Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Wedding Shop

The gist of the story is that two ordained ministers, running a chapel that offers weddings and related services, refuse to perform wedding ceremonies for two persons of the same sex although such marriages are now legal in their state (Idaho). The State’s position is that their professional activities qualify as a public accommodation and, under existing non-discrimination statutes, are subject to sanction if they refuse to abide by the requirement to not discriminate against those with a same-sex preference.

The opposition maintains that this is an infringement of First Amendment rights that guarantee religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and protection against government coercion.

The confusion results because few understand the nature of marriage and its true reality, a social contract between two persons that is sanctioned by the state.

Marriage is a universal phenomenon that is shared by all cultures everywhere throughout history and current times. Marriage is not an expression of religious belief although people have always sought a religious blessing upon the contract because marriage is the most basic and fundamental relationship anyone will ever have. Government, even in its most primitive expression as the elders of a small village, has an interest in promoting social welfare. Therefore, it is in the interest of the community to provide for stabile marriages, for protecting the weaker party against the stronger, and ensuring that the result of the marriage are protected and provided for—children.

Ordained ministers conduct marriage ceremonies that complete the contract as an agent of the state. They are responsible for ensuring that couples have a valid license before they administer the vows. They are responsible after the wedding for signing the license, ensuring that witnesses have signed the license, and mailing it in to the local government clerk. If they fail to register the license with the clerk after the ceremony, ministers are subject to sanctions. Clergy perform weddings as government agents. As such, they are subject to the policies and statutes of government authorities.

If they have a matter of conscience and feel that their religious beliefs prevent them from administering marriage vows for any and all couples the State has sanctioned by issuing a license, ordained clergy have an option. Stop performing marriages. It is not an inherent and essential part of their calling.

Rather, in western culture, the Christian minister began conducting marriages as a historical accident. In ancient times, after the church was legalized by Constantine, couples continued to go to the local government clerk to register their marriage. Afterward, having taken their vows, devout couples went to the church to receive the blessing of God upon their union. Traditional wedding ceremonies retain these two features of the devout wedding: the taking of vows to complete the marriage contract and the receiving of divine blessing upon the union.

When Rome fell and Europe passed into feudalism, illiteracy spread among populations. In remote villages and small cities, the only literate people were clergy, those who had to learn to read and write in order to study scripture and write sermons. As the only literate person in the village, the feudal authority, often illiterate itself, turned to the clergy to function as government clerks to keep essential records of birth, marriage, and death.

This historical arrangement continues into the present day. It is not necessary, but it has been convenient as people traditionally look to the church as the place to get married.

Therefore, it is within the authority of the State to require its agents, including ordained clergy, to perform the marriages it has sanctioned. (Of course, the State does not have the authority to require the clergy to use church property for these ceremonies or to go to venues outside the normal scope of the clergy’s activities. But the State can pull the agency if it desires. Ministers have no right to perform marriages.)

Clergy who no longer perform marriages may still conduct ceremonies to bless the union according to the beliefs of themselves and their congregations. The State cannot demand that they convey a religious blessing that violates their conscience.

Now, for the second aspect of the story that very few know, perhaps including lawyers, whose legal degrees required them to study the foundations of law. In this aspect, the wedding shop story is no different from that of the bakers, those who are in business to create wedding cakes but refuse to sell to same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs.

Centuries-old English common law required that common carriers take all comers. They could not refuse or discriminate in providing services. From Wikipedia:
A common carrier is distinguished from a contract carrier (also called a public carrier in UK English),[2] which is a carrier that transports goods for only a certain number of clients and that can refuse to transport goods for anyone else, and from a private carrier. A common carrier holds itself out to provide service to the general public without discrimination (to meet the needs of the regulator's quasi judicial role of impartiality toward the public's interest) for the "public convenience and necessity".

It is generally understood in the modern business climate that this holds true for all businesses. Those who open their doors to provide goods and services to the public must do so without discrimination.

The State is within a centuries-old tradition to require those who provide public accommodations, that is, goods and services to the general public, must do so without discrimination. We may disagree with the requirement, but we are not exempt from it because we claim it violates our conscience.

To be in business means you must accommodate all comers, regardless of conscience, without discrimination, unless a condition that a reasonable person would agree is not discrimination, but a valid reason, exists for refusing.

As much as people may not like same-sex couples, that is not a valid reason for refusing to accept their business. The Wedding Shop cannot refuse to perform the ceremony as a matter of First Amendment protected conscience.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


For the past two days, I’ve woken up and the story of the Biblical prophet has been in my head.

Not the story from your childhood: Jonah swallowed by a whale, three days later, miracle of miracles, he emerges alive.

That’s part of the story, but it’s not the point.

By the way, the text never says it was a whale. The behemoth swallowed him. No one knows what that was. Some say a huge fish. Jacques Cousteau held out for grouper.

We love Hollywood special effects. Who could resist this fantastical story?

But it’s not the story of Jonah.

Jonah was called to preach. He had a specific assignment: Go to Nineveh and preach doom. Three days, and this city will be overturned.

But he didn’t want to do it. He ran away.

That’s how he found himself in the belly of a sea creature. He ran to the coast, boarded a ship, and sailed away.

However, no one easily says no to God.

A storm overtook the ship. After the seamen threw everything overboard to save the ship, Jonah shared his secret. He was the problem. The ship was lost unless they threw him overboard too. The seamen resisted, but Jonah was persuasive. At last, after doing rites to absolve themselves from guilt, they did as he said. They threw him overboard.

Only then did the great sea creature swallow him up.

 By the way, that was not the point. Jonah spent his time in self-reflection—he had been saved. Why?

Let’s recap. Lost to the world, having run from God but finding out that was not possible, Jonah was entombed so he could reflect upon his actions. He repented. Only then did the creature bring him to shore and vomit him upon the land.

Jonah went to the city. He preached. Miracles of miracles, greater than the belly of a fish and three days of survival, the people listened. They repented. God relented of the judgment He was about to bring upon them. Nineveh lived.

That made Jonah angry. He told God that was why he ran away. He knew God was a God of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. He knew if the city listened, God would set aside his judgment. Jonah didn’t like that. He didn’t want that.

He sulked outside the city. In the hot sun, he pouted. A vine grew up to shelter his head and he was grateful. Then a worm ate through the stalk, the vine died, and Jonah sat in the hot sun. He cursed everything he could think of.

Then came the lesson.

It’s not about a whale. It’s about following one’s call without regard for the consequences. Sometimes shelter will come, but it will not last. When you honor God’s call, there are no guarantees. But the very last thing one should do, any of us, is to sulk because God extends mercy to those with whom we are angry.

What has this to do with me?

I’ve been angry. And I want to run away. I’ve made no secret that I am applying to other school districts to get out of Nineveh, the wicked city, run by those who worship false gods: testing, career advancement, anything other than listening to the God who has compassion for the students who spend so much of their lives in the belly of our whale.

Three days and this city will be overturned. Like anyone in the district wants to hear that preaching even as they run it into the ground. They are the panicked seamen on the ship. Everything tossed, they no longer know what to do. Am I supposed to throw myself overboard to save them?

It is difficult. There is no shelter any longer. A worm has bit through the stalk of my big-leafed vine. I am seen.

The message remains. Three days …

When I guest post in a certain blog, things happen. Certainly there is correlation, although I do not have the ego to claim causation. Even so, there is so much correlation … three days.

One thing only I know, I will not sulk if the city heeds the message.

But why is this story in my head?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Wall!

Every time you hear education, think Common Core and when you hear teachers, think DOE or Arne Duncan in your head (someone needs to do a mash-up):
HIT SUBSCRIBE FOR MORE CLASSIC VIDEOS Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall Lifted from "Pink Floyd The Wall" film, this video is actually comprised of two ...

Friday, October 3, 2014

A New Journey for Jacksonville

In 2008, the murder rate in Jacksonville, Florida was climbing up the chart without ceasing. Outrage built while emotional capacity was exhausted as the city mourned the death of children killed by stray bullets penetrating their houses while they lay on the floor and prayed for deliverance. Finally, city leaders, pastors, residents in crime-torn neighborhoods, people from all parts of the county came together and said, “Enough.”
A large task force was formed to study the problem from all angles and propose solutions. The task force divided into subcommittees to work on different issues: the criminal justice system, community programs, schools and suspension, early education, jobs and economic opportunities, I don’t remember them all but the point is that the task force looked at all contributing causes to consider solutions for the city.
Many programs were considered, recommended, adopted, and funded. They may not seem directly related to the problem of murder, such as centers where suspended students could report during the day to keep them out of trouble, centers with counselors and social workers to help the students work on why they misbehaved at school, or funding for after-school programs such as Team-Up for youth who would otherwise be left loose on the streets with no supervision, but overall, the Journey worked. The murder rate declined.

Now our schools are in crisis. Students are bringing loaded weapons onto campus. Discipline is out of control. Teachers are cussed, threatened with physical violence, bossed around, and ignored. Parents are frustrated and lashing out at school-based personnel before pulling their children for alternatives: charters, private school vouchers, home schooling, whatever they can think of, and who can blame them? They are trying to do what is best for their kids.
The Journey offers a way that Duval County Public Schools can pull the city together to consider the problem of school discipline and solutions that will address the systemic problems that are destroying the schools.
Systemic problems need a systemic approach. DCPS needs to stop the spin and admit the full scope of the problems. We need a new Journey. We need pastors, leaders of community institutions, city leaders, parents, residents of crime-torn neighborhoods, students because oh, yes, they really are involved and know what to do to bring them hope and a future, we need teachers and clerical personnel and security guards and custodians, we need representatives from all places and categories to come together in a task force, study the school system, and propose solutions that change the system that is producing the threats.
How about it, Jacksonville? Do you want a new Journey to work on the problems in our schools? It’s put up or shut up time. How about it, Wayne Weaver? Gary Chartrand? Trey Czar? Are you willing to fund an effort to make our schools safe? You pony up the bucks for many other initiatives. Are you willing to stand up for our students? Our children?

We can wait no longer or we will cease to be the Bold New City of the South. 

Guns at School

Unbelievable, but it really happened:

And now the post, and understand that I am looking at more than my school, I am thinking about incidents across a 166 or more schools urban school district:

We were asked not to discuss specifics, etc. and I am going to honor that. But I have some general observations based on this ongoing problem of students bringing weapons to school. As someone who works in a secondary school, the issue interests me greatly. I read and follow each story as it appears in the media. I have been thinking about this for years.
Observation 1: Overall, the schools remain safe. Despite students having weapons, I can recall only one incident where a weapon was used. (It was not a gun.) That was in defense after the student tried to walk away from an aggressor. It is very important that we understand that weapons are being found on campus, but they are not being used.
Observation 2: The incidents involve student disputes. They are about individual, specific situations that are not related to what is going on at school. Problems come in from the neighborhood. Therefore, parents should allow their fears to lessen unless they know that their child is involved in a dispute that the adolescents will not resolve or get past. If that is the case, the parents need to notify the school so intervention can take place before a student decides he/she needs to carry a weapon.
Observation 3: Each time it happens, the student involved expresses fear in relation to aggression from another student. Usually that fear is for times of transition to and from school. At school, with School Resource Officers, security personnel, active administrators, and alert staff, students feel safe. They leave the weapon in their vehicle or otherwise hide it. It is on the way home when they fear for their safety.
Observation 4: Punishment won’t solve the problem. If a student is in fear for his/her safety, is the threat of a suspension going to have an effect? There has to be consequences: expulsion and prosecution for the severity of the offense. But we must also recognize that we need alternatives that address root causes before a student brings a weapon. Putting intervention and counseling programs only at the alternative school is not working. We need to get support programs into neighborhood schools.
Observation 5: The new student code of conduct, which standardizes consequences, was an improvement. But it cannot stand on its own. On its own, students get (and have gotten) the idea that there is no punishment for misbehavior. Embedded in a comprehensive approach of encouragement and reward for appropriate behavior, intervention and support for problematic behavior, and consequences for infractions, the student code of conduct will perform at the desired level of effectiveness. However, while terms like positive behavioral support and restorative justice are thrown around, implementation is wanting.
Observation 6: Academics and conduct are part of the same continuum like space and time are one continuum. Few people understand this. Much of classroom misbehavior stems from bored students entertaining themselves inappropriately. Then someone gets mad, a dispute or altercation breaks out, then teachers complain about no support, then administrators blame teachers for a lack of management, and the cycle goes on. If we improve student engagement, misbehavior goes down and what does occur happens at lower levels of severity. This is not only a teacher problem, though; administrators need to be active and visible in classrooms every day. When they are not, even when they say other concerns occupy their time, things spiral down.
Observation 7: Student conduct, at all levels of severity, is a systemic problem. Systemic problems are not solved by focusing on one aspect such as code of conduct, transitions, or punishment policies. Systemic problems demand a comprehensive approach or else the displaced bad energy reappears somewhere else in the system. Problems move but they are not solved. Changing people does not work. The problems persist under new leadership because they are systemic.

Observation 8: The Jacksonville Journey is an example of a systemic approach to a severe problem of misconduct (murder rate). When it was implemented fully, the misconduct diminished in frequency. Something of the same approach and commitment needs to happen in our schools.