“President Obama was caught committing a funeral faux pas — snapping a selfie during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British PM David Cameron,” wrote the New York Daily News. “The threesome smiled as the Scandinavian beauty held her smartphone out to capture the moment but Michelle Obama sat at a distance, as if in disapproval of the digital display.”
One of the many things I treasure about this country is our right to debate, discuss and discern what the founders of this great nation meant by “inalienable rights.” As we approach Christmas, stories of city officials stripping religion from holiday displays or schools axing “Silent Night” from elementary programs have once again spiked. The Founding Fathers did not intend our laws and Constitution to restrict, prevent or condemn our right to exercise our faith. They sought to protect it.
A few years ago, while on a trip to Romania, I visited a small Baptist church in the rural town of Timisoara. As I waited in the back of the church with the pastor, I noticed the photos of pastors hanging on the wall and asked him if Christian services were allowed under the country’s former communist regime. “Oh, yes,” he assured me, “we could worship as long as it stayed within the four walls of the church. If we went outside to tell what we learned, we were persecuted.”
As if on cue, a small elderly woman walked up to me, held out her hands and took mine between them. With tears in her eyes, she whispered “I love America.”
This frail woman had never been to our country, she didn’t know its laws, she was unaware of its politics, but there she was – crying and expressing thanks. She and the pastor understood something that many of us take for granted – America represents opportunity, values and the freedom to practice our faith outside of the four walls of a church.
Publicly practicing our religion is something we should not fear in this country, and yet I’ve read story after story about a toy drive shut down because the beneficiary was a Christian children’s charity or a school banning Christmas music at its “winter” program even though the Courts have upheld their inclusion in school productions. This year, the U.S. Air Force Academy made “So help me God” optional in its oath after threat of a lawsuit, and just last month Costco department stores were forced to apologize after their supplier labeled Bibles as fiction.
We’re not living in China or Iran or North Korea, and we do not face the same harsh punishment for practicing religion, but we must stand up for our faith and we need to be vocal about our concerns.
Our Founders’ commitment to freedom was built on fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and religion. These liberties were of such importance they were included in the First Amendment, not the fifth or sixth. It is understood that these rights are inherent and unalienable and do not come from a constitution or laws or any government, but from God.
When religious liberty was first debated on the House floor in the late 1700s, representatives expressed concern that the wording of the First Amendment could lead to the abolishment of religion altogether. James Madison, the principle author of the Bill of Rights, assured them that the First Amendment simply meant that Congress should not “establish a religion” or in effect endorse a particular denomination at the expense of others, or “enforce the legal observation of it by law.” That it represented freedom to believe and freely exercise our faith unencumbered by government mandate or restraint.
So, let us not forget during this Christmas season as we celebrate with our families, our cities, our schools and our places of worship that religion is not a silent practice confined to four walls, but an opportunity to live out our faith in the public square.
The Red Ryder BB gun was made famous in the 1983 film “A Christmas Story.” (Courtesy of Daisy Outdoor Products/Daisy Museum)
Not only could you “shoot your eye out, kid,” you might also go to jail for owning that BB gun in certain states.
New Jersey and other jurisdictions make little or no distinction between Daisy’s classic Red Ryder BB gun immortalized in the film “A Christmas Story,” and real guns. They must be registered and are subject to the same laws as any firearms.
“In all honesty, kids who are charged are looking at mandatory jail time,” said New Jersey attorney William Proetta, adding that under the state’s Graves Act, a conviction could lead to prison time. “The only defense is to request a waiver but if that’s not granted, young kids can get a felony charge and their lives are basically over.”
“In all honesty, kids who are charged are looking at mandatory jail time.” – William Proetta, New Jersey attorney
Virginia, which treats the rite-of-passage toys as firearms if they are used during criminal conduct, and other municipalities also heavily regulate BB guns. But New Jersey goes the farthest, according to Proetta.
New Jersey’s strict Graves Act gun law covers possession of a BB gun right alongside serious gun control measures outlawing sawed-off shotguns, filing serial numbers off of guns or using firearms to commit crimes. Violating the act can bring a minimum three-year prison term and steep fines.
And the law is enforced. As recently as October, a man was arrested in New Jersey for shooting an airsoft gun at a rubber duck for target practice, in his own yard. Idyriss Thomas, 22, was arrested in Glassboro, N.J., after police responded to multiple 911 calls from neighbors who reported seeing a man with a gun. Once police determined the gun was unlicensed, Thomas was taken to jail and charged with unlawful possession of a weapon. His family posted a $2,500 bond.
“I didn’t realize that what I had in my hand would cause the events that happened today,” Thomas told Philadelphia’s WPVI. “I had the airsoft gun in my hand, playing with it, taking shots at a rubber ducky – not harming anybody.”
Proetta said that depending which county in New Jersey a hearing is held in, a judge will issue a waiver on the Graves Act, or allow charges to be downgraded. But they don’t have to.
“Courts will work closely on each case,” Proetta said. “But in a few counties like you could face some serious charges.”
A spokesperson for Rogers, Ark.,-based Daisy, told FoxNews.com that while the company disagrees with BB gun regulations like that seen in New Jersey, the company makes every effort to uphold the law.
“In our opinion and the federal government’s, our products are not firearms as there is no combustion in the chamber,” Daisy spokesman Joe Murfin said. “While we disagree, we respect a state’s law for whatever reason they may have one.”
Let’s have a Christmas parade, for crying out loud.
That seems to be the attitude of a large majority of the Tulsans who participated in the most recent Oklahoma Poll, anyway.
Better than three-quarters of the 400 Tulsans surveyed for the Tulsa World by SoonerPoll.com said they want “Christmas” in the name of the city’s annual downtown holiday parade.
“Christmas is set aside as the birthday for Christ,” Richard Freeman said. “I don’t see any reason to water that down or give it another name.”
Tulsa’s traditional downtown holiday parade dropped “Christmas” from its name in 2009 to be more inclusive. The resulting outcry led to the creation of a competing “Christmas Parade” at Tulsa Hills Shopping Center the past two years.
One of the organizers of that parade, Josh McFarland, subsequently joined the board of directors of the downtown parade with the intention of consolidating the two events. Out of that came a new name for the downtown parade: The Downtown Parade of Lights: A Celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays.
McFarland said he was satisfied with the compromise, but other organizers of the west side parade were not. So, Tulsa will again have two parades one at Tulsa Hills on Saturday and one downtown next Saturday.
“I think it’s kind of silly to have two parades in one town,” Darrell Hardin said. “I don’t know what the word ‘Christmas’ hurts, but I’m not a Muslim or anything like that.
“When the nation started they didn’t have all the different nationalities here now. Now about every country in the world is here. I think it’s sad to say you can’t have a Christmas parade. I don’t think it was intended to offend anybody.”
Conservatives were more likely than liberals and Republicans more likely than Democrats to want “Christmas” back in “Christmas parade,” but a majority of all political and ideological groups favored it.
Even among those who said they rarely or never attend religious services, two-thirds said “Christmas” should be in the name of the downtown parade.
“To me, it’s a very small issue that shouldn’t be an issue,” said Phil Goldfarb, who is Jewish. “If they want to have a Christmas parade, by God, let them have a Christmas parade!
“People need to live together,” Goldfarb said. “They need to be flexible.”
Several of those interviewed said returning “Christmas” to the parade’s name was more a matter of tradition than religion for them.
“For me, it’s nothing to do with religion,” Terry Walters said. “Personally, I think Christ was born sometime in July. Since it’s always been a thing for kids or people who believe Christ was born on Dec. 25, it’s always been that way. I see no reason to change it.”
Bible scholars generally agree that Dec. 25 is almost certainly not the actual birthday of Christ. Historically, the date was more closely associated with various pagan holidays, including the Roman Saturnalia. Because of this, and because of the holiday’s more recent commercialization, some Christians question the propriety of Christmas as it is generally observed today.
Freeman said that doesn’t matter.
“Anything that we have had in the past … that sets Christmas as a holiday should be continued,” he said. “I am not a secular humanist.”
Equal pay? Not so much, still. The Oklahoman’s Jay Marks has the stats:
Oklahoma women earned 83 percent as much as their male counterparts in 2012, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That is good enough for Oklahoma to rank 10th in the country, while exceeding the national average for only the third time since the agency began tracking wage and salary data by gender in 1987, economist James Howard said.
The state’s women posted their second-highest wage ratio last year, trailing only 2009′s 87.2 percent.
Lynn Gray, director of economic research and analysis at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, said he was a bit surprised to see Oklahoma’s ratio was so high last year.
Oklahoma is an energy state, with many high-paying jobs available to workers in the oil and natural gas-producing fields.
“That tends to skew the ratio,” he said.
Gray noted the wage gap between men and women is greater in other energy states like North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.
“Women typically don’t work in those occupations,” he said.
The ratio between men’s and women’s salaries in Oklahoma has fluctuated greatly over the past 15 years, while the national figure generally has trended upward.
Nationwide, women earned 80.9 percent as much as men in 2012, based on figures from the Census Bureau’s monthly population surveys of about 60,000 households. Earnings data came from about a quarter of those surveyed, Howard said.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt and Congressman James Lankford on Tuesday commended the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review an Oklahoma company’s religious liberty challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
The Supreme Court granted review to Hobby Lobby, which is challenging the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers offer health insurance coverage for services such as abortion inducing drugs that conflict with their religious beliefs.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review Hobby Lobby’s legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act is a victory for the company, the Green Family, and for all of us engaged in the fight to protect religious liberty,” Pruitt said. “Our Founding Fathers created a system to protect Americans’ religious freedom from an overbearing and intrusive government. It’s clear the health care law’s ‘contraception mandate’ goes against that very notion by requiring religious groups to violate their lawful beliefs and practices.
“The State of Oklahoma has supported Hobby Lobby and the Green Family by filing an amicus brief in support of their lawsuit, and we will continue to support them as the Supreme Court reviews this case.”
Congressman James Lankford praised the development as well, saying, “Today’s Supreme Court announcement is another positive step for Hobby Lobby in their legal battle against this Administration’s infringement of religious beliefs.”
“No federal administration has the right to supersede the faith and beliefs of other Americans, based on the preferences and opinions of government leaders. Hobby Lobby currently faces more than $1 million per day in fines, if they do not submit to all of the Administration’s preferences.
“Every day this Administration finds a new way to tell private business owners what they can sell, how they can sell it, to whom they can sell and now every health insurance option they are required to provide every employee,” concluded Lankford.
Rep. John Bennett, chair of the Counterterrorism Caucus of the Oklahoma Legislature, issued a second response to the criticism leveled by the Oklahoma chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations to the seminar being sponsored by the caucus Friday on the floor of the House of Representatives.
By bringing pressure on CLEET, CAIR sought to preempt the daylong seminar entitled, “Iran, Hezbollah, and the Drug Cartels: Counterterrorism Considerations,” presented by experts at the CLEET-accredited Center for Security Policy.
A news release says CLEET is not a sponsor of the Counterterrorism Caucus and the seminar sponsored by the Counterterrorism Caucus is not a CLEET-sponsored seminar. Furthermore, CLEET had no role in selecting the speakers. Due to an oversight, the Counterterrorism Caucus sent out a Media Advisory that did not contain a Disclaimer but CLEET does not endorse the content of this seminar and any comments about the counterterrorism seminar should be directed to the Center for Security Policy, not to CLEET.
“This is an attack on free speech and an attempt to deny vital information to our law enforcement officers who are trying to protect the citizens of Oklahoma.” said Bennett, R-Sallisaw and Chairman of the Counterterrorism Caucus.
“Why would CAIR would want to attempt to prevent factual information about Iranian terrorists or the Mexican drug cartels from coming out? Does CAIR really want to stand up for Iranian terrorists or the drug cartels?”
In the interest of the safety of Oklahomans, the caucus feels it is crucial to go ahead with the seminar, Bennett said.
With nearly a century of combined experience as practitioners of US national security policy—including a former CIA case officer, an Assistant Secretary of Defense, and an Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Delta Force commander—the credentials and expertise of Clare Lopez, Frank Gaffney and Jerry Boykin, respectively, are appropriate as trainers for the topics to be discussed.
Democrats, who have long posed as the party of peaceniks and doves, have been anything but during the great rhetorical war of 2013. In fact, the party of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter has been mad as hell as of late, leading an offensive of bombastic insults and rhetorical bullying that has dominated the government shutdown. It’s a perfect storm, with Democrats leading the pace.
President Obama called Republicans “reckless and irresponsible,” casting the Grand Old Party in the role of villain. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, referred to Republicans as “anarchists,” and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, deemed Republicans “legislative arsonists.”
A 10-year-old California boy was suspended and threatened with expulsion after he brought a Swiss Army Knife on a week-long school school camping trip.
Tony Bandermann told Fox News that his son Braden was on a science camping trip with his class at Garden Gate Elementary School in Cupertino, Calif.
Braden with the Swiss Army Knife that got him in trouble.
According to a school incident report, the boy showed the small knife to other students who then reported him to teachers. The incident report stated that law enforcement was also notified. However, no charges were filed.
Bandermann, who was out-of-town on a business trip, said he received a telephone call from the school’s principal informing him that his son had violated the school’s weapons policy. The punishment, she told him, must be immediate and severe.
“She threatened to expel him,” he said. “She kept telling me, ‘you can’t bring a weapon to school.’ A Swiss Army Knife is a tool not a weapon.”
Since he was unable to pick up his son, the principal put the boy in 24-hour isolation at the camp – held in a teacher’s lounge where he was forced to eat and sleep in solitude.
“It was horrible in every way,” the father said. “The punishment was ridiculous.”
Neither the school nor the Cupertino Union School District returned telephone calls seeking comment.
Bandermann said it’s unreal to think that a boy on a hiking and camping trip could get in trouble for having a Swiss Army Knife.
“I felt as though I want to pull him out of the public education system and homeschool him,” he said. “I felt as though the public education system is becoming the bottom of the barrel. I felt sorry for today’s kids.”
Braden is back in school now – but his father is still fuming. He accused the school district of overreacting.
“They’re not teaching critical thinking,” he said. “That’s what she’s teaching these kids – to react on your emotions instead of gathering information.”