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Ross Douthat in the NYT this afternoon, linked approvingly by Chris Hayes on Twitter:

“If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more.”

I don’t get this. At all.

An odious piece of writing doesn’t become not-odious because it offends someone odious. A pointlessly crappy cartoon remains a pointlessly crappy cartoon even if the cartoonist is targeted for murder.

It’s true (and important) that the murder of people who express stupid ideas stupidly is a threat to free expression more generally. Violence against bad speech can chill good speech, and even bad speech should not be greeted with lethal violence.

But the cure for violence against bad speech isn’t more bad speech.

A student who sued her school district over a requirement that she wear an ID tag equipped with an RFID chip that allowed the school to track her movements lost her court case yesterday.

The case filed in a Texas federal court, was a strange one. San Antonio sophomore Andrea Hernandez objected to the RFID chip on the basis of theology, not privacy — she believes that the tracking tag is the Mark of the Beast warned of in the biblical book of Revelation. As a result, she contends that her religion forbids her from wearing the tag, and that the school’s tag requirement is a violation of her First Amendment rights. As her father put it in a September letter, “it is our Hell Fire Belief that if we compromise our faith and religious freedom to allow you to track my daughter while she is at school it will condemn us to hell.” In a later meeting with a district official he also expressed concern that wearing the chip might cause cancer.

Hernandez was suspended later that month for refusing to wear her school-issued ID, and told that she would not be allowed to return without it. District officials gave her the option of transferring to a school that didn’t use the tracking chips. Instead she sued, and won a preliminary injunction against the suspension. Yesterday’s ruling lifted that injunction and freed the district to transfer her to another school. (Hernandez is likely to appeal.)

So where does the victory come in? Well, at a relatively early stage of the process, the school offered to give Hernandez an ID badge with the RFID chip disabled. Her movements wouldn’t be tracked, her attendance wouldn’t be automatically logged — it’d just be an ordinary ID on an ordinary lanyard.

Hernandez refused this accommodation on the grounds that even a chip-less ID — which her father referred  to as a “symbol” of the RFID tracking program — constituted forced speech in favor of the program itself. The court rejected that argument yesterday.

It’s not clear whether Hernandez would have prevailed in court if the school hadn’t offered the compromise that it did, but the language of the court’s ruling made it clear that she would have been on stronger ground. (They did not address the question of the constitutionality of the ID requirement on privacy grounds, as Hernandez explicitly disavowed such a claim.)

Yesterday’s ruling, then, leaves many of the core issues surrounding student RFID tags unresolved. But it does provide support for the idea that allowing students to opt out of RFID requirements is a reasonable accommodation, as well as raising the public profile of the opt-out path for those students who might be interested in it.

One note about the RFID requirement. Although yesterday’s ruling claimed that the tags “are expected to improve [school] safety by allowing school staff to know the whereabouts of a student that may be missing or unaccounted for in the event of a fire alarm or other emergency evacuation,” that’s not the reason that the chips were added.

In Texas, as elsewhere in the country, state school funding is set partially on the basis of student attendance. When students are absent, funding goes down. Equipping ID cards with RFID, and mandating that students wear the IDs on campus at all times, allows the school to automate attendance-taking and include students who arrive late, leave early, or otherwise fall through the roll-call cracks in their attendance reports. More accurate record-keeping means more state money.

As is so often the case these days, this new — and potentially problematic — education policy is driven primarily by the ongoing crisis in public school funding.

In the last little while a truly stunning number of Republican officials and candidates have gotten press for making stunningly horrible statements, from the Wisconsin state representative who said “some girls rape easy” to the Georgia congressman who called the big bang a lie “from the pit of hell” to the Arkansas legislator who called slavery “a blessing” to the other Arkansas legislator who pointedly noted that Jesus was okay with slavery before calling President Lincoln a marxist.

It’s been an interesting month. But I think this one takes the cake.

A few days ago it was revealed that Charlie Fuqua, a candidate for the Arkansas state House of Representatives, wrote in a recent e-book that the state should have the legal right to execute “rebellious” children, so long as the kids’ parents agree.


“The maintenance of civil order in society,” he writes,”rests on the foundation of family discipline. Therefore, a child who disrespects his parents must be permanently removed from society in a way that gives an example to all other children of the importance of respect for parents.” Quoting a passage in Deuteronomy which calls for the stoning of habitually disobedient children, he continues:

“In other words, the parents were required to take their children to a court of law and lay out their case before the proper judicial authority, and let the judicial authority determine if the child should be put to death. I know of many cases of rebellious children, however, I cannot think of one case where I believe that a parent had given up on their child to the point that they would have taken their child to a court of law and asked the court to rule that the child be put to death. Even though this procedure would rarely be used, if it were the law of land, it would give parents authority. Children would know that their parents had authority and it would be a tremendous incentive for children to give proper respect to their parents.”

This guy isn’t joking. And he isn’t some random crank. He’s a past member of the judiciary committee of the Arkansas House of Representatives. He’s received donations from several members of Congress, as well as financial support from the state party and a “Friend of the Family” award from the Arkansas Christian Coalition.

Oh, and check this out, from the bio on his book’s website: “Charlie Fuqua has worked for the State of Arkansas, Office of Chief Counsel, for 12 years handling child abuse and neglect cases. He has handled thousands of cases protecting children who had been neglected or abused.”

Apparently he doesn’t work there anymore, though. Whew.

A startling number of the supposed terror plots broken up by US law enforcement officials since 2001 have been the result of goading by undercover cops, who’ve encouraged American Muslims — often young, often mentally unstable — to become involved in plans that had no chance of coming to fruition.

The latest example of this practice, and one of the most disturbing, comes out of Chicago, where FBI agents arresed 18-year-old Adel Daoud after he pressed the fake detonator on a fake car bomb they supplied him. According to court documents, and reporting from TPM, the FBI jihadists succeeded in getting Daoud to continue in the face of strong discouragement from his father, his former accomplice, and a local Muslim leader.

That’s right. The only “Muslims” encouraging Daoud in his ersatz plot were the phonies on the FBI payroll. Every actual Muslim in his life who got wind of the plan told him it was a lousy idea, and did their best to talk him out of it. And every time they did, the FBI was there to egg him on, rebut his concerns, and provide him with fake explosives.

And now an 18-year-old is facing decades in prison. For what?

Update: The crime the FBI talked Daoud into committing, and provided him with the means to commit, carries a life sentence. Daoud was seventeen years old when the FBI first contacted him.

This is totally off topic, but it’s burning up my Twitter feed and I just need to get it off my chest.

A bizarre video was recently posted to YouTube of Bishop Eddie Long being “crowned” at his church in a truly weird ritual. In the video, a “rabbi” named Ralph Messer wraps Long in what he describes as a 300-year-old “Holocaust scroll,” then drapes him in a shawl and hoists him in the air before declaring him a king.

It’s all very strange, not least because Long, the pastor of an Atlanta megachurch, was disgraced last year in a scandal involving his sexual relationships with at least four underage parishoners. (Long has been vocally anti-gay throughout his career, and the parishoners were male.)

There’s nothing that’s not creepy about the whole thing, and it’s been greeted with the mockery it deserves, but there’s one piece of the story that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention but should:

Rabbi Ralph Messer isn’t Jewish.

Messer is a proponent of so-called Messianic Judaism, a religious movement founded in the 1960s that wraps evangelical Christian theology in Jewish cultural trappings.

Put simply, it’s a Christian movement. Messer is a Christian minister.

And despite Messer’s claim to be acting “on behalf of the Jewish people and the land of Israel,” there’s nothing Jewish about the performance he put on at Long’s church. Neither the ritual nor the language of Messer’s act have any basis in Jewish traditions, while his repeated references to the divinity of Jesus and quotations from the Christian bible make his actual theology clear.

Also, the “priceless” Torah scroll Messer wraps Long in is almost certainly a fake. As you can see at 5:15 in the video, the thing is held together with scotch tape.

Oh, and one more tip for “Rabbi” Messer, if he’s reading this. The name of the Nazi concentration camp where you claim you found that scroll? It’s Auschwitz-Birkenau, not “Auschwitz and Birkendal.”

Update | A bible scholar lists  27 ways in which Messer’s performance misrepresented Jewish and Christian religious tradition.

Second Update | The “Messianic Judaism” movement repudiates Messer too: “Ralph Messer is not affiliated with the mainstream Messianic Jewish movement, nor is he a legitimately ordained Messianic Rabbi.” (More here and here.)

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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