Adoption Agency in Irving, Texas, that wanted to ensure Sunni couples adopted Sunni children and Shi’a couples adopted Shi’a children, they would be protected.
  • If there were an LGBT organization in Austin that wanted to step up and make sure LGBT kids get placed with LGBT families, as long as they have a religious explanation, they would be protected.
  • I dare say, that a Child Welfare Agency full of Secular Humanists who refused adoptions to Christians would also be protected by this law, as long as they explained their position in religious terms and referred them to another agency.

What this Bill actually does is protect everyone’s right of conscience.  I expect that if it were to become law and be challenged in court, it would even protect Atheists who have religious reasons to keep Christians from adopting.  The bill would require any agency refusing services on religious grounds to refer those seeking services to another agency that would help them, or to the Texas Department of Child and Family Services.

What this Bill doesn’t do is allow anyone to use threat of law suit or government force to coerce someone else to violate sincerely held beliefs.  Don’t we need more of that?  Don’t we as a society want more protection for all sincerely held beliefs, even if those beliefs aren’t exactly the same as anyone else’s?  Don’t we want more liberty and less coercion?

On thing we do need to ensure is that while Texas is requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, the Legislature and State Agencies make adoptions easier and less expensive. Not harder.

If we’re truly pursuing Virtue here, then we need to make it easier for couples (or singles) who would nurture children and help them flourish to adopt, regardless of creed, belief or religion. As a society we should keep children out of the hands of the violent and the abusive regardless of creed, belief or religion.

Thank you for reading.  We do appreciate you.  If you liked (or hated) what you read here, please tell your friends and click the follow button.

And lest I forget, these views are my own and I’m not writing here to represent the Texas Military Department, the Texas National Guard, the U. S. Army or the DoD.  All these organizations have Public Affairs Offices and spokespeople who should not be confused with me.

Jewish Fall Holy Days – Alef (So, what are We Celebrating, vol 2, parts 8 and 9)

Jews the world over have just celebrated Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur.  Sukkot is coming up in just a few days.  Rosh HaShannah, means the head of the year, or New Years. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.  Sukkot is the Feast of Tabernacles or the Festival of Booths.  I’m going to focus on Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur in this piece.

Those of you who have read me for a  while will know that when I write about religion or about religious holy days, I usually write about Judaism and Christianity together.  For Holy Days, I tend to write about them in groups that are connected thematically or happen to fall next to each other on the calendar that year.  Judaism observes a calendar based primarily on lunar cycles, while the civil calendar is based on the solar year.  Thus Jewish Holy Days move around a few days or weeks, earlier or later, within the Gregorian calendar, each successive year.  For example, the eight nights of Hanukkah and Christmas usually overlap or fall close together in late December. Though sometimes Hanukkah falls several weeks earlier.

There aren’t any Christian religious holy days that fall on or near Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, so there isn’t really anything to pair them up with besides each other.  This isn’t going be exhaustive or encyclopaedic.  I’m just going to hit the high points and then leave myself some room to write more about them next year.  So, if I failed to mention your favorite tradition or left out something you feel is important, write about that in the comments.

Okay, here goes. Rosh HaShanna and Yom Kippur (part 8)

According to scripture, the fall cycle of Jewish Holy Days starts on the first of day of the seventh month, the first of Tishri. For many Jews preparation starts the prior month in Elul, which is traditionally a time for reconciliation and making amends. Spending the month of Elul making amends isn’t commanded in the Scriptures, but it’s practical. If it’s been a bad year, it may take the whole month. If it hasn’t, then we’re spending the time reconnecting with friends and relations.

The first of Tishri is celebrated as Rosh HaShanna or New Years’ in rabbinical Judaism. It’s a time for commemorating the creation of the world by the Divine and celebrating the Divine as King over mankind. Another component of the first of Tishri in many congregations is the Feast of Trumpets or Yom Teruah. It’s a day for blowing shofarim or ram’s horn trumpets and rejoicing.  In some Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots groups, Yom Teruah is regarded as heralding the return of the King, Messiah Yeshua.

Ten days later comes Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement. In ancient times, when the Jews had The Temple in Jerusalem (or before that, the Tabernacle in the wilderness) Yom Kippur was the one day of the year when the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place.  All the Jews would fast, and no one would work, on Yom Kippur.  Before entering the Most Holy Place the High Priest would offer a series of sacrifices covering himself, all the other priests, etc.  He would also wash several times. Then they would take two goats, and onto one goat, called the Azazel goat, the High Priest would symbolically transfer the sins of all the people.  The other goat, he would sacrifice and take its blood into the Most Holy Place with him.  The Azazel goat would be set outside the camp, or taken to a cliff and thrown down on the rocks.

In modern times, prayer services are substituted for all sacrifices.

The prayer services on Yom Kippur are largely about confession and repentance and dedication to serving God.  But its group confession and group repentance and group dedication.

Kol Nidre (part 9)

Now, what I really want to talk about in this piece is the tradition of Kol Nidre.  It’s a prayer service held at sundown on the evening that Yom Kippur starts.  It features the assembly of the congregation, the closing of the doors, and the Cantor singing the Kol Nidre.  Kol Nidre is prayer asking for God to forgive us for and release us from vows made falsely, usually under pain of torture or death — such as conversion to another religion. Or from vows we have intended to fulfill, but didn’t. It is by no means permission to lie, cheat, or steal in business or civil matters.

It is widely regarded that Kol Nidre was written by rabbis in Europe during the Middle Ages, when Jews were frequently under various persecutions by Catholics or Muslims.  Under threat of torture or death, many Jews would change their names, begin going to the other religion’s worship and prayers in public, but practice their Judaism in private.  They would become crypto-Jews and hope that soon the King, Sultan, Prince, Bishop, or Caliph who decreed the persecution would be overthrown or die, or that they could move somewhere far away and practice their Judaism openly again.  Jews asked themselves questions like, “How can we serve God, if we’re dead?  How can my great grandchildren serve God, if they are never born because my bloodline is extinguished in this persecution?”  The answer was Kol Nidre.  We convert in public, but in private, before Yom Kippur, we will ask God to absolve us of the conversion.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is precisely how a guy who calls himself StThomas comes to be writing about Judaism in the first place.  My real last name is a Spanish forced conversion name.  So, somewhere up the family tree, one of my  grandfather’s great grandfathers faced that decision about changing his name and going to Mass.  Some would call that cowardly.  I say it takes more courage to live in hope of freedom.  And none of us have faced the Spanish Inquisition or ISIS.  I’m sure you’d like to think that when Jihadi John has picked you out to star in an ISIS / Daesh video and he threatens you [redacted to be in good taste]…. well, I hope you get the point.

So, Kol Nidre has become more dear to me in recent years.

But here’s the lesson for our daily and relentless pursuit of virtue. We need to make things right with our friends and relations. We also need to make things right with God.  Judaism tends to focus on the making amends to friends and relations with 39 days devoted to that and one evening to Kol Nidre.  Christianity, with its Confirmation, rededication, and numerous alter calls, tends focus more on getting right with God.  As men and women of faith and virtue we cannot neglect either.  We must make amends to our friends and relations; we must ask forgiveness from the Divine and we must live more righteously tomorrow than we did yesterday.

Opinions expressed in these writings are my own and are not endorsed by any Rabbi, Rebbe, Priest, Minister, Pastor, Bishop, Imam or Shiekh; neither are they endorsed by my employers, the National Guard, or the Department of Defense.

If you have a favorite Rosh HaShanna or Yom Kippur tradition that you want tell the Internet about, please share in the comments.  If you enjoyed this piece, why not take another moment and follow some of the links below to others?  Why not click the follow button, and bring your friends back with you?

Freedom of Conscience and Federal Power

There has been much consternation in the news recently regarding a law in Indiana that requires the government to demonstrate compelling interest before forcing citizens or business to violate their deeply held and sincerely followed religious beliefs.  The law actually provides the following:

the government can’t “substantially burden” any religious practice unless it can prove that doing so

  1. “is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
  2.   is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

Gay and marriage equality activists have decried this law as squarely targeting them with open season discrimination. On the other hand Wiccans have asserted that the law would allow them to perform moonlit, clothing-optional rituals on the steps of the state capitol. And some Muslims have vowed to use this law to rule Indiana with Sharia. I think all these claims are a bit outlandish. I do think such a law would protect a Muslim photographer from being forced to take pictures of a Jewish wedding or protect a Jewish kosher deli from being forced to cater pork for city government luncheon. It also might keep a gay printshop owner from being forced to print signs and placards for the Westboro Baptist Church if they decided to do a protest in Indiana. Unless the gay printshop owner is an atheist. But we’ll come back to atheists.

The Constitution and Federal Laws require any level of government to show compelling cause, and if no crime is involved, provide fair compensation, before seizing the property of a citizen or business. Isn’t forcing people to violate their conscience an even more intimate breach than seizing their property?

Freedom of Religion is protected in the Bill of Rights along with freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and freedom of the press and many other rights. The Founders and Framers acknowledged that these rights come from our Creator, from Nature and Nature’s God.

Federal Courts have long interpreted many of these rights (freedom of speech, religion and assembly) together as freedom of conscience. I understand that at present it’s all the rage to bash Christians as intolerant for following their religious convictions regarding the life of unborn children and their definition of marriage. Well, some Christians, anyway. Evangelicals, and Southern Baptists and other more conservative denominations. There are also those who have prayed in support of Doctors who perform abortions as well as denominations that have redefined marriage to include gays and lesbians.

Are we as a society, now prepared to decide to bring the full force of government down on the heads of Christians who refuse to cater gay weddings…? Okay, maybe just fines and hearings and other regulatory processes. We don’t really want SWAT teams arresting Pastors who won’t marry gays.  Do we?

First, I think we need to acknowledge that gay marriage is a relatively new phenomenon in American society. The reputation of gay men in the 70s and 80s was anything but committed monogamous marriage.  Excessive promiscuity was the order of the day, at least in the perception of the popular zeitgeist. I don’t recall hearing discussion of gay marriage until about 8 or 9 years ago, maybe less.

As such, I submit to you that perhaps, we need more time for a national conversation, before we start labeling people as hate mongers and banish them from polite society. Mozilla and the Atlanta city council can hire and fire whomever they want to be CEO or Commissioner of the Fire and Rescue Service. But neither the fired Mozilla CEO, or the deposed Fire Chief ever actually discriminated against gay employees or condoned a work environment hostile to them. Yet, they were each forced out of their jobs for not embracing the gay community with sufficient zeal.  Again, I suggest that it’s a bit premature for such banishment.

Some pundits and activists compare the struggle for gay rights with the struggle for Black/ African-American civil rights. When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr rose to the forefront of the civil rights movement with the marches in Washington, DC and Selma, AL, approximately 100 years had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation. It was time for civil rights laws and government force to allow all citizens to live in the communities they could afford and to work in jobs for which they were qualified. Certain communities hadn’t heard the message in the prior decade when President Eisenhower Federalized the Arkansas National Guard and used Federal troops in integrate Central High School in Little Rock, AR. The point is nearly a century had elapsed since slavery was outlawed. There had been time for a national conversation. And the results weren’t acceptable. Now, I also want to note that some African-American opinion leaders do not agree to the comparison of the struggle for gay rights to the struggle for Black civil rights.

I’m not saying that a century is the acceptable time for a national conversation. But neither is less than a decade. Some denominations of Christianity and some Jewish sects already have gay bishops and lesbians in leadership. Some Churches have redefined marriage. Others are holding on to more traditional ways. Didn’t many say during the George W. Bush administration that dissent and debate we not only tolerable, but preferable? And now these same voices are the ones condemning Christians and celebrating the sacking of the Mozilla CEO and the Atlanta Fire Chief. Which is it? Do we want a national conversation or do we want everyone walking in lockstep to beat of the government drummer?

If a gay couple wants to marry in a church, there are many churches that will welcome them. There are many florists, photographers, caterers, etc who would gladly provide their services. Why are we rushing to judgment against family owned pizzerias with only one store? If it was a publicly traded company like Pizza Hut (part of Pepsi), that’s one thing, but this is one family owned store. What happens to freedom of thought, to freedom of religion, to freedom of conscience if we now bring in government force thru regulation, taxation, or troops to decree that all businesses and all churches must serve the customers and preach the sermons decreed by the government? What power does the individual then have against the almighty Federal Government?

And while I’m at it. The State Department is about to conclude a grand alliance with Iran (or at least a nuclear weapons treaty).  Iran is a Muslim country that executes gays and won’t allow women to be educated or seen in public wearing any fashions more modern than the 7th century.  Where is the outrage against a treaty legitimizing Iran? No one in Indiana is advocating stoning gays to death or hanging them.

I think more freedom here in America is the answer. Not more government force. I submit to you all that the Episcopalian Church is model we could all follow. A few years ago, the Episcopalian Church consecrated a gay bishop. Some congregations liked the idea, others didn’t. Those that didn’t like the idea of a gay bishop quietly withdrew from the Episcopal Church and realigned with the Anglican Communion. Those individuals in congregations that disagreed with the congregation decision found another congregation to attend. No government force, or regulation or fines required. Civilized people, with their freedom of association, freedom of travel and freedom of speech, worked it out among themselves.

And here’s an idea regarding gay marriage and Christianity. You can take one verse or one phrase out of context and issue a blanket condemnation of homosexuals. But if you look at the verses and phrases often cited in context of the entire passage, any condemnation of homosexuality the Apostle Paul made, he wrote in context of also condemning drunkenness, wife-swapping and rampant promiscuity. Perhaps it is in context of such excesses that don’t belong in polite society, whether secular or religious, that the condemnation of homosexuality should be understood. If the male gay community wants to leave behind adolescent promiscuity and grow up into monogamy, perhaps the religious community could welcome them into monogamy. If, on the other hand, the male gay community is trying to bring promiscuity into marriage, then the Councils of Bishops, Rabbinical Councils and senior Muslim clerics should stand up assert that marriage is a sacred institution and they will define it as leaders of their religions; government get out of our sacraments. Either way, perhaps promiscuity is the greater vice and monogamy the greater virtue.

And here’s another idea regarding freedom of conscience. These Religious freedom restoration laws that have been much trumpeted, if properly constructed to protect the rights of all at the expense of the rights of none, can be a good thing. Anything that protects the rights of the individual against the power of an angry mob or an overreaching government is a good thing. However, they may not go far enough. Now that Hizbollah and other Iranian militant front groups are being removed from the Terrorist watch list, they can conduct fund-raising openly. Suppose one of these militant groups, which still funds suicide bombers blowing up Hindus in India and provides rockets launched at children and civilians in Israel, wants to hire Penn Gillette as entertainment for a fundraiser. Penn Gillette is a well known atheist. But he’s also well known for his consistently applied moral principles. Should the Islamic militant group be able to sue Penn Gillette for discrimination and compel him to perform his magic act at their fundraiser? Penn Gillette isn’t a member of any organized religion, so he can’t claim protection under a religious freedom law. Hizba’allah isn’t on the Terrorist watch list any longer, so he can’t refuse on those grounds either. Perhaps we need to expand these freedom of religion laws to include all freedom of conscience. Doesn’t anyone deserve to follow their deeply held and sincerely followed moral principles whether secular or sacred.

I think the issue here is where we want government force applied to coerce one segment of the population to do or believe what another segment of the population wants. I don’t think we want that anywhere. We want government to protect life, liberty and property. We do not want government in our bedrooms at all, or photography labs or kitchens (except to enforce local health and safety regulations). The Constitution was written to tell the government what it cannot do; not to tell people what they must and cannot do.

Thank you all for taking a moment to read this.  Okay, two moments; it was one of my longer posts.  I hope you’re all a little bit angry and also a little bit pleased, but mostly I hope that you’re prompted to think about the consequences of laws like this and the motives of supporters and opponents.  Do we really want to empower government over freedom of conscience?  Sound off in the comments below.

If you liked what you read, come back and read me again; click the follow button and bring back ten of your friends with you.

The facts are the facts; the opinions are my own and not necessarily those of my employers.

Sources:

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2015/04/wiccans-say-indiana-religious-freedom-law-opens-the-door-to-polygamy-nude-rituals-at-the-capitol/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/04/03/next-we-muslims-bring-sharia-to-indiana.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/01/us/religious-freedom-restoration-act-arkansas-indiana.html?_r=0

http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2012/04/19/planned-parenthoods-abortion-prayer/10646

http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/17/us/presbyterian-church-gay-marriage/

 

Support Israel’s fight against terrorism (Hamas)

Okay, I’ve let this go on in silence long enough.  I have to add my voice.

Support for Israel is support for civilization.  Support for Hamas is support of terrorism.  The featured picture is just one example.

Israel is a pluralistic democracy with many political parties, an independent judiciary, women’s rights and citizens who practice many religions.  Israel has even seated in its parliament ethnic Arabs, who practiced Islam but lived in peace with their Jewish neighbors as Israeli citizens.  Israel is a world leader in medical research, computer technology and their produce is among the finest in the Mediterranean.

In Gaza, Hamas rules. Period.  They marry girls who should be in middle school to grown men.  Hamas has driven the Christians, who used to live among the Palestinians and fight with them against Israel, out of Gaza.  While Qatar and the UN pour funds into Gaza, Hamas doesn’t build industry or grow crops to sell to their neighbors; they build tunnels into Israel, store weapons in schools, fire rockets from hospitals and residential neighborhoods.  In fact, for the last 14 years Hamas has launched 100s of rockets every year into Israel.

When the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) sends counter-fire back at the points of origin of the rockets, they always warn the Palestinians first.  The IDF warns Palestinians with txt msgs, phone calls, radio broadcasts, recently even training missiles that produce merely a puff of smoke.  When the point of origin happens to be an apartment building, or a UN shelter, who is wrong:  Hamas who launched a military weapon from a civilian location and then beat the women as they tried to flee with their children after IDF warnings? Or Israel for launching back at a site that fired at them?

Think about it like this.  If a terrorist organization took over Fort Worth or Minneapolis or Liverpool and started launching rockets at Dallas or St Paul or Cardiff: what would Americans or Britons do?  Would we just allow the rocket fire week after week, after month, after year for fourteen years?  I don’t think so.  We would stop it.  We would root out the barbarians and bring them to justice.  This is what the IDF is doing right now in Gaza. It’s a war, not a police action, but the analogy holds.

So, I support Israel because they stand for the same values and principles as the America I grew up in and the UK I grew up thinking of as my closest ally.  I support Israel because they fight for the same values and principles as the British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealander, Polish, other NATO Allies and coalition of the willing, I fought next to in Iraq as an officer in the U.S. Army.  Israel supports the values and principles of JFK, Reagan and Thatcher.  If Hamas would lay down its weapons of war and live in peace with its Jewish neighbors like that Arab Muslim who served in the Israeli parliament, I could welcome Palestinians into the Family of Man.

Thank you for reading.  Some of my sources are at the bottom.

If you like what you read, click ‘follow’ and bring your friends back.

If you have a story or a thought about the Israeli-Arab conflict, sound off in the comments. I will clean up the language of anyone who writes something ugly, but I welcome dissenting opinions.

Views and opinions expressed in these writings are my own, unless attributed or documented to someone else, and either way are not necessarily those of my employers.

 

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4539651,00.html

 

http://www.israelvideonetwork.com/1-million-simple-arguments-that-will-change-how-you-look-at-israel

 

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CDkQFjAD&url=http%3A%2F%2Fmiami.cbslocal.com%2F2014%2F07%2F25%2Fambassador-rips-media-for-coverage-of-israel-gaza-conflict%2F&ei=IQDXU_SvDKGh8AGp24GoAQ&usg=AFQjCNH622HcFpEfKaVJ_KE1oKSRhuZ49Q&bvm=bv.71778758,d.b2U