Monday, September 17, 2007

Justice is Served, Sort of

Remember that U.S. Air Force air(wo)man?

By ESTES THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer
Fri Sep 14, 6:06 PM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. - Charged with committing indecent acts after refusing to testify against a man she had accused of rape, only to see those charges later dropped, a female airman said Friday that she is no longer sure about a career in the Air Force.

"I do respect the fact that they've tried to correct the things they've done wrong," Airman 1st Class Cassandra Hernandez said in a statement released by her attorneys. "As a result of what happened this week, it does give me more hope in the system. I don't completely trust the system now."

The commander of the 43rd Airlift Wing at Pope Air Force Base decided this week to drop the charge of committing an indecent act against Hernandez, 20, who instead pleaded guilty to underage drinking and received a nonjudicial punishment, said one of her attorneys, Capt. Chris Eason.

Hernandez had been scheduled for a Sept. 24 court-martial, where she faced up to a year in prison and dismissal from the Air Force.

"I'm not angry. I'm just glad to have my life back," Hernandez said. "Overall, I'm still disappointed in how this was handled, but if they recognize the things they did wrong and can fix them for future victims, then it was all worth it."

In May 2006, about six months after she arrived at Pope, Hernandez reported she had been raped by three fellow airmen during an alcohol-fueled barracks gathering. One of the airmen was charged with rape. But after initially cooperating with prosecutors, Hernandez started to feel they no longer believed her and declined to cooperate further.

"Towards the end, I felt like I was alone," Hernandez said in an earlier interview with The Associated Press. "One reason I chose not to testify was I didn't want to put myself out there if I was not protected. I felt like I was being hung out to dry."

The Associated Press normally does not identify people alleging sexual assault, but Hernandez agreed to tell her story to reporters.

Her attorneys believe the Air Force was retaliating against her for her decision not to testify when it charged her criminally with underage drinking and committing an indecent act by having sex in the presence of others.

Three male airmen she accused of rape received nonjudicial punishment for indecent acts and were granted immunity to testify at Hernandez's trial, according to Air Force legal documents.

Capt. Beverly Mock, a wing spokeswoman, said Friday that she couldn't discuss details of the case because of privacy laws. Messages left for the prosecutors who handled the case and Col. Timothy Zadalis, commander of the 43rd Airlift Wing, were not returned Friday.

Hernandez was initially offered the same nonjudicial punishment, which Eason said she rejected because her squadron commander "had told her I am going to find you guilty."

Eason said the agreement to drop the criminal charges was reached after negotiations with prosecutors and approved by Zadalis. In a statement, he and co-counsel Capt. Omar Ashmawy said they "hope that those who are at fault are held accountable."

Hernandez enlisted in the Air Force in 2005 and was assigned as a clerk to the 43rd Airlift Wing, a unit whose missions include flying the paratroopers of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division into combat.

Ashmawy said his client is receiving support from the Air Force "as a result of the real psychological and physical trauma suffered from this sexual assault."

"We fervently hope that the lessons learned in this case will be used in the future to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again," Ashmawy said.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gisburne Redux

Apparently, Nick Gisburne has put his website back up. Here's his explanation:

As you know I closed my web site recently, apparently a permanent thing. So once again I'm back and... I'm messing with you, right? I give that impression, I'm aware, but please understand that I find it difficult to keep on talking about atheism, purely because I feel so strongly about the things on this site and in my book. Sometimes it becomes too hard for me to look at what religion does to the world, and I have to shut myself off from it, completely. I'm complicated, that's all I can say. But here, by popular demand, is the return of my web site, with my sincere apologies to those people who felt let down when I took it offline. I can almost guarantee this will not be the last time I do it, but please stick with me through the bad times!

Read this blog entry to see why I decided not to leave after all.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Christians, Baha'i's and Buttons, Oh My!

I know a lot of people are going to ask "Why have you been criticizing Christianity so much lately?" or "Why don't you criticize a different Abrahamic religion? Why not even a non-Abrahamic religion?" Well let me try to explain things to you.

I do not necessarily believe that faith is a bad thing; it is when faith is not tempered by reason that it concerns me. I am more than willing to allow someone to hold and express their beliefs as long as they do not interfere with my rights to the same. I don't think that I would particularly mind if someone called me a "Satan worshiper" and that I would "burn in Hell" as long as they let me say how ridiculous I think that their beliefs are. Of course, if they repeatedly harassed me, I would have no compunction against taking them to civil court. If our roles were reversed, I would expect them to do the same.

Yesterday, I had a Christian evangelist tell me "I'm not tolerant and I'm proud of it." He also said "One way to God, right?" Frankly, a find this level of zealotry disturbing. I wouldn't even classify it as an extreme level of zealotry, considering what you see on the Internet and in the Middle East.

I don't buy that there is one way to God either, if there is one (which I doubt). I can see four possibilities if God does exist: God is malevolent, God is indifferent, God is omni-benevolent and our perception of God is completely inaccurate, or God is insane. If I say that God may exist, I shouldn't discount that a multitude of gods could exist either.

Now that that's out of the way, I want to address something. I want to point out that the Baha'i faith is probably one of the most tolerant I've seen. I'm not going to pick at any of their theological or metaphysical beliefs, but rather a few things that I think will create issues for the faith in the future.

1) The Baha'i faith views scientific inquiry as essential to expanding Human knowledge and deepening the faith of Baha'i adherents. Considering that I believe that God or some other divine aspect cannot be proven or disproven I find it interesting that the Baha'i faith supports scientific inquiry when historically most religions have been opposed to it. Historically, most religions are opposed to scientific inquiry because of contradictions with various beliefs within those religions. Just take a look at Galileo or Darwin. But consider this: What if the existence of a divine entity could be empirically disproven? I am sure that it would very much shake the Baha'i religion to its very core. I doubt that this could happen however, and I find it more of an interesting question to pose than something I could see becoming an issue. The one place where the Baha'i faith and science knock heads is #2.

2) The Baha'i faith rejects homosexuality. This is the one place I know of where science and the Baha'i faith have a contradiction. While the Baha'i faith teaches equality between people and the elimination of prejudices, sexual orientation is absent from their list of groups of Humans where prejudice should be eliminated. Others have said it before me, and I predict that this will cause tensions within the Baha'i faith in the future.

3) Women are excluded from serving on the Universal House of Justice. This is mostly for the same reasons as #2, with the Baha'i faith's teachings of equality and elimination of prejudice.

4) Followers believe that there will eventually be a single world government. I'm not going to deny that it could happen, but I doubt it. The closest we have come to this is the United Nations, and I doubt that we will go much farther. Groups of people with similar ideals would break off from a united world government and form their own nations. Self-determination has happened many times in the past and I don't see why this would change in the future.

5) It had been my understanding that the Baha'i faith also believed in a single unifying language for humankind. However the official website of the Baha'i International Community cites "the need for a universal auxiliary language."

And just a couple minor notes to finish off with:

The link to Nick Gisburne's website is no longer in the sidebar. He has taken down his website because he is no longer interested in discussing Atheism. This means some of the links in my older posts may not work correctly.

Also, if you're wondering what's been happening with the buttons, you have no need to fret. I decided that it would be easier to post all the buttons once the challenge is over than to post them every week. Article

Baha'i International Community Website