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Archive for the ‘Justice’ Category

I really wish I didn’t have to make this post, but unfortunately, I do. Unlike many folks I encounter, I have a code of ethics and morals and I believe in true equality. Many folks seem to have this hypocritical habit of supporting things like free speech and equality only when it suits them or their interests, or only when the topic in question is not too controversial or only so long as certain people they place upon pedestals don’t object. This is not the mark of a patriot, a freedom fighter, an independent or someone worthy of support. Its the mark of a coward, a hypocrite, an imbecile and folks who ought not to have the right to inhabit our country.

I don’t hate very many people or organizations, but The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is one fundamentalist Christian organization I do reserve a special spot in the deep, dark bottom of my cold, dead heart for. WBC is better described as a cult and its a disgusting little organization run by a deranged lunatic who appointed himself to be a preacher named Fred Phelps. The flock is comprised mostly of members of his family. I truly hate this organization, its membership, its leaders and what it stands for.

Being a gay homosexual myself, I am one of the groups of people they have targeted. So far, I have had a couple of run-ins with this organization, the most recent of which was when they came to Moore, Oklahoma and decided to picket Moore High School. Moore has alot of gay youth, as one friend of mine so politically incorrectly observed, “Moore is where all the bottoms come from.”. There is a video about the protest that I got involved in on my YouTube channel.

Now word comes that The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is going to hear an appeal regarding a lawsuit filed against him Phelps for WBC’s activities. One fine day in 2006, Phelps decided to picket the funeral of a dead US solider in Maine with their usual vile message of hate. The family sued WBC and Phelps and was awarded the family over $11 million in damages for emotional distress. The judge reduced the award to $5 million, then a federal appeals court threw out the award all together. The family now appeals to SCOTUS to reinstate the damages.

This is an important case because we are about set a key precedent. That family deserves the money, that I will tell you. But unfortunately, if they are awarded those funds, it will come at great expense to all of us. Because the case will not just decide if they get the money, it will decide if free speech extends to funerals. While most decent people know that a funeral is no place to make a political statement, this is not about decency – of which Phelps has none – this is about freedom of speech. As we should all be aware, the right to speech in this country includes the right to speak at times when it is not socially acceptable (at a funeral) and also the right to say unintelligent, disagreeable, stupid things (as WBC does early and often). As we should also be equally aware, rights are have often been lost by taking a well-meaning step towards silencing a highly offensive message in the name of cleaning up the public forum.

Fred Phelps is an old man, soon he will be in the ground dead and no longer voicing his hatred for all. WBC has not been very successful in recruiting new members, either. When his family dies off, so to will his church and its vile message of hate. While the message Phelps and WBC have for the world is annoying and undoubtedly painful for those who have to hear it, it is not worth gutting the first Amendment over to rid ourselves of it! If we start saying that objectionable or offensive speech is not allowed at funerals, we have just set a dangerous precedent that you can bet will be promptly extended to other areas – like churches and other religious gatherings. Will it be illegal for homosexuals to protest WBC while they are in session if SCOTUS decides in favor of the family? Thats a real possibility if SCOTUS finds in favor of this family.

Many people are going to argue that funerals are off-limits and that no one has the right to come into a funeral and make a statement. In other words, SCOTUS should find in this family’s favor because the ends (stopping people from being assholes through speech at funerals) justify the means (making it illegal to be an asshole through speech at places where such conduct is prohibited by law). In one way, they are correct. Funerals are closed events and there should be a legal right to exclude undesirables. Funerals, when held on private property as they usually are, are off-limits to anyone who does not have permission of the real property owner to come onto that private property. All that is needed is for the property owner to tell the Phelps that they are not welcome and ask them to leave. If they don’t, a phone call to the police will result in an arrest for trespassing.

But if they stand beyond the property line on public property or on the property of someone who allows them to be there, then that’s fair play. Legally, there is no sound argument to be made for silencing WBC so long as they stand beyond the property line. That wont keep them from sending their message, and the best thing to do would to be to use a very large piece of property, so that the property line is far enough away that the Phelps are out of sight and out of mind. If this case is about protecting the privacy and sanctuary of funerals, this will be an adequate fix to the problem. But I suspect alot of people want to see this family win to silence the Phelps and thats not an action that should be undertaken.

I must say that in this case, I support the right of WBC to speak because it’s a right granted to all citizens of this country – even at funerals and even when the message being spoken is morally repugnant and devoid of value. I hope that SCOTUS, with its conservative makeup, makes this connection. True conservatives tend to understand these types of arguments and will see them under the Castle doctrine, so there is hope that common sense will prevail.

We must resist the temptation to take feel-good actions in extreme cases that have far-reaching consequences. Part of not being a hypocritical coward is having the courage to defend people you truely hate when their ability to remain equal is threatened. In this case, the equality of WBC and Phelps is being threatened in a manner that threatens our collective right to free speech. This I cannot and will not be a part of supporting.

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So this past Friday, I appeared on The American Heathen Radio Network’s talk show. We had a great time talking about the issues, and we also made an announcement. There is going to be a second lawsuit regarding vanity plates in Oklahoma in the near future. The host of the show, RJ Evans has previously been granted a tag reading “ATHEIST” by the OTC. However, the OTC has in the past denied the tag “GODLESS”. Evans is going to apply for the GODLESS tag later this week and when it is denied, bring suit against the OTC for the improper denial.

This is particularly disturbing (while at the same time being quite amusing) because it shows the highly subjective manner in which the OTC grants and denies tags. Simply put: the manner in which the OTC adjudicates applications is both arbitrary and capricious. Atheist means godless. The idea that the word atheist is not offensive but godless is offensive is pure poppycock. Whats more, it shows that the OTC is not even consistent in denying one side of a single issue the right to speak. While they have (as far as I know) kept all the gays from getting plates that could express their gayness, they clearly haven’t done the same for the atheists. No doubt, they’ll claim that this was another one of those plates that “slipped through”, but its been issued for over three years. As the Administrative Law Judge pointed out in the administrative hearings phase of the protest, each year a plate is renewed was an opportunity to deny such renewal and correct any plates that had “slipped through” and the OTC, in all of the examples that were considered at the hearing, elected not to do so.

So now we have the two biggest hot button issues in on this fight. We have religion and we have homosexuality. As RJ has astutely pointed out, this a separation of church and state issue as much as its a free speech and gay rights issue. We have a government agency which has claimed for itself the right to exclude certain people from the conversation that is taking place on about 56,000 vanity plates in the state based on criteria that is neither written nor specific. Who gets and plate and doesn’t get a plate is up to the personal prejudices of the individual encoder examining the application. When you let some people on one side of an issue talk and deny that right to others, its viewpoint-based discrimination. In Cimarron Alliance v. City of Oklahoma City, Ok, 290 F.Supp.2d 1252 (W.D. Okl., 2002), the federal Courts took a definitive stand against viewpoint-based discrimination.

While this started out being about me getting a license plate I wanted to express myself, it has quickly become about so much more. Its no longer just about me or my plate and its not even about gay rights. While all of these are components and motivating factors, This is about free speech and separation of church and state. Two of the most fundamental rights we as citizens of the United States hold to be of paramount importance. If the Oklahoma Tax Commission gets away with its conduct in this case, this signals a huge change in our rights. It will be the dawn of a new era in which the 1st amendment is void where prohibited, restricted or taxed by law or administrative rule. This case will set precedent and change the direction of free speech in this country.

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I have been crazy busy these last few days to my regret, have not really had time to keep up with local news.  Whats up with Jim Pope? Well, our Republican friends did a great job of summarizing his accomplishments. Tim Pope was an enemy of the people. He worked to undermine equality. As a human being who gives a shit about this kind of stuff, I am glad he is dead. I hope they dig the hole post haste and plant him deep so that he can begin making the world a better place post-death (something he failed to do while he was alive) by fertilizing a cemetery plot.

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Well, I expected that the local Oklahoma City-based media would pay attention to the lawsuit I filed against The Oklahoma Tax Commission. I figured some outlets from around Oklahoma would also pay attention. I even thought that I might get a few “Attaboy!”s from a few concerned homos across state lines. But I did not expect CNN to call me about Nancy Grace possibly being interested in the case nor did I expect celebrity gossip blog Dlisted to turn the case into a referendum on my fashion choices by naming me “Hot Slut of the Day”. But all of those things have happened today, and many others.

Something else has happened as well. I have received dozens of communications from folks telling me what kinds of plates they have seen around or had issued to them. Its become a discussion about license plates and the phenomenon. I am convinced now – more than at any other point in this whole fiasco – that the OTC has lost this case. They may as well tape all applications up on the wall and throw darts at them to decide who gets a plate and who doesn’t. Its all based on, well, who knows what its based on. I don’t even think they know.

Here are two observations from those communications:

  • A fellow Norman resident called to tell me they granted his tag “ATHEIST”. Odd, since they have denied “GODLESS” and others. So not only do they engage in viewpoint-based discrimination, they are not even consistent in their discrimination within a single topic.
  • From a comment on the News 9 Story: “I don’t see anything wrong with the tag. There is a guy in Norman that has a tag that reads NOFTCHX. Which means NO FAT CHICKS, he can have that but an outwardly gay man can’t have an IM GAY tag. Get real people whatever happened to freedom of speech???”

Oh, and last – but certainly not least – there is this:

Media coverage in the case has apparently reached a nationwide level already, as I have some lonely, single (presumably, gay) guy who thinks I am cute and wants to get to know me in a really hurry. He is 22 years old, works at Sams Club and is from some town I have never heard of in New York. He found my cell number somewhere (probably the damned press release) and started texting me telling me he wanted to be friends on Facebook. I approved the friend request he sent and he immediately started chatting me up.

I was on the phone with a reporter when all this happened, so I had to ask him to stop messaging me on my Facebook chat like a dozen times so I could concentrate on my call and not sound like a stuttering idiot to the reporter on the other end who was trying to get me to come on his radio show (which I will be appearing on this Friday from 7 to 10 PM, I am sitting on the entire show). He would stop for about a minute and then start back in and ask me if I am still there and such. He was half groveling and half worshiping me, while asking what I thought of him looks wise.

It was a bit over the top and I finally snapped and swore at him out of frustration (and immediately felt bad for doing it, how was he supposed to know I am not a patient person) and told him I was looking for the block button on Facebook. He asked why and I told him, point blank: he was annoying the hell out of me. He then freaked out and begged for forgiveness and for me not to block him. It was at this point that I realized a measure of humility was needed here.

Honestly, I felt sorry for the guy. Clearly, he was happy to have found a friend. He doesn’t have many on Facebook and I wonder if I am the only gay guy he knows or who will talk to him. The world is a cruel place for a homosexual when you are all alone. Even when you are around folks who understand and support you, its not much less cruel. Some of the things being said about me in the comments sections of various news sites are completely uncalled for. There are areas of New York that are every bit as conservative as Oklahoma, so I can understand and appreciate some of what he is facing. Hell, I was there not so long ago.

I don’t know his situation, but I’ll try to find out and help if I can. He’s offline now and the reporter is off the phone. I just hope he doesn’t kill himself or something. He did strike me as perhaps a little unbalanced and/or desperate for human contact and he said something about him having ADHD. The way society treats gay people, its a wonder that they manage to survive at all, much less some of them become truly awesome. Bigot Sally Kern once made light of how gay kids have high suicide rates. I wonder if it ever occurred to her that maybe thats the case because society – led by people like her – so often treat these people like utter trash to the point that they as human beings just shut down and lose all desire and reason for living.

Overall, I feel very good about where this case is headed. The media is covering this story fairly and accurately, which surprises me a little bit. I figured we’d have some outlet come out with a hatchet job of a story, spun around to fit some biased viewpoint. But they don’t seem to be doing that. The Oklahoman ran a factual story, followed closely by The Associated Press’s take on it. I take that in and of itself as a sign of progress. We’re going to open some doors in Oklahoma with this one. Now, some folks are not going to want them opened, but they will be opened none the less.

I say all this is all a good thing. We’re moving forward. Attitudes are changing here.

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One of the favorite arguments the Tort Reform lobby likes to make in favor of its position is that tort reform is necessary to prevent a slew of people from abusing the system to get rich filing lawsuits for exaggerated or made up claims.Not to mention, it will free up the Courts to deal with important cases by easing the flood of meaningless claims.

There is one case in particular that is always pointed to as an example of this treachery. We’ve all heard about the lady named Stella Liebeck and her encounter with hot coffee at McDonalds. Most folks don’t know her name, yet they still judge her and think that she was a greedy old woman who took advantage of a situation. Well, thats what people who don’t know the facts think. The real facts of the case are at Public Citizen. Still think that verdict is so ridiculous? I sure don’t.

“So what!”, you say? Further, you argue: “One case proved incorrect. There are still gobbs of people who abuse the system which is experiencing a flood of lawsuits filed by greedy system abusers. Corporations just want to protect themselves and their shareholder’s profits from this ludicrous behavior. Tort reform now.”

What if I told you that there is no flood of litigation being filed by these people? What if I told you that people in the United States are not nearly as sue happy as we often think? What if I told you that well over half of the litigation filed in this country is not even filed by people? Would you believe it? What if I told you that I could prove it?

Fun Fact: The overwhelming majority of civil litigation filed in the United States is filed on behalf of corporations.

Don’t believe me? Lets put it to the test. Take a look at the cases (excluding criminal and traffic) filed in Oklahoma County District Court on February 10th, 2010. Oklahoma County holds the capital of the State of Oklahoma and the docket sheet I showed you is typical of any day. Go here and try another date. For that matter, try another county. The format for entering dates is MM/DD/YYYY. Sure, the numbers change a little here and there, but by and large the overwhelming majority of lawsuits are filed on behalf of corporations. Its this way everywhere, not just in red states. It doesn’t get more liberal than California, go look at the daily dockets for their courts. Its the same everywhere. Could it be that the corporations are the only ones who can afford the lawyers to get their cases into court?

There is a flood of litigation in the United States all right. Most of it comes from the same people who are funding the Tort Reform movement. Tort Reform is a lie. It designed to slam the courthouse doors in the faces of people who seek to hold those responsible for victimizing them responsible.

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