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[ All Issues of Biased Journalism | Main Scientology Page ]Biased Journalism Volume 4, Number 1 March 14, 1998
We've forgotten who first said that "asking the government to help you with something is like making a wish on the Monkey's Paw."
The Wolf-Specter Act, which establishes a federal office to combat religious persecution, is not an urban legend. If this act becomes law, the federal government will acquire sweeping police power over religious expression. While the law speaks of exercising federal authority to sanction governments which permit religious persecution, we cannot help wondering what would happen here at home. The stated purpose of the bill contains a loophole that would appear to accommodate a very large vehicle.
--Clearly we need federal police to keep tabs on speech with religious overtones and keep track of the persons who utter that speech, or might possibly utter it in the future. We need a corps of informers, a classified database, a religious police swat team to conduct raids, administrative personnel to liase with all federal, state and local agencies...limousines, helicopters, flak vests, junkets and special insignia.
We cannot think of a greater insult to the First Amendment than HR2431. Could it pass? It might. The net censorship lobby is powerful and well financed. History suggests that putting enough money behind an initiative will pass anything.
The principal vehicle of free speech is the Internet. Religious and political expression are closely entwined everywhere. Suppression of free speech on the net would likely be an early objective of the Office.
Stealth play? Perhaps the most aggressive member of the Internet censorship lobby is the church of scientology, which has long wanted police authority to suppress criticism of its actions and the publication of its proprietary documents. The church has recently made notable progress in obtaining cooperation from the White House and the State Department in furthering its political objectives. Its current objective is to punish Germany for, it claims, religious persecution. As we see it, the church has a vested interest in the passage of this bill and could exert influence behind the scenes in the Office.
The net censorship lobby and the church of scientology working together might ensure passage of this bill. We wish to call this possibility to the attention of net.citizens.
John Sterling wrote:
I have now reviewed the text of HR2431 (Wolf-Specter Act) and I have reached a conclusion which I prepared to support. My mind is not closed but I still have serious reservations about this bill (as I do with most legislation) because:
Re: HR 2431 (Freedom From Religious Persecution Act of 1998)
Commentary by John Sterling (March 13, 1998)
Disclaimer: I make no claim to genius or particular insight. My perception is colored by my experience which has produced in me a certain pessimism. I am deeply suspicious of government "solutions" to perceived problems, especially when those solutions are tools in the hands of people who do not a strong record of honoring constitutional guarantees.
"A Bill To establish an Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring, to provide for the imposition of sanctions against countries engaged in a pattern of religious persecution, and for _other purpose_. (emphasis mine)
Our government, having been given a constitutional directive not to "restrict the free exercise of [religion]", has nevertheless prohibited prayer in schools, denied public displays having religious significance, sought to prevent conscientious intervention of abortion protesters, obstructed the right of people to gather in certain settings for religious purposes, imposed more and more restrictions on Christian evangelism, etc. Those are just a few of the first amendment issues which demonstrate a mindset on the part of government officials whose disregard for the U. S. Constitution is well known.
How does the government scorecard read with regard to the rest of the U.S. Constitution? Can it be trusted to remain within the boundaries of the law? The government is bound in no uncertain terms to not "infringe" on the right of citizens to keep and bear arms yet we are subjected to limitations on quantity, type, quality, capacity, and style (appearance) of our firearms. In some jurisdictions, we are restricted altogether from ownership, use or possession of firearms without legitimate (government approved) reason. Once legislation is enacted which asserts that the government actually HAS a (limited) authority to infringe on the private ownership of firearms, then it is only a matter of time until the limitations are removed and the degree of control is enlarged. Once the people acquiesce to the assertion of authority, it is difficult to later argue against the increase in control. It is the dreaded "slippery slope" that occurs once we depart from the principle of the law.
Examples abound of a "pattern of abuses" which tend to show that the government of the United States cannot remain within the confines of its Constitutional authority. If neither Congress, nor the Judiciary, nor the Executive Branch can exercise self-control then we must insist that they pass no new laws until they show that they can be trusted. Examples: Fourth Amendment abuses of search and seizure, asset forfeiture for civil violation, IRS abuses, misapplication of RICO laws (using laws intended for organized crime to punish abortion protesters), suspension of due process, misapplication of EPA regs to condemn private property, etc. etc. etc. What possible moral authority (let alone Constitutional authority) can be claimed which would place our government in a position to make determinations of "abuses" of a religious nature in ANY country?
The first concern with this bill (or any other law) should be with regard to its Constitutional authority. Does our Congress have the authority to create another level of bureaucracy to deal with matters of religious freedom in foreign countries? How does that concept play back to us if the situation was reversed? What if another country was enacting laws and creating departments to "oversee" religious freedom in America? Even if it could be established that Congress has the legitimate authority to do so, is this the appropriate mechanism to accomplish the objective? Do we need an Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring in the Executive Branch to impose Sanctions on foreign governments? We already have the ability to sanction for human rights violations which, as far as I am able to tell, includes "using torture, starvation, enslavement, and murder." (Sec. 2. Para 4. Of the Bill) Doesn't Congress have an obligation to the people to pass only "necessary" laws?
Apart from the Constitutional issue, and looking at the bill itself (from my slanted, suspicious, perspective) there are some potentially troubling concepts. For example: what is the "any other purpose" mentioned in the opening paragraph? Given the government's proclivity towards taking indecent liberties with such language, shouldn't this cause the prudent to pause for reflection? To me, it seems to be a barn door big enough to drive a semi truck through.
"Sec 2.(1) Governments have a primary responsibility to promote,
encourage, and protect respect for the fundamental and internationally
recognized right to freedom of religion."
"Sec 2.(7) The United States Government is committed to the right to freedom of religion and its policies and relations with foreign governments should be consistent with the commitment to this principle."
In light of the preceding paragraphs, perhaps we should consider how well our government has handled its "primary responsibility". When someone promises to be "committed" to something, I like to see evidence in the form of performance. Absent such evidence, or in light of countervailing or contrary evidence, I am reluctant to gamble very heavily on such a profession of "commitment."
Sec. Para (4) RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION-
(A) IN GENERAL- The term `religious persecution' means widespread and ongoing persecution of persons because of their membership in or affiliation with a religion or religious denomination, whether officially recognized or otherwise, when such persecution includes abduction, enslavement, killing, imprisonment, forced mass resettlement, rape, or crucifixion or other forms of torture.
Again, if the objective of this legislation is to empower the U.S. to impose sanctions on foreign governments, do we not already have such authority at the present time? Are not the above described acts already considered "human rights violations"? Are they somehow more offensive if motivated by "religious" reasons?
SEC. 4. APPLICATION AND SCOPE.
(a) SCOPE- The provisions of this Act shall apply to all persecuted religious groups and communities, and all countries and regions thereof, referred to in the resolutions and bill set forth in paragraph (8) of section 2 or referred to in paragraphs (3) through (6) of section 2, and to any community within any country or region......
All groups, communities, countries and regions? Pretty broad jurisdiction. But hey, no persecution is beyond the reach of Marshall Matt Dillon et.al. Here is a question for the scholars out there-- what if the persecution is against one religious group at the hands of another religious group and the government (whatever country) is unable or unwilling to intervene? In light of the following, does this clothe our "persecution police" with authority to intervene?
SEC. 5. OFFICE OF RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION MONITORING.
(a) ESTABLISHMENT- There is established in the Executive Office of the President the Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring (hereafter in this Act referred to as the `Office').
(b) APPOINTMENT- The head of the Office shall be a Director who shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Director shall receive compensationat the rate of pay in effect for level IV of the Executive Schedule under section 5315 of title 5, United States Code.
(e) RESPONSIBILITIES OF DIRECTOR- The Director shall do the following:(1) Consider the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom presented in the annual reports of the Department of State on human rights under sections 116(d) and 502B(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151n(d) and 2304(b)).
(2) Consider the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom presented by independent human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations.
(3) In consultation with the Secretary of State, make policy recommendations to the President regarding the policies of the United States Government toward governments which are determined to be engaged in religious persecution.
I have the deepest respect and the kindest regards for my brothers, Gary Bauer, James Dobson, and Pat Roberston, all of whom reportedly support this legislation. I think I understand the reasons for their support. As Christians, we are all concerned about human rights (in all countries) and especially hurt for those brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for their faith. In spite of the references in the bill to Muslims, Tibetan Hindus, and Iranian Bahai's, the emphasis of this legislation is on persecuted Christians worldwide. Dobson, Robertson and the many of the rest of the Christian Leaders who support this, are involved with, or representatives of, "nongovernmental organizations" who may independently offer advise and counsel in the making of foreign policy with regard to these countries. This potentially puts conservative Christian leaders in a very strong position of influence with respect to foreign, as well as domestic, situations. In the real world of politics, when you have the ear of the president (and his respect) in one area, you may also have his ear (and respect) in another area.
Sec. 5 (f) ADMINISTRATIVE MATTERS-
(1) PERSONNEL- The Director may appoint such personnel as may be necessary to carry out the functions of the Office.
(2) SERVICES OF OTHER AGENCIES- The Director may use the personnel, services, and facilities of any other department or agency, on a reimbursable basis, in carrying out the functions of the Office.
Once we have a clear handle on what exactly are the "other purposes" (first paragraph) which this legislation is intended to accomplish, then we must inquire as to the nature of the "personnel, services, and facilities" that may be brought in to "carry out the functions of the Office." The question here is not whether I am paranoid, but whether I am paranoid _enough_! I am persuaded that what the pessimist has that the optimist lacks is _experience_. It is easy to read proposed legislation without seeing the dangers when you have not been bitten by an overzealous prosecutor or a judge with a personal stake (such as political appointment) in the outcome of a case. (Again, I ask the reader to remember cases where RICO statutes, which congress passed as a tool against the Mob, were used to prosecute abortion protesters! Who could have predicted such an incredible, unreasonable stretch of the "letter" of the law?)
H.R. 2431 also contains a provision which is an amendment to 22 U.S.C. 215n(d), Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and reads, in pertinent part:
"(b) TRAINING- The Secretary of State shall--
(1) institute programs to provide training for chiefs of mission as well as Department of State officials--(A) having reporting responsibilities regarding the freedom of religion, which shall include training on the fundamental components of the right to freedom of religion, the variation in beliefs of religious groups, and the governmental and nongovernmental methods used in the violation of the right to freedom of religion..."
Speaking as an educator, I am all for training. As a Christian educator, I am pleased to be able to discuss, not only my faith, but to compare and contrast it with the religions of the world. But, in the real world, the one who wins the debate is the one who defines the terms and educators do not have a good track record when it comes to remaining to true to original meanings of words. Lawyers, politicians and educators have reshaped our national values and ethics by changing the meanings of our fundamental terms.
"The most effective way of making people accept the validity of the values they are to serve is to persuade them that they are really the same as those which they...have always held, but which were not properly understood or recognized before. And the most efficient technique to this end is to use the old words but change their meaning. Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed." F.A. Hayek
Strategically speaking (and this is complete speculation on my part) it would not be hard to image that the next President of the United States will be considerably more to the right than is our current president. It is not unreasonable to assume that this president is losing power and influence and will see this bill (or others like it) as a way to "win back" some of the moderates in the religious community and add another layer of bureaucracy while not really giving up any power. Dobson, Robertson, and other Christian leaders, looking at the big picture, see Clinton's power on the wane and are supporting this (or similar) bill(s) because it will give the Christians greater voice (access, influence) in the subsequent (more conservative) administration. I do not disagree with the concept since I am one whose voice will be thus heard (vicariously) as well. But, for Constitutional reasons which I addressed in the opening paragraphs, I do not support this legislation, regardless of how much I might personally benefit from it. No matter how noble the cause, we must never depart from the fundamental principles of law.
Presidents, legislators, and judges are subject to change but good laws will survive them all. Well-drafted legislation, firmly anchored in the Constitution, will have the best chance of resisting judicial or legislative tampering or future abuse at the hands of unscrupulous leaders. Good stewardship requires that further entrustment be denied until there is repentance and restoration of a sense of obedience in the hearts of our public servants.
John A. Sterling
Student of Law and Government
2001 Jeri Ct
Virginia Beach, VA 23464
P.S. After reading the Christian Coalitions arguments in favor of the
bill I am moved to ask if they did not also support the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act which gave authority to the government to
override our constitutional right of religious expression if it could
be shown to be in "the best interests of the modern regulatory state"?
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