Wednesday, November 27, 2013, 8:44 PM
Presidents have it in their gift to honor civilians who have served the nation with distinction with prestigious medals that are conferred at White House ceremonies. Of course, there is bound to be controversy about whom presidents choose to honor. In particular, one can hardly expect universal acclaim when presidents honor people who are strongly associated with causes about which the American people are divided. People on the left will be offended when people on the right receive presidential medals, and vice versa.
Naturally, presidents’ ideas about who has served the nation with distinction will be shaped by their beliefs about which causes are good and which are bad. So I am not shocked or scandalized by President Obama’s decision to confer the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest of honors that can be conferred on civilians—on Gloria Steinem, for example. Her aggressive advocacy of abortion (among other liberal causes) strikes the President as a good thing, because he believes that making abortion legal, making it as widely available as possible, and financing it with taxpayer money are all good things. I disagree, but I’m not the President. Barack Obama is the President. As President, he has the right to award presidential medals based on his own best judgments of good and bad, right and wrong, justice and injustice.
So I’m not complaining—about that.
I am complaining, however, about the President’s decision to confer the Medal of Freedom on William Jefferson Clinton. This is indefensible. President Clinton disgraced the office that he held and Barack Obama now holds. The less important dimension of this disgracing of the presidency was Clinton’s carrying on a sordid affair with a White House intern. The more important dimensions were his lying to the American people, his perjury, and his obstruction of justice. For the latter two offenses, he was impeached by the House of Representatives. Although he survived a Senate trial that would have removed him from office, the state in which he was licensed to practice law (Arkansas) punished his offenses against the system of justice he was sworn to uphold with a suspension of his law license.
To me, it was scandalous for President Obama to honor such a man with the nation’s highest civilian award—or any award. This is not a case of honoring someone for service to a cause (for example, abortion) that some people, including the President, think is good and I and others think is bad. It is a case of honoring a man who shamefully dishonored the high office entrusted to him by the American people by a series of acts that are not defended—and cannot be defended—by anyone.
Some of my fellow pro-lifers will say that what Steinem advocates (the taking of innocent human life) is far worse than what Clinton did (the affair, the lying, the perjury, the obstruction of justice). I agree. So if I were president, there is zero chance that Gloria Steinem would get a medal of any kind. But again, I am not president. The American people (to my inestimable regret) elected Barack Obama to that office. Elections have consequences. As president, he has the right to confer medals on people who, in his judgment, have served the nation with distinction by championing causes that are, again in his judgment, good ones. So if there is a scandal, it is in Obama’s extreme pro-abortionism (see here, here, and here)—the extremism that causes him to believe that a person like Gloria Steinem deserves to be honored by the nation. Given his beliefs about abortion, however misguided, his giving the medal to Steinem makes perfect sense.
Consider how different the situation is with Clinton, however. President Obama doesn’t say (and, I must assume, doesn’t believe) that having affairs with White House interns, lying to the American people, testifying falsely under oath, suborning the perjury of others, hiding evidence from courts, and the like are good things. (By the way, I won’t even go into the corrupt pardons—Mark Rich and the rest—since there is no need to pile on.) He knows that they are bad things. And when done by a person sworn “faithfully to execute the laws,” and most especially when done by the chief executive of the United States, they are an outrage and an utter disgrace. (I realize that Obama himself has rather flagrantly lied to the American people about healthcare and Benghazi, but lay that aside for the moment.) That doesn’t mean we need to hound Bill Clinton. And his offenses are by no means unforgiveable (after all, we are all sinners and have fallen short). But for heaven’s sake, it does mean that his successors should not be conferring the nation’s highest civilian honors on him. Just as elections have consequences, criminal acts performed while serving as President of the United States have consequences—or should have.
I do not deny that a person can be great—and merit high honors—despite moral lapses. But even if Bill Clinton were truly repentant—which, as far as I am aware, we have no reason to suppose—and even if he were great—which, in my opinion, he most definitely is not—among the consequences of disgracing one’s office by committing criminal acts should be no national honors for one’s conduct in office. That is hardly a harsh principle or a cruel judgment. Other people have actually gone to jail for perjury and obstruction of justice. Indeed, some who went to jail for those crimes—including lying about sex—were successfully prosecuted by the Clinton administration’s Department of Justice. Please pause for a moment, gentle reader, to think about that.
Of course, what’s done is done. Barack Obama has conferred the Medal of Freedom on Bill Clinton. History cannot be reversed. As President Clinton’s die hard supporters insisted at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, it’s time to “move on.” So let’s do that. Memo to the next Republican President. The Medal of Freedom can be conferred posthumously. I have two words for you: Henry Hyde.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013, 8:16 AM
Pope Francis has issued an Apostolic Exhortation titled Evangelii Gaudium. The Pope presents the “Joy of the Gospel” in its wholeness, which has been the theme of his pontificate from the very beginning. Among many other things, including our obligations to the poor and the duty to establish and maintain just economic, political, and legal orders, the exhortation addresses the proper understanding of marriage—explicitly rejecting the “emotional bond” conception of “marriage” that underwrites revisionist ideas such as no-fault divorce and same-sex unions—and the obligation to defend the life of the child in the womb. Anyone who feared or hoped that Pope Francis intended to change (which would not be possible) or soft-pedal the Church’s teachings on these matters might want to note carefully what he says.
On marriage: “The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life.’”
On the sanctity of human life: “Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems. Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, ‘every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual.’”
The complete text of the exhortation in English translation has been posted on the Vatican website.
Monday, November 25, 2013, 10:24 AM
Evidently, members of the Society of St. Pius X really do think they are more Catholic than the Pope—more Catholic than Pope Francis, more Catholic than Pope Benedict XVI, more Catholic than Pope John Paul the Great. Although I understand the efforts of the Vatican to reason with these people in the hope of persuading them to accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council from which they vehemently dissent, these efforts were, in my opinion, doomed from the start by the sheer intransigence and fanaticism of the SSPX.
I do not question the importance of avoiding schisms whenever possible, but the SSPX simply does not believe what the Church solemnly teaches in certain key areas. In particular, the SSPX rejects the teachings of “Dignitatis Humanae” (on religious liberty) and “Nostra Aetate” (on the Jewish people and non-Christian religions). The refusal of ultraconservatives to accept these teachings while insisting that they are loyal and faithful Catholics reminds me for all the world of those ultraliberal Catholics who similarly insist that they are loyal and faithful while rejecting and seeking at every turn to undermine the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life and the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife. Neither side would like the comparison, but there it is.
Recently, some members of the SSPX in Argentina truly sank themselves in shame. They disrupted an annual interfaith service in the Buenos Aires Catholic cathedral commemorating the horrible night of violence against the Jews of Germany known as Kristallnacht. This was an unspeakable outrage and scandal. The people responsible should be banned from the cathedral and other Catholic churches (I would say the same for those who disrupt religious services for liberal causes, by the way) and, if they are canonically still in communion with the Catholic Church, serious consideration should be given to formal excommunication—not so much for disrupting the service, shameful as that was, but for publicly defying the Church’s teachings on Jews and Judaism and, apparently in the case of some of those responsible, for the grave and scandalous sin of anti-Semitism.
Let us be mindful that the Jews are the chosen people of God. They are, as John Paul taught, our “elder brothers in faith” (or, as Pope Francis says, “our big brothers”). They are, in the words of the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, “blood brothers of Christ.” They stand in an unbroken and unbreakable covenant with the divine Creator and Ruler of all that is. Of them scripture says, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Let us therefore reject, as the Church herself long ago firmly rejected, the heresy of Marcion that would abandon the Hebrew revelation and cut Christianity off from its roots. Those of us who are followers of Jesus, whom we believe is the messiah long promised to Israel and the Redeemer given to all mankind, must never forget that the Christian church “received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles” (Nostra Aetate 4).
Of course, Christians hold and proclaim what the majority of Jews (though there are, of course, Jewish Christians, and the earliest Christians were all Jews) do not hold, namely, that Jesus is indeed the long promised Messiah—and the very son of God. Obviously, this is a most profound theological difference. And yet, the Church teaches us that God continues to work in and through the Jewish witness of faith in him—what Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of blessed memory described as the profound and wonderful mystery of living Judaism. And so in the great service of Good Friday the Church in our time prays “for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.” And the Church calls on all of her sons and daughters to embrace our elder brothers and sisters in a spirit of love and cooperation that we who strive to be devout and faithful Christians may unite with devout and faithful Jews to bear witness together to the goodness, faithfulness, and “inexpressible mercy” of Almighty God.
Friday, November 1, 2013, 12:08 PM
High on my list of contemporary heroes are Donna Hughes, a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Rhode Island, and lawyer Melanie Shapiro. These two fearless and determined women have done more than anyone I know to fight the unspeakable evil of human trafficking. They don’t just talk, they act. And that means taking on the powerful and well-funded sex industry, and the “respectable” people who directly and indirectly profit from it.
Sometimes it has also meant taking on the National Organization for Women and the ACLU, as Donna and Melanie did in the fight against the legalization of prostitution in Rhode Island. (These women know what the actual consequences of legalization would be for women trafficked in from southeast and central Asia and eastern Europe and for American teenage runaways.)
Today they have an op ed in the Providence Journal. It directly concerns recent incidents in a “gentleman’s club” (a misnomer if ever I saw one) in Rhode Island and a prosecution following from those incidents, but its message against the “culture of impunity” in which exploitation thrives is one that is relevant across the country.
The officials of Rhode Island need to end the culture of impunity for the big pimps, the pimps that operate inside the state, the pimps who call themselves businessmen and have well-connected lawyers and associates. The Providence Police charged that Tapalian was “permitting prostitution” in his Cheaters Club. To Police Commissioner Steven Paré’s credit, he wanted the licensing board to shut down the club. Instead, Tapalian got a penalty that is little more than a cost of doing business. Paré said he will appeal the decision as well.
The Department of Business Regulation should deny Tapalian’s appeal and the Providence Board of Licenses should revisit its decision. The City of Providence should revise its ordinance to prohibit private booths in strip clubs. These can be the first steps to ending the culture of impunity for sex trafficking in Rhode Island.
Read the entire piece here.
Saturday, October 26, 2013, 5:33 PM
I’m grateful to Rob Vischer for his post, following up on mine, about polyamory. Its premise is one that is strongly, and often angrily, rejected by poly activists and by my own polyamorist friends, namely, that polyamory involves or reflects a lack of self-discipline or the rejection of the idea of self-denial as an essential part of building strong, loving, mature relationships. They and their allies and supporters (such as the 300+ self-identified LGBT and allied scholars, lawyers, journalists, and activists who published the manifesto “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage”—a group that includes respected mainstream figures such as Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Kenji Yoshino) would, I have no doubt, sharply react against the claim that polyamory “is attractive because monogamy is hard.” They would, I suspect, view this as a prejudice against those who find fulfillment in the total self-giving of multiple partners—which, they insist, is hard work and requires self-discipline and generosity of spirit towards others every bit as much as monogamy does–and whose identity is significantly defined in connection with that way of finding fulfillment. Who, apart from those who stand by traditional ideas about marriage and sexual morality, can deny them? And (here I repeat myself) on what ground of moral principle?
This explains, I believe, why polyamorist groups are welcome at Pride parades, for example. They are regarded from within the movement as the next sexual minority in line for liberation and social acceptance. Indeed, they are already accepted within the movement. It is understood that the appeal they are making is not different in substance from the appeal made by those sexual minorities whose progress has come ahead of theirs. Sure, they had to be pushed into the closet for a while, in order to blunt the arguments advanced by defenders of the conjugal conception of marriage and the moral norms associated with it. But that is no longer necessary. They can be mainstreamed using the same script.
Are polyamorous relationships often unstable? Sure. But so are many same-sex relationships. So are many opposite-sex relationships. Is there any a priori reason to suppose that among people who view marriage as essentially sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership and who construct their lives and relationships in line with that view, polyamorous partnerships will be more unstable than monogamous ones? Is there any evidence for such a supposition? And even if there is, what would follow from it for the claims of those who believe their personal fulfillment is to be found in multiple partner unions, even if statistically such unions tend to be less stable than other types?
Saturday, October 26, 2013, 8:55 AM
The logic of the sexual revolution continues to play itself out in exactly the way defenders of “traditional” marriage and norms of sexual morality saw (and said) that it would. When I and many others noted that the abandonment of the idea of marriage as a conjugal union and its replacement with a conception of “marriage” as sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership would swiftly be followed by the mainstreaming of polyamory and eventually demands for the legal recognition of “poly” partnerships and families, we were accused of “scare mongering” and making illicit “slippery slope” arguments.
What we saw—and what anyone should easily have seen—is that the displacement of the conjugal conception of marriage left no ground of principle for supposing that marriage is the union of two and only two persons, as opposed to three or more (“throuples,” “triads,” “quadrads,” etc.) in multiple partner sexual ensembles. With the sole exception of Jonathan Rauch, who at least tried to identify a principled moral basis for monogamy consistent with jettisoning the norm of sexual complementarity (though he failed), no supporter of redefining marriage, so far as I am aware, made a serious effort to address our challenge on this critical point.
Today, fewer and fewer people on the liberal side of questions of marriage and sexual ethics are even pretending to have moral objections to polyamorous sexual relationships or their recognition. Increasingly, the pretense is not regarded as politically necessary. “Poly” groups no longer need to be pushed into the closet in order to depict redefining marriage as a “conservative” cause; “polys” are now even welcome to march in pride parades and the like. Polyamory is swiftly becoming one more hue in the multi-colored flag. We now even have the “conservative” argument for polyamory: these are people in “loving, committed multi-partner relationships.” They have jobs and homes and mortgages and kids—just like everybody else. Moral objections to their ”identity” and the sexual expression of their love is condemned as mere “prejudice.” We must, we are told, fight the “bigots” who are stigmatizing them and “harming their children.” When you have a script that works, I guess you keep using it.
CNN is about as mainstream as you get, right? Here are some passages from CNN’s non-judgmental and, indeed, quite sympathetic treatment of polyamory and polyamorists:
It’s not just a fling or a phase for them. It’s an identity. They want to show that polyamory can be a viable alternative to monogamy, even for middle-class, suburban families with children, jobs and house notes.
“We’re not trying to say that monogamy is bad,” said Billy Holder, a 36-year-old carpenter who works at a university in Atlanta. “We’re trying to promote the fact that everyone has a right to develop a relationship structure that works for them.”
For the Holder-Mullins triad, polyamory is three adults living in the same home about 20 miles south of Atlanta. They share bills, housework and childcare for their 9-year-old daughter. They work at the same place, sharing carpooling duties so someone can see their daughter off to school each day.
Surrounded at the [Atlanta Pride] parade by drag queens from El Gato Negro nightclub, singers from a gospel choir and supporters of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, Billy Holder didn’t stand out in his jeans, T-shirt and wide-brimmed, sun-shielding hat. That’s sort of the point, he said: to demonstrate that polyamorists, or polys, are just like anybody else.
Read the whole story here.
Monday, October 7, 2013, 11:23 AM
Edward Lev, beloved husband of MoJ friend Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School, died unexpectedly this weekend after being hospitalized for what was thought to be a non-life threatening infection. He was 86 years old. Deepest condolences to Mary Ann and their daughters and grandchildren.
When he was 16 years old, Ed tried to sign up to fight in World War II. Later, he became a marine and fought in Korea. He then went to law school and on to a distinguished career as a labor lawyer and litigator with the firm of Sullivan and Worcester in Boston. In retirement, he often did legal work for good causes and also pursued an intellectual interest—one which he and I share and enjoyed discussing—in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.
He was a fine man in every way.
Requiescat in pace.
Friday, October 4, 2013, 10:59 PM
My old friend Charles Krauthammer, with whom I served on the President’s Council on Bioethics in the Bush years, is someone with whom I more often agree than disagree. But here is a recent exchange on which we part ways on some pretty basic ideas about political theory. I should note that both of us were speaking extemporaneously, rather than from prepared texts. (What you have here is a transcript prepared by J.R. Benjamin.) So Charles was responding to my remarks immediately after hearing them, with no tme to prepare his reply. Moreover, as my respondent, I suspect he felt an obligation to offer something of a critical perspective. I’m not sure if the two of us really disagree on the points under discussion quite as much as it appears we do here. What pleased me enormously was that after the exchange (which was at a Bradley Foundation symposium in Washington, D.C.) the great Gertrude Himmelfarb sought me out to say how much she agreed with me. To me, than whom she has no greater admirer, that was like getting a commendation from Olympus. Anyway, here is the transcript:
Had I been given a chance to reply to Charles’ reply to me, I would have struck hard against his contrasting of virtue with the concept of the pursuit of “happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. The term “happiness” in the 18th century—and, in fact, until quite recently—did not refer simply to a pleasing or desirable psychological state—one that might be induced by virtue, vice, or, for that matter, some pharmacological product. It included the idea of flourishing or all round well-being, which necessarily was understood to involve virtue. (As in “happy the man who walks the path of justice.”) In other words, it was a morally inflected locution. So Charles, I believe, got tripped up a little by an anachronism. Incidentally, I’ve noticed a similar problem with old translations into English of Aristotle’s works on ethics. “Eudaimonia” is translated as happiness. That used to not mislead people, since the term was understood to mean something like “integral flourishing,” not to refer merely to a desirable psychological state. Today, students read the old translations and are easily misled. A better translation of “eudaimonia” in contemporary English, I believe, is “flourishing”—but perhaps this claim will trigger a big debate.
Cross-posted from Mirror of Justice.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013, 8:13 AM
I know how puzzled many people are—those on the right side of the political spectrum as well as those on the left—by the deep friendship I have developed with Cornel West, growing out of our teaching partnership at Princeton. I don’t know if Cornel’s left-wing comrades will ever be able to make sense of (or perhaps even forgive him for) his friendship with me; but perhaps this video of Cornel talking with Tavis Smiley about some deeply human matters will help my conservative friends to understand my friendship with him.
Despite our political differences, we share a commitment to engaging our students on these questions with a view to helping them to deepen themselves as persons. We both regard this as foundational and central to our vocations as teachers. Our message is that what ultimately matters is not success in the eyes of the world—wealth, status, prestige, power, and the like. It is, rather, the purity of one’s soul; it is one’s integrity as a human being who, as a creature fashioned in the very image and likeness of God, is capable (with God’s help) of mastering one’s desires and appetites and living a life of authentic service to God and neighbor.
Monday, September 2, 2013, 9:53 PM
Every now and then, folks on the left who regard Mahatma Gandhi as a hero and a kind of saint, stumble on to his writings about sexual morality and marriage. They are stunned to discover that their hero was a ferocious critic of the relaxation of traditional norms of sexual ethics, even going as far as to condemn the use and promotion of contraception. He vehemently opposed the efforts of early leaders of the birth control movement, such as Margaret Sanger. A recent example is from Salon earlier this year:
Marriage loses its sanctity when its purpose and highest use is conceived to be the satisfaction of the animal passion without contemplating the natural result of such satisfaction. I have no doubt that those learned men and women who are carrying on propaganda with missionary zeal in favor of their use of contraceptives are doing irreparable harm to the youth of the world under the false belief that they will be thereby the poor women who may be obliged to bear children against their will. Those who need not limit their children will not be easily reached by them.
Sunday, September 1, 2013, 9:45 AM
I am among those who are pleased and relieved that President Obama has decided to take his case for bombing or missile attacks on Syria to Congress. It will be the task of members to assess the evidence presented by the administration as carefully as possible, and then, assuming that they are persuaded that the Assad regime was indeed responsible for the use of chemical weapons, to consider the prudence of punishing the regime with military attacks. Since such attacks could have catastrophic consequences—up to and including igniting a regional war—members must take their responsibilities extremely seriously. Here is a useful and balanced account of what is publicly known about the evidence on which President Obama and those supporting his desire to punish the Syrian regime with bombs or missiles are relying.
In their deliberation, I have no doubt that many members of Congress—and not just Republicans—will (as they should) bear in mind what turned out to be the administration’s flagrant dissembling regarding the terrorist attacks in which Ambassador Stevens and others were killed in Benghazi, Libya. Readers will recall that the President himself and top officials of the government (including Secretary of State Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice) deliberately led the American people to believe that Stevens and the others were murdered by a mob enflamed by an anti-Muslim movie. (This tale was even told by Secretary Clinton to the families of those killed.) Of course, it turned out that there was no mob. Stevens and his colleagues were killed by terrorists, affiliated with Al Qaeda, in a pre-planned and well-executed attack timed for the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The truth was known by American intelligence officers and administration officials within a day of the attack. Yet the lie about the mob and the movie kept being told for weeks. It fit the myth—one that was politically handy in the context of the presidential election campaign that was then in full swing—that Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist organizations had been “knocked back on their heels,” and no longer constituted the grave threat they had once represented.
I have long been puzzled as to why so little was made of this deception, not only by the media, but by politicians, including Governor Romney in the course of the campaign. (Romney made what appeared to be an attempt to raise the issue in the foreign policy debate, but moderator Candy Crowley seemed to knock him back on his heels by a mistaken intervention supporting Obama’s story.) As Malcolm X and Jeremiah Wright might put it, however, eventually “the chickens come home to roost.” Now, as we face the question of whether to punish the Syrian regime with military strikes, is a time when the President’s credibility truly matters. Is he telling the truth as he believes it to be? Or is there spinning, Clintonesque word-parsing (“meaning of ‘is’”), dissembling, and deceving going on?
Presidents and those serving in key positions in their administrations need to make difficult decisions based on the best intelligence and evidence available to them. Sometimes the intelligence they are relying on turns out to be wrong—even spectacularly wrong. It would be unreasonable to hold any president, including President Obama, to the standard of never being wrong about the facts. But we can and should hold all presidents, including Obama, to the standard of telling us what they honestly believe to be true. When they don’t do that, their credibility suffers in ways that not only hurts them, but eventually hurts us, too.
Friday, August 23, 2013, 8:08 AM
My colleagues and I on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom are working together across party lines to push for the full deployment of the tools provided by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to pressure regimes that are gross offenders against religious liberty to ease up on the individuals, minorities, and sometimes even majorities whom they are persecuting. My Democratic colleague and dear friend Katrina Lantos Swett and I made the case this week in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post:
When the act was passed in 1998, it made the promotion of religious freedom an official U.S. foreign policy priority and established at the State Department an ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. The legislation also created a bipartisan and independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, on which we serve, to monitor this right worldwide and make policy recommendations to Congress, the secretary of state and the president.
Congress gave the legislation real teeth through a groundbreaking enforcement mechanism: requiring annual administration review and designation of “countries of particular concern,” defined as those governments engaging in or allowing “systematic, ongoing, egregious” violations.
While the law provides the administration with flexibility in how it will pressure those countries, the review and designation process is not discretionary. The law requires it. Whatever one’s view of appropriate sanctions for violators, there can be little disagreement on the imperative of bearing witness to abuses.
Unfortunately, neither Republican nor Democratic administrations have consistently designated countries that clearly meet the standard for offenders. The Bush administration issued several designations in its first term but let the process fall off track in its second. The Obama administration issued designations only once during its first term, in August 2011.
The result? Violators such as Egypt, Pakistan and Vietnam are escaping the accountability that the International Religious Freedom Act is meant to provide.
The complete op-ed is available here.
Friday, July 19, 2013, 7:18 PM
Dear Mr. President:
Thank you for taking time to share with us, more than once now, your reflections on the Zimmerman case, just as you took time to share your thoughts on the case involving Professor Gates of Harvard. But Mr. President, if you could spare just another moment, I respectfully request that you tell us, the American people, when you learned that the murders of our ambassador and three other of our fellow citizens in Benghazi, Libya was not the work of a spontaneously formed mob enflamed by a movie, but was rather the work of a terrorist organization that executed a planned attack on the anniversary of 9/11/2001?
Mr. President, when you were suggesting and Secretary of State Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice were actively leading Americans to believe that the murders were the work of a mob enflamed by a movie, how could you have not known that that story was false? US intelligence authorities and State Department officials knew that the murders were the work of organized terrorists (and not a mob enflamed by a movie) the day after the attack. Yet administration spokesmen kept telling the “mob enflamed by a movie” story for weeks.
Mr. President, really, it would only take a moment of your time to tell us: When did you know?
Sunday, July 7, 2013, 4:44 PM
A little Sunday sermon from a guy with no license to preach: For those of us who are Christian—and I suspect the same is true of our friends of other religious traditions—it is tempting to embrace those doctrines and teachings of our faith that are acceptable to the “beautiful people,” to the trend setters and opinion shapers, to the powerful and influential, while going silent on, or even denying, those teachings that will mark us as standing in opposition to the values that are dominant in elite sectors of the culture. We’re all-too-willing to be “tame” Christians. We want the comforts and consolation of religion, but we’d like to have them without risks or costs. We don’t want to jeopardize friendships, family relationships, professional and economic opportunities, prestige, social status, and the like. We don’t want people to think of us as retrograde or “out of touch with the times,” much less as intolerant or prejudiced. So we are tempted to pick and choose—to be “cafeteria Christians.”
But if we are serious about our faith, we will understand that a true Christian is never a “tame” Christian. A true Christian will stand up and speak out for what is good and true, what is right and just, both in season and out of season. He or she will not go silent, even when bearing witness is unpopular—even when it is personally or professionally risky. He or she will know that there truly is a “cost of discipleship,” and will be prepared, with God’s help and by His grace, to pay that cost—whatever it turns out to be. A faithful Christian will be ever mindful of the words of Christ himself, “If anyone would be my disciple, then let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 7:51 AM
Somehow, five days a week—week in and week out—Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute, manages to post an illuminating and engaging essay on a significant issue in our public life. Yesterday it was Matthew Franck’s powerful reflection on abortionists in contemporary culture as “providers of necessities” (as Lincoln said of slave-sellers) who are at the same time “utterly despised.” Today it is a tightly argued piece by Charles Capps on meeting the practical needs of unmarried domestic partners (whether their relationship is platonic or otherwise) without “defining out of existence the only legal category whose purpose is precisely to integrate the kind of act that can result in conception with the kind of environment best suited for a child’s development.”
Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 5:47 PM
Abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted yesterday of first degree murder of three babies, has agreed not to appeal a sentence of life in prison in return for the prosecution’s agreement not to seek the death penalty. Having publicly opposed the death penalty for Gosnell, I am entirely content with this way of bringing the appalling episode to a close. Are we through with Gosnell now? Can we “let him rot in prison,” as some have said and “just forget about him”? Not in my view.
For those of us who seek to be disciples of Jesus, our obligation is clear: It is to love Kermit Gosnell and pray for him. He will spend the remainder of his life in jail, as he certainly should—his punishment is just. But he remains a human being, made in the image and likeness of God. He is our (very wayward) brother. We are his fellow sinners. We must never suppose that it is beyond the power of the divine author of life to move his heart to repentance and conversion.
And let us redouble our efforts on behalf of the victims—mothers and babies alike—of the hundreds and even thousands of abortionists who will continue to ply Dr. Gosnell’s grisly trade. Let us pray not only for Gosnell, but for all who deal in death, even as we work tirelessly in the political and cultural spheres to fight the abortion power and care for pregnant women in need and their inestimably precious children.
Monday, May 13, 2013, 5:03 PM
Late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell has been convicted of first degree murder for killing babies after delivering them alive.
The trial now moves into the penalty phase, and we wait to hear whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty. But Dr. Gosnell is only the front man; and the real trial has only just begun. The defendant is the abortion license in America. The Gosnell episode highlights the irrationality of the regime of law put into place by the Supreme Court in 1973 and fiercely protected by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the polticians they and other “pro-choice” advocacy groups help send to Washington and the state capitols.
Something as morally arbitrary as a human being’s location—his or her being in or out of the womb—cannot determine whether killing him or her is an unconscionable act of premeditated homicide or the exercise of a fundamental liberty. Yet something like that is the prevailing state of American law under Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Its incoherence and indefensibility have been laid bare by the prosecution of Dr. Gosnell. Whatever now happens to him, it will no longer be possible to pretend that abortion and infanticide are radically different acts or practices.
If we are to condemn snipping the neck of a child delivered at, say, twenty-four or twenty-six weeks to kill him or her, how can we defend dismembering or poisoning a child in the womb at twenty-six, thirty, or even thirty-four weeks? And even more fundamentally, if we are bearers of inviolable dignity and a basic right to life in virtue of our humanity, and not in virtue of accidental qualities such as age, or size, or stage of development or condition of dependency—if, in other words, we believe in the fundamentalequality of human beings—how can a right to abortion (where “abortion” means performing an act whose purpose is to cause fetal death) be defended at all?
Friday, May 3, 2013, 10:37 AM
I just finished watching the Fox News special “See No Evil” on abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who is on trial in Philadelphia for multiple murders and other crimes. Gosnell can’t understand how it can be that he is facing prison and possibly even the death penalty for killing the babies whose necks he snipped after they “precipitated” (i.e., emerged from the womb.) The women who came into his clinic came in to have the babies they were carrying killed. That was the point of the exercise. “Terminating” the babies’ lives was the service he offered and performed. Had he killed the babies while they were still in their mothers’ bodies (by, for example, inserting a needle to inject a poison into their tiny hearts) that would not have been a crime. He merely would have been assisting his patients in exercising what the Supreme Court deems a constitutional right. So why, he would like to know, is he being prosecuted for killing the same babies moments later after they precipitated?
I must admit that I am no less puzzled by that question than Gosnell is. How can it be that killing a baby inside the womb is perfectly acceptable while killing the very same baby (or even a baby that is a few days or even weeks younger) outside the womb is first degree murder? Of course, in my view we should not permit the killing of babies inside or outside the womb. A baby’s status as a precious member of the human family, possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity, does not depend on something as morally arbitrary as his or her location. But if we permit the Gosnells of the world to kill babies inside the womb, it seems odd to charge them with murder for killing them outside the womb. This is especially true in view of the fact that inducing delivery and then killing babies marked for “termination” eliminates the risk to women involved in the common abortion practice of dismembering babies inside the womb and removing their severed body parts.
Friday, April 19, 2013, 7:49 AM
I offer some thoughts in this morning’s Wall Street Journal on the legacy of “test tube baby” pioneer Sir Robert Edwards, who died this week:
Sir Robert Edwards, the Nobel Prize-winning British “test tube baby” pioneer who died last week at age 87, devoted his career to developing in vitro fertilization as a technique to enable women afflicted with certain forms of infertility to conceive and bear children. As a result, there are millions of people in the world today—some now in their 30s—who otherwise would not have been born. According to Edwards’s admirers, their lives are his legacy.
Yet Edwards was, and remains, a controversial figure.
His critics fall into three categories and are a most unlikely combination.
First, there are the people who worried, and in some cases still worry, about overpopulation. They were among Edwards’s earliest critics in the late 1960s and the 1970s. For them, infertility, while perhaps a personal tragedy, is a social boon.
Second, certain feminists fault Edwards for contributing to what they regard as the commodification of women’s bodies. IVF, as it has come to be known, makes surrogate pregnancy possible, turning women, as they view it, into machines for incubation.
Third, there are proponents of the sanctity-of-life ethic, for whom Edwards’s experiments to perfect IVF and the actual clinical practice of in vitro fertilization (which typically means the creation of more embryos than will be implanted), involve the deliberate taking of nascent human life. . . .
Edwards himself was in no doubt about the biological status of even the earliest embryo as a human being. In the book “A Matter of Life,” Edwards and his collaborator, Patrick Steptoe, describe the embryo as “a microscopic human being—one in its very earliest stages of development.”
What Edwards rejected was the sanctity-of-life ethic and the principle of the equality of human beings irrespective of stage of development or condition of dependency. Like the philosopher Peter Singer, Edwards distinguished those individuals—admittedly human—who in his view did not yet qualify for protection against manipulation and death-dealing practices like abortion and embryo-experimentation from those who were far enough along the developmental path to qualify.
Thursday, April 18, 2013, 9:46 PM
Honestly, is it so hard to understand Kermit Gosnell? If respectable and influential people—cultural and political leaders—spend decades trying to persuade the public that “it’s not really a baby, it just looks like a baby,” are we shocked—shocked—that some people come to believe it, and act on that belief?
Of course, even before the newly conceived human “looks like” a baby, it is a living member of the human species—a human being. It is our duty to respect and protect him or her (sex is determined from the beginning in the human) not because of how he or she looks, but because of what he or she is.
Still, one might say that it is easier to understand how one could fail to see that abortion is the taking of human life when the human life in question is in the earliest stages of development, and doesn’t yet “look like a baby.” But because the unborn human begins to “look like a baby” fairly early on, the pro-choice movement worked hard to persuade people not to trust the evidence of their senses—to disregard the little arms and legs that were severed in the process of dismembering the “fetus” (a perfectly valid word—meaning “young one”—that became convenient to deploy as a way of suggesting that the unborn baby is “something different,” not really a baby or a human being). ”It’s not a baby, it just looks like a baby.” Tragically, Gosnell believed them. So did lots of other people.
This is not the primary or most fundamental reason for my view that we who are pro-life should plead for mercy for Gosnell if he is convicted of capital murder, but it is a reason. If convicted, Gosnell should spend the rest of his life in prison, but we shouldn’t pretend not to know how he could have performed the killings he performed. The structure of beliefs behind his actions is not one that is unique to him or even uncommon. On the contrary, it is all-too-common. And a lot of work went into making it common.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 11:15 PM
Masha Gessen is a talented writer. Her widely praised (and sharply critical) biography of Vladimir Putin is only the most recent of her books across a range of subjects from Russian history, to mathematics, to the social implications of modern genetics. On top of her exertions as an author, she has served as Director of the Russian service of the U.S. government–funded Radio Liberty. She is a self-identified lesbian and a leading activist in the U.S. and Russia. (She holds citizenship in both countries.) Although she is anything but a fringe figure within the movement, she is notable for her candor in discussing its beliefs and goals. At last year’s meeting of the Sydney Writers’ Festival (audio here) she spoke plainly:
It’s a no-brainer that (homosexuals) should have the right to marry, but I also think equally that it’s a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist. . . . Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we are going to do with marriage when we get there—because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie.
The institution of marriage is going to change, and it should change. And again, I don’t think it should exist. And I don’t like taking part in creating fictions about my life. That’s sort of not what I had in mind when I came out thirty years ago.
I have three kids who have five parents, more or less, and I don’t see why they shouldn’t have five parents legally. . . . I met my new partner, and she had just had a baby, and that baby’s biological father is my brother, and my daughter’s biological father is a man who lives in Russia, and my adopted son also considers him his father. So the five parents break down into two groups of three. . . . And really, I would like to live in a legal system that is capable of reflecting that reality, and I don’t think that’s compatible with the institution of marriage.
Just imagine the uproar had, say, Rick Santorum said ,“Fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what [they] are going to do with marriage when [they] get there—because [they] lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change, and that is a lie.” But, of course, you don’t have to take it from Rick Santorum or other defenders of marriage as a conjugal union. Masha Gessen will tell you the same thing.
Although Gessen’s willingness to put the matter in terms of “lying” is startlingly frank, it is no longer uncommon for advocates of redefining marriage to acknowledge that the effect—for them an entirely desirable effect—of redefinition will be the radical transformation of the institution. The objective is not merely to expand the pool of people eligible to participate in it, as was long claimed. In conceding (and celebrating the fact) that redefining marriage will fundamentally alter the institution, transform its social role and meaning, and undermine its structuring norms of monogamy, exclusivity, etc., Gessen is far from out of step with other leading figures in the movement. She joins influential NYU sociologist Judith Stacey, Arizona State University professor Elizabeth Brake, “It Gets Better” founder Dan Savage, writer Victoria Brownworth, journalist E. J. Graff, activist Michelangelo Signorile, and countless other important scholars and activists.
Moreover, there seem to be very few prominent scholars and activists in the movement to redefine marriage who are criticizing Masha Gessen, Judith Stacey, Elizabeth Brake, and the others, and speaking out for the norms of monogamy and fidelity and other traditional marital and familial ideals. Many are quiet, but few actually deny that the abandonment of the conjugal understanding of marriage will have the transformative institutional and social effects that Gessen, Stacey, Brake and the others (approvingly) say it will have.
Monday, April 15, 2013, 11:44 PM
“You are resorting to scare tactics!”
“No one is arguing for the legal recognition of polygamous or polyamorous relationships as marriages!”
“Recognizing same-sex partnerships does not open the door to changing fundamental marital norms. It will not change the nature of marriage as a monogamous and exclusive union—it will simply make marriage as we’ve always understood it available to more people.”
That was then; this is now. Have a look at the article by Jillian Keenan in the perfectly mainstream online magazine Slate:
The definition of marriage is plastic. Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less “correct” than marriage among three (or four, or six) consenting adults. Though polygamists are a minority—a tiny minority, in fact—freedom has no value unless it extends to even the smallest and most marginalized groups among us. So let’s fight for marriage equality until it extends to every same-sex couple in the United States—and then let’s keep fighting. We’re not done yet.
I will be accepting “I have to admit it: You told me so, Robby” messages. (See here.) While I’m at it, I’ll hazard another prediction, though I’d love to be wrong: The Slate article will not produce a single serious critique by a major scholar or activist in the SSM movement arguing that marriage is not completely plastic, and identifying a principled ground for rejecting the legal redefinition of marriage to include multiple-partner sexual relationships.
Sunday, April 14, 2013, 11:46 PM
Abortionist Kermit Gosnell is facing the death penalty if he is convicted of the murders for which he is being tried in Philadelphia. Surely, the heinous acts of which he stands accused are depraved. They probably meet the criteria for capital punishment under Pennsylvania law. However, in the event that Gosnell is convicted, which seems likely, I am asking my fellow pro-lifers around the country to join me in requesting that his life be spared.
Someone might make the case for mercy by pointing out that Gosnell merely carried out the logic of the abortion license that is enshrined and protected in our law. One might note that there is no moral difference between dismembering a child inside the womb (which our jurisprudence, alas, treats as a constitutional liberty) and snipping a child’s neck after he or she has emerged from the womb (potentially a capital offense). How can our legal system impose the death penalty on Gosnell, given the arbitrariness and irrationality of the underlying law?
But that is not the fundamental reason for our asking for Gosnell’s life to be spared.
Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in wickedness, is our brother—a precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is “no.” There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.
If our plea for mercy moves the heart of a man who cruelly murdered innocent babies, the angels in heaven will rejoice. But whether it produces that effect or not, we will have shown all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that our pro-life witness is truly a witness of love—love even of our enemies, even of those whose appalling crimes against innocent human beings we must oppose with all our hearts, minds, and strength. In a profoundly compelling way, we will have given testimony to our belief in the sanctity of all human life.
I do not myself believe that the death penalty is ever required or justified as a matter of retributive justice. Many reasonable people of goodwill, including many who are strongly pro-life (and whose pro-life credentials I in no way question), disagree with me about that. But even if the death penalty is justified in a case like Gosnell’s, mercy is nevertheless a legitimate option, especially where our plea for mercy would itself advance the cause of respect for human life by testifying to the power of mercy and love.
I do not expect my request to be met with universal acclaim. Given the horrific nature of the acts of which Gosnell is accused, it is understandable that some, perhaps many or even most, will believe that this is not a case where mercy is appropriate. They will not want to join me. I understand.
However, I ask everyone who reads these words to consider the matter carefully and prayerfully. In 1994, I had the honor of representing Mother Teresa of Calcutta as her Counsel of Record on an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court of the United States asking the justices to reverse Roe v. Wade. In connection with that project, I learned that this was not Mother’s first intervention in American courts. On a number of occasions, she had asked judges to refrain from imposing the death penalty on a defendant convicted in a capital murder case. She did not question the defendants’ guilt, or even the justice of the death penalty. Her plea was always a plea for mercy.
By asking for mercy for Kermit Gosnell, we defenders of human life in all stages and conditions have the opportunity to follow the example of the greatest pro-life witness of the 20th century.
Sunday, April 14, 2013, 8:37 AM
This post has been updated to reflect that the Washington Post factcheck was published in advance of the 2012 election. -Ed.
With Barack Obama safely elected
and re-elected as President of the United States, the Washington Post Fact Checker has finally got ten around in 2012 to a serious examination of the question whether Obama opposed (as an Illinois state senator) legislation to deny legal protection to infants born alive after a failed attempt to kill them by abortion (or delivered with the intention of killing them in so-called “live-birth abortions”). Better late than never, I suppose—though in this case merely marginally so. The American people deserved to know the truth before making a decision about Barack Obama’s fitness to serve as President the first time.
The media blackout of the question was not unlike what we have witnessed in recent days with the Gosnell infanticide trial. Yuval Levin and I did our best to get the facts out in our article “Obama and Infanticide,” posted at Public Discourse in October of 2008. We produced evidence to show that Obama’s claim to have opposed the Illinois Born Alive Infants Protection Act on the ground that it lacked “neutrality” language on the abortion question was false. He had in fact voted against the legislation despite the inclusion of “neutrality” language that had been insisted on by supporters of abortion who nevertheless were prepared to vote for legal protection for infants who were born alive.
does did the Washington Post Fact Checker conclude?
Are you ready? Here goes:
Obama swore during the 2008 election that he would have supported the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, prompting the National Right to Life Committee to issue a scathing white paper that pointed out how he had contradicted himself by voting against the Illinois measure while backing the older federal version in retrospect during his presidential campaign.
Obama denied any contradiction during an interview that year with the Christian Broadcasting Network, accusing the antiabortion committee of lying about the circumstances of his vote. Here’s what he said: “I hate to say that people are lying, but here’s a situation where folks are lying. I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported — which was to say — that you should provide assistance to any infant that was born — even if it was as a consequence of an induced abortion. That was not the bill that was presented at the state level. What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe vs. Wade.”
From what we can tell, Obama misrepresented the facts during this interview. The 2003 bill addressed his concerns about undermining Roe v. Wade, and it matched the federal legislation that he supported virtually word for word. PolitiFact determined that the claim about a neutrality clause in the federal legislation was True. FactCheck.org said “Obama’s claim [about the committee lying] is wrong.”
For what it’s worth, The Fact Checker in 2008 appears to have overlooked the neutrality clause while awarding Two Pinocchios in a column that examined a separate claim from then-GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin . . . .
The evidence suggests we could have awarded Four Pinocchios to the former Illinois senator for his comments to the Christian Broadcasting Network, but that interview is several years old now, and it’s not the focus of this particular column. The president’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the matter of whether Obama’s 2008 comments on the Christian Broadcasting Network contradicted his 2003 vote against Illinois’s Born-Alive Infants Protection bill.”
Five Four years too late.
Sunday, April 14, 2013, 7:51 AM
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Rick Garnett and others have taken note of the “media blackout” of the homidice trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. Grassroot efforts to shame the journalistic establishment into at least mentioning the trial seem to be working, however. Now, in a rather transparently desperate ploy, the President of NARAL Pro-Choice America is trying to spin the coverage her way by claiming that the gruesome practices that went on in Gosnell’s abortion clinic give us a “window into the world before Roe v. Wade.”
This picture of the “world before Roe” is a recycling of long exploded myths confected by the abortion movement in its early days. The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a founder of the movement (and himself an abortionist) who later became a pro-life champion, spilled the beans many years ago in his memoir. I discuss the matter a bit in the tribute I did to Dr. Nathanson shortly after his death.