Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Bunch of Who-Haw

Two days ago, I received a letter from a certain public-spirited organization (whose positions, I support). The envelope has the following emblazoned across the front, "Do you think the government should tell you what to believe, how to live, and whom to love?" The envelope also informs anyone perusing it the it contains "REGISTERED MATERIALS. TO BE OPENED BY ADDRESSEE ONLY. The envelope also contains a "Sealed Survey Enclosed for Addressee."

Even as I write this, I am opening the envelope. I can hardly wait to see the Sealed Survey Enclosed for Addressee. But first, the cover letter.... This organization knows me well, because all of its appeals are based on my own political and social views. While I do not consider my politics extreme, I do know that they are not mainstream, and the tenor of the letter is not nuanced. And perhaps for supporters, an organization doesn't want nuance, but I do want some. I want some thoughtful reflection in fundraising letters, in sealed surveys, in discourse that examines the important issues of today. I'm tired of the cheerleading.

This could be a very long post, and if you wish, you can just skip the rest of this, just a warning!

The cover letter states that the enclosed Personal Freedom Survey "... is [my] chance to speak out on the current state of personal freedom in America." So I'm going to do that, statement by statement.

  • Do you believe that the government should always need an individualized warrant to obtain access to Americans' private information, including phone, email and banking records?

    I think I understand what's behind this statement: concern about an overreach of our government's police and security agencies. I don't believe that citizens have an unqualified right to privacy, so no, I don't believe that the government should always need an individualized warrant to obtain access to private records. I trust in our judiciary to draw the fine line.

    Our Constitution is muddy. Our politicians and jurists (and citizens) should be asking not only what does our Constitution say about privacy (evidently, not very much), but also what notions of privacy do we want to weave into our society. But that debate and implementation need to follow the constitutional promises of search and seizure and due process.

  • Do you support the use of your tax dollars to fund abstinence-only education that promotes a particular religious viewpoint while denying young people access to reliable information about conraception?

    Okay. Certainly the public schools shouldn't be teaching that kids shouldn't be having sex because Jesus says they shouldn't. But maybe the public schools should be saying that early sexual exploration is not a good idea. I do believe that middle school and high school students in public schools should be taught truthful information about puberty, the biology of sex, sexuality, contraception, abstinence, and responsible choices. I know some parents don't want their children taught about sexuality in the public schools, and some accommodation should be made for their religious beliefs.

    The core principle, though, should be that sex education should be fact based (all the facts, please), as well as values based, and the values must be taught without reliance on religious teaching or attribution.

  • Are you alarmed by efforts like Proposition 8 in California, which seek to single out and limit the rights of one group of people based on their sexual orientation?

    Of course I'm alarmed about any effort that would seek to limit constitutional rights to any group of persons, based on an intrinsic physical or genetic trait of the persons in that group. The implication of this action by the voters of California goes far beyond the actual Proposition 8, and establishes the right of a majority of exclude a minority from constitutional protections. It's a huge problem.

  • Do you believe that strengthening the wall separating church and state is fundamental to the health of our democracy and that our laws should be based on the Constitution, not on any one religious view?

    I'm leery of the term strengthening, because use of that word assumes that the wall between church and state has somehow been weakened. I think the religious conservatives who proclaim that our nation's founders were inspired by God, and that we began as a Christian nation are being irresponsible with the historical facts of our nation's founding. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin all had what would be considered nonconforming beliefs with just about any strain of today's fundamental and pentacostal denominations.

    These men knew firsthand the perils of state-supported churches. They clearly espoused a society with a diversity of belief, or non-belief. That vision should continue to serve our nation. Laws that favor religion run afoul the constitutional prohibition of the government not establishing religion. On the other hand, religious practice that runs afoul the law of the land requires that religious practice be given close scrutiny to prevent the government from persecuting citizens solely on the basis of their religious practice.

  • Do you believe that state-by-state efforts to restrict access to abortion and birth control are making it harder and harder for millions of women to protect their health and defend their fundamental freedom?

    This cover letter is hitting all the big issues. Abortion is a settled right in constitutional law. Unfortunately, medical science has radically changed the circumstances of pregnancy since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. I think that many of the state efforts are reprehensible. I believe these efforts are detrimental to the respect of the rights of women, and to constitutional law. Having said that, I recognize that these efforts will continue, and maybe that is a good thing, because these efforts (on both sides of this question) force the debate to continue: abortion is a truly bad end to any pregnancy, but so far our society has refused to provide the kind of resources, education, contraception, adoptive alternatives to stop abortion. Our society is not yet serious about finding a way to end unwanted pregnancies.

    Also, each pregnancy carries its own circumstances. Women have compelling reasons for visiting an abortion clinic. For the vast majority, their decisions are painful and difficult. The state laws establishing juvenile reporting, waiting periods, and mandatory counseling only compound the women's pain, while doing nothing to resolve their impossible situations. These laws have a particular kind of cruelty.

  • Do you oppose the promotion of religion in our public school through the teaching of creationism and intelligent design?

    Public schools should provide a secular, factual education. If, for example, I belonged to a religion that taught that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun and the planets circled the earth, should I demand that those beliefs be taught in the public schools? I suppose I could clean those beliefs up a bit, and talk about a Ptolemaic System, so that the courts and the public might be fooled into thinking that my beliefs were scientific, instead of a rehash of a creation story in my religion's bible. Are my demands justfied now that I have a "secular" version of my beliefs to teach in the public schools?

    The problem of many religions is that their belief systems are closed and circular. Their specific beliefs are not amenable to scientific analysis. Belief trumps science every time. And so, some school districts demand that science teachers teach their students "secular" lies about scientific truth. Consequently, those students understand the world in a fundamentally different way than it exists, and the students are disadvantaged in other parts of their academic pursuits and careers.

    Of course, private and religious schools should be able to teach their values and their beliefs. But students still need to be accountable for knowing the scientific explanation of evolution, which does not include creationism and intelligent design.

Okay, I applaud the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for the work that it does, but I am disturbed that it sends out a letter that uses loaded language, and passes off a poll that seems designed to push for a particular response, rather than truly find out my opinion on its various subjects. More to the point, the organization wants money, which probably explains most of the language and rhetoric of the piece. I guess I'm OD'd on propaganda.

"Do you think the government should tell you what to believe, how to live, and whom to love?" Well, it sure would have made things a lot easier! If, I needed a boyfriend replacement, the government would just send me one! Why didn't I think of that?