Friday, July 14, 2006

Door-to-Door Soul Service

Trying to close my eyes before takeoff, a man sitting behind is shouting into his cell phone. Impossible to drown out his overbearing voice, I soon gather from the conversation that he is a religious man and speaking to a police officer somewhere about missionaries for his church. Praying a flight attendant would insist he turn his phone off, he continued arguing about their rights to solicit religious information and pamphlets door-to-door in this particular neighborhood. “It is part of our first amendment right,” he demanded. I wish there was a right to peace and quiet!

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court ruled for a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witness and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, a nonprofit publisher of church literature, in striking down the ordinance regulating uninvited peddling and solicitation. The ordinance had required Jehovah’s Witnesses or other door-to-door advocates for religious or political causes to get a permit. The Jehovah’s Witnesses countered that the ordinance restricts an array of First Amendment freedoms, including of freedom of speech, press, association and religion.

The court had granted certiorari to decide the question: “Does a municipal ordinance that requires one to obtain a permit prior to engaging in the door-to-door advocacy of a political cause and to display upon demand, the permit, which contains one’s name, violate the First Amendment protection accorded to anonymous pamphleteering or discourse?”

Ruling in an 8-1 decision, the court looked to pass precedent in Murdock v Pennsylvania when then Court noted that “hand distribution of religious tracts is an age-old form of missionary evangelism-as old as the history of printing presses. This form of religious activity occupies the same high estate under the First Amendment as do worship in the churches and preaching from the pulpits.” First, just because it is “age-old” does not make it right. Second, printing presses and therefore, newspapers, are optional. You CHOOSE to have a newspaper delivered to your door. Third, going to someone’s door and basically putting that person in a position of discourse is completely different from that person choosing to go to a church and engage in the discussion. Plus, this ordinance does not restrict public areas like stores, street corners, restaurants and parks.

Although the petitioners (Watchtower Bible, et al) did not challenge the procedure by which a resident my prohibit solicitation, it still puts the burden on the resident. In order to bar people from door-to-your-door canvassing, you must file a “No Solicitation Registration Form” with the mayor AND post a “No Solicitation” sign on your property. Not to mention, having to do this defaces their property. Although not a permanent structure, an unsightly one at best. And what is the solicitor is blind? Does the “No Solicitation” still apply to them? After all, the law states “and” which means a property owner needs to do both.

The lone high court dissenter was Chief Justice Rehnquist. I always knew I liked this guy! In the decision, he affirmed, “The town had little reason to suspect that the negligible burden of having to obtain a permit runs afoul of the First Amendment. For over 60 years, we have categorically stated that a permit requirement for door-to-door canvassers, which gives no discretion to the issuing authority, is constitutional. The District Court and Court of Appeals, relying on our cases, upheld the ordinance. The Court today, however, abruptly changes course and invalidates the ordinance. It is not clear what test the Court is applying, or under which part of that indeterminate test the ordinance fails. Under a straightforward application of the applicable First Amendment framework, however, the ordinance easily passes muster.”

The ordinance does not bar people from canvassing but simply allows a bit more security and accountability. Rehnquist also looked to this point, “More than half a century ago we recognized that canvassers, “whether selling pots or distributing leaflets, may lessen the peaceful enjoyment of a home,” and that “burglars frequently pose as canvassers, either in order that they may have a pretense to discover whether a house is empty and hence ripe for burglary, or for the purpose of spying out the premises in order that they may return later.” Martin v. City of Struthers.”

In striking the Struthers ordinance down, Justice Hugo Black wrote: “While door to door distributors of literature may be either a nuisance or a blind for criminal activities, they may also be useful members of society engaged in the dissemination of ideas in accordance with the best tradition of free discussion.” And what if you do not want to be a part of the discussion? I know you can just not answer your door but what if you were outside in your front yard when a canvasser stopped in? Are you forced to go into your house in order to not be bothered? The question arises of were does private domain start?

An interesting side note: In Justice Stevens opinion, he notes that “Although Jehovah’s Witnesses do not consider themselves to be “solicitors” because they make no charge for their literature or their teaching…They also explained at trial that they did not apply for a permit because they derive their authority to preach from Scripture. “For us to seek a permit from a municipality to preach we feel would almost be an insult to God…””

When you need an answer, just say it in the name of “God”.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Immigration: Part IV-Final Thought

The International Monetary Fund estimated that Mexicans in the United States sent $20 billion to Mexico last year, the country’s second largest source of foreign income after oil. The majority of people are coming to the U.S. for money! People do not want to leave their homes and families, but when their governments do not support worker rights for fair pay and fair treatment, there are very few options. Those that do come here for American values and ideals, can get caught up in a decade long process.

Entering a country illegally just because you come from an unjust nation does not give you a right to break the law. “If someone wants to be a citizen of this country then let them enter our borders with our permission. Those without permission are illegal and should be arrested and imprisoned.” (Paul Geiss) There are approximately 590,000 immigrants in the country who have blatantly ignored orders to leave. (New York Times, 4/21/06) “Imagine turning more than 11 million people into criminals, and anyone who helps them,” said Angela Sanbrano, executive director of Central American Resource Center of Los Angeles. “To be treated as criminals after all the work they did isn’t fair,” commented Fabricio Fierros, an American-born son of mushroom-pickers who came to the United States illegally from Mexico. Breaking the law does make you a criminal! America does not owe illegal aliens any rights. If you truly want to be an American, then abiding by American laws is the first necessary step.

Unfortunately, I firmly believe the American government has made the legal line seem like an endless gantlet of bureaucracy. To think we have non-US citizens fighting and dying for this country every day. Those people truly love America and yet we do not even bother to put in an express lane for them.

Currently, a standard path to citizenship can seem endless. On top of that, naturalized citizens then wait again to get their family members to become naturalized. So many look to anchor babies in order to solidify an American citizenship. In California and Arizona, greater than one in five babies are born to undocumented mothers and nationwide, about one in ten babies are born to illegal alien parents. At birth these babies automatically become legitimate U.S. citizens and have full rights and protection under our laws. Plus, they have the ability to sponsor their parents as citizens once they reach age 21. (Fusion Magazine, Jan/Feb 2006) “…Any baby born in this country to any illegal alien, should not be an American citizen. So many of these criminals come to the U.S. just to have babies (which of course the American taxpayer pays for) just so it will make their babies Americans and harder for us to deport their parents.” (Paul Geiss) Officials in Los Angeles…estimate that these babies account for at least thirty percent of all Aid to Families with Dependent Children cases. (Fusion Magazine, Jan/Feb 2006) The largest group of illegal immigrant patients is pregnant women... under a 2002 amendment to federal regulations, the births are covered by federal taxes through Medicaid because their children automatically become American citizens. (New York Times, 7/18/06) Guest worker provisions suggested by the Bush Administration would expand the number of foreign-born citizens by tens of thousands.

For public hospitals and maternity wards in border states, "their care has swelled costs for struggling hospitals and increased the health care bills that fall to states and counties." (New York Times, 7/18/06) Why it must be hard to deny someone care, there are far too many American citizens, that work hard, pay taxes and still do not get the coverage and help they need and deserve because monies alloted for them, have been used on illegals. "A study ordered by commissioners in Harris County, which includes Houston, found that about one-fifth of the patients in its health system last year were immigrants without documents, most of them from Mexico. Their numbers had increased 44 percent in three years, the study found, and their care had cost the county $97.3 million, about 14 percent of the health system’s total operating costs." (New York Times, 7/18/06)

A side argument to this might be that health care costs too much to begin with, health care professionals deserve to make higher salaries. These people (for the most part...I know there are exceptions), work hard, study hard and save lives. I do not believe we should lower the cost of what health care professionals get paid but rather look to companies to pay for it. Until our government puts their foot down and insists that companies pay accordingly for their employees health insurance, these people then have to look to the state and/or federal government for help. And too many get turned away.

I sympathize with the plight befallen on those that live under corrupt and dehumanizing governments but all too often we ignore our responsibilty and coware from the horrors we see. I implore people to become involved in their government or at least, their community. For example, Mexican citizens need to start standing up for their rights IN MEXICO. If people put as much effort into the recent protests and demonstrations in America for 'Illegal Immigrant Rights' as they did in Mexico, then the current Presidential election would not be on the fence but would have outright elected Anders Manual Lopez Obrador…a Presidential candidate fighting for worker’s rights and the poor. You must be the change you wish to see in the world. - Mahatma Gandi