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.

I Now Pronounce You Husband and Wife. Terms and Conditions May Vary.

Technically this is old news, but it has recently been brought to my attention by my Pennsylvanian Pagan peeps (that’s right, I have peeps).  What it comes down to is that marriage laws, are in fact, horribly confusing…and just got made worse.
 
Here’s the set up.  On August 24, 2006 a couple from York County Pennsylvania married.  The ceremony was officiated by a friend, who obtained internet ordination from the Universal Life Church Monastery.  Seven months later they decided the marriage wasn’t working out, so they split.  Then they read in the paper that unions performed by internet ordained ministers may not be upheld if they went to court.  So they took it to court.
 
On Friday September 9, 2007 they found out that their marriage never existed.  Talk about the quickiest of divorces!
 
This is the first instance in Pennsylvania and according to a solicitor for the state association of Registers of Wills and Clerks of Orphans Court as quoted in The York Dispatch “All persons issuing marriage licenses should comply with the precedent-setting decision.”
 
What was the problem?  In York County it was many factors.  The friend who performed the ceremony was not a member of the Universal Life Church before receiving his ordination, he doesn’t have a congregation that meets regularly or a place of worship, neither the bride or groom were members of the of the ULCM, also, there were no witnesses.
 
Honestly, the state of marriage laws these days are enough to make you pull your hair out.  In a fantastic article by The New York Times, they point out that “Connecticut is one of a half-dozen places that do not recognize marriages performed by someone who became a minister for the sole purpose of marrying people.”  That same article focuses on a pair of attorneys that had a friend, who again received ordination from the Universal Life Church Monastery, marry them only to find out it wasn’t a valid marriage.  The groom is quoted as saying, “If two lawyers can be duped into getting married illegally, then anybody can.”  True dat!
 
In fact, did you know that Connecticut, Alabama, Virginia, and Tennessee prohibit weddings performed by ministers who do not have active ministries?  As pointed out in the Times’ piece, “Even in Las Vegas, that city’s no-holds-barred image notwithstanding, it is illegal for individuals to perform a marriage if they do not have a congregation.”  They go on to quote a clerk at the Marriage License Bureau in Philadelphia as saying, “People call us and ask if it’s legal or not, and we don’t know if it’s legal.”  You’re beginning to get the idea, right?  It’s a mess out there and no one knows how it works.  (My girl Shira at www.handfastings.org can tell you ALL about it.  We still haven’t figured out what makes an officiant in NY, well, official.)
 
Back to the York County precedent.  G. Martin Freeman, Universal Life Church Monastery president, is quoted in The York Daily Record calling the ruling “capricious” and “arbitrary”.  He goes on to say, “It violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
 
Emily MacDonald, who is a member of the South Central PA Pagans, agrees with Freeman.  “Many people have chosen to be ordained in this manner because they ideologically eschew more popular denominations of ‘organized religion’ and physically established mainstream churches in their geographic area.  Often, as a result, they do not have a physical meeting place and sometimes do not have a congregation who meet regularly as such (although what one may mean by ‘congregation’ and ‘regular meetings’ is certainly an open question).  Does this make a person’s belief system, experience and ability to officiate a ceremony less valid than someone from a mainstream church with a regularly meeting congregation?  I do not believe so.  I believe this is discrimination and a flagrant violation of our religious freedom protected by both the US and Pennsylvania Constitutions.”
 
What’s got my PA Pagans all riled up?  Well, as Rev. Brandy Boswell, of Nature Church in York, PA, points out, “Religions like Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft are usually very private. It is extremely difficult to gather a group together when each person’s experiences in connecting with Divinity are so personal. On occasion groups do pop up, like the Nature Church. The unfortunate thing is these places are few, and far between. As you can see, finding an already established “church” for Wiccans, Witches, Pagans is difficult.

To add salt to the wound, Wiccans and Witches do not always meet in churches. They have Covens, Groves, and sometimes Circles. PA does not recognize these forms of religious organization. The fact is, PA is again not being told to see beyond what is most predominate.”


As you can see, some followers of certain faiths may only be able to study and achieve ordination online.  They may never be able to set up a congregation, or may have no desire to do so.  That’s not what you really want to talk about though, is it?  What you really want to discuss is not true religious seekers only able to find faith through connections online, but average Joes getting quickie ordinations online to marry friends.
 
What about it?  Seriously.  You have a problem with this, then hey, don’t ask your buddy to marry you.  The now invalidated bride in the York County case is quoted in The York Daily Record saying, “It makes a mockery out of the whole marriage system.”  Hey lady, you know what’s really a mockery of the system?  Couples, who aren’t religious, shelling out wads of cash and devoting their time to classes at a church they don’t attend, just to have a marriage ceremony.  What about a Justice of the Peace or a Court House wedding?  Well you know what?  Excuse me for wanting something more romantic than filing paperwork in triplicate for my wedding.  The duped attorney in Connecticut told the Times, “The most important thing to us was that someone who we knew and liked wo
uld marry us.”  Why not?  Why not have a close friend, who more often than not is who you turn to in times of joy and sorrow, be the one that oversees one of the most important days of your life?  As long as they know how to fill out the paperwork and you pay the state, who’s it hurting?
 
Consider yourself warned Pennsylvania, my friends are ticked off and I don’t think they’re going to settle for the new status quo.  Rev. Boswell says. “PA is clouded in their views of who is worthy of officiating marriages and it is up to us to tell our leaders what way they need to lean. Write letters, send e-mails, stand on the street corner and hand out flyers! Do something, anything, to get the word out! Let the people and our leaders know that our religious rights are being violated.”

Banned Books Week

This September 29 through October 6 is “Banned Books Week”.  The American Library Association’s website tells us, “First observed in 1982, Banned Books Week reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. The event is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores.   It is endorsed by the Library of Congress Center for the Book.”
 
Most books aren’t actually banned as much as they are challenged.  When a book is challenged it is brought up for discussion within a school or library as to whether the book in question should remain on their shelves.  Many different books are banned, or challenged, for a variety of issues.  The most challenged book of 2006, according to the ALA’s website, was “’And Tango Makes Three’ by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group.”  This children’s book is based on the true story of two male penguins at New York Central Park Zoo that built a nest together and with the help of a zookeeper hatched and raised a baby penguin.
 
To celebrate this very important week, I’m going to list off several books that have been banned or challenged on religious grounds.  I’ve gotten these titles from the wonderfully interesting book, “120 Banned Books” by Nicholas J. Karolides, Margaret Bald, and Dawn B. Sova.  This is a fantastic book and I highly recommend it.
 
Now, some titles that have been suppressed on religious grounds.
 
“The Age of Reason” by Thomas Paine, this is an uncompromising attack on Christianity based on the principles of rationalism.  Um, yeah, Christians disliked this one.
 
“The Analects” by Confucius, this is a collection of sayings and short dialogues attributed to Confucius.  It’s a guide to ethics and morality in personal and political life.  Although Confucius himself was agnostic, a religion developed around his teachings.  Throughout China’s history “The Analects” have been banned in an effort to help Chinese citizens move toward the future.
 
“The Bible”  Don’t even get me started.  But yes, in oh so many places and for oh so many reasons, “The Bible” has been banned or challenged.
 
“Children of the Alley” (sometimes found as “Children of Gebelaawi”) by Naguib Mahfouz, is a history of an imaginary Cairo alley and an allegorical account of the lives of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.  It offers a critique of religious intolerance and political and economic repression.  To sum up, Fundamentalists, particularly of an Islamic leaning, hate this book.
 
“The Koran”, see “The Bible”.
 
“Church: Charism and Power: Liberation Theology and the Institutional Church” by Leonardo Boff, is a collection of essays that argues from his experience with the poor in Brazil that the Catholic Church should transform into a “liberation Church” not simply for the poor but of the poor.  Here’s a fun fact kids, the Roman Catholic Church does not respond to criticism well.  Boff, who was a Friar, was ordered to observe an “obedient silence” for an unspecified period of time.  No writing, teaching, or lecturing.  This lasted for 10 months.
 
“Lajja (Shame)” by Taslima Nasrin, is a documentary novel about the plight of a Hindu family in Bangladesh persecuted by Muslim fundamentalists during an outbreak of anti-Hindu violence in 1992.  Nasrin is an uncompromising critic of patriarchal religious traditions that she views as oppressive to women.  Nasrin, because of her “blasphemy and conspiracy against Islam”, has a fatwa.  That’s the death decree issued by the Council of Soldiers of Islam.
 
These are merely a drop in the bucket.  Who can forget the hooplah over “The Last Temptation of Christ” by Nikos Kazantzakis or “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie?  By the way, I saw Rushdie on “The Colbert Report” recently, Rushdie is funny, who knew?
 
Remember, as the American Library Association says, “Free People Read Freely.”  Now get out there and read a banned book!

First, I’d Like to Thank Jesus for This Blog…

I love Kathy Griffin.  I always have, and I imagine I always will.  I frequently tell people that I want to be the Kathy Griffin of the spirituality set.  I shamelessly use her bits in conversations with friends and family, sometimes even giving her credit.  I love her vicious mocking of celebrity.  On the surface it all seems so simple.  Kathy makes fun of celebrities.  Perhaps, I’m reading too much into her work, but I personally feel there is so much more to it than that.
 
Yes, the bulk of Kathy’s material comes from the examination of celebrities.  She harpoons and deflates the largest stars out there, such as Oprah, Tom Cruise, and Whitney Houston.  This kind of deconstruction of icons to expose their remarkably human flaws, such as vanity and obsession, is actually reminiscent of court jesters of the past.  Those savvy Magical Buffet readers know that the court jester is just another manifestation of the trickster god archetype.  The trickster god mocks those most important members of society to keep them in check.  In those terms Kathy’s humor would be suited for tackling politicians or royalty, but in this day and age, she has chosen to tackle the nearly deific realm of celebrity.
 
That’s why it came as no surprise to me that when given the opportunity to attack the most sacred of celebrity moments, the Emmy acceptance speech, she managed to take it to task.  Much like almost any story she tells about Gwyneth Paltrow.
 
“A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award.  I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus.  Suck it Jesus, this award is my god now!”
 
Is there a more perfect parody and take down of this holier than thou validation of celebrity?  Well hold onto your golden statuettes because the ride is about to get bumpy!
 
Responding to pressure from the Catholic League, Kathy’s acceptance speech will be censored in the taped airing of the awards ceremony.
 
“The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences reacted responsibly to our criticism of Kathy Griffin’s verbal assault on 85 percent of the U.S. population.  The ball is now in Griffin’s court.  The self-described ‘complete militant atheist’ needs to make a swift and unequivocal apology to Christians.  If she does, she will get this issue behind her.  If she does not, she will be remembered as a foul-mouthed bigot for the rest of her life,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, from their website.
 
Now, Jim’s, my husband, first response to all of this was, “Does that mean if Atheists raise a stink, the Emmys will edit out any celebrity thanking Jesus?”
 
Funny you should ask.  A quick visit to the American Atheist website will give you this tid bit from their president, Ellen Johnson, “It’s permissible to make religious comments at the Emmy Awards and other public events as long as they do not criticize or threaten the self-appointed ‘Religion Police,’” said Johnson. “Celebrities can go on national television to ‘thank’ Jesus, or Allah, or Scientology for their success, but an Atheist cannot make an honest and forthright statement that their success came from developing their talents and working hard.”
 
In fact, if you click here you can see how American Atheist is rallying support for Kathy.  Better still, you can visit http://suckitjesus.com/. 
 
Here’s a point I want to make.  In no way is she making fun of Catholics or other Christian denominations.  Seriously.  You really have got to want it to think she is.  Kathy doesn’t roll that way.  How do I know?  Well, for all the years of making fun of Tom Cruise, not once has she made fun of his fans.

Also, as Jim pointed out to me, everyone is avoiding the real issue here.  Does Jesus really rig awards?
 
By the way, to learn more about Kathy Griffin, click here.

The Malaysian Conundrum

On Wednesday May 30, 2007 Malaysia’s highest court ruled that they did not have the authority to help Lina Joy, a Malay Muslim, officially convert to Christianity and have that change reflected on her National Identity Card.   Depending on what you know about the Malaysian Constitution and their judicial system, this may or may not surprise you.  Obviously, I found it distressing.  When I then learned that Article 11, clause 1, of the Malaysian Constitution states, “Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause 4, to propagate it.” I grew more confused.  I should also mention that Article 3, clause 1, is “Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.”  So why is Lina Joy screwed?  Welcome to the nightmare of the Malaysian Constitution butting heads with the Malaysian judicial system, and religion.
 
“This Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation and any law passed after Merdeka Day which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of inconsistency, be void,” Article 4, clause 1, the Malaysian Constitution.  Of course, the Malaysian Constitution is enough to make the average person bash their head against the wall, or maybe that was just me.  The Constitution became official in 1957 and has been amended approximately 42 times up through 2005.  The wrinkle is that every batch of amendments only counts as one, regardless of how many changes were actually made each time the Constitution was amended.  Thus, some scholars estimate that the true number of amendments has been more like 650.  Ouchie.  To help with your perspective, the United States Constitution, including the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, takes up roughly nineteen 81/2×11 pages.  The Malaysian Constitution, in a similar font and format, uses up one hundred and sixty three 81/2×11 pages.  Most authorities agree that the Malaysian document was deliberately vague, because the founding fathers were unwilling to upset any of the three dominant groups at the time of independence from Britain, when building a multiracial and peaceful nation was more important.  Upon reading the document, a brain buster to say the least, I can safely say that the Malaysian Constitution is a somewhat conflicting piece of governance.  Among loads of things, it allows for the freedom of faith, yet it says that Islam is the official religion.  Anyone who understands the importance of separation of Church and State knows that this is a recipe for disaster.
 
I found several different numbers, so I’m taking the average.  Approximately 54% of Malaysians are Muslim, with the remainder being Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh.  Malaysia has long served as an example of the world’s most progressive and modern Muslim democracies.  I don’t want to put down Malaysia, it’s blend of religion and cultures is impressive and made for an awesome episode of “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain, but the more I’ve been learning, the more I have to say that Malaysia has some issues that terrify a born and raised American.  Here is where the fun starts.  Most native Malays, like Joy, are Muslim and have been for generations.  Muslims, by order of their faith have certain requirements, and in an effort of the Malaysian government to better serve the Muslim needs, which have different laws that apply to them, a Muslim’s National Identity Card identifies them as Islam.  In addition, to better serve the Muslim populations, they have their own court, the Shariah courts.  These courts deal in the family and personal affairs of Muslim citizens.  Civil courts see to the affairs of everyone else.  Bumiputra, Malays and other indigenous people, who are primarily Muslim, benefit from a 30 year-old program of privileges that require certain levels of ownership by bumiputra to be maintained and enforce hiring quotas within large companies.  Obviously, those standards continuing are dependent on the bumiputra staying a majority in Malaysia, and that religious conversions potentially can mess with those numbers.  All of this lays the groundwork for how Lina Joy was screwed.
 
In 1990, Azlina Jailani began attending a Christian church.  In 1998, she became baptized and filled out the paper work to have her name legally changed to Lina Joy.  She also requested that her religion on her National Identity Card be changed to Christian, so that she could marry her Christian fiancé.  Muslims in Malaysia are not allowed by law to marry people of other faiths.  The intended spouse is expected to convert to Islam.  Her name was legally changed, but both times she made the request to have Islam removed from the card, it was refused because she was ethnic Malay and was legally Muslim and could not change religions.  Citing Article 4, 3, and 11 of the Malaysian Constitution, Joy took her case to the civil courts, because she was a baptized Christian and felt that the Shariah courts should not be involved in the matter.
 
The Federal Court was divided 2 to 1 in its decision that the matter was beyond the jurisdiction of the country’s civil courts and must be handled by religious authorities.  Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim said that the government agency responsible for identity cards acted reasonably when it refused to change Joy’s religious status.  According to the International Herald Tribune, he was quoted as saying, “She cannot at her own whim simply enter or leave her religion.  She must follow the rules.”  Yep, 8 years is very whimsical.  Silly girl.
 
What are these rules that Joy should follow?  She must offer proof in a special Muslim court that she has abandoned Islam and that the civil courts cannot interfere.  Oh, that’s not so tough.  Bearing in mind that according to Leonard Teoh Hooi Leong, a lawyer representing the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Taoism (they’re called MCCBCHST for short…I’m serious), Joy will have a very difficult time getting the Islamic authorities to allow her to leave Islam.  No one in recent years has done it in the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, where Joy is registered.  He says that those who have tried have been threatened and cajoled.  Um, okay.  That’s tougher.  Oh, by the way, the abandonment of Islam is called apostasy, is deplored by many Muslims, and in several Malaysian states is punishable by fines and imprisonment.  (To show how progressive Malaysia is, in other Muslim countries the punishment could be death.)  Lina Joy’s fate now rests with the Shariah courts, and that would be why she is screwed.  The Malaysian Constitution does not clearly state who has the final say in such matters and so by default it goes to the Islamic court.
 
Judge Richa
rd Malanjum, the one dissenting opinion, was quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying Joy’s “fundamental constitutional right of freedom of religion” had been violated.  Also, “She is entitled to have an identity card in which the word Islam does not appear.”  Calling the agency’s refusal to officially change her religion “an abuse of power.”
 
Well amen brother!  The older I get, the more I appreciate the simplicity, yet effectiveness, of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  After trying to learn and weave my way through this mess, I would kiss every last person involved with the Philadelphia Convention.  Moreover, I don’t mean that figuratively.  Go!  Dig up their bones!  After learning all this, I appreciate them enough I would French kiss their decomposed remains!  Take heed friends, Malaysia is a shining example of what happens when there isn’t an effective separation of Church and State, and when civil liberties are whittled away at.  The next time someone is willing to make a concession and gives away even a sliver of our rights, all it’s doing is making it easier for them to take more away. 
 
In honor of Lina Joy and her plight, take a moment to read the Constitution of the United States of America, its Bill of Rights, and subsequent amendments.  Savor the freedoms that our Constitution gives us that poor Lina Joy does not have access to.  http://www.constitutioncenter.org/constitution/constitution.pdf
 
 
 
Obviously, a dumb average American like me does not innately know all about the Malaysian Constitution and justice system.  I read many articles and visited many sites to cobble this together.  If you want to walk in my footsteps, here are the many websites I visited and articles I read:
 
http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/05/30/news/malaysia.php
http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=9403&size=A
http://www.nysun.com/article/55680
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Malaysia
http://www.pogar.org/publications/other/constitutions/malaysia-e.pdf (all 163 pages of Malaysian Constitutional headache!)
http://article11.org/
http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/content/view/1834/27/