That pesky context. Who needs it?

By virtue of choosing a husband who leans a bit (a lot) further to the right than I do, I have the boundless joy of listening to conservative talk radio when I am in the car with him. Today, I got to listen to Republicans becoming apoplectic (right before my very ears!) over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court Justice.

Now, I’ll admit – the whole arena of politics in general gives me the heebie-jeebies, so I’m admittedly not as informed as I should be. So as I listened to them (“them,” today, being Rush Limbaugh and JD Hayworth) rant about Sotomayor’s 2001 speech (in which she stated, “Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases…. I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”), I had to agree that this seemed a concerning statement, but also had to wonder at the context of it. Quote mining is too frequent among all parties, beliefs and other arguments to not be immediately considered when hearing something like this.

So I looked up .her entire speech (available at NYTimes.com) and read through it. The particular quote being bandied about has been interpreted to mean various things, but primarily, conservatives seem to be convinced this means that Judge Sotomayor believes in giving poor favor over the rich, or minorities favor over whites. I will admit, I flinch at her use of the word “better,” but given the context of the remainder of the speech, it seems clear that she is not advocating any partiality. Her speech, to me, is honest and realistic, and the example she uses to demonstrate her point, I think, is valid:

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group.

Without new attitudes and perceptions, obsolete and unfair laws have a chance to stand. New ideas have the potential to show us how old ideas might be too rigid or biased. Although I don’t think Sotomayor voiced the concept well in her introduction by making the wise old Latina woman “better” (she doesn’t strike me as a very comfortable or polished speaker), I think her support of the claim that different experiences and perspectives bring about new (and potentially) better ideas.

I still have to research her decisions (it seems some are quite controversial) to really know where I land on Sotomayor’s nomination. I am far from decided, because I need to educate myself so much more. It may very well turn out that she is too biased or too liberal. But I have to say, if this is the conservatives’ best argument in defense of that position, they are standing very shakily on a quote taken out of context and molded to meet their need.

National Day of Reason: Why it matters

Saw this in a friend’s status update on facebook this morning:

No Observance of National Day of Prayer in the White House today? Really?

I had forgotten today was the National Day of Prayer, but I like to observe its counterpart, the National Day of Reason. So I posted that as my own status update. It was not meant as a snarky response, but something I would have posted anyway had I remembered on my own:

…is observing the National Day of Reason.

And I posted this link: National Day of Reason Offers Inclusive and Constitutional Alternative to National Day of Prayer.

The next status update on this friend’s (the very same person who posted the first update) page read:

National Day of Reason? Wow! What is the big deal…Start you own day…lol. I choose to pray everyday so it really does not matter. It just seems silly to me. One Nation under God. Our Government could use a bit of prayer. God Bless our country.

So what’s the big deal? Why does it matter? Because in 1952, Congress passed into law this “National Day of Prayer,” despite the first amendment clause which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

I know, I know. The act establishing the National Day of Prayer doesn’t “establish” a new religion. But prayer is an establishment in a religious context, and it is not Congress’s place to pass into law any such support of religion.

The thing is, we are, indeed, one nation. That much is true. But we are one nation of many people, under many gods, and in a growing percentage of the population, under no god at all. So while this observance is certainly everyone’s right, it is exclusionary and improper for any branch of government to endorse it. I applaud the White House’s decision to not officially observe it, particularly considering the extremely evangelical emphasis the previous administration placed upon the day in years past.

The National Day of Reason is observed by people who believe that reason and rationality serve a greater purpose than prayer, and who believe that this country needs reason above prayer right now.

I don’t like being one of these people, but this is the only way I know how to say it right now. I’m offended. It is hypocritical to expect the White House – an administration leading a country of many cultures and ideas – to observe your particular culture’s values, but then to so flippantly dismiss another culture’s way of celebrating their own values. In no way in my update did I ask people to join me, although I would love it if they chose to do so. I simply and proudly stated what I would observe today.