When Tolerance Turns to Coerced Celebration

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Jennifer Marshall (The Gospel Coalition Blog).

The legal freedom to live and love according to one’s preferences does not imply that government should compel others to celebrate all relationships. The law should uphold the freedom to speak and to act publicly consistent with biblical beliefs about marriage.

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Tolerance means recognizing others’ right to refuse to celebrate what they don’t agree with. Religious liberty protections defending that right take nothing away from anyone. But compelling celebration certainly does.

Jennifer A. Marshall is director of domestic policy studies at Heritage Foundationwhere she also directs the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. She is the author of Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the 21st Century. You can follow her on Twitter @MarshallJenA.

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President Obama’s Remarks At National Prayer Breakfast

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Elise Hilton (Acton PowerBlog).

obama prayer breakfastThe National Prayer Breakfast, a D.C.-event going back to 1953, was held this morning. The keynote was USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, and President Obama added remarks. Obama chose to focus on religious freedom, calling it a matter of “national security,” and commenting that he was looking forward to his trip to the Vatican next month to meet with Pope Francis.

Obama also said,

Yet even as our faith sustains us, it’s also clear that around the world freedom of religion is under threat. And that is what I want to reflect on this morning. We see governments engaging in discrimination and violence against the faithful. We sometimes see religion twisted in an attempt to justify hatred and persecution against other people just because of who they are, or how they pray or who they love. Old tensions are stoked, fueling conflicts along religious lines, as we’ve seen in the Central African Republic recently, even though to harm anyone in the name of faith is to diminish our own relationship with God. Extremists succumb to an ignorant nihilism that shows they don’t understand the faiths they claim to profess — for the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.


While the president clearly wanted to focus on religious freedom outside the United States, those words are true within our nation as well. For instance, the Little Sisters of the Poor make it their mission to love, care for and minister to indigent elderly, yet the Obama Administration’s HHS mandate puts their mission in peril. The president’s administration has tried to quell the furor over forcing the Little Sisters of the Poor (and other organizations like them) by offering to have them sign a “waiver” that would allow a third party to provide artificial birth control, abortifacients and abortion coverage, which the government says isn’t a big deal, but those asked to sign say it violates their conscience. That doesn’t seem like an administration truly committed to freedom of religion.

In 2012, the Supreme Court heard the case of Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC, a case where the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged that a church had unfairly dismissed an employee for “insubordination and disruptive conduct,” and that she should be re-instated. The government

…escalated the dispute, arguing that there should be no ministerial exception and that any minister — even a priest, a rabbi, or a pastor of a congregation — should be able to sue the church that employs him.  This would be a revolution in church-state relations.

The court “unanimously rejected its [the government's] narrow view of religious liberty as ‘extreme,’ ‘untenable’ and remarkable.’”

Mr. President, while religious freedom anywhere should be a concern to all good people, perhaps your administration could pay a bit more attention to it in your own backyard.

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The Nation State vs. the Market State

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The state in the West has itself changed dramatically in the last generation. It has moved from a nation state to become a market state. Nation states can control their boundaries, their economies, their cultures, and their security; they seek to provide in varying degrees health care, education, and old-age security. A cocktail of changes in communications, technology, the failure of socialism, and globalization have undermined the nation state. In their place we have market states. Market states concentrate on maximizing opportunity. They balance public and private means of delivering public goods; and they look to the market place and its practices as a criterion of success in what they do. This is true of Moscow, London, Tokyo, Brussels, Berlin, Dublin, Seoul, and the like. Politics and religion reflect the background music of the market state. So we have market churches, market preachers, and market research driven politicians. Even philanthropy is now administered on the model of market practices. We can rave and rant all we want about this, but this is where we now live. It will take time for the new religious, political, legal, and military dust to settle; it is not surprising that we feel blinded and disoriented.

William J. Abraham, Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, “Just War, Terroism, and Christian Ethics.”  Diane Knippers Lecture, Institute on Religion & Democracy, Washington, DC, 7 October 2013.

Read the whole address here.

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Good for the US Catholic Bishops!

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I’ve written before on the threat to religious liberty inherent in the HSS regulation that employers pay for artificial contraception and abortion inducing drugs for their employees. Besides the morally dubious nature of what is required, there regulation provides only very narrowly defined religious exemptions (primarily for houses of worship). More worrisome still is the Obama administrations contention that for-profit business owners have no legal right to object to the mandate and that, as a state court in New Mexico said in a different matter, providing services that violate the individual’s conscience just “the cost of doing business.”

At the conclusion of their meeting yesterday in Baltimore, the Catholic bishops in the United States told the administration they would not comply with the mandate. While the Orthodox position on contraception is slightly different, we hold the same position on abortion. In any case, through our own bishops we have already offered our support to the Catholic Church on this matter.

The mandate is simply an offense to conscience and religious liberty. Good for the Catholic bishops for standing up to the administration’s bullying tactics! May God prosper the works of their hands as the offer a witness to the freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and the freedom of the Church!

You can read more in the article below the signature line.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

U.S. Bishops to President Obama: NO, We Will Not Comply

Source: Seasons of Grace.

U.S. Bishops to President Obama: NO, We Will Not Comply

The Catholic bishops of the United States, at the conclusion of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fall General Assembly in Baltimore, have issued a SPECIAL MESSAGE which takes aim at the policies of President Obama and the current Administration.

The statement, which was passed by unanimous vote, concerned the HHS Mandate and the threat which the Mandate poses to religious freedom in this nation.  The statement asserts:

Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care. 

 

Cardinal Dolan addressing the Fall General Assembly of the USCCB

Lifenews.com explains the force of the bishops’ resolve:

Given a choice of paying millions of dollars in fines or complying with a government mandate he thinks is morally wrong, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh testified in court this week that he would rather pay the fines. From a report on his appearance:

“I would not be able to live with myself knowing that we’re contradicting what we believe,” he said during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab.

Under the law’s penalties, Catholic Charities would be subject to a daily fine of $100 per employee if Zubik doesn’t sign, said Susan Rauscher, the nonprofit’s executive director. That would total $2 million to $4 million a year for an organization with a $10 million operating budget, she said.

The Pittsburgh and Erie diocese are suing the government, claiming that the requirement violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They’re asking Schwab to temporarily block enforcement of the mandate on their nonprofits while the dioceses pursue the lawsuits.

Bishop Lawrence Persico, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie, testified that signing the document would cause the church to cooperate in the provision of “immoral” services.

Following is the USCCB statement in its entirety. 

A Special Message from the Bishops of the United States

The bishops of this country have just concluded their traditional fall meeting in Baltimore and have spent time on issues important to them and their people: help to those suffering from Typhoon Haiyan; an update on the situation in Haiti; matters of worship and teaching; service to the poor; and comprehensive immigration reform. Among those priorities is the protection of religious freedom, especially as threatened by the HHS mandate.

Pope Francis has reminded us that “In the context of society, there is only one thing which the Church quite clearly demands: the freedom to proclaim the Gospel in its entirety, even when it runs counter to the world, even when it goes against the tide.”

We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing witness to our faith in its fullness. Our great ministries of service and our clergy, religious sisters and brothers, and lay faithful, especially those involved in Church apostolates, strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so.

Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.

Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue toward a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.

The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working toward this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty. We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek.

As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences. We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.

This resolve is particularly providential on this feast of the patroness of immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. She was a brave woman who brought the full vigor of her deep religious faith to the service of the sick, the poor, children, the elderly, and the immigrant. We count on her intercession, as united we obey the command of Jesus to serve the least of our brothers and sisters.

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The Cost of Politics

While we often pass laws for laudable ends–indeed to support and encourage goals that are firmly rooted in the Gospel such as the material care for the poor or to provide health care for those in need–political and social conservatives (Christian or not) are often highly critical of these laws. While it is easy, too easy in fact, to dismiss such opposition as mere selfishness or indifference, arguing policy on this level causes us to be unclear about the political and social costs inherent in laws that favor outcomes that are morally praiseworthy. In a nutshell, political means tend to foster not reconciliation but further division and for reasons that are largely inherent to the political process even when it is operating in another wise healthy and morally good fashion.

This at least is the conclusion that I come to when I read a recent post by the economist John Goodman. Though the essay’s title has a bit of a polemical edge (When Liberals Run Cities.), the substance of Goodman’s analysis is worth giving serious consideration. Take a look:

What I mean by “liberalism” is the political philosophy that apologizes for and defends the Franklin Roosevelt approach to politics. That approach encourages people to organize around their economic interests and seek special favors from government at everyone else’s expense (see here and here.)

To understand the mechanics of that process, we need to turn to public choice.

Groups versus individuals. Think of the political system as a marketplace. But unlike a normal market, where people purchase things as individuals, there is rarely ever a policy change that affects only one person. Policy changes usually pit two groups against each other ― those who favor the change and those who oppose it. A proposed increase in the wages of sanitation workers, for instance, pits sanitation workers against taxpayers and everyone who receives sanitation services.

Public goods and public bads. In economics, a “public good” is a good that can be consumed by everyone once it is produced ― even those that did not contribute to its production. By definition, public goods can’t be produced and sold to individuals. So if they are produced at all, they must somehow be paid for collectively. For this reason public goods are often described as a “market imperfection.”

In politics, almost everything that happens is a public good to those who favor the change and a public bad to those who oppose it. If a law passes that benefits me, I enjoy those benefits whether or not I contributed to the effort to pass it. If a law harms me, I suffer the harm regardless of whether I contributed anything to try to defeat it.

Whereas economic markets are occasionally imperfect, the political system is perpetually imperfect almost by definition.

Free riders. Because almost everything that happens in the political system is a public good or a public bad, each of us has an incentive to hold back and be a free rider. Various groups do various things to overcome this inclination.

In many cities, the sanitation workers have formed a union that collects mandatory dues and has an established communication network to help organize and motivate its members. On the other side, residential consumers of sanitation services generally have no formal organization, other than the occasional homeowners association. Business consumers of sanitation services may rely on trade associations and other organizations (such as the Chamber of Commerce).

On balance, though, the producers of city services are much better organized and their interests are far more concentrated than the consumers of those services. So even though the consumers outnumber the producers and can potentially outvote them, the political price the producers as a group are willing to pay in city elections is often higher than the price offered by their opponents.

Political prices. Just as there are prices in a normal market there are prices in the political system. The “price” people are willing to pay to elect a candidate or obtain a legal change is the effort they are willing to make per dollar of benefit they expect to receive. The effort may consist of voting, campaign contributions, get-out-the-vote efforts, lobbying, etc. But because of the free rider problem, the effort people make understates ― and in most cases greatly understates ― their real interest in the issue.

Would you be willing to make 10 cents of effort in return for a dollar of benefit? Of course. But in the political system, you never get the opportunity to trade a dime for a dollar as an individual. What counts is the effort entire groups are willing to make. And this creates a problem.

Political equilibrium. Just as economic markets have a tendency to gravitate toward equilibrium prices and quantities, the same is true in politics. I won’t go into details here, since I have done that elsewhere. But let’s jump to an important bottom line. In order to get optimal government, we need the political prices paid by every pair of opposing groups to be the same, for every issue. When this doesn’t happen, we get bad government. And the greater the dissimilarity in prices, the worse the governance will be.

Absent a counterforce, Detroit’s experience is almost inevitable. As taxpayers escape to other jurisdictions, the political imbalance grows, leading to higher taxes, deteriorating services and more taxpayer migration. The ultimate end is a “corner solution” in which a bankrupt city falls under the control of a judge or some other non-democratic entity. This result is in no one’s interest. But no single group is in a position to stop it. If all the interest groups could get together and agree to show restraint (by asking less from the system and taking less), the unfortunate demise could be avoided. But there is no mechanism that allows this to happen.

A discontinuity. Each of us is a member of more than one group. In fact we are often members of groups with opposing political ends. Sanitation workers, for example, are consumers of sanitation and other city services as well as producers of city services. It is in their role as producers that they tend to be organized and in a position to exert political influence. But that doesn’t mean they lose their consumer interest.

There is one thing that city workers can do as individuals to derail the demise I just described. Even though their union dues and their organized activities are supporting more of same, they can enter the voting booth and secretly vote for the opponent. When this happens, there is a major discontinuity in the normal political process.

The result is the election, for example, of Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York. And because he doesn’t get to be mayor through the normal processes, he arrives in office owing hardly anyone anything. Thus he can take on the teachers unions and reform the schools and institute other reforms, just like his Republican predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

For this to happen, however, there must be enough voters who put the general interest above their own union’s special interest. New York had enough such people 40 years ago. In more recent times, Detroit did not.

Your thoughts are welcome.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Acton University 2013 – Ancient Faith Radio

Acton University is a unique, four-day exploration of the intellectual foundations of a free society. Guided by a distinguished international faculty, Acton University is an opportunity to deepen your knowledge and integrate rigorous philosophy, Christian theology, and sound economics. At this year’s event, the following Orthodox speakers were featured.

Together with Fr Michael Butler and Fr Hans Jacobse, I lectured last week at Acton University. Fr Michael spoke on an Orthodox understanding of natural law as well as the relationship of Church and State in the tradition of the Orthodox Church. Fr Hans spoke on  why Aleksander Solzhenitsyn matters to us today. My own talk was on consumerism and the ascetical life. All four talks can be found on Ancient Faith Radio (Acton University 2013) and are free to download or listen to online. You can also purchase the audio at the Acton Institute.

While I welcome people’s comments on the presentations, please listen to them before you comment.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

 

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