Religious Accomodation Request

I received this religious accommodation request from a constituent:

I grew up in a typical rural town – everyone knew everyone and were pretty much persistently in each other’s business with gossip. My parents took us to church once a week, and really seemed to enjoy it because it was a big deal when we were there, but not so much when we weren’t. It felt like we were putting on a show – everyone getting along like the perfect family at the church building, but parents that barely cared when we got home. But the gossip was a constant. My dad’s favorite thing to do was watch the news – he was a news junky. But I’m not really sure why – because it just seemed to enrage him. My dad had basically developed a chant that I can still hear him saying:

“Our country’s great. Our church is great. If you don’t like it – LEAVE!”

“Our country’s great. Our church is great. If you don’t like it – LEAVE!”

The chant seemed to work for just about any news story. And to my child-self there was a certain logic to it – why would anyone stay in a country they wanted to change?

I really didn’t fit in at school. My favorite thing to do was reading. The other boys preferred hunting. Once they found out I didn’t like hunting, that seemed to make them like it even more – or at least talking about it when I was around. Of course, the essential tool for hunting was a gun – and they REALLY liked guns. This was a time and a place when high school kids were allowed to bring their guns to school, so they would be able to go hunting with them afterward. The boys would show off their guns and talk about their guns and tell stories about their kills. But some of the boys were very lax with their gun safety. One day, when one of the boys was showing off his gun, he failed to notice that the end of the barrel was pointed right at me, to which I calmly asked him to avoid doing. But the boy did not take kindly to my attempt at gentle correction, instead taking a step towards me and pointing the gun directly at me. “Please stop pointing that gun at me”, I asked again, firmly. He continued pointing, waving the muzzle around in little circles. “Please stop pointing that at me – it could go off” – this time a little fearful. He cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger – I flung myself back in an uncontrollable flinch and fell to the ground. The boy just mocked me – “it’s not even loaded!” the whole crew laughed. It was a traumatic event – but I didn’t bother telling anyone – I already knew what the response would have been: “Boys will be boys.”

My senior year in high school was a turning point in my life. My aunt, whom I was close to, was killed by a stray bullet in a gun fight between two strangers – an innocent bystander. The stress on my mother, along with a long growing dissatisfaction with my father, let to their divorce – they couldn’t put on the façade any longer. I felt rejected and alone, but I honestly didn’t care that much. I still loved reading. My English teacher became a trusted confidant. She encouraged me to join the drama club and they became a source of accepting friends that I had never had before. She helped me with my application process and I was accepted to college to major in English.

College was a great time in my life. I was finally a part of a welcoming community – finally past the oppression of the gun hunting crew. I found a local chapter of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and made many lifelong friends with the shared calling to do everything possible to develop and advocate for evidence-based solutions to reduce gun injury and death in all its forms. It was in college that I met my partner and we started a life together – a life which we would share with three children.

My partner was unable to work – but I was able to get a job with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a Training Specialist. It provided a good income for our household for over 20 years and I established my professional network within the FDA. I invested my prime working years into the career – and it was a good one. I sometimes worried that I was TOO invested with the FDA – that it would be difficult for me to find other work since I had virtually no external professional network and my knowledge was very specialized to the FDA’s needs. But I reasoned that the U.S. Government was a reliable employer and everything would be fine.

Then the world changed.

A government laboratory had entered into an ambitious research program into Artificial Intelligence, or AI. The research’s goal was to develop a tiny microchip that could be embedded inside of a human ear and would interpret not just their conversations and daily interactions but could even interpret their brain waves and learn their deepest thoughts and unspoken motivations. The chip was powered wirelessly via the existing electromagnetic energy all around – cellular networks, satellite signals, television and radio broadcasts – the sources for recharging were abundant and free. Many engineers and scientists had warned that research into AI trained by brain waves could have disastrous unintended consequences for society at large. In response to their concerns the U.S. government moved the research out of the United States, but continued the research.

A large, multi-national company licensed the government AI research and developed it into a new product – the ultimate always-on personal assistant. It learned not just what music you liked, but it learned who you were. Your inner most desires and thoughts. It would whisper coaching tips throughout the day that always seemed to be exactly the right thing you needed to hear at the needed moment. It was truly amazing and everyone loved it. Over 200 million Americans chose to embed the microchip in their ear.

Tragically, after about 3 years, a bout of mass shootings started. In each case the shooter was someone who had no history of violence or any indication that they would shoot others. In many cases the shooter would be shot themselves – the only way to stop the violence – but for those who survived they explained that they did not know why they did it and felt they had no control. They didn’t intent to hurt anyone.

After several of the shootings had occurred the Department of Homeland Security got involved and found that the common factor in each of the shooters was that they had the AI chip embedded in their ears. Researchers found that the AI chips, trained by the person’s brain waves over years, were sending them subliminal commands that were literally uncontrollable, and they always manifested themselves in the person getting a gun and embarking on a mass shooting. Immediately the government demanded that the chips be removed.

Unfortunately, they found that after the chips had been embedded for more than three years that the person’s vascular system intertwined itself with the chip in such a way that if it were removed it would be fatal to the person. Over half of the population was thus infected with these AI chips that could not be removed and could turn them into unwilling gun-wielding shooters at a moment’s notice.

Doctors discovered from interviewing the survivors that fever, headache, coughing, and other non-descript symptoms would preclude the episode. Signs were put up on every building asking people to stay home if they had any symptoms – unfortunately the symptoms were so generic that they were not consistently followed because over 95% of the time it turned out to be something else. Coughing in public became grounds for social scorn and public chastisement.

It was noticed that there was a significant age stratification in who was being shot in the shootings. Children, given the smaller size, were almost always able to escape without injury. Young people similarly were fast enough that they were rarely hit. Middle age people had a low risk as well just based on their speed relative to the older people. People above 65 years old were found to be at a much higher risk, with the risk going up significantly with age above that.

The Department of Homeland Security predicted that if we could shutdown all sources of microwave energy for two weeks then it would wear out the batteries in the AI chips and stop the shootings. They called the program “two weeks to drain the batteries” and would require the shutdown of all cellular networks, television and radio broadcasts, and satellite connections leading to a functional shutdown of the Internet and all media. Some engineering, economics, and medical experts asserted that they could never stop all sources of energy and that the policy would have massive unintended consequences to society. DHS proceeded to implement the program. After the two-week trial period it did not wear out the batteries or stop the shootings which continued. Despite this many counties kept on trying to drain the batteries with multiple shutdown periods.

The next attempt at mitigation was bullet-proof vest wearing. The government mandated that everyone had to wear a bullet-proof vest. Many complained that the vests were uncomfortable and made it difficult for them to breathe. They furthermore objected that the vest mandate was applied to everyone even though the children and young people were actually more likely to be hit based on the weight of the vest, versus not wearing one at all. Other people declared that they should be allowed to personally accept the risk of shooting and not wear a vest. However, the government countered that if you were shot and the bullet went through your body and hit someone else that you could have avoided that by simply wearing the vest – the wearing of the vest was thus couched as something to do to protect others, rather than a personal choice.

Some experts at the Department of Homeland Security posited a theory that the shooters were only compelled to shoot when someone was within 6 feet of them. They began a program of “social distancing” where they required everyone to stay at least 6 feet away from other people. The program was not found to meaningfully reduce the number of shootings but it was continued anyway, arguing that the distancing, as well as the bullet-proof vests, were part of “layered protection”.

Ruger, Smith and Wesson, and the National Rifle Association sponsored a study which ran simulation models to predict the outcome of mass shootings. They found that if people would carry a concealed handgun that the probability of one of those people being able to intervene and stop the shooting went up significantly, with the potential to save many lives. Furthermore, if at least 85% of people would carry a concealed handgun it was found that virtually every shooting could be halted, resulting in what was described as “herd protection”. The paper became very influential in the Department of Homeland Security which started an effort to encourage the public to carry concealed handguns. A group of scientists from world-renown universities wrote a declaration questioning the concealed carry approach. They pointed out that concealed carry laws had been studied by law enforcement for over 30 years, but not ever actually implemented because they turned out to be more accident prone and less cost effective. They reasoned that since the risk of being shot was correlated with age that the mitigation measures be applied only to those most at risk of being shot, calling their proposal “focused protection”.  However, the head of the Department of Homeland Security and the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation exchanged emails calling the group “fringe scientists” and coordinated a media campaign to discredit them.

The government’s program of encouraging concealed carry led some to fear that they would actually mandate that all citizens do so. It became a political issue in the presidential election wherein the candidates from both political parties promised they would never impose a concealed carry mandate, and espoused their belief that the decision to carry or not would remain a personal one. The winning candidate put out a plan to stop the shootings within his first 100 days in office based on social distancing, vest wearing, and non-mandated concealed carry. When his plan filed to stop the shootings in the first 100 days, he issued several Executive Orders mandating concealed carry for federal employees, federal contractors, and employees of large companies. The mandates were questioned on several grounds: that they were a violation of people’s individual freedom from being compelled to carry a handgun, that there were known incidents of unintended shootings and other adverse events related to concealed carry, and that the mandate constituted an unlawful compulsion to participate in an experimental procedure with unknown long-term implications. Furthermore, many objected to carve-outs in the orders exempting some favored political constituencies from the mandate, and that politicians themselves were exempt and frequently seen not wearing their vest or carrying their gun.

As the concealed carry mandate was broadly implemented, some scientific studies were published showing the incidence of accidental shootings was higher than the numbers predicted by the NRA and the gun manufacturers. Studies in order countries showed similar results, but the Department of Homeland Security refused to accept the results from other countries or studies not sponsored by the U.S. government. The government and media pressured big tech platforms such as Twitter to label the studies as “misinformation” and de-platform anyone that was found sharing the studies. A popular podcaster brought guests onto his show who discussed the studies and alternate approaches to solving the shootings besides concealed carry mandates, and questioned data showing that the concealed carry approach was effective. Some of his guests argued for a therapeutic approach, such as figuring out ways to remove the AI chips without killing the host human. Other guests proposed to round up all the guns from all people regardless of whether the owner had the embedded AI chip or not. But some music artists and podcasters who supported concealed carry pulled their music catalogs from the streaming service provider in protest to apply pressure to censor the podcast. Additionally, the government threatened to further scrutinize the business practices of the stream service provider if they continued to allow the podcasts with concealed carry misinformation.

As someone who has been opposed to guns for my entire adult life, with many traumatic events in my personal experience as well as friends and acquaintances, it is my sincere belief held with religious fervor that I should not be compelled to carry a gun. As an employee subject to the concealed carry mandate presidential executive order I assert my right to a religious accommodation in accordance with Title VII of the Civil Rights act of 1964.

On the Minimum Wage

“The minimum wage. Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families.”

Ok, let’s declare it: No one who works full-time should have to live in poverty. If you work and you are living in poverty, we will give you enough money to get out of poverty. That’s what the Earned Income Tax Credit is. But, that’s not what government wants. They want a slice of the value so they demand to take control of poor people’s labor. Why do they want to make it illegal for someone with the ability to produce $8.90 of value to work? So, what they are really proposing is: “No one who works full-time and has the ability to produce more than $9/hour in value should have to live in poverty.” I say that we go with the original statement and drop the $9 clause. Let’s introduce some equality and say that all Americans should have the right to work no matter how much value they are able to produce.

“So, if you believe one set of literature, Obama’s plan will increase wages without reducing employment. But many labor economists think the plan has real costs.”

Wait, “think the plan has real costs”? Of course it does! Ask any person the question, “Does having the ability to work and provide for yourself and family have any value?” Then ask them: “Would you pay for such a right if you were denied it?” Every. Single. Person. that you interview would answer yes to both questions. So, if there is a real cost, where does all of the property go? There is obviously property seized so it has to be transferred somewhere, right? Luckily we can measure that:

“economist Adam Ozimek makes a smart point. According to a 2007 study by the CBO, an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25, like that eventually passed that year, would increase wages by $11 billion, of which $1.6 billion went to poor families.

By contrast, increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit for large families (as happened in the stimulus bill) and for single people would cost $2.4 billion, of which $1.4 billion would go to poor families. The EITC option costs one fifth as much to society but does about as much good for poor families. That suggests that if you want to help families escape poverty, wage subsidies are a more cost-effective option than the minimum wage.”

$11B transferred and $1.6 to poor families. Surely a large portion of that $11B transferred comes from the very poor whose work is now made illegal. So, the plan is to take billions from the very poor to transfer $1.6B to the poor.

“That suggests that if you want to help families escape poverty, wage subsidies are a more cost-effective option than the minimum wage.”

Ultimately, I guess that it just depends if “help(ing) families escape poverty” is, in fact, the goal. The proof will be in the politicians’ votes.