Sunday, May 6, 2012

At what point, if at any, is the disregard of #secularism treason?

Why isn't it treason if there are people working to replace the US government with a theocracy?Sun May 06 16:44:32 via web


It's a thorny, fascinating, and troubling question. If we are to answer @weywerdSun, I think we should start by being careful to make sure we're clear on exactly what we're asking and what is happening.

First, we should make sure we're using the same definition of "treason," and then, let's look at some recent examples of anti-secular behaviors and consider whether they constitute an attempt to replace the U.S. government with a theocracy. We might also want to consider what steps short of "replacing the government" might also constitute treason, as I suspect we can easily imagine a this is not something that could be accomplished in one fell swoop, but would require a host of undermining actions, some of which we might think less harmful/unconstitutional/illegal than others.

 18 USC § 2381 - TREASON:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.
So we've capital treason, a lesser strain punishable by fine, imprisonment, and disqualification from public office.

Surprisingly, perhaps, there aren't many instances of Americans being convicted of treason. From Wikipedia, I find:
Philip Vigol and John Mitchell, convicted of treason and sentenced to hanging; pardoned by George Washington; see Whiskey Rebellion. 
Governor Thomas Dorr 1844, convicted of treason against the state of Rhode Island; see Dorr Rebellion; released in 1845; civil rights restored in 1851; verdict annulled in 1854. 
John Brown, convicted of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1859 and executed for attempting to organize armed resistance to slavery. 
Aaron Dwight Stevens, took part in John Brown's raid and was executed in 1860 for treason against Virginia. 
William Bruce Mumford, convicted of treason and hanged in 1862 for tearing down a United States flag during the American Civil War. 
Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt, all hanged on July 7, 1865 for treason and conspiracy for the Lincoln assassination and conspiracy - by military tribunal. 
Iva Toguri D'Aquino, who is frequently identified with "Tokyo Rose" convicted 1949. Subsequently pardoned by President Gerald Ford. 
Herbert Hans Haupt, German-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was convicted of treason in 1942 and executed after being named as a German spy by fellow German spies defecting to the United States. 
Martin James Monti, United States Army Air Force pilot, convicted of treason for defecting to the Waffen SS in 1944. 
Robert Henry Best, convicted of treason on April 16, 1948 and served a life sentence. 
Mildred Gillars, also known as "Axis Sally", convicted of treason on March 8, 1949; served 12 years of a 10- to 30-year prison sentence. 
Tomoya Kawakita, sentenced to death for treason in 1952, but eventually released by President John F. Kennedy to be deported to Japan. 
Adam Yahiye Gadahn has been indicted for treason as of 2012, but has not been brought to trial as he remains at large.
Examining each case is a little more than I care to take on in this post, but let's at least look at the most recent, Mr. Gadahn, and a couple of the others that, at first glance, seem like they take us beyond the obvious (spying for Nazis, the Soviets, or participanting in rebellion) and see if they get us close to the sorts of activities that we might expect to find on the part of fundamentalist proponents of  laws and policies that are clearly religiously motivated.

Mr. Gadahn is the only American convicted of treason in the last 60 years, since Mr. Kawakita in 1952. If I had heard of Mr. Gadahn's conviction, I confess I'd forgotten about it but, not surprisingly, he was convicted for working with al-Qaeda. I think we are safe to say that someone who is working with a terrorist group that has attacked the U.S. and has taken part in plans to attack again can uncontroversially be charged with  treason.

The case of Mr. Mumford is one that should caution us about throwing the word "treason" around casually -- lest we look as shrill, mendacious, and mentally unsound as Ann Coulter. Treason is a capital crime, and the act of tearing down a U.S. flag, even during the Civil War, strikes me as not quite so treasonous as actually taking up arms and trying to kill Americans, or ordering others to do so, to preserve slavery. (Yes, yes, I'm being a little contentious -- I'm familiar with the States' Rights argument, it just has never seemed more than a way of dressing up the desire of states to preserve their perceived right to allow slavery.)

The John Brown case is certainly the most famous and I would argue his conviction for treason was unjust. Again, agree or disagree with my assessment, I think he at least serves as a cautionary tale for those who would look for the broadest possible definition.

For a bar set so high, it's not difficult to find in those few convictions ones that don't really make sense. I'm not sure if it means we should be setting the bar even higher or working to make the legal definition tighter so it can be applied more frequently with greater confidence that those those charged, if convicted, we could be supremely confident were working to undermine the Constitutional governance of the U.S.

Before we even move on to the would-be theocrats, I think we can at this point that we aren't likely to find that there's a group we can identify as an enemy of the U.S. that alleged traitors could be giving aid or supporting in an attempt to overthrow our government through anti-secularism. I don't think the question at hand is about folks that are collaboratoring with al-Qaeda or the Taliban or some other group of religious fundamentalists. If our anti-secularists had those ties, this would be a pretty quick discussion.

The groups we can identify domestically, whose stated aim is to write religious doctrine into laws or otherwise impose their religious values on the rest of us, are along the lines of the old Moral Majority, the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, the Tea Party affiliated groups, the patchwork of militia/white power groups, groups that support writing anti-gay legislation, Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups looking to criminalize abortion. I think here is where get to the the question of when what these groups and their fronts do crosses the line from protest, advocacy, and other forms of protected speech into treasonous territory?

The last thing we want is some kind of liberal thought-police; nobody wants to criminalize religion or punish religious speech. What I think @weywerdSun is saying is:  at some point attempting to roll back the Bill of Rights and do away with the Separation of Church and State is intolerable and there should be some legal mechanism before the laws have a chance of being passed to prevent those religious based laws from going into effect.

Sure, there's the legislative process, elections of representatives, and there are the courts after, but it's quite clear we are on the razor's edge. The laws keep getting proposed, ballot initiatives are introduced and passsed, there are plenty of justices, even on the Supreme Court, that would happily rule in favor of un-Constitutional laws for their own ideological reasons. I don't think it's unreasonable to say we shouldn't have to wait for the laws to go into effect to expect a remedy. It's one thing to say, "abortion should be illegal and marriage of one man to one woman should be the only recognized domestic legal union because God says so," and another to propose legislation along these lines.

Or is it?

Here in North Carolina, we're perilously close to having our Constitution amended by religious bigots to cause all sorts of grief in the name of super-double outlawing gay marriage. Now, gay marriage is already illegal here, but the its opponents are desperately afraid that law could be overturned by an activist court that we don't have. In order to make sure no gays can ever get married, they want to firebomb civil unions, even it means stripping widows of their pensions (unlikely, but if you read the amendment, there's no allowance for anything but marriage, and you can't be married to a dead person), denying legal protections to unmarried battered women (much more likely, and there's precedent for it), and taking children off an unmarried parent's insurance policy (a certain consequence).  This is a religiously motivated attempt to write discrimination and intolerance into our laws. What recourse is there if it passes? None in the state, except to attempt to get a repeal on the ballot, which could take decades. Perhaps the amendment could be found un-Constitutional at the federal level, but this looks unlikely and again could be decades away. Meanwhile, real harm, and actual injustices will be done. So why can't we charge the NCGA (all who voted for the measure) with treason for attempting to establish religious bigotry in the state Constitution? Surely, if anything violates the separation of church and state, it's this?
Everson v. BOE of Ewing TP. image PBS.org
To find each member of the NCGA guilty of capital treason is certainly unwarranted. If we can't agree on this, well, I'm just afraid to talk to you.

So, is there room for one of the lesser forms? While the NCGA is clearly trying to harm it's citizens using religious-based law, it isn't directly attempting to aid an enemy in doing away with the government directly. It's a perversion, for sure, but I don't think it meets the test of trying to take it down.

It looks to me like all we have is what we've been working with so far: dissemination of information about the hostility of the Amendment and it's proponents towards the citizens of North Carolina, the right to vote the bastards out of office for trying to push their agenda of hate discrimination, and the chance to pursue justice through the federal courts.

In the meantime, I'd like to approach the SPLC about having the Republican Party of North Carolina designated as a hate group. They've earned it.

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