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Is domestic law enforcement paranoia turning the US into a police state?


(Posted by Bryana Johnson on November 7th, 2013)

Judging by the way the Department of Homeland Security is spending your money, domestic unrest may be coming soon to a city near you. The DHS has been making purchases lately that seem to signal a federal fear of riots across the nation in the coming months. The obvious question is, what do they know that they American people don’t? A more enduring and chilling question is what will be the end result of America’s increasingly militarized police force?

PressTV reported this morning that the DHS has stated its intentions, via the Federal Business Opportunities website, to spend half a million dollars on 240,000 pepper spray projectiles, 100 pepper spray launchers and 36 “riot expansion kits.”

PressTV explained,

“The PepperBall TAC-700 pepper spray launcher ‘features full auto, semi-auto, or 3 round burst providing up to 700 rounds per minute, and is accurate to 60 feet with area saturation up to 150 feet.’ According to a video demonstration, the TAC-700 has a ‘strong psychological influence’ on the people it is being used against because it is so loud and sounds like an automatic machine gun.”

The equipment was designed for use in riot control situations, although the contract on the website states that the purchases are being made for training purposes.

The recent controversy is only the latest in a string of far more alarming incidents involving what many see as paranoid behavior on the part of the federal agency.

In February a ruckus was caused when it came to light that the DHS was training officers with practice targets featuring photographs of children, young mothers, pregnant women, and disabled elderly people who were depicted as armed with handguns.

The No More Hesitation campaign was supposedly designed to break down stereotypes associated with generally non-threatening figures, for the purpose of saving officers’ lives. However, judging by the ensuing outcry, the American people seem to feel there are good and noble reasons why civilization has erected these constraints around the lives of the young and the aged and the vulnerable. Furthermore, they don’t want those constraints shot down by the domestic task force that has been constructed to protect them.

Last week, it was revealed that the DHS is set to spend $80 million dollars on hiring armed guards for use at “public demonstrations” and “civil disturbances” in upstate New York. The information was acquired via another posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

But it’s not just the policy-makers at the DHS who seem to be developing paranoid habits and an irrational fear of the American people. In recent months, local law enforcement personnel all over the country have drawn fire repeatedly for actions that many insist constitute severe violations of civil liberties.

In August, Sarah Boaz, a Texas resident of Richland Hills, was ticketed for running a stop sign. The New York Daily News reported Boaz lost the ticket and failed to pay it on time. She expected to receive a late fee, but was shocked when a city marshal handcuffed her outside of her house one morning and carted her off to jail, where she was unexpectedly subjected to a strip search that left her overwhelmed and confused – and not a little indignant.

In a similar story, accompanied by outrageous surveillance cam footage, Dana Holmes is suing officers who she claims illegally strip-searched her after jailing her for a DUI arrest. However, the only thing that isn’t entirely certain is whether the search was illegal, since video evidence shows it clearly occurred. In the seriously disturbing clip, three male officers and one female officer jerk Holmes off of wall and onto the ground, drag her into a padded cell and then proceed to remove all of her clothes.

“I just felt helpless and degraded… I was actually afraid they might come in and try to rape me,” Holmes told the local news station. “I just had all kinds of things going on in my head. I was scared and I lay there crying.”

Holmes’ experience is not the only instance of its kind. The Houston Chronicle reported in August that two Texas women are suing after they were subjected to cavity searches at traffic stops. The women were pulled over for speeding and considered the searches completely unwarranted and inexplicable. Thousands of Americans agreed, and Angela Dobbs, one of the plaintiffs, said she has received worldwide support.

Dobbs also said she’s heard from numerous other women who have experienced cavity searches after being stopped by state troopers, but who were too afraid to come forward. Clearly the outrage that Dobbs and Hamilton suffered was not simply a poor decision made by a rookie officer.

In an article for The Guardian earlier this month that raised questions about the 1033 program, an initiative that allows the Defense Department to donate surplus military equipment to local police forces, Michael Shank pointed to the mounting evidence that suggests the police force in America is looking more and more like the military. 

The growing militarization of the United States appears to be occurring at home as well as abroad, a phenomenon which is troublesome and sure to continue without decisive action,” he wrote, warning of, “the blurring line between military forces and the local police who are meant to protect and serve.”

Someone is training law enforcement officials in this heavy-handed behavior. The question is why? And what will become of civil liberties in a nation that tolerates these abuses at the hands of domestic officials?

(First published at the The Washington Times Communities)
 
 
PictureSyrian Rebel forces training

Are American taxpayers funding the persecution of Christians and murder of civilians in war-torn nations?

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on August 25th, 2013)

Russian President Vladimir Putin made headlines earlier this month when he called on world leaders to unite in fighting anti-Christian persecution. Putin has made significant efforts in recent days to underscore the importance of Christian virtues to the Russian people, and his latest statement condemned the violence that has been perpetrated against Christian people in the Middle East and in North Africa.

President Obama didn’t respond in agreement. Indeed, shortly afterwards, he cancelled a scheduled summit with the Russian President. However, Putin’s statement resonated deeply with many Americans who have been working to call attention to the plight of Christian minorities worldwide.

The trouble is that, far from doing our part to end these atrocities, extant American foreign policy seems calculated to exacerbate them. Rather than making an end of the bloodshed, our influence has been making things worse.

Last week, Syrian rebels opened fire on a Christian village during the celebration of a feast day and killed 9 Christian villagers and 2 others. Women and children were among the dead.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population, know this is no isolated incident. Since the beginning of the conflict between Sunni Muslim rebel forces and Syrian President Bashar Assad, thousands of Christians have been forced from their homes or brutally murdered. Several Catholic priests and clerics have been beheaded or gunned down in their churches.

Radical Muslim groups, who back the rebel Free Syria Army, see Christians as supporters of Assad’s regime and enemies of their religious belief system, even though many Christians who have been targeted took no active part in supporting Assad.

Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra warned in July that young, Christian women are bearing the brunt of the civil war, with widespread reports of rape in Christian communities. Of the war’s 100,000 casualties since 2011, as estimated 5,000 have been children under 16. A disproportionate number have been Christian women and girls.

Earlier this week, a disturbing video surfaced, purporting to show the execution of two young boys by Syrian rebel forces. The boys, who were accused of supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, are shown blindfolded on their knees beside each other as a masked man hastily reads off what sounds like a list of charges behind them. The video then continues to roll as the boys are riddled with bullets and left lying prostrate and immobile on the ground. Viewer discretion is advised.

In another incident in June, a 14-year old boy in the Northern Syrian city of Aleppo, who was accused of blaspheming the Muslim prophet Muhammad, was flogged and executed by rebel forces. Reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claim the boy was first taken by the rebel gunmen to an unknown location where he was beaten and tortured. He was returned with his body slashed with the marks of a whip and a shirt tied around his head. He was then shot repeatedly in front of a crowd. Grisly photos were released of his bloodied body, a gaping hole all that remains of his nose and mouth.

The Islamists claim that the shockingly violent acts which have been committed by their army are nothing compared with the “genocide,” that has been conducted by Assad’s regime, but it seems the gap is narrowing, as the rebels continue to stack up more and more incidents against themselves. And, obviously, these are only the incidents that have been reported to western news outlets. Who can know what is really going on in the dark recesses of the war-torn nation? 

Of course, the last thing anyone would expect is that a civil, respectable, tolerant, and progressive society would be willing to fund such a malicious, vengeful war, or take any part in providing assistance to either side of such a vicious conflict. You wouldn’t expect America, a nation already trillions of dollars in debt, to be giving $250 million in defensive combat supplies to Islamist rebels who violate Christian girls and torture young boys and shoot them up in front of their parents.

But you would be wrong.

Catholic Franciscan Friar Pierbattista Pizzaballa warned Vatican Radio in June,

“Unfortunately Syria has now become a battleground not only between Syrian forces, but also between Arab countries and the international community. And those paying the price are the poor, the young and the Christians. The international community must put a stop to all this. The world must know that the support of gunmen by the west is helping extremists in killing Syrians.”

Syria isn’t the only place where “Arab Spring” violence has resulted in increased persecution of Christians. Following widespread violence in Egypt this week, CNN reported over 52 churches have been torched and looted by Islamists since Wednesday, along with uncounted Christian homes and businesses.

The unrest began when supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi launched a protest against the military-imposed state of emergency. The protest, which is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, culminated in a “Friday of Rage” yesterday, which left over 600 people dead and over 4,000 injured.

What we’re seeing right now in Egypt is literally a pogrom,” said Middle East expert Eric Stakelbeck, “where Christians are systematically being targeted. Right now there is a bulls-eye on the back of every Christian living in Egypt.”

One lawmaker in DC has come to the conclusion that what is occurring is unacceptable. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a longtime critic of US foreign policy and foreign aid spending, introduced a bill at the end of July to redirect approximately $1.5 billion in foreign aid from Egypt and use it to rebuild US infrastructure. “In our hour of need in our country, why are you sending money to people that hate us?” Paul asked.

His remarks are reminiscent of another speech he made in June, when he called for an end of foreign aid to countries that persecute Christian people.

"It angers me to see my tax dollars supporting regimes that put Christians to death for blasphemy against Islam, countries that put to death Muslims who convert to Christianity, and countries who imprison anyone who marries outside their religion," Paul said in June, at a conference in DC.


"There is a war on Christianity, not just from liberal elites here at home, but worldwide. And your government, or more correctly you, the taxpayer, are funding it."

The bill failed to pass, with only 13 Senators voting in favor of it. Senator John McCain argued that cutting the foreign aid to Egypt would harm Israel, and that other nations would quickly step in to fill the “vacuum” left by the cuts. The ponderous list of things Sen. McCain doesn’t understand just got a lot longer. Added to it is the fact that choosing to support a murderous society for the reason that someone else will be sure to step in and do it if you don’t, is no reason at all.


The web of the world is a great, impenetrable mass of humanity, ideology, corruption, violence and faith. To attempt to summarize in a few short paragraphs the state of the planet is more than a trifle arrogant. Who of us, out of our limited understanding, can say who is responsible for all of the deaths and the decapitations of the past few months in nations seething with sectarian differences, and violent values systems? Who can tell which side is more evil in a conflict where unspeakable atrocities are being perpetrated by both sides?

Thankfully, it is not the place of the American people or elected officials to make these judgments, or to choose which murderous regime to depose, which to support, and which to instate. When our government does step in to make these kinds of calls, one outcome is guaranteed: the American taxpayer comes out of it with blood on his hands. The blood, perhaps, of young children, of uninvolved bystanders, of peaceful Christian families. The American taxpayer doesn’t want that.

When Americans all across the country found themselves in eager agreement with Putin’s call for an end to the persecution of Christian people, did they realize one of the first steps towards achieving that end might be cutting the funding that we give to the persecutors?

It’s time to realize it.

As a closing note, for those that remain unconvinced of the evils of indiscriminate US foreign aid to troubled war zones and terrorist organizations, one final piece of evidence is shrieking loudly, demanding to be heard.

America doesn’t have any money.


 
 
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NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden and national intelligence director James Clapper both broke the law. What's the difference?

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on June 27, 2013)

Whistleblower and former National Security Administration (NSA) employee, Edward Snowden, has been making headlines since he stunned the citizens of the United States three weeks ago with one of the most significant data leaks in the history of US classified intelligence.

After months of planning and preparing, Snowden abandoned his girlfriend, family, comfortable lifestyle, salary and job to flee the US and release from hiding in Hong Kong a collection of shocking documents revealing massive federal wiretapping programs operative in the US.

The documents revealed the existence of a project called PRISM, which has been utilized by the NSA for years to monitor internet and telephone communications between the US and foreign nationals. According to the Prism PowerPoint slide, the data it can collect is essentially unlimited. For just $20 million a year, the agency is able to monitor “email, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, VoIP [internet phone calls], file transfers, video conferencing, notifications of target activity – logins etc, online social networking details” and a mysterious category called “special requests.”

Other disturbing details revealed by the leak include the court order that compels Verizon to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis, all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls,” and forbids Verizon from disclosing the existence of the order to anyone.

Snowden also divulged information that he claimed showed hacking by the NSA into computers in Hong Kong and mainland China.

After capturing public notice by releasing the sensitive documents, Snowden has eluded captivity and set out on a dubious globe-hopping venture that continues to attract worldwide attention.

And not all of that attention is positive. The 29-year-old fugitive’s actions were illegal, after all. Some are calling the leak that disclosed NSA bullying of private companies like Verizon, “treasonous.” Kentucky Republican Representative King said Sunday that he thinks it is, “important for the American people to realize that this guy is a traitor, a defector, he’s not a hero.”

But when asked for his own thoughts on the criminality of his actions, Snowden told The Guardian, “We have seen enough criminality on the part of government. It is hypocritical to make this allegation against me.”
  
One Senator seems ready to agree with Snowden’s charge of hypocrisy. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said Sunday that it remained to be determined how Snowden’s memory would go down into history, but gave an insightful warning regarding the opinions of generations to come.

"They're going to contrast the behavior of James Clapper, our national intelligence director, with Edward Snowden," he said. "Mr. Clapper lied in Congress in defiance of the law in the name of security. Mr. Snowden told the truth in the name of privacy."

Paul was referring to an incident that took place in March, when Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, asked Clapper whether the NSA collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans."

"No sir," Clapper responded. "It does not. Not wittingly.”

“He [Clapper] said they were not collecting any data on American citizens,” Paul said, “and it turns out they're collecting millions of data on phone calls every day. So it was a lie. What I'm saying is that by lying to Congress, which is against the law, he severely damaged the credibility of the entire intelligence community."

"I would say that Mr. Snowden hasn't lied to anyone,” Paul continued.

"He did break his oath of office, but part of his oath of office is to the Constitution, and he believes that, when James Clapper came in March, our national director of intelligence came and lied, that he [Snowden] was simply coming forward and telling the truth that your government was lying. This is a big concern of mine, because it makes me doubt the administration and their word to us when they talk to us, because they have now admitted they will lie to us if they think it is in the name of national security."

Snowden and Clapper both broke the law, thus undermining our nation’s system of government. The difference is that one of them did so in the name of truth-telling and honesty and the other through lies and for the sake of keeping hidden what the American people have the right to know. One did so in the name of correcting the ills of the system of government he breached, and the other for the sake of protecting those ills by burying them deeper yet into the gaping well of classified information.

 
 
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Whistleblower who revealed NSA wiretapping activities speaks out from hiding in Hong Kong: "you are not even aware of what is possible."

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on June 16th, 2013)

In a scene like a nightmare, the US government confirmed on Thursday night the existence of a mass-scale federal wiretapping project called Prism. The confirmation from the feds came after an anonymous whistleblower leaked the relevant documents. What the materials disclosed was horrifying.

For years now, Prism has been utilized by the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor internet and telephone communications between the US and foreign nationals. And, according to the Prism PowerPoint slide, the data it can collect is essentially unlimited. For just 20 million a year, the agency is able to monitor "email, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, VoIP [internet phone calls], file transfers, video conferencing, notifications of target activity – logins etc, online social networking details" and a mysterious category called "special requests.”

Major companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Youtube, Skype, Google, and Yahoo are involved, although it is not yet known whether they participated knowingly or involuntarily.

Earlier this week, it also was revealed that the NSA has been collecting telephone data and phone records from millions of US Verizon customers under a classified court order. The order directs Verizon Business Network Services to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis” the “following tangible things”:

“All call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

To add insult to injury, the order forbids Verizon from revealing this fact to anyone, including, obviously, their own customers. There is also nothing is the order telling the NSA when this information must be destroyed.

Amy Davidson of The New Yorker, writes,

“The government seems to have a list of all the people that Verizon customers called and who called them; how long they spoke; and, perhaps—depending on how precise the cell-phone-tower information in the metadata is, where they were on a given day…And the customers of other providers shouldn’t be reassured: it is likely that this order is simply one of a type—the one that fell off the truck.”

This starkly alarming data leak discloses only the latest incident in a string of deceitful and abhorrent acts perpetrated by the current administration. But it is one of the most significant, as it reveals the tip of the wide iceberg of federal espionage that fetters the freedom of the every American citizen.

Today, the 29-year-old NSA whistleblower responsible for the leak has come forward. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” said Edward Snowden, who is a former technical assistant for the CIA and has been working with the NSA for four years now.

In an interview with The Guardian this morning, he explained his decision to disclose the explosive information,

"The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards…You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place…I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."

Snowden, who says he’s had a comfortable life with a salary of around $200,000, a home in Hawaii with his girlfriend and a loving family, chose three weeks ago to leave his former existence behind. Perhaps forever.

“I am willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," he said.

After copying the last set of pertinent documents for the leak, Snowden boarded a plane for Hong Kong and took up residence in a hotel, where he is still residing. His lifestyle may seem paranoid to some, but Snowden understands the capabilities of the government that is hunting him. He used to be one of them. Having observed the Obama’s administration’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers, he realizes that his situation is precarious at best. He also had some comments to make about President Obama’s marked policy shift on personal liberties, saying,

“A lot of people in 2008 voted for Obama. I did not vote for him. I voted for a third party. But I believed in Obama's promises. I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor."

Snowden says he fully expects the US government to do everything in its power to seek him out and punish him for the remainder of his life, however long that may prove to be.
 
"I am not afraid,” he says, “because this is the choice I've made."

Snowden’s biggest fear is that the revelation of his identity will distract attention from the issues at hand. "I don't want public attention,” he said, “because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

 
 
PictureJanet Napolitano
FBI terrorism task force targets a pro-life leader & people begin to wonder if the Obama administration needs to learn a thing or two about religious liberty

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on May 31, 2013)

When US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in 2009 that the “opponents of abortion" are likely to engage in extremism, and included pro-life activists on a list of possible terrorist threats, she engendered a wave of backlash. Many religious groups felt not a little trepidation at the prospect of being lumped together with violent suicide bombers simply for planting their feet on the opposite side of the Obama administration regarding the issue of abortion. Some felt that the statements made by Napolitano were indicative of a growing tendency on the part of the administration to heavy-handedly counter traditional Christian virtues.

This opposition to their work was keenly felt by those involved with crisis pregnancy centers, (CPCs) of which there are an estimated 2,500 in the US today. These clinics offer varied services to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Some provide medical assistance like ultrasounds and pregnancy tests, free of charge, while others offer only resources and counseling. All are dedicated to promoting the value of life, discouraging abortion, and educating women about parenting and adoption options.

Sadly, it seems that Napolitano’s threatening tone towards the non-profit work of CPCs was only the precursor to a steady wave of intimidation tightening around the pro-life movement. The latest in a string of incidents involving pro-life leaders being harassed by government agencies, it was revealed this week that the FBI terrorism task force has called in the national director of a chain of CPCs “for questioning.” According to LifeSiteNews,

“Agents of Joint Domestic Terrorism Task Force told Chris Slattery, national director of Expectant Mother Care (EMC) FrontLine Pregnancy Centers, only that they wanted to meet him ‘for a mutually beneficial relationship.’

‘In other words, if I don't meet with them, it will not be beneficial for me,’ Slattery joked. ‘I'm not sure what I'm going to get out of it.’ ”

The summons from the FBI comes as New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has subpoenaed Slattery’s group for not abiding by the standards of a consent agreement that Slattery says he believes expired more than 20 years ago.

Why does an FBI terrorism task force feel the need to go after peaceful, non-profit, domestic, religious, care groups? Slattery says he doesn’t know, but that “if the President orders them to do something, they have to do it.”

Last spring, the Justice Department was forced to drop charges against pro-life counselor Susan Pine and pay $120,000 of taxpayer money in attorneys’ fees when a judge ruled she had been wrongly accused of trespassing on property belonging to an abortion clinic. Her attorneys argued that Pine, a post-abortive pro-life activist was being targeted in a concerted effort by the Obama administration to silence sidewalk counselors. It seems they managed to convince Judge Kenneth Ryskamp, who wrote,

The Court can only wonder whether this action was the product of a concerted effort between the Government and the [abortion clinic], which began well before the date of the incident at issue, to quell Ms. Pine’s activities rather than to vindicate the rights of those allegedly aggrieved by Ms. Pine’s conduct.”  

One particularly interesting case involving a pro-life activist facing government pressure is that of AbortionWiki founder Andy Moore, who was visited by FBI agents last summer after the administrators of a late-term abortion clinic complained about his use of a bullhorn on the sidewalk outside of their facilities. Moore claims the agents pressured him to expose the inner workings of the pro-life movement and made indirect threats to separate him from his wife and family through imprisonment or deportation.

Aside from the horrendous impropriety of the FBI’s alleged actions, the soul of the controversy can perhaps best be realized by a video of the incident that provoked the initial complaint. The footage shows Andy standing on the sidewalk, reading off a list of facts describing the gestational growth of a human fetus. He concludes his reading by saying, “I just want everyone in there to know that I have nothing but love for you in my heart.”

After a time, Andy is called aside by police, who inform him that a city ordinance prohibits the use of a megaphone within 150 feet of a hospital. A trifle embarrassed, perhaps, Andy puts his megaphone away and resumes his activities without it. In his strong New Zealand accent, he says, “I just want you all to know that there are other options available, even in this last minute. I believe sincerely that women deserve better than abortion.”

How strongly do you have to believe in something to be willing to stand alone on the street and proclaim it through a megaphone to a crowd that actively disagrees with you and will almost certainly be extremely offended by your words?

What if you really do believe in it that strongly?

What if you really do believe that abortion is murder and that every woman who walks through the doors of the clinic in front of you is going in to take part in the murder of a child and will be coming out with a wound that will haunt her for the rest of her life? And if you really do believe that, how unloving to do you have to be to refuse to do everything within your power to prevent those abortions from occurring?

Atheist Penn Jillette, perhaps, says it best in a moving video about Christian evangelization. “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize,” he says. “If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell and that people could be going to hell, or not, and having eternal life…how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”


Regardless of how you feel about abortion, or the existence of God, or any other system of belief, it is a self-evident truth that faith is morally compelling. There are things that, if you sincerely believe them, compel you to take certain actions. It is for this reason that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are foundational American principles. Unfortunately, they are principles that the Obama administration doesn’t seem to understand.  

(First posted at The Washington Times Communities.)
 

May 21st, 2013

05/21/2013

 
PictureThe Romeike Family

The German homeschooling family that fled to America in order to homeschool their children has
been denied asylum by the Obama administration

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on May 21, 2013)

The verdict on a massively significant case in the Sixth Court of Appeals has been returned. In a shocking development, the court has upheld the Obama Administration’s bid to deny asylum to the Romeike family, who fled to the US in 2008 after persecution in their native Germany for homeschooling their five children. The decision was announced Tuesday by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). The HSLDA has been representing the Romeike family throughout a seven-year struggle to educate their children in the way they think best.

Uwe Romeike and his wife Hannelore are music teachers and evangelical Christians who withdrew their children from German public schools in 2006, after becoming concerned that the educational material employed by the school was undermining the tenets of their Christian faith, and that the school was not providing their children with an ideal learning environment.

“As we were confronted with opposition to our choice we began to feel more and more that our faith required us to homeschool our children,” Uwe explained Wednesday.

Unfortunately for the Romeikes, homeschooling has been illegal in Germany since it was outlawed by Adolf Hitler in 1938. According to the German Supreme Court, the purpose of the homeschooling ban is to, “counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.”

The family accrued the equivalent of around $10,000 in fines, and faced police visits to their home and the forcible removal of their children from the home. On one occasion, their children were dragged away and taken to school in police vans. Uwe explained in an interview with The Blaze that current German law does not require police to obtain a court order before removing children from parental custody.

In 2008 the Romeikes fled Germany to seek asylum in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In 2010, the HSLDA helped them to become the first family ever granted asylum in the US for the protection of their homeschooling rights. Federal immigration judge Lawrence Burnam, who initially granted the Romeikes political asylum, ruled that they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned to their homeland. He called the German policy “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans.” 

However, it seems the Obama administration doesn’t concur. In 2012, the Board of Immigration Appeals tossed Judge Burnam’s ruling, forcing the family to head back to court, where Attorney General Eric Holder sought to revoke their asylum and force them to return to Germany.

HSLDA’s Mike Farris explained, “The U.S. government contended that the Romeikes’ case failed to show that there was any discrimination based on religion because, among other reasons, the Romeikes did not prove that all homeschoolers were religious, and that not all Christians believed they had to homeschool.”

In Farris’ opinion, this shows that, “the US government does not understand that religious freedom is an individual right. Just because all adherents of a particular religion do not abide by a certain standard does not mean that individuals who feel compelled to abide by this standard do not have the right to do so. Religious decisions must be made by individuals, not by groups.”

A crowd of the American people agree with Farris and have rallied around the Romeike family by signing a formal petition on the White House website. Part of the petitions reads,

“Every state in the United States of America recognizes the right to homeschool, and the U.S. has the world’s largest and most vibrant homeschool community. Regrettably, this family faces deportation in spite of the persecution they will suffer in Germany. The Romeikes hope for the same freedom our forefathers sought. Please grant the privilege of liberty to the Romeike family.”

The number of signers has exceeded the threshold necessary to earn a response from the White House, and the response is still being eagerly awaited. However, the verdict from the court has created a major setback for the Romeikes and makes their status in the US uncertain. The family may be faced with deportation.

Michael Donnelly, an attorney for the Romeikes, told ABC News the family remains hopeful.

"They feel very comfortable that, in the end, things are going to work out for them," he said. "There is a lot of support for this family in Congress, it is possible that Congress might take some action."

Farris expressed his indignation at the verdict, stating, "You can't look at the lenient attitude to 11 million people who came here for economic opportunity, why we would not treat people who come here for economic freedom on par with people who came here for religious freedom I don't understand.”

Farris said the family is planning to appeal the decision first to the entire Sixth Circuit Court and then to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

READ MORE:
Deportation of German homeschool family affects US homeschool freedom
Interview with the Romeike Family
 
 
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How NYC Mayor Bloomberg's "big sugary drinks" ban has received a serious setback -- and why that's good for the American people

(posted by Bryana Johnson on March 14, 2013)

I’ve never found occasion to drink a 16 ounce soda in my life, much less one of those newly controversial Big Gulp sizes, which yesterday narrowly escaped being rendered illegal in New York City. Indeed, I consider the regular consumption of such beverages not only ill-advised and unwise but probably irresponsible as well. However, the fact that I am no fan of the Big Gulp does not prevent me from being a wholehearted supporter of Judge Milton Tingling’s ruling this Monday.

Judge Tingling’s strongly-worded statement on the legality of big sugary drinks was a long-awaited response to NYC mayor Bloomberg’s “sugary drink ban.” The mayor caused an uproar several months ago when he announced the ban that was to have gone into effect yesterday. The New York Daily News reports the rule would have banned sales of sugary sodas larger than 16 ounces by restaurants, movie theaters, pushcarts and sports arenas.

A large number of businesses were annoyed. So were a large number of people. Including some who, like me, don’t even buy big sugary drinks. What’s all the fuss about? Well, it comes down to one word: responsibility.

Whereas we, in traditionally American fashion, think it’s the responsibility of the individual to make their own choices about health, Bloomberg thinks that responsibility is just one more in an ever-increasing number of responsibilities that belong to the government. That he holds this view is made especially evident by a recent statement he issued in defense of the ban:

“With so many people contracting diabetes and heart disease,
” said the mayor. “With so many children who are overweight and obese, with so many poor neighborhoods suffering the worst of this epidemic . . . it would be irresponsible not to.”

Really? Because people are irresponsible and reckless and sometimes plain dumb, it would be irresponsible not to pass regulations determining how much liquid sugar they are allowed to drink at one time? If history were a testimony to the general rightness of government authority, Bloomberg might have himself a case. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true.

Even regarding matters of health, our own government has historically proven itself to be no reliable authority – even in very recent years. One simple example is the infamous “food pyramid” we all grew up with as children. Our governing bodies spent our money touting this diagram that purported to show the quintessential nutritional diet. It was drilled into our heads from kindergarten. We thought it was true.

But it isn’t, and it never has been. Nutritionists have known that for years now. In the past couple of years, First Lady Michelle Obama has been spearheading an effort to overhaul the food pyramid and replace it with a new diagram entirely. Rough luck for all those taxpayers who had to contribute for twenty years to a nutrition campaign that claimed 6 to 11 servings of straight carbohydrates were essential to a healthy diet.

Am I suggesting that big sugary drinks might not be unhealthy after all? Of course not. The point is that governments make mistakes too, and it isn’t their responsibility to make our health decisions for us. Especially since they aren’t even very good at it. The NYC ban on sugary drinks is objectionable because it bolsters the false and dangerous idea that such interference on the part of our local and federal authorities is acceptable and to be expected.

“They’re soft drinks,” berate those undaunted believers in the power of the state to save the world. They roll their eyes. “We’re not talking about taking away something that anyone could possibly need to have.” It’s true. We’re not.

But what we are talking about is laying yet another straw on the back of the camel of personal freedom. What we are talking about is one more affirmation of the authority of government officials to determine what the ideal life looks like. It’s a reinforcement of the already too-prevalent belief that the stupidity of mankind in general must be mitigated by the surpassing wisdom of the officials they have elected to positions of power. What we are talking about is little green frogs submerged in a saucepan with wide smiles on their faces, simmering, bubbling, boiling away.

Fortunately, we don’t have to talk about it anymore, for a time at least. Calling the decision “arbitrary and capricious,” Judge Tingling rendered it invalid on Monday, adding that while the Health Board can promote rules to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, it has no power to deal with obesity. Only the City Council has that power, he ruled, explaining, “One of the fundamental tenets of democratic governance here in New York, as well as throughout the nation, is the separation of powers. . . . No one person, agency, department or branch is above or beyond this.”

Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the court’s ruling, stating,

“Anytime you adopt a groundbreaking policy, special interests will sue. That’s America. We believe that the judge’s decision was clearly in error, and that we will prevail.”

“People are dying every day. This is not a joke,” he went on. “We’re talking about lives versus profits.”

Mayor Bloomberg did get one thing right: we are talking about lives. The issue is that the American people want to live theirs according to their own choices and Mayor Bloomberg thinks he should be the one making the choices for everyone.


(Article first posted at The Washington Times Communities)
 
 
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The Romeike family fled Germany for the right to homeschool their children. Now they face deportation from the US. What does this mean for US
homeschool freedom?

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on Feb 15, 2013)

In 1938, the practice of homeschooling was outlawed in Germany by Adolf Hitler and the infamous Third Reich. It was a rough period in German history, as thousands of young people were being pried from their parents’ direction and authority and drafted into the Hitler Youth program, where they were supposed to be trained as Aryan supermen (and women). In a few short years, vast numbers of these youth would be bleeding out on the battlefields of Europe, on the wrong side of the war for the soul of the world.  

Sadly for freedom and for many families, Germany has never lifted this archaic and totalitarian ban on homeschooling. On the contrary, the German government seems to have stepped up its opposition to home-educating parents over the past decade, forcing several families to flee, and others to enroll their children in state-approved schools against their will. The German Supreme Court has stated that the purpose of the homeschooling ban is to, “counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.” It sounds like they aren’t really big on religious or philosophical diversity over there.

Some notable victims of this small-minded and grasping totalitarianism are Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their five children.  Uwe and his wife are music teachers and evangelical Christians who for years have been unsuccessfully seeking the right to homeschool their children. The Romeikes withdrew their children from German public schools in 2006, after becoming concerned that the educational material employed by the school was undermining the tenets of their Christian faith and that the school was not providing their children with an ideal learning environment. “I don’t expect the school to teach about the Bible,” Mr. Romeike said, but “part of education should be character-building.”

After accruing the equivalent of around $10,000 in fines, and facing police visits to their home and the forcible removal of their children from the home, the Romeikes fled Germany in 2008 to seek asylum in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Their case was taken up by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which helped the Romeikes in 2010 to become the first family ever granted asylum in the US for the protection of their homeschooling rights.

The HSLDA explains, “The U.S. law of asylum allows a refugee to stay in the United States permanently if he can show that he is being persecuted for one of several specific reasons. Among these are persecution for religious reasons and persecution of a ‘particular social group.’ ”

On January 26th, 2010, Memphis federal immigration judge, Lawrence Burman, granted the Romeikes political asylum, ruling they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned to their homeland. Judge Burman also denounced the German policy heatedly. In a statement, he called it, “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans.”  

HSLDA’s Mike Donnelley called the ruling, “an extraordinary recognition of the fundamental importance of the right of parents to raise their children according to the dictates of individual conscience.”

We were so relieved!” Hanne said. “We had been trying hard not to get our hopes up too high. [The HSLDA attorneys] had assured us that even if we lost at this level, we would appeal and that an appeal could take years. So we knew that we wouldn’t have to go right back to Germany. But to win at this point was such an answer to prayer. Our children were jumping up and down and everyone in the room was hugging us and celebrating. Tears were flowing in gratitude for God’s protection for our family.”

The Romeikes were able to continue quietly homeschooling their children in a small Tennessee town. For a time.

Sadly, their period of respite was not to last. The Romeikes’ case is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, with the US government seeking to revoke their asylum and force them to return to Germany. And the details of Attorney-General Holder’s arguments in the brief for Romeike v. Holder are sinister, to say the least.

According to Holder, parents have no fundamental right to home-educate their children.

HSLDA Founder, Mike Farris, warns,

“[Holder’s office] argued that there was no violation of anyone’s protected rights in a law that entirely bans homeschooling. There would only be a problem if Germany banned homeschooling for some but permitted it for others.

Let’s assess the position of the United States government on the face of its argument: a nation violates no one’s rights if it bans homeschooling entirely. There are two major portions of constitutional rights of citizens—fundamental liberties and equal protection. The U.S. Attorney General has said this about homeschooling. There is no fundamental liberty to homeschool. So long as a government bans homeschooling broadly and equally, there is no violation of your rights.”

Farris goes on to reveal another argument presented by the Attorney-General,

The U.S. government contended that the Romeikes’ case failed to show that there was any discrimination based on religion because, among other reasons, the Romeikes did not prove that all homeschoolers were religious, and that not all Christians believed they had to homeschool.”

The US Government, says Farris, “does not understand that religious freedom is an individual right.”


Just because all adherents of a particular religion do not abide by a certain standard does not mean that individuals who feel compelled to abide by this standard do not have the right to do so. Religious decisions must be made by individuals, not by groups.

Farris contends, “One need not be a part of any church or other religious group to be able to make a religious freedom claim. Specifically, one doesn’t have to follow the dictates of a church to claim religious freedom—one should be able to follow the dictates of God Himself.

The United States Supreme Court has made it very clear in the past that religious freedom is an individual right. Yet our current government does not seem to understand this. They only think of us as members of groups and factions. It is an extreme form of identity politics that directly threatens any understanding of individual liberty.”

While Romeike v. Holder is clearly crucially and immediately important to one huddled family yearning to breathe free, the implications of the arguments currently being presented by the US government against them are ultimately important to all American people. Will our courts uphold the rights of parents to raise their children in the ways that seem best to them, or will a government standard be imposed upon the 2 million homeschooling families of the US?

A look at historical precedents puts me in a big hurry to be on the side of liberty.

I give you Friedrich Hayek, from The Road To Serfdom:

There is scarcely a leaf out of Hitler’s book which somebody or other in England or America has not recommended us to take and use for our own purposes. This applies particularly to many people who are undoubtedly Hitler’s mortal enemies because of one special feature in his system. We should never forget that the anti-Semitism of Hitler has driven from his country, or turned into his enemies, many people who in every respect are confirmed totalitarians of the German type.”

For more information about the Romeikes, check out the following sources:

Land of Liberty: The Romeikes’ Journey (HSLDA, January 2010)
US grants home schooling German family political asylum (The Guardian, January 2010)
Judge Grants Asylum to German Home Schoolers (NYTimes, February 2010)
Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Homeschoolers (TIME Magazine, March 2010)
German families look to US for asylum (Global Post, April 2010)
The Romeike Family: Still Waiting on Asylum Appeal (HSLDA, October 2011)
German Homeschool Case May Impact U.S. Homeschool Freedom (HSLDA, February 2013)
 
 
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Does the new birth control mandate "compromise" really do anything to protect religious freedom?

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on Feb 5, 2013)

The Obama administration sparked a massive controversy last year when it was announced that a new federal mandate would require all health insurers and employers to include coverage in their health plans for every form of contraception approved by the FDA. The mandate also required coverage for sterilizations.

Faith groups who teach against the use of contraceptives became immediately fearful that such a mandate would force violations of conscience. Some Catholics view every form of contraceptive use as sinful. A far broader base of Christian people accepts the use of most contraceptives but opposes the use of abortifacient “emergency contraception,” like the “morning-after pill.”

Unfortunately, the Obama administration did little to allay their fears. While the mandate included a religious exemption, it only applied to church organizations themselves. It did not apply to church-affiliated non-profit institutions, such as hospitals, or to employers. An amendment was proposed that would have made provisions for employers to “refuse to include contraception in health care coverage if it violated their religious or moral beliefs.” The Blunt Amendment was voted down 51-48 by the U.S. Senate last March.

Between then and now, nothing much has changed. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Unites States Supreme Court, the Christian owners of the craft store chain Hobby Lobby announced at the beginning of this year that they would refuse to add the contraceptive coverage to their employee insurance plan. According to NPR, their attorney stated that they consider the emergency contraceptives “tantamount to abortion.” The company faced up to $1.3 million a day in fines for defying the mandate. Two weeks later, however, it was learned they had discovered a way to delay the fines. Peter M. Dobelbower, the company's general counsel, stated, “Hobby Lobby discovered a way to shift the plan year for its employee health insurance, thus postponing the effective date of the mandate for several months.” But their time is running out.

Late last week, the Obama administration released a new version of the infamous birth-control mandate. Religious and pro-life groups were hoping the new regulations would spell out broader conscience rights for employers – like the Hobby Lobby owners – and institutions whose faith prohibits them from funding sterilization and various forms of contraception. Sadly, after examining the altered version of the mandate, pro-life legal groups have bad news. The new proposal barely changes existing policy and still allows for no business or individual opt-out, they say.

Dr. Charmaine Yoest, CEO and President of Americans United for Life, stated Friday, “With another phony compromise, the Obama Administration continues to insult the intelligence of the American people and trample our Constitutionally-guaranteed rights.”

LifeNews reports of the new proposal that it will not have any impact on businesses run by people of faith, such as Bible publisher Tyndale House or Hobby Lobby. They also explain that it provides no options for individuals seeking plans that accommodate their values on the exchanges.”

So, what does the new proposal do? Well, the only major difference for people of faith seems to be that the religious exemption has been modified so that it no longer specifies that churches must have “inculcation of religious values” as their purpose and primarily employ and serve people of their same faith in order to qualify for the exemption.

This doesn’t sound like much of a concession, once you get down to it. The change only broadens the definition of a church for the purposes of the exemption, and does nothing to protect the conscience rights of for-profit employers and individuals. 

The absurdity of this state of affairs is truly remarkable. To state it plainly, the Obama administration has conceded the right of churches to opt-out of participating in the funding of procedures their faith prohibits, but won’t provide the means for members of these same churches to avoid violating the dictates of their faith in their workplaces. What is the point of protecting the rights of a church as an institution and then trampling the rights of the individuals that comprise that same institution?

 
 
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Vice President Joe Biden says Obama may resort to another executive order to deal with the gun control debate

(Posted by Bryana Johnson on January 10, 2012)

If there’s one thing Vice President Joe Biden is not known for, it’s that rare combination of intelligence and eloquence so crucial to those who live in the fixed glare of the national spotlight. Biden’s mouth is not exactly a fountain of life from which wisdom and understanding pour forth abundantly. Indeed, his mouth seems to spend more time hosting his foot that it does emitting words of knowledge. Nevertheless, there has not yet been any suggestion that his particularly inflammatory statement of this morning was any kind of gaffe.   

"The president is going to act," Biden said Wednesday, regarding the touchy issue of gun control. "Executive order, executive action can be taken, we haven't decided what that is yet. But we're compiling it all with the help of the attorney general and all the rest of the cabinet members as well as legislative action, we believe, is required. [sic]"

This statement came as the Vice President was preparing to meet with groups representing survivors of mass shootings. Biden was appointed by President Obama in December to oversee a new task force assembled to provide "concrete proposals” for the reduction of gun violence.

In his statement he called the issue of gun control a “moral issue” and stated that "it's critically important that we act. As the president said, if your actions result in only saving one life, they're worth taking. But I'm convinced we can affect the well-being of millions of Americans and take thousands of people out of harm's way if we act responsibly.

Politicians make mistakes. And that’s OK. We the people are – often unwisely – very forgiving. We will  forgive a leader’s embarrassing misstatements, his or her injudicious metaphors, slips of the tongue, and unexpected moments of public confusion.

Speaking in Ohio in 2008, Biden famously said, "Look, John's last-minute economic plan does nothing to tackle the number-one job facing the middle class, and it happens to be, as Barack says, a three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S, jobs."

We can forgive the Vice President for forgetting how to count to four in a tense moment and before the prying eyes of millions of American people. Millions of American people can forgive this, have forgiven it, have ceased to think about it anymore. What we cannot forgive, what we must not forgive, is a statement like the one the Vice President made today.

We have pardoned little unintentional insults and innuendos and manifestations of human error and finite capabilities. What is unpardonable in a leader of our nation is the suggestion that at his whim he intends to throw out our history and our legislation and our hard-won liberty in order to replace it with a vision that violates our trust in him. What is unpardonable in a man who occupies such a position of trust over us is the glib arrogance that disregards the very oath of office which binds him where he stands and subordinates his visions to our particular set of laws. What is unpardonable in our executives is a vision which trespasses on the Constitution they have sworn to protect.

Article 1, Section 1 of this Constitutions states,

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”

What is unpardonable in a leader of this great nation is the seizing of such powers as belong to other representatives and the forcing of his will upon an unwilling and divided citizenry. This is what is unpardonable in both Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama himself.


(First posted at the Washington Times Communities)

 

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