Hatred of the Cross and Confusion in the Courts

October 20th, 2017

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul spoke plainly about the difficulty that the cross presents to those who don’t believe: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:18, 23-24).

He might well have added that the cross is the object of hatred to some militant atheists, and incoherent confusion to some federal judges. This can be seen in the latest example of atheistic hostility to Christianity and muddled reasoning by a court faced with a lawsuit challenging the existence of a war memorial.

The memorial in question sits in an intersection in the town of Bladensburg, Maryland. It is a cross, forty feet tall, decorated prominently with the symbol of the American Legion on both sides – a large gold star with the initials “U.S” in the middle. The base is inscribed with the words “valor,” “endurance,” “courage,” and “devotion.” On the base is a large plaque with the names of soldiers who gave their lives in World War I and an inspiring quotation from Woodrow Wilson. An American flag stands nearby. According to the town, the memorial is known as the “Peace Cross”.

A group of Christophobic atheists filed a lawsuit claiming that the memorial violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution.  They claimed that they “have faced multiple instances of unwelcome contact with the Cross. Specifically, as residents they have each regularly encountered the Cross while driving in the area, believe the display of the Cross amounts to governmental affiliation with Christianity, are offended by the prominent government display of the Cross, and wish to have no further contact with it.”

Aside from their delicate sensibilities, their legal theory was that the use of the cross somehow signifies that the State of Maryland has endorsed Christianity as a preferred state religion.

The Establishment Clause states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This provision originally bound only the federal government, but the Supreme Court has also held that it applies to all levels of government. The Founders who drafted the Constitution and the public who ratified it knew that they were using a term of art that had a specific legal meaning. They all understood that the Establishment Clause meant that there could be no “established church” — namely, a church that had enjoyed special legal status, that was specifically endorsed by the state, that received unique privileges under the law, that all citizens were either required to belong to or financially support, and failure to do so would result in some kind of legal penalties.  Established churches were the norm in most European countries at that time, so everyone knew well that the Amendment was designed to prevent coercion to belong to the church favored by the government or king.

Anyone who reads the Establishment Clause and considers its original plain meaning would find this an easy case. Having a war memorial in the shape of a cross at a public intersection does nothing to create a state church, it doesn’t endorse any church or Christianity in general, it doesn’t compel anyone to believe any doctrine or participate in any religious practice or worship, and there’s nothing in such a gesture that would coerce anyone into joining or supporting any such church or would penalize anyone for not joining.

Sadly, the Supreme Court’s religion jurisprudence is such a mess that a federal Court of Appeals has ruled that the memorial cross violated the Establishment Clause.  In a similar case a few years ago, Justice Clarence Thomas, commenting on the Supreme Court’s incoherent rulings, said:

Since the inception of the endorsement test, we have learned that a creche displayed on government property violates the Establishment Clause, except when it doesn’t… Likewise, a menorah displayed on government property violates the Establishment Clause, except when it doesn’t… A display of the Ten Commandments on government property also violates the Establishment Clause, except when it doesn’t… Finally, a cross displayed on government property violates the Establishment Clause… except when it doesn’t…  Such arbitrariness is the product of an Establishment Clause jurisprudence that does nothing to constrain judicial discretion.

This kind of case, like the Ten Commandment public display cases that frequently crop up, may seem like petty and arcane bits of legal doctrine, but they are highly relevant to a central issue facing us at this time. There is a concerted effort being pursued to purge religion from the public square. Policies and laws are being pursued that effectively disqualify Christians from full participation in business and professions, nominees to public offices are being questioned with great hostility about their faith, and there are serious penalties imposed on churches and private persons who disagree with or refuse to comply with government policies based on their religious beliefs.

This latest demonstration of hostility towards the Cross provides us with a moment of clarity about the stakes that are in play. It also provides is with an opportunity to remind ourselves of the power of the Cross as a symbol of our salvation.

A Major Victory for Religious Freedom

October 6th, 2017

After years of regulatory and courtroom battling, the Government has finally recognized that it was a violation of religious liberty to impose what we have long called the “HHS Mandate” on those with religious objections to contraception, abortion-causing drugs and sterilization. That mandate was cooked out of thin air by the previous Administration under the purported authority of the Affordable Care Act. The current Administration has now issued new rules that give relief to religious and other organizations, as well as individuals.

This is a major victory, and we should express our gratitude to the President and his Administration, particularly those in the Department of Health and Human Services.

The sweep of the new rules is very broad. First, the admission that the original (and the many revised) rules violated the religious freedom of institutions and individuals (direct quotations from the new proposed rules are in italics):

  • “We have concluded that requiring certain objecting entities or individuals to choose between the Mandate, the accommodation, or penalties for noncompliance imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise under RFRA.” This corrects the error of the previous Administration, which stubbornly insisted that the Mandate did not impose a burden on religious belief.
  • “Our reconsideration of these issues has also led us to conclude… that the Mandate imposes a substantial burden on the religious beliefs of individual employees who oppose contraceptive coverage and would be able to obtain a plan that omits contraception…” Under the original Mandate, individuals with religious objections had no hope of any relief.
  • “the Departments have concluded that the application of the Mandate to entities with sincerely held religious objections to it does not serve a compelling governmental interest.”This is a huge concession, and reverses the adamant — and hardly credible — insistence by the previous Administration that riding roughshod over the religious objections served a vital public interest.
  • “In the Departments’ view, a broader exemption is a more direct, effective means of satisfying all bona fide religious objectors.” Note the new emphasis here of actually showing respect for religious objectors, instead of brushing them aside, which was the attitude of the previous Administration.

Now, the specifics, which also show a broad desire to protect religious liberty:

  • “With respect to employers that sponsor group health plans, the new language… provides exemptions for employers that object to coverage of all or a subset of contraceptives or sterilization and related patient education and counseling based on sincerely held religious beliefs.” This is the most significant provision, because it allows all employers with religious organizations to opt out of the offensive coverage without going through any bureaucratic process.
  • “Consistent with the restated exemption, exempt entities will not be required to comply with a self-certification process.” This removes one of the most objectionable provisions of the previous Mandate, which essentially required religious organizations to give a permission slip for offensive services to be provided — putting them in direct cooperation with evil.
  • “the Departments do not limit the Guidelines exemption with reference to nonprofit status… the rules extend the exemption to the plans of closely held for-profit entities. This is consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby… the rules extend the exemption to the plans of for-profit entities that are not closely held.” This is a huge expansion of the exemption, because it will not just be limited to organizations that are non-profit or to those for-profit entities that satisfy standards that vary from state to state to determine if they are “closely held”.
  • “These interim final rules extend the exemption… to health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage that sincerely hold their own religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services.” This would also allow insurance companies with religious values to operate, providing a potential safe harbor from these and other morally offensive measures.
  • “This individual exemption allows plan sponsors and issuers that do not specifically object to contraceptive coverage to offer religiously acceptable coverage to their participants or subscribers who do object, while offering coverage that includes contraception to participants or subscribers who do not object.” Another major victory, this would permit — but not require — insurers to offer objecting individuals to opt out of the offensive coverage.

This is the result of steadfast opposition and litigation by many organizations and individuals who refused to surrender their religious principles  to over-reaching, ideologically-driven government regulation. Particuarly worthy of mention are the great defenders of religious freedom at Alliance Defending Freedom and Becket.

We can legitimately celebrate this victory, and thank God that our government has shown a new-found respect for our first and most precious freedom.

The Horror of Sexual Exploitation

September 29th, 2017

On September 28, I attended an important event at the United Nations entitled “The Trade in Minors in the Digital Age: Waking up the World to the Dire Need to Stop Trafficking in Children, Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Pornography”. It was sponsored by Group of Friends United Against Human Trafficking (a multi-national group formed by the Government of Belarus) and the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam).

This was a very tough conference to sit through, because the presenters spoke unflinchingly about the world-wide exploitation of children for prostitution and pornography. They spoke about an appalling reality that most people know nothing about — the global economy that profits from the most degrading incidents of rape anyone can imagine.

The facts about child pornography are nauseating. It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of people in the US who possess and trade child porn and even more victims. Over half of the possessors have either attempted or actually raped children. Millions of new images of children are identified every year, and the images themselves are beyond belief — most involve actual rape with unimaginable brutality. And the worst fact — 35% of the images were taken by a parent, 15% by another family member, and 20% by someone close to the family.

All of this is made possible by the internet. Supposedly reputable websites facilitate child exploitation through adds for sex or “dating” that are actually fronts for prostitution of young girls. The infamous case of Backpage.com was a central topic, because it exposes the critical flaw in US law that allows such websites — digital pimps — to operate with impunity.

We have to remember that prostitution is not a victimless crime. Young girls are manipulated into a world where they are repeatedly raped and abused every day, and they find it almost impossible to escape. It is a nightmare beyond anything depicted in the horror films that are so popular. If people saw this reality, instead of the Hollywood glamorization of it, they would be sickened and outraged.

The sobering reality behind all this is that this monstrous industry is completely fueled by the disordered sexual desires of men. Without the apparenly insatiable demand that comes from twisted lust, there would be no child pornography and no prostitution. The spiritual cancer of sexual sickness in the hearts of men is producing a living hell for women and children.

In a tragic irony, the same day as this conference was happening, the media was lionizing the late Hugh Hefner, who had died the day before. He was hailed as a liberator who opened up a door to sexual expression for men and women. All of that is a lie, and a vicious depraved lie. There was nothing whatsoever admirable about this repulsive man’s accomplishments.

The real legacies of his sad life are the commercialization of sex, the normalization of obscenity, the objectification of women, broken hearts and families, and ultimately the degrading trafficking in human persons and the explosion of child porn. All of these demonic structures of sin are fueled by the disordered sexuality that Hefner and others like him sold for profit.

A healthy society would not pay tribute to such a man. It would engage in serious soul-searching and regret that such a person could be seen as a success.

Sexual exploitation of women and children is a sickness in the heart of our society. We must spend as much energy on eradicating it as we spend on any other disease. It is ravaging and destroying hundreds of thousands of lives, and it is taking place right before our eyes. We cannot stand by idle while this horror is taking place.

Human Rights Failure at Fordham Law School

September 25th, 2017

The United Nations General Assembly has been holding its annual session, with this year’s theme being “Focusing on People: Striving for peace and a decent life on a sustainable planet.”

The notion of “focusing on people” naturally brings to mind the struggle to protect the fundamental human rights of everyone on our planet. Human rights, of course, is a highly fraught issue, particularly at the UN where it is frequently honored more in the breach than in the observance.

But you can always count on the representative of the Holy See to make sure that human rights are understood in their full and correct sense. Today, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher presented the Holy See’s contribution to the debate. In his remarks, he said the following:

Putting people always first means protecting, at every stage and in every circumstance, the dignity of the person, and its human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in a specific way, the rights to life and to freedom of religion from which all other rights flow and which are therefore the common foundation of the pillars of peace and security and integral human development. These two human rights are indivisible from those other rights and fundamental freedoms relating to a dignified spiritual, material and intellectual life for each citizen and for their families – among others, the right to food, the right to water, the right for housing, the right to a safe environment and the right to work.

One would think that this understanding of human rights, which is so deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching, would resonate clearly with all Catholics and Catholic institutions, as well as all persons with good will. It is in keeping with the best aspects of the UN’s tradition, particularly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Tragically, Fordham Law School has apparently decided to reject that vision of human rights.

While Fordham University as a whole continues to assert its self-understanding as a “Catholic and Jesuit” institution, one would be very hard-pressed to find evidence that the Law School views itself that way, or that it sees value at all in Catholic legal tradition or jurisprudence.

The latest example of their abandonment of a Catholic understanding of law comes in a particularly egregious way. Last week, Fordham Law’s “Leitner Center for International Law and Justice” hosted a presentation by a representative of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, entitled “Using the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to Advance Sexual and Reproductive Rights”.

Now let’s be perfectly clear about something. The International Planned Parenthood Federation openly boasts in their 2015-2016 report of being the perpetrator of approximately 1.1 million abortions worldwide, and “counseling” and “consulting” with several million women about having an abortion. They brag about having provided almost 5 million “abortion-related services”. They distribute hundreds of millions of doses of chemical contraceptives that can cause further early abortions. They systematically work to undermine or eliminate legal protections for unborn children around the world, under the Orwellian guise of “reproductive rights” — a code word that includes legalized abortion.

In other words, IPPF is likely the single most prolific killer of human beings in the world — a massive violator of the fundamental right to life of every human. They work for the oppression of the weakest and most vulnerable among us and seek to eliminate legal protection of an entire class of human beings whose only offense is that they haven’t been born yet. It is an evil organization.

To celebrate IPPF in a forum dedicated to law and justice is perverse in the extreme. But this is not an isolated event by the “Center for International Law and Justice”. Its list of events and publications demonstrate a consistent advocacy for legalized abortion, with never a dissenting voice being heard. Nor is that an isolated event for the Law School in general, which encourages students to concentrate studies in “reproductive rights” but doesn’t offer a single class in Catholic legal studies.

Put aside for a moment the Catholic Church’s unequivocal and unbroken historical denunciation of abortion as an egregious violation of fundamental human rights. Forget for a moment the Jesuit Pope’s repeated condemnation of abortion and of the “ideological colonization” that seeks to impose Western values on developing countries. Clearly Fordham Law School cares little for these Catholic or Jesuit traditions.

All that’s necessary is to look at secular human rights sources. How about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, which states plainly that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Or the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN in 1959, which states as a foundational premise that “the child… needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”, and guarantees that “the child shall enjoy special protection… In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.” Or the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, which reiterates the guarantee of legal protection before birth and says that “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.

How does killing 1.1 million unborn children a year fit into that tradition of “human rights” or “law and justice”?

The fact is that never, in any document or declaration, has the UN or the international community ever recognized abortion as a fundamental human right. Subsidiary UN agencies and committees have done so, under intense pressure from Western governments and abortion advocates, again under the misleading rubric of “reproductive rights”. But they have not yet been able to revise the traditional understanding of “human rights” to exclude unborn children.

The Holy See’s presentation at the UN was an uplifting and beautiful tribute to true human rights. Fordham Law School has chosen a different direction, one that betrays Catholicism, the Jesuit charism, and even secular human rights.

That is a catastrophic human rights failure.

Zero Tolerance for Abuse

September 22nd, 2017

[I was invited to submit an op-ed to the Catholic News Agency about important remarks the Holy Father made about child protection, stressing that the laity must be held to the same zero tolerance policy as the clergy. The article appeared here and with their permission I’m reposting it here. I should stress that the opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Archdiocese of New York.]

In his September 20 remarks to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis stated the important point that “the Church, at all levels, will respond with the application of the firmest measures to all those who have betrayed their call and abused the children of God.” That reaffirmation of the Church’s commitment to child protection cannot be said too often or too strongly.

The Holy Father then went on to say something new and very significant: “The disciplinary measures that the particular Churches have adopted must apply to all those who work in the institutions of the Church… Therefore, the Church irrevocably and at all levels seeks to apply the principle of ‘zero tolerance’ against the sexual abuse of minors.”

This is an unambiguous call to action. The Church in the United States has been a world leader in child protection, and we have an opportunity now to lead again.

Since its adoption in 2002, the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has been the foundation for the Church’s immensely successful efforts to provide a safe environment for children in our institutions and to ensure accountability for the implementation of those efforts. As successful as the Charter has been, however, it has always been missing a very significant piece — on its face, it only applies to cases of misconduct by clergy and not by laypeople.

For example, the term “sexual abuse” is defined in the Charter by reference to a canon law provision that applies only to the clergy. The definition is ambiguous, and fails to provide sufficient guidance about what behaviors are proscribed. This leaves diocesan officials to rely on an ad hoc standard of their own creation or on potentially differing opinions of theologians, civil or canon lawyers, or review board members.

This is not a good practice — “sexual abuse” cannot mean one thing in one diocese and a different thing in another, one thing when it applies to clergy and another when it’s a lay person.

The Charter’s definition of “child pornography” suffers from the same problem. The only guidance in the Charter is a reference to a Vatican document that has an empty and unhelpful definition that is limited to conduct by clerics. An ambiguous standard for this heinous crime isn’t acceptable, and it must apply to laity as well.

In addition, although the Charter discusses procedures for handling cases involving the clergy, it says nothing about how to handle cases about lay persons. And most importantly, while the Charter clearly applies the “zero tolerance” policy of permanently removing an offending priest or deacon, there is no defined penalty for lay persons who have committed an offense.

This is a very significant gap. We must assure everyone that no person, lay or cleric, will be permitted to be with children if they have committed an offense. Failing to do so leaves an erroneous impression that sex abuse is uniquely a problem with the clergy, which ignores all the evidence of the incidence of sex abuse and unfairly stigmatizes our priests and deacons.

This omission could have an impact on the credibility of our child protection programs. The annual audit requires information about background check and training of lay people and detailed information about clergy abuse cases, but no information is gathered about cases involving lay people. Including the laity explicitly under the Charter will ensure a greater level of accountability and trust.

One would expect that every diocese has already adopted policies that cover lay people as well as clergy. We certainly have in the Archdiocese of New York. But local policies don’t send a strong enough message. The Charter is the public expression of the United States Church’s full commitment to child protection. It is imperative that we make absolutely clear that the same rigorous standards apply to all who work with children, across our entire nation.

This is not hard to do. Clear and usable definitions of “sexual abuse” and “child pornography” can be developed that unambiguously cover laypeople. We can draw on the vast experience reflected in state and federal law, which define numerous sexual offenses with great detail and specificity. Uniform disciplinary procedures for handling lay cases do not have to be developed at the national level, since those will be shaped by local personnel policies and laws. Nor do we have to worry about inconsistency with canon law, since that only applies to clergy cases.

It can also be stated plainly that all allegations will be immediately reported to law enforcement and full cooperation will be given to the authorities. All dioceses probably already do this — in the Archdiocese of New York we have strong protocols for cooperation with law enforcement. But again, a strong statement in the Charter will demonstrate our commitment across the nation.

Most important, after the Holy Father’s mandate, it is vital that the “zero tolerance” policy clearly applies to the laity. There can be no room for doubt about that.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been working on a revision of the Charter, and it has not yet been finalized. The Holy Father’s timely call to action now gives the Church a great opportunity to be proactive and ensure that our rigorous policies apply equally to all who work with our children.

The Costs of Political Ignorance

September 15th, 2017

September 17 is the 230th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. That document, in addition to being our governing text, is one of the greatest accomplishment of political and legal thinking and writing. Its endurance through such a long and troubled history, and its significance as a model for other nations that yearn to have ordered liberty, cannot be underestimated. For good reason, it has been called America’s sacred text, a secular Bible of sorts, the centerpiece of our civic religion.

So why are so many Americans so ignorant about the Constitution?

A study recently published by the Annenberg Center yielded appalling results when Americans were asked about the provisions of the Constitution. Some of the findings about constitutional rights:

  • 37% couldn’t name a single one of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
  • Of those who could identify some First Amendment rights, only 15% named freedom of religion, 14% freedom of the press, 10% right to assemble, and 3% right to petition the government.
  • On the slightly brighter side, 48% could identify freedom of speech.

When it came to the structure of our government, things weren’t much better:

  • Only 26% could name all three branches of government.
  • 33% could not name a single one of the three branches.
  • 27% could only name one branch.

These results confirm what political scientists have long known — the great majority of people lack basic knowledge about how our government works and what it does. For example, the Pew Center periodically surveys people about current events, and the results are regularly dismal. Less than half of Americans can identify significant public officials and even fewer know important facts, like the approximate unemployment rate or that the government spends more on Social Security than foreign aid or that only about 13% of Americans are foreign-born.

This is a grave problem. It is true that a great deal of political ignorance is normal and rational — most political issues have little direct relevance to or impact on people’s lives. Yet the health of democracy depends on people knowing a certain amount of basic, common information if we are going to have anything like a rational public discourse.

The dangers of this political ignorance can be seen all around us. The tribalistic nature of modern partisanship is a clear example. More and more, people can be easily manipulated by demagogues or misled by propaganda that appeal to emotion rather than fact-based reason. Studies are showing that people with less political knowledge are easily swayed by changing positions of their party or leaders, instead of holding them accountable for breaking promises or betraying key principles. The scourge of racism and xenophobia is a direct result of political ignorance. In a society that inundates us with information, ignorance prevents us from sifting the wheat from the chaff.

There is a basic civic duty to be an informed citizen. It is bizarre to me that we require all applicants for citizenship to pass a civics test, but anyone can vote regardless of how much they know or care. For goodness sake, we require more knowledge to get a driver’s license than we do from voters. That civics test is really not that hard ( you can try a sample test here). Is it really too much to ask that people pass the test in order to qualify to vote?

Political ignorance is also a very big deal for us Catholics. Ignorance about constitutional rights is dangerous at a time when our religious liberty is under pressure. Anti-Catholic bigotry flares up regularly, fueled by the stereotypes that come from ignorance.

We also have a very grave moral duty as Catholics to become well-informed citizens and voters. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church puts it very strongly:

414. Information is among the principal instruments of democratic participation. Participation without an understanding of the situation of the political community, the facts and the proposed solutions to problems is unthinkable.

Unfortunately, what is “unthinkable” is all too common in our nation. The cost of this ignorance is the debased politics that is so dispiriting to watch. On this anniversary of our Constitution, it would be a good time to be highly resolved that “we the people” will remedy this and become well-informed, morally-responsible citizens and voters.

A Great Victory for Life

September 7th, 2017

The New York State Court of Appeals has unanimously upheld our state ban on assisted suicide. The decision is a tremendous victory for life, and will strengthen our efforts to hold off legislation that seeks to legalize assisted suicide.

The lawsuit involved was filed by persons who had terminal illnesses and several doctors. They argued that they had a fundamental right under our state constitution to what they euphemistically call “aid-in-dying”. They also argued that it violated equal protection to allow patients to decline life-sustaining treatment but deny assistance to others who wish to commit suicide. Their arguments were supported by many organizations that filed amicus curiae briefs, including groups of doctors and law professors, as well as the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The Attorney General of New York opposed the lawsuit very ably. The New York State Catholic Conference filed amicus curiae briefs in opposition, written by myself and my colleague Alexis Carra. Several other amicus briefs were filed on our side, by Catholic and Christian doctors, our allies in Not Dead Yet (a leading disability rights group), and Agudath Israel.

The case was very well argued on both sides, both at oral arguments and in the briefs. The lower courts all rejected the plaintiff’s arguments in opinions that were very thoughtful and well done. But in the end, it was all up to the Court of Appeals, the highest court in our state and the final authority on our New York State Constitution.

Thanks be to God, the Court categorically rejected all of the plaintiffs’ arguments. With strong opinions — the unanimous opinion of all five judges and several concurrences — the Court firmly rejected the absurd notion that “aid-in-dying” was somehow excluded from the current definition of suicide. They also followed the United States Supreme Court’s holding in the 1995 Quill v. Vacco case that neither the Due Process Clause nor the Equal Protection Clause supported the creation of a fundamental right to assisted suicide.

Most significantly, the Court strongly upheld the strong and unequivocal state interest in prohibiting assisted suicide. The various opinions cited major concerns that were raised by our side, including the risk of expanding assisted suicide to voluntary or even involuntary euthanasia, the stigmatization of disabled persons, the degradation of the medical profession, the need to protect vulnerable populations, and the risk of abuse and misuse of medications. These opinions will be of great assistance to us in opposing further efforts to legalize assisted suicide in the Legislature.

It’s easy sometimes for pro-lifers to get discouraged, especially in a state like New York where the deck seems stacked against us. Victories are few and far between, and defeats are all too common. This lawsuit was the most significant battle that we have had in the pro-life cause in New York in the last twenty-plus years.

God has been good to his people of New York by granting us a victory in this case. We can legitimately say, with Psalm 98, “O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory!”

Betraying the Dream

September 5th, 2017

The President has announced that his Administration will end the program known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This was put into effect in 2012 by President Obama. The recipients of DACA are frequently called “dreamers” after the Dream Act, a bill that would have established the program by statute, but which has failed to pass Congress.

There is a great deal of controversy about the way President Obama created the program. Naturalization of citizens is under the exclusive authority of Congress according to the Constitution, so many allege that unilaterally creating DACA by executive order was an unauthorized exercise of Executive power. Others respond that the President has inherent authority under the Constitution to use his discretion in how to enforce the law. Regardless of the merits of these arguments, President Trump has rendered them moot, and it is now up to Congress to act or the dreamers will be betrayed.

The DACA program is widely misunderstood — it’s not an “amnesty” by any means, it doesn’t create “open borders”, it doesn’t deny that the US has a right to enforce our immigration laws, and it doesn’t mean that people should be rewarded for breaking the law.

The requirements for DACA are quite strict. They have to have arrived in the US before 2007 when they were under 16 years old and they can’t be older than 30 as of 2012. They have to have lived continuously in the US since 2007. They can’t have any criminal convictions or pose a threat to national security. They have to have graduated from a US high school or be enrolled in school now, or served in the armed forces. If they qualify, they receive a “deferred action” form that prevents their deportation for two years, and they also receive employment authorization documents that allow employers to hire them legally during that time. It’s estimated that about 1.3 million people would be eligible for DACA, but about 800,000 people actually have it, including about 42,000 New Yorkers.

Under the President’s decision, there will be no change in DACA for six months, but after that the deferred action permits will expire at the end of their term. This six-month delay will allow approximately one-quarter of all DACA recipients to renew their permits for another two years. The rest will have their permits expire, all will expire by early 2020, unless Congress acts.

I wonder if would be possible for a moment to talk about this issue as if it actually involved real, live human beings, and not just numbers on a spreadsheet or slogans on talk radio.

The average age of DACA recipients when they arrived in the US was 6.5 years old. Many arrived as infants. That means that a great number of DACA recipients don’t even remember what their homeland was like and they haven’t been able even to visit there. Many of them didn’t even know their illegal status until they were teenagers and found out that they couldn’t get a driver’s license, financial aid, or have a Social Security number so they could work on the books.

This is the only home they’ve known. All their friends and memories are here in the US. They’ve gone to school and worked with us and our children. They sit in the same church pews that we do. A quarter of them have children who are American citizens. Many have now been able to work on the books, and their income has risen as much as 80% — and they’re now paying taxes. Some have started their own business and bought a home. Hundreds have served honorably in our armed forces. They’ve put down roots among us. They are our neighbors.

Deporting DACA recipients makes no sense — in fact, it would be cruel. It would subject them to terrible poverty and oppression in nations they are unfamiliar with and may not even speak the language. It would take parents away from their young children, leaving them without a stable home life. Imagine being deported to Pakistan or Venezuela — you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. But our government will be doing it to people who have served in our military. Wrap your brain around that one if you can.

DACA recipients aren’t criminals, and don’t deserve to be treated so inhumanely. These are people who want to be Americans and share the prosperity and freedom that we hold up as ideals and take for granted — and which they’ve experienced for most of their lives. To pull the rug out from under them would be, in the words of the President of the US Bishops, nothing short of reprehensible. Our nation is better than that

Liberated by the Truth

September 1st, 2017

I recently was asked to give a class on gender ideology. I’ve written about this many times before, but I was once again struck by how nonsensical gender theory is. It is a soup of very strange ideas — my biological sex is irrelevant to my self-determined “gender identity”, the “male/female binary” is oppressive and must be eliminated, there are an infinite number of possible genders, and everyone’s choice of gender identity must be accepted and affirmed by the government and other people.

Gender ideology is a symptom of a significant modern intellectual disorder — a rejection of objective truth. This is so severe that it affects not just theories of sexuality, but it infects our political dialogue and is a serious problem within the Church. The need to hold firm to the truth is more important now than ever. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, wrote in the 17th Century something that so clearly applies to our own age:

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

Two recent news items exemplify what happens if we aren’t fully dedicated to seeking the truth.

This week, a group of Evangelicals issued a document called “The Nashville Statement”. It is a re-statement of very basic Biblical values about marriage, sexuality, homosexuality, and gender theory. It re-affirms that God’s basic plan for humanity is that we are male and female, that sexuality is designed to be expresses solely within a marriage between a man and a woman, and that homosexuality and transgenderism are not consistent with God’s plan. The Statement was nothing earth-shattering, in that it was really just a brief summary of Christian Morality 101 as the Church has always believed, just applied to the hot issues of the day. All orthodox Christians — Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox — should have little difficulty assenting to it.

Of course, nothing in Christian Morality 101 is uncontroversial in this age. Many liberal Protestants and some Catholics denounced the statement as judgmental and un-Christlike, and claimed that its tone is antithetical to the need for dialogue and inclusiveness. One even called it “evil”. A satirical religious website aptly skewered the flap with a story entitled “Progressives Appalled As Christians Affirm Doctrine Held Unanimously For 2,000 Years”. This is what happens when the truths that have been handed down to us become optional.

The second news item was a wonderful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Cardinal Robert Sarah. It was titled “How Catholics Can Welcome LGBT Believers” (the article is unfortunately behind a paywall, but you can read a decent account of it here and here). If a piece with that title had appeared in the New York Times, written by any of the usual suspects, it would have said all of the tediously usual things — dialogue, acceptance, affirmation, a rejection of allegedly “hurtful” statements in the Catechism, bridge-building, etc., etc. The notions of sin, immorality, repentance, and conversion would have been conspicuously absent.

But Cardinal Sarah’s op-ed offered a refreshingly different approach. His theme was that God loves all of us and wants us to be happy. The most loving thing that we can do for our “LGBT” brethren is to present them with the full and unalloyed teaching of the Church and to encourage them to live lives of chastity. He also stated plainly what the Church has known forever, namely that sin is bad for us but living according to God’s will brings us fulfilment and joy.

In other words, the truth is the best medicine for what ails all of us, including homosexuals and transgenders. Our disordered desires lead us to the slavery of sin rather than the liberation that comes from a life in Christ. And the desire to act against God’s will is not, and cannot be, a gift — it is a curse.

This is the reason that we are so insistent on defending our religious liberty and freedom of speech against all threats. We are seeing bills that would impose criminal penalties on those who fail to use a transgender person’s favored pronouns, school policies that restrict students’ ability to speak about their faith, and laws that seek to punish businesses that don’t want to participate in same-sex “marriages”. We have to resist such measures, so that we can share the truths that will allow people to live according to God’s will and to be set free to a life of joy.

Both the Nashville Statement and Cardinal Sarah make a crucial point. Living a life of chastity is undoubtedly difficult, especially since we will have to act against some deeply-ingrained inclinations and desires. But the grace of God is sufficient for us in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9). It offers us forgiveness and healing and will enable us to live in accord with His holy will.

God’s grace helps us to love and know the truth.  Which, we have on good authority, is what will set us free.

Don’t Dishonor Columbus

August 24th, 2017

The movement to remove some public historical monuments has gained considerable momentum after the tragic events in Charlotteville.

I am sympathetic to the removal of statues to Confederate leaders. These men fought for an evil and ignoble cause and their statues were for the most part erected to reinforce a wicked regime of white supremacy during the Jim Crow era. Calling attention to this, and cleansing the public square of these monuments, may help to reinforce the rejection of racism that our society clearly needs.

But the “progressives” in our nation have begun to turn their iconoclastic attention to other historical monuments, and in this they are not on such solid ground. In particular, by targeting Christopher Columbus, they have gone too far and have shown a deplorable lack of moral and historical sense. To dishonor Columbus would be a crime against our history.

Modern progressive ideology holds Columbus responsible for all that went wrong after the discovery of the New World. Those effects are undeniable and Columbus was certainly implicated in conduct that by modern standards are unacceptable (but which is also grossly exaggerated). Historians disagree about the extent of his involvement in that conduct, and we should leave it to them and their researches to provide the basic facts.

But on the moral level, the legacy and conduct of Columbus deserve great respect and honor. To understand Columbus, we have to appreciate the completely Christian mind with which he — along with all of his contemporaries — viewed the world. The modern mind cannot understand the centrality of faith to a man such as Columbus, a deeply devout Christian of the late Medieval era. His faith affected every part of his view of the world, and was the most significant motivation for all that he did. To him, the liberation of Jerusalem the Holy City of God and the conversion of non-believers to offer them salvation were moral imperatives of the highest order. In his view, the occupation of the Holy Land by Muslims and the fall of Constantinople were not just political and military matters, but were catastrophes that had apocalyptic significance and demanded a response by Christians.

Columbus’s nautical ventures were not purely commercial in nature, as our narrow modern economic obsession would view it. Nor was he bent on conquest and oppression, or seeking to discover a new continent, or to prove that the world was round, as our contemporary historical ignorance would suggest. It was never Columbus’s intention to spread disease or to commit genocide. Unlike Confederate generals, it was never a fundamental part of his mission to enslave anyone. To allege otherwise is to commit a vicious and ignorant historical slander.

Columbus’s mission always and at its heart was motivated by his deep Christian religious beliefs. To understand this we can just look to Columbus’ own diary, in which he explained that he sought the journey in hope that he would find enough gold and spices to finance a crusade to liberate the Holy Sepulcher, and he urged the King and Queen of Spain “to spend all the profits of my enterprise on the conquest of Jerusalem”.

His faith and trust in God was what led him to his great adventure. This is what gave him the courage never to give up on his goal, despite all the personal hardships and disappointments he suffered. He was impelled always by what he saw as God’s holy will for him, his part in the mission to bring the Gospel to the whole world, his role in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

It is clear that Columbus did not foresee the negative consequences of his journeys. But who among us can see all the results of our actions? How was he to know that the natives of the Americas would be vulnerable to European diseases (and vice versa) or that the new colonists would act as monsters? It’s also important to recall that we can say with absolute certainty that there have been enormous good consequences of Columbus’s intrepid journeys. The opening of a whole new world has offered people an abundance of material blessings and has spread the Gospel, offering the hope of salvation to billions of people. This cannot be discounted in our evaluation of Columbus. Indeed, it should be given the tremendous weight that it deserves.

It is certainly ironic to see Columbus denounced as a killer by people whose evil acts are so obvious that all can see them — particularly the remorseless killing of African American and handicapped babies in the womb, which is ardently defended and supported by so-called “progressives”. One can only hope that history — and God — will judge them with more mercy and fairness than they are judging Columbus.

Christopher Columbus was not perfect. The values of his time were not as “enlightened” or “liberal” as ours. But he was undoubtedly one of the great men of history. Even to consider removing a statue honoring Columbus would be an act of historical sacrilege, a denial of the very roots of our society, and a crime against our heritage.