Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Vanishing Public Space

Yesterday, Indiana's five Catholic bishops released a statement on the unfolding controversy surrounding Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The statement says, in part:
We support efforts to uphold the God-given dignity of all the people of this state while safeguarding the rights of people of all faiths to practice their religion without undue burden from the government.
It sounds incredibly reasonable, balancing "the God-given dignity of all people" against "the rights of people of all faiths to practice their religion."  But it's not reasonable at all.  It's dangerous nonsense. And, Catholic bishops should be the first to know better.

Religious freedom is important because it boils down to the protection of conscience.  The right to believe and to practice belief is inseparable, fundamentally, from the right to speak, to publish, to assemble, etc. because they all concern our deepest convictions.  These are the ways we express who we are.

But there are fair limits.  Justice Holmes famously observed that, "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."  Public safety is one limitation we have recognized for those basic rights.  But it is not the only one.  

In 1973, Dade Christian School in Hialeah, Florida refused admission to two African American sisters, informing their parents that, "the policy of the school is one of non-integration and we would request that you respect this policy." In later court filings, Dade Christian asserted that, "its members sincerely held a religious belief that socialization of the races would lead to racial intermarriage, and that this belief, sanctioned by the Free Exercise Clause, should prevail against private interests created by Congress."  The court did not agree.  In Brown v. Dade Christian Schools, Inc. (1977), the Fifth Circuit held that, "Dade Christian's interests [in the free exercise of religion], while not minimal, do not rise to the level that has characterized numerous free exercise claims."  The school claimed a religious reason for discrimination, but the government's interest in a non-segregated society was a more compelling interest.  Historically, there is at least this precedent for seeing religious claims as insufficient next to claims against discrimination.

A federal statute signed by Bill Clinton in 1993 changed the picture.  The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) raised the standard that the government has to meet in order to overcome the claims of religious freedom.  Had the Dade County case been argued after 1993, very likely the court would have had a much more difficult time ruling against the school's non-integration policy.  To offer just one example of why we might think so, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012), citing to the RFRA, that a teacher engaged in a ministry (such as teaching religion) could be fired by a religious school for any reason, and without regard for the kinds of protections that usually prohibit discrimination.  During that case's oral argument, the justices contemplated that a church janitor might be called a minister, and that person theoretically could be fired for race or gender reasons despite civil rights protections that would apply in other cases, with a non-religious employer.

In many ways, this is the shape of the situation in which Indiana and the nation find ourselves today.  Since 1993, twenty states have passed their own versions of the RFRA, raising the standards that state governments must reach to overcome religious objections.  That is the sort of law that Indiana has passed, cultivating an extraordinary and immediate backlash.  Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and conservative groups have argued that Indiana's law is no different from the other state RFRA's.  But that is not true.

The Indiana law contains an entirely novel provision.  Other state RFRA's and the federal RFRA only limit the government's ability to enforce anti-discrimination claims, but Indiana's law empowers companies and corporations to claim religious protections in the course of conducting business.  This doesn't mean--as has been reported widely--that religious business owners have a license to discriminate against LGBT people.  The legal picture is murkier than that.  But it does mean that, should a person be discriminated against by an Indiana business owner because of being gay, and should that person sue in state court for relief, the business owner might be able to point to the Indiana RFRA for protection.  It's not a license to discriminate.  But it is a legal leg to stand on.

As upsetting as that prospect is, I am more troubled by something else entirely.

The Supreme Court set us in this direction last year with its decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.  In that case, the Court ruled that "closely-held corporations" could assert a religious objection against the Affordable Care Act.  That followed the Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC where free speech protections were recognized for corporations.  We have been drifting in this direction at least that long.  Our ideas about basic constitutional protections have been shifting, first with the federal RFRA and now with the idea that corporations enjoy the same rights as people.  The implications for our politics seem subtle for now, but it will not stay that way.

What is especially upsetting is that this protection of businesses and business owners within the context of the RFRA undermines the constitutional and legal foundations of civil rights, and all the presumptions about political and civil society that accompany them.

It is little appreciated that while the Fourteenth Amendment offers the guarantee of equal protection on which civil rights and anti-discrimination measures are built, the Fourteenth Amendment offers no mechanism with which government can enforce equality.  To enforce the demands of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had to look elsewhere and settled on the government's authority to regulate commerce.  Article I, section 8 of the Constitution gives the federal government authority to make rules for commerce, and the Civil Rights Act enforces legal equality, protects against discrimination, by making rules for businesses.  Restaurants, hotels, and all other places of business that are open to the public must be open to the whole public.

Commerce was a natural and fitting way in which to proceed against discrimination in public spaces.  The marketplace is, by definition, a public space where different sorts of people come together from different perspectives to encounter and engage one another.  To have discrimination in the marketplace, in a way unlike almost any other space we can imagine, is an intolerable assault on the idea of a shared public space for everyone.  If we cannot gather in the marketplace, disregarding our differences, there is no place where should expect to gather.

The Hobby Lobby decision began to erode that idea, and the Indiana law has eroded it further.

The idea that religious belief should not be contained within the four walls of a church, or some other place of worship, expresses an important idea, that religious belief should be socially and politically relevant.  This same idea motivates protesters to march against abortion and war, even as much as it was at the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, itself.

But it is one thing for believers to commit themselves to living extraordinary lives of witness in public spaces such as the marketplace.  It is quite a different thing to let our private claims of conscience encroach on the public space of the marketplace, distort what happens there so that we confuse commercial transactions with our most essential convictions.

I heard this interview with an Indiana pastor.  This gentleman says that refusing to provide flowers for a gay couple's wedding is not discrimination, it is "exercise of religion."  But he is wrong.  It is a question of whether to sell flowers.

In addition to providing an exemplary definition of a public space, one of the other reasons why commerce is such an appealing field of activity in which to police for discrimination is because even though public establishments must be public, open to everyone if they are open to anyone, the market also is a venue of choices.  Consumers can choose where they do and do not what to shop, and they may choose any public establishment.  No merchant is obligated to own a flower shop or a restaurant.  That is a choice, too.  Neither are merchants obligated to open public establishments.  They can choose to restrict their business only to a small, private membership of, for example, only Christians whose souls have been saved.

This description of those choices tells us something.  The medium through which merchants and consumers meet in a public marketplace is not race, or religion, or sexuality.  It is on a common ground of commerce--buying and selling.  Commerce is not proselytization.  Selling flowers is neither a Christian nor an anti-Christian act.  Offering catering for a wedding is not saving souls.  No sale made by a Christian florist or caterer implies an endorsement for how the flowers or the food will be used.  It is a sale, simply.  I can imagine that decent Christian hardware store owners have sold many murder weapons.  Does anyone seriously believe those sales compromise religious belief or implicate the merchants in evil?

Where does it stop??  If someone can refuse service in a flower shop because a prospective customer is gay, why can't a Muslim taxi driver refuse to pick up a woman who is not wearing a hijab?  If Christian caterers can refuse service to gay weddings, can Jewish caterers refuse service to Christian weddings?

The real danger of the Indiana law, and the drift of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence, is that public spaces--places where we must take one another as we find one another--are vanishing.

The civil rights tradition is important and great for many obvious reasons.  But a less obvious (arguably, more important) reason can be found in the way that it defines places in our diverse culture where we have to put our differences aside and talk to each other, deal with one another no matter how much we disagree.  If you're an American, there are some times and some places where it's all-in.  No holding back.

The Supreme Court, and the State of Indiana, have begun to shrink that space.  In an America where Fox News viewers and MSNBC viewers already have divided into disconnected worlds that never interact, that's not surprising.  But it's certainly not good.

Even worse-- shame on those five Catholic bishops of Indiana--and all the other Catholic bishops--who do not see that the Catholic commitment to communio demands something better, and who fail to see that the role of the Church in society is to point believers and non-believers toward something more than walled-off individualism.

In a social context, I cannot imagine anything less Christian than to claim a right not to have to engage with some people.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Theology of the Body: Reductio ad Nutritionem

(Some text borrowed from  Surely they won't mind.)

The “Theology of the Body” is an integrated vision of the human person. The human body has a specific meaning, making visible an invisible reality, and is capable of revealing answers regarding fundamental questions about us and our lives: Is there a real purpose to life and if so, what is it?
  1. What does it mean that we were created in the image of God?
  2. Why were we created to be biologically dependent on what the earth produces? 
  3. What does eating say to us about God and his plan for our lives?
  4. What is the purpose of eating and fasting?
  5. What exactly is "eating"?
  6. Is it truly possible to have a healthy appetite?
Each of us was created in the image of God, but created also as a biologically dependent organism.  Every human person depends on food and water for nourishment and survival.  Scripture reveals to us the centrality of food in God's plan for us and for His Creation (Gen. 9:15; Ex. 16:4; Mt. 25:35). Our Lord prepared food for the Apostles by the shores of the Sea of Galilee (Jn. 21:12), and the Eucharistic feast is "the source and the summit of Christian life" (LG 11).  God's Covenent with the Chosen People of Israel obliges them to restrict the foods that they eat out of reverence for YHWH, while fasting and abstaining from foods can express our commitment to a deeper relationship with God.

We also know that food, which is so necessary for survival, is not equally available to everyone.  Bl. Pope Paul VI exhorted the world to a greater awareness of this problem: "Today the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance" (PP 3). Pope St. John Paul II urged that the preferential option for the poor "be expressed in worldwide dimensions, embracing the immense numbers of the hungry" (SRS 42), and Pope Benedict XVI taught us that, "‘Feed the hungry’ (cf. Mt 25: 35, 37, 42) is an ethical imperative for the universal Church as she responds to the teachings of her Founder, the Lord Jesus, concerning solidarity and the sharing of goods" (CiV 27).

The abuse of our ingestive faculty has been described in the moral teachings of the Catholic Church at least since St. Thomas Aquinas who recognized gluttony as an "inordinate concupiscence" which, if it distracts us from a Christian life, is a mortal sin.  Aquinas focused his attention on the sinfulness of gluttony as a deficiency of personal virtue, but we can look also to the distributive, social question of access to food.  When we consider the question in the light both of personal virtue and the communal implications of overconsumption, the grave sinfulness of gluttony becomes clear.

Finally, there is another consideration apart from personal virtue and distributive justice.  The purpose of ingestion is the sustenance of our bodies.  To eat beyond what is needed to sustain our bodies in good health not only distracts us with inordinate pleasures and withholds food from others who need it for their own survival, but it also compromises our own good health.  The dangerous health effects of obesity are well documented by the medical community, and to inflict those dangerous health effects on oneself by overeating is an abuse of our ingestive faculty, a distortion of our embodiedness that alienates us from the plan of Creation and the faculties that were given to us by God for sustenance that our bodies might be useful instruments for the doing of His work.  In this way, the Theology of the Body teaches us the grave sinfulness of overeating.

There was a time when men and women had no alternative but to depend on the subjective rhythms of their bodies to know when they were hungry and how much they should eat.  Advancements in medical and scientific technologies no longer impose these uncertainties on people.  The simple pricking of a finger and measuring the glucose level in a drop of blood before each meal can provide a useful indicator of the need for food.  Taking just a little time to chart those levels from day to day can demonstrate patterns and provide a greater accuracy to the estimate of hunger over time.  In this way, a person can come to know reliably exactly how much food should be ingested, and when it should be eaten.  Spending time monitoring hunger in this way is a way of taking greater responsibility for one's own hunger.  It also encourages respect for and acceptance of the total person.  This approach, which we might call Natural Ingestion Planning, is more ecologically responsible, and even will save money!

There simply can be no doubt.  In light of the Theology of the Body, anyone who is severely overweight is a public sinner.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hardness of Our Hearts

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?” He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?” He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”
Matthew 19:3-9
“As Christians, we follow Christ.  Some may wish Jesus might have been a little softer on divorce, but he wasn't. And I’m sticking with him.”
George Cardinal Pell, October 8, 2014
I was exchanging e-mails with a friend recently.  I was making an argument about poverty, subsidiarity, and the social teachings of the Church regarding economics.  I wrote that some conservative Catholics take the Gospel's message about care for the least only as a suggestion, much as many of the same people have found ways to ignore the radical pacifism we also can find in the Gospel.  My friend pointed out, of course, that the Gospel hardly is unambiguous about violence, and the Catholic tradition for centuries has found ways to accommodate the ugly demands of worldly living.  That is why we have a theological tradition of just wars, after all.  Good point.

I was thinking about that e-mail exchange while I read Cardinal Pell's comments on the synod.  For, it seems, Cardinal Pell has found one passage of the Gospel that must be interpreted literally and unambiguously.  He appears to believe that the Gospel allows us no latitude to accommodate the worldly reality of divorced and re-married Catholics in the same way that, say, the just war tradition permits a cardinal to announce, full-throated, his support for the Afghanistan war.

For some people, there are casuistries we will permit, and there are casuistries we will not.

But I disagree with Cardinal Pell far enough to say that I think there is a lesson for us and for the Extraordinary Synod in the intersection of economic justice, warfare, and these questions affecting family life.  As Luther counseled the sinner to sin boldly, let us boldly and consistently apply our most Jesuitical casuistry to the problems facing Catholic families in the contemporary world.

It will profit us to look just a little further into Matthew 19:
Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Jesus is astonished by the rich young man's question.  "Why do you ask me about the good?"  Isn't it obvious??  Keep the Commandments.  Everybody knows that.  But the young man is looking for something more.  He is asking about spiritual perfection, and Jesus is ready to help him find his way.  "If you wish to be perfect," Jesus tells him, sell all you have.  The young man cannot do it.  He went away sad.  He was not perfect.  But was he sinful?

I discern a persistent theme in Matthew 19.  There is a path of spiritual perfection for "those to whom that is granted"(Mt. 19:11).  For others, there is a path of mercy that acknowledges imperfection.  The young man can enter the Kingdom if he keeps his possessions as long as he also keeps the Commandments.  It would be preferable to sell all that he has.  But salvation is not only for the perfect.  It is for all who live as though they long for the Kingdom, even as they routinely fall short of deserving it.

Lost in all of our blustery shouts about traditional marriage is this little piece of Matthew 19:
I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”  [His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”  He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted.  Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
Where is the papal pronouncement or the catechetical teaching that "it is better not to marry?"  Why is that not a topic of discussion for the Extraordinary Synod?  After all, if we're 'sticking with Jesus' then we really should stick with Him, shouldn't we?

And, it's not only Jesus.  Here is Saint Paul:
Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote: "It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman," but because of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband….Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, however, not as a command. Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do….
I Corinthians 7:1-3, 5-8
Paul also is rather clear.  Marriage is not preferable.  It is an accommodation to worldliness, a way to contain the sexual impulse and avoid "cases of immorality."

But the Church does not insist on universal celibacy.  In fact, Humanae Vitae teaches quite the opposite. Thank God the Church follows the path of mercy, sees the goodness in family life that Jesus and Paul never talked about.  Of course, it wouldn't have occurred to them.  They were unmarried.  They followed that path of perfection, as today so do clergy and vowed religious.

But Heaven is not only for unmarried men like Saint Paul and Cardinal Pell.  And, perhaps, now is a good time to remind the Carindal that the path of mercy leads to the same place as the path of perfection.

Just as Moses could permit divorce as an accommodation to worldly reality--"the hardness of your hearts"--so the Church can overlook the imperfections of divorced and remarried people who long for the Kingdom, whose lives have placed them in imperfect circumstances.

It is a short leap to say the same thing about homosexual relationships, too.

The answer is there if you want it.  You can reach that answer only by applying the same kind of reasoning that we apply routinely to war, the same kind of reasoning Jesus and Paul applied to marriage.  The world sometimes gives good people only imperfect choices, and we need not punish them for doing their best.

We should encourage Cardinal Pell, and others like him.  They're not bad people.  They just haven't thought it through.

And, after all, nobody's perfect.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

One Cardinal's Boycott Becomes Another Cardinal's Blarney

The saintliness of the late John Cardinal O’Connor’s unheralded ministry to AIDS patients should provide the light in which we discuss this.  It takes nothing away from Cardinal O’Connor’s memory or his merit as a Christian for us to remember things that happened, and to hold events next to one another for comparison.

But the fact is that the March 18, 1993 New York Times reported that, in Cardinal O’Connor’s words, political correctness is not worth "one comma in the Apostles' Creed.”  At issue was the desire voiced by  New York’s Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization to join the 1993 St. Patrick’s Day parade.  (And, we should note that the Apostle’s Creed addresses neither homosexual acts nor parades.) 

The question had gone into the air after new-President Bill Clinton had placed gays in the military on the national agenda.  Before even a week of 1993 had gone by, Cardinal O’Connor was in the controversy and, already, he had compared letting gay and lesbian marchers in the St. Patrick’s Day parade to admitting “the PLO in the next Jewish parade.”  He went on further to say that the parade is a “religious celebration of a Catholic saint,” and to wonder what power the New York mayor should have to alter such a celebration.  And, that’s reasonable—if gay and lesbian Catholics can't be religious believers, or cannot have a devotion to St. Patrick, or if merely being gay or lesbian makes them sinners.  At least, those seemed to be logical implications of what the Cardinal was saying.

On February 16, 1993, the Times reported that the Cardinal pushed all his chips into the middle of the table—if gay marchers were admitted to the parade, he and organizations of the Archdiocese would boycott.  The Cardinal couldn’t order gay groups out of the parade, but he could control whether he or his Archdiocese would be there for it.

All of this is why, today, after announcing that the Archdiocese of New York would not oppose admitting gay groups and that he would honor his commitment to be Grand Marshal, Timothy Cardinal Dolan is mostly, technically correct that, "Neither my predecessors as archbishop of New York nor I have ever determined who would or would not march in this parade.” 

But that legalistic evasion is attempting to conceal something important from us.  The ground has shifted seismically.

If Cardinal Dolan is not breaking from his predecessors, he is doing something that looks a lot like it.  Gone are the thundering comparisons to the PLO, the claims that letting gays and lesbians march in a parade (that is soaked with beer) diminishes the event’s Catholicity, and gone also are the threats to “determin[e] who…would not march in this parade.”

In 1993, having gay people in the St. Patrick’s Day parade was a religious liberty issue.  Catholics asserted a right “to declare their beliefs publicly without governmental interference.”

In 2015, Cardinal Dolan--champion of the Church's religious freedom--will lead a St. Patrick’s Day parade with openly gay and lesbian marchers behind him.

Call it the Francis Effect.  Call it the Holy Spirit.  Call it whatever you want.

But, despite all of Cardinal Dolan’s there’s-nothing-to-see-here-move-along’s, the Church has changed.  It has changed its mind, and it has changed its public witness.  It takes little effort to see how, or how much.

And, Deo volente, it will keep changing.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Claude Rains, Call your Agent

Cardinal Dolan is shocked, shocked that the Freedom from Religion Foundation has mistaken the Roman Catholic Church for a political pressure group.

Oh, Cardinal Dolan hasn't said that they've mistaken the Church for a pressure group.  For him, the FFRF ad is Exhibit Z in a long history of American anti-Catholic bigotry.  But look closely.

(Disclaimer: I've been critical of the FFRF, myself, for another ad they placed in the Times.  I lend them no support with these observations.)

Read and re-read Cardinal Dolan's column.  Now read it again.  What is the anti-Catholic claim that the FFRF has made?  What text has he singled out as an attack on the Church?

You haven't found it?  Me, neither.

The closest he gets is characterizing the ad as "a whole-page sneer at 'dogma'" (which hardly is an attack exclusively on Catholics) and where he observes that the FFRF characterizes the Court's majority as "all male Roman Catholic," which is factually true.  He then attacks the Know-Nothings and the KKK, with whom he paints the FFRF guilty by association.

Now look further.  Here is the FFRF ad.  Read it closely.

In fact (contrary to the Cardinal's claims), I do find something like an argument here: "RFRA radically redefines 'religious freedom,' according believers extreme religious liberty, exempting them from laws they claim create substantial burdens on their free exercise of religion."  The ad even encourages us to read FFRF's amicus brief in the Hobby Lobby case--certainly, there we find an argument.

The ad has a strong point-of-view.  We should expect that from an organization devoted to promoting atheism.  But is this an ad hominem attack?  Only, it seems to me, if you cannot intellectually disentangle being Catholic from partisan, political activism.

And that, I suspect, is the Cardinal's problem.  I've been documenting this problem for over two years.  Find my treatments of it here, here, here, here, and here.

The Church must engage the world.  That means that the Church must engage in social and political activism.  But that activism is dangerous and the danger should be recognized.  It is easy to become ensnared in the worldliness of the rough-and-tumble, to lose sight of the actual objectives and stop acting like the Kingdom of God on its earthly pilgrimage.  More than anything else, Cardinal Dolan gives testimony here to how that is what has happened.

Notice that neither Cardinal Dolan nor the FFRF has mentioned that one of the dissenting justices in the Hobby Lobby case--Justice Sotomayor--is Catholic.  They haven't mentioned it because it doesn't fit how they see that label, "Catholic."  The FFRF is using "Catholic" as a synonym for "conservative Republican," and Cardinal Dolan feels stung by an expression of political disagreement that he only can take as an attack on the Church.

What Cardinal Dolan and the FFRF have in common is an inability to disentangle the Church from its political activism.  But the greater culpability belongs to the Cardinal.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched its political campaign while Cardinal Dolan was its president.  FFRF simply has been getting the message that the USCCB has been transmitting.  This is what happens when bishops make themselves indistinguishable from lobbyists.

Here is Cardinal Dolan's summary assessment of the FFRF ad:
as the professors of logic, rhetoric, and speech taught us in college, arguments attacking a person—instead of an idea, viewpoint, or opinion—are the weakest and most vicious of arguments…although, sadly, rather effective in firing up a mob.
And that’s the tactic at work here. An ad soberly criticizing the decision would have been part of the discourse that makes us such a durable democracy…and there have been such ads. But the FFRF, perhaps knowing that their legal arguments fall flat, instead attacks the people on the court, and implies that their Catholic faith makes it impossible for them to protect the cherished Constitution they have sworn on a Bible to uphold.
Judge for yourself.  But it seems to this writer that the Cardinal doth protest too much.  Why else omit any reference to Justice Sotomayor, surely the best evidence available to muster against the FFRF's charges?  Why dwell for so long on the history of anti-Catholic bigotry if not to 'fire up a mob'??

This back-and-forth between the bishops on the Right and the secularists on the Left now is as illuminating as the dueling press conferences at the White House and the Capitol that we get during a government shutdown.  But the impoverishment of that debate has been the bishops' recent work.  Only they can elevate it.

Cardinal Dolan is shocked, shocked that the Church looks like a pressure group to the outside world.  But I'm not.  No on else should be.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Speed and Post

My goodness.

This appeared so quickly after the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision that it's almost as though Archbishop Kurtz had written it before the decision was made.

It's quickness recalls the prefabricated political campaign that rolled out minutes after the Department of Health and Human Services announced its rules for implementing the Affordable Care Act.

We can assume a few things with some safety:

  1. Archbishop Kurtz didn't write this.  Not personally, anyway.
  2. A staff of loyal people at the USCCB prepared this draft, and another in case the Court surprised everybody and ruled differently.
  3. The American bishops have spent the last few years building as slick a political operation as can be found outside K Street.
Before we ask whether Archbishop Kurtz's example of the Presbyterian church and its service to the poor compares even at all to the facts of the Hobby Lobby case and the implicated rights of thousands of Hobby Lobby employees, more at other closely-held firms, we should stop to ask whether this is what Catholics should want from their shepherds.

Should a national conference of Catholic bishops be a lobbying firm?

That question raises a number of issues about evangelization, mission, culture, and the identity of religious groups that I won't try to address in this small space.  But let us say at least that Catholics are entitled to be able to distinguish their spiritual leaders from crass political activists.

That may sound harsh.  But there is one other important fact.  This op-ed did not appear in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.  Rather, Archbishop Kurtz's column appeared in today's edition of Mr. Murdoch's New York Post.  It is interspersed with eye-popping photographs of actress Megan Fox and Australian pop singer Iggy Azelea, as well as an encouragement on its back page for the U.S. soccer team to "GO KICK SOME ASS!"

As one who has had some success and more failure placing op-ed columns in newspapers, I know all too well that you get the column published in the paper that will agree to publish it.  Beggars can't be choosers.  Still, the final decision about where to send the column and whether to let a particular op-ed be published rests with the author.

I will let Archbishop Kurtz's venue speak for itself.  I will not dwell on the fact that it did not find a place in a more reputable, less salacious, less partisan newspaper.  But that fact tells us all we need to know about the USCCB's devotion to pressing its message, its commitment to lobbying.

And, it tells us even more about where Church leaders are coming from.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Pandora's Box from Hobby Lobby

There is little to add to the commentary already available today about Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, save for this thought.

The Court's ruling--"very specific" as Justice Alito's opinion asserts that it is--is dangerous for the way that it accepts this premise from the respondent's brief to the Court:
...impact on third parties should be irrelevant to the RFRA analysis. Any time a statute takes the form of a mandate that party A must do something for party B, granting a RFRA exemption to party A will make party B worse off. But there is no reason whatsoever to treat exemptions from such Peter-to-Paul mandates as uniquely disfavored under RFRA.
It can be a bit difficult to follow.  But the gist of the argument is nothing more complicated than this: an employer's claim of religious liberty is what matters, and the autonomy of their employees, whatever liberties those workers might like to assert over their own access to healthcare, doesn't matter.

I don't mean to make that sound unusual.  Before the era of the Warren Court and modern constitutional jurisprudence, decisions like the one in Lochner v. New York have done much to shackle workers to the preferences of the person who happened to hire them.  There is nothing particularly novel about the Supreme Court or American constitutional law treating employees as little better than indentured servants.

The danger that lurks in the acceptance of that premise does not threaten the U.S. political system, its economic system, or the structure of our juridical system.  The danger really lurks for the religious groups who cloak themselves in this strange, anti-Christian argument.

"Am I my brother's keeper?"  Not if he works for Hobby Lobby.  Every man for himself, it seems, is the Gospel that Hobby Lobby believes in--a world where I can exercise my rights as though you don't exist.

I've been writing about the strange way that the atomism of modern political ideas has infected the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups fighting the HHS mandate.  The core difference between a religious perspective on politics and the one that emerged from the Enlightenment is a valuing of the community over the individual, versus the Enlightenment's valuing of the individual over the community.

Now that argument has prevailed in the United States Supreme Court.  It will not discourage religious leaders from pursuing this course.  The damage that can do to the position of religious faith in American life, its ability to offer something distinct from and better than what the secular culture can offer, is greater than any of these people cheering the Court today yet has thought about.