The Fourth Estate is not Mar-a-Lago: The Sacred Duty of the Press

The First Amendment Graphic TheRadmal.com

The First Amendment. Graphic: TheRadmal.com

The Fourth Estate (the Press) is not one of  Trump’s real estate properties. It is time for both sides to get back to work.

The Free Press has a sacred place in the American system of government. The Founders knew the extraordinary responsibility they entrusted to the Press to use their reporting as a supreme check and balance to the power of each branch of Government. The First Amendment of our Bill of Rights guarantees that this voice is exercised to preserve, protect and defend our country from the corruption that power can bring. Whether the Press fulfills this responsibility, or that the work is appreciated, is open to question. [Read more…]

Writers Resist: Liberty

Independence Hall. Photo: Wikipedia

Independence Hall. Photo: Wikipedia

Philadelphia WritersResist: United for Liberty. Writers will be reading seminal Philadelphia freedom texts from the American Revolution to the 21st century to protest the potential erosion of cherished American rights such as free expression in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election.

Writers Resist Restrictions on Free Expression

Independence Hall. Photo: Wikipedia

Independence Hall. Photo: Wikipedia

Over 35 prominent Philadelphia authors, journalists and poets will read for hundreds of members of the literary community and concerned citizens at Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty on Sunday, January 15 at 2 PM to protest the potential erosion of cherished American rights such as free expression in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election. The event will be held at the National Museum of Jewish History and is free and open to the public.

“Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty” will take place in sight of Independence Hall. It will feature Beth Kephart, Liz Moore, Thomas Devaney, Nathaniel Popkin, Herman Beavers, Lorene Cary, Carmen Machado, Fran Wilde, former Philly Poet Laureate Frank Sherlock, and dozens of other members of the local literary community. Many of them will be reading seminal Philadelphia freedom texts from the American Revolution to the 21st century.

It’s one of 50 simultaneous Writers Resist events around the US, which will include readings and speeches by authors like Cheryl Strayed, Alexander Chee, and Mary Karr, former U.S. Poet Laureates Robert Pinsky and Rita Dove, and journalist Amy Goodman.

“Writers Resist” was conceived by poet and literary activist Erin Bilieu. She became concerned during the recent Presidential campaign about public cynicism and the disdain for truthfulness that have eroded democratic ideals.

“Writers are acutely aware when the uses of language are empty,” she said. “Whether you live in a red or blue state, or another country that cares deeply about the American experiment, there is no more important battle than our right to truth.”

“Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty” is being organized by local authors Nathaniel Popkin, Alicia Askenase, and Stephanie Feldman.

“We’re bringing together writers at the birthplace of American freedoms, and we’ll be reading from historic texts to remind us of the legacy we all need to protect,” says Popkin. “We’re coming together because as writers we must speak up for the First Amendment, for dignity and truth.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION
“Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty” Facebook page #WritersResist. “Writers Resist” is a national network of writers driven to #WriteOurDemocracy by defending the ideals of a free, just and compassionate democratic society.

EVENT DETAILS
“Philadelphia Writers Resist: United for Liberty”
Sunday January 15, 2017
National Museum of American Jewish History, Dell Auditorium
5th and Market Streets
2-5 PM
Free and open to the public.

The Limits of Freedom of Religion

Since the Supreme Court pronounced that a corporation can have religious rights, a number of new cases have been emerging, seeking to stake out broad additional territory.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the Court found that a closely held business corporation had religious rights, and could deny its employees contraceptive health insurance coverage called for under the Affordable Care Act. But that ruling may be only the beginning of a new chapter in the law of religious freedom under the First Amendment.

A few years ago the Pennsylvania Department of State, the agency that processes incorporation papers, refused to accept an application for the title “I Choose Hell Productions LLC” because it contained blasphemy. The Department rested its refusal on a law against blasphemy in corporate names, and argued in support of the law that the public should not be exposed to inflammatory language. The federal court hearing the case ruled that the law was an unconstitutional effort to advance religion.

But what about a law that is entirely neutral – that does not deal with religion at all? Polygamy is unlawful across the board, even though a few religions allow it. A law against cruelty to animals will be effective against animal sacrifice if the law is conceived and worded neutrally, and not as a reaction to a particular religion.

Simons Looking back by Stevie

A Jewish lesbian wedding in Colorado. Photo by Steve Crecilius.

However, in Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation for profit could avoid complying with a provision of a totally neutral law – the Affordable Care Act – to provide insurance that includes benefits for contraceptives, if the owners of the business have a religious scruple against use of the abortifacient medicines at issue. Since then, it has been open season on religious exemption claims.

Several states have extended to gays the protection of their laws against discrimination in employment, housing and commerce. In Colorado, a cake baker refuses to prepare wedding cakes for LGBT weddings. The baker justifies his refusal on grounds of his religious beliefs. A gay couple challenged the refusal before the state human relations agency and won. The baker is appealing to a court from agency’s the ruling against him.

In New York, a catering hall that usually handles weddings refuses to rent out for gay weddings. A gay couple who were refused a booking complained to the New York State human relations agency and were successful. The wedding hall is appealing to the state courts.

What is the right answer to these cases? The traditional response is rendering up to Caesar: Those who engage in commerce must accept the burden of the laws that cover matters such as trade and employment. The newly emerging answer may be that individual religious scruples are protected, even in the commercial marketplace.

As a minority, Jews might prefer the new and enlarged version of the First Amendment protection of religion. Maintaining our religious practice without any accommodation is certainly very difficult at times.

Or we might conclude the opposite. Consider that the baker might have anti-Semitic “scruples” along with his belief against gay marriage. The wedding hall could prefer not to accept events that bless a marriage without mentioning the Christian sacraments.

Large urban centers have plenty of bakers and wedding halls, but other areas, where few Jews live, may also have few of these services. Should the views of such services’ owners – even the sincerely held religious views — exempt the businesses from the anti-discrimination laws of their states or of the federal government?

As the new cases move along, we will find out.