Banned Books Week

banned booksFor those who might not have been aware, this week, September 23-29, is Banned Books Week.  Because I seem to have slipped back into the rabbit hole and cannot bring myself to write about any of the detritus swirling about in cyberspace today, I am instead writing about Banned Books Week.

What the heck, you ask, is Banned Books Week? According to the American Library Association

Banned Books Week 2018 is September 23-29. It brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have all been targeted with removal or restricted in libraries and schools. By focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship.

Banned Books Week was launched in the 1980s, a time of increased challenges, organized protests, and the Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982) Supreme Court case, which ruled that school officials can’t ban books in libraries simply because of their content.

Banned books were showcased at the 1982 American Booksellers Association (ABA) BookExpo America trade show in Anaheim, California. At the entrance to the convention center towered large, padlocked metal cages, with some 500 challenged books stacked inside and a large overhead sign cautioning that some people considered these books dangerous.

Today, Banned Books Week coverage by mainstream media reaches an estimated 2.8 billion readers, and more than 90,000 publishing industry and library subscribers. The Banned Books page remains one of the top two most popular pages on the ALA website.

Let’s take a look at the Top Ten Most Challenged Books for 2017 …

  1. Thirteen Reasons Why written by Jay Asher
    Originally published in 2007, this New York Times bestseller has resurfaced as a controversial book after Netflix aired a TV series by the same name. This YA novel was challenged and banned in multiple school districts because it discusses suicide.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written by Sherman Alexie
    Consistently challenged since its publication in 2007 for acknowledging issues such as poverty, alcoholism, and sexuality, this National Book Award winner was challenged in school curriculums because of profanity and situations that were deemed sexually explicit.
  3. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
    This Stonewall Honor Award-winning, 2012 graphic novel from an acclaimed cartoonist was challenged and banned in school libraries because it includes LGBT characters and was considered “confusing.”
  4. The Kite Runner written by Khaled Hosseini
    This critically acclaimed, multigenerational novel was challenged and banned because it includes sexual violence and was thought to “lead to terrorism” and “promote Islam.”
  5. George written by Alex Gino
    Written for elementary-age children, this Lambda Literary Award winner was challenged and banned because it includes a transgender child.
  6. Sex is a Funny Word written by Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth
    This 2015 informational children’s book written by a certified sex educator was challenged because it addresses sex education and is believed to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex.”
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee
    This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, considered an American classic, was challenged and banned because of violence and its use of the N-word.
  8. The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas
    Despite winning multiple awards and being the most searched-for book on Goodreads during its debut year, this YA novel was challenged and banned in school libraries and curriculums because it was considered “pervasively vulgar” and because of drug useprofanity, and offensive language.
  9. And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole
    Returning after a brief hiatus from the Top Ten Most Challenged list, this ALA Notable Children’s Book, published in 2005, was challenged and labeled because it features a same-sex relationship.
  10. I Am Jazz written by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
    This autobiographical picture book co-written by the 13-year-old protagonist was challenged because it addresses gender identity.

I have read two of the books on this list, The Kite Runner and To Kill A Mockingbird.  Given that the majority of the books on the list are children’s books or YA (young adult), I have no real interest in reading those, but I do have some observations about the list.

No less than four of the ten books on this list are considered dangerous because they either address LGBT issues or contain an LGBT character or relationship.  Come on … it is the 21st century, we have come out of the dark ages!  If I still had a small child at home, you can bet I would be on Amazon right now ordering And Tango Makes Three!

As I said, I read The Kite Runner, and when I reached the end, I neither became a terrorist nor did I feel drawn to convert to Islam.  Who thinks up these things?  Wait … let me guess … white supremacist, heterosexual, male evangelicals.

banned books-3Thirteen Reasons Why has been challenged and banned for discussing suicide.  Well, guess what folks?  Not discussing something doesn’t make it go away!  Suicide among teens is a very real concern, for the teen years are a time of transition, a time when hormones are going crazy and life is confusing.  It happens.  Kids kill themselves.  Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away!  Parents rarely talk to their kids about suicide, fearing that an open, frank discussion might put the idea into their head.  Perhaps this book is just the ticket for giving kids a better grasp of how to deal with their problems, what to do when they feel there is no other way out.

And by the way … regarding #6 on the list … how does discussing sex with a child, “make them want to have sex”?  Isn’t that an idea that went out in the 19th century?  Methinks some people need to grow up … or perhaps evolve?

I was looking back through the past several years of banned or challenged books, and the 2013 list brought a bit of jaw-dropping mirth.  Here are the ones that made me roll my eyes or chuckle:

  • Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
  • Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (This one was banned because of ‘religious viewpoint’. Grrrrrrrrrrr)

A final observation.  Looking at these lists, and the reasons that specific books are challenged or outright banned goes a long way toward explaining the bigotry, particularly against the LGBT community, that we are seeing come out of the woodwork today.  A child who is shielded from all those who are slightly different in one way or another, whether the difference is skin colour, religion or sexual orientation, grows to adulthood without an understanding that it’s okay to be different.  I’m glad I took a few minutes to look into Banned Books Week, for I hadn’t previously given it much thought, and awareness is key.banned books-4

Taking Religious “Liberty” Too Far …

There is a recent push for a thing called “religious liberty”.  We already have constitutionally-mandated freedom of religion in the United States.  As long as your religion does not involve human sacrifices or some such atrocity, you are free to believe as you will, attend the church of your choice – or not – and live your life in a manner consistent with your beliefs.  What you do not have, however, is the right to force your beliefs on others.  This is, in a nutshell, what the “religious liberty” movement seeks to do.

In October 2017, Ryan Coleman took a job as a painter at a construction company, Dahled Up Construction, in Albany, Oregon, about an hour south of Portland.  After being hired, Coleman was told that it was a job requirement to attend Christian bible study classes.  Mr. Coleman is half-Native American (Cherokee and Blackfoot) does not follow the Christian faith and had no desire to attend the classes, but the company’s owner, Joe Dahl, insisted that it was a requirement, not a request.

Coleman has children to feed, and unwilling to risk losing his job, attended the classes for a few months, but eventually became too uncomfortable with the ‘teachings’ to continue.  He decided to stop attending, and he informed Mr. Dahl that he had tried, but the classes went against his own personal beliefs.  Mr. Dahl’s response was, “Well, I’m going to have to replace you. You’re not going to tell me how to run my own company.”

Coleman responded with, “I’m not trying to tell you how to run your own company, but you’re not going to tell me what god to pray to.”  Coleman was fired in April 2018 for refusing to follow the company mandate to attend religious classes.

Mr. Coleman has filed a lawsuit, the details of which I won’t get into here, but Mr. Dahl’s lawyers’ response is interesting, for they claim the requirement is perfectly legal since the employees are on company time and therefore are being paid to attend.  That, in my book, is akin to saying that whatever an employee is asked to do while ‘on the clock’, is legal.  Hmmmm … it seems to me this has the potential to open some cans of worms.  So, if I order an employee to commit murder, as long as I’m paying him, it’s okay?  I think not.religious demographicsThe above chart by Pew Research Center shows global religious demographics.  Note that, while Christianity has the largest following worldwide, it is far from a majority.  Other religions, Islam, Hindu, Judaism, Buddhism and hundreds of lesser-known religions have equal legitimacy. Note, also, that a fairly substantial portion, 16.3%, choose to follow no religion.

The United States has laws against workplace discrimination.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.  What part of this, I wonder, did Mr. Dahl not understand?

I am all for freedom of religion – for all, not just one sect or another.  I support a person’s right to run his or her business in a manner that is profitable.  These two, however, need not be mutually exclusive.  Why on earth anybody would think it’s acceptable to dictate the religion of his employees is beyond my comprehension!  Not only that, but it is beyond the rule of law.

According to guidance by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

“An employee cannot be forced to participate (or not participate) in a religious activity as a condition of employment.”

This seems fairly cut and dried, and one might be tempted to be complacent in the belief that the court will rule in Mr. Coleman’s favour.  But wait … this is the year 2018 … the year in which the Supreme Court decided (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission) that a baker in Colorado, Jack Phillips, had the right to refuse to serve a gay couple based on his religious beliefs.  Although in that case, the court ruling warned that there were extenuating circumstances and this decision should not be interpreted as giving other businesses carte blanche to do what Jack Phillips did, some in the Christian community seem to have disregarded that warning.

In May, Donald Trump signed an executive order, “Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative”, that he said would “vigorously protect religious freedom”.  Taken at face value, that would indicate that Mr. Coleman’s freedom to refuse being forced to attend the Christian-based bible study courses would be protected and Mr. Dahl broke the law by terminating his employment. However, thus far it appears that Trump’s order has been interpreted to mean protecting only the Christian religions rather than all religious beliefs.

This will be an interesting case to follow. Will it end up on the docket of the Supreme Court?  It’s anybody’s guess at this early stage, and one would hope that the lower courts have the good sense to see that Mr. Dahl crossed a line.  But, this is the Era of Trump, the day of ‘alternative facts’, where up is down, red is green, and wrong is sometimes right. Hang on to your hats, folks.

Is This Any Way To Treat A Kid?

School has been back in session in most areas of the country for less than two weeks now, and while I am thankful that thus far there have been no school shootings (at least none that I’m aware of), I am furious over the blatant discrimination against kids … little kids … by two private parochial schools, one Catholic and one Christian.

CJ Stanley is a six-year-old African-American boy who was happy and eager for his first day of school on August 13th at A Book Christian Academy in Orlando, Florida.  Look how happy he looked …CJ Stanley-happyBut then … the school’s administrator, Sue Book, wiped that smile right off CJ’s little face when she sent him home for having long hair, or more likely for having dreadlocks.

“I still have the same rules I always had. The girls wear skirts, the boys wear trousers, hair above their ears and off their collars.”

The school is very small, only about 50 students and a half-dozen teachers. It was founded by Sue Book’s husband, Reverend John Butler Book, a man who believes a woman’s place is in the home, women should wear dresses, and who once wrote that he is “trying to save Central Florida from the same fate as Sodom, both inside his school and out.”  I fail to see what a little boy’s hairstyle has to do with anything relevant to education.

CJ StanleyCJ’s father wisely told the school, after a few attempts to reach some form of compromise, to remove his son from their roster, for he will not have anything to do with the school.

Faith Fennidy is an 11-year-old African-American student who attends Christ the King Parish School in Terrytown, Louisiana.  Faith’s school resumed on Monday, August 20th, and as was the case with CJ, she was sent home because of her hair style – she wore braided hair extensions.

Faith FennidySchool officials told Faith on the first day of school that her hairstyle did not align with school policy. So, the next day Faith changed her hair, spending a “considerable amount of money in the process”, but still the school officials were not satisfied, and Faith was told to pack her belongings, leave, and don’t come back.  It should be noted that Faith has worn the braids she began school with for the past two years … at the same school … but this year she was told they were “unnatural”.

For the past week or so, my dear friend David and I have been having a conversation about parochial schools and whether they should even exist, whether they do more harm than good.  We are both of a like mind that education should be about … well, education … academics.  The Constitution calls for what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “a wall of separation between church and state”.  The forbearance of religious schools, it seems to me, violates that ‘wall of separation’.  In the past, I didn’t think much about religious schools as being a bad thing, for I spent most of my youth attending Catholic schools.  But, with the recent evidence of massive abuse of children by priests and others in Catholic schools that has been going on and hidden from the public view for years, and then these cases of blatant racism that would not be tolerated in public schools, I think it may be time to re-think, reconsider the role of parochial schools in the U.S.

These two children did nothing wrong.  They were wearing their hair in the manner that many in their culture do.  I have heard the arguments on both sides that this was racism bordering on white supremacy, and that it wasn’t racism, but merely “Christian” rules.  Whichever it was, it was wrong.  It was discrimination.  It had absolutely nothing to do with education.

The U.S. education system ranks 15th in the 2018 Global Education Report, below …

  1. Russia
  2. UK
  3. Singapore
  4. South Korea
  5. Canada
  6. Ireland
  7. China
  8. Japan
  9. Sweden
  10. Finland
  11. Denmark
  12. New Zealand
  13. Israel
  14. India

It is time for us to focus on teaching our young people about history, literature, mathematics and science and leave the religious education to the parents and churches, if they so choose.  It is time for us to dedicate resources to public schools where children go to gain the foundation for their futures, where they go to learn to think, rather than allocating precious resources to vouchers for parochial schooling. This is not a ‘Christian’ nation, but a secular one where all religions are welcome, but no single religion is favoured over others.  I can see absolutely no value to a religious school to begin with, but when they ignore Civil Rights and feel that they have the right to discriminate against children based on no more than a cultural hairstyle, it is time to say, “Enough!!!” Parents:  if you don’t like it, then homeschool your children.  At least you will only be imposing your beliefs on one child, not an entire school.

Meanwhile, my heart breaks for CJ and Faith who got a first-hand lesson about discrimination at such a young age. Shame on those who taught the lesson.

Re-defining “Liberty”

Two weeks ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “religious liberty task force” to help protect the right of every American “to believe, worship and exercise their faith in the public square.”  Religious liberty … what exactly does that mean?  To me, it means the right of every person to believe as he or she sees fit, to belong to any church of their choice, or none at all.  It is, as I see it, an individual ‘right’. It is not, however, the right to inflict your own beliefs upon others.

George Marsden, a religious historian at the University of Notre Dame, describes religious liberty as ‘inclusive pluralism’, a society in which no religion is preferred over another, and all believers can worship as they see fit.  Sounds about right, don’t you think?

But by Trump’s, Sessions’ and the evangelical’s definition, it changes to connote freedoms and privileges granted mostly to Christians — specifically, the white conservative Christians who form a vital part of the Republican base. Instead of inclusive pluralism, it now stands for exclusive primacy of the Christian faith.  Politicized religion.

In 2016, as he stumped along the campaign trail, Trump met with a large group of nearly 1,000 evangelicals, and here is what he said …

“This is such an important election. And I say to you folks because you have such power, such influence. Unfortunately, the government has weeded it away from you pretty strongly. But you’re going to get it back.”

I have two questions:

  • Why should any religious group have ‘power and influence’ in a secular government? Or society?
  • What the Sam Heck did the government “weed” away from the evangelicals?


In the same meeting, he also promised them that they would be allowed to say “Merry Christmas” again. Excuse me, but nobody ever said they couldn’t!!!  Some businesses asked their employees to use “Happy Holidays” instead, as a courtesy to those of us who are not Christians, but are Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists, but nobody stopped anybody from saying “Merry Christmas”!

Then, to add insult to injury, Trump promised them that if they voted him into office, he would abandon the Johnson Amendment that forbids tax-exempt organizations from campaigning for a political candidate.  It doesn’t say that members of a church cannot campaign for a candidate as individuals, only that the church itself cannot endorse a specific candidate if they wish to maintain their tax-exempt status.  It is intended to keep religion out of politics – remember the concept of ‘separation of church and state’?

And that is precisely what he did with the religious liberty executive order he signed in May, bypassing Congress altogether … again.  Not that it would have mattered, for when he says “Jump!”, the boot-lickers in Congress ask “How high?”  And when he signed the bloody order, he commented, “We are giving our churches their voices back.”  They. Never. Lost. Their. Voices.

Only about 70% of the American public profess to be Christian.  What about the other 30% of us?  Religious liberty as defined by this administration and its supporters is liberty only for white Christians. In a recent Supreme Court decision, the Court granted Christian business owners the right to refuse service to LGBT people. The next logical step is that Christian business owners will be granted the right to refuse service to a Jew, or a Muslim, or a non-believer.  Perhaps business owners will be allowed to refuse service to African-Americans … or Latinos.

Envision a nation where your drivers’ license has a section for religion. For gender orientation.  Remember Trump’s comment a week or so ago about having to have a photo ID to buy groceries?  Maybe he was projecting into the future he envisions where an ID distinguishing religion, ethnicity, gender identification, and length of toenails are revealed.  Or perhaps … or perhaps all non-Christians will just wear a yellow star and have a number tattooed on their forearm like the one my Uncle Leon had.

Far-fetched?  Maybe, but … seemingly innocuous phrases like “religious liberty” and “family values” have become buzzwords for discrimination against any whose ideas or lifestyles differ from the Christian community.  It has become harsh and discriminatory.  ‘Values’ and ‘Liberty’ have somehow become something very ugly.

When Sessions announced his ‘task force’, he had a little celebratory ceremony … yes, by all means, let’s celebrate widespread discrimination!  He made a comment that was neither true nor sensible, referring to “nuns ordered to buy contraception” under President Obama.  To set the record straight, no nun in the history of the U.S. has ever been forced to buy contraceptives under any president!  And guess who was the guest speaker at Sessions’ little celebration?  None other than the bigoted Jack Phillips, the baker in Nevada who was so offended at being asked to place a topper with two men atop a wedding cake that he went all the way to the Supreme Court and forever changed the face of the nation.

I recently read an OpEd that said the founding fathers would not recognize the definition of ‘religious liberty’ in this, the 21st century.  To be honest, I don’t recognize it myself.  We have taken “white Christian privilege” too far, and this nation is headed down a very dangerous path.  It is one you can find in the history books if you go back to the early 1930s in Europe.

Labels, Labels, LABELS

Yesterday, a friend & reader left this comment on one of my posts:

“I don’t know if anyone has addressed this before, but it scares the bloomin’ hell out of a lot of us who USED to claim to be of the Christian persuasion. We don’t want to see this happen at all either. There are millions of us who feel that way. But the right-wing conservatives yell louder than we do. The rest of us are out there trying to push others to recognize the dignity of all people. So how do WE get the presses’ attention. I, for one, and most of my friends, am tired of being lumped into that crazy arse group of fundamentalists. (rolls eyes…) They horrify me. Ooo! Let’s crucify anyone who is gay, but we just have to pray for the Strumpet because he’s misguided, so we can excuse his behavior. What a load of crap.”

I must admit that it made me stop and think.  This is the problem with labels for people.  Labels on cans at the supermarket are a wonderful thing, for we would not otherwise know if we were getting corn or green beans.  Labels on clothing help us know the proper wash water temperature and how to care for a shirt or pair of pants.  Labels on most ‘things’ tend to be helpful and serve a purpose.  People, however, are not ‘things’. labels-3We label democrats and republicans, but what do those labels mean?  I know the basic ideologies of each of those two parties, but does that mean that every single person who is registered as a republican is against Universal Health Care?  Or that everyone who calls himself a ‘democrat’ supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion?  Think about this one for a bit.

We label men and women, heterosexuals and gays.  But why must the label define the person?  I have been as guilty as any of referring to republicans as ‘idiots’ and ‘fools’, though I count among my friends a few republicans who are good people, neither idiots nor fools, else they wouldn’t be my friends.  I remember one time in college, when I was venting to a male professor who happened to be a mentor and trusted friend, and I said that all men were assholes (don’t ask!).  His reply was, “Well, since I am a man, and you believe that all men are assholes, then either you think I am an asshole, or you think I am not a man.  Which is it?”  I have never forgotten that conversation, because I learned something that day.  I learned a lesson that I have since forgotten on more than one occasion:  don’t label people.

labels-2For the past decade or so, the political climate in the U.S. has been becoming more and more divided, antagonistic.  There is, no matter who you are or what ‘side’ you are on, “them” and “us”.  I hear it often … “well, he’s on our side, right?”  And I know that I cannot change that divisiveness with a simple post of about 1,000 words.  But I hope that I can make those who read these words stop for just a minute and let’s do some thinking.

European immigrants first came to this nation seeking religious freedom, freedom from persecution.  That means, at least in my mind, that you can be a Christian, go to the church of your choice, and follow the tenets of your chosen faith.  It also, however, means that Sal Rosenstein down the street can follow his faith, go to Synagogue as he chooses, and light the Menorah at Chanukah.  It means that Ali al-Dabbagh has the right to pray to Allah and attend the Mosque of his choice, without fear. And it further means that if I choose to observe no religion, I am free to do so without condemnation or persecution.

Recently, in this culture of divisiveness we are experiencing, some within the Christian religion have expressed some fairly radical views – views that the majority in this nation do not necessarily support, and that even many within the Christian faith do not support.  Without delving into the specifics, those views are largely discriminatory against any who are different in any way.   This group of people have been obnoxiously loud and vulgar in voicing their views and have drawn the attention of the press and the public alike.  Remember that old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”?  It’s true.  It’s not right, but it’s true.

To judge all Christians by the actions of only the evangelicals who would ban the LGBT community, rob a woman of the right to control her own body & destiny, and insist that the United States is a ‘Christian nation’, is wrong.  It is just as wrong as it would be to assume that all women with blonde hair are dumb, or that all tall people play basketball!

We will never stop using labels, for they serve a purpose.  If you are robbed at gunpoint in your home and you call the police, they will ask you for a description of the robber.  Male or female?  Black or white?  Young or old?  Tall or short?  These distinctions are necessary in this case, not to discriminate, not to judge, but to identify.  When we are discussing a group of people who behave in a certain way, it is simplest to label them as republicans or democrats, Christians or Jews, males or females.  So no, the practice of labeling human beings is not likely to see an end any time soon, but … let us stop and think when we are writing or speaking, before we apply a label, before we generalize about a group, let’s at least try to make sure that we are not using such a broad label that the net catches those who do not belong.  It’s tough, especially in today’s culture of ‘us’ vs ‘them’, but it’s only fair.

The majority of people in the world, I like to believe, are peace-loving, kind, caring individuals.  There are some who are otherwise.  Let’s try not to confuse the two.  If we must judge, let’s do so based on actions and behaviours rather than on labels.  Let’s try not to judge the whole based on the actions of the few.

*** Note to readers …. I think some have perhaps taken offense to my words in this post, and I want to set the record straight.  I was pointing no fingers at all, unless it was the fingers I had pointed at myself.  The reader who left me the comment, C, made me stop and think and realize that it isn’t fair to lump all Christians in with the evangelicals who are gay-bashing, white supremacist bigots.  I realized just how many times I had done this, and I was ashamed.  That said, I also understand how hard it is not to label or categorize people these days.  Please, take no offense from this post, as none was intended.

Trump Administration takes the first steps towards implementing theocracy in America

You all know I tip-toe around when it comes to religion, for it is never my goal to offend anyone, and that’s hard as heck to do when religion is the topic. Our friend Robert Vella wrote the post I was contemplating, and did so much better than I could have anyway.
‘Religious freedom’ used to mean that we each had the freedom to follow any faith or no faith without interference from the government or from others. But in recent months, it has taken on a new connotation … one that I and others find deeply disturbing. The new meaning takes away the freedoms of any who do not comply with the evangelical Christians, almost as though Christianity were the “official religion” of the U.S.
Please take a few minutes to read Robert’s excellent post about the latest push for religious bigotry. Thank you, Robert, for this post and implied permission to re-blog!

The Secular Jurist

By Robert A. Vella

The very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as part of the Bill of Rights ratified in 1791, states that:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This separation of church and state was intended and repeatedly affirmed to ensure two things for the new nation:  1) that the United States government would be formally secular, and 2) that United States citizens could legally practice their various religions freely and without interference from other religions.  In a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, President Thomas Jefferson wrote:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes…

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Does This Look Like Peace?

Yesterday, the United States officially relocated its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  The move was not one I applauded. The timing could not likely have been worse, and the result was disastrous.  Donald Trump is playing a dangerous game on behalf of the nation he supposes to represent, the United States, and he is playing it with human lives as pawns.JerusalemJerusalem is a controversy in and of itself.  Jerusalem has been fought over sixteen times in its history. It has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Today, both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city contains sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians.  The embassy move has been considered in the past by former presidents Clinton, Bush (Jr.), and Obama, but each of those held back, because it has long been the policy of the U.S. to remain neutral in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and moving the embassy would place the U.S. squarely on the side of Israel … and against Palestine. Ilan Goldenberg, a Middle East expert with the Center for New American Security, said that where the U.S. is “supposed to be acting like the fireman, instead, we’re acting like the arsonist — we’re making things worse.”

The move of the U.S. Embassy signals far more than a simple relocation … it signals that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Think about that one … who gave the U.S. the right to decide where Israel’s capital lies?  Nobody, that’s who.  So why did we do it?  Because he likes to keep campaign promises made to his base. Plain and simple. His base lobbied hard for the move, including evangelicals and, of course, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner lobbied for the idea as well.

The opening day festivities got under way, and it was a matter of minutes before trouble started.  The region, already in a heightened state of upheaval, partly as a result of Trump’s other disastrous decision to renege on the U.S.’ commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, erupted into chaos.  Well, technically, it should not have been considered chaos, as most of the Palestinian protestors were unarmed and were merely trying to get into Jerusalem.  But then the Israeli military opened fire.  As of this writing, there are at least 60 confirmed dead and more than 2,700 injured. No Israelis have been injured.  Donald Trump and Benjamin Netahyahu must own each and every one of those unnecessary deaths.

Meanwhile, the Kushers had a great time …kushners-partyThe utter ludicrousness of the scene was enhanced by the two U.S. evangelical pastors who took part in the opening ceremony. One, Robert Jeffries, was awarded Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week in November 2016 for his bigotry and hypocrisy  .  The man who once said that “Jews and Muslims will go to Hell”, yesterday said, “Israel has blessed this world by pointing us to you, the one true God, through the message of her prophets, the Scriptures, and the Messiah.”  He also managed to get in a plug for Trump, saying Trump “stands on the right side of you, O God, when it comes to Israel.”  Quick, somebody get me a bucket!

I am told that evangelicals believe an embassy in Jerusalem is a key step to the ‘end of days’.  Not being of their faith, I fail to see how ‘end of days’ is seen as a good thing, but given the chaos the move created, it appears they may well have hastened that event, at least for many living in the Middle-East.

When Trump first announced his intention to move the embassy, he called it, “a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”  Does this look like peace to you?Peace-not

Defining Freedom …

Have you noticed that some words seem to have taken on a different meaning in the past few years than they once had?  Take, for example, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).  It sounds like a decent organization, right?  Let’s break it down a bit …

Alliance:  a union or association formed for mutual benefit

Defending:  protecting from harm or danger

Freedom:  the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

So, by those definitions, what we have here is a group of people protecting the rights of others to act, speak and think as they wish without being harmed.  What’s not to like, eh?

Well, let me tell you what’s not to like about this group.  The group is actually one of the largest anti-LGBT organizations in the nation.  Just WHOSE freedom are they defending?  They are not defending my freedom, nor yours, and for sure not any of my friends who are gay or trans!

Founded in 1993, the group’s stated mission is …

“To advocate for religious freedom to uphold justice and preserve the right of people to freely live out their faith.”

Now can anybody explain how John Doe being gay infringes on the “right of people to freely live out their faith”?  There is no justification for this … none at all!!!

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) …

“Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has linked homosexuality to pedophilia and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBT people on the basis of religion.”

State-sanctioned sterilization?  Denial of goods and services?  Destroy society?  What planet do these people come from?  This is among the craziest things I have heard, short of what comes from the likes of Alex Jones or Sean Hannity!

What brought this group onto my radar today is that Amazon has removed them from its AmazonSmile program.  For those who are not familiar with the program, it gives a small percentage from the purchase price of eligible products to a customer’s chosen charity.  I signed on to it when the program first started, and chose St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  It is a good program, and Amazon did the right thing, for it should not be sullied by allowing hate groups to solicit funds in this manner. As of February, Amazon had donated more than $80 billion to various charities.  ADF is not in any way a legitimate charity!

ADF, of course, is livid and threatening legal action.  But, as one person said, “Funny how the same people who think that they shouldn’t have to sell cakes to same sex couples seem to want to force a private business to give them money directly. Last I checked, Amazon will still sell stuff to ADF.”

ADF is the very type of organization that will gain more power under the executive order signed by Donald Trump on Thursday (more to come on that later).  But let me go on record here as saying that this is a hate group, pure and simple, that is attempting to take rights away from others, rather than to defend rights.  It would be far more appropriately named the Alliance Persecuting Others.  They have been involved in many legal battles against the anything they disagreed with, including Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

I end where I began … has the definition of the word ‘freedom’ changed that much in the past few years?  Kellyanne warned us some 15 months ago that there would be an ‘alternative’ vocabulary under Donald Trump.  It appears she was right. Members of any religious group have the right to their own beliefs, certainly.  If members of one group or another choose to believe that marriage is only legitimate if it involves two people of opposing genders, that is their right.  Nobody … not one single person or law … is forcing anybody to become gay!!!  But the line is drawn when those members of said religion impose their will on others.  Be religious, marry someone of the opposite gender, attend whatever church you wish … nobody cares!  But do not attempt to force your beliefs, your will, on others.  Defending ‘freedom’???  No, not by any definition. They are in the business of persecution and hate, plain and simple.  They are robbing others of their freedom.  They are, indeed, a hate group and there are more and more of them crossing my radar.  America:  The United States of Hate.

Ella Grace Deserved Better …

November 8, 2016.  Election day in the U.S. – a day we were all, democrats and republicans alike, biting our nails hoping for the best possible outcome.  Meanwhile, in Upper Tulpehocken Township, Pennsylvania, 2-year-old Ella Grace was coughing uncontrollably, feverish, and fighting for every breath.  Within hours, Ella Grace would give up the struggle and take her last breath.  The official cause of death was asphyxiation due to bacterial pneumonia, and was ruled a homicide by the coroner.  Ella Grace’s mother says the cause of death was “God’s will”.

Ella Grace Foster (10/30/2014 – 11/08/2016)

Ella Grace did not have the benefit of the antibiotics that would have almost certainly kept her alive and ensured her recovery.  She was denied that option, and her only “treatment” was the oil her grandfather rubbed into her skin. Ella Grace’s parents are members of the Faith Tabernacle Church, where the grandfather, Rowland Foster, is pastor.  As a tenet of their religion, they do not believe in medical treatment of any sort.  And so, Ella Grace was left to die, and the parents, who had six other children, chalked it up to “God’s will”.

Rowland Foster and wife

This story, brought to my attention by a dear friend, only came to my attention today because the trial for Ella’s parents, Jonathan and Grace Foster, began on Monday.  Outside of the local news, coverage of the story has been largely non-existent.  The grandfather was charged in Ella’s death early last year on the grounds of failure, as a member of the clergy, to report medical neglect and child abuse, a third-degree felony, but the charges were dismissed by District Judge Andrea Book at the preliminary hearing.

The parents are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. “Our laws recognize that you have a duty to care for your child’s health and welfare, and we cannot justify a parent not seeking health care for their children when their children are ill,” said Berks County District Attorney John Adams. A brief summary of the case:

On Sunday, Ella Grace showed signs of a cold, with a sore throat and fever.  She got progressively worse during the next two days, but neither parent felt it necessary to seek medical treatment.  On Monday night, Grace called her father-in-law and pastor, Rowland Foster, who came to visit, rubbed oil on Ella Grace, and “prayed for her”.  By Tuesday, Ella was significantly worse, throwing up, coughing, and struggling for air.  Her mother, Grace, was frustrated, for she also had six other children, including an infant son to care for, so she called her husband, Jonathan, to come home from work to help out.  When Jonathan arrived home, he lifted Ella into his arms, where she took her last breath a short time later.

Grace & Jonathan Foster

State Trooper Brian Cipko questioned Grace Foster, and when he asked her if she knew what had caused her daughter’s death, she replied, “The way I think God just wanted her back. I believe that whether she died of this or we were in an accident that morning, He knew she was going to come home that day.”  She also stated that there were no circumstances under which she would have sought medical help for her daughter. “It never enters my mind,” she said.

Matters involving religion are touchy and, as most of you know, I steer clear of them.  This, however, I see as going beyond religion.  This is the life of a child.  But not only one child, for Ella Grace was not the first child to die because her parents’ religious beliefs kept them from seeking medical treatment, nor will she likely be the last.  Adherents to the Fosters’ religion, predominantly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have been charged in numerous other cases of children dying due to lack of medical care as a result of the parents’ religious beliefs:

  • Justin Barnhart, age two, died September 1981, in Beaver Valley, Pennsylvania of a Wilm’s tumor which grew larger than a volleyball in the child’s abdomen. The parents, William and Linda Barnhart, withheld medical care from their son because of their religious beliefs.
  • Five children of the Winterbourne family of suburban Philadelphia died of pneumonia between 1971 and 1980 without receiving medical attention. Roger Winterbourne, the father, stated: “When you believe in something, you have to believe it all the way. If you only believe in it part way, it’s not a true belief.”
  • Baby Girl and Baby Boy Still, of Germantown, Pennsylvania, died in February 1989 after their mother, Deborah, gave birth to the twins without the aid of a doctor or midwife. After 8 hours the father noticed his 5 lb. Infant girl had stopped breathing, and he called a funeral home. The next day police took her 3 lb. Brother to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. The twins were born 6 weeks prematurely.
  • Melinda Sue Friedenbeger, age 18 weeks, died of starvation and dehydration on April 25, 1991, in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Parents John and Kathy Friedenbeger reported she had had a fever, vomiting and diarrhea for the last several days of her life.
  • Clayton Nixon, age eight, also died in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on January 6, 1991, of dehydration and malnutrition after contracting ear and sinus infections which caused continuous vomiting. He was four feet tall at his death but weighed only 32 pounds.

In Pennsylvania, more than 25 Faith Tabernacle children have died over the years. This church is not the only one that does not believe in medical treatment, but it just happens to be the one in today’s news. Nationally, some two dozen religious sects oppose all or most forms of medical care.

In the case of the Fosters, it is expected that a jury will render a verdict by the end of the week.  The Fosters have relinquished custody of their other six children to the state of Pennsylvania.

The United States Constitution gives us the right to freedom of religion.  It is certainly the right of Jonathan and Grace Foster to choose to belong to the Faith Tabernacle Church and to follow their tenets and beliefs.  It is their right to choose not to seek medical help … for themselves.  It was not their right to decide to eschew life-saving treatment for their two-year-old daughter who was not able to make the choice for herself.  As the judge in the aforementioned case of Justin Barnhart ruled, “Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they [the children] have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves.” There are reasons that children of every species have parents, and the first, most important one, is to protect them.  It is the opinion of this writer that the Fosters are guilty of murdering their daughter just as surely as if they had plunged a knife into her chest.  Note:  In 1983, Rita Swan founded Children’s Health Is a Legal Duty (CHILD), an organization that lobbies against state laws that protect parents who choose faith over modern medicine. In 1998, she decided to team up with pediatrician Seth M. Asser to investigate the child fatalities associated with faith healing. The two began reviewing the deaths of 172 children where medical care was withheld on religious grounds. Their study showed that 140 of these children would have had a 90% likelihood of survival had they received routine medical care. 

Sit Down And Shut Up – PLEASE!

Last week it was Roger Stone who predicted that a civil war would ensue if impeachment proceedings began against Trump.  Now this week another dolt has jumped onto that bandwagon.  Who, you ask?  None other than the long-ago disgraced religious peddler, Jim Bakker.


“I predict if it [impeachment] happens there will be a Civil War in the US. The Christians will finally come out of the shadows, because we’re going to be shut up permanently if we’re not careful, and God says that faith without works is death, we have to do things.”

I sigh, shake my head, and wonder what rock all these nut cases are coming out from under. First of all, what the heck does he mean by “Christians will finally come out of the shadows”?  Christians, it seems to me, have been the loudest voices in the past several years … out of the shadows???  Seriously???  Second, the latest polls show that now some 40% of adults in the U.S. support impeachment, up from 30% a few months earlier.  Two-thirds of non-Trump supporters are in favour of sending Trump packing.  Nearly half the nation.  Civil war?  I don’t think so.

Oh sure, there are those die-hard Trumpians who will bluster and raise their loud, obnoxious voices in protest if Trump is removed from office, but they do not constitute a majority, nor an army, and there will be no civil war, though there are likely to be pockets of civil unrest, particularly in the southern half of the nation. I predict those will be put down quickly enough and that the nation will remain intact, though divided.

The amazing thing about Mr. Bakker’s utterance is that he had the nerve to even speak.  This is the ‘man’ who …

  • Defrauded investors by selling tens of thousands of $1,000 ‘lifetime memberships’ and ‘exclusive partnerships’ for a three-night stay in hotels that were never built

  • Paid $279,000 to a young woman, Jessica Hahn, in exchange for her silence after she accused Bakker and an associate of having drugged and raped her

  • Was called “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history” by Jerry Falwell

  • Was convicted on eight counts of mail fraud, 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy and sentenced to 45 years in federal prison, though he served only 5 years

  • Recently admitted that, though he had claimed to be a religious leader for years, had only actually read the Bible during his time in prison

  • Still owes $6 million to the Internal Revenue Service in unpaid taxes

One might think that the shame of all the above would send him either into a reclusive, quiet life, or give him the inspiration to try to make up for all his abuses and excesses.  But nooooo … not Mr. Bakker.  Since 2012 he has been engaged in another televangelist venture called the Jim Bakker Show.  With this one, the emphasis is on the sale of survival food, equipment and health products, selling buckets of food – ‘survival food’, at $800 a pop, for when the ‘apocalypse’ happens.  Seriously??? Is anybody buying into this?

And so now he proposes that Christians will start a civil war in the event that the dishonest and divisive president should be impeached?  By what authority, I wonder, does he speak?  For I am fairly certain he does not represent any large portion of Christians in the U.S. Baker lined his own pockets at the expense of his followers some three decades ago, and is apparently continuing to do so even today, though on a smaller scale.  Today his net worth is only around $600,000. While I do not know Mr. Bakker’s net worth at his peak, it is said that some $92 million was ‘unaccounted for’ in 1986, and that the Bakkers ‘earned’ nearly $2 million per annum in salaries and ‘bonuses’, so suffice it to say that he was not a poor man.

There will be no ‘civil war’, no uprising of Christians against the rest of us, no return of Jim Bakker to his ‘glory days’.  There will continue to be a divisiveness among the populace of the U.S., created by people who judge others based on superficial differences such as religious beliefs, skin colour or gender identification, but there will be no civil war.  So PLEASE, Mr. Bakker, go sit down and shut up!