State Religion vs Liberty

The defining character of our country is our liberty. When we look at the threat of an official state religion, realize that it is our freedom at stake. What, precisely, would we lose under a theocracy?

We must first understand that the driving force towards theocracy in this country isn’t a full representation of the religion being used as a vehicle. Kenneth Barr writes in an insightful op-ed:

Yet, the Bush Administration has been mounting a relentless attack on this basic principle of our democracy almost from its beginning. It has been trying to inflict a fundamentalist theocracy upon the nation with precious little resistance. Notice I don’t say Christian. There is no relationship between the Bushies and the faith of Christ. Christianity teaches love, peace and conciliation. The Bushies believe in fear, hatred and divisiveness. As Bradley Whitford said on “Real Time with Bill Maher” just after Katrina, their religion is supply-side economics.

Theocracy is never about the spirituality of religious belief. It is about imposing a strict set of behaviors. It is about control.

Some of the targets of this control are easy to see right off the bat. Sex is the big one. Something about sexual expression sets fundamentalists right off. Gay sex would not be permitted. In fact, you’d see a real surge in anti-gay behavior in society, encouraged by government (explicitly or implicitly depending on how far we fall). Contraception and sex ed would be severely diminished if not eliminated. Abortion would be a rusty hanger and the dirty back room of a clinic. In a theocracy sex is about two things: producing babies and reinforcing the patriarchy. Anything outside of that is painted as immoral, and the laws in this country would come to reflect that.

We would see blue laws in effect once again. Need to go shopping on a sunday? Sorry, that’s the Lord’s day. However the most worrying restrictions we would see would center around speech. If you think the fundamentalists are kicking up a storm now over the hate crimes legislation “threatening their freedom of speech” (despite the exception clause in the actual bill), just wait until they are in power. Blasphemy would be on the books once again. Publicly advocating for your own religion could become an actionable offense. To find out where, simply look at every point in society where religious speech is currently an issue for the religious right-wing, and you have found a potential new speech law under a theocratic US. Teachers are currently restricted with regard to how they present their individual faith in a classroom. Expect to see even harsher requirements surrounding non-approved religions. Right now swearing is censored out of radio and tv. Expect fines and penalties instead for “unclean speech”. Publicly criticizing the Bible, or the Biblical account of creation could become prohibited.

In a theocracy, you’d really need to watch what you say.

Finally existing crimes would see a readjustment according to religious mores. Adultery would become a much more serious offense. If the Bible says don’t do it, then government will enforce it.

You would also need to watch what you research. Stem Cell research, genetic research, or anything that could possibly be construed as undermining the approved Christian world view would be suspect or prohibited.

A theocratic America would be many things, but it would not be the land of the free.

That fact alone is reason enough to oppose our slide towards an official joining of church and state. It is our liberty that best defines us as Americans, and it is profoundly patriotic to defend that liberty. Let’s keep church and state separate. Let’s keep America free.


Backlash Against the VA Driving Tax

The new civil fees(pdf) being imposed in Virginia have generated backlash.  Looking at the fees, the smallest fine listed is $250.  What many don’t realize is that is an annual fee.  The total cost would be $750.  Thats mandatory.  There is no room for a judge to reduce the cost of a ticket.

Another problem with this law is it creates an additional motivation to issue potentially discriminatory traffic tickets.  Forget to signal?  That’s now a cash cow for the state.  Have you checked your tires lately?

Starting today, driving on bald tires could cost you $900 under new Virginia driving laws created to pay for road improvements.

Police have been assigned the role of tax collectors for the state of Virginia, and residents are sounding off about it:

Mayor Susan P. Irving […] can’t abide that “civil remedial fees” that took effect Sunday apply only to Virginians, not the out-of-state motorists who throttle into her town.

On talk radio, blogs and in letters to the editor, Virginians like her are sounding off about a burden only they bear while nonresident bad drivers are exempt.

The NYTimes has more:

“They’re ridiculous,” said Aaron Quinn, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association, which claims about 6,000 members. The very legislation that created the penalties “says its purpose is to generate revenue,” Mr. Quinn said, adding: “It’s essentially a tax on drivers and has nothing to do with safety. There is no evidence that increasing fines increases safety.”

And the backlash is bipartisan against a bill written by a Republican, and signed into law by a Democrat.  Even the ultra-conservative washington times is on this:

But $1,050 for driving 20 mph over the speed limit is predatory, tax-and-spend government at its worst. For families in the middle or at the bottom of the economic ladder, this reaches 4 percent and 5 percent of annual take-home income. Government is supposed to serve the people, not fine and tax them toward the poor house for what amounts to ordinary behavior.

Some legislators like Terry Kilgore (R) are joining governor Kaine in taking another look at the bill:

Nonetheless, he admitted that since the public became aware of the fees, there’s been such an uproar that the General Assembly may have to revisit the law.

“We don’t want it to cast too wide a net,” he said.

The 1st District delegate said the law was the brainchild of Delegate Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, who based it on similar legislation in New Jersey and Texas.

The fees were adopted as part of the overall transportation funding package, he said, and during negotiations of the package nobody brought up the concerns that are now surfacing.

Kilgore said once the legislation was approved and signed, the Virginia Supreme Court compiled a list of offenses to which the law would apply and, “once I saw the list, I knew things need to be looked at again.”

But Kilgore fundamentally misrepresents the law and the surrounding discussion:

This list, he added, is also in part responsible for much of the misinformation being circulated.

In a letter he has drafted to constituents concerned about the fees, Kilgore said the basic premise of the transportation abuser fee is that Virginia’s most dangerous drivers should proportionately pay their share for safety improvements to roadways rather than placing the bulk of the burden on the general public. The possibility of being assessed these fees is meant to serve as a deterrent to unsafe driving since the fees are targeting habitual offenders and extremely reckless drivers.

How is the list of offenses helping spread misinformation?  You would think knowing the violations which trigger the mandatory fines would be informative.  Additionally, Kilgore is wrong to represent the fees as “a deterrent”.  If they are meant to be a state fundraiser, they are counting on violations.  This isn’t about safety.  Its about taxes.  As Todd Foster writes, this is about “Virginia legislators too spineless to raise the outdated gas tax to pay for highway maintenance”.

Nick wonders whether this is a fine or a fee, and answers:

Their chief complaints: The fees are outrageously high, and they apply only to Virginians – not to out-of-state drivers.

The “fines” are actually “fees” because they are administrative rather than judicial. They are not meant as less a punishment for wrongdoing but rather than as a revenue source for highways.

Nick’s assessment of the bill is right on:

I’ve long ago suspected that if government didn’t make as much money as they did off of traffic violations, that the 55 mph speed limit would have gone the way of the dodo long ago.  Almost nobody obeys it, and there is very little need to.  Cars are significantly safer today than 20 or 30 years ago, and not just in a crash.  Suspensions and steering improvements make 55 mph laughably slow.  No… this is selective taxation.  It’s like a reverse lottery ticket.  If you’re unlucky enough to get pulled over, then you get to pay for some highway.

But he’s made a really interesting catch with regard to the Bill’s Republican sponsor:

But who on Earth would come up with such an egregiously selective and arbitrary law?  The part of the story that few people seem to be catching onto is that the architect of this law is a Virginia state legislator who just happens to also own a law firm which specializes in… wait for it… defending people charged with traffic violations!

The self-described “chief architect” for this bill is Delegate David Albo. Albo boasts on his website that he’s worked for 20 months to bring this bill into law. What his website doesn’t mention is that when Albo isn’t legislating tough new laws aimed at Virginia‘s motorists, he’s representing those same motorists in court.

That’s right. Albo’s a lawyer. And not just any lawyer. The firm that bears his name specializes in traffic law, particularly in representing people charged with DWI and reckless driving. And yes, that’s the firm’s actual URL:

Isn’t that graft?  It appears as though the media is picking up on the potential problems(via Terminal Chaosity):

But the hefty penalties could be a bonanza for the politically connected law firms that chase down unpaid court fines.

The contracts are awarded by local commonwealth’s attorneys, who get campaign contributions from the lawyers they hire.

This bill is a mess, from start to finish.  But when you look at what went into passing this bill and the motivations of its sponsors, it really starts to stink.