Tag Archives: Freedom of Expression

#310: Versers Mobilize

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #310, on the subject of Versers Mobilize.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have previously completed publishing my first four novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, For Better or Verse, and Spy Verses,  in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I have posted the fifth, Garden of Versers,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about my expectations for the futures of the characters and stories–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued, as being written partially concurrently with the story it sometimes discusses where I thought it was headed.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the ninth mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 97 through 108.  Previous web log posts covering this book include:

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 97, Hastings 163

I spent a good day trying to wrap my head around this chapter, and then sat down and typed the first line–and the neighborhood power went out for most of an hour.  I didn’t get back to it until early the next morning, when I was squeezing in a few minutes before rushing out the door, so it was a bit rushed in the original draft.


Chapter 98, Kondor 151

I felt this had to be a Kondor chapter, but realized that he wasn’t going to be the inquisitor, and that meant the action would be mostly Slade, some Derek.  It took me a bit of thinking to wrap my head around how to do that.

I had also been thinking at the same time about how Slade would plan to penetrate the manor, and so I was ready with that when it was time.


Chapter 99, Beam 27

I decided on sleep next; I had several things I wanted to accomplish, but I needed the party to sleep while they still felt safe, so that was now.  I’m also trying to figure out how Beam’s relationship with Sophia is going to go.  At the moment she doesn’t much like him and he doesn’t much care, but that has to change because for a future story I need her to be very possessive of him.


Chapter 100, Hastings 164

I had decided on a lot of parts related to Lauren’s martyrdom, but I suddenly realized I had not decided whether there would be a trial, or what it would be like.


Chapter 101, Slade 151

I made an interesting observation while watching something on television (I think it was a movie, but I’m not certain now).  If in the script someone tells you the plan, it’s going to go awry; if the plan is going to work smoothly, the viewer isn’t given the details in advance.  I wasn’t entirely certain of all the details of the plan, and I had already thought that it was going to go wrong, but decided that it was better not to attempt to tell too much of what was supposed to happen.


Chapter 102, Beam 28

I needed the combat, and was looking for where to put it.  This seemed the best spot.  I gave some thought to the infiltrator.  It needed to be small enough to be credible as something that entered through small portals, but large enough to be a credible threat.

I was starting to worry about whether I could rearm the party soon enough at this point, and indeed whether the reader would think Dawn ought to be out of bullets by now.  I never said anything about how many bullets they had for either gun, but figured I have them in a place where they can get more, and that will be my next stop.

I also confess that I had a slight oversight.  When Dawn was introduced it was said that she had three guns visible, and Beam suspected she was also carrying other weapons, and he had his own revolver.  He swapped guns with her, at least briefly, but at some point apparently swapped them back.  However, thereafter the group was treated as if there were only the two guns, Dawn’s .44 pistol and Beam’s .45 revolver.  By the time I recognized the discrepancy I had already written the chapter in which they find the armory and better arm themselves, and in the interim there were few enough encounters that the oversight might be a matter of how scenes were described–that Dawn has extra guns doesn’t matter if she never uses them, and no combat lasted long enough for her to need another gun.


Chapter 103, Hastings 165

I had debated whether to have this trial, but when it struck me that I could make a mockery of their justice system by turning the trial into essentially a rubber stamp on the prosecutor’s case, I went with it.


Chapter 104, Brown 176

I had envisioned this covering considerably more of the rescue, which would have been bad for a climactic scene, but I had decided that the Amir would assign guards to them at the door, and it was a small and abrupt step to decide that he would invite the regular guards to wait there, separating Joe and Zeke from the others.  I needed Joe and Zeke on the rescue, so it gave me more story as Derek and Slade would have to eliminate the guards and then rescue Joe and Zeke before continuing.


Chapter 105, Beam 29

It was important to me that Beam get some high tech weapons for the next world, and that he replenish the ammo for the ones he had.  On the other hand, he wasn’t going to open a door and find it; I needed to make it make sense.  Thus he comes to a locked armored door, and it’s obvious that this must be the armory, but he has to figure out how to get through it.  I already knew the solution, but I needed him to face the problem, and thus I made this a cliffhanger.


Chapter 106, Hastings 166

Originally I was going to continue the scene in this chapter, but I decided I wanted the cliffhanger ending and I wanted more chapters in this part of the story.  I also wrote more at the beginning than I’d anticipated, so I put the break at the tense moment and went to the other story.


Chapter 107, Kondor 152

I kept changing my mind about who told which parts of the story.  Derek was going to be doing most of the work, because his was the only non-lethal attack, but I didn’t really want it to be all from Derek’s perspective, and I didn’t want to keep repeating how he disabled each guard.  There were enough of them, and unless something went wrong it would be pretty much the same.


Chapter 108, Beam 30

I discussed what kind of weapon Sophia might be able to use with Kyler, and he suggested several, of which the taser and the small rail gun seemed the most practical.  I had had a shotgun in mind for Bron for quite some time, and knew that Dawn would go for a military rifle with grenade launcher.

I also wanted to give him a way to carry everything, but decided with all the food he was going to need two.  I have not yet figured out how to get these into the weight limits of the characters, but that’s not yet a problem.


This has been the ninth behind the writings look at Garden of Versers.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will endeavor to continue publishing the novel and these behind the writings posts for it.

#306: Versers Refocused

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #306, on the subject of Versers Refocused.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have previously completed publishing my first four novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, For Better or Verse, and Spy Verses,  in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I have posted the fifth, Garden of Versers,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about my expectations for the futures of the characters and stories–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued, as being written partially concurrently with the story it sometimes discusses where I thought it was headed.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the eighth mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 85 through 96.  Previous web log posts covering this book include:

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 85, Hastings 159

I was pushing to get through the recounting of the previous novels, and finally concluded it.

I had realized several chapters before that Lauren didn’t know the names of any of the people who took care of her, and that this was one of her problems, of forgetting that the people around her were real people and she should care about them.  She hadn’t figured out yet why she was there, partly because she had been focused on getting out of there.


Chapter 86, Brown 174

At this point my challenge was to put the clues in place without giving away the mystery.  I’m not sure how successful I was; at this point it looks obvious to me, but then, I already know the solution.


Chapter 87, Beam 23

I was well behind my outline when I reached this chapter, but it managed to go smoothly and cover more than I expected.  I had already written most of the next two chapters, to give Kyler ideas, but the day I wrote this I had been feeling ill and lost a few hours, and it was late by the time I got this far, so I postponed the others to get more sleep.


Chapter 88, Hastings 160

The problem here is that her life is filled with inconsequential characters, but she can’t treat them like inconsequential people.  That means I can’t just write them off with “he tells you his name”, because names matter.  One of these people might become important; the problem is that she can’t know which one at this point, so they all have to be given equal importance in the text, and I have to burn through and remember a lot of names.


Chapter 89, Kondor 150

I was thinking that I hadn’t made my mystery tough enough, so I was trying to stretch the solution over several chapters.  I’m not at all certain how to resolve the matter—whether there will be a rescue or whether the kidnapper will surrender.  For the moment, though, the plot is still being examined.


Chapter 90, Beam 24

I had been imagining this chapter from the moment Kyler had explained the dysfunctional ring, and had written a substantial part of it in notes as “this is where I think we’re headed here”.  In the previous Beam chapter I had hinted but not actually stated that he put the dragon control ring on the finger on which he had worn his wedding band some years before, because I needed a reason why someone would remove it, and the new wedding ring was the obvious one.

As I recall, Sophia was something of a composite created by our collaboration.  She had to be a redhead because that’s Beam’s weakness (mentioned previously), and she had to be a witch because we needed to give him a support team that had power before the end of the book and he already had a powerful psionicist and a demonstrably weak wizard, plus a superb fighter.  She also had to have a strong personality, the kind who was going to fight with Beam but still love him.


Chapter 91, Hastings 161

I was looking for direction for Lauren, and what occurred to her is what occurred to me.  I’m not yet sure how it’s going to work, but I’m going to lay some groundwork here.

Kyler and I had a discussion about whether Lauren’s identification of Jesus should be capitalized “the Son of God” or left in lower case, “the son of God”.  The argument was that in this instance it was not a title or name but a descriptor, and so did not get capitalized.


Chapter 92, Slade 150

I kept swithering about the raid, on the one hand thinking that this could be resolved without violence, on the other hand thinking that it was going to end badly for someone.  At this point I decided on the raid, partly because I needed some good story and more action, partly because it was the best resolution I could find for the events to this point.  I also decided who was going to die in that raid, and some of the aftermath.

One of the challenges of this chapter was putting the right words in the right mouths.  I had to assume that Vashti was back with the entourage and therefore couldn’t say anything here; that means that the pieces of information about family and culture had to come from people who knew them, pieced together by the legal and logical knowledge of the others.  More than once I started to write something and decided that someone else had to say it.

I had been thinking for quite a while that Derek has to ask Shella to tell Vashti what it would mean for her to marry him and become a verser, but I didn’t want to get into those details too deeply.  I knew that it would be simple to have the actual conversation between the girls offstage, since neither of them are viewpoint characters.  Putting the initial conversation between Derek and Shella offstage as well meant that I could return with Vashti talking about what impacted her from that discussion, without dealing with what she might or might not know otherwise.


Chapter 93, Beam 25

I wrote most of this chapter months before, as the transition from the wedding to the new world, but I had to add material describing what was known of the new world.  I had wanted it to be a place with enough technology that Beam could recharge the Pyronics 2000 and obtain some other high-tech weaponry, with a high psi bias so Bob would be back in form, and a flatlined mag bias so my new witch would be mostly useless.  I tossed around a number of ideas, including the Titanic and another space ship of some sort, but settled on an automated mecha war zone.  The bunker was a good starting place.


Chapter 94, Hastings 162

I had been worrying about how to get Lauren out of this world, but I almost abruptly figured out how to do it.  I started working toward that here, as she shares the gospel with her caregivers.


Chapter 95, Brown 175

The difficulty here was that I wanted to go directly to the interview with Bilhah, but I couldn’t get past the conversation about becoming a verser between Derek and Vashti.

I realized while I was in the middle of this that somewhere I had a resource for titles in different cultures; I just didn’t know whether Caliph was on it.  It was, but the feminine forms weren’t, so I looked them up.


Chapter 96, Beam 26

There were several things I wanted to accomplish in this world, mostly in terms of supplying Beam with needed equipment, also in creating the foundation of a relationship between him and Sophia.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it all, but I decided to start with food.


This has been the eighth behind the writings look at Garden of Versers.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will endeavor to continue publishing the novel and these behind the writings posts for it.

#305: The Cross Case: Supreme Court Sours on Lemon

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #305, on the subject of The Cross Case:  Supreme Court Sours on Lemon.

I have been watching for this case since it hit the circuit court, and so was pleased to see that the Supreme Court had decided it.  It seems on one hand to be a simple question:  is a century-old war memorial in the shape of a forty-foot cross originally built by private citizens but for half a century maintained on public land at public expense a violation of the “establishment” clause, that is, a constitutionally impermissible promotion of a particular religion by the government?  That’s the question; yes or no?

So imagine my surprise to discover that although Justice Alito managed to write a seven-to-two majority opinion that said no (that is, the cross can stay), there were five concurring opinions (a concurring opinion is one that agrees with the conclusion but not with all the reasoning) plus a dissent.  So how is there so much confusion over so simple a question?

At the time of this writing, I was unable to find the official Supreme Court PDF online; however, Justia has it in an easy-to-access form.  The Court combined two cases into one, so the title reads

THE AMERICAN LEGION, et al., PETITIONERS

v.

AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION, et al.; and

MARYLAND-NATIONAL CAPITAL PARK AND PLANNING COMMISSION, PETITIONER

v.

AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSOCIATION, et al.

A lot of the trouble revolves around what’s been called the Lemon Test, named for Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), in which the court articulated a three-part test for whether something violated the establishment clause.  The short version is:

  1. Does the action/activity have a secular purpose?
  2. Is the principle or primary effect one that neither advances nor inhibits religion?
  3. Does it avoid fostering an excessive government entanglement with religion?

By these three questions all such cases were supposed to be answered.

Let’s get some backstory.

Just after World War I, a citizens group in Bladensburg, Maryland wanted to honor the forty-nine men from their community who died in that conflict.  Quite a few of the fallen in that war were never returned, and more were never identified.  The monument would serve as a surrogate grave for them, for their families to visit, and as a recognition of the service of so many others.  They hired an architect/sculptor, who designed a large Latin Cross, modeled on the crosses that had been used as temporary grave markers for the over one hundred thousand Americans buried in European graveyards.  (The Star of David was also used for such markers, but only about five percent of American casualties were Jewish, so crosses dominated the photos that came home and were emblazoned in the minds of the mourners.)  The citizens group raised money through donations, but ran out before completing the work, so the American Legion took over, adding their emblem to the cross, finishing the work, and maintaining it at their own expense into the early 1960s.  At that time, actions were taken to transfer the ownership of the property to the Maryland Parks Department, in part because the road around the monument had become a major traffic problem, in part because the American Legion was no longer able to afford it, and in part because the State wanted to expand the surrounding area into a memorial park with monuments for all the other wars.  Since then the monument has been maintained by state funds.  However, a few years back the American Humanist Association filed suit claiming that the cross was offensive and an impermissible endorsement of the Christian religion.  They wanted it removed, or demolished, or at the very least stripped of the crosspiece so it would be an obelisk instead of a cross.

The Federal District Court applied the Lemon test and sided with the park service, stating that the primary purpose of the cross was to honor the dead of World War I, and there was no evidence that any religious purpose was intended in its design or its present maintenance; any impartial observer who knew the history of the monument would conclude that it was not about promoting Christian faith, but about honoring the war casualties.  A three-judge panel of the Circuit Court, however, disagreed in a split decision, again applying the Lemon test but asserting that the cross was so tied to Christian belief that anyone seeing it would think it was an emblem promoting that religion.  The full court declined to review the case en banc (that is, all the judges), and the Supreme Court granted certiorari (or cert., agreeing to hear it).

Justice Alito wrote that there were many problems with applying Lemon, and that since the the test has a lot to do with motivations and intentions it is particularly difficult to apply the case to situations with deep historic roots.  It can’t be said that those who originally erected the monument had a religious purpose in view.  He cites other situations in which crosses are used as an emblem that do not have a religious purpose, notably among them the International Red Cross, whose red cross on a white field was designed to call to mind the white cross on a red field that was the flag of the neutral country Switzerland, and so marking the deliverers of medical care as neutral.  So, too, the crosses that dotted graveyards throughout Europe had become an image of the fallen in that war, popularized alongside the poppy even more by the poem In Flander’s Field.  Shortly after the war the same emblem became the basis for the national congressional medals known as the Distinguished Cross and the Navy Cross.  There was no reason to suppose that the original designers of the cross intended it to have any greater religious significance than that which is attached to any grave marker.  Indeed, one of the members of the committee which began the work and approved the design was Jewish.  Further, there is no evidence of bias or prejudice, sectarian or otherwise.  At the dedication ceremony, a Catholic Priest opened with an invocation, a politician gave the keynote address, and a Baptist minister gave the closing benediction.  Although racial tensions were high in the country and the Ku Klux Klan held a rally within ten miles of the site within a month of the dedication, black and white soldiers were listed together on the plaque.  To claim that the original intention was religious is to read our own ideas into their situation; we cannot do that.  Further, he argued, the fact that the monument has been there for almost a century means it has taken many other significances, historical and cultural.  We might think there is a religious significance to it as well, but it is a relatively small part of a memorial that has been part of the community for so long.  Besides, to destroy or deface it would appear to be an act against religion, not an act furthering religious neutrality.

The opinion did not overturn Lemon; it simply said that in dealing with matters steeped in history, it was generally impossible to know the motivations of those who made the original decisions, and so Lemon was rendered useless in such cases.

Justice Gorsuch in the main agreed, but went further.  Lemon, he said, was useless as a test.  Case law demonstrates that a court using the test can reach any conclusion it wants.  More pointedly, the notion of the response of a reasonable observer (whether a reasonable observer would think that the purpose was primarily religious) has created an “offended observer” status, that someone can file suit against an action on the grounds that it offends him.  This, Gorsuch argues, is not real injury and the Constitution gives no basis for anyone to sue without real injury.  Overturning Lemon and getting rid of its test would resolve much of the confusion in the courts and mean in the future cases like this, in which someone claims to be offended by the sight of a supposedly religious object, would be dismissed perfunctorily.

Justice Thomas agreed with that, but went further.  The Establishment Clause, he observed, begins “Congress shall make no law”.  He explains what kinds of laws had existed that were eliminated, but asserts that the protection has nothing to do with actions that are not based on laws made by Congress.  He suggests that one might apply the I Amendment to the States by virtue of the XIV Amendment, but even so the original purpose of the Establishment Clause was to forbid legislative actions compelling citizens to support a specific church or denomination.  Local creches, non-sectarian thanksgiving services, opening invocations and closing benedictions, and memorials to the dead are not covered by this, as they are not compulsory and in the main are not legislative acts.  Lemon, he asserts, should be overturned because it goes far beyond what is Constitutional.

Justice Kagan also wrote a concurring opinion, agreeing with nearly all of Justice Alito’s opinion but for two sections.  The important disagreement is that she asserts that Lemon, with its focus on purposes and effects, is still very valuable even though it does not resolve every Establishment Clause problem, and she would retain it.  Her lesser disagreement is that Justice Alito suggested that history would play an important part in Establishment Clause analysis, which she does not reject entirely but does not wish to see embraced as a principle of law.  She agrees, though, that it might be important to consider whether long-standing monuments, symbols, and practices reflect respect for different views and tolerance, with an honest effort to achieve non-discrimination and inclusivity, and a recognition of the important role that religion plays in many American lives.

Justice Kagan also agrees with the concurrence written by Justice Breyer, who has long said that no one test works for all Establishment Clause cases, but that in each case the court has to consider the purposes of the clause, “assuring religious liberty and tolerance for all, avoiding religiously based social conflict, and maintaining that separation of church and state that allows each to flourish in its “separate spher[e]”.  He says that the majority opinion is correct that there is no significant religious importance to the Bladensburg Cross, and that its removal or destruction would signal a hostility toward religion against the Establishment Clause traditions.  However, he objects to any sort of “history and tradition test” that might permit religiously-biased memorials on public lands in the future.

That, apparently, is a suggestion in Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence.  He fully joins the majority opinion, but emphasizes the importance of reviewing history and tradition in such cases.  He suggests that the Lemon test has proven useless and is never really used by the Supreme Court.  He also expresses sympathy for those, particularly Jews, who feel alienated by the cross, which he says must be recognized as a religious emblem.  The fact that it is a religious emblem does not mean the government cannot maintain it–but the government does not have to do so, and other branches of the government could take action to remove the cross or transfer its ownership and care to a non-governmental entity.  The objectors do have recourse to the political process if they wish to pursue this; what they don’t have is a court decision declaring that the cross cannot be maintained by the State.

Which leaves Justice Ginsberg’s dissent, joined by Justice Sotomayor.

Ginsberg maintains that the Latin Cross, defined as one in which the lower upright is longer than the other three branches, has always been recognized as a Christian symbol, and has never had a secular meaning or application.  (This in contrast to the Greek Cross, in which the four branches are equal.)  The Bladensburg “Peace Cross” is thus offensive to anyone of any other religion or of no religion.  Marshaling evidence that even in the aftermath of World War I the cross was identified by the government as a sectarian symbol to be put on the graves of all Christians and of any persons not known not to be Christian (in case they were), with Stars of David placed on all graves of soldiers known to be Jewish.  (Those who were known not to be either could, at the family’s request, have a plain stone, be transported home, or be interred in a private cemetery overseas with a headstone of their choice.)  There has never been a case in which a Latin Cross was identified as a non-sectarian emblem of death, and historically it has been regarded as conveying the message that Christians are saved and all others are damned–an offensive message to all those others.

While Ginsberg’s claim is well-supported, it is not clear that the modern cultural view of crosses as memorials perceives them as specifically Christian.  It comes to me that many graves of pets are marked with crosses, but no Christian denomination of which I am aware supports the theological belief that animals can be Christian, The Vicar of Dibbley notwithstanding.  (The eternal destiny of animals is not something the Bible tells us, which makes sense, as C. S. Lewis would have said, because it’s not actually something we need to know.)  Crosses are also frequently used in decorative graveyards such as in Halloween displays.  To many, the cross says “grave marker” much more than it says “Christian”.

I can’t say that everyone perceives such memorials as non-sectarian, but I do think that over time they have become more so.  It appears that the Court, in the main, agrees with that:  memorials using crosses in their imagery have become non-sectarian by their use over time, and the Bladensburg Cross far more represents the fallen of World War I and, since its rededication in 1985, all the American casualties of all our wars.  Lemon has not been overturned, but it has been significantly limited in its application in the future.

The Peace Cross stands.

#289: Stifling Lozman’s Protected Speech

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #289, on the subject of Stifling Lozman’s Protected Speech.

From one perspective, the most interesting thing about Fane Lozman’s recent victory at the United States Supreme Court is that it is the second time this ordinary citizen has taken a case to that court, and the second time he has won.  It really does happen in these United States, although in fairness he solicited aid from a law school and a group of pro bono attorneys.

The reason it is of interest to us is that this second win is an Amendment I Freedom of Expression case, a subject we follow with some interest.

The previous case is only of passing interest to us, more as background to the second.  Lozman built a floating house, which he had towed to various places until he docked it at a marina in Riviera Beach, in Palm Beach County, Florida.  The city wanted to exercise eminent domain over the marina to seize it, tear it down, and put it in the hands of a commercial developer.  Lozman objected, and brought a lawsuit against the city for improper procedure when they attempted to pass the measure a day before a Florida state law went into effect making such use of eminent domain illegal.  He won that suit.  However, while he was involved in this, the city declared that his house was a “vessel” under maritime law, and seized it.  Lozman fought this, stating that his house was not a “vessel” under the definitions provided in the law, and therefore not subject to seizure under that law.  In Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida, 568 U.S. 115 (2013), the Supreme Court agreed.  The house was not designed to be a mode of transportation, and for this and several lesser reasons the court concluded 7 to 2 (Sotameyer and Kennedy dissenting) that maritime jurisdiction was inappropriate, and the city owed Lozman a lot of money to replace his home.

In the midst of these battles, Lozman showed up at a City Council meeting, and during the public comments time stepped forward and began calmly talking about political corruption.  It is said that he spoke for about fifteen seconds when one of the Councilmen instructed the police officer who was present for the purpose of maintaining order to remove him from the room.  He was handcuffed and charged, but the charges were dropped.  However, he filed suit claiming that his Amendment I right to free speech was violated.

In Fane Lozman, Petitioner v. City of Riviera Beach Florida, 585 U.S. ___ (2018), the Supreme court in an 8 to 1 decision said that it was–but noted that there were special circumstances that made it so.

At the head of those special circumstances, Lozman had presented evidence to the effect that the City Council had previously adopted an official policy of intimidation against him and others who had spoken out against them, and asserted that his arrest was executing that policy.  The evidence included a transcript of a closed Council meeting in which Councilmember Elizabeth Wade suggested that the city use its resources to “intimidate” Lozman and others who had filed lawsuits against the city.  At a later point in the meeting, one of the other councilmembers asked whether there was “a consensus of what Ms. Wade is saying,” and this was affirmed by others present.  Lozman asserts that these remarks formed an official plan to intimidate him.

The lower courts held that because there was probable cause to arrest Lozman at the meeting (on the very minor charge that he did not stop speaking when asked to do so, and thus was considered disruptive to the meeting) he could not claim the arrest was retaliatory.  However, the Supreme Court decided that if a jury might believe that the closed door meeting comments created an official policy of retaliation, and if the arrest at the later meeting was an implementation of that policy, Lozman would prevail.

It does not mean that all cases in which people are arrested for trying to speak at public meetings and so disrupting the meeting involve violations of Amendment I free speech rights, but only those in which there is evidence that the arrest is part of a government policy of intimidation against the person arrested.

Justice Thomas dissents, stating that the rule propounded by the majority is too convoluted and might never apply in any case including the present one, and that the previous rule in essence said that if probable cause was present no case for retaliatory arrest could stand, even if it involved freedom of speech.

Justice Thomas is right:  it is a bad decision.  It allows governments to harrass citizens exercizing their freedom of speech at meetings as long as there isn’t a paper trail suggesting that they agreed to do this.  Lozman probably wins (and I think that when Justice Kennedy writes that a reasonable juror would have to be able to believe that the statements at the closed meeting created a policy and that the action at the open meeting implemented it he believes that they would) because the idea of intimidating him was discussed on the record at a meeting.  If the Committeemembers had discussed this at a coffeeshop or cocktail party and agreed informally to do this, he would have no case–but his rights would have been just as impinged.

.

Meanwhile, the dissent’s probable cause test is worse.  I once was discussing a law that deprived anyone who had been convicted of a felony of certain rights, and commented that felonies were generally rather serious crimes.  I was informed that legislatures had taken to defining more and more crimes of lesser and lesser severity as “felonies” in order to enforce stricter penalties against them.  In the present case, it seems initially Lozman did not believe there was probable cause for an arrest, and there was some doubt as to whether there was probable cause for the charges initially brought.  He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest without violence–the former because he stepped up to the podium to raise issues at a public meeting, the latter because he refused to relinquish the podium when asked.  The District Court found that as a matter of law there was insufficient evidence to support probable cause for either of those charges.  However, the city dug up another statute prohibiting interruptions or disturbances in schools, churches, or other public assemblies–a charge never mentioned prior to the trial–and maintained that there was probable cause to arrest Lozman on that charge; Lozman conceded that there was probable cause for that.  That, though, shows that if the authorities want to arrest someone, they can probably find probable cause to do so if they look hard enough.

What was needed was a looser rule, one that permitted evidence of a pattern of intimidation to stand as proof of an intention of intimidation.  Lozman’s case adduced many incidents of arbitrary official actions taken against him; the stifling of his right to speak at the public meeting was the most egregious because it impinged his Amendment I freedom of speech.

The claim that Lozman’s speech was off-topic was insupportable.  In the first fifteen seconds he spoke of two government officials in other jurisdictions that were arrested for corruption.  That could be the preamble to any of a dozen on-topic speeches.  For the committee to have claimed he was speaking about something outside the parameters of the meeting is not defensible.

.

Congratulations to Lozman for winning twice at the Supreme Court (and winning several lower court cases along the way).  However, this decision is going to have to be modified by future ones before it is at all useful in the defense of free speech.

#278: The 2018 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #278, on the subject of The 2018 Recap.

A year ago I continued a tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #219:  A 2017 Retrospective.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, on the second of January, the same day I published that retrospective here, I also posted another chapter in the series of Multiverser novels, at which point we were at the twenty-third chapter of the fourth book, Spy Verses (which contains one hundred forty-seven short chapters).  We had just published the first of seven behind-the-writings web log posts looking at the writing process, but all of that is indexed at that link.  Also on that same day the Christian Gamers Guild released the second installment of the new series Faith in Play, but all of those articles along with all the articles in the RPG-ology series are listed, briefly described, and linked (along with other excellent articles from other members of the guild) in the just-published Thirteen Months in Review on their site.  That saves recapping here two dozen more titles in the realms of Bible/theology and gaming, many of them excellent.  It should also be mentioned that six days a week I post to the Chaplain’s Bible study list, finishing Revelation probably early next week, and posting “Musings” on Fridays.

Spy Verses wrapped up in October, and was followed by the release of an expansion of Multiverser Novel Support Pages, updated character sheets through the end of that book, and by the end of that month we had begun publishing, several chapters per week, Garden of Versers, which is still going as I write this.

Now would probably be a good time to mention that all of that writing is free to read, supported by reader contributions–that means you–through Patreon or PayPal Me.  If you’ve been following and enjoying any of those series, your encouragement and support through those means goes a long way to keeping them going, along with much else that has been written–and although that may be the bulk of what was written, there is still much else.

Since on January 10th the first of the year’s web log posts on law and politics appeared, we’ll cover those next.

#220:  The Right to Repair presents the new New Jersey law requiring manufacturers of consumer electronics to provide schematics, parts, and tools to owners at reasonable prices, so that those with some knowledge in the field can troubleshoot and repair their own cell phones and other electronics, and none of us need be at the mercy of price-gouging company stores.

#221:  Silence on the Lesbian Front addressed the ramifications of a Supreme Court decision not to hear a case against a Mississippi law permitting merchants to decline wedding services to homosexual weddings.

#222:  The Range War Explodes:  Interstate Water Rights arose at the Supreme Court level when Florida claimed Georgia was using too much of the water that should flow downstream to it.

#225:  Give Me Your Poor talks about our immigrant history, the illusion that it was entirely altruistic, and the question of what we do going forward.

#229:  A Challenge to Winner-Take-All in the Electoral College looks at a federal lawsuit claiming that the standard electoral college election system violates the one-person-one-vote rule.

#230:  No Womb No Say? challenges the notion that men should not have a say in abortion law.

#231:  Benefits of Free-Range Parenting discusses the recent idea that parents who do not closely monitor their kids are not being negligent.

#241:  Deportation of Dangerous Felons considers the Supreme Court case which decided that the law permitting deportation of immigrants for “aggravated felonies” is too vague.

#247:  The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case examines in some detail the decision that protected a baker from legal action against him for refusing service to a homosexual couple, based primarily on the prejudicial language of the lower court decision.

#251:  Voter Unregistration Law examined a somewhat complicated case upholding a law that permits removal of non-responsive voters from the registration lists.

#253:  Political Messages at Polling Places presented the decision that non-specific political clothing and such cannot be banned from polling places.

#255:  On Sveen:  Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries examined a convoluted probate case in which a law passed subsequent to a divorce dictated how life insurance policy assets should be distributed.

#259:  Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees is the case the unions feared, in which they were stripped of their ability to charge non-members fees for representation.

#261:  A Small Victory for Pro-Life Advocates hinged on free speech and a California law compelling crisis pregnancy centers to post notices that the state provides free and low-cost abortions.

#270:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot was the first of two parts on the election in our state, #271:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results providing the second part.

#274:  Close Races and Third Parties arose in part from the fact that one of our congressional districts was undecided for several days, and in part from the fact that Maine has enacted a new experimental system which benefits third parties by having voters rank all candidates in order of preference.

One post that not only bridges the space between religion and politics but explains why the two cannot really be separated should be mentioned, #224:  Religious Politics.

My practice of late has been to put my book reviews on Goodreads, and you’ll find quite a few there, but for several reasons I included #223:  In re:  Full Moon Rising, by T. M. Becker as a web log post.  I also copied information from a series of Facebook posts about books I recommended into #263:  The Ten Book Cover Challenge.

There were a few entries in time travel, mostly posted to the Temporal Anomalies section of the site, including Temporal Anomalies in Synchronicity, which is pretty good once you understand what it really is; Temporal Anomalies in Paradox, which is a remarkably convoluted action-packed time travel story; Temporal Anomalies in O Homen Do Futuro a.k.a. The Man From the Future, a wonderfully clever Brazilian film in which the time traveler has to fix what he tried to fix, interacting with himself in the past; and Temporal Anomalies in Abby Sen, an Indian film that is ultimately pretty dull but not without some interesting ideas.

In the miscellaneous realm, we had #227:  Toward Better Subtitles suggesting how to improve the closed captioning on television shows; #228:  Applying the Rules of Grammar encourages writers to understand the rules and the reasons for them before breaking them; and #273:  Maintaining Fictional Character Records gives some details of my way of keeping character information consistent from book to book.

This year we also began a subseries on the roots of Christian Contemporary and Rock Music, starting with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor in March, and continuing with

  1. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael
  2. #236:  Reign of The Imperials
  3. #238:  Love Song by Love Song
  4. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark
  5. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch
  6. #244:  Missed the Archers
  7. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits
  8. #248:  The Hawkins Family
  9. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist
  10. #252:  Petra Means Rock
  11. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands
  12. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive
  13. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn
  14. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus
  15. #262:  First Lady Honeytree of Christian Music
  16. #264:  How About Danny Taylor?
  17. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire
  18. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts
  19. #272:  To the Bride Live
  20. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.

Looking at our Bible and Theology posts, the first of the year landed in the end of March, as #233:  Does Hell Exist? attempts to explore how the modern conception of hell compares with the Biblical one; #245:  Unspoken Prayer Requests finds theological problems with asking people to pray without telling them what to pray; and #267:  A Mass Revival Meeting explains what is really necessary to bring about a revival.

There were also a couple of entries related to gaming, including the republication of a lost article as #237:  Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials–the first article I ever wrote to be published on someone else’s web site.  There was also a response to some comments made by #239:  A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild, and a sort of review of a convention appearance, #249:  A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

A couple previously published pieces appeared in translation in the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, which you can find indexed under my name there.

So that is a look at what was published online under my name this past year–a couple hundred articles, when you count all the chapters of the books (and more if you count all the Bible study posts).  In the future, well, I have a lot more to write about Christian music, I’m only getting started with Garden of Versers and have another novel, Versers Versus Versers, set up and ready to run, several Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles are in the queue (one publishes today), and there’s a study of the Gospel According to John ready to post and the Gospel According to Mark being prepared to follow it, plus some preliminary notes on Supreme Court cases, an analysis of a time travel movie that’s taking too long to finish, and more.

Again, your support through Patreon or PayPal.me helps make all of it possible.  Thank you for your support and encouragement.

#263: The Ten Book Cover Challenge

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #263, on the subject of The Ten Book Cover Challenge.

As mentioned, Jeni Heneghan tagged me in a ten-bookcover challenge on Facebook.

**1**

I’m starting my list–and I know I’m not really supposeed to say anything about the books, but that seems a bit pointless to me–with one of the books I most enjoyed in recent years, Ian Harac’s Medic.

I had previously read his The Rainbow Connection, and enjoyed that thoroughly, but I think he topped that with this one.

I am also tagging Ian Harac to take up the challenge.  The deal is for ten days post the cover of a book you “love” (take that however you wish) and name someone to do the same.

My Goodreads review is here.

Interestingly, at the time I appear to have liked Rainbow Connection better, but in retrospect Medic is the one that comes to mind.

**2**

It’s a busy day, but let me not forget my obligation to Jeni Heneghan, who challenged me to post ten book covers of books liked or something in ten days, and nominate ten people to the same task.  This time I’m going for something non-fiction, The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

Haidt explores six facets, what I think if memory serves he calls pillars, which are the bases of our notions of “good”, and how most people in the world use all six but modern liberals use only three, and how this results in very different views of what is right.  It’s perhaps the best exploration of these ideas I have encountered.

Again, my GoodReads review is here.

And I almost forgot:  I nominate Eric Ashley.  I’ve enjoyed many of the books he sent me.

**3**

Time to post a book cover (thank you Jeni Heneghan for the invitation).  I said I would try to avoid the obvious Lewis and Tolkien titles, but this is a close friend of theirs, Charles Williams, of whose handful of wonderful books I think my favorite is still the first one I read, Descent Into Hell.

I first read this in college as a course assignment in modern fantasy/sci-fi literature, and was immediately much impressed.  It was probably two or three decades later that I found it again, along with a couple other of his titles (War in Heaven, Greater Trumps), and was not disappointed in the least.

Williams is wonderful at blurring the line between the material and the spiritual, the natural and the supernatural.  His characters interact with each other, whether alive, dead, or imaginary.  This book also gave me some very challenging concepts–such as that bearing each other’s burdens was a real active thing.

And because this book reminds me of someone else who read it in that course who also found it interesting, I’m going to tag Richard Van Norstrand to take up the challenge.  You’re not required to do so much as I do, just over the course of ten days post the covers of ten books you “love” in whatever sense, and invite someone else to do the same.  This is my third.

For what it’s worth, I’m also building a web log post from these, so once the ten have run you can expect a complete summary, largely because I hate these multiple-first-post threads when I want to know what the other posts were.

**4**

Back in the early 1970s when I was at Luther College the library had one of those books sales, clearing out old copies.  I wound up standing beside the Dean, Dr. Harm, as he examined a book clearly older than I was, and commented that it was once the classic book in apologetics.  For twenty-five cents, I figured I could afford it.

I’m about 98% certain that the cover and title page gave the name as Evidences of the Christian Religion by William Paley.  I don’t find that title on Goodreads, which apparently finds no editions more than ten years old and calls it by various names of which Evidences of Christianity is the nearest to the original.

I don’t have a review of it posted anywhere.  In fact, it was a ponderous read for a college sophomore, and when I was about three-quarters finished the aforementioned Richard Van Norstrand borrowed it and took it home, only to have his father borrow it from him, and I never saw it again.  Still, I got through the bulk of it.

This was the book in which Paley presents the teleological argument for the existence of God in its most famous form, the watch argument, that if you find a watch you deduce that there must be a watchmaker, and since the universe runs like a watch, there must be a universe maker.

I was impressed by the meticulous way in which Paley presented his argument–no leaps, no skipped steps, no assumptions that the reader will see how to get from A to D without having been told what B and C are.  Part of that no doubt is that writing in the nineteenth century (and I’ve read several other nineteenth and early twentieth century books) he did not have to compete with more concise forms of entertainment–readers expected books to be long, because otherwise they didn’t get their money’s worth.  Yet it was instructive, in that many writers, and perhaps including me, tend to make such leaps and assume the reader understands the intervening reasoning.

I keep swithering concerning who to tag next, but I think I’ll go with Nikolaj Bourguignon.  Odds are he’ll post a lot of books I can’t read (the word for someone who speaks several languages is multilingual, while one who speaks two languages is called bilingual, and one who speaks only one language is called American, and that’s pretty much me–I took French in high school, but can’t even read the French translations of my own articles at the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be).  Still, I know he’s a reader with broad interests, and that will make it interesting.

**5**

Almost forgot the book cover on this overladen day, but I’d already selected the book, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

I read the book in high school as part of an English course in science fiction literature, and having more recently re-read it cited it as recently as a couple years ago.

My Goodreads review is here.

In short, this book is everything a great science fiction classic should be.  It tells a compelling story in a futuristic world while making a significant point about contemporary issues.  The primary issue here is censorship, government control of information, and while government control of information doesn’t seem like a significant concern our articles in recent years on freedom of speech might suggest otherwise.

I’m going to invite Rick Maus to play next, because he was in that class and as I mentioned somewhere else in my writing was a member of that Great Meditators Society decades ago (he probably doesn’t even remember it), and it might be interesting to see what books he’s been reading.  The invite is to post ten book covers in ten days (it does not require saying anything about them other than implicitly that these are books you in some sense “love”–that part is just my inability to keep silent) and nominate ten people along the way to do the same.

I’m also adding a tag to the current location of the Freedom of Expression series in which Bradbury is mentioned.

**6**

Again with acknowledgement that Jeni Heneghan invited me to participate in this, let’s do the next book cover.  I know I promised not to clutter the list with C. S. Lewis–undoubtedly my favorite author, and I could name easily a dozen from A Horse and His Boy to Perelandra to Mere Christianity to The Great Divorce, but I’m going to go with God in the Dock.

My Goodreads review is here.

The book is a collection of essays and letters previously published in many sources covering a wide variety of subjects, and arguing them intelligently.  You might not always agree with Lewis, but if you haven’t read his arguments you can’t really effectively defend your own positions.

I’ve been meaning to tag Edward Jones to invite him to play.  The game is, post ten covers over ten days of books you “love” in whatever sense you want to take that; it is not required that you say anything about them (I just do, because, well, you know me, I have to talk about stuff).  You are also supposed to invite someone else to do the same each day.  No obligation, of course, but I’m interested in what books you would pick.

(We actually have a copy of a book here that we bought for you some years back and haven’t had the chance to gift.  Maybe if it sits here a bit longer I’ll read it again.)

**7**

For today’s book cover I’m stretching the meaning of the word “love” a bit.  By stretching a bit, I mean I hate this book, and I hated it when I read it–but I think it’s an important read, partly for many of its ideas, and partly because people think it says things it doesn’t.  The book is 1984 by George Orwell.

I read his Animal Farm in high school, and found it interesting and entertaining, so when I saw this book I decided it might be more of the same.

Boy, was I mistaken.  It is a bleak story with a horrible ending.

Yet it is compelling, and the world it paints is filled with concepts that are important for us to grasp–notions like doublespeak, when the words you say don’t mean what the words mean.

However, people often think that Orwell predicted the world in which we presently live.  His vision is completely wrong on the critical points.  In the world he presents, the ruling powers control all information, rewriting the records whenever they want history to be different from what it was, and it is impossible to find anything other than the party line.  In our world, the problem is reversed–we have an information explosion, and you can find everything, every position, every opinion, expressed on the Internet, with no one in control, to the point that it is often difficult to know what information is true.  No one controls it.  So Orwell was wrong.

He still tells a compelling story, and no one should cite this book who has not read it, because it doesn’t say what many people claim it says.

I’m going to tag Donald Chroniger next:  you are invited to post ten book covers of books you “love” (however you interpret that) over the next ten days, and invite one person each day to do the same.  You are not required to say anything about the book beyond identifying it.

Have fun.

**8**

This is number eight in the book cover challenge Jeni Heneghan invited me to tackle.  I’ve gone with a book by a recently deceased friend, C. J. Henderson, my favorite of his books and the first in the Teddy London series, The Things That Are Not There.

C. J. wrote a lot of Cthulu Mythos stuff, with the blessing of the Lovecraft family, and although the monster here is called Ctala it’s the same kind of being.  Rather than coming from outer space, C. J.’s unimaginable creatures come from parallel dimensions, more credible in the modern age.

The other significant difference, as he shared in our chats at Ubercon, was that whenever his characters faced these incomprehensible evil beings, he found he could not stop them from fighting back.  London in this book is hired by a girl who thinks she is being followed by something–and then the something falls through the window, and he and the office maintenance man struggle to kill it and take it to a doctor to attempt in vain to identify it.  From that point forward they discover that they are on the front line to prevent the opening of a bridge from another dimension whose chief denizen wants to devour all of humanity.  It is a tense and exciting book throughout, and I’ve read it twice and will probably read it again one day.  I’ve read the rest of the series, and although most of them are good, this is far and away the best.

I’m going to tag Harry Lambrianou, because he’s commented on a couple of these book postings so I know he’s following the series and will know what to do.

Oddly, I have no idea what book I’m going to post tomorrow, or who I’m going to tag, so it will be a surprise for all of us.

**9**

I decided on today’s book.  The copy I happen to have is actually two books in one cover, but although I’ve read the first ten or so of the series and enjoyed them all, the first book is the one I’m tagging:  Robert Lynn Asprin’s Another Fine Myth.

It comes alone or in this two-book set, or in a five-book volume (I think).  It’s a playful bit of fantasy that tells a good story while at the same time being very tongue-in-cheek about fantasy tropes.  My Goodreads review of it is here.

Looking for someone to tag, I stumble upon Dave Mattingly, who was himself a publisher for a while and even put one of my books in print, so we’ll give him the chance to pick ten covers of books he in some sense “loves”, and name ten people to do the same.

**10**

I long debated what the final book on this list of ten should be, and settled on Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought:  From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism.

It’s certainly not “light reading” by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an excellent source either as a text or a reference for the development of western theology and philosophy from the second century through the Enlightenment.  It gets a bit weak after that, but still covers many of the important names.  My Goodreads review is here.

I’ve got a couple of honorable mentions to post.

First, let me apologize to my (first) cousin (once removed) T. M. Becker (Writer of Young Adult Fantasy).  Her novel Full Moon Rising was truly excellent, as my web log post #223:  In re:  Full Moon Rising asserts.  Honestly, the choice tipped on the fact that I had already posted six fiction titles and only three non-fiction, and I thought that if I couldn’t balance them at least I should get closer.

Also on the “almost made it” list is F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable, a classic which more people should read which also has the virtue of being relatively short.  I chose otherwise mostly because this one is a rather limited subject–an extremely important one which he handles extremely well, but still not as valuable as a reference.

I need to tag one more person, so I’m going to choose Tsiphuneah Becker, to see what sort of books she likes.  In case you’ve not been following, you are invited, without obligation, to post covers of ten books, one a day, over the next ten days.  They should be books you in some sense “love”, and you are not obligated to say anything about them.  You also are asked to post, again one per day, names of ten people to undertake the same challenge.

*****

So that’s the conclusion of the ten-bookcover challenge.  I hope you found an interesting book in that batch.

#253: Political Messages at Polling Places

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #253, on the subject of Political Messages at Polling Places.

You may have heard that the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, struck down Minnesota’s law forbidding the wearing of anything “political” when you go to the polling place to vote.

One of the appellants was turned away from voting for wearing a shirt like this.

The case is Minnesota Voters Alliance et all. v. Mansky et al., and continuing his interest in leaving a mark on I Amendment law, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion.  The law is a fairly common sort, the court identifying thirty-six other states and the District of Columbia as having similar laws.  In New Jersey we have N. J. Stat. Ann. §19:34–19 Insignia at polls

19:34-19. No person shall display, sell, give or provide any political badge, button or other insignia to be worn at or within one hundred feet of the polls or within the polling place or room, on any primary, general or special election day or on any commission government election day, except the badge furnished by the county board as herein provided.

A person violating any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.

It does not appear that the New Jersey law would withstand the scrutiny of this case, because of the problem the majority had with the use of the word “political”.  That word, it argued, was too broad; and when they questioned the State’s attorney at oral argument it became more problematic.  An NRA shirt would always be banned, but a Rainbow flag shirt would only be banned if there were an issue of gay rights on the ballot.  A shirt displaying the text of the I Amendment (freedom of speech, press, religion, and association) would always be permissible, but one with the text of the II Amendment (right to bear arms) would always be excluded.  Guidelines issued by the State to polling place judges did not, in the Court’s view, clarify the matter.

Justice Sotomayer dissented, joined by Justice Breyer.  Their objection could be summarized as stating that the decision is premature, that they should not have decided the case but deferred it to the Minnesota State Supreme Court.  The majority claimed that they could not imagine any interpretation of the law as written that would pass muster with its concerns, but the dissent said that in matters of state law that have not yet been interpreted by the state, it is if not normal at least common for the Supreme Court to ask the State’s highest court to provide its understanding of the law, and then determine whether that understanding passes constitutional muster.  This law has been in place for over a century, dating back to the end of the nineteenth century when polling places were often filled with hecklers and vote privacy was minimal.  Until this case (seven years ago) it has never been challenged and no one had been prosecuted for violating it, nor had anyone been refused the right to vote.  It probably has been applied reasonably, even if the Supreme Court doesn’t know how, and an opinion from the State courts would have been an appropriate step before striking down such a long-established statute.

There’s a solid argument there, but the majority apparently didn’t believe the State court could provide a viable response and didn’t wish to delay the matter.

Thus there is a good chance that whatever rule your state has regarding wearing political messages to the polling place has just been ruled unconstitutional.

#247: The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #247, on the subject of The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case.

The case, as decided by the United States Supreme Court, is MASTERPIECE CAKESHOP, LTD., ET AL. v. COLORADO CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION ET AL., 584 U. S. ____ (2018), and it is one which I, at least, have eagerly anticipated.  It is the case in which the baker was convicted of violating the civil rights of a gay couple by refusing to design a wedding cake for them, on the grounds that it was an artistic expression which violated his rights of freedom of speech and religion.  It had been expected to help find the point at which religious objections to homosexuality would or would not stand against legal rights of homosexuals, although it does not seem to have done so.

The media has called this a “narrow” decision, and many have asked how it can be “narrow” if it is a 7-2 vote.  The narrowness is entirely in what was decided.  Virtually nothing concerning the balance between religious freedom and homosexual rights is solved by this case, which in its majority opinion decided only that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission seriously violated the protected religious freedom of the baker, Jack Phillips, and so its ruling could not stand.  It observed that in Colorado in the year these events occurred such a refusal was reasonably understood to be legal, although it might not be so now (because Colorado had not legitimized homosexual marriage at that time and has since done so).  However, the case is a slap in the face of progressivist atheists who want to force the opinions of religious conservatives out of the political and commercial arenas.

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer, Alito, Kagan, and Gorsuch–six votes for the majority opinion.  Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, which gives seven votes for overturning the Colorado decision, and Justice Ginsberg dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayer–but the splintering went beyond that, as Justice Kagan wrote a concurring opinion in which Justice Breyer joined, and Justice Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion in which Justice Alito joined, so we have five written opinions on the matter, and a very small sliver of agreement on the issues.

Justice Kennedy begins by clarifying that in all matters in which religious liberty is at issue, the State is required to be a neutral arbiter showing a respectful attitude for the expressed religious beliefs of the parties involved.  It is certainly possible that a businessman might be compelled to provide services to which he objects, provided that the law is religiously neutral and does not directly attack his beliefs.  The problem in the Masterpiece case is that far from neutrality there was evident animosity toward religion.  In the first hearing, one of the commissioners said that Phillips can believe “what he wants to believe” but cannot act on those beliefs “if he decides to do business in the state.”  The same commissioner restated that view moments later, according to the record, saying “[I]f a businessman wants to do business in the state and he’s got an issue with the—the law’s impacting his personal belief system, he needs to look at being able to compromise.”  At the next hearing, a different commissioner was recorded saying

I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting.  Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be–I mean, we–we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination.  And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to–to use their religion to hurt others.

Kennedy noted that this twice disparages the baker’s religious beliefs, first by calling them “despicable”, and again by claiming they are mere rhetoric having no substance or sincerity.  None of the other commissioners present objected to these statements, and they were never repudiated in the record that included appeals courts in Colorado and an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Yet if we think this is just rhetoric, that somehow the expression of such hostility toward the baker’s religious views did not indicate judicial bias against him, Kennedy goes beyond this to observe that the same commission during the same period of time considered three other cases in which bakers who declined to make cakes for specific groups were cleared of any wrongdoing based on their claim that it would have compelled them to make statements they regarded offensive.  In all three cases, the bakers had been asked to make cakes expressing anti-homosexual views, and refused to do so.  The commission in those cases concluded that the bakers could not be compelled to express opinions they considered offensive.  In this case, however, the commission claimed that the opinion expressed on the cake would be attributed to the purchasers of the cake, not the baker, and so his speech was not protected.  Further, in the other cases the commission said that the fact that these bakers were willing to sell other products to the customers absolved them of the charge of refusing to do business with those customers, but in this case they said that Phillips’ willingness to sell birthday cakes, cupcakes, cookies, even shower cakes, was irrelevant given his refusal to make a wedding cake for them.  The lower court, it was noted, dealt with this in a footnote, to the effect that the cakes requested in the other cases would have required expressing offensive statements, but the one in this case did not–which, as Kennedy notes, is passing judgment on the religious values of the baker by declaring that what he finds offensive is not offensive.

Thus the case that Phillips’ won is in essence that his religious views were mistreated by the judicial process, which should have accorded them greater respect–particularly as the commission for the protection of civil rights in this case is also charged with protecting the civil rights of religious groups.  The point is made that this case says nothing about how such cases might be decided in the future, but that the religious views and liberties of individuals involved must be respected and treated impartially by the government.

So, what about all those other opinions?

Justice Kagan makes the point that the decision is limited specifically because it is based on the express bias of the adjudicators.  She asserts that the commission could have treated the religion issue respectfully and impartially and still reached the same result, and that the other cases can be distinguished on the basis that the bakers would not have made cakes with those messages for any customer, but Masterpiece would have made wedding cakes for heterosexual customers.

It is a slim distinction, which Gorsuch rejects in his concurring opinion.  He first notes that when religious rights are threatened by legal action, strict scrutiny applies–the government has a heavy burden to prove complete neutrality in regard to religion in the case.  He is satisfied that the majority opinion reaches that result.  As to the cake, Gorsuch agrees with the baker in distinguishing a heterosexual wedding cake from a homosexual wedding cake, against Kagan’s view that a wedding cake is a wedding cake, and the distinction is prejudicial against the customer.  Yet Kagan asserts that requiring a baker to make an anti-homosexual cake with messages the baker finds offensive is something that baker would not do for anyone, and thus distinct–but in this case, she is making a distinction where in the other case she is generalizing.  That is, the baker is being asked to make a cake with a message written on it, and if the message is not an expression of the baker’s beliefs he cannot discriminate based on the message.  If a baker can say he will make a cake with the message, “Congratulations on your fiftieth wedding anniversary and enjoy your cruise” but he won’t make a cake with the message “Homosexual perverts will not possess God’s kingdom”, he is discriminating based on his own beliefs, making one message cake for one customer but not making another message cake for another customer.

Before Gorsuch explores this he notes that the commission changed its legal standards between the two kinds of cases.  In both cases, the persons most likely to purchase the type of cake in question were members of a protected class.  In the case in which the commission agreed with the bakers that the message was offensive, they said that there had to be a showing of actual animus toward the class for the charge to stand; in the case in which they disagreed with the baker’s views, they said that such animus could be presumed by the recognition of the effect on the protected class.

Justice Thomas agrees with the court in its assessment of the religious prejudice, but he asserts that the baker’s freedom of speech is also impinged in this case.  He notes that the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed that Phillips’ work was expressive, crafting individual wedding cakes for customers, meeting with the couple and working to express them in the artistic project that is their cake.  He demonstrates that a wedding cake itself is a communication that a marriage is occurring.  Ultimately, he holds that freedom of speech must allow persons to refuse to create anything that expresses endorsement of a view with which they disagree, even if it is a culturally favored view.

Justice Ginsburg disagrees.  She says that notwithstanding Phillips’ claims, most observers would not recognize a wedding cake as expressing a message, and certainly not a message from the baker.  She says that the evidence of bias is insufficient and there is no significant hostility toward religion here.  She then makes the same argument made by Kagan, that a wedding cake is a wedding cake, which as has been shown is flawed.

In conclusion, the case does rule that religious opinion, including specifically Christian opinion that homosexual marriage is immoral, is protected and should be treated with respect.  It does not rule that Christian bakers can en masse refuse to make cakes for homosexual weddings, but that if they do so any legal action taken against them must be adjudicated impartially and with respect for the religious views of the bakers.  Depending on the circumstances, the baker might still be compelled to make such a cake or punished for refusing to do so.

The conflict continues.

#230: No Womb No Say?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #230, on the subject of No Womb No Say?.

I read an excellent article by the President of Care Net, Roland C. Warren (pictured), addressing the question of how men who oppose abortion should respond to women who say that because they are incapable of becoming pregant they have no right to an opinion on the subject.  Warren provides an excellent response, including first that those who use this argument want to include the opinions of men who agree with them but exclude opinions of men who oppose them (and in so doing agree with other women), and second that there are many issues on which people who are not directly affected still deserve to express opinions because we are indirectly affected.  However, I felt that there was a very strong argument that he missed.

Let me be clear that, as I have previously expressed, men are not on equal footing with women once there is an unintended pregnancy; women have all the advantages.  I note that I have never met a woman who was sent to jail for failing to pay child support for an unwanted pregnancy, but have known several men for whom it has happened and others who lost drivers licenses and went into hiding because they were unemployed and that’s a sure ticket to jail.  Even if abortion were off the table, women would still have more options than men under current law.

Certainly men could say that.  Yet I think there is a much more potent argument.  I would ask whether men are permitted to have an opinion about vaginal rape.

I certainly think that vaginal rape is wrong, and I think it ought to be a crime.  That’s not because of some sort of medieval ownership of women notion; it’s because, as I said in the other article, “anyone who has been raped has had rights fundamentally violated, quite apart from the problem of potential pregnancy.”  The fact that I do not have a vagina should not mean I’m not permitted to have an opinion on the subject.

I recognize therein that the fact that my position against vaginal rape is my opinion means that others might have a contrary opinion.  We have previously noted that the Marquis de Sade believed that rape was a correct and morally praiseworthy act, because nature made men stronger than women and it is therefore right that men exercise that strength against women.  He managed to persuade some women to believe that as well, apparently.  That there exists a minority who honestly believes rape is good does not mean that the majority of us cannot express our opinion against it and based on that opinion enact and enforce laws against it.  Perpetrators of rape might think we ought not be entitled to our opinion, but victims and potential victims are likely to appreciate our support.

Part of that lies in the fact that the opinion that vaginal rape is wrong and therefore ought to be criminal is an opinion that defends a usually weaker victim against the assaults of a usually stronger attacker.  We generally applaud those who come to the defense of the weak, even if they only do so by words and the support of public policies and laws.

Yet when it comes to the question of abortion, those of us who would defend the weaker party against the attacks of the stronger are told it is not our business.  If the accidental but capable mother decides she wishes to kill the completely defenseless unborn child, the opinion of someone else supporting that defenseless child should not be considered relevant.

Yet if the powerful and cunning rapist decides he wishes to ravage the weaker almost defenseless woman, suddenly an opinion in defense of the woman matters.

Go figure.

#224: Religious Politics

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #224, on the subject of Religious Politics.

There’s something of a flap at the moment in the world where religion and politics intersect.  It seems that Jerry Falwell, Jr. (pictured), has made the comment that Jesus and the New Testament church never tried to tell the government how to run the world, they just focused on saving souls.  The inference drawn (I will not claim to know his intent) is that people should keep their religion out of their politics.  It’s a bit ironic, really, since Falwell’s father was co-founder, with Cal Thomas, of the organization calling itself The Moral Majority (which some argued was not actually either, but that’s not the point here), which particularly in the 1970s attempted with some success to exert influence to bring the political sphere in line with what it perceived as Christian ideals.

Certainly there is an important principle in American government that religious institutions should be isolated from government, unregulated and unimpeded by each other, uninvolved in each other.  However, the notion that religion should not influence government suffers from two major misunderstandings.

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The first is simple, but apparently not obvious:  politics and religion are, at the core, the same thing.  They are both about how you believe the world actually is, and what the best way to live within it would be.  They are both fundamentally non-rational, that is, what we might call super-rational, structures of beliefs based on what have been called “pillars” of “moral intuition”.  We hold political positions because we believe that certain principles are “right”, whether caring for the needs of the downtrodden and persecuted, defending the freedoms of individuals, or arranging for an equitable outcome in the economic world.  Jonathan Haidt does an excellent job of explaining these moral concepts in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (which I review and discuss here).  Both are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as part of really one fundamental right:  the right to believe what you do, express and promote those beliefs, and associate with others to discuss them.  You can’t separate politics from religion because politics is religion.

Atheists reject that notion, so we should probably consider it further.  If you were an Odinite who believed that Father Odin created the Aryan people to dominate the world before entering the afterlife and using their practiced combat prowess to defend Gladsheim against the giants at Ragnarok, you would promote the position that the government should create opportunities for young men to learn to fight and conquer other countries.  If you are a Hindu believing in the transmigration of souls, you are going to work to defend not only the lives of people everywhere but a peaceful coexistence with animal life from cattle to cockroaches.  These are not at that point irrational actions or decisions; they are perfectly rational choices based on an embraced understanding of the fundamental nature of the world.  Atheists believe there is no god, but in the main they believe that there are binding moral principles, that some things are right and others wrong, and that government ought to promote right conduct and discourage wrong conduct.  That is not different from religious belief.  It is still about how we understand the world and what we think should happen in it.

So if politics and religion are really fundamentally two different words for what people believe about reality, it becomes inherently impossible for a person to separate the two.  If you think separating politics from religion is simple, you fail to understand what they are.

The other flaw in the reasoning that Christianity should not try to manipulate government because it did not attempt to do so in the first century is that this is not the first century and we are not living in the Roman Empire.  Most of us are living in republics of one sort or another, nations in which democratic principles choose the goverment and determine the laws.

In Rome, Caesar was the government.  In America, we are.

Sure, I’m not Donald Trump or Barrack Obama; I’m not the Speaker of the House or the Senate President or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  I’m not even the mayor of my small town (and having known the son of the mayor of a small town, it is not a job I want).  However, whether or not I voted for them, whether or not I voted at all, those people hold those offices because we chose them, and that means I by my contribution for or against am partly responsible for that choice.  I am the government; you are the government.  We have the responsibility to govern ourselves, and to govern each other.

We don’t agree how to do that.  That’s par for the course–when did you ever agree with anyone about everything?  But we discuss our options, give our preferences, and in doing so we bring our values–our politically and religiously based values–into the decision-making process.

My political science professors at Evangelical Christian Gordon College years ago made the point that it did not matter whether or not a candidate for office was a Christian, in the sense of claiming a Christian faith or being a member of a recognized Christian church.  What mattered was whether a candidate stood for political principles consistent with the Christian faith and a Christian view of how to govern.  The person himself could be Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or even Atheist.  He could have a deplorable private life, and be selfish and cruel in his personal relationships.  What matters ultimately is that what drives his choices in governing is principles supporting a more Christian world, and whether he is politically effective, capable of leading.

I’m not in the least bit interested in discussing whether our current leaders are such people.  We could spend years just trying to come to some kind of agreement concerning what Christian principles of government are, and how to balance things like equity and kindness and freedom.  I am only saying that religious people are inherently going to bring their religiously-based views about reality, their political views, into these discussions, and that’s part of the democratic political process.  You can’t keep religion out of politics without keeping values out of politics, and once you remove values from politics you have nothing left.