Should your religion prevent you from adopting children?

It wasn’t too long ago that same-sex couples were denied the opportunity to open their homes to children who needed a family.  Now, the Alberta government is allegedly denying a couple the chance to adopt children because of their conservative Christian beliefs about homosexuality:

An evangelical Christian couple have filed a court application alleging the province discriminated against them based on their religious beliefs by rejecting their application to adopt a child.

The Edmonton couple — whose are identified only by initials in court documents — allege an initial recommendation they be allowed to adopt was revoked after “interference” by the Ministry of Children’s Services, and that they were told their religious beliefs related to gender and sexuality were contrary to the “official position of the Alberta government.”

“If we did not change our religious beliefs regarding sexuality, to conform to the beliefs of Child and Family Services, we would not be approved for adoption,” said the woman in an affidavit filed Nov. 1 with Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton.

The couple’s identities have been redacted from the documents filed in court, but a copy of a Safe Home Study Report completed in February 2017 describes them as employed, owning their own home and having happy and healthy family and community networks. They indicated they hoped to adopt a child, or up to three siblings, between the ages of seven and 17. The Catholic Social Services worker who prepared the report said in an email she was “pleased” to recommend them for adoption.

However, the report recommended a “homosexual child” not be placed with the couple because of an assessment that though they said would unconditionally love a child questioning or exploring their sexuality, they would not support the “lifestyle,” which could mean a child may not feel accepted.

[…]

During subsequent meetings with Catholic Social Services and Child and Family Services, the couple said they made it clear they would seek counselling and support if their child was questioning their sexuality, but they could not encourage a lifestyle that “we knew caused a higher proportion of anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts than other lifestyles,” according to the affidavit.

On May 3, the couple’s adoption application was officially rejected, according to court documents.

They are asking the court to rule that their rights were violated, and for an order that they be approved as adoptive parents.

While I do not share this family’s beliefs about homosexuality, I also don’t believe a person’s religious or political beliefs automatically make a home unsuitable for a child – especially when the alternative is for the young person to remain stuck in the foster care system.

Of course we’re only hearing the family’s side of the story, and we don’t know if there are other factors which call their ability to parent into question.  We’ll find out when the matter goes to court next year.  But I am extremely nervous about a government deciding that being an evangelical Christian – or a member of any other faith with conservative views on sexuality – renders you unable to adopt.

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Everyone supports freedom of speech they agree with

While everyone argues about Masuma Khan’s anti-Canada social media postings, Dalhousie University’s investigation of same and the implication for freedom of expression on campus, I think they’re overlooking the real lesson of this mess.

Which is: vote in your student council elections.

As a proud UNB alumnus I can’t speak for the home of Atlantic Canada’s second-best law school, but I’m sure the overwhelming majority of students do not agree with Khan.  But she was elected fair and square, because most people simply couldn’t be bothered to vote.  This is why most university student unions are politically somewhere to the left of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Now that she is being investigated by the school for expressing her opinion, this is a good test case to determine who really believes freedom of expression is sacrosanct, and who just supports it for their own side.  I was personally offended by much of what Khan wrote, but I believe this investigation is a travesty:

A Dalhousie University student is facing disciplinary action over a post she made to Facebook in the summer about Canada 150 celebrations.

Masuma Khan said she was given the option to undergo counselling and write a reflective essay after the Halifax-based school conducted an investigation into a complaint about her online comments, but she says she refused.

[…]

Earlier this year, Khan, who is a vice-president of the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), put forward a motion that the group not participate in Canada 150 celebrations. The executive passed her motion, saying it wouldn’t hold or endorse Canada Day events on campus, describing this year’s events as an act of colonialism.

The student union faced a serious backlash over the decision and Khan took to social media in response, writing that “white fragility can kiss my ass. Your white tears aren’t sacred, this land is.”

Some libertarians have risen to Khan’s defence, and like Reason‘s excellent Robby Soave, note that this is the inevitable result of policing “offensive” speech:

…this is what happens when she hurt my feelings, burn the witch! becomes the dominant norm on campus. Of course such a regime would backfire on the left. It was only a matter of time before fed up conservatives, who are already outnumbered on campus, made use of the considerable administrative bureaucracy that exists for the sole purpose of making everybody comfortable. When the radicals gave up on free speech, they put themselves at greatest risk.

Many others who usually consider themselves free-speech activists have been notably silent, however.  If Ezra Levant has tweeted about it, I must have missed it.

On the other hand, some law professors at Dalhousie have published an open letter backing Ms. Khan, but also implying that speech they agree with must be defended:

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Someday a Dalhousie student will get in trouble for posting some political opinions the law professors deem offensive.  Will they defend that speech as well?

Three things you should never, ever do

A Connecticut man called the radio show of personal-finance guru Dave Ramsey, and inadvertently gave a master class in what not to do in a divorce:

1. Never, ever, sign away your interest in a matrimonial home without the other party refinancing the property.  This poor fellow signed a quit claim deed, but his ex-wife didn’t obtain a new mortgage.  Now she’s decided she’s not going to make the payments anymore, and the mortgage company is coming after him.

There is a court order stating that she must refinance and have his name removed from the covenants of the mortgage, so she may be in contempt of court.  But it would have been much easier if the caller ensured that this was done as a condition of him signing the deed.

So why didn’t his lawyer catch this?  Well, about that…

2. Never “share” a family lawyer with the other party.  Even if both parties apparently agree on all the major issues, something inevitably comes up which they hadn’t thought about until a lawyer points it out.  And it’s sadly not uncommon for one party to be coerced or bullied into a blatantly unfair, one-sided “agreement.”

The lawyer’s job is to represent your interests.  By definition, your interests and those of your ex are not the same.  There is an inherent conflict of interest.  Had this guy retained his own legal counsel, he likely wouldn’t have gotten into this mess in the first place.

The caller almost certainly has the law on his side, but he remains reluctant to take the matter back to court.  Which raises my third point:

3. Don’t “give in” to the other party in the hopes of “keeping the peace.”  The caller tells Dave that he isn’t sure taking legal action “is the best decision for [his] children,” because he’s concerned about “keeping the peace between the two households.”

Ramsey responds, “I missed the part where she cares about that.”

Sadly, I’ve seen it many times: a client comes into my office to discuss the other party’s settlement proposal, I point out some blatant deficiencies, but he or she wants to agree “just to get it over with.”

A separation agreement or consent order might be the most important document you will ever sign in your life.  If you accede to terms you don’t really agree with, you – and your children – may be stuck with them indefinitely.  You can make a court application to vary an order or agreement, but the burden is on you to show that a “material change of circumstances” has occurred.  If you knew about these potential problems when you made the agreement, it’s that much harder for you to meet the test.

When one party folds and just accepts what the other side demands, it’s usually shows a severe imbalance in power between the parties.  (And it’s not always the female partner being coerced by the man – I’ve worked on several cases where it’s the husband who just wants to “get it over with,” not to mention some same-sex relationship cases.)  Rest assured, the party dictating the terms of agreement couldn’t care less about your feelings.

 

Why are Kinder Eggs banned from America?

It actually happened: Piers Morgan made a good point for once.

America’s founding fathers, in their wisdom, never saw fit to include “the right to low-quality European chocolate with cheap toys you’ll be stepping on for weeks thereafter” in the Bill of Rights.  But why can’t Kinder Surprise Eggs be sold in the United States, anyway?

As with most American stories, the answer involves a lot of corporate intrigue and legal wrangling:

Since production began in 1974, the company has sold more than 30 billion Kinder Surprise eggs around the world. But in the United States, they are prohibited by Section 402 (d)(1) of the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which bans any candies with non-nutritive objects “embedded” inside them.

[…]

Though the original law is nearly a century old, it came up for debate in the 1990s. In August, 1997, Kreiner Imports Inc. of Chicago said it would voluntarily recall 5,000 Kinder eggs to cooperate with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC.)

It was the same year that Nestle USA Inc and Mars Inc. went to war over a copycat product. The Nestle Magic was a hollow chocolate globe surrounding a plastic shell with a Disney toy inside.

Though the Consumer Product Safety Commission ruled the candy didn’t violate its safety regulations, the Food and Drug Administration wrote to Nestle in July 1997 saying it violated the 1938 Food and Drug Act.

Leading the charge was an elite group of consumer lobbyists known for taking on big adversaries. Soon after Carol Tucker Foreman criticized the product, supermarket chain Stop and Shop announced it would no longer sell them. Also on the team was Connecticut State Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal, who called on officials to address the issue “before Nestle Magic could become Nestle tragic,” according to the L.A. Times. [Interestingly, Blumenthal is now one of the Senate’s leading voices in favor of gun control. – DJP]

Though Mars Inc. representatives originally denied involvement in the effort,  the company later acknowledged that it had picked up the tab, according to the Times.

In September 1997, Mars executives wrote a letter to the Food and Drug Administration saying it had joined critics because “we care about the public interest,” according to the Washington Post. A month later, Nestle announced that it would discontinue sales of its competing product, telling the L.A. Times that the company felt its candy was safe but took it off the market due to “an unresolved technical, legal problem.”

In 2013, Mars Inc. spent $1.99 million on lobbying efforts, according to data from the Senate Office of Public Records that was compiled by OpenSecrets.org. Nestle spent a total of $4.8 million in the same year, with the vast majority going toward food processing and sales.

The 1997 fight wasn’t the first time toy-filled chocolate eggs came under fire. In 1989, the candies were discussed in British Parliament after a child died from choking on a small piece.

The good news for American children, if not their parents, is that a similar Kinder product will soon be available in their country:

In 2018, Ferrero International will release the “Kinder Joy” in America. Unlike the Kinder Surprise it has two distinct, sealed halves. One half contains the mystery toy, and the other half is filled with chocolate, milk-crème, and chocolate wafer bites. This tweak of having the toy and chocolate packaged in separate sections makes this version of the Kinder egg adhere to the FDA regulation.

The Kinder Joy was originally developed to sell the chocolate treats in warm-weather markets (such as India, China and Korea) where the traditional exposed chocolate egg melted.

It’s better than nothing, I guess, but if President Trump wants to get rid of allegedly useless and outdated regulations, I know where he can start.

 

The T-word

In light of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, by a 64 year-old white man whose political or religious motivation, if any, remains unknown, I’ve seen much of this kind of thing on social media:

Because when you want a nuanced and informed discussion of legal issues and systemic racism, you turn to Twitter.

Huffpost explains why law enforcement officials are avoiding the T-word for the time being:

There’s a reason that law enforcement authorities are hesitant to label an attack like the one in Las Vegas as terrorism. Specific federal statutes target international terrorism and acts associated with groups that the U.S. government has labeled as foreign terrorist organizations. But there’s no specific federal statute aimed at acts of domestic terrorism, meaning acts inspired or carried out on behalf of domestic extremist organizations. Some federal laws are aimed at particular acts that might be carried out for terrorist purposes, like hijacking planes or assassinating government officials, but mass shootings are not on that list.

So had Stephen Paddock lived, it’s unlikely that he would have faced federal terrorism charges. And unless authorities turn up evidence that his attack was motivated by hatred for a specific racial group ― which is unlikely, given that he fired indiscriminately into a crowd of thousands ― there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have faced any federal charges at all.

[…]

…it’s not clear the Las Vegas massacre would qualify as an act of domestic terrorism. There is a federal definition of the term ― yes, even though there isn’t a charge. An act of domestic terrorism must be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence a government policy by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. We don’t know yet if Paddock had any of those goals in mind.

There is a Nevada state law which may define the Vegas massacre as terrorism, but not a federal one.  The ACLU, notably, is wary of what would actually be targeted by a specific law against “domestic terrorism”:

In the U.S., there’s still a great deal of reluctance to create a criminal charge of domestic terrorism.

“It’s an incredibly broad label,” Hina Shamsi, director of the national security project at the American Civil Liberties Union, told NPR in August following the white nationalist rally car attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“There’s a real danger of the government criminalizing ideology, theology and beliefs rather than focusing on specific criminal acts,” she said.

According to Shamsi, the ACLU opposes any such law, because it believes it infringes on free speech and religion and could be politicized and used against groups like anti-war groups or environmental activists.

Reason’s Ed Krayewski made a similar point after Charlottesville:

The FBI has specific legal criteria it uses to define international terrorism, domestic terrorism, and the federal crime of terrorism. To be terrorist, an act must appear to intend to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.” The federal offense is defined as a criminal act “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.”

In political rhetoric, by contrast, the word is frequently deployed as a thought-terminating cliché—a way to promote the idea that some military or police activity should be permitted to occur outside of the constraints of the Constitution, particularly against certain classes of people. In the last few decades, and particularly since 9/11, those classes of people have tended to be Muslim.

[…]

At the beginning of his term as attorney general, Holder sought to treat terrorism as a law enforcement issue. This was the right instinct. Terrorists are criminals with political ideas, but they are still criminals. The term terrorism is used to strip those criminals—and many noncriminals—of longstanding legal protections. And its ultimate effect has been to make it politically harder to defend the idea of treating “terrorism” as a law enforcement issue, often while creating the space for even more terrorism.

The Shawn Kings of the world want the definition of “terrorism” to encompass more white guys, but they aren’t the only ones who will be caught up in the net.  They should be very careful what they wish for.

Why Netanyahu’s in trouble

Bloomberg explains why the Israeli Prime Minister is at risk of indictment:

Police are pursuing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust against Netanyahu, according to the document outlining Harow’s plea agreement. Investigators have been questioning witnesses in at least four separate cases, details of which have been leaked over the past year to Israeli media.

[…]

The first [case] involves suspicions that Netanyahu received cigars, champagne and other gifts from businessmen, including billionaire Arnon Milchan, the Hollywood producer of films such as “Fight Club” and “The Big Short,” according to Channel 2 TV. In a second case, Netanyahu is suspected of conspiring with the owner of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper to undermine Israel Hayom, a competing free daily backed by U.S. casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, chairman and majority owner of Las Vegas Sands Corp. In two other cases, involving associates of his, Netanyahu isn’t said to be a suspect. They involve officials and businessmen who allegedly profited from Israel’s purchase of nuclear submarines from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG in a deal worth more than $1.5 billion, and accusations that Netanyahu’s government gave special treatment to Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Corp., the country’s largest telecommunications company, which is controlled by Netanyahu’s friend Shaul Elovitch.

[…]

Netanyahu, whose 11 years in office make him Israel’s longest-serving prime minister after founding father David Ben-Gurion, wouldn’t be legally obligated to resign. And putting him on trial could take years: Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, was indicted on corruption charges in 2009, acquitted on the most serious charges in 2012, convicted on other charges in 2014 and entered prison only in 2016 (he was released last month). Other investigations, of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, continued for years without resulting in charges against them.

The media in Israel’s Arab enemies will have a field day.  At the same time, people in these countries may start to wonder why the hated Zionist state is able to bring down its leaders for corruption.

When bad clients happen to good lawyers

Yesterday, lawyer Jay Sekulow appeared on Fox News Sunday to defend President Donald Trump.  It did not go well for him.  (The real fun starts around the 3:00 mark.)

From all indications, Sekulow’s appearances on other Sunday-morning interview shows didn’t go much better, and twitter’s blue checkmarks piled on:

The thing is, while Sekulow may have come across like Eugene Levy in Armed and Dangerous, the guy undeniably has some serious skills as a lawyer:

All told, Sekulow came off a bit like a Washington novice, which he’s definitely not. His face and his name are well known in the nation’s capital and among conservatives generally — but not for this kind of work. He’s an experienced litigator on behalf of conservative causes, especially causes dear to the religious right. White-collar defense lawyers, particularly those who defend political figures, form a small community in Washington, and Sekulow is not part of it.

Sekulow made his first big Washington debut in 1987 in the Supreme Court when he helped the evangelical group Jews for Jesus defeat a measure that banned the distribution of religious literature at Los Angeles International Airport.

His performance was unimpressive, American Lawyer magazine wrote at the time. Sekulow was “rude and aggressive,” the publication wrote, “so nervous that at times he appeared nearly out of control.”

Fortunately for Sekulow, it was an easy case to win. The ordinance barred “First Amendment activity” at the airport, presenting clear constitutional problems. And win Sekulow did — in a unanimous decision striking down the measure.

“I left the courtroom feeling like the Beatles must have felt leaving Shea Stadium,” he wrote in 2005.

The victory turned Sekulow, a self-described Messianic Jew, into a crusader for religious expression and a celebrity on the Christian right, a status that has only grown since then. Over three decades, he built a legal and media empire by representing religious groups, antiabortion advocates and other conservative organizations in high-profile court battles.

With televangelist Pat Robertson, Sekulow launched the American Center for Law and Justice — a conservative response to the American Civil Liberties Union — which litigates evangelical causes, often with great success. He has appeared before the Supreme Court on 11 other occasions and has filed numerous amicus briefs in cases related to civil liberties.

Even with Robertson’s backing, you don’t make it before the Supreme Court 11 times without being really good at your job.  Agree or disagree with his political and legal positions, Sekulow has a history of being a very effective advocate.

So what went wrong yesterday? It looks like Sekulow made a few mistakes often made by lawyers, though rarely with so many people watching:

1. He is trying to practice law in a legal area with which he has no experience.  Sekulow may be a skilled constitutional lawyer, especially for religious-freedom cases, but he seems hopelessly out of his depth in defending the President from impeachment or even possible criminal charges.

2. He is way too emotionally attached to his client.  Lawyers, like doctors, have to maintain some degree of professional distance from their clients.  You must advocate for their position in keeping with the law and professional decorum, but taking cases too personally can lead to smuggling drugs to a jailed client, or even providing support to terrorist organizations.

Like a depressing number of religious-right figures, Sekulow has practically sold his soul to Donald Trump.  A man who has never lived up to their personal standards, and is a latecomer to their political views, is now the great savior who got them a conservative Supreme Court Justice and promises more victories to come.

Trump’s approval rating is at 38.8% and falling, but he still has the true believers in his corner.  And they seem so personally invested in their hero that they’ll do anything for him, even making themselves look ridiculous and incompetent on television.

Serious question: has anyone ever done business with Donald Trump and come out better for the experience?  Anyone?