Secular Coalition for America Summit: Day 1

What a crazy weekend that was.  So crazy that I’m writing about it what, on Thursday?  Yeah, I was tweeting, hello, busy!  In fact, nothing I’m going to say here wasn’t said with worse grammar and lack of access to spell check earlier.

I landed at Ronald Reagan airport (DCA) and took a cab to the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, which has a view of the Capital, assuming you can stand in exactly the right place and lean as far to your left as possible.  My cab driver asked me what I was doing in town, and I was a little hesitant to say “CONQUERING THE WORLD WITH ATHEISM” because cab drivers have the power to not drive you anymore, and that would be unfun.  So I started in easy, and then discovered that my self-proclaimed religious cabbie was totally on board with secular values and gay rights!  Huzzah!

I hadn’t eaten yet, and the conference started at 1:00, which was exactly when I arrived.  In the elevator I met Liz Gaston and Omar Rashid, who would become my companions over the course of the event.  Because they were also awesome.

Sean Faircloth

Sean Faircloth

The event opened with Sean Faircloth, Woody Kaplan and Amanda Knief taking the podium in turns.  I learned a lot of stats that I will now list for you, because you’re apparently reading this:

  • Avg # of Staffers per House/Senate member: 18, split between home and DC
  • Percent of staffer time spent with constituents: 75%
  • Percent of staffers who think constituent visits are VERY persuasive: 97%

We broke down into groups after being given a rather lengthy guide to sales lobbying for people who don’t know anything about sales lobbying.  Being from SC, I got to work with Herb Silverman, who invented the SCA, and Sharon.

The issues we were planning on discussing the following day were the need for Humanist Military Chaplains and HR 1179 2011, a bill which allows medical service providers refuse to provide service if their religion demands it.  The first is an easier sell, because everyone likes to help the military, the second is one that requires reframing the debate.

The reason we need Humanist Military Chaplains is not necessarily intuitive for people on the edges of the debate: who needs an atheist chaplain?  Well, if the army is going to institutionalize having counselors on the ground and then NOT train them in how to deal with the 20%+ of armed service members with no religious preference, then that’s a problem.  Humanism is a life philosophy and not actually synonymous with atheist, there’s just a large overlap.  There aren’t any, despite the fact that there are people graduated from places like Harvard with divinity degrees focusing on Humanism.

HR 1179 2011 is more of an issue of patients rights.  Doctors, Insurance, Nurses, Pharmacists, Hospitals and so on can not only refuse care that they don’t approve of, they can not tell you that they won’t do those services and not inform you that such services exist.  This includes obvious things like abortions and birth control, but also things like living wills and DNRs.  A Catholic Hospital can say it offers comprehensive female care and then not tell you most of what’s involved with comprehensive care.

I mean, it just seems to me that if you’re a Scientologist, you don’t become a Psychiatrist; if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, you don’t become a Doctor; and if you’re someone with a political agenda that puts church in front of saving lives, you stay the hell away from medicine.  But what do I know?

Me at SCOTUS

Equal Justice Under Law

Sorry, shaking it off.  I got to walk around DC, I wanted to see if maybe I could get into SCOTUS, but I couldn’t.  Omar took this very cool picture of me at the Supreme Court.  And then it was time for dinner.

Jennifer Michael Hecht, who has been my Facebook friend for a long time, but whose books I’ve never read and who I’ve never hung out with as such but is now my new favorite person, gave a speech at the dinner.  She is a proponent of Poetic Atheism, which is like Atheism, but it rhymes.  I’ll give you some quotes, grossly paraphrased:

When you know your history, you are powerful. More people in the history of humanity have not believed in God than have. (Atheism began around 600BC)

If I enjoy every day of my life I don’t worry so much about death. I mean, we barely use the life we’ve got — I dunno about you but I walk back and forth between the fridge and the computer a lot, what, I need a thousand years of it?

We were the first country founded as a secular rationalist country but we were also the first country to give the uneducated poor the vote.  They worried that the uneducated poor would elect a poor man who would redistribute all the wealth.  The uneducated poor won’t vote in a poor man, they’ll elect a stupid rich man.  This is why we need free mandatory secular education!

Nothing in science fiction, in religion, in myths is as weird as this: (points to her head) the meat thinks.  Nothing is as weird as love.

jmh

A real actual photo of JMH and a Margarita (w/salt)

George Hrab, who is Spider Jerusalem, then performed some of his atheisty songs.

Hrab

A real actual photo of George Hrab

George Hrab is of the belief that James Randi is a garden gnome.  This is undeniable.

randi

A real actual photo of James Randi

My favorite zinger was aimed at Hitchens, when Hrab was talking about an event that Hitchens was going to be at but then wasn’t actually there.

Christopher Hitchens was supposed to be there, but I guess he had to go to a scotch festival… But at least that worked out for him.

OH SNAP!  Basically what I’m saying is that George Hrab was pretty good, but he talked about his balls a lot.

After Hrab, Sean led trivia.  I had talked a rather big game before the conference, so there was some pressure to win.  Which I did quite handily, thank you very much.  With the help of Omar for “Mumford and Sons” when all I could remember was “Little Lion Man”.  We won an extra drink ticket, which I used to buy other people’s love, because people are irrationally in love with drink tickets.

After that, I went to meet George Hrab because I have a friend, Jarrett, who is a big fan.  There are all these people who really dig on podcasts and I don’t get it.  It’s like NPR but less focused, I know, I’ve been on a podcast.  He wrote a note and let me take photos and then I ended up going down and hanging out with him and Liz and some random other people in the bar downstairs.  There was an origami velociraptor involved.

georgehrab

Where the hell were you people?

In LGBT News

I'm so late on all of this, but I'm going to talk about it anyway.

1. The stay will not be lifted on performing gay marriages in California.  It's been so long since the argument before the ninth, that one might easily have forgotten that we were a hairsbreadth away from allowing gay marriages in California again, which would have been just as well, as there will be no marriages until the case is decided.  And probably no marriages until it's gone through the full judicial process, which may be years from now.  Justice is by no means swift in this country.

This is not a surprise, though.  I would have been shocked if the courts had decided to let marriages go ahead.  Despite the fact that there is no harm caused by allowing gay marriage, to admit so would be to tip their hand and to call into question their judicial ruling, so the Ninth can't really get away with supporting a lift of the stay.

2. In super awesome OMG yes news!  As you may know, mutli-national gay couples who are married and have their marriages recognized elsewhere, cannot have their marriages recognized in the US thanks to DOMA.  This means that people can be married but deported, very much unlike the way heterosexual married couples are treated.  Deportations have been halted thanks to the questions about the legality of DOMA.

Confirmation that this policy is now in place nationally is cause for celebration. In many ways this is vindication of a two-decade long struggle by thousands of binational couples, advocates and attorneys. But the fight is not over yet. Many couples, after consulting with experienced immigration attorneys, may decide that this is the proper time to file a green card case. However, DOMA is still the final obstacle for attaining a green card; unless it is repealed or struck down, filing any case with immigration is not without risk. – Lavi Soloway

SCOTUS thoughts continued

Would it be possible for the Supreme Court to declare Prop 8 unconstitutional because it allows some gays to be married but not others, while not actually ruling on the constitutionality of gay marriage in general?

Who will vote how on Prop 8; Supreme Court Justice breakdown

So, I’ve been trying to figure out how I think SCOTUS breaks down for the Prop8 vote.  I am going to be fairly optimistic based on the quality of the argument and Olson’s record with SCOTUS up to now.  Argued over 50 cases in front of SCOTUS, has won 3/4ths of them, including the decision today that said Corporations have freedom of speech and therefore can spend as much as they want on politics.  He’s clearly good at getting SCOTUS to expand rather than deny rights, no matter the public opinion.

Of course, there are 6 Catholics on the bench, and the Catholic Church, along with LDS, was responsible for most of the mobilization in support of Prop 8.  Anyway, in my optimism, I think it’s even possible for a 6-3 decision declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional.  Of course, 5-4 against is just as possible. No means declaring it unconstitutional, yes is saying prop 8 should stay.

And if anyone has any insight, feel free to post. These are mere conjectures based on what I can find on the interwebs.

JUSTICE ROBERTS

Pros: He donated legal to Romer vs. Evans which demanded equal rights for gays in Colorado. Fairly constructionist approach to Constitution, which is how Olson is making his case.

Cons: Catholic, part of the conservative block (though he has broken with them before), really into states rights

Vote: Likely yes, but some foundation for a surprise no

JUSTICE STEVENS

Pros: Staked out the anti-sodomy laws position in the mid-80s as a dissenting opinion, which eventually became the majority position in 2003. Considered part of the liberal block. Not Catholic.

Cons: None that I can find, though there’s nothing suggesting he’s particularly Pro gay marriage either.

Vote: Probably No

JUSTICE SCALIA

Pros: Just the one, he’s a big fan of the Constitution and Olson is making a very very strong argument.

Cons: He hates gay people. He’s the leader of the conservative block. Catholic. And he really hates gay people.

Vote: Burn all gay people at the stake Definite Yes.

JUSTICE KENNEDY

Pros: Kennedy has often taken a strong stance in favor of expanding Constitutional rights to cover sexual orientation. Though considered conservative, often a swing vote. References foreign law for precedence often.

Cons: Conservative more often than not. Catholic.

Vote: Likely No

JUSTICE THOMAS

Pros: None

Cons: Extremely conservative. Extremely into states rights. Performed a wedding for Rush Limbaugh. Even Scalia thinks he’s way too far to the right, “I am an originalist, but I am not a nut.” Super into religion, and thinks that religion should be allowed to be a lot more involved in public life. He also hates the gays.

Vote: Not just Yes, but a Yes to the RIGHT of Scalia

JUSTICE GINSBURG

Pros: She is awesome and my favorite. (Also liberal, pro-choice, pro-gay)

Cons: None

Vote: No

JUSTICE BREYER

Pros: Liberal. Refers to foreign law. Seems to like the gays.

Cons: None that I’m aware of.

Vote: No

JUSTICE ALITO

Pros: Was against anti-sodomy laws well before the court, but also was a student.

Cons: Conservative. Known as “Scalito”, though definitely to the left of Scalia. Catholic.

Vote: Almost certain Yes… but maybe…

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR

Pros: Some of the anti-Hispanic rhetoric exhibited by the yes on 8ers will probably not make her think highly of them. She lives in Greenwich village. Considered an ally, though little to support this.

Cons: Catholic.

Vote: Likely no, little to go on though.

4 extremely likely nos, 1 probable no
3 almost certain yeses, 1 most likely yes

Scalia in Lawrence V. Texas

Not that I’ve been reading supreme court opinions or anything but Scalia’s dissenting opinion basically says that the decision in Lawrence V. Texas means that Same Sex Marriage should be legal.  Excerpts below, bolding by me.

Justice O’Connor argues that the discrimination in this law which must be justified is not its discrimination with regard to the sex of the partner but its discrimination with regard to the sexual proclivity of the principal actor.

[…] This reasoning leaves on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. Justice O’Connor seeks to preserve them by the conclusory statement that “preserving the traditional institution of marriage” is a legitimate state interest. Ante, at 7. But “preserving the traditional institution of marriage” is just a kinder way of describing the State’s moral disapproval of same-sex couples.

[…] One of the most revealing statements in today’s opinion is the Court’s grim warning that the criminalization of homosexual conduct is “an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres.”

[…] At the end of its opinion–after having laid waste the foundations of our rational-basis jurisprudence–the Court says that the present case “does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.” Ante, at 17. Do not believe it. More illuminating than this bald, unreasoned disclaimer is the progression of thought displayed by an earlier passage in the Court’s opinion, which notes the constitutional protections afforded to “personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education,” and then declares that “[p]ersons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do.” Ante, at 13 (emphasis added). Today’s opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned. If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is “no legitimate state interest” for purposes of proscribing that conduct, ante, at 18; and if, as the Court coos (casting aside all pretense of neutrality), “[w]hen sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring,” ante, at 6; what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising “[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution,” ibid.? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry. This case “does not involve” the issue of homosexual marriage only if one entertains the belief that principle and logic have nothing to do with the decisions of this Court. Many will hope that, as the Court comfortingly assures us, this is so.
Full horrifying opinion here, where he says he’s got nothing against the gays, he just thinks they’re going to hell.