Thursday, December 12, 2013, 12:27 PM
Jennifer Michael Hecht laments the fact that so few current public officeholders—by one count, only five—have professed their lack of faith. Indeed, it’s almost a mystery to her why more haven’t. After all, we have—by her lights, at least—a long and distinguished history on unbelief, even in the Oval Office (about which, more in a moment), not to mention a growing proportion of unbelievers (or at least religiously unaffiliated people) in the population. What better time to come out of this last closet?
Why are atheists, so bold in other contexts, currently less than forthcoming when they seek and hold electoral office? Hecht implies that the only possible reason is a kind of calculated cowardice. Despite our growth in toleration, we the American people punish atheists at the polls. Thus ambitious politicians like Barney Frank, who had no problem affirming his homosexuality while in Congress, wait until after they’ve retired to admit their nonbelief. To be sure, Frank offers other reasons for not being frank, but Hecht isn’t buying them.
That brings me to Hecht’s “history.” She points to Presidents Jefferson, Monroe, Lincoln, and Taft as in some ways questioning God’s existence or not demonstrating belief. I have my own doubts about Jefferson, but have absolutely no doubt that he said this:
[C]an the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.
I also do not doubt that Lincoln was not religiously orthodox, but he also offered some very profound reflections on theodicy, among them this: (more…)
Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 4:18 PM
The headline—”Fewer home-school families cite religion as their main motivation”—caught my eye. Is it really true that religious families comprise a smaller proportion of the homeschooling community than in the past?
The article certainly makes that claim, even if it doesn’t quite support the bold assertion of the person who wrote the headline. Consider the following two statements.
According to the federally funded National Center for Education Statistics, the share of parents who cited religious or moral instruction” as their primary motivation for home-schooling has dropped from 36 percent in 2007 to just 21 percent during the 2011-12 school year.
[John] Edelson [founder and president of Time4Learning] said the number of home-school families who do so for religious reasons has not decreased, but the percentage of those who list it as a first priority has dropped as other parents join the home-schooling community for different reasons.
But I’m disinclined simply to quibble about a headline that confuses a smaller proportion with smaller numbers. The more interesting question concerns the “diversification” of the homeschooling community, and the implication that a successful reform of public schools might bring a significant proportion of homeschoolers back “home” to the schools they left. Consider, in this connection, the article’s concluding paragraphs:
Edelson said there are generally three types of home-schoolers: those who do so for religious reasons; the “free spirits” who oppose a regimented public school system; and the “accidental home-schooler” who find their children do not thrive in a traditional school environment.
“Part of it is driven because they’re disappointed in the schools,” Edelson said. “If we had better schools, if the schools weren’t so confused and having trouble with testing and having trouble with budgets—that’s one of the things that’s fueling the home-school movement.”
A closer look at the data and the larger historical context makes me hesitant to draw any big conclusions about trends in homeschooling. To begin with, the federal government gives us four data points—surveys in 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011. Only in 2007 did religious reasons for homeschooling command the highest proportion as the “most important.” In 1999 and 2003, religious considerations were the second most frequently cited reason (more…)
Wednesday, August 28, 2013, 4:33 PM
I’m blessed to have the opportunity to teach my class on ancient and medieval political philosophy this semester. Right now, we’re reading and discussing Aristophanes’ Clouds, which (for those who haven’t read it) is a comedic presentation of a “pre-Socratic” Socrates who is much less responsible than the figure we see portrayed by Plato and Xenophon.
At the center of the comedy is a contest between the Just and Unjust Speeches for the allegiance of Pheidippides, a young man compelled by his father to study at the “Thinkery” so as to be able to argue his way out of the debts his father has incurred on his behalf. The Just Speech paints a picture of a traditionally modest education that, it says, produced the generation that fought and won at Marathon. When a very sharp student asked me why the Just Speech didn’t make more of that argument, I was compelled to think on my feet about how we (or at least I) go about educating the young (for my sense is that for Pheidippides an appeal to the example of Athens’s “greatest generation” wouldn’t go very far).
Most of my students are typical, ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-two, or thereabouts. They are in the early stages of being responsible for themselves, and most have (as yet) given little or no thought to being seriously responsible to or for others. Their default intellectual position is some form or another of libertarianism. There was a time, not too terribly long ago, when I could have been somewhat confident that I could help lay the intellectual foundations for a life of thoughtful responsibility when, as seemed almost inevitable, the usual vehicle for social commitment and responsibility–marriage and child-rearing–came up in their lives.
Having had the experience of my own prolonged, relatively irresponsible, semi-libertarian adolescence (being a student from sixteen to twenty-eight, and then an unmarried professor until thirty-five), I think I know the difference between what moves an unattached young person and what appeals to someone whose roots in the community are formed in large measure by family life. (more…)
Monday, August 5, 2013, 10:15 AM
I have mixed emotions about Troy University’s plan to offer faith-based campus housing. On the one hand, it seems like the careful kind of accommodation of faith in a public setting that I favor:
The five-acre property is leased from the university by Troy’s foundation, a private, non-profit entity, which paid for the two buildings that comprise the housing facility, using funds from a local bank.
That avoids legal conflicts between religion and the public dollars that Troy uses for operational expenses. Troy’s foundational money is comprised of private donations, not tax dollars.
Since the Freedom From Religion Foundation is complaining about it, the facility even has the right sorts of opponents.
I have to concede, however, that the FFRF complaint doesn’t seem to me altogether without merit. It is, I think, a close question as to whether the kind of “discrimination” in this case is constitutionally permissible. The FFRF wants to associate the University very closely with the relatively loose and nondenominational expectations–maintaining “an active spiritual lifestyle” and “an active engagement in a campus faith based organization”–connected with the eligibility for this housing. From where I sit, it depends upon whether dorm residents are more like people served by an organization or people participating in one. In the former instance, there’s a strong argument against government support for groups that serve only co-religionists. In the latter case, there’s a strong argument for faith-based employment criteria. If we accept the former analogy, the case against Troy’s arrangement is stronger. If we accept the latter, it would seem to pass muster.
There’s also the question of Alabama and federal fair housing laws, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion. While I presume that explicitly religious housing–e.g., a monastery–is exempt, I doubt that that’s the appropriate analogy in this case. Again, since the university provides housing for students somewhere, perhaps it can escape the strictures of the law.
Leaving aside these First Amendment questions, I’m just generally leery of the state’s decision to compete with religious colleges and universities. If Alabama wants to provide options for people who want a faith-based college experience, there are plenty of religious colleges and universities ready, willing, and able to educate students. Why not provide vouchers, rather than housing opportunities on an otherwise secular campus?
Monday, July 22, 2013, 10:35 AM
The First Amendment Center recently published its annual survey of the “state of the First Amendment.” I wish I could say that I was heartened by all the findings, but I’m not. Consider these results:
- Only 10 percent of the respondents stated that freedom of religion was the most important freedom Americans enjoyed, far below the 47 percent who gave that honor to freedom of speech.
- 36 percent of the respondents couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment; only 24 percent knew that freedom of religion was one of them.
- The percentage of respondents who think the First Amendment goes too far in protecting rights has increased this year (to 34 percent, still far below the 64 percent who say it doesn’t); younger respondents are much more likely to say that it does (47 percent of 18-30 year olds and 44 percent of 31-45 year olds); and 52 percent of African-Americans, as well as 50 percent of Hispanics, say the First Amendment goes too far.
- 62 percent of the respondents believe that if a religious organization receives federal funds, it can be required by the government to provide healthcare benefits to employees in same-sex relationships, even if the organization doesn’t support same-sex relationships. Younger respondents are more likely to agree with this proposition than are their older counterparts.
- 52 percent of the respondents agreed that a business providing wedding services should be required to serve same-sex couples, even if the proprietor has religious objections to same-sex marriage.
Clearly we have not made a compelling case for the importance of religious freedom, especially among younger people and minorities. This is a problem both in education (where I suspect too many teachers simply steer clear of any topic that bears on religion) and in our popular culture. It seems to me that virtually no one is effectively making the case for the religious component of pluralism. We’re all about diversity in race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (all of which, we think, deserve the special solicitude of government). But we don’t recognize how our love of equality and uniformity is at war with other kinds of diversity and pluralism, especially when we believe that government programs ought to be homogenizing, rather than respectful of the liberty necessary to foster less visible kinds of pluralism and diversity.
Friday, June 21, 2013, 2:33 PM
A state judge in New Hampshire has ruled against a recently enacted program that would have provided tax credits to businesses that contributed to scholarship organizations similar to those in the Arizona program upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.
There are a few things about the opinion worth noting. First, New Hampshire’s laws regarding taxpayer standing to sue are much more generous than those available to federal taxpayers, where suits have been quite narrowly limited by the Supreme Court in Hein. Had this case been filed in a federal court, it would likely have failed simply on the ground of taxpayer standing. I don’t know what laws are like in other states, but it strikes me that few are likely to be as willing to entertain these kinds of suits as is New Hampshire.
Second, Judge John M. Lewis cites a string of state Supreme Court advisory opinions that rely upon U.S. Supreme Court decisions but antedate the important Zelman decision, which upheld an Ohio voucher program. In other words, relying upon old New Hampshire church-state jurisprudence permits him to avoid the import of what the Supreme Court has said lately, which is that when state dollars follow the genuinely private choices of parents (as they do in this case, assuming that we’re in fact talking about state dollars), there is no violation of the Establishment Clause. (I realize that this has no necessary bearing on the interpretation of the New Hampshire Constitution, but state courts typically–as in earlier instances in New Hampshire–align their church-state jurisprudence with that of the Supreme Court.) And when Judge Lewis cites the Zelman decision, he discounts it because of the narrowness of the 5-4 majority holding. Since when does the precedential force of a decision depend upon how many votes it got?
Third, Judge Lewis also sides with the dissenters in the Arizona case in insisting that a private donation eligible for a tax credit is for all intents and purposes state money. The alternative understanding, adopted by the majority in that case, is that when the state forgoes taking my money, it’s my money.
So what we have here is a decision that rests on the foundation of the liberal dissents in two landmark Supreme Court school choice cases. A federal judge could not have gotten away with this. It remains to be seen whether this state judge’s opinion will survive the inevitable appeals.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 11:27 AM
Adjunct faculty at Pacific Lutheran University have persuaded the National Labor Relations Board that they have the right to vote on whether to be represented by the Service Employees International Union. While the Supreme Court has held that religious institutions are generally outside NLRB jurisdiction, the adjudicator in this case held that the University wasn’t sufficiently religious to merit that exemption.
In his Pacific Lutheran decision, Seattle-based Ronald K. Hooks, regional director for the labor board, said NLRB jurisdiction does not risk church-state entanglement because the university is “inspired by Lutheranism” but emphasizes academic excellence and “acceptance of all faiths (and none) and explicitly de-emphasizes any specific Lutheran dogma, criteria or symbolism in its public communications.”
Hooks continued: “It may be that providing a rigorous liberal arts education fosters searching inquiry and comports well with Lutheran tradition, but doing so does not make the university a religious institution.” He based his ruling on several observations about the university’s funding, governance structure and values. First, even though Pacific Lutheran is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and own[ed] by its regional congregation, it receives only about $200,000 annually, or a “tiny percentage,” of its funding from the church. And even though just over half of Pacific Lutheran’s regents must be Lutheran, some of whom must be ministers, he said, “neither the church nor the congregations are involved in the day-to-day administration of the school.”
No members of the administration or faculty are required to be Lutheran, he noted, and although various university events and publications reflect its Lutheran history, its mission to educate “makes no mention of God, religion or Lutheranism.”
I’m tempted by a kind of Schadenfreudlichkeit here. A university that attenuates its religious identity, as Pacific Lutheran seems to have, apparently has a less persuasive claim to a First Amendment shield against government regulation.
But I’m going to resist that temptation, because this is yet another instance of a government official deciding if an institution is sufficiently religious to deserve the protection of the Free Exercise Clause. That is troubling. I’m not prepared to permit the government to make these kinds of determinations, however plausible they might in some instances seem. Do we really want to support a government requirement that religious institutions be entirely inward-looking before they deserve First Amendment protections? Do we want the only sort of educational institutions that receive these protections to be seminaries and bible colleges, as if a religious education and a liberal education are two things that are essentially at odds with one another.
Monday, May 20, 2013, 9:30 AM
The Romeike family, about whose case I previously posted, has lost its latest round in the federal courts. In a unanimous ruling, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Obama Administration’s contention that the Romeikes are not victims of persecution.
The question is not whether Germany’s policy violates the American Constitution, whether it violates the parameters of an international treaty or whether Germany’s law is a good idea. It is whether the Romeikes have established the prerequisites of an asylum claim—a well-founded fear of persecution on account of a protected ground.
The Romeikes have not met this burden. The German law does not on its face single out any protected group, and the Romeikes have not provided sufficient evidence to show that the law’s application turns on prohibited classifications or animus based on any prohibited ground.
The family will in all likelihood appeal this decision, asking first of all for an en banc rehearing before the entire Sixth Circuit and then for their day in court before the Supreme Court. I do not have high hopes for them. After all, I have a hard time disagreeing with with George W. Bush appointee Judge Jeffrey Sutton that:
The United States has not opened its doors to every victim of unfair treatment, even treatment that our laws do not allow. That the United States Constitution protects the rights of “parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control,”…does not mean that a contrary law in another country establishes persecution on religious or any other protected ground. And even if, as the Romeikes claim, several human-rights treaties joined by Germany give parents the right to make decisions about their children’s educations . . . that by itself does not require the granting of an American asylum application. . . .
As then-Judge Alito explained, “the concept of persecution does not encompass all treatment that our society regards as unfair, unjust, or even unlawful or unconstitutional. If persecution were defined that expansively, a significant percentage of the world’s population would qualify for asylum in this country—and it seems most unlikely that Congress intended such a result.”
There was a time when a member of Congress could have offered a private member’s bill to deal with hardship cases like these, but that time is, as I understand it, long since past. More to the point, the Obama administration could have left well enough alone by not seeking to overturn the initial decision to grant asylum to the family.
I’m tempted to advise the Romeikes to start behaving like other immigrants who have no legal permission to be here and await the almost-inevitable immigration reform deal that would put their status on the road to normalization. But I want homeschooling parents to teach their children to obey the law. Perhaps some sympathetic member of Congress could find room in the current immigration reform proposals for a provision prying open our gates to foreign homeschoolers whose countries treat them harshly.
Thursday, May 16, 2013, 4:00 PM
That title is the motto of my university and the basis of a final exam question I asked the sophomores in my “Great Books” core course. The answers were interesting (in a disheartening way). The students “get” making a difference (a phrase added to our motto a little more than a decade ago, by a process that neither I nor–so far as I know–any other faculty were privy). Making a difference is celebrated in the popular culture, and “kids these days” have a relatively sophisticated understanding of what it means and how they can do it.
They also understand quite well making a living, something that is pounded into them on a variety of fronts.
But making a life? A few could explain it, but most essentially assimilated it to making a living. If you love your job (and it’s “meaningful”), you’re making a life. Most, in other words, seemed unaware of the possibility of a rich and deep life outside the workplace. That’s the disheartening part of the experience for me, since the “liberal” part of a liberal education is supposed to be precisely about that. (If I could found my own college and money were no object, its motto would be: “Majors are for drones.” As my daughter would say, “just kidding.”)
So, as professors do when they’re in the throes of grading and want some sympathy, I took to Facebook and posed the question about the motto to the alumni who have condescended to friend me. The results were gratifying. To a person, they got it and could articulate the difference between making a life and making a living. It helps, I suppose, that they have some experience–not just book learning–with both, and have recognized that much of what gives their lives meaning doesn’t take place at the office or (dare I say it?) in the classroom.
But I’d like to think that discussing Aristotle’s conception of moral virtue, reading Plato’s Republic (not to mention other “Great Books”), and pondering life’s big questions with fellow students and with me–how shall I say it?–made a difference.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 10:15 AM
Roughly a year ago, I wrote about the Davidson College Board of Trustees’ reconsideration of its requirement that the College’s president be a Presbyterian. Well, the board has reaffirmed its requirement, explaining that “the Reformed Tradition values considered to have shaped the college’s principles and practices” drives commitment to the college’s “values of free inquiry, service and leadership, honor and integrity, humility, and diversity.”
Whatever might be the case for the Board of Trustees, whose statement acknowledges internal disagreement about these matters, students and faculty seem vociferously opposed to the decision to maintain this connection to the college’s denominational heritage. Students are typically present-minded (that’s the nice way of putting it). As far as they’re concerned, they are the college, and they don’t have much sense that they’re part of an institution whose identity persists over time (and whose character should change, if at all, only through a respectful consideration of that heritage). They came to Davidson because of its academic reputation, and that really seems to be all that matters to them.
The most respectable articulation of faculty opposition is offered by Douglas F. Ottati:
The Reformed tradition “wants to support a college of liberal arts and sciences that will further what is called ‘true religion’ in the tradition,” he said. That tradition “encourages people to engage in free inquiry. This is a tradition that thinks when you are studying the world, you are studying God’s world.” This world view “wants to invite people to practice and reflect on their commitments — religious and non-religious,” he said. . . .
Ottati said that it’s true that there are colleges of strong academic quality that require everyone to sign a statement of faith or share a specific set of beliefs. And he said that many colleges founded in a tradition of faith have decided to “just relinquish it.”
He said he believes there is much to be gained by “a middle road in which you try to embody this tradition, but at the same time you are not going to be exclusionary.”
Davidson will be true to its heritage, he said, if it ends the religious test, but simply states that it expects good candidates for president to understand, appreciate and support the college’s religious roots and values. Many such people are not Presbyterian, he said.
It’s true, he said, that some people fear a shift would result in a loss of religious identity. But Ottati stressed that the religious identity of Davidson is an inclusive one, and that the board is diverging from that religious tradition. “If we have an exclusionary requirement we’re going to end up undercutting some of these most deeply held traditions,” he said. “If the only way to save a tradition is to kill it, that’s not a happy circumstance.”
Perhaps this middle ground is tenable, but I doubt it. First of all, it seems insensitive to the fact that almost all the pressure on a college like Davidson is secularizing. To retain any connection with a religious heritage at all requires a great deal of effort, pulling hard against the prevailing winds. Second, while I agree that studying the world as God’s world is a good place to begin a consideration of the life of the mind in a religious context, there’s a temptation to hold your understanding of God hostage to what you think you learn about the world. I’d be more comfortable if there were an equal emphasis in his articulation of the tradition on God’s Word.
I guess that’s why we should be glad that there are trustees.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 4:46 PM
Permit me to connect what I take to be the dots between recent posts on John Milbank and by David T. Koyzis. For fun, you can also take a look at this post by Koyzis on another site.
We have made an idol of choice, regarding it as the logical concomitant of our “natural” freedom. But freedom so conceived is really anti-natural, for it demands that we do away with all the barriers and constraints that come from nature (and, I might add, nature’s creator). The only way to overcome nature and hence to facilitate choice is to acquire power, lots of it. Choice requires empowerment, in other words. But what is truly empowered in this process is not the human being, but the organization (that is, the government) that purports to empower him or her. C.S. Lewis, by the way, saw this in The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength.
Our libertarians, so infatuated with choice, are really infatuated with what facilitates or empowers that choice—that is, with government.
The antidote is to recognize what we are made for, about which our bodies (created by the creator) give us some very strong hints. We can through very great efforts seem to overcome the limits of our bodies (in medicine, we sometimes call that “playing God”), but that doesn’t free us so much as it makes us dependent, not on the partners for whom we were made, but on the Leviathan that offers us choices.
The fundamental issue here is not anyone’s sexual orientation; it’s the assumption that choice, pleasure, and self-fulfillment are our be-all and end-all, an assumption that many—nay, all—of us sinners share.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:30 AM
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m leading a seminar on the family and political thought. There are seven of us all told, five smart and accomplished young women, a sharp young man, and their cranky middle-aged professor. We’re finishing up by reading the Girgis/Anderson/George book on marriage, which they for the most part don’t like.
If I had to name one reason for their dislike, it’s the tight connection between marriage and children that the book draws. All of them say they want to get married, but I haven’t heard one express any real enthusiasm for having children. I suppose that that might change with age (and the right spouse), but I’ll credit them with having given the matter some serious thought and won’t attribute it to the short-sighted self-absorption of youth. So for them marriage isn’t even in principle about having kids. It is about emotional intimacy and lifelong commitment. Again, I give them credit for distinguishing between the emotions of the moment and the moral commitments that begin from, but transcend, those emotions.
Of course, I agree with Girgis and company that there’s no principled distinction between this sort of “marital” promise and any other contract into which I might enter to satisfy the passion of the moment. The energy underlying the commitment comes from my integrity or my interest in appearing to possess integrity (the difference, perhaps, between a Kantian and a Hobbesian reading of the contract). The state might enforce such contracts simply because we want it to, just as we would want it to enforce other contracts that provide goods to the partners. But we couldn’t regard them as anything special, with all the costs that the book well elucidates–costs, by the way, that we’re already paying.
My nightmare is this: There’s a continuum between the attitudes my students display and the largely unappealing portrait of prospective parenthood sketched by this anonymous father. Here’s hoping his twin boys never read his self-indulgent expressions of dismay (pre-partum depression?) at the prospect of bringing them into the world. (I can’t help but think in this connection of friends for whom similar treatments produced triplets, to add to the boy they already had. My friend’s quip: “We wanted three, but settled for four.” Amen, brother.) May the grace of God rescue my students from harboring the thoughts so frankly expressed in that post. And may the grace of God change this man’s heart, so that he and his wife come to welcome the gifts they have been given.
Friday, April 12, 2013, 2:41 PM
There was a time when those of us who paid attention to the First Amendment religion clauses could find a lot of grist for our mills in judicial battles over public holiday–er, Christmas–displays. That particular front in our so-called culture war has died down a bit, only to be replaced by the war over where to hold high school commencement exercises. I wrote about this issue a couple of times for a site now, sadly, defunct. (You can still read my posts here and here.)
The latter post deals with a Wisconsin case, where the Elmbrook School District, with the able assistance of attorneys from the Becket Fund and, among others, Michael McConnell, has petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. That petition compellingly makes the argument that the en banc Seventh Circuit panel extends the logic of the Supreme Court’s school prayer cases–already in some measure questionable, so far as I’m concerned–far beyond what is appropriate, conflicts withe other appellate decisions, and calls into question any use of church facilities for public purposes (e.g., as a precinct site during elections). Those are reasons enough for the Court to hear the case.
Here’s hoping and (dare I say?) praying that the Supreme Court agrees to hear this case. There is a concerted campaign by organizations like Americans United to force school districts all over the country to refrain from using church sanctuaries, often the most convenient and comfortable venues available, from commencement exercises. Absent a decision from our highest court, the Seventh Circuit decision stands as the freshest “authority” that can be cited, even if it technically doesn’t govern any disputes outside its geographic area.
And perhaps Professor McConnell can persuade some of his erstwhile brothers on the bench to restore a little post-Sandra Day O’Connor sanity to the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause jurisprudence. If not now, when?
Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 9:10 AM
Easter Sunday, the Obama family worshipped at St. John’s Church, across Lafayette Square from the White House. The audio recording of the sermon is not yet available on the church’s website, but you can read the press summary here. It seems in some way to be addressed to those who attend worship services only on major holidays, offering solace to those who have doubts and explaining why they shouldn’t long for the “good old days” of simple faith. The priest’s text was the resurrection narrative in John 20:1-18, and he makes much of Jesus telling Mary Magdalene not to cling to him. But instead of having his listeners look forward to the Ascension, the priest seems to have turned the passage into an admonition not to live in the past. And from this point, there’s a segue to the following:
“It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling us back . . . for blacks to be back in the back of the bus . . . for women to be back in the kitchen . . . for immigrants to be back on their side of the border.”
The Washington Post story includes gays and lesbians in this list of things conservatives apparently wish to restore to some imagined status quo ante.
I get it. Easter changes everything, assuring us of an ultimate triumph over all our earthly ills:
“Easter vision” will allow you to see the whole world in a different way. “There is no injustice so insidious that there can be no truth . . . no war so deep that there can be no peace . . . no enemy so bitter that they can’t become a friend.”
But the priest here seems to focus on the future of the here and now, on a “new and improved” here and now, not on eternity. His “Easter vision” is emphatically this-worldly and political.
If President Obama wanted that, he could have stayed at home and read the Sunday papers. Indeed, perhaps sermons like this one are why increasing numbers of people are doing just that.
Thursday, March 21, 2013, 3:41 PM
This somewhat misleadingly headlined Washington Post article takes note of an effort among Evangelicals (not all of whom are conservative) and other religious folks to participate in the current conversation about immigration reform. It focuses on this relatively new organization, whose membership isn’t exclusively conservative (e.g., Jim Wallis is featured as an original signatory).
In addition to open letters to President Obama and the House and Senate leadership, the group has issued a statement on citizenship, organized an Evangelical Day of Prayer and Action for Immigration Reform, and issued the “I Was a Stranger” challenge.
The group favors immigration reform that upholds the following principles:
- Guarantees secure national borders
- Respects the God-given dignity of every person
- Ensures fairness to taxpayers
- Protects the unity of the immediate family
- Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents
- Respects the rule of law
I have no doubt that the organization means well, and that its members wish to approach immigration reform in a humane and biblically-informed way. I took the trouble this morning to look up the forty Bible verses they would like us to contemplate and pray over. Many from the Old Testament urge Israel to treat sojourners justly, typically mentioning them in the same breath with widows and orphans, i.e., those outside the protection of a household headed by what may loosely be called a citizen. It’s hard to derive anything about a path to citizenship from these verses; indeed, the organization seems to exclude a few verses (like Ex. 12:48, when we’re supposed to contemplate Ex. 12:49) that show how high the barriers are for full inclusion. I’m tempted to go even further (more…)
Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 3:10 PM
We’re hearing lots of reports that sentiment at the recent CPAC (Conervative Political Action Conference), and elsewhere, tended to favor legalizing same-sex marriage or at least abandoning opposition to it. George Will characterized the event as providing evidence for the “rise of the libertarian strand of Republicanism.”
Here’s the way Senator Rob Portman characterized it when he announced his change of heart on the subject, one that I don’t think was calculated for political benefit:
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports allowing gay couples to marry because he is a conservative, not in spite of it. I feel the same way. We conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in people’s lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society. We should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.
Let’s start with his statement about personal liberty and minimal government interference. Most would call that one of the hallmarks of American conservatism, but I say: not so fast. It all depends upon why you favor these things. Perhaps you think that an individual–Thomas Hobbes’s “ordinary husbandman”–is the best judge of what’s good for himself or herself. If it’s a matter of mere preferences, there’s no reason to think that anyone else’s preferences ought to be substituted for my own. And whatever superiority there might be in another’s reason or judgment doesn’t compensate for the difference in preferences. The fact that your IQ is higher than mine gives you no basis for saying that you may substitute your preference for rocky road over mine for mint chocolate chip.
So far, so good, but the devil is in the details. There are still two questions–at least–to consider here. The most obvious one is how we distinguish between matters of personal preference and those matters of the common good which require some sort of common judgment. I might add to this also the issue of how we arrive at a common judgment: Is it by collecting private preferences or some process of rational deliberation, in which it’s conceivable to consider relevant differences of authority or judgment? The former is not obviously conservative, the latter may or may not be.
A second consideration here is the status of reason. Is the distrust of government based upon a distrust of human reason generally or upon a claim of the sufficiency of individual reason? Confidence in the sovereign sufficiency of human reason to guide one’s life isn’t exactly conservative.
Perhaps a better model for the role of reasonable conservatism is the Kass-Mansfield brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry (the California Proposition 8 case). Consider, for example, this statement: (more…)
Friday, March 15, 2013, 2:09 PM
I am currently, as I’ve noted before, teaching a course on the family in political thought. This past week, we discussed Tocqueville; after Spring Break, we’ll tackle Hegel, Mill, and that book about marriage whose title I can’t recall. From time to time, I’ll also pass along to the students something currently in the wind. This piece is one example. Today’s essay at the invaluable Public Discourse is another.
This essay on how economists view and study the family does a very good job of highlighting the limits of that approach. Here’s a taste:
Superficially, economic models catch a little of the truth of marriage in our culture. There is even something noble in economists’ assumption that social life is based on mutually beneficial exchange, rather than on coercion and plunder. But this is not nearly so noble and beautiful as what philosophy, theology, literature, and married men and women throughout history can tell us about the real substance of marriage. This substance is love, which is willing the good of another as other. Love in marriage is willing the good of your spouse, full stop. It is not willing the good of your spouse so that your spouse will return the favor.
Love is not an exchange. It is more correctly seen as a transformation. Love transforms the lover into the one who is loved. When we love our spouse, we become one with our spouse. Thus a model of self-interested exchange between two autonomous individuals cannot capture the heart of marriage.
As they say, read the whole thing.
Friday, March 8, 2013, 6:18 PM
This post raises all sorts of interesting questions about President Obama’s proposal in his State of the Union Address to fund a project to map the human brain, a Human Neuron Project, if you will.
I’ll focus on this one:
If the research succeeded, it might result in better prosthetics or speech technology for paralytics. But it might also . . . [result] in abortion of affected children, not in the development of treatments for their diseases. Once the ability to diagnose the disease was combined with the legal right to get rid of the unborn child, there turned out to be little motive to pursue treatment. And the technology has been used, in some parts of the world, to get rid of girls as such, on a society-wide basis. In the same way, mind control projects could turn out to be much better funded than prostheses, depending on the government in power. No, this is not paranoia, it is just history as if the reality of human priorities mattered.
I might even go further, suggesting that science is not neutral about its uses. It is, rather, a project with the distinctive goal of human control of nature, including human nature. This “mind control” doesn’t have to be obviously insidious to be dangerous. Might we not, in the style of C.S. Lewis’ N.I.C.E., simply wish to make the human brain more efficient?
It always makes sense to remember that our instruments of knowledge and power are wielded by fallen beings.
Friday, March 1, 2013, 5:06 PM
I have long followed and commented on the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s efforts to banish all religious references from the public square. Well, they just lost one, when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the City of Warren’s refusal to include an FFRF message disparaging religion from its rather pluralistic holiday display (whose one explicitly religious element is a nativity scene).
Here’s the language on the placard FFRF would have placed in the atrium of Warren’s civic center:
At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, [n]o heaven or hell. There is only our natural world, [r]eligion is but [m]yth and superstition [t]hat hardens hearts [a]nd enslaves minds.
Warren’s mayor James Fouts offered a spirited rebuff to the FFRF. As the Court noted, he overreached a bit, but we can still applaud the following words:
This proposed sign is antagonistic toward all religions and would serve no purpose during this holiday season except to provoke controversy and hostility among visitors and employees at city hall….
Everyone has a right to believe or not believe in a particular belief system, but no organization has the right to disparage the beliefs of many Warren and U.S. citizens because of their beliefs.
Thus, I cannot and will not sanction the desecration of religion in the Warren City Hall atrium.
As I would not allow displays disparaging any one religion, so I will not allow anyone or any organization to attack religion in general. Your proposed sign cannot be excused as a freedom of religion statement because, to my way of thinking, this right does not mean the right to attack religion or any religion with mean-spirited signs. The proposed sign would only result in more signs and chaos.
The appellate panel noted that the Warren display falls squarely within the lines (too narrow in my view, but that’s an argument for another day) drawn by the Supreme Court in a series of cases dealing with holiday displays. And they affirmed the city’s right to decide (within the confines of the Establishment Clause) what messages it wished its display to convey.
Perhaps most crucially, neither the Free Speech nor the Establishment Clause requires any government to provide “equal time” in its speech to those who oppose its message. As the appellate panel points out, if FFRF wants a naked public square, it should seek to elect candidates committed to it. That court, at least, won’t do its dirty work for it.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 1:35 PM
I’m reading NFIB v. Sebelius (the Obamacare decision) in preparation for teaching the case to my constitutional law students and came across the following most interesting passage in in Justice Ginsburg’s opinion: “A mandate to purchase a particular product would be unconstitutional if, for example, the edict impermissibly abridged the freedom of speech, interfered with the free exercise of religion, or infringed on a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause.”
Has anyone cited this passage in briefs challenging the contraceptive/abortifacient mandate? Does anyone believe that Justice Ginsburg would vote to strike down the mandate when it comes before the Court?
Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 9:40 AM
Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain is sponsoring a bill that would protect the integrity of student religious and political organizations in his state’s public universities. A response to CLS v. Martinez, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that upheld Hastings College of Law’s decision to deny access and status to a Christian Legal Society chapter that required creedal adherence of its leadership, this bill would override university anti-discrimination rules so that organizations like CLS could remain true to their missions. The bill has passed the Senate and seems on track to pass the House as well.
“Critics of the legislation say that it undermines campus anti-bias policies and that it’s not solving any problem. That’s because, they say, students aren’t trying to take over groups that they disagree with.” I assume that the anti-bias policies are there for a reason, purporting to guarantee students access to organizations with whose moral, religious, and political commitments they disagree. If no student who disagreed with the traditional morality favored by, say, CLS sought to join it (or more precisely lead it), the anti-discrimination rules would seem to be unnecessary. But, you say, the rules are symbolic, fostering a certain campus culture and telling everyone where the university stands.
It’s a culture and a stand that is antithetical to genuine diversity and pluralism, which ought to permit people to associate in groups with missional coherence and integrity. Virginia seems well on its way to affirming true pluralism, teaching its public colleges and universities a thing or two along the way. If we take the folks inside the ivy-covered walls at their word, then nothing really should change. But of course something will: a club that has been used to beat clubs over the head will no longer be available to campus administrators. They’ll have to add CLS, Intervarsity, and Campus Crusade to the list of exclusive groups (like fraternities and sororities) that they already countenance.
Friday, February 15, 2013, 5:03 PM
Yesterday, a couple of headlines caught my eye. “Homeschooling Not a Fundamental Right, Justice Dept. Argues.” That one came from evangelical commentator Napp Nazworth. “Homeschooling Not a Fundamental Right Says Justice Department” was our old friend Joe Carter’s riff on the same theme. Both articles were inspired by a piece written by the Home School Legal Defense Association’s Michael Farris, in which he responded to the Justice Department’s brief in a case HSLDA is litigating on behalf of a German family that is seeking asylum in the United States. (All the relevant briefs can be downloaded here.)
The case involves the Romeike family, which has run afoul of Germany’s compulsory schooling laws. Alone in Western Europe, Germany offers no conscientious exemption from attending state or state-supervised schools. Homeschoolers are treated like truants–indeed, arguably worse than mere truants–with parents subjected to mounting fines, jailtime, and forcible removal of the children from the family home. Most German families that seek to homeschool their children leave the country. (Indeed, there was one such family involved in our homeschool group.)
Facing fines that exceeded their capacity to pay and would have resulted ultimately in the loss of their house (not to mention the prospect of jail and loss of parental custody), the Romeikes came to the U.S on a ninety-day visa and applied for asylum. An immigration judge in Memphis granted their request, which the Obama administration appealed to the Board of Immigation Appeals. The BIA overturned the judge’s decision, and the case is now before the Sixtn Circuit Court of Appeals, with the HSLDA arguing that the Romeike’s should be granted asylum and the Department of Justice defending the BIA’s deportation decision.
The Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Attorney General to grant asylum to a refugee, (more…)
Thursday, February 14, 2013, 2:17 PM
I’m currently teaching a course on the family in political thought. The reading list is inspired by, but does not slavishly follow, Scott Yenor’s very good book, Family Politics. (And yes, Ryan Anderson, I have assigned What Is Marriage?)
As we wrapped up our consideration of John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education today, we had what I (at least) thought was a very interesting discussion of the reach of Locke’s proposals. For readers unfamiliar with the work, but generally familiar with Locke, it puts a great deal of flesh on the bones of his treatment of the parent/child relationship in the Second Treatise. The goal stated in both works is to raise a child who is capable of assuming the status of a free (and equal) human being. As you read Some Thoughts, you discover that this is much more difficult than it sounds, which makes for a certain kinship between Locke’s work and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile. Immanuel Kant said of the latter work that he wished that Rousseau had shown how to develop a system of public education on its basis. That is impossible for Rousseau and also for Locke.
Indeed, Locke has rather choice things to say about what we would now call “socialization” in almost any kind of “public” school setting. In other words, his proposal, if it could be executed at all, would produce an individual capable of using liberty well and responsibly, inevitably embedded in a society in which most people would be sorely tempted to abuse their liberty. Young Master Locke (to give him a name) would rarely have to be constrained to “do the right thing” and forgo the wrong thing, while his peers would inevitably bridle against and at least sometimes overcome the constraints that sought to keep them within their proper bounds.
The education Locke proposes is not one for “leadership” that prepares the way for social transformation or reconstruction. Young Master Locke is not in the first instance a political leader, let alone a revolutionary. He is, rather, a decent gentleman (more…)
Thursday, February 14, 2013, 10:02 AM
Yesterday, a bipartisan House majority passed H.R. 592, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), which requires FEMA to provide disaster assistance to houses of worship using the same criteria it has for other applicants. A letter to Rep. Smith from the Becket Fund assures him that his bill is on solid constitutional ground. Not that anyone is asking me, but I agree. While practices have not been consistent, there are plenty of examples of government programs and funding being made available to all eligible recipients, defined without regard to religion.
Let’s hope and pray that the Senate quickly follows suit.
As I understand it, the issue is whether houses of worship are eligible for grants that go to facilities that provide “essential services of a governmental nature to the general public,” not reconstruction loans, for which they are already eligible. What we’re talking about, in other words, is whether soup kitchens, meeting places, classrooms, homeless shelters, and other such facilities offered by houses of worship are eligible.
Since both the ACLU and Americans United opposed the legislation, be ready for lawsuits when it is implemented. But as the Becket Fund points out, there would likely also be lawsuits if FEMA persists in discriminating against houses of worship in its provision of disaster relief.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013, 10:31 AM
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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor delivered a speech yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute. There’s much to like in it, but I’m going to focus on what he has to say about higher education, which displays some characteristic Republican tics. However understandable these tics are, they’re, to my mind, regrettable.
Here’s the first:
One of our priorities this year will be to move heaven and earth to fix our education system for the most vulnerable. And when those children graduate from high school, we must expand their choices and college should be a viable option. In 1980, the average cost of college was roughly $8,000 a year. Today, it is over $20,000, and less than 60 percent of the students who enroll in a four-year program graduate within six years. Clearly, something is broken.
According to President Obama’s former jobs council, by 2020 there will be 1.5 million jobs without the college graduates to fill them. While there is a persistent unmet demand of 400,000 to 500,000 job openings in the health care sector alone. Recent reports indicate there are not enough applicants with the skills necessary to fill the jobs in the booming natural gas industry in America.
Suppose colleges provided prospective students with reliable information on the unemployment rate and potential earnings by major. What if parents had access to clear and understandable breakdowns between academic studies and amenities? Armed with this knowledge, families and students could make better decisions about where to go to school, and how to budget their tuition dollars. Students would actually have a better chance of graduating within four years and getting a job.
I get it. Rep. Cantor wants students and their parents to be able to connect the dots between the education for which they are paying big bucks and the opportunites on the other side. Colleges and universities implicitly promise as much. How else could they charge such exorbitant tuition? But providing this information runs the risk of teaching that all that matters about one’s education is the salary one earns on the other end. (more…)