On this eve of the date commemorating the 12th anniversary of 9/11, one of the worst terrorist attacks to date on American soil, I find myself pondering on the First Amendment, and other precious constitutional protections that we, as Americans, should hold near and dear, but often take for granted.
Free speech is the direct premise of my blog, Unfiltered Speech in a Politically Correct World. Like the fight for women’s suffrage, and the battle to recognize Native Americans as U.S. citizens in their ancestral land, I value this gift of free speech, which has weathered many a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court. Short of causing riots and other civil unrest, free speech allows me to create novels, and weave an opinion among the threads of fiction.
In Big Lies in Small Town (Musa Publishing, September 2012), Kate Sumner explains to her husband, Paul, that “…even Nazis have a constitutional right to freedom of assembly.”
Yeah, I don’t appreciate Nazis or other hate-groups (my own church being guilty of prejudice toward women and the LGBT community, and other unethical behaviors), but I do love the incredible, unbiased power of the U.S. Constitution.
As writers/authors, our community thrives on opinion, unless one has endeavored to be a journalist, which requires objectivity. I write Adult Fiction, so I use artistic license, while deferring to research.
For example—in my novel Road Apples (Musa Publishing, December 2011), my main character, Madeline Benités, makes the observation of how Hispanic people, specifically Mexican-Americans, even as bona fide U.S. citizens, are treated in California, in this single paragraph:
**On this job, it was just me and Juan Jiminéz, who finally thought to mention that his cousin, Humberto, had temporarily moved to Santa Fe to help take care of an ailing mother. Humberto had been born in New Mexico, and was a U.S. citizen, despite his preference for Spanish, which so often causes a knee jerk reaction in Yankees in regard to immigration. I’ve felt that same hostility, being half Filipino, one-eighth Sioux Indian, and though also part-Anglo and American born, being referred to angrily as a “wetback.” I knew that Juan was also an American, having been born in Nogales, Arizona. The fact that he spoke Spanish more often than English, only reflected the depth of his immersion into the Mexican-American community of Santa Clara.**
Madeline’s lover, Wyatt McLain, a registered member of the Quinault Indian Nation of Washington State, voices his own tribulations of living in Tacoma as a Native male. When asked by Madeline why he drives a Crown Victoria, his response is, “…when you’re Indian, and you drive around in a Crown Vic, the police up here assume you’re one of them, and they leave you alone.” Here is an example of literary freedom, coupled with actual social research—that a man of Native descent protects his physical safety by driving a Police Interceptor, which speaks of the racism Indians have historically experienced in the Pacific Northwest.
Many years ago, my family received an impromptu lesson on the First Amendment, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union. One of my children decided to publish an independent newspaper, and distribute it weekly at her middle school. Although the school principal made a point not to interfere, the Vice Principal in charge of discipline was doggedly determined to shut down the indie voice. This—well, I’ll use “gentleman,” instead of “conservative jerk”—resorted to contacting me by telephone. Somewhere on my home computer, I have archived the transcript from this conversation. At the end of our discussion, and to Mr. Gentleman’s frustration, he gained no parental ally, nor did he have a legal leg to stand on in order to shut down the paper. In essence, the Independent News kept churning out every week without fail.
According to the posting by the ACLU on their web site, students at public schools can legally publish an independent newspaper—that is, a publication not sanctioned or financed by the institution itself, such as a school newspaper—and distribute said indie paper on campus without interference by school administration. The only legal loophole the school administration had in order to boot our daughter’s publication off the campus was if her paper incited a riot or other civil disturbances. Our daughter was well regarded among her peers and her teachers, and though definitely a social standout, she was an exemplary student who as an adult is a good citizen. The sociopathic behaviors Mr. Gentleman claimed as a result of the weekly publication were pure hogwash. Privately, I ached for a fight, but when parents don’t agree with anal-retentive-ism, pretty soon people like Mr. Gentleman simply give up on their bullying. Blustering that has worked so well in the past for an authority figure eventually fades to ineffectual whining, given the perfect combination of fact and determination
I believe everyone should fight the good fight, in a constitutional sense. Imagine my delight this morning, when I read the front page of the San Jose Mercury News, and saw this headline, “Judge Rules Against Clothing Retailer.” It seems that priggish Abercrombie & Fitch has been relentless in their pursuit of religious discrimination, in disciplining female Muslim employees for wearing the hijab, or headscarf. In their “Look Policy,” A&F have a generalized and subjective belief that the hijab detracts from A&F’s brand, and would negatively affect sales.
Personally, I suspect that individuals with similar attitudes to the aforementioned “Mr. Gentleman” have been employed by Abercrombie & Fitch, and as a result, derived this ridiculous and highly illegal policy based upon exclusionary Christian religious fundamentalism. I am so very pleased that A&F will now be hit in the money pocket, as I feel this is the only way that large corporations will cease their subterfuge of unconstitutional employee policies based purely upon discrimination. A&F wouldn’t dare terminate the employment of a young Caucasian American male who habitually wore a gold crucifix in plain view of the clientele. Why is it that A&F for so long has been able to discriminate against the religious wearing of the hijab?
The answer lies in the age-old struggle between religions, an eternal Crusade that never fades away. Yes, it’s true that an Islamic extremist group, al-Qaeda, destroyed the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001.
But if you look at history, it was Christian white males who drove my Cherokee forebears from their ancestral land, because it was great farming country, and the whites coveted it. That particular hell-like march has been called the Trail of Tears. You can reference the Dakota uprising of 1862, and the consequent treatment of the tribe by whites, who stole from the Dakota, cheated them and tried to starve them out, a regular course of genocide utilized by the U.S. Government in the 1800s. No wonder the Dakota were so pissed off that they were willing to kill to save their women and children, their very cultural legacy.
And hence, the birthright of the American Indian Movement, which began with Wallace Mad Bear Anderson, a Tuscarora leader in the 1950s in New York State. The push for the city of New York to steal tribal lands in upstate New York for a hydroelectric project ended in a compromise that fed the bitterness Natives experienced in almost every dealing with authority at the federal, state and local level.
The FBI has long considered AIM as a terrorist organization. I recall the AIM occupation of Alcatraz as a young girl in the ’70s, later memorialized in Wilma Mankiller’s autobiographical essays in Every Day is a Good Day: Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Women. I found Mankiller’s words quite inspiring, but hardly acceptable in a mainstream sense. Among the Native women who contributed to the book, there’s a lot of healing in words of forgiveness, acceptance, and the concept of moving on. One author even suggested that the terrible offences that visited her family, from alcoholism to tribal destruction, made her who she is today, and she is thankful for the lessons of these painful events that have instilled a desire to return equal passion to her community.
But the deepest fears in many people arise from the mystery and secrecy of various religions, and related organizations.
As a teenager, my experience with the Masonic order dictated extreme secrecy of the ceremonies. In adulthood, it seems patently ridiculous, the gowns we wore, and the requirement to quote directly from text for each special ceremony. The same could be said for my husband’s association as a third-degree knight with the Catholic organization, Knights of Columbus. It is fascinating how the K of C, much like the Masons, adamantly guard their internal affairs. As wife and partner, we share essentially every aspect of our lives, and five years after “quitting” the K of C, because of the organization’s political alignment with the Mormon Church to pass Proposition 8 in California—making marriage legal only between a man and woman—I have yet to learn what occurred in the solemn and secret ceremonies of the K of C, though I am oddly reminded of “The Flintstones,” and Fred and Barney’s lodge meetings…
My favorite Catholic priest, Father Ben Manding, once stated that every religion and faith is a different pathway to the same God. I love this idea; that my positive thoughts and prayers are secular in nature, and not limited to Catholics only, or just to those who follow the Jesus road. This new way of thinking can halt the terrible “Us & Them” mentality, a desperate tribalism that even the most civilized human being retains, buried in the psyche, and hopefully will allow us all to become more open-minded and loving people.
In Big Lies in Small Town, my character, Rebecca Calhoun, is a Jewish woman married to an Irish Catholic. There is no synagogue in either the real or fictional Susanville, California, but Rebecca, unruffled, faithfully displays the mezuzah on the lintel at the front door, which attracts evangelicals from the Gateway Baptist Church. The proselytizing Christians would be just as baffled had they actually been able to enter the Calhoun residence, as Timothy, Rebecca’s husband, has affixed a heavy wooden crucifix above the fireplace mantel.
In this mix of faiths, differences and destiny, they simply love each another, though Rebecca is often harried, due to the regular chasing of Gateway Baptists off her front porch. In reference to a local minister, Bill Kinnion, who chases his own demons through a belief in the weather patterns as dictated by the Bible and an angry God, Timothy snarls, “Kinnion’s a blood-sucking atheist!”
And, in her gentle wisdom, Rebecca calmly replies, “Tolerance, my love.”
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