Archive for January, 2008|Monthly archive page

Holiday Hooligans

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from Yankee Magazine, December 2003 

It was first period. I was bored. I gazed out the classroom window, and just before my eyes went out of focus, I saw it: a beautiful spruce tree right at the edge of the parking lot.

On an ordinary day I wouldn’t have noticed it, but this was deep in the holiday season, and in my small New England town it did not feel like Christmas. Instead of snow, we had t-shirt temperatures. And the weather wasn’t the only thing dampening seasonal cheer. In the next week I had to research and write an entire term paper, juggle homework, a play, and a chorus concert, and fight off that incessant voice in my head telling me to sleep. Even my dog, Maggie, had turned against the spirit of the season, shredding the lights that usually adorn our porch.  This year, Christmas had gotten stuck at the bottom of the pile. My classmates seemed to be in the same predicament: a bunch of adolescent drones wallowing through their everyday routine. Were we all doomed to become more boring with every year we grew older?

But as my eyes fixed on that big evergreen, I saw something new. This wasn’t just a spruce tree. It was a Christmas tree. How could I not have seen it before? And why didn’t anyone else see it?

It was time for something drastic.   Continue reading

Money Laundering For Jesus

church and stateJuly, 2003

Most Americans learn the First Amendment in elementary school. For those who’ve forgotten, it begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” What you probably didn’t learn in school was that establishing religion was the prerogative of the Executive Branch. But that’s the lesson the Supreme Court just handed us in the case of Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). In another trademark 5-4 decision the Court ruled that taxpayers cannot hold the Executive Branch accountable for how it spends our money, even if they violate the first clause of the Bill of Rights.

In 2004 the FFRF, a group that opposes government support of religion, tried to sue to keep the President from spending tax money on the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives (WHOFBI). The WHOFBI holds conferences encouraging Christian service groups to apply for federal money. The First Amendment issues here are clear. The Government has allocated our tax dollars to privilege faith-based charities over secular ones. But when the case hit the Supreme Court in February 2007 the White House, in the form of Jay Hein, director of the WHOFBI, claimed that those Constitutional issues were irrelevant. In fact, the government said, no taxpayer has the right to challenge any Executive expense at all. Continue reading

Society antics have no place in classrooms

From the Yale Daily News, April 23, 2007

Ben Conniff

Akhil Amar had a visitor in his “Constitutional Law” class last Thursday. Philip Bobbit, one of the nation’s leading constitutional scholars, sat in on Amar’s lecture and gave an inspiring talk on legal modality in Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, Bobbit was not the only guest who graced us with his presence. Halfway through the class, a shrouded figure wearing a skeleton mask walked into the Law School Auditorium and sat in an empty seat. The rest of the class let out a quiet collective groan. In the last week, we’ve had to deal with an annoying girl asking, “What would Jesus do?”, another making and drinking a martini in front of the class, and a group acting out a fake arrest (I won’t even go into the poor taste of running into a packed classroom yelling “Freeze!” the day after the Virginia Tech massacre). We understood that this masked man was another society tap who was about to further disrupt our class with some act he thought was funny. Continue reading