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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Next year's General Assembly brouhaha today!

Jane Greer reported for in October on concerns raised by UUA trustees about federal security procedures in place at the port in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where the convention center hosting the 2008 UUA General Assembly is situated. (Show an ID to get in.) Late last week, UUA President Bill Sinkford, Moderator Gini Courter, and GA Planning Committee chair Beth McGregor issued a statement responding to concerns that the security procedures might create an "unfriendly environment" for youth and pose other problems for "those not eligible for government-issued identification." On Friday, Don Skinner filed a long news update about the UUA leadership's response — and about what looks like a division in the ranks of UU ministers about the security procedures and about GA itself.

Oh, joy! It's next summer's GA brouhaha six months early! [Update: Before reading on, make sure to read the three items linked above. They provide crucial details and context.]

Some ministers are already clamoring for clamor. UU Ministers Association executive committee member Randy Becker tells Don Skinner: "I am one of those who will not subject [themselves] to an ID check to worship or practice my faith and will stand in solidarity with those who will be excluded by these checkpoints."

UUMA president Rob Eller-Isaacs, however, asks: "Would it be effective or prophetic for UUs to stand against security measures that protect the Port of Fort Lauderdale?" He adds: "It's not going to be helpful to blame the [UUA] administration or the [General Assembly] planning committee."

Chip Roush thinks some "theatrical activism" at federal port security checkpoints might turn into a marketing bonanza for Unitarian Universalism: "I'd like us to satisfy our consciences AND get condemned on Fox News." That should go well.

UUA trustee Rosemary Bray McNatt writes:

More than one of us who've spent the past several years preaching about the slippery slope of American civil liberties will have to decide if we feel like sliding down to Florida next June, much less explaining it to our congregations. The estimated $800,000 loss that the Association would have to absorb in order to change venues could be just as tough to justify to the fiscal conservatives among us. And nearly everyone seems too well-behaved to ask why the Planning Committee hasn't taken a harder line with officials who assured UU site visitors five years earlier that the convention center would be outside the security zone in June 2008.

Other clergy are lamenting security precautions that don't make anyone safer and asking what others think.

UU layperson Chalicechick, meanwhile, thinks the ministerial hubbub about ID checks rings a little false: "[D]oesn't almost everyone who attends GA fly to get there? Don't they need government issued ID to get on the plane?" She adds: "I get that some un-documented immigrants can't attend GA if government-issued ID is required, but honestly, I'd say the $300+ entry fee and the fact that GA is entirely in English would be greater barriers than getting ahold of a half-convincing fake ID."

In case you're curious, here's a Google Maps satellite image of the port and convention center, though you may need to zoom in a bit to see just how close the convention center is to the docks:

View Larger Map

Questions: Are UUs opposed to port security? Are UUs opposed to government-issued IDs — or simply the fact that some people don't have government-issued IDs? Is the concern primarily about the potential for racial profiling? Or is it at all possible that the real concern is not the potential behavior of security personnel at all but the potential behavior of our very own people? Finally, dear ministers, will a boycott of your very own General Assembly (or, more dramatically, a symbolic last-minute move to some other location) bring change to the world, or will it simply burden your own Association with huge amounts of debt that limit its ability to serve your congregations?

("UUA leaders respond to General Assembly security concerns," Donald E. Skinner, 12.14.07; "Memorandum on Fort Lauderdale Site," William G. Sinkford, Gini Courter, and Beth McGregor, 12.11.07; "Security at 2008 General Assembly concerns UUA board," Jane Greer, 11.2.07)

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 16 December 2007 at 6:01 PM

Previous: Boston Globe, New York Times dig out.
Next: This week at G.A. concerns; what's sacred?




Kim Hampton:

December 16, 2007 08:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

I won't be at GA for other reasons. But I would like to remind people that not everyone flies. (I happen to be one of them) And while I understand those who say that this is clamouring for clamour's sake, I do think there are some legitimate issues about having GA in a place where security is a very real concern.

How to balance these (security and the need for religious organizations to have some freedoms that might be in conflict to security) is what we really should be discussing.

However, with the way security is being done at airports, I would be more concerned with who is doing the security checks than anything else. Because if you have to go through it, it should be done right.


December 16, 2007 11:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

Actually, I have a theory about GA kerfluffles: kerfluffles tend to occur when GA is held in a place with oppressive heat. This past GA in Portland, Oregon? -- perfect weather, no real kerfluffles. GA in Long Beach, California? -- cool, pleasant, no real kerfluffles. But in places where it's hot, humid, and nasty -- perfect environment for breeding conflict. Fort Lauderdale is going to be so doggone hot in June that the kerfluffles have started already, and they're just going to get worse....

Steve Caldwell:

December 17, 2007 12:22 AM | Permalink for this comment


I'm in favor of protecting the security of the public (having spent over 20 years in the US military doing so).

However, the security screening that we see in airports and Ft. Lauderdale are examples of "fighting the last war."

We go through the public theater of emptying our pockets, taking off our shoes, and making sure that we bring only small quantities of liquids or gels on our airplanes. This is ostensibly done in the name of public safety.

The 6 oz. bottle of shampoo that you had in your carry-on luggage may be an unsafe explosive and cannot be carried on the jet.

So it's thrown into a trash can next to the TSA screening area (makes perfect sense to keep the potential explosive gels next to the security screening area with the long lines and crowds).

If a determined terrorist wanted to smuggle several fluid ounces of illegal explosive fluids on the jet, it would be easy enough.

This could be easily done with breast implants in a woman or implants in a pet's abdominal cavity.

So we won't stop a determined terrorist but we are doing the theatrical performance that we care about protecting the public at the airports and other public spaces.


December 17, 2007 06:01 AM | Permalink for this comment

The problem with the current security hysteria is that law-abiding citizens are treated as suspects, whereas true terrorists keep doing their criminal actions around the world without much problem and bypassing all these checks. See last week in Algeria.

Terrorism was not invented on 9/11. For more than one hundred years, different kinds of fanatical activists (anarchists, communists, zionists, nationalists, etc. etc.) have been throwing bombs in crowded places or shooting people on the streets. The fact that this time America was attacked is simply one more episode, and this crazy obsession about security is probably just a good excuse for increasing the cutting of civil liberties, not just in America but around the no-longer-so-free world.


December 17, 2007 10:38 AM | Permalink for this comment

(((But I would like to remind people that not everyone flies. (I happen to be one of them)))

Amtrak and Greyhound also require Government-issued photo ID, FWIW.


Kathleen M.:

December 17, 2007 12:06 PM | Permalink for this comment

I find the tone of this post patronizing at best, and elitist to the ministers protesting at worst. Yes, it is expensive to attend. Yes, those who can afford to go, or have access to credit, will travel having used ID to get there.

However, the committee and "the Association" made this agreement after the elections of 2000, after 9-11, and after we were already at war with Afghanistan.

It was not the job of the "Association's" representatives to keep pressure on whoever gave them a "verbal" assurance that the convention center would not be under the port authority. It was their job to have a written contract and not go on under verbal assurances by some salesperson who obviously not qualified to give.


Kim Hampton:

December 17, 2007 12:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

Greyhound requires it? Then that's a change from when I had to ride it in March.

I know that Amtrak does (it's my preferred mode of transportation). But as long as the ID has the name that's on the ticket, you'll get through.

Patrick McLaughlin:

December 17, 2007 04:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

Driving, however, does not, CC. And I drove from San Diego to Ft Worth. I'd have flown, but once a close friend asked if I'd drive with him (and my goddaughter and her friend), it made sense (for a limited class of sense) to drive.

We'll have the charming spectacle of federal government agents permitting--or not--access to a religious gathering. I don't know about you, but I think that some of the Founders would have had heartburn over that.

And FWIW, the whole argument about ID is a load of dingoes kidneys. My 15 year old son, who is bigger and taller than I am, FLIES and rides the train without ANY (any, any at ALL) ID. So the idea that youth might be refused access to the port area is pretty damned strange.

(Yes, he has no ID. Well, no, wait... that's not true. He has a now expired passport, which isn't generally acceptable, because it's expired. We homeschool, and so there's no school ID. So here we have a UU youth who legitimately has no ID, and plausibly COULD get to GA... and yet be refused access)


December 17, 2007 05:07 PM | Permalink for this comment

Of all the things in the world to get in a huff over, I agree that this is not one of them. We only have so much energy. I wish we could find ways to pull it together and direct it toward issues that seem more pressing than this. Just my two cents.


December 17, 2007 05:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

Patrick, as you'd see if you read the coverage, the security checkpoints don't appear to be set up to discriminate against young people. Darrick Jackson, a young adult of color, tells Don Skinner about his experience at a convention center checkpoint:

He said that before meeting with convention center staff in November he was concerned about the language in the statement that security personnel would admit minors without identification on a case-by-case basis if they pose "no obvious threat." But he was reassured when staff explained that this means "no visible weapon and no physical or verbally threatening demeanor. They were very responsive to our questions, and I think they will work with us," he said.

As for driving, drivers do need government-issued ID, of course, although passengers don't. I remain confused about whether we're more upset that the government requires ID for entrance to protected facilities or that not every person in the United States can obtain an ID with relative ease.

Since the UUA elected to hold its religious meeting inside an area with federal security requirements, it's odd for us now to complain about the government checking our IDs before we can attend a religious event. The government doesn't care at all that we're holding a religious event; it's concerned that we're entering a port.

To be sure, as Steve notes, there are good reasons to doubt that ID checks constitute meaningful "security," but there are also good reasons to doubt that this particular case constitutes a real infringement on our rights to assemble for worship.


December 17, 2007 05:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

Patrick, if you drove that far without government issued ID, you are very lucky you didn't get pulled over.


Steve Caldwell:

December 18, 2007 09:54 AM | Permalink for this comment

The government ID card for entry requirement could have greater impact on transgender persons.

Some transgender persons are cross-dressers.

Some are pre-operative or non-operative transsexuals (have not had sexual reassignment surgery).

These persons may have problems if the security officials object to a woman entering with a drivers license that says she is a man (or vice versa).

Trans folks already have to experience this problem when using airline travel -- it does seem problematic to me that we are not expecting them to deal with this problem for attending a religious event.

I know of no good answers here -- I suppose the best thing we can do is provide educational materials for the security people on these issues and prominently displayed posters with a phone number GA attendees can call if they have problems getting into GA.


December 18, 2007 10:00 AM | Permalink for this comment

Steve, I'd think the presence of UU chaplains at the security checkpoints — one of the things announced in the letter from Sinkford, Courter, and McGregor — will help ease the way of trans individuals.


December 18, 2007 01:51 PM | Permalink for this comment

Sounds to me as though we could all use a refresher course to remind us what we have forgotten of St. Thomas Aquinas and his theory of just law, to balance what we obviously remember of St. Henry Thoreau and his theory of civil disobedience.

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." (St. Pete Seeger, paraphrasing St. Qoholeth)


December 19, 2007 11:58 AM | Permalink for this comment

Here's Darrick Jackson's report on his meetings in November with security personnel in Fort Lauderdale. Jackson is assistant director of the UUA's Youth Ministries Office. A key passage:

At the meetings, I learned that when youth are checked for identification, they will be asked where they are going. As long as they say that they are going to General Assembly, they will be let in. A problem could occur if they are carrying a weapon or if they verbally threaten the checkpoint guard. Racial profiling is not an issue, as the sheriff's office is very concerned about this issue, and all of their staff goes through diversity training. They offered to let us have a person stationed at the pedestrian gate to help resolve any access questions that may occur. If there are any problems with youth at the gate, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) staff will be contacted to help mediate the problem.

These conversations have reassured me that the security process will treat our youth fairly. It is still possible that incidents may occur, but I am confident that we can work with the sheriff's office to resolve these incidents in a fair and equitable manner.

("Youth and Security at General Assembly," 12.11.07)

Rev. Dr. Daniel OConnell:

December 19, 2007 02:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well, Chris, I think your analysis is-- as is often the case-- spot on.

I think the GA Planning Committee did the best they could given their time frame. I wish they would quit picking extra warm climes for GA given the overly air-conditioned venues we usually get, but that is small potatoes.

As is complaining about ID badges. Yes, there will be a few ministers and lay persons who will complain and mutter darkly. But most of us try on those clothes every once in a while.

Some of us-- no doubt trying to be helpful-- consistently point out possible exceptions to the rule. This is how we make a 'contribution' to the 'discussion.' Isn't it oddly narcissistic to lather up a self righteous indignation in advance?

Good Lord, Michael Servetus didn't get burned at the stake so we could dither on about ID badges.



December 20, 2007 05:36 AM | Permalink for this comment

Is the UUA setting itself up for another surprise in Minnesota? I recall a real concern about a possible strike and the Board even voted against Minneapolis as a GA venue because of that. Then the Planning Commision received someones assurance that they would not strike during our gathering and asked the UUA Board to change the vote. It did.

So, maybe the Board should start asking about the Minneapolis situation in more detail?


December 20, 2007 05:29 PM | Permalink for this comment

More clergy input: Christine Robinson writes, "As one who pulls out her ID with every check, every airplane, every Credit Transaction . . . I just don't equate ID checks with Fascism," and adds, "There are so many people who, for so many reasons can't attend our worship services, week after week, and we do so little about it that in my opinion, it would be the worst kind of hypocrisy to draw our line in the sand about ID checks."

Sean Parker Dennison is more sympathetic to concerns about who really has access to government-issued IDs, although he also wonders, "[I]f ministers boycott, does that help anything?"

Scott Wells, meanwhile, thinks GA 2008 may be one to skip.


December 21, 2007 05:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

I can get SC government ID for $5 - I can go to Ft.Lauderdale GA for around $1000. The UUA now has a fund to help people get ID so that those people who cant afford $5 can spend $1000?

(yes, i know that some folks might have to get a copy of their birth certificate, and no doubt my state is cheaper than some - but still....)

Bill Baar:

December 22, 2007 08:39 AM | Permalink for this comment

It would be worthwhile having students and faculity from Meadville Lombard discuss security in Hyde Park and the campus contrasted with the security at Ft Lauderdale. What are the trade offs between civil liberties and security.

Patrick McLaughlin:

December 25, 2007 04:35 AM | Permalink for this comment

I must be an unusually good driver then, CC. I'm trying to remember the last time I had to show a drivers license to an officer ... must be 100,000 miles ago or so. The trip to and from Ft Worth isn't the longest road trip without having to show a cop my ID. Not even the second longest.

The point, however, isn't that I have one.

Chris, that's true... but the fact that some folks didn't realize it's strange doesn't change the fact that it is strange to have to seek admittance to a worship service from a governmental official. Doesn't matter that we agreed to it (though that's a boneheaded act I'd hope won't be repeated).

Steve's correct; the "security" we're having performed for us is for our entertainment, not for our safety. I've traveled all over, and people living in areas far more menaced didn't--and don't--submit to this sort of absurdity. Nor is it making us safer. It's Potemkin village protection.

Bill, I'm not sure of your point. Meadville's in the process of moving the campus to a *less* secure area. And that's generally seen as a reasonable thing. Students aren't entering seminary because they want to go out into a cocoon, but rather to try to help address the world's wounds and problems. Some guards looking for actual problems or concerns would be useful (in both places, probably), but security kabuki doesn't.

ID, please.

I've lived where the police could--and did--stop people and ask to see their identity cards. I see us drifting in that direction. Mission creep... next it'll be mandatory biometrics and police randomly checking ID... for our "safety."


January 10, 2008 12:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

Central Midwest District trustee Justine Urbikas writes about the General Assembly ID checks over at the district's website.

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