Tag Archives: Mike Pence

Freedom to Oppress

A week or so ago, I shared the questions on my Law and Policy take-home final, and a couple of commenters wondered whether I would share student responses.

Although I won’t share others, I was struck by one student’s essay on the second question, which involved the principle of religious liberty. The question read:

The First Amendment protects religious liberty. Over the past few years, Americans have engaged in heated public debates about the nature and extent of that liberty. Some people argue that requiring employers to provide health insurance that includes contraception, or requiring businesses like florists or bakers to serve same-sex customers, is a violation of the religious liberty of those whose religions teach that contraception or homosexuality is a sin. Others disagree. What is the proper definition of “religious liberty”—that is, how far should the free exercise of religion extend in America’s diverse religious landscape? What religiously-motivated actions can government legitimately limit, and what are the justifications for those limits?

This student suggested that many people confuse “freedom” with “freedom to oppress,” and went on to explain the difference.

I hadn’t seen it phrased quite that way before, but I think he’s on to something.

I thought about his essay when I read in the Washington Post that Vice-President Mike Pence had told participants at a World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in D.C. that “no other faith group faces more persecution than Christians,” and lauded Trump’s recent RFRA-like Executive Order.

Mike Pence shares a definition of “persecution” with other fundamentalist believers that beautifully illustrates my student’s observation: “persecution” in Pence-speak goes well beyond the actual mistreatment of Christians abroad; for him, “persecution” has always included the inability to use the coercive power of the state to impose his particular version of Christianity on others here at home.

Think of the horrors: the nasty courts have prevented public schools from requiring (Christian) prayer in classrooms occupied by children of diverse faiths, and have upheld the teaching of science, rather than the Christian doctrine of Creationism, in public school science classes.

Those same courts have required government to recognize marriages by sinful same-sex couples  (who can now file joint tax returns, just like real married couples), and they’ve insisted that when retail establishments open for business, they actually do business with anyone willing to pay for their merchandise.

These “persecuted” Christians must live under a legal regime that accords Jews and Muslims and Hindus and atheists the same civil rights that bible-believing Christians have! A society where stores like Target can allow transgendered people use the bathroom when nature calls! A society that allows women to follow their own religious and moral beliefs about reproduction, rather than the Word Of God as Revealed to Mike Pence and his fellow fundamentalists.

I’m sure it is only by the grace of their God that these poor, persecuted Christians can continue to live here.

I would completely understand if they moved en masse to somewhere like Ghana or Uganda, where the government understands the threat posed by homosexuality and uppity women. But of course, the inhabitants of those countries are black, and a lot of  Pence Christians aren’t too sure God likes black people…

 

The Coming Assault on Education

I have noted previously that Trump’s choice for Education Secretary is Betsy DeVos, a dedicated proponent of school privatization. The depth of her commitment to vouchers is matched only by the shallowness of her educational experience and training (she’s never taught nor does she have a degree in education).

Politico looked into DeVos’ history and statements, and began a recent article as follows:

The billionaire philanthropist whom Donald Trump has tapped to lead the Education Department once compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to “advance God’s Kingdom.”

Trump’s pick, Betsy DeVos, a national leader of the school choice movement, has pursued that work in large part by spending millions to promote the use of taxpayer dollars on private and religious schools.

In an audio recording obtained by POLITICO, DeVos and her husband (an Amway billionaire) explained that their Christian faith drives their efforts to reform American education. They believe that school choice leads to “greater Kingdom gain”  and that public schools have “displaced” the Church as the center of communities. They’re convinced that school choice can reverse that trend.

Hoosier readers who see the fundamentalist hand of Mike Pence in the choice of DeVos can find confirmation of those suspicions in a Mother Jones article about Pence’s voucher program.

Pence’s voucher program ballooned into a $135 million annual bonanza almost exclusively benefiting private religious schools—ranging from those teaching the Koran to Christian schools teaching creationism and the Bible as literal truth—at the expense of regular and usually better-performing public schools. Indeed, one of the schools was a madrasa, an Islamic religious school, briefly attended by a young man arrested this summer for trying to join ISIS—just the kind of place Trump’s coalition would find abhorrent.

In Indiana, Pence created one of the largest publicly funded voucher programs in the country. Initially launched in 2011 under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, it was sold as a way to give poor, minority children trapped in bad public schools a way out.

Daniels program was relatively small, and focused on low-income families. Pence dramatically increased and redirected it.

By the 2015-16 school year, the number of students using state-funded vouchers had shot up to more than 32,000 in 316 private schools. But Pence’s school choice experiment demonstrates that vouchers can create a host of thorny political problems and potential church-and-state issues. Almost every single one of these voucher schools is religious. The state Department of Education can’t tell parents which or even whether any of the voucher schools are secular. (A state spokeswoman told me Indiana doesn’t collect data on the school’s religious affiliation.) Out of the list of more than 300 schools, I could find only four that weren’t overtly religious and, of those, one was solely for students with Asperger’s syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, and the other is an alternative school for at-risk students….

Indiana’s choice law prohibits the state from regulating the curriculum of schools getting vouchers, so millions of dollars of the state education budget are subsidizing schools whose curricula teaches creationism and the stories and parables in the Bible as literal truth. Among the more popular textbooks are some from Bob Jones University that are known for teaching that humans and dinosaurs existed on the Earth at the same time and that dragons were real. BJU textbooks have also promoted a positive view of the KKK, writing in one book, “the Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross to target bootleggers, wife beaters and immoral movies.”

Not surprisingly, Indiana children in these voucher schools perform poorly on standardized tests.

The voucher schools can’t necessarily blame low test scores on poverty, either. According to data from the state, today more than 60 percent of the voucher students in Indiana are white, and more than half of them have never even attended any public school, much less a failing one. Some of the fastest growth in voucher use has occurred in some of the state’s most affluent suburbs. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a Chicago-based think tank, recently concluded that because white children’s participation in the voucher program dwarfed the next largest racial group by 44 points, the vouchers were effectively helping to resegregate public schools.

So Indiana taxpayers are subsidizing religious indoctrination with monies that should be supporting the state’s under-resourced public schools. And that’s the model that Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos want to replicate nationwide.

Well Mike, We Always Suspected You Skipped Con Law in Law School…

Courtesy of Talking Points Memo, we learn that Mike Pence not only remains firmly wedded to “The Donald,” that he not only applauds Trump’s creepy performance in the second debate, but that he chose as one of Trump’s “finest moments” the declaration that has received shocked criticism from people on both sides of the aisle.

Mike Pence on Monday morning applauded Donald Trump’s comment during the Sunday night debate that if he is elected president, he will have a special prosecutor investigate Hillary Clinton and that she will “be in jail.”…

“I thought that was one of the better moments of the debate last night,” the Republican vice presidential nominee continued.

As Politico–among others– noted

Donald Trump’s debate-night vow to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s email setup and put her “in jail” provoked a sharp blowback from former U.S. prosecutors, who said Trump’s view of the Justice Department serving the whims of the president is antithetical to the American system.

While presidents appoint the attorney general, they do not make decisions on whom to prosecute for crimes — and were Trump to do so, prosecutors warned, he would spark a constitutional crisis similar to that of the “Saturday Night Massacre” in the Nixon administration. In that case, Nixon attempted to fire the prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal, and the top two Justice Department officials resigned on the spot….former Republican appointees to senior Justice Department posts used words like “abhorrent,” “absurd” and “terrifying” to describe Trump’s threat to use the legal system to imprison Clinton.

And from the New York Times (which I’m pretty sure Pence never reads):

When Donald J. Trump told Hillary Clinton at Sunday’s presidential debate that if he were president, “you’d be in jail,” he was threatening more than just his opponent. He was suggesting that he would strip power from the institutions that normally enforce the law, investing it instead in himself.

Political scientists who study troubled democracies abroad say this is a tactic typical of elected leaders who pull down their systems from within: former President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, the fascist leaders of 1930s Europe.

Those of us who live in Indiana have learned that, despite ostensibly having attended and graduated from law school, Governor Pence remains…let’s just say “unaquainted” with the U.S. Constitution. His efforts to substitute (his version of) biblical authority for legal and constitutional principles have repeatedly been struck down; the most recent lesson on constitutional governance was delivered by conservative jurist Richard Posner, delivering the Seventh Circuit’s unanimous opinion that the Governor could not exclude Syrian refugees from the state:

[The state’s] brief provides no evidence that Syrian terrorists are posing as refugees or that Syrian refugees have ever committed acts of terrorism in the United States. Indeed, as far as can be determined from public sources, no Syrian refugees have been arrested or prosecuted for terrorist acts or attempts in the United States.”

The policy “is discrimination on the basis of nationality,” Posner concluded in a section that compared Pence’s argument to the argument of a person claiming that it would not be racial discrimination to say that one ‘wants to forbid black people to settle in Indiana not because they’re black but because [the person]’s afraid of them.’”

As Politico noted,

Judge Posner’s opinion was joined by two conservative legal stalwarts, Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judge Diane Sykes — yes, the same Judge Sykes who’s on Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist.

It would be nice to think that Pence might learn something from his repeated losses, but as we all know, he doesn’t believe in evolution, either. It shows.

States’ Rights and Wrongs

Indiana’s embarrassing Governor recently appealed a federal court ruling that he lacked authority to prevent resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. From all reports, the appeal’s oral argument did not go well for the state.

A major reason for Pence’s loss in the District Court–and his probable loss at the appellate level–is that immigration is a federal issue over which states lack authority.

The notion that federal law should govern areas of national concern seems to rankle Donald Trump’s chosen running mate, and his annoyance isn’t limited to matters of immigration. In comments defending North Carolina’s discriminatory bathroom law, Pence recently insisted that the states “and the people” should be able to decide who gets rights.

The reason the 14th Amendment applied the Bill of Rights to the states was to ensure that a majority of people in a state could not use their local government to deprive their fellow citizens of the fundamental rights all Americans should enjoy.

There are areas in which the debate over local versus federal control are legitimate, but In the context of civil rights and civil liberties, “state’s rights” was and is a dog whistle meaning: we should get to pick on disfavored people if we want to, and the federal government shouldn’t be able to interfere.”State’s rights” was the (flimsy) cover used by defenders of segregation and Jim Crow.

What if we were to take that states’ rights “logic” to its ultimate conclusion?

What if the federal government couldn’t make states treat women or African-Americans equally? If I’m a woman living in, say, New York, and New York does choose to protect me, do I take a risk driving through, say, Alabama or Indiana, states that don’t protect women’s equality? If I am an African-American supplier doing business with national companies, do I hire a lawyer to tell me which states I can enter to visit with my customers, confident that I can find a hotel room or a restaurant that will serve me?

Shouldn’t Americans expect their fundamental rights to be respected in all of the states of the union?

There are certainly areas of the law that are local in nature. It would be nonsense to have a national zoning law. Certain criminal statutes are better enforced at the state or local level.  There are others. But in a country where people move freely and frequently, where commerce and transportation and communication are national, the notion that states should be able to legislate different levels of basic citizen rights is not just impractical and unworkable, not just unfair and inequitable–it’s profoundly  stupid.

Of course, for people who want to normalize discriminatory behaviors–what Hillary Clinton quite accurately called deplorable behaviors–the notion that the Supremacy Clause and/or the Bill of Rights might legally prevent them from doing so evidently pisses them off.

Pence refused to call even David Duke “deplorable.” I for one am pretty happy that my right to equal treatment under the law isn’t his or the Indiana General Assembly’s to decide.

 

 

 

 

RFRA, Pence and Holcomb

What has been interesting about having Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence on the national ticket  has been the research on Indiana’s Governor being done by national media outlets.

Here in Hoosierland, we know Pence as an avid culture warrior uninterested in the day-to-day administration of state agencies. We know him as an opponent of Planned Parenthood whose disinclination to authorize needle exchanges led to an HIV crisis in southern Indiana, as an adversary of public education responsible for diverting millions of dollars from the state’s public schools in order to provide vouchers for religious schools, and of course as the anti-gay warrior who cost the state economy millions of dollars by championing and signing RFRA.

The national press has investigated Pence’s previous activities, both in Congress and as editor of the Indiana Policy Review, a (very) conservative publication. What they’ve found won’t surprise anyone who has followed Pence, but the research has confirmed that the Governor has certainly been consistent….

For example–and despite his disclaimers of discrimination to George Stephanopolous and others–Out Magazine unearthed an earlier article advising employers not to hire LGBTQ folks, and describing homosexuality as a “pathological” condition:

“Homosexuals are not as a group able-bodied. They are known to carry extremely high rates of disease brought on because of the nature of their sexual practices and the promiscuity which is a hallmark of their lifestyle.”

Another article, from December of 1993, was entitled “The Pink Newsroom” and argued that LGBTQ folks shouldn’t be allowed to work as journalists without being forced to identify themselves as gay publicly, since their LGBTQ status would surely create a conflict of interest when writing about politics.

Other outlets have reported his efforts while in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, his speeches warning against the use of condoms, his insistence that climate change is a “hoax,” and his longstanding support of creationism and denial of evolution.

It’s highly likely that the Trump-Pence ticket will lose nationally in November, relieving Indiana voters of the task of defeating Pence at the polls. In his place, the GOP is running Eric Holcomb for Governor. Holcomb, it turns out, is pretty much a Pence clone. (The link has video from his meeting with the editorial board of the Indianapolis Star.)

Eric Holcomb had his chance to distance himself from the economic disaster of Mike Pence’s RFRA legacy in Indiana.

Instead, in a painful 4 minute answer to the Indianapolis Star editorial board, Holcomb doubled down on the same discrimination law that risked $250 million for state’s economy, and threw his weight behind Pence’s failed agenda.

Holcomb has previously embraced all of Pence’s agenda.

In November, we’ll see whether Hoosier voters have had enough of incompetence and theocracy, or whether we will vote to endure more of the same.

This is a very strange political year.