March 28, 2007

A different kind of prison

Riverfront State Prison, in Camden, New Jersey, is lucky enough to have one David Parrish, a forensic psychologist with 33 years’ experience in the prison system, as its administrator. Mr. Parrish is clearly an enlightened soul, always willing to experiment with new ways to rehabilitate Riverfront’s inmates. For example:

Last year, at Riverfront Prison, in Camden, we introduced a transformational approach toward inmates that we call the Impact Project.
Our project has been granted permission to utilize leading-
edge technology designed by Landmark Education, an internationally recognized industry leader in the training and development field.
At Riverfront, this approach helps reveal to the incarcerated offenders how their view of the world around them — and of themselves — results in their destructive and threatening behaviors.
In turn, the program enables those who supervise the inmates to get at the sources of criminal behavior, and thus help change it rather than just impose their moral judgments.
Prisoners are oriented toward a new view of themselves and the world, one that empowers them to imagine and create a future that breaks the cycle of incarceration.
Inmates at Riverfront must qualify for the Impact Project.
To qualify, inmates must be within a year of parole eligibility, pass an interview by a committee consisting of custody and treatment staff, and make written agreements for full participation, which includes committing to completing a high school education.
Currently, 85 of our 1,000 inmates are enrolled in the program.
The project begins with a three-day, 36-hour intensive “Breakthrough Course.” This is a rigorous inquiry that provides the inmates with a clear picture of how they developed anti-social identities, and leaves them with the choice of who they want to be in the future.
Then the inmates participating in the course are moved together into a housing unit and guided to establish a peer learning community where they practice using their newly acquired self-transformational tools in everyday situations.
Follow-up seminars are provided to expand on the foundation material.
The project provides inmates with continual programming and support for the duration of their incarceration and even after their release.
So far, two of the “graduates” have been released. Both seem to be doing well in adjusting to society outside.

Great news, with just one minor hitch: Landmark Education, that “internationally recognized industry leader in the training and development field,” is in reality the insidious and litigious mind-control cult organization formerly known as EST (AKA The Landmark Forum or simply The Forum). Landmark’s record speaks for itself: here, here, here, here, here… and so on and on.

All of which suggests that the enlightened Mr. Parrish is either a Landmark member or remarkably gullible—readers might want to contact him on (856) 225-5700 to ask which. Either way, it kinda makes you wonder if he is a good fit for his current role (particularly given some of his other, er, interesting ideas about prison reform).

For a long time—in fact pretty much until I pointed it out last fall—Landmark had three flying pigs on its homepage (cached image here; click to enlarge). The New Jersey Department of Corrections might want to ask itself—and Mr. Parrish—why.

Thanks to the Cult News Network for alerting me to Parrish’s article.

Posted by Stephen at 7:02 PM in Legal issues | Religion + cults | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

March 19, 2007

The Church of England’s steamy steeples

Apparently Christians in the UK feel they are being discriminated against. I can’t begin to imagine why. The Church of England, however, seems much more concerned about certain kinds of erections:

The Church of England is facing an embarrassing test case over whether mobile phone masts on steeples are illegal because they can relay pornography.
The church’s highest court is to hear an appeal after a diocesan judge ruled that churches were “wrong in law” to “facilitate the transmission of pornography, even in a slight or modest way”.
Many parishes have cashed in on the mobile phone boom by charging telecom companies thousands of pounds a year to put antennae on their towers or steeples. Even Guildford cathedral has a mast under its golden angel weather vane.
They were encouraged by official Church guidance, which acknowledged that immoral material can be transmitted by the new technology but argued that any “ill” was outweighed by the benefits.
However, critics said mobile phones can now transmit dangerously obscene internet images and the church should dissociate itself from such technology, especially after the General Synod condemned media exploitation last month.
The contentious issue has now reached the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 800-year-old Court of Arches, which is due to hear an appeal against the ruling by the diocese of Chelmsford’s consistory court within weeks.
The row began in October when Chancellor George Pulman, Chelmsford’s ecclesiastical judge, rejected an application from St Peter and St Paul church in Chingford, north east London, to erect a T-mobile base station in its spire.
In his judgment, Mr Pulman, a QC who also sits as a deputy High Court judge in the Family Division, became the first Chancellor to refuse a faculty on the grounds that “revolting and damaging” pornography could be transmitted by the network. He said that it was “no part of the work or the mission of the Church” to facilitate or gain financial advantage from the transmission of pornography.
He said: “No Church bookstall would consider it appropriate to offer for sale ‘top shelf’ magazines with their images of sexual titillation or impropriety.”
Mr Pulman also attacked local authorities for granting planning permission for such antennae, saying that their social services department were well aware of the dangers to children.

Above I’ve shown exactly the type of image—the worst possible kind of child porno-
graphy—that the church should be worried about. And God only knows what kind of depravity is concealed in those perverted pixels.

Posted by Stephen at 12:40 PM in Business | Legal issues | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

March 15, 2007

Reefer madness, revisited

I write about this kind of thing far too rarely these days. Doesn’t mean America has gotten any smarter about it:

Federal appellate judges here ruled Wednesday that a terminally ill woman using marijuana was not immune to federal prosecution simply because of her condition, and in a separate case a federal judge dismissed most of the charges against a prominent advocate for the medicinal use of the drug.
The woman, Angel McClary Raich, says she uses marijuana on doctors’ recommendation to treat an inoperable brain tumor and a battery of other serious ailments. Ms. Raich, 41, asserts that the drug effectively keeps her alive, by stimulating appetite and relieving pain, in a way that prescription drugs do not.
She wept when she heard the decision.
“It’s not every day in this country that someone’s right to life is taken from them,” said Ms. Raich, appearing frail during a news conference in Oakland, where she lives. “Today you are looking at someone who really is walking dead.”
In 2002, she and three other plaintiffs sued the government, seeking relief from federal laws outlawing marijuana. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, and in 2005, the court ruled against Ms. Raich, finding that the federal government had the authority to prohibit and prosecute the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. But the justices left elements of Ms. Raich’s case to a lower court to consider.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that while they sympathized with Ms. Raich’s plight and had seen “uncontroverted evidence” that she needed marijuana to survive, she lacked the legal grounds to exempt herself from federal law.
The court “recognizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes is gaining traction,” the decision read. “But that legal recognition has not yet reached the point where a conclusion can be drawn that the right to use medical marijuana is ‘fundamental.’”

And yet the courts routinely rule that the right to life is exactly that. How odd.

Robert Raich, Ms. Raich’s husband and lawyer, said she might appeal the decision to the full Ninth Circuit.

Posted by Stephen at 2:27 PM in Drugs | Health | Legal issues | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

October 1, 2006

How would Jesus vote?

So much for the Establishment Clause:

With a pivotal election five weeks away, leaders on the religious right have launched an all-out drive to get Christians from pew to voting booth. Their target: the nearly 30 million Americans who attend church at least once a week but did not vote in 2004.
Their efforts at times push legal limits on church involvement in partisan campaigns. That is by design. With control of Congress at stake Nov. 7, those guiding the movement say they owe it to God and to their own moral principles to do everything they can to keep social conservatives in power.

In other words, Christians think they are entitled to bend or break any law—statutory, moral or ethical—they damn well please. (But then you already knew that, didn’t you?)

The Rev. Rick Scarborough, a leading evangelical in Texas, has recruited 5,000 “patriot pastors” nationwide to promote an agenda that aligns neatly with Republican platforms. “We urge them to avoid legal entanglement, but there are times in a pastor’s life when he needs to take a biblical stand,” Scarborough said. “Our higher calling is to Christ.”
The campaign encourages individual pastors to use sermons, Bible studies and rallies to drive Christians to the polls — and, by implication or outright endorsement, to Republican candidates. One online guide to discussing the election in church, produced by the Focus on the Family ministry, offers this tip: If a congregant says her top concerns are healthcare and national security, suggest that Jesus would make abortion and gay marriage priorities.
At a recent rally in Pennsylvania, Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson told a crowd of 3,000 that it would be “downright frightening” if Republicans lost control of Congress. If there’s a good Christian on the ballot, he said, failing to vote “would be a sin.”

Remember, this directly contravenes the 1954 law that restricts churches (and other tax-exempt organizations) from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of any candidate or party.

The IRS defines intervention as “any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidate for public office.” Unfortunately that leaves a gaping loophole that enables churches to campaign on “policy issues,” such as abortion and gay marriage. And the churches are exploiting that loophole for all it’s worth:

Scarborough, for instance, has spent a great deal of time far from his Texas parish, rallying Christian voters against an initiative promoting embryonic stem-cell research in Missouri. At his events, Scarborough makes a point not to mention Missouri’s Republican Sen. Jim Talent, who is in a tight fight for reelection.
But in private, he says candidly that he expects — and hopes — his efforts will give Talent a boost. “If a pro-life candidate benefits from Christians being involved, to God be the glory,” Scarborough said.
Pastors can further help their favored candidates by distributing “issue-oriented” voter guides in church, a tactic used for years among secular (often left-leaning) groups such as the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and adapted to faith communities by the Christian Coalition in the 1990s.

Yet even when churches blatantly flout the tax-exemption laws, they are rarely penalized by the IRS:

In a recent article aimed at evangelical preachers, [Mathew Staver, a prominent Christian lawyer,] wrote that they “should feel free” to go even further and endorse a candidate from the pulpit because he thought the IRS law was unconstitutional. He repeatedly noted that the IRS had rarely sanctioned churches. The Church at Pierce Creek in Binghamton, N.Y., is the only one ever to lose its tax-exempt certification, for sponsoring newspaper ads that opposed presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
Far more often, IRS agents resolve complaints by training church leaders to avoid future missteps, said Lois G. Lerner, who directs the IRS unit for tax-exempt groups. In 2004, the IRS resolved dozens of complaints this way, including such blatant violations as churches donating to a candidate’s campaign or placing political signs on their property.
Given the slim chance of serious sanction, “I encourage pastors to exchange their muzzles for megaphones,” Staver wrote in the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s monthly newspaper, the National Liberty Journal.

The IRS, however, may be losing patience: in February it warned churches that they were in danger of becoming “arms of political campaigns and parties.” So will they lose their tax-exempt status? You bet. And the second coming will take place next Tuesday.

Posted by Stephen at 5:41 PM in Legal issues | Politics | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

August 25, 2006

A half century of progress

America celebrates the 50th anniversary of Browder v. Gayle:

Nine black children attending schools in northwestern Louis-
iana’s Red River Parish were directed last week to the back of a school bus by a white driver who designated the front seats for white chil-
dren, the mother of one of the children said.
“All nine children were assigned to two seats in the back of the bus and the older ones had to hold the smaller ones in their laps,” Iva Richmond, mother of two of the children, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Red River Parish Schools Superintendent Kay Easley, did not return a call for comment Thursday. The (Shreveport) Times newspaper said Easley acknowledged that she has investigated the claim and confirmed that the bus driver did not run her route Wednesday. She would not comment further, the newspaper said.
Richmond said her children, ages 14 and 15, had long had a black bus driver, but their bus assignment was changed this year. When they started school earlier this month, a white driver was at the wheel. The driver told the children that she had assigned seats to the white students on the bus and ordered the black children to sit in the back.
Richmond said she complained to a local principal who told the driver that if any children were assigned to seats, all would have to be.
Early last week, the driver assigned black students to two seats in the back of the bus, an arrangement that had some of the smaller children sitting in the laps of older children.
Richmond said her complaints to parish school officials were not immediately acted on. But, she said, Easley told her on Wednesday that the situation would be addressed.
“She said she was going to take care of it but she could not go into details about how she’s going to take care of it,” Richmond said.

But take care of it she did—by reintroducing busing, 2006-style:

A new solution reached Monday by School Board officials has a black bus driver driving across town to pick up the nine black children.

Welcome to Bush’s America.

Posted by Stephen at 12:33 AM in Education | Humanity | Legal issues | Permalink | TrackBack (0)