Religious Freedom or Religious Discrimination?

Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Act has been getting enormous press coverage the past few days. Gov-Mike-PenceThe act, signed into law this week by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, allows businesses in Indiana to discriminate against gays and others they object to on religious grounds.

The blowback has been swift and growing. The state now stands to lose millions of dollars with organizations threatening to cancel conventions and pull major sporting events. Some major corporations have said they will no longer invest in the State. It is very reminiscent of events last year when Jan Brewer was forced to veto similar legislation in Arizona.

Gov. Pence has argued that Indiana’s law is no different from that passed in 19 other states that are all based on a federal law signed by President Clinton in 1993. And many corporate media outlets have accepted his statement.

But Pence is not speaking the truth.

RNS-RFRAThe Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed in 1993 was designed to shield minority religions from government interference. Specifically, the law was crafted in response to a specific legal case (Employment Division v. Smith) that dealt with “whether two Native American workers could get unemployment insurance after they had been fired from their jobs for taking peyote in a religious ritual.” [See here for full details.]

In 1997 a portion of this act was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the Federal law was not binding on the operations of State governments. The Act was amended in 2003 to reflect this. Subsequently 19 States passes their own versions of the RFRA to entrench the federal law’s provisions within their own state laws.

While Gov. Pence may pretend that the Indiana law is no different than the laws passed in these other states, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana states that Indiana’s law is “virtually without precedent.”

It is important to note that the Federal law (as well as the laws of the other states cited) applies to individual persons and groups asserting their free exercise of religion in interacting with the government, The Indiana law is much more broadly written, allowing

for-profit businesses, employees and individuals—basically anyone—to assert a legal claim or defense of free exercise of religion in a legal proceeding, regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding. (emphasis added)

Garrett Epp summarizes the key differences to the Indiana law as follows in an article this week for The Atlantic:

[First,] the Indiana statute explicitly recognizes that a for-profit corporation has “free exercise” rights matching those of individuals or churches. …

Second, the Indiana statute explicitly makes a business’s “free exercise” right a defense against a private lawsuit by another person, rather than simply against actions brought by government.

gay-marriageHe explains that a major impetus for the new wave of “religious freedom” legislation has come as a result of a recent New Mexico court case in which a same-sex couple sued a professional photography studio that refused to photograph the couple’s wedding on religious grounds.

The photography studio claimed that New Mexico’s RFRA protected it from being sued for discrimination. The state’s Supreme Court, however, ruled that the state’s RFRA did not protect the defendant because the government was not a party to the suit.

The Indiana law ensures that businesses will be protected from similar discrimination suits by extending the protection beyond the limits of governmental agencies to include individuals and for-profit corporations.

Does this new law allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against whomever they wish at will? No. As Paul Waldman explains in an article this week in The Washington Post,

Indiana law on discrimination creates certain protected classes. You can’t discriminate against someone because of their race, their religion, their gender, and so on. But sexual orientation isn’t on that list … .

Many other states have language in their statutes that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Indiana does not. When the bill was before the state legislature,

Democrats also offered the Republican legislative majority a chance to amend the new act to say that it did not permit businesses to discriminate [on sexual orientation]; they voted that amendment down.

And that is what gives this legislation signed into law this week by Rep. Gov. Mike Pence all the trappings of an “anti-gay” law.

Gay wedding cakeAlthough much of the discussion so far has centered on seemingly minor issues like whether a photographer should have to shoot a same-sex wedding or whether a baker should be able to refuse to make a cake for a gay couple, Sam Baker, writing in the National Journal, notes that

[T]he potential reach is much greater. As more states adopt similar proposals … religious liberty could be used to defend discrimination in housing or by employers who object to providing same-sex spousal benefits.

On the heels of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Arkansas legislature approved an RFRA of its own that contained similar provisions to the Indiana law. Although Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson had earlier indicated that he would sign the bill, The Hill reports that he now appears to be “backing down amid a growing outcry over similar legislation in Indiana.” Hutchinson is quoted as saying,

“I am asking the Legislature to take a look at this bill, to recall it, or to provide me a changed bill that will make Arkansas [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] law mirror the federal law.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is also backtracking, vowing that the state will alter its RFRA, and calling on “lawmakers to pass legislation making it clear ‘that this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone.’ ”

Religious freedom is a precious right, and should be vigilantly protected. But it must not be turned into a weapon to deny the basic rights of others.

That is a lesson that many are still struggling to learn.

Photo credits: Facebook/Governor Mike Pence; U.S. National Archives

5 More Revelations following Ferguson

Ferguson protestors1Tensions remain high in the wake of the Grand Jury’s report released on Monday which declared that charges would not be brought against the white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. last August.

In August I composed a blog addressing 4 Disturbing Revelations in the Wake of Ferguson where I discussed the events of Ferguson within the larger context of persistent levels of racism, discrimination, and police action against American blacks.

The four points made and discussed in detail in that article were that:

  1. Blacks continue to be excluded from mainstream America
  2. Being Black makes one look ‘suspicious’ in America
  3. The police and the courts treat Blacks far differently than Whites and
  4. Local and state police have become excessively militarized.

As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently stated,

Ferguson is not just about systemic racism – it’s about class warfare and how America’s poor are held back.

Now, with the nation’s attention once more fixed on Ferguson it is time to add to this list and present 5 More Disturbing Revelations in the Wake of Ferguson. This time they place the events of Ferguson within the larger context of widespread racial discrimination, segregation, poverty, and exclusion.

Here they are:

  1. Ferguson protestors2Most white people in America don’t understand the real effects of racial discrimination. 

As Paul Waldman recently wrote in The American Prospect,

My privilege as a white man is to be unnoticed if I choose, because when I step into an elevator or walk through a store or pass a cop on the street, I’m an individual. No one looks at me and says, “Hmm—white guy there,” because I’m the default setting. I’m not suspicious, I’m not a potential criminal, I ring no alarm bells in anyone’s head.

Similarly, Nicholas Kristof, writing in “Sunday Review” for the New York Times, observes that most whites are benignly unaware of the harsh realities of racial inequality in American society. He says,

The greatest problem is not with flat-out white racists, but rather with the far larger number of Americans who believe intellectually in racial equality but are quietly oblivious to injustice around them. Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks and that gives public schools serving disadvantaged children many fewer resources than those serving affluent children. We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.

  1. American communities are more racially segregated today than they were 60 years ago. 

The failure of many white Americans to understand the stark realities faced by most black Americans is largely due to whites having a very separate social experience from blacks.

Studies have shown that the vast majority of white people simply do not mix with blacks. Most have few if any black acquaintances. A 2013 American Values Survey found that the social networks of whites contain on average only one black and one Hispanic person, with 75% of whites having social networks that contain no racial minorities.

white - black friendsAs a result, white people simply do not share the same experiences as black people, and most whites have difficulty even imagining the challenges blacks face on a daily basis.

  1. Black Americans do not enjoy the same economic opportunities as white Americans 

This racial segregation is intimately tied in with economic segregation. Blacks (and Hispanics too) do not enjoy the same economic opportunities that white people – particularly middle class whites – take for granted.

As Jamelle Boule recently reported in Slate,

Median income among black Americans is roughly half that of white Americans. But a narrow majority of whites believe blacks earn as much money as whites, and just 37 percent believe that there’s a disparity between the two groups.

However, the following information from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals the true picture. It shows the average net worth of American households, adding together “all assets including money in checking accounts, owned homes, rental properties, 401ks, stocks and vehicles” and deducting “liabilities like mortgages, student loans, and medical and credit card debt” to arrive at a family’s “net worth.” Here are the results divided into quintile groupings:

average net worthYou can view these numbers in an interactive bar graph here. The figures for middle 20% group (highlighted above) are the most telling. Statistically, they show there is essentially no “middle class” among Black and Hispanic families.

  1. Richer Americans tend to see the poor as undeserving of help. 

Most poor people (and most black Americans) do not want to remain poor. That is not their desire. Rather, most lack the financial means and life skills to escape the cycle of poverty they are trapped in.

But couldn’t they escape their poverty if they really wanted to? Despite widespread and perhaps a naïve faith in “the American dream,” the fact is, America ranks far below most other developed countries in economic upward mobility. While other countries invest considerable resources in programs to stimulate upward mobility, the vast majority of Americans who are born into poverty will never escape it.

US RankingThe campaign to vilify poor people, to treat them as lazy and undeserving of aid, to limit their access to social support services, and to make it increasingly difficult to receive adequate levels of support is, to me, racist at its root. (Click here for more on this.)

Such a policy disproportionally targets black and Hispanic minorities; it keeps them mired in poverty and systematically denies them the necessary opportunities to exit the situations that entrap them.

  1. The majority of Americans oppose “wealth redistribution” to help the poor. 

Of course, the poor could be given the means of upward mobility. If America wanted to, it could use its resources to reinvest in public education, implement job-training programs and provide loans to small start-up business ventures. It could expand public health care, institute a living wage for all workers, expand low-cost public housing, and create sustainable inner city communities.

But that would constitute a major shift in priorities. It would entail diverting some wealth away from “deserving” individuals to help the “undeserving” poor.

Recently one of my relatives enclosed the following picture in a Facebook post.

Hitler : ClintonIt seems to make a social policy of caring for one’s neighbour into some sort of dangerous a Fascist ideal. That strikes me as rather strange, since I’m pretty sure that ensuring the welfare of one’s neighbor is deeply enshrined in both Jewish and Christian Scripture.

The appropriate course of action is at once both simple and difficult. As Nicholas Kristof pointed out above,

We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.

Therefore, two things are necessary:

  • First, we need to first be aware of the current power structures that perpetuate racial injustices against blacks and other minorities in American society.
  • Then, we need to implement new social and economic structures that grant all people dignity, treat all people fairly, and promote equal opportunity for all.

That is what the Founding Fathers had in mind, after all, when they enshrined “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as fundamental and unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence.

Photo credits: Adrees Latif/Reuters; Jeff Roberson, AP

4 Disturbing Revelations in the Wake of Ferguson

A man backs away as law enforcement officials close in on him and eventually detain him during protests over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer, in Ferguson, Mo.The tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri the past month have brought four important issues into sharp focus that normally do not receive much notice.

1) Blacks continue to be excluded from mainstream America.

Nearly two years ago Nikole Hannah-Jones published a revealing in-depth article for ProPublica  in which she reported that following the passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act George Romney, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Nixon, began developing a program “to pressure predominantly white communities to build more affordable housing and end discriminatory zoning practices.” As she reports,

George RomneyRomney … viewed the blighted black ghettos as a root cause of the inner-city riots of the 1960s. “Equal opportunity for all Americans in education and housing is essential if we are going to keep our nation from being torn apart,” he wrote in talking points he drew up for a meeting with the president.

Romney’s stance made him a pariah within the administration. Nixon shut down the program, refused to meet with his housing secretary and finally drove him from the Cabinet.

She continues,

Nixon’s vision for America largely came to pass and the costs have been steep. More than 20 years of research has implicated residential segregation in virtually every aspect of racial inequality, from higher unemployment rates for African-Americans, to poorer health care, to elevated infant mortality rates and, most of all, to inferior schools.

school_busingThe result is that schools and communities in America are more racially segregated now than they were 60 years ago when the Supreme Court ruled segregated schools to be unconstitutional.  When school bussing was mandated to integrate black children into white schools, many white parents moved further into the suburbs where they could escape the influx of black students. Eventually bussing policies were abandoned.

Other white families enrolled their children in private schools that had few if any black or Hispanic children attending. This trend has accelerated in recent years with increased state funding to Charter Schools. The publicly funded inner city schools, on the other hand, have been left to decay or be closed. Today public education in the inner cities has nearly collapsed.

The town of Ferguson, Missouri is just one of thousands of communities that has borne the brunt of this “white flight.” In 1990 it was 75% white; by 2010 it was 67% black. As reported in the St. Louis American,

White flight … first hit the school districts, then the tax base. Remaining homeowners are heavily taxed in areas with often struggling schools, little industry and dwindling businesses and services. The mortgage bubble really burst in these areas, with rampant home foreclosures. Large retail areas in North County have been abandoned. Small businesses face difficulty establishing a presence due to high prices for retail space and insurance costs. Those who stay charge more, and those who buy from them pay more.

When businesses and retail move, those who remain have to spend their money with establishments elsewhere in the region. That builds up the tax base in other areas, not their own. For those who lack reliable transportation (let alone job skills and education), there are few opportunities to eke out a livelihood locally. There is little escape.

2) Being Black makes one look ‘suspicious’ in America.

racial-profilingWe are now hearing more and more stories about Blacks being stopped, searched, and arrested without cause due to racial profiling. White people do not face that problem.

As Paul Waldman reported in an editorial in The American Prospect last month,

in all my years I’ve never been stopped by a cop who just wanted to know who I was and what I was up to. I’ve never been accused of “furtive movements,” the rationale New York City police use for the hundreds of thousands of times every year they question black and Hispanic men. I’ve never been frisked on the street, and nobody has ever responded with fear when I got in an elevator. That’s not because of my inherent personal virtue. It’s because I’m white.

By way of contrast, Jonathan Capehart shared his experience as a black youth growing up, including the crucial lesson his mother drilled into him:

How I shouldn’t run in public, lest I arouse undue suspicion. How I most definitely should not run with anything in my hands, lest anyone think I stole something. The lesson included not talking back to the police, lest you give them a reason to take you to jail — or worse. And I was taught to never, ever leave home without identification.

As Eugene Robinson reported in the Washington Post last week,

To be young, male and black in America means not being allowed to make mistakes. Forgetting this, as we’ve seen so many times, can be fatal. …

And yes, [Michael] Brown made mistakes. He was walking in the middle of the street rather than on the sidewalk, according to witnesses, and he was carrying a box of cigars that he apparently took from a convenience store. Neither is a capital offense.

When Officer Darren Wilson stopped him, did Brown respond with puffed-up attitude? For a young black man, that is a transgression punishable by death.

This leads us to the third point.

3) The police and the courts treat Blacks far differently than Whites.

police arresting black manAs Annie Lowrey and Jessie Singal reported earlier this month,

Black people are more likely to be victims of police brutality, and a black person under arrest is much more likely to be killed than a white person under arrest. Stories of unfair police treatment, combined with overwhelming evidence of racial discrepancies in just about every facet of the justice system, have led to a toxic culture of distrust between black Americans and the police.

A 2013 Pew Research Center study found that

black men were six times as likely as all white men to be incarcerated in federal, state and local jails.

and perhaps most chilling, a new study of national date from 1997 to 2008 shows that

by age 23, 49% of all American black men will have been arrested at least once.

As Eugene Robinson pointed out in his article,

blacks and whites are equally likely to smoke marijuana; if anything, blacks are slightly less likely to toke up. Yet African Americans — and Hispanics — are about four times more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges than whites.

To compound this inequality, studies also indicate that, among people who are arrested for using or selling marijuana, black defendants are much more likely than white defendants to serve prison time. For young white men, smoking a joint is no big deal. For young black men, it can ruin your life.

4) Local and state police have become excessively militarized.

As Alternet recently reported,

The weapons that destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq have made their way to local law enforcement. … Through laws and regulations like a provision in defense budgets that authorizes the Pentagon to transfer surplus military gear to police forces, local law enforcement agencies are using weapons found on the battlefields of South Asia and the Middle East.

Citing a recent article in the New York Times by Matt Apuzzo, it states that under the Obama administration

Armored vehiclespolice departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The result is that police agencies around the nation possess military-grade equipment, turning officers who are supposed to fight crime and protect communities into what looks like an invading army.

In June of this year the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) issued a detailed report entitled War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing. It concludes that this militarization of the police

unfairly impacts people of color and undermines individual liberties, and it has been allowed to happen in the absence of any meaningful public discussion.

It adds that this

militarization of policing encourages officers to adopt a “warrior” mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies.

 

Meanwhile, as Erwin Cherminsky reported last week in the New York Times,

In recent years, the [Supreme] Court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.

With these developments it seems appropriate to ask: Is the U.S. turning into a police state?  Not quite, but it is certainly moving in that direction.

 

Photo credits: Whitney Curtis/New York Times/Redux

Unfinished Business

March on WashingtonThis week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd of over 200,000 people.

Even those of us like myself who are white and old enough to remember that event find it difficult to recall the perilous struggle of those involved in the American Civil Rights movement.

Last week the independently produced movie The Butler was released starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and a stellar cast of other well-known actors. Today I went and saw it and found it to be extremely moving.

movies-the-butler-posterThe movie traces the history of the American Black experience through the eyes of a single man over a period spanning eight decades. He is Cecil Gaines, a black man raised on a cotton plantation who witnesses horrifying brutality as a boy before leaving to find employment as a hotel waiter and is eventually selected to become a butler at the White House. He serves as a butler to eight presidents, from Eisenhower through Reagan.

Ever silent, observant and inconspicuous (invisible really), Gaines witnesses the inner workings of the White House through the period of the civil rights movement and beyond. His necessary passive detachment from the events of the day is contrasted with that of his oldest son, who becomes involved with the civil rights movement, becomes a Freedom Rider, is present when Martin Luther King is assassinated, and for a time becomes part of the radical Black Panther movement.

The film is about the silent suffering of those contending with benign forms of racism and the violent suffering of those struggling with its overt manifestations. The film dramatically juxtaposes these two is several memorable scenes. It is about broken lives and the courage to continue on each day – to do what one must do. It is about tenacity, perseverance, and commitment to one’s self and to others. It is, all in all, a remarkable story.

63-Civil-Rights-March.enlargedIn the opening week of the film’s release over one third of those coming to see it in the U.S. were African-Americans. It was as if they were waiting for this story to be told. Leonard Pitts Jr., in the National Memo, reports seeing elderly African-Americans bringing their grandchildren in tow to watch the movie. He emphasizes that, “This isn’t your average summer movie crowd.” It is as if they have brought their grandchildren to see The Truth – as in “The Truth of How Things Were, and how that shades and shapes How Things Are.”

The Butler tells us the truth about America’s racist past, but the story itself is fiction. Anyone watching the film should understand that it is not a documentary, and it is not a personal biography. It is a fictional narrative created around real historical events.

The butler in question did serve in the White House for 34 years to eight Presidents. His real name is Eugene Allen; he died in 2010. The bare outline of his life and career provide the framework for the story. But the details of his childhood and his interactions with his wife, neighbours, and two sons are fictional creations. (A very good summary of the film’s adaptation is found here.) They provide the necessary elements for a gripping drama, and that drama is compelling.

civil-rights-1963-grangerThe depiction of the African-American experience during those years is, unfortunately, all too true. The repeated scenes of racial bigotry depict actual events – the lynchings, the sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, the violence – they are all part of that history. And it is very unsettling.

The Truth needs to be told, even (or especially) when it is painful. Aging African-Americans know the truth of their experiences in the long and difficult struggles to end segregation. They know the struggles for fair treatment that continue even today. The New York Times reported this week that

According to a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday, nearly twice as many blacks as whites say that blacks are treated less fairly by the police. More than twice as many blacks as whites say that blacks are treated less fairly by the courts. And about three times as many blacks as whites say that blacks are treated less fairly than whites at work, in stores or restaurants, in public schools and by the health care system.

We white folks need to know the Truth of these realities too. Most of us are out of touch with the black American experience. We are not directly affected by it. It is not our story. It is not our history. It is not our experience. As Paul Waldman recently stated in his essay in The American Prospect on “the Privilege of Whiteness,”

[I]n all my years I’ve never been stopped by a cop who just wanted to know who I was and what I was up to. I’ve never been accused of “furtive movements,” the rationale New York City police use for the hundreds of thousands of times every year they question black and Hispanic men. I’ve never been frisked on the street, and nobody has ever responded with fear when I got in an elevator. That’s not because of my inherent personal virtue. It’s because I’m white.

I will never have to sit my children down and give them a lengthy talk about what to do and not to do when they encounter the police. That’s the talk so many black parents make sure to give their children, one filled with detailed instructions about how to not appear threatening, how to diffuse tension, what to do with your hands when you get pulled over, and how to end the encounter without being arrested or beaten.

My hope is that The Butler will not only help the grandchildren of those who went through the civil rights movement to understand what that struggle was about. My hope is that it will help all of us to understand what was a stake and what remains at stake in the ongoing struggle for human rights today.

 

Way Cleared for More Voter Discrimination

supreme_court_us_2010This week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision of the 1965 Voters Rights Act that required states with a history of racial discrimination to have the Department of Justice approve any changes to their voting laws before enacting them. The states affected included Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as other precincts.

Within hours of the decision six of these states were rushing to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling. The first out of the gate was Texas.

TexasFlagLast year Texas put forward an extremely restrictive voter ID law that would have discriminated against many Black and Latino Americans. An estimated 800,000 voters would not have the necessary identification to vote, and it would be difficult for many of them to produce the required documents to obtain the voter IDs. The Justice Department blocked implementation of the law saying that it “would hinder minority turnout and impose “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.”

The federal court also blocked implementation of a new electoral map for Texas in which the judges found that “ ‘substantial surgery’ had been done to predominantly black districts cutting off representatives’ offices from their strongest fundraising bases.” This new electoral map had been drawn up in secret by white Republican members without notifying their Black and Latino counterparts, and then passed by the Republican majority in the state legislature.

AbbottX235_567B_7Within two hours of the Supreme Court decision, however, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced to the Dallas Morning News that]

With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.

Similar restrictive voter ID laws that had not received Justice Department clearance are now free to be implemented in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Virginia, and plans are being made to rapidly move them forward.

It should be noted that in striking down this provision in the Voter Rights Act, the Supreme Court was not saying that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in America. Its ruling was rather that the list of precincts said in the Act to follow racist policies is now nearly five decades old and needs to be revisited. It is up to Congress to compose this list (just as it did back in 1965), and once done, those states affected will still need to receive Department of Justice approval for changes to their voting procedures.

However, with the present legislative impasse in Congress, it is extremely unlikely that bipartisan agreement will be found for approving a new list of affected precincts in this current session. In the meantime this part of the Voters Rights Act will remain set aside, and states will have a free hand to implement whatever discriminatory voter practices they choose.

Any action by Congress is not likely to take place until well after the 2014 midterm elections. By then the damage will have been done.

133806_600-1

NSA Whistleblower Revealed

On Sunday The Guardian published an interview with Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed the National Security Agency massive domestic surveillance program.

edward.snowden.thumbSnowden is a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA. In 2007 he was posted to Geneva under diplomatic cover. He states,

Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world. I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.

For the last four years Snowden has been working for the National Security Agency in Hawaii under various outside contractors. His position gave him high security access, and he finally decided he must expose the NSA’s massive surveillance program of the American public.

Three weeks ago he left Hawaii for Hong Kong where he remains in seclusion. There he met with the reporter from The Guardian. The Guardian has released Snowden’s identity at his own request.

In the interview, Snowden states,

My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.

He acknowledges that he had “a very comfortable life” in Hawaii with a salary of around $200,000 a year. But he says,

I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.

Snowden adds, “I do not expect to see home again.”

The link to the interview is posted below.

Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Speaks Out – Full Interview – Edward Snowden – 6/9/13 – YouTube