Brujo Feo's Sendero

I'm a Libertarian. I support gun rights and gay rights; I support reproductive rights and recreational pharmaceutical rights. I support your right to privacy and your right to your own wallet. I'm against the draft, and taxes, and compulsory state "education." If you're not for liberty, what difference should it make to me which particular stripe of totalitarian you are? --Brujo Feo

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Location: Ventura, CA, United States

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's OK to Kill Grandma if God Tells You To Do It, Part I

"Religious tolerance." Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

We are taught that it’s bad to be intolerant. Be tolerant of intolerance (a little tolerance for the inherent contradiction, please), and the next thing you know, the KKK is lighting crosses on the neighbor’s lawn.

When did we get so soft-headed? Tolerance isn’t a value-neutral concept; it has to do with what we tolerate. We pay cops to be intolerant of crime. (Too bad that we seem incapable of making rational choices about the conduct to be criminalized...) We pay doctors to be intolerant of disease. We pay mechanics to be intolerant of leaking brake lines. We pay judges to be intolerant of injustice. (Well, that’s the idea, anyway.)

So why do we turn off our brains the minute that religion is invoked? It’s all just peachy if the godz command us.

Not only religion, but when we are asked to countenance vicious behavior on cultural grounds, religion is usually bubbling away not far below the surface.

On July 13, 2004, the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a newspaper for lawyers, published an editorial by one Alice Dundes Rentein, professor of law "and public policy," may the godz help us, at the University of Southern California, in which she advocated official recognition by our criminal justice system of "the cultural defense," a subject about which she had–no surprises here–written a book.

Ms. Rentein apparently advocates not merely going easy on Hispanics who murder because they can’t be expected to do less when hearing the talismanic chinga tu madre, but (although no doubt she would deny it), taking the same approach with Muslims who carry out the time-honored custom of "honor killing" of any uppity little bitch in their own family who dares question any male on any subject.

And mind you, Ms. Rentein is not merely advocating that the Mexican or the Saudi judicial systems encourage such savagery; she’s arguing that these evil bastards should get a pass from our penal system. Don’t believe me? Here: read it yourself, at So:

1. I am not making this up.

2. Ms. Rentein is not some raving lunatic haploid who seriously needs her lithium levels adjusted at knife-point; she’s a professor of law and public policy at one of our most respected law schools.

I cannot currently find a copy of my published response; a link on the Daily Journal site implies that it was published on August 20, 2004. I reprint here my original essay:


July 14, 2004

re: "America Should Adopt Cultural Defense as Legal Policy"
Alison Dundes Rentein
Forum, p.6, Los Angeles Daily Journal, Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Having close ties to members of the California Court Interpreters Association (who and which are in no way responsible for the contents of this screed), I am familiar with the "cultural defense" argument, much as I am familiar with the vaunted "Twinkie defense" of so-called orthomolecular psychiatry.

Nonetheless I was taken aback by Professor Rentein’s exposition of it. She sows the seeds of absurdity in her own argument, and then pretends not to have watered them. They will sprout nonetheless, and grow like kudzu.

Ms. Rentein would base the "right" to skate on violations of law on Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Huh? That Article states:

"In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language."

I don’t see in the language of the Article the "right" to getting a pass on the Penal Code. Maybe I’m missing something.

The essay would make it easy for us to admit cultural defenses by painting a picture of trivial transgressions. But Ms. Rentein herself recognizes that it wouldn’t stop there; she speaks of People v. Chen, where a bludgeoning death resulted in probation. But then, we can’t deny people their cultural rights of jealous rage, now can we?

Ms. Rentein, thankfully, would draw the line at the transgression, far more serious than murder, of female circumcision. But what kind of sexist nonsense is this? She would allow male circumcision? Upon what basis? It can’t be "tradition"; one is as much that as the other. Well, at least I should be thankful to have Ms. Rentein’s support; my religion requires that we slice off the nipples of all male children. A smoking rock told me so! Glad that I won’t be going to prison for mutilation and torture.

Then we learn of how unfair it is that a Sikh be punished for carrying a dagger (People v. Singh). I couldn’t agree more! My religion has a similar command, but far more reasonable. Instead of such trivial display, we correctly realize that the gods are displeased every time one of us merely survives a violent crime; our gods hold it cowardice not to protect the weaker members of our culture from further violent crimes, by bringing the predators to justice. Hence, our religion requires us to be trained in the use of, and to carry at all times, a semi-automatic handgun. Glad to see that twenty thousand or so completely un-Constitutional gun laws will hold no terror. At least for our religion.

Then we have Trujillo-Garcia v. Rowland, where multiculturalism should have required our man to skate on murder after hearing the mystic mantra chinga tu madre, which, by the way, is only very roughly "motherfucker." In Spanish, it is far more explicit and insulting, just like it sounds. Well, lucky for me that I speak Spanish! Another defense for me to salt away for just that moment when it’s most needed. (But if you really want to insult someone, it’s best to learn to swear in Russian. No wonder the Feds can’t seem to get control of the Russian mafia! I’m gonna keep that cultural defense in my hip pocket too, just in case. So don't tell anyone that "fuck your mother" isn't much of an insult at all in Russian–just a rather mild statement of surprise or disbelief.)

We get a true red herring in the case describing demeanor at trial, Kwai Fan Mak v. Blodgett. True, this probably is ineffective assistance of counsel. But I’ll bet that the crime charged wasn’t being in possession of a stoic demeanor. And what are we to make of the Yemeni khat chewers, who find themselves "innocent"? Well, guess what? Anyone with a brain can figure out that the War on Some Drugs is a far greater menace to our society than any use of any drug, and that all federal drug laws are hopelessly un-Constitutional. My culture recognizes that khat chewers are innocent, just like tobacco smokers, cocaine snorters, alcohol imbibers, and heroin shooters. We rightfully believe that anyone who dares to disagree will burn in Hell forever. However, we don’t expect much traction on these beliefs out of the criminal justice system.

Our gods have also decreed that certain of our studlier acolytes be–shall we say–required to make themselves available at the temple, where, after payment of a suitable emolument, the women of the village (and the men, of course) may partake of The Ritual Ecstacy. We used to have trouble with those pesky laws about pimping and prostitution, not to mention involuntary servitude. But of course, that was before the glorious advent of the "cultural defense"!

Ms. Rentein then trivializes the whole matter by citing exemptions carved out from education, child-neglect and animal-welfare statutes on behalf of the Amish, the Christian Scientists, and Jews and Muslims, respectively. With the exception of the medical-care issues raised in the second instance, in which many cases have gone against Christian Scientist parents, the easy explanation is: who cares? The Amish, after all, have an excellent system of education; is anyone daft enough to believe that the learning of Amish children would be improved by subjecting them to publik edgykashun? Are we really losing sleep over the suffering of kosher-slaughtered beef?

What doesn’t Ms. Rentein tell us about? How about abductions and honor killings in the Muslim community? How about African and Asian societies where very young children are sold in "marriage" to elderly men? Surely, these practices could easily pass Ms. Rentein’s completely meaningless three-prong test, yes? As could our culture’s "tradition" that young boys are not just allowed to, but absolutely required to, pressure even younger girls (or boys) into having sex with them. I’m glad to see that the "cultural defense" has just swept away all statutory-rape statutes. Just think of the money that we’ll save!

Ms. Rentein closes with a British case, in which a Yoruba woman asserted a cultural defense (whether successfully, we are not told) against charges that she had mutilated her sons’ faces. We learn that, "although no one bothered to check, it appears that the custom no longer was practiced in Nigeria at that time, and the mother had deviated from tradition." Again: huh?

Does it even occur to Ms. Rentein that perhaps it was the mother who hadn’t checked? Maybe she reasonably and subjectively believed that she was following tradition. Or perhaps she and her clan (after all, to meet the good Professor’s test, we need a many "believers’ does it take to decriminalize mutilation...or murder?) had escaped from Nigeria for the very purpose of maintaining that noble tradition, against the evil heretics who wanted to take it away from her.

(And for one Nigerian writer’s rejection of the philosophical underpinnings of the cultural defense, see Jare Oladosu’s essay at [Note: that link now appears to be dead; try instead I have also archived the file at]

My own background is Irish Catholic. I am so glad that, the next time my daughter talks back, I can threaten to have her beaten and raped, and cloistered away in a nunnery for the rest of her life. And if she sasses me, I can follow through with it, and Ms. Rentein will be waiting right there, with my cultural defense. Praise Jesus!

One might ask: so what’s the solution? But that begs the question–why should we concede that there’s a problem? (Colonel Jeff Cooper, USMC ret., widely regarded as the father of modern pistolcraft, and a staunch proponent of the single-action semi-auto M1911A1 .45ACP Colt pistol, was once asked his opinion of the advent of double-action semi-autos. After a moment’s reflection, he replied: "An elegant a nonexistent problem.")

The fact that our justice system requires adherence to our laws–to a better moral standard than the horrorshows that immigrants were running away from in the first place–isn’t a problem. It’s a strength, not a weakness.

Perhaps rather than whining about it, Professor Rentein might consider handing out leaflets at the border, helping the new arrivals to get a clue. Because until they do, I want the ones who can’t–every last face-and-genital mutilatin’, angered-enough-by-words-to-kill, child-selling, honor-killing one of them–behind bars.

Too bad if the truly innocent–the khat chewers and the swordlet wearers, and the prostitutes–get caught up in the net. Until our society finally evolves to the point that the proscriptions of criminal law should be bounded by that which is required to prevent force and fraud, it seems like we may need to pay that price.

And the good Professor might pause for a moment, and consider that it is sometimes best to be careful what one wishes for. Were the "cultural defense" available, the criminal law might hold a bit less terror for any number of folks who might want to burn her at the stake, as a witch. Of course, we know that she should only be beaten with a rod no larger than a man’s thumb. Or perhaps beheaded, of course.

Professor Rentein admits: "As of yet, no country has embraced the cultural defense."

What a surprise! Might it be because it’s a dangerously idiotic concept?


Well...I had hoped today to get to my original subject, how the California Probate Code (and I wouldn’t doubt the Penal Code as well–I don’t know; I don’t do criminal law) gives a pass to Christian Scientists and others whose godz tell them to kill their elders by withholding medical care from them–behavior which is strictly prohibited for rational people.

But I’ve been playing hooky all day, cleaning up the website at, and I have to get back to lawyering. I’ll just hope that it isn’t another thirteen months before I get a chance to tackle that subject.


Blogger Ned said...

Her level of education notwithstanding, it occurs to me that perhaps Ms. Rentein does need some sort of medication adjustment.

7:53 PM  

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