Tag Archives: freedom

Oklahoma bill could strip city LGBT protections not outlined by the state – KOKI FOX 23

Posted: February 20, 2017 at 7:44 pm

by: Greg Brown Updated: Feb 20, 2017 – 6:09 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY – Quick facts:

Groups across the Sooner State fear an Oklahoma bill that could stripLGBTprotectionsacross the Sooner State as it moves one step closer to becoming law.

Senate Bill 694 bans cities from offering more protections for LGBT folks than the state offers.

If the bill passes, Tulsa’s Fair Housing Act that stops landlords from denying housing to LGBTQ people would become illegal.

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The Tulsa city council added the act in April 2015after the local LGBT community asked for an equal housing ordinance for more than 40 years.

The bill, written by State Senator Josh Brecheen (R-District 6), would also affect non-discrimination ordinances in Oklahoma City and Norman.

Freedom Oklahoma executive director Troy Stevenson released a statement on the bill Monday:

“The currentassault on the LGBTQ community by a handful of bigoted zealots under the dome at 23rd and Lincoln is a stain upon our state and anembarrassment to every fair-minded Oklahoman. Freedom Oklahoma and our allies will spare noexpense to stop this bigotry in its tracks. We will not allow our community to be used as a distraction from Oklahoma’s fiscal crisis, and we will fight to our last breath to prove that Oklahoma is a state that doesn’t hate. Senators Silk and Brecheen are out of touch with the Oklahoma Standard, and their agenda of biasanddiscrimination will not be allowed to move forward.”

Toby Jenkins, executive director of Oklahomans for Equality, also released a response to the bill:

“Oklahoma State Senator Brecheen’s Senate Bill 694 is discrimination. He admits it is, but does not want it called discrimination, because that means it comes from a place of hate. He wants the LGBTQ community to believe his desire to strip municipalities’ and county-elected officials’ power to enact anti-discrimination ordinances is an act of love. Local municipal and county leaders across the state are working to create inclusive and welcoming cities and counties, because the state senators and representatives refuse to make it unlawful to discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people. Senator Brecheen is saying loud and clear, ‘Tulsa, you are not being mean enough to your gay and transgender people.’ Oklahomans for Equality will oppose Senate Bill 694 and hope our elected officials will condemn any bill that strips their authority.”

The bill now heads to the full senate for a vote.

Brecheen is also a co-author of another senate bill that some fear could affect LGBT rights in the state.

Senate Bill 197, authored by State Senator Joseph Silk (R-District 5),would allow individuals to refuse “any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges used in a marriage ceremony or celebration of a specific lifestyle or behavior” they believe contradicts their “sincerely held religious beliefs or conscience.”

Freedom Oklahoma described that bill as “worse than HB 2 in North Carolina,” referring to the controversial bathroom bill there.

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Sri Lanka’s govt. integrity, economic freedom deteriorate – Daily Mirror

Posted: at 7:44 pm

By Chandeepa Wettasinghe Sri Lanka slipped down to the Mostly Unfree country territory this year in the Index of Economic Freedom, with the lack of government integrity being the only contributor towards the slip in both the ranking and the score. The perceived level of corruption is debilitating, the US-based Heritage Foundation, which compiles the index, said. Sri Lanka slipped to the 112th place from the 93rd place last year, while the country score, which had increased to 59.9 out of 100 in 2016, just 0.1 below a Moderately Free country, declined to 57.4 this year, recording a 6 year low, since 57.1 recorded in 2011. A score below 50 indicates a Repressed country, while a score above 70 denotes a Mostly Free country, and above 80 is classified as Free. Under the rule of law category, the score for property rights increased to 48 in 2017 from 40 in the last year even though the Heritage Foundation noted, investors claim that protection could be flimsy. The unity government, which came to power in 2015, had attracted greater rankings on government integrity, reaching up to 39 in 2016, before nose-diving to 30 this year, matching the lowest levels of 1995 and 1996. Global corruption watchdog, Transparency International, too in its Corruption Perception Index recently pointed out the increasing threats to transparency in Sri Lanka under the current government. However, government ministers claim there is a gap between their good work and the communication of their endeavors to the public. The current government had come to power promising to eliminate corruption, on a wide platform of good governance and transparency. However, many stakeholders are now contradicting the publicly announced policies with the policies formulated in secrecy. The countrys government securities market was also shaken through insider deals allegedly connected to a Central Bank Governor appointed by the unity government, for which action has been slow. Judicial effectiveness for this year was recorded at 48.3. Meanwhile, Sri Lankas tax burden was considered as free, with a score of 85.3, up from 85.1 YoY, despite the increases in taxation legislated in late 2016. Government spending too fared well, increasing to 90.2 from 90.0 YoY continuing an upward trend, despite cuts witnessed in expenditure in 2016 to bring the budget deficit. Fiscal health however, recorded at 31.2. Regulatory efficiencies recorded all-around improvements in 2017, with business freedom increasing to 72.8 from 70.3 YoY, labour freedom increasing to 57.5 from 56.5 YoY and monetary freedom increasing to 76 from 71.5 YoY.

The business start-up process has been streamlined, and the number of licensing requirements has been reduced, the Heritage Foundation said, but noted that labour market lacks efficiency. Sri Lankas commitment towards open markets remained relatively unchanged, with only trade freedom increasing to 74.5 from 72.4 YoY, while investment freedom and financial freedom remaining stagnant at 35.0 and 40.0, respectively. Sri Lanka ranked 25th in the entire Asia Pacific region, while China ranked 24th, Bangladesh 28th, Pakistan 32nd, India 33rd and Vietnam 35th. Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia were ranked in the top 5 both in Asia Pacific as well as in the World. Switzerland managed to edge out Australia by ranking 4th in the world, while Taiwan filled up the 5th position in Asia Pacific.

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Populist correctness: the new PC culture of Trump’s America and Brexit Britain – The Guardian

Posted: at 7:22 pm

Its not easy being green a petition complained about Kermits interspecies romance with Miss Piggy. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

An Englishman, a Frenchman and an American man walk into a bar and make whatever jokes they want because have you heard? political correctness is dead. Donald Trump and Brexit have sent it to its grave. You can say whatever you like now, offend whoever you like!

Well, not quite.

From the gender-neutral ashes of political correctness a new sort of PC culture has risen. You could call it populist correctness: a virulent policing of language and stifling of debate that is rapidly and perniciously insinuating itself into daily life in Trumps America and Brexit Britain.

Populist correctness is the smearing and silencing of points of view by labelling them elitist and therefore at odds with the will of the people and the good of the country. Take, for example, the rhetoric around remoaners, which can be summed up as the people have spoken, so the rest of you should shut up. Opposing Brexit, Britains tabloids tell us almost daily, is unpatriotic and undemocratic. See, for example, front-page headlines such as: Damn the unpatriotic Bremoaners and their plot to subvert the will of the British people and Time to silence Brexit whingers. Silencing opposing views would normally be seen as incompatible with the freedom of speech conservatives are supposed to hold so dear.

But the cunning thing about populist correctness is the way it dresses dogma up as democracy, invoking a majority consensus of opinion it doesnt actually command. Theresa May, for example, recently warned MPs not to stand in the way of Brexit, stating: Now is not the time to obstruct the democratically expressed wishes of the British people. Strictly speaking, of course, Brexit wasnt the will of the people. About 17.4 million people voted leave; 16.1 million voted remain; 12.9 million didnt vote. The wishes of the British people are complicated. The same goes for the US, where almost 3 million more Americans voted for Clinton than for Trump. But populist correctness doesnt bother itself with inconvenient details. Rather it carves the country up into a neat dichotomy of ordinary people versus the elite.

As well as silencing opposing opinions by branding them elitist, populist correctness works to rebrand ideas, creating a new vocabulary for a new world order. The right prides itself on being straight-talking, on calling a spade a spade, but when it comes to calling a Nazi a Nazi or a racist a racist well then, things are more vague. They are the alt-right, please. Use unacceptable terminology and they will get very angry indeed.

But whats this? I thought an easily triggered outrage button was the preserve of politically correct liberals? From the vitriol the right heaps on sensitive snowflakes, youd think they have skins as thick as elephants. Far from it: nobody is offended by quite such a wide range of banal things as conservatives. Everything from insufficiently Christmassy Starbucks coffee cups to Budweiser ads to Kermit the Frogs lack of trousers seems to cause an outpouring of outrage. And, while jokes about minorities or women may be considered just banter, dont even try joking about white people thats reverse-racism! Indeed, many triggered rightwingers recently deleted their Netflix accounts in protest against a new comedy show called Dear White People.

Holiday greetings are another hot-button issue. A survey by Public Policy Polling found very conservative Americans were more than twice as likely to be personally offended by someone saying Happy holidays to them (21%) as very liberal respondents to be offended by someone saying Merry Christmas (10%) to them.

Kneeling down can also trigger conservatives. Last year, the American football player Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem to protest against racism. This caused distress to many patriots. A conservative post that went viral said: My heart is exploding, my lungs are without air my body is shaking, and tears are running down my face. Kaepernick is refusing to stand for the national anthem. But liberals are the sensitive snowflakes eh?

Trump is, of course, king of the snowflakes, flying into a rage at any hint of criticism. He has even, seemingly unironically, called for safe spaces. Last year, after cast members of Hamilton politely criticised Mike Pence, he tweeted: The theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!

Conservatives are impressively adept at belittling politically correct snowflakes one minute and flying into fits of ideological outrage the next. Snowflakes are to be mocked because they take things personally; their feelings are hurt. The outrage of populist correctness, however, is framed more as righteous indignation. It is not you who is offended. You are offended on behalf of the people. On behalf of your country. Your outrage is morally superior.

The most dangerous thing about populist correctness is the way liberals have been swept into it. Always keen for a little self-flagellation, the triumph of Trump and Brexit triggered a crisis of liberal confidence. Perhaps we have been out-of-touch and elitist, wrote columnist after columnist. Perhaps political correctness did go too far. Perhaps we shouldnt say racist, perhaps we should say alt-right. Populist correctness isnt just making us question our right to dissent, its quite literally putting words in our mouths.

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Taxing Religious Freedom – Daily Caller

Posted: at 7:10 pm

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Is a threat to eliminate the tax exemption of churches that endorse candidates or political parties posed by a 1954 law called the Johnson Amendment a constitutional infringement on the rights of church leaders to freely express themselves from the pulpit?

At ColoradoPolitics.com, Deb Walker, executive director of Citizens Project writes, Government may not subsidize political endorsements through tax exemption, and that The Johnson Amendment ensures that citizens of all faith traditions (or no faith tradition) are not inadvertently financially supporting church-based politicking. There are two failures in reasoning here.

First, the reasons for exempting churches from taxation are distinguishable from those that apply to other types of charitable organizations. Whereas the law may exempt secular charities because it deems that the charitable purposes provide public benefits that outweigh the need to tax such activities, the principle of not taxing churches originates in the constitutional, philosophical and political foundations of our nation.

The Supreme Court examined this principle in Everson v. Board of Education, a 1947 case affirming the authority of a state to provide funding for school busses to transport children to Catholic schools in New Jersey writing, The centuries immediately before and contemporaneous with the colonization of America had been filled with turmoil, civil strife and persecutions, generated in large part by established sects determined to maintain their absolute political and religious supremacy. These practices of the old world began to thrive in the soil of the new AmericaCatholics found themselves hounded and proscribed because of their faithmen and women of varied faithswere persecuted. And all of these dissenters were compelled to pay tithes and taxes to support government-sponsored churches.

The people [of Virginia], as elsewhere, reached the conviction that individual religious liberty could be achieved best under a government which was stripped of all power to tax[in order to] interfere with the beliefs of any religious individual or group.

The establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment means at least thisno tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.

This sounds as if the Court would hold that New Jersey has no authority to provide taxpayer-funded school busses for Catholic schoolchildren, but thats not case. What the Court pointed out in affirming that policy is that the amendment commands that New Jerseycannot exclude individual Catholics, Lutherans, Mohammedans, Baptists, Jews, Methodists, Nonbelievers, Presbyterians, or the members of any other faith, because of their faith, or lack of it, from receiving the benefits of public welfare legislation. (Emphasis in original)

The second error is that a tax exemption is not a subsidy. An exemption from a tax is not giving the person or group exempted something they dont already have. Neither a taxpayer not affiliated with a religious organization nor the government has something taken from them that goes to a church merely because the church doesnt pay a tax. Therefore, a tax exemption does not mean that the public is financially supporting church-based politicking, nor does it mean that the government is entangled in underwriting partisan political activity.

Where the Johnson Amendment and Walker go wrong is in failing to understand that when it comes to religion the taxing power of Congress has a constitutional hurdle it must overcome that doesnt apply to conventional non-religious charitable organizations.

The historic truths cited by the Supreme Court stand for the proposition that the government cannot tax religious institutions in ways that inhibit the free exercise of religion just as much as it does the proposition that it cannot tax anyone for the purposes of advancing religion.

Thus, when it comes to religious institutions its questionable whether or not the 501(c)(3) rules apply at all because it is the First Amendment itself that arguably prohibits the taxation of churches because religion-suppressing taxation has always been as formidable an enemy of religious freedom throughout history as religion-supporting taxation has, as the Supreme Court points out and as the Founders went to great pains to avoid.

Religiously motivated speech is a constitutionally protected aspect of religious liberty that cannot be suppressed by the threat of anti-religious, anti-free-speech government taxation. This includes the freedom of both ministers and others to preach in favor of or against any political party or candidate or any other matter that they believe would either threaten or support their rights to religious freedom.

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US Navy sends warships on freedom of navigation operation through South China Sea – Fox News

Posted: at 7:10 pm

The U.S. Navy sent an aircraft carrier and guided-missile destroyer to patrol the South China Sea over the weekend, for the first time since President Trump took office, military officials confirmed.

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The USS Carl Vinson carrier was joined by the USS Wayne E. Meyer and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 2. Navy officials said the previously scheduled operations, which got underway Saturday, were routine.

In January, during his confirmation hearing for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson said China should be denied access to its man-made islands in the South China Sea, where China has installed runways on three islands and bunkers to house fighter jets and bombers. The Pentagon is closely monitoring to see if China deployssurface-to-air missilesnext, which could affect U.S. Navy flight operations in the region.

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China has issued stark warnings to the U.S. and other nations to tread carefully.China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, which countries enjoy under international law, but firmly opposes any countrys attempt to undermine Chinas sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

The ships were likely to sail within the 12 nautical miles of Chinas artificial islands, theNavy Times reportedlast week.

Navy warships have deliberately sailed close to Chinese-occupied features four times since October 2015. The first three missions challenged China’s requirement for ships to obtain permission prior to transit, while the last one challenged China’s sovereignty over waters encompassing the Paracels.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said recently that such operations would continue while also ruling out any military escalation.

“Any miscalculation from either side may escalate tensions, which could spin out of control,” Zhiqun Zhu, who heads The China Institute at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, told the Navy Times. “China is unlikely to cave in no matter what the U.S. military does in the South China Sea. Cooler heads are needed from both sides, not moves to unnecessarily provoke the other side.”

China dispatched its own fleet for scheduled drills.

The missile destroyers Changsha and Haikou and the supply ship Luomahu wrapped up weeklong exercises on Friday. The fleet includes three helicopters and marines on board.

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the drills involved naval aviation forces and military garrisons from the Spratlys and the Paracels, as well as elements of the Beihai and Donghai fleets. They practiced air defense, escorting, anti-terror, anti-piracy and defensive operations under real combat conditions, Xinhua said.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Va. Senate upholds campus free speech – WTOP

Posted: at 7:03 pm

WASHINGTON The Virginia Senate has passed a bill that supporters say promotes campus free speech. But some lawmakers wonder why the law is needed when the U.S. Constitution already provides the First Amendment guarantee.

By a 364 vote, the Senate has followed the lead of the House of Delegates and passed the bill which reads, Except as otherwise permitted by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, no public institution of higher education shall abridge the freedom of any individual, including enrolled students, faculty and other employees, and invited guests, to speak on campus.

I wish this wasnt necessary, said Sen. Mark Obenshain, a Republican representing Virginias 26th District, the chairman of theCourts of Justice Committee.

Weve got examples that abound across the country of colleges and universities that have been unilaterally making decisions as to whats appropriate political speech on campus, he said.

During the brief debate in the Senate chamber, no one could offer an example of any such conflict pitting free speech against political correctness occurring on any Virginia campus, leading some members to wonder whether the bill was needed.

It seems to me that its akin to saying the sky is blue except on cloudy days, even on college campuses, but Im not sure why we need to put that language in the Code of Virginia, said Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat representing Virginias 25th District.

But Senate supporters of the measure insisted that the bill was necessary to encourage healthy debate on the commonwealths campuses.

Free speech is uncomfortable at times, and it has to be a two-way street in order for it to be able to work, Obenshain said.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

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Varner: Free speech vs. equal opportunity – Bloomington Pantagraph

Posted: at 7:03 pm

A universitys fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even most members to be offensive, unwise or immoral or wrongheaded The quote is from the University of Chicagos Committee of Freedom of Expression, in response to campus groups demanding an apology from a speaker who used a term deemed offensive in reference to transgender people.

In another well-known episode, University of Oklahoma expelled students caught singing a patently racist fraternity song. In both cases, campus free speech was a central issue.

Notwithstanding commitments to free speech, universities have by both law and policy made strong commitments to equal opportunity. In addition to nondiscrimination in admissions and access to programs and facilities, universities are required to provide an atmosphere free of hostility and intimidation. Protected classes are a lengthy and growing list. Basic civil rights law covers race, religion, national origin, creed and sex. Additional categories include age, disability, Vietnam-era veteran status and members of the LGBT community.

Most universities are strongly committed to free speech, nondiscrimination and inclusivity. Yet the tension when the two clash is and should be a front-burner issue.

I began my 2015 classes by writing the words Je suis on the board. Students in all classes finished the sentence with Charlie. Few approve of the tasteless and offensive satire of Charlie Hebdo, but in the West there was an overwhelming feeling to defend to the death their right to say these things. Then by chance on Martin Luther King Day in America, authorities in Dresden, Germany, forbade a march against what the group called the Islamization of Europe. Freedom of speech is more limited in other countries. Dresden authorities acted within German law and Charlie Hebdo has been summoned into French courts for a number of works illegally offending religion in violation of French law. No country has stronger traditions of free speech than the United States.

All know that free speech law begins with Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech The First Amendment applies to Congress but the 14th Amendment extends this to the state action in addition to the federal government. The words are absolute but exceptions are recognized. Free speech is a freedom from government. It does not apply to actions by private organizations. In the university context, a private institution has substantial room to clamp down on speech deemed by authority to be offensive or out of place. Public institutions are an arm of the state so constitutional rules apply. Within this, though, universities have an educational mission and in that context some limitation for speech that is disruptive behavior.

Private universities, however, are subject to federal civil rights laws so rules and procedures implemented to comply with these laws bring these campuses under the umbrella of the First Amendment. We will examine the tension between free speech and equal opportunity and look at how our traditions of free speech come together with the desire and law to provide equal opportunity.

Coming out of this is a related issue of due process. Both civil rights laws and the recent Campus Sexual Avoidance Elimination Act of Congress seek to protect all from sexual violence. But what are the rights of the accused who face expulsion and a lifetime record as a sexual offender although they have not been convicted of any act in a court of law? Constitutional rights of those accused of crimes do not apply to campus judicial procedures but there must be due process.

Carson Varner is a professor of finance, insurance and law at Illinois State University.

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Malta protesters oppose draft bill that could limit freedom of speech – JURIST

Posted: at 7:02 pm

[JURIST] A draft bill [text, PDF, in Maltese] proposed by the Maltese government [official website] that aims to regulate online news could inhibit freedom of speech, argued protesters Sunday. At the protest, which was organized by the opposition party, opposition leader Simon Busuttil said [EU Observer report] that the bill would be “the beginning of the end of freedom of expression on the internet.” The bill would update Malta’s defamation and libel laws requiring citizens to provide their name, age, home address and valid government identification to the nearest Maltese government authority before expressing political views online. In an editorial [Independent op-ed], a Maltese newspaper expressed concern about the number of people the bill would impact and commented that “many people out there will be forced to think twice before commenting on current affairs of any sort.”

Malta currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU until mid-2017 and will hold elections next year. Reporters without Borders [advocacy website] ranked Malta forty-sixth on its 2016 World Press Freedom Index [ranking]. The country also received a 96 percent score in the Freedom House [advocacy website] ranking and the press freedom status label “free.”

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This Presidents’ Day, defend the First Amendment – The Hill (blog)

Posted: at 6:54 pm

In many ways, free speech is the right that protects all others, reinforcing every freedom that we hold dear and that so many have fought and died for.

This Presidents’ Day, we should reflect on the reasons our Founding Fathers enshrined this right in our First Amendment. And we must acknowledge that this fundamental right is under attackeven for those who have fought to protect it.

Brandon Coleman, a Marine Corps veteran, began working as a therapist at the VA hospital in Phoenix to provide care for his brothers and sisters in arms. When he found that veterans there were dying due to negligence, he spoke upand for that, he was punished. When he told management what was going on, they told him thats how people get fired. They even tried to use his own personal medical records against him, and issued a gag order to silence him.

Colemans VA experience reminds of President Abraham Lincoln, who famously said that we as a nation will never be destroyed from the outside. “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher, he said if the United States loses its freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

Veterans like Brandon fought to defend us against external threats, but more and more are realizing that the biggest threat to our freedom is a government that is quick to limit our inalienable rights. The oath servicemen and women take to support and defend our Constitution doesnt end when we hang up our uniforms and return to civilian life.

Brandons case is one of many instances in which the very same government thats supposed to be protecting the right to free speech has tried to suppress it. Its not just happening at the VAlook at the way the government has intimidated religious groups by leaking donor lists, or the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in which the agency targeted certain groups because of their views on public policy.

Time and again, the government has silenced those it disagrees with by using citizens private information against them. Which makes it all the more concerning that a growing number of states are now trying to get more information about Americans who exercise their First Amendment rights.

In South Carolina, legislation was recently filed in the state Senate that would force essentially every nonprofit organization that educates citizens about public policy to disclose to the government the names, addresses, and employers of supporters who donate more than a certain dollar amount. Similar efforts have surfaced in both Nebraska and South Dakota. Touted under the banner of transparency, these so-called disclosure laws are nothing more than thinly-veiled attacks on free speech.

Throughout our history, the First Amendment has allowed citizens to challenge the government and powerful groups in all sectors, rooting out fraud and corruption. It has allowed marginalized groups to speak out against injustice, spurring progress toward equality. It has allowed millions of Americans to contribute to a marketplace of ideas, fostering a free society, a thriving culture and the largest economy in the world.

All too often today, our free speech right that was designed to hold the government accountable is being used by the government to harass, intimidate, and silence the very citizens the right is meant to protect.

With a new administration and a new Congress, there may now be a real opportunity to scale back and prevent further threats facing our First Amendment rights. But during these turbulent political times, we cant take that for granted.

Abolition, the womens movement, civil rights the inalienable right to free speech is what gave the foot soldiers in all of these movements the ability to speak up for themselves. Now that free speech is under attack, will we speak up for it?

Mark Lucas is the executive director of Concerned Veterans for America.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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On human dignity in Israel – Jerusalem Post Israel News

Posted: at 6:41 pm

Bread is served at a soup kitchen in central Israel. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The State of Israel likes to describe itself as the only democracy in the Middle East, which it is. Indeed, we Israelis have several reasons to take pride in our lively and vital democracy, whose citizens benefit from freedom of expression and other liberties despite multiple challenges and obstacles. Nonetheless, I would like to use the apt opportunity of the World Day of Social Justice, which is celebrated on February 20, to pose a question or two about the democratic and Jewish character of the State of Israel.

The concept of democracy is based on several core values without which no democracy can define itself as such. Human dignity is one of these core values. Being such an important tenet, it was even granted a basic law with a unique status in Israels law compendium: Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.

There is nothing new about human dignity as a central social issue. In fact, ancient Judaism repeatedly emphasizes that man was created in the image of God. Hence, harming a human being is the same as harming God. That said, let us stop and ask ourselves, to what extent does our current reality in Israel honor this fundamental principle?

Social exclusion and injustice are issues that impact a vast number of people in Israel of 2017. The figures point to a sad reality of nearly 2.5 million people living in poverty. The poor of Israel, comprised mainly of the weakest and most excluded groups of society the residents of slums and development towns, new immigrants, the Arab minority, foreign workers and more are grappling with a bleak reality characterized by inadequate educational and healthcare services, lack of basic material needs, food insecurity and more.

The entire scope of their personal resources are often channeled to physical and emotional survival. This live or die situation deprives the poor of the freedom or capability to exercise their various civil and political rights even though they live in a democratic country. Moreover, living in poverty seriously hampers their autonomous self-fulfillment as human beings.

I would like to argue that the non-fulfillment of basic needs inevitably leads to compromising human dignity, with basic needs referring not only to minimal nutrition but also to adequate educational and healthcare services and a safe environment. This is because the absence of these basic needs leads to wretched ignorance and compromised health, two things which have nothing to do with human dignity.

It is a sad fact that in todays Israel, a person can only benefit from her legal, political and other human rights if her basic existence is secured. Put differently, people deprived of fundamental conditions for existence are also dispossessed of their human dignity. By extension, I would argue that other social and economic rights, which are considered as being more than minimal basic needs, are in fact fundamental human rights because they provide human beings with the prerequisites for self-realization.

The natural conclusion of this may be simple to understand but are harder to implement. If we want to live in a country which is committed to human dignity, one that fulfills the ancient Jewish commandment of Beloved is the person created in Gods image (Pirkei Avot), then it is the states responsibility to ensure adequate (not just basic) living conditions to all of its citizens. In other words, Israel should adopt an accommodative social policy which provides each and every citizen and resident the conditions for realizing their human existence. Let us not forget that only a society committed to the flourishing of each and every individual will become a prosperous society.

It is time we revisit the vision of the founding fathers of Zionism, from all across the political spectrum from Jabotinsky through Herzl to Berl Katznelson and work toward a country committed to social justice and human dignity.

The writer is the director of the Community Division of BINA the Jewish Movement for Social Change.

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