Muslim judge in Pennsylvania limits 1st Amendment

February 24, 2012

From Charles Platt

A judge in Pennsylvania who just happens to be of muslim faith informed a plaintiff that the 1st Amendment doesn’t necessarily give you the right to “p people off.” The plaintiff had worn a “Zombie Mohammed” costume in a public parade in Mechanicsburg, thus enraging a muslim observer who ran forward and tried to choke the man until police intervened. Charges of harassment, filed against the muslim for trying to choke the demonstrator, were dismissed by the muslim judge. Details here.


Suit contesting Nevada marriage standards to go forward

January 23, 2012

By J. DeVoy

District of Nevada Judge Philip Pro declined to dismiss Clark County from a lawsuit brought by the ACLU to challenge Nevada’s “religious test” for whom may solemnize a marriage as implemented by the County.  Clark County handles marriage matters in the Las Vegas metro area, ranging from issuing marriage certificates to authorizing officials to perform religious ceremonies.

Under Nevada law, a marriage may be officiated only by those affiliated with established religious organizations and government officials including judges and civil marriage commissioners (including, true to Las Vegas form, those dressed as Elvis).  The ACLU’s lawsuit, filed in March 2011, seeks to challenge this practice in the wake of an atheist and members of the American Humanist Association whom Clark County has denied certification to solemnize marriage.

Allowing the suit to go forward, the central issue is now whether Clark County’s broad discretion essentially allows its employees to determine whether a religious organization is a bona fide religious institution.  This raises the question as to whether Clark County employees are assessing the validity of various religions when their practitioners seek authority to solemnize marriages from the County.  Such a practice is not merely unlawful, but unconstitutional – if successful, the ACLU’s suit will force Clark County to change its practices, and effectively change Nevada law, so that a larger class of people are entitled to solemnize marriage.

From Judge Pro’s order:

“Were the county clerk deemed to have unfettered discretion to decide if a particular religious organization is a bona fide religion, that would likely constitute a significant entanglement,”

“The Nevada statute appears to give unfettered discretion to the county clerk to decide whether a particular organization qualifies as a religious organization to trigger eligibility for the applicant seeking a certificate,”

While this seems like an esoteric issue, it is a question that has been confronted in Mississippi, and even created significant questions in New York for a couple I personally knew who wished to marry there.  Given Nevada’s position against gay marriage, it is unsurprising for the question of who may solemnize marriages to be unresolved even at this late date.  With the ACLU’s suit surviving a motion to dismiss, more activity likely will be forthcoming.


First Amendment trumps Equal Opportunity Employment

January 11, 2012

Today, the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC  issued a unanimous ruling on the First Amendment.  While this blog regularly celebrates the Freedom of Speech clause, the decision focuses primarily on the Free Exercise Clause and, to a lesser extent, the Establishment Clause.

In a nutshell:

  1. Church had 2 types of teacher–lay and ministerial.
  2. Ministerial teacher develops disability and takes leave of absense; replaced by lay teacher.
  3. Church rules normally prioritize ministerial teachers, but when this teacher tries to get her job back, she is denied.
  4. She becomes insubordinate and complains of an ADA violation.
  5. She is terminated.
  6. Teacher sues the church for retaliation against her for making an ADA claim.
  7. Supreme Court says church wins.

Assuming there was blatant retaliation, the church still wins.  Why?  Because if the government were to tell a church they couldn’t fire a particular minister, that would prevent a church from freely deciding who gets to spread the gospel and who doesn’t.  To its extreme, though excepted specifically in Title VII, if the government had the power to dictate who a church could fire, it could prevent the Pope from defrocking an American Bishop who pronounces the Shahada and converts to Islam.  Basically, the 1st Amendment lets a religion freely decide who gets to be a minister, even if the reasons for hiring or firing are otherwise abhorrent to society.  If you don’t like it, you are free to change religions.  Or declare the person who did the firing a heretic and stone them.  Either way.


Blasting people on twitter – not cyberstalking!

December 16, 2011

By J. DeVoy

Pundits were concerned earlier this year when the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland brought a criminal action against William Lawrence Cassidy.  His alleged crime?  Posting 8,000 harassing twitter messages about Alyce Zeoli, a buddhist leader in Maryland.  The Court dismissed the Government’s case, as Cassidy’s anonymous speech addressed a topic accorded the highest constitutional protections: Religion.

Admittedly, some of the messages were witty.  Take this poetry, for instance:

Ya like haiku? Here’s one for ya. Long limb, sharp saw, hard drop

Some were more esoteric, such as “A thousand voices call out to (Victim 1) and she cannot shut off the silent scream,” while others got to the point: “Do the world a favor and go kill yourself. P.S. Have a nice day.”

The Court’s Order  is a solid win for the Defendant – and free speech.  Within it, the Court found that 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(2) is unconstitutional as applied to the defendant.  Not only does the First Amendment kick ass, it’s now a tool, albeit a slow-working one, against the federal government’s overcriminalization of daily life.

I strongly encourage reading the whole Order, but most importantly, there’s this:

However, it is questionable whether the same interest exists in the context of the use of the Internet alleged in this case because harassing telephone calls “are targeted towards a particular victim and are received outside a public forum.” United States v. Bowker, 372 F.3d 365, 379 (6th Cir. 2004). Twitter and Blogs are today’s equivalent of a bulletin board that one is free to disregard, in contrast, for example, to e-mails or phone calls directed to a victim. See id. at 378 (contrasting why a federal telephone harassment statute serves a compelling governmental interest and a statute that made it a criminal offense for three or more persons to assemble on a sidewalk and to be “annoying” to a passerby did not serve a compelling governmental interest). (emphasis added)

H/T: EFF


Establish religion, then tax its followers

November 20, 2011

By Jay Wolman

I’m impressed.  The Department of Agriculture may have violated two First Amendment provisions at once.  As set forth in the November 8, 2011, Federal Register,  there is a new Christmas Tree Promotion Board.  I’m thinking–Establishment clause violation, perhaps?  But, it gets better.  To fund it, there are assessments (i.e. taxes) on Christmas trees.  A tax on Christians.  Free Exercise clause violation, maybe?

So there’s no confusion:

Sec.  1214.3  Christmas tree.

Christmas tree means any tree of the coniferous species, that is  severed or cut from its roots and marketed as a Christmas tree for holiday use.

The USDA does address the Establishment clause question:

Another commenter in opposition raised concerns that the proposed  Order may violate the Establishment Clause. The commenter stated that government speech cannot advocate religion or religious symbols.  USDA considers Christmas trees to be an agricultural commodity which is reported as such in various USDA crop reports and statistical data reports (e.g. 2007 Census of Agriculture, National Agricultural  Statistics Service). The Act in section 512 provides for the establishment of generic promotion, research and information activities for agricultural commodities, including Christmas trees.

I don’t buy it.  Just because it may be an agricultural commodity doesn’t mean that singling it out for special treatment doesn’t violate the Constitution.  If they left it at “any tree of the coniferous species”, I think they could get away with it.  But once they add in the relationship to Christmas itself, therein lies the problem.  But for Christmas, there is no Christmas tree tax.

The USDA can regulate cotton, too.  But that doesn’t give them the power to make a similar Mormon Underwear Promotion Board, or Muslim Prayermat Promotion Board, or Yarmulke Promotion Board, with an attendent assessment.


What’s More Christian Than a 30 Foot Cross?

November 9, 2011

By Sean McGilvray

The 9th Circuit recently denied a rehearing for the case in which they ruled that the giant cross that sits on federally owned land atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, California is unconstitutional. In January of this year, the 9th Circuit took the entirely reasonable position that when the federally-maintained Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial tops itself with a 25 foot tall representation of the most fundamental symbol of Christianity, they are sending a message of wholesale endorsement of the Christian faith in violation of the Establishment Clause.

The Mount Soledad Cross has a long history of controversy, but the latest round of litigation kicked off after the state of California got sick of arguing about it and transferred the land on which the monument stands to the federal government in 2006. The ruling in January spelled it out:

“… after examining the entirety of the Mount Soledad Memorial in context—having considered its history, its religious and non-religious uses, its sectarian and secular features, the history of war memorials and the dominance of the Cross—we conclude that the Memorial, presently configured and as a whole, primarily conveys a message of government endorsement of religion that violates the Establishment Clause.”

Last month, the court declined to review or reverse their earlier decision, which places this case in a prime position to move further up the chain and appear before the U.S. Supreme Court. Not all of the Circuit Judges agreed with the decision however, and Judge Carlos Bea wrote a lengthy dissent attacking the earlier decision and disingenuously suggests that a giant cross has nothing to do with Christianity.

Bea attacks the reliance on the three part test used in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). Under that test, government action has to meet the following three criteria to avoid violating the Establishment Clause:

  1. It  must have a secular legislative purpose.
  2. It  must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion.
  3. It  must not result in an excessive government entanglement with religion.

Despite the always colorful potshots that conservative justices like Scalia have taken over the years at this standard (“like some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad after being repeatedly killed and buried, Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence” 508 U.S. 384, 397 (1992)) the Lemon Test is good law.

Under this standard, the government action of acquiring a hunk of land with a giant cinderblock cross and maintaining the monument as-is seems like a cut and dry example of advancing the Christian religion and getting excessively entangled with it. Judge Bea pushes for an application of an exception to the Lemon Test from Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005). In certain borderline cases where the religious iconography in question is part of a larger secular context, the court has to engage in a fact-intensive assessment of a host of factors, including the monument’s purpose, the perception of that purpose by viewers, and the monument’s history. The standard came from the Texas Ten Commandments sculpture case.

Although the Court in Van Orden explicitly eschewed the notion of simple formula in favor of an intensive fact-based analysis, Judge Bea helpfully condenses this analysis to look at the use and context of the Mount Soledad Cross.

Of course the earlier 9th Circuit decision considered all these factors in addition to their Lemon Test analysis and found that the Soledad Cross was inherently Christian in nature. Judge Bea argues that the fact that Cross is currently part of a veteran’s memorial and is festooned with plaques and American flags somehow negates the religious undertones as though crosses are not associated with memorials precisely because of the religious connotations of the afterlife.

Bea also argues that the history and context of the cross are secular, or at least as secular as a representation of the deity worshipped by the majority of Americans can be. By focusing narrowly on Mount Soledad Cross only as part of a memorial for the veterans since 2006 (when the U.S. government acquired the property) Judge Bea willfully ignores the broader history of the Cross which was a focus for annual Easter services for over forty years. He is a big fan of history when it comes to pointing out that the monument stood unchallenged until 1989 and that this long run without opposition somehow drains the cross of its Christian meaning.

It remains to be seen if the Supreme Court will grant cert for this case and if they do, whether the current lineup will be inclined to see the case the same way as Judge Bea but for now this particular victory in the war to keep church and state on opposite ends of the block has been reaffirmed.


The First Amendment is for Christians Only

October 27, 2011

Oh Flori-duh, you never fail to amuse.

Clay County Pastor, Ron Baker of Russell Baptist Church in Green Cover Springs, FL holds weekly prayer sessions near the Clay Hill Elementary school’s flagpole. To make sure that everyone knows about it, the school principal, LArry Davis put out a newsletter supporting the prayer meetings. (source) That’s a no-brainer violation of the First Amendment.

But principal Davis has a way around that. In his newsletter announcing the meetings, he wrote:

“Pastor Steven Andrew states: ‘Our children need God back in schools,’ and he is calling Christians nationwide to bring back the Holy Bible and Christian prayer to schools … The First Amendment was for Christianity, not other religions.” (source)

Davis told the Florida Times-Union that, despite the passage in his newsletter, he doesn’t feel that the First Amendment only applies to Christians. Seems like an ineffective backpedal to me. Read the passage for yourself.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to the school superintendent informing him of the fact that Davis’ conduct violates the First Amendment. The Superintendent said that Davis went too far, and asked Pastor Baker to stop holding the prayer meetings at the elementary school.

Like any good christian, Baker refused. “I think if I were to stop, it somehow sends the message that I think it must be wrong,” he said. Because whether it is insisting that the Earth is the center of the universe, or that there is an almighty space being who gets mad if two guys cocks touch each other, if there is one thing that christianity teaches us, it is “never, ever, ever, ever admit you are wrong, no matter how fucking retarded your views are proven to be.”


Can Connecticut take porn from its prisoners? Should it?

October 17, 2011

Many concerns come to mind when someone thinks about spending time in prison.  First and foremost, there is always the risk of being shanked with a very, very sharp toothbrush.  For the financial criminals, there is the distinct shame of being bested by Bernie Madoff in a game of badminton.  This is to say nothing for the fable of being made someone’s bitch. But what about a lack of porn?

Connecticut’s prisons were very tolerant of pornography in its prisons until recently. (source.)  Now that the Connecticut prisons are pulling the plug on this entertainment, the inmates are threatening to sue.  This is not isolated to the Northeast, either, as a Michigan man filed suit over a guard’s refusal to provide him with pornography, claiming the guard’s action violated his constitutional rights. (source.)

Not to put too dull of an edge on it, but prisons can basically do what they please to inmates. Correctional facilities have staked out the lowest standard of review available under law.  Prisons can enact policies that run counter to prisoners’ First Amendment rights as long as the regulations are rationally related to a legitimate penological interest, a standard that has consistently led to judicial affirmation of anti-pornography policies in the big house. Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413 (1989); Smith v. Dept. of Corrections, 219 Or. App. 192, 198, 182 P.3d 250 (2008).  In contrast, the next-lowest standard of review – and generally the lowest for non-prisoners – is rational basis review, where a government action must be rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest to be constitutional (and intended as such – no post hoc analysis is allowed).

Courts review a prison’s limitation on the inmates’ First Amendment rights by using the three-prong reasonableness test enunciated in Thornburgh:

  1. whether the governmental objective underlying the regulations at issue is legitimate and neutral, and whether the regulations are rationally related to that objective;
  2. whether there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates at de minimis cost to penological interests; and
  3. the impact that accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on others (guards and inmates) in the prison

490 U.S. at 414-18 (citing Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 85 (1987)); Owen v. Wille, 117 F.3d 1235, 1237 (11th Cir. 1997).

As seem in prong 3, rehabilitation interests of prisoners are not all that may be, or is, considered when evaluating these policies.  Courts have found that preventing the harassment of employees who work in the prison is a valid justification for a limitation on sexually explicit materials among inmates. See, e.g., Mauro v. Arpaio, 188 F.3d 1054, 1059 (9th Cir. 1999).

The reach of these policies has been broad. In Washington v. Werholtz, 2008 WL 4998689 (Kan. App. 2008), the Kansas appellate court upheld a policy that banned all sexually explicit material, which included any display, actual or simulated, or description of a variety of acts, including intercourse and masturbation.  While such a policy will cover Larry Flynt’s oeuvre, it will also ban trashy romance novels and some important works of fiction, such as L’ Histoire d’ O.

As long ago as 1989, Iowa grappled with this issue, which made its way into the New York Times.  Under Iowa’s policy, only inmates who had been psychologically screened and approved to view the material – with prisoners whom prison psychologists believed would be obsessed with the material being denied access to it. (source.)  The policy drew a bizarre distinction between how various forms of pornography were treated; inmates who could view porn were allowed to keep “soft-core” content in their cells, while hardcore content was only viewable in a well-supervised reading room.  One then-inmate complained that the reading room was impossible to enjoy under this policy, as the guards filed through the area as if it were a freeway – denying him any privacy in which to evaluate the materials.

In 2006, Indiana instituted a similar policy.  The Indiana Commissioner of the Department of Corrections previously explained that state’s pornography prohibition as something in the interest of both inmates and facility employees.  The Commissioner’s explanation appeals to stay at home moms everywhere, exempting medical and anthropological instances of nudity, but adopts an “I know it when I see it” definition of pornography. (source.)  Ultimately, Indiana’s restrictions amount to subjective, content-based limitations determined by what individuals find stimulating, as opposed to some objective standard by which the content can be evaluated, such as penetration. (Id.)

I strongly disagree with these policies.  While I have not been incarcerated in prison, I question the harmful effects pornography can have on its inmates, and am deeply troubled by the broad sweep that these policies can have – swallowing up non-explicit materials that have considerable value.  While prison exists to deny agency to its inmates, one cannot help but wonder if these policies beg the question about pornography’s supposed harmfulness.  In fact, research shows that more porn = less rape.  While there are other covariants at play, as everyone who has read Freakonomics knows, the results of isolating pornography and analyzing the porn-rape relationship have been in porn’s favor.  Beyond rape, the gratification of pornography may replace or inhibit other criminal or undesired activities as well.  In short, the premises that prison guards’ penological interests rest upon – that porn is bad and makes people do bad things – are beginning to be proven as bullshit.

When I debated the Indiana commissioner on Fox News, his rationale was to “promote public safety in Indiana.” Give me a break. Is Mary Homemaker “safer” because a convict doesn’t have a porn mag? He also stated that he wanted to see his prisoners devote their time to more constructive pursuits. This being Fox, I didn’t get a chance to cross examine him, but I presume he didn’t mean ass-raping one another. The biggest load of bullshit he slung was the meme that prisons need to ban porn because they want to promote a non-harassing environment for prison guards.

Seriously? You want to be a prison guard, but you can’t handle the sight of a guy reading Hustler? I got news for you if you’re “offended” by the sight of a guy jacking it to porn — you can’t handle being a security guard at a candy store, let alone being a prison guard.

The rationale for these bans clearly has nothing to do with “safety,” and it has nothing to do with the feminist-imposed “hostile work environment” bullshit. It has to do with an erotophobic attitude, fostered by superstition, and then fertilized with the crap of cheap political points.

Nonetheless, prisons have erected a high wall around themselves, their guards, and their asinine policies.  In a way, it is logically consistent for an enterprise that exists largely as a consequence of unjust and counterproductive policies such as the war on drugs to have special legal protection allowing it to further screw the people entrusted to its care. See Thornburgh, 490 U.S. at 407 (describing moden prison administration as an “inordinately difficult undertaking”).  As such, challenged to these policies, however well deserved and meritorious they are, seldom succeed.


For the Record … Anti-Mormonism is not “bigotry” (neither is any other anti-religious sentiment)

October 10, 2011

James Fallows over at the Atlantic says, “Just for the Record: Anti-Mormonism Is Bigotry Too.”

No. No it is not.

Fallows sums his position up:

To be against Mitt Romney (or Jon Huntsman or Harry Reid or Orrin Hatch) because of his religion is just plain bigotry. Exactly as it would have been to oppose Barack Obama because of his race or Joe Lieberman because of his faith or Hillary Clinton or Michele Bachmann because of their gender or Mario Rubio or Nikki Haley because of their ethnicity. (source)

If a candidate believes in trickle-down economics, and you are against him for his beliefs, that isn’t bigotry. That’s looking at his views, realizing that they are incompatible with logic, and dismissing him because he’s an idiot.

If you are against someone for being Hispanic or Black, that’s bigotry. The color of someone’s skin doesn’t necessarily say anything about their beliefs or how they will behave.

But being against someone for what they believe, that’s not bigotry. That’s being a rational person. And there is no way I want someone leading my country if they believe that some snake oil salesman found magic gold tablets, that only he could see, and read some magic words from it, and discovered that people should wear magic underwear. I am perfectly comfortable with someone who believes that having dinner at my house, or even teaching my kids, and marrying my sister, but I don’t trust them with the nuclear launch codes.

That’s not bigotry. A Mormon can change his views, if he wants to.

Marco Rubio can’t wake up tomorrow and say “y’know, I’m sick of being Cuban. I think I’ll be Irish now.” Hating on him for being Cuban — that’s bigotry.

Don’t mistake this for a post singling out the Mormons. Their beliefs are no different than those of any other cult. If you believe in a magic space zombie Jew, you’re not rational enough to be president either. At least not in my eyes. Islam? It doesn’t have any edge over Mormonism or Christianity.

The analysis gets a little tricky with Jews (sigh, doesn’t it always). You have to figure out if you’re dealing with a secular Jew or a religious one. Sammy Davis Jr. would have been unqualified to be President in my eyes, not because he was black, but because he believed that there is a magic space man who, after creating heaven and earth, decided that he didn’t want people to eat bacon, but he did want people to cut the tips off of little boys’ penises. Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, and Golda Meir were qualified to run things. Joe Lieberman? Fuck no.

If you believe in some magic voodoo shit, good for you. If it works for you, believe it. I don’t care if you believe in a magic pink monkey that flies out of the ass of whales with a blue bucket on its head singing show tunes.

If you believe in such things, you still might be the coolest guy in the world. I would fight with everything I have to protect your right to believe in those things — no matter how I feel about them. I might even want to be best friends with you. I have friends who believe in some of the goofiest shit ever, from Orthodox Jews to Christians to Muslims, and I even think I have a Scientologist in there somewhere. Being religious is no disqualification from being on my good side.

But there’s no damn way I’d vote to let them run the country — not until they wake up from their self-imposed delusion.

If you disagree, you’re in good company. My view is totally screwed. I doubt we’ll ever have an openly-Atheist president. Not until there is a revolution.

As an Atheist, I don’t call that “anti-Atheist bigotry.” If you wouldn’t let me run things because I don’t believe in goblins, it doesn’t make you a bigot. It just makes you disagree with something that I have chosen to believe (or not believe, as it were).

That’s not bigotry.


S.C. Public School Invites Christian Rapper to Perform

September 27, 2011

I understand why people want the government and the public schools to back up their religion. Here you have a bastardization of a 2000 years old cult. It is based upon lies, fairy tales, and superstition. How else are you going to perpetuate this set of beliefs without brainwashing impressionable young kids with it, or getting the government to stamp its seal of approval on it?

If christianity is such a good idea, it ought to sell itself without this blatantly unconstitutional foolishness.

H/T Death and Taxes


A Message About Texas Governor’s “Religious Revival”

August 6, 2011

As if you needed more evidence that Herman Cain doesn’t belong in office

July 20, 2011

Naturally, his candidacy is no more serious than Sarah Palin’s nomination for a Rhodes Scholarship, but this guy is a constitutional train wreck.

He claims that any community has a right to ban a mosque in their community. Fuck the First Amendment, Boo Boo!

No, Herman, No. No you can’t. While I personally would like to see mosques, synagogues, and churches all banned from every community as a blight causing adverse secondary effects, I accept that the First Amendment stands in the way of that. Herman isn’t bright enough to know that.


“Conservatives” — meet your reality. Bachmann signs pledge to wipe her ass with the Constitution

July 8, 2011

Michelle Bachmann, someone unqualified to clean my toilets, has jumped out ahead of the pack as the new conservative darling.

Anyone who thinks of themselves as a conservative should either change name tags or have their heads examined.

Bachmann is in the news today for signing a pledge that she will fight homosexuality and pornography. (source) You see, the damn liberals want to tell us how to run our lives. And, government that governs best governs least. Right?

So lets make sure that the government stays out of our lives and respects the Constitution by, ummm, errr… well, trying to influence who people fuck. Lawrence v. Texas be damned… and we, umm… well we love presidential candidates who sign pledges to fight against free expression.

You know, because the founders didn’t jerk off to internet porn, so it must be outside the protection of the First Amendment, right?

Honestly, if you read this blog and you don’t hate Michelle Bachmann, stop reading and don’t come back. Seriously. Fuck you.


ACLU challenges Nevada’s marriage officiant requirements

March 28, 2011

By J. DeVoy

The ACLU is suing the State of Nevada and Clark County – where Las Vegas is located – over laws that require non-governmental marriage officiants to have a religious affiliation.  While anyone can perform a marriage in Nevada, he or she must obtain a certificate to solemnize the marriage based on the fact that he or she has a religious affiliation.

One of the plaintiffs, Raul Martinez, claims to be an atheist and member of the American Humanist Association.  If successful, the suit would end – or at least compromise – the state-and-religious duopoly over marriage in Nevada.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Allen Lichtenstein, is a friend of the blog, and we wish him success in this case.  In addition to many other First Amendment and civil liberties-related cases, Allen was recently involved in litigation for handbill distributors, political activists, street preachers and impersonators, so that they could continue their activities on the Las Vegas strip’s casino-owned sidewalks.


Scumbags Welcome!

March 6, 2011

One of the clergy members that I have always admired was an old Italian priest I knew years ago. His congregation was limited to a maximum security prison — including death row. He explained to me that ministering to the condemned was the most rewarding assignment he had ever received. He then explained a story from christian mythology to me that he found at Mark 2:17, In that passage, Jesus is eating and drinking with some real sleazeballs, and the “good people” take issue with him for it.

And Jesus, hearing it, said to them, Those who are well have no need of a medical man, but those who are ill: I have come not to get the upright but sinners.

A church in Lake County, Flori-duh seems to put this piece of mythology at the center of a recent outreach project. The church put up a billboard that stated “Scumbags Welcome.” Naturally, the “good people” of the 352 area code took issue with the church, called the city, and complained. Much to the City’s credit, it found that the church was well within its First Amendment rights. (source)


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