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March 19th, 2012
03:56 PM ET

Opinion: Trayvon Martin, not George Zimmerman, was engaged in self-defense

Editor’s note: Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer and writer in New York City. She writes about social issues, parenting and relationships on her blog, Carolyn Edgar.  You can follow her on Twitter @carolynedgar.

By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Imagine the following scenario:

You are a 17-year-old boy in Sanford, Florida. You are visiting your father and his fiancée at your soon-to-be stepmother’s home in a gated community. You decide to make a late-night candy run to your local 7-Eleven. It’s nighttime and drizzling, so you are wearing a hooded sweatshirt. At the store, you buy a package of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea, then head back home.

As you are walking home, you notice a man in an SUV following you. The man gets out of the car. He’s a big guy who outweighs you by 100 pounds. He doesn’t identify himself as a police officer – in fact, you don’t know who he is. What should you do next?

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March 6th, 2012
12:56 PM ET

Opinion: Insurance coverage for birth control is a right, not an 'entitlement'

Editor’s note: Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer and writer in New York City. She writes about social issues, parenting and relationships on her blog, Carolyn Edgar.  You can follow her on Twitter @carolynedgar.

By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Rush Limbaugh may have offered a tepid apology to Sandra Fluke for his vicious, unprincipled attack, but it’s doubtful Limbaugh is truly sorry for his choice of words. By painting Fluke, the Georgetown University law student whom he excoriated for her pro-birth control testimony before Congress, as a “slut” who wants taxpayers to pay her to have sex, Limbaugh attempted to give the GOP more weapons to use against President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. In typical Limbaugh fashion, his methods may have been sloppy, but effective.

Limbaugh’s reframing of health insurance coverage for birth control – a right supported by the Bush Administration without question for over a decade – as yet another “entitlement” sought by greedy liberals was not lost on conservatives, even as they chided him for his poor choice of words. A Wall Street Journal opinion writer, for example, argued that Fluke “went to Congress looking for a handout.” Never mind that Fluke spoke not of her own sex life and her own personal use of birth control, but of the experiences of friends who were denied access under Georgetown’s student health plan to birth control pills used to treat a variety of medical conditions. Notable in Fluke’s testimony was the story she told of a friend who lost an ovary to polycystic ovarian disease because Georgetown refused to provide her birth control pills even though, as a lesbian, the woman was not concerned about pregnancy prevention.

Referring to insurance coverage for birth control as an “entitlement” is false and misleading. Fluke did not go to Congress seeking “free birth control,” but to argue in favor of a principle that has been law for over a decade. In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn't provide birth control violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. Under the EEOC ruling, employers who offered men preventative care medicine such as erectile dysfunction treatment also had to provide women preventative care medicine such as birth control.

As working Americans know, employer health insurance coverage is not free. Employees pay part of the cost for these insurance programs through payroll deductions. Most employer insurance programs require co-pays for doctor visits; thus, obtaining a prescription for birth control isn’t “free” for most employees, with or without a prescription co-pay. University student health plans also typically require students to pay annual premiums, along with tuition payments and other expenses. It is a gross mischaracterization to claim that a woman who expects the insurance she pays for to cover the medication she needs is looking for taxpayer-funded “entitlements.”

Limbaugh is merely the latest conservative to speak of birth control as something used only by women with loose morals so they can have free, easy sex. Rick Santorum has said about contraception: “It’s not OK, because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” In other words, it’s bad for women to have sex without the fear of conception. Conservatives deny waging a war on women and women’s health, yet they continue to speak of women’s sexuality in Victorian terms. FULL POST

Opinion: Rapper's video advice could land young boys in jail
Rapper's advice not just offensive, but potentially criminal.
February 16th, 2012
03:03 PM ET

Opinion: Rapper's video advice could land young boys in jail

Editor’s note: Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer and writer in New York City. She writes about social issues, parenting and relationships on her blog, Carolyn Edgar.  You can follow her on Twitter @carolynedgar.

On February 15, Vanessa Satten, the editor-in chief of XXL Magazine responded again to the growing furor and calls for her resignation.  Read her statement here.

By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN

(CNN) – Outrage continues to build over a video that ran on the magazine XXL’s website featuring the rapper Too $hort dispensing advice to middle-school boys on how to “turn girls out.”

As the mother of a teenage girl and a pre-teen boy, I found the video abhorrent because it promotes sexual violence against young women. As a lawyer, I found both the video and XXL’s publication of it irresponsible and reckless.

A boy who took Too $hort’s advice could find himself in real trouble, because the behavior he encourages may, in fact, violate a multitude of state and federal laws.  Pushing a girl against a wall and sticking a finger inside her underwear would likely constitute sexual harassment and/or a criminal charge of sexual assault.

Sexual harassment in schools is a violation of Title IX, the federal statute that prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of sex. Schools that receive federal funding are required under Title IX to take action against sexual harassment. Most school districts have enacted policies prohibiting sexual harassment as part of their Title IX enforcement obligations. For example, in the New York City Department of Education Discipline Code, punishment for sexual harassment ranges from a parent conference to suspension, and even expulsion in some cases. The victim may also have other avenues for legal recourse, including filing a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or filing a lawsuit in federal court.

In addition to violating Title IX and school policy, the behavior Too $hort advocates could be criminal. The rapper directed his advice at boys in middle and early high school. Children in these grades generally are legally below the age of consent. The age of consent to sexual contact in the United States varies by state, but generally ranges from 16 to 18. Consent is a factor in the majority of sex crimes. Depending on the ages of the victim and the perpetrator, the conduct advocated in the video could meet the description of a number of felony and misdemeanor criminal acts under the New York Penal Code, including sexual assault, sexual misconduct, forcible touching, and sexual abuse. FULL POST

February 6th, 2012
05:52 PM ET

Opinion: Eddie Long still has more apologizing to do

Editor’s note: Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer and writer in New York City. She writes about social issues, parenting and relationships on her blog, Carolyn Edgar.

By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN

Now that Bishop Eddie Long has apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for a service at his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church that purported to crown him a “king,” one has to wonder what Long was thinking.

With all the scandal that has surrounded him recently, Long and the New Birth leadership should have anticipated that the video of the New Birth service would attract a great deal of attention, including from Jewish groups. Even if Long were unfamiliar with Jewish rituals and traditions, he might have guessed that having himself wrapped up in a Torah scroll might be considered controversial. Long rightly apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for misusing the holy Hebrew scriptures and Jewish rituals in his “coronation” ceremony.

However, Long still owes some apologies.

First, he owes his New Birth congregation an apology. Long should have apologized to his church a long time ago for the scandal that originally rocked New Birth. When four young men who were former members of New Birth accused Long of coercing them into sexual relationships as teens and young adults, Long vehemently denied the charges. Later, he quietly settled with the plaintiffs. He has not admitted guilt, but he also has not refuted the charges in a way that removes even the most basic doubt. Long should have stepped down from his position as head of New Birth. Instead, he returned after a brief hiatus, and sought to restore his congregation’s belief in his leadership by subjecting his church to a ritual without foundation in either the Christian or the Jewish faith – in which it was claimed that Long has a “king chromosome,” among many outrageous assertions. It is clear that those who remained faithful to New Birth wanted to see their disgraced leader returned to his former power and authority. Long could have orchestrated a service that uplifted him spiritually and gave his members reason to cheer without including made-up Jewish rituals. Instead, Long perpetrated a fraud on the people who stuck by him and his church long after many others, including Rev. Bernice King, a daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., left.

Second, Long owes an apology to Christians. As offended as members of the Jewish community may have been by the New Birth service, it was equally offensive to Christians. Many people noted that Jesus Christ refused kingship, yet Long had the hubris to participate in a ceremony that claimed to make him some kind of king. In his apology, Long retreated by saying he is “a mere servant of God,” but he needs to do more, and apologize to the Christian community for a service many Christians also found abhorrent. FULL POST

Opinion: Time to call Republicans on playing the race card
Carolyn Edgar writes that white Republican candidates are playing the race card, too.
January 10th, 2012
12:00 PM ET

Opinion: Time to call Republicans on playing the race card

Editor’s note: Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer and writer in New York City. She writes about social issues, parenting and relationships on her blog, Carolyn Edgar.

By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Whenever a person – usually, a black person – raises the issue of race, that person is frequently accused of “playing the race card.” The whole notion of race as a trump card that black people use to unfair advantage is puzzling enough. But one of the lingering dichotomies of American politics is that black people who raise the topic of race are often accused of making racial reprimands to their advantage, while whites who do the same thing, are not.

Take, for example, the racial rhetoric that has once again resurfaced among Republican presidential candidates. Just before the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum told a group in Iowa that he “didn’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” Santorum later clarified – or rather, confused – his remarks by claiming he was misquoted, indicating he had said “blah” instead of “black.” Whether or not one finds Santorum’s explanation plausible, the “blah” people most often accused of by Republicans of living off of other people’s tax dollars are black and Hispanic.

Santorum may have backed off his remarks for fear of sounding openly prejudiced towards black people, but Newt Gingrich has no such compunction.

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Opinion: Herman Cain undone by sex, not race
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain said he would "re-assess" his campaign after charges of an extramarital affair.
December 1st, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Opinion: Herman Cain undone by sex, not race

Editor’s note: Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer and writer in New York City. She writes about social issues, parenting and relationships on her blog, Carolyn Edgar.

By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN

In a more logical political climate, Herman Cain’s buffoonery and complete ignorance of foreign policy would have been enough to end his presidential campaign. But as is often the case in American politics, a never-ending sex scandal did what no amount of foreign policy missteps could – it caused Cain to “re-assess” his campaign.

In the midst of the wall-to-wall coverage, I am reminded of a free-wheeling discussion of race and politics that took place at a 2008 meeting of my Harlem book club. The author and social commentator Toure came to talk about his book, “Never Drank the Kool-Aid.” He said the Democratic primary race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would determine whether America was more racist or more sexist. In other words, who would be more palatable to the American people: a black man or a woman?

If Obama’s clinching of the nomination - and eventually the presidency - indicated America may be more sexist than racist, Cain’s presidential campaign all but proves it.

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