Going Too Far

Some thoughts regarding the push to get advertisers to drop sponsorship of Megan Kelly’s new show in advance of her first broadcast tonight, in which she interviews a conspiracy theorist who’s said some really vile things about Sandy Hook and its victims…

In a Huffingtonpost article, Emily Peck says…

“We unleashed this monster, and sometimes it’s a great weapon for social justice and sometimes it’s people censoring and sometimes it’s both.”

I know people who were very close to some of the Sandy Hook victims, and others who were deeply involved in ministering to the survivors. And so, I know that conspiracy theorists like the crass and hate-spewing blabbermouth Ms. Kelly interviewed (to be broadcast this evening) should not be given a chance by anyone, let alone competent journalists (of any political stripe) to spread their hateful and hurtful poison.

But I think the author of this article is right. Trying to shut down the broadcast of something, because we have PREJUDGED it to be abhorrent is censorship, and will ultimately do more harm than good. We don’t yet know how she will portray this guy or his message.

We can go too far, and this is such a case.

Abolish the Johnson Amendment?

In a recent editorial (“IRS Should not Enforce Silence from the Pulpit“), the Boston Globe gave a nuanced and thoughtful (if brief) critique of the current state of the law. And, in fact, I agree with their position.

As I (and the Globe) see it, the problem with the so-called “Johnson Amendment” which prohibits churches and other tax-exempt groups from specifically endorsing candidates is not that the law exists, but in how it is enforced by the IRS.  In fact, it’s a bit of a morass, with varying standards applied in various cases with varying degrees of zeal on the part of the IRS’s representatives.

As a minister, I do not specifically endorse (or condemn) candidates from the pulpit. (Although, I doubt anyone is in the dark about my political leanings!)

On the other hand, I have known of ministers who have condemned (or endorsed) specific political candidates from the pulpit in various ways, and I feel – even if it were allowed by the law –  this is a seriously flawed approach, from many different points of view.  I have even known ministers who have allowed campaigning politicians to give speeches from their pulpit, in clear violation of the Johnson Amendment.

Aside from the very clear “First Amendment” issues (regarding both Separation of Church and State and Freedom of Speech), I see such endorsements as a Pastoral failure: it is insensitive and dismissive, if not blind to, the feelings and experience of many who are in our congregations.  Ministers who make such a stand often find themselves in hot water with their congregations for precisely that reason, and rightly so.

Continue reading “Abolish the Johnson Amendment?”

To the Guy Flying a Confederate Flag in Exeter, New Hampshire

Rev. Heath is Absolutely right…

Emily C. Heath

I saw your truck parked in front of the Rite-Aid, right by the Dunkin Donuts. Two large Confederate flags were attached to the back of it, waving in the wind. The American flag was, incongruously (and in violation of the flag code), in the center. And, I have to confess, I don’t get it.

Part of me wanted to ask obvious questions: You know you are in New Hampshire, right? And, you know New Hampshire was not a part of the Confederacy?

11709431_400316456841007_5791455240479926301_nI ask this because I’m not so sure you do. Here we are in a northern town, a place that gave her sons up to the Union Army and lost them on the battlefields of the Civil War. A place where locals organized early against slavery and led the charge against it across the country. A place where 150 years ago that flag would have been seen as…

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Absolute Knowledge

J Edgar HooverAs a recent New York Times video (about the event that proved J. Edgar Hoover was on a crusade to destroy liberal dissent) demonstrates, it is natural for those in power to view ANY challenge to their authority and/or policies as a threat.  It is not much of a step from there to justify the need to silence all who oppose their policies, even though (as one of the people in this video says) “dissent is the lifeblood of Democracy.”

So, one must reflect on how the legacy of Karl Rove & Dick Cheney, Richard M. Nixon, Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, and Albert S. Burleson (among others), proves that this temptation to squash dissent (rather than allow it to have a place in “the marketplace of ideas”) has a long and unrelenting history in this nation (let alone elsewhere!) and that preserving free speech is a never-ending and often thankless battle.

I should note that several people I know are mentioned in the FBI’s surveillance files from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. Some (like my Dad) merited only a passing reference.  Others were the target of prolonged harassment and pressure, to try and silence them and/or to force them to name others as threats to the public order.

Our modern euphemism for such threats is the word “terrorist” – which is a term that has become fashionable in some circles as a label for any who dissent, used far more often than is merited.

So, in the current furor over Richard Snowden and the NSA’s spying activities, one must remember that the NSA has accumulated the largest trove of information and knowledge about the activities of millions of people that has ever been assembled – far greater than what the most repressive regimes in history were ever able to accumulate.  Whether Snowden is a hero of free speech or not, he is but one in a long line of those who have paid a great price for their attempts to shine a light in the dark corners of our government.

Can we trust that there isn’t a nascent J. Edgar Hoover somewhere within the Beltway who has access to this mountain of data?

I doubt it.

Knowledge is power.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site).