Ellery Schempp, at 16 years of age in 1956, stayed in his seat while the rest of his high school class stood to recite the Lord’s prayer; he flipped through the Koran while his homeroom teacher recited ten verses from the Bible. What began as a quite protest in his Philadelphia high school became Supreme Court case Abington v. Schempp, which declared Bible readings and prayer in public schools unconstitutional.
“A sense of fairness motivated the teen. He knew his Jewish friends were uncomfortable and believed the same must be true for other religious minorities and non-believers,” and his parents backed his idea.
“I was touched by the children here,” said Schempp recently after watching a fifty-year anniversary skit performed by 4-13-year-olds, reenacting his classroom protest. “First of all, I noticed that they didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer. You can blame me for that.” Today, Schempp is a Unitarian and self-proclaimed atheist and secular humanist.
Whether or not the children know Schempp by name, they certainly live with his legacy. When told, “Back in those days, we read the Bible in school,” one child who now attends Schempp’s former high school immediately replied, “They can’t do that. It’s against the Constitution.”
But this legacy, according to The Atlantic, carries with it some unintended consequences:
Yet, if anything, over time, the Supreme Court ruling has led to a bigger presence of religion in the schools and more student expression of religion, says Charles C. Haynes, the First Amendment Center’s senior scholar.
It took a while, but by the late 1980s, educators started to reach consensus about how to teach religion. Guides were published about how to treat religious holidays in the schools, how to teach students about religious traditions, and how to create equal access for organizations, including religious clubs on campus. In 1995, roughly three dozen groups representing numerous faiths as well as a secular humanist organization designed a joint statement on religious liberties, showing support for what could be done legally in the schools, and disputing the claim that schools were “religion-free zones.”
It is now common for high schools to allow religious clubs, Haynes says. Furthermore, many schools across the country now offer courses about the Bible or about the world’s religions. All of this, he says, is part of the Schempp case’s legacy.
That the outcome of the Schempp case led to “a bigger presence of religion in the schools,” however, is debatable. When educators “started to reach a consensus about how to teach religion,” the consensus was that it could be taught as a sociological phenomenon, an interesting subject for historical analysis, and a source of influential literature, but by no means as religion. That has no place in public schools.
Religion has even become a problem at religious schools, as when Gonzaga University, a Catholic Jesuit school, initially denied the Knights of Columbus official student club status because the club practices “religious discrimination” (and “gender discrimination”) by admitting only Catholic men.
The consensus that religion is fine—and even helpful for and school’s PR, so it may be viewed as inclusive—as an idea but that religion qua religion is dangerous at school is what leads to protests like that of the young man who ripped up his graduation speech to recite the Lord’s prayer in defiance of school policy.
Schempp’s legacy is unfortunately closer to the sixteen-year-old’s original intentions than The Atlantic is willing to admit.
“Father’s Day is to neckties what St. Patrick’s Day is to beer,” says R. R. Reno in today’s column.
The commercialization almost certainly distorts our proper impulse to honor our mothers and fathers, but in the main it’s a good thing. Those tee-totaling matronly activists who lobbied for Father’s Day weren’t altogether wrong. Family values do need public reinforcement, which the conspiring forces of commerce certainly have provided.
“Will Davis Campbell, who died earlier this month at age 88,” says Timothy George in today’s column, “was one of the last surviving icons of the civil rights movement.”
Wherever violence erupted or trouble threatened—at lunch counters, boycotts, voting lines, in county jails and federal courthouses—Campbell was somewhere in the neighborhood. But he did not lust for the limelight and had an uncanny knack for avoiding press and media types. This made him all the more effective as an agent of dialogue and reconciliation.
My favorite Will Campbell story is about a Baptist pastor he once knew in Louisiana named Thad Garner. Despite his affable smile and trips to the Holy Land, Reverend Garner was not a model pastor. One day Campbell cornered him with a question, “Thad, why did you ever decide to be a Baptist preacher?” “’Cause I was called, you fool!” he thundered.
Pro-lifers pray for a reversal of Roe v. Wade, but Wesley Smith in today’s column asks, “what if the overturn comes from the other direction?”
Roe and its progeny cases, such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, left room for pro-life advocates to deploy subversive legislative and litigation strategies that have opened significant cracks in the once unbreachable judicial wall around the abortion right. . . . Even though the most well-known anti-Roe efforts are aimed at overturning the case to permit greater state regulation, a significant—if quieter—counter-push seeks to (essentially) overturn Roe by making the abortion right virtually absolute. At the very least, it would repair those cracks in the protective wall.
“Think Being a Teen Parent Won’t Cost You?” beg the NYC subways ads. When the puffy-eyed girl says, “Honestly Mom . . . chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” most New Yorkers will not take it as a plea for abstinence.
We hear from the women who choose not to have abortions and those who do, but yesterday’s New York Times story asks “What Happens to Women Who Are Denied Abortions?” It profiles a girl, referred to as S., who was turned away from a Planned Parenthood clinic because she was too far along in her pregnancy. Dr. Diana Greene Foster has spearheaded an extensive scientific study to gather data on women like S.: the “turnaway” women. The study is scheduled to be published this fall.
Most studies on the effects of abortion compare women who have abortions with those who choose to carry their pregnancies to term. It is like comparing people who are divorced with people who stay married, instead of people who get the divorce they want with the people who don’t. Foster saw this as a fundamental flaw. By choosing the right comparison groups—women who obtain abortions just before the gestational deadline versus women who miss that deadline and are turned away—Foster hoped to paint a more accurate picture. Do the physical, psychological and socioeconomic outcomes for these two groups of women differ? Which is safer for them, abortion or childbirth? Which causes more depression and anxiety?
The study encompasses 30 clinics from 21 states across the country and nearly one thousand women. The only other precedent for a study on this scale on turnaway women was published in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s by American psychologist, Henry David. But the Achilles’ heel of his work was that “he did not have a proper control group to determine if a child’s unwantedness rather than a poor family environment was the source of the trouble.”
But Foster’s study is not without its own Achilles’ heel. According to the New York Times story, Foster reports that there are more negative consequences—health-wise, emotionally, psychologically, and financially—for the women who carry the child to term as compared with those who were able to get abortions close to the gestational cut-off.
Where the turnaways had more significant negative outcomes was in their physical health and economic stability. . . . Adjusting for any previous differences between the two groups, women denied abortion were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line two years later.
Because new mothers are eligible for government programs, Foster thought that they might have better health over time. But women in the turnaway group suffered more ill effects, including higher rates of hypertension and chronic pelvic pain (though Foster cannot say whether turnaways face greater risk from pregnancy than an average woman).
Of course a new mother will experience sleepless nights, trouble feeding, and high levels of stress, especially if she is a poor, single teen. Should she kill the baby to avoid the stress? That single teen moms will be overwhelmed is an argument for chastity and greater charitable outreach to women in this situation, not abortion.
It is regrettable that women in this situation are widely treated, as in this NYT story, as victims of “creeping pregnancy.” “The pregnancy,” says the NYT, “had crept up on S.” It’s funny; S., having been “a strong believer in birth control” and a former sex ed teacher, should have known that having sex with your ex-boyfriend (i.e. in a relationship that has already failed) while off the pill sometimes results in pregnancy. But coming from an economically disadvantaged background, she cannot be assigned any responsibility for her actions. The implication is that the poor are incapable of moral judgment.
Third, and probably most obvious, Foster’s entire study has been conducted to evaluate the harm abortion and childbirth do to women with no regard for the unborn babies these women carry. Whether abortion takes an economic or psychological toll on women, it certainly takes a toll on the baby.
A new life in the womb is not, as S. calls it, “a ticking time bomb” ready to explode at any minute to destroy a woman’s life. It is a developing human person who if nature takes its course, will one day face ethical dilemmas of his or her own, and who will have a greater chance of succeeding if—rather than victimized—taught responsible, mature, moral decision-making.
“Senator [Rand] Paul’s tax plan has a problem for which there is no inoculation,” says Pete Spiliakos in today’s column.
Paul’s flat tax proposal would cut taxes on high earners while raising taxes on middle-class families. Using the Tax Policy Center’s calculator, a family of four with two children earning $50,000 would see a more than $340 increase in their tax liability. It gets worse. The larger the family, the larger the tax increase. A family of five with three children earning 50,000 would see a $1477 increase in their tax liability. . . . The Republicans have a chance to become a more populist party, but they can’t shed the perception that they are the party of the rich by proposing a combination of high-earner tax cuts and middle-class tax increases.
Celibacy of homosexuals can be compared to the celibacy of “women who knew they would never be able to marry because the lives of too many of their country’s men had been claimed by the Second World War,” says Aaron Taylor in today’s column.
The divine call is discerned in and through the circumstances of one’s life, which often leave a person with little choice in the matter. But in both cases the vocation itself has the same dignity, provided only that it is embraced with the same generosity on the part of the person whom God calls.
Even though this book tells of a young woman’s conversion to Catholicism, a subject of natural interest to a convert, it is not a book I would have read, because everything about it (the publisher, the blurbers, the other reviews) signals “modern, hip, and young, i.e. earnest and navel-gazing.” But apparently it isn’t like that at all. . . .
and suggestions by Eve Tushnet, Roger Kimball, and Daniel McCarthy among others.
Christopher Jackson joins the conversation about the question “Why are there Calvinist Baptists but no Lutheran Baptists?” in today’s column:
There are plenty of Lutherans who interact with evangelicalism, but they do so by laying aside their Lutheran theology. They come to the evangelical world with open but empty hands, ready to receive advice on small group ministry and church branding, but also not carrying along with them the treasures that are their heritage. On the other hand there are many Lutherans who are passionate about their Lutheran theology, but . . . are often more preoccupied with discussing what makes Lutheranism distinct from evangelicalism (for example, the sacraments) than with discussing points of commonality like Christology or Trinitarian theology.
Cardinal Dolan calls the faithful to fortitude “even to the shedding of your blood,” says William Doino Jr. in today’s column, yet the archdiocese is still paying for contraception and abortion. “The intricate arguments they make about cooperating and not cooperating with evil are easily lost” on the common man.
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told the Times, “We provide the services under protest,” and posted a press release, on the archdiocesan website, asserting that the Times story “incorrectly equates” the archdiocese’s local health care policies with the Health and Human Services mandate which Cardinal Dolan and the Church have been strongly resisting. But the release didn’t deny the archdiocese pays into the fund, so the Cardinal now finds himself accused of being inconsistent.
Since 1938, Finland has issued a maternity pack to expectant mothers that includes clothes, sheets, and toys, and for many newborns, the box it all comes in is their first bed. The tradition is now “an established part of the Finnish rite of passage towards motherhood, uniting generations of women.” The box, says Panu Pulma, professor in Finnish and Nordic History at the University of Helsinki, has become “a symbol of the idea of equality, and of the importance of children.”
To begin with, the scheme was only available to families on low incomes, but that changed in 1949.
“Not only was it offered to all mothers-to-be but new legislation meant in order to get the grant, or maternity box, they had to visit a doctor or municipal pre-natal clinic before their fourth month of pregnancy,” says Heidi Liesivesi, who works at Kela—the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.
So the box provided mothers with what they needed to look after their baby, but it also helped steer pregnant women into the arms of the doctors and nurses of Finland’s nascent welfare state.
The Catholic Church’s deployment of the language of “human rights”, thanks to Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, says George Weigel in today’s column, has helped magnify its moral voice in world affairs.
The universal resonance of Pacem in Terris confirmed the late-twentieth-century papacy as a unique voice of moral authority among the deeply divided and often-conflicted tribes of Planet Earth. . . . That same moral authority has already begun to be wielded by Pope Francis who, in his post-election address to the diplomats at the Holy See, reminded the assembled representatives of worldly power that there can be no peace without reference to the moral truths embedded in the world and in us—truths that are accessible to everyone by the use of reason.
The public health vacuum created by the Supreme Court, says Clarke D. Forsythe in today’s column, will continue to threaten the lives and health of women and enable more Kermit Gosnells to operate “house of horrors” clinics:
Because the Justices foolishly believed that abortion had few risks, and that abortion providers should have complete discretion to decide how to perform abortions in the first trimester, the Justices said that state and local officials could not regulate them in the first trimester. . . . Forty years after Gosnell opened his clinic, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to approve health and safety regulations governing first- or second-trimester abortions, leaving many women exposed to unnecessary risks.
The God of the Qur’an is a very different God from the God of the Bible, says Gerald R. McDermott in today’s column.
There simply is no command to love one’s neighbor in the Qur’an. One can talk about love for neighbor in the Islamic tradition, but not as something commanded by the God of the Qur’an. Hence we cannot infer that what [Miroslav] Volf calls “the character” of the God of the Qur’an is the same as that of the God of the Bible. In fact, we would have to conclude, using Volf’s own reasoning, that these are two different gods, for the difference in the two love commands suggests—by his own logic—two different characters. (Not that two different Gods actually exist, of course, but that Muslim and Christian understandings of the one God are radically different.)
Scriptural literacy, says Elizabeth Scalia in today’s column, rests on a nuanced understanding of the traditional family.
Tobit’s themes of exile and rejection, marital strife, separation anxiety, thwarted intimacy, and the wish for death make for a timely read in light of Smith’s and Eberstadt’s books, but in chapter ten of this story—populated by ordinary people experiencing feelings to which we moderns can easily relate—we find one of the most comprehensive descriptions of what marriage means to family and what family means to faith. . . .
Political action committees are not enough, says R. R. Reno in today’s column. We also need a politics of the imagination.
Yes, politics has a practical dimension. Campaigns can be run well—or poorly. Laws can be well crafted—or not. Constitutional lawyers can argue more or less effectively. But all that operates within a larger imaginative universe. The future turns on god terms. Our political environment would be very different if we thrilled to “discipline” rather than “transgression,” “justice” rather than “diversity,” or to “integrity” rather than “inclusion.” That’s a difference campaign contributions, Karl Rove, and political action committees cannot achieve. It requires a politics of the imagination, one that alters our metaphysical dreams and reshapes our god terms.
Footsteps is a Jewish organization that helps Hasidic Jews wishing to leave their ultra-orthodox community become integrated members of secular society and work through the profound difficulties of leaving behind their past and, in most cases, being disowned by their families.
PBS and A Journey Through NYC Religions report the varying responses of current members of the Hasidic community and individuals who have chosen a new way of life.
Sol Feuerwerker is glad he left.
I think that’s what surprises most people, you know, most outsiders, is that how can something this insular be happening right here in the middle of New York City. You know, as I’ve moved farther away from it, it kind of shocks me too actually.
There’s this whole, like belief or narrative in the community that if you, if you try to break away or change you will fail and you won’t be happy and you’ll just end up on drugs.
“Their structured lifestyle,” says Lucky Severson of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, “seems to work for the majority. But, for some, the lack of choices is too rigid . . . Hasidic groups remain some of the most insular religious sects in the U.S.”
Of course, many outsiders view the Catholic and Protestant churches, and even not-so-orthodox religious communities as “insular.” Any group that asks certain loyalties of its members and sets itself apart from the rest of the world is in some way “insular.” By this definition every sovereign country is “insular.” And the idea that a member who leaves “will fail” and “won’t be happy” holds much truth. The kind of suffering caused by such a break is no small matter.
As Samuel Heilman, a Jewish scholar at Queens College, notes,
They have everything that makes up a culture: social norms, language, a career pattern in life. Even the ones who leave say that there are aspects of their lives that they left behind that they miss. To go to a Hasidic gathering and to sing the songs and to dance in the circle and to be enfolded into the community, and to hear your voice in a chorus of other voices. This is a tremendously exciting experience . . .
The organization was founded “not to proselytize but to provide counsel and support to those who want to explore life outside the confines of the world in which they were raised.” One need not think ill of hasidic Judaism to see the value of such a service for those who find it necessary to leave.
Footsteps says that it has assisted “over 700 altogether so far, a majority are young men.” Yet compare this trickle with a 60 percent increase in Hasidic membership overall in the U.S. and Canada and it begins to seem that the majority are quite content in their confines.
. . . to be commended is the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. “Central to the Center,” writes the director, Michael Root of the Catholic University of America (and First Things writer), “has always been a commitment to a ‘thick’ ecumenism, an ecumenical outlook based on the conviction that common reflection on the basis of the great christological and trinitarian tradition the churches share should be at the heart of ecumenism.”
The center—founded by the Lutheran patriarchs Robert Jenson and Carl Braaten in 1991—rejects both “a reduction to a lowest common denominator or a retreat into an ‘enclave theology,’ concerned only with its own confessional standards. Interesting theology, theology that serves both the Church and the Christian life, comes out of such an encounter with the density of the tradition. At a time when ecumenism is lagging, a commitment to the fundamental theological work is essential.”
The center publishes the very good journal Pro Ecclesia (for which the editor has written) and a new book series called Pro Ecclesia Books, the first volume of which is The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church.
Among the speakers will be Paul Griffiths, Ralph Wood, and David Yeago.
The great Italian politician Giulio Andreotti, nicknamed the “Eternal One,” has passed away at the age of 94. The seven-times Prime Minister was an unassuming man:
Andreotti would go to a different church every morning, and always leave as soon as Mass was over. He would never leave the house without a dozen or more envelopes, in each of which was a 10,000 lira note. These would be dispensed to the beggars that stand at every church door in Rome, or to any who approached him in the street. He often wore a green Loden coat, the preferred dress of the European integrationist, along with deliberately unfashionable spectacles.
Andreotti was one of those men, who though married, was of deeply clerical appearance and demeanour. . . . “He’s very reserved. He will never tell you what he is thinking. . . .”
The death of Giulio Andreotti—a Christian Democrat in the mold of Konrad Adenauer—“marks a milestone in Italian, indeed European, history,” says the Catholic Herald.
This event will mark the 25th anniversary of Arkes’ book First Things and the 40th anniversary of the course from which it had sprung. Frank Beckwith and Diana Schaub will speak about their experiences in teaching the book and the reactions of their students over the years, followed by comments from two generations of students, including combinations of parents and children, who have been through Professor Arkes’ course
“Emotional contraception is extremely ineffective,” says Nathaniel Peters. He and Donna Freitas recognize that the hook-up culture just isn’t as satisfying as college students make it out to be, particularly because human beings, much as we might like at times, cannot separate our bodies from our souls. “Try as they might, students regularly fail to remain detached as they look for physical pleasure, flouting the unwritten social code.”
Unfortunately, says Peters, while Freitas, in her new book The End of Sex, hits the bullseye with her understanding and description of the dynamics of the college hookup culture, she offers no alternative. Rather, she dismisses the “vocal minority of sexually conservative college students” that offers the alternative because it is attached to “right-wing religious politics.” And when Freitas attempts to go beyond these politics and reclaim abstinence for the liberal side, her “abstinence within reason” turns out to have no good reason at all. As Peters says,
She claims that her ultimate goal is “to help make available a set of diverse structures through which students can make the best, most informed choices they can about their bodies and their lives.” But that “best” has no deeper foundation than how people feel. What about those who instrumentalize others in sex and feel good about it? . . . She founds her solutions on the same relativism, emotivism, and pragmatism behind the problem she seeks to combat.
As I read Communion and Liberation President Julian Carrón’s letter to the Editor of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica published on Wednesday, I felt like he was channeling Richard John Neuhaus. With Italy in complete political gridlock since February and a hung parliament due to the lack of any clear winner in the last election, Carrón posits that he knows the reason for this gridlock and has the solution.
“It seems to me,” he says, “that the situation of deadlock is the result of the perception of the political adversary as an enemy whose influence must be neutralized or at least reduced to the minimum.” This does not sound unlike liberal-conservative culture wars in the United States today. “But,” he goes on, “the outcome of these efforts has led to a clear conclusion: it is impossible to reduce the other to zero.”
What is needed rather is an understanding of the other, with his differences, as primarily a good in himself and secondarily a resource for the common good. This “affirmation of the value of the other and the common good” should be held “above all other interests of party.” Society must hold its citizens as more valuable than politics itself:
If the substance of those who serve this great work that is politics lies only in politics, there is not much to hope for. Lacking any other sure foundation, they will necessarily grasp at politics and personal power and, in the case in question, will see conflict as the only chance for survival. But politics is not sufficient unto itself. This has never been as clear as it is today.
First Things means, first, that the first thing to be said about public life is that public life is not the first thing. First Things means, second, that there are first things, in the sense of first principles, for the right ordering of public life. . . . Authentic religion keeps the political enterprise humble by reminding it that it is not the first thing.
Carrón, in answering the question of how the Church should confront the current situation in Italy says, “I do not believe it is by intervening in the political arena as one of the many competing parts and opinions. The contribution of the Church is much more radical.”
Alex Massie hails Margaret Thatcher as “an accidental libertarian heroine.” In Massie’s telling, Thatcher was an economic liberal and a social conservative (in fact she was one of the few Conservative MPs to vote for decriminalizing homosexuality and also voted in favor of liberalizing abortion—but let us allow Massie his characterization). Despite Thatcher’s social conservatism, Massie says, “her triumph on the economic front contributed to her defeat in the social arena.”
Massie sees this as a good thing. He goes on to say, “There has always been a tension between economic liberalism and social conservatism. At some point and as we have, I think, seen, the two become incompatible.” It is rather economic liberalism and social liberalism, he says, that “are dance partners, taking turns to lead.” That’s lovely. But wrong.
Massie holds that “if the individual should be freed in the economic realm then individuals should be granted greater liberties in their own lives as well. But the economics come first.” But his thinking is upside down.
As John Courtney Murray in We Hold These Truths states:
Part of the inner architecture of the American ideal of freedom has been the profound conviction that only a virtuous people can be free. It is not an American belief that free government is inevitable, only that it is possible, and that its possibility can be realized only when the people as a whole are inwardly governed by the recognized imperatives of the universal moral law.
Moreover, Murray writes, we would be wise to remember Lord Acton’s phrase that freedom is “not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.” One lesson taught by the legacy of Thatcher is that economic liberalism should let social conservatism take the lead if it doesn’t want to trip over its own feet.
Fr. Thomas Joseph White and Fr. Austin Litke from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. graced a small audience at the World Youth Alliance last Wednesday with a little bluegrass concert. Enjoy a snippet here. (Note: This song represents only one of the three pillars of bluegrass music, namely God, unrequited love, and murder.)
The name, by the way, comes from Flannery O’Connor who used the term in a 1955 letter regarding an upcoming TV interview:
“Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas I would like to create the impression over the television that I’m a hillbilly Thomist, but I will probably not be able to think of anything to say to [the interviewer] but ‘Huh?’ and ‘Ah dunno.’ When I come back I’ll probably have to spend three months day and night in the chicken pen to counteract these evil influences.”