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Petty Larceny

Petty Larceny

When the Supreme Court struck down provisions of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), lost amid all the rejoicing was something else that the SCOTUS had struck down – the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ability of the Justice Department to strike down state voting laws that were judged to be discriminatory was said to be unnecessary given current conditions.

Of course several Red States with Republican legislatures and governors went right out and proved that the Act was still necessary by enacting voter registration rules that tend to work against minorities but are really discriminatory against those who vote against Republicans. North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Florida were among states that quickly drove through legislation that required certain types of identification in order to vote, shortened the early voting period and made it difficult for college students to vote. In Texas, for example, the name on the picture ID has to match exactly the name on the voter rolls; this becomes an issue because the state requires that married women have their maiden name listed as a middle name on their drivers’ license; most women are not registered to vote with their maiden names. Thousands of Texas women under current law will be unable to vote or at least have an extremely difficult time in doing so.

North Carolina will only accept state issued identification to vote; college students for example cannot use student IDs as a valid picture ID. Sure, they can always go out and get one but they don’t always have time or transportation in order to get there. I think it’s pretty telling that the states that have enacted the most restrictive voter ID laws are primarily red states and primarily in the South where the most egregious voter discrimination took place prior to the enactment of the 1965 law.

We’re also seeing voter purges taking place – tens of thousands of voters being removed from the rolls for a variety of reasons; some for legitimate reasons but not all. In the most recent election cycle there were reports of people who have never had issues voting before being suddenly informed that they were no longer eligible to vote.

This is outrageous. The party that is so solicitous of 2nd Amendment rights seems to be less sanguine about the basic right of voters to vote. It is literally easier in some places to buy a gun than it is to vote – in Texas, for example, all you need is a photo ID to buy a gun at a gun show. As I mentioned previously, in order to vote there your photo ID name has to exactly match the name on the voter registration rolls. I guess we know which activity Texas politicians find more dangerous.

And honestly, they’re correct. Your vote is the most power that can be wielded in this Republic. Your vote determines who governs, and they determine which laws are passed, repealed or kicked to the curb. Your daily life is deeply determined by how you cast your vote. Think about it; if it weren’t so important, there wouldn’t be so much effort generated in trying to take that right away from people.

There are some politicians who have floated the idea of literacy and civics tests being administered in order for people to vote. Quite frankly, I’m not sure some of our politicians could pass those tests. It sounds good in theory – only let informed voters do the voting – but who determines what constitutes an informed voter? Can you imagine if a board of Tea Party activists devised a test that determined if you could vote or not? I suspect that if any state were foolish enough to pass such a law, the ACLU lawyers would have a field day.

There are those who proclaim that voting isn’t a right but a privilege. I disagree. Voting is a responsibility that each of us needs to take seriously. It is so important that some politicians who realize that they can’t win elections on their platforms are trying to keep enough of us out of the voting booth so that they can continue to remain in power. It is nothing short of petty larceny – and quite frankly those legislators who think that using these methods to keep members of the opposing party out of the voting booth are pathetic losers who don’t have enough confidence in their own message to let it stand on its merits.

The good news is that there are signs that people are getting fed up and angry with these kinds of tactics. These sorts of win-at-any-cost extremists who are hell-bent on pushing their agenda on us whether or not we want it are being seen for what they are and have begun to lose elections. 2014 will be a big determining factor on whether or not we can take back our government from those who have held it hostage. That they think it can happen is why you are seeing these desperation tactics of preventing large groups who would vote against them from exercising their right. See them for what they are and vote in your next election. It’s never been more important than it is now.

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When to Speak Out and When to Shut Up

 

Here in the Orlando area, there is a teacher at Mount Dora High School by the name of Jerry Buell who has a Facebook page. By all accounts he is an excellent teacher, even winning Teacher of the Year.

He is also a Christian and a conservative. Nothing wrong with that either; however, on his Facebook page, Buell reacted quite strongly to the news that the State of New York legalized gay marriage. In fact, he said that when he saw the news on television, he “wanted to throw up,” further characterizing gay unions as “a cesspool” and homosexuality itself as an “abomination.”

These remarks got him suspended by the Lake County School Board. However, there was such an outcry from the Christian right that he was later reinstated, the rationale being that his remarks didn’t “interfere with the operation of the district.” Both the ACLU and the hyper-conservative Liberty Counsel defended the Teacher.

What I found outrageous was that his Liberty Counsel lawyer, senior counsel Harry Mihet claimed that Buell’s comments wouldn’t make gay students feel unwelcome in his classroom, a concept he called “an outrageous leap of faith.” It’s somehow comforting to know that lawyers for the Christian right are as prone to spinning as outrageous lies as the lawyers for the other side.

Of course gay students are going to feel uncomfortable in his classroom. How would you feel about a teacher who publically said you are an abomination and that you shouldn’t be allowed to marry or raise children? Or let’s put this another way – if a teacher who happened to be an atheist put on his/her Facebook page that Christians are pedophiles who never outgrew the need for an invisible friend (which is something I’ve heard an atheist friend utter, so take that for what it’s worth), the same people defending Buell’s free speech would be demanding the hypothetical teacher’s resignation, let alone suspension.

The truth is that Mr. Buell is in a position of authority, in this case as the teacher of young people. As a person in this position, he should have the common sense to understand that his remarks can be hurtful to his students, and create an atmosphere of hostility in the classroom. He should also be aware that there are consequences to our actions.

Freedom of Speech may be a right but that doesn’t mean it comes without consequence. Just ask Al Campanis, the former General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers who lost his job for making disparaging remarks about African-Americans, or Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder who did the same. When you are in a position of authority, it is expected that you are going to understand that there is a way of stating your beliefs and there is a way of not doing so.

You may believe that gays are inferior human beings and shouldn’t be given the same rights as heterosexuals. That is your right to believe it. It is even your right to say it. It is not your right however to create an uncomfortable or hostile atmosphere for gay people in doing so. Your free speech doesn’t cover that, because the people you’re talking about have rights too.

There is a simple concept when it comes to Free Speech: You can’t just say what you want to say just because you feel like saying it. That’s not freedom of speech – it’s diarrhea of the mouth. Like it or not, your freedom to say whatever you like carries with it the responsibility of choosing your words carefully so that you don’t abrogate the rights of others.

The electronic frontier of social networking has created the ability for us to express ourselves to a larger circle of people than ever before. However that is a double-edged sword. It means that what you say on your own time in a social medium like Facebook or Twitter is available to be read by anybody. There are laws that prohibit the media from slandering or libeling individuals. Those laws exist to prevent the media from abusing its position. Now that we are all, in a sense, our own media outlets, we should be governed by the same sense of responsibilities. If Mr. Buell wants to express his views privately, he shouldn’t post them on a public forum. If he does so, he should accept the consequences and not cry out for a right that does not protect him in this situation.

Nobody is saying that Jerry Buell doesn’t have the right to an opinion or even the right to express it. However, if expressing his opinion creates a situation in which he is incapable of doing his job, his employers have every right to take steps to correct the situation, something which the Lake County School Board failed to do. And if a student of Jerry Buell’s feels uncomfortable having him as a teacher or feel that the learning environment is a hostile one, the parents of said student have every right to sue the Lake County School Board for it, something which could cost the taxpayers of Lake County but more importantly the students of Lake County who are caught in the crossfire. Personally if my son were attending Mount Dora High School, I wouldn’t let him anywhere near Jerry Buell’s classroom. One has to wonder what parents of non-Christian faiths who have kids at Mount Dora High School think of all of this.

Finally, it comes down to this; one of the other rights our Constitution guarantees us is the separation between Church and State. Every time Jerry Buell walks in his classroom carrying his conservative Christian opinions with him (as former students of his say he does), he is violating that Amendment and so is the Lake County School Board.

Teachers bring in their value system into the classroom; they are, after all, only human. However, part of the job of teaching in public schools in this country is to leave your religious beliefs at the door. While often religion fuels our values, we have to be able to separate the two if we are to conduct the business of the United States according to the principles that the Founding Fathers laid down. People have the right to follow any religious belief they choose. They simply aren’t allowed to bring it into the classrooms of public schools with them. If you want to have a religious education for your child, send them to a school run by your particular faith. If you want to teach the values of your religion to children, do so in a school run by that religion. It’s a pretty simple proposition.

In other words, there are places where it’s appropriate to express your faith and other places where it is not. There are places where it’s appropriate to express your political beliefs and other places where it is not. There are also forums where it is appropriate to express your opinions and others where it is not and there are jobs where you may freely express your opinion on the Internet and others where it is not. To paraphrase the Byrds, there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven – a time to speak out and a time to shut up.