Love Wins

And tomorrow is a brand new day.

Congratulations, New York!

EDIT: It seems appropriate to repost these photos, which I took in 2009 at a rally in Union Square for the victory we had tonight:

And because really, how can you not:

June 24, 2011, 9:38 pm • Posted in: The GardenPermalink21 comments

New on Alternet: Atheists as a Political Force

Today I'm very happy to announce that I've become a contributor to AlterNet, the award-winning online progressive news and opinion magazine. My first essay is titled "There Are 10 Times As Many Atheists as Mormons: When Will Non-Believers Become a Political Force?" Read an excerpt below, and then click through to see the rest:

The propagandists of the religious right shout it aloud as their battle cry: "America is a Christian nation!" And in the trivial sense that ours is a nation populated mostly by Christians, this is true. But in the sense they mean it, that Christianity was intended to occupy a privileged place in the law -- or worse, that Christianity was intended to be the only belief professed by Americans -- it couldn't be more false. Although religion in general and Christianity in particular, play a dominant role in our public life, ours is a secular nation by law. And befitting that heritage, America has always played host to a lively tradition of freethought, unorthodoxy and religious dissent, one that dates back to our founding generation.

Continue reading on AlterNet...

June 13, 2011, 12:09 pm • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink30 comments

The Republican Party Still Hates Women

This week, the House of Representatives voted for HR 3, one of the most vicious and horrendous anti-choice bills ever conceived. This bill revokes all federal tax credits for any health insurance plan that includes abortion coverage - in effect, it raises taxes on private employers who offer insurance to their employees that covers abortion, and even on individuals who purchase health insurance that covers abortion. Republicans, normally fanatic in their anti-tax stance, seem to have no problem with this tax increase. It also codifies the "conscience clause" exception which would arguably allow a doctor or a hospital to let a miscarrying woman die on the waiting room floor rather than perform a lifesaving abortion.

Like most of the other deranged bills passed by the House in this Congress, this one will be blocked in the Senate and has no realistic chance of passage. Nevertheless, it's another chilling glimpse into how far Republicans are willing to go to strip away the rights of women - like the horrible South Dakota bill which requires women seeking abortion to reveal their identities to an evangelical Christian church and then sit through a mandatory session of proselytizing.

The Republican agenda, pursued to the point of obsession, is to load abortion down with increasingly complicated and burdensome restrictions until it's out of the reach of nearly all women. If you ask when it will be restricted enough to satisfy them, the real answer is never, because their real goal is to outlaw abortion, and if they can't do that, their fallback position is to pile up more and more restrictions until it's impossible in practice even if it's theoretically legal. For pro-choice voters, it feels like we're fighting a constant rearguard action, always trying to prevent ground from being lost rather than making gains of our own - for instance, when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, there was no serious effort to repeal the awful Hyde Amendment.

Part of the reason, I think, is that there are too many liberals who treat this as a dispassionate political question - or worse, still assume good faith on the part of the Republicans pushing these policies - and therefore, aren't as vehement in their opposition as they should be. For example, here's Nicholas Kristof, who I usually find very insightful but who has a persistent blind spot of treating his ideological enemies as if they want the same things as him:

"With the best of intentions, pro-life conservatives have taken some positions in reproductive health that actually hurt those whom they are trying to help... liberals and conservatives should be able to agree on steps that prevent unwanted pregnancies and thus reduce the frequency of abortion." [Half the Sky, p.134]

He also describes New Jersey representative Chris Smith, the lead sponsor of HR 3, as "a good man who genuinely care[s]" about women (p.133).

What Kristof doesn't get is that Republicans don't care about reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. For them, this isn't about outcomes. (They're Kantians, not utilitarians, in that respect.) What matters is to them that they use the law to set forth their vision of an ideal society, and in their ideal society, there are no abortions. What would actually happen to women - forced birth, death from complications of pregnancy, inescapable poverty - is something about which they have no concern. And what's even more disturbing is that, in their ideal society, there's not just no abortion but no contraception.

This isn't widely known, because anti-choice forces are well aware that it would be electoral poison to say so outright. Instead, they've been trying to introduce it gradually, a little at a time, gradually getting voters used to the idea. (See this excellent column by Gail Collins.) We've already seen the contours of their strategy. If they succeed in making abortion unavailable, the next step will be the birth control pill and other hormonal contraception, which conservatives have always wanted to ban based on the junk-science belief that it's equivalent to abortion because it prevents implantation of a fertilized egg (there's no evidence to support this). If they succeed at this, the next step will be IUDs, which will undoubtedly come in for the same treatment. Even I can't guess how they'll demonize condoms or surgical sterilization as equivalent to abortion, but if we reach that point, there's no doubt that they would.

The essential step in stopping this is recognizing the whole sweep of the Republican strategy, which entails recognizing that their endless assaults on choice aren't good-faith disagreements or efforts to protect their own conscience, but attempts to impose a draconian forced-birth policy on all women. If we can see this, and get other people to see this, we'll be able to bring the same passion to the fight that conservatives bring to it.

May 6, 2011, 6:01 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink79 comments

Marriage Equality on the March

At the end of last month, the Delaware legislature voted to approve a civil union bill. If Democratic Governor Jack Markell signs the bill, as he's said he will, Delaware will become the newest state to grant same-sex partnerships all the same legal rights as heterosexual couples - joining, by my reckoning, ten others: Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia.

With a little luck and a lot of political elbow grease, my own state, New York, may be next. New York already recognizes same-sex marriages performed legally elsewhere, making its refusal to perform them itself more than a little ridiculous, since a gay or lesbian couple can just step across the border into Canada or any of the neighboring states that do. Still, a coalition of Republicans and a handful of religious-bigot Democrats have so far managed to keep marriage-equality bills bottled up in the State Senate, despite the fact that polls show large majorities of New Yorkers in support. A marriage-equality bill failed in the legislature in 2009, but since then, two Democrats who voted against it have been replaced by supportive votes. Six more votes are needed, and a statewide campaign is targeting 15 potential swing votes this summer, with support from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Meanwhile, on the wider national level, the ground is shifting with dramatic speed. Back in 2009, I wrote about how supporters of marriage equality had become a plurality. Now, for the first time ever as far as I'm aware, several polls over the last few months have found that support for marriage equality has become the majority position in the United States of America!

Our losses in California and Maine were disappointing, but as these polls show, they're only temporary setbacks. Support for marriage equality is growing every year, arguably even every month. Opponents of equality are trying to hold back the tide of history, but they can't hope to plug every hole in the dike. And it's increasingly obvious that they know this too. Their opposition seems more tired and perfunctory all the time, as if they recognize that they're fighting a losing battle. In Delaware, only about 200 people, even by their own reckoning, showed up for a rally at the statehouse to oppose the civil-unions bill.

One last, feeble whine of protest came from two Christian pastors in Delaware, who filed an editorial last week which makes the following entirely secular arguments:

S.B. 30 is morally wrong and biblically incorrect... In our opinion, God's design for marriage is between one man and one woman only... Lev. 18:22 tells us that "a man should not lie with another man as he does a woman because it is detestable"... Nowhere have we read in the Bible that it is all right for people of the same sex to marry... We believe civil unions between members of the same sex are contrary to the will of God.

They plead that if the bill passes, God "will judge us, and [we] don't want our state and our nation to be judged with the wrath of God." You have to feel sorry for these people, living in a self-imposed world of fear: their argument is essentially "Help, God is holding me hostage and he'll kill me if you don't meet his demands!"

Finally, I have to report on one more piece of news to make bigots cry: Louis J. Marinelli, a former spokesman and organizer for the anti-marriage National Association for Marriage, has publicly announced that he's changed his mind and now supports civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples. That ground is shifting faster than anyone could have anticipated - and I'm willing to bet that, in the next few years, his won't be the only high-profile defection from the ranks of those who oppose equality.

May 3, 2011, 6:26 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink27 comments

Open Thread: We Got Him!

I had a post about marriage equality I was going to put up today, but instead, let me just say this:

Holy shit, we killed Osama bin Laden.

I'm still speechless - this doesn't seem real. My reactions, more or less in order:

(1) When I opened my news reader this morning, the first headline was a story from CNN, "Stocks set for higher open after death of Osama bin Laden." I think I did a classic comedy double-take.

(2) The Republicans who were planning to run for president must be crying tonight. There's no way in hell they're going to beat Obama in 2012 now.

(3) It's about time we got this done. Even I almost wish there was a hell so that evil bastard can rot there.

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: I wrote this post quickly while still half-asleep, after turning on my computer in the morning and seeing the news headlines. I've since had time to collect my thoughts and have written a lengthier account of my position.

May 2, 2011, 6:34 am • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink146 comments

The Abuse of the Doctrine of Standing

In what's becoming a depressingly predictable trend, there's bad news on the church-state front: the Freedom from Religion Foundation's legal victory over the National Day of Prayer has been tossed out by a federal appeals court. A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the FFRF lacks standing and ordering that the lower court decision be vacated. The FFRF plans to seek an en banc rehearing before the entire Seventh Circuit, although this is a long shot at best.

Sadly, I'm not surprised. It was always more likely than not that this ruling would be overturned; the only real questions were how high it would get before this happened and what legal fig leaf would be used to dismiss Judge Barbara Crabb's carefully reasoned ruling. In this case, it turned out to be the doctrine of standing, which says that only people who have a concrete interest in the outcome of a legal controversy can bring suit.

In general, there has to be something like this - as Glenn Greenwald says, the courts can't be "free-floating omnipotent tribunals" with the power to decide any controversy. A person or interest group should have to have a stake in the outcome of the case to participate in a lawsuit. But standing should be a low bar to clear, blocking only frivolous and pointless legal claims. Instead, the courts have twisted it into a convoluted and arcane rule where only certain highly specific kinds of injury are permitted as grounds to sue. This means that many meritorious claims, even those relating to the violation of constitutional rights, can never be heard.

In this case, the Seventh Circuit found that the FFRF had suffered no injury from the National Day of Prayer. Apparently, this is true even if public money is used to sponsor and organize the day's events, even if participation is restricted to certain religious sects that work hand-in-glove with elected officials, even if NDP events specifically endorse one version of religious scripture over others, even if said events include official statements questioning the patriotism, morality or citizenship of those who refuse to participate. Never mind all that - when the President tells you to pray, you can say no, and that's all it takes for your civil rights not to be violated!

Such reasoning could only come from the mind of someone who's spent their entire life comfortably in the religious majority and has never had to experience the exclusionary effect of being told that they don't belong to a privileged circle of political insiders. Under this new era of legal thinking, Congress could pass a law declaring Christianity the official religion of the U.S., and still no one would have standing to object as long as they weren't being forcibly marched into church by government agents. (And maybe not even then - after all, right-wing judges would reason, they aren't forcing you to agree with what's being preached, now are they?)

Turning "standing" into an all-purpose excuse to dismiss a lawsuit is an increasingly common tactic of conservative judges. Another example is the awful 2007 Hein decision which held that expenditures of money by Congress to promote religion confer standing to sue, but expenditures of money by the executive branch somehow don't. This nonsensical and indefensible decision was obviously decreed by conservative justices in order to reach their desired policy result: permitting the faith-based initiative to continue. (I fear that there are now five members of the Supreme Court who are prepared to bless any church-state violation whatsoever.)

Yet another example would be the Bush-era legal position, shamefully perpetuated by the Obama administration, that even if the government is spying on American citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment, no one has standing to bring a lawsuit unless they can prove that they personally were illegally surveilled. This is a ludicrous claim that creates a horrendous perverse incentive: the government can get away with any lawbreaking conduct as long as they can successfully cover it up, in which case the courts will do nothing to adjudicate the truth.

The evisceration of the standing doctrine creates a legal paradox: it may well be that some actions by the government are unconstitutional, but no one can do anything about it because no one has standing to have their objections heard. This position makes the Bill of Rights meaningless. The laws set out in the Constitution aren't just noble aspirations our government should try its best to live up to: they are strict and settled limits on what our elected public servants can and can't do, and the reason we have a system of checks and balances is to enforce that guarantee. The court, in effect, is abdicating its constitutionally given role by denying a hearing to citizens with a grievance. A more rational position, though one that stands no chance of passing in our current political climate, would be that any governmental action which breaches the Constitution confers standing on any citizen to sue.

April 19, 2011, 5:44 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink27 comments

Activists, Beware the Veal Pen

Ophelia and Hemant have pointed out that the White House is creating an "Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge" to encourage college students and religious groups to work on community-service projects. What's more, Greg Epstein, the humanist chaplain at Harvard, was invited to the kickoff meeting, and he's overjoyed:

I can vouch for the fact that we have been included every step of the way; not only in big public moments like the inaugural speech shout-out to "nonbelievers", but also behind the scenes. Last June, I was invited to visit the White House as part of a small gathering of University and college presidents, deans, chaplains, and interfaith student leaders to discuss the initial plans that led to this initiative. I'll never forget the moment when Joshua Dubois, the convener of that gathering and Director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, greeted us.

Dubois, a young African American Pentacostalist [sic], took the podium and talked about how the group gathered that day was one of the most diverse in the history of the White House. It included many different kinds of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others - and, he emphasized, there were even secular activists in attendance... To emphasize that point, Dubois even mentioned me by name and title, had me raise my hand, and everyone in the room applauded at the idea that we were there.

Look: I'm not saying it's a bad thing that nonbelievers are being acknowledged and invited to participate in political events. I'm glad to see representatives of secular groups at the White House - it's a good sign and an indicator of our growing political influence. But does anyone else get the sense, from Epstein's rapturous verbiage, that he's far too easily pleased? Literally, all he got was the most perfunctory nod, and it seems to have sent him into paroxysms of joy. Especially under a Democratic administration, we should expect more than token recognition of our existence.

I'm glad to see atheists meeting with the White House, but only if we use that access as a means to push Obama on issues that matter to us: ending military proselytization, supporting same-sex marriage, protecting access to abortion, to name a few. (He's made it clear that he'll never take a stand on any of these issues unless he's pushed.) Instead, I get the worrying impression that Epstein was happy just to be "included", and that he would deem it discourteous to ask for anything more.

There's an evocative term for this, coined by the blog Firedoglake: the veal pen. The veal pen is shorthand for the way that political leaders try to coopt and silence activists among their own base: bribing them with "insider access", flattering them with empty rhetoric, and ultimately training them to accept meaningless symbolic gestures in lieu of actually doing something about the issues that matter to them. The analogy, of course, is to veal calves that are kept confined in darkness and fed occasionally to make them fat and soft. (The term was coined to describe the Obama administration's behavior toward groups pressing them to take a more liberal stance on issues like health care and gay rights, but there are conservative equivalents as well. See also.)

In my opinion, atheists shouldn't be participating in anything run by the "Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships" at all. This is the group that funnels money to churches of the president's choice, with no statutory restrictions on who's eligible or how they can spend it - a horrendous scheme that the Supreme Court blessed. What's worse, President Obama promised to repeal the Bush executive order permitting charities that receive public money to discriminate on the basis of religion, a promise that he has not kept.

I have no objection to working together with religious groups in the right circumstance, but this isn't it. By our presence at this event, we legitimize this group's activities (which is doubtless part of the reason atheists were invited - to provide political cover for the next state-church lawsuit against it). A better option would have been for secular activists to boycott this meeting, accompanied by a clear statement that we refuse to support in any way, shape or form a political organization that exists in violation of the First Amendment. That would send a strong message, to politicians in general and President Obama specifically, that they can't purchase our support for cheap.

March 23, 2011, 5:47 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink16 comments

Walk Like An Egyptian

No Simo to be seen in Cairo, and God's Son has no place in Madison

By Sarah Braasch

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

I am sure that most of you are aware of the massive grassroots demonstrations that have been taking place at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison in response to Governor Scott Walker's emergency budget repair bill. I have been demonstrating all week on behalf of workers' rights and public employees and unions, alongside public school teachers and firefighters and nurses and many, many more hardworking, middle class workers and their families.

I have been amazed by how peaceful and civil the protests have been, even when a small Tea Party contingent showed up on Saturday, February 19th. The Capitol Square has been teeming with tens of thousands of teachers, students, kids, and families. There is an overwhelming spirit of camaraderie and purpose. Despite the gravity of the historical and political moment, the protests have been fun and festive, with musical acts and drum circles and insanely clever protest signs. Each and every time the firefighters procession shows up, with firefighters in uniform and led by bagpipes, the crowd goes wild. The firefighters were exempted from Walker's attacks on the other public employee unions, but they have been coming out in force to support their brother and sister unions.

Many of the protest signs reference the recent demonstrations in Egypt, which toppled Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, and many political pundits in the media have commented on similarities between the two movements. Both movements are fights for democracy (and the movement in Madison does have far reaching implications for the future of the Democratic Party and democracy in the United States, because the downfall of the unions would be the downfall, after Citizens United, of the last remaining institutions that give the people any kind of a real voice in our elections, which are now overwhelmed by the political campaign contributions of corporations). But, it does seem a bit extreme to compare those risking their lives to overthrow a brutal dictatorial regime with Governor Scott Walker's implicit threat to call out the National Guard to quell the peaceful protests of public school teachers and his explicit threat to lay off thousands of public employees if his demands are not met.

But, there is one aspect of the demonstrations in Egypt, which I would like to see duplicated in Madison. As was reported by most mainstream media outlets in the English-speaking world, almost all of the demonstrations in Egypt were secular, and purposefully and purposely so. While the Muslim Brotherhood played a role in the protests, as part of a larger coalition of democracy advocates, including secular democracy and civil society advocates, the Brotherhood agreed to refrain from using any religious slogans and from taking an obvious leadership position. Additionally, displays of religiosity were discouraged at the protests.

The Egyptians knew that the whole world was watching them, waiting to dismiss and discredit their movement as theocratic, not democratic. (It remains to be seen how steadfast will be the Muslim Brotherhood's commitment to secularism. I, for one, am not expecting any miracles, but, for now, they have at least demonstrated an ability to abstain from explicit Islamism when politically expedient.) The Egyptians knew they had everything to gain, i.e., worldwide support for their grassroots movement to overthrow Mubarak, by remaining secular. They also understood how easily they could lose global public approbation, by casting their movement as overtly religious, with the implied goals of establishing an Islamic theocracy and implementing Sharia (Muslim law). They also understood the power of a visible female presence at the demonstrations, as an ostensible manifestation of secularism, and granted the women participating in the protests a reprieve from their gender punishment of unrelenting verbal and physical sexual harassment and assault, which is the norm on the streets of Cairo. (The vicious sexual assault on reporter Lara Logan, while she was covering the victory celebrations, certainly does not bode well for the status of women in the Egyptian public sphere.)

Religiosity is the determining criterion by which the West judges Egypt's resolve for both democracy and women's rights. And, rightfully so. Religiosity and democracy are at odds with one another; they are mutually incompatible, as are religiosity and women's rights. They are overlapping magisteria, which destroy one another, like matter and anti-matter, releasing devastating gamma radiation in the process. That is why Thomas Jefferson built up a wall of separation between state and church, to avoid just such a destructive conflagration.

As quick as the protesters are to make comparisons between Wisconsin and Egypt, I wish Wisconsin would mimic the Egyptians' insistence on maintaining the secular nature of their demonstrations. I wish the organizers and protesters in Madison were worried about keeping the protests democratic, not theocratic, for fear of being discredited.

Now, to be fair, the protests in Madison have been largely secular. But, to my dismay, each day of the protest has had to suffer one or another speaker's ill-conceived attempts to inject Jesus Christ into the proceedings. Someone feels the need to pray to Jesus or refer to Jesus or try to motivate us by preaching and praising the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When this occurs, most of the crowd seems palpably uncomfortable, and everyone sort of looks around at each other quizzically and incredulously. A few persons feel obligated to humor the speaker and embark on half-hearted and bungled renditions of whichever hymn or prayer.

But, I resent the concerted crescendo of Christianity being perpetrated upon the masses at the Capitol. Ours is a secular government. I think it represents a complete miscalculation on the part of the perpetrators. This began as and remains a secular, democratic movement with secular, democratic aims. I do not want to see it usurped or adulterated or obscured by religionist interlopers. Additionally, those who are waging a war on workers' rights and public and private sector unions and the lower and middle classes are those same persons who are waging a war on women and children and social safety nets, and they typically invoke religious ideology as justification for their malfeasance. They would love nothing more than to see the U.S. turned into a White American Christian Theocracy. The evangelical Scott Walker (who stated at his inauguration prayer breakfast that there is no "freedom from religion") ran on a platform that cow-towed to the religious right and was anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-stem cell research. At his inauguration prayer breakfast, he also made clear that "our freedoms are derived" from the "Great Creator" and "not the government." The religionists' insistence upon insinuating themselves into the protests in Madison comes across as unctuous and opportunistic and mercenary.

And, of course, because the Christianists are attempting to impose Christian religious law upon the American citizenry and not Sharia, they are incapable of appreciating the double standard of judging the Egyptian protesters' commitment to democracy according to their displays of religiosity, but not the Wisconsin protesters. In their minds, Christianity is compatible with democracy, but Islam is not. This is a fallacy. When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops drafts U.S. federal legislation, which relegates American women to sub-human status, something has gone very, very wrong. This is Sharia. It is Christian Sharia. And, there is nothing democratic, and everything theocratic, about that. I would love to see how the Christianists would respond if someone stepped up to the podium in front of the Capitol and declared the fight for workers' rights an Islamic jihad, in the proud tradition of Mohammed's example.

Go sell crazy somewhere else. We don't want any in Cairo. And, we don't want any in Madison.


February 27, 2011, 10:23 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink26 comments

Wednesday Link Roundup

I may write more about some of these stories over the weekend, but in the meantime, I just had to make quick mention of them:

• Prominent evangelical pastor John MacArthur, whom Daylight Atheism readers have heard about before, has a new pearl of wisdom to bestow on us as regards the democratic revolutions currently sweeping the Middle East (HT: Slacktivist):

I think there are a lot of ways to approach that but if you just talk about a biblical thing, [the protesters] are all in violation of a biblical command – to submit to the powers that be because they're ordained of God. I'm not saying Moammar Gadhafi is the best leader, I'm not saying that Mubarak is a great, benevolent and just leader, not when he's got $70 billion in his own pockets at the expense of people.

But what I am saying is that whatever the government would be, even if it was Caesar in the New Testament, that the believers are commanded to live orderly lives, peaceful, quiet lives, subjecting themselves to the powers that be because they're ordained of God... After all, who said democracy's the best form of government? No matter what the form of government is, the Bible doesn't advocate anything but a theocracy.

Libertarianism in a nutshell, as told by The Volokh Conspiracy (HT: Slacktivist, again - what can I say, he's posted some great stuff lately!):

I think there's a good case to be made that taxing people to protect the Earth from an asteroid, while within Congress's powers, is an illegitimate function of government from a moral perspective.

And emphasized by the author, in a comment:

Yes, the view I've stated opposes taxation even to prevent the end of civilization, provided that end happens by purely natural means.

I laughed a lot at this, until the sobering realization that some people who believe this have probably been elected to high office. Do read the post about it on Slacktivist - he also discusses a very interesting distinction between "first-order insanity" and "second-order insanity", which could be very useful concepts for atheists.

• A discussion of conservative atheists. Unfortunately, it rather proves the point that they are, for all intents and purposes, utterly irrelevant compared to the religious right:

In 2008, feeling the absence of irreligious voices on the right, Mr. Khan, who also blogs about science for Discover magazine's Web site, started Today, the site usually gets 500 to 1,000 hits a day, Mr. Khan said, although there are spikes as high as 10,000.

Sheesh. I get more than 10,000 hits on an average day. When do I get a writeup in the New York Times?

February 23, 2011, 7:45 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink26 comments

Why the Confederate States Seceded

I've written previously about the Confederate States of America and how that short-lived country was a Christian theocracy which invoked religion to justify slavery. But even today, there are still religious conservatives who try to whitewash these historical facts and erase the memory of what really led the South to try to break away from the Union. This post is for them.

South Carolina was the first state to secede, and in December 1860, its government issued a document explaining why. This document, which had the unwieldy title "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union", was meant as a Confederate parallel to the Declaration of Independence. Yale's Avalon Project has the text of this document, so you can read it and see for yourself what the Confederates' thinking was.

We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further, that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely: the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other; and that where no arbiter is provided, each party is remitted to his own judgment to determine the fact of failure, with all its consequences.

In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."

This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made....

But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.

...We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

As you can see, there's nothing in this document about "states' rights" or any such modern right-wing fiction. Or rather, there's only one right at issue: the right to own slaves. South Carolina asserted that the northern states had an obligation under the Constitution to return fugitive slaves to their masters, and that they weren't doing this. They further asserted that the northern states were infringing their "rights of property" by seeking to free human beings from bondage. Because of this, South Carolina claimed that the Constitution was null and void and it had the right to strike out on its own. (And, yes, they did believe that God was on their side: "We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions...")

Other Confederate states, like Mississippi, issued similar declarations making the same points: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery" - and railing against the abolitionist movement which "advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst". Texas, also, in its secession, took aim at those who were "proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color - a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law".

The next time some right-winger tries to romanticize his favorite political cause by hinting that it's just like the ones that inspired the South to secede once before, show him this evidence. It may at least give him pause to consider whether his pet issue is quite as glorious as it's made out to be.

January 7, 2011, 6:48 am • Posted in: The LibraryPermalink31 comments

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