Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Plight of Idaho clergy new reality with gay marriage

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

It was bound to happen. It was a just a question of when and where.
A marriage chapel in Idaho finds itself in the national spotlight after federal courts across the country have more or less made gay marriage the law of the land.
The two ordained ministers who operate the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, located in Coeur d’Alene, a town about the size of nearby Midland, could face misdemeanor criminal charges and even up to 180 days in jail if they refuse to preside over now-legal gay marriages.
At issue is Coeur d’Alene’s non-discrimination ordinance, which as with similar ordinances adopted across the country, including here in Mt. Pleasant and other Michigan cities, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and other grounds.
The two ministers, husband and wife Donald and Evelyn Knapp, only preside over marriages in line with their Christian religious beliefs, which for them means one-man, one-woman marriage — the definition of marriage since time immemorial.
This issue will hardly go away, especially with a federal court expected to strike down Michigan’s voter-approved constitutional definition of marriage any day now. Similar threats of criminal and civil legal action will undoubtedly occur elsewhere.
While many argue clergy and houses of worship are exempt from performing, solemnizing or otherwise recognizing marriages that go against the tenets of their faith under the First Amendment, the reality is far different as evident by the Idaho situation.
Many clergy supplement their ministerial pay by presiding over marriages outside of their church. Some come from well-established Christian denominations. Others have less respectable credentials that amount to self-ordination over the internet. Regardless, all are ordained ministers.
The catch is all of these clergy are also agents of the state, as the acts of marriage they preside over would have no legal significance whatsoever if they were not vested with authority by the government to conduct what also amounts to a state ceremony.
And that’s where the legal quagmire begins.
While the religious liberty of clergy and other men and women of faith is constitutionally protected, under both the state and federal constitutions, the situation becomes much more difficult because the clergy are in essence no different from notaries public, who also make certifications in accordance with state law.
Thankfully, the solution is quite simple: Get the government out of marriage.
Marriage has always been, at its core, a basic religious ritual in much the same way as baptism is for Christians.
If government cannot define who can be baptized then it certainly cannot define who can be married at the high altar. Yet that is exactly what will happen if marriage remains defined in the statute books, as evident by what the Knapps face in Idaho.
Some houses of worship may decide to — actually, some are already doing so — allow gay marriage. Others may affirm their traditional definition.
Either way, this is a decision for priests, ministers, bishops, rabbis, imams and their respective churches, temples, mosques, synods and sacerdotal or ecclesiastical institutions.
— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

MIA Schauer only helps Snyder

The following is from today's edition of The Morning Sun.

DETROIT — Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mark Schauer did so poorly in his debate performance Sunday against Governor Rick Snyder that he skipped his only chance to frame the post-debate narrative.

That was the story to emerge from the debate on the campus of Wayne State University, where Schauer and Snyder shared a stage for the one and only debate in this year’s campaign.

As the winner of the pre-debate coin toss, Schauer was entitled to address the assembled press corps before the Republican incumbent.

But instead of clarifying the record and extending remarks he made during his one-hour tussle with Snyder, the former congressman and Democratic leader in the state Senate sent three Democratic partisans to answer questions and attempt to spin the media’s coverage.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well for Schauer surrogates U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, state Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer and Lon Johnson, the Michigan Democratic Party chairman.

The first question from reporters was, of course, “Where’s your candidate?”

Stabenow tried answering, but it was painful to watch one of the state’s most experienced politicians struggle to come up with something coherent and plausible all while trying to maintain a straight face. This must have given her unpleasant flashbacks of 1994, when she was the running mate of Democrat Howard Wolpe in a forlorn hope against then-Republican Governor John Engler.

Snyder was already in a strong position for re-election to the governor’s mansion — aided by the simple fact that no sitting governor has lost a bid for a second term since 1962 — but Schauer’s no-show can only help Snyder in the final stages of the campaign.

More importantly, it reinforced the narrative that many Democrat-leaning Michiganders are hardly excited about Schauer’s candidacy in the general election next month.

After all, Michigan is famous for its ticket-splitting, meaning voters who cast a ballot for candidates from both parties.

This would explain why several of those selected to ask questions in the town hall-style debate were Democrats, though all were undecided between Schauer and Snyder. One of the questioners even touted on Facebook her support of both Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 and the Michigan Freedom Fund, a center-right advocacy group.

This irony is a result of Snyder owning the political center in the same way as former Governor William Milliken, his political mentor.

Just ask yourself this: When was the last time both the National Rifle Association and Mike Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York mayor, endorsed the same candidate? The answer is Snyder, who relished in calling himself “bipartisan” during the debate.

The absence of Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan at the debate was also telling, especially when Schauer criticized Snyder for his handling of Detroit’s bankruptcy and for alleged funding cuts to local law enforcement.

As good Democrats both have given Schauer their endorsement, but don’t expect these two powerful machine politicians to do anything to defeat Snyder.

— Dennis Lennox

Thursday, October 9, 2014

It's time to abolish secular marriage and replace it with civil partnerships

The following was published yesterday on MLive.com.

Gay marriage is the law of the land.

That was without a doubt the result of Monday’s non-ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which de facto legalized gay marriage in a majority of the 50 states.

Sure, Michigan’s constitutional ban against non-traditional marriage is still in effect, but the winds of change are blowing in the opposite direction, especially when gay marriage is now legal in uber-conservative West Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma to say nothing of neighboring Wisconsin and Indiana.

Unless a panel of federal appeals judges in Cincinnati, where the ban sits under judicial review, decides to go against the prevailing winds then the ban will soon be declared unconstitutional.

In the more than likely event that happens, state Attorney General Bill Schuette has said he would appeal to the same high court whose punt earlier this week, as well as back in 2013 on the California Proposition 8 appeal, legalized gay marriage.

Now unless Schuette and others see something objective observers do not, then this would be little more than a forlorn hope as the nullification of thousands of now-lawful marriages is extremely unlikely.

Even if the Supreme Court does the unlikely and hands down a ruling leaving the definition of marriage to the states, it is almost a given that few bans will remain in place because enough supports exists in the electorate to pass amendments and referenda overturning the remaining prohibitions.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination come next year who also supported his state’s now-overturned ban, clearly did the political calculus when he said: “For us, it’s over in Wisconsin. The federal courts have ruled that this decision … is the law of the land and we will be upholding it.”

If Schuette wants to commit self-martyrdom then that is his prerogative, but he should re-think his stance if he wants to occupy the governor’s mansion when term limits force GOP incumbent Rick Snyder, who will easily win re-election next month, to vacate in 2018.

Instead, Schuette would be wise to take up the fight for religious liberty.

Lost in all of the debate over gay marriage is one simple, but critical point: If the government cannot tell a church who can be baptized then why can the government tell a church who can be married at its high altar?

Granted baptism has no secular benefits, unlike marriage, though both remain by definition fundamentally religious practices.

Still, it is difficult to defend the right of a church or of any faith’s house of worship to discriminate in the administration of its practices — essentially quasi-public services — when these religious institutions simultaneously execute temporal authority by solemnizing marriages on behalf of the government.

The best answer to this legal quagmire is to get churches, synagogues, temples and mosques out of the marriage business. In short: Abolish secular marriage from the statute books and replace it with civil partnerships.

Otherwise, individual faith communities — as well as clergy, lay leaders and believers — will surely face claims of discrimination and hate crimes by refusing to recognize, solemnize or celebrate marriages that in the eyes of government are lawful.

 — Dennis Lennox

Monday, October 6, 2014

In Detroit, city hall's last chance to make 'trains run on time'

The following is from tomorrow's edition of The Morning Sun.

After 18 months of Kevyn Orr, the emergency financial manager, calling the shots in city hall the locals are back in charge.

While Orr will remain in his gubernatorial-appointed position until the city formally exits bankruptcy proceedings in federal court, the day-to-day civil authority is vested once again in Mike Duggan, the elected mayor, and the nine members of Council.

In just about every place I have traveled over the past two years someone has asked me what is happening in Detroit. I remember being in Tallinn, the capital of the tiny Baltic country of Estonia, on the day city hall filed bankruptcy. Even there above the fold headlines proclaimed this sad moment in the history of the city that defines Michigan.

The story of Detroit's glorious rise to become the country’s richest city in 1950 and her shocking collapse over the ensuing decades — culminating in the unprecedented municipal bankruptcy — has been talked about the world over, as so many struggle to understand what really happened to the city that literally and figuratively made America. Perhaps only the scale of Greece's default comes close to the economic, fiscal and governing woes that plague Detroit to this very day.

History does not provide much encouragement that Duggan can actually overcome the monumental challenges facing the city, but the tremendous amount of attention and publicity he has received since taking office earlier this year puts him in a unique position to do so. Not least because Duggan was politically insulated from the tough decisions Orr made to fulfill his mandate from Governor Rick Snyder.

Moving forward this allows Duggan to benefit from all of Snyder's Orr-implemented reforms without having done anything to support them in the first place. In fact, Detroit's politicians have done very little to prove they have learned any lessons in the aftermath of bankruptcy.

If an uninhibited city hall maintains Orr's program of reform then maybe, just maybe Duggan can actually make the proverbial trains run on time.

That is about the best one can do given the simple fact that Detroit will never return to its former glory.

Even with all of the positive signs in Detroit's revitalization — almost all of it a result of innovators, entrepreneurs and job creators, not government bureaucrats picking winners and losers — the city continues to shrink with the latest U.S. Census projections putting population below 700,000 for the first time since 1910.

Moreover, the Duggan mayoralty just now beginning in earnest cannot be used as an excuse to look the other way, as too many out-state Democrats and Republicans in the halls of state government did for too long.

Even if city hall gets the fundamentals right again it cannot under any circumstance be allowed to return to the old ways that caused Detroit's ruin.

Simply put: This is Detroit's last chance. Get it right, Mr. Mayor.


 — Dennis Lennox

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Greenwich: London without the London

The following is from yesterday's The Morning Sun.

Having an experience in London apart from the popular guidebooks might sound difficult, but it actually isn't if one makes Greenwich their destination.

As the home of the prime meridian and the namesake of Greenwich Mean Time, this part of London obviously isn't off the tourist map, but it’s pretty close.

Best of all, Greenwich has a distinct feel. Think smaller city — a world apart from the highly trafficked tourist sights of central London, where you are more likely to see and hear foreigners than actual Londoners.

The best times to visit are the bookends of the tourist season, when crowds are also almost non-existent. The charm of Greenwich would also make it ideal for the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

WHAT TO DO

Greenwich’s location has in the past been logistically challenging for tourists — it used to be seen as a day trip — but not anymore, as it has become a destination in its own right with easy access to the rest of the British capital.

One of the easiest ways to get in and out is a service called Thames Clippers, which ferries passengers along the River Thames and past London’s landmarks with departures every 20 minutes.

Once in Greenwich, head to the Old Royal Naval College. While now a university, the grounds are open with free admission.

A sharp eye will recognize the regal architecture, designed by the renowned 17th century architect Sir Christopher Wren, as the backdrop of several major films, including the barricade scenes from 2012 adaptation of “Les Miserables.” Two must-visits are the Painted Hall and the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul (both open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.; the chapel is closed to visitors until 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, except for Anglican services). Intended to be a dining room, the Painted Hall is now a baroque masterpiece on par with art found in world-class museums. The chapel, rebuilt in the aftermath of an 18th century fire, rivals Wren’s acclaimed churches in the City of London.

Next up is Queen’s House, which sits across Romney Road from the Old Royal Naval College. This former 17th century royal palace is architecturally significant as it was Britain’s first neo-classical building. The spiral staircase, known as the tulip stairs, is a popular picture-taking spot, though don’t snap more than one picture because the docents get grouchy, if not rude and unbecoming, about cameras even though photography isn’t prohibited.

Another must is a walk through the aptly named Greenwich Park to the Royal Observatory. Once here, take a selfie for Facebook or Instagram of you standing on the prime meridian.

Be sure to also see the nearby monument to James Wolfe, the British general in the largely forgotten French & Indian War, the American front of the Seven Years’ War (1754-63). There is a good chance we in Michigan might speak French today had it not been for Wolfe’s decisive victory over the French on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

Continue exploring the 180-acre former hunting grounds of Britain’s blue bloods, where one can find dramatic views from the hilltop looking down through Greenwich Park toward the domes of the Old Royal Naval College and the River Thames during sunrise and sunset.

Back in the centre of Greenwich is St. Alfege Church, where Alfege, the archbishop of Canterbury, was martyred in the year 1012. King Henry VIII was also baptized here in 1491, although the medieval church was replaced by the present structure in the early 18th century. It’s this church where Wolfe, the hero of Quebec, is buried.

During a short trip, museums can often take up too much time, but a visit to the National Maritime Museum is essential to understand not only Greenwich’s historical legacy, but this seafaring nation. Some might care to then explore the Cutty Shark, a preserved trading vessel from the time when Britannia ruled the waves. Be warned, however, as this is very touristy and can get quite crowded at times.

The Greenwich Market, open every day but Monday, is full of stalls, including antiques and collectibles. There are also many permanent shops fronting the marketspace, including small galleries and shops. Greenwich Printmakers and M1 Fine Art are both recommended.

HOW TO GET THERE

Airfares through December are as low as $961 out of Detroit to London Heathrow, according to searches on Google Flights and Kayak. For Thanksgiving week, a search on Google Flights found flights from Flint for $1,245 on both American and Delta with a Tuesday departure and Sunday return.

WHERE TO STAY AND EAT

The Greenwich, part of the Mercure brand, is boutique-inspired hotel in a former police building. Best of all is the location: It sits at the end of a street lined with townhouses, right next to a small park and across from a school. Rooms start from £99 (about $160) with breakfast included.

Inside Restaurant is highly recommended with reservations highly suggested. The special offer of three courses for £25 (about $40) is a great value, which isn't the case with many London restaurants. Inside’s imaginative fayre and minimalist interior — wooden chairs are particularly lovely — has made it a local favorite, at least judging by the people and conversations.

For something more British, Goddards at Greenwich has a selection of classic pies, including the very traditional minced beef pie.

 — Dennis Lennox