On the Muslim Registry

A few scattered thoughts on the Muslim Registry that’s floating around: I don’t know what form the registry would take, but I doubt it’ll be a system where you can self-report into it. It might be like trying to add your own name to the FBI Wanted list or the No Fly list. Those things are made by intelligence-gathering and police work and not by self-reporting.

If that’s the case (and the details remain to be seen) the registry can be built by metadata collection, surveillance and all of the other NSA tools the Trump administration now has at its disposal.

From what I know about those surveillance tools, here’s a couple of ideas about what to do in order to throw a civil-disobedience wrench in the works:

– Attend Friday prayer services with a cell phone in your pocket. If your car has GPS, be sure to park right outside. A regular pattern of attending Jumah services would be an indicator that a person is a Muslim. (Conversely, if your car/cell is only ever in front of a church on Sunday morning, intelligence will determine you are a Christian)

– Metadata collection is a big part of NSA surveillance. So make friends with people who are Muslim and talk to them a lot. Generate lots of metadata. If the NSA sees that I only talk to other Christians (I’m a priest), they can safely leave me off the Registry.

– Learn Arabic and use it in online communication. Not easy to do, but that will draw attention and increase your odds of being added to a Registry.

– Eat at Muslim-owned or Halal restaurants. Check in on social media and pay with cards or other electronic payments, not cash. That also creates digital records. Besides nothing builds relationships like eating together (hello, Eucharist) and it helps build cultural understanding.

So: make friends with Muslims, go to their prayer services and learn and speak the language. Just do it with technology and you’ll increase your chances of being added to a Registry. In other words, do the hard work of relationship- and community-building (solidarity) that we should be doing anyway.

My friend Andrea recommends the languages of Urdu, Bangla, Bahasa Indonesia, and Persian. Remember that most of the Muslim world is actually in South Asia.

My friend Preston recommends this article on Vox about what is presently known about the Muslim registry database.

Testimony on civic chaplaincy (HRC-11) offered January 26, 2016

My name is Jason Wells and I am the priest serving Grace Episcopal Church in Concord. Sometimes the Senate invites me to be their chaplain. Because of that experience, I urge you to recommend that the House vote HRC-11 as Inexpedient To Legislate.

My years-long service as a legislative chaplain gives me a unique perspective to offer the Committee. The role of any civic chaplain is a difficult and a anxious one. To use a metaphor, the chaplain navigates a barge through shallow and rocky waters. In fear of damaging the barge or losing the cargo, there are two apparent options. The first option is to throw the cargo overboard, lighten the load and avoid the rocks. Of course, while safe passage is found, the point of the journey is lost. This option represents casting off chaplaincy from our civic life, which has strong arguments in its favor, given the Constitution’s no-establishment clauses.

The second option is to veer the barge hard toward the river banks. Again the rocks are avoided and this time the cargo is safe. But now, the barge is grounded on the banks and cannot journey onward. Resolution HCR-11 represents this option. This resolution veers hard into sectarianism and advocacy, particularly in its second and third resolve clauses. As sectarianism, it privileges Christianity ahead of other faiths and will give leverage to those who want to see civic chaplaincies ended. As advocacy, it invites each faith and each viewpoint within that faith to use the chaplain’s role as a bully pulpit and a battleground, ending any pastoral or counseling role chaplains exercise.

So what is the third way? The third way is for the barge and its cargo to hold its course in rocky waters. The third way is to recognize that a non-sectarian and non-advocating civic chaplaincy is always difficult and anxious work and yet to affirm that this chaplaincy is a necessary part of both legislative and executive work. The third way is to recommend HCR-11 as Inexpedient To Legislate. The third way is to heed the wisdom found in our present policies: wisdom which was hard-won over the course of centuries of trial and error at understanding church and state relations.

Every time that I come into the Senate chamber to offer a reflection and a prayer, I agree to specific terms. Those terms are simple:

“New Hampshire’s State Senators cherish their private religious beliefs, and respect those of our colleagues, recognizing the many cultural, religious and secular backgrounds from which we come to serve our state.

In the interest of unanimity and comity between Senators before session, it is requested that our Senate Chaplain:

  1. Refrain from invoking by prayer any one specific religious faith or figure, whether Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha or any other; and
  2. Refrain from interjecting into the prayer a religious or personal position on political or specific legislation.”

In short, in accepting the invitation, which I can freely refuse, I agree voluntarily to limit my own religious expression for the sake of the common good—the heart of the Lockean social contract. A non-sectarian and non-advocating chaplaincy allows me to serve the Senate by offering a spiritual dimension to the work of governance, a pastoral counseling when personal issues weigh on their minds and an appeal to the virtues of humility, hope, higher calling (among many others) and by offering no agenda, no quid pro quo, a spirit much needed in politics.

This policy, this third way through rocky waters, will also serve the Executive Council well. Please recommend HCR-11 as Inexpedient to Legislate.

Saintly advice


Thomas More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down–and you’re just the man to do it–do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons

The Moral Failure of Computer Scientists – The Atlantic

In the 1950s, a group of scientists spoke out against the dangers of nuclear weapons. Should cryptographers take on the surveillance state?

Physicist Philip Rogaway charged a group of computer scientists, mathematicians and cryptographers with “moral failure: By allowing the government to construct a massive surveillance apparatus, the field had abused the public trust.”

He compares the creation of digital surveillance to the political use of science in the Manhattan Project and in the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative. Where do engineers and scientists see their roles as having a moral and ethical dimension?

Source: The Moral Failure of Computer Scientists – The Atlantic

Letter to the Editor: Why Chaplains?

My Letter to the Editor for the Concord Monitor. Much of its content was repeated in their August 12 editorial.


Why chaplains? The August 9 Capital Beat reported on controversy about Garrett “Patriot Pastor” Lear’s prayer before the Executive Council. The Governor and some Executive Councilors expressed upset as his prayer contained advocacy on the Planned Parenthood defunding vote.

As the priest serving Grace Episcopal Church in East Concord, the State Senate sometimes calls upon me to lead prayers as their chaplain. When I do, I agree to pray with their guidelines:

“New Hampshire’s State Senators cherish their private religious beliefs, and respect those of our colleagues, recognizing the many cultural, religious and secular backgrounds from which we come to serve our state.

In the interest of unanimity and comity between Senators before session, it is requested that our Senate Chaplain:

  1. Refrain from invoking by prayer any one specific religious faith or figure, whether Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha or any other; and
  2. Refrain from interjecting into the prayer a religious or personal position on political or specific legislation.”

These wise guidelines should be embraced by anyone serving as chaplain to the Executive Council. Legislative chaplains provide care-giving relationships and attend to the emotional and spiritual needs of both Houses in order that our elected officials can work with clear hearts and minds.

My role as chaplain is not a pulpit for evangelism or advocacy. Instead, when I am invited inside the chamber, my role is to serve our elected officials humbly, without an agenda or quid pro quo, a spirit much needed in political places.

Religious freedom does not provide a license to harm others

Link: Concord Monitor

My Turn: Religious freedom does not provide a license to harm others


For the Monitor
Friday, August 7, 2015
(Published in print: Saturday, August 8, 2015)

The struggle for marriage equality, which culminated in a momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision last June, was about chipping away at this nation’s long history of government-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians. At long last, after years of litigation and advocacy by the ACLU and others, the court finally welcomed same-sex couples fully into the American family.

Some have argued that this decision was an assault on religious liberty. This is incorrect. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution. But granting gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry does not infringe upon anyone’s religious liberty.

As the Supreme Court explained: “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

This means, for example, that houses of worship and clergy retain the freedom to determine which marriages they will and will not perform in their faith traditions. New Hampshire’s marriage equality law, passed in 2009, also recognizes this fundamental right.

The Supreme Court was correct. Religious freedom means that all of us – proponents and opponents of marriage equality alike – have the right to believe whatever we want about God and faith, and to act on our beliefs unless it harms others. Faith leaders and the ACLU have continuously fought for this right, whether by helping street preachers or defending students’ right to read the Bible during school reading periods.

However, we don’t have the right to use religion to discriminate against others and take away their legal rights. Just as religious liberty doesn’t permit a person to refuse service, deny employment, or deny housing to African-Americans or Christians, the same is true of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals.

This issue has been getting a lot of attention recently. States such as Arizona, Arkansas and Indiana have considered “religious freedom restoration” bills that would invite the use of religion to offensively discriminate against others, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

This is wrong.

During the Jim Crow era, our country regrettably allowed African-Americans to be discriminated against in public places for decades. The civil rights movement helped our country realize that the decision to refuse service to someone because of who they are fundamentally demeans and dehumanizes that individual. And when some people claimed a right to continue to discriminate against African-Americans based on religious beliefs about segregation, the courts and the nation rightly rejected those claims. The same is true for our LGBT brothers and sisters. Like those of a different race or religious sect, these individuals deserve the right to participate equally in our society.

This is why New Hampshire, since 1998, has been among the 21 states that protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation, employment and housing. (Unfortunately, New Hampshire does not protect against transgender discrimination.) Those same anti-discrimination laws also protect people from racial and religious discrimination.

There are an estimated 50,000 LGBT individuals living in New Hampshire. They are our friends, neighbors, family members and co-workers. Many are people of faith who worship in communities like Grace Episcopal Church in Concord. When it comes to being able to earn a living or being served by a business or government office, they should be treated like anyone else. Religion should not be used as a license to violate state laws designed to end the demeaning practice of discrimination in these contexts – whether it be discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation. Period.

Sadly, LGBT citizens still aren’t protected against discrimination in the remaining 29 other states, or even under the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act. So while you cannot be discriminated against on the basis of race or religion nationwide, in over half of the United States gay and transgender people run the risk of facing discrimination every time they eat at a restaurant, shop for clothes or go to the gym. This unfortunate reality means that there is much more work to be done to ensure that LGBT Americans are treated as full citizens.

(The Rev. Jason Wells serves as pastor of Grace Episcopal Church in Concord. He also serves on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire. Gilles Bissonnette is the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire.)