Sunday, March 27, 2011

Travesty of Justice: Judge Amanda Williams, Glynn County, GA

The legal system is set up to protect the American citizenry and governing principles. Sometimes that means criminals are incarcerated. Sometimes it means innocent people are incarcerated, too, because, sadly, we do make mistakes. But our basic value is liberty. We prize liberty so much that we are willing to let 10 guilty go free just to make sure a single innocent person is not deprived of freedom. We do everything we can --- putting all sorts of stumbling blocks in the way of the state's prosecution --- just to make sure innocent people are not unintentionally mistreated.

And we should always do that. Our legal system is about fairness first and foremost. Punishment is always secondary and is never to be given with a heavy hand, lest the very system designed to protect us becomes foreboding. When the public loses confidence in the basic fairness of our legal system, the ideals of liberty are mocked.

I listened tonight to an episode of This American Life on my local NPR station. The piece featured Judge Amanda Williams, the director of the Drug Court in Glynn and Camden Counties in GA. The segment was titled Very Tough Love, but it should have been named The Most Unfair Court in the Nation.

I could type my thoughts on this judge and the tyrannical means by which she runs her court. I could say how grossly unfair she treats the people who come before her. I could even say how I believe she is unfit to serve on the bench. But I won't. (If you want to read what others are saying about this judge, try this link.)

I am asking you to listen to the story. It takes a while, but listen to it. And then I am asking you to do something about it. I am asking you to please send an email to the Office of National Drug Policy asking them to please investigate this judge who is unfit to be on any bench. Also, please send a letter or fax to the GA Judicial Qualifications Commission (they don't accept email, apparently). Here is the contact information and a sample mock up.

Judicial Qualifications Commission
P.O. Box 191
Madison, GA 30650
Phone: (706) 343-5891
Fax: (706) 342-4593

To Whom It May Concern: 

I wanted to bring up a concern that I was recently nade aware of by Ira Glass from This American Life. He gave an in-depth account with strong reporting about a particular Drug Court in Glynn and Camden Counties of Georgia. I am very concerned about the job that the Judge Amanda Williams is doing. The information presented in the news story about the manner in which Judge Amanda Williams is conducting herself is frightening. I live in metro Atlanta so I am not one of her constituents but I feel strongly that something should be done. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bryan Fischer of American Family Association Says Only Christians Have Rights

Sometimes people say things they didn't mean to say. I do that all the time. So I try to clarify and make my point more clear. It's part of the human condition to make mistakes with the tongue.

But sometimes people say things so outlandish, so ridiculous, so moon-bat that it defies logic. Such is the case with Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who said --- in summary --- that only Christians have rights in America and all other religions are only allowed by the good graces of the Christian majority.

That is so ignorant that I have a difficult time knowing where to begin. To say the Founding Fathers only granted religious liberty to Christians is, well, crazy. First, the only recognized Christians at the time of the Bill of Rights were Anglicans, Congregationalists and Catholics, and all three fought against the other two claiming superior relationship to God. And none of those three groups thought Methodists, Presbyterians or Baptists were Christian. In fact, all the Big Three in the Colonies considered everyone else as unchristian, as unregenerate, and as heathen as any Muslim. And Fischer and the American Family Association are trying to say only Christians were allowed liberty by the Founding Fathers? Is he willing to say that means only Anglicans, Congregationalists and Catholics are afforded liberty today? Lo! I'm willing to wager that means most members of American Family Association don't have the official American recognition of being Christian. Hmmmm. Quite a problem with that interpretation, Mr. Fischer.

Second, any reasonable person knows that Fischer's position is something we should just ignore: it is that of a theocratic fruit cake. Problem is that his argument is being sold by many in the Religious Right as a means of money and political power. Unfortunately, these leaders are not educating their flocks about the history of our nation. Instead they are twisting the history and the Bible to suit their own needs. They are manipulating the sheep.

Here is the link to the Americans United blog by Joseph Conn that goes into more detail about the claims of Fischer. It is quite a read.

Let's hope the reasoned and educated people can overcome the bigotry and ignorance of Fischer and American Family Association.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Victoria Jackson and "Glee"

Last week I wondered why the Religious Right had not taken shots at Glee. With gay teens, racey outfits, suggestive subplots, the Rocky Horror episode, we all knew it was a matter of time.

The gay male kiss did it. It wasn't a peck on the lips either: it was a real kiss. It was the kind of kiss that says there is much more going to be happening between the two characters.

Glee fans have anticipated this for months. Most of the audience I talked to said nothing about it other than It's about time the characters got together. The fact that this sort of Real Kiss raised the bar for same sex relationships on TV never even came up in the conversation.

It says we've come a long way since Ellen said I'm gay on national TV during prime time, or since Murphy Brown's audacity to have a baby out of wedlock. The backlash from the Religious Right over those two events was reminiscent of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. This Glee event is even further from the first interracial kiss of Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, an episode that I remember as a kid had the church in a'buzz with talks of scandal, boycott, protests, Congressional letter writing campaigns, and prayer retreats.

And it is a long, long, long way from the public swearing on Gone With the Wind with the famous line, Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. My Great-Grandmother swore that was the single event that sealed our nation's fate to be eternally assigned to Perdition. It was all down hill from there, according to Nellie Brown. (By the way, she was a fine lady and could swing a hickory switch better than anyone, and I am an expert of the receiving end of the hickory switch.)

Back to the gay kiss on Glee ...

Victoria Jackson is, I'm sure, a fine person. I have no doubt her convictions on matters of faith are genuine. But I have a problem with homophobia hiding behind the Bible as justification for discrimination, hurtful words, and silly behavior.

See makes the rest of the Christian Community look bad. In fact, too many Christians make the rest of us look bad. Unfortunately, those are the ones that jump out there and say and do silly things.

I'll post the video for you to watch. No commentary on the theology of what she is saying (or lack thereof) on my part is necessary. The point I want to make is that the Bible should never be used as a tool to bully, harass, harm, discriminate against, or marginalize anyone. Let God do handle the "sinners" (however He defines them) and let us be about the business of showing some kindness every now and then. That would be a refreshing change, I think.

Monday, March 21, 2011

High School Sports and the Budget Axe

It's as if the only work out being done in some school systems today is the budget axe. Sadly, it is the kids who get cut out of the picture.

I taught high school for seven years --- rather, I should say, I handled high school discipline for seven years. Seriously. In School Suspension. It is not a position many aspire to do, but I loved it. Truth is, if it weren't for the awful politics of a school system and the low pay, I would have loved to have retired from what I consider a noble and worthwhile post. My job in the school system deserved hazardous duty pay some days; other days, I couldn't believe they paid me to do the job. Helping kids on the margin --- those who get into trouble --- means being (often literally) a lifesaver.

Many kids need a parent, a teacher or someone to just tell them No. Honestly, that word is unheard by many students before high school. Others need that one-on-one help for a short while they can't get in the classroom. A lot of teenagers are just teenagers and do teenager stuff. These kids --- the majority of kids --- need a gentle (or tough) reminder that they have to / can / must get it together. They can do it with just a little by someone.

For a good number of students, it is an athletic coach that fills that void. For others, it is the art or music teacher. A few need the language instructor. Then there are the marginal 5% that need that tough disciplinarian.

Unfortunately when schools have to make deep cuts, it is art, music, drama or language. These "soft" disciplines are viewed as secondary to the hard sciences of math and science. The cry is to increase the requirements for math and science; implied in that is less focus / requirements in the areas that make society work for all of us.

The not so subtle message is that the things of beauty, culture, emotion, meaning are not needed. Watch out, for tomorrow it is the Humanities that will be cut next. American culture --- even humankind culture --- will be the lesser for that.

But none of that is the real reason for this post. It is the sports programs that get the axe now. After all, do we need to teach students to play when the rest of the world is passing us math scores?

Well, the answer is a resounding Yes! We need sports more than ever.

The truth is that increasing the required math or science courses to graduate is not helping the kid who simply is not a wired to think in that area. I'm not saying we don't teach basic cell biology or leave out the Pythagorean Theorem, but we can't afford to abandon art, drama, music, language or history either, for it is those subjects that give us the glue for our society. Very few kids will ever need to solve quadratic equations when they are 32 years old for a job application, but every student will one day be voting and making decisions how our government will relate to the rest of the world.

Some students --- make that MOST students --- need those subjects and sports to even have a reason to get through high school. And let's not forget that high school sports, namely football, is a huge money maker for the schools. Cutting the very thing that gives pride to a community, adds money to the budget and gives a good number of kids a chance and a reason to go to college is not good management. If a CEO were judged based on how many BOEs are reacting to budget cuts, the CEO would be an ex-CEO in a matter of weeks.

Frank Deford has a wonderful article on the subject of budget cuts and high school sports. If only the people in charge of our kids' education knew how to analyze the cost of the social impact instead of just the cost on a budget sheet.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why are Christians are so ...

First, let me say that I am totally, completely and unabashedly stealing / borrowing this post from Richard Beck and  his blog,  Experiential Theology. No one can ever say I'm not 100% honest in every way and in all my dealings. Let's not have a blog post destroy that for which I have worked so hard to keep.

Second, this post is both disturbing and sad. It is sad because it is and it disturbing because it shows the declining scale we have fostered as our faith became the majority in the American marketplace of ideas.

Phil Vaughn made a great point in his sermon Gracenomics: Extending Grace.   I will copy Beck for the rest ...

The most powerful part of the sermon comes when Phil asks us to type into Google the phrase "Why are Christians so..." Due to Google's autocomplete function the most popular querys starting with this tag immediately pop up.

And guess what? The results are depressing. Here is one screen capture:

Feel free to try it yourself. 

Phil then goes on to compare these results with the Google autocomplete for "Why are Buddhists so..." The top autocomplete for this tag is: "Why are so Buddhists so happy." Quite a contrast between Buddhists and Christians.

The provocative question the sermon leaves us with is this: What would it take for Christians to get the Google autocomplete to become the following:

Why are Christians so loving?