I love dear old England. I spent five wonderful years in Oxford, first as a graduate student and then as a visiting scholar. Although I am a republican by political philosophy, I have a soft spot in my heart for Queen Elizabeth. She is a patriotic and hard working woman who displays a keen sense of duty.
Her close relatives by blood and marriage have been a seemingly endless source of embarrassment to her, but she has handled the family scandals in as dignified a way as possible. And she has functioned in the way a modern constitutional monarch should function: as an embodiment of the nation’s values and as a symbol of its unity.
Despite my republican sympathies, I’d like to see the monarchy survive. It links modern Britain to a history which, while not unsullied, has its glories. On that score, however, the antics and poor judgment of the Queen’s relatives are a problem. Ordinary people (most of whom are fond of the Queen herself) don’t appreciate bad behavior by the royals.
It would help if the gang would just follow some relatively simple rules. They could begin, for example, with this one: When you leave your home or hotel room, wear clothing and don’t take it off. I mean, honestly, is that asking too much? Members of the Japanese imperial family seem to manage to keep their clothes on. No one is going to manage to snap a picture of a naked Crown Prince Naruhito or a topless Princess Masako. Why should pictures of a naked Prince Harry or a topless Kate Middleton be floating around? It is, as they say, an avoidable problem.
Of course, the Japanese imperials tend to stick to the private sphere, but I am reminded of the small role I and my family played in getting the current Crown Prince out a bit. (more…)
I’m impressed that the Pope refused to cancel his visit to Lebanon. I’m even more impressed by the powerful words he spoke to Christians and Muslims:
He is a quiet, scholarly man. He is not blessed with the charisma or the flair for dramatic gestures that we saw in his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. He does not light up the sky or attract vast throngs. He had no ambition to be Pope. But he does his job. He speaks simple truths—truths that the entire world needs to hear. This is precisely what he did when he met with Christian and Muslim young people in Lebanon. Let them—and all of us—heed his message.
First Things friend Francis Beckwith of Baylor University recently reprimanded a Facebook friend for sending him a secretly made video of a Mormon temple service. Professor Beckwith rightly described this violation of trust and act of disrespect for others as shameful. People of different faiths can, without compromising their own beliefs, treat people of other faiths with respect.
We do this “negatively,” as it were, by, for example, refraining from ridiculing beliefs, customs, or rituals of other faiths. We do it “positively” by, for example, addressing clergy of other faiths in the manner that is customary or prescribed within those faiths. So, for example, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and others address Catholic and Eastern Orthodox clergy as “Father.” Christians and others address Jewish clergy as “Rabbi” and Muslim teachers of certain traditions as “Shaykh” (and Muslim clergy of certain traditions as “Imam”). Another way we do it positively is by facilitating each other’s religious observances when we can. For example, Jewish workers will sometimes offer to substitute for Christian co-workers on Christian holy days, and vice-versa. I myself and many other professors who are not Jewish make special arrangements for our Jewish students to make up classes they have to miss in order to observe the fall holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when they fall on weekdays.
G.K. Chesterton, in chastising a liberal magazine for its criticisms of a Jewish industrialist who in his will had left money to his children conditional upon their maintaining the Jewish faith, put the point this way: “As an old-fashioned radical, I was brought up in the tradition of doing justice to a another man’s religion. But it is only his irreligion you moderns are disposed to respect.” Let’s not be like those whom Chesterton described as “you moderns.” This is one point on which all of us should, I believe, be “old-fashioned radicals.”
Some Catholics are disturbed that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, will be delivering a benediction at a convention at which speaker after speaker will vehemently condemn belief in the right to life of the child in the womb and belief in marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife. Obviously, this is a matter of prudential judgment, and I certainly understand (and share) the concern. The Cardinal’s appearance could be interpreted as implying that the positions on abortion and marriage embraced by the Democratic Party and the Obama administration are acceptable from a Catholic vantange point.
I think it is important, though, to recognize the considerations on the other side, too. Many people on the left, including many who will be attending the Democratic convention, have been working overtime to establish the proposition that the Catholic Church and other supporters of the pro-life position are “misogynists” who are conducting a “war on women,” and anyone who believes in marriage as a conjugal union is a “bigot.” The Cardinal’s appearance at the convention confounds their efforts. By prominently featuring an outspoken leader of the the right to life cause and the fight against redefining marriage, the Democrats concede that these positions are not mere reflections of “animus” and cannot legitimately be treated as “bigotry.” After all, would the Obama administration and the leaders of the Democratic Party feature a “hater” at their convention? Would they invite a “homophobe” and a “bigot” to invoke divine blessing on their political exertions?
The notary, Claudia do Nascimento Domingues, who serves the city of Tupa, “said the move reflected the fact that the idea of a ‘family’ had changed. ‘We are only recognising what has always existed. We are not inventing anything. For better or worse, it doesn’t matter, but what we considered a family before isn’t necessarily what we would consider a family today’.”
Now, the reason of principle that intimate partnerships of three or more persons cannot truly be marriages, and should not be legally recognized as marriages or the equivalent, is . . . Well, remind me again, what is it?
Of course, the reason is fairly clear for those (I’m one) who understand marriage as a conjugal partnershp, i.e., a multi-level (and in that sense comprehensive) union of husband and wife founded on the biological (“one-flesh”) communion made possible by the sexual-reproductive complementarity of spouses. For an explanation and defense, see here; for a more detailed statement of the case, and response to critics, see the forthcomng book by the same authors under the same title.) But what is the reason for those who propose to ditch the conjugal understanding of marriage and replace it with a conception of marriage as sexual-romantic domestic partnership (what one opponent of the conjugal conception describes as your relationship “with your Number One Person”)?
To be sure, there are those (such as the three hundred plus self-described “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers,” including such notables as Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Kenji Yoshino), who have already signed on (quite literally) to the proposition that there are no reasons of principle (or valid reasons of any kind) for conceiving marriage or the equivalent as a two-person relationship, as opposed to a relationship of three or more individuals (triads, quadrads, etc.) in a polyamorous sexual partnership. (See the manifesto “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” expressly demanding legal recognition of, among other things, “committed, loving households in which there ismore than one conjugal partner.”)
But what is the reason of principle that can be given by those who, while rejecting the idea that sexual-reproductive complementarity is an essential element of marriage, do not—or do not yet—wish to give up the idea of marriage as the sexually exclusive union of two, and not more than two, persons? Is there a reason of principle? Or is the belief in “two-ness” mere bigotry?
Do Rawlsian principles of “political liberalism” demand the legal recognition of same-sex romantic partnerhips as marriages? I suspect that many of Rawls’s conservative critics, as well as his liberal supporters, would suppose that the answer must be yes. (For the conservative critics, that would be one more count against Rawls’s general theory of justice and political morality.) But now comes my former student, Matthew O’Brien, who in a brilliant article just out in the British Journal of American Legal Studies argues that the answer is actually no. In fact, he maintains that Rawlsian principles, rigorously and consistently applied, forbid the re-definition of civil marriage to include same-sex partnerships. The article, titled “Why Liberal Neutrality Prohibits Same-Sex Marriage: Rawls, Political Liberalism, and the Family,” is available online here.
Nathan Harden’s new book “Sex and God at Yale” will be of interest to anyone who is concerned about the moral state of campus culture at colleges and universities in the US. Here’s my dust jacket endorsement:
The ideology of sexual liberation that is the lasting legacy of ‘Me generation’ liberalism and its imbecilic doctrine of ‘if it feels good do it,’ has hardened into an orthodoxy on college campuses around the country. Not only is it uncritically embraced by many students, it is supported by a great many faculty members and abetted and even promoted in a variety of ways by academic administrators. In the spirit of the late William F. Buckley, Nathan Harden takes a hard, critical look at the prevalent sexual liberationist dogmas at Yale, exploring their damaging effects on the educational enterprise and their often tragic consequences in the lives of students.
Nathan Harden is a recent Yale graduate. His critique of the practices and policies of that university would apply with equal force to many other institutions, including major Catholic ones. Can anything be done about the situation, or are decency and honor in sexual matters a lost cause for our young people? Keep hope alive! Get to know—and support—the Love and Fidelity Network.
It looks like the Democratic Party’s leadership has decided to make the Party’s fierce commitment to protecting abortion against meaningful legal restrictions of any kind and extending its availability a, if not the, central theme of its national convention.
I’ll leave to the pundits the question whether this is good politics. (I suppose it’s one way to avoid focusing on the state of the economy.) It is, however, a great sadness from the point of view of faithful Catholics and others who believe in the inherent and equal dignity and right to life of every member of the human family–from the child in the womb, to the mentally or physically handicapped individual, to the frail elderly person nearing death. The Democratic Party could once boast that it was the party that “looked out for the little guy.” No more. That will be clear when speaker after speaker at the podium proclaims abortion as a sacred right and virulently condemns those of us who stand up and speak out in defense of abortion’s tiny victims. I have pity for the dwindling band of pro-life Democrats who will sit in front of their television sets, or in the conventional hall itself, listening to the roars of approval as the presidents of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, among many others, deliver their carefully crafted applause lines.
The spectacle will, of course, reflect the position and strategy of the Obama-Biden ticket, and reinforce for those of us who are pro-life the points I made in 2008 in “Obama’s Abortion Extremism” and (with Yuval Levin) “Obama and Infanticide.”
The entire Catholic community—in Germany and throughout the world—must stand with Rabbi Goldberg and speak out against his prosecution for performing circumcisions of male infants in compliance with their parents’ wishes and Jewish law. The threats to religious liberties and to religious people whose beliefs and practices are regarded as intolerable by those who preach the supreme importance of tolerance know no borders.
It is only with reluctance that I even comment on this stomach-turning video. But it seems to me that it must not be passed over in silence or ignored by Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the United States.
It is important for us not to avert our gaze from the fact that the vile and, it seems, ineradicable evil of hatred of Jews and Judaism continues to fester and is treated in some places as a respectable position or point of view. In the video, a Saudi cleric, one who evidently commands a significant following, slanders the Jewish people viciously, even to the point of reasserting the unspeakable lie that Jews use human blood in their religious ceremonies. The entire world should stand up and condemn this. Especially at a time of rising anti-Semitism even in Europe, where memories of the Holocaust among non-Jews seem to be fading.
The cleric in the video does not speak for Islam; and Christians, Jews, and others in the United States must not suppose that he does. His disgusting beliefs are not drawn from Islamic sources. He no doubt gets them from the same sewer Hitler drew them from. The vast majority of American Muslims are as appalled by his hatred and bigotry as the rest of us are. What we need is a united Christian-Jewish-Muslim witness against it. Ignoring it will not make it go away. It must be condemned by men and women of goodwill of every tradition of faith who share a sincere desire to honor God and observe his commandments.
Some conservatives, I’m one, recognize that there are people on the right whose conduct and rhetoric contribute to the poisoning of our political discourse, but believe that people on the left are much worse. Some liberals acknowledge that there are people on the left who contribute to the poisoning, but believe that folks on the right are much worse. I suppose it’s natural to have an exaggerated sense of the faults of one’s political opponents and a diminished sense of the faults of one’s allies.
We see a bit of this in a column by liberal writer Dana Milbank published by the Washington Post in the wake of the shooting of a Family Research Council employee by someone angry at the organization for its stand on marriage and sexual morality. But to his very great credit, Milbank pulls no punches in directly and sharply criticizing people and institutions on the liberal side for smearing as “bigots” and “haters” those who disagree with them.
In fact, Milbank goes so far as to say that “the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, is right to say that the attack is the clearest sign we’ve seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end.” The entire piece is worth reading. Milbank’s central claim is sound. But beyond that, his making it displays impressive integrity. He surely knows that it will earn him a hefty share of the abusive rhetoric he rightly deplores.
Katrina Lantos Swett and I have published an op-ed piece in the Moscow Times on issues of religious freedom in Russia. Katrina is President of the Lantos Foundation (named for her late father, Congressman Tom Lantos) and chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, of which I am a member. I had the pleasure of nominating Katrina for the chairmanship. Friend of First Things Mary Ann Glendon is one of our two vice chairmen. Under Katrina’s leadership, the Commission is flourishing. The quality of cooperation across party lines (four of us are Republican-appointees, four are Democrats) is exemplary. We are also blessed with a superb professional staff, led by former Ambassador Jackie Wolcott. We have no jurisdiction to examine domestic religious freedom issues, but the Commission is working hard to ensure that U.S. foreign policy will give priority to supporting religious freedom and fighting religious oppression across the globe.
Speaking for myself, and not for the Commission or in my official capacity as a member, I would point out that domestic failures to respect religious liberty make it more difficult for us to promote religious liberty abroad. The first and most important way for the U.S. government to support religious freedom internationally is by honoring it at home.
This morning on Public Discourse, R.J. Snell of Eastern University offers a lovely and moving tribute to the late Sargent Shriver, who was, together with the late Robert P. Casey, among the last of the great pro-life liberal statesmen. Casey’s pro-life convictions and witness are widely known; Shriver’s less so. But, as R.J. shows, Shriver was a forceful and unabashed defender of the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions. And he deserves to be remembered and praised for that.
In the course of his tribute, R.J. gives some attention to a statement of pro-life conviction published at the behest of Casey and Shriver in the New York Times during the Democratic National Convention in July of1992 under the title “A New American Compact.”
Among the other signers were Eunice Kennedy Shriver, former Treasury Department Secretary William E. Simon, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Sidney Callahan, Mary Ann Glendon, Michael McConnell (who was then at the University of Chicago Law School), Jon Levenson (of Harvard Divinity School), James Kurth (of Swarthmore College), Rabbis David Novak and Marc Gellman, former New York Governor Hugh Carey, Leon Kass, Nat Hentoff, George Weigel, and Ron Sider—altogether, quite a collection of prominent liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats.
I know a bit of the background here because, together with my friend William C. Porth, I composed the original draft of the statement at Governor Casey’s request, and discussed it at length with the Governor and the Shrivers at two meetings at the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Their hope was to build a strong and enduring bipartisan pro-life coalition. They viewed the protection of innocent human life as a principle that should transcend the liberal-conservative divide and unite people of goodwill across party lines. They feared that respect for the sanctity of human life was becoming a partisan issue, and that pro-life liberals and Democrats would soon find themselves politically homeless. Of course, what they feared is what has in fact happened. There are no figures in the Democratic Party or the liberal movement today who fill the shoes of Governor Casey and Sargent Shriver. It is difficult to see how any such figure could rise to a position of leadership in the party or movement. And all of us are the poorer for it.
Kudos to those Democratic members of the House of Representatives who broke ranks with their party leadership to join the vast majority of Republican members in voting against late-term abortions. As for the seven or eight Republicans who joined Nancy Pelosi et al. in an effort to protect late-term abortions, the quicker they are defeated by pro-life Republicans in a primary or by pro-life Democrats in a general election, the happier I will be. (I know, I know, there are unusual circumstances in which support for a pro-abortion candidate even over a pro-life candidate is indicated in order to prevent control of the chamber from shifting from pro-life hands into pro-choice hands, but you get my point.)
It is, to me, a scandal that Republicans (fortunately, not many, and the number has diminished over the years) who would never dream of voting for a tax increase will support and protect the legal freedom to kill unborn children. Within bounds, questions of the proper level of taxation are essentially prudential in nature. That is not to say that they are unimportant. Nor is it to claim that questions of basic liberty and justice are never implicated in tax policy. But there is no more central or critical moral-political principle than the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of each and every member of the human family, and, corresponding to that principle, the right of every human being—irrespective of age, size, location, stage of development or condition of dependency—to the basic protection of the laws. That is a principle and a right that Republicans and Democrats alike should honor, however much they may (reasonably and responsibly) disagree on questions of taxation, economic and environmental policy, how best to fight poverty and promote upward social mobility, and prudential questions of every description. (Again, this is not to suggest that prudential questions are unimportant or do not often implicate issues of basic liberty and justice.)
Now, someone might ask: “Why condemn a few Republicans when the vast majority of Democrats have thoroughly embraced the abortion license and will defend it politically at almost any cost?” Well, yes. As an ex-Democrat, I’m appalled that the party to which I once gave my allegiance has thrown itself into the abortion abyss. When I was growing up in West Virginia, for me and my family, the Democratic Party was the “protector of the little guy.” Alas, that was a long time ago, and a very different Democratic Party. But now that I’m a member of the other party, I’ll leave it to my pro-life friends who’ve stayed in the Democratic Party to fight to turn around that enormous ocean liner. I wish them the very best. For my part, I want to make sure that the Republican Party beomes ever more fully and firmly the protector of (what the late Henry Hyde called) “the littlest guy of all.”
I’m particularly proud today to be a member of the board of directors and the executive committee of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Founded by Kevin “Seamus” Hasson in 1994, the Becket Fund is committed to defending the religious freedom rights of people of every faith, “from Anglicans to Zorastrians.” True to its mission and principles, the Fund is representing the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee in its efforts to build a new mosque to accommodate the growing community it serves.
Unfortunately, these efforts are being opposed by a small but very vocal group of non-Muslim residents who absurdly claim that Islam is not a religion, but is rather a sinister and dangerous political movement, and that therefore the rights of Muslims are not protected under the free exercise guarantee of the First Amendment. Yesterday Chief Judge Todd Campbell of the federal district court in Nashville granted the Becket Fund’s request for a temporary restraining order to make possible the completion of the building inspection for the new mosque so that the Muslim community can use the building for its observance of Ramadan, which begins tomorrow evening. Press release here.
Congratulations to Becket Fund General Counsel Luke Goodrich on this important victory for religious liberty. Congratulations, too, to the Becket Fund’s new president, William Mumma, who has stepped in to take the helm after Seamus stepped aside for health reasons, and to Executive Director Kristina Arriaga. And, while I’m at it, congratulations to Seamus, whose extraordinary work and witness were recognized a few weeks ago with an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. (Perhaps it would not be out of place here to mention that the Becket Fund does not accept government financial support. It relies for its important work on the generosity of private charitable foundations, such the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John M. Templeton Foundation, and individual donors.)
Andrew Sullivan used to make the “conservative” case for re-defining marriage, arguing that recognizing same-sex sexual partnerships as marriages would spread traditional norms of monogamy and sexual fidelity where promiscuity and “open” partnerships tended to prevail. Of course, he gave that up long ago, announcing in the face of criticism (by Peter Kurth) of such advocacy that he affirmed “the beauty and mystery and spirituality of sex, including anonymous sex.” Anonymous sex, I gather, is sex between strangers who do not even bother to reveal their names to each other, and in some cases don’t show their faces to each other.
So it’s scarcely a surprise that Dr. Sullivan disapproves of the efforts I have undertaken with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf to persuade CEOs of America’s major hotel chains to stop offering pornography to their customers. Why would someone who celebrates promiscuity and casual sexual encounters as a form of “spirituality” think there is anything degrading or dehumanizing about porn and the porn trade? In commenting on our efforts, though, Sullivan oddly claims that Shaykh Hamza and I are “hiding behind the civil rights movement” to take his porn away.
Of course, in our letter to hotel executives, posted here yesterday, we weren’t “hiding behind” anything. We made our argument in an open and straightforward way. Here is what we said:
Pornography is degrading, dehumanizing, and corrupting. It undermines self-respect and respect for others. It reduces persons—creatures bearing profound, inherent, and equal dignity—to the status of objects. It robs a central aspect of our humanity—our sexuality—of its dignity and beauty. It ensnares some in addiction. It deprives others of their sense of self-worth. It teaches our young people to settle for the cheap satisfactions of lust, rather than to do the hard, yet ultimately liberating and fulfilling, work of love.
Later in the letter, having made our substantive argument, we mentioned racial injustice in anticipating and rebutting a possible rejoinder, namely, the claim that there is nothing objectionable about offering pornography in hotel rooms, since offering the material is perfectly legal (assuming that the porn in question, however graphic or violent, does not technically qualify as “obscenity”). We reminded the hotel executives that not all that many decades ago racial segregation, for example, was legal; but that didn’t make it right. Our appeal to the respectable business people who are profiting from porn-dealing today was not to law, but to conscience. We asked them to consider whether they would want their own wives, sisters, or daughters to be depicted as women are depicted in pornographic films and other materials. And we urged them to regard all women as they would wish their wives, sisters, and daughters to be regarded, i.e., not as de-personalized sexual objects or bundles of sexual appetites, but as persons—bearers of dignity who, as such, deserve respect.
Our point was not that the fight against the dehumanizing and degrading phenomenon of pornography is just like the fight against the dehumanizing and degrading practice of racial segregation. There are important and obvious differences. Our point was that something’s being legal does not justify anyone’s doing it, even for the sake of increasing shareholders’ profits in a corporate business (which, as a general matter, management has a fiduciary obligation to do). But since Dr. Sullivan has raised the issue of parallels between the civil rights movement and the struggle against pornography, if only to deride the idea, it’s worth mentioning one important parallel: the sickeningly widespread exploitation of women (among them many troubled or abused teenage girls who have run away from home, and many young women lured from Eastern Europe, southeast Asia, and elsewhere with false promises of honorable employment) who are trafficked into the porn production business (and often into prostitution, as well). No need to trust me or Shaykh Hamza on the reality of this vile and massive abuse of civil rights. Here’s Lara Janson, writing on the liberal Huffington Post.
Surely decent people on the left and the right can agree that the trafficking of human beings into sexual slavery is a horrific evil that we should do everything in our power to oppose. But if we are to make any progress in the struggle, we need to take the measure of the problem and that means recognizing its connection to, among other evils, the porn business. Regarding and depicting porn makers as mere purveyors of harmless “naughtiness” of the sort that it’s prudish and silly for sophisticated people to get worked up about is to abandon victims of exploitation whose fundamental human rights are routinely being violated.
Last week, I joined Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, one of our nation’s most brilliant public intellectuals and a leading scholar and teacher of the Islamic tradition, in a letter to the chief executive officers of America’s largest hotel chains asking them to stop offering pornography in their hotel rooms. We wrote as a Muslim and a Christian, but we appealed to the executives “not on the basis of truths revealed in our scriptures but on the basis of a commitment that should be shared by all people of reason and goodwill: a commitment to human dignity and the common good.” We noted that “as teachers and as parents, we seek a society in which young people are encouraged to respect others and themselves—treating no one as an impersonal object or thing.”
Today, Public Discourse, the on-line journal of the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, publishes the text of our letter. Here is a link.
Much has been learned about the harmful personal effects and social costs of pornography since the 1950s when Hugh Hefner launched his successful (and astonishingly lucrative) effort to make “soft-core” pornography socially acceptable. Still, many people continue to imagine that pornography, if it is a vice at all, is a harmless one. ”Naughty, naughty,” but nothing to really worry much about. Some even push the line that porn is a good thing—fulfilling and liberating, something that “spices up” marriages and helps people to get over ignorant taboos and debilitating sexual “hang ups.” Readers who are interested in a summary of what has been learned by experts in psychiatry, psychology, counseling, family therapy, and related fields might have a look at The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations, prepared under Witherspoon auspices by Mary Eberstadt of the Hudson Institute and Mary Anne Layden, Director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. A pdf is available here.
Our letter to hotel executives is one more example of Christians and Muslims working together to uphold values that people of both faiths understand are central to personal and civic virtue and to justice and the common good. It is important for Catholics and other Christians to recognize that the vast majority of our Muslim fellow citizens, like the vast majority of American Christians, want for their children the kind of society in which they are encouraged to respect themselves and others as persons bearing profound and inherent dignity. It is no accident that across the country Christian parents who are, for example, fighting against programs in middle and high schools (and now even in some elementary schools) that offend modesty and undermine chastity find themselves standing should to shoulder with Muslim parents (and in many areas with orthodox Jewish parents as well) in the struggle. Muslim Americans share with Christian Americans and others a belief in freedom and in fundamental rights and liberties; but like other people of faith they are not taken in by expressive individualist and relativist conceptions of freedom that erase the distinction between liberty and license. They know that freedom and virtue, far from being adversaries, stand or fall together.
Recently I posted a comment criticizing the ruling of a German court in Cologne prohibiting the circumcision of male infants, even for religious reasons. I’ve received a great many responses to my comment, pro and con, and to my surprise they seem to be breaking down (albeit not perfectly) along ideological lines, with conservatives (of various faiths) joining me in criticizing the ruling and liberals criticizing me for criticizing it. My critics reject the argument that the ruling violates the religious liberty rights of Jews and Muslims; they maintain that, on the contrary, infant circumcision violates the rights of children to bodily integrity and religious liberty, since they cannot consent to being circumcised. What we have here, it seems, is a deep conflict of visions or understandings of human rights and religious freedom.
My friend Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth of Great Britain, has now published a short but powerful essay on the controversy in the Jerusalem Post. It is unlikely to change the minds of supporters of the Cologne court’s ruling, but Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is always worth listening to, and his essay will help people to understand how the ruling looks to Torah-observant Jews, and why they simply cannot accept it.
In a previous post, I stressed the importance of standing up for the religious freedom of people of every faith, not just those who share our own convictions. In view of a recent development in Germany, I here wish to say that Christians, especially those of us who are Catholics, should be particularly outspoken in defending the rights of Jews and the Jewish people. It is not simply the memory of past crimes committed by Christians, including leaders of the Church, against Jews—crimes sometimes committed in the very name of Christian faith. It is the fact that we are taught by our Church, and so we believe, that the Jews are the chosen people of God, bound to him in an unbroken and unbreakable covenant. Moreover, for Christians, Jews are, in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II, our “elder brothers in faith.” From a Christian point of view, the Jewish witness in the world has profound and indispensable spiritual meaning.
The recent development in Germany against which we Christians should loudly raise our voices is described by David Goldman (“Spengler”) in an article published today: “On June 26, the District Court of the Federal State of Cologne ruled that circumcision of children for religious reasons at the instruction of parents constituted the infliction of bodily harm and therefore was a punishable offense.” Of course, for observant Jews, circumcision of male children is not optional. It is required as a matter of Jewish law. To prohibit it is, in effect, to forbid Jews from being Jews.
In his article, Goldman, himself an observant Jew, includes the text of a letter he wrote to two German judges. He says: “Not even the Nazis thought of banning circumcision as a way of uprooting Jewish life in Germany. If your decree withstands a constitutional challenge, Germany once again will be Judenrein.” Further on he says: “The neo-pagan illusions of National Socialism have been crushed, although they lurk at the fringes of German politics. Despite their defeat, the National Socialists may have succeeded in extirpating the presence of the divine in German life. No action by responsible public officials since the end of the war has advanced their cause as forcefully as the evil decree you have promulgated.”
Of course, comparing anything to the unfathomable horrors of the Nazi genocide is problematical. The National Socialists hunted down and cruelly murdered every Jewish man, woman, and child they could find. They didn’t simply make it impossible for believing Jews to live in Germany or its occupied lands by banning a practice mandated by religious law. One can nevertheless understand the sense of outrage that would cause Goldman and others in the Jewish community to draw the comparison. What the Cologne court has done is outrageous. It is an outrageous assault on the religious liberty and the rights of conscience of Jews (and Muslims, by the way—the actual case in the Cologne court happened to concern Muslim parents who for religious reasons sought the circumcision of their son).
What was the judges’ motive? I’m not certain. I’m reasonably confident that it was not simply an act of anti-Jewish animus. Still, its disregard for the rights of Jews, rooted in their obligation to fulfill their duties under their covenant with the divine Creator and Ruler of the universe, is deeply disturbing to say the least. Perhaps the judges were moved by an argument, increasingly common in certain circles, claiming that circumcision results in a reduction of sexual pleasure, and thus counts as a form of child abuse when performed on infants (who, of course, cannot consent to the procedure). This argument was among those made by people who recently attempted to persuade the City of San Francisco to enact a law banning circumcision. Fortunately, the City did not enact the ban—for now.
As we Catholics and those of other faiths who have joined with us conclude our Fortnight for Freedom later this week on Independence Day, let us be mindful that the freedom we seek is freedom for all. Yes, it is about the appalling HHS mandates; and yes, it is about laws that shut down Catholic services to orphaned children or Catholic assistance to women trafficked into sexual slavery and other forms of exploitation; but it is also about laws that undermine the ability of Jews, Muslims, and persons of any other faith to fulfill their religious duties; and it is about the rights of people of every religion to manifest their faith in public life as well as in their temples, churches, mosques or homes.
Since assuming office (and receiving his Nobel Peace Prize) in 2009, President Obama has massively increased the use of unmanned predator drones in what used to be known as the war against terror. According to Chris Kirk, writing in Slate, Obama has authorized five times the number of drone attacks authorized by President Bush. Liberals, who would be screaming bloody murder if it were Bush, have gone strangely (well, not so strangely) quiet about this, while conservatives are cheering on a president whose other policies they abhor.
The use of drones is not, in my opinion, inherently immoral in otherwise justifiable military operations; but the risk of death and other grave harms to noncombatants are substantial and certainly complicate the picture for any policy maker who is serious about the moral requirements for the justified use of military force. Having a valid military target is in itself not a sufficient justification for the use of weapons such as predator drones. Sometimes considerations of justice to noncombatants forbid their use, even if that means that grave risks must be endured by our own forces in the prosecution of a war.
The wholesale and indiscriminate use of drones cannot be justified, and should be criticized. This is something that Catholic intellectuals across the spectrum ought, it seems to me, to agree about. If we don’t speak, who will?
Shameful deeds are almost always accompanied by shameless lies. Some members of Congress who shamefully voted against the prohibition of sex-selective abortions are shamelessly claiming (or permitting their spokesmen or surrogates to claim) that the proposed legislation was unnecessary because sex-selective abortions don’t occur in the United States or are so rare as to make legislation unnecessary. The National Right to Life Committee has helpfully provided a link to the most up-to-date (2011) research paper on the question.
This research was available prior to last week’s vote on the Penatal Non-discrimination Act (PRENDA). Everybody on Capitol Hill knew about it. It is true that sex-selective abortions are nowhere near as common in the U.S. as they are in places like China, India, and Korea. But they occur, and they are not so rare as to be insignificant. Those who claim otherwise are simply lying to cover their atrocious vote to permit the killing of children in utero because (let’s face the truth about what is actually going on in most sex-selective abortions) they happen to be female.
In my view, voting to protect a practice as vile as sex-selective abortions is disqualifying. Pro-life Democrats can say what they think should happen to the 161 Democrats who did that. In my view, the seven Republicans who joined them (one of whom was presidential aspirant Ron Paul) should be challenged in Republican primaries and driven from office. (Bravo, by the way, to the 20 Democrats who voted with 226 Republicans in support of the proposed legislation.)
Sadly and embarrassingly, many of those who voted to protect sex-selective abortions are self-identified Catholics.
Religious liberty scholar and advocate Douglas Laycock has offered both praise for and criticism of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ statement on religious freedom, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” Speaking of the document’s examples of contemporary threats to religious liberty, Laycock remarks that “it wisely includes the example of state immigration laws that prevent the church from ministering to illegal aliens. This is important both for its own sake and because it shows that serious attacks on religious liberty come from the right as well as the left. The statement says nothing about anti-sharia legislation or widespread opposition to the building of mosques—two more examples of attacks on religious liberty from the right.” This is an entirely fair point, and should be taken to heart by the bishops and by conservatives who are (entirely rightly, in my view) concerned about very grave threats to religious freedom coming from the left and from the Obama administration. Rob Vischer has written insightfully in First Things about the dangers of anti-sharia laws. Jennifer Bryson and I have criticized anti-mosque sentiment in an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Catholics have two reasons to speak out in defense of the religious freedom of Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Latter-Day Saints, and other non-Catholics, as well as their own religious freedom. The first (and more important) reason is simply that it is the right thing to do. Faith and reason bear common witness to the profound truth that religious liberty is a right held equally by all. The second reason is that the denial of religious liberty for any one group erodes the foundations of religious liberty for everyone. If you value your own religious freedom, it is prudent to defend the other guy’s religious freedom when it comes under attack. A precedent established by people in, say, Murfreesboro, Tennessee who despise Islam and see it as a pernicious force, may prove very handy to people in, say, San Francisco who have a similar attitude towards Catholicism. (I hope it goes without saying that not everyone in Murfreesboro is hostile towards Islam and not everyone in San Francisco despises Catholicism. By “people” I mean some people, not everyone or even most people in these or other cities.)
No, not that Commencement speaker controversy. That Commencement speaker controversy I understand. It’s relatively simple: The left-liberals who run the show at Georgetown have found a way to signal to the world that the nation’s oldest Catholic, and most famous Jesuit, university stands with the Obama administration in its war (to use, if I recall correctly, Kathleen Sebelius’s own word) against the Catholic bishops and others who oppose the HHS mandate as a violation of religious freedom and the rights of conscience (you know, the enemies of women’s “reproductive health”). By honoring Secretary Sebelius, they can help to undermine the bishops’ credibility and blunt the force of their witness as leaders of the Catholic church. I get it. It’s a bold and clever move. Although I find its substance appalling, I can’t help but admire its shrewdness.
But, no, I mean a different Commencement speaker controversy.
My friend and former colleague on the President’s Council on Bioethics, Dr. Benjamin Carson of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is, to put it simply, one of the most distinguished people in the world. His feats in the field of neurosurgery are literally the stuff of legend. His life story is nothing short of inspiring. See here. His works of philanthropy are remarkable in both their generosity and their impact on the lives of people in need. See, for example, here. If there were a Nobel Prize in Human Excellence, Ben (who already has the Presidential Medal of Freedom among countless other honors) would be among the first laureates.
But a controversy has broken out at Emory University, where Ben is scheduled to give the Commencement Address and recieve an honorary degree. What is it about Ben Carson that would cause five hundred people–faculty members, students, alumni–to sign a letter of “concern” about him as the Commencement speaker? Well, it turns out that he is an academic heretic. He doesn’t believe in the Darwinian theory of evolution. Perhaps he doesn’t believe in evolution at all. And he argues that belief in Darwinian evolution, or any form of pure materialism, undermines the basis of ethics. (more…)
I am a professor of the philosophy of law at Princeton, and someone who enjoyed your fine book Out of Egypt. I have read your endorsement of Senator Clinton and your reasoning as to why you support her despite your pro-life convictions.
I am a former Democrat who left the party because it hardened its heart toward the child in the womb. In the 1990s, I had the honor of working for Governor Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania, the last of the great national pro-life Democratic political leaders. (The governor, you may recall, was denied an opportunity to speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because of his pro-life advocacy.) I am the grandson of West Virginia coal miners who, together with my grandmothers, were loyal Democrats. If they were alive today, they would ache, as I ache, to know that the political party they loved has committed itself to the legal protection of the killing of the unborn.
I appreciated the soft voice with which you spoke in expressing your views, and I wish to respond in similarly soft terms. Although I believe you are deeply mistaken in what you are doing and encouraging others to do, I am certain that you are trying to do what is right. That is all any of us can do. Perhaps you are the one who is right, and I am the one who is wrong. I hope, though, that you will consider my reasons.
I will not try to answer all of your points, though all are, I believe, answerable, and if you ask I will be happy to say what I think the answers are. For now, what I hope you will consider is simply this: The child in the womb either is or is not a human being—a member of the human family. If he or she is, then he or she is entitled as a matter of basic justice to the protection of laws and, indeed, to the equal protection of the laws. For a voter or public official to seek to deny to the unborn elementary legal protections against killing that we favor for ourselves and others we regard as worthy is a gross and appalling injustice. There is no way around this. Once one concedes the humanity of the child—as one must in view of the plain facts of human embryogenesis and early-intrauterine development—the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every member of the human family requires the legal protection of the unborn.
Yet today the unborn are denied any legal protection and are slaughtered (there really is no other word for what is going on) at the rate of more than one million per year in our country. The scope and gravity of this injustice surely demands that we make the fight against it central in our own deliberations and actions as citizens. It is true that law cannot prevent all abortions; but unless the law recognizes the humanity and rights of the child in the womb we cannot begin doing what you and I wish to do—namely, end the horror of abortion. Recognizing what abortion is—the killing of an innocent human being—is the first step; and that step cannot be taken while we legally protect abortion and even confer on it (as the Supreme Court did) the status of a constitutional right. Our regime of law, as things stand, speaks loudly, clearly, and falsely. It proclaims that no being who matters—no creature possessing dignity and human rights—is destroyed when we tear off the limbs, burn off the skin, or suck out the brains of a human fetus.
I once had the honor of representing Mother Teresa of Calcutta as counsel of record on an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court of the United States asking for the reversal of Roe v. Wade. (I would be happy to send you a copy, if you like.) Mother made the point that we cannot fight credibly against other social and moral evils, including poverty and violence, while we tolerate mass killing by abortion. In this, it seems to me, she stated with characteristic simplicity a profound truth.
You have endorsed a candidate and a political party that believes that abortion, far from being an injustice, is a fundamental right. They are pledged to oppose any meaningful legal protections of the life of the child in the womb. They have even sought to protect the grisliest of methods of abortion—the “dilation and intact extraction” procedure. In this, they are promoting the greatest injustice and abuse of human rights to be found in our country today. It is this injustice that we should be most dedicated to fighting. If abortion is what you and I say it is—what we know it to be—then the issue must be given priority in our work as citizens. We should certainly not be tying ourselves to those who see it as no injustice at all. If we do that (and let me say this with the softest and humblest of voices), we are implicating ourselves—deeply—in the grave injustice being committed four thousand times per day against the tiniest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.
I have imposed on you enough, so let me stop there. I will, however, attach a paper I presented earlier this year addressing the responsibilities of citizens and public officials toward the unborn child. If you read it, I hope you will let me know if you find in it any mistake of fact or error of logic. If my argument is sound, I hope you will prayerfully reconsider the position you have taken.
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence
Director of the James Madison Program in
American Ideals and Institutions