By James C. Harrington
Director, Texas Civil Rights Project
Americans are pretty tone-deaf when it comes to Labor Day. Many don't even know that labor unions created the holiday in 1882 to honor workers, mostly immigrants, who were organizing themselves against appalling wages and inhumane working conditions. Instead, we've devalued Labor Day to an end-of-summer holiday and cheapened it into a three-day sales weekend.
We rarely pause to remember, let alone appreciate, the workers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who struggled and sometimes lost their lives to improve wages and working conditions for their families and posterity. They made our lives better.
Labor Day is when we should pay respect for the self-sacrifice, jailings, beatings and sometimes death they endured. Their struggle for justice and dignity brought about the six-day week and then the five-day week; narrowed working hours to 10 hours daily and then eight hours; brought about the minimum wage and overtime pay; and gave rise to the idea of national health care.
Labor Day is also a time for us to take stock of how workers currently are treated and respected. Unfortunately, millions of Americans are denied this respect because of unemployment, underemployment, unjust wages, wage theft, abuse and exploitation.
Even with modest recovery, the economy has not improved the standard of living overall, especially for the poor and working poor. More than 3.5 million people have been jobless for over six months, and that does not include the millions more who have simply lost hope.
This jobs gap pushes wages down. Half of the country's workers earn less than $27,500 per year, which means a typical family has to hold down two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Not only that, but fewer jobs provide medical insurance or retirement benefits, which eats away at any hope of disposable income for family enjoyment.
More than 46 million people live in poverty, including 16 million children. The economy is not creating an adequate number of jobs that allow workers to provide for themselves and their families. Jobs, wages and poverty are intertwined. The only way to reduce the widening gap between the affluent and the poorest people in our nation is by creating quality jobs that provide just compensation and benefits.
In many communities in America and Texas, wealth and basic needs are separated by only a few blocks or bus stops. While an immense number of people still lack the absolute necessities of life, some live in luxury or squander wealth. How can persons honor one another when extravagance and poverty exist side by side?
We should only support businesses that promote human dignity, pay just wages and protect workers' rights. There are three ways we can do this:
Do "consumer/worker rights" shopping. We should always buy products that are ethically manufactured and are union-made because they guarantee fair wages and working conditions. There are two good websites for this: www.ethicalconsumer.org and www.unionlabel.org.
We should only patronize those stores, restaurants and coffee shops that pay their employees justly and treat them fairly.
We can raise our political voice to support local minimum and living-wage ordinances and municipal contracts, especially since Congress cannot bring itself to act.
On this Labor Day, let's commit ourselves to do everything we can in our daily lives to support the workers of our community and country. Supporting them in justice and respect benefits us all. We are, after all, one community.
Earlier this week in Lone Star, in the heart of the East Texas Oil Fields, nearly 1,000 people gathered outside a U.S. Steel facility to voice their opinions on a trade case that will be decided in Washington, DC.
That’s significant. In a community the size of Lone Star, 1,000 people means more than half of the town showed up. But such a crowd is understandable when you consider the stakes: The decision on that aforementioned case – to be meted out by trade commissioners at the U.S. Department of Commerce next month – could have a serious effect on the economy in Morris County, Texas and half a dozen surrounding rural communities.
But to answer why, we have to first consider the growth of America’s domestic energy industry – and whether it will achieve the full economic potential of which it’s capable.
The Northeast Tarrant County Democrats organized a welcome committee for the Snowball Express in Fort Worth on Sunday, Dec 2nd. The Snowball Express honors those military families who have lost a loved one in the service of their country with destination vacations for the children and spouses. They were on their way to Billy Bob's to hear Gary Sinise and his band "Lt. Dan Band". Other organizations that were represented include the Southwest Democrats, Organized Labor, Mid-Cities, and Tarrant County for Obama.
The saga continues in Kountze, Texas over cheerleaders using religious scripture on football banners. Governor Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott say they support freedom of all religion but their actions show their intent is to establish a defacto Christian government claiming there's a "moral basis for the legal code" outlined in the Ten Commandments. The truth is as more nonpartisan groups review the facts in this case its increasingly beginning to look like the cheerleaders are being exploited for political gain. The KISD legal council and Texas Association of School Boards have backed the Freedom From Religion Foundation in their opposition to the banners, and now the Anti-Defamation League and Jim Walsh managing editor of the Texas School Administrators Legal Digest have also joined their ranks. In his letter Walsh pointed out that the superintendent made the right call the first time. He made the distinction between a place kicker making the sign of the cross and "words placed on a banner, held by cheerleaders in school uniforms," It was reference to a comment by Greg Abbott that sought to equate the two in defense of the students' activities as individual religious expression. Walsh continued regarding the superintendent:
He sought legal advice. Then he followed it. The legal advice he got was right on the money. It took courage and integrity for Superintendent Weldon to act on that advice—courage that neither Governor Perry nor Attorney General Abbott have displayed. They chose to play politics when they should have provided leadership. Leadership involves respecting the law of the land whether you agree with it or not.
The two state officials held a joint press conference in which they tried to out do each in other in their show of support for the cheerleaders and their disdain for atheists. Perry broadly referred to atheists as a "very vocal and litigious minority" who are hell bent on silencing religious expression. In an impressive feat of double speak the Governor said, "We're a nation thats build on the concept of free expression of ideas…and the concept that the original law is God's law outlined in the Ten Commandments." Perry then went on to thank AG Abbott and his staff for "efforts to support and liberate the people of our state to be able to worship." Abbott for his part upped the anti-atheist rhetoric saying:
We will not allow atheist groups from outside the state of Texas to come in to the state, to use menacing and misleading intimidation tactics to try and bully schools to bow down at the alter of secular beliefs.
Catch his religious metaphor "alter of secular beliefs" to describe atheists' agenda? He gave several examples of his office defending religious liberty that all involved a Christian complainant. Its a shame to see two of our top state officials exploiting young cheerleaders who are not constitutional scholars but rely on adults and authority figures for guidance. Now they are being taught they are victims. The result has been stories of intolerance including median signs that read, "If you don't like it leave, we believe". Some community observers worked up the gumption to bring banners to the stands showing support for the separation of church and state, and were told by a football player's parent that they dare not hold the sign up when he son crossed the field. They reported the incident to a nearby police officer who spoke to the parent. Apparently that resolved the issue and the parent apologized. But, to the point, should that be necessary and are their others who remain silent for fear of retribution? And are we experiencing real leadership on this issue or is this simply being used as a pandering opportunity? One group that understands true religious intolerance is the Anti-Defamation League. ADL was started to end the defamation of Jewish people in 1913 but the organization now fights on behalf of civil rights for all. This is where the Governor and AG should take note. In a recent statement ADL called support for the cheerleaders activities, "misguided", "highly problematic", and in violation of the Establishment Clause. In a letter sent to Abbott prior to the decision they argue that the school cheerleading squad qualifies as "school-sponsored activity" giving the district the right to prohibit the banners. Addressing the Governor and AG's confusion between tolerance and establishment ADL wrote,
Our perspective in no way reflects hostility toward religion. Rather, it is based on a profound respect for religious freedom and an appreciation of the extraordinary diversity of religions represented by the students in our public schools.
With such staunch support for Israel on the campaign trail by Perry and his Party, it's a wonder he and the Attorney General can't show more respect for religious minorities in their own state.
Today a Governor Perry appointed District Judge in Hardin County extended a temporary restraining order allowing Kountze cheerleaders to display religious banners in their official capacity during football games, at least until Oct. 14th.
The controversy started a few weeks ago after a complaint was filed with KISD officials about the signs. After consultation with the district's attorney, backed by Texas Association of School Boards, the district banned the banners per the US Supreme court decision in Santa Fe ISD vs. Jane Doe. At today's hearing the superintendent for KISD now claims he received bad advice from the district's attorneys and that banning the signs violated district policy. The ban does not, despite claims by the Washington Times, extend to individual student activities in the stands. The original complainant remains anonymous but an amicus brief has been filed on behalf of the school district by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin based advocacy group for the separation of church and state.
Just last week after the first temporary restraining order against the school district was granted, Texas Attorney General sent a letter in support of the cheerleaders and their right to freedom of religion. This morning prior to the hearing I asked the Attorney General if he would have sent that same letter of support to Islamic or other religious minority students. Abbott said, "Texas supports religious freedom". When pressed by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith for a more direct answer the Attorney General gave a defacto yes and concluded his support for religious freedom is not limited to any particular religion. He specifically compared the right of cheerleaders to a kicker who makes the sign of the cross before a field goal or pointing to God after a touchdown, asserting no difference between an individual act of religious expression and a group display. He gave no specific example of his office defending the rights of an Islamic individual or group as the question asked.
Changes have been made to reflect the evolving situation...
UPDATE: Today Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sent a letter to Kountze ISD Superintendent stating, "That these students chose to express their religious viewpoint at a school function does not violate the Establishment Clause." Abbott informed the KISD official that he was being misled by the Freedom From Religion Foundation as well as the Texas Association of SChool Boards. The letter concludes, "my office stands ready to file a brief with the court protecting the cheerleaders' religious liberties."
The Liberty Institute whose mission is to “defend and restore religious liberty across America — in our schools”, provided some high-powered help to cheerleaders and their parents after Kountze ISD officials banned scripture based run-throughs during football games. The evangelical group with close ties to Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council, has now started a petition to demand Texas Attorney Greg Abbott support the cheerleaders’ right to “cheer on their football team without government censorship”.
This may be some insight into how Republicans plans to posture themselves politically next session as the legislature will be considerably more conservative. The cheerleaders have already received the public support of their State Representative and Tea Party doll James White. Earlier this year White beat out a more moderate but favorited Republican Committee Chair after they were paired in redistricting. That loss, as well as Cruz’ defeat of Dewhurst, show the achilles heel of the Texas Republican establishment - there is no middle ground. The establishment has been chipped away at from the inside and within its own primary, pushing even state-wide officials to the right. Groups like Texans for Fiscal Accountability that have challenged RINOs and Moderates in the Republican ranks, now have groups like Stop TLR challenging even their conservative credentials. This poses a problem for Republicans who placated to the Tea Party to win their primary but think they can get reelected without taking strong stances on controversial social issues.
The Liberty Institute and the Family Reseach Council have recently started a new website called ReligiousHostility.org to document what they feel are attacks on religious freedom across America. The groups have been promoting alarmist ideas of Christian victimization stating, “attacks are increasing at an unprecedented rate”. Choosing to exploit people’s faith for political gain could prove disasterous for the Republican Party if moderates, attracted by an economic message, become ostracized. The cheerleaders, their parents and even members of the football team profess to be the victims of government overreach but they are now facing growing opposition and an active letter writing campaign in support of the district's decision. A secular group of students from nearby Vidor High School spoke out against the official display religious banners. Junior Darren Mattox told KFDM News,
My initial thought was that I do support it, but when you dig deeper into it, you realize that they are representing the school and that it's not really Constitutionally right for them to represent the school in that manner,
The national Freedom From Religion Foundation is the organization that sparked the controversy when it sent a letter to Kountze ISD on Sept. 17th calling for an end to the "serious and flagrant violation of the First Amendment." The group said, "No Student should be made to run through a religious banner. The practice offends non-Christians and non-believers alike." The actions of the students violate the law as interpreted in Sante Fe Independent School District vs. Doe in which the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that speech,
Hardin County District Judge Steve Thomas has granted a Temporary Restraining Order to allow Kountze cheerleaders to script bible verses on signs during football games. The TRO will last for two weeks until their next hearing Oct. 4th. The Judge was appointed by Rick Perry in June 2011 and the Governor made strong statements earlier this week regarding the faithful's role in the "public arena".
The cheerleaders legal aid comes is in part thanks to Liberty Institute. The conservative group has also teamed up with Tony Perkin's Family Research Council to create a new website, religioushostility.org. The site claims, "Hostility against religious liberty has reached an all-time high, and the attacks are increasing at an unprecedented rate." But, once you peel back the thin veil these groups do not have true "religious freedom" as a goal or value. They believe that their "burden [is] to reclaim the culture for Christ". In the Executive Summary of their "Survey of Religious Hostility in America", Christ or Christian is mentioned 9 times, where Judaism or islam is not mentioned once. They perpetuate the notion that Christians are the victims of oppression in a nation that is 78% Christian. Right-wing blogs are happy to further the narrative with such misleading headlines as, "War on Football: TX School District Bans Christian Banners at Football Games" courtesy of the The Blaze. The fact is religious banners are not being banned - only religious banners held by uniformed students representing the school during an official school sponsored event.
I spoke with a graduate of Kountze High School, who identified herself as an atheist and said, "I'm from Kountze and my life has been taken over by this. I've never seen anything like this take place in town in my 23 plus years."
Update 1pm Thursday: Attorney David Sternes files temporary restraining order on behalf if Kountze cheerleaders. His goal is to have the banners allowed by tonight's middle school game. More updates to follow.
Update 2:45pm Thursday: Supporters of the Superintendent's decision have started their own effort on facebook. They have shared letters of support to the district representatives.
Hidden behind the pine curtain, a small East Texas town has erupted into a frenzy after school officials banned religious banners held by cheerleaders during high school football games. Kountze ISD Superintendent Kevin Weldon told the students to cease the practice after he received advice from his legal council to comply with an anonymous complaint. Texas law allows religious banners and signs at school functions as long as they are made by students and were not encouraged by faculty or school officials. The KISD restriction only applies to the on field display of signs by uniformed representatives of the school, but the cheerleaders, football players, town of 2,100 and 30,000+ Facebook groupies have taken it as a full assault on their religious freedom of speech.
Right on cue Governor Rick Perry spoke of "spiritual warfare" to group of Christian Conservatives Tuesday saying, "The American family is under seige, traditional values are somehow exclusionary, a simple prayer in our public schools is the basis for these secular attacks,"
The idea that we should be sent to the sidelines, I will suggest to you is very driven by those who are not truthful. Satan runs across with world with his doubts and untruths. One of those truths is that people of faith should not be involved in the public arena.
Parents of the cheerleaders have tapped Beaumont attorney David Starnes to help them explore their legal options. "I think these are biblical verses that are good. They simply wanted to bring a positive message rather than an angry or competitive message," Starnes said. The case has caught the attention of the Liberty Institute, a national organization dedicated to "religious freedom" in America. Michael Johnson a spokesperson for the Liberty Institute claims the cheerleaders are in the right because supplies they used were not provided by the school district and they have won 99% of similar cases over the last 15 years.
The students also received strong words of support from former Congressman Steve Stockman (and current Republican Congressional candidate) who warned the Superintendent saying, "this is East Texas, not San Francisco. The superintendent can either overturn his ban on religion, or pack his bags." He managed not to choke on the irony when he continued, "Congress' job is to protect citizens from abuse by government officials. If school administrators will not repeal the ban, we will repeal the administrators."
It may be helpful to understand that this decision was not made by the Superintendent but the Supreme Court based on a case from...you guessed it, Texas. This story will continue to develop as the students resolve continues to harden and more supporters plan to rally at the next home game. For his own part Superintendent Kevin Weldon is standing by his decision saying, "I commend them for what they stand for. But I called legal counsel and even though it's lead by students, it should not be allowed to go on."
My Apologies To The Honorable Eric Holder United States Attorney General
Dear Eric Holder, it is with my deepest regrets that you're honorable position as the United States Attorney General, has been attacked by the most depraved souls elevated from the depths of hades to lead the great state of Texas, sense her annexation into the union, in the year 1845.
Senator John Cornyn has just transmitted another email that jeopardizes national security with classified information, who as a member of the United States Senate has sworn to keep secret, is in violation of that oath with the intent to regain monetary pecuniary status of inside trading partners, defrocked from their lofty positions as lords of Wall Street.
Senator Cornyn last letter is demanding your resignation and impeachment for moot allegations, which you had no control over; inherited by you from a Republican GOP takeover in the years of 2000 to April 2009, which corrupted the whole global economic system. The illegal dismissal of honorable Federal Judges by George Bush, who would not co-operate with a scheme of deregulation for easy access to large sums of money by the hands of greedy politicians. The remaining bias appointees, produced legislation that is contrary to our State and Federal constitution and deprives the citizens of the state their own pursuit of economic prosperity by hard work, ingenuity, and innovation.
The level of panic of those demanding your resignation will only increase, as investors that once had privy to lucrative inside market information, pressure and lose faith in the actors in this vicious cycle of corruption that has been going on for the last twenty-five years.
Texas GOP Inside Trading: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/...
Very few people know, the 2008 financial collapse root cause was from inside trading by those of public trust, who benefited by creating a false belief of "Global Terror" or those in congress that signed off on legislation that created the mega-trillion dollar white elephant "Top Secret America." The majority of this costly legislation passed in the name of National Security Justified by the 911 Patriot act is an unnecessary expense and burden on the American people with global consequences.
Certainly, there are many other factors associated with the financial meltdown that peeked in fall 2008 such as the housing collapse, 741 billion dollar U.S. personal credit card debt, and market deregulation: however, the main causal factor was the blank check authorization for Private Security Firms prior to April 2009. In fact, economist will tell you what saved the market and banks after the market collapsed, was the investment in Private Firms and Domestic Surveillance for fear of rebellion by the citizens of the United States!
Trillions of dollars invested in Domestic Surveillance to watch Billions of Invisible People; raped by their own representatives is a ridiculous notion which manifested into reality as "Top Secret America" by those of Public Trust that hold leadership positions in Congress and the Senate.
Compounding the problems are the un-godly crimes against the citizens of Texas and the United States of America, who have boldly step forward and reported these crimes to the proper authorities, also corrupted by a culture of dishonestly and in fact have retaliated against those that speak out. I am just one of those citizens that have pressed your office for justice, while hindsight tells me that just maybe doing the right thing was wrong.
On June 13, 2012 I made my way to the Honorable District Attorney Rene M. Pena, 1327 Third Street Floresville, Texas without any legal consul and pressed for criminal charges to be brought upon the State of Texas. My request was met with laughter, I am not trained in law; however, the context of my allegations shows just one more victimize citizen of Texas, with crimes similar to those of Nazi Germany in the late 1930's. Make no mistake about it, my allegations are not an exaggeration and bring shame upon the state of Texas, to allow such treatment of peaceful citizens including women, children, and the elderly.
Let it be known, that I have filed criminal charges against the state of Texas that implicate people in the highest offices of State and Federal Government which includes, State Sponsored Terroristic Threats, Stalking, Retaliation, and the use of ungodly Non-lethal Weapons of the mind, that If not for God Almighty, I would have not sustained my sanity to protect those that I love.
Again, I am just one of many citizens that have pressed your office for justice, while hindsight tells me that doing the right thing was wrong; however, now it is the case, my life as well as others, and those we love have been put into jeopardy as we all live in fear.
Lastly, If you pursue these criminal charges, the attacks by people such as Senator John Cornyn, threatened by those who have had a long history of monetary advantage over the stock market, will only increase the attacks on your integrity by Texas leadership and the Republican GOP. We beg that you stay on to the last moment of your term and pursue every criminal charge, if the whole Texas legislative branch is indicted and brought before a justice demanding bail or confinement until their scheduled court date, then so be it - God have mercy on all our souls.
(Terrible news about school bullying in Texas. How many more teens need to die before this is resolved? Thanks to Equality Texas for the update. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)
Another Texas teen has died in a bullying-related suicide.
And, another Texas school district has disclaimed any knowledge of having a bullying problem.
Corpus Christi police are investigating the suicide of 16-year-old Ted Molina, after family and friends claim years of being bullied led to his death. Ted's family, friends and Flour Bluff students say the teenager, whose mother is Asian, has complained for years that a group of boys repeatedly harassed him at school, taunting him, using racial epithets and threatening to fight him.
Flour Bluff ISD spokeswoman Lynn Kaylor said Tuesday that the district has investigated all allegations that Ted may have been bullied. She didn't cite how many allegations of bullying that included.
District officials couldn't immediately provide the number of reported bullying incidents this school year.
Kaylor said the district's student code of conduct outlines the policy for how Flour Bluff officials handle reports of bullying, but students first have to report bullying incidents.
"If it's reported, we deal with it," she said. "We take extreme measures. We don't let it go on if it's reported."
However, in a report by KRIS-TV, Flour Bluff mother Rita McKenzie strongly disagreed with the claims made by Flour Bluff ISD that the district does not have a bullying problem.
McKenzie called 6 News after hearing Lynn Kaylor, the public information officer for the district, say that bullying is not a problem.
Rita McKenzie said she could not believe what she heard. "This is a problem that they have. They know about this problem. They ignore it and do nothing to try to fix it," said McKenzie, the parent of a bullied child.
McKenzie had two children in Flour Bluff Junior High and both were being bullied. So, she had to move them to Houston to live with their dad.
Watch McKenzie's interview with KRIS-TV below the jump.