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Just who deserves protection in America?
If you observe the folks this country chooses to protect and chooses to ignore, you may get an answer that doesn’t exactly line up with America’s ideals.
When Wandrea “Shaye” Moss bravely testified before members of the House Select Committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, I was enraged, though I know my rage slips me into the stereotypical category of “angry Black woman.” I refuse to give up a full palette of emotions because of fear of judgment.
When I heard her mother, Ruby Freeman, speak of the horrors she has had to endure, I was sad for her and for America. “Lady Ruby” was the moniker she proudly used to display on her shirt until racist political operatives dragged that earned good name through the mud.
At an age when she should be comfortably enjoying life, lauded for her community service, Lady Ruby’s life has been forever changed. “Do you know how it feels to have the president of the United States target you?” she asked. “The president of the United States is supposed to represent every American.”
She’s right, of course.
But Donald Trump never pretended to be the president of every American. And he has displayed particular animus toward African Americans, from famous athletes to those he stomps on just to get his way. In a call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger before the attack at the Capitol, Trump called Freeman, in reality a small business owner and mother, a “professional vote scammer and hustler,” dredging up hoary labels that apparently still infect his lizard brain and strike a similar chord with his followers.
I can’t help but remember and protect my own mother, the most honest and gentle person you would ever want to meet.
When she was alive and as long as she was able, she worked on Election Day at the polls. In fact, she held a position of authority over several polling places, making sure everything was correct — with Democratic and Republican representation — and making sure everyone knew how to make the voting experience positive.
She happened to be a Republican, back when the party had a “moderate” lane, with folks such as onetime Sen. Charles Mathias Jr. from our home state of Maryland easily driving in it.
I recall how seriously she took her duties, which is one reason I vote in every election and why I know how important it is to exercise the right that was so hard fought for African Americans.
The thought that she would be a ready-made target for a Rudy Giuliani — whose sleazy, bigoted delusions transformed the ginger mint handed between daughter and mom into a thumb drive of votes, passed “like they were vials of heroin or cocaine” — sickens me.
When, at last week’s hearing, Moss spoke of her joy at aiding elderly Americans and the sick to fulfill their right as citizens, she sounded exactly like my mom did.
Americans should be thanking them every day.
Instead, mother and daughter were crushed by lies, and deliberately hunted down by craven folks in “MAGA” world who knew there would be little punishment for cruelty to Black women.
The worst of it is, Moss blamed herself for the attacks on her son, mother and grandmother, who experienced thugs showing up at her home, eager to make a “citizen’s arrest.” That was Klan stuff. And her grandmother was old enough to know how it could have ended. One threat shared by Moss read, “Be glad it’s 2020 and not 1920.”
I wondered, has anyone been arrested? That kind of thing is still a crime, right? If the grandmother had been armed, could she not have used the "Castle Doctrine" to blow unwanted intruders away? Somehow, I doubt she would have been considered the “good guy with a gun.”
Though the government they served seemed to desert them when they most needed its protection, it was quite a different story when Congress sprang into action with special protections for the families of Supreme Court justices. Do they deserve it? Yes. But shouldn’t the election workers who keep the wheels of democracy grinding also expect more than FBI advice to move out of their own homes?
Just this week, in the wake of the court’s controversial decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Sen. Thom Tillis took the lead on a letter, also signed by Sen. Richard Burr and GOP House members from North Carolina Dan Bishop, Ted Budd, Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, Patrick T. McHenry, Greg Murphy and David Rouzer. It asked the Department of Justice to “forcefully condemn the ongoing violence against pro-life and religious groups and prosecute the criminals engaging in these attacks to the fullest extent of the law.” I could admire their outrage, if only it weren’t so selective. The letter didn’t mention the violence visited upon clinics and doctors that perform abortions.
Just last week, during protests of the court decision, off-duty Providence, R.I., Police Officer Jeann Lugo, a Republican running for state office in Rhode Island, reportedly punched his Democratic opponent in the face. “This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. I won’t give up,” tweeted his opponent, Jennifer Rourke.
After a video surfaced, Lugo dropped out of the race. But I haven’t heard Tillis and company advising their fellow Republicans to cool it. And, as far as I can tell, the North Carolina GOP congressional delegation has not acted as one to express concern for the well-being of folks like Moss and Freeman.
Republicans, for the most part, are ignoring the revelations about an assault on America and the efforts of Trump and his lackeys to set up permanent and unlawful shop in the White House.
Though they can’t have missed the message that fellow Americans risked their lives to shore up institutions that proved more vulnerable to corruption than anyone could have imagined, many in the GOP won’t even admit to peeking at the televised hearings. In this week’s installment, Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Trump was not concerned that some in the crowd could be armed. “They're not here to hurt me,” was his reaction, according to the onetime aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
It’s the apotheosis of a philosophy that seems to have taken hold — protect the tribe and leave the rest to fend for themselves.
If you’re looking for inspiration, you’d best forget so-called leaders and turn to Moss, who, despite everything, was hopeful and grateful in her message when recently honored by the JFK Library Foundation Profile in Courage Award.
“I want to give a special thank you to all the anonymous election workers out there. The ones that are doing the heavy lifting our democracy depends on,” she said, as reported by CBS. “Tonight, I represent all of them. All of those hard-working people with incredible courage to do the job and do it right.”
Now, that’s a proper message for the Fourth of July.
Reprinted with permission from Roll Call.
The First Amendment reflects a principled but shrewd attitude toward religion, which can be summarized: Government should keep its big fat nose out of matters of faith. The current Supreme Court, however, is not in full agreement with that proposition. It is in half agreement — and half is not enough.
This section of the Bill of Rights contains two commands. First, the government can't do anything "respecting an establishment of religion" — that is, sponsoring, subsidizing or providing special favors for religious institutions or individuals.
Second, the government may not infringe on the "free exercise" of faith. Americans are entitled to practice their religion without government interference. In short, the government should be scrupulously neutral — not the champion of religion in general or any particular belief and not the enemy.
When it comes to free exercise, this Supreme Court is as vigilant as a hungry tiger, ever alert to any policy that penalizes believers — as it should be. On June 21, the court rebuked Maine for an official bias against religious education.
Because the state's people are widely scattered in rural areas, many school districts lack enough students to justify their own high schools. The state provides tuition assistance so that parents can send their kids to any secondary schools they want, public or private.
There is just one major caveat: The school must be "nonsectarian." Parents who think a religious school is their best option don't have a prayer.
The state thinks this policy is required by the First Amendment, on the theory that public money can't be spent to support religion. But letting families use their tuition aid for accredited religious schools is not state support of religion. The state doesn't decide where the money goes. The choice lies with parents.
It's not state sponsorship of religion for them to spend it on a religious school — any more than it would be to spend unemployment benefits that way. The state, wrote Chief Justice John Roberts, may not "exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise."
Religious freedom is often seen as a weapon for Republicans to use in the culture wars — by exempting a religious baker from designing a cake for a same-sex wedding and by sparing Hobby Lobby from providing insurance coverage for contraceptives because of its religious objections.
But the court has also upheld the religious rights of people not normally favored by conservatives. It said Arkansas couldn't forbid a Muslim prisoner from having a beard as mandated by his faith. It said a Texas death row inmate was entitled to have his pastor hold his hand and pray aloud during his execution.
Unfortunately, this court's sharp eye for religious freedom violations sometimes blinds it to other concerns. In a recent case, it sided with Joseph Kennedy, a public high school football coach who made a habit, after games, of kneeling at the 50-yard line and praying aloud. Before long, most of his players were joining him. The coach also invited opposing coaches and players to participate.
Kennedy insisted he was merely engaged in a personal ritual on his own. But he was acting in his capacity as a public school employee while players were under his supervision and control.
He could have waited until they had gone home before returning to the field to commune with the Almighty. Instead, he made a conspicuous public display, which created pressure on his players to join him — including some whose parents said they took part because they felt obligated. Who knows? Boycotting prayers might mean riding the bench.
The First Amendment is supposed to prevent some religious exercises — namely those conducted by agents of government to advance religion. The football coach, however, used his official position in a way that visibly endorsed a particular faith and had a coercive effect on students. And the Supreme Court cheered him on.
It was a bad decision that will have bad consequences. University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock told me: "It appears to repudiate the very idea of government neutrality as a constitutional norm. Government is now free to promote religion, and apparently free to promote Christianity in particular, at least in the public schools and possibly much more broadly." The decision doesn't enhance religious freedom; it endangers it.
The First Amendment was supposed to ensure official neutrality on matters of faith. This Supreme Court, however, is happy to see the government doing work that should be left to pastors.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.