A Friendly Letter (Chuck Fager)

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Chuck Fager -- Writer, Editor
Updated: 5 days 1 hour ago

Kavanaugh Wrap-Up: The Wheat from the Chaff

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 11:53pm

Too many media people around this past week’s supreme Court hearings wasted their energy doing horse race and atmosphere coverage. Political sportscasters, I call them; and pretty bush league at that.

Their frame was: the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh (hereafter “K“) is a done deal, so all that matters is the hullabaloo, that and the shadow horse race preview of the 2020 Democratic presidential contest. Which meant excessive attention to whether aspirants Kamala Harris or Cory Booker managed to draw some blood and get a boost from a bombshell revelation.

Senators Cory Booker,left, and Kamala Harris, right, peering over the parapet.

But the pair, it was reported, didn’t bring any real ordnance, and neither came out with a 2020 home run. That’s true enough, and for the media political sportscasters, this was all that mattered. And that’s utterly mistaken.

The New York Times’s Saturday postmortem reflected this outlook:

“Boorish. Rude. Disrespectful. Insulting. Grandstanding. Hyperventilating. Deranged. Ridiculous. Drivel.

Those were among the words angry Senate Republicans used this week to assail the conduct of Democrats at a Supreme Court hearing that was often tense and sometimes toxic. . . .

With little power to stop a nominee they saw as a conservative partisan, a Republican-imposed process they considered grossly unfair and a demanding political base spoiling for a fight, they decided it was time to sow disorder over the court.

For me such reportage was mainly stale baloney. Its superficiality is a disgrace to their profession. It only reports one superficial level of the debate that went on there.

I experienced a very different set of hearings. They began when I tuned in Tuesday morning, and heard Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse’s begin his opening statement.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, into the breach.

It was stunning: clear, specific, cogent, passionate, judiciously profane, and set out a well-researched yet concise list of propositions about the likely negative effects of K’s elevation.

The sportscasters basically ignored it, probably because Whitehouse is from a small state — and he isn’t  running for president.

Yet over the next three days I heard a lot of testimony that corroborated Whitehouse’s arguments. On one side, I listened to K set what seemed like a record in spewing non-answers, fouling off just about every concrete issue Whitehouse and then other Dems  threw at him, which they did by the bushel. No surprise there; K has coached others in this drill, and Dems have done it in their turn. Nevertheless, as the hours passed, patterns and themes emerged.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, at the hearing.

The Republicans also scripted the next part of their campaign well: filling hours with gushing testimonials that became painful earworms, declaring that K is really such a nice guy, kind to kids, coaching girls basketball teams (where;’s he called “Coach K) for the Catholic Youth Organization, yada yada, yada yada, yada yada.

Okay, already; if I was hiring a male nanny, he’d top the list.

Then there came a battalion of former students and clerks to repeat that he’s a highly-regarded law professor, and good at mentoring students and clerks. I don’t doubt it. So if I needed a tutor . . . .

It was soon clear that the GOP goal here was not simply to prove K was a swell fellow, but also to put the sportscasters into a deep sleep  by chanting the same mantra over and over; and at this it was a smashing success. After all, in this era of scandal upon scandal, what is more boring than a certified wholesome Catholic family man. (Especially one who has the votes in his pocket, right next to his visibly dogeared copy of the Constitution).

After a day of this, the sportscasters were squirmingly ready to bolt this snooze-a-thon. The New York Times‘s anonymous inside-the-white-house “resistance” OpEd piece gave them, or at least their editors, the opening:  by Thursday, even if they were still stuck in the hearing room, many were chasing the will-of-the-wisp author (still nameless as of this writing).

Cartoon by Darrin Bell.

So that left Friday, when the Dems were to have their chance with outside witnesses. By then, the sportscasters couldn’t have cared less, and many reports I’ve seen don’t mention them except in passing.

But in fact, the day was full of substance. For one thing, it became clear to me that while K is definitely a total law geek, he’s also full of law shtick.  He has pretty much mastered the legal arcana for the major issues the Democrats brought up, and can riff on them on cue, in whatever length and degree of technicality seems needful to fend off ever committing himself on what he believes or how he might rule on any of them.

While these cases are all above my pay grade, after several hours of this, even I could begin to  discern what Whitehouse had called the key patterns in K‘s thought and decisions. These became more evident when the Dems’  outside witnesses finally alined up on Friday and took their turns at the mike. They included lawyers and professors, plus Parkland survivors, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, and persons with chronic diseases for whom Obamacare is a matter of life or death. About the only ones missing were detainees at Gitmo, but they had other commitments.

One after another, the Dems’ outside witnesses crisply and expertly picked K‘s arguments apart, showing how in one area of litigation after another, amid K‘s thick weeds of legalese, were decisions and dissents that have reliably favored the rich, comforted the corporate, put the knives into abortion, Obamacare, affirmative action and voting rights; and promoted an all-but unchallengeable “unitary” presidency, in peace or especially in war.

This last was particularly eye-opening. K’s president would be free, among other things, to ignore pesky laws (such as the one John McCain authored against torture) with imperial “signing statements”; to squash upstart federal environmental and consumer advocates like so many bugs ; to mock international law, spy on citizens, and torture or imprison suspects (including U. S. citizens) without charge or trial, for life, under the all-purpose rubrics of “national security” and “originalism.”

John Dean, at the hearing.

The Friday session even featured a living ghost and a ghoul. The ghost was John Dean, onetime lawyer to Richard Nixon, whose surprise 1973 testimony against his former boss started the avalanche that swept Nixon out of the White House.

Dean’s message was stark. “If Judge Kavanaugh joins that court, it will be the most pro-presidential powers-friendly Court in the modern era,” he said.

“Under Judge Kavanaugh’s recommendation, if a President shot somebody in cold blood on 5th Avenue, that President could not be prosecuted while in office.”

Senator John Kennedy, R-LA. A Bayou good ole boy, by way of Oxford & Vanderbilt.

The ghoul came in the person of Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, off the JV bench, subbing for Committee chair Charles Grassley. Despite his first class law degree from Oxford, Kennedy has cultivated in the senate a deep-in-the-bayou persona and accent, and he picked up the gavel at the session with an old score to  settle: he called Dean a “rat” for testifying against Nixon, and accused him of harming the country thereby.

Dean has heard worse, and was ready. He parried smoothly, replying that he had published a book on Watergate (actually he’s written several such), explaining why he had turned against Nixon, and would send Kennedy a copy to assist his understanding.

Kennedy, who had likely been waiting forty-five years to launch this public sneer at Dean, only managed to show that an Oxford degree is no bar to its holder making a ghoulish fool of himself.

The upshot of these last hours was a cascade of confirmations of the many-counts of Sheldon Whitehouse’s neglected opening indictment. This bookend, as far as I can see, was ignored by the sportscasters, who had to catch up with the latest tweets, or push off for a weekend at the beach.

But at least one non-sportscaster observer did keep up. Adam Serwer of the Atlantic had just posted thus:

“The Roberts Court is poised to shape American society in Trump’s image for decades to come. All three branches of the federal government are now committed to the Trump agenda: the restoration of America’s traditional racial, religious, and gender hierarchies; the enrichment of party patrons; the unencumbered pursuit of corporate profit; the impoverishment and disenfranchisement of the rival party’s constituencies; and the protection of the president and his allies from prosecution by any means available. Not since the end of Reconstruction has the U.S. government been so firmly committed to a single, coherent program uniting a politics of ethnonationalism with unfettered corporate power. As with Redemption, as the end of Reconstruction is known, the consequences could last for generations.”

I believe Serwer is quite right that we subjects of this impending legal rollback face a multi-generational agenda of resistance and recovery. And for me, listening with one ear through these grueling days, his and Sheldon Whitehouse’s frame for the week was much more useful than the sophomoric sportscasters’ blather about jockeying by Booker vs Harris. Instead, Whitehouse, Serwer  and the public witness pierced K’s smokescreen. They may not have changed the vote count, but they have laid out the signs of the time.

And for those with eyes to see, and hands willing for the plough, these signs could be invaluable in finding our way into the long journey and multiple struggles ahead.

The post Kavanaugh Wrap-Up: The Wheat from the Chaff appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Illustrated Thursday Thoughts on Kavanaugh

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 11:48am

If one picture is worth a thousand words,  then this ought to be a long read. But it really isn’t.

Kavanaugh is expected to finish his testimony on Thursday. But it won’t be over.

Torture connections? Senators Leahy & Durbin confronted him about hard evidence contradicting earlier denials:

I learned a new phrase on Tuesday: “The Roberts Five,” which I won’t forget.  I also learned more about how “The Roberts Five” overwhelmingly favors the Rich, the Right, and the Aggressively “Christian” (Male) White. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, we’ll probably ALL know this phrase, too well.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was the hero of the opening round, blowing the cover off “The Roberts Five.” He’s since been joined by others: Cory Booker,  Amy Klobuchar, Pat Leahy & more.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, showing data that the public is wise to “The Roberts Five’s” blatant bias toward the super-wealthy and religious right. Has anyone grilled Kavanaugh on the same sex marriage decision? (If so, I haven’t heard it.) Am I right that LGBT issues are being neglected so far?) Kavanaugh’s responses about Roe v Wade sounded like pure smokescreen gobbledygook. I also haven’t heard much talk about unions; but there seems no question, Kavanaugh would weaken them further, probably drastically.

Here are a few more images, reflecting my strong concern about torture, indefinite detention and untrammeled executive power under cover of war or “national security.” Kavanaugh sounds like he’s on the side of power in all this areas:

 

In sum:

Please pass this on. There could be more to come . . .

The post Illustrated Thursday Thoughts on Kavanaugh appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Another “Quaker” School Makes Waves

Wed, 09/05/2018 - 8:04am

As a journalist, I mostly have the “Quaker beat” to myself: Friends are a tiny sect, known mostly for being “quaint,” the inventors of oatmeal, riders in buggies, and extinct. (Never mind that the last three are not true; they’re still what we’re “known” for, by many in what the elders used to call “the world,” when such folk bother to think about us at all.) So when I report on Quaker stuff, it’s rare that I have to compete with “normal” reporters.

But sometimes I get scooped; and that happened again today, and in no less an outlet than the New York Times. (But hey, if you’re gonna get scooped, it might as well be by the best.)

And why would the Times bother with us? If you don’t already know, think for a minute: The Times’ base constituency is the affluent (and up) of the nation’s largest city. And what artifact of Quakerism are such moneyed folk most likely to bump into? (Hint: nothing to do with oatmeal.)

Right: “Quaker” schools. Several such are at or near the top of the social/prestigious/rich private school hierarchies of their respective hometowns, places that charge as much as $50,000 for a year of high school.  You’ve likely already heard of the Sidwell School in Washington DC, where the Obama girls went, the latest in a long line of presidential progeny who enrolled there.

It seems that Manhattan has one such school, called Friends Seminary, down toward the southern end of the island, not far from Wall Street, Greenwich Village, and some of the most expensive gentrification on the continent.

But “Friends,” as it’s called for short, was there first, going back to 1786, and was started to provide the culturally separatist Quakers of the day a “guarded education,” long on basics and the Bible, short on contact with the “world” outside, and “peculiar” then because Quaker education included young women Friends.

However, merely being 240-plus years old and pricey does not open the way to the top of the private school heap in Gotham. According to the Times,  the city’s truly elite educational cognoscenti sniff at it as being “second tier” in its league.

But “Friends” is peculiar no more. Its headmaster (who came there, not coincidentally, from a stint  at Sidwell), has been determined to vault it into the first tier, and is doing so via a path that’s all too familiar to those who follow such things (which includes me at a distance): raising millions for the endowment, buying up adjacent buildings for more and cooler educational stuff, and slimming down the Quaker heritage so it fits seamlessly into the marketing plan (which means quietly dumping the religion part, and turning it into a “SPICE-y” mix of something called “Quaker values”; but don’t let me get started on that hot mess.  A related rant is here.)

Such trading up and slimming down, as you might expect, raised all sorts of hackles about money, class, and Quakerism. Some of these  have been momentarily sticky with many New York  City Friends, but have been largely smoothed over (some with a bulldozer). Yet it has also meant cutting back on actual, you know, Quakers in roles like, the faculty. Indeed, a year ago “Friends” was down to  single Quaker teacher, named Ben Frisch. Who also happened to be its longest-serving teacher.

But last March, the headmaster fired Frisch.

Not “released”; not retired; not quietly eased-out-with-a-severance-package-&-a-non-disclosure agreement (tho they tried). Fired.

The result has been chaos, continuing protests, Trump-style publicity, and most recently, a union arbitration hearing. (Wait — a teachers UNION at a Quaker school?)  Yes. For the moment.

In fact, the current article is the Times‘s second: they broke the story on March 23, under the excellent headline, “Someone went too  far at Friends Seminary, but Who?” 

WTF?! (What’s This, Friends??) 

Well, I won’t say much more here, because really, all I’d be doing is cribbing from the Times‘s new report, which describes the whole ungodly mess in intriguing detail. So take a break from the agonies of the news day and check it out.

Though alas, it won’t really be a break from the agonizing issues of the day, especially for Quakers. And it’s not over yet.

The post Another “Quaker” School Makes Waves appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Kavanaugh Hearing, Day One: Sheldon Whitehouse Vs. the “Roberts Five”

Tue, 09/04/2018 - 8:29pm

Unless you’re a bear for punishment, you could have skipped most of the first day of hearings on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, settling for the highlights on TV or in text. But then you would have missed the high point, a stunning tour de force of truth-telling from an overlooked member.

For opening entertainment, there were shouting protesters, soon removed, with reportedly 70  arrests. Other protesters paced somberly outside in costumes from The Handmaid’s Tale.

The specter of Gilead at the hearing.

Democratic Senators on the Judiciary committee loudly (but futilely) protested the orchestrated coverup of the vast majority of documents from his time working for George W. Bush, from which (I strongly suspect), Kavanaugh is still trying to wash the blood of the tortured innocent from his hands.

I don’t know why Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island isn’t   better known.  Maybe it’s Rhode island’s mini-size (at barely 1200  square miles, it makes Vermont — 8 times as large– look huge; or maybe its due to the state’s mostly Democratic voting record.) Perhaps it’s because he is not running for president.

Whatever; Whitehouse was a prosecutor and state attorney general before he came to Washington. He knows how to make a case succinctly and trenchantly. Further, this time he did a bunch of relevant homework.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

After him, the supposed ace debater Ted Cruz sounded shrill, small and tinny. Cruz only underlined the power of Whitehouse’s statement,  a masterwork of plain, well-informed, vivid, carefully angry and occasionally profane argument.

Most of the rest of this post will be quotes from Whitehouse’s  statement. The text, along with links to the documentation for his charges, are all on his website, in full.

Kavanaugh listens on Tuesday.

Whitehouse did not focus solely on Kavanaugh; rather he spotlighted the bloc that the newcomer will solidify, what Whitehouse rightly called “The Roberts Five.” We’ll let him pick it up here (I have added the emphasis, having heard the talk first, which delivered with much passion.

Whitehouse: When is a pattern evidence of bias?

In court, pattern is evidence of bias all the time; evidence on which juries and trial judges rely, to show discriminatory intent, to show a common scheme, to show bias.

When does a pattern prove bias?

That’s no idle question. It’s relevant to the pattern of the Roberts Court when its Republican majority goes off on its partisan excursions through the civil law; when all five Republican appointees — the Roberts Five, I’ll call them — go raiding off together, and no Democratic appointee joins them.

Does this happen often? Yes, indeed.

The Roberts Five has gone on 80 of these partisan excursions since Roberts became chief.

There is a feature to these eighty cases. They almost all implicate interests important to the big funders and influencers of the Republican Party. When the Republican Justices go off on these partisan excursions, there’s a big Republican corporate or partisan interest involved 92 percent of the time.

A tiny handful of these cases don’t implicate an interest of the big Republican influencers — so flukishly few we can set them aside. That leaves 73 cases that all implicate a major Republican Party interest. Seventy-three is a lot of cases at the Supreme Court.

Is there a pattern to those 73 cases? Oh, yes there is.

Every time a big Republican corporate or partisan interest is involved, the big Republican interest wins. Every. Time.

Let me repeat: In seventy-three partisan decisions where there’s a big Republican interest at stake, the big Republican interest wins. Every. Damned. Time.

Hence the mad scramble of big Republican interest groups to protect a “Roberts Five” that will reliably give them wins — really big wins, sometimes.

When the Roberts Five saddles up, these so-called conservatives are anything but judicially conservative.

They readily overturn precedent, toss out statutes passed by wide bipartisan margins, and decide on broad constitutional issues they need not reach. Modesty, originalism, stare decisis, all these supposedly conservative judicial principles, all have the hoof prints of the Roberts Five all across their backs, wherever those principles got in the way of wins for the Big Republican interests.

The litany of Roberts Five decisions explains why big Republican interests want Kavanaugh on the Court so badly that Republicans trampled so much Senate precedent to shove him through; so let’s review the litany.

What do big Republican interests want? Well, first, they want to win elections.

What has the Roberts Five delivered?

Help Republicans gerrymander elections: Vieth v. Jubelirer, 5-4, license to gerrymander.

Help Republicans keep minority voters away from the polls: Shelby County, 5-4 and Bartlett v. Strickland, 5-4. And Abbott v. Perez, 5-4, despite the trial judge finding the Texas legislature actually intended to suppress minority voters.

And the big one: help corporate front-group money flood elections — if you’re a big special interest you love unlimited power to buy elections and threaten and bully Congress. McCutcheon, 5-4 counting the concurrence; Bullock, 5-4; and the infamous, grotesque 5-4 Citizens United decision (which belongs . . . on the Court’s roll of shame).

What else do the big influencers want?

To get out of courtrooms. Big influencers hate courtrooms, because their lobbying and electioneering and threatening doesn’t work. In a courtroom, big influencers used to getting their way have to suffer the indignity of equal treatment.

So the Roberts Five protects corporations from group “class action” lawsuits: Walmart v. Dukes, 5-4; Comcast, 5-4; and this past term, Epic Systems, 5-4.

The Roberts Five helps corporations steer customers and workers away from courtrooms and into mandatory arbitration: Concepcion, Italian Colors, and Rent-a-Center, all Roberts Five. Epic Systems does double duty here: now workers can’t even arbitrate their claims as a group.

Hindering access to the courthouse for plaintiffs generally: Iqbal, 5-4.

Protecting corporations from being taken to court by employees harmed through pay discrimination, Ledbetter, 5-4; age discrimination, Gross, 5-4; harassment, Vance 5-4; and retaliation, Nassar, 5-4. Even insulating corporations from liability for international human rights violations: Jesner, 5-4.

Corporations aren’t in the Constitution; juries are. Indeed, courtroom juries are the one element of American government designed to protect people against encroachments by private wealth and power. So of course the Roberts Five rule for wealthy, powerful corporations over jury rights every time — with nary a mention of the Seventh Amendment.

What’s another one? Oh, yes.  A classic: helping big business bust unions. Harris v. Quinn, 5-4; and Janus v. AFSCME this year, 5-4, overturning a 40-year precedent.

Lots of big Republican influencers are polluters. They like to pollute for free.

So of course the Roberts Five delivers decisions that let corporate polluters pollute. To pick a few: Rapanos, weakening wetland protections, 5-4; National Association of Home Builders, weakening protections for endangered species, 5-4; Michigan v. EPA, helping air polluters, 5-4; and, in the face of emerging climate havoc, there’s the procedurally aberrant 5-4 partisan decision to stop the EPA Clean Power Plan.

Then come Roberts Five bonus decisions advancing a far-right social agenda: Gonzalez v. Carhart, upholding restrictive abortion laws; Hobby Lobby, granting corporations religious rights over the health care rights of employees; NIFLA, letting states deny women truthful information about their reproductive choices—all 5-4, all the Republicans.

Add Heller and McDonald, which reanimated for the gun industry a theory a former Chief Justice once called a “fraud”; both decisions 5-4.

This year, Trump v. Hawaii, 5-4, rubber stamping President Trump’s discriminatory Muslim travel ban.

And in case Wall Street was feeling left out, helping insulate investment bankers from fraud claims: Janus Capital Group, Inc., 5-4.

No wonder the American people feel the game is rigged.

Here’s how the rigged game works: big business and partisan groups fund the Federalist Society, which picked Gorsuch and now Kavanaugh. As White House Counsel admitted, they “insourced” the Federalist Society for this selection. Exactly how the nominees were picked, and who was in the room where it happened, and who had a vote or a veto, and what was said or promised, is all a deep dark secret.

Then big business and partisan groups fund the Judicial Crisis Network, which runs dark-money political campaigns to influence Senators in confirmation votes, as they’ve done for Gorsuch and now Kavanaugh. Who pays millions of dollars for that, and what their expectations are, is a deep dark secret.

These groups also fund Republican election campaigns with dark money. The identity of the big donors? A deep dark secret.

Once the nominee is on, the same business front groups, with ties to the Koch Brothers and other funders of the Republican political machine, file “friend of the court,” or amicus briefs, to signal their wishes to the Roberts Five. Who is really behind those “friends” is another deep dark secret.

It has gotten so weird that Republican justices now even send hints back to big business interests about how they’d like to help them next, and then big business lawyers rush out to lose cases, just to get them up before the friendly [Supreme] Court, pronto. That’s what happened in Friedrichs and Janus.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the biggest corporate lobby of them all. It’s the mouthpiece for Big Coal, Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Guns, you name it—and this year, with Justice Gorsuch riding with the Roberts Five, the Chamber won nine of the 10 cases it weighed in on.

The Roberts Five since 2006 has given the Chamber more than three-quarters of their total votes. This year in civil cases they voted for the Chamber’s position nearly 90 percent of the time.

People are noticing. Veteran court-watchers like Jeffrey Toobin, Linda Greenhouse and Norm Ornstein describe the court as a delivery service for Republican interests:

Toobin has written that on the Supreme Court, “Roberts has served the interests . . . of the contemporary Republican Party.”

Greenhouse has said, “the Republican-appointed majority is committed to harnessing the Supreme Court to an ideological agenda.”

Ornstein described, “the new reality of today’s Supreme Court: It is polarized along partisan lines in a way that parallels other political institutions and the rest of society, in a fashion we have never seen.”

And the American public knows it, too. The American public thinks the Supreme Court treats corporations more favorably than individuals, compared to vice versa, by a 7-to-1 margin.

Whitehouse shows that the public is catching on to the “corporate capture” of the Supreme Court.

Now, let’s look at where Judge Kavanaugh fits in. A Republican political operative his whole career, who’s never tried a case. He made his political bones helping the salacious prosecution of President Clinton, and leaking prosecution information to the press.

As an operative in the second Bush White House, he cultivated relationships with political insiders like nomination guru Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society architect of Kavanaugh’s court nominations. On the D.C. Circuit, Kavanaugh gave more than 50 speeches to the Federalist Society. That’s some auditioning.

On the DC Circuit, Kavanaugh showed his readiness to join the Roberts Five with big political wins for Republican and corporate interests: unleashing special interest money into elections; protecting corporations from liability; helping polluters pollute; striking down commonsense gun regulations; keeping injured plaintiffs out of court; and perhaps most important for the current occupant of the Oval Office, expounding a nearly limitless vision of presidential immunity from the law.

[Kavanaugh’s] alignment with right-wing groups who came before him as “friends of the court”? 91 percent.

When big business trade associations weighed in? 76 percent. This is what corporate capture of the courts looks like.

There are big expectations for [Kavanaugh]. The shadowy dark-money front group, the Judicial Crisis Network, is spending tens of millions in dark money to push for [his] confirmation. They clearly have big expectations about how [he]’ll rule on dark money.

The NRA has poured millions into [his] confirmation, promising their members that [he]’ll “break the tie.” They clearly have big expectations on how you’ll vote on guns.

White House Counsel Don McGahn said, “There is a coherent plan here where actually the judicial selection and the deregulatory effort are really the flip side of the same coin.” Big polluters clearly have big expectations for [him] on their deregulatory effort.

Finally, [he] come[s] before us nominated by a President named in open court as directing criminal activity, and a subject of ongoing criminal investigation. [Kavanaugh] displayed expansive views on executive immunity from the law. If [he is] in that seat because the White House has big expectations that [he] will protect the President from the due process of law, that should give every Senator pause.

Tomorrow, we will hear a lot of “confirmation etiquette.” It’s a sham.

Kavanaugh knows the game. In the Bush White House, he coached judicial nominees to just tell Senators that they will adhere to statutory text, that they have no ideological agenda. Fairy tales.

At his hearing, Justice Roberts infamously said he’d just call “balls and strikes,” but the pattern – the 73-case pattern – of the Roberts Five qualifies him to have NASCAR-style corporate badges on his robes.

Alito said in his hearing what a “strong principle” stare decisis was, an important limitation on the Court. Then he told the Federalist Society stare decisis “means to leave things decided when it suits our purposes.”

Gorsuch delivered the key fifth vote in the precedent-busting, but also union-busting, Janus decision. He too had pledged in his hearing to “follow the law of judicial precedent,” assured us he was not a “philosopher king,” and promised to give equal concern to “every person, poor or rich, mighty or meek.”

How did that turn out? Great for the rich and mighty: Gorsuch is the single most corporate-friendly justice on a Court already full of them, ruling for big business interests in over 70 percent of cases, and in every single case where his vote was determinative.

The president early on assured evangelicals his Supreme Court picks would attack Roe v. Wade. Despite “confirmation etiquette” assurances about precedent, [Kavanaugh’s] own words make clear [he doesn’t] really believe Roe v. Wade is settled law.

We have seen this movie before. We know how it ends.

The sad fact is that there is no consequence for telling the Committee fairy tales about stare decisis, and then riding off with the Roberts Five, trampling across whatever precedent gets in the way of letting those Big Republican interests keep winning 5-4 partisan decisions.

Every. Damned. Time.

This is a lengthy quote. But I believe it is the most concise and clear exposition of the Supreme Court future that we are facing if Kavanaugh joins and solidifies “The Roberts Five.” Again, the full text, with the background analysis, is worth reading, for those who want to see the likely future without sentimentality or illusion.

The post Kavanaugh Hearing, Day One: Sheldon Whitehouse Vs. the “Roberts Five” appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

A Quaker “Walks Cheerfully,” Up To His A** In Alligators: A Final “Dog Days” Journey

Mon, 09/03/2018 - 12:06am

A Quaker

(NOTE: Friend William Bartram, traveling by canoe alone, somewhere in Florida, circa 1773. Considering the dangers he faced here, I ponder on the fact that this was still what he most wanted to do, what he felt was his leading. (A relatively long read, 4400 words. I have divided some of his long sentences & longer paragraphs, for modern readers. The spelling is original.)

BARTRAM: THE evening was temperately cool and calm. The crocodiles began to roar and appear in uncommon numbers along the shores and in the river. I fixed my camp in an open plain, near the utmost projection of the promontory, under the shelter of a large Live Oak, which stood on the highest part of the ground and but a few yards from my boat. 

From this open, high situation, I had a free prospect of the river, which was a matter of no trivial consideration to me, having good reason to dread the subtle attacks of the allegators, who were crouding about my harbour. Having collected a good quantity of wood for the purpose of keeping up a light and smoke during the night, I began to think of preparing my supper, when, upon examining my stores, I found but a scanty provision, I there upon determined, as the most expeditious way of supplying my necessities, to take my bob and try for some trout. 

About one hundred yards above my harbour, began a cove or bay of the river, out of which opened a large lagoon. The mouth or entrance from the river to it was narrow, but the waters soon after spread and formed a little lake, extending into the marshes, its entrance and shores within I observed to be verged with floating lawns of the Pistia and Nymphea and other aquatic plants; these I knew were excellent haunts for trout.

        THE verges and islets of the lagoon were elegantly embellished with flowering plants and shrubs; the laughing coots with wings half spread were tripping over the little coves and hiding themselves in the tufts of grass; young broods of the painted summer teal, skimming the still surface of the waters, and following the watchful parent unconscious of danger, were frequently surprised by the voracious trout, and he in turn, as often by the subtle, greedy alligator. 

Behold him rushing forth from the flags and reeds. His enormous body swells. His plaited tail brandished high, floats upon the lake. The waters like a cataract descend from his opening jaws. Clouds of smoke issue from his dilated nostrils. The earth trembles with his thunder. When immediately from the opposite coast of the lagoon, emerges from the deep his rival champion. 

They suddenly dart upon each other. The boiling surface of the lake marks their rapid course, and a terrific conflict commences. They now sink to the bottom folded together in horrid wreaths. The water becomes thick and discoloured. Again they rise, their jaws clap together, re-echoing through the deep surrounding forests. Again they sink, when the contest ends at the muddy bottom of the lake, and the vanquished makes a hazardous escape, hiding himself in the muddy turbulent waters and sedge on a distant shore. The proud victor exulting returns to the place of action. The shores and forests resound his dreadful roar, together with the triumphing shouts of the plaited tribes around, witnesses of the horrid combat.

        MY apprehensions were highly alarmed after being a spectator of so dreadful a battle; it was obvious that every delay would but tend to encrease my dangers and difficulties, as the sun was near setting, and the alligators gathered around my harbour from all quarters; from these considerations I concluded to be expeditious in my trip to the lagoon, in order to take some fish. 

Not thinking it prudent to take my fusee [musket] with me, lest I might lose it overboard in case of a battle, which I had every reason to dread before my return, I therefore furnished myself with a club for my defence, went on board, and penetrating the first line of those which surrounded my harbour, they gave way; but being pursued by several very large ones, I kept strictly on the watch, and paddled with all my might towards the entrance of the lagoon, hoping to be sheltered there from the multitude of my assailants.

But ere I had half-way reached the place, I was attacked on all sides, several endeavouring to overset the canoe. 

My situation now became precarious to the last degree: two very large ones attacked me closely, at the same instant, rushing up with their heads and part of their bodies above the water, roaring terribly and belching floods of water over me. They struck their jaws together so close to my ears, as almost to stun me, and I expected every moment to be dragged out of the boat and instantly devoured.

But I applied my weapons so effectually about me, though at random, that I was so successful as to beat them off a little; when, finding that they designed to renew the battle, I made for the shore, as the only means left me for my preservation, for, by keeping close to it, I should have my enemies on one side of me only, whereas I was before surrounded by them, and there was a probability, if pushed to the last extremity, of saving myself, by jumping out of the canoe on shore, as it is easy to outwalk them on land, although comparatively [they were] as swift as lightning in the water. 

I found this last expedient alone could fully answer my expectations, for as soon as I gained the shore they drew off and kept aloof. This was a happy relief, as my confidence was, in some degree, recovered by it. On recollecting myself, I discovered that I had almost reached the entrance of the lagoon, and determined to venture in, if possible to take a few fish and then return to my harbour, while day-light continued; for I could now, with caution and resolution, make my way with safety along shore, and indeed there was no other way to regain my camp, without leaving my boat and making my retreat through the marshes and reeds, which, if I could even effect, would have been in a manner throwing myself away, for then there would have been no hopes of ever recovering my bark, and returning in safety to any settlements of men. I accordingly proceeded and made good my entrance into the lagoon, though not without opposition from the alligators, who formed a line across the entrance, but did not pursue me into it, nor was I molested by any there, though there were some very large ones in a cove at the upper end. 

I soon caught more trout than I had present occasion for, and the air was too hot and sultry to admit of their being kept for many hours, even though salted or barbecued. I now prepared for my return to camp, which I succeeded in with but little trouble, by keeping close to the shore, yet I was opposed upon re-entering the river out of the lagoon, and pursued near to my landing (though not closely attacked) particularly by an old daring one, about twelve feet in length, who kept close after me.

And when I stepped on shore and turned about, in order to draw up my canoe, he rushed up near my feet and lay there for some time, looking me in the face, his head and shoulders out of water; I resolved he should pay for his temerity, and having a heavy load in my fusee, I ran to my camp, and returning with my piece, found him with his foot on the gunwale of the boat, in search of fish, on my coming up he withdrew sullenly and slowly into the water, but soon returned and placed himself in his former position, looking at me and seeming neither fearful or any way disturbed. 

I soon dispatched him by lodging the contents of my gun in his head, and then proceeded to cleanse and prepare my fish for supper, and accordingly took them out of the boat, laid them down on the sand close to the water, and began to scale them–

— when, raising my head, I saw before me, through the clear water, the head and shoulders of a very large alligator, moving slowly towards me; I instantly stepped back, when, with a sweep of his tail, he brushed off several of my fish. 

It was certainly most providential that I looked up at that instant, as the monster would probably, in less than a minute, have seized and dragged me into the river. This incredible boldness of the animal disturbed me greatly, supposing there could now be no reasonable safety for me during the night, but by keeping continually on the watch; I therefore, as soon as I had prepared the fish, proceeded to secure myself and effects in the best manner I could: in the first place, I hauled my bark upon the shore, almost clear out of the water, to prevent their oversetting or sinking her, after this every moveable was taken out and carried to my camp, which was but a few yards off; then ranging some dry wood in such order as was the most convenient, cleared the ground round about it, that there might be no impediment in my way, in case of an attack in the night, either from the water or the land; for I discovered by this time, that this small isthmus, from its remote situation and fruitfulness, was resorted to by bears and wolves. 

Having prepared myself in the best manner I could, I charged my gun and proceeded to reconnoitre my camp and the adjacent grounds; when I discovered that the peninsula and grove, at the distance of about two hundred yards from my encampment, on the land side, were invested by a Cypress swamp, covered with water, which below was jointed to the shore of the little lake, and above to the marshes surrounding the lagoon, so that I was confined to an islet exceedingly circumscribed, and I found there was no other retreat for me, in case of an attack, but by either ascending one of the large Oaks, or pushing off with my boat.

 IT was by this time dusk; and the alligators had nearly ceased their roar, when I was again alarmed by a tumultuous noise that seemed to be in my harbour, and therefore engaged my immediate attention. Returning to my camp I found it undisturbed, and then continued on to the extreme point of the promontory, where I saw a scene, new and surprising, which at first threw my senses into such a tumult, that it was some time before I could comprehend what was the matter; however, I soon accounted for the prodigious assemblage of crocodiles at this place, which exceeded every thing of the kind I had ever heard of.

        How shall I express myself so as to convey an adequate idea of it to the reader, and at the same time avoid raising suspicions of my want of veracity. Should I say, that the river (in this place) from shore to shore, and perhaps near half a mile above and below me, appeared to be one solid bank of fish, of various kinds, pushing through this narrow pass of St. Juans into the little lake, on their return down the river, and that the alligators were in such incredible numbers, and so close together from shore to shore, that it would have been easy to have walked across on their heads, had the animals been harmless.

What expressions can sufficiently declare the shocking scene that for some minutes continued, whilst this mighty army of fish were forcing the pass? During this attempt, thousands, I may say hundreds of thousands of them were caught and swallowed by the devouring alligators. I have seen an alligator take up out of the water several great fish at a time, and just squeeze them betwixt his jaws, while the tails of the great trout flapped about his eyes and lips, ere he had swallowed them.

The horrid noise of their closing jaws, their plunging amidst the broken banks of fish, and rising with their prey some feet upright above the water, the floods of water and blood rushing out of their mouths, and the clouds of vapour issuing from their wide nostrils, were truly frightful. This scene continued at intervals during the night, as the fish came to the pass. After this sight, shocking and tremendous as it was, I found myself somewhat easier and more reconciled to my situation, being convinced that their extraordinary assemblage here, was owing to this annual feast of fish, and that they were so well employed in their own element, that I had little occasion to fear their paying me a visit.

 IT being now almost night, I returned to my camp, where I had left my fish broiling, and my kettle of rice stewing, and having with me, oil, pepper and salt, and excellent oranges hanging in abundance over my head (a valuable substitute for vinegar) I sat down and regaled myself chearfully.

Having finished my repast, I re-kindled my fire for light, and whilst I was revising the notes of my past day’s journey, I was suddenly roused with a noise behind me toward the main land; I sprang up on my feet, and listning, I distinctly heard some creature wading in the water of the isthmus; I seized my gun and went cautiously from my camp, directing my steps towards the noise; when I had advanced about thirty yards, I halted behind a coppice of Orange trees, and soon perceived two very large bears, which had made their way through the water, and had landed in the grove, about one hundred yards distance from me, and were advancing towards me.

I waited until they were within thirty yards of me, they there began to snuff and look towards my camp, I snapped my piece, but it flashed, on which they both turned about and galloped off, plunging through the water and swamp, never halting as I suppose, until they reached fast land, as I could hear them leaping and plunging a long time; they did not presume to return again, nor was I molested by any other creature, except being occasionally awakened by the whooping of owls, screaming of bitterns, or the wood-rats running amongst the leaves. . . .

        THE noise of the crocodiles kept me awake the greater part of the night, but when I arose in the morning, contrary to my expectations, there was perfect peace; very few of them to be seen, and those were asleep on the shore, yet I was not able to suppress my fears and apprehensions of being attacked by them in future; and indeed yesterday’s combat with them, notwithstanding I came off in a manner victorious, or at least made a safe retreat, had left sufficient impression on my mind to damp my courage, and it seemed too much for one of my strength, being alone in a very small boat to encounter such collected danger.

To pursue my voyage up the river, and be obliged every evening to pass such dangerous defiles, appeared to me as perilous as running the gauntlet betwixt two rows of Indians armed with knives and fire brands; I however resolved to continue my voyage one day longer, if I possibly could with safety, and then return down the river, should I find the like difficulties to oppose. Accordingly I got every thing on board, charged my gun, and set sail cautiously along shore; as I passed by Battle lagoon, I began to tremble and keep a good look out, when suddenly a huge alligator rushed out of the reeds, and with a tremendous roar, came up, and darted as swift as an arrow under my boat, emerging upright on my lea quarter, with open jaws, and belching water and smoke that fell upon me like rain in a hurricane.

I laid soundly about his head with my club and beat him off, and after plunging and darting about my boat, he went off on a strait line through the water, seemingly with the rapidity of lightning, and entered the cape of the lagoon; I now employed my time to the very best advantage in padling close along shore, but could not forbear looking now and then behind me, and presently perceived one of them coming up again; the water of the river hereabouts, was shoal and very clear, the monster came up with the usual roar and menaces, and passed close by the side of my boat, when I could distinctly see a young brood of alligators to the number of one hundred or more, following after her in a long train, they kept close together in a column without straggling off to the one side or the other, the young appeared to be of an equal size, about fifteen inches in length, almost black, with pale yellow transverse waved clouds or blotches, much like rattle snakes in colour. . . .        

THE alligator when full grown is a very large and terrible creature, and of prodigous strength, activity and swiftness in the water. I have seen them twenty feet in length, and some are supposed to be twenty-two or twenty-three feet; their body is as large as that of a horse; their shape exactly resembles that of a lizard, except their tail, which is flat or cuniform, being compressed on each side, and gradually diminishing from the abdomen to the extremity, which, with the whole body is covered with horny plates or squammae, impenetrable when on the body of the live animal, even to a rifle ball, except about their head and just behind their fore-legs or arms, where it is said they are only vulnerable.

The head of a full grown one is about three feet, and the mouth opens nearly the fame length, the eyes are small in proportion and seem sunk deep in the head, by means of the prominency of the brows; the nostrils are large, inflated and prominent on the top, so that the head in the water, resembles, at a distance, a great chunk of wood floating about.  . . .

        BUT what is yet more surprising to a stranger, is the incredible loud and terrifying roar, which they are capable of making, especially in the spring season, their breeding time; it most resembles very heavy distant thunder, not only shaking the air and waters, but causing the earth to tremble; and when hundreds and thousands are roaring at the same time, you can scarcely be persuaded, but that the whole globe is violently and dangerously agitated.

        AN old champion, who is perhaps absolute sovereign of a little lake or lagoon (when fifty less than himself are obliged to content themselves with swelling and roaring in little coves round about) darts forth from the reedy coverts all at once, on the surface of the waters, in a right line; at first seemingly as rapid as lightning, but gradually more slowly until he arrives at the center of the lake, when he stops; he now swells himself by drawing in wind and water through his mouth, which causes a loud sonorous rattling in the throat for near a minute, but it is immediately forced out again through his mouth and nostrils, with a loud noise, brandishing his tail in the air, and the vapour ascending from his nostrils like smoke. At other times, when swolen to an extent ready to burst, his head and tail lifted up, he spins or twirls round on the surface of the water. He acts his part like an Indian chief when rehearsing his feats of war, and then retiring, the exhibition is continued by others who dare to step forth, and strive to excel each other, to gain the attention of the favourite female.

        HAVING gratified my curiosity at this general breeding place and nursery of crocodiles, I continued my voyage up the river without being greatly disturbed by them: in my way I observed islets or floating fields of the bright green Pistia, decorated with other amphibious plants, as Senecio Jacobea, Persicaria amphibia, Coreopsis bidens, Hydrocotile fluitans, and many others of less note. . . .

 I HAD now swamps and marshes on both sides of me, and evening coming on apace, I began to look out for high land to encamp on, but the extensive marshes seemed to have no bounds; and it was almost dark when I found a tolerable suitable place, and at last was constrained to take up on a narrow strip of high shelly bank, on the West side. Great numbers of crocodiles were in sight on both shores: I ran my bark on shore at a perpendicular bank four or five feet above the water, just by the roots and under the spreading limbs of a great Live Oak . . . .

        I DID not approve of my intended habitation from these circumstances; and no sooner had I landed and moored my canoe to the roots of the tree, than I saw a huge crocodile rising up from the bottom close by me, who, when he perceived that I saw him, plunged down again under my vessel; this determined me to be on my guard, and in time to provide against a troublesome night: I took out of my boat every moveable, which I carried upon the bank, then chose my lodging close to my canoe, under the spreading Oak; as hereabouts only, the ground was open and clear of high grass and bushes, and consequently I had some room to stir and look round about. I then proceeded to collect firewood which I found difficult to procure. Here were standing a few Orange trees.

As for provisions, I had saved one or two barbecued trout; the remains of my last evenings collection in tolerable good order, though the sultry heats of the day had injured them; yet by stewing them up afresh with the lively juice of Oranges, they served well enough for my supper: having by this time but little relish or appetite for my victuals; for constant watching at night against the attacks of alligators, stinging of musquitoes and sultry heats of the day; together, with the fatigues of working my bark, had almost deprived me of every desire but that of ending my troubles as speedy as possible. I had the good fortune to collect together a sufficiency of dry sticks, to keep up a light and smoke, which I laid by me, and then spread my skins and blankets upon the ground, kindled up a little fire and supped before it was quite dark.

The evening was however, extremely pleasant, a brisk cool breeze sprang up, and the skies were perfectly serene, the stars twinkling with uncommon briliancy. I stretched myself along before my fire; having the river, my little harbour and the stern of my vessel in view, and now through fatigue and weariness I fell asleep, but this happy temporary release from cares and troubles I enjoyed but a few moments, when I was awakened and greatly surprised, by the terrifying screams of Owls in the deep swamps around me, and what encreased my extreme misery was the difficulty of geting quite awake, and yet hearing at the same time such screaming and shouting, which increased and spread every way for miles around, in dreadful peals vibrating through the dark extensive forests, meadows and lakes.

I could not after this surprise recover the former peaceable state and tranquility of mind and repose, during the long night, and I believe it was happy for me that I was awakened, for at that moment the crocodile was dashing my canoe against roots of the tree, endeavouring to get into her for the fish, which I however prevented. Another time in the night I believe I narrowly escaped being dragged into the river by him, for when again through excessive fatigue I had fallen asleep, but was again awakened by the screaming owl, I found the monster on the top of the bank, his head towards me not above two yards distant. When starting up and seizing my fuzee well loaded, which I always kept under my head in the night time, he drew back and plunged into the water.

After this I roused up my fire, and kept a light during the remaining part of the night, being determined not to be caught napping so again, indeed the musquitoes alone would have been abundantly sufficient to keep any creature awake that possessed their perfect senses, but I was overcome, and stupified with incessant watching and labour.

As soon as I discovered the first signs of day-light, I arose, got all my effects and implements on board and set sail, proceeding upwards, hoping to give the musquitoes the slip, who were now, by the cool morning dews and breezes, driven to their shelter and hiding places; I was mistaken however in these conjectures, for great numbers of them, which had concealed themselves in my boat, as soon as the sun arose, began to revive, and sting me on my legs, which obliged me to land in order to get bushes to beat them out of their quarters. . . .

A Deep Southern Live Oak

        TOWARDS noon, the sultry heats being intolerable, I put into shore, at a midling high bank, five or six feet above the surface of the river; this low sandy testaceous ridge along the river side was but narrow, the surface is light, black and exceedingly fertile, producing very large venerable Live Oaks, Palms and grand Magnolias, scatteringly planted by nature: there being no underwood to prevent the play of the breezes from the river, afforded a desirable retreat from the sun’s heat: immediately back of this narrow ridge, was deep wet swamps, where stood some astonishingly tall and spreading Cypress trees; and now being weary and drowsy, I was induced to indulge and listen to the dictates of reason and invitations to repose, which consenting to, after securing my boat and reconnoitring the ground, I spread my blanket under the Oaks near my boat, on which I extended myself, where, falling to sleep, I instantaneously passed away the sultry hours of noon, what a blissful tranquil repose!

Undisturbed I awoke, refreshed and strengthened; I chearfully stepped on board again and continued to ascend the river. . . .

From Bartram’s Travels, published 1791

Previous Posts about William Bartram: A Truly Divergent Friend

Seeing Like Bartram

Bartram Meets a Real American King

Bartram on Hunting

The post A Quaker “Walks Cheerfully,” Up To His A** In Alligators: A Final “Dog Days” Journey appeared first on A Friendly Letter.

Categories: Blogs

Spike Lee vs the Klan; and When (Many) Quakers also Loved the Klan

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 11:12pm

Watching Spike Lee’s new film BlackkKlansman yesterday, it was evident that the director/provocateur has skillfully exploited a current of widespread cultural anxiety, which the Klan once embodied on a mass scale. The cinematic result is a timely, skillful and often gripping entertainment.

As a call to social action, however, I think it largely misfires. In organizational terms, the KKK in 2018 is not that big a threat: groups are small, and they dissipate much energy in infighting. In December, 2016, for instance, a Klan “victory  rally” was  announced for North Carolina (the “victory” being the outcome of the 2016 presidential election) . The event was dogged by militant protesters and dissolved in confusion before it even started. Yet there was one casualty: a Klan “leader,” Richard Dillon, said he was beaten and stabbed, by two other Klan “leaders” at a post-rally “meeting” that  devolved into a brawl. The attackers were arrested.

Such atomized, quarrelsome hate groups are dangerous, but not exactly a threat to overthrow the government (which, for that matter, they currently don’t want to do anyway). The slide from last year’s torchlit march and fatal mayhem in Charlottesville to the  resounding fizzle of the “Unite the Right” White House rally a few days ago is another indicator.

The more likely hazard from their ranks and hangers on is more  incidents of terrorism, such as the killing of 9  in a Charleston SC black church by a professed white supremacist; or the 2016 anti-gay massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Florida (though that shooter had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, not the Klan). Or, for that matter,  the cross-burnings and attacks planned by a local Klan chapter in Blackkklansman, which was based on actual police work to foil real, if unmemorable Klan crimes in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Rather than “the organization” (as Lee’s  Klansmen call their group), it’s the spirit of the Klan that’s now resurgent, and is still very much alive and active in American society. It rarely shows up in the old robes, and  its best disciples have switched to politics has found more sophisticated (and effective) means of manifestation, especially via politics.

But I’m not complaining. If Spike Lee had turned overtly earnest and didactic, Blackkklansman would have lost much of its verve. Better for the audience that I was kept far from the project.

Still, as long as the Klan is back in the news, it’s worth mentioning that there’s a  major chapter in Ku Klux Klan history that involves many Quakers. This one is real, nonfiction, solid, and verified — yet Quaker historians have been almost totally silent about it:

Say Hello to Friend Daisy Douglass Barr, popular Quaker pastor, and “Queen” of the Indiana Women’s Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s.

(If thee is tempted to snicker, don’t. The Klan was a very big deal in the 1920s; it made Barr famous and rich. Not to mention its racism and violence, which she evidently ignored, or went along with.)

There’s a fine substantial article about Friend Barr and her eye-popping career online here, by a Hoosier historian, Steven Taylor. Don’t miss it.

I’ve borrowed some info and old photos from it. And another scholar, Leonard J. Moore, has added substantially to what we know in his book, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928.  

Moore builds on the fact that the membership list of the Indiana Klan was preserved (most others were lost or destroyed); and the Hoosier Klan was the nation’s biggest and most powerful in its 1920s heyday.

Moore’s analysis of the KKK list for Wayne County — home of the city of Richmond, numerous Quakers, and the Quaker  Earlham College — offers a startling (to modern  Friends) disclosure:

The religious affiliations of the Klans­men also closely approximated the city’s Protestant spectrum . .  . . The large, traditionally evangelical de­nominations (Methodist, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyte­rian) were strongly represented, but so too were the equally con­sequential German (Lutheran and United Brethren) and Quaker churches. (Emphasis added.)

That is, Indiana Quakers were just as likely to join the 1920s Indiana Klan as members of other churches; and many did.

Daisy Douglass Barr was their star.  She served as pastor in at least five prominent Friends churches, and preached in many more, over many years.

Daisy Douglass Barr in a 1922 newsclip (her maiden name was spelled Douglass, not Douglas, as here.)

She also used her notoriety and her Klan office to make money. The profit came mainly from selling Klan women’s robes and other paraphernalia. When the Indiana Klan could boast several hundred thousand members, and draw tens of thousands to its (white) family-friendly mass rallies, the paraphernalia business was good; nay, it was a goldmine.

By and large, according to Moore, the 1920s Indiana Klan, while committed to white supremacy, was not much into the racial terrorism of the group’s original Reconstruction-era incarnation.

Well, “not much” is a relative term. On August 7, 1930, one of the iconic lynchings of the era occurred in Marion, Indiana, near Daisy Barr’s birthplace. Two black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, were dragged from jail and left hanging from a tree, surrounded by a festive mob numbered at 5000, unashamed of the camera’s eye.  Despite the thousands of eyewitnesses, no one was ever prosecuted for the lynchings; a grand jury refused to issue any indictments.

Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, Marion Indiana 1930.

Did I mention that Marion was home then to a large Friends Church? Still is.

Despite such savage incidents, it is still fair to say that even more than race, the Klan’s main “theme” was “Americanism.” That’s what its Indiana Grand Dragon, D.C. Stephenson, who was a political kingmaker for several years, droned on about ad nauseam in his speeches. For that matter, it was even stressed above race in the Klan’s “Kreed”:

The KKK “Kreed” from a 1916 Handbook.

Further, its “Qualifying Interrogatories for new applicants,” #5 asked:
“Do you esteem the United states of America and its institutions above any other government, civil, political or ecclesiastical, in the whole world?”

Quaker Daisy  Barr was all in on this. To quote historian Taylor:

In July 1923, Barr — the only woman on the program — addressed the assembled Grand Dragons of the Klan in Asheville, North Carolina, where she read a poem she’d written.  Starting out in first-person, Barr spoke about my “all-seeing” eye and revelations and “the love of Christ.”  Chillingly, it becomes clear that the “I” of the poem is “the Spirit of Righteousness”: 

“They call me the Ku Klux Klan.
I am more than the uncouth robe and hood
With which I am clothed.
YEA, I AM THE SOUL OF AMERICA.”

Hostility to “new” immigrants (those not from northern, Protestant Europe, along with anti-semitism) was integral to this “Americanism.” It is a cry that echoes to this day.

So while no one should overlook the racial, religious and ethnic aspects here, there is yet another which is central to both “Americanism”  and to KKK history, namely: making money. For the KKK, when it had a mass membership, took in truckloads of money; and its officials seemed unable to stop quarreling over it,  or accusing each other of stealing it.

Daisy Barr wasn’t accused of theft; just good old-fashioned American profiteering. Which there seems little doubt she actively engaged in.

The Greenfield Reporter (at left) put the question baldly, and the answer was more or less yes, though exact figures are not available.

For several years in the 1920s, the Klan and head man, D.C. Stephenson, ran Indiana, and lived high on the hog. But then in 1925 Stephenson, 34, who had an eye for younger women, was arrested and tried for the rape and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, age 28. He was convicted, spent years in jail, and with his fall, down went the Indiana Klan as a major organization.

Daisy Barr went on til 1938, when she was killed in a car wreck. Her name was still on the list of recognized ministers of Indiana Yearly Meeting, and she was prominent in interdenominational and patriotic women’s groups. Her funeral was, unsurprisingly, held in a Friends meeting.

Funeral notice for Daisy Barr, April 1938, Fairmount (Indiana) News.

The rise and fall of the 1920s Klan in Indiana  (and in the rest of the U.S.) is an epic and gripping story, well worth reading more about.  [And shoutout to Spike Lee or other ambitious filmmakers; this is a mother lode of exciting cinematic material!] Yet it’s not so much my subject here. Instead I see it more as a parable that has all too much current resonance. For, whether in white robes or (more likely) not; whether put through the Klan’s laughably ridiculous initiation rites (or more likely not), the Klan agenda of unremitting hostility to new immigrants, especially of color; plus its devotion to the post-Obama-era of repackaged and “sanitized” white supremacy; and its focus on one political party, all are very much still with us.

And that is not all. There remains a big chunk of unfinished business for American Quakers: how and why did so many Indiana Friends, custodians of some of the most honored shrines of antislavery witness, and many of whom had relatives lost or wounded in the Civil War to end slavery, get drawn into this openly racist, anti-immigrant group?  And what do we need to learn now from this dreadful history then?

We won’t learn much from Quaker historians; they are still essentially silent about it. The most detailed treatment I’ve yet seen of this episode was  a novel for teenage readers, called Mim and the Klan, by Cynthia Stanley Russell. In it a young Quaker girl stumbles across the fact that her aged grandparents were part of it, and starts digging out why. In one (fictional, but likely “authentic”) passage, her grandmother sums it up:

“It was a social activity to belong to the Klan in Indiana. There were picnics and rallies for America.

The subtitle: “A Hoosier Quaker Farm Family’s Story.”

We had just come out of World War I when everybody needed to be highly patriotic to weather the war together. And the Klan preached Americanism–put the flag on your window and so forth. And some people didn’t see the dark side of the Klan because they didn’t want to.”

Another way to put this is: these Indiana Quaker Klan members were not aliens or monsters; they were otherwise respectable, even “good”  people; and they are our spiritual forebears (as well as many living Quakers’ relatives).

Some may prefer to send all this down the memory hole, and pretend it did not happen. But it did, with echoes that still reverberate. These stories, even that of Daisy Douglass Barr, are connected to ours. How? And what do they mean?

And we need no “Anonymous” hackers collective to bring it to light; merely an end to denial.

Build a wall to keep out immigrants? Not a new idea: A pro-KKK cartoon from 1928. The caricatured “immigrants” above are , from left to right: Catholic, Jewish & eastern European (or any “radicals”).

Besides a chance to face some of Friends’ hidden history, the resurgence of “Klanism” is also a summons to grapple with the movement’s key themes, because they have much current echoes and resonance in our public life.

I researched these themes and the images in the summer of 2017. And a key to their resilience came in an obscure editorial in one of the few Indiana newspapers to challenge the Klan. In 1925 when the order was riding high in the state, an unnamed, beleaguered editor in South Bend, prophetically wrote:

“Klanism”; it’s a clumsy term, but then the Klan specialized in ungainly verbiage. And the editor was right: the Indiana Klan, followed by other Klan groups, collapsed from internal corruption and scandal by the late 1920s. Yet the attitudes evoked in these images and its standard rhetoric not only survived, they have assumed other guises and continued to flourish in Indiana and national politics.

After all, even in the 1920s many Klan sympathizers were prevented from officially joining by work rules or other constraints. But this didn’t prevent them from sharing the Klan’s signature issues — or from sticking with them when the Klan itself receded.

At its height, the 1920s Klan attracted hundreds of thousands of “respectable” folks: professionals, successful business people, prominent matrons, church leaders. (In fact, Klan leaders made special efforts to recruit ministers and pastors, waiving fees and other requirements, and not shrinking from offering outright bribes.)

One such beneficiary was the famously pugilistic evangelist Billy Sunday (1862-1935), one of whose mottoes was “fighting the devil & sin.”

Billy Sunday, ready to rumble. One of his more memorable quotes was: “A sinner can always repent, but stupid is forever.” Amen.

Once in 1922, Sunday was about to launch into a sermon in Richmond, Indiana (home of Earlham, a Quaker college, and many Quaker Klan members) when, according to the Indianapolis Times, a dozen Klansmen came marching in, “clad in white robes  and attended with much mystery.” They presented  Sunday with a fifty dollar, um, contribution, and a letter of endorsement. (Unlike the devil, Sunday did not fight them off.)

This was no isolated incident; I have found records of the same thing happening in least two midwestern Friends churches, along with many others.

The cross, the flag & especially “America” — these were the 1920s Klan’s main symbols and platform. The common image of the group as being above all obsessed with race hatred directed at blacks misses most of their priorities. Sure, they wanted to keep down African Americans; but in the 1920s, particularly in Indiana, they hardly bothered to talk about that.

The flag, the Liberty Bell, the hovering image of George Washington, the Bible & the cross: The 1920s Klan was all about “Americanism.”

My guess is that this reflected a period that was a low point of civil rights agitation; so the Klan turned to its other targets, of which it had many: immigrants (Europeans and Asian); Catholics, Jews, and anyone  who opposed Prohibition.  There was some violence, but it was subdued and often clandestine. In its frequent public events the Klan emphasized a respectable-sounding, “positive” message, which centered on, as we have seen, “100% Americanism,” casting itself as its premier defender. (And many female members were strong supporters of women’s new right to vote.)

The Klan’s largest ever public rally was held in Kokomo, Indiana on July 4, 1923. Estimates of attendance range to 200,000 and beyond. Credible accounts paint it as a kind of patriotic segregated Woodstock, a family-oriented, day-long affair, with games and picnics, a parade, and many bands.

The climax was a long, tedious address by one D.C. Stephenson, the “Grand Dragon of the Indiana Realm of the Knights of the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan,” who arrived in his own airplane. His topic was not about repressing people of color; it was “Back to the Constitution.”

The occasion’s symbolic climax was the burning of a cross said to be sixty-feet high, accompanied by hymn-singing and fireworks. Numerous other huge Klan rallies were held across the state in those years.

“All in all,” wrote one historian without irony, “there was scarcely a phrase in the speech that would embarrass a major party candidate today.” 

Stephenson was riding high in 1923. He and his Klan had taken over the Indiana Republican party, and seemed to be controlling the state. He  was said to be looking to run for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency, aiming to land in the White House with Klan support as his launching pad.

But instead, his career soon crashed and burned. Despite the order’s much-trumpeted reverence for Prohibition and strict “family values,” Stephenson himself was a notorious drinker and had a charismatic predator’s taste for grabbing young women, consent being optional.

In 1925, a young woman he had kidnapped and raped took poison and left a long, damning deathbed affidavit, made public after her death.  Stephenson was tried and convicted of second-degree murder. He served many years in prison.

The resulting scandals rocked the state Republican leadership, and sent the Klan organization into a terminal tailspin, not only in its onetime national stronghold, but across the country. Respectable people stampeded out the door, and into what I call the Ku Klux Kloset.

The secret character of the Klan now became the cover for its embarrassed members; a vow of silence spread across families and whole communities. In a state where perhaps a third of the adult white Protestant population had been part of the Klan, it quickly became a generation’s shared family secret, one that’s been kept remarkably well.

The vow still persists. How sturdy the Ku Klux Kloset‘s construction could be was shown by a 1995 incident in Noblesville, Indiana. An old trunk turned up in an abandoned barn and was opened — and in it was the membership list of 1920s Klan members in Noblesville and the surrounding area. On it was just about every Protestant white male, and many women.

The list was turned over to the Hamilton County Historical Society. A local historian began retyping the list to preserve it, and was soon shocked to find his father’s name on the list. And soon all hell broke loose. As the New York Times told it:

The historical society, after some debate, voted to accept the Klan list, but to restrict access to it.

“It would be embarrassing to some families” to publish the list, Mr. [David] Heighway [the society’s director] said, adding that threats of boycotts of merchants by the Klan also had to be considered. “There’s an ethical question here, too, since we don’t know how many people were forced to join the Klan.”

The last living person on the list died several months ago, but the roster will still be made available only for scholastic or genealogical purposes. The Historical Society said it would require researchers to gain the consent of all descendants before publishing the name of any Klansman, a requirement that would seem virtually impossible to meet.

The local NAACP objected to this concealment; their protest was ignored.

A similar example occurred among Indiana Quakers. With the Klan’s political collapse, Daisy Barr quit pastoring and faded from the public eye; but she was still quietly prominent in the WCTU and other white women’s organizations. When she died in 1938, sizable obituaries ran in several major papers around the state, some on the front page. Yet not one of the half-dozen I found said a single word about her Klan career. Neither did the memorial notice in the records of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Quakers, of which she was still a member in good standing at her death.

The point here is that, as politics in Indiana have often showed since, in many corners of the state, Klan attitudes persist; but in this Kloseted fashion. No doubt many Hoosiers who uncovered these links in their family histories today would be as shocked as the Noblesville historian: none of their relatives had paraded in a white robe in their lifetimes. Yet in Indiana, the continuity of attitudes, the long shadow of Klanism, is not hard to identify. It is shown in a recent governor’s attempt to ban immigration by Syrian refugees; a vicious anti-LGBT law, and numerous other measures.

So despite the tightly-sealed doors of the Ku Klux Kloset, there are many telltale signs of what is inside. There the Klan’s “brand” survives. Many of the same “platform planks” persist, long after the old robes have moldered, or been forgotten in an abandoned barn. The speakers today can ritualistically denounce the Klan, especially in its minor, often clownish current guise. But the echoes, and more than echoes, ring from a time when it was a major force in U.S. politics, a time when “Klanism” seems to be rising yet again.

By the way, a word about the 1920s sketches posted here. They come from an unexpected source: the Pillar of Fire Church, a group which had its headquarters. including a college and a clinic, not in Indiana but in Zarephath, New Jersey, a hamlet smack between the two academic powerhouses of Princeton and Rutgers. The church’s founder and bishop, one  Alma Bridwell White, was both a feminist and an ardent adherent of the Klan.

In the 1920s she published a series of three widely-read books, extolling the Klan as the savior of America, and even a redeemer figure foretold in biblical prophecy.  The books were heavily illustrated by Branford E. Clarke.

That was 93 years ago. But the editor was right. 100 percent. And my hope for Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman is that the film will push many toward the overdue reckoning with our Quaker and national Kan history, and resolve to follow its implications with action.

An illustration from”Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty,” 1926.

PS. For some additional reading, look into these titles:

Leonard J. Moore, Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928 (1991); Shawn Lay, ed., The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s (1992); Stanley Coben, Rebellion Against Victorianism: The Impetus for Cultural Change in 1920s America (1991); Kathleen Blee, Women of the Klan: Race and Gender in the 1920s (1991); Nancy MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan (1994).

And a 1916 Klan Handbook is reproduced in full online here. 

If you fund this post helpful, please pass it on.

 

 

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What Do You See In What You see? Ask Friend William Bartram

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 12:05pm

Trying To See Like William Bartram

[It’s not easy to keep up with my fellow-traveler/Spirit Guide, Friend William Bartram. He just can’t stay on the beaten path. . . .]

But here he is again, talking about plants, and especially trees. And one kind of tree jumped out at me from his list, the Live Oak. That’s because I’ve seen and been captivated by some magnificent specimens thereof, in a cemetery in Alabama.

There’s lots of human history in that graveyard. But we’re gonna skip all that here, and just dwell on the chlorophyllic history. The place is only a few acres, but I think I could wander in it for hours, maybe days.]

Okay, Take It Away, William . . . .

From Bartram’s Travels, 1791:

The attention of a traveller, should be particularly turned, in the first place, to the various works of Nature, to mark the distinctions of the climates he may explore, and to offer such useful observations on the different productions as may occur. . . .

        THIS world, as a glorious apartment of the boundless palace of the sovereign Creator, is furnished with an infinite variety of animated scenes, inexpressibly beautiful and pleasing, equally free to the inspection and enjoyment of all his creatures.

        PERHAPS there is not any part of creation, within the reach of our observations, which exhibits a more glorious display of the Almighty hand, than the vegetable world. Such a variety of pleasing scenes, ever changing, throughout the seasons, arising from various causes and assigned each to the purpose and use determined.

        IT is difficult to pronounce which division of the earth, within the polar circles, produces the greatest variety. The tropical division certainly affords those which principally contribute to the more luxurious scenes of splendor . . . .

        BUT the temperate zone (including by far the greater portion of the earth, and a climate the most favourable to the increase and support of animal life, as well as for the exercise and activity of the human faculties) exhibits scenes of infinitely greater variety, magnificence and consequence, with respect to human economy, in regard to the various uses of vegetables. . . .

        IN every order of nature, we perceive a variety of qualities distributed amongst individuals, designed for different purposes and uses, yet it appears evident, that the great Author has impartially distributed his favours to his creatures, so that the attributes of each one seem to be of sufficient importance to manifest the divine and inimitable workmanship.

The pompous Palms of Florida, and glorious Magnolia, strikes us with the sense of dignity and magnificence; the expansive umbrageous Live-Oak with awful veneration, the Carica papaya, supercilious with all the harmony of beauty and gracefulness; the Lillium superbum represents pride and vanity; Kalmia latifolia and Azalea coccinea, exhibit a perfect show of mirth and gaiety; the Illisium Floridanum, Crinum Floridanum, Convalaria majalis of the Cherokees, and Calycanthus floridus, charm with their beauty and fragrance.

Yet they are not to be compared for usefulness with the nutritious Triticum, Zea, Oryza, Solanum tuberosa, Musa, Convolvulous, Batata, Rapa, Orchis, Vitis vinifera, Pyrus, Olea; for clothing, Linum Canabis, Gossypium, Morus; for medical virtues, Hyssopus, Thymus, Anthemis nobilis, Papaver somniferum, Quinqina, Rheum rhabarbarum, Pisum, &c. though none of these most useful tribes are conspicuous for stateliness, figure or splendor, yet their valuable qualities and virtues, excite love, gratitude and adoration to the great Creator, who was such to endow them with such eminent qualities, and reveal them to us for our sustenance, amusement and delight. . . .

 Live oaks in the Old Oak Cemetery, Selma, Alabama.

More about William Bartram here.

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Shooting Holes In Justice: Emmett Till & Jimmie Lee Jackson Memorials

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 12:34pm

Some Folks aren’t satisfied with killing people of color; they want to kill the memory of these murders too.

Take Emmett Till, Kidnapped & murdered in Mississippi in 1955,  after someone said the 14 year-old may have whistled at a white woman. His tortured and body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River days later; it took a jury one hour to acquit the men charged with the killing.  Outrage generated by the case gave a boost to civil rights struggles.

In 2007, county leaders established the Emmett Till Interpretive Center to memorialize Till and remember the case and what it represented. The center erected a sign in a rural area near the bank of the river where Till’s body was recovered. But that sign was soon stolen and never recovered.

A second sign was put up. before long, it was full of bullet holes.

This sign was eventually moved inside the Center, itself becoming an object for reflection. And not long ago, a new sign was put up.

The new sign is now collecting bullet holes. This image is only a few days old.

Such posthumous assaults are not limited to Mississippi. In February, 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson of Marion, Alabama, who was unarmed, was shot by a state trooper in an attack on a night march during the  historic voting rights campaign based in nearby Selma,.

Jimmie Lee Jackson’s funeral service, March 3, 1965. His death sparked the Selma-Montgomery march, which helped win the Voting Rights act.

Jackson was buried in a small cemetery near Alabama Highway 14 on the outskirts of Marion. His large headstone is impressively carved with a figure of Jesus keeping vigil.

It too has been hit  by numerous bullets. One knocked a chunk off the top, and seven or eight more are visible on close examination, in this 2015 photo.

Emmett Till’s killers walked completely free. The Alabama trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Fowler, shot and killed a second unarmed young black man in 1966. But forty-five years later, Fowler was convicted of manslaughter, and served several months in jail, before being released due to ill health.

Jimmie Lee Jackson, left. James Fowler, right.

The Emmett Till Interpretive Center, located in Sumner, Mississippi, has plans to expand its facility and programs, and upgrade security.

Memories aren’t bulletproof. But they don’t die easily.

 

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Dog Days Reading for Summer Reflection: Wandering With A Divergent Friend

Thu, 08/09/2018 - 8:30am

William Bartram: Divergent Friend

I’ve taken a fancy to do some traveling for the dog Days this year. I plan to join William Bartram, an independent-minded Quaker naturalist and artist, in a  journey through much of the southeast U.S.

This is not the Southeast of today, but that of 1773, so technically there wasn’t a U.S. yet; whatever. Bartram spent four years wandering the Southeast, drawing plants and animals, maps, and doing sketch portraits of Indians he visited with, and he visited with many.

I first noticed Bartram a few years ago, and prepared a series  of posts about him & his solitary exploring journeys for times of reflection. I call him a “Divergent Friend” because he went his own way, following his own leading.  He was not a “rebel” or a troublemaker; yet he was hardly typical or “normal” either.

Consider: at home, a revolution was brewing; slavery was a spreading plague; many diseases threatened. But Bartram was drawn away from all that, the “activism” and the debates, into the natural world: seeking out creatures without voices, and  territories not yet claimed by his ancestral “civilization.” He’s remembered today (by those who remember him) as a pioneer. Leadings are like that: not always driven by the “news of the day,” with significance that may not  be discernible until many years after they were followed.

Here’s the book he produced from his long rambling. Although he returned to his Pennsylvania home in 1777, he didn’t publish the book til 1791; he was in no hurry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is one of his charming, often lovely, plant drawings. I was struck early on, in looking at these, by a feature that comes out more in his writing: while his art was definitely “scientific,” aimed at adding to the knowledge of plants animals and geography, it was also religious (or, if thee insist, “spiritual”). That’s one reason I’m drawn to it for what many churches call “Lent,” a season of reflection.

Some of Bartram’s images have been used  on postage stamps. Here’s one.

It reminds me of one of William Blake’s stanzas:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill’d with doves and pigeons
Shudders Hell thro’ all its regions.

 

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Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case

Tue, 08/07/2018 - 7:26am

Let’s review: In February of this year, officials at Friends Central School in Philadelphia abruptly canceled a speaking engagement by a Palestinian Quaker peace studies professor, then suspended and later fired the two teachers who had planned the visit. Much public controversy ensued.

In May, the two former teachers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging discrimination and retaliation by Friends Central.

Earlier posts on the Friends Central School controversy are:

 here,  here,  here , here & here.

Early last month, Friends Central’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the grounds that the two teachers had “failed to state a valid claim,” and that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would see the court  become “entangled” in a religious dispute, which is prohibited by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

On July 31, the teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed his response. Prosaically titled, “PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT,” it asserted that to the contrary, the teachers’ complaint did state valid claims, further that pursuing it would not require any impermissible meddling in religious doctrines, and that the motion to dismiss should be denied and the case be moved to its next phase, which is discovery of documents and other background, in preparation for a trial.

I’m advised that the court could take months to act on the motion to dismiss; so those who are following the case should not hold their breath.

Nevertheless, to update our coverage, here are some key excerpts from the plaintiffs’ July 31 memo.

PLAINTIFFS’ MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS’  MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT
Filed: July 31, 2018 [Note: Full text here.]

“At first blush, this matter deals simply with a motion to dismiss a civil rights case with pendent claims as Defendants claim protection under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution. However, the attack amounts to something much more, something dangerously precedent-setting were it to be approved, namely that a private school and those affiliated with it are exempt from the reach of Federal and State Civil Rights Acts. This is all despite Friends Central’s professed adherence to notions of responsibility, equality and diversity. When the rubber meets the road, these Defendants are insisting that they are untouchable and above it all.

Sa’ed Atshan, Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies Assistant Professor. He was approved to speak, then the invitation was abruptly quashed.

However, Defendants fail any applicable test.  In no way do Plaintiffs’ claims require inquiry into religious tenets of Quakerism. Plaintiffs do not make any claims or counts based therein. Rather, Plaintiffs Complaint references guidelines and policies set forth by the school so as to depict the environment in which Plaintiffs worked and to justify their adherence to those guidelines and policies. . . .

Former Friends Central teacher Layla Helwa. suspended, then fired.

Should this Court accept Defendants’ arguments, then there is nothing to keep any purportedly religious school from claiming immunity from the Civil Rights laws, or any other laws for that matter, taking us back to the dark ages in American jurisprudence. . . .

Defendants cherry pick portions of the Complaint, then editorialize and mischaracterize it. Defendants impermissibly argue facts. For example, despite the Complaint’s clear words, Defendants claim that Plaintiffs ‘refused to heed their supervisors.’ The Complaint, is devoid of such assertions or admissions. . . .

Ariel Eure, former Friends Central teacher. Suspended, then fired.

Defendants’ claims are simply astounding; i.e., that ‘Plaintiffs set forth no facts reflecting a hostile work environment, merely repeating that they were disciplined for their failure to comply with their supervisors’ directives regarding reactions to and measures for discussion of the proposed outside speaker.’ This merely reflects their alternate statement of facts and their deliberately ignoring what Plaintiffs have clearly set forth as a “hostile” environment. . . .

Defendants make the extraordinary argument that they are immune from suit, claiming that this Court lacks jurisdiction over them. . . . “

Schwartz agrees that

“. . . the Complaint . . . refers to basic Quaker tenets as espoused by a purportedly Quaker-related institution.” But, he insists, “Doing so does not require the Court to interpret questions of Quaker scripture, doctrine, or canon. There is no mystery here. There are no Quaker hierarchy issues or sect competitions characteristic of Establishment Clause cases. Rather the Complaint sought simply to depict the nature of the environment espoused and Plaintiffs’ adherence to those simple tenets.

Friends Central Head of School, Craig Sellers.

[FCS] Defendants do not point to a single Quaker tenet that would have to be researched and adjudicated by the Court. Instead they simply re-reference the background described by Plaintiffs. Defendants fail to point out any specific problems that would require this Court to divest itself of its clear jurisdiction. They simply make a naked assertion which would exempt Defendants from the reach of civil rights statutes and a host of other statutes, all of which are neutral on their face and application.’

Schwartz notes that the Defendants’ memo copiously cites other cases and decisions, state and federal, to back up their call for dismissal. But he insists that many of these, when closely examined, backfire:

“Defendants cite cases for broad propositions without regard to the actual facts thereof or the procedural context. One must question whether the cases were even read. Many of the cases cited actually support Plaintiffs position. Defendants’ overwhelming reliance upon cases at the summary judgment stage or later, amounts to an admission that discovery should proceed in this case and indeed it should as there is no basis for any of Plaintiffs’ counts to be dismissed. . . . “

Two  examples will suffice here:

In one, Schwartz points to a PA Supreme Court decision in a church-related case, cited by the school but which he insists supports the teachers’ complaint: “’All disputes among members of a  congregation, however, are not doctrinal disputes,” wrote the court. “Some are simply disputes as to meaning of agreements on wills, trusts, contracts, and property ownership. These disputes are questions of civil law and are not predicated on any religious doctrine.’”

The school also cited a case in Massachusetts, but Schwartz finds support for his case there too: “The [Massachusetts] court stated that ‘Both this court and the United States Supreme Court have recognized that the concept of the free exercise of religion involves both belief and activity, and, while the freedom to believe particular religious principles is absolute and may not lawfully be infringed, the freedom to act in response to religious beliefs does not enjoy the same immunity.’”

Schwartz tracks methodically through page after page of additional case citations, finding most irrelevant (or “inapposite”), and more than a few in fact supportive of his clients rather than the school. We won’t follow him through all these, as many involve legal points well beyond my pay grade.

Schwartz skewers the Friends Central leadership in his close, quoting from the school’s website:

“‘…Our pedagogy is grounded in continuing revelation, reflection, integrity, and a willingness to accept responsibility.’

Under the heading ‘A Quaker History of Inclusivity and Diversity’ FCS states the following:

‘When Friends’ Central School was founded in 1845, it was a time of great division among Quakers. Our school was founded to include and serve all Quakers and was, by design, co-educational and open to non-Friends’ from the day it opened. This interest in inclusivity continues today as Friends’ Central strives for racial, religious and socio­- economic diversity in its student body and among its faculty.

We are committed to building and maintaining an inclusive and diverse community. All constituencies-faculty, staff, students, administrators, parents, trustees, and alumni/ae- are responsible for an awareness of and ongoing dialogue around equity issues of race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, privilege, religion, physical ability, and family structure, as well as for enhancing the Philosophy  of Inclusivity and Awareness articulated in our Diversity Statement.'”

Attorney Mark Schwartz

Schwartz continues:

“It is sadly ironic that Defendants profess to accept responsibility, but by their motion hypocritically claim immunity from responsibility under the law. Quite clearly, Plaintiffs ‘ reference to these and other statements do not lead us into a morass of entanglement with religion. Rather, Plaintiffs references provide the Court with insight into the environment in which Plaintiffs worked and how they were led to believe they should act. No consideration of their lawsuit occasions delving into religious doctrine. Rather this lawsuit and its claims prompt a jury to ultimately deciding whether statutory and common law were breached.”

It  may be months before we learn whether Schwartz and the teachers will fend off a dismissal and get the chance to pursue their case further. Stay tuned.

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