Government Action

Freedom of Religion in Indiana

Religion is under attack in America. It has been for a long time. But recently, it is specifically the Christian Faith that has been targeted. The classic example is secularizing Christmas; stripping Christ from the celebration with the use of “Xmas.” Yes. I realize that among scholars this a practice dating back hundreds of years and has nothing to do with secularization. X represents the 22nd letter of the Greek alphabet, “Chi”, and has long stood as a symbol for Christ. Therefore, Christmas and Xmas are actually the same—both of them meaning “Christ Mass.” But that’s not the point. The issue is that today it is not just Christian scholars who are using Xmas. So are non-Christians and even non-believers. It’s a little like a family—I can say anything I want about my sister, but you can’t. Infantile? Without question. But there are other, even greater onslaughts against religion.

In more recent years, marriage has become the weapon of choice for attacking the Christian Faith. Everyone knows that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The Bible never says that, but it implies it. In recent years there have been feeble attempts to fight back with slogans such as, “It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” But if homosexuality is the great sin against God that many Christians believe, we need more than slogans. We must fight back with all the ammunition in our arsenal. Enter the great State of Indiana and Governor Mike Pence.

Pence just signed legislation that guarantees the free practice of religion. Bakeries, florists, dress makers, tux shops and photographers, will not be forced to support same-sex marriage. And indeed, why should they consort with sinners? Indiana had to take a stand. Before this legislation was passed and signed by the governor, every same sex couple in Indiana sought out anti-LGBT establishments to provide the food and decorations, etc. for their wedding ceremonies. Why couldn’t they just patronize gay establishments? We needed this law.

There is another, even more important, dimension to this crisis. Indiana is evangelical territory. As such they always ask the question WWJD? Well, what would Jesus do? Better yet, what
did Jesus do?

Jesus frequented the company of prostitutes. I don’t mean that he slept with them. But they did hang out together and share a few drinks. And when it came to tax collectors, Jesus did more than drink. He enjoyed their lavish meals, even though other religious leaders criticized him for it. And let’s not forget the lepers. Jesus not only allowed them to approach him, he reached out and touched them, thus making even the Son of God unclean according to the religious laws of his day.

Does this mean that Jesus endorsed the activities of tax collectors or the life-styles of prostitutes? Of course not. But he did fraternize with them. More importantly he did not condemn them or shun them. As for the lepers, they did not choose their situation and Jesus embraced them for who they were.

On the basis of these and other things that he did it is reasonable to suggest that Jesus would have attended gay weddings. He would have enjoyed the company and the food. He would have shared in the toast and maybe even danced with the two brides. Who knows? Maybe he did. The Gospels certainly do not say that he didn’t.

Hmmm! I may have been terribly wrong about the Indiana legislature and Governor Pence. As it turns out this law is not about the free practice of religion. It is about the free practice of prejudice, bigotry and hate. There is, after all, another way to view the current situation of religion in America. Christianity is, indeed, under attack. But the threat comes from within.

Many Christians have lost sight of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. Whatever answer one offers to the question WWJD, Jesus certainly would not be supporting legislation that condemns, discriminates and pushes people to the margins of society.

This new Indiana law is not so much anti-LGBT as it is anti-Gospel and anti-Jesus. The irony would be comic if it were not so extreme. Every serious scholar acknowledges that Jesus never appeared in ancient America. But there is a new question today: “Will Jesus ever appear in Indiana?”
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The Quandary of Strange Bedfellows

Although launching cruise missiles into Syria will not likely lead to all-out war, President Obama has correctly decided to seek Congressional approval before undertaking such action. There is, however, a caveat. And we should not confuse the issues.

Seeking the approval of Congress is in keeping with the War Powers Resolution of 1973—legislation specifically designed to keep military intervention in check. It was precipitated by the actions of President Nixon during the Vietnam War. Although Congress overrode Nixon’s veto of the legislation, thus making it law, there are legitimate questions as to the constitutionality of the Resolution. Nonetheless, that is not really the issue.

Secretary of State, John Kerry, used forceful but accurate language to condemn the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against its own civilians. That same language would be justifiable regardless of who the victims were. But…

Truth and trust are preciously rare commodities these days. Thanks to President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the failures of the intelligence community regarding Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, many people are demanding more evidence before accepting the judgment against Syrian President Assad.

Also, and more to the point, the people of the United States are tired of war. And it does not matter whether we have a Democratic or Republican president. The people want to have a voice when it comes to military action abroad.

One might be tempted to argue that the people’s will is articulated by its representatives in Congress. However, at least in the House of Representatives, that is no longer the case. The present House simply does not represent the majority of the people. By every statistical analysis, it represents an ever-shrinking and extreme minority, the result of ideological gerrymandering. And yet, there’s no place else to turn.

Like many others, I trust, or at least want to trust, President Obama. I do not trust the House of Representatives, and I am ambivalent about the Senate. But I am also realistic enough to recognize that we have not yet emerged from the moral bankruptcy of the Bush Administration.

If the allegations against Assad’s government are true, the international community must respond. This is not merely a question of how history will judge us, nor can it be reduced to a measure of our war-weariness. If the world is to escape the ever-tightening grip of violence and death, there must be limits to how we resolve conflicts. To paraphrase President Obama, there are lines no one can cross. But how to respond? Thus, the truism about politics and religion.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (boldprogressives.org) is a prime example. This organization has fought against the House of Representatives’ attempts to dismantle the U.S. Government and its cold disregard for the common good. On more than one occasion it has sounded the alarm about the Tea Party’s stranglehold on the Republican Party, and it has documented the House’ failure to represent the majority of Americans. Today it has stated its support of President Obama’s decision to consult Congress over a response to Syria. It has, however, let the bedfellow syndrome cloud its language. PCCC’s Sunday email reads:


“Yesterday, the president made the right decision by asking the people's representatives in Congress to vote on whether our nation uses military action in Syria.”

Regardless of how one views the War Powers Resolution; regardless of one’s attitude toward war in general; regardless of one’s fatigue after more than a decade at war, Obama’s decision may, indeed, be the right one. The American people should at least have a voice in this and future military actions. But let us not conclude that the present House is the “people’s representatives”. It is not.

I applaud President Obama’s decision to consult Congress. But make no mistake. For anyone interested in “truth, justice and the American way,” getting in bed with the current House of Representatives is not good politics.

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Drones, Brennan and the CIA

As a strong supporter of President Obama, I watched in dismay during his first term as Republican members of Congress continually attempted to derail the plans and policies of his Administration.

The stated position of the Republican leadership was to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. That failed. Dismally. The American people delivered Mr. Obama a decisive victory in last year’s election.

Still, there is a difference between obstructionism and oversight. The American system of democracy establishes checks and balances in an effort to insure that no element of the government runs amok. Unless these are exercised judiciously, the government cannot function properly. Striking an appropriate balance is not always politically easy.

Just as the Republicans cannot fulfill their obligations to the country by constantly blocking efforts of the Obama Administration, the Democrats cannot be faithful stewards if they never challenge the President. Congress has a perfect opportunity to meet its obligations as the Senate begins confirmation hearings on the appointment of John Brennan to head the CIA.

Everyone American citizen should be concerned about the U.S. drone program.

Although I am fundamentally opposed to violence, I realize that there are times when violence is inescapable. However, I find it impossible to justify the use of drones to kill people—even those who are deemed to be enemy combatants, or imminent threats to the United States. The use of drones is problematic, not only on legal grounds, but more so on moral ones.

President Obama has done much to restore America's standing in the world. The use of drones is not among them. These are not only legally tenuous, they also create a new wave of hostility, sow the seeds of future violence and breed new terrorists.

Like the atom bomb, we cannot unlearn this technology. Sadly, like weapons of mass destruction, other nations are now pursuing their own drone programs and we appear headed to a “drones arms race” that could, from a practical point of view, be more dangerous than the nuclear one. Drones are more likely to be used than nuclear weapons.

Brennan’s nomination is troubling on many fronts, but mostly because of his position on drones. The fact that they are effective is irrelevant, especially the “collateral” damage of hundreds of innocent dead. He has publicly argued that drones are both legal and moral. There is little support for the legality of this program, indicated by the opposition of nearly every other national government. What’s worse, are his statements that drones are a moral use of force. On this issue, Brennan is morally bankrupt.

Brennan’s confirmation hearing seems a good time for the entire country to confront the deadly reality of the drone program. It is a chance for the U.S. to step back from the policy that allows the use of drones and provide the necessary leadership that insures a peaceful future for all nations and peoples on this planet. This is a good time for the U.S. Senate to exercise its role in the system of check and balances in a thoughtful and responsible manner. If that means denying President Obama's choice of John Brennan to head the CIA, then so be it.
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Why…and Why Not? Questions about the Sandy Hook Shooting

The peace, joy and celebrations of Christmas and the holiday season have been shattered by despicable violence. In many parts of the country, people have been physically sickened and have shed tears, some uncontrollably. The first question, the Why, is not an attempt to seek and understand an explanation for the massacre. Rather, it queries the reason so many in our country care what happened.

Certainly for the families and friends who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the pain and sorrow are obvious and understandable. Families have been ripped apart, literally, as they lay the bodies of their little ones to rest. Sadly, neither our President, nor local politicians, nor our teachers, nor even our pastors can craft adequate words of consolation. Darkness hangs over the city of Newton; an oppressive darkness that obscures even the light of Christmas. On a basic and intuitive level we understand the concern and care of each of the families and of their friends.

But why should the rest of the country care? Most of us did not know these little children or their families. Could it be that the wanton murder of twenty little first graders creates an existential disruption in our own lives? After all, for most of us, the massacre was, and remains, incomprehensible. Our own sense of order has been distorted and thrown into chaos. Or could it be that we have become afraid? Afraid for ourselves and our own children? Or maybe it is that the massacre of innocent six and seven-year-olds is simply too unsettling to fathom, compounded by the fact that their little bodies were riddled with close-range bullets. Could it be our own repugnance at the terror they must have felt as their bodies were pierced and life ripped from their tiny frames? There are many legitimate and humane reasons to care. And as a nation, we care deeply.

But we are challenged by the second question:
Why Not? Why do we not demonstrate the same outrage and grief for the innocent children killed in Pakistan and Yemen? I don’t mean children who are victims of floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, or even children who die of starvation or disease. I am not speaking of children caught in the crossfire of soldiers’ rifles in the midst of war. No. I mean the 178 children killed by drone attacks ordered by our own government, the United States of America. That is nearly nine times the number killed in Newton!

The children at Sandy Hook faced a madman. Children living in Pakistan and Yemen faced unmanned drones. Is their terror any less because they cannot see their killer? Are they any less innocent? Are their futures filled with any less promise? Are their dreams of being teachers or doctors, scientists or musicians any less deserving? Why don’t we rise up in anger and protest? Why don’t we care?

Could it be that they are not massacred together in a single violent act? Could it be that the media doesn’t deem these deaths worthy of news coverage? Could it be that we do not see their faces or know their names? Could it be that we consider them the “other” because they are not us? Could it simply be that they are different?

We try to justify our drone attacks by saying we are pursuing an enemy. We are hunting the “bad guys.” Well, little children are not the bad guys—no matter what country they live in. The fear that overwhelms them as they hear a drone humming in the sky above is just as real as the fear of children who hear gunfire in the next classroom. And it is just as evil.

This is not a lecture, and I do not have the answer. I have only the question:
Why don’t we care?
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The Governor Brown Vetoes--a Loss for Justice

Jerry Brown possesses one of the most interesting and certainly the most unusual political histories in the State of California. From a member of the Los Angeles Community College District, to California Secretary of State, to Governor, to Mayor of Oakland, to Attorney General and back again to Governor. Agree with him or not, his career has been characterized by principles of equality and justice. Personally, I have long been one of his supporters.

I admired then, and still do today, his principled stand against the death penalty. His veto of legislation to reinstitute capital punishment, along with his commitment to the environment and to workers’ rights were the kind of risks one expects from a leader; from a man of vision; from a governor committed to equality under the law and justice for all. This was the man who championed the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, even calling a special session of the legislature to pass the act which he signed into law on May 29, 1975. Fast forward to September, 2012.

The mainstream media has failed to cover one of the most spectacular stories in the state. Governor Jerry Brown is the victim of a Sci-Fi movie. “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is no longer just an escape of fiction. That is the only explanation I can concoct for the disappearance of the principled politician who used to inhabit Brown’s corporeal form. After all, the values instilled in him through his Jesuit education proved of inestimable value in his political career--until now.

The Humane Treatment for Farm Workers Act--vetoed. This act would have made it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by jail time and fines, to not provide appropriate water or shade to workers laboring under high conditions. To use a popular expression, that should be “no-brainer.”

The Farm Worker Safety Act--vetoed. This would enabled workers to sue employers who repeatedly violate the law. Such lawsuits are the only guaranteed method of enforcing the state’s heat regulations.

The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights--vetoed. This act would have included domestic workers in basic labor protections. Such things as overtime pay, meal and rest breaks. And who are these domestic workers? Childcare providers, house cleaners, caregivers for California’s families.

The Trust Act--vetoed. In a society that is struggling to maintain faithfulness to its immigrant roots and seeking ways to keep families, the governor’s veto will enable law enforcement officers to continue their assault on immigrants. More than 80,000 persons have been deported for minor, non-violent offenses. There is a reason that boundary lines separate California from Arizona. We don’t want the likes of governor Brewer and Sheriff Arapaio.

These vetoes are outrageous. What happened to the Jerry Brown who stood for justice and equality? The United Farm Workers put it in perspective: “It’s unacceptable that immigrants and Latinos in California will continue to live in fear of attacks like Arizona’s SB 1070. It’s appalling that 200,000 domestic workers will continue work without rest or meal breaks. It’s outrageous when abuse of a farm animal is taken more seriously than abuse of a farm worker.”

There is a new outcry in the State of California: “Shame on you, Governor Brown.” If it were only a matter of shame, that would be his problem. It is much deeper than that, however. This is a scandal for the entire State of California. It reduces us to the level of Arizona. I wonder if Brown’s next action will be to wag his finger in disrespect at the President of the United States!
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The Death of Bin Laden—A Second Look

There is, of course, no picture of Osama Bin Laden in this blog. It would serve no purpose other than to further agitate the distorted intellects of conspiracy theorists who are already frenetically claiming Bin Laden’s death is a hoax. Still, if a picture paints a thousand words, then moving pictures sketch a dictionary. While photographs possess the power to entrance, often leaving us wanting more, moving pictures transport us to the very heart of action itself, exhausting and exciting our emotions whether for good or for ill.

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, people all over the world were stunned and alarmed. Not only did we watch in horror while planes flew into the Twin Towers, we were also dismayed at the level of destruction as the towers collapsed with mini mushroom clouds vainly attempting to shroud the ruin. To make matters worse, the world was subjected to videos of cheering crowds dancing and celebrating these unprovoked acts of death and destruction.

For almost ten years Osama Bin Laden, the founder and leader of al-Qaeda, had eluded the combined efforts of the world’s most sophisticated intelligence organizations. Though he never faded from memory, most people had understandably begun to wonder if he would ever be caught, if justice would forever be denied.

Then, on Sunday night, May 1st, President Obama announced a successful intelligence operation that ended with the death of Bin Laden. The President delivered the announcement with cultured elegance. It is difficult to imagine the emotions he must have been feeling. There appeared to have been excitement in his eyes—resulting as much from the magnitude and impact of his speech as from any possible joy or satisfaction. Obama pronounced a verdict of justice with sedate solemnity, and his words were filled with gravitas as he reaffirmed the perilous milieu of terror that still grips our world. Through it all, Obama was profoundly presidential and resolutely restrained.

Contrast the President’s demeanor with the throngs that gathered outside the White House, in New York City and elsewhere—chanting masses that seem so eerily similar to the cheering crowds of 9/11. It is tempting to dismiss this reaction as Schadenfreude. The truth is more sinister and therefore more difficult to correct.

Certainly there is a mix of emotions welling from within, most uniquely from within the hearts of those who have lost family and friends to the violence of al-Qaeda. From those whose loved ones have been ripped from life, we expect to find relief, gratitude, closure, perhaps even some sense of peace. No one can sit in judgment on how any individual who has suffered such tragedy should feel or react. Indeed, there probably is no “should”.

At the same time, a desire for understanding and compassion must not deter anyone from probing deeper questions of response. Specifically, what is an appropriate collective reaction when a perpetrator of mass violence ends up the prey of violence, himself? There is simply no triumph or honor in the ability to kill. That was what Bin Laden stood for; it cannot define us, also. There is something terribly obscene about watching people celebrate any death, even the demise of Osama Bin Laden.

Whether in the Middle East or in the United States, such assemblies demonstrate a depraved indifference to life and exhibit a duplicity that is beyond the pale of reason. If all human life is of value, then every human life is of value. For believers there is also a religious component. After all, even the Osama Bin Laden’s of the world are created in the image of God. Although they betray that image by acts of violence, we also betray that image--and our faith--by celebrating their executions.

In the United States today, perhaps in every country, we cry out for leaders, for men and women to serve as examples the rest of us can admire and emulate. It was evident on Sunday that we have at least one politician who understands what it means to lead and to inspire. President Obama did not taunt the enemy in his Sunday address. He spoke with candor about justice, but his words did not evoke revenge.

Public displays of emotion, even those that originate from conflict, are not inherently perverse. Innumerable photos and newsreels abound of citizens from various countries celebrating the end of World War I & World War II. In those pictures we see men and women rejoicing, not because someone has died, but because the specter of violence has ended. They celebrate in the hope that perhaps no one else will have to die by bloodshed. They celebrate a peace that was won with incredible sacrifice.

While that hope certainly surfaces with the death of Bin Laden, the mobs we have seen in the streets of America are not celebrating peace. As the president stated, the fight against terror goes on. No, the mobs are celebrating violence itself, and that kind of rejoicing debases us all. However difficult it may be, we must reach deep within ourselves to embrace the more courageous and truer principles of peace. We must be better than Osama Bin Laden was.
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The Federal Budget and Kingdom Economics

The financial crisis of 2008 created havoc with economies around the world threatening virtually every government and economic system with potential collapse. No country lives in a vacuum anymore, not even the once forbidden kingdom of China, and so this crisis created challenges for every nation. It also created opportunity—the opportunity to reexamine our priorities. In the United States that opportunity presents itself in the form of three documents.

Of the thousands of documents that make up the body of American life, including speeches by great presidents, senators and congressmen, these three stand out. One reason is that these are the people’s documents. They define us collectively, and, not unlike the human eyes, they allow us to peer into the soul—in this case the soul of a nation.

The first document is unchangeable. It is the Declaration of Independence. Singular among our founding documents, it grounds the philosophical principles from which a new nation would be born. The passion and commitment to these principles give rise to the second great document.

The Constitution of the United States establishes the supreme law of the land. Because its authors could not anticipate every vicissitude of American life, the Constitution is constantly being interpreted. In extraordinary situations, to address unforeseen concerns and rights, it also can be amended. In the end, it serves to guarantee that the principles of the Declaration are extended to all.

At first, it may seem absurd to link the third document, the Federal Budget, to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. To begin with, the budget is in constant flux--at minimum from year to year. Even within a single year, it is frequently adjusted as politicians and special interests wrangle over its appropriations. And since most Americans have no real input on expenditures, it hardly seems like one of the people’s documents.

However, the budget is the practical application of the principles of the other two documents. It determines the priorities that allow (or do not allow) those principles to be lived out and secured in daily life. There is a reason that we use the term “shut down” to refer to an unfunded government. Without the budget, there is no government. Without a government, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are, at best, the dreams of philosophical genius. Precisely for this reason, the Federal Budget, more than any other piece of legislation defines the true soul of the country.

The process of crafting a budget does not just allow us to look into the soul of a people. It also allows to identify and to question the foundations on which priorities are determined. It may be that the world of economics, from the principles of the market economy to the funding of the government is the primary point where the Good News of Jesus Christ intersects modern life. It is certainly the most practical point. Unfortunately, that intersection does not merge into a common path. These days, at least, it leads in the exact opposite direction.

If we take the Gospel seriously, we find ourselves called to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. This Kingdom is not territorial. It is defined by neither a particular political system nor an economic structure. It is a community of shared responsibility and also shared resources. This Kingdom does not benefit one people or group of people over another.

In my last blog I suggested that the current vision of the American dream is incompatible with the Gospel. Human beings will always struggle with tendencies to be self-centered. Yet when major decisions are driven by personal gain, the Gospel call to build the Kingdom goes unheard, and subsequently unfulfilled.

For those who reject any notion of social justice in the Gospel, there is, unfortunately, no possibility of discussion. However, much benefit accrues to those who actually hear the Good News and are willing to examine it. In the parable about vigilant and faithful servants, Jesus speaks about the responsibilities of the servants. Peter asks if the parable is also meant for them. Jesus concludes with the startling statement “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

One might expect that the budget is a document of shared resources benefitting all the people. In fact, much of the budget discussion in Washington is misguided in the extreme. It centers on balancing the budget by cutting resources to the poor. Worse still, is that some in Congress, like Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, couples those cuts with outlandish benefits to the rich.

The despicability of attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the poor should be obvious. I would like to suggest that Ryan and company display a total moral vacuum, and demonstrate a complete lack of respect for the American people by suggesting that this is the way for everyone to share in reducing the deficit. What Ryan’s proposals do is take the United States of America, still the richest country in the world, and swell the ranks of America’s poor while expanding the wealth of the super rich. In the process the middle class simply evaporates.

The Paul Ryan types have probably never listened to the teaching of Jesus nor understood Gospel values. Still, it is not just the Gospel call to build the kingdom that is at odds with many of today’s budget proposals. History, also, is being ignored. While people have always balked at paying excessive taxes, most did not object to paying their fair share. The rallying cry of the American revolution was not “No taxation”. It was “No taxation without representation”—a significant difference. The idea that taxes are evil in and of themselves, and that the larger populace is not responsible for the poor must have arisen from the corrupted American dream that centers only on the individual and the self. Sadly, that is the dream adopted by many a Tea Party activist.

If the Federal Budget is to remain in place alongside the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it must again become the people’s document. For that to happen, the people must rediscover the communal values that made America such a great nation, and then elect representatives who possess those same values.

The budget reflects the soul of the nation. What soul will we project?
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Innocent until...

There was a time when an elementary school child could complete the phrase above: Innocent until proved guilty. That time is long past, in great part, because today almost everyone accused of anything is presumed guilty. There are a number of contributing factors--crime dramas such as the long-running "Law and Order" being one of them. I confess that I am a fan of the original show. Still, I am keenly aware that many of the episodes were designed to commit the viewer to a presumption in favor of guilt. The prosecution did not always win, but when it did not, the viewer was manipulated into feeling that somehow there had been a miscarriage of justice and that the guilty had gone free.

The 24 hour news cycle has also contributed to the flip of the presumption principle. In a rush to scoop other networks and to cement the attention of the viewer, cable news, in particular, frequently and irrationally condemns and convicts persons accused of crime, leaving little or no room for the finding of fact. This finding of fact is what a public trial is supposed to be about, but cable news has become its own courtroom. When the jury pool is comprised of people who have already convicted the accused, how fair or just is justice?

A third, and even more insidious, factor originates in the halls of government. Ever since 9/11 various branches of the government have played on the nation's fear. No one wants to see planes hijacked, buildings blown up and innocent civilians killed. Terrorism strikes fear in the hearts of all. But should we also allow terrorism to strike paralysis in the mind? Our justice system is designed to protect the rights of all, the victim and the accused. When the pursuit of justice is slanted in either direction, the scales become unbalanced. When it is driven by fear, the collective mind becomes unhinged.

This past Wednesday, November 17, the first Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court was acquitted on 284 of 285 counts of conspiracy and murder. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. He was accused of participating the 1998 bombings of United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania--bombings in which 224 people were killed. Captured in Pakistan in 2004, Ghailani was held for nearly five years in a "black site" run by the CIA--far away from the peering and pesky eyes of U.S. justice--and then at Guantánamo.

Immediately following the verdict, pundits and politicians began parsing the trial and condemning the Obama Administration for proceeding in a civilian court instead of a military tribunal. It is much easier to admit illicitly obtained evidence in military courts. And, after all, everyone knows that Ghailani is guilty. Right?

Whoa! Back up a bit. Many, if not most, of those who are condemning the Obama Administration's decision are not at all interested in truth or justice. They are merely provocateurs seeking to capitalize on the fear of the American people. Even my friend David Kelsey over at Examiner.com got into the act with an article that was more inciting than informative. These critics seem to forget that there have been other civilian trials of suspected terrorists that have resulted in guilty verdicts.

In this latest trial could the unthinkable be true? Could Ghailani actually be innocent? Or on a darker note, could the unspeakable be true? Could U.S. agents actually be engaging in illegal torture to elicit information that they have already deemed as fact? This was the real problem with the evidence against Ghailani--much of it was obtained illegally and so was excluded from trial. There is a reason that not even the government is supposed to be above the law. The integrity of the justice system must be maintained at all cost. At this point I have to wonder if the Administration's critics are not simply driven by some kind of self-serving limelighting.

It is not extreme to suggest that the country itself is at stake in these proceedings, and not because terrorists might be set free. The U.S. Constitution is a remarkable document that stands as a model and example for all. If its guarantees are restricted only to U.S. citizens, it becomes capricious and arrogant and our moral standing in the world is diminished.

The concept that a person is innocent until proved guilty is not uniquely American. It is foundational law in many countries including Canada, England, France, Brazil and Russia. It is also enshrined in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although the United Kingdom and the United States have chipped away at the presumption of innocence, it must remain a bulwark in our legal system, regardless of what various commentators might suggest.

The Bush Administration led the American public into a legal tunnel. Unlike the carnival, however, this tunnel was not filled with artificial amusement. It held real dangers and it did not exit to the lights and thrills of the amusement park.

Rather than being pilloried by the press and other right-wing critics, the Obama Administration should be heralded for having the moral integrity to restore justice to its rightful place in the fight against terror. As a country we must have faith in our Constitution and the courage of our convictions. In the end, the loss of truth and freedom is greater than the loss of life.
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Rebuild New Orleans

So much has been written about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, it need not be repeated here. Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of this disaster. However, in those intervening 5 years, the government has failed in its response and commitment to the people of that great city. You can do something today to foster awareness of the needs of New Orleans and the failure of the government. The Hip Hop Caucus is a movement founded in 2004 to educate young people about a host of issues on which they can make a difference. They have designed a petition to the President and to Congress to fulfill their responsibilities in the face of a natural disaster made all the worse by the ineffective and irresponsible response of the government. Sign the Hip Hop Caucus petition calling the rebuilding of the City of New Orleans.
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