Marriage Fears

Ashin Mirathu, a prominent anti-Muslim Buddhist monk.

Ashin Wirathu, a prominent anti-Muslim monk, has been called by Time Magazine “The Face of Buddhist Terror.”

In her book Founders of Faith, Joan A. Price recounts the final moments in the life of Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. Just before his death, it is told that the Buddha said to the people gathered around his deathbed, “Work out your own salvation with diligence.” This was his final message in a life spent seeking knowledge and espousing a message of nonviolence, tolerance, and living at peace with yourself and fellow human beings. This message was the core of the faith founded on his teachings, Buddhism.

But as often happens, the pure ideals of ancient faiths and philosophies don’t fit well with the complicated realities of the world. Such has been the case in the country of Burma (also known as Myanmar), where tensions between the population of Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have escalated to violence. (Burmese peace icon Aung San Suu Kyi has been particularly criticized for her failure to speak or take action on this issue.)

Most recently, the conflict has taken a turn away from violence, but taken an equally insidious form: social control. Buddhist monks in Burma have drafted a law banning marriage between Buddhists and Muslims. Though Burma is in the process of transitioning to civilian control after decades of authoritarian military rule, this extreme measure is decidedly reminiscent of the heavy handed tactics favored by totalitarian regimes, not to mention that the notion of the state mandating people’s lives seems to be in contrast with the values of Buddhism. How can one follow the path of personal enlightenment if the state is dictating your path?

This news about restricting marriage comes at a time when Americans are in the midst of an unprecedented debate about marriage rights as well. The U.S. Supreme Court recently handed down a ruling allowing same-sex marriage in states that allowed it, and striking down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples.  Though these rulings didn’t fully legalize gay marriage (that still happens on a state by state basis), the ruling was still a major victory for gay rights activists and paves the way for same sex marriage.

This ruling has been justly celebrated (in contrast to a Supreme Court ruling that came just a day earlier, in which the court chose to largely cripple the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the consequences of which are yet to be seen), but many were angered by the Court’s decision. Like the monks in Burma, this group of activists sees a great danger to society if a certain type of marriage is allowed.

Why exactly? It’s tough to say. But it’s hard not to see a common and key motivating factor being fear; the fear that allowing certain types of marriage–between a Buddhist and a Muslim, between two people of the same sex, or as often used to be the case, between people of different races–will implicitly damage society, even if there is no evidence to support such fear. And this fear, unfortunately, often causes people to act out in ways that inspire fear and create oppression, ways that seem to violate the spirit of the faith and ideals these people are purporting to protect.

To learn more about the Buddha and the founding of the Buddhist faith, as well the founding of Christianity, Islam, and many other religions, check out World Religions and Beliefs: Founders of Faith by Joan A. Price (ISBN# 978-1-59935-147-6) from your local library, or purchase it from Morgan Reynolds Publishing.

-Josh Barrer,

Associate Editor

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Published in: on July 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Arguments In Supreme Court over Voting Rights Act of 1965

Lyndon Johnson gives Martin Luther King a pen after signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Lyndon Johnson gives Martin Luther King a pen after signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Yesterday, on Wednesday, February 27, while President Obama and many other politicians honored civil rights icon Rosa Parks with a memorial statue in the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about dismantling the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Specifically under discussion was Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain states (mostly in the South) with a documented history of discriminating against minority voters get permission from the Federal government to make any changes to its voting procedures. This measure was initially supposed to only be in effect for five years, but has been extended multiple times and expanded to help guarantee the rights of non-English speaking voters as well.

Why is this law, so integral to the Civil Rights movement and ensuring the civil liberties of black Americans (and many other minorities), being challenged now? Though there are a number of technical arguments concerning the fact that the law was extended largely on data from 1975, the principal argument seems to be that times have changed. Lawyers from Shelby County, Alabama, who have brought this case to the Supreme Court, argue that discriminatory voting procedures are no longer being practiced, and the states under the jurisdiction of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act are being unfairly punished and slandered.

Shelby lawyers argue that the increasing number of prominent minority politicians, and of course, the first black president, Barack Obama, are signs that the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary. Statistics were read showing that the black voter turnout in Massachusetts (not covered under Section 5) is much lower than in Mississippi (covered under Section 5). While these facts are heartening, it’s hard not to notice that they don’t prove Section 5 is unnecessary as much as they prove that Section 5 is effective, and arguably, should be expanded. (Indeed, New York Times columnist Charles Blow argues that Section 5 should be expanded far beyond the states it currently covers, both to ensure to fair voting practices for every citizen and also to puncture the argument that Section 5 puts an unfair stigma on the covered states.)

Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that voter suppression tactics continue today. As author David Aretha points out in his book Selma and the Voting Rights Act, the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 both raised questions over whether there was an effort to disenfranchise voters (in Florida in 2000, and Ohio in 2004). There were numerous reports of voter suppression efforts during the 2012 election. And Shelby County, Alabama, the county bringing this case to the Supreme Court, had its own voting rights scandal in 2008 when the federal government demanded the state alter it’s district policies to ensure that minority voters were properly represented.

Still, many of the Supreme Court justices seemed amenable to arguments that the Voting Rights Act’s time had passed. One of the most heated moments of the hearing came when Justice Antonin Scalia remarked that the law’s continued usage was a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” This prompted Justice Sonia Sotomayor to later pointedly ask  “Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement?”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Though a decision on this case likely won’t be made for some time, this case illustrates vividly that the fight for Civil Rights, fought so hard by Martin Luther King Jr. and millions of others, is far from over.

To learn more about the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act, check out Selma and the Voting Rights Act by David Aretha (ISBN# 978-1-59935-056-1) from your local library, or purchase it and other titles in the acclaimed Civil Rights Movement series from Morgan Reynolds Publishing. Or get Supreme Court Justices: Sonia Sotomayor by Sandra Shichtman (ISBN# 978-1-59935-156-8) to learn more about the Justice, and be sure to check out Morgan Reynolds Publishing’s Supreme Court Justices series to learn about many prominent figures in the High Court’s history.

-Josh Barrer

Associate Editor

Court-ordered busing and American Schools

Across the country, children are starting school. And with the start of a new school year comes the ubiquitous yellow school bus.

For decades, the school bus has been a common sight from August to May. But the yellow school buses were not always chugging along on the highways with their cargo of children.

David Aretha, author of With All Deliberate Speed: Court-ordered Busing and American Schools, wrote that back in the first half of the twentieth century, “Many districts engaged in gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district lines unfairly to suit one’s advantage. In addition, housing segregation resulted in school segregation…. Realizing that they weren’t welcomed in the ‘nice’ areas, [African Americans] settled in black neighborhoods, where the schools were usually inferior.”

After the Supreme Court handed down the decision that segregation was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, schools began to integrate. Aretha wrote, “In many communities, black students were bused to predominantly white schools in order to achieve integration.”

This mandated integration was unpopular, not only in the South, but throughout the country. Black students were subjected to angry crowds. One woman in Boston recalled that her children came home from school with “glass in their hair. They were scared. And they were shivering and crying.”

Aretha wrote, “Busing, which federal judges instituted in many American cities, was called the ‘Vietnam of the 1970s’–a controversial, polarizing issue that put millions of people on edge.”

Today, most integration busing programs have been terminated. According to Aretha, a large number of schools are still segregated. Charter and magnet schools have sprung up as a way to combat segregation, but they are not always successful. Children are now bused for convenience more than a need to change. And segregation still rears its ugly head.

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

For more information on court-ordered busing, check out David Aretha’s With All Deliberate Speed: Court-ordered Busing and American Schools (ISBN 9781599351810)

Published in: on August 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“In recognizing the humanity in our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.” -Thurgood Marshall

Laurence Fishburne

Yesterday, Laurence Fishburne was nominated for an Emmy for his performance as Thurgood Marshall in the one-man play Thurgood, written by George Stevens Jr.

The Washington Post reported on Fishburne’s performance:

And in his embodiment of the proud, ambitious, restless Marshall, who took robustly to heart the idea that the law can be a powerful tool for social change, Fishburne cements a bond of astonishing intimacy with his audience. By the time he arrives at the end of the story, as an aged insider in one of the nation’s most revered institutions [the Supreme Court], the actor will have completed the task of confiding the details of Marshall’s life in a most entertainingly digestible way.

Thurgood Marshall’s life and the strides he made for black Americans is explored in great detail in Morgan Reynolds’s Thurgood Marshall by Nancy Whitelaw in the Supreme Court Justices series (ISBN 9781599351575). Whitelaw wrote of the renowned Justice, “Sometimes salty, always aggressive, Marshall was impossible to ignore. Whether disagreeing with out civil rights leaders, General Douglas McArthur, or the increasingly conservative Supreme Court of his later years, Marshall never hesitated to speak his mind.”

Fishburne said of Marshall, “He was a very, very funny man. He was also a very serious man.”

Marshall was known for his sense of humor. He once said about his role as a Justice, “I have a lifetime appointment and I intend to serve it. I expect to die at 110, shot by a jealous husband.”

But his serious side, that passionate never-say-never attitude, was what made him able to make progress for black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement as a Supreme Court Justice.

In a video discussing Marshall and his play, George Stevens Jr. said, “Marshall was a man of heroic imagination.”

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

Published in: on July 15, 2011 at 1:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Heavy Rains Linked to Humans”- New York Times Headline

Talk of climate change was in the news this week as the Supreme Court made what has been called the most important decision about environmental law in years.

The Court ruled against a lawsuit brought by six states against five power companies as a way to force them to regulate their greenhouse gas emissions.

James Vicini of Reuters reported, “In a defeat for environmentalists, the Supreme Court agreed with the companies that regulating greenhouse gases should be left to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the clean air laws.”

The EPA has not yet made rules on gas emissions from power plants.

Why does it matter how much greenhouse gases are emitted? According to Don Nardo, author of Morgan Reynolds’s Extreme Threats: Climate Change, these gases are what is causing the Earth to warm, the polar ice caps to melt, and could eventually cause devastation among our species. And we are mostly to blame for their being so abundant.

“Scientists now recognize that an unnatural forcing–human activities–is the chief culprit [of recent climate change]. It started in a small way when people began to farm and build cities, but its effects were insignificant until the height of the Industrial Revolution, in the 1800s and 1900s. As factories multiplied… huge amounts of smoke and various gases poured from smokestacks into the atmosphere.”

Nardo explains that these gases are helping to heat up the Earth’s surface, which is good, until it becomes too hot.

“Sunlight passes through the structure’s glass ceiling and walls and heats up the air inside… the glass traps the warmth, keeping it from leaving the greenhouse. This causes the temperature inside to steadily increase….Besides water vapor, the chief greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone. On the positive side…this process keeps Earth’s surface warm and mild enough to support life. On the negative side… if the volume of greenhouse gases in the air increases too much, the planet could become uncomfortably warm.”

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In another Supreme Court ruling this week, the Court dismissed the largest sex discrimination suit in history.

The suit was brought against Wal-Mart on behalf of 1.5 million of its female employees.

According to the New York Times, “The suit claimed that Wal-Mart’s policies and practices had led to countless discriminatory decisions over pay and promotions.”

The Court was divided 5-4 in the ruling, with all three of the court’s women justices against the majority, ruling they would have sent the case back to the lower courts to be reviewed under a stricter standard of class certification.

 

Adrianne Loggins
Associate Editor

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To learn more about Climate Change, check out Extreme Threats: Climate Change by Don Nardo. (ISBN 9781599351193)

For more information on the Supreme Court and its justices– including Sonia Sotomayor, one of the justices who ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Wal-Mart case–see the Morgan Reynolds series Supreme Court Justices:

Sonia Sotomayor by Sandra Shichtman (ISBN 9781599351568)

Thurgood Marshall by Nancy Whitelaw (ISBN 9781599351579)

Earl Warren by Leslie Wolf Branscomb (ISBN 9781599351582)

John Marshall by Jim Corrigan (ISBN 9781599351599)

Published in: on June 23, 2011 at 12:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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