A Lengthy Exchange with Georgia State Senator Josh McKoon

If you follow me on Twitter, then you know that Georgia State Senator Josh McKoon and I have gone a few rounds on RFRA, gay rights, and various other social issues. He gained national attention over the last couple of years for his push to pass a RFRA law in Georgia. Josh is a bright, high profile attorney from Columbus,  Georgia and given that profile and his busy schedule, I am always appreciative of the opportunity to trade intellectual salvos with him. We disagree on nearly every social issue we discuss. I think it’s fair to say that Josh is very much influenced by his brand of conservative Catholicism and I of course am very much influenced by my humanism.

Our latest conversation was around anti-LGBT language that had been appended to an adoption bill. As of yesterday, Georgia Voice is reporting that:

That anti-LGBT amendment to a Georgia adoption bill might just be dead in the water. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) announced that House Bill 159 would be sent back to the Judiciary Committee for more work because the bill had become too ‘extreme.’”

Essentially the amendment would let “faith-based” adoption agencies, many of which accept tax dollars, turn away gay couples who were looking to adopt a child. Josh is of course on the side of the faith-based agencies, seeing this refusal to provide a service, as a First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. I see this as people who provide a service, using religion as an excuse to discriminate against a specific group of tax-paying Georgians.

Here is our exchange. It’s fairly long and took place over the course of a couple of days as I stole a few moments to check my mobile from time to time, but I think the exchange was quite interesting. I welcome your feedback and as always, happy critical thinking!

Here comes a pivot.

Yeah I went there. My excuse was that I hadn’t had my second cup of coffee yet!

Here I was finally able to ask a question that started addressing the root cause:

Notice he did not answer the question:

Josh shifted his focus to another person and responded to him with the following. Allowing me one last question which of course went unanswered.

Primum non nocere.

 

Rediscovering Twitter

It seems like for me, 2017 is starting to develop a trend. And that trend is rediscovery! First it was Dungeons and Dragons (although technically I started playing D&D again in 2016), then it was “nerdom” in general, and now I’ve sort of stumbled back in to Twitter.

I used to use Twitter quite a bit. It was a great platform for debate, discussion, and the occasional narcissistic ego stroke (i.e., Ricky Gervais once liked one of my tweets and Richard Dawkins retweeted me so I saved pictures of both! ohhhh weeee!).

Then I just got burned out. I’m not sure if the platform was just getting too mean, too creepy, or what, but I just backed out.

But over the past few weeks, with the start of my YouTube channel, I’ve been taking inventory of my “social media” and thought, why not? Why not jump back in to Twitter with both feet?! And so I have.

So if you like watching me debate uninformed or misinformed people on any number of topics, including but not limited to: science, evolution, global warming, religion, gun control, LGBT equality, and politics, join me! Good times will be had by all!

Here’s my latest video on How to Play D&D.

 

The challenge of the Second Amendment: revisited

I jotted this piece down in 2012 after the Aurora, Colorado massacre. It is sadly just as relevant today as it was then and is eerily similar to what I wrote last week regarding the Orlando, Florida LGBT massacre. Notice that between then and now, the only thing that has changed is the volume of guns purchased by certain Americans. We have long passed the point of absurdity on our collective inaction. We need to move our political representatives to act. And if they don’t act, they must be voted out.


secondamendmentA week ago, some deranged lunatic in Colorado decided to take an arsenal in to a crowded theater and shoot a bunch of innocent people who were doing nothing other than trying to enjoy an evening at the movies.  It was a horrible tragedy and now that the collective national shock has subsided, as sure as the sun rises, the tried and true “gun control” debate has begun popping back up.  And as with any gun control debate in the United States, the Second Amendment gets bandied about by gun fanatics and gun control proponents alike.

By way of reference, here’s the Second Amendment to the US Constitution as a brief refresher to us all:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Fast forward from 1791 to today, 2012 and let’s take a scan around the world to see how well the intention of the Second Amendment would fit in to a city needing to protect itself.

The Syrian city of Aleppo is under attack by the Syrian government; specifically, the Assad regime. The city [read its people] has been bombarded by artillery, tanks and helicopter gunships.  While the rebels in Aleppo seem to have held strong, the Assad regime’s bloodthirsty and indiscriminate shelling of cities and neighborhoods over the past several months have proven that the regime has no regard for civilian lives and safety.  So the only real recourse for the people of Aleppo has been to flee, en masse.

Here’s where we start to draw some distinctions. The Assad regime possesses a mere fraction of the sophisticated military firepower of the United States. Given that, what if the men, women, and children of Aleppo had a well regulated militia courtesy of their own Second Amendment? How well regulated and armed would this militia need to be if it were to withstand the government’s constant and ruthless bombardment?

In the United States, it’s ridiculously easy to go out and buy a handgun or maybe even a semi-automatic assault weapon, but how does a civilian populace needing to protect itself from a modern military force, go about buying a Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopter or an F/A-22 Raptor fighter jet or even a run of the mill FIM-92 Stinger surface to air missile?  Of course it’s meant to be a ludicrous question, but it is also meant to illustrate the painfully obvious point that the tools of warfare have far outpaced the ability of a well regulated militia of minutemen to guarantee the security of a free State.

As a student of history, I totally understand where the founders were given the age in which they lived, but in the modern age, the best defense against tyranny is no longer a “well regulated militia” armed with even the scariest looking AR-15s, but a well-educated populace (both men and women) armed with a vote.

Regarding the Orlando Massacre, there’s plenty to be mad about

Photo by Jenna Michele Photography
Photo by Jenna Michele Photography

It has been two and a half days.

By now we know that in the early morning hours of June 12th, 2016, a crazed, Islamist extremist took a small arsenal of legally obtained weapons in to a nightclub frequented by the LGBTQ community in Orlando, and then proceeded to murder 49 people and wound 53 more.

Now that the initial shock and horror of that atrocity has started to subside, with the smoke barely settled, people are starting to retreat in to their sadly predictable factions.

Liberals are blaming gun culture in the United States.  A culture that makes possible with obscene ease, the purchase of weapons of mass destruction (unless of course we decide that killing 49 people does not qualify as “mass” destruction). A gun culture that is a fact of American life. A gun culture which makes massacres like Orlando (and Charleston, and San Bernardino, and Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech, and Aurora, and Columbine, etc.) so “easy” to pull off. The liberals don’t mention Islamist extremism.

Conservatives are blaming Islam. In fact, the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party, Donald Trump, is once again calling on the United States to ban all Muslims from entering the country (never mind that the killer in Orlando was born in New York). The conservatives don’t mention guns.

The reality of course is that this most recent and most deadly atrocity was about homophobic bigotry, fueled by Islamist extremism, and made possible by guns.

There are clearly multiple variables at play. By focusing only on the variable that validates our political narrative, not only are we are dishonoring the lives stolen by this kind of hatred and violence, but we are leaving the door wide open for the next attack. We are being pitifully myopic.  If we only attack guns, extremists will use bombs or knives or whatever tools they can find to main and kill others. In the case of Islamist extremism, if we vilify all Muslims, the extremists among them will simply use anti-Muslim bigotry and xenophobia as tools for recruitment and convenient excuses for more extremism. We clearly have to talk seriously about both the obscenely easy access we have to the tools of murder as well as the perversion of certain religious ideologies that inspire murderous behaviors.

Here is what must happen:

We have to better control the proliferation of weapons designed to kill. As a simple start, people who are deemed too dangerous to board a plane, should also be deemed too dangerous to purchase a gun.

We have to eradicate Islamist extremism. Preferably by convincing adherents that their extremist interpretation of Islam is morally bankrupt to the degree that they begin to once again place value on human well-being; but by force if they insist on violence against others.

Both of these actions are going to take time, so what can we do now? We can ensure that all people are treated with the same dignity and respect expected within a free and open society, particularly people such as those in the LGBTQ community, who are consistently targeted for derision by those who think their holy texts, irrespective of the religion, compel them to denigrate LGBTQ people as unworthy, sinful and broken.  For example, Christian politicians in the United States don’t get to “pray for Orlando” in one breath, and in the next, make the lives of LGBTQ people who aren’t being laid to rest, miserable by restricting their restrooms or the marriages or their adoptions or whatever else they can find that helps them discriminate in the name of “Biblical” or “family” values.

Fundamentally, we have to champion and promote the “liberal” in the classical sense and secular values that make pluralistic societies work. These are the values that erode the walls between factions. We have to promote across the globe, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of conscious, freedom of ideas, freedom from tyranny, and the rule of law.

If history is any guide, understanding that our problems are more complicated than any one faction would have you believe will take time. So in the meantime, consider a contribution of financial support to the victims now.

Support Victims of Pulse Shooting

We all will make a difference. We have to.

Letter to the Editor: Marietta Daily Journal – So-called ‘religious liberty’ bill bad for people, progress

no-discrimination-georgiaDuring the last few days of the 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly, an eleventh hour push by certain lawmakers was successful in getting a “religious liberty” bill, H.B. 757, passed by both houses. This is a recurring theme with a handful of Georgia legislators, primarily State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), Representative Sam Teasley (R-Marietta), and State Senator Greg Kirk (R-Americus).  Under the guise of “religious freedom” the controversial bill would have protected faith-based organizations who receive state funding (another issue altogether), from lawsuits should people in those organizations decide to turn away taxpayers who in some facet of their lives, are living in “sin” (i.e., anyone in the LGBT community). In addition to contacting the Governor’s office, I penned a quick Letter to the Editor encouraging Governor Nathan Deal to veto the bill. The following letter was published on March 28, 2016, the same day the Governor announced he would indeed veto the legislation.

DEAR EDITOR:

Any law that lets public accommodations legally discriminate against a person seeking their services, based on some arbitrary characteristic of that person, is reprehensible. It’s a colossal step backward and Georgia is better than this. Let’s hope for the sake of progress and of doing what’s right for our friends and loved ones; not to mention protecting our growing reputation as an inclusive and welcoming business destination, Governor Deal vetoes this divisive piece of legislation.

Ryan Bays