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Virginia Government Challenges Alabama's Crown
2005.02.16 (Wed) 01:25
From time to time, all states are guilty of proposing stupid or dangerous legislation, and to be sure, the federal government is no stranger to this phenomenon either. For example, every time we see a bill that includes language precluding the Judicial Branch from ruling on the very law it will enact, we can't help but smile, since the Consitution explicitly prevents that very thing. While stupidity comes cheap, the intolerance required to put forth some of the legislation that we've seen can be daunting, and many states just aren't up for it. As a result, there is a certain pride — bragging rights, if you will — associated with being the best; and to be the best at intolerance, everyone knows that the state to beat is Alabama.
Lately, in a series of moves clearly meant to challenge Alabama's dominance, the Virginia government has shown that it is a true contender for the title. Even so, the Old Dominion has some serious intolerance to live up to if it hopes to catch up with longtime frontrunner 'Bama.
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The Tale of the Tape
||We Dare Defend Our Rights (Just Not Yours)*
||Sic semper tyrannis (Ever thus to tyrants)
||The State Spirit is Conecuh Ridge Fine Alabama Whiskey
||The Virginia flag is the only state flag with nudity
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How Alabama Won the Title
First, let's look at Alabama's impressive pedigree, anchored by two men who need no introduction...the Abrahamic Adjudicators...the Alabama Slammers...Roy Moore and Ashley McKathan! For those who aren't aware, in 2001, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore made headlines by placing a giant monument of the Ten Commandments on court property, then was removed from the bench by his peers when he defied the state's order to move the graven image. His willingness to lose his job rather than adhere to the law which he had sworn to uphold made him a sort of folk hero for certain members of the local population. Moore also gained popularity by openly admitting that his intentions were religious in nature, as noted in the decision of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals:
During the trial the Chief Justice testified candidly about why he had placed the monument in the rotunda. The following exchanges between him and one of the plaintiffs' attorneys establish that purpose:
Q [W]as your purpose in putting the Ten Commandments monument in the Supreme Court rotunda to acknowledge GOD's law and GOD's sovereignty?
Q Do you agree that the monument, the Ten Commandments monument, reflects the sovereignty of GOD over the affairs of men?
Q And the monument is also intended to acknowledge GOD's overruling power over the affairs of men, would that be correct?
Q [W]hen you say "GOD" you mean GOD of the Holy Scripture?
Ex-Judge Moore later used this fame to lobby against the removal of Jim Crow segregation laws that somehow still remained in the Alabama constitution decades after they were deemed illegal by the federal government. Of course, Moore pointed to other factors as driving his support for this throwback language, but we're confident that this was merely a ploy, and we still count this event toward Alabama's total intolerance score. Incredibly, the removal of the segregation language was shot down by popular election, and rumor has it that Moore's talk has now turned to a possible run for the governor's seat.
Alabama is also the home of Judge Ashley McKathan who, just last year, began wearing robes embroidered with the Ten Commandments while on the bench. While critics hope to assist Judge McKathan into following Moore's example by helping him to become Ex-Judge McKathan, he is currently still hard at work using the bible to decide matters of law. Found via Unscrewing the Inscrutable, here are some excerpts from an article in The New American showing why Ashley bolsters 'Bama's rating even further:
TNA: You were quoted in the national media as believing that the Ten Commandments represent the truth "and you can't divorce the law from the truth.... The Ten Commandments can help a judge know the difference between right and wrong." Have you had any difficult cases in your career where your reliance on the truth of the Ten Commandments or on the truth found in the Bible has helped clarify your thinking and made your decision easier?
Judge McKathan: Absolutely! It can arise in many different ways but one of the areas where this comes up most frequently is in making child custody decisions. Without some guiding principles, how do you decide what is in the best interest of the child? I often use this example — and I haven't seen anybody publish it yet — if you had a child custody case in which the parents appeared otherwise equally able to parent the child but one was a Christian or a Jewish person and the other was a Satanist, who do you give the child to? The answer to that question is a religious answer. You seldom have that extreme, but you have variations of that issue that arise in child custody cases. That is just an extreme example but the principle comes up in all kinds of situations of the law.
We would presume that a Christian would "win out" over any non-Christian according to Judge McKathan's logic, since anyone who does not accept Jesus as their savior is destined for Hell. Of course, Catholics don't count as much, since the Good Judge is a Baptist. Openly admitting that he uses this kind of Christian-biased logic while making legal decisions scores Alabama a ton of points — way to go, Ashley! (Cue the cheerleaders: Rah, rah, INRI!)
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Up and Coming Virginia
Taken together, Moore and McKathan are quite a daunting duo representing the Yellowhammer State, and any challengers clearly have a long road ahead of them; but after some initial false starts, Virginia has mounted an aggressive attack on civil liberties in a bid to wrest the title away. An attempt late last year to criminalize the failure to report a miscarriage or abortion to the police within twelve hours looked like it would give Virginia a remarkable boost, but that legislation was later changed to include only babies who were born live and then died. State Delegate John Cosgrove stated that the applicability to miscarriages and abortions was unintentional, which either makes this whole thing a poor lie, or an incredible oversight — either way, no intolerance points there. But after taking some time off for Christmas, Virginia came out swinging in the new year by proposing legislation that would erode the wall between religion and state in perhaps the most pivotal arena — public schools. As reported by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State:
The Virginia House of Delegates has approved a sweeping amendment that would erase church-state protections from the state constitution and allow officially sanctioned prayer in the public schools.
The bill, HJ 537, proposes an amendment to the state's constitution that would "permit the exercise of religious expression, including prayer and 'religious beliefs, heritage, and traditions' on public property, including public schools...."
The amendment's sponsor, Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr., said yesterday that the amendment was needed because Christians in the nation are becoming increasingly oppressed.
"America was founded on Christian beliefs," said Carrico. "Christianity is the majority faith in this country and yet because the minority has said, 'I'm offended,' we are being told to keep silent."
By "allowing" teachers and students to lead prayers during class time and not "requiring" it, the Virginia legislature is trying to turn this issue into a personal choice instead of a government mandate. We're not sure how far this transparent ploy will get them, but the attempt alone is worth some extra credit.
Of course, we admire Carrico's grasp of the standard "Christians are oppressed" argument, as well as the misdirection between what can be done in private vs. what can be done in a public school — both excellent examples of intolerance, and worth some points. What keeps Virginia from earning full points on this one is that the legislation doesn't specifically allow proper Christian prayer while disallowing all other so-called "religions" from practicing their silly and/or dangerous beliefs in the schools. Without correcting that one oversight, this bill could even be seen as tolerant of other beliefs, which we are certain was not its intent (especially in light of Carrico's comments above).
Just to show that not all intolerance is spawned from religion, Virginia then launched a surprise attack in the form of legislation barring people from wearing their underwear in a visible way, as is often the case when someone's pants ride a little low. We need some quotes from Richmond.com to explain this one:
The Virginia Senate killed a bill that had become an international joke in recent days. The bill, which passed the House of Delegates earlier this week on a 60-34 vote, imposed a $50.00 fine on anyone who "intentionally wears and displays his below-waist undergarments intended to cover a person's intimate parts in a lewd or indecent manner."
After calling a rare special meeting of the Courts of Justice Committee solely for the purpose of addressing this bill, Senators admitted today that they had been embarrassed by the public's reaction and quickly voted to can the controversial measure. The vote of the committee was unanimous.
The ACLU of Virginia warned legislators that the bill was constitutionally flawed. The Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause has been widely interpreted to protect personal liberties, that is, to prevent the government from placing restrictions on the choices people make about the most intimate aspects of their lives. A federal appeals court based in Virginia previously ruled that the state cannot regulate hair style or length.
Too bad about the existing precedent establishing that the state can't regulate hair length — looks like Virginia's long-haired hippies are safe until those damned activist judges kick the bucket. Anyway, the "saggy pants" legislation was canned after it became the source of national and international ridicule; but frankly, you can't buy the kind of reputation Virginia's legislature has garnered from this, and the impact on the state will certainly be widespread. Virginia gets points here just for thinking of a law like this.
Finally, although it isn't a recent development, the publication of the next story couldn't have been timed better for this contest if it was a planned press release. As reported by CNN, the town of Staunton, Virginia, has a long standing practice of busing grade-school students to "optional" bible sessions during school time. These faith-based sessions are, incidentally, held at a Christian church, and the lessons are, certainly by coincidence, Christian in nature. Of course, the Christian indoctrination is purely by choice, and the implication that any dissenting youngsters would likely be ridiculed and beaten up by their non-heathen peers is completely beside the point and totally out of line. So is the implication that the 20% of students who opt out of the weekly Jesus Jaunt end up wasting part of their school day when they have nothing else to do. In fact, we're sorry we even mentioned these things. Mea culpa. From CNN, found via Pharyngula:
[T]he Wards and other parents are asking the school board to eliminate or modify the program, which shuttles first-, second- and third-graders to churches during class time for voluntary half-hour Christian lessons and activities.
Beverly Ridell, who grew up going to the Staunton schools, teaches first- and second-grade Sunday school at church and opposes religious classes during school time.
"I asked them whether Jesus was a Christian and they said 'yes.' When I said, 'Jesus was a Jew,' one girl said, 'But Jesus was a good person,"' Ridell said.
"If Christians are good people, what are Jews? These are 6- and 7-year-old kids. This is an age where what's right and what's wrong are clear and unambiguous."
Talk about getting them while they're young! This semi-forced intolerance training is just the kind of thing that could vault Virginia to the top. Of course, we also wonder just how prevalent this practice really is. For now, known reports are limited to Virginia, so no other states will receive points. (Alabama, if you're listening, now would be a good time for an "anonymous tip" about similar practices that are almost certainly going on within your borders...but you didn't hear that from us.) On Monday night, the Staunton school district voted 5-1 to keep this policy in place rather than adhering to the clear precedent of numerous Supreme Court rulings. From another CNN story:
Public elementary schools will continue to allow Bible classes during class time while the local school board conducts a one-year review to determine if criticism of the practice by some parents is valid.
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Several hundred people attended the school board meeting Monday, with many standing and applauding the 5-1 decision to begin the review while continuing religious classes, a tradition in Staunton and some other rural Virginia school districts for more than 60 years.
The Battle Continues
While Virginia's recent salvo may have knocked the wind out of Alabama, we wouldn't count out the Yellowhammer just yet. Sensing Virginia closing in, Alabama announced earlier this week that two new state proposals were in the works to make both the Ten Commandments and the Pledge of Allegiance mandatory in all schools. That's right, both would be made mandatory for all Alabama schools by this one swing of the mighty Yellowhammer! Despite all legal precedents to the contrary, they have the tenacity to push ahead with this shocking and incredible piece of legislation. Moves like this, ladies and gentlemen, are precisely why Alabama holds the title today, and clearly showcase the iron will and total lack of concern for civil liberties that has rocketed 'Bama to the top and kept them there for years. From an al.com story, found via Stupid Evil Bastard:
Some state senators want to make sure that every public school has the Ten Commandments displayed and that every school day begins with students and teachers reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Bills that would put both requirements into law won approval in the state Senate Education Committee on Wednesday and now go to the Senate for consideration.
The committee voted 6-3 for a bill by Sen. Curt Lee, R-Jasper, that would require each public school in Alabama to display framed or mounted copies of the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.
The committee also approved a bill by Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, to require that each day begin in Alabama public schools with students and teachers reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The bill passed on a voice vote without any audible dissent.
As these storylines unfolded, we checked in with some friends who reside in the contending states to get the local perspective on this Battle Royale. Like us, they were also impressed and amazed by the tactics that both states were willing to employ despite all common sense and reason. While such a magnitude of intolerance may be beyond the capacity of many state residents, years of experience has taught them that they can count on their intrepid state leaders to boldly go where more rational men fear to tread.
We don't know how this epic struggle will turn out in the end. If we were in Vegas, we'd likely stick with the tried and true methods of old 'Bama, but Virginia is certainly showing some gumption and the will to crush freedoms of all kinds with reckless abandon. Of course, you can never count out sleepers like Georgia and Pennsylvania, though the existence of larger civilized areas in those states certainly injects more than a bit of "leftist, elitist, informed" ideology into the mix. Whatever the outcome, whoever is finally declared the winner, we look forward to a long and damaging battle for everyone involved.
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[Act now! Plan your next vacation to Alabama or Virginia today!]
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[ Filed under: % Civil Liberties % Government & Politics % Greatest Hits ]
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% Trackback » 2005.02.16 (Wed) 15:32
"Alabama v. Virginia in a Steel Cage Lunacy Match" from Dispatches from the Culture Wars
The Two Percent Company has a wonderful rant comparing the relative lunacy of Alabama and Virginia. As they point out, Alabama has long held the title as the state with the looniest legislation, but Virginia is trying hard to take... [More]
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