Posts Tagged With: human rights

Amsterdam Assessor Targets Buddhists


_MG_0935f

Jennie Wong, spokesperson for the WPHO and US citizen

Friday, January 16th, 2015,  is National Religious Freedom Day. Every year on January 16, the President of the United States issues a proclamation that marks the anniversary of Religious Freedom in the United States.  The tradition commemorates the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom adopted by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786. This statute on religious freedom eventually became part of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof .”

The controversial establishment clause has been widely debated as used as political fodder since codification in 1791. Many US Supreme Court decisions were issued that further define its implementation. While the Supreme Court initially held that constitutional amendments (Bill of Rights) did not apply to state governments, the Incorporation Doctrine of 1925 reversed that opinion and held that these amendments also apply to state and local governments.

The SCOTUS decisions all support the fact that government cannot promote one religion over another or prohibit the free exercise of ANY religion.

History and current events continue to show the mix of government and religion often promotes bigotry leading to violence. Governments in the United States are prohibited by law from adopting or supporting any official religion, in fact our citizens are not required to believe in any form of religion. Although a majority of Americans are White and identify as Christian, we are neither a White or Christian nation. The US Census and Gallup polls show increasing diversity in both our ethnic and religious makeup.

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 11.09.17 AM

In spite of this increasing diversity, religious intolerance is still alive and well in the City of Amsterdam, New York. This blogger has written many articles describing the difficulties the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization has endured locally. The Buddhists moved here from China several years ago to establish a community promoting peace and harmony while teaching a healing meditative practice, the Guang Huan Mi Zong Health Dharma. The locals didn’t quite know what to make of the WPHO, unfamiliar with their culture while questioning their religious faith. To help combat bigoted attitudes and improve health, the Buddhists began teaching both their meditative practice and Chinese culture through organized events held at both the Goddess of Mercy Temple on Grove Street and the Five Buddha Temple on East Main Street. The events are well attended by open-minded locals and were featured in this blog as well as local newspapers. The WPHO also donated video camera systems to the Amsterdam Police Department to help combat crime after several of their properties were vandalized.

_MG_7849

Buddhist Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

_MG_7814

WPHO donates video surveillance cameras to Amsterdam Police

Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

Holy Master Ziguang Shang Shi

Goddess of Mercy Temple Buddha's Birthday May 2014

Goddess of Mercy Temple – Buddha’s Birthday May 2014

Goddess of Mercy Temple

Goddess of Mercy Temple

Five Buddha Temple

Five Buddha Temple

_MG_1844

_MG_1916

_MG_5721

Parking lot for the Five Buddha Temple

Parking lot for the Five Buddha Temple

The Capital District Roman Catholic Diocese sold these former catholic churches, their rectory buildings and parking lots to the WPHO. This blogger lives across the street from the Goddess of Mercy Temple and it is great to see the property, once abandoned and stripped by the catholic church, restored to full function and occupied. It is also great to have the Buddhists as neighbors.

Both former catholic churches have been religious exempt from local taxation since their inception. This year, Amsterdam Assessor Calvin Cline, not a resident of Amsterdam or Montgomery County, decided to revoke the local tax exemption for the parking lots to both the Goddess of Mercy and Five Buddha Temples as well as clergy residences in Amsterdam. Representatives from the WPHO met with the assessor to correct this obvious oversight but Cline refused to give them any information or rationale as to why he initiated this action and refused to correct it. The Buddhist organizations owning the properties, Guang Huan Mi Zong, Inc and Western Supreme Buddha Temple, Inc are 501(3)(c) corporations, who file annual update statements. The Chinese Buddhists see this action as yet another form of harassment and discrimination on the part of the assessor and the City of Amsterdam who did not revoke the tax exempt status of any other religious or charitable organization this year.

This situation reeks of religious intolerance and bigotry.

In addition to filing an appeal with the Board of Assessment Review, which meets on Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the WPHO will be filing a complaint with the NYS Division for Human Rights.

When will the City of Amsterdam stop using laws and regulations as weapons to discriminately target people?

I hope the members of the Amsterdam Board of Assessment Review, former Mayor Mario Villa, John P. Bowers, and Fran Fora do the right thing and restore these exemptions.

_MG_5149

Advertisements
Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Equality, Human Rights, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , , ,

GOP and the Religious Wrong


Just when did the Republican Party become a religious organization? I am disgusted by anti-gay statements made by Republican candidates for the top elected office in the United States. These candidates are using religious-based bigotry to play on the public’s fears in an effort to garner votes from the religious right. Since when is it OK to demonize a class of people in the United States, vowing to strip away civil rights?

Barry Goldwater – Republican Senator from Arizona tried to warn us about this public threat in a speech to the US Senate in 1981.

On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.
I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

Goldwater issued another warning in 1994 , as quoted in John W. Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

That time has come. Republicans using the name of God have declared war on gay Americans, vowing to repeal all marriage equality laws stating that gay Americans can be cured despite the fact that being gay is not an illness. We have Republican Presidential candidates like Rick Santorum wanting to reinstate the military’s failed DADT policy. Santorum who never served his country in the military, stated the repeal of the policy was “detrimental to soldiers”.  The Republican pseudo-religious group calling themselves the Family Research Council stated that repealing DADT would cause 30% of the military forces to leave the military.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The repeal of the policy has had absolutely no effect, other than to finally end the discrimination against gays and lesbians who serve.

The Family Research Council is listed as a HATE GROUP by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of their anti-gay rhetoric that uses false information to persuade political opinion such as linking gay men to pedophilia and pushing to criminalize gay behavior.  The actions of this group are not unlike those exhibited in Nazi Germany who criminalized, warehoused and executed gays and Jews in World War II.

The Family Research Council isn’t really pro-family as much as it is anti-gay. The FRC awarded Republican Representative Joe Walsh with a pro-family award despite the fact that the deadbeat dad owed $117,000 in unpaid child support to his ex-wife.

With each day that passes, more Americans are beginning to understand how the Bible was misused in the past to bolster personal prejudices and fears in trying to control the masses. It was used to enforce slavery, to prevent interracial marriage and to treat women as second class citizens. Today the minority target is gay Americans. It is NOT OK to bring these beliefs into the political arena. The Separation Clause of the 1st Amendment was interpreted by the US Supreme Court as prohibiting  the same.

Attempting to legitimize this type of bigotry against gay Americans in the name of religious teachings also has a detrimental affect on children in today’s society, giving them a reason to bully others who are gay.

New York State legalized same-sex marriage last year and previously instituted legislation to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in the form of the Hate Crimes Act of 2000. In 2003 the term sexual orientation was added to the NYS Human Rights Act which among other things, prohibits discrimination in job hiring, public accommodation and housing.

Under NYS Education Law, the Dignity for all Students Act becomes effective July 1, 2012. This anti-bullying law states in part:

§  12. Discrimination and harassment prohibited. 1. No student shall be subjected to harassment by employees or students on school property or at a school function;  nor shall  any  student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s  actual  or  perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic  group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function.

Gay Americans have faced discrimination and adversity for far to long to have these civil rights (yes they are civil rights protected by the 14th Amendment) stripped away by Republican wannabes wearing religion on their sleeves.

Categories: Family, Human Rights, Media, Politics | Tags: , , , ,

Looking Back With Pride


It was June 25, 1989, on Christopher Street in New York City, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that served as a catalyst in the battle for equality.  It is hard to believe that it has been twenty-two years since I attended that gay pride celebration and it was difficult to get me to attend back then. I was never one to wear my heart on my sleeve and didn’t feel I had much in common with the type of people who went to those events. My partner Ken Yeso presented the trip as a photo opportunity, knowing the exact button to push to get me to do anything.  Arriving in New York among thousands of people there to celebrate one unifying event, a light bulb went off in my head. I finally “got it”; this wasn’t about me, it was about the fight for equality! That was what we all had in common. All the silliness and camp, cross-dressing and gender bending were just expressions of people brave enough to be who they were born to be but none of that mattered here, we were one.

I am publishing here for the first time, a set of photos taken June 25, 1989, on Christopher Street in New York during the Pride Celebration themed We Remember, the 20th Anniversary of Stonewall.  These photos are presented with no excuses or apologies.

Categories: Media, Photography, Politics | Tags: , , , , , ,

Marriage Equality in New York State


I have debated whether to post this topic on my blog, finally deciding it was much too important of an issue to remain silent about. For those few that may not have known, I am gay. Normally I feel no need to advertise this aspect of my life because it does not totally define who I am as a person, but once stated is often the only aspect people will take from the conversation. I mention it now because I am affected by the outcome of the Marriage Equality proposition in New York State.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo urges everyone to contact their State Legislators and tell them to vote YES on marriage equality.

This is the inspirational speech that helped pass the City of Troy’s resolution supporting Marriage Equality

I did as the Governor requested, contacting both Assemblyman George Amedore and Senator Hugh Farley. I received no response from the Senator and the following from the Assemblyman:

May 26, 2011

Dear Gerald,

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the current directive for gay marriage. As your representative, it is important to hear from constituents I represent, as their correspondence helps me make more informed decisions.

As you know, the bill A.7600 would change the definition of “marriage” in New York State and thereby authorize same-sex marriage. Altering the definition of marriage would open access to civil benefits and protections previously unafforded to same-sex couples. As legislators continue to discuss the issue in Albany, I will be sure to share your concerns with my colleagues in the Assembly.

Thank you again for your correspondence. If I can ever be of assistance to you in the future, or if you would like to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

George Amedore
Member of Assembly
105th Assembly District

On June 2, 2011 the Troy City Council passed a resolution urging the legalization of Marriage Equality to our State Legislators with the unanimous vote of 9-0. The resolution was introduced by Troy City Councilman Ken Zalewski who has taken the initiative to make a difference for the gay community.

Would the Amsterdam City Council do the same?

The United Federation of Teachers also support Marriage Equality in New York.

“Our union prides itself on a diverse membership and as a champion of equality we believe that it is time for all New Yorkers to be treated equally,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “This is a civil rights issue and we are calling on New York State’s Legislature to pass marriage equality legislation and give all New Yorkers the right to marry the person they love.”

As Governor Cuomo stated, this is NOT a religious issue, it is a Civil Rights issue. Gay couples are denied over 700 State rights and 1000 Federal rights enjoyed by married couples. Currently Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have made Marriage Equality a reality in the United States.  My personal experience tells me that discrimination still thrives in this Country despite noble efforts to eradicate it.

Billboard on 787 in Albany, NY paid for by Bombers Burritos.

For more information contact the organization Freedom to Marry or the Human Rights Campaign.

Update #1:

Today I received  the following response from 4th Ward Alderman and Mayoral candidate William D. Wills:

Gerry,

With all the problems that the local level has to deal with mainly because our State leaders don’t, I always thought in the past that issues like these should be dealt with on the State level.   However, I also always thought that this particular issue should not even be one.   Whatever someone in their private lives feels is good for them should be their private matter and decision as long as it does not affect the lives and
safety of the public at large.   This issue of marriage equality surely does not pose a threat to us.

Maybe if enough local level governments pass these type of
resolutions then the State’s Legislature will act on it.   It doesn’t mean that you support gay rights but it does mean you support equality when it comes to people making decisions that may be different than the rest of us again not affecting our lives and safety.

I will venture to say that even the strongest opponent of gay
marriages has a family member or friend that is gay.   Personally the word gay is offensive to me and should be to those labeled as such.   It has assumed a bad connotation.

I can remember when physically and mentally challenged individuals were looked downed up, hidden from the general public, and never thought could be productive members of our community.   Organizations like Liberty and Lexington have changed that.   What’s the difference with someone who may like the same sex as opposed to the opposite sex?   Those that oppose marriage equality do so because I believe that they are not secure in their own beliefs and feelings.

Gerry, please forward to us a copy of the resolution that the City of Troy passed for our consideration.   We could make this an interesting side issue of this year’s campaign.

The only thing I admire of our past Vice President Dick Cheney was the love he has for his gay daughter Mary and the fact that he does not deny her existence or his love for her.   The former vice president has long offered his daughter his unrelenting love and support, and very recently came out in favor of gay marriage, saying, “I think that freedom means freedom for everyone.” I think that this underscores that a strong
conservative argument can be made in favor marriage equality.  I further think it underscores my bafflement that anyone would dare cross Cheney in this regard, because, remember what happened to his hunting buddy.

Loving someone for what they are, now that’s what equality is all about.

Alderman Wills

I appreciate any responses I receive from my elected officials and Alderman Wills has been very forthcoming with responding to my requests and inquiries.

The main point is that we need this change now.

Update #2:

Information received from Troy City Councilman Ken Zalewski:

Mr. Skrocki,

Thank you for you interest in the Resolution in Support of Marriage Equality that the Troy City Council passed unanimously at our June 2 monthly meeting.
I appreciate the sentiments that Alderman Wills offers below, especially the quip about not crossing Dick Cheney.  🙂
The full text of the resolution (as a PDF) can be found here:
In addition, the full broadcast of our Council meeting is available online at:
The public speaking portion is at the beginning (where a Reverend and a Rabbi both spoke out in support of the resolution), and the actual vote is at the end.
I hope you are able to take this up and get it passed.  It makes a strong statement about your community, and ultimately, it is simply the right thing to do.
We are on the right side of history.
            -kz

Ken Zalewski
Councilman, District 5

Update#3:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 the City of Amsterdam will introduce a resolution in support of Marriage Equality and urging our State Legislators to pass  Marriage Equality Legislation.

Mayor Ann Thane:

I would hope that the Council would support this resolution. A.

Categories: Law, Politics | Tags: , , , , ,

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: