Friday, December 15, 2017

THE BAKER AND THE GAY CAKE

Not sure I should address this topic.  I feel like I am wading into treacherous waters.....

Before I start I want to make sure everyone realizes something about me.  I know that this is a very controversial topic.  I do not consider myself to be racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or any other description that many people may place upon me because I am a straight white Christian male. I know that I am not a Constitutional scholar nor am I in any way a lawyer.  I lean a little to the right of center in my philosophy but am very much a centrist if not left of center on the domestic rights of all humans.  I believe in the Constitution.  I believe in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and all of the subsequent acts  and decisions that have come from it.  I firmly believe that each citizen of this great country DOES have certain inalienable rights as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wrote. I believe that it is the job of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution and to uphold the laws of this country.  I believe that in the past the Supreme Court has made mistakes, major mistakes and that they will continue to do so in the future.  They are just nine human beings and are far from perfect.

Now, for the Baker v the Cake.  This is a very difficult situation and we must be able to walk an extremely fine line to whatever decision we come to.  I listened to the arguments made before the court three times now and I have a hard time coming to a conclusion that is not extremely narrow.  This case could, if decided too broadly, set us on a slippery slope that could undo all that we have accomplished since 1954.  We must stay off that slope.  There is far too much at stake here.

This case is far more complicated than religious freedom versus discrimination.  The decision of the Court could have an immense effect on everyone, particularly those who are considered part of a protected minority group.  However, the freedom of religion must not be broached either. So, what should we do?

After listening to the arguments, I feel like the attorneys for the baker took too safe of an attack on the situation.  They did not argue for freedom of religion necessarily, but rather freedom of artistic expression.  I feel like they did this in an attempt to broaden their argument to the Court.

I did some research and listened to other points of view.  One right leaning vlogger, Matt Christiansen, came to the conclusion that a business has the right to decide who they have as customers or not.  Starting with the standard "No shirt, no shoes... no service" argument he carries that to the Baker v Cake case via tearing down the majority of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  His reasoning, as far as I could tell, was that a shop owner should be able to discriminate and that by doing so he would put his business at risk because the majority of people would quit going to the business because they are offended by his stance and philosophy as well as his actions.
This is not right.  It left a bad taste in my mouth listening to his ideas concerning the case.  The Supreme Court has upheld many times the basis of the Civil Rights Act.  You can not arbitrarily deny service to someone based solely on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual preference.  You can however set up certain standards for a person to do business in your establishment.  The no shirt-no shoes argument comes to mind.  Some restaurants require men to wear a jacket and tie to be served.  These are not based solely on race or any of the other protected groups, but rather on a standard that the business wants to keep for its reputation.  It is the arbitrariness of not serving certain groups that makes it cross a line against the Constitution.

Then we have the freedom of religion, or more to the point concerning this particular case, the freedom of religious expression.  This is highly protected by the Constitution as well and it should be.  Now it comes to what qualifies as religious expression.  The argument for the baker here was that the couple told him the cake was for a same sex wedding and he refused to bake a cake for that event because it went against his religious views.  There was no writing on the cake and as far as I can tell no indication from the decorating of the cake that it was to be used at such an event.  The baker would not have known at all what he was baking the cake for if the couple had not told him.  If the couple had told him about the event or maybe just asked for certain words to be decorated on the cake or a sculpture be placed on the cake that indicated what kind of event it was going to be, then I think the baker would have the right to refuse baking that cake.  It is called "compelled speech".  You can not compel someone to create something or be of service to something or say something he does not believe in.  If the cake was already made and on display, he would have to sell it to them.  I believe if it was a cake that was simply decorated with fancy flowers or such, no harm done.  If the couple wanted something on the cake that said "Phil and Craig .. may you have a long life together" or had two men standing under a trellis holding hands, then I believe the baker could then say that he could not go against his religious beliefs in decorating a cake as such and suggest that they may be happier with another baker.  I mean, if you compel someone to decorate a cake against his personal beliefs, how good of a job do you think he will do anyway?  Not very I don't think.  One of the samples that the attorneys tried to give was if a black owned bakery was visited by customers claiming to be members of the KKK and asking for a cake with a cross sculpted on top of it.  No one would consider it outrageous if the baker refused to do so.  However that same baker seeing a group from a local church come in and asked for the exact same cake, one with a cross sculpted on it, he would have no problem creating that cake for them.  For me, I would agree that the baker in this situation has every right to not create a cake for the KKK.  No questions asked.

Conclusion... The baker can not deny service based solely on the sexual preference of the couple. If the couple wants a cake already on display, they have the right to purchase it, or if they want a cake created that has no symbols or words depicting anything against the baker's personal philosophy, the couple should expect the baker to create the cake.  If, however, the couple requests certain language or symbolism on the cake, the baker can refuse to bake that cake based on his philosophy that baking such a cake would be offensive to him.

This decision that I came up with will not agree with the Supreme Court's.  I can almost guarantee it.  I do realize I may have stepped on some toes here but that is not my intent.  My intent is to keep the Constitution as something that I can believe in.  I looked at it from a simple layman's view of the law and common sense and fairness.  I want to see our country continue making progress on civil rights for EVERYONE.  I want people to be able to do business without compromising their personal religious beliefs.  The down side to this is that it could open up numerous other situations along the same lines in future cases.  I can see, disappointingly I might add, a case in the future where we may end up seeing Loving v Virginia re-argued under personal beliefs.  That would signal that we are in danger of undoing everything that has been accomplished.

I know that this whole writing may sound very simplistic and it is.  I am just an average American of average intelligence with an average understanding of the law.  There is so much more at stake in this decision, from both points of view,  then I can even begin to express or understand.

I do think that it will have to be an extremely narrow scope to protect everyone's civil rights without dismantling all of the progress that has been made since Brown v Board of Education and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  We can not, we MUST not undo all the progress that has been made and continue to make progress in the future.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

THE SILENCE OF DEATH

When someone you love dies, silence follows immediately.  Whether it is a close friend that you love, a family member, or even a celebrity that you have enjoyed their talents, the silence follows.  I don't think we realize this at first, no matter how many times we may have experienced it, but after a time of reflection it sinks in.

We are lucky if we remember the last time with the deceased before the silence fell.  I can't remember the last things I heard either of my grandmothers say before they passed and I feel like I should.   People who are as important to my life, the influence they had on my life, I should be able to remember.  I want to remember.  I can still hear their voices in my head.  My grandmother Clark's slight little laugh and her "Oh My!!".  I will never hear that again.  I will never hear my Grandmother Hill's seemingly daily expression of "Oh, Oscar!" again.

I do remember some of my family and friends last conversation with me though, and I cherish those.

My sister Carol, on the day she and my sister Elaine left for Georgia, I remember Carol telling me "I'm going back home and we are going to beat this thing"  After I told her I loved her she said with a tilt of her head, "I love you too.  Thanks for your help.  Bye... see ya later"  I didn't see her later.  I didn't hear her voice again.  I won't ever hear her voice again.  Just silence.

I went to see my Uncle Melvin in the hospital a few weeks before he passed.  We had a talk that wasn't too long.  He was tired.  He took the time, maybe five minutes or so, to talk to me though as he held my hand.  I told him I loved him and he smiled and said "I love you too Bill."  Then I told him I was going to miss him and he kind of looked straight through me, to my soul and said very matter of factly "I am going to miss you too .... for a while".  Nothing was left to be said.  I couldn't muster up any more words, any that were there were caught in my throat.  I squeezed his hand and left the room.  A few weeks later I got a call from my mom.  The silence had fallen on my Uncle.

I was with the whole extended family at my Grandfather Hill's house the last time I saw him.  I spent a lot of time talking to him as I sat in my spot on the couch next to his chair.  There wasn't any political talk that night.  There wasn't any philosophizing that night.  There was just talk.  Talk about what a great family this was.  Talk and joking about things that were going on around us.  Bringing in other family members into the conversation. as everyone rotated in to talk to him and everyone did.  I don't mean to say I was with him the whole time, I wasn't but I took my turn in the rotation to spend time with him.  He always had time for anyone and everyone.  Eventually It came time for me to head home.  I took his hand and told him that I had to be heading out.  He looked me straight in the eye as was his custom (he always looked whoever he was talking to in the eye.. and he taught all of us to do the same) and he said "Okay Bill.  You take care.  Bye now." and I turned and left.  This time, the news of the silence falling arrived in the form of a knock on my door in the middle of the night.  It was my mom and dad to tell me he was gone.  I can't say I was stunned or anything.  I was kind of expecting this to happen before long.  Still it did catch me off guard a bit and I had to go to my room for a minute or so to be by myself before coming back to talk to mom.  I learned a lot of little quips from that man like "Now you're railroading" that I still use to this day and each time I say one of those things I picked from him, I can almost hear his voice echoing mine as the words come out.  As I sat next to my grandmother at the funeral home, I could not take my eyes off of the body in the casket.  I would never hear that wise old voice again.  The silence had fallen.

Then there was my Uncle Danial.  Since he had moved back to Kansas City from the Seattle area, we had become so very close.  We worked on his art together.  We discussed every art form there was, from writing to music to paining to sculpture even to the beauty of a well thrown pass in a football game was an art form to him.  He had AIDS and so there were a few health problems that came along with that.  With the help of family members we were able to keep on top of everything and he was able to remain active and sharp and continue to do the things he loved.  Then one day we found out he had cancer.  At first he was determined and the family pulled together again and made sure he made appointments, took medicine and spent time at the radiology treatment at KU-Med.  Then came the day that I went to take him to KU for his treatment and he said he wasn't going.  It was taking too much of a toll on him and his body.  He had decided he would rather spend his remaining days living life as best as he could instead of feeling the side effects of the treatment all the time.  He took fifty dollars out of his wallet and told me to go by three cartons of smokes.  No sense in quitting now he had said and so I did as I was told.  This was when I truly found out how much of an effect he had made on people during his lifetime.  Friends from Chicago and Seattle came to help out in taking care of him.  Friends from his high School  class helped out.  The family pulled together of course and we took care of him.  We took him to the Kansas City Men's Chorus Christmas concert, which had become a tradition for all of us.  We took him to a couple of plays, which he loved.  We spent nights ... I mean all nighters talking and reading.  As his health worsened, we got a hospital bed to put in his living room for him.  His last Christmas was filled with family and friends for a big tree trimming party.  His friends and neighbors, Rick and Dan, catered a dinner for the party that night.  What a joyous evening it was.  He slowly weakened and soon the pain became almost a constant for him.  A nurse from the hospice house began coming by once a week to check on him and to be sure he had medicine to ease the pain.  His mind began to lose track of things and soon it seemed like I was the only one he would be totally honest with about how he was feeling, even though mom and dad, my Aunt June and Uncle Jack, cousins Pete and Susie and my wife were always by his side.  I stopped by his house after work one afternoon and he was in a lot of pain.  The hospice nurse was there but he was having nothing to do with her.  She gave me the medicine that would ease his pain and I tried to give it to him.  He asked "What is this?"  I told him it was okay, this was going to help with the pain.  He looked at me and said "You're lying to me."  I smiled and said that I wasn't, this would help.  Then he said the last words from his mouth to me. "Yeah... well ..." and he took the medicine.  The next morning I got a call at the office saying I had to be there now.  I got to his house and he was doubled over in his bed.  His friend Brian was there, helpless.  My mom was there and the hospice nurse was there.  The nurse told my mom and myself that a decision had to be made.  Mom looked at me and I looked at my uncle.  We made the decision to take him to the hospice house where they could control the pain easier.  He lasted almost a week in hospice without ever falling asleep.  He was gasping for air and breathing hard the whole time.  One night, I guess it was around two in the morning, the hospice nurse on duty came out of his room and I asked her what had been on my mind all that day, that was if he knew I was even there.  She looked at me and smiled "Oh he knows.  He knows" and she went about her work.  The next morning I went to get something to eat in the lobby of the house.  I noticed a piano there.  Now you got to understand that I NEVER play the piano in front of anyone.  It raises my anxiety level to the extreme.  Dan had asked me many times over the years to play for him but I never did.  That morning though, I asked the nurse at the desk if I could play a song or two and she encouraged me to do so.  I played a couple of hymns then got up and went back to my uncle's room.  As I was sponging his lips with water I told him about the piano and that I had played a couple of songs for him.  His eyes widened a bit and though he could not talk I heard what his eyes said.  Those eyes said "Thank you".  He died the next night.  The silence had fallen again but in this case, his eyes had said those precious last words to me.  "Thank you".

Lastly, one of my best friends went silent.  I was not prepared for this.  Dennis and I had worked together for many years.  After he left the company, we kept in constant touch.  We went to races together.  We went out to eat a lot together.  He became an uncle to my son and a very good friend to my nephew.  He went to Thanksgiving with us to my sister's house in Alabama one year.  It seems like my whole adult life was spent with Dennis.  He eventually moved to Mississippi but we kept in constant communication almost on a daily basis.  Aside from my mom and dad, brother and sisters and my niece Kelly Lynn, his birthday was the only other one I could ever remember and that was because he shared his birthday with Elvis.  I would call him to tell him happy birthday and he would always reply, every year with "thank ya... thank ya very much..".  Last February, a few weeks after his birthday, I got an email from one of his friends down south.  He had left a list of people to contact just in case.  He had passed suddenly from heart failure.  The last thing he said to me was "okay... catch you later".  That was three days before the email arrived.  The silence had descended on my friend.  I will never hear "Thank ya... Thank ya very much.." from him again.

There is an upside to the silence of death though.  The upside comes with hearing new voices that with time replace the ones gone silent.  Mei, Joshua, Hayden, Conner,  Samantha and Jesse.  Emmet and Will, Andrew and Abbey and Mags and Heidi's Oscar. Jayden, Talia, and Kiki and even though I have never met her, I hear Georgia on Facebook all the time and she has a WONDERFUL giggle. New voices that are so fun to hear.

The other upside comes when the silence of death falls on me.  No longer will I hear those last words of those that I loved and miss them so much it hurts at times.  Then there is the upside for everyone else.  No longer will you have to put up with my sarcastic sayings, my dry sense of humor, or my passionate positions on political issues.  There will be no more wondering how I am doing with my mental issues. No longer will people stop when something is said and wonder "oh no, what is going to come out of Bill's mouth on this?"  The one thing that I hope for and I am very sincere in this, is that when the silence falls on me, my last words that are remembered are nice and pleasant, hopefully with a little of that dark sense of humor mixed in.  I don't know when that will be.  Dennis taught me that lesson.  We just never know.

I am going to try very hard, just in case, not to be talk mean or treat anyone mean as I age.  I am going to try my best to leave everyone with at least a fond "good-bye".