Tag Archives: women

OUR VOTES COUNTED, BUT WE DIDN’T?By Louise Annarino,November 9,2012

9 Nov

OUR VOTES COUNTED, BUT WE DIDN’T?,By Louise Annarino,November 9,2012

 

If we are to believe the media-take on the re-election of President Barack Obama, we managed to have our votes counted; but, we still don’t count. Despite the fact that Barack Obama won by a greater margin than George W. Bush without the need for court intervention to seal the deal, corporate media refuses to acknowledge president Obama’s mandate. Instead it sees his presidency as one calling for accession to the demands of those whose candidate lost the election and the majority of the electorate’s support for Republican policies.

 

The list denying a mandate includes: CBS Evening News’ Bob Schiefer. Washington Post’s Dan Balz. Politico’s Glenn Thrush,Jim VandeHei,and Mike Allen. CNN’s David Gergen, and Gloria Berger. FOX News’ Charles Krauthammer.Time Magazine’s Joe Klein.

 

Even NPR’s Cokie Roberts failed to credit the value of those who voted for the President and handed him a mandate when she described his challenge to govern in this way: “It is a divide where he’s lost whites, he’s lost Southerners, he’s lost people of a certain income and age, and he’s really got to do something fast to deal with that.”

 

Oh, I see now whose vote REALLY counts: whites (but not those whites who voted for Obama), Southerners (but not those Southerners who voted for Obama), people of a certain income and age( but not those wealthy, older persons who voted for Obama). Interestingly, the need to address the concerns of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, young people, women and LGBT community seems to be of no concern to Ms. Roberts. Apparently, she thinks she knows who should be driving the bus, and who should ride in the back.

 

It is not because she sees division as a concern which disturbs me; we are all concerned about the divisions within our country. But, because she weighs the interests of those who do not support Obama as a greater issue for his attention than the mandate the majority of voters handed him on November 6 to enact the change we need to secure America’s future for all its citizens. It is the diminished value corporate media places on an Obama victory for those who do not look like them, earn what they earn, live like they live. By diminishing his win, they diminish his right to govern and they diminish the value of our vote. That diminishes all Americans.

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THE DUMB BLONDE VS. THE ELITE,By Louise Annarino,October 27,2012

27 Oct

THE DUMB BLONDE VS. THE ELITE, By Louise Annarino, October 27,2012

This morning I watched a political add running in Arizona against an “activist” judge whom the ad also described as “violating the constitution because he made law”. The self-described middle-class housewife in a McMansion kitchen went on to say “the elite think we can’t understand, but we do.” I wanted to  shout out,“NO, YOU DON’T !” Her smug look, smiling that she had proved she was not just a “dumb blonde”, made me sad for her. Somewhere along the way, she had come to accept but resent the sexism directed toward her by those she trusted to love and support her. They used their own sexism to make her vulnerable to their manipulations, and to use her to attack candidates who know the law, are well educated and professionally competent; but, make her feel stupid. The ad makers play on the anger which has built up over time, the resentment toward real oppressors which they re-direct toward their opponents. I felt sorry for the woman in the ad and all those she represents. I felt sorry for all of us.

The first quarter I taught Business Law at Ohio University I learned a disturbing fact while grading my students first mid-term exam. They could not write a sentence. The essays were impossible to grade since sentence fragments could not sufficiently show my students had grasped the concepts I had been discussing with them for over a month. Mine was an upper-level course open to juniors,seniors and graduate students. How could they have gotten so far without being able to write, I wondered.

After returning their tests to moans and gasps of disappointment I wrote a simple sentence on the board and asked someone to come up to the front and diagram it. Blank stares and no volunteers was the response. My pleas for someone, anyone to speak up about why this was such a problem provided the answer: no one knew what I meant by “diagram a sentence”. It took a  moment for that information to sink in. Surely, I had heard incorrectly. But, no, they did not know what nouns,verbs, adverbs did within a sentence. A few students identified the adjective, and understood its function. They explained they had not had to write because all of their exams were multiple choice tests.

I found an empty class on the evenings my law class was not scheduled and invited students to attend my English class. They would need it because my exams would require them to write, and passing the test meant it was in their interest to attend the extra classes. I did not do this out of altruism, but out of desperation. I wanted to make it easier to grade those tests with certainty that the grade reflected a student’s full grasp of the subject matter. I wanted to shorten the time I spent grading! We helped one another in our common cause.

The other disturbing discovery that first quarter was that while in high school my students had not taken an American History course (no longer required), nor a Principles of Democracy course (not offered, or not required). It is extremely difficult to teach law to those with neither of those courses under their belts. What examples can one use to explain court decisions? Why do courts make the decisions they do? What guides the court?

Since every night of the week was now filled with Business Law and English, and since my “day” job was Associate Director of OU Legal Affairs ( I taught on overload contract because I love teaching AND had to pay back my school loans), I could not add more classes. Thus, I expanded my curriculum to include American and World History and P.O.D. Also, since racial and sexual discrimination is another topic they would need to understand but had never been taught, I used one week of class to run them through workshops I had designed. This complex amalgam of coursework became my template for all of my future classes: School Law,Law and Medicine,Social Welfare Law,Vocational Education Law, and my on-going Business Law courses. Each piece helped my students understand law with such depth that I am convinced they would not be easily duped by the ad I saw this morning.

What worries me is that too many Americans are being duped. They have no idea how a bill becomes a law, the role of committees, the power of committee chairs, Roberts Rules of Order and Congressional rules of House and Senate, difference between states powers and federal powers, how courts function, the role of the judge, grand-jury  and jury. I could go on and on. Such ignorance of basic governance by executive,legislative and judicial branches applies to members of both parties. The base of each party expects more than can or should be delivered by a governance system which relies on compromise and consensus to accomplish anything. We can see where this has gotten us.

Term limits have only made incompetence in governance worse. In term-limited positions the newly-elected representatives don’t stay in position long enough to learn the ropes and develop nuanced strategies within the rules, develop trust and create alliances with colleagues across the aisle, and grasp the long-view of what is good for the country they serve. They are focused on short-term celebrity and fund-raising for the next campaign.

Shortening the Congressional work week and schedule, to free up time for such fundraising and celebrity-building appearances has contributed to the problem. During 2012 the House was in session only 122 days (http://thomas.loc.gov/home/ds/h1122.html);the Senate, 123 days (http://thomas.loc.gov/home/ds/s1122.html). This is not to say members are not on the people’s business 24/7 because they are. However, it does mean they are not focusing on building a collegial enterprise for the good of the country. The Teapublicans found it quite easy to block any effort at consensus and cooperation between conservatives and progressive, between Democrats and Republicans. And the newly-elected Teapublicans  arrived with little appreciation or understanding for the historical and social context of cooperation which Congress had learned over time was necessary for good government. They came with the intent of stopping cooperation, blocking the first African-American president’s determination to build a “more perfect union” where Blue and Red states worked together for a common good. They are playing the role of the marginalized  and demeaned “dumb blonde” taking on the marginalized and demeaned “elite”.  And the Republican Party fell right in-step with them. Some decided it was time to retire.

I need another classroom!

SACRIFICING WOMEN, CHILDREN, AND RAPE, By Louise Annarino,October 25,2012

26 Oct

Sacrificing Women,Children and Rape,By Louise Annarino,October 25, 2012

The chart below by Brainwrap ,published today at Daily Kos illustrates how the GOP reframes the violence against women we call rape as simply another method of conception rather than criminal behavior. If rape is discussed as a method of conception rather than criminal violence it allows Republicans, Roman Catholic bishops, and others to exclude its consideration as a reason to allow an abortion exception for rape victims. After all, why should we allow abortion for any mere act of conception? Once we describe the question as one 0f conception only we can forget

about the need to protect women and to keep them safe. Thus, we are free to  criminalize abortion, even in the case of rape. Consequently, the  only person in need of our protection is the fetus; not the mother.

This is not new; nor is it necessarily partisan politics. Too often and for too long, we have allowed men to define rape as a sexual act, rather than a violent criminal act. Susan Brownmiller wrote of this   dismissive rhetorical formula in her book AGAINST OUR WILL: Men, Women And Rape, 1975 ,she wrote “Rape is a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” I would add that rape is also used against children. Wrongly defining it affects children as well as women.

Rape is not a sexual act. Rape is not a method of conception. Rape is an act of violence meant to intimidate, control, and weaken women and chldren. It is an act of domination and control by violent attack. It is often, though not always, perpetrated against women. Men can also be raped. Rape is a crime committed by an individual, or by a group of individuals (gang rape) which is not uncommon, nor rare.

Recently, we have learned that children are often victims of rape by priests, clergy, Scout leaders etc. Unfortunately, those who knew of these rapes perceived and reacted as if the incidents were sexual acts rather than violent criminal acts which should have been immediately reported to the police for criminal prosecution. Instead the rapist priest or troop leaders were re-assigned as if the behavior could be stopped by removing the rapist from the temptations of his sexual partners. Rape is never a sexual act. It is an abuse of power meant to dominate and control another human being. It destroys human beings. It is violent. It is terrifying.It is soul destroying. I live with its memory every day, and dream it every night.

The position of the Republican party is that a woman who is the victim of a criminal rape should be forced to give birth.Vice President Paul Ryan and at least 12 of 28 Republican Senate nominees, including Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel running against Democratic Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown take this position. Paul Ryan redefines rape and dismisses it is an act of criminal violence when he articulates this position,”I’ve always adopted the idea, the position that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.” But defining rape by criminalizing abortion this way vaccinates the horror of rape and re-injures its victims by denying the reality of their experience. It demeans  the victim and dismisses the crime. Ignoring the victim of a crime, re-victimizes the woman or child who has been raped.

During the past weeks as I heard the comments listed in the above chart, I found it difficult to sleep,eat,laugh and feel safe. I felt re-injured. I felt terror lurking beneath my skin, ready to bring me down. By calling rape “another method of conception” my experience with violent sexual assault was transformed into an innocuous,even harmless, sexual encounter. In effect, we are being told, “We see no reason why you should ask to be protected or kept safe from a mere method of conception. Asking us to do so, asking us to ALLOW you any CONTROL over your own safety, security or life itself will soon be a criminal offense, because we intend to make abortions,even in the case of rape, illegal. Women who are victims of the violent crime of rape are being told that we are the real criminals.

Why do Republicans need to define rape this way? To connect rape to contraception via  an act conception. Thus, they can justify access to birth control, allow employers to refuse to offer contraceptives coverage in insurance plans, to justify Catholic hospitals and clinics refusal to allow insurance company policies for their employees to cover contraception. Rape is yet again being used to dominate and control women, to intimidate us and bring us in line by redefining it as a method of conception. We feel re-injured by the Republican positions because we are being re-injured! These men declared their power over women and children in a new way; by refusing to allow us even the right to define our victimization as violent crimes. Any woman or parent of children should think long and hard before voting for ANY candidate who calls rape a method of conception.

The chart above paints a rosy picture of what Republicans intend for women and children. It seems to describe the types of rape. However, it is far worse. more insidious, and far more dangerous to our safety  because it does not merely define the type of rape; it removes the core, elemental use of violence which is at the heart of rape; instead defining it as an act for sexual pleasure or conception, not an act to dominate, threaten and control. Rape cannot be a crime if it just another method of conception, as defined by Paul Ryan, Josh Mandel, and the Republican platform. Women and children will lose their right to be safe, maybe even their lives, to protect a fetus and to insure continued male domination.

President Obama’s comments on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno explain why he deserves our support, “I don’t know how these guys come up with these ideas. Let me make a very simple proposition: rape is rape. It is a crime.This is exactly why you don’t want a bunch of politicians, mostly male, making decisions about women’s healthcare.”

DO WE ALL HAVE ROMNESIA? OR WERE WE JUST NOT PAYING ATTENTION? By Louise Annarino,October 20, 2012

21 Oct

DO WE ALL HAVE ROMNESIA? OR WERE WE JUST NOT PAYING ATTENTION? By Louise Annarino, October 20, 2012

Honestly, if one more person is interviewed on camera to explain why she is still undecided about this election, I’ll….use your imagination!  The media needs to stop giving special attention to undecided voters; and instead, pay more attention to the candidates. Civic duty should be encouraged. Instead, we reward those who lack it while they act as if their decisions are more thoughtful than those who have been engaged all along. Hogwash!

Barack Obama has been president nearly 4 years and was running for the office a year before that. Mitt Romney ran for president 4 years ago and is now running a SECOND time. He appeared in numerous televised debates for the Republican Party nomination during the primary season. These two are not strangers in our news cycles.

Where have undecided persons been all this time? To think that the least attentive, least informed, and one could argue, least interested among us could decide an election is pathetic. Newscasters and pollsters, must stop coddling them and empowering their lack of civi engagement. What they think and the positions they take are not based on an accumulation of facts over time, but on last minute celebrity!

Playing to undecided voters allows newspersons to create drama and avoid hard realities. Playing to undecided voters allows candidates to wiggle out of earlier positions and pretend they don’t recall shameful past incidents. Playing to undecided voters rewrites what each candidate has, or has failed to, accomplish.

I’ll be watching the next debate. But, afterwards, I shall not be watching the focus group of undecided voters to see who they decide to vote off the island.

Meanwhile, if you are someone who still has questions because you work 2 jobs, have kids to deliver to school/work/activities and have been just too busy to keep up, you are faced with the fact that for months Romney has refused to provide details of how he would implement his policies (which change repeatedly), cannot do the math on any of his broad proposals, and thinks if he repeats a right-wing talking-point often enough it becomes truth. His secrecy regarding his off-shore holdings and tax filings is another issue. To counter the repeated challenge to his lack of details, secrecy and bad math he has charged President Obama with those same sins. Since  undecided voters have not been paying attention, and since newspersons like a hard fight to the finish, these charges are treated as an equivalent sin for Obama. There is no equivalency.

Obama says he would take us forward, building on what he has done and is currently attempting to do, and what he plans to do in the future. Please refer to my earlier blog WHAT HAS OBAMA DONE? HERE ARE 194 ACCOMPLISHMENTS! WITH CITATIONS! From PCTC Blog https://worthingtonforobama2012.wordpress.com/2012/08/10/713/ where you can see what Forward looks like. The list provided at the link was put together months ago. SInce then, the list has grown.

While Romney plays politics with foreign affairs, Obama governs the nation, acts as a well-respected leader of the free world, improves US trade balance, challenges China at World Trade Organization (WTO), stops a terrorist attack on the NY Federal Reserve Bank, hunts down those responsible for the death of our ambassador and diplomatic staff in Ben Ghazi, Libya, continues to  bring down unemployment and increase jobs, winds down the Afghanistan War, organizes cuts to the military budget (arms purchases, operational expenses etc.) while increasing the VA budget 40% and protecting VA from ANY cuts, and continues to  reduce the deficit ( $1.7 trillion in  2011) as illustrated below:

DEFICIT REDUCTION UNDER PRESIDENT  OBAMA’S BUDGET, 2013-2022

$ 2.2 TRILLION          +         $ 1.7 TRILLION         =                  $3.8 TRILLION

Proposed Policies        Savings Enacted  2011                  (figures rounded up)

 Not Included is Additional $1.5 Trillion War Savings 

[ Sources: Fiscal Year 2013 Budget, Table S-3, and CBPP Calculations,Center on  Budget and Policy Priorities…cbpp.org]

President Obama has put us on a safe footing. It is not where he wanted us to be on the path to full recovery, nor so far along as we could have been had Republicans in Congress spent as much energy trying to help the country as they did trying to destroy Obama.

If you are still undecided, or know someone who is, or know someone who would welcome a refresher course please forward this information to them before the next debate. Maybe we can remember what we know, even if Mr. Romney cannot.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY IN THE GAME OF POLITICS? By Louise Annarino, October 19, 2012

19 Oct

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY IN THE GAME OF POLITICS? By Louise Annarino, October 19, 2012

 

Contests leave a lot to be desired. “No purchase necessary.” Hah! Who believes that? Buy the wrong size drink or fries? No prize piece; no chance to win. Yet, we expect our candidate to win the presidency; “no purchase necessary.” CITIZENS UNITED shocks our sensibilities. But, it is only unique in its scale. This is not the first breath of life into corporations. That was done long ago.

 

Early Rome recognized a group as a single fictional person. As early as 1444, the Rolls of Parliament stated “they [the Master and Brethren of the Hospital] by that same name mowe be persones able to purchase Londez and Tenementz of all manere persones.” Blackstone defines legal persons: “Natural persons are such as the God of nature formed us; artificial are such as are created and devised by human laws for the purposes of society and government, which are called corporations or bodies politic.” Why create such a legal fiction? To allow corporations to do their business: lease, buy or sell property, hire and fire employees, enter into contracts of all sorts. As England moved from a cottage industry into guilds, and then into the industrial age entrepreneurs created new ownership groups to organize workers and manage production. They needed the legal fiction of personhood to conduct business.

 

Some of these management groups were benevolent bosses;many were not. Nevertheless, workers found it ever more difficult to assure safe workplaces, reasonable hours and wages, and fair treatment. Child labor was rampant, seven day/18 hour workdays were not uncommon. Tenements were built alongside work sites for ease of access and assurance of a constantly available workforce. Workers were locked in to work sites. We no longer remember this in the West, but we can see it happening even today elsewhere in developing industrial economies. We see the abuse of corporations from Shell Oil in East Africa to FoxConn (Apple supplier) in China. In the West workers united amidst bloody attacks to form labor unions, opposed at every step by corporations. Unions remain under attack in Ohio, Wisconsin, and in any state where there is a Republican governor, or Republican-controlled state legislature.

 

Corporations, like real persons, do not like ANY regulation or control of their behavior, especially while trying to make money off someone else’s labor. Their lobbyists assure politicians protect their interests and assure their unbridled freedom. In return, through campaign contributions, ALEC and SuperPacs they assure politicians re-election, a high-paying job after they leave public-service, and life-long connections to fictional persons of wealth and power. This, too, is not new.

 

Queen Elizabeth was a somewhat secret partner with English Seadogs, or pirates; overlooking their attacks on Spanish and French fleets, and taking a share of the loot. The difference between a pirate and a privateer depended on whom was being robbed and who helped do the looting. To the gentry of England, who along with their Queen loaned and outfitted ships hoping for a share of Spanish gold they were privateers; to the French and Spanish, pirates. Practiced in maritime attack, Elizabeth mobilized them to help defeat the Spanish armada and destroy Spanish dominance of the seas, and of the newly-discovered Americas. This opened an era of English exploration and colony development, including Jamestown, Virginia (named after the Virgin Queen Elizabeth).

 

So protected were these Captains of (Industry) the Seas that they were knighted by their Queen: Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir John Hawkins, Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Richard Grenville were all first and foremost pirates. She bridled their freedom only to the extent she was permitted to share in their loot, enrich her coffers and assure her continued rule. Otherwise she assisted them in their piracy. Congress  limits today’s “Great Pirates”, corporations, only to the extent it is permitted to share in their loot. CITIZENS UNITED was inevitable. Any one of you have a game piece? Or only our politicians?

 

Labor unions, teachers unions, environmental groups, civil rights groups (African-American,Latino,GLBT,veterans,immigrants etc) don’t begin to have the power assured to corporations. There is no comparison. They are not given game pieces; they have to buy the right person to get a game piece! They have to elect a politician who will put them in the game. They have to elect a politician who will appoint judges and Supreme Court justices who will understand how the game is played and make it more fair to everyone; and, assure that everyone has an equal chance to win, assure that everyone has a piece of the game.

 

The person willing to do so, President Barack Obama, is the greatest threat to the Great Pirates… ever. The great pirates will do all they can to attack and defeat him; with the full support of those in Congress they control (with whom they share their loot), blocking his every move of the Ship of State. We cannot let them win. It will not be easy. We have little time left. We must support President Barack Obama for president. We must throw out those in Congress who help the great pirates. We must support labor unions, civil rights groups, environmentalists.

“We are in this game together” means nothing to the great pirates  because they hold all the game pieces. This must end if we Americans are to truly win; not just a second term for Barack Obama, but a chance for the 98% to play the game.

 

HE HAD TO TAKE THE FIRST PUNCH,By Louise Annarino, October 11,2012

13 Oct

HE HAD TO TAKE THE FIRST PUNCH, By Louise Annarino,October 11,2012

This is what DAGOS and WOPS are taught by their 1st. generation immigrant mothers: “Never start a fight. Take the first punch. After that fight back.” I cannot speak for African-American parents because I am white. But, I can speak to the innate racism of white people because I am white which means I am a recovering racist; and for white bigotry because I have experienced it as a 2d generation Italian immigrant, a woman, and a Roman Catholic. I know the anger I swallowed when seeing Nazi swastikas painted ten feet tall on the wall of my Catholic high school gymnasium, when being spit on for being a dirty fish-eater, when being ignored by store clerks who waited on everyone who came after me when I was in my school uniform, for being refused interviews for jobs unsuitable for a woman, for being paid less than male colleagues with less education and experience while  performing the same job, when being dismissed by police officers when reporting a rape. Such experiences do not simply slide off a person, even one who quietly takes punch after punch. They settle deeply in the sinew and bone, weigh heavy on the soul, and slow down our response to future acts of bigotry.

Those who routinely suffer bigotry but want to make a good life for themselves and their children do what all ambitious but good people do. They become educated, self-aware and well-mannered, They learn patience and an ability to address bigots with dignity, kindness and a sense of common humanity. Often, this creates an illusion that bigotry is acceptable, even expected. It is neither. Why, then acquiesce in the face of bigotry? Why remain silent? In the Jim Crow south, African Americans faced not only the institutionalized racism of realtors, bankers, and politicians; but, public shaming, physical violence, severe injury, and even death for not moving off a sidewalk to allow a white man to pass, for keeping one’s head up and looking a white man in the eye, for using a white-only drinking fountain, or merely for showing up at a poll to vote.

We have learned that racial bigotry and jim Crow is not just a southern thing, but persists throughout this country. It has become institutionalized within our political parties, rather forcefully within the Republican Party whose policies do not attract diverse membership, and which seems to have succumbed to Teapublican leadership. The Democratic Party’s diverse membership subdues the racial bigotry within; but we must admit it still taints every white American, despite out best efforts. This is why I call us white Americans recovering racists, resisting our innate bigotry one step at a time.

We watched president Obama take the first punch during the first debate. We watched him looking down as the white man aggressively put him in his place. We cannot know why he did not vigorously fight back. But I know that had he done so he would have been attacked far more bitterly than Vice-President Joe Biden has been attacked for his vigorous effort  to keep straight the record of the Obama-Biden administration’s policies. Biden is being derided for is behavior, He is called rude for being a happy warrior, for immediately refuting each lie as it was spoken, for laughing at the most ludicrous comments by Congressman Ryan.

Can you imagine what President Obama, whom the right-wing Republicans define as a socialist-fascist-communist,un-American devil, would have been called? I know what white men call strong, assertive African-American men with the audacity to look them in the eye and challenge them. We all do. An African-American man, too often, must take the first punch;especially, if he is seeking the votes of the  3% undecided white voters. We saw the injustice of lies directed against him for what it is, an attack on at least 47% of us.

Some of us became angry with the president for taking those punches;because, we could feel them in our own gut. But, could we have done better with a first punch? Anyone who really understands what bigotry lay behind the demeaning language and verbally intense attack,anyone who had personal experience with such attacks would have shut down an immediate response to develop a strategy to emerge unscathed. Obama did not give Romney a chance to  define his image. An angry Black thug would not appeal to that 3%.

Things have changed as a result. Americans have given our African-American president permission to fight back and to throw punches at the white candidate. It should not be necessary for him to get our permission. Racism creates ridiculous rules. He will, never the less, be attacked much more severely than Vice-President Biden has been today. However, now we white voters are ready to see such attacks for what they really are: just as unfair and dishonest as Romney’s policies and tactics for taking back the White House.

I cannot speak for the president, for what he felt, or what his response meant to him. But, I know what it meant to me. Time to fight, Mr. President. We have your back.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH SAVED BY A WALL,By Louise Annarino,October 10, 2012

10 Oct

FREEDOM OF SPEECH SAVED BY A WALL, By Louise Annarino, October 10, 2012

Teachable moments are what I live for. At my core I am still Professor Annarino,even though I retired that nomenclature when I retired from Ohio University. The Arab Spring, and the role of President Obama and the United States of America as supporters of rising democratic republics across north Africa and the Mid-east have created a teachable moment. It was a sign of success when world leaders gathered at the United Nations and openly discussed the human right of freedom of expression. President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt and President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi of Yemen affirmed a belief in the right to freedom of expression, they expressed a need to limit hate speech, including speech that insults religion and religious figures. President Asif A. Zadari of Pakistan went further, arguing that such speech should be criminalized. These leaders are struggling with the ramifications of hate speech,as we all do. However, their recommended solution to restrict speech is not the only way to deal with hate speech. The United States has been dealing with this problem since its inception. Hate groups continue to plague us,sometimes engaging in homegrown terrorism.We understand  the issue. Our cultural institutions, med1a, schools and courts address the problems such hate speech create. These new leaders have hard choices ahead; difficult decades of discord before free speech takes hold.

To some calls  to limit speech may seem a disturbing turn of events. But it is not;it is chance to explore free speech more fully. Free speech protection has taken centuries to establish itself in Europe and America beginning with the fall of the “Sun-Kings” and “Holy Roman Emperors” of Europe. We continue the struggle to protect free speech today. The institution which held it back in Europe and The Americas,and continues to assault it today, is the institution whose nature is proscriptive due to its assigned task of “preaching the gospel”, the church. I would argue that one reason freedom of speech has become secured in American culture is the separation of Church and State. In America, no longer can a population be constricted from expressing beliefs contrary to what is preached from the pulpit on Sunday, the synagogue on Saturday, or the mosque on Friday. Witches are no longer being burned in Salem. Women can express themselves as they wish, without wearing Scarlet Letters. The separation of Church and State also stops the government from putting words into the mouths of those who preach, protecting all religions equally. We the People are the WALL which separates the two forces. Thus, it is inherent that we behave responsibly and fairly with one another to keep the wall strong.

Sometimes speech should be restricted. For example, to protect human life when speech threatens to kill. Verbal assault is a crime, if it places the recipient in fear of his life AND causes actual physical harm. But, we also believe “sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never harm us.” Nor are we free to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre; the outcome of panic in a confined space certain to injure or kill. We even allow reasonable restrictions on where speech can be voiced so as not to unreasonably interfere with the ordinary course of business. Nevertheless, reasonable accomodations must be made for the speech-giver.

The fact that the door is open to such discussion among world leaders is a good thing. Of course, these leaders face the same challenge early American leaders faced  taking on their ingrained cultural institutions, including their religious institutions, in order to implement and secure the unbridled right of freedom of expression. Their task is much harder than that of early American leaders, however. They do not have a thick wall separating church and state. Until they do, free speech for their people may be elusive. Imams preaching attacks on Christians, Jews and Infidels may cause fear in those groups since it may,and occasionally does, incite adherents to commit physical assaults. Also, a protester standing in Tahrir Square with a bullhorn shouting to attack the police,military or government may incite others to violence. In Somalia, opposition efforts to overthrow Siad Barre’s oppressive communist government declined to clan warfare, resulting in unspeakable violence and a Failed State. Freedom of speech can be a double-edged sword. Dealing with these issues is always difficult;but when there is no separation of Church and State, resolving them is nigh impossible. When church leaders insist governments deny freedom of expression by anyone who does not follow their religious teachings, including poets,artists, cartoonists and authors both institutions are compromised;and, no one is free. Those who give up free speech soon lose personal freedom.

Is this the cultural difference to which new leaders ask us to be sensitive? Do they want our walls between church and state removed? Most certainly they do. We cannot agree to break down our wall between church and state. Doing so means we lose the protections ingrained in our Bill of Rights.We would no longer be a free people. We must refuse to do so; not for other nations, nor for Christian fundamentalists in our own country.

However, we can be sensitive to this issue for it is one we continually fight. We have our own version of groups who dislike the Wall and insist America is a Christian nation, when in fact it is a secular nation with a majority of Christian citizens, and many non-Christians, and non-theists. The nation belongs equally to each person, and its laws are written for all, not simply for Christians. Some Christians constantly chip away at the Wall. They insist on prayer in public schools, tax-funded vouchers for religious schools, nativity sets on the public square, and faith-based “science” teaching.

We area free people with a Bill of Rights and separation of Church and State. We hold these rights sacred and believe they are human rights. We cannot, we must not abridge freedom of speech for any religion. Is this the real reason leaders of these countries justify violence against our embassies and citizens? Is it their Church or their State making such a demand upon us? Either way it is an impossible one. As Americans we define ourselves by our freedoms.

As we head into the final days of the 2012 election, consider which candidate has the sensitivity, experience, demeanor and resolute commitment to human rights, fairness, diversity and peaceful dispute resolution. Which one has the ability to pull together diverse supporters: Black-White-Latino-Native American, immigrant and DAR, Catholic-Jew-Muslim-atheist, artists-musician-scientist-environmentalist-Big Bird, Warren Buffet big businessmen-Elizabeth Lessner small businesswoman- unions, women, LGBT community, active military-veterans-Code pink-peace activists ? Which one is open to any idea so long as it is a good one, capable of solving a problem despite who brings it forward? Which embodies our American value of free speech by the diversity of his supporters? Which candidate can lead us forward in a diverse world, with new leaders, in new countries, seeking a new way to move forward? That candidate is President Barack Obama.