Connect with us

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Religious freedom is worth defending

Bradley Byrne

Published

on

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled on an important case with significant implications for the future of religious expression in our republic.

The case, American Legion v. American Humanist Association, was brought by a nonprofit atheist organization seeking to remove an almost 100-year-old monument in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.

The 40-foot granite and cement cross, called the Bladensburg Peace Cross, was built on public land and paid for by local families, businesses and the American Legion in 1925. It has stood in memory of local residents who died in World War I for almost a century. A state commission now owns the land and pays for its upkeep.

On its face, the claims made by the American Humanist Association that the Bladensburg Peace Cross represents an unconstitutional endorsement of religion do not seem legitimate or offered in good faith.

While the cross unquestionably has origins as a Christian symbol, for centuries it has also represented memorialization, remembrance and respect for the dead at cemeteries, parks and public spaces around the world.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first choice for the Supreme Court in 2017, wrote that he would have dismissed the case, saying that the challenger’s claim to be offended by the sight of the monument did not hold legal merit.

But the Court chose to issue a ruling and rejected the out-of-state organization’s legal arguments that the memorial cross located just outside of Washington, DC represented an endorsement of religion that violated our Constitution. In a 7 to 2 decision, the Court ruled that the cross may continue to stand on public land.

Justice Samuel Alito, recognizing that a court-ordered removal of the cross would be the true violation of the Constitution, wrote in the main opinion that “tearing down monuments with religious symbolism and scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.

Advertisement

“…[D]estroying or defacing the Cross that has stood undisturbed for nearly a century would not be neutral and would not further the ideals of respect and tolerance embodied in the First Amendment.”

The Court’s decision was met with cheer and relief in Prince George’s County, where the Bladensburg Peace Cross enjoys broad support.

The ruling “ensures that this memorial — a dignified tribute to those who came before us and made the ultimate sacrifice — will stand tall and proud for the ages,” said Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Thankfully, we live in a country of religious freedom where no one is forced to practice religion but can practice any religion they choose. That is one of our most fundamental freedoms as Americans.

What cases like these are truly about is undermining religion. Lawsuit-happy groups like the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation seek to advance their own agenda by making it more difficult for Christians and believers of other religions to publicly practice and share their faith.

With the rise of these lawsuits, it is more important than ever that we place jurists on our courts who will adhere to our Constitution and protect our religious liberties.

Regrettably, these attacks on religious freedom are taking place in Congress, too. Last month, Democrats passed the so-called Equality Act, which included an explicit carve-out of Religious Freedom Restoration Act protections. It was only a few decades ago that Democrats Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy shepherded this legislation through Congress, but times and the Democrats have changed.

Just this week, the Committee on Education and Labor, on which I sit, has focused its attention on the “misapplication” of RFRA. I see this for what it is: an attempt to undermine our religious freedoms.

 Our Constitutional protections are worth defending, and I pledge to continue the fight.

 

Advertisement

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Love in the time of the coronavirus

Bradley Byrne

Published

on

Like many of you I “attended” Palm Sunday worship online. It was strange not to be there at St. James Fairhope physically for the Liturgy of the Palms to gather outside for prayers and walk into the church together with our palms singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”

I heard the words of the Passion according to St. Matthew but wasn’t there to see the faces and expressions of the readers. We said prayers for those afflicted by the disease and those caring for them. We also said the right words for the Offering, the Eucharist, and the Peace, but there was no Offering or Eucharist, and we couldn’t physically greet one another with the words, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you; And also with you.”

Worship is more than just words. It’s the act of coming together as God’s people to worship Him, sing hymns, pray, hear God’s Word, and be one body. We did it apart last Sunday and will do it this Sunday for Easter. It’s strange but necessary.

When I was a teenager there was a novel and movie called Love Story. It had one of the dumbest lines I’ve ever heard: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Love means frequently having to say you’re sorry, whether or not you caused another’s trouble or hurt.

Over a million people worldwide are confirmed to have COVID-19. Tens of thousands have died from it. I’m very sorry for them, their family members, and loved ones. I’m sorry so many on the front lines are working long hours, exposing themselves to danger, and that so many have lost their jobs as we practice social distancing.

All that could drive many to depression, anti-social behavior, and self-destructive acts. To avoid that we all must help one another, just as we do down here during hurricanes, except at a physical distance. And it doesn’t do any good – in fact it’s harmful – to play the blame game. While there will be a time to assess the culpability of the Chinese government, rhetoric or discrimination against Asian Americans is irrational, harmful, and just plain wrong.

Congress and President Trump put aside our differences, however temporarily, to overwhelmingly pass the CARES Act, pumping over $2 trillion into our economy in a bold move to cushion the economic effects of social distancing and pay for the health care and research to defeat this disease. I and my staff are working around the clock to get information to our constituents about the disease itself and these new government programs. And, as we hear needs, we take them directly to those in charge of providing help. We aren’t on the front lines caring for the sick, but we have a supportive role to play and are determined to do our part.

During Sunday’s online service, I remembered that love isn’t a sugary, sentimental thing. It often involves sacrifice. It’s not that sacrificial for me to miss being physically in church, though I felt I was missing something. That something is a small thing compared with risking the spread of this disease.

Advertisement

And, listening to the Passion narrative, I remembered what real sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, really is. And why did Jesus do it? Because He loved us that much. It wasn’t just the physical agony, but more painful to him, taking on all our sins to himself, all our collective denial of and disobedience to God. He said “I and the Father are one” and then allowed Himself to be separated from God as He took on all our sins. No wonder he cried out at that moment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But God did not leave Jesus to death, for the Resurrection was three days away.

God has not forsaken us. To care for us, he requires each of us to love and take care of one another. Right now, in part that means we must be apart from one another, and for many to suffer economically and perhaps even emotionally. Let’s all be more attuned and sensitive, and helpful, to one another.

Good Friday isn’t good because Jesus was killed but because He rose again. It may seem dark now, but the light of Easter morning is just around the corner.

The last verse of an old French Easter carol called Now The Green Blade Riseth says, “When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, thy touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green”.

Spring is here. So is love. Pass it on.

 

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Dr. King’s legacy lives on 52 years later

David Person

Published

on

On April 4, 1968, I was watching the little black and white television in our living room when the newscaster said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. My tears flowed freely. Even though I was only 4, I knew that his death was a tragedy, especially for little black boys like me.

My parents and I lived on Chicago’s Southside in a yellow, three-story apartment building at the corner of 91st and Throop St. Three floors, three apartments, each one running the full length of the building with a huge picture window in the living room. Daylight streamed through ours as I watched the newscast through my tears, riveted by sorrow and fear.

King was my hero, a man who courageously stood for justice and peace, even when threatened with violence. He was an eloquent preacher, whose soaring lines and velvet tones even captivated little children. And he was a father who, like my own, had tried to explain the nonsensical evil of racism to his child.

Yolanda, the oldest of the King children, had wanted to go to Fun Town, an amusement park in Atlanta. He had to explain to her that Fun Town was only open to white children. Chicago also had a Fun Town, but because it was in the black community – 95th and Stony Island Ave. – I don’t recall it being off-limits to me and other African-American children.

But the Chicago of the 1960s wasn’t that different from the Jim Crow South. Black families who tried to move into white neighborhoods were run out. The dividing lines were stark and clear. In fact, I only saw white Chicagoans while watching the news or when shopping downtown.

Northern segregation had a profoundly negative economic impact on black Chicago. It was so bad that three years before his assassination, King and his family actually moved to Chicago to apply his civil rights strategies to slums, low-wage jobs and overcrowded schools.

When he led a march through Marquette Park, a notoriously all-white enclave on the Southside, someone hit him in the back of the head with a rock. “I have seen many demonstrations in the South,” King said. “But I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today.”

King’s Chicago experiences undoubtedly shaped my reaction when I learned of his death. I know that because my father was a news junkie, politically aware, and what we used to call a “race man” – meaning that he identified as a black man more than as an American or even a Christian. He also was a card-carrying Republican, but of the Eisenhower type, not Goldwater or Nixon. So he and my mother admired Dr. King, and passed that admiration on to me.

Advertisement

And I retain it today, 52 years after his assassination. In fact, it’s grown stronger and deeper through the years.

My favorite King quote comes from his sermon “Loving Your Enemies,” preached at Dexter Ave. Baptist Church in 1957: “Within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God,’ you begin to love him in spite of – no matter what he does, you see God’s image there.”

King was an expert in having enemies. He had more than his fair share, including whoever actually killed him. (The King family believes that convicted King assassin James Earl Ray was framed. Dr. William F. Pepper’s book “An Act of State” explains why.)
But what King undoubtedly knew, and what his killers failed to fathom, is that while prophets die, their dreams or prophecies live on. And true prophets always will be validated by history and time.

Which is why I expect Dr. King’s legacy to outlive all of us.

 

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | Jobs to move America

Patricia Todd

Published

on

Before COVID-19 swept the country, public officials celebrated Alabama’s 2.7 percent unemployment rate: it was a record low for our state, and lower than the national average. But statistics never tell the full story. Were the jobs Alabamians working good ones? With paid sick, family, and medical leave to protect workers from COVID-19? Were people working more than one job to make ends meet?

As we reckon with a pandemic and pending economic recession of a magnitude difficult to comprehend, Alabama needs to start looking beyond unemployment rates to ask some soul-searching questions. As industry after industry demands huge public bailouts, the South’s history of offering big corporate giveaways represents a glaring example of why public subsidies should only be on the table if public officials put people and workers first.

Corporate subsidies, in the form of economic tax incentives, have become a popular tool that cities and states use to lure companies to a specific location. The fight over where Amazon would set up its second headquarters — cities raced to provide the most attractive incentive packages, offering billions of our public dollars to sweeten the deal — put a spotlight on the problems with these subsidies. Even after national outrage over the bidding war for Amazon, economic development specialists and elected officials continued to tell us that these subsidies were critical to creating jobs and growing the economy. Cities and states like Alabama still compete aggressively to bring corporations to our backyards, using our public dollars as bait. Promises of subsidies include abatement of income and property taxes, infrastructure development, workforce training, and sometimes cash. But the problem that COVID-19 has brought into sharp relief is that promises made are not always promises delivered. What’s worse, many of these promises weren’t good enough to begin with.

In Alabama, we celebrate the ribbon cutting of a new manufacturer breaking ground on a new plant and announcing new jobs that will be created. Yet, rarely are we told how much the state or municipality paid to the corporation to bring those jobs to the area or given details about the return on investment. Now that COVID-19 is shutting down production at manufacturing plants across our state, leaving many workers high and dry, it’s time to ask how our public dollars can be most effectively invested in private companies to ensure the outcomes we need.

Corporate subsidies have cost Alabama over $3.5 billion dollars over the past decade. The public has no information on how money was spent — or what we got for it. These subsidies do not require corporations to commit to providing a living wage; any paid sick, family, or medical leave; or hiring goals for marginalized communities. Most taxpayers don’t even know where to look for the information. This story holds true across the South.

Alabamians, like many of our Southern neighbors, cannot afford any loss of revenue. According to Alabama Possible, our state’s poverty rate is 18.9 percent, making us the 6th poorest state in the country. Our education system, mental health services, and public infrastructure are in dire need of funding. The National Center for Education Statistics ranks Alabama last in math, reading, and science. We also rank at the bottom in teacher pay, infrastructure, and access to health care. As a result, we lack the services and infrastructure needed to support working families through a crisis like COVID-19.

Why? For decades, our state has siphoned money from these critical public services and social infrastructure to provide corporations with handsome tax incentives in exchange for little more than a handshake deal. Our state is lining the pockets of corporate CEOs, not workers and communities.

COVID-19 makes it clear that Southerners deserve a better deal.

Which is why Jobs to Move America is building a research-action program, headquartered in Birmingham, to win sunshine and accountability policies in the South. We believe that together, we can turn the tide on endless and unaccountable corporate giveaways. We can demand limits on incentives and institute requirements that companies receiving our precious public dollars provide a living wage, benefits, a safe work environment free of racism and gender discrimination, and hiring preferences for marginalized and underrepresented communities. We can also demand a public accountability report about every company that receives subsidies so that Southerners can scrutinize whether their public dollars are actually doing public good.

Advertisement

To get there, we need to understand and document all the public dollars that our state has given away. We’ll write reports about that spending, we’ll dig into the consequences of corporate giveaways on our communities and workers. We’ll work in coalition with community-based organizations and social justice groups, like Alabama Arise, to educate public officials and community leaders about the impact of these subsidies. And eventually, we’ll win legislation that ensures our public dollars create the kind of return on investment that we believe in: good jobs and healthy communities.

Do Mercedes, Amazon and Walmart really need generous tax subsidies to operate business as usual? The clear answer is no. It is time to get our priorities in order and take care of our own people — instead of corporate shareholders.


Patricia Todd is the Southern Director at Jobs to Move America. Patricia has socially and professionally advocated for public policies relevant to social justice, education, HIV/AIDS, and a wide range of issues affect the entire Birmingham community for over twenty years. Patricia was elected to the Alabama Legislature as the State Representative for House District 54 in November of 2006 as the first openly gay elected official in Alabama’s history. She retired from the legislature in 2018.

 

Continue Reading

Guest Columnists

Opinion | For humanitarian and public health reasons, we need to get people out of our jails

Bishop Van Moody

Published

on

For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners (Psalm 69:33)

We are facing a crisis unlike any in our lifetime. A virus is infecting us at unprecedented rates. Over 100,000 have been infected in the United States and the death toll in our country is already in the thousands. 

But we’re not doing everything possible to keep us safe. The county jails in Alabama, which lock up thousands of people, are a major health risk. The incarcerated population can’t practice “social distancing” and instead are left to languish in these facilities with no soap or supplies to sanitize their own cells.

Imprisoned  people are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19. People incarcerated in jails are housed in close quarters, and are often in poor health. And, according to a report from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, the county jail population quadrupled between 2014 and 2018.

The way to mitigate that health risk is clear. We need to release people who are no risk to our communities and vulnerable to exposure immediately. And jail officials need to come up with a plan, and make it public, for how they will deal with a COVID-19 outbreak in their facility. 

Gov. Kay Ivey acknowledged the danger in her State of Emergency declaration, finding that “the condition of jails inherently heightens the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.”  Ivey’s declaration said that people charged with crimes could be served with a summons instead of being arrested. But that doesn’t do much for the people already locked up and awaiting trial. 

And a COVID-19 outbreak in these jails with the current incarcerated population would be disastrous for public health. The incarcerated people who get infected would have to be taken to our already overcrowded hospitals, and people who work in the jails are also in danger of both being infected, and spreading the infection to people on the outside. Lowering the total number of people locked up would make an outbreak less likely, and also make it easier to quarantine people who have been infected.

But there is also a moral and humanitarian reason to get people out of these jails. The crime rate in our state didn’t quadruple in the last few years, but our jail population did. Many of the people now locked up aren’t there because they committed horrible crimes, they’re locked up because they’re too poor to afford bail. Some are even elderly and therefore at “higher risk for severe illness”, according to the CDC.

Advertisement

It is wrong to lock people up because they can’t afford to pay bail. If a judge has already decided that someone does not pose a threat to the community and they can get out of jail if they can pay a fee, then they shouldn’t be locked up at all during a crisis like this.Poverty is not a crime and under these circumstances, it should not put you at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Last month county jail inmates with bonds under $5,000 were ordered released in Autauga, Elmore and Chilton Counties, as long as the sheriffs and wardens sign off on it. Mobile Countyhas also announced it would release certain pre-trial inmates.. These actions were taken due to fears of the spread of COVID-19.

Other states have also started doing this. Montana, California, New Jersey, Washington and Wyoming are amongthe states that have actively worked to reduce it’s incarcerated population in the last few weeks.

Actions like these need to be the norm going forward. COVID-19 is scary, but we must meet it with Christian love and compassion. We must extend that to our brothers and sisters behind bars who pose no threat to our communities and are awaiting their day in court. We must consider those who are elderly and already ill. This virus is the worst thing many of us have seen in our lifetimes, let’s combat it with love and compassion, instead of hate and fear.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast

Facebook

Trending

.