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“Consequences and RFRA-Cussions”

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Since last week, every time I got ready to write about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) something happened; the weekend rally, the Governor’s appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, the creation of a Cannabis Church in Indiana, you name it.   So when the dust settled this afternoon, I finally figured out what to write; offer some advice to my Republican friends on how to fix this disaster.

Now I know there are quite of few of them who don’t think they did anything wrong. I heard it all weekend,  RFRA is about religious freedom, not discrimination.  It’s in effect in nearly 30 other states in one form or another, even though they didn’t do it following on the heels of two big fights over same-sex marriage. .   The media (more national and social) has blown this all out of proportion.  I get it guys.  I really do.  I honestly don’t think (despite what some RFRA supporters secretly wish) RFRA is a vehicle for discrimination.  It simply outlines a test for when government rules and religious liberty clash.  I really do get it.   And guess what, none of that matters.  It doesn’t.  Stop shaking your head, it doesn’t matter.  Listen to me, it doesn’t matter.

There’s an old saying in politics, it ain’t what it is, it’s what it looks like.  Or to put it another way, when your wife is mad at you for something she thinks you did or forgot to do, whether you did or didn’t do it doesn’t matter. She’s mad and you need to fix it.  It’s just that simple.   RFRA pretty much flew under the radar until it passed the House and was signed by the Governor.  That’s when social media exploded, the allegations of discrimination started flying and most people started paying attention.

Is that unfair?  Yup!  Now man up and deal with it.   I know some of you don’t want to, but look at it this way.

When major companies call for boycotts of Indiana, nearly 3,000 people show up at the Statehouse on a chilly Saturday afternoon to protest and Governor Mike Pence has to go on national TV to try to explain the law doesn’t allow for discrimination but won’t clearly state that he opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation, you have a problem.  If this were 2016, we would be talking a crisis of “Richard Mourdock” proportion.

Luckily, this can be fixed.  And quite simply, too.  I know a lot of Republicans aren’t quite ready to add sexual orientation as a protected class here in Indiana, although I would argue you should.  But the next best thing is a simple sentence in the code that says RFRA cannot be used as a defense against a state, federal or local anti-discrimination law.    You do that and you go a long way to mitigating your problem.  And since many of you have already stated RFRA doesn’t promote discrimination, you have nothing to lose by writing that down.

You had one chance to do this during the amendment process and took a pass.  I think this might be God’s way of giving you guys a second chance to avoid political armageddon when Judgment Day gets here next year.  You call it Election Day.

Now I know this may not make some people happy and some of you want to stand on principle.  Well, here’s another principle to think about.  Think about all the sales tax revenue you will lose if companies and tourism really do start leaving Indiana.  Who pays for your schools?  Who pays for your services?  Who pays for the bonds on Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center?

Yeah, ponder that.   And then think long and hard about how you got here and never do it again.  And by the way, it doesn’t matter whether you like it.  That’s immaterial.  We’re talking Indiana’s fiscal health here.  That’s why  it doesn’t matter what the law actually says, it’s what people think it means.

Now go fix it.

Satanic Temple Sues Franklin County

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I got this via e-mail last night.  I think it’s ironic seeing how lawmakers are moving forward with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  And why do I get the strange feeling there’s more where this is coming from.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a joint lawsuit on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and The Satanic Temple (TST) against Franklin County following the county’s rejection of applications from both organizations requesting permission to erect public displays on the county courthouse lawn.

The FFRF is a nationwide non-profit organization “devoted to protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state,” and The Satanic Temple is an “international religious organization,” the filing states. The grounds on which the displays were requested for display are described by a local ordinance (No. 2015-02) as “a forum to promote understanding of issues of public concern and to foster respect for the rights of all.” The ordinance also explains, “Public use of the courthouse grounds includes, but is not limited to, activities sponsored by county departments; celebrations; community events; cultural, educational, and historical activities, displays, demonstrations, exhibits, marches, rallies, press conferences, speeches, and vigils related to government or public issues; memorial services, performances, wedding ceremonies, and other expressive activities.”

In February of 2015, TST applied to erect a display from Nov. 29 through January 06, 2015. While the exact details of the display are not specified, TST revealed that it would be a lit display measuring up to 19 ½ feet in height. FFRF applied to place a display highlighting the importance of the Bill of Rights within the same period of time. Both were rejected on the grounds that neither TST nor FFRF are residents of Franklin County. The ACLU contends that the requirement for local applications is a violation of the First Amendment and represents both organizations in a joint filing. According to the suit, “The requirement of the Ordinance that persons wishing to use the Courthouse lawn be residents of the County is not narrowly tailored to advance an important government interest, nor is it reasonably related to a legitimate government interest.”

The Satanic Temple generated controversy during the past holiday season when it erected displays in public forums in both Michigan and Florida. The organization is best known for its current efforts to erect a Satanic monument next to a 10 Commandments monument currently standing on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol building.

About The Satanic Temple
The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. Civic-minded, The Satanic Temple has been involved in a number of good works including taking a stand against the controversial and extremist Westboro Baptist Church. For more information about The Satanic Temple, please visit http://www.thesatanictemple.com/.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Grass

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I have two distinct personality traits.  I don’t smoke marijuana because it dulls my hatred of people and I have never been a very deeply religious person.  My philosophy is that I believe in God and believes in me and that’s about it.  However, with lawmakers set to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) I think I am about change my ways.

Under RFRA, before the government could force or prohibit me from doing something that might violate my religious beliefs they have to articulate a compelling reason.   And I can argue there’s no compelling reason for the State of Indiana to prohibit me from using pot as part of my religious practices.

Grab some mary jane and Doritos and allow me to explain.

First of all, marijuana consumption is part of numerous faith traditions.   Rastafarians are known for their cannabis use.  If you’re a member of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church you can light up.  And you might want to attend a future service of the Free Marijuana Church of Honolulu, The Free Life Ministry Church of Canthe and my personal favorite, the federally tax-exempt inFormer Ministry Collective of Palms Springs, CA.

So now that we have the religion established, now we need the government rule. We know marijuana is illegal in Indiana, but there’s no compelling interest for it to be, especially when it comes to religious practices.  About 19 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.  Nearly two dozen states have decriminalized marijuana for medical purposes.  Four states have legalized it altogether.  And there’s a bipartisan effort to reclassify it as a Schedule II drug, which means it has medical benefits.   And if I can use pot to help heal my body, why can’t I use it to help heal my soul?

So with that said, what “compelling interest” would the state of Indiana have to prohibit me from using marijuana as part of my religious practice?   I would argue marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol and wine used in religious ceremonies.   Marijuana isn’t anymore “addictive” than alcohol and wine is used in some religious ceremonies.  And marijuana isn’t anymore of a “gateway” drug than the wine used in a religious ceremony will make you go out any buy hard liquor.  (At least not on Sunday.)

So frankly, I’m looking forward to the passage of RFRA.   Not because I want to change faith and smoke pot, but because I want a front row seat at the trial that we all know is going to happen when all this goes down.

Praise the Lord and pass the grass!

Time to Withhold Wihholdings

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I have never been more convinced in my entire life that if you want to reform the government and get spending under control, we need to get rid of withholdings when it comes to taxes.

Allow me to explain.

This past weekend I went back home to Illinois to visit my accountant.  I’ve had the same guy for 12 years because I believe a good accountant is like a good mechanic or barber, once you get one you never let him go.

Well after sitting down and getting the taxes done he told me that my wife and I owed Uncle Sam several thousand dollars and some change.  My wife and I are independent contractors and have tons of 1099s so naturally we will owe money.   Luckily, whenever I paid for what I do I withhold about 30% so we’re covered at the state and federal level.   That didn’t make the Lovely Mrs. Shabazz feel better because all she did was complain about having to pay the government and what they spend her money on.

That’s when I got the idea to write this blog post.  If we want more people to pay attention to their government, maybe we should get rid of withholding altogether and they would have to pay their taxes when they file.

I understand that withholding makes it easier for the federal government to collect taxes, but as I remember reading it also makes it easier for the taxpayer to not truly aware of what they owe and what the government spends.  And it also makes it easier to raise taxes.  You can’t miss what you don’t see, right?

Just imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have your taxes withheld and instead had to write a check.   Or better, yet, just imagine what life would be like if everyone had to write a check on April 15 and pay up.  I honestly think we would have a better country because people would pay more attention to what the government does and we would hold elected officials accountable.  Or at the very least we could start to have a grown up discussion about what our spending priorities should be.

Who’s with me on this one?  And while we’re at it, why not move Election Day to April 16?

When Bad Kids Get Worse

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Pardon my French, but some kids just need a good old fashion  ass kickin’!   I have always believed that when there are no consequences to your actions you get out of control and then society has to step in and take over.

I believed that was true in the case of Shamus Patton, Simeon Adams the kids who who caused the January fight in  Castleton Square Mall and now a girl who has identified herself on the Internet as “Nook Babiee”.

If you are wondering what she did to make my list of out of control young people, watch this video clip and then come back, I’ll still be here.


See what I mean.  Were you as shocked as I was not only that she attacked the other girl, but also beat her 6-year old little brother?   The father of the girl who was attacked spoke to RTV 6 and says he plans to go forward with pressing charges.

But here’s what’s really sad, if I have matched things up correctly, this isn’t the first time “Nook” has been out of control.  The nice thing about social media is these guys like to document their behavior, like this one at a Dollar Tree.

Somewhere along the line someone dropped the ball and didn’t parent.  Although I am willing to bet the “parent” probably isn’t much older than Nook.

But it would be nice if people would discipline their children so they would know there would be consequences to their actions.  For some kids all that takes is a stern look or a lecture, for others, they need to be smacked upside the head.  Regardless, I really wish someone would have done their job, or at the very least have used some birth control because now we as a society have to deal with the consequences of their actions.


Sexting in the City

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I don’t know what it is but everytime I go to Chicago to be an attorney something happens here in Indy and the words “Just” and “In” are involved.

Last time is it was “JustIN the website.  This time it’s Justin Moed, the State Representative from Indianapolis.

As you probably know by now, Moed is involved in a sexting scandal with a woman from Evansville who goes by the name of “Sydney Leathers”. She was the same woman who brought down (pardon the pun) New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.  (I still giggle at this last name).

Moed issued an apology and said he is working to rebuild trust with his family and community.

However, as we go forward, let’s keep a few things in perspective.

Was Moed stupid for being a public official and sexting?  Especially in the 21st Century?  Of course, but he didn’t break any laws.  He was never preaching one thing and doing something else.   And there is nothing to show that he and Leathers weren’t consenting adults.  And  he was a single guy.

I won’t cast judgment on Moed because we all have skeletons in our closets, luckily mine are the “Pirates of the Caribbean” type with swords and shields who fight back.

If anything, Moed is guilty of bad judgment and his constituents will have to decide if they want him to stay or go.  Frankly, I don’t think most normal people will care.  Single guys, which I used to be one, do a lot of things that the rest of us wouldn’t do, especially when we let the little head do the thinking for the bigger one.

If Moed is smart, he will lay low for a while and rebuild his reputation.  I don’t think this is worth resigning over unless it becomes abundantly clear that he can’t do his job.

And if Indiana lawmakers want to worry about anything, they should be worried about my next trip to the Windy City to take care of some other legal work, seeing how that’s when these things tend to happen.


$ome Fun Fact$ About $chool Funding

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

As Indiana lawmakers go forward with crafting a budget, I thought it would be fun to present to you some facts about schools and school funding here in Indiana to help keep the debate in perspective.

I’m doing this because one thing you’ll hear in the debate is how the Republicans “cut” $300 million from schools in 2009.   That is true, but you also know what else was going on in 2008-2009?  As my progressive friends like to say, it was the worst economy since the Great Depression, and after then Governor Mitch Daniels had cut every virtually every other area.

This is important because school funding makes up more than half the state budget.  In fact…

  • In 2010, the State of Indiana spent $6.3 billion annually on schools.  That number is expected to be nearly $7 billion by 2017.  (House GOP budget proposal)
  • In 2010, schools got an average of $4,250 per student at the basic foundation level.  By 2017, that number would be $5,135 under the House Republican proposed budget.  (House GOP Budget Proposal)
  • 69 counties are expected to lose K-12 student population between now and 2020.  (House GOP Budget Proposal)
  • A Ball State University study found that more than half of Indiana’s school districts had less than 2,000 students.  And nearly 80% of those school districts lost at least 100 students between 2006 and 2012.  (Ball State Center for Business & Education Research)
  • Indiana has about 1 million students enrolled in K-12 education, only 29,000 students are enrolled in the state’s voucher program. (Institute for Quality Education)
  • There were 71 charter schools operating in Indiana in the 2012-13 school year and had an enrollment of about 30,000 students.  (IN Charter School Board)

So as the school funding debate goes forward, just keep some of those facts in mind.

The Seven Year Itch

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Here’s a thought on this Valentine’s Day, marriages should only be valid for seven years at a time.

I’ll let you catch your breath.

Now let me say that again, marriage should only be valid for seven years at a time.  I got to thinking about this the other day while doing some reading about the marriage equality fight in Alabama, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act debate here in Indiana and of course the release this weekend of Fifty Shades of Grey.

And a subtext in a lot of the discussion has been that “traditional marriage” is under attack and needs to be protected. I agree; marriage should be protected from its number one killer, divorce.  And what better way to do that than with my seven-year plan.

Here’s how it works, when you get married, your wedding license is only good for seven years.  After that you have to renew.  Of course as one caller suggested on my evening radio program, he’d like an automatic renewal option, which I’m open to.  However the flip side of that is once you’re married, you’re stuck.  And absent any physical abuse, financial mismanagement or infidelity, there’s no turning back, until you hit that seven-year mark.   Once you get there, you can decide whether you want to stay together for another seven years or go your separate ways and divide up the assets and figure out who gets the kids.*

Now some of you are thinking how does this brilliant plan save marriage?  Easy, it makes people think twice about the institution and whether they want to do it.  While there are a lot of us who take marriage seriously, I think there are a good number of us who don’t.  And maybe if they knew before they went into it, they would be stuck with each for seven years with limited escape plans, they might think long and hard about entering into the institution and taking it more seriously.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to pick up a gift for my wife.  This way in 568 days, she’ll continue to stick with the best decision she ever made in her life.

*There is literature out there that talks about a four-year itch, but seven works better for me.


Putting Off the Ritz

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

[Cue the Apocalyptic Music]

When the House Education Committee voted this past week 8-3 to allow the State Board of Education (SBE) to choose its own Chair rather than have Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz automatically chair the meetings you would have sworn the world was coming to an end.

The dead were rising from the grave. Human sacrifice was taking place. Dogs and cats were living together and not to mention the mass hysteria! And now that we’ve had the histrionic display courtesy of Ghostbusters, let’s look at what “power” Glenda is “losing”.

  • She would lose her power to call special meetings, cancel meetings or convene executive sessions.
  • She would lose her power to set agenda items, including those suggested by other board members.
  • She won’t be able to designate board members to committees.
  • She couldn’t conduct meetings as she saw fit, provided she gave board members ample opportunity to participate.

These all stem from the SBE Rules, which you can read here.

Now here is what power Glenda would gain, if she was no longer chair…

  • She could call special meetings, as long as two other Board members joined her.
  • She could block the cancellation of a meeting, as long as she was joined by at least two other board members.
  • She could convene executive sessions, as long as she was joined by two other board members.
  • She could add items to the agenda, as long as they were submitted in writing in a timely manner.

So what “power” is Glenda really losing here, just the power to be difficult. It seems to me that she gets to keep all her other powers as longs as she works and plays well with others.

Of course if she could do that, we wouldn’t be where we are today.



Just IN; A Tempest in a Teaspoon

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I was in downtown Chicago Monday playing attorney and while I was looking at my twitter feed during a court recess I was a bit taken back by all the comments about an elected official creating a “news operation” to put out stories about his administration.

All I could think to myself is that Barack Obama has been doing this since he first came into office, so why is everyone getting worked up now?

Just kidding, I know everyone was talking about Governor Mike Pence and the new “Just IN” website.

But can I be frank here?  I really don’t see what the big deal is.   This isn’t to say my friends in the Pence administration couldn’t have done a better job with the rollout, but folks, this is a tempest in a teaspoon.

I can say this because, unlike many of my brothers and sisters in the media, I have actually been a spokesperson for an elected official.  I worked for the Illinois Attorney General a spokesman and later communications advisor for nearly eight years.

We used at the time what was known as the Illinois Information Service to put out news releases and audio and video clips.  The Internet was just beginning to be used for distribution as well.  No one considered it a state run news agency, but more of a state information distribution system to reach multiple media markets; which is what Indiana is doing, just like dozens of other states, controlled by both Republicans and Democrats.

And Indiana is not really creating anything new, but revamping its current distribution system, which is horrible.  I know this because I use it every day.  No one is playing the minister of propaganda.   The Administration is simply taking the news releases generated by state agencies and putting some order to it.  If two or three agencies have big items coming out, a team can coordinate which ones should be prioritized and which ones can wait.   That’s all folks.  The First Amendment is still safe.

Anyone who thinks the state is going to compete with the “mainstream” media is off base.   If anything, this will be more of a benefit to smaller media outlets who don’t have the staff or the resources to write about state government.  And us “big guys” will benefit, because we can’t be everywhere and things do fly past the radar screen.  A system like this not only puts everything in one place, but you would be amazed at the number of big stories that can stem from reading about some little small event.

Now with that said, my friends in the Governor’s Office are not completely off the hook.  They did drop the ball somewhat.  One of the first things I learned in as a government employee is whenever you write a memo, choose your words carefully.  Remember, memos are not for the people they are addressed to, but for the other people who will get their hands on them.   So using words like “exclusive” might be better served by words such as “unique”.   Also, I would not have said we were competing with traditional news agencies as much as we were “complimenting” them by highlighting events that might not make it into the headlines.  If there was a sin to be committed, that was it.  This ain’t Pravda folks, nor Voice of America for that matter;  lesson learned, I hope.

This is simply the state of Indiana looking for a new way to get out information about state government, no more no less.  Now if you don’t mind, I have to go look up some information on the federal government giving its stamp of approval to HIP 2.0.  I wonder where I will start my search?