Tag Archives: Torture

Huge gay rights happenings in D.C.

Saturday and Sunday this week, the 11th and 12th of October, will see thousands of LGBT activists descend on our nation’s capital for the National Equality March sponsored by Equality Across America.  Many religious LGBT advocacy groups will participate:

Integrity USA (Episcopal)

Dignity USA (Catholic)

More Light Presbyterians



Meanwhile, on Saturday evening, President Obama will address the 13th  Annual National Dinner of the Human Rights Campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

President Obama is not the first sitting President to attend an HRC Dinner: that honor goes to President Clinton in 1997. 

And all of this comes together as the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes bill nears final passage.

Today [October 8] the U.S. House of Representatives passed the conference report for the FY 2010 Defense Authorization bill by a vote of 281 to 146, bringing critical hate crimes protections closer to becoming law than ever before. Earlier this week, the House voted down a last-ditch effort to eliminate the hate crimes language, through a procedural effort called a motion to instruct conferees.

The conference report now proceeds to the Senate for its final vote in Congress. In July, the Senate voted to attach the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the Defense Authorization measure and is expected to approve the conference report as early as next week. President Obama has repeatedly pledged to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

Integrity USA, the Episcopal LGBT advocacy group, quotes this news report about the historic legislation:

WASHINGTON — A House vote Thursday put Congress on the verge of significantly expanding hate crimes law to make it a federal crime to assault people because of their sexual orientation. The legislation would bring major changes to law enacted in the days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.

“No American should ever have to suffer persecution or violence because of who they are, how they look or what they believe,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noting that hate crimes legislation has been on her agenda since she first entered Congress more than two decades ago.

Civil rights groups and their Democratic allies have come close to expanding the hate crimes bill several times in the past decade, but have always fallen short because of lack of House-Senate coordination or opposition from former President George W. Bush.

But this time, it appears that they may succeed. The legislation was attached to a must-pass $680 billion defense policy bill that the Senate could approve as early as next week. President Barack Obama has promised to sign it into law. The late Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was a longtime advocate of the hate crimes legislation.

The House vote on the defense bill was 281-146. Unlike usual defense bill votes, most of those in opposition — 131 out of the 146 — were Republicans objecting strenuously to inclusion of what they referred to as “thought crimes” legislation in a defense bill.

Matthew Shephard Hate Crimes Prevention Act passes Senate

Retired Law Professor Howard Friedman has an interesting blog he calls Religion Clause.  He posts several items daily, relating to court cases and legislative actions that impact the first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

This morning, Professor Friedman reported on Congressional action on the so-called “Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Protection Act”.  Matthew Shepherd was the young  man from Wyoming who was brutally tortured then murdered for no apparent reason except that he was gay.  His mother is now the leading advocate for the bill.  Friedman reports,

On Thursday night, the U.S. Senate agreed to add the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. First by a vote of 78-13, the Senate agreed to an amendment clarifying that the hate crime provisions should not be construed or applied to infringe on First Amendment rights. Then the Senate voted 63-28 to invoke cloture on the hate crimes bill [overriding a Republican filibuster attempt]. Voice vote passage immediately followed.

The essence of the bill is to increase the juridical penalties when a defendant is convicted of a felonious act of violence against another and the act was proven to be motivated by:

prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim

What is most curious about the whole issue is the nature of the opposition.

Senator McCain pontificated his righteous indignation that the bill was attached to the National Defense Act.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with the process of legislative wrangling, at least the Senator from Arizona had some rational basis for his opposition.  The same cannot be said of the right wing rumor mongering that is downright false.

Pam Spaulding in her popular blog, Pam’s House Blend, lists the lies and their refutation, relying on talking points arranged by People for the American Way.

Lie number 1, which comes from James Dobson’s Focus on the Family:

Because the liberals in Congress would not define sexual orientation, we have to assume that protection under the law will be extended to the 30 sexual disorders identified as such by the American Psychiatric Association. Let me read just a few of them: bisexuality, exhibitionism, fetishism, incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, prostitution, sexual masochism, urophilia, voyeurism, and bestiality.

Indeed, some right wing organizations refer to the Matthew Shepherd bill as the “Pedophilia Protection bill.”  Spaulding reports that the estimable Pat Robertson suggests the bill will “protect people who have sex with ducks.”

Here’s the truth:

Pedophilia is not a sexual orientation by anyone’s definition – only in the imagination of Religious Right organizations and political figures trying to derail the legislation with the most inflammatory charge they can come up with. As Rep. Tammy Baldwin pointed out during debate, sexual orientation is explicitly defined in the federal hate crimes statistics act as “consensual heterosexuality and homosexuality. And in spite of the Right’s claims about paraphilias, the American Psychiatric Association defines sexual orientation very clearly as homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality.

Despite Dobson’s lie that the “the liberals in Congress would not define sexual orientation", the bill clearly does that.  Secondly, “sexual orientation” is clearly defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality”. Pedophilia and the rest of Dobson’s list that rolls off his tongue so easily are not included in the definition of sexual orientation. 

Lie number 2, the bill violates rights to free speech and expression and also violates the freedom of religion.

“if anybody speaks out about homosexuality, says it’s a sin, says its wrong, says it’s against the Bible, that individual would be charged with a quote, hate crime.”

These are Robertson’s words, but they reflect the false claims of a broad swath of the religious right.

Here’s the truth:

First, according to Professor Friedman, the Senate  yesterday passed an amendment 78-13 that clarified that the act “should not be construed or applied to infringe on First Amendment rights.”  According to the language of the act itself,

3) CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS.—Nothing in this division shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief), including the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration. The Constitution does not protect speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence.
(4) FREE EXPRESSION.—Nothing in this division shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.

Second, the act presupposes a felonious act of violence against another.  In other words, it is not speech or thought or expression or association that is actionable – it is only a physical act of violence against another that rises to the level of a felony. The act does not criminalize behavior that was previously legal; it merely adds penalities to actions that are already criminal when that criminal act is motivated by hate against a protected group.

As an active member of a Christian congregation and a Christian denomination, I am galled at the self-righteous, judgmental, and deceptive actions of the self-appointed watchdogs of morality on the religious right whose behavior seems to me to be decidedly unchristian.  One has to wonder about the religious right’s abject failure to follow the command, You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  Mr. Dobson, Mr. Robertson, and the rest of your ilk, you do not speak for me.

God’s Image and Caesar’s Image: Torture and the Currency of Empire

One of the central teachings of Torah is that all human beings are made in the Image of God. That teaching and what flows from it are at the heart of Jewish prohibitions on the use of torture — and perhaps at the heart of Christian opposition to torture as well.

Indeed, the Rabbis – living under the Roman Empire – enriched that teaching about the Image as a direct challenge to the power of Rome, the Imperial fount of torture. One of them asked, “What does this mean, ’In God’s image?’” And another answered, “When Caesar puts his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When that One who is beyond all rulers puts the divine image on a ‘coin,’ all the coins come out unique.”

Torture tries to destroy the Image of God –- uniqueness, the diversity that is the only way the Infinite can unfold itself in the world — and replace it with uniformity, Caesar’s image on the human soul and body. In the experience of the Rabbis, it was Imperial Rome that used torture. To this very day, the liturgy for Yom Kippur, when more Jews are in the synagogue than at any other time, and in a more deeply devotional and covenantal place than at any other time, includes the graphic and horrific descriptions of Rome’s torturing to death ten of the greatest rabbis of that or any age.

I think this understanding of the Image of God casts a profound light on the story in three of the Christian Gospels in which two troublemakers come up to Jesus and ask him a question: “Should we pay taxes with this coin?”

They evidently hoped to trap him into violating either Jewish or Roman law. For the coin had on it an image of Caesar, marked “Caesar, imperator, divus: Emperor, God.” If Jesus said to use the coin, he might be violating the Jewish law against idolatry. If he said not to, he would surely be violating Roman law.

So Jesus, in a totally Jewish fashion, answers the question with a question. He asks, “Whose image is on the coin?” They respond, more or less — “Caesar’s, dummy, that’s the point!”

So according to the Gospels, Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” and for 2,000 years Christians have been arguing about what that means.

But now take into account the Rabbinic teaching that Caesar puts his rigid uniformity upon his coins, whereas the Infinite God puts uniqueness into God’s coins: every human being. Surely Jesus, the radical rabbi from the Galilee, knew this teaching.

So I believe there is a missing line in the Gospel story. Either Jesus didn’t need to say it because his first question would reawaken the knowledge in those who were trying to trouble him, or it was later censored out because it was so radical:

“Whose image is on that coin?” he said, and they answered: “Caesar’s.”

And then I think he said, “And whose Image is on this coin?” as he put his hands on the shoulders of the troublemakers.

Only then did he say, “So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s – and give to God what is God’s!”

And of course, as the Gospels say, the troublemakers themselves went away deeply troubled – not because they had failed to trick him, but because he had forced them to think and feel and act anew as they opened themselves to experience the Image of God in themselves. And to understand that the Divine Image stood in radical contradiction to Caesar’s image, so that the world could not be neatly and comfortably divided into two different realms, one “spiritual;” and one “political.”

This teaching needs to be renewed in every generation. One way that Jewish tradition does this in regard to torture is to insist that every Yom Kippur, the community relives the torture of ten rabbis by Rome. In parallel, Christianity insists that every Good Friday the community relive the torture of Jesus by Rome.

These two practices also remind us what brought about the suffering that grieves us. For they remind us that empires torture. The US by its own hand in the Philippines a century ago, by proxies in Central America just a generation ago, again by its own hand in Iraq and Afghanistan. No empire can survive without resorting to torture against those who refuse to bow to its power — by act or even by omission or even by sheer accident of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those who get in the way of its demand that human beings abandon their uniqueness and bow to uniformity, as Caesar forces his own image onto every human body, drowning the Image of God in a flood of agony.

So what does this teach us about America today? That we have a choice more basic than whether we close Guantanamo or – as is now being done by the Obama Administration — we double the size of Bagram, a similar prison in Afghanistan.

America cannot celebrate both the Infinite God and the tyrannical Caesar, cannot remain both a citizenly republic and a domineering empire. How to choose? One way is to affirm that torture is both a grave sin and a major crime. Refusing to “look back” at the use of torture in the past, refusing to try as criminals those who committed the crime, failing to excommunicate those who committed the sin, means refusing to heal the future.

It would be the same as ripping the crucifixion out of Good Friday or the torture of the ten rabbis out of Yom Kippur. After all, it merely happened long ago. Under a long-gone Empire. What is the point of remembering?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center, author of Godwrestling, Round 2, and co-author of The Tent of Abraham.

CNN Torture Survey

CNN reports that more than 6 in 10 evangelicals believe torture is justified while only 3 in 10 mainline Christians hold similar views.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified — more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

The analysis is based on a Pew Research Center survey of 742 American adults conducted April 14-21. The survey asked: “Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?”

Roughly half of all respondents — 49 percent — said it is often or sometimes justified. A quarter said it never is.

The religious group most likely to say torture is never justified was Protestant denominations — such as Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians — categorized as “mainline” Protestants, in contrast to evangelicals. Just over three in 10 of them said torture is never justified. A quarter of the religiously unaffiliated said the same, compared with two in 10 white non-Hispanic Catholics and one in eight evangelicals.

Blogger Steven Waldman, editor in chief of Beliefnet suggests, “The real question: why hasn’t Christianity led to the opposite result, a revulsion against torture?”

Blogger Andrew Sullivan in his blog post called “Jesus Wept” makes the astute comment, “And people wonder why atheism is gaining in this country.”