Thursday, December 12, 2013

Church v. State - A Dissolution

"The distance between the throne and the altar can never be too great."Denis Diderot

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The government lacks authority in the realm of individual conscience. The church must keep its distance from matters of state, as faith maintains its independence of reason. These were some of the ideas of John Locke and Pierre Bayle, among others, at the dawn of the Enlightenment. These ideas were instrumental to the drafting of a secular constitution, and eventually the creation of a secular society - America. This secular nation was created despite the fact that the Founding Fathers themselves all embraced some form of religiosity.

The first amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1791, strictly forbids the creation of any law respecting an establishment of religion and impeding the free exercise of religion:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Today, well intentioned, albeit shortsighted Christian fundamentalists via the Tea Party like 2012 Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, have expressed disgust at the very idea and necessity of the separation of church and state. Believing firmly that America is a 'Christian nation', Santorum declared, “Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up",  speaking of then senator and presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy's speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960.

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." - John F. Kennedy

The main objective behind establishing these United States as secular was to eschew the very issues that the “religious right” so vehemently advocates. JFK not only understood what the Founding Fathers had envisioned and foresaw, he was the embodiment of it. Himself a Catholic opined, 'I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source.'

Despite landmark Supreme Court decisions in cases like McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), Engel v. Vitale (1962), and Abington School District v.Schempp (1963) have been consistent on the prohibition of state-sponsored prayer in schools, some Christians express feeling deprived when constitutionally-based bans have been enforced in schools across the Bible-belt. They proudly protest that they have been allowed to practice sectarian prayers in public all their life so they should continue to flout the highest law of the land, as if a centerpiece of democracy is to foist your beliefs unto others. Meanwhile, the unconstitutional violations are rampant and mostly go unnoticed. A few are: religious holiday displays on government public property, religious tests for public office, opening government meetings with prayer, and bible distribution in public schools. With a variety of religions practiced in the U.S., spread across hundreds of denominations, and almost 20% of the population who identify as non-religious, whose religion should be allowed in the public domain and on what basis?

Matthew 6:5-6 (KJV) "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."

Religion by its very nature is exclusionary and the varied doctrines within each only increase the potential for further exclusion. Minorities and persons of dissenting opinion have no voice in any religion-based society. But, what if the tables gradually or suddenly turned in America? What if the prayers that were allowed in the public domain were Jewish, Buddhist, or even pagan prayers? Imagine for a second if Christians were in the minority? Would Christians feel comfortable when a pagan prayer blares from the loudspeaker at a graduation or a public school football game? How would you as a Christian feel about a dalliance between Mosque and state? Sadly, we don't have to look very far to see examples of this in the Middle East and other parts of the world where Sharia is the moral code and religious law of Islam. In these cultures democracy, human rights, freedom of speech, thought, conscience, and religion, LGBT, and women's rights are equivalent to blasphemy.

Have you ever considered just how much religious institutions cost the United States? Religious tax exemptions cost the U.S taxpayer a staggering $71 billion annually. It was none other than Thomas Jefferson who noted that, “Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” 

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." - Thomas Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists.

Be it resolved that in America church and state must always be separate, because where all men (and women) are born equal, one religion cannot be held in higher regard than another. Be it resolved also that men of no faith must have similar and equal rights to those of faith, because to deny this would be tantamount to voiding the founding documents, and making a mockery of our nation's foundation. Let us therefore, condemn the affair between church and state and dissolve this marriage once and for all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Eternal Treasure - A report on National Velvet

"Large dreams come easier when it's dark and still?" - Mrs. Brown, National Velvet

National Velvet (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1944) is the movie based on Enid Bagnold's 1935 book of the same name. National Velvet stars the dazzlingly smart and enchantingly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor in her first starring role at age 12 as Velvet Brown. It also features fellow young actor Mickey Rooney, and later Murder, She Wrote star Angela Lansbury.
Shot entirely in California, the movie, set in Sewels, Sussex, England follows the exquisite journey of a girl dreamer and her family. Her family consists of her mother and father, who refer to each other as 'Mr. Brown' and 'Mrs. Brown' throughout the movie. Velvet is the youngest of three sisters and has a younger brother. Velvet is a lover of horses, but falls in love with The Pie (short for Pirate) when her 'heart skipped a beat instead of losing lunch'. The Pie captures Velvet's attention after he escapes from his owner Mr. Ede, runs loose and jumps a wall comparative to Becher's Brook in the Grand National Sweepstakes race.
Young Velvet eventually wins The Pie through a raffle after his owner had had enough of his antics. She persuades her parents and enters her horse into the Grand National. In a time when only men were allowed to be jockeys, Velvet convinces Mi, played by Rooney, to cut her hair and disguises herself as a boy. Velvet falls off the horse shortly after winning the race and was later discovered to be female and disqualified.
National Velvet went on to win two Academy Awards in 1945; Anne Revere won for Best Supporting Actress and Robert J. Kern for Best Film Editing. In 2003 the classic was selected to be preserved by the Library of Congress' National Film Registry, hailing it as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
Mr. Brown reminds his daughters at the dinner table 'You have only your faces for your fortunes', but later when Velvet wins the Grand National Race and became a media sensation he tries in vain to convince her to take up several lucrative offers, including one of £5,000 to travel to Hollywood with The Pie to be a film star. Velvet turns down the offers simply because she thought The Pie "wouldn't like being looked at."
The movie stands ahead of its time, envisioning a world where women are equal to men and where girls can not only compete with boys, but also win them. The film's other nod to feminism is Velvet mother's role, played by Anne Revere. Mrs. Brown is the confident, seasoned voice of reason in the household, a role model and inspiration for Velvet. Mrs. Brown was only 20 years old when she swam the English Channel and won. When her youngest daughter shares her dream of becoming a famous rider she challenges her as to why she waited until nighttime to tell her, if it is 'Because large dreams come easier when it's dark and still?'
Later, after being satisfied that Velvet's motives were pure, Mrs. Brown encourages the young rider, 'Your dream has come early.' Mrs. Brown then symbolically passes the baton to Velvet by giving her the prize money she won for swimming the Channel. 'Win or lose, it's how you take it that counts, and knowing when to let go', flowed the words of wisdom like pearls from her mother's lips.
National Velvet won the hearts and minds of viewers. It was a defining moment for young Elizabeth Taylor, who etched her name on the list of greatest actors of our time. No equivalent can be identified today, who lights up the screen like Taylor did. Her eyes were ever engaging in this movie as she was firmly and fully immersed into her role, making the National Velvet not only a national treasure, but an eternal one.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Life of Emmett Till: A voice crying for justice

"I hear a whistling through the water.
Little Emmett won't be still.
He keeps floating round the darkness,
Edging through the silent chill.
Tell me, please,
That bedtime story of the fairy River Boy
Who swims forever, deep in treasures,
Necklaced in a coral toy." - James Emanuel

To his mother, Mamie Carthan, he caused a painful birth. To the rest of his family he was a cocksure and debonair boy, born out of timing. They all agree that he was very mature for his fourteen short years he spent on Earth. He was raised by women, his mother and grandmother, in a time when segregation and hate was the law. However, to the cowards that murdered Emmett Till he was another 'strange fruit', deserving to be cut down!

As Till was about to embark on his trip from Chicago to Mississippi his mother cautioned him about how he should behave 'in front of whites in the South'. Meanwhile, Till, born a freethinker, with the soul of a rebel had imagined things differently. He had envisioned something bigger; an integrated America, even in the Segregated South. His mother later remarked that Till "did not know his own limitations at times". He had brought with him a picture of how things were back in his hometown of South Side Chicago; a picture of blacks and whites living together, he had brought hope.

Emmett Till's crime was that he flirted with Carolyn Bryant, a white woman. He may have touched her hand as he paid for his bubble gum in the grocery store she ran. Till, who was a stutterer was known to whistle to help him pronounce words starting with the letter 'b'. Bryant was so upset at what she thought was a pass at her, that she left the store to retrieve a pistol from her car. Till escaped her wrath, but later faced the wrath of her husband. After all, this account made his crime punishable by death.

Kidnapped, beaten repeatedly, shot and maimed, his remains were found days later in the Tallahassee River swollen and disfigured 'weighted to the fan blade, which was fastened around his neck with barbed wire'. During the five day trial a prosecuting attorney remarked that what "Till did was wrong, but it warranted a spanking, not murder". The suspects, Roy Bryant and his brother J. W. Milam, were acquitted of his murder after the jury in the case deliberated for exactly one hour and seven minutes. The men later admitted to his murder and were never brought to justice.

'Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I'm no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work 'em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain't gonna vote where I live. If they did, they'd control the government. They ain't gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he's tired o' livin'. I'm likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. 'Chicago boy,' I said, 'I'm tired of 'em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I'm going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.'

J. W. Milam, Look magazine, 1956

'If the facts as stated in the Look magazine account of the Till affair are correct, this remains: two adults, armed, in the dark, kidnap a fourteen-year-old boy and take him away to frighten him. Instead of which, the fourteen-year-old boy not only refuses to be frightened, but, unarmed, alone, in the dark, so frightens the two armed adults that they must destroy him.... What are we Mississippians afraid of?'
William Faulkner, "On Fear", 1956

Till's murder, funeral, and the trial that ensued aroused much suspicion of the idea of justice, especially from the media and several religious organizations. His ordeal not only inspired the Civil Rights Movement but also several other important works including the Civil Rights Act of 1957, Langston Hughes' "Mississippi - 1955", Rod Serling's "Noon on Doomsday", James Baldwin's "Blues For Mister Charlie", Bob Dylan's "The Death of Emmett Till", and even later Toni Morrison's "Dreaming Emmett".

Emmett Till's voice deserves to be heard loud and clear in a 21st century America; an America that has backpedalled on her promises and has betrayed her citizenry as the urban youth still lay on the altar as sacrificial lamb. The Emmett Tills of our day are the Trayvon Martins, but why do we continue to allow unjust laws to destroy families and communities? How many mothers will have to weep because of stories we refuse to tell? What would Emmett say from the grave if we could hear him today? Would he shriek in pain like he did in 1955? Would he say 'my murder was in vain'?