Banned Books Week 2009

In September 2007 I wrote about Banned Books Week. I figured with the 2009 Banned Books Week’s arrival, it was a good time to revisit this event. In case you missed my last article about this in 2007, here’s a refresher of what we’re talking about as stated on the American Library Association’s website:

Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year. Observed since 1982, this annual ALA event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where the freedom to express oneself and the freedom to choose what opinions and viewpoints to consume are both met.

Books aren’t always banned, often times they are challenged, but thanks to the efforts of students, teachers, parents, librarians, and organizations like the ALA, many challenged books get to remain in libraries. “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials,” explains the ALA website.

In 2007 I listed some books that were banned or challenged on religious grounds. I still recommend reading a banned book to celebrate this event, (Click here for a list of banned classics.) but for 2009 I thought I would provide you with a different interesting widget.

Click here to view a map from the Banned Books Week website showing book bans and challenges from 2007-2009. The website explains that the map probably only reflects 20-25% of actual incidents since many challenges are not reported. This map is drawn from cases documented by ALA and the Kids’ Right to Read Project, a collaboration of the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

It’s a really interesting thing to examine, and by clicking on any of the markers you can get the details of that area’s incident. For instance, Indianapolis, Indiana: (2008) Todd Tucker’s “Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan” became controversial when the IUPUI administrators found that a student-employee was guilty of racial harassment merely for reading the book in a public area. The student-employee contact the ACLU of Indiana and six months later received a letter from IUPUI expressing regret and that the school was committed to upholding the freedom of speech on campus.

Take a moment this week to celebrate the freedom to read!

10 Questions with a First Amendment Lawyer

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving (in the United States), a time where traditionally I gush about how thankful I am for the support and enthusiasm of Magical Buffet readers. Which I truly am, but today I’d like to say this, “I am thankful to be an American.”

It’s true. I love this country. No other country gives its citizens the freedoms that America does. Just look through my website, it’s littered with posts about people in other countries suffering because they don’t have the freedoms we have here in America. In my opinion, our Founding Fathers were freakin’ geniuses for our Constitution and Bill of Rights. And as a proud American, I get concerned when I learn that the government is trying to infringe on those freedoms or worse succeeding at it.

This leads to something else I’m thankful for, that there are people willing to help myself and my readers learn more. Take the time to read my interview with Lawrence G. Walters, First Amendment Lawyer extraordinaire.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone! I’ll talk to you after the weekend!

1. What made you decide to specialize in First Amendment law?
Originally, my practice was involved typical, mainstream, commercial litigation work representing banks, insurance firms and construction companies. After about four years of that nonsense, something happened that would set me on my current course. The State Attorney in my home county started prosecuting “Mom and Pop” video stores for renting films he did not like. He had Sheriff’s Deputies hand deliver letters demanding that certain movies be taken off the shelves, or the stores would face criminal prosecution. Although I had no experience in First Amendment law, that didn’t sound right to me, and I offered to help these small business owners, on a pro bono basis, to fight this apparent abuse of prosecutorial power. Fortunately, we won all of the cases, and forced the State Attorney to back down. After that small taste of defending Free Speech rights, I was hooked.

2. Do you feel there are any common misconceptions about the First Amendment?
Definitely. First, the First Amendment only applies to governmental censorship, not the activities of private corporations or individuals. We constantly get questions from people wanting to sue websites like Yahoo! or Google because they have been banned from participating in certain online groups based on their online communications. Private companies can censor all they want, without violating the First Amendment. The same goes for private employers. However, when the government tries to impose some sort of penalty or prior permission on speech-related activities; that is a problem.

Another misconception results from people trying to also blame the First Amendment for keeping the “prayer out of schools.” Students are free to pray all they want in school without violating the First Amendment. It is only when a Public School forces children to participate in prayer-related activities, or punishes them in some way for failing to do so, that the “Establishment Clause” to the First Amendment is implicated.

3. How is something determined to be slander or libel, as opposed to the exercising of freedom of speech?
The concept of libel/slander, both of which are referred to as “defamation,” can be somewhat complex. But in general, all speech is presumed to be protected by the First Amendment with very narrowly-drawn exceptions. One of those exceptions involves defamation, which is defined as publication of a false statement of fact that causes damage to an individual’s reputation. Importantly, the false statement must relate to an issue of fact, and not one’s opinion. Thus I can say, “Ford Sucks” without any legal repercussion, because that is my opinion. But if I say: “The wheels come off of Ford vehicles if the car exceed 40 mile per hour” I can be sued for defamation, unless I have the facts to back up my statement. Truth is always a defense to defamation, so you can make damaging statements of fact about individuals or companies so long as you have the ability to prove the truth of those matters in court.

4. What are the free expression rights of students in public schools under the First Amendment?
Students do not surrender their Free Speech rights when they enter the classroom. But schools are allowed to impose some restrictions on student speech that would not be constitutional if applied to adults outside the classroom setting. Students’ rights under the First Amendment were the strongest in the late 1960’s, when the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Warren, decided the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. Under that case’s holding, students had the ability to express themselves – even through their choice of clothing, so long as that expression did not materially disrupt the educational environment. Although that is still technically the law, later decisions from more conservative incarnations of the Supreme Court have dramatically reduced the scope of student free speech rights, allowing schools to censor student speech even to preserve decency or morality.

5. Is a public school student’s choice of dress Constitutionally protected? Including hair color, piercings, etc.
Today, the schools can probably get away with restricting or mandating student dress code so long as the school policy is not “content based.” In other words, the school cannot forbid Democratic political messages on t-shirts while allowing Republican political t-shirts. If everybody is required to wear a white t-shirt as part of a school uniform, that is not a content-based decision. Things like piercings, hair color, tattoos, etc., have been held not to be protected by the First Amendment, and therefore the schools can most likely regulate those items.

6. Has the nature of the First Amendment changed during the past eight years?
Unfortunately, yes. Constitutional rights in general have been eviscerated during the George W. Bush Administration. As a result of repugnant laws like the Patriot Act, as well as the appointment of numerous conservative federal judges throughout the country, it is becoming more and more difficult to prevail on First Amendment–based legal challenges to government censorship activities. Often, these conservative courts will evaluate the ‘value’ of the specific message at issue in a given case, instead of treating all speech equally, as is required under the First Amendment. So, for example, political speech is given more protection than erotic speech, or sarcastic humor. Hopefully we can begin repairing some of this damage during the next presidential administration.

7. Are there restrictions to how people can assemble and petition the government?
The First Amendment protects the right of people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. These two aspects of the First Amendment have not been fleshed out by the courts, and there is not much law interpreting these rights. One restriction on assembly rights is the requirement that such assemblies be peaceful, and not advocate any form of violence. Recently, there have been efforts at the state and federal levels designed to force protestors to conduct their assembly in designated “free speech zones.” This is clearly an effort by the government to separate the speakers from the intended recipients of the message. Any restrictions on the time, place, or manner of an assembly must be “reasonable” and must provide for alternative means of conducting the communicative activity.

8. Can employers place restrictions with regard to their employee’s ability to practice their religion, such as attire, garb, prayer needs, or time off for religious observances?
Private employers have more latitude with respect to restrictions on religious activities than governmental employers. However, neither private, nor public employers may discriminate against individuals based on their religion or “creed.” These are protected civil rights under federal law. Unfortunately, employers will often find alternative, non-discriminatory reasons for any adverse employment action, so proving a violation of the First Amendment in such cases can be difficult. But technically, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for the exercise of one’s religion, so long as it does not interfere with the normal functioning of the employee’s duties.

9. What actions can an individual take if they feel they are being deprived of their First Amendment rights?
The first thing is to stand your ground. So many free citizens capitulate to governmental oppression these days, and that is unfortunate. We only have as much freedom as we demand in this country. Government, by its very nature, will always seek to stifle individual freedoms, and try to grab control. It is essential that citizens of this great country stand up, speak up, and be heard. We have the right NOT to remain silent in America. If the government is doing something illegal, there are hundreds of First Amendment lawyers throughout this nation who are willing to take these cases and fight hard for their clients. The First Amendment Lawyers Association, www.FirstAmendmentLawyers.org, is a good place to start looking for a First Amendment attorney if one is needed.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
If you could be guaranteed, for the rest of your life, that you would not be the victim of any crime, harassment, or misfortune, would you be willing to give up your constitutional rights to the government?

That is a very difficult question, and one that I don’t think anyone could honestly answer without being in the actual situation. I’d like to think that when push came to shove I would do the right thing….not give up my constitutional rights. I don’t imagine myself to be particularly brave or heroic, but I’d like to think that I would be willing to die to insure those rights for everyone.

Bio:

Lawrence G. Walters is a partner in the national law firm of Weston, Garrou, Walters & Mooney, which maintains offices in Orlando, Los Angeles, San Diego and Salt Lake City. Mr. Walters has developed an outstanding reputation for representing the interests of the online entertainment community. He has practiced law for almost two decades, concentrating in the areas of constitutional, media and Internet law. He is recognized as a national expert on legal issues pertaining to Free Speech and the Internet, and frequently contributes to television news programs on networks such as NBC, ABC, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNBC, and CNN. His high profile cases are regularly followed by the print media, and he’s been quoted in such periodicals as the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Wired Magazine, Business 2.0, Playboy, ABA Journal, St. Petersburg Times, Orlando Sentinel, etc.

He began practicing law in Central Florida in 1988, after graduating from Florida State University, College of Law, with Honors. While in law school, he studied English Common Law at Oxford University and interned with a federal judge in the Northern District of Florida. During his career, Mr. Walters has served as a professor at the University of Central Florida, and acted as a Director for the local Bar Association and the local Chamber of Commerce. Among his many civic and community activities, he has served as Chair of the Legal Panel of the ACLU, Central Chapter, and currently participates on the advisory panels for the University of Central Florida’s Law Studies Program, and the Heifer.org charitable group. He has established and directed numerous non-profit associations and trade groups, including the Internet Freedom Association, the Jacksonville Property Rights Association and the Association of Coastal Property Owners. His efforts in helping fight online child pornography earned him the Annual Service Recognition Award from the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, www.asacp.org in January, 2005. Recently, Mr. Walters was recognized as one of the Top 100 News Makers by the media industry group, Xbiz, and was included in the top 10% in the ‘Best of the Bar’ competition, conducted by the Orlando Business Journal.

Mr. Walters’ First Amendment law practice dates back to the late ’80s when he defended numerous video stores in Florida against obscenity charges. In 1997, he formed the Florida Bar’s First Amendment Law Committee, which he currently chairs. He represents hundreds of webmasters across the globe in connection with the regulation and protection of online content. Mr. Walters regularly deals with issues relating to online advertising, Internet gaming, domain name protection and other cutting edge practice areas. His law firm has been established for over 45 years, and handles cases involving constitutional and commercial issues such as civil rights litigation, licensing and zoning suits, intellectual property claims, appeals and complex criminal defense. Larry often represents clients in the fields of online gambling, adult entertainment, online dating and Internet pharmaceuticals. He has initiated over 100 federal law suits, and defended over 30 criminal obscenity cases during his career, many of which involved racketeering charges.

Mr. Walters is a frequent lecturer on Free Speech issues, and has presented seminars across the Country on Internet law, Gaming law and the First Amendment. One of his speeches dealing with the First Amendment and Terrorism, was published in the Representative American Speeches of 2003, along with those of President George W. Bush, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. He regularly publishes articles of interest to Webmasters on countless websites and magazines, including legal updates directed at specific industries. His website, www.FirstAmendment.com, receives over 1.5 million hits per month, and is recognized as a global resource on Internet law issues. He operates several other websites including www.GameCensorship.com dealing with legal and legislative attempts to censor video games. Over the years, Mr. Walters has published several law review articles on gambling advertising and obscenity regulation, along with a book chapter on the First Amendment protections of commercial speech. His accolades in the legal field have earned him recognition as an honored member in the Who’s Who Registry of Outstanding Professionals, 2006-07 Edition.

In 2005, Mr. Walters was appointed to the Board of Officers of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, a prominent group of First Amendment practitioners, for which he regularly presents lectures on Free Speech and the Internet. He has earned a “BV” (very high) rating from Martindale Hubbell, the national rating service for lawyers. Mr. Walters is admitted to practice in all state and federal courts in Florida, as well as the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia, and the U.S. Claims Court in Washington, D.C. In addition he has been admitted pro hac vice to courts across the country.

Guess What Today Is!

Today is my Uncle’s birthday, and he’s not feeling well, so let’s all say “Happy Birthday and feel better soon!” Now he can cringe as I go from warm birthday wishes to what this blog is about, the National Action Network’s Decency Awards, which is an extension of their Decency Initiative. For those of you who think you’re unfamiliar with the NAN, does this name ring a bell? Reverend Al Sharpton. Yes, this is his organization.

A year ago today Sharpton and the NAN organized “A Day of Outrage” which were peaceful protests targeting music companies and industry executives across the United States. Although today is special, the Decency Initiative is active all year round. They are currently celebrating that because of pressure Nas’ latest album was released as untitled as opposed to n-word, which was its original title. Stay tuned, that’s another blog all together.

This isn’t a tirade against the NAN. Their organization does a lot of good. Keep demanding answers about Sean Bell Rev. Al! My problem is the idea of the Decency Initiative. It’s the same beef I have with the Anti-Defamation League (Another organization that does a lot of good, but….). You can’t just go around trying to silence anyone that has something to say that you find offensive. Yes, in a perfect world there would be no racial or religious slurs, there would also be no anger or outrage, no need for public discourse, and finally no need to get my butt up off the couch. (Wow, did I just do a “Ripple of Evil” like on the show “Root of All Evil”?) Censorship is not the path to understanding, it’s the path to ignorance.

What follows is my open letter to the NAN about their Decency Awards and Initiative. I’d like to think that I make a passionate, thoughtful, and polite argument on behalf of rap artists everywhere, but when you touch sensitive subjects, like the use of the n-word, well, reason does not always prevail. Somehow, I’d like to think that as a white Jewish woman I’ve gotten the brunt of rap music’s bile, and it makes my point of view valid, but as my friend Max said, “You’re not black.” But since other than Nas I can’t find anyone else willing to take a stand for the rights of rap artists, I took the plunge. Okay, plunge is a strong word, I’ve dangled my feet in the water…if I’m not litigated out of existence…or fired due to pickets outside of where I work….perhaps there will be a plunge. Nas, if the NAN comes after me, will you fund my legal defense?

To Tamika Mallory, National Director of NAN’s Decency Initiative:

I see on your website that August 7, 2008 the Decency Awards “are being held to honor entertainers who carry the torch of decency and to highlight positive images in our community.” That I am encouraged to “send in my nominations of entertainers, artists, athletes, and public figures who I think should be recognized”. But I am warned that, “all nominations are welcome, but keep in mind that haters will be disregarded”.

This forces me to ask the question, then why are you hating on the rap community? I’m writing to you today to please ask you to stop. Do I like to hear myself referred to as a bitch or ho, or my friends as niggers? Absolutely not! And yet, it boogles my mind that your organization, one that focuses so much time and energy on so many worthy causes, would waste your time to endeavor to enforce your version of decency onto musicians and their distributors.

I am a better person today because of the rap music I listened to in my youth. I grew up in a mid-sized rural community in Illinois, but because of artists like the Geto Boys, Queen Latifah, NWA, and Ice-T, I was able to learn about people living lives entirely different than my own. Yes, they had horrible language, and it shocked my 13 year-old ears to hear words like bitch and nigger, but that’s what art, at its best, is supposed to do. It shocked and enlightened me. Rap music started a chain reaction in my life. I thought more about the world outside of my hometown and I grew concerned about issues like race, drugs, poverty, and censorship. I’m sorry, but how dare you try to deny that life changing experience to others?

Please stop going after the music labels. Yes, they pressure artists, but I find it hard to believe that any music executive listens to an album and goes, this is okay, but you really need to add more references to bitches and niggers if you want to go gold. Those words are there because they are the language of the artist. And as a bitch and ho, I’m telling you, I’m okay with those words. How weak do you feel women are that they can’t handle a musician using them? In this day and age those words have no power, in fact, most women wear the label of bitch like a badge of honor. Those words have nowhere near the awful legacy of the terrible word nigger. Not being African American I cannot speak first hand of the feelings that word evokes. I can tell you that trying to police language is not going to solve anything. Putting the words out there makes them less powerful, not more. There was a time when bitch was universally a highly offensive term, but about 200 million bitches later, it’s really just another word…I promise. And thanks to the rap community, the word nigger really is losing its power. I worked in music retail for 10 years and every day I would hear teenage boys refer to each other as nigger. They were obviously using it as a term of affection, friendship, and brotherhood. At no point ever did I feel they were saying it out of malice or the belief that they were speaking to their slave. Thanks to rap music the word’s meaning is evolving.

As long as there are differences, there will always be hate, it’s a sad fact of human nature. Where there is fear and ignorance it will always be found. However, censoring artists is wrong. You never change the discussion if you edit the dialogue.

Please, take a moment to re-evaluate your Decency Initiative. I think if you do you’ll find that there are more important things you can be doing than picketing record label’s offices.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter and for all the good that your organization does.

Sincerely,
Rebecca Elson

Brazil Tries to Get it Right

On July 7, 2008 LifeSiteNews.com reported that a Brazilian judge has ordered the removal of a Catholic priest’s book from bookstores. Father Jonas Abib’s book, titled “Yes, Yes! No, No! Reflections on Healing and Liberation”, cautions readers about the dangers of the occult, which includes the Afro-Brazilian religion Spiritualism.

According to LifeSiteNews.com, public prosecutor Almiro Sena is quoted as accusing the Priest of “making false and prejudiced statements about the spiritualist religion as well as religions from Africa, like Umbanda and Candomble, as well as flagrant incitement to destruction and disrespect for their objects of worship.” Sena also added that “the State Constitution (of Bahai) says that it is the obligation of the state to preserve and guarantee the integrity, respectability, and permanence of the values of Afro-Brazilian religion.” The court agreed.

Man, where to begin. Banning books, censoring books, seizing books, it’s all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I’m sure I disagree with Father Jonas Abib, I’m kind of used to not being on the same page as the Catholic Church, that said, he should be allowed to spew out whatever nonsense he wants in a book. I highly doubt his book was going to change any minds. I suspect if you bought the book, you were already on his team. Let’s try this another way, David Icke, who for the record I just love, cranks out book after book of total artwork quality out there-ness. Yet, no one seems overly concerned about the impending lizard threat, and I’m pretty certain he’s sold way more books than Abib!

I find it noble, and wonderful, that the Bahai government is concerned about maintaining the “integrity, respectability, and permanence of the values of Afro-Brazilian religion” but, with all due respect, at what cost? Will it be at the cost of the other faiths in their state being denied those things? The courts also censored an organization that initiated a campaign to condemn homosexual behavior. And just in case you haven’t been playing along, I have no problem with homosexuality…I backed Dennis Kucinich for crying out loud! (One of the only Democrats who ran for the Democratic nomination for President who was for gay marriage. The other one was Mike Gravel.) Yet, they have the right to be against homosexuality, however wrong they are in their belief. I mean, however wrong I find their belief.

Although not always executed the way I would like, America has got it right Brazil. First Amendment, all the way. Protect all the religions and all the speech, and then let God, the free market, or the history books decide which of them has it right.

The Not So Big News Out of Turkey

I was planning on posting a wonderful blog about me and Rev. Billy Graham actually agreeing on something, but that will have to wait because BIG NEWS is coming out of Turkey.  At least it seemed like big news when I got the under one minute sum up on BBC World News yesterday morning.  Then I made the mistake of looking into it a little more and I have to say…I’m unimpressed.
 
The big news is that Turkey’s parliament has approved a proposal to amend Article 301 of the Turkish penal code.  This was been lauded as a huge step to free speech reform, and that’s what Turkey wants us all to think.  Unfortunately for them, some of us will actually take the time to read about it on websites such as Aljazeera.Net.  Curse us pesky news readers.  Let’s break it down, shall we?
 
Article 301, according to the folks at Wikipedia.Org, covers:
 
A person who publicly denigrates Turkishness, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and three years.
 
A person who publicly denigrates the Government of the Republic of Turkey, the judicial institutions of the State, the military or security organizations shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months and two years.
 
In cases where denigration of Turkishness is committed by a Turkish citizen in another country the punishment shall be increased by one third.
 
Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime.
 
(For those of you like me that were going, what the heck does denigrates mean, it’s like defaming, bashing, bad mouthing, etc.)
 
Now it’s nice that “Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime”, but who decides the difference between criticism and bashing?  Obviously many scholars and journalists have been hauled into court thanks to Article 301.  Many people have been critical of Article 301, including the folks at the European Union.
 
Yes, Turkey would love to reap the benefits of EU membership and has been doing the dance to become a full member since 2005.  One of the things that would prove a commitment to political reform would be easing restrictions on free speech.  So, the heavens opened up and an amendment was born.  This is sure to have a huge impact on things, right?  I mean, the EU isn’t going to be impressed by some half-assed gesture, are they?  Apparently Turkey thinks they will because the amendment changes very little.
 
After everything is said and done it will be a crime to insult the Turkish nation, rather than Turkishness (again, what’s an insult and what’s criticism, and for that matter, what is Turkishness verses the Turkish nation) and the maximum sentence will drop from three years to two.  And let’s not forget that the amendment has to be approved by the president before it can go into effect.
 
Suddenly the landmark amendment for free speech reform in Turkey seems pretty much like business as usual.

The Difference Between Staten Island and Cohoes, NY

If you live in New York you can probably start ticking off the differences quite easily.  Before you get to into it, this blog isn’t about the differences between the towns, but between the instances of harassment based on religious belief between my May 2007 blog about Patricia Gardner who lives in Cohoes, NY and this current blog about a family in Annadale, NY.
 
Those of you who missed the “For My Neighbor” blog about Patricia Gardner, take a moment and refresh yourself.  Now, to get caught up to speed on the family in Annadale, NY, click here.  They’re both quick reads.  I’ll wait for you.
 
All caught up?  Good.
 
I’m going to take a stance that may make me unpopular with some of my Wiccan friends, but Annadale is about being bad neighbors, and perhaps even the worse crime of inciting “persecution”.  There, I said it.  Sure, perhaps some of the people are weirded out by their openly Wiccan neighbors, but if the Wiccans were in fact putting fliers on people’s cars, etc. saying they were putting spells on people and sending threatening letters…well, what is a neighbor to think?  Suddenly the neighbors are offended, and it’s all because they’re dealing with Wiccans?  How about because behavior like that is unacceptable in any community.
 
Patricia Gardner’s story was different.  First, the vandalism was obviously motivated by religious beliefs.  Biblical quotes tend to tip you off.  Also, having personally visited Gardner’s home, on a night when her Coven was meeting, I can say that they were a respectful bunch.  To the point where they asked if I could park my car somewhere else, as to not take up one of her neighbor’s favorite parking spots.  It’s certainly a far cry from the alleged harassing behavior of the Wiccans in Annadale.
 
Of course, maybe I’m wrong.  Perhaps the Annadale Wiccans are being persecuted because of their faith, but speaking from experience of living on top of annoying neighbors, I suspect they are being persecuted, but because of their behavior not their faith.  Honestly, I don’t care what my neighbors do behind closed doors…as long as I don’t have to hear about it.
 
Some of the best Wiccans I have ever had the pleasure of speaking with all realize that to be Wiccan means you have something to prove.  Now many Wiccans, Pagans, etc. that I have dealt with feel they have something to prove.  And in doing so, they push their faith in the faces of friends, family, co-workers, etc. and demand acceptance of their faith.  Now the Wiccans that inspire me, Lady Passion of Coven Oldenwilde for instance, know that what they have to prove isn’t that they’re different, but that they’re the same.  That although their faith is a large part of who they are, it isn’t all they are.  The path to acceptance is to set a good example within the community they live in.  Many Covens, and solitaries, are active within community charities.  They keep tidy homes.  Take an active role in their child’s school.  They are model citizens, respected parents, and they are Wiccan.

My First Amendment Right to be a Pet Owner

First Amendment –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 is the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.  It guarantees freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition for redress of grievances.  Got that?
 
Well, a recent Associated Press article discusses a study done by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum that shows only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five guaranteed freedoms of the First Amendment.  More than half the people surveyed could name at least two members of The Simpsons.  More people could name the three American Idol judges than could name three First Amendment rights.  One in five people surveyed thought the First Amendment guaranteed the right to own a pet!
 
This telephone survey was of 1000 random adults.
 
No wonder so many people don’t realize how many of our fundamental rights we’re losing in America.  For crying out loud, they think the First Amendment guarantees them the right to own a pet!  You’re right, our founding fathers were concerned with freedom speech, the right to bear arms, and the promise that every American has a cute little purse dog for a pet!
 
Go back to the top of this blog.  Read it, learn it, and force our lawmakers to respect it!

Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 3: The Saudi Arabian Edition.

On February 13, 2008 the organization Human Rights Watch sent a letter to King Abdullah bin Abd al-‘Aziz Al Saud on behalf of Fawza Falih, who has been sentenced to death by beheading for the alleged crimes of “witchcraft, recourse to jinn, and slaughter of animals”.
 
The letter highlights in aggravating detail the gaping flaws in the Saudi Arabian justice system.  It starts with her being held in detention at the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice for “witchcraft”.  Does this mean Saudi Arabia has their own Vice Squad?  You know, like this or this?  What did this wily “witch” do?  According to my pals with the Vice Squad a man allegedly became impotent after being “bewitched” and a divorced woman (Can there be divorced women in Iran?  With the way the Vice guys are going I just assumed they wouldn’t allow divorces anymore.) reportedly returned to her ex-husband during the month predicted by the witch said to have cast the spell. 
 
Misery loves company.  Read the letter so you can feel my pain.  I’ve got to say, Christoph Wilcke, the letter’s author, has laid out a rational argument for a pardon for Fawza Falih.  Let’s hope it helps.

Freeze! It’s the Vice Squad! Part 2: The Rap Edition

Recently we discussed Iran’s new, improved, and super charged vice squad.  It appeared, at first glance, it was more about fashion than morality, with the targeting of those racy Iranian women who wore make-up or showed off some hot ankle.  Now Iran is learning what pop culture junkies here in America have known forever, fashion and music go hand in hand.  So while those feisty ladies have been rebelling in fitted jackets, the disenfranchised male youth of Tehran have turned to a musical culture founded on the struggle of impoverished youth battling against authority…that’s right, hip hop.
 
The use of profanity has made rap music the latest cultural endeavor to end up in Iran’s vice police cross hairs.  As those of us “old school” rap fans here in America know, sure, the swears words concern Iran, but the anti-authority, revolution inspiring themes, are what is really causing the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry to crackdown on the genre.  According to Mohammad Dashtgoli, the official for music at the Ministry, as quoted in a Breitbart.com article, “Illegal studios producing this type of music will be sealed and the singers in the genre will be confronted.”  He also states that “a large number of illegal rap singers have been already identified.”
 
Can you imagine an America where Public Enemy not only had to struggle with the conditions of their communities, but also with the sticky wicket of getting arrested for expressing their concerns musically?  “Fight the Power” indeed.  I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened if N.W.A. released their classic track “F*** the Police” in Iran.  But, don’t despair, just like the rap hustlers of the early 80’s discovered, there is always a way to get the music out to those who want it.  There is a brisk black market trade of rap albums in Iran.
 
Iran has cause for concern.  This is a symptom of a greater disease for their government.  Iran is coming down with a bad case of democracy. 
 
On a related, but unrelated note.  To the American public:  Let musicians express themselves however they want to in their music.  You don’t like an artist’s language or message, don’t buy their music.  If I ever, ever, hear another round of politicians suggesting that there must be a way to quasi legislate an answer to the fact that rappers use the n word and call women hos I will be forced to take drastic action.  In an effort to not incriminate myself, I will just say that it will probably involve Al Sharpton and a pair of hair shears.

The Resurrection of “My Sweet Jesus”

It’s going to be tough to have this discussion without potentially offending someone, but oh well, the giant chocolate Jesus is back and I’m psyched!  For those of you who may have missed it, last spring artist Cosimo Cavallaro created an anatomically accurate statue of Jesus out of 200 pounds of chocolate.  The piece, titled “My Sweet Lord”, was going to be displayed on the ground floor of The Roger Smith Hotel in midtown New York City starting April 1 (Palm Sunday) and run through Easter Sunday.
 
That poor hotel.  They had protests, boycotts, petitions, and even death threats.  Why?  Was it because it was made out of a rich, dark, chocolate instead of white chocolate?  (I always chuckle when I think of this option.  Have you ever watched the animated series “The Boondocks”?  In the first episode Huey explains that he never saw “Passion of the Christ” because it had a white Jesus.  The black verses white Jesus debate is also brought up in the beginning of the awesome movie “Saved”.)  Did it have to do with Jesus’ exposed Hostess Ho Ho (if you get my meaning)?  Was it the invitation for spectators to eat a piece of the sculpture, which was a truly inspired way for the viewer to allow Jesus to become a part of them?  Was it the Palm Sunday opening, an appropriate time to encourage people to consider the life of Jesus?  The world will never truly know if it was one of those things or many, since in the world of religious over sensitives no real reason needs to be given to justify death threats on poor bell hops who don’t give two craps about a giant hunk of chocolate.  Don’t even get me started on the ramifications of threatening artists over their subject matter!  It makes my First Amendment emergency lights start flashing.
 
All of that is in the past because chocolate Jesus is back, and he’s brought some saints with him!  The Proposition Gallery will be featuring an exhibition of Cavallaro’s work called “Chocolate Saints…Sweet Jesus”.  All the biggest and brightest of the Catholic world will be there in their finest life-like chocolate rendering; Saint Francis, Saint Jude, the Virgin Mary, and more.  And of course, “My Sweet Lord”, a recasting of the giant chocolate Jesus that caused so much trouble, despite being beautifully crafted and totally delicious in appearance!
 
The exhibition will run from October 27 to November 24, 2007 (to coincide with All Saints Day).  Hey, it opens this Friday!  Where is all the drama?  Well, all of us chocolate Jesus fans can relax.  On October 16 The Catholic League, the fun loving bunch that brought you chocolate Jesus protests and editing Kathy Griffin, issued the most subtle and not so subtle statement saying that essentially, The Proposition gallery isn’t very visible, that the idea of crafting an image of Jesus is appropriate for Halloween, and that All Saint’s Day just isn’t as important to them as Palm Sunday.  Of course maybe that’s just my sarcastic and biased interpretation.  What do you think?
 
“’My Sweet Jesus,’ another life-sized chocolate sculpture of a naked crucified Jesus by artist Cosimo Cavallaro, will be displayed in a New York gallery on West 22nd Street from October 27 through November 24. Unlike last spring, when we launched a boycott against Manhattan’s posh Roger Smith Hotel (the boycott was dropped when the hotel cancelled the exhibition of an identical Cavallaro statue, “My Sweet Lord”), the Catholic League will not protest this showing.
 
When the Roger Smith Hotel originally planned to host ‘My Sweet Lord,’ the work was set to be unveiled on April 1, Palm Sunday, and run through Easter Sunday. In addition, the midtown hotel’s gallery is located on street level, easily visible through windows to the public. Any child strolling with his parents through the popular area could have been subjected to the piece. And comments by the artist certainly didn’t help matters—he previously invited the public to come inside and take a bite of Jesus.
 
Since ‘My Sweet Jesus’ isn’t going to be displayed on the ground floor of an established hotel in midtown, and since Halloween is more appropriate for Cavallaro’s crafts than Easter, our central objections are not applicable this time around. The Catholic League doesn’t approve of the piece, but this upcoming display won’t be as public, nor will it be an ostentatious assault on Christian sensibilities during Holy Week.”
 
Although, none of this matters.  Not the Catholic League, not my snarky comments about the Catholic League.  What matters is that although struck down by nonbelievers, “My Sweet Jesus” is back…and more chocolately than ever.