Category Archives: Religion

Tea Parties and Muslims

Last night I went to a candidate forum hosted by the Roane County Tea Party. Also attending were Allan Levene, Michael Friedman, George Ryan Love, and Rick Tyler.

Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the audience seemed to relate best to Tyler’s message.

I did spar with Tyler a bit–his comeback when I brought up the Jefferson Bible and told him to look it up was “You look it up!”–and had some good discussions with the audience, particularly on gun control. I’m not so naïve as to think that any minds were changed. I’m not even sure anything I said actually caused anyone to actually think.

One audience member asked the candidates how many enumerated powers were in the Constitution. None of us knew, but neither did the questioner. She claimed the answer was eighteen, which is, in fact, the number of enumerated powers listed in Article I, Section 8. However, amendments have given Congress additional enumerated powers, such as

  • The power to free slaves (Amendment XIII)
  • The power to make sure all citizens have due process under the law (Amendment XIV)
  • The power to enforce the validity of the public debt (Amendment XIV)
  • The power to enforce the right to vote on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (Amendment XV)
  • The power to collect income taxes (Amendment XVI)
  • The power to enforce the right of women to vote (Amendment XIX)
  • The power to ban poll taxes (Amendment XXIV)
  • The power to enforce the right to vote on the basis of being eighteen years of age (Amendment XXVI)

So that brings us to at least twenty-six, although I’m quite certain many Tea Party members would be fine with dumping a few of those created by amendments.

The biggest applause for the night came when one audience member suggested that all Muslims should be deported–going even beyond Trump’s desire to keep Muslims from entering the U.S. This is problematic on so many different levels. First, in deference to Mr. Tyler, I’ll go back to “What Would The Founding Fathers Do?” That’s pretty simple: The first country to recognize the United States, in 1777, was Morocco, a Muslim nation. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1876, is the longest unbroken treaty in the U.S., and it was signed by Thomas Barclay, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and King Mohammed III. Muslims are, quite literally, the oldest friends of the United States.

Letter from George Washington to Mohammed III: "Great and magnanimous friend"

Letter from George Washington to Mohammed III: “Great and magnanimous friend”

Second, the human brain has a desire to simplify things. People want to believe that the Muslim world is a monolith standing against Christianity and Western civilization, but that is just not so. First, just as Christianity is fragmented into Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Mormons, and many others, Islam is split into Shi’a, Sunni, Sufi, Khawarij, Baha’i, and others. Much of the conflict with ISIS is between Salafism (a Sunni sect) and almost all other sects of Islam. The vast majority of ground troops fighting ISIS are Muslim, whether Sunni Kurds, the Free Syrian Army, and the Iraqi Ground Forces. Almost everyone leaving Syria is running because of ISIS: they are Muslims who hate ISIS more than any American.

Finally, many Americans fear Sharia. Well, guess what: So do many Muslims. One does not have to support Sharia to be a Muslim. It is not one of the Five Pillars of Islam. But even in most countries with Sharia, it is usually only applied to family law: things like marriage, divorce, and inheritance. It is only in a few countries, like Saudi Arabia, where it is also applied to the criminal justice system. Frankly, given the severity of criminal punishments under Sharia, I am surprised more Tea Party members haven’t embraced it.

Listen – especially to those who disagree with you. (I met with a Tea Party, knowing they would disagree with me on many issues.)

Read – especially from sources that challenge your ideals. (I read the blogs and websites of all of my opponents.)

Think – for yourself. Don’t let other people tell you what you should believe (Even me!). No one represents you unless you choose them to represent you.

Then Vote.

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Filed under Listening, Religion, Tea Party, Tennessee 3rd District

Republican Party Platform (Part 2 of ?)

logo-GOP

Building the Future

Technology

There’s not much controversial here. The key here seems to be private-public partnerships, which are fine–if they work. Unfortunately, when it comes to broadband internet, the private players, pardon my language, suck. EPB here want to expand to the rural areas around Chattanooga, but Republican state legislators are blocking the move while Comcast and AT&T do nothing. Similarly, I agree that we are improving private launch capabilities for space research, but NASA needs adequate funding, which the GOP is unwilling to give.

America’s Electric Grid

“We support expedited siting processes and the thoughtful expansion of the grid so that consumers and businesses continue to have access to affordable and reliable electricity.”

I am pretty sure “expedited siting processes” is doublespeak for “weakened environmental regulations.” I don’t have a problem with streamlining the approval processes, as long as appropriate safeguards are in place. But the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon–our two best environmental presidents–doesn’t particularly care about the environment.

Small Business and Entrepreneurship: Toward a Start-up Century

Once again we see talk of reducing regulatory burden when what we really need is to reduce the paperwork burden. The GOP wants to “consider the effect of capital gains rates,” but we all know that the GOP ideal would be to eliminate capital gains taxes.

What gets me here though is the mention of “National Labs, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and elements of the Defense Department” as “incubators of unconventional thinking.” So fund them. Democrats won’t argue.

The Federal Reserve

 

RonPaul

More transparency in the Federal Reserve System is probably a good thing. I’m not sure that annual audits are necessary, but some regular audits would not be horrible. I cannot help but get a little twitchy when someone talks about going back to the gold standard, as this is typically conspiracy theorist fodder.

Workplace Freedom for a Twenty-First Century Workforce

Often, “workplace freedom” is doublespeak for “giving employers the freedom to treat employees like commodities instead of like people.” Having said that, there are things in U.S. labor law that need reform. The Project Labor Agreements the GOP opposes often require union workers on government construction contracts–but minority construction workers tend to be non-union, leaving them out in the cold.

I have notice a disturbing trend in U.S. business regarding employees, and it is filled with irony. The group responsible for employees within organizations was rebranded from “Personnel” to “Human Resources” and is currently undergoing a second rebranding from “Human Resources” to “Workforce Management.” In the literature, HR-types justify the change by saying personnel departments treated employees like tools and HR treats employees as assets, but I disagree. I think personnel departments treated employees like people. (I think workforce management is a shift from assets to commodities, reflecting the disposable nature of employees.)

Transparency in unions is important, but I can’t help thinking that the objective here is to further weaken unions. Donald Trump is anti-union in his own businesses, and the party platform reflects that. I think many technology workers, for example, need union protection, as often their working conditions are borderline abusive, and they are under the constant threat of being replaced by imported H-1B workers.

If Republicans wanted true workplace freedom, they would move away from employer-provided health care and toward a single-payer system. One immediate benefit of this is that it would give parents to work part-time schedules while raising their children without fear of losing benefits or seniority–which should help reduce the wage gap. For many families, a forty-hour work week doesn’t make sense, and there is evidence that shorter work weeks make employees healthier, happier, and more productive. As pro-family as the Republicans claim to be, giving people the freedom to spend more time with their children would go a long way.

Having said all this, the actual policy recommendations in this section are pretty reasonable. As with anything, the devil is in the details.

The Federal Workforce

(There’s that word!)

“Federal employees receive extraordinary pension benefits and vacation time wildly out of line with those of the private sector.”

The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. The average U.S. private sector worker gets 16 paid days off–vacation days and holidays–per year. Every EU country has a legal minimum of four weeks paid vacation, not including holidays, which is what full-time federal employees get after three years of service. So, on vacation time, the federal government is in line with the rest of the world. To me, that indicates that we should pass legislation to bring the private sector into line with the federal government, and not the other way around.

As far as pension benefits go, I wouldn’t have any problem with transitioning federal pension plans toward 401(k)-type retirement plans, provided they included matching similar to what good private employers offer.

The big picture, though, is that I think much of this section is just spiteful. Most federal employees tend to vote Democratic, so slapping them around would make Republicans feel good.

We The People: A Restoration of Constitutional Government

This is largely a propaganda section. I’m sure I’ll address most of the problems with this as the specific issues arise further in the document.

The Judiciary

The GOP wants a Supreme Court that will overturn decisions like Roe v. Wade (abortion), Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage), and the various decisions that kept Obamacare in place. Of course they do.

Administrative Law

The platform sees a problem with executive branch workers creating rules instead of Congress. Raise your hand if you think Donald Trump wouldn’t rule by decree. George W. Bush wrote more executive orders than Obama has (Obama will probably end with slightly fewer at the end of his term), but Republicans weren’t complaining then.

The First Amendment

Religious Liberty

This section is mostly baseless fear mongering and a twisted interpretation of Amendment I’s religious liberty clause:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

The Supreme Court has, on numerous occasions, interpreted this as meaning that government and government employees cannot endorse one set of religious beliefs over another. A religious school can require a teacher to belong to that school’s religion and to live according to its tenets, but it can’t require the same from the custodian, as teaching religion has nothing to do with the custodian’s job and thus would violate anti-discrimination laws. Public school teachers, coaches, and administrators cannot lead public prayers or allow school equipment, such as amplifiers, to be used for that purpose, but there is nothing that prevents students from doing this on their own–and there is no danger of any law passing that would prohibit this, and even if it did, it would be unconstitutional. 

I have no desire to restrict anyone’s ability to practice their religion, but I do think many people–like certain megachurch leaders–abuse the tax-free status of their institutions. Likewise, when a business like the new Ark Encounter discriminates in their hiring practices, they should not receive government tax credits.

The platform also condemns those who would boycott businesses that “support traditional marriage.” I strongly oppose anyone who threatens violence against said businesses, but a for-profit business is not a church, and as such is subject to state and federal civil rights legislation. Even if the business is not violating the law, there is no reason to compel someone to support business owners who disagree with their views or lifestyle. Frankly, if you’re going to conduct your business according to your perceived Christian values, post those values so people don’t waste their time and yours.

The platform supports the display of the Ten Commandments–which version?–in public places. There is nothing wrong with that, provided that members of all religions are allowed to equally display texts from their religions. The Constitution does not give Christianity a privileged place in American society.

The bottom line is this: You are free to practice your religion in any way that you want, but you are not allowed to do this while representing the government or with the use of government resources. The Constitution was written to guarantee equal treatment of beliefs, without interference from the government. The Republicans believe that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, despite John Adams’ explicit words to the contrary, and want to make it into one.

A Personal Note

As you may have guessed from the above, I am not a Christian. Depending on your definition, I am agnostic or atheist, based on where you choose to draw the line. I was baptized Catholic, but for various reasons–mostly my inability to believe in miracles–I don’t think I ever believed in the Christian God. I believe that Christianity can make some people much better, but I have seen warped versions of Christianity turn people into monsters. Most of my friends are Christian, including one preacher, and I respect–and sometimes envy–their faith. It would be better for me politically to either hide my lack of religion or pretend to be Christian, but I would rather be honest and true to myself than dishonest and loved.

The candidate in this race who emphasizes his Christianity the most is Rick Tyler. If you think that all Christians are better than all atheists, you really need to take a long look in the mirror.

Constitutionally Protected Speech

“Limits on political speech serve only to protect the powerful and insulate incumbent officeholders.”

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Charles Dharapak/AP/Corbis

OK…I’m back.

The GOP is opposed to overturning Citizens United because they benefit tremendously from it. Likewise, they would like churches to be able to engage in political activities, currently prohibited by their status as 501(c)(3) non-profits. Congress has repeatedly passed legislation–which courts have upheld–that prohibits campaigning by organizations that operate on a tax-free basis. If this restriction were not in place, it would certainly be abused by candidates and political parties.


That brings me to page 13 of the 58-page platform.

Tomorrow night I will be speaking to the Roane County Tea Party. I hope this meeting is better than the last one I attended.

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Filed under Corporate America, Environment, Religion, Republicans, Taxation, Technology

Missing the Big Picture

I am lucky to be blessed with a full head of hair that should last me my entire life. This is especially useful this week, as I have been pulling it out reading commentary and suggestions of how to prevent another Orlando.

WIN_20160615_13_43_23_Pro

Too lazy to make an animated GIF so you can see me shaking my head as well.

Like I said in my original post, the arguments fall into two groups:

  1. Those, generally on the left, screaming for more gun control.
  2. Those, generally on the right, screaming for restrictions on Muslims.

Both of these are far too simplistic, because you can’t change one thing without having an effect on others.

And, yes, I know that the shooting was in a gay dance club. I do not want to minimize the importance of that, but most of the suggestions I am seeing are more generally addressing mass shootings and domestic terrorism. I am completely–COMPLETELY!–in favor of legislation that would turn sexual preference and gender identity into a protected class under civil rights law, but that isn’t the focus of this post.

Gun Control

I am not really on either side of the gun control debate. I believe that Americans should be able to own pretty much any weapon they want, but I do also believe that “well regulated” should mean something.

  1. I think that all American students should have a gun safety course as early as third grade. I want to make sure kids know how to behave properly around firearms.
  2. I think that all people should have to pass a gun safety course before purchasing a firearm or ammunition. Ideally, this would be marked on the buyer’s driver’s license or ID card.
  3. I think that, perhaps, gun licenses could be like driver’s licenses, with different classifications. Just as I need a different license with different testing requirements to operate a motorcycle or drive a semi, maybe we should have more in depth tests for people wishing to purchase semi-automatic military-grade rifles. (I freely admit that I am not as informed as I should be on this issue.)
  4. I think that that all transfers of firearms should require a background check, which should include running the identity against the Terrorist Watch List and No-Fly List. If the person does find out that they are on either of these lists, there should be a clear and expedient appeal process, where the government needs to justify their inclusion on the list in the legal system.
  5. Under current federal law the CDC is prohibited from research on gun violence, due to a ban put in place by members of Congress who are supported by the National Rifle Association. This ban needs to be removed. If the NRA doesn’t feel that guns are the problem, then they should let the CDC do the research. We don’t know what the research will show, and without this knowledge we cannot intelligently address the problem.

I also understand that none of these would have prevented Orlando. The killer underwent background checks and wasn’t on any watch list.

Radical Islam

The world is full of radicals. Most of them don’t blow themselves up to make a point. However, even “mainstream” Muslims around the world often have intolerant views, such as advocating for the death penalty for apostates.

The issue we have is that we cannot legally, without amending the Constitution, restrict people of a particular religion, whether it’s people already in the U.S. or people wanting to migrate here. Obviously, we can get around that by placing restrictions on people from specific countries, but that was loathsome when we did it to Chinese and Japanese people last century and it isn’t any less loathsome now.

We do also need to be realistic. We need to effectively screen people entering the country, especially those of military age. A grandfather bringing his daughter and her four children here aren’t likely to be a threat, but three brothers in their twenties should be screened very thoroughly.

Of course, this doesn’t stop an American Muslim from becoming radicalized.

 

So, what can we do? First, we can stop treating them like pariahs and start treating them like neighbors. Say hi and smile instead of glaring angrily. Be polite and respectful. Make them feel welcome and at home instead of making them feel like outsiders.

The Big Picture

I’m a free range parent. Too many people live their lives in fear and I refuse to raise my daughter that way. One of the reasons I am a free range parent is because serious violent crime is as low as it was in 1963. The world is a safer place than it was when I was growing up, when I was free to wander my neighborhood without parental supervision–and my neighborhood extended about two miles from home.

The funny thing is that the reasons for the drop in crime are not obvious. There are three main reasons, only one of which really seems connected.

  1. An increase in the incarceration rate. This one is obvious. The more people you have in jail, the fewer who can commit crimes. One estimate I saw, but, unfortunately, can’t locate at the moment, estimated that this resulted in a 12% drop in violent crime.
  2. The legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade. One study suggests that a decline in unwanted births resulted in a significant drop in crime. (The study in #3 suggests that it is about 29%.)
  3. The removal of lead from gasoline. The least obvious reason may be the most significant. One study suggests that 56% of the crime decrease in the 1990s was due to the removal of lead.

There are, of course, problems with all of these. Increasing the number of people in prisons to the point where we have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world (with the possible exception of North Korea) is effectively discarding much of our population for relatively minor offenses. Abortion has its own problems. Removing lead from paint and gasoline did cause some growing pains, but, fortunately, we are past those.

My point is that any solution to mass shootings will have to be a multifaceted approach. Gun control, immigration restrictions, and increased surveillance each have a role, but none can completely solve the problem. Income inequality, prejudice, a lack of a good mental healthcare system, and the Syrian Civil War all create mass killers, along with, probably, several other factors that we don’t even know. Under current federal law, only domestic abusers who abuse a spouse or child are prohibited from firearm ownership, so this is one area where a loophole could be closed easily with legislation (In 57% of mass shootings the killer targeted a spouse, partner, or other family member).

The Bottom Line

If your first reaction after Orlando was to be concerned about your guns, to want Muslims extensively monitored and restricted, or to want other people’s guns taken away, you are being too simplistic. This is a complex problem without simple answers. We will have to chip away at the causes of mass shootings as we learn more about them.

Think, then speak, not the other way around. We have enough of that already.

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Filed under Immigration, Public Safety, Religion

Musings on a Sad Day

Zari and me at Epcot, 2010

Zari and me at Epcot, 2010

I lived in Orlando from 1995-1996 and again from 2000-2003. I still have many friends there, all of whom were, fortunately, not at Pulse last night. I have been to two other gay clubs in Orlando, Parliament House and Southern Nights. Clubs in general aren’t really my thing, but I’m not generally one to decline invitations, even if, sometimes, I felt like the only straight person in the room. I am uncomfortable in pretty much any crowded place, so I wasn’t more uncomfortable there than in any other club. The bottom line is that I have LGBT friends, so I get invited to LGBT places.

What happened last night is horrible. Early on in the news reporting, some news outlets were hesitant to call it terrorism. By my definition, someone killing unarmed civilians is terrorism. We may not know what flavor of terrorism it is, but it is terrorism.

Now we have progressed to the “We have to do something now!” stage. People are pretty much divided into two camps:

  1. Gun control
  2. Muslim control
  3. (There’s a disgusting third group who believes gays brought this upon themselves. I’m not sure we can do anything about them, so to avoid infuriating myself, I will ignore them.)

Typically it’s the Democrats/liberals pushing gun control and the Republicans/conservatives wanting to do something about Muslims. Frankly, I think they are both right…and wrong. The big picture is that neither of these addresses the root cause of tragic events like this.

Yes, with more restrictions on guns we can possibly reduce the magnitude of tragedies. We can force killers to reload more often. We can make it more difficult to get guns in general. In this case, as far as I can tell, the killer was a security guard with a concealed carry permit, meaning that, at the minimum, he passed two background checks. There are conflicting reports of whether he was on a watch list, but federal legislation to keep guns from people on the watch list was defeated (correctly, in my opinion, because we shouldn’t take away rights without due process, and there’s no due process for the watch list). If we ban guns, then terrorists will resort to suicide bombings like in much of the rest of the world. I’m not sure how that would have affected the body count in Orlando. I personally do not own a gun because I don’t think it makes me safer. If other people want them, I am fine with that, provided they know how to operate them safely and can store them securely.

Trump famously wants to keep Muslims from entering the country. In December he even suggested–then retracted–the idea of internment camps for Muslims. We already have the USA PATRIOT Act giving the government the ability to monitor communications with people outside the US. Amendment I keeps the government from favoring one religion over another, so instead, legislators are targeting countries. I try to stick to a bottom line: If someone asks me for help and I am capable of helping, I help. Yes, some of the time the person really doesn’t need the help and is taking advantage of my generosity, but I’m not willing to forsake those who really need it. Syrian and Afghan refugees need help. We are capable of giving it, so we should.

Neither of these really addresses the root causes. People are afraid. People feel abandoned. People are mistreated. Even worse, people are ignored. Most people want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to live in a community where they feel like a valued member. They don’t want to be shunned because they are the nerd in a room full of jocks. If you’re a nerd, you’re going to gravitate toward other nerds, because they, theoretically, understand you better.

Except that they don’t.

We all live in this world. We all feel loneliness. We all crave acceptance by someone. We all want to feel wanted and needed. We want to be important to someone.

Too often, we’re rejected. We decide that we can’t befriend someone because they are too unlike ourselves. So we look elsewhere. Sometimes we find acceptance in books that relate to our experiences. Sometimes we connect with people online. Sometimes we don’t connect at all.

Between second and third grade, my family moved from Kansas City to Wisconsin. I entered a class of kids who had all been together since kindergarten. Worse, I had the horrible combination of a Southern accent and a speech impediment. The perfunctory entrance screening I was given mistakenly placed me at the bottom of my class.

I was pissed.

I was also relentless and focused. I worked as fast as the teacher would allow, and sometimes faster than she would allow. I taught myself to read and write upside-down so I could do both halves of the workbook simultaneously. But I also got into fights–usually on the losing end. Slowly, I made friends, or at least frenemies, as I would play baseball and get hit by pitches more often than anyone else or get stepped on or kicked when I fell during a game. I made friends, but even years later I felt isolated. I was popular enough, or, at least, got good enough grades, to get voted Most Likely To Succeed, but that didn’t make me want to stay. I resented the people in my town, and I wanted nothing more than to get away. So I did.

It took me a long time to understand what really happened, and that most people were good, even if we couldn’t relate to each other. I know now that my rejection was nothing compared to what many others have experienced. I wasn’t particularly adaptive, and they weren’t terribly inclusive. And therein lies the problem.

It’s always been the problem with immigrants. People who are already here want newcomers to abandon their old ways and embrace their new community. Very often, the immigrants moved because they had to move, not because they wanted to move, so they had no interest in adapting any more than necessary. So the immigrants keep to themselves and make no effort to integrate themselves, and the long-time residents shun them and feel taken advantage of when the immigrants use government services. Both sides could help each other, but neither does, and resentment grows. Both sides feel that they are treated unfairly, and they are both right.

We are all human beings. We should be treated with respect. We should help each other. We should teach each other and learn from each other. We should try to understand each other, even though that understanding will never be perfect.

Guns aren’t the whole problem.

Muslims aren’t the whole problem.

We are the problem.

Be kind. Make a new friend. Help a stranger. Smile, even when it hurts. We are all in this together. Act like it.

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Filed under Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Immigration, Public Safety, Religion

Tennessee’s State Book

So, yesterday the Tennessee Senate voted 19-8 to make the “Holy Bible” the Tennessee State Book.

My brain is still staggering back into town from my daughter’s Spring Break, but let’s see how many things I can find wrong with this:

  1. It’s a clear violation of Amendment I of the U.S. Constitution. If this isn’t the government endorsing a religion, I don’t know what is.
  2. It’s a violation of Article I, Section 3, of the Tennessee Constitution. It states that”no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given, by law, to any religious establishment or mode of worship.” This bill clearly gives preference to Christian religious establishments over others.
  3. Which Holy Bible? The bill is really short, and it doesn’t make any attempt to designate which version is the state book.
  4. Is this really important enough for our legislators to spend time and money on? Really? This is at the top of their priorities list?
  5. Some legislators voted against the bill because they feel it demeans the Bible by giving it a secular status.
  6. Is this the right choice? I did a bit of research on this last night to find books written in and about Tennessee to see if there was a more fitting option. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road certainly fits, but it is a bit dark. Personally, if I were going to waste time on such an effort, I’d be more inclined to go with making one of Tennessee Williams’ works the State Play instead.
  7. This is a concrete example of why I am running for Congress: Divisiveness.

I have this feeling that many Tennesseans–and many Americans–feel that non-Christians aren’t really Americans at all. Promoting Christianity over other religious–or non-religious–beliefs just emphasizes this. I was pleased to see a news story yesterday that a Sikh U.S. Army Captain–with a Bronze Star from Afghanistan–is now permitted to wear a turban covering his long hair and a beard, provided that it doesn’t interfere with his duties. According to Gallup, the U.S. is now 72% Christian. According to Pew Research, Tennessee is 81% Christian. We have a significant non-Christian minority in this state, and they deserve better than to be marginalized by our lawmakers.

By designating the Holy Bible as the Tennessee State Book, we tell people who don’t subscribe to the dominant belief system that their beliefs aren’t important, or at least aren’t as important, as the beliefs of Christians.

We need our politicians to stop doing something like this. We need them to stop dividing people by religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation and identity, and economic status. We need them to start working to do things that benefit all Americans and all Tennesseans. If you want people to feel part of the system, then make them part of the system. Don’t push them aside because they don’t look, think, and act exactly like you do.

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