Apr 29, 2005

Dumb and Dumberer. Fox Picks Paris, Shaves Bush

I've got a hangover from a rare event last night. No, it wasn't drinking or partying--I wish. It was a presidential press conference, a rarer than a blue moon, in his lordship of G.W. Bush. Well, let's be fair, the guy is just wrapping up a two-month tour touting his Social (in)Security plan. He spoke to many Americans, planted by the Repubs in those fake "town hall" settings. Even last night, our leader couldn't give a straight answer. Anyway, I won't lose sleep over another Bush press conference in prime time for a while now. Hey, did you notice that FOX (in New York at least) cut Bush short towards the end of his conference because it wanted to run The Simple Life with Paris Hilton! Well, I don't really blame Fox News for doing this; Bush wasn't saying anything relevant or illuminating (that would be the day).
I was primed today to write something about the non-news Bush would made last night, but today on a second thought, I'll just let you have a few morsels to chew in your mind during the rush hour on your way home this evening.
The House relented and voted to go back to the old standard of ethics. In the last Congress, the Repub-dominated Ethics Committee had admonished the corrupt Repub leader Delay. That didn't sit well with the leadership, so in the new Congress (emerged after last election in 2004), they threw out the Repub chairman who dared to enforce the ethics rules & punish Delay, and for good measure, they changed the rules to shield Tom "The Hammer" Delay! That was under the Repub plan to establish, first, one-party rule, and then a theocratic state.
But, the pile of dung kept getting bigger and stinkier and now the Repub Majority leader Delay is so filthy that the Repubs are realizing that holding on to someone who's covered in elephant dung is not a good thing.
I expect things to return to normal as the Ethics Committee will now be used to go after those Dems who started the whole thing against Delay. As any zookeeper would say, incompatible animals will soon attack each other, especially when the food is scarce. Let's keep it that way, otherwise those omnivores will turn on us for fresh meat. This has happened before. Actually, this was the expectation of the Repub leadership: don't attack us, we won't attack you. Sure, we'll have an ethics committee! Wink, wink, ya know what I mean?

Apr 22, 2005

Benedictus Catholicus: A Pope for the 21st Century?

I've been debating with myself whether to post an essay about the election of the new pope, but, in the end, I couldn't resist. No other church has such a world-wide identifiable figure at its leadership like the Catholic Church while having a big influence in people's lives. The last pope arguably was the most identifiable person on the planet. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is not as famous but he is a known quality. If the past is a guide for the future, he will be a very conservative pope.
But, what does this mean? Should the church change because of the times, or just because its members don't follow all of its doctrines? Is religious dogma true for ever and ever? How about the infallibility of the pope? There are many questions that we get to ask on this historic occasion. I think any authoritarian institution has little room to wiggle on the basic tenets, but the pope's own views and sensibilities can shape the Catholic Church's policies. These policies are the result of Vatican Councils, papal edicts, tradition and the pope's own interpretations.
For example, why is the use of condoms or birth control against Catholic dogma? Is in written in the holy book somewhere? My answer is that the church is still uptight about human sexuality. While condoms have been proven to prevent deadly diseases, why is the church against them? And, it's against them even within the confines of marriage! In Africa, the most dangerous act a woman can do is to get married! Most HIV-infected African women are married and the culprits are their husbands! Yet, the Catholic Church and the Bush administration are against condom distribution, any sex education that mentions birth control and HIV-AIDS.

Amidst the litany of praise for the new pope, it's worth taking a closer look at Cardinal Ratzinger's views and actions. Once the church wants to play a role in our political discourse, we have every right to engage it in critical discussion. Remember last summer when many church leaders came out against John Kerry and every Democrat who supported a woman's right to choose? In 2004, the Vatican's guardian of theology, Cardinal Ratzinger, ordered bishops to
refuse communion to politicians who supported abortion rights. In a letter that was obtained by the Italian magazine L'Espresso, Ratzinger wrote that abortion supporters "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present themselves for holy communion." I wouldn't care as much if this were kept strictly within church membership, but when the issue became about not voting for anyone who favored a woman's choice then it became a whole different matter. Anyone can believe in the devil and that Kerry was Satan's pupil, but a religious view can't be imposed on the rest of us. Not that the argument about "cooperating with evil" was particularly convincing if I may say so. Zeus, for one, told me otherwise! Now, back off because my religious claim is just as valid as yours!

Something that was way too obvious to me since John Paul II fell into his death bed was the absence of women in the whole process--in the funeral, the religious ceremonies and the eventual selection of the new pontiff. Not even ..altar girls were allowed. Well, I did see lots of nuns in St. Peter's Square, but like women elsewhere they were just observers. Women have been kept subservient, second class if you like, and out of leadership positions in the Catholic church. Don't expect this to change soon. Ratzinger has written a letter to bishops worldwide decrying a sort of feminism that makes women "adversaries" of men! I wonder if he's in favor of any other sort of feminism? I doubt it.
The new pope is a very convinced man for he believes in the absolute truth; a truth that apparently has been discovered by his church. On Monday, in what was essentially a keynote address for the conclave, he delivered his last homily as a cardinal, attacking "the dictatorship of relativism," which he said denies absolute truth. He took a shot at critics who regard views like his own as out of the mainstream. "To have a clear faith according to the church's creed is today often labeled fundamentalism," he said. I suppose that he's even more certain now since his stance was confirmed, no doubt by divine intervention, when he donned the cloak of papal infallibility! That's another resounding "no" to liberation theology. Dissent won't be encouraged, and the take-it-or-leave-it will be the order of the day during his pontificate.

OK, we agree, Ratzinger is not a modern guy. This brings me back to sex! The Catholic Church forbids priests from getting married. I know that this is not written in the holy book. Originally, this had nothing to do with celibacy--though celibacy was added as a reason later--but it had to do with land rights and inheritance. You see, the early church was losing property and wealth when its married priests died. Get it?
Of course the biggest hang-up is about recreational sex, you know, sex for pleasure. It might be the self-indulgence aspect of it that bothers the church, though supposedly a person can be celibate but gorge himself in all sorts of indulgent excesses not explicitly forbidden by the dogma! So, recreational sex is no good, hence the Catholic Church's opposition to birth control and to proper sex education by the way. Not only you're not supposed to do it, but you shouldn't be exposed to the proper academic/scientific knowledge of human sexuality. President Bush agrees on this one. No wonder why teenage pregnacies and abortions have been steadily increasing under his tutelage! Oh, yeah, you've guessed it, the rates are higher in the so-called red states and the Bible-drenched South.

Ratzinger has called homosexuality a tendency toward "intrinsic moral evil." I wonder if active homosexuality is considered grounds for excommunication? Probably not! Getting divorced or having an abortion are. The latter are considered greater evils than the sins of Catholic priests (all male remember?) who sexually molested thousands of young boys! I haven't heard that anyone of those perverts being excommunicated. Have you? Hold your breath, not because it'll happen soon, but because it stinks!
As the Vatican kept in the limelight the disgraced Cardinal Bernard
Law (read the earlier post, Cardinal Sin) it reminded the American Catholics that their recent most painful experience barely registered in the Holy See. Would you guess that Cardinal Ratzinger played a role in this? Three years ago, when the clergy sex abuse scandal erupted in the United States, he blamed the resulting uproar on a media conspiracy! "I am personally convinced," he told reporters in Murcia, Spain, in 2002, "that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the U.S., is a planned campaign." Ratzinger's Vatican office was in charge of reviewing cases of priests charged with sex abuse. I wonder if he's changed his mind since. Just the other day, the Vatican claimed "statehood" to escape culpability in a sex abuse lawsuit and urged Condi Rice to intervene on its behalf.

I understand that many people feel uncomfortable or turn hostile when their faith or church are being criticized, but once their beliefs and their organized religious institutions become part in the shaping of public policy, then I believe it's fair game. Why is it OK to debate and ask for proof,use reason to reach a conclusion in other matters, but when a religious argument is put forth the treatment should change? When they say that abortion should be illegal--even if it only leads to millions of unsafe abortions (especially in South America and the developing countries)-- then we do have a fight in our hands.
When they say that homosexuals are evil doers and shouldn't have equal civil rights, then we liberals have to object. If a woman is being excommunicated from the church for having an abortion it's one thing, but we have to object to the church's drive to influence public policy on this issue and restrict a woman's right to reproductive choice.

Take for example what happened in Argentina recently. Bishop Antonio Baseotto suggested in March that a high Argentine government official should be subjected to the biblical punishment of being "cast into the sea" for suggesting abortion be legalized. In response, Argentina's president, Nestor Kirchner, refused to recognize the bishop, prompting the Vatican to make the odd and unexplained charge that Buenos Aires was restricting religious freedom! The issue, while mollified slightly in recent days, challenged relations between Buenos Aires and Rome and reopened the abortion debate there. Activists and organizations have been making public appeals for legalization, while dozens of pro-choice supporters ran ads in major Argentine papers calling for legalization of abortion.

In Brazil, the world's largest Catholic country, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has come under fire from the church for proposals to lighten restrictions on abortion. In an interview published in early April, Rio de Janeiro Cardinal Eusebio Scheid charged at the left-leaning president, saying "a real Catholic cannot be in favor of abortion." Lula has defended his faith while refusing to back down. Pope John Paul II himself fell at odds with Lula's government and many Brazilians on issues such as contraception, abortion and "Marxist liberation theology."
Actually, there is a study done by
Catholics For A Free Choice regarding the views of people in Latin America regarding traditional church doctrine. It's an eye-opener! Well, maybe not for Pope Benedict's Vatican, but for those who realize that the times are leaving the Catholic Church behind.

There was a time when the church was the sole authority, it explained the universe, but that was then. Now there has to be a debate within its fold about the direction and the role the church should play in the 21st century. In Europe, very few people attend religious services any more and church membership is rapidly shrinking. In the U.S. the Protestants and Catholics are losing to the more fundamentalist versions of Christianity. The Vatican is hoping that the Third World will bolster the ranks of the faithful. Yet, Ratzinger thinks it's a good idea to have mass in the Latin language! [no, Latin Americans don't speak Latin as the former VP Danny Boy Quale once told us!] It seems to me that the church has to think hard about its conservatism. Too much change within a closed, authoritarian system can result in everything falling apart, I do realize this. As a matter of fact, closed systems that are more rigid and offer a more absolute truth seem to have been attracting new converts, the "born-again" and the rapture right in this country! Perhaps an accommodation can be reached without undermining the foundations. After all, what's good about a foundation when it stands supporting something with no one in it?

I don't understand, for example, why Cardinal Ratzinger insisted that communion must involve wheat (gluten) and therefore, in essence, denying communion to a person with
celiac disease! The new pope probably subscribes to the slippery slope theory--once you allow a revision, god knows where it'll stop. Yet, it was Jesus who challenged society and whose gospel message was radical. Has everything been settled since? Have the Catholic Church and Benedict XVI found the only path to heaven? You may choose to believe so, but I prefer a more humane and flexible church, because the church does provide comfort and moral guidance to those who need it or can't find it elsewhere.
On the other hand, this doesn't mean that life should be viewed only as a catharsis stage before a person enters heaven. The church has to be a bit more practical and try a bit harder to enhance the quality of life for the most underprivileged persons here and now. There has been a symbiotic relationship between the lay people and the hierarchy because both needed each other in order to survive. But, the equation is changing, so the question for the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict is: which is the needier party today? One of the two apparently has more choices than the other.

Andrew Sullivan, who's a devout Catholic, conservative, and openly gay, is been following the deeds of Cardinal Ratzinger for the last 10 years. He writes along the same lines of this blog on the issues, but has some additional "gems" regarding the views and policies of Ratzi, a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI.
4/26/05: I watched Wide Angle on PBS tonight titled White Smoke on the selection of the new pope. I urge you to read the articles on PBS's web site, especially the interview of James Caroll. He is also a devout Catholic advocating progressive change in the church. For those who feel threatened or insulted by a secular person like myself when I ask questions and offer criticisism, it may be easier to hear views from people who have accepted the basic doctrine but also think that some changes are necessary if not overdue already.

Apr 19, 2005

A Case of Nuts and Bolton

In the last couple weeks, it seems that every day there is a new disturbing case regarding Bush's nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton is clearly unfit for this position. The Republican leadership is pulling all strings in the Senate to push him through, but we need more time to uncover all the torrid details of this man's "diplomatic" career.
Call your Senator (Senate switchboard, 1-877-762-8762) and urge a vote against Bolton. You can send an email to your senator too. Note those senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who are conducting the hearings now.
Bush's in-your-face politics continues to irritate thinking people with a cosmopolitan world-view and those who care about our country's policies and its effects on people and the environment. The U.S. cannot be the bully of the world, but it has to be the leader because it commands respect. Fear and brute force won't get you very far, especially in the 21st century when many battles will be decided on the economic, scientific and cultural fronts.

It seems that Condi, our new ubber-alles secretary, is telling her subordinates at her Dept. of State not to release any information that could "adversely affect the nomination." This is, of course, illegal, but, hey, it's not that much of a big deal in Bush's reign. By the way, the ..liberal media buried this nugget in a story in today's (4/20/05) Washington Post. (I should do a story on the so-called liberal media one of these days.)
Please don't be harsh on Ms. Rice! She's only obeying and protecting her "husband" like any sensible woman should do. No?

Keep your activist form in shape, because next week there will be a huge fight to save minority rights and our democracy from the Repubs. They're getting ready to use the "nuclear option" in order to promote their radical agenda. Someone has to stop the slide back to the Dark Ages,and that someone is us!

Apr 11, 2005

Cardinal Sin

The Vatican Doesn't Get It, Or, It Has Adopted a Page from Bush's Playbook
I don't claim to fully understand religion, but the concept of forgiveness is well within my grasp. However, it seems that the Vatican has borrowed a page from G.W. Bush's playbook of in-your-face politics. You know, the concept of rewarding failure, appointing unqualified persons to high office, not taking responsibility for mistakes, distorting the truth, lying, and ..forgiving oneself for past (and why not, future) sins!
Thus, the Vatican is sticking to these Bush principles while talking about moral values from one side of its mouth. Over the weekend, I've heard several religious figures, some speaking on behalf of the Vatican, who told us that forgiveness is a good thing to dispense. I agree. Forgiveness is necessary sometimes but should not be given blindly; not to repeat offenders and the unrepentant. Some people deserve a second chance, some people simply deserve shame & punishment.
What infuriates me is the way those "pious" people talk about forgiveness. Excuse me, but it is up to the victim to forgive! It is not up to the perpetrator to invoke forgiveness and move on! Let's apply this concept in the case of the former Archbishop of Boston,
Cardinal Bernard Law who resigned due to the sex scandals in the Catholic Church, particularly in Massachusetts.
To put it bluntly--as we should, to make the harsh point--many priests, in many districts, for many decades raped many boys and sexually harassed god-knows how many thousands of children. Cardinal Law resigned, not out of shame or self-critique, but only after a judge decided to unseal court records that included a letter from the cardinal commending priests even though he knew there was so much evidence of them being child molesters! Law stubbornly refused to resign for a year, until he was pushed out by public outrage and pressure from ..below, including his parishioners!
Similar sex crimes took place in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and I'd bet in every other state. What did the Church do? First, it tried to deny and hide it. Finally, it admitted that its priests sexually abused the children of its faithful, and it is now paying millions of dollars to the victims. The amazing thing was that, although the church hierarchy knew about the abuses, it did nothing to protect the children! For the most part, it just shuffled the perps around when the rumors got out of hand in the local parish. So, the wolves got to chew on some fresh meat elsewhere. And, they did, because those sick persons couldn't stop, and the church didn't stop them.
Which brings us to the big brother, the pope John Paul II and his cohorts at the Vatican. Instead of acting quickly, like God striking down a sinner (as if this ever happens!) they remained publicly silent. Actually in private, many cardinals expressed their dismay at those Americans who blow things out of ..proportion and have the "audacity to sue their own Church!"
Like Bush, the Catholic Church doesn't punish anyone, no matter what their crime, as long as they pledge allegiance to the chief and follow the official line. Not only they don't punish the failures or, at the very least, shoo them away, but instead they reward them!
After Cardinal Law resigned in 2003, he was given a spacious apartment and a prestigious post in the Vatican! His pompous title? Get this: Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major! Wow! Well done brother Bernard! Bring your expertise to Rome now! Oh, and since you're here, why don't you take a high-visibility role in the pope's funeral? Good boy. You're the kind of image we want to project to the world, especially to those Americans back home. We might confuse them a bit more...
As the New York Times observed, by permitting Cardinal Law to take the limelight in Rome just when the church is mourning the death of John Paul, the cardinals have reminded American Catholics that their most painful recent chapter barely registered in the Vatican!

By conservative estimates, like the John Jay study, there have been at least 10,000 sexually abused persons within the Catholic Church since the 1950s. The number of incidents is many times higher that that since many children were abused repeatedly for several years. Many parishes and other church officials refused to participate in the study. The Catholic Church in the U.S. has paid anywhere between $600 million to over a billion dollars to the victims. Sexual abuse should be dealt as one strike and you're out! Unfortunately, too many Church leaders,like Cardinal B. Law, failed to exercise their authority to correct the problem. They, instead, revealed a vacancy in the moral department.

Apr 6, 2005

The Pope Has to Be Catholic. But the Times Have Changed

With the passing of Pope John Paul II, we take the opportunity to peer into the legacy of this extraordinary man. Obviously, there are varying evaluations of his pontificate for the things he tried to change and for those things he wouldn't. Much of the talk centers around this pope leading the Catholic Church into the new millennium, the "new springtime of Christianity," as he called it. That he did. But, a church is not a very flexible institution. Actually, its positions are dogmatic since they represent values and ideas inspired by God and are not relevant to space and time. Or are they? At least that's the concept behind a system of beliefs that are based on divine revelation; it's a take it or leave it proposition.
I do not hold such view, I confess. I do not believe that truth is found by divine revelation. It is rather found by research, examination, rationality, science, and it's based on human experience. It allows for the possibility of revision once something better comes along. Errors in judgment should be corrected. It's a Catholic tenet that the pope is infallible, at least when it comes to interpreting religious doctrines, but this applies only to those who choose to believe it.
I'm not going to go into a dissertation on the basis of human morality and human behavior--especially the need for religious dogma and institutions. There will be other opportunities for such. This is about John Paul II, and one thing certain about him is that he acted on principle. He, like any other pope, had to fight secularism and, to some extend, modernity. Granted, the church isn't there to explain the physical universe any longer, but it has to draw upon its tradition and centuries-old authority to maintain its leadership among the faithful. Arguably, closed systems must remain authoritarian to survive, otherwise revisionistic tendencies usually bring the demise of them.
For example, Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost didn't improve the communist system but brought about its collapse. China will follow too. [its economic reforms are not matched by political reforms so it's more stable right now, but inevitably it will have to surrender some political control to continue its economic growth; plus the Chinese are getting more educated, more in touch with the rest of the world, and having increasing expectations]

When Karol Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, many, especially American priests ordained in the 1960s, hoped that he would break with tradition and bring some change in the Catholic Church. He didn't. On the contrary, he embodied religious conservatism. Under his leadership, there was no elevation of the position of women in the church--ordination of women wasn't seriously discussed, if at all--and he locked in the church for many years to come by appointing almost all of the cardinals and by his actions as the pontiff.
The question is how much a pope or any church can change religious doctrine to accommodate for cultural changes. The pope has to Catholic, in other words, he must adhere to long-established principles and religious traditions. However, there is some room to wiggle. In my opinion, John Paul II had his best years earlier on, when he pressed for change in the communist eastern Europe and even in countries with right-wing dictatorships. I think he played an important and positive role in transforming some of those cruel societies. His church benefited from that change, but a change from oppressing regimes was good nevertheless.
Later, he wrote and spoke about the harsh face of capitalism, and tried to illuminate the role of Jesus and his efforts to elevate human dignity, promote social justice for the society's less fortunate. He was against the death penalty, opposed the war in Iraq and condemned the human rights abuses at the Abu Graib prison. He was critical of the crude materialism exhibited by the U.S. and our lack of a social net for the underprivileged and the sick.

Yet, he remained largely silent about the huge scandals in America regarding the sexual abuse of thousands of children by Catholic priests. This abuse most likely has been going in other parishes all over Europe and the rest of the world, but only in America we make such a big stink over it, and we sue too! This view has been the unofficial reaction in the Vatican, something that most certainly has put any American cardinal out of contention for the papacy. The American Catholics are considered "too liberal" in the eyes of the Holy See.
Sex is a big taboo with organized religion. This pope wasn't much different in his approach. He insisted on a strictly male and celibate priesthood. He opposed abortion (the right of a woman to choose), and birth control.
When dogma doesn't allow room for reality, then we have a problem. If you think that sex is not to be used for pleasure, but only for procreation, then you have a big problem. Most Catholics want birth control. Even within the confines of marriage, Catholic women want options, including abortion and, if all else fails, a divorce.
The issue of contraception is a big one, especially when considering the HIV-AIDS pandemic that has been killing millions, many of whom in Catholic Africa where the Church is gaining most of its new converts.
The stubbornness against the use of condoms in preventing the spread of this horrible and incurable disease is almost criminal. This is a clear case when religious dogma--as expressed by an "infallible" pope--is allowing millions of people to die because they either don't get the proper sex education or are denied access to condoms. Today in Africa, the most dangerous thing a woman can do is to get married! The vast majority of women with HIV-AIDS in Africa are married, infected by their husbands! In Mother Teresa's Calcutta (one of the many cities in Asia where prostitution flourishes) teenage girls are being infected by killer diseases because condoms are not available and sexually active persons are not aware of disease-prevention methods.

John Paul II's pontificate obviously has many meanings. As a non-Catholic, I can only evaluate him from the outside. There are big philosophical differences between the secular humanists and organized religion, almost as many as among the various religious doctrines and their followers. Perhaps we can find common ground in the respect and enhancement of human life which should be examined and fully enjoyed. As a liberal, I would like all religions to be more humanistic, more in touch with real-life issues of the common folk. To do whatever possible to help people here and now. To alleviate fear, disease, poverty, and to help people avoid life-wasting predicaments. To elevate human dignity of both sexes, and, frankly, to make the world a better place to be.

Apr 2, 2005

Hippocrates and Hypocrites Are Not the Same

There is a worrisome trend (among others that threaten our civil liberties) in the healthcare system. It pits pharmacists' moral beliefs versus women's legal rights. The Michigan State House passed a law giving pharmacists immunity if they refuse to fill prescriptions based on moral grounds. This, in practical terms, means that these people, who object to a single woman's birth control right, are allowed to practice their religious moral beliefs instead of fulfilling their professional and explicit obligations!

Anyone can believe anything he wants, including that birth control is immoral, even a form of abortion! Now, if someone fails to meet the secular standards under which he's licensed to practice, and is allowed to discriminate based on religious grounds, then why stop there? How about refusing treatment & prescriptions to homosexuals? And, can the moral/sex police be far behind? I mean that's the case in many countries, ie. Saudi Arabia, our ally. Practicing medicine, working in the healthcare system under any capacity denotes certain inviolable obligations: to treat everyone and dispense care without discrimination. Otherwise, anyone who objects to this humanistic rule, should seek employment in other fields.

Why should I be subjected to religious discrimination? Why, say, their religious version is superior to your Hellenistic mythology (which gave us the Hippocratic Oath, still taken) or to your girlfriend's wiccan? This is obviously absurd!

That's why every time a bigoted numbskull is elected to public office, it's a blow to reason, modernity and science. The president, for example, holds the biggest, loudest magaphone, and, thus, can shape public opinion and move the country in a certain direction--in Dubya's case, backwards to the Middle Ages.
The Michigan law has provisions to bar discrimination on racial grounds. That's hypocritical. I don't think it is OK to give me my prescription because I'm white, but then, I suppose, I have to show some ..marriage certificate before I get birth control items.

As a liberal, I believe in choice and responsibility. I'm the guardian of my body. Any medical treatment, even life-style choices, should be a matter of privacy, between my physician and myself. Any woman who doesn't want to, or it's dangerous for her to get pregnant, should not only have the legal right to her choice, but she should also have unfettered access to all legal drugs and treatments! Having a right without being able to exercise is utterly pointless.

Moral choices give us imperatives on how to live our lives. It is my belief that not all arguably moral values are equal, so it would be best if they were kept as a private guide and not as an excuse to be forced upon others. It seems to me as a moral obligation for those who object to birth control not to become practitioners in healthcare, especially in places were such an objector is the only pharmacist available.
I can't resist but offer the following point as food for thought: Can Rastafarians, who smoke pot as part of their religious rituals and beliefs, act with immunity like the Christian pharmacists who think birth control is a sin? Shouldn't we legalize pot on religious grounds?

Unless, you're of the Pat Robertson frame of mind(less)... that thinks all other religions and even Christian (ie. Protestants!) denominations are servants of Satan!
Did I mention that God told Rev. Falwell that we--the ACLU, the feminists, the lesbians/gays, the secular humanists & atheists--brought the wrath of his god to us on September 11, 2001? I wonder how his people would react to Falwell's last visit to the ER--funny, they all seek science to save themselves from death-- if he were met by a doctor who thought Falwell was a sinner and refused to treat him....

Two states - South Dakota and Arkansas - already have laws protecting pharmacists who refuse to fill birth-control prescriptions on moral or religious grounds. Ten other states, including Wisconsin, are considering such legislation - Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. For Information, visit Planned Parenthood and NARAL.
Want to compare statements by Falwell, Robertson, and ..Osama bin Laden? Click here.