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Every morning, I pick up the Daily Kent Stater and USA Today (and throw away the Sports section). Today, there was a big news story in the Stater about the ongoing murder trial of a Kent State student. The details of the trial are quite interesting and I've been following them since the news of this student's hospitalization after the assault which took place near campus.
But the murder trial is not my concern for this post. I was reading the latest news about a key eyewitness testimony in the case. The young man in question had been driving the defendant and another young man also being charged with murder on the night that the assault took place. But one of the sort of side details tucked into the article reads like this: "[the young man] first appeared in front of a grand jury Nov. 24, 2009 and pleaded "the Fifth" on the advice of his attorney, [name]. As he left the courtroom, he was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and then booked and sent to [the county] jail, where he stayed until Dec. 24."
Maybe I don't know that much about the justice system, but I do have an innate sense of human justice which is frantically waving red flags at me every time I read this. The Bill of Rights was designed to protect the people's rights. The fifth amendment is supposed to protect people from self-incrimination. How is it possible, then, that they could charge him with obstructing justice right after the trial? How is that justice at all? So he is allowed to plead the fifth in the court room, but as soon as he is out of that "safe haven," they can instantly arrest him for using his rights? This smells like a devious loop-hole; like those who are supposed to be protecting our rights are playing the system in order to take those rights away in the name of, I don't know, "justice." It's absurd! And besides that, he was put in jail for an entire month for this "crime." When reading the text of the amendment, it seems this is not actually against the law, per se: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury... nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..." But I have to say that it goes against the spirit of the law. Judges and policemen should be there to protect our rights, not take them away.
I've always had a problem with the way the justice system works in regard to the amount of time criminals have to serve. Sometimes murderers get 20 years in prison. Sometimes they are put to death. Does taking another life have gradations like this? (And, just as a side note, I'd like to say that I am against the death penalty, but that's a subject for another post. And I'm also against unnecessary jail time, but, again, let's save that for another day.) I understand that not all crimes are equal and that every crime has to be judged based on the circumstances. But sometimes the rulings really make absolutely no sense. Does it sound right to you that using your Constitutional rights can land you in jail for a month? Let me know what you think.
The other case I read about today in USA Today was about the Supreme Court case in which a Christian organization at a law school is suing the school because they took away funding from this organization for denying gays and non-Christians membership or participation in their group. The school had anti-discrimination laws set up for every organization on campus, so they weren't treating them unfairly. The group's argument was that "its members had a First Amendment right to limit participation to people who subscribe to their beliefs, including a ban on homosexual relations." And that "making groups admit students who do not accept their message is a 'frontal assault on freedom of association.'" But what angers me about this case is some justices are using the argument that 'you wouldn't want an atheist coming in and leading Bible studies or a bunch of atheists taking over the group.' That kind of thinking is not even pertinent to the discussion. The question was really, do they have a right to discriminate based on sexual orientation or religion. And the law says that no one should be discriminated against based on race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or disability. No one should be exempt from that. Not only that, but some justices have made the argument that allowing atheists or gays into the Christian group would be similar to allowing racist skinheads into the NAACP! That was actually a comment by one of the conservative justices in USA Today. I didn't make it up.
The whole argument is ridiculous. We are talking about basic human and social rights. And no one has the right to discriminate. It is a slippery slope once we start condoning discrimination for religious organizations. Conservatives hem and haw about how we came to this country for religious freedom and we fought the Revolutionary War for these rights. (Which, I might add, was just not a huge reason that we fought the war. But people like to make it out to be more of an issue than it ever was.) Well, does their right to Christianity then trump others' rights to be Muslim or homosexual or atheist? It's a joke, and it lessens even more my faith in our justice system. Certainly some of the justices' views are colored by their religious affiliations. Colored to the point where they often cannot see past them. And when these justices are making rulings about important national issues that effect every citizen of this country, I would like to see a little less blindness and a little more impartial justice.