Friday, January 27, 2006

Live State Senate Blogging

RIGHT NOW the Washington State Senate is discussing HB 2661, which would forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation in public and private organizations.

I'm paraphrasing the main points... I missed the first Senator who spoke on behalf of of the Bill. I'll offer some analysis later.

Sen. Dan Swecker (R)
  • Bill would intrude upon rights private businesses (might be fine in public institutions).
  • Would be used by the State Supreme Court to allow gay marriage.
  • Creates enormous opportunity for lawyers.
  • State could create "pro-homosexual" program in Washington State schools; this is an endorsement and promotion of homosexuality.
Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen (D)
  • Amendment on the bill states it will not endorse gay marriage or any "practice, behavior, or orientation" so this will not affect the court in that manner. Will not lead to the dissolution of the DOMA.
  • God would not support discrimination; will vote for the legislation
Sen. Bob Oke (R)
  • Because he is religious, he cannot support the bill. Homosexuality is an abomination to God -the Bible is clear.
  • Bill is an attempt "legitimize and normalize" homosexuality
  • "Having a child who chooses to be homosexual can be very very painful" - he has a daughter who has "chosen" to be homosexual. She has been trying to change him and he has been trying to change her. Didn't let her bring he partner - "tough love.
Sen. Rosa Franklin (D)
  • Christians are not just in one party - lives her faith every day
  • As an African-American woman who has experienced discrimination, she cannot allow discrimination against anyone.
  • Minority must be protected or the majority will "almost always" trample on their rights.
  • This bill simply extends human rights protection to a group of people who contribute to society and should have the same rights as everyone else.
  • Not "special privileges" just offering the same civil rights in housing and employment. Rights to a group that has been treated "very badly"
Sen. Joyce Mulliken (R)
  • All people are equal in eyes God; deserving of human dignity.
  • This bill is about extending the definition of a special class of people, not human dignity. Age, gender, race, physical disabilities, economic and social status are important to include, but "sexual orientation" has many subgroups.
  • Would tell HRC to educate, advocate, and promote sexual orientation.
  • Kindergarten education for Spring, 2006 included sexual orientation in cultural awareness/promotion of a lifestyle that isn't preferred by those who live it [Edit: WHAT??]. Sister lives as a lesbian - doesn't think her sister has not been discriminated against because of her lifestyle, so bill must only be to promote a lifestyle.
Sen. Pat Thibaudeau (D)
  • Four legislators have been very successful. Are deserving of respect.
  • Support bill.
Sen. Val Stevens (R)
  • Sad day for the State of Washington because the bill will pass.
  • The wording regarding DOMA will be deemed meaningless. We need something in the state constitution to protect marriage as being between 1 man and 1 woman. Only 1/3 in state support gay marriage and ony 14% feel strongly about it.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D)
  • Remarks from Eleanor Roosevelt (Universal human rights begin close to home)
Sen. Bill Finkbeiner (R)
  • Law exempts small businesses; constitution forbids religious discrimination anyway; marriage is in the courts - this bill doesn't affect that.
  • The debate on the floor of the Senate isn't about what's in the bill, but about whether or not it's okay to be gay or homosexual in this state. Contrary to a previous speaker, the heart, not parents, choose who someone will love.
  • It is unacceptable to discriminate against people because of whom their heart chooses to love.
  • Neighbors, coworkers, family members are out there who may be gay and the message sent from the legislature is that their feelings are somehow wrong and that simply isn't true.
  • Once this bill passes, the world will continue to turn, our lives will go on as they have for most of us, but for some people their lives will improve.
Sen. Jospeh Zarelli (R)
  • Apparently it's okay to use religion for this bill but not okay to use religion against it.
  • Issue boils down to whether you choose the lifestyle or you're born with it. Science can't tell us, but the Legislature is deciding you must be born with it. Doesn't believe this is the case.
  • Shouldn't include as a protected class a group that makes a choice to behave in a particular way. If it were proven that you're born with it, he would support.
Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D)
  • This isn't about promoting homosexuality in schools, it's about protecting those in schools who are homosexual. They have a right to an education free from discrimination. All students will be taught tolerance for all people.
Sen. Brian Weinstein (D)
  • Proud to join states that prohibit discrimination (listed states - there are a lot, both blue and red); hasn't torn any of the other states apart.
  • In the past legislators have voted to discriminate based on race and have apologized for it. Those who vote against this bill will be judged harshly [Interruption: Senator objects to impugning of motives of opponents].
  • Leading business and many religious leaders around the state support this bill. Suprme Court has said that what goes on behind closed doors is no one's business.
  • God would not make it a sin to be who you are; this is no "abomination"
Sen. Jim Hargrove (D)
  • Tolerance is a two-way street. Those who believe something is wrong will now be told that they are wrong. We shouldn't tell those who believe the lifestyle is wrong that we will now take it out on them.
Sen. Adam Kline (D)
  • Difficult for those whose religious belifs and family require a yes or no vote.
  • There is a necessity to pursue justice.
  • His religion requires him to vote yes, but he understands there are differences.
Sen. Paull Shin (D)
  • Religious views notwithstanding, legislators are there to pursue justice for all.
  • His prayers and scripture-reading have led him to where he is today.
  • As a child, was abandoned, discriminated against as a street child. In the U.S. he was still unwanted; subject to "whites only" signs while in military. Terrible feeling to be accepted or rejected because of who he is. Discrimination hurts.
  • God loves all, Jesus forgives all.
  • This bill talks about human rights and dignity, not marriage.
Sen. Brad Benson (R)
  • Bigotry, racism, prejudice (that leads to hate that leads to violence) is wrong. Republican Party was founded in fight against slavery. The Republican Party was key to passing the original civil rights act.
  • Legislation asks if certain individuals should receive special protection on broad definition.
  • Homosexuals don't meet 3 criteria set forth by the courts: economic deprivation, ..., immutable characteristics. Homosexuals often have better cars and houses than others.
  • Unwise to dilute previous civil rights legislation; can't be compared with laws based on race.
  • This bill goes beyond tolerance and "reasonable accomodation" (Transvestite tries to use women's dressing room - shouldn't be allowd to. He can try on the clothes, but must use men's dressing room).
  • 60% of state's voters, I-677, said no on including sexual orientation.
  • Unfair to label a person's morality as bigotry.
  • Opening a "Pandora's box" of uncertainty by passing this bill because this bill is based solely upon perception.
Sen. Lisa Brown (D)
  • In 1999, Spokane adopted an ordinance to include sexual orientation, but citizens of Spokane upheld it. No "Pandora's Box" has been opened. Life will go on pretty much the same for pretty much everyone in Washington State.
  • Sexual orientation isn't related to your job or buying a home, etc. If you want to condemn sexual orientation, you're free to do do.
  • Many people are afraid to come forward with their sexual orientation so we can't know how many people this will affect.
  • Called for civility and working together by the State Senate beyond today's vote.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Regarding the Rev. Ken Hutcherson's proposed boycott of Microsoft for supporting the Anti-Discrimination Bill in the Washington State Legislature, well, apparently it's not so much a boycott as an ill-fated harebrained plan.

The NYTimes carried a story explaining Hutcherson's plan to have religious right activists buy Microsoft's stock and sell it all at once. The same article also explains why that's probably not going to happen - at least not to any noticable degree.

This isn't to say I don't have my share of ill-fated harebrained schemes. When I have more time I'll tell you about my plan to bring down Fox "News".

Friday, January 20, 2006

Christian Boycott

As many may have heard by now, Pastor Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church is calling for a nationwide "Christian boycott" of Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and "other business" that have stood in support of equal rights for gays and lesbians in Washington State. Some of these business include small companies like Nike, RealNetworks, Corbis, and Vulcan.

Even ignoring the fact that a successful boycott would leave Christians without computer access, printers, and shoes, I have to say I'm disappointed and unfortunately not surprised.

There are two approaches: either you believe homosexality is a sin, or you don't. If you don't, then I don't really need to say anything. If you do, let's consider the following example from Jesus himself. I tell this story a lot because it illustrates many core principles of Christianity. You can read it verbatim here in John 7:53-8:11.

So in the passage, several things are established. First, one of the prime directives of Jesus:
let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Is this a command that Christians should not stand up to injustice, cruelty, and power? No - after all, "what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). People mess up - God knows this - but we're not called to be paralyzed by our guilt. Instead, I believe Jesus' message here is that as we go about speaking truth to power, we need to do so in reconciling ways that bring people together, healing across divides. The Pharisees application of the old Law of Moses (to stone to death any woman accused of adultery) was clearly not unifying, and Jesus so spoke against it.

Second, Jesus says (humorously, I think), "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She says, "No one, sir." And now the kicker: Jesus Christ tells the woman, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again." Here, Jesus recognizes that the woman has done something wrong, but stops at that. Condemnation is not the goal - reconciliation is. I think this tells us that God is not interested in punishing us for this or that - rather, as soon as there is a mutual recognition of hurt, the next step becomes healing.

Finally, the entire story comes in the context that the jealous Pharisees (the Roman-appointed Jewish elite) only brought this woman in front of Jesus in order to set him up in a trap: as they saw it, if Jesus told the crowd to let the woman go, he would be breaking the Law of Moses and would lose credibility as a Jewish leader. But if he said she should die, he would be usurping Roman authority to issue the death penalty and would be liable to be arrested. But Jesus cleverly wrangled his way out of the box. (See better explanation here.)

My priest (Fr. Steve Garratt) interprets this in a very interesting way. He says that again and again throughout scripture, Jesus is put in traps by various people and every time, he wiggles his way out except for when he chooses to accept the trap (the Crucifixion). He says that especially in political arguments, liberals and conversatives try to box Jesus into their side, both saying "What would Jesus do?" in support of completely opposite positions. Father Steve's point: every time we try to do this, Jesus wiggles free. The message of Jesus is not to justify what you're doing, it's to challenge what you're doing. The Gospel says to me, "Whatever you think, think again."

So let's interpret the latest efforts of Ken Hutcherson: is a boycott of companies that support gay rights promoting reconciling dialogue? No. Does opposition to legislation that would protect a heavily discriminated group of human beings heal rather than condemn? No. And does doing this all in the name of Jesus Christ avoid the entrapment of Jesus? No! Conclusion: Pastor Ken, it's time to re-think the way you act out the Gospel. If any "Christian boycott" is going to happen, it should be a boycott of consumerism, a boycott of injustice and systems of oppression. This boycott here is anything but Christian.

Congratulations are in order

A few moments ago, this happened:

Karl Smith stood awkwardly in front of my desk, looking down at me. Grinning, he said, "So, I was leaving my house this morning and I saw the mail-woman putting mail in the mailbox."

I raised my eyebrow. "Okay..."

"And there were some letters."

"Okay... and...?"

"Oh you want to know more?" I smiled in reply. "Well, there was one letter, it was from UW Law School."

My eyes doubled themselves and my mouth dropped open, waiting. "Karl, oh my God, and..."

Karl interrupted my expectant stuttering - "Yeah, I'm in."

If anyone I know has ever so fully deserved something, it would be Karl Smith and Law School. I jumped up and cried, "Oh my God, Oh my God! That's amazing!" I ran around to the front of the desk and gave my friend a hug. It feels great to be so happy for someone else.

Later now, I'm writing this and realizing that the end of the year is coming up, and it's going to be tough. So many friends are moving on. I felt a stinging stir in my jaw.

Congratulations man.

I'm not making this shit up (unlike Karl)

As if to celebrate the opening of our blog, a judge in Italy has ordered a hearing on whether the court should appoint "technical experts" to determine whether Jesus Christ really existed. Seriously.

And after the court finds out whether Jesus is a lie, what about stare decisis? Yikes. :)

Unfortunately, I wonder if this will only reinforce the strange Evangelical fear of the Judicial Branch.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fundamentalist Christians Flock to Linux
By Karl D. Smith

Following the announced boycott of the Microsoft Corporation , followers of the American Family Association and other fundamentalist Christian organizations have responded in force. Opinions on how best to go about the boycott have varied, with some leaders calling for immediate un-installization of all Microsoft software while others have opted for a looser interpretation of the boycott and instead recommend waiting to take action until one's next computer purchase.

Another initial point of contention amongst fundamentalist Christians was what alternative they should pursue. "Well, at first we thought Apple might be the solution, but Biblically, well, apples have led us down the wrong path before," said Rev. Ken Hutcherson, leader of the boycott. "Others amongst us argued for the destruction of all science and technology. After all, if we deprive Microsoft of all technology, they can't go off and support gay rights, now can they? But in the end we all agreed that Linux was the answer."

Already, mass uninstallations are under way. In addition to the promise of freedom from a sinful corporation, fundamentalist Christians now found themselves less vulnerable to security flaws. Current Linux users approached the massive exodus from Windows with skepticism. "They just don't get it. I mean, Jesus Christ, every Christian I've ever known is calling and asking me how to use Linux! I keep thinking about writing some instructions down in Hebrew then watching them translate, interpret, and fight over the damned thing," snickered computer consult and long-time Linux user Joshua Rommel.

The boycott keeps with other boycotts of organizations that have gone against God' s WillTM, such as the British Government, which, through its subsidiary the Church of England, sanctions the breaking of the holy bond between a man and a woman through divorce, or the children's television show Sesame Street, which has repeatedly featured two male characters sharing a bedroom.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Every now and then, I get myself to Saint Mark's Cathedral on Capitol Hill because even though I know that "God is everywhere" I somehow think God is a bit closer there. They do great stuff at that place.

The bus pulled up to the cathedral yesterday and I was surprised to find the parking lot completely full. I figured that a wedding was happening, but I thought I take a look inside just to be sure. Besides, who gets married in this weather?

I cracked one of the heavy wooden doors open to catch a glimpse of what was going on and I saw a line of ministers in full vestments (church service clothes) with choral music echoing all around. As it turns out, I stumbled upon a ceremony ordaining two new priests. I got there just at the very end of it, which meant I was able to score some bread and wine (Jesus is tasty).

Being there made me think of the future. Two people became priests today - this ceremony is annual. Two for the year, for the entire region of Western Washington. The Episcopal Church... what will it be when (if) I get a chance to wear the collar and the robes? The shell of an bygone mind, a sentimental antique (the antique of sentiment)?

What is Christianity going to be? What will it mean in ten years? I don't think an answer exists yet - but I do think that progressive people, fearlessly post-modern, have a stake in what happens. Progressive values must inform the Church of tomorrow - but it'll take some work.

Do you think Christianity is worth it? I think that's a good question.


Can we consider the matter settled then?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

On the Mutual Exclusivity of Law and Religion

Err... rather the opposite of that. Alex is precisely right to point out that law and theology are far from being mutually exclusive. Each realm, it could be argued, is entirely subject to the other - as a case in point the Catholic Church has repeatedly found itself accountable to the legal system in recent years. Similarly, for those accepting a theological outlook on life, involvement in the legal system has no bearing on the consequences following this world, the plethora of lawyer jokes notwithstanding.

One major impetus for my interest in law is that within its confines Justice, as it were, is blind. That is to say that unlike many other fields, one's status in terms of socio-economics, ethnic identity, race, sexual orientation, previous suspicion of wrong-doing and, generally, previous wrong-doing has no bearing on the determination of one's guilt or innocence (I speak here of criminal matters). Justice depends on it. In the proper practice of law, the side of reason will prevail regardless of any of those factors.

Good theology is like good law; it puts aside the irrelevant criteria, creating a system which is free of the biases of the outside world.

All that said, both religion and theology frequently suffer from impediments. For its part, the practice of law is "fixed" through laws created in the Legislature which all too often hold one group above or below another. Enumerating certain rights which override legislative efforts helps at alleving this problem. Another flaw of the legal system is that the access to the best attorneys (those most capable of employing solid arguments based upon reason; those who excel at the practice of law) are so regurlarly lured away by those least-deserving of their services with salaries often starting $100,000 above those working for the traditional victims of social ills. Even the law suffers from some of the flaws of the capitalist system. For its part, theology too often gets caught up in matters of textual interpretation and historical tradition which are counterproductive to its purposes.

In their own ways, both law and theology offer greater promise for justice than so many fields, but yet neither field is free of defect. And I know that for me, both of these facts compel me to enter the legal field; I believe that there is work worth doing here and that that work can have significant tangible and beneficial effects. As for Alex, I think he's going to Divinity School for the money. ;-)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ministers and Lawyers - the common coincidence

Congratulations to Karl on drawing first "blood" by making the first post. I just want to take a moment to explain that by making a blog together, we aren't trying to say that we think law and theology are two irreconcilable fields. Far from it, I would argue.

In fact, it seems that law and divinity have a common mission. Ideally, I think the practice of law is to take an "over-our-heads", largely esoteric, somewhat ethereal tradition of texts and interpretations (a.k.a. jurisprudence) and turn it into something practical in the service of regular people. In this view then, attorneys are servants of their clients, helping them to make sense of their opportunities and possibilities within the disorienting realm of the legal system. Good lawyers empower their clients.

Similarly, divinity is also, ideally, a service to PEOPLE - all people. Divinity isn't about who's more holy than you, or about how terrible we all are (though, it has become that on a disturbingly often occasion). The key question of theology and divinity is, and always should be, "How can I help you?" There are no qualifiers or conditions attached - it's not "How can I help you become who I want you to be?" Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself - this did not mean to turn your neighbors all into carbon-copies of you. It meant not to simply tolerate, but to celebrate and penetrate difference and diversity.

Ministers and priests, in this view, are people who take the bizarre and strange language and imagery throughout religious tradition and bring it down to personal, practical availability. Just like lawyers do, but with the language of the legal tradition. I feel that the calling to be a minister is probably very similar to the calling to become an attorney. Of course, Karl wouldn't call it a "calling" - a coincidental desire, perhaps.

So now we see what happens. Here's to coincidence - or God, take your pick.

By the way, I think I'll post comments on the whole "right to privacy" thing in a couple days. So keep posted!

Peace be with you.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Oh. Sweet. Jesus. So I knew companies tracked all my purchases and sold them to one another. I knew non-profits, including privacy organizations, tracked my donations and sold my name and contact information to other non-profits. What I didn't know, and what scares the bejesus out of me, is that you, yes *you*, could buy a list of all my cell phone incoming and outgoing calls for around $110. And the best part? This is evidently LEGAL (even if the information is obtained through deception).

The article does a nice job detailing why this is terrible, in case that isn't immediately apparent. Journalists, law enforcement, anyone relying on confidential sources, well, they're not so confidential any more. Certainly we all thought we had a reasonable expectation of privacy when we made a phone call, but apparently lawmakers don't seem to care; and they should! Wait until one party uses this to blackmail members of the other. Ha! Then they'll care.

Can someone remind me what the Republican Party claims to stand for these days? There was a time when privacy was one of the most important values of the Republican Party. Then they realized privacy was the basis for the several Supreme Court decisions they disliked and turned against it. Of course, you could counter that the Republicans have traditionally focused of freedom from unwarranted governmental intrusion, but, ummm... warrantless wiretaps anyone? Access to personal library and medical records? Note that the Democrats haven't exactly made an issue of this either, but the brunt of the responsibility, to my mind, falls on those who have power. I'd go so far as to suggest the current Republican administration has created a culture that is antagonistic to privacy.

So here's a thought, contact your conressional representatives and tell them you're outraged that your personal cell phone records can be legally bought and sold and that you want want legislation outlawing this practice. Find your Senators and Representatives!