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December 2, 2009

Religious Bigotry

Dear Correspondents:

I’m still hearing from people whose messages to themail didn’t get through, and I’m still unable to locate any trash or spam folder where they’re diverted, so I’m suggesting that you request a return receipt for any message that you send to themail@dcwatch.com, and that you resend any messages for which you don’t receive a return receipt. Return receipts are a pain, and I normally ignore requests for them, but I’ll send them for any message sent to themail. That should let you know whether your message got through before it’s published in themail.

As expected, the same-sex marriage bill passed the city council on first vote yesterday by a vote of eleven to two. That provided another occasion for expressions of bigotry and hatred aimed at religions, especially the Roman Catholic religion, that maintain and wish to live by their traditional doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman. When, on November 16, Jonetta Rose Barras wrote about this issue that, “the church should keep the faith” (http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/local/Testing-faith-8537616-70147567.html), commenters to her article wrote things like, “The Catholic Church steals money from the poor by taking their hard earned money by way of a ‘stupid tax’ dropped weekly into a collection plate, so that they can build their solid gold houses in Rome while preaching about morality,” and “If they need money they can tell their Pope to quit buying velvet Prada slippers.” Comments on yesterday’s Washington Post article about the vote included, “And Mr. Jackson? Take your crucifix and your religion and go back to Maryland.” And the comments on stories about the vote in the comments sections of DCist and CityDesk were too vicious and vulgar to link to here.

That viciousness and vulgarity is encouraged by the city council, and by its ambition to drive the Catholic Church and other traditional churches out of public life in this city. Tim Craig’s and Hamil Harris’ article in the Post on November 25 (“Church’s Influence on Politics Shifting: DC’s Same-Sex Marriage Debate Pushes Some Clergy Further to the Sidelines,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/24/AR2009112403963.html), reveals that many councilmembers are not only indifferent, but actively hostile, toward religions whose core morality differ from theirs. A good example of how such hostility and contempt will play out over the next several years is a letter that was sent on Monday by Councilmember Tommy Wells and Board of Education President Lisa Raymond. Councilmember Wells has argued, particularly in the case of this bill, that DC citizens should never lobby Congress, and should always bow to the will of the city council and the mayor without exercising their legal right of appeal to Congress. But Councilmember Wells reserves to himself the right to lobby Congress. He and Raymond wrote to Senator Richard Durbin to oppose the reauthorization of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Their chief complaint is that they do not want the federal government to give private school scholarships to the small number of DC students who get to escape DC public schools with them, but their complaint is tainted with a distinctly anti-Catholic bias: “In addition, as the Archdiocese of Washington, which operates Catholic schools in the District, made clear at recent hearings on legislation to enact marriage equality for same sex couples, they will not and currently do not recognize same sex couples or provide employee benefits for same sex spouses. It is their clearly espoused doctrine and practice to treat gay and lesbian employees differently from heterosexual employees. It is unclear if and how the doctrine is communicated to students. We oppose using public funds to support discriminatory practices in our city” (http://www.tommywells.org/content/view/796/2/). Do not believe the reassurance of Councilmember Thomas, at Tuesday’s legislative session, that religion is not under attack. Councilmember Wells’ letter to Senator Durbin is just the opening salvo of the attack. For the present, the council will tolerate churches’ preaching their traditional beliefs, as long as they do not live by them; in the future, teaching about traditional morality may be held to be a hate crime under the Human Rights Act. Councilmembers are not about to write a meaningful and effective exemption for religions into the same-sex marriage bill, and they will never admit the legitimacy of individual consciences. They disdain people whose consciences lead them to believe in traditional morality.

Gary Imhoff
themail@dcwatch.com

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Peoples’ Counsel Update
Dorothy Brizill, dorothy@dcwatch.com

At the council’s legislative session on Tuesday, an emergency bill, B18-531, the “Peoples’ Counsel Holdover Extension Emergency Amendment Act of 2009,” was adopted to extend the term of Betty Noel, as the Peoples’ Counsel. As a result, Noel, whose three-year term ended in June, and whose one hundred eighty day holdover term ends on December 10, will serve in a holdover capacity after the expiration of her term “for not more than 270 days, or until a successor takes office, whichever is earlier. In short, with regard to the Peoples’ Counsel, the council added ninety days to the regular one hundred eighty days a District official can serve in a holdover capacity. As a result, Novel will serve as the Peoples’ Counsel at least through March.

The emergency bill was introduced by Councilmember Muriel Bowser, chair of the Council Committee on Public Services and Community Affairs. As I wrote earlier in themail, Bowser held a confirmation hearing for Mayor Fenty’s OPC nominee, Vicky Beasley, with less than forty-eight hours notice to the general public. Bowser’s rush to secure counsel approval, however, when Beasley was resoundingly criticized by citizens and by civic organizations because of her lack of knowledge and experience regarding administrative law. Following the hearing, Bowser had to cancel the markup and committee vote on Beasley’s nomination when she wasn’t able to get the support of a majority of her fellow committee members. Bowser has now left the hearing open until January 23, in the hope that Beasley can supplement the hearing record with letters of support.

As Tuesday’s legislative session, Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced a bill that will formalize and detail minimal qualifications for persons appointed to be the Peoples’ Counsel. If the bill is adopted, Beasley will be considered unqualified to serve in the job.

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Intentionally Perverse Traffic Light Timing
Jack McKay, jack.mckay@verizon.net

Some time ago I complained to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) that a certain pair of traffic lights in Mount Pleasant were especially badly timed. The second light goes red less than ten seconds after the first, one block away, goes green. Anybody stopped for the first traffic signal, and then proceeding at legal speed, will be stopped by the second signal as well, there to wait for a tedious 65 seconds. Guess what, impatient drivers either run the first red light to make the second-light green, race along the block at high speed to beat the second-light red, or cut through the alley parallel to the road to skip right by those badly timed signals.

Silly me, I assumed that DDOT would reset the light timing to promote traffic flow at the proper speed of traffic on this minor arterial. That was, I thought, elementary traffic engineering. But no, they “improved” the light timing by making the second signal go red the instant the first light goes green, thus making it absolutely certain that anyone stopped for the first signal light would be stopped by the second traffic signal as well. While that may eliminate any temptation to race along the block to make that second signal, it only encourages drivers to run the first red light to make that second-light green, or to bypass these signals by using the parallel alley as if it was roadway. Every morning drivers familiar with these traffic lights evade them by cutting through alleys, turning them into busy thoroughfares. This is hazardous not only to traffic, because these alley exits are characterized by poor traffic visibility, but also to pedestrians, innocently walking along sidewalks crossing those alley exits, and to residents attempting to get their cars out of alley garages.

Until now, I thought that this abuse of our alleys and side streets by rush-hour traffic was caused by the unavoidable delays of traffic signals on our arterials. Now I see that this is conscious DDOT policy: adjust signal light timings on purpose so that drivers are forced to stop and wait at each and every one. That stopping traffic as often as possible, instead of promoting steady traffic flow at legal speeds on arterial and collector streets, has the unfortunate consequence of diverting traffic onto side streets and into alleys, seems be news to DDOT.

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Michelle Rhee Should Resign
Richard Urban, drichardurban@urbangrocery.com

The role of Michelle Rhee in covering up sexual misconduct by her fiancee, Sacramento California mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson, has just been revealed in a congressional report. As reported in The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, and many other media, Ms. Rhee handled “damage control” as a member of the Board of Directors of St. Hope Academy, the school that Kevin Johnson founded. The congressional report says that Johnson made inappropriate sexual advances toward three young women involved in the St. Hope program. One AmeriCorps volunteer working there allegedly was offered $1000 per month to keep quiet. Michelle Rhee was informed of the sexual misconduct by a staff member.

Ms. Rhee has politicized DC Public Schools. All the while, she claims that she is acting in the best interests of children. In 2007, Ms Rhee told the character-based abstinence education program that I founded, ULTRA Teen Choice, to stop its programs in DC Public Schools. It was falsely alleged by her special assistant Richard Nyankori that all outside health programs were being stopped. Nyankori and Deputy Chief for Youth Engagement Chad Ferguson, in a private meeting, told me that since I did not express explicit personal support for same sex relationships, and since I testified against now-adopted health standards that effectively promote same-sex relationships as normal, that our program would not be welcome in DC Public Schools. Later, Ms. Rhee became personally involved in our case, and even falsely claimed (http://www.ultrateenchoice.org/downloads/MRhee_June_08.PDF) that I had held a meeting at a school without permission and changed a school’s entry log. (Doesn’t she have anything else to do)? Find our the details at http://www.ultrateenchoice.org/default.asp?contentID=629.

It is ironic that Ms Rhee refers to the “safety and security of children” in the letter. It is also ironic that she worked so diligently to block a character-based program that helps children to abstain from sexual relationships, while she covered for her fiancee who made inappropriate sexual advances on those under his supervision. The Washington, DC, city council should open an investigation into Ms. Rhee’s misconduct at the St. Hope Academy, as well as her misconduct in the termination of the ULTRA Teen Choice program. The council should also look into other ways in which Ms. Rhee has politicized the school system by bringing in programs that support her views in issues such as same sex relationships, while blocking or ousting programs that promote traditional values. At the same time, Ms. Rhee should tender her resignation effective immediately.

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Tommy Wells and Lisa Raymond Should Refocus Their “Responsibilities”
Paul D. Craney, pcraney@dcgop.com

The DC Republican Committee made the following statement in response to Councilmember Tommy Wells’ (Ward 6-Dem) and School Board President Lisa Raymond’s (Ward 6-Dem) letter to Senator Richard Durbin (IL-Dem) encouraging the Senator not to reauthorize the DC Opportunity Scholarship. Wells’ and Raymond’s letter stated that some students who received the federally-funded vouchers attended “seriously deficient” private schools.

The DC Republican Committee sent the following letter to School Board President Raymond encouraging her to set an example of academic excellence by fixing the DC State Board of Education’s web site of spelling errors before pushing for the elimination of the DC Opportunity Scholarship. Currently, the SBOE’s web site has spelling errors, most noticeable under the section “Board Responsibilities,” the web site reads “DC SBOE Responsibilites.”

“Ms. Raymond and Mr. Wells should refocus their ‘responsibilites’ on correcting the embarrassing spelling errors on DCSBOE’s web site before sending a message to Congress that would eliminate free federal money designed to help educate some of the District’s low income, minority children. How embarrassing is it to have an elected body, whose sole focus is to promote education, that can’t even operate a simple web site without spelling errors,” stated DC Republican Committee Chairman Robert J. Kabel.

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Celebrating Same-Sex Marriage in the District
Martin Andres Austermuhle, martin.austermuhle@gmail.com

The DC council’s December 1 vote on legislation legalizing same-sex marriage is something to be celebrated. In an open and methodical way, the council debated and endorsed legislation that erases discrimination from what is essentially a state-recognized legal contract. While opponents have worried that the council is redefining marriage to the detriment of society, it’s worth remembering that we’ve long changed how we view marriage to fit with changing social conditions. Allowing more people to enter into loving relationships is never something to be feared.

While some opponents continue to demand that the issue be put to a public vote, it likely won’t be — and that’s a good thing. While we live in a democracy, we also recognize that not everything is left to the people to be voted on. Human rights and civil liberties should not be left to the whim of the majority. The recent vote in Switzerland banning the construction of minarets highlights this point. As for the spat between the Archdiocese of Washington and the council over Catholic Charities and their services to the city’s neediest residents, I hope to see the Archdiocese respond to what was a moderate and middle-of-the-road proposal from council members Phil Mendelson and David Catania. The Church is not being forced to perform or even offer space to same-sex marriages, but it would be too much to ask for it to be allowed to discriminate against the same-sex couples it employs — especially if it’s getting substantial amounts of public money for certain social services. Georgetown University provides a local example of how the Church can balance its religious beliefs and District laws regarding nondiscrimination.

Finally, I’d like to ask that opponents of this legislation not live up to their threat to go to Congress to demand its intervention. While there is very little chance that Congress will be able to stop this legislation from moving forward, it’s important that we not waver on one key principle — local decisions should be made by locally elected representatives who are accountable to their constituents. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut.) has said that he’s like to stop the legislation, but he’s not our representative; we didn’t vote for him, and we sure can’t vote him out. He doesn’t answer to District residents, so he shouldn’t have the chance to impose his opinions on decisions made by representatives that do. As Rev. Patrick J. Walker, who leads New Macedonia Baptist Church and opposes gay marriage, said in a recent Wall Street Journal article: “The citizens of the District of Columbia do not need the Hill to meddle in our affairs. I’d rather see this in court than on the Hill.” There’s a good chance that sometime next spring the District’s same-sex couples will be able to wed legally. I’m happy for them, and I’m happy with the DC council for taking this step.

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Just Wondering
Robert Meisnere, meisnere@yahoo.com

Why was there very little about the fact the Fenty did not go to Pollin’s funeral? I’m so offended.

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Kudos for Judge Who Approved Teacher Firings
Paul Michael Brown, pmb@his.com

Overburdened District taxpayers got some good news when Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff threw out a suit challenging Chancellor Rhee’s latest move to right size the public school workforce. Making short work of the Maoist iron rice bowl arguments advanced by union bosses, the court explained the dismissals in terms familiar to anyone who’s had live within a budget or run a small business — in these tough economic times the school system can’t afford to add hundreds of new employees. Even better, the judge gave the back of her hand to the union’s effort to let the new hires feed at the government trough while using the Bleak House morass that is arbitration to challenge the firings. Those of us who have paid ever escalating sums to support ceaseless growth in the education bureaucracy despite decades of declining enrollment owe Judge Bartnoff a debt of gratitude. Hopefully the chancellor will be encouraged to continue her drive to transform DCPS from a make-work jobs program to a world-class outfit more focused on student welfare than union deadwood.

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Black Eye for ANC’s
Mary Beatty, ANC6A, mbbeatty@aol.com

I write in response to ANC 6A Commissioner Joe Fengler’s E-mail “Black Eye for Charter Schools” [themail, November 25], which was in response to my “NIMBY in ANC 6A” [themail, November 22], regarding a recent ANC6A vote to oppose a charter preschool. My original E-mail pointed out that while five ANC Commissioners stated their support of charter schools, three of these voted to oppose this preschool in a gentrified area near Lincoln Park. Commissioner Fengler even states that my “. . . advocacy for charter schools has created intolerance for anything less than unbridled charter school support 100 percent of the time — no exceptions.”

While I wouldn’t shy away from “unbridled” support of anything I believe in, as I mentioned in my E-mail, I voted in opposition to this school in prior years based on the zoning issues that Fengler described in detail. What Mr. Fengler fails to mention is that these zoning issues have now, after numerous appeals by the ANC, been determined. The city has determined that the school can be sited in this neighborhood. So, having lost that argument, the ANC representative in this neighborhood now wants the full ANC to jump in and oppose the issuance of the charter by the Charter School Board based on supposed traffic and parking issues.

Communities all across DC are so tightly woven that its hard to provide any new retail space without creating parking problems, to provide new entertainment venues without creating noise problems, to allow bike rides or races without creating traffic issues. So I have empathy for the residents who will be inconvenienced during drop-off and pickup times for these three and four year olds. In fact, I suggested in the meeting that the local ANC rep. take their concerns to the Charter School Board. I just don’t believe that the entire ANC should be dragged into these traffic and parking concerns, and I believe that many of the concerns can be mitigated through negotiation with the owners. During the four year time period that ANC 6A has been fighting the siting of this preschool, it has approved ten to twelve new bars along H Street. These bars back-up to residences on both side of the street for about four to five blocks. But in this case, residents concerns of noise, parking, and trash problems are mitigated through voluntary agreements through the ANC’s ABL Committee. Why the ANC will not take the same approach to mitigate the much less troublesome noise and parking issues of a preschool seems a bit bizarre. So I’m not criticizing the residents, I’m criticizing Commissioners who have such a double standard. I’m criticizing the motives of those Commissioners who say they support charter schools yet don’t see the hypocrisy of voting against one based solely upon an imagined traffic/parking problem for a couple of hours each day. Yes, that smacks of NIMBY to me.

We all experience some type of inconvenience to share in this great, dynamic city. An ANC that would use a presumed traffic/parking problem as justification to oppose the benefits of a new preschool to the children of this area creates a black-eye to all ANC’s. Well, that is, if you use the logic of Joe Fengler who somehow believes that my comments about the inconsistencies of ANC 6A’s position gives a “black eye to all charter schools.” The real shame is that there are Commissioners in ANC 6A who don’t see the inconsistency and hypocrisy in this rationale.

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CLASSIFIEDS — EVENTS

DC Republican Committee Holiday Party, December 9
Paul D. Craney, pauldcraney@dcgop.com

Please join the DC Republican Committee for a holiday party at the home of Teri Galvez and Michael Cleary at 1707 19th Street, NW, on December 9 at 6:30 p.m. This event is open to all and is a great way to invite family and friends to a DC Republican event. Light food and drinks will be served; admission price is $15.00. The DCGOP will collect toys for babies through young adults, books, gift cards (Target, Best Buy, ITunes, and food stores), wrapping paper, and movie passes for Latin American Youth Center (LAYC, http://www.layc-dc.org).

To attend this event, please contact us at telephone number 289-8005 or by E-mail at: info@dcgop.com. To make a contribution to LAYC, please contact our office or contact LAYC directly.

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