Wednesday, October 29, 2008
I stumbled upon an article in The New York Times about a lawsuit that was settled in February of this year. The lawsuit was issued by two Orthodox Jewish families in Georgetown, Delaware who objected to Christian prayers being recited in the local public school and at school-related events such as sporting events, graduation and school assemblies/meetings. The two families, one of which talks to The New York Times, are two of the only Jewish members of the community and experienced a heavy backlash from the Christian community. Eventually the two families won the case and were rewarded an unspecified financial settlement.
This case is clearly a violation of the first amendment, specifically the establishment clause, and therefore the case was rightly decided. Complaints from the community included claims from many local Christians that saw the lawsuit as an effort to limit the free exercise of religion. Indeed, the decision by the court is restricting exercise of religion…in public schools.
The reason this particular article struck me was not because of the decision of the court, as it was the right decision. What startles me is the apparent basic lack of understanding on the part of Americans, regarding the First Amendment. Americans, on the whole, seem to appreciate and emphatically support the free-exercise clause, but do not understand the constraints of that clause, imposed by the legal force of the establishment clause. If American society gave equal weight to the two clauses then we would never see (save for a few anomalies) any sort of prayer or traditional religious activities (for religious purpose) in public schools. In this case, and after the settlement, the school districts attorney “…did not concede that it had violated the First Amendment through its practices.” How can this possibly be?
As mentioned earlier, the two families who brought this case to the court have faced serious anger from the local Christian community. Hate mail, protests (which have included signs like “Praise Jesus”) and other forms of retaliation even forced one of the families to leave Georgetown, Delaware. In the process of moving, the family faced financial ruin and even had to pull their eldest daughter out of Columbia University because they could no longer afford it. Because members of a community complained about a violation of the First Amendment they were forced out of their home. Those who retaliated against these families’ complaint, in “defense” of their “right to exercise,” are actually themselves defending the violation of the Constitution.
Why is it that our country does not seem to understand that the First Amendment protects both the free exercise of religion and the de-establishment of religion. There must be a separation of Church and State and Americans must come to understand the importance of this vision, as outlined by James Madison. Just as with Creationism-in-public-schools debate, because a group of people (or even 100% of the local community) very strongly believe in a certain faith, it does not mean that it should have a place in the public sphere (and by this refer to federally funded or operated places). At the end of the article, one of the families discuss their attempt to move their son back into the community to attend school. They realized that this would not be possible after their son was playing in the yard and a few passing children yelled, “There’s that boy who’s suing Jesus.” No, his family wasn’t “suing Jesus,” his family was suing the district to keep Jesus out of public schools.
The above blog is about the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a county planning commission's practice of opening their meetings with a prayer in Pelphrey v. Cobb County, Georgia. The majority of the court relied on the Supreme Court's decision in Marsh v. Chambers (1983). I agree with the ciruit court's decision because they simply followed the decision of a case in the Supreme Court that was very similar. However, I do not agree with the outcome.
Since I do not agree with this ruling, I will have to argue that the Supreme Court was wrong in their ruling in Marsh v. Chambers. Marsh was about the Nebraska legislature opening each daily session with a prayer by a chaplain who was paid for with public funds. The Supreme Court used historical reasoning in their decision. They argued that the men who wrote the First Amendment Religion Clauses did not view paid legislative chaplains and opening prayers as a violation of that Amendment because they did the very same thing back then. This type of reasoning can be very problematic to our understanding of the Constitution. Using this same logic, I could just as easily claim that slavery should still be legal because many of the founders of the Constitution owned slaves.
The Supreme Court, in order to achieve their desired result, chose to ignore the Lemon test in determining whether Marsh violated the Establishment Clause. The Lemon Test, formulated in the 1971 Lemon v. Kurtzman decision, has three parts, addressing purpose, effect, and involvement. To pass the test, government action must be: (1) only for secular purposes;(2) not to promote or prohibit a specific religion; and (3) not to "excessively entangle," meaning substantially involve, government in religious matters. Failure on any one of the three parts indicates a violation of the Establishment Clause. Since the Supreme Court failed to apply Lemon to this case, I will do it. (1) There is no way that prayer can be only for secular purposes. (2) The prayer was promoting a specific religion because they used the same chaplain for more than 16 years. (3) The government was substantially involved in religious matters because it was in a public (law-making) building, the prayer was during their time of work, and they were paying the chaplain with public funds. There was definite excessive entanglement. Failing one of these three tests was necessary for there to a violation of the Establishment Clause, and in my opinion, Marsh v. Chambers failed all three.
If Marsh v. Chambers would have been decided correctly, then Pelphrey v. Cobb County, Georgia would have been decided differently. The Circuit Court would have had to apply the Lemon test in their decision. Once again, since they didn't, I will. (1) The purpose was not for secular purposes, it promoted religion over non-religion. (2) Since they used various religions and people, albeit not often, I could be convinced that they were not promoting or prohibiting a specific religion. (3) There was excessive entanglement because the commisions' sponsorship of prayer substantially involved government into religious matters. Since failing one test is all it takes to determine a violation of the Establishment Clause, there is little doubt that Pelphrey v. Cobb County would have been decided differently if they used the Lemon test that the Supreme Court should have used in Marsh v. Chambers.
On October 23, 2008, Corinthia McCoy wrote the article “Green Bay committee votes to keep holiday displays nonreligious” which instantly made a connection in my mind to Lynch v. Donnelly (465 U.S. 668). The Green Bay City Council Advisory Committee voted 5 to 1 to keep holiday displays secular after a complaint last year. Apparently in 2007 the council had a lawsuit after a nativity scene was put up on the Green Bay City Hall. The U.S. District Court Judge dismissed the case because the decorations were taken down on December 26th. The City Council will vote on this decision on November 5th and it has people in the community talking. Taku Ronsman, a resident of Green Bay, stated that “…I think they’re going to find a backdoor to put up a Christian display and state that ‘well they’re secularizing it,’ which kind of defeats the purpose”. In the Lynch v. Donnelly case the court ruled that it was not unconstitutional to display a crèche on public grounds. Chief Justice Burger claimed that the display did have a secular purpose, especially when it was accompanied by other holiday symbols, such as candy canes, reindeer, and Santa. Some people in the town of Green Bay know that this is constitutional however some people do not want it to be displayed nonetheless. I do not know the religious population of Green Bay but I think that would be interesting to know, because by the way the article was written, it seems as though the City Council is facing a lot of opposition. I feel that the nativity scene is an establishment of religion and that it should only be displayed on private property. By the courts making it a secular symbol they are degrading the holiday for those who celebrate for religious reasons. With the holidays fast approaching what are your opinions?
According to a NYT article, dissenters of the Court decision have conveyed their concern by invoking biology as the rationale behind the threat that same-sex marriage poses on society. Justice Peter T. Zarella explains in his dissenting opinion:
“The ancient definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has its basis in biology, not bigotry. As many courts have recognized, the primary societal good advanced by this ancient institution is responsible procreation.”
Christians like Patricia and Wesley Galloway also hold this perspective. According to them, using religion to defend their view of marriage complicates matters. Instead, they invoke biology to advocate their views that “it takes a man and a woman to create children and thus create a family.”
Although Christians like the Galloways and Justice Zarella cite nature, not religion or morality, as the source of authority to “protect the foundation of society” from same-sex marriage, the strategy of the Religious Right seems to be at the center of their campaign. In order to discuss this further, a brief history of the Religious Right is necessary.
The 1970s saw the rise of the Moral Majority in politics and with it the growth of the Religious Right. The formation of advantageous political alliances with Catholics and the framing of controversial issues in terms that would appeal to a broad cross-section of potential voters made the Religious Right influential and effective. Religious conservatives like Jerry Falwell were quick to “transform biblical issues into ‘pro-moral’ or ‘pro-family’ issues” (Dowland, 34). By extension, threats were conceptualized as anti-moral and anti-family issues. For instance, homosexuality was seen as a “threat to families” and a “sign of America’s downfall”(Dowland, 32). By de-emphasizing Christian rationale and by focusing on the family, the Religious Right was politically successful because they appealed to a broader audience beyond religious conservatives.
In the above-mentioned New York Times article, a subset of conservatives and the religious is using “family values” rhetoric but this time under the banner of nature. These conservatives still argue that they are trying to “protect the foundation of society,” but now they are vocalizing a secular source of authority. Previously, when confronting a diverse audience, religious conservatives were relatively silent about the Bible’s authority on controversial issues. Now, they seem to flaunt the undeniable scientific principles of human reproduction to advocate their views. Moreover, these conservatives are more than happy to explain their reasoning by pointing out sociological studies that support their perspective. This is in direct contrast to the religious conservatives of the 1970s who used misleading logic to promote the idea that homosexuals had a propensity for pedophilia and for child abuse.
By using nature as their source of authority and “family values” as their rhetoric, are these conservatives “piggy-backing” on Religious Right strategy? And if so, would this new strategy renew and broaden their base to include individuals who may not be religious? Or would this strategy “backfire” because of the growing evidence that the quality of parenting is far more important than the gender of the parents?
According to Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, only a “renewed energy” in the fight against gay marriage can help push for constitutional amendments. Could this new strategy be it?
The question then becomes: are campaign tactics like this appropriate? Should we allow are candidates to incorporate religion into their campaigns this way? Do campaign tactics like this constitute violations of the separation between church and state? My response would be that, from a legal standpoint, there isn't anything wrong with these campaign tactics, because there is no violation of either religion clause of our Constitution.
The express purpose of both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause is to protect citizens from government actions and legislation. The Establishment Clause seeks to eliminate law that respect an establishment of religion, or laws that show an unfair preference toward one or more religions over others. The Free Exercise Clause exists to prevent laws that would prohibit citizens from fulfilling the duties of their religion and practicing their religion. The important aspect of both clauses that one must recognize is that they are only applicable to laws, or government actions, not to the actions of private citizens. When candidates are campaigning, they are not acting as agents of the state, thus nothing that they say or do can be construed as the actions of the state, and certainly does not qualify as law. As such, even if the candidates do show a preference toward Christianity, there is nothing legally problematic with such appeals to the Christian faith.
A logical counter argument to these types of campaign tactics would be at a practical level. Sure, it may be for the candidates to use religious appeals during the campaign, but once a candidate gets elected he or she cannot enact policies that are expressly religious in nature, since he or she would now be acting as an agent of the state. One could make the argument that candidates ought not campaign on religious grounds, since they would essentially be making promises that they cannot necessarily keep. However, I would respond to this counter argument by once again drawing the argument back into the legal realm. Legally speaking, agents of the state can enact policies that have religious motivations, so long as the effect of the legislation is secular. In order to be appropriate public policy or legislation in terms of the Establishment Clause, it need only pass the Lemon Test, meaning that 1. it must serve a secular purpose 2. it must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion and 3. it must not cause excessive government entanglement with religion. There is nothing in this precedent that dictates that the law or policy cannot be motivated by religion. Thus, candidates are not necessarily making promises that they cannot keep; if Barack Obama is elected, he can pursue policies to aid the poor, and so long as they actually help the poor, he can cite whatever motivations he wishes, religious or otherwise.
Simply put, there is nothing legally problematic with the current campaign tactics that appeal to religious voters.
The Bush administration has been handing taxpayer dollars to religious organizations through faith based initiatives. Author Helen Thomas refers specifically to a $1.5 million dollar grant to World Vision, a Christian organization aimed at helping at risk children. The grant specifies that federal money is going toward salaries and administration. The controversial issue is the hiring practices of World Vision. They discriminate against non-Christians, as that would interfere with their ability to freely practice their religious teachings. The Department of Justice finds nothing wrong with this situation. “Requiring World Vision to hire nonChristians as a condition of the grant would create such a burden, according to the DOJ memo.” The article goes on to criticize the establishment of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. When Congress refused to establish this office, Bush issued an executive order to make it happen.
While I could concentrate on whether faith-based initiatives were a violation of the Establishment clause, I’m going to focus on the preference of Christianity in the organization. The hiring practices of World Vision are obviously discriminatory. They feel that non-Christians might hurt the religious message, be offended by the Christian influence, or any number of other reasons. The issue is whether the federal government should devote tax dollars to an organization that prefers Christianity over other religions. This brought to mind Bob Jones University v. United States. In that case, Bob Jones University’s tax exempt status as a charitable organization was revoked when they engaged in racial discrimination. I think that can be applied to the present issue. World Visions is a charitable organization receiving federal dollars while engaging in religious discrimination. The Supreme Court ruled in Bob Jones that racial discrimination was in opposition to the common law. Similarly, the Constitution holds that religious discrimination should not be tolerated. Supreme Court precedent and the Religion Clauses show that providing aid to a religiously discriminatory charity is unconstitutional.
The goal of World Vision is a commendable one: “working for the well being of all people, especially children” (from worldvision.org). I have no problem with their Christian affiliations. My contention is with the state funding a religiously discriminatory charity. That is an indirect way of establishing the Christian religion; the Christian message is being furthered through the actions of World Vision, and only that religion. I don’t want my tax dollars to support a purely Christian cause. I would completely support my money going toward the betterment of all people. I encourage the aims of the organization, but disagree over their hiring practices, and certainly disagree with the federal government giving aid to any charity that engages in such discrimination. I realize I sidestepped the whole issue of faith based initiatives as constitutional or not. Since it is happening currently, however, I felt it was more important to delve into how we handle the distribution of those funds.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
In some sense, Martinez is taking the viewpoint opposite of Jerry Falwell’s. Falwell argued that homosexuality, feminism, and abortion were ruining America. According to him, we needed to deal with these problems or we faced certain failure as a nation. All Martinez is basically saying is that the people who agree with Falwell, even only to some extent, are the ones really ruining America. Martinez ends the article by saying he want to “see how [Harvey] feels about forbidding marriage between a man and woman with IQs lower than 75 to prevent more idiots from populating the world.” As someone who is pro-gay marriage I have always laughed when someone claims that gay marriage will lead to bestiality or something of the sort. But, by implying that all Creationists and anti-gay marriage people are too stupid to procreate Martinez is making an argument that is just as offensive and unproductive to a logical discussion about the issue.
When we look back through American history it quickly becomes apparent that our greatest heroes are those who could articulate their opinions in a way that did not create and us against them argument. Martin Luther King is a great example. Obviously, in many ways he was fighting an us against them battle, but he did so without making dishonest and unwarranted claims about his opposition. Instead, he appealed to a sense of justice that he saw at the heart of American ideals.
In the debate on gay marriage we have a long way to go in understanding where people on both sides of the argument come from. Columnists like Martinez only hurt the chances of this happening by mocking and labeling the opposition. And, in an increasingly polarized America it seems unlikely that these types of columns will stop anytime soon. The political world seems to do nothing to ease this polarization. Is this another issue that religion will have to somehow come to terms with if America is to move past the current us against them debate?
The article, “Democrats Carrying Anti-Abortion Banner Put More Congressional Races in Play” discusses the recent shift in party lines as some Democratic campaigns include anti-abortion stances. Currently, there are twelve Democrats running for the House who are anti-abortion, the greatest number of anti-abortion candidates the party has seen in recent years. As the article contends, the increase in anti-abortion Democratic candidates threatens the Republican domination over “social issues.” Furthermore, there are tensions within the Democratic Party because their platform supports abortion rights and relies on funding from abortion rights groups. However, one Democrat from Pennsylvania responded to criticism by saying she “believe[s] they have a narrow view of what a Democrat is.”
It is clear that America’s polarized two party system promotes narrow views of Republicans and Democrats, and it is even more interesting how religious issues fall into that polarization. Even though it appears that members of the Religious Right only care about “social issues,” this article highlights an understanding that religious people care about a wide spectrum of political issues. Some are willing to vote for a candidate based on both their religious views and their economic views. This willingness to switch political parties shows that religious issues are not the only ones of concern.
On the other hand, is it a problem that people are so willing to vote for someone solely based on their stance on “social” or religious issues even if they disagree with their economic views? If this is the case, it seems better for the Democratic platform to loosen strict adherence to the abortion rights campaign so that the conservative base is more willing to vote for Democratic policies. Lastly, what does it mean that religious issues are an area of compromise? I believe that it shows religion still matters to many voters, and some within the Democratic Party are shifting their stances so that they can reach a conservative constituency. In contrast, others might say economic issues are becoming more of a priority for religious voters, as moral issues move to the back burner.
Monday, October 27, 2008
, Julie Smyth illustrates how church leaders such as Jesse Jackson are attempting to “register high school seniors to vote” and let their voices be heard for their school and communities. The similarity to Falwell dissipates as the motivation for these votes surfaces: where Falwell committed the previously untouched voting bloc of evangelicals to support “family values,” Jackson urges the youth “to pick candidates who will fight poverty” and “seek justice” for the cities poor.
In the 1970’s, the Republican party exulted in abundance of new “value voters” and angled polices towards the emerging demographic. However: despite the “20,000 Vote Out Poverty pledges” and apparently large potential voting pools, Jackson say there is “little evidence candidates care.” Knowing that poverty is an overtly tangible and applicable issue to this election, it seems odd the candidates embody a “sense that everyone is middle class” and neglect the demographic whose children go to school without “reading glasses… hearing support or dental care.”
While Churches and Reverends are pushing teens to vote for poverty conscience candidates, the utility of this voting bloc may lay in its ability to transcend “party lines and denominations” and reach a more common public. This mini movement is uniting Episcopalians, Methodists, conservative Evangelicals and Baptists in a “manner many say they have not seen.” The versatility of this trend, and its importance to numerous Americans, questions why candidates are hiding behind tax cuts and underplaying the need for accountability and correction of the largest national deficit ever seen. The unity of poverty stems from its truly blind application. No matter race, gender, religion or class, poverty feels the same, and many people of this nation are feeling its presence. If the Presidential candidates don’t see the value in unifying Democrat, Evangelical, Republican and Methodist, perhaps they can see the simple need to pull the nation out of poverty.
Nevertheless he does put forth an interesting idea in his conclusion: using common interests to unite a community that was previously divided. Francis Schaeffer and Jerry Falwell called this “cobelligerency.” This “meant aligning themselves with people who might differ with them theologically or on certain key issues, but who were willing to fight on the same side in pursuit of specific goals” (Martin p. 197). Troy presents this idea in reverse because he wants those with similar theologies to use that rather than social issues to unite them. While it is nice to think of the world that Troy is proposing, the differences that he wants to play down are what makes life interesting. Human beings are all unique. And the problem with trying to cast ourselves in unity as with the Moral Majority or as with Troy’s world is that it highlights the similarities and discounts the differences. Troy calls for civility in his conclusion but rather than stopping here his call for unity highlights a problem with current society. We are all called to define ourselves but given only a few options with which to do it. Whether it be religion or politics, our individuality is under attack. I am all in favor of being kind to one another and of attempting to unite ourselves. But we must not downplay our differences in the process. It speaks better to the human condition if we emphasize our differences but are still able to come together.
Is current society focused too much on labels and do these labels promote divisive animosity and limit us as human beings?
Sunday, October 26, 2008
One one hand this is a very smart strategy. It makes Democrats competitive in traditionally conservative areas that usually elect Republicans by a large margin. However, these candidates’ positions on social issues do not align with the Democrat’s official platform, making it harder for Democrats to get that part of their agenda passed. Democrats are, in essence, conceding the abortion issue in selective areas in exchange for more support in other policy areas. If there’s no chance of getting a “real” Democrat elected, then the party is better off with at least a “half” Democrat instead of a “full” Republican.
Party power-plays aside, these unique candidates call into question the conventional defining characteristics of political parties. Our winner-take-all election rules make the two-party system inevitable, but many people don’t fit neatly into either one. There is no particular reason for someone’s stance on abortion to relate to their stance on economic issues, but the candidates most often arbitrarily fall in line with their party’s positions. The party does not have one coherent ideology, but rather comprises an aggregate of separate social and economic philosophies. Libertarian David Nolan developed his well-known “Nolan Chart” that had political philosophies as each corner of a square with two axes, Personal Freedom and Economic Freedom. Left-wing represented only personal freedom and Right-wing only economic freedom, while Libertarianism advocated both and Populism or Totalitarianism advocated neither.
If the two parties are visualized as stretching as far as they can around the square to pick up the maximum number of votes, there are several pitfalls to avoid. If a party stretches two far on either side, they may splinter from within. If the party moves two far in one direction, the other party may pick up the neglected voters on the other side. For instance, if the Democratic party goes too far seeking religious, anti-abortion voters, then a socially liberal Republican could potentially capitalize on the newfound vulnerability by courting more Libertarian-minded voters away from Democrats.
Evangelical voters seem to be at the dividing line between the two parties, strongly opposed to abortion, but likely supportive of expansive Democratic social programs. Competition for newly risen "boundary" groups like the Religious Right push the parties around the Nolan chart, and these new “Religious Left” candidates are evidence of that.
The principles of the Catholic Church, and the majority of churches in America, are not “cut and dry” to the extent that their views fit perfectly onto a party line. Everyone is different, and along with different perspectives comes different assignments of significance to certain subjects. A perfect example illustrating the differences of thought of not only individuals, but of Catholics, is shown by the prochoice stances of both Rudolph Giuliani and John Kerry. While the vast majority of Catholics reject any support of abortion, these two prominent politicians go against the Church’s stance on abortion, believing the burden placed upon the women outweighs the ramifications of the procedure. The abortion issue undoubtedly divides the country, as does the issue’s significance in determining the Catholic vote. The Catholic Church has steadfastly opposed abortion since the onset of the issue, but as a whole, Catholics have never steadfastly supported a prochoice candidate. These politicians illustrate that the Catholic Church not only fails to force its will upon the electorate, but also the candidates themselves.
Catholic Bishops, such as Joseph Martino, do have great influence over their parishioners; but, their influence is limited to the extent at which those parishioners will listen. Abortion is a polarizing issue. The majority of attempts to sway prolife people to the prochoice boat can be characterized as little more than a waste of time; also, attempts to sway those who believe the Catholic vote should go to more than the abortion issue will yield equal results. Instead of church leaders battling to swing their parishioners to vote one way, they should serve to inform them, and allow them to form their own conclusions regarding the candidates, in large part because of the futility of such attempts. What separates humans, from animals, is our consciences and free will. Instead of stamping out what God provided his children, Catholic leaders should let their followers balance the two. With all the struggles Catholic leaders are enduring in an effect to gain support on their side of the issue on abortion’s significance, does it have any effect on your stance?
Saturday, October 25, 2008
While I consider myself a devout Catholic and rather conservative voter, I firmly believe these issues should be taught within all public and private schools. I believe that all children have a fundamental right to be exposed and taught to the people of the world. However, I also firmly believe that these topics, in their density and complexity, have a time and place to be taught, as well. As Catholics, we can easily look to the seven aspects of Catholic Social Teaching in order to instruct us on this issue. We are called to respect the sanctity of human life, and the dignity of all people. We are called to a life rich in family and community, despite the orientation of a member. Lastly, we are called to a life of solidarity, in communion with one another, including every marginalized member of society. That being said, it would doing a downright disservice to our children, to our future generations, to deny them the knowledge and education of people different, or similar, to them.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Recently, Sarah Palin has criticized this very position taken by Barack Obama about cross-border raids into Pakistan. She has pointed out the very same tactical difficulties that may arise from unofficial attacks in Pakistan which have been outlined above. She is correct to rebuke Obama’s stance on Pakistan. However, it was nearly one month ago that Palin responded to a question about cross-border raids by saying, “if that’s what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should.” She did not explicitly refer to raids with or without Pakistan’s permission but it seems that her beliefs include tracking down “high value” terrorists no matter the situation. My point here is not to point out Palin’s seemingly abrupt change of policy, or to say that Palin and Obama agree on Pakistan (who really knows what they believe), my point is that they are both wrong. Any cross-border raid is questionable as it is, but to exercise military power inside the borders of another country without that country’s permission is simply morally wrong.
In 2002, Cardinal Ratzinger famously stated, “concept of a ‘preventive war’ does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” He was responding to the proposed invasion of Iraq not by the United Nations, but by the United States leading a small coalition. Now that the Cardinal is Pope Benedict XVI, I’m sure he would agree that the concept of “unauthorized cross-border raids” also does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catholic doctrine of Just War also admonishes the concept favored by Obama. The tenants of Legitimate Authority, Comparative Justice, and Proportionality seem to be brushed aside by the notion of unauthorized military force. The likelihood of success must also come into play, but I am no tactician who can rightly comment on Probability of Success. Legitimate Authority would include not only the United States government, but also the government of the territory in which the action is taking place. Comparative Justice requires that one injustice must significantly outweigh another. How can that be true here when Pakistani citizens have not sanctioned intervention? Proportionality forces us to weigh the benefits against the expected evils. As detailed above, the expected evils simply on a world wide basis could be dire, not to mention the harm to innocent Pakistani’s.
Invasion of a sovereign nation is difficult to justify. And it is especially difficult if that nation is an ally, and refuses permission to exercise military force. Past military actions aside, if the “war on terror” is taken inside the Pakistani border by the United States without their permission, the ethical repercussion will extend far beyond Central Asia.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Williams was reportedly killed under a direct order of the Taliban for proselytizing (trying to convert people, in this case, to Christianity)- an act prohibited by law in Afghanistan. The AP quoted Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban member, in saying: "This woman came to Afghanistan to teach Christianity to the people of Afghanistan. Our (leaders) issued a decree to kill this woman."
Rina van der Ende, a SERVE spokesperson stated that the purpose of the organization was to aid the disabled in Afghanistan and denied that Williams had any intention other than that. While their work was intended to “express God’s love” preaching or converting is not, according to Rina van der Ende, in the mission statement.
The article then goes on to discuss the growing anxiety in Kabul as things become less stabilized and the government seeks to add more militia to combat the growing threats of attacks, though it is unclear as to what likelihood of attacks exist. The call for more troops by NATO officials is the ending to this sad tragedy.
This article was intriguing in its presentation. I would urge anyone to follow this AP link and read the article so that my first two questions can be adequately answered.
My first is in regards to the quote by Douglas Alexander stating: "To present her killing as a religious act is as despicable as it is absurd — it was cold blooded murder,” following the statement by Britain's secretary of state for international development which addressed the murder as a “callous and cowardly act".
It is irrational in my opinion to assert Williams’ death as anything but a “cold blooded murder”, however, I ask of my peers to help me understand how this could be understood as anything else besides a religious act? What other motives exist? Her nationality? Her mission? What else could possibly make Gayle Williams matter to the Taliban and what is gained by asserting that the motive was not religious?
The other thing that struck me as odd was the move from presenting Williams’ story to the presentation of the political aspects of Kabul. The article covers several events that have occurred to represent the instability of Kabul today as terrorist attacks rise and more militant action is needed. In a time when fear runs so much of our lives, I felt the transition in the article to be an abrupt change from a eulogy discussing the death of one woman to the possibilities of chaos amongst all in Kabul. I feel the political undertones resonating; I am just not sure what it is they are calling for. The author seems to be presenting a very bleak picture with brute force as the only remedy and an ultimate justification for American occupation.
How does this fit into the mold we have created as our current foreign policy? What does it say about the media and, in turn, about the American people?
Gayle Williams was shot while in Afghanistan working for humanity. How do acts of violence such as this affect the world in terms of humanitarian drive? What was the Taliban’s ultimate goal? Is it problematic for there to even be Christian sponsored organizations in a country so strongly apposed to diversity? Ultimately, where does this leave the people of the world in a politicized world of blood shed?
Rick Jacobs highlights a couple of very important but often-neglected areas of the debate in his article “Do Mormons deserve equal protection under the law?” He describes his lifelong struggles with his sexual orientation in the context of the Jewish religion and the final acceptance that “some people’s religions tell me I am not welcome. It’s okay. That’s their choice.”
Jacobs desire to keep gay marriage legal in California comes not from a religious standpoint, but a legal one. He explicitly states, “If I do (get married), it’ll be for business reasons.” He does not want to get married in any of the churches that oppose gay marriage; he just wants his partnership to have the same protection under the law as a heterosexual couple. Because of complications like property ownership and health care, marriage is not simply a religious institution; the state has to get involved as well. I doubt this debate would exist if marriage was contained to just one entity – church or state. Unfortunately, that is not currently an option.
This leaves us with huge unresolved questions. What happens when religious rights also have legal implications? How can we more fully separate church and state, specifically in terms of gay marriage, while keeping all parties involved relatively satisfied? Jacobs is arguing that his rights be protected under the law just like the rights of religious groups are protected under the first amendment. Throughout history, the government has tended to side with the most vocal majority. November 4th will be an important day to let Californians decide and to see where a least a section of America stands on this issue.
Our readings of Martin Luther King and Jerry Falwell have revealed this shift in rhetoric. During the civil rights movement, King’s language demanded racial equality. Then later in the 1970’s, Falwell began to promote a moral sentiment that did not attack racial inequality, but rather focused on the decaying morality of certain Americans, unintentionally revealing his economic class bias. In Listen America, Falwell was somewhat insensitive toward poorer families that relied on working mother, chastising these women for neglecting their children (Falwell, p. 108). The subtle shift from race talk to class talk becomes even more apparent in the 21st century. In the current election, Barack Obama claims that the nation is entering a post-racial era and his policies toward issues that were once predicated on a discussion of racial inequalities now uses language focused on gaps among economic classes rather than racial groups.
Recently, in the third presidential debate, the candidates offered their opinions of the D.C. school voucher program. The Washington Post article explains that this program allows students from low-income family backgrounds to apply taxpayer money towards private school tuition. The eligibility of the recipients of these vouchers depends on their families’ economic class rather than their racial identities. This program grants $7,500 to about 1,903 children from low-income families.
There has been a shift in political attention from “leveling the playing field” among races toward economic classes. But, this is not to suggest that race and class are mutually exclusive. The D.C. school voucher program has a primary goal of providing equal educational opportunities for poor D.C. residents. Yet, according to the 2006 U.S. census racial minorities make up more than 60% of the D.C. population. Furthermore, the same 2006 statistics show that D.C. ranks second only to Mississippi as having the greatest percentage of families living below the poverty level (link).
So, if we can agree that race and economic class are closely linked, then the next question is why has a discussion of inequalities shifted from using race as a factor in gaps between groups toward using economic status.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The republican claim to fame is abortion, but they do not seem to have taken on other social issues. Many republicans will squawk at the Democratic Pro-Choice stand. This stance is certainly not in line with Catholic Social teachings. However, the Democrats really have a grasp of the Social Justice Doctrine laid out in the Compendium.
Let’s look at healthcare. Under Sen. Obama and the Democrat’s plan, every person would be granted access to healthcare, and the government would pay for 75% of the cost. This plan may look like socialized medicine, however, it most certainly is not. Anyone can get any type of insurance they want, and it’s not free. The government is just offering health insurance to every American. The Catholic Church would consider healthcare a basic right, and the Democrats want to provide it.
How about the War in Iraq? The Catholic Church uses the Just War Theory to evaluate war. When using this theory against the Iraq war, I am puzzled because it seems that none of the conditions were met before we went to war, despite what the administration told Americans and the world. While many democrats did vote to give the president authority to go to war (Obama did not, however), many had doubts, and pushed for more diplomacy. The democrats seem to get this Catholic value of Just War. Many republicans, John McCain and President Bush in particular, do not.
What about helping the “least of these”? Social Security, welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid are democratic programs focusing on helping those who need it the most, and providing the necessities of life. These programs are essential. Denying anyone the help he or she needs is absurd, and I would venture a guess that no one is against this idea, but the democrats are more in favor or these types of programs than many republicans.
Now, I am not question republican faith. But I wanted to draw attention to the monopoly they seem to want when it comes to being the Party of Faith. I question why they feel they deserve this label.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Wallis has labeled the current religious transformation a “revival for justice” that is ready to tackle the issues facing us today (par. 7). Covered in this revival are “poverty, and economic justice, global warming, HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, genocide in Darfur and the ethics of the war in Iraq” (Wallis, Par. 3). Religion in his opinion is no longer synonymous with the war against abortion and the fight for “family values”. Its platform is broader, more diverse, and more relevant to our political and social climates.
Helping the revival garner strength is the removal of partisan politics from its ideology. Religious Americans are no longer de facto Republicans. Unlike Terry Fox, a leader of the Religious Right, who believed “We are the religious right...One, we are religious. Two, we are right.” (Kirkpatrick, par. 3) today’s Christians “know now that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat” (Wallis, par. 4). The new era of religion and politics will be defined by spirituality, not religion, and will be centered on bringing about social reform.
One needs only to open a history book to understand how religion has been paramount in bringing about social justice. Examples are bountiful: “the spiritual revivals that helped lead to the abolition of slavery in Britain and the United States; the black church's leadership during the American civil rights movement; the deeply Catholic roots of the Solidarity movement in Poland that led the overthrow of communism” (Wallis, par. 6). Religion is naturally suited to accompany and inspire the rectification of social injustices. Just as the Civil Rights movement “needed an emotional dimension to whip up the enthusiasm of the people” and found that “no one could bring a crowd to an emotional pitch like the black preacher,” it remains true that social movements find salvation in religion because of the response it elicits from activists (Chappell, 62-63). We can only hope that this new relationship between religion and politics provides for victories as great as those of the past with the goal of creating a better future, regardless if that future is Democratic or Republican.
sources: "The Religious Right's Era is Over", "The Evangelical Crackup", A Stone of Hope by David L. Chappell
There have been points in American History when churches believed that their sovereignty was infiltrated. In 1978, the IRS planned to eliminate the tax exemption that religious institutions and churches had based on the Green v. Connally decision. William Martin states that the Religious Right saw this “as a transparent attempt by their government to impose secular philosophy on their children by using the excuse of racial discrimination to obstruct Christian education.” (Martin 169) It is understandable that the Right would feel that their sovereignty was being undermined, but the reality is that tax exemption is a privilege not a constitutional right. According to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” At no point does the Constitution mention specific privileges for certain churches; the document just assures the right for its “establishment” and its “exercise.”
In contrast, the situation in China today is completely different than America’s in the past or even today. The Chinese government is naming archbishops and other religious leaders and bypassing the church’s sovereignty. This would never be allowed in the US because the United States is a democracy where the people support this separation, and elections greatly influence the way government acts. The main difference between the two countries is the ideology that governs them. Therefore, will there ever be a time when the American people decide to end the separation of church and state? If there is, could we end up like China?
Martin, William. With God on Our Side: the rise of the religious right in America. 2. New York: Broadway Books, 2005.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
For this reason, Zickar now argues that “the most Reaganesque candidate in the race for president is not a Republican at all. It’s Barack Obama.” (Zickar 6) Although he has reservations about Obama’s position on the economy and lack of foreign policy experience, Zickar applauds his aspiration reforming American politics. He also expresses disappointment in John McCain for relinquishing the stance against corruption and infighting which he held in the 2000 election and embracing “second-rate politics” (Zickar 9), citing McCain’s attacks on Obama and nomination of Sarah Palin for purely political reasons. While Zickar remains a Republican, his comparison of Reagan and Obama sheds light on the value of idealism and hope in politics.
It was hope that separated Martin Luther King Jr. from black radicals such as Malcolm X and enabled him to succeed in actually bringing about change. Although King rejected liberal optimism, he maintained his faith in democracy and the ideals of the American Constitution. In his most famous speech, King proclaimed “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed—we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” (Washington 219) On the other hand, Malcolm X abandoned hope in both America and Christianity, “the white man’s religion,” urging separation of the races and converting to Islam in order to preserve and glorify black identity.
By appealing to ideals that even his enemies held dear rather than renouncing them entirely, King catalyzed one of the most dynamic revolutions in American history nearly bloodlessly. Similarly, Obama has won the respect of many Republicans not due to his experience or policies, but on account of his vision for the future. Although I still disagree with Obama’s perspectives on current issues, like Zickar, I admire his idealism and heartfelt desire to bring about change. Obama may not be the right candidate in this election, but nonetheless I believe America must always have the audacity to hope.
Washington, James Melvin. "A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr." San Francisco: Harper Collins.
Zickar, Lou. "As Obama channels Reagan, the real McCain vanishes." Chicago Tribune. 19 October 2008. chicagotribune.com. 19 October 2008. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-perspec1019riponoct19,0,5498421.story.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Further estimations by the organization suggest the loss of U.S. support will increase unwanted pregnancies to 157,000 per year, leading to 62,000 additional abortions and 660 women dying in childbirth. Kent Hill, an official of the U.S. aid agency, dispels these claims saying that the same supplies will be available, they are just being redirected through other aid agencies. With this new course, large cities will still benefit. The same cannot be said for rural areas where Marie Stopes clinics are the only resource for family planning.
Op-ed columnist, Nicholas Kristoff highlights the paradox of the “pro-life” administration in their latest decision on reproductive health, calling John McCain into the ring -- citing his support of the de-funding on the U.N. Population Fund. He also recounts an interview that asked McCain “whether American aid should finance contraceptives to fight AIDS in Africa, [to which] he initially said, ‘I haven’t thought about it,’ and later added, ‘You’ve stumped me.’” Barack Obama is said to support U.N.-led family-planning initiatives.
While the original intentions are good -- refusing to support forced abortion or sterilization in China -- they should not come at the expense of another population. To be clear this is a decision of the Bush administration, however; John McCain’s support does hurt his defender-of-the unborn status greatly. Now just to leave you with an entirely separate consideration, something else to mull over: what a decision like this can do to affect our international relations with the African nations. Is it in the American best interest to prioritize issues in China over Africa?
Friday, October 17, 2008
A significant number of Mormons have become active in the movement very recently, at the urging of prominent church leaders. In June, “the top leadership of the Mormon Church, known as the First Presidency, issued a letter...calling on Mormons to ‘do all you can’ to support Proposition 8.” I would imagine that this sense of urgency is a key factor behind the sudden support for the initiative. So far, it is estimated that Mormons have contributed “more than a third of the approximately $15.4 million raised since June 1 to support Proposition 8.” The Knights of Columbus (a Catholic group) and Focus on the Family (comprised mainly of evangelical Protestants) have also donated to the fund, though on a much smaller scale than the Latter-day Saints Church. So why are Mormons so overwhelmingly opposed to homosexuality? According to Professor Terry Givens from the University of Richmond, the reason for such vehement opposition to same-sex marriage lies “at the heart of Mormon theology.” Mormons believe that couples are married for eternity, can give birth to children during the afterlife, and retain their gender after death. Above all, “Mormons must be married to achieve ‘exaltation,’ the ultimate state in the afterlife.” Consequently, homosexuality logically does not really have a place in Mormon theology.
With the exception of its opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s, the Mormon Church has historically had minimal involvement in political issues. But same-sex marriage is apparently creating an outcry that challenges this trend. Clearly, it is an issue that is important enough to a significant number of Mormons to warrant unprecedented political action. Schoofs sheds light on an intriguing new phenomenon: the involvement of Mormons in Proposition 8 has resulted in alliances with some Christian religions, including evangelical Protestant groups, even though “deep theological differences” exist between the two. However, though he does mention these fundamental differences, Schoofs fails to discuss the prejudice that some evangelicals display towards Mormons. For example, a significant number of evangelicals refused to vote for Mitt Romney because of his faith. If a Mormon-Evangelical alliance does emerge, is it sincere or merely for the sake of convenience? Are we really seeing the beginnings of a new coalition against same-sex marriage, similar to the one that arose between Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants over abortion? Will Mormons unite with evangelical Christians and successfully preserve traditional marriage between a man and woman? Or will the emerging bonds ultimately fail to withstand “unbridgeable” theological differences?
The life and work of Al Smith were marked by a deep commitment to the principles of Catholic social teaching, which transcend all parties (as is evident in the USCCB's recent statement "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship"). For this reason, I think it is especially fitting that an organization of the Catholic Church would be responsible for bringing the two candidates together in this good-natured setting. McCain and Obama sat on either side of his eminence Cardinal Edward Egan. What a striking visual! What a convergence of faith and politics! Here was a prominent Catholic cardinal, deeply committed to his vocation and having received numerous responsibilities and honors from Rome, dining and laughing between the two opposing candidates for the U.S. Presidential election. This demonstrates that the Church, in being faithful to her mission to be the "light of the world" and the "salt of the earth" (Matthew 5) should indeed involve herself in political life. This is not to say that the Church must endorse a candidate, but instead works together with "people of good will" to seek the common good, as Catholic social teaching espouses.
As Obama announced, "I think it is a tribute to American democracy that with two weeks left to go in the hard-fought election the two of us could come together and sit down at the same dinner table without preconditions." The timing of the event was remarkable, taking place just the day after the third presidential debate. What a dramatic switch, from a heated presidential debate to an evening of celebration and laughter in honor of a wonderful Catholic politician! Let me not fail to mention the roasts of the evening! This tradition of the roasts at the memorial dinners attests to the fact that the Church does indeed have a sense of humor. McCain's jabs at himself included references to "Joe the Plumber," his seven houses, and several other idiosyncrasies and actions for which he has been criticized. The jokes McCain directed at Obama included mentions of Obama's tax plan, the "messiah" status he has received, and the tension between Obama and Hillary. Indeed, McCain did not hesitate to include in the roast Hillary, Bill, Biden, and several others. Obama brought these individuals and others up in his roast, as well. Some of Obama's jests at himself referenced his own alleged celebrity status (he clarified that he was not born in a manger but on the planet Krypton), his middle name, and his associations with questionable characters. He poked fun at McCain for the economy and his seven houses, among other things. Towards the end of the roasts, each candidate expressed his praise and respect for his opponent as well for as the work of the Archdiocese of New York, especially the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation.
McCain stated, "I can't wish my opponent luck, but I do wish him well. Whatever the outcome the next month, Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country and I congratulate him. In his own day Governor Al Smith achieved great things as well and traveled a harder path than . . . any presidential candidate before or since. At the Al Smith Foundation and at the archdiocese you are carrying on the spirit and work of this good man with your service to the poor, your comfort of the sick and needy, your belief in the dignity of life, especially your gallant defense of the rights of the unborn. I'm proud to count myself as your friend and ally."
After paying tribute to Tim Russert, Obama offered his own closing words of inspiration, "The fact that each October in the closing weeks of a hard-fought campaign people of all political persuasions can come to this dinner and share a meal in honor of the work of this foundation underscores the reality that no matter what differences or divisions or arguments we are having right now, we ultimately belong to something much bigger and more lasting than a political party. We belong to a community. We share a country. We are all children of God. And in this country there are millions of fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters, who need us very much, especially now . . . Scripture says God creates us for works of service. We are blessed to have so many organizations like this one and the Catholic diocese that perform these acts of God every day, but each of us also has that responsibility. Each of us has that obligation, especially now. So no matter who we are or what we do, what I believe is each of us in this room asks for and hopes for and prays for enough strength and wisdom to do good and to seek justice and play our small
part in building a more hopeful and compassionate world for the generations that will follow. Simply put, [Al]helped people, and that's a distinction we can all aspire to . . . and I have no doubt that if we come together at this moment of crisis with this goal in mind, . . . America will meet this challenge and weather this storm and, in the words of Al Smith, 'walk once more in eternal sunshine' " (On a side note, is it just me or did I see Douglas Kmiec in the audience? I'm not sure, but one man there looked a whole lot like the author's picture on the back of Can a Catholic Support Him?).
Of course, one can ponder whether or not the compliments were truly sincere and the jabs were good natured. I would like to think, however, (and maybe I am being naive) that the exchange last night was indeed amicable and that the two candidates were genuinely enjoying the event. I would suppose that today, however, both candidates have reassumed their stances and have quickly gotten back to work campaigning (McCain jumped right back into "campaign mode" on Letterman last night/this morning, animatedly explaining his policies and lamenting that Obama had not exactly "repudiated" Congressman Lewis for linking McCain and Palin to Eugene Bull Connor). Nevertheless, I found those few moments of last night's roast to be wonderfully refreshing. Not only did both candidates provide us with quite a bit of comic relief, but we were able to witness the Catholic Church's commitment to the common good shining forth. In providing opportunities like this, the Church does not compromise her mission, but indeed provides opportunities for Gospel values to more deeply permeate our world. I think that such efforts are a means of evangelization. The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner enabled people from many different backgrounds to come together in celebration of a man whose life of compassionate service was inspired by his faith in Jesus Christ.
The institution of marriage is a religion one that has been accepted by the federal government for legal purposes such as filing taxes and insurance benefits. Marriage as a legal institution has long been tradition in the United States but is now out of date and out of touch. Marriage needs to be taken out of legal context and left up to religions to decide whether or not they want to recognize same sex marriage. In the eyes of the federal government we should all be entering into civil unions, same sex couples and heterosexual couples alike. Then if respective religions want to further recognize the unions as marriage that’s up to them, not the government.
Many employers and insurance companies already recognize same sex couples as partners and therefore cover them under their benefits packages. But there is no legal binding for the insurers; these couples are at the mercy of the companies. Employers and insurance companies alike can arbitrarily decide to stop covering same sex couples when it is no longer convenient for them.
There needs to be a fundamental alteration of the division between marriage in the legal sense and marriage in the religious sense. The government entanglement with religion preferences those religions that believe marriage is solely between a man and a woman. An alteration of marriage in the legal world would include the provision of marriage defined as one between two consenting adults. The need for a bride and groom is best saved for the alter, rather than the legal world.
So by removing marriage from civil union law and instituting a policy of civil unions where the government is concerned would allow for equal protection and application of the laws for everyone. This change would also ensure the unnecessary entanglement of church and state a final end. The interest of the protection of all is an enough compelling federal interest than a single religious or state conviction.
The article can be found here: http://media.www.thepinelog.com/media/storage/paper954/news/2008/10/13/Opinion/SameSex.Couples.Face.Civil.Rights.Struggles-3483011.shtml
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Last week, the Craig County School system in Virginia voted to drop the elective high school Bible education course that had been in place in the district and replace it with a less controversial class.[ The class used to be “The Bible in History and Literature” and the curriculum was found objectionable by civil liberties groups like the ACLU who argued that it promoted certain religious beliefs while ignoring others; it took a primarily Christian based view of the text, while ignoring Jewish interpretations. The new course will be “The Bible and its Influence”, which is intended to be more inclusive, demonstrating that the Bible is interpreted differently by different groups.
The new course was developed by a group called the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a group that explains: “The curriculum for the program shows a concern to convey the content of the Bible as compared to literature and history. The program is concerned with education rather than indoctrination of students. The central approach of the class is simply to study the Bible as a foundation document of society, and that approach is altogether appropriate in a comprehensive program of secular education.”
The group explains their mission in this way: “There has been a great social regression since the Bible was removed from our schools. We need to refer to the original documents that inspired Americanism and our religious heritage. Historians say that religion has been the major motivating force in all of human history. When some people are trying to completely remove the Bible from schools, students' rights are being violated.”
This issue raises many questions. First: Is this course necessary, or an overall asset to the students’ education? A course that only focuses on the Bible ignores other religious traditions. If a course on the Bible is offered, even as an elective, should students also be given access to curriculum that discusses the influence of the Koran or other sacred texts, so that one religious tradition is not given preference? Based on their assertions in their mission statement, one goal of the National Council seems to be to inspire Americanism and to fight against the moral decay they see in society; though the course is discussing the “influence” of the Bible, isn’t it reasonable to assume that they are also promoting the Bible and its teachings as a way to combat these social ills?
Second: If the Bible is going to be discussed in public schools, is it beneficial that there is a set, consistent curriculum, so that students in different places are receiving the same information? Or, should discussions of religion be left to the discretion of the teachers as they see necessary. How closely will the contents of this curriculum be monitored? How closely do the aims and objectives of the group promoting the course meet with those of the School Board in offering it? Would it be more agreeable to teach about religion (and the Bible) as an aspect of curriculum already in place (for example, discussing the history of religion as part of a World History course, or discussing the religious imagery used in a text in an English course)? The introduction of a course based solely on the Bible, even as an elective in a public school, seems dangerously close to giving preference to religion.