News From Terre Haute, Indiana


April 20, 2014

Readers’ Forum: April 21, 2014

Navigating our freedom, rightsa rocky ride

The first sentence of the First Amendment to our Constitution deals with the first of four freedoms: religion. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” Surely one of the smartest things our Founding Fathers did because it (1) not only prohibited the government from establishing a state religion but (2) prohibited laws against the freedom of religion.

Is the latter an impregnable defense by certain churches, legislators, businesses or individuals when they oppose or prevent same-sex marriage?

The Fourteenth Amendment argues otherwise because it guarantees “the equal protection of the laws.”

Because of conflicts within the Constitution, or other issues of importance, our Founders established a third branch of government, the judiciary, with great power to decide such matters and to confirm or reject the actions of the executive and congressional branches.

So far, along with state and appellate courts, our judicial system appears to favor the Fourteenth’s over the First’s freedom of religion when it comes to the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. Needless to say, this is to the chagrin of some (not all) churches and defenders of religious freedom.

Clearly, behind the fussing and feuding in courts and legislatures is the matter of morality. The latter we have seen with the Thirteenth Amendment, the abolition of slavery, the Nineteenth Amendment, women’s suffrage, and the civil rights and voting rights acts of 1964 and 1965.

In many states, the battle for the moral high ground remains heated.

Looking historically over various religions, we find a great divergence of beliefs, customs and laws largely based on scripture. If those pertain to dress, eating or hygienic practices, few legal problems arise. But along with same-sex marriage, many more pressing problems arise.

In India police get about 2,500 complaints each year about Hindu widows being burned. The practice of Sati is performed to honor the husband and unite the couple. The actual figure is likely far greater because many are reluctant to reveal the atrocity.

While laws are passed in that country against Hinduism’s history of casteism, there are still about 140 million of the destitute living on the streets. They are little better than the untouchables of casteism.

Genital mutilation and honor killings exist outside of the Islamic faith and predate it. But the fact remains that these practices survive to this day in many Muslim nations. According to the World Health Organization, between 100 million and 140 million women and girls are living with the results of genital mutilation. Over 70 surveys in the past 20 years focused on 29 countries in the Middle East and Africa where the practice is most common. As for honor killings, Dr. Phyllis Chesler writes in the “Middle East Quarterly” (2010), “In 2000, the United Nations estimated that there are 5,000 honor killings every year. That number might be reasonable for Pakistan alone, but worldwide the numbers are much greater. … The number of honor killings is routinely underestimated.”

Nor have other religion-related traditions become a thing of the past, such as hacking off the limbs of thieves and the killing of adulterers, apostates, blasphemers and those who dare criticize or lampoon their Prophet.

The Pentateuch of the Old Testament reveals offenses that merited death by stoning, burning or the sword. Some, not all, follow: adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, blasphemy, perjury in capital cases, false prophecy, idolatry, incest, kidnapping, licentiousness or prostitution by a priest’s daughter, rape, striking or cursing a parent, Sabbath-breaking and witchcraft.

Two millennia of anti-Semitism by Christians have resulted in a dark history of persecution against the Jews for the crime of deicide. In “The Foot of Pride,” an awesome study of the history of anti-Semitism, Malcolm Hay, a Catholic historian, alleges it is that history which culminated in the gas chambers and crematoriums of the death camps.

While all Catholics do not march in obedience to church dogma against contraception in an age of AIDS and abortion, against divorce, against homosexuality, against pre-marital sex, and even against masturbation, these prohibitions continue to demean hundreds of millions.

Have not our past as well as present religious practices often erred on the side of license rather than the equanimity of freedom?

— Saul Rosenthal, Terre Haute

We need to think about farming

Sadly, the common wisdom is often not wisdom at all and not even common sense.

A case in point, in my view, is what I consider the extremely excessive production of corn and soybeans in this country and elsewhere.

To listen to the agricultural  reports on WILL-AM (Urbana, Ill.) one would think the only crops that can be grown are these two (they occasionally also mention wheat).

What about biodiversity, which all in the know recognize as being essential to our planet’s sustainability? God created a very diverse ecosystem, but mankind has greatly impoverished it by unwise practices.

Biodiveristy refers to animals, plants and crops. All farmers know or should know that crop rotation is important. We are exhausting our good soil with pesticides and single crop farming. We’re endangering human health this way, I think experts will tell you. Americans don’t need more starch in their diet.

California has been producing our badly needed fruits and vegetables, but it has been so dry there that producers can’t get enough needed water at present.

We need to think very seriously about agricultural policies in this country.

— Robert L. Carter, Terre Haute


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