Friday, June 14, 2019

The Center for Medical Progress is back in the news

 
Michelangelo's David | Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash
Dr. Deborah Nucatola was the senior director of medical services for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) when she had a business lunch with David Daleiden. It was July 25, 2014. Daleiden was an investigative journalist posing as a businessman interested in buying human organs for research. Over salad and wine, Nucatola explained how PPFA medical directors used ultrasound guidance to alter the abortion procedure for organ harvesting.
Dr. Debora Nucatola

“We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part,” she said. “I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.” Nucatola went on to explain how it is most difficult to extract the baby’s brain intact. “Some people,” she said, “will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex… So if you do it starting from the breech presentation, there’s dilation that happens as the case goes on, and often, the last step, you can evacuate an intact calvarium [head] at the end.”

On the morning of July 14, 2015, America woke up to this video, released from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). The video went viral and was followed by 18 more, documenting both that laws were being intentionally skirted and that the practice was known throughout PPFA from the Executive Director, Cecile Richards, on down to the medical directors of its clinics.
Dr. Susie Prabhakaran

In the last video released, Dr. Susie Prabhakaran, vice president of medical affairs, Planned Parenthood in southwest and central Florida, explained how Planned Parenthood's National Medical Standards & Guidelines manual includes a loophole for abortion doctors to fake compliance with the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban (18 U.S.C. § 1531) was signed into federal law on November 5, 2003. It prohibits the killing of a baby after it has been partially delivered. The standard operating procedure to prevent this from happening in a later-term abortion is for the abortionist to inject digoxin into the unborn’s heart so that the baby dies before delivery.

But, when a technician hinted that digoxin would make the organs less desirable, Prabhakaren explained that she and many of her PPFA colleagues do not use it at all—even for abortions as late as 22 weeks, six days. This practice leads inevitably to a high percentage of live births where the organs are harvested from a living baby. To skirt the law, she explained that PPFA trains clinic medical directors to check a box on the pre-operation form that states, “I intend to utilize dismemberment techniques for this procedure.”

Checking this box, they are taught, exempts them from prosecution even if they later kill a baby delivered live. Previously released videos had already shown clinic workers talking about how they had harvested organs from still-living babies. All this news set off a firestorm.

PPFA attempted damage control by claiming that the videos were “highly edited.” Of course they were! How else are you going to allow viewers to see the most important statements buried in hours of footage with distracting background noise? But, “highly edited” does not mean that the videos were doctored or altered in any way. It only means that irrelevant clutter was cut out of the final product.

Cecile Richards, Ex. Dir. PPFA

Two things were done in order to demonstrate the bona fides of the videos. First, alongside the short versions of the footage, the CMP released the full video footage. This allowed anyone to scrutinize the editing for bias or deception. To date, no one has found any. Second, the videos were submitted to an independent digital lab for testing. This lab verified that they had not been doctored or fabricated in any way.

Despite these facts, many Americans have only heard that these videos are “highly edited,” and have moved on to other things. But, in recent weeks, two events have brought these videos back into the news.

First, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that after a nine-month audit of contracts and federal law, it is cancelling a contract with the University of California, San Francisco, involving the use of human fetal tissue, and is halting its in-house programs that experiment on fetal tissue.

“Promoting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death is one of the very top priorities of President Trump’s administration. The audit and review helped inform the policy process that led to the administration’s decision to let the contract with UCSF expire and to discontinue intramural research – research conducted within the National Institutes of Health (NIH),” said the HHS statement released on June 5, 2019.
David Daleiden

Nearly four years after David Daleiden released the results of his investigation, American taxpayers are being relieved of the burden of funding experimentation on human tissue that was procured unethically and that helped to enrich the world’s number one abortion provider.

Rather than receiving accolades for his painstaking investigation, Daleiden has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Then Attorney General for the state of California, Kamala Harris, filed charges against Daleiden and raided his home—along with fellow-journalist Sandra Merritt--confiscating hours of video footage from his computers and hard-drives.. Harris’ successor, Xavier Becerra, filed 15 felony charges in the state of California.

In a coordinated action, the National Abortion Federation went to District Judge William Orrick, a long-time abortion activist, to impose a federal gag order preventing Daleiden from using any of his videos. Then, when defense lawyers used the videos to defend him against the charges filed by the state of California, Orrick found him in contempt of court and slapped him with a $195,000 fine.

Can a federal judge suppress exculpatory evidence in a state case? Apparently so.
Xavier Becerra

Last week the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear Daleiden’s latest appeal. The ironic result is that, on the very week that HHS responded to Planned Parenthood’s unethical trafficking in fetal organs, the man most responsible for exposing the evil practice is now forced to pay $195,000 to the abortion machine.

Someday, perhaps, justice will be done. Today is not that day. If you appreciate Daleiden’s dogged determination to expose and stop an evil practice, now would be a good time to send a donation to centerformedicalprogress.org.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Battle for Civilization

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, France
Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash
The 75th anniversary of D-Day has come and gone. The speeches are delivered. The dignitaries have returned home. But my heart is still in Normandy.
Sand from Utah Beach

As I write, I am holding a small jar of sand scooped from once bloody beaches. It moves me. One hundred-thirty thousand troops in 7,000 ships landed along a 50-mile stretch of sand. It was the largest naval armada ever assembled in the history of the world. It was advanced by 17,000 paratroopers who dropped behind enemy lines.

No one had ever seen an invasion force of this magnitude, yet it gained little territory. In the end, allies from six nations gained for themselves only 172.5 acres of French territory. They were not fighting for land. They were fighting for civilization—a way of life.

They kept only enough land to bury their dead. Beneath the hallowed ground lie the remains of 9,388 fallen countrymen. 9,239 graves are marked by Latin crosses, an additional 149 by the Star of David. This is remarkable.

Where else in the annals of history do we find an empire that fought, but not to enrich itself? Some wars were fought to expand territory. Some were fought to exact tribute money. Some were fought out of duty to an alliance. But the allies fought for none of these reasons. They fought because civilization itself was at stake.

What is civilization? It derives from the Latin word civitas, meaning city. Civilization is comprised of institutions and ideas that allow people who are unrelated to live together in peace and unity. The bonds of marriage and family arise naturally in human hearts. But the bonds that tie family to family in a cooperative endeavor must be cultivated.
Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

That’s why the first and most basic building block of civilization is the family. Cities are not made up by random men, women and children. Cities are built by fathers and mothers, sons and daughters who build homes, businesses and a shared infrastructure to benefit their families.

Immediately, that determines two parameters of any civilization. First, the government supports and protects every individual family. Second, it prevents any family from benefitting at the expense of another family. A government that fails in either of these areas is destroying civilization, not building it.

The National Socialists of Germany had done more than take over French territory. They demonstrated an utter contempt for the family. It began with the T4 program that secretly euthanized elderly fathers and mothers in government institutions. It expanded to kill mentally handicapped brothers and sisters and those maimed in the Great War.

Next, the National Socialists encouraged some families to attack the homes and businesses of other families. “Kristallnacht,” the night of broken glass, brought this pogrom into the streets. Soon enough, storm troopers divided the families of Jews, Gypsies and other “non-desirables” by taking them to separate concentration camps.

Even while so-called Aryan families were momentarily spared such forced separation, they were being divided by more insidious means. The Hitler Youth and the Nazi Brown Shirts indoctrinated German children with lies and turned them into informants against their own parents and siblings.

Through all these atrocities, and more, the civilized world came to understand that the National Socialist regime was pure evil. It was not just a different kind of civilization. It was no civilization at all. The Allied forces were fighting for civilization itself, and they knew it.

In commemorations throughout the last 75 years, speeches have repeatedly made this claim. But as our own civilization is undermined and confused, it sounds increasingly strange to our ears.
After Kristallnacht, Holocaust museum

Moral relativism teaches that there is no objective good or objective evil. It teaches that there is no way of knowing a good civilization from an evil one. Yet this bankrupt philosophy dominates our cultural institutions today.

We are propagandized through film and song, in classrooms and newsrooms. These don’t merely assert, they assume that no matter what a person chooses, that choice is legitimate and beyond criticism. We are taught that choice itself is the end-all and be-all.

The more deeply this indoctrination sinks into the national psyche, the more difficult it is to understand what happened at D-Day. Speeches may recount story after heroic story of men who rose to the challenge of the century. Yet, the motivation for such widespread heroism is utterly baffling if we ourselves no longer believe that good and evil are valid categories.

If we can no longer understand what makes a civilization, we cannot tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.

Last Thursday, President Trump recounted the stories of numerous heroes who not only fought and survived, but who travelled to Normandy to be present at the commemorations 75 years later. Their stories are inspiring and humbling.

You should take the time to read his entire speech. Even his harshest critics are praising it as one of the best of his presidency. Not only does it vividly portray the deeds of these heroic men, it goes on to explain the spirit that drove them on.
President hugs "tough guy" of the "suicide wave"
Russell Picket, 116th Infantry Division, Company A 

At the climax of the speech, he said, “They pressed on for love in home and country — the Main Streets, the schoolyards, the churches and neighbors, the families and communities that gave us men such as these. They were sustained by the confidence that America can do anything because we are a noble nation, with a virtuous people, praying to a righteous God. The exceptional might came from a truly exceptional spirit. The abundance of courage came from an abundance of faith. The great deeds of an Army came from the great depths of their love.” This is exactly right.

The 9,239 crosses and 149 stars that mark the graves of the fallen are more than empty symbols. They are silent testimony that these men were driven on by a common worldview. The uncommon valor, so common on D-Day, arose from a shared idea that no civilization is—or can be—a god unto itself.

A boy on the battlefield (6/94).
Photo credit: Ellen Lange
We are answerable to the One who created us. Laws are not created by the choices of legislators or judges, they are discovered in creation itself and acknowledged by the common consent of the people. A common accountability to the Creator civilizes people.

Natural love binds families together. But family can only be bound to other families by acknowledging a common creator. This fills each family with a desire to protect the family next door as zealously as its own.

Make no mistake. The Cross and the Star of David are not the same. They stand for widely different views of who the Creator is. Both, however, acknowledge “one nation under God.” Civilization starts there.

Now we have commemorated the 75th anniversary of the event that saved western civilization. The best way that we can honor the dead and give thanks to the living is to understand what that civilization is.

Le Mont Saint Michel, Normandy
Photo by Michel Labeaume on Unsplash

Only when we have regained the clear vision of good and evil that inspired them, can we fight as heroically in our own day to preserve civilization for our children.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Baby Saybie’s beautiful and miraculous life

R.N. Michelle and baby Saybie on May 29, 2019 | Photo: AFP
News broke last week of the survival of the world’s tiniest preemie. She spent five months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of Sharp Mary Birch Hospital in San Diego. There, the medical staff gave her the nickname of “Baby Saybie.” Since her parents wish to remain anonymous, that’s the only name we have for her.

She was born in late December weighing a mere 8.6 ounces. That’s about one fifteenth the size of a full-term baby. According to the Tiniest Baby Registry kept at the University of Iowa, that makes her a new world record holder. Previously, the tiniest baby to survive was born in Germany four years ago and weighed 257 grams (9 ounces) at birth.

Saybie’s mother was in her 23rd week of pregnancy when her husband took her to the ER. There she was diagnosed with preeclampsia. This is a pregnancy complication associated with high blood pressure that affects two to eight percent of pregnancies world-wide. This life-threatening condition is listed among the most frequent causes of maternal death. In this case, doctors were forced to perform an emergency C-section to save the life of the mother.
Saybie at birth

Saybie was born at 23 weeks and three days. While her mother was under anesthesia, her father was given the grim news that he should expect the baby to die within an hour. Nobody knows why, or how, but she has broken all expectations. Spring Birches is an RN at the NICU that cared for Saybie. She explained, “We do everything we can for each preemie, as well as we can, and after that, it’s really up to our babies.”

Premature babies (preemies) are those who are born more than three weeks before their due date. Anyone born more than twelve weeks early is called a “micro-preemie.” The Tiniest Baby Registry records 36 babies who have survived birth at 23 weeks or earlier. The earliest surviving micro-preemie was born at 21 weeks.

As soon as the hospital announced Saybie’s release, her story went viral. A Google search of her nickname finds celebratory stories published in every major news outlet worldwide. In our polarized news atmosphere, few stories receive such universally positive treatment. That alone is a reason to celebrate Saybie. She has brought the world together in a singular narrative of life, beauty and miracle.

The wonder of human life remains a mystery. The medical sciences have learned much and developed many tools to support it. But contrary to the armchair scientists who insist in blind faith that science controls all, doctors in the real world know that there is a spiritual dimension to life that is unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Life—especially human life--is always a gift. It is not a production of mankind. It is not a function of random chance. It is certainly not a cursed cancer. In every case it is a blessed gift that we can only receive with thanksgiving or reject in contempt. We have the power to protect it once it is given. But to create it or preserve it directly remains beyond human power.

This is an important reminder. Often reproductive technologies, and medical advances generally, are simplistically told to give the illusion of control. But the actual doctors at the bedside either thank their God above or curse their unlucky stars for results that they cannot predict.

Saybie’s story illustrates something else as well. In popular debate, we are often told that abortion is sometimes necessary in order to save the life of the mother. This is simply false. Abortion is never done to preserve the life of the mother.

Saybie’s mother had preeclampsia. Its onset in her 23rd week presented a life-threatening emergency that was off the charts. Her doctors did not prescribe abortion to save her. They prescribed an emergency C-section. This is the standard operating procedure because an abortion would have been more risky than a C-section.

According to one published study, even the safest second trimester abortion (dilation and extraction) is more than twice the risk of a C-section. Other abortion methods ranged from five to 30 times more dangerous. Third-trimester abortions can take up to three days. Saybie’s mom didn’t have that much time.

In the five months since she was born, all that medical science could do for Saybie was to provide an inferior, if passable, facsimile of her mother’s womb. Her own body has done the rest. Thus, she has given us a window into the womb. Saybie is a living, breathing example of everything that America has been discussing over the past four months.

While Saybie has been fighting for her life, America has been involved in a nation-wide screaming match about the status of the unborn and our responsibilities relative to them and to their mothers.

While some were alleging that the unborn are only a blob of tissue, the doctors who extracted Saybie at 23 weeks found a fully formed human being who could breath, eat, cry and move.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg

While Ruth Bader Ginsberg is claiming that a pregnant woman does not become a mother until the baby is born, Saybie’s mother was arguing with her doctors for the life of her child. She was afraid that a C-section at 23 weeks would not give her daughter the chance to survive. This, in fact, is the love of a mother, not the cold theories of an ideologue.

While politicians and pundits were asserting that non-viable children are not deserving of equal protection under the law, Saybie was proving that she, an 8.6-ounce bundle of life, was more than viable. She was living! She was proving that Wyoming’s current prohibition against abortions after viability, translates to 8.6 ounces, or as early as 21 weeks.

On the 46th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, New York passed a law that allows for abortions all the way up to the 40th week of gestation. Within weeks, similar bills had been introduced in Arizona, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, Hawaii and Illinois. While many of these have failed, some are still advancing.

Rep. Liz Cheney, (R-WY)

Meanwhile, House Democrats have blocked 50 separate attempts to bring the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivor’s Protection Act” to a vote. This bill does not change any abortion laws. It only requires that “any health care practitioner present at the time the child is born alive shall exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age.”

In other words, it says that people just like Saybie should have access to the same health care that Saybie had. Medical science has the means to protect them. Federal law recognizes that they are citizens of the United States and “persons” under the U.S. Constitution. To deprive them of health care is unequal and unjust.

The whole world is celebrating the medical team that protected Saybie’s chance to live. News outlets around the globe are publishing the photos of her beautiful face and telling the story of her miraculous survival. It’s a story worth telling. It uplifts all of humanity by shining a light on the humanity of all.

Further Reading:

The Dublin Declaration on Maternal Health Care

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rwandan Genocide Part II: The devil let loose

The slain of École Technique Officielle, Kigali, Rwanda
The Rwandan Genocide began 25 years ago on April 7, 1994. Over the course of 100 days approximately 700,000 Tutsis were slaughtered along with 100,000 Hutus. I wrote about it recently to commemorate its beginning, and to reflect on the lack of moral courage among the world’s nations. Today, let’s continue our commemoration by going in-country.

What evil can possess a people to unleash so much murder? For perspective, note that nearly one tenth of Germany’s population was murdered in about four years during the Hitler era, averaging more than 4,100 murders per day. But Rwanda exterminated one in nine of its citizens in only 100 days. That comes to 8,000 murders per day. All in a country the size of Sweetwater county.

Don’t let foreign tribal names dehumanize these people. They were not soulless Hutus and Tutsis, surplus population. These were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, neighbors, uncles and aunts. They were shopkeepers, farmers, ranchers, students, young people in love, old people in bed, infants in the arms of mothers and once-laughing children killed before the eyes of their parents.

In Germany, the killing was carried out by uniformed soldiers. The average German had no blood on his or her hands. But in Rwanda, neighbors killed neighbors. So, not only did Rwanda have twice the number of victims per day, it also created vastly more murderers per day.

Auschwitz, Spring 1944

Also, unlike machine guns and gas chambers, the murders were not perpetrated at a distance. Guns were scarce. The Hutu government imported a half-million machetes to be distributed for the pre-planned genocide. Most of the 800,000 murderers were looking into the eyes of their victims, ignoring their pleas for mercy, and feeling the knife sink into flesh and break bones.

What does this do to the human psyche? To be killed is easy. All it takes is for someone to kill you. But what does it take to be made into a mass murderer? And how does a person live with himself afterward?

Human beings are not hard-wired for murder. Even though we all have the frightful capacity for it, common decency sets numerous barriers that keep us from devolving into animals. To create a country of machete-wielding murderers, those barriers need to be eroded systematically. In Rwanda, the government officials who were planning the genocide started long before the first day of killings.

Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) began operating on July 8, 1993. It received support from the Hutu-controlled government and even broadcast, initially, on government-controlled radio equipment. From the start, its mission was to stoke hate in the hearts of the majority Hutus.

Genocide planners began laying the foundation for RTLM a year before it began broadcasting. Its programming was calculated to gain a large audience of youth by broadcasting popular Zairean music. Then, it mixed incessant anti-Tutsi propaganda into the programming.

RTLM frequently spoke of Tutsis in sentences like, “You are cockroaches! We will kill you!" This hate-filled rhetoric was skillfully intermingled with sophisticated humor. It hardened hearts against Tutsis while maintaining a veneer of humor to deflect suspicion that it was actually grooming murderers.

This ought to stand as a sobering reminder that humor is a powerful tool for good and for evil. “Many a truth is spoken in jest,” remains as applicable to Facebook memes as it does to late-night comedy. Humor is humanizing when it makes us laugh at ourselves. Humor is dehumanizing when it makes us laugh at others.

Entertainers should observe the difference. America once had people like Johnny Carson to release the day’s tension by a good, wholesome laugh. Today we are rarely invited to laugh at ourselves. Too much humor is designed to skewer ideological enemies.

Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson

We should answer not by controlling the airwaves, but by mastery of the on-off switch. Every laugh at the expense of our neighbor breaks down another barrier between our humanity and the murderer striving to unleash its cruelty. Think about that before sharing a meme or laughing at a joke. You are no different from the average Rwandan.

Once the beast is unleashed, its murderous rage is uncontrollable. It is undeniable that Hutu planners stoked the flames of hatred in order to wipe out the Tutsi minority. Already in March 1993 a group called Hutu Power began compiling lists of Tutsis to be killed. Four months before the killing started, the United Nations was told by an informer that a genocide was being planned at the highest levels of the Hutu government.

While the beast was let loose by Hutu Power, the Tutsi forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) did not remain unsullied. Even before they took over the presidential palace on May 23, 1994, reports were coming from Hutu refugees in Tanzania of RPF atrocities. In the end, tens of thousands of Hutu men, women and children were murdered by Tutsis.

The demon that tore apart Rwanda did not simply slink away. When the RPF won the civil war, the 100-day genocidal program came to an end, but not the killing. After a Tutsi, Paul Kagame, took over the government, there were ongoing reports of RPF atrocities. Most noted was the Kibeho massacre in 1995 where as many as 4,000 unarmed Hutus were shot.
Paul Kagame

Kagame dismissed these atrocities as rogue operations. That may or may not be true. Either way it is a reminder that once demons are loose in a society, they are not easily controlled. The devil is not subject to the power of machetes and guns. Governments are powerless against the restless evil that lies hidden in every human heart.

Evil is always crouching at your door asking to be let loose, just a little. It always promises that venting your spleen will let off enough steam to calm it down and put it back under your control. It is a liar. Don’t listen to these empty promises. Whether it wants you to vent your own spleen or someone else’s, its real aim is to control you.

To give evil reign is to give evil power. Evil will not be tamed by bloodletting. Rather, with every angry word or blow of the machete, it grows ever more untamable.

The words of God to Cain remain as true today as they were at the beginning of the world, “sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7 NKJV). The Rwanda genocide lays bare the gravity of these words.

It was not foreign troops that entered Rwanda to slaughter a ninth of its population. Individual Rwandans chose bit-by-bit to give sin and hatred a little slack. Eventually it led to the slaughter of over 800,000 innocent “Abels.”

God’s providence restrained the machetes after 100 days, but only God’s love can conquer the demons that started them swinging. Christ was crucified not to crush the people who don’t like you. He came to crush the devil who wants you and them both to become like him.

The power of Christ against the murderous devil is wielded in His Church, not in human government. Governments that value peace and community will encourage the Church to speak Christ’s word. Unwise governments will use their power to suppress it and will reap what they sow.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Equality Act writes prosecutors a blank check

From the beginning, this column has covered any number of local attempts to roll back First Amendment freedoms in the name of stopping discrimination. The first column I ever published in the Uinta County Herald was about Pinedale judge Ruth Neely.

Neely was hauled before the Wyoming Supreme Court and removed from the bench for answering a local reporter’s hypothetical question with basic Sunday school teaching. Her legal woes were only made possible because Wyoming’s Code of Judicial Conduct had been altered to include the language of “sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI). Since then, Wyoming has watched the progressive lobby working to insert identical language into state law, city ordinances and school policies.

For nine years running, the Wyoming legislature has voted against putting SOGI language into state law. Beginning in 2015, it has been brought before the communities of Laramie, Cheyenne, Sheridan, Casper and Jackson. Scattered school districts have also considered and rejected attempts to add this language to school policies.

Also, in Washington, progressives have been trying to put this language into federal law since 2015. For four years, these attempts never made it out of committee. But this year is different. Last fall’s election transferred control of the House from Paul Ryan to Nancy Pelosi. As soon as she held the gavel, Pelosi announced that she would make SOGI legislation one of her top priorities.

On March 13, 2019 she made good on this promise by introducing H.R. 5, the so-called “Equality Act.” On May 1 it passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on a straight party line vote. On Friday, May 17, it passed the House on a vote of 236-173. Wyoming’s lone representative in the House, Liz Cheney, voted against it.

As the H.R. 5 goes before the U.S. Senate, and the consideration of Wyoming’s Senators Enzi and Barrasso, Wyomingites need to know the three fundamental ways it will change federal law.

First, it will repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). This is the law that was introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer after the Supreme Court denied religious protections to native Americans. It passed the Senate on a 97-3 vote and cleared the House without a single objection. Then President Bill Clinton signed it into law.

RFRA does not absolutely prohibit the federal government from restricting religious freedoms, but it does require the government to prove to a court of law that any restrictions of religious freedoms are for a compelling government interest. It further requires that that compelling government interest be met in the least restrictive way possible.

H.R. 5 would make it possible for the government to restrict the free exercise of religion without meeting these two requirements. It is a law that effectively revokes the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Second, the so-called Equality Act redefines the legal term “public accommodation.” Historically, “public accommodations” have been understood as motels, dining establishments and theaters. H.R. 5 would expand public accommodation to mean any individual, “who is a provider of a good, service, or program.”

This drastic change is designed to strip away individual property rights by exposing all people to the reach of federal law. Can you think of a single person who is not a “provider of a good”? Such language makes the term “public accommodation” meaningless. Any category that includes everyone, ceases to be a category at all.

Third, the law would insert SOGI language into the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Currently, federal law prohibits “discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” H.R. 5 would add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to that list.

To the casual reader, that may seem to be a good thing. If you are like me, you don’t want to discriminate against anyone, and you want our laws to protect people from discrimination of all sorts. So why shouldn’t we add this language to federal law?

There are three good reasons why adding this language is a bad idea. First, sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be objectively known. Race, color, religion, sex and national origin can all be determined by simple observation. All except religion are located in a person’s body and written into his or her DNA.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not categories of body but of mind. Parties at law—whether law enforcement officers or the people who will be charged with crimes—cannot know these things without asking personal questions. When a man enters a cakeshop, how can the proprietor know whether he is a man, a cis-male or a male-to-female trans who prefers to present as a male?

That brings us to the second problem with these laws. Since SOGI language started appearing in state laws, city ordinances and school policies, nobody has ever been charged for discriminating against a person. But many have been charged for declining to do what someone demanded.

Currently the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that businesses not withhold the goods and services that they supply from anyone. The new law would require that businesses—and even private persons—do and say things that they would not otherwise do and say for anyone. And what exactly must they do and say? That is an open question.

This is the third reason that the insertion of SOGI language into federal law would be a disaster. The specific acts and words that SOGI laws require are always changing. SOGI language was first inserted into Wyoming’s Code of Judicial Ethics in 2009. It took five years before anyone “knew” that this language would deny a judge her right to speak openly.

Similarly, Colorado added SOGI language in 2008. At the time, nobody knew, and few would have guessed, that it would require people to say that same-sex unions were marriages. But four years later, Jack Phillips was charged with the crime of being unwilling to express this opinion. Even then, nobody knew that the law would require people to say that men can become women. But six years after that Phillips was charged with that new crime under the same law.

I call this aspect of SOGI language “Easter eggs.” Nobody knows what’s in them or when they will break open. They effectively put a wildcard in law that can become anything the prosecutor wants it to become.

The existence of these “Easter eggs” is not some crazy legal theory. It has been happening for more than a decade. The question is not whether new crimes will be discovered. They will. The only question is what will be criminalized, and when.

In fact, since this newspaper is a public good and service, it would also fall under the Equality Act. I wonder how long it will remain legal to write these words. When the day comes that some prosecutor deems these words “discriminatory,” will the newspaper be punished, or only the author? Will archived copies be subject to public burning?

If the Equality Act goes on to pass the Senate, we will certainly find out.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Asia Bibi is finally free, for now

It all started on a Friday. That’s a significant day for both Muslims and Christians. For Islam, it is the weekly day for gathering at the local mosque. For Christians it is the weekly commemoration of Jesus’ crucifixion.

On Friday, June 19, 2009 Asia Bibi, a 37-year old mother of two, was working in the fields with other women from her village. Her’s was one of three Christian families in a village of 1,500 Muslim families. Just as they had many times before, the women were pressuring Asia to renounce Christ and to accept Islam. But this day’s conversation was especially intense.

Asia explained that Jesus died on the cross for sins and asked what Muhammed had done for them. She told them that Jesus rose from the grave and is alive, but that Muhammed is dead. Then she said, “Our Christ is the true prophet of God and yours is not true.”

These are the most basic beliefs of Christians around the world and have been since the day that Jesus first appeared to his disciples and showed them the nail holes in his hands and the spear hole in his side. But that day Asia’s coworkers responded by beating her until some men carted her off to a locked room.

They announced over the mosque’s loudspeakers that she would be punished by having her face blackened and being paraded through the village on a donkey—presumably to mock the way that Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Some Christians sought help from the police.

But rather than protecting her from the mob, the police arrested her and charged her with blasphemy according to Pakistan Penal Code 295-C. This clause was added in 1986 and prohibits, “Use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Muhammed or other Prophet(s).” Conviction brings a mandatory death sentence and a fine.

Seventeen months later, Asia was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging. That was the beginning of eight years spent on death row. Her lawyers immediately appealed to the Lahore High Court, but she remained on death row as that court slow-walked her appeal.

Blasphemy laws have been on the books in Pakistan since British colonial days, but they were significantly strengthened in the mid-1980s. To date, the Pakistani government has never carried out an execution for blasphemy. Nevertheless, since 1990, 62 people have been murdered in vigilante actions after being accused of blasphemy.
Yousaf Qureshi

This was the most immediate threat to Bibi. Muslim cleric, Maulana Yousaf Qureshi, promised a half-million rupees ($6,300) to anyone who would kill her. Asia’s husband and children went into hiding in order to avoid being killed themselves.

There have also been numerous times when government officials have been assassinated for defending people against blasphemy charges. This happened in Asia’s case as well.

Punjab Governor, Salmaan Taseer, gave an interview on Pakistani television in which he spoke about filing a petition for mercy in Bibi’s case. Shortly thereafter, in January of 2011, his bodyguard shot him 27 times in broad daylight.

Pakistani Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, also paid the ultimate price. He was the only Christian cabinet member and was advocating for Bibi’s release. On March 2, 2011 he was being driven to work when his driver saw armed men approaching the vehicle. Rather than taking evasive action, his driver stopped the car and ducked. Bhatti died in a hail of bullets.
Bhatti's car

After four years of political delays, the Lahore High Court finally heard her case in October of 2014. The ruling upheld her conviction and death sentence. Bibi’s lawyers this time appealed to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Four more years passed while a petition that garnered 400,000 signatures brought her case to international attention. Then, on October 31, 2018 Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her conviction citing “material contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses.”

This ruling touched off a series of riots across the country. After three days, the Pakistani government quelled the riots by signing an agreement with the Islamist party that organized them. It agreed to keep Bibi from leaving the country.

Thus, even though she had been acquitted by the highest court in the land, and released from prison, she was still effectively living on death row. Her family was forced to leave the country, but she could not.

Bibi’s accusers used the time to file a petition appealing the Supreme Court’s decision. When that petition was rejected on January 29, 2019, the last legal obstacle to Bibi’s freedom was removed. Since that day negotiations have been under way for Asia to join her family in Canada.

On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, Asia Bibi landed in Canada. This marked the end of a decade-long ordeal begun when she told her fellow villagers what she knew to be true. Those of us who have been following her case for years are breathing a deep sign of relief. Still, her struggle is not over.
Asia's husband and daughters

Asia has been denied the joy of raising her daughters during the most formative years of their lives. After remembering on Mother’s Day the many gifts we received from our own mothers, it is easier to understand what was stolen from Asia Bibi’s daughters.

She was also forcibly separated from her husband for ten years. Even now, she will likely never be able to use her own name in public and will need to live with bodyguards and the constant threat of assassination.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and the damage they have done to Asia Bibi, stand in sharp contrast to the freedom of religion that is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. What we should notice most of all is that religious freedom is not only about the freedom to worship. True freedom is the freedom to live and speak of one’s religion at work and in the public square.

Asia and her family were always allowed to worship. What got her in trouble was that she of spoke her faith in the workplace. What led to the assassination of a provincial governor and a Pakistani government official is that they defended Bibi in the halls of government.

Blasphemy laws deem some speech to be intolerable. Those in power get to decide which words can be punished and which not. In a majority Muslim country, the simple statement that Muhammed is not a true prophet can be punished by death. In a Communist country, challenges to Marx or Mao can bring the same sentence.

In the bitterest of ironies, Asia’s quest for religious freedom brought her to a place that has already begun to enact blasphemy laws of its own. Canada has already arrested and fined Christians for quoting the Bible in public. They have denied jobs and revoked licenses to people who refuse to mouth Canada’s new orthodoxy. Recently, they even forced a father to stop speaking of his own daughter.

Asia Bibi has finally been given freedom to defend her faith in the face of Muslim challenges. It remains to be seen how long she will be allowed to defend the same faith in the face of Canada’s blasphemy laws.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Protect children, don’t exploit them

Imagine if the tobacco lobby started smoker-friendly clubs in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools. Imagine history textbooks that began including sidebars about famous smokers in history—or biology, literature and mathematics curricula designed to talk about tobacco at every turn.

The children might never be encouraged to use tobacco. But every day kids would face questions from their teachers about whether they might chew or smoke at some point. Would anyone think that this is a good idea? Might some parents raise objections?

Now imagine a tobacco lobby powerful enough to mount a nationwide public relations campaign that painted concerned parents as backward bigots incapable of making healthy decisions for their children. They might even have enough pull to pass school board policies forbidding teachers from informing such “backward parents” if their kids were caught smoking.

As icing on the cake, image a school organizing a field trip to address the legislature in support of a proposed law sponsored by the tobacco lobby. Some might call that advocacy. I would call it the exploitation of minors.

The important word, here, is “minors.” Those who object to such a dystopian school environment would not be objecting because tobacco is illegal. They would not be objecting because they have moral reasons for not smoking—in fact, many of the objecting parents might smoke or chew themselves.

Whether parents think smoking to be disgusting or sexy, sophisticated or slovenly, is completely irrelevant. They would be objecting because the children are minors. Minors are not yet fully developed. Minor bodies are significantly more susceptible to the dangers of tobacco.

Minor minds are even more so. Neuroscience has determined that until full maturation around 25 years old, adolescents are prone to risky behaviors, and highly impressionable. That’s a dangerous combination. While the adolescent brain more susceptible to peer pressure and the undue influence of adult mentors, it is simultaneously less resistant to addictive behaviors.

Out of care and concern for all people who are passing through puberty and adolescence, wise societies have always taken special care to create a safe space where adolescents can grow up before being pressured into making choices that will change their minds and bodies for the rest of their lives.

Tobacco is only one of numerous things that are neither illegal nor intrinsically bad but are withheld from minors as they wait for the true freedom that comes from maturity. Driving a motor vehicle, opening a line of credit, drinking alcohol, marriage and sexuality are on this list as well.

Only the wisdom that comes with age can equip them fully to evaluate such potent things as mind-altering substances and body-altering sexuality. There are healthy ways to use these things, as well as unhealthy ways. A culture that cares about its young people will give them the time and the information to find the healthy way.

That means not only should we hinder minors from having access to these things, we should also shield them from overexposure to their use. Wyoming not only has laws against underage drinking, it also has laws that keep minors out of bars—even when they are not drinking.
Socrates, killed for corrupting children

For the same reasons, Wyoming—as all civil societies—has laws against statutory rape. This is so because even if a minor consents, he or she is not mature enough to do so with full understanding of the physical, psychological and generational implications of the act.

In March, disciplinary protocols at McCormick Junior High were broken by a substitute teacher. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Casper Star Tribune have repeated allegations without evidence, knowing full well that the school administration is unable to speak about an ongoing investigation into the actions of a minor. This follows on the heels of students from Cheyenne Central High being used to lobby on adult-themed topics.

Last week Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) raised concern about our young people being exploited by the press and by Wyoming Equality. As a trained caseworker for adolescents he is a proven advocate for kids, not a paid voice for the sex lobby.
Rep. Scott Clem

There is a culture-wide fight over the physical, spiritual and psychological dimensions of sexuality and marriage. Whether you have chosen a side, or still stand squarely in the middle, children are to be protected, not exploited.

Those truly fighting for the health and well-being of our children will shield them from the battle, not use them as human shields. Whether from the tobacco lobby, the credit card industry or the sex lobby, protecting children is our common duty.