I recently had the distinct pleasure of hosting an in-class debate and discussion about children’s rights with the students in the Social Problems course I’m teaching at the University of Pittsburgh.
In preparing to teach the class, I did my usual prep work, reading up on the issue and collecting facts and figures to illustrate some larger points I hoped to make. In the course of doing my prep work, I was horrified to discover that there were some 686,000 children were the victims of abuse and neglect in the U.S. in 2012. This figure works out to over 1,800 cases per day, or about 1.3 per minute.
In the United States few rights are as central to our liberty and identity as the right to religious freedom. It is a cornerstone of American society, enshrined in the First Amendment to our constitution, which holds that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
This establishment clause has generally been interpreted to provide protections for religious practices and beliefs, to prohibit the creation of a national religion, and to curtail a federal government preference for one religion over another. Many Americans are not aware, however, that the federal government has, in fact, created laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion and which may amount to an establishment of religion and a regulation of belief.
The Convention is the most universally ratified treaty of all time, but the U.S. exceptional in that it, along with Somalia and South Sudan, is one of the only countries in the world yet to ratify it, to vote it into federal law.
Opponents of ratifying the Convention often claim that passing it into federal law would violate state’s rights to craft and implement laws. They say it would impinge upon parents’ rights, mandating sex education at the age of four. They sometimes claim that it would create what amounts to, in effect, a police state in which parents’ decisions and actions are constantly monitored and potentially thwarted by an over-bearing state. Some also claim that with so many state and federal laws already in place in the U.S., ratifying the Convention really isn’t necessary to protect children’s rights.
I salute NFL prospect Michael Sam for coming out as openly gay. Sam is expected to be a high-round pick for the draft and would be the first openly gay player to be drafted.
Celebrities and other notable personages like Sam coming out as openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender serve an invaluable service to all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation. They show us that it is beautiful and acceptable to be who we are, that love not only sees all colors, but that love sees all orientations, too (Click here to tweet that).
Like many people, I’ve often been called derogatory names for what I am, and for what others think I am. More times than I can count, I’ve been called “chief” and gotten war whoops and tomahawk chops. I also continue to be denied my religious freedom as I am not allowed to possess eagle and hawk feathers I need for ceremony and that help me to pray.
But my experiences with being busted for smudging have taught me to hang in there. That’s because not long after I was busted for smudging at the University of South Dakota, we go the policy changed. And it was change that came through uniting and standing our ground.
(This is part three of a three part series. Read part one here >> and part two here >> )
Beauty in the Wake of Horror
People often say that Native Americans should “just get over it” when referring to historical injustices. It’s a position that so many people take in an effort to distance themselves from the horrifying living reality of past abuses. But as shown in this story about the Long Walk , the effects can be long-lasting and cannot simply be cast aside.
It’s horrible to think about what so many people have gone through, and continue to go through today. But this story has within it a hidden beauty. It shows a powerful act of resistance and healing to know that people can reclaim their family names, their identities, and their cultures. It also shows that we can survive horrible things, and turn them into something beautiful and powerful to carry us forward.
I was busted four times for my spiritual practice of smudging, twice at two different universities. Looking back, I almost wonder why I kept doing it. After all, many people would say that religion has no place at school. Still others would say that I was violating university policy and therefore shouldn’t have been doing it in the first place.
(This is part two of a three part series. Read part one here >>)
But, as valid as those arguments may seem to be, they overlook a larger reality. Religion may have no place at school for some people, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. For many Native Americans, and indeed for many other peoples as well, spirituality and culture is an integral part of daily life. It is not something that can be separated out, checked at the door, or left at home.
I recently learned about some of the problems that Native American students in Wisconsin have faced for wanting to smudge at Bayfield High School. As someone who’s been busted a number of times for smudging in college dorms (something I discuss in my book), it’s gotten me thinking about how far we’ve come, how far we have to go, and how important it is to hang in there when faced with discriminatory policies and practices.
“Smudging” is a common Native American spiritual practice that involves the burning of a small amount of a sacred plant like sage, sweetgrass, or cedar, the smoke of which helps to carry one’s prayers. Many schools today have policies that forbid the burning of materials considered to be incense. This often places university officials at odds with indigenous students wanting to pray and preserve their heritage.
Last week, the FBI released its latest hate crimes statistics. They found that, as compared to last year, there was a 1.6% drop in the total number of anti-LGBT reported hate crimes, going from 20.8% of total crimes in 2011 to 19.2% in 2012. I remain cautiously optimistic about such figures however, because they may well be deceptive.
Here’s why. The percentage of hate crimes against LGBTS may well have decreased last year, and I for one definitely hope that this is the beginning of a much needed long-term pattern. But, when one looks at the latest numbers from the FBI over a longer period, the picture is very different. In 2006, reported hate crimes against members of the LGBT community stood at 15.5% of the total reported hate crimes. That’s a figure that rose to 15.9% in 2007, to 16.7% in 2008, to 18.5% in 2009, and to 19.3% in 2010.
I’ll Be On Vacation Through Thanksgiving
I’ll be on vacation for the next couple of weeks, through Monday, December 2nd.
Thanksgiving is a major holiday here in the U.S.
If you’re interested in reading more about Thanksgiving, and different perspectives on it, here are a couple of articles that might interest you:
The Wampanoag Side of the First Thanksgiving Story
Thanksgiving: A Native American View