Dissent and Heroic Witness

November 24th, 2015

I had the honor the other day of attending a luncheon hosted by Alliance Defending Freedom.  They are one of the leading public interest law firms in the nation, dedicated to promoting and protecting life, marriage, and religious liberty.  The purpose of the event was to highlight several people who have been suffering legal attacks, as a result of their public witness to their faith principles regarding human life and marriage.

These kinds of events are very important.  It’s all too easy to deal with issues of religious liberty as abstractions, or as arcane constitutional law questions.  That drains the life out of the issue, and prevents us from seeing what is really at stake.  This panel provided a powerful reminder that religious liberty is a real-world issue, with real people suffering from real effects on their lives, careers, and businesses.

It can also be a story of real heroism, as exemplified by the people on this panel, all of whom have been defended by ADF:

  • Baronelle Stutzman, who faces the loss of her florist business, her home, and her life savings, all because she declined to provide flower arrangements for a same-sex “marriage”.  The State of Washington and the ACLU have been hounding her, and she faces crippling fines and legal fees.  She also was the target of a deluge of hate calls, threats, and disruptions of her business. She described the ideology of her persecutors in stark terms: “If you don’t bow down to an agenda, you will be destroyed”.  Yet she stands firm.
  • Kelvin Cochran, who is pretty much everything you would want as an example of the American dream.  An African-American from Louisiana, he grew up in dire poverty in a single-parent household, yet he was taught to rely on faith, patriotism, and hard work.  He became a fire-fighter, and rose rapidly through the ranks to become Fire Chief of Shreveport, and then of Atlanta.  He was even hired by President Obama to head the U.S. Fire Administration, before returning to Atlanta again.  In 2014, he was summarily suspended from his job and ordered to undergo “sensitivity training”.  His offense?  Publishing a book expressing his belief in the Biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.  Despite never having engaged in any discrimination — and having been a leader in fighting for equal opportunities — his career was ruined because he dared to speak out for his faith.
  • Cathy DeCarlo, an immigrant from the Philippines who is a dedicated nurse from New York.  She was coerced by her hospital employer into participating in a 22-week abortion, despite her objections due to her faith.  She was threatened with being fired and having her nurse’s license revoked.  As a result, she literally lived through a nightmare — having to witness the brutal dismemberment of a baby, being forced to inspect and dispose of the child’s remains, and then reliving the horror in her memory and dreams.  She sought legal recourse against the hospital, only to learn that neither state nor federal law gave her the right to sue for this egregious violation of her rights.  Her words:  “How could this happen in America?”
  • Blaine Adamson, a small businessman from Kentucky.  His T-Shirt company specialized in servicing Christian organizations, and was very careful not to get involved in printing any messages that were contrary to his faith.  So when the local gay and lesbian organization tried to place an order, he referred them to another printer.  So began his descent in to the Kafkaesque world of “human rights” commissions.  He was found guilty of discrimination, ordered to print the T-shirts, and required to consult with the government any time he thought about turning down a job because of the message.  Even worse, he had to undergo “diversity training”, an Orwellian concept that is designed to use the muscle of the government to force him to admit that his ideas — his faith — is wrong and must be rejected.  He too remains firm:  “If no one stands up and says something, they win.”
  • Jeanne Mancini, the President of the March for Life, which is the largest annual human rights event in the entire world, dedicated to defending life from the moment of conception.  Her organization ran afoul of the evil HHS Mandate, which would have required them to provide health insurance and pay for drugs and devices that cause abortions — directly contrary to their mission.  Because the March for Life is not a religious organization, she had no alternative but to sue in order to defend her rights.  At the heart of their case is a simple principle — the right to life isn’t just a religious issue, it’s a human right.  So, as she said, “We couldn’t not fight it”.

These admirable people are on the receiving end of the new intolerance, the message of which is stark — “conform to the orthodoxy of sexual liberationism, or be crushed”.  This attitude is a danger to everyone, not just those who have the audacity to dissent.  As Alan Sears, the admirable head of ADF, said (quoting Martin Luther King): “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Pope Francis, on his return flight after visiting the United States, said very clearly:

I can say conscientious objection is a right, and enters into every human right. It is a right, and if a person does now allow for conscientious objection, he or she is denying a right. Every legal system should provide for conscientious objection because it is a right, a human right.

Very few people are standing up to defend this basic human right.  ADF is doing so, the Holy Father is doing so.  And we all need to do so.


The Absurdity and Danger of Gender Theory

November 4th, 2015

Recent news has once again brought to the forefront the issue of “transgender” people.

This phenomenon is based on something called “gender theory”. The whole idea of “gender theory” is, in my opinion, so patently absurd that it is actually hard for me to accept that anyone could possibly believe it. The theory is that “gender” is not determined by one’s biological sex, but is a separate matter that is defined according to the subjective desires of an individual. To them, one’s biological sex is a matter that is “assigned” at birth, and has no intrinsic connection with one’s sexual identity.

This is an echo of an ancient philosophical, scientific and anthropological error of dualism, which separates the body from one’s mind or soul. It rests on the proposition that one’s real essence is separate from, and merely resides in a physical shell, which can thus be used or manipulated however one wants.  This denies the integrity of mind and body, and soul and body, and makes a person’s identity something that can be determined independent of biological reality. This error — which was also an ancient Christian heresy of Gnosticism — continues to pop up in different forms, and the latest is “gender theory”.

It is a dehumanizing point of view, because it denies the logical and scientifically clear understanding that biological sexual difference is essential to human nature. Sexual difference has enormous significance for our biochemistry, physical structure (not just our reproductive system, our brains too), behavior, and psychology.  This is also at the heart of Christian anthropology, which recognizes the inherent complementarity of the sexes, and their dignity as creatures made in the image of God.

This is a critical matter in our modern world, and not just because of arguments about who can use which bathroom. It goes directly to the very heart of human nature, and errors about that key question can have disastrous effects on morals and on society.  The separation of mind from body inevitably leads to the misuse of the body, and even of nature in general.

Several years ago, Pope Benedict addressed this point definitively in his annual address to the Curia — what you might call his “State of the Church and the World Address”. His comments are worth quoting at length (my emphasis is added in bold):

[T]he question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human

The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society.

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.

Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.

But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

The Holy Father got right to the center of the question — the debate is, at its heart, about the nature of the human person. It is in the end a question about “who created me”. The modernist approach is to create myself in my own image and likeness, making myself into my own little god, answerable to no objective or higher truth.

We’re already at least fifty years into a society-wide experiment that denies the true purpose of sexuality, and we are now moving into an unknown territory with the denial of the nature of the human person.  We’ve seen the destructive results of this experiment all around us, and can only wonder about where “gender theory” will lead us and our descendants.


October 29th, 2015

I’ve just finished reading Fr. Walter Ciszec’s amazing account of his years as a prisoner in the Soviet Union, With God in Russia.

For those who are not familiar with the story, Fr. Ciszek was a Jesuit, and was sent into Poland in the late 1930’s, with a dream of someday ministering to Catholics in Russia.  After Russia conquered the eastern part of Poland, he went into the Soviet Union to begin fulfilling his dream.  Unfortunately, after a short while, he was arrested as a spy, and then spent the next fifteen years in captivity first in the notorious Lubyanka prison, then in the labor camps of the Gulag.  He was tortured, harassed, forbidden to communicate with his family for twenty years, subjected to harsh punishments, and treated as a slave at hard labor.

But throughout it all, Fr. Ciszek never lost his faith and his trust in the Providence of God’s holy will.  Every chance he got, he celebrated Mass, heard confessions, baptized, married, and counseled the people he lived with — and was frequently punished by the Communists for doing so.  His story is a profound testament to faith, and I strongly urge people to read both With God in Russia and his magnificent spiritual memoir, He Leadeth Me. 

Throughout his memoir, Fr. Ciszek repeatedly writes about hunger.  Food was very scarce in the prison and the Gulag, and even after he was released, in the Siberian towns where he was living.  The prisoners constantly thought about food, schemed to get food, and even fought over food.  Deep physical hunger was a daily reality for these men, and it was rarely, if ever, fully satisfied.

But Fr. Ciszek also encountered another hunger — for the sacraments, for Mass, and especially for the Eucharist.  Religious practices were systematically suppressed in Soviet Russia, and the people rarely had the chance to worship and receive the sacraments.  At one point, Fr. Ciszek wasn’t able to celebrate Mass for over five years, until he finally encountered another priest in the Gulag:

… he asked me if I wanted to say Mass.  I was overwhelmed! … my joy at being able to celebrate Mass again cannot be described… I heard confessions regularly and, from time to time, was even able to distribute Communion secretly after I’d said Mass.  The experience gave me new strength.  I could function as a priest again, and I thanked God daily for the opportunity to work among this hidden flock, consoling and comforting men who had thought themselves beyond His grace.

I was reading this during the Synod of Bishops, which was meeting to discuss the challenges and pastoral needs of families.  Here in America, the awful media coverage of the Synod was dominated by their obsession with two issues — whether divorced people who enter into a civil marriage can receive Communion, and how to include homosexual people in the life of the Church.

Considering these issues, I couldn’t help but think of Fr. Ciszek’s experience of hunger that so rarely was satisfied.  These issues present hard questions, because they must be confronted within the very clear and unchangeable moral teaching of the Church and of Christ himself that all sexual activity outside of a valid marriage is immoral (see Mt 5:32, and Mk 7:20-23).

Yet they must be confronted.  There is a sizable number of people who hunger for the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  Many of them have been led to believe that they may even be beyond God’s grace.   Too often, I take my daily access to Confession and Communion for granted, and can’t conceive of the hunger that must be in my brothers’ and sisters’ hearts.  I hope and pray that our bishops and the Holy Father can find an answer.

I think of the story of Jesus encountering the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4).  Jesus confronted her plainly but gently with the fact that she was living in an immoral relationship, with a man who was not her true husband.  And he spoke to her of the living water and the true food that all of us desire — His own body and blood.  This is a powerful story of Christ’s willingness to encounter and accompany the Samaritan woman — an outcast in the eyes of the Jews — while at the same time calling her to transform her life in accordance with God’s will.

There are no easy answers.  Chastity is a virtue that all must live, but it is very hard for many of us.  And the hunger in our hearts continually yearns to be satisfied.

Confidence, Generosity, and Docility

October 18th, 2015

Millions of pixels have been spread throughout the Internet, as bloggers, columnists, advocates, journalists, and cranks have speculated, fretted, and warned about the ongoing Synod of Bishops in Rome. Called to give advice to the Holy Father about the pastoral care of the family, the Synod has become something of a Rorschach test.  Catholic media has covered it as a political event like a session of Congress.  Pretty much every agenda and conspiracy theory has been projected onto the proceedings, and pretty much everybody, from the most obscure bishop to the Holy Father, has been the subject of long-distance psychoanalysis and mind-reading.  Dire apocalyptic predictions, fear-mongering and wishful thinking have all been on abundant display.

It’s all quite confusing and frustrating — the Synod, like any deliberative process, is certain to be messy and to expect anything else is unrealistic and naive.  Trying to judge final results in the middle of the event is generally a waste if time. As a result, I have resolved to read nothing of the drama aside from official statements of the Synod or the Pope.  I have, however, drawn a few lessons from all the sturm und drang.

The first lesson is that too often we lack confidence in the indefectibility of the Church.  We live in an era that is justifiably suspicious of all institutions.  The Church is not immune, and often deserves it.   She is, after all, run by fallible, sinful people.  But we have it on good authority (Mt. 16:18-19) that the Holy Spirit will preserve the Church from any error on a matter essential to salvation, even until the end of time.  And that promise holds, regardless of who happens to hold ecclesiastical office.

In times of stress, it’s worth reminding ourselves of a very important point:  while human institutions will inevitably fail (ask the Byzantine emperors about that one), the Church’s divine character guarantees not just  survival, but ultimate triumph.

So a little confidence is in order.

The second lesson is that too often we are far too stingy in our understanding of God’s mercy.  The Synod is contemplating all sorts of pastoral approaches to people who are living in irregular or immoral circumstances.  In those situations, many of us think that the Church should lay a very heavy stress on sinners obeying Jesus’ own words in Mark 1:15 (“repent, and believe in the gospel”).  There’s no point in going further unless a person has rejected their sins and is living as God intends.  After all, shouldn’t the sinner bear the burden of making themselves worthy of God’s mercy?

Fortunately, the Church is much more generous than I am.  In fact, she goes very, very far beyond ordinary human standards in dispensing God’s mercy — she is almost scandalously liberal.  The Confessionals are open all the time no matter how grave the sin, the Eucharist by itself washes us clean of our venial sins, and just consider the astonishing open-handedness of the indulgences.  She takes very seriously Jesus’ admonition that her job is to forgive, over and over and over again (Mt. 18:21-22).

So I need to remember a very important point: Jesus didn’t die for me because I deserve his mercy — he died for me because I need it.  This generosity is worth bearing in mind when we talk about how far the Church should go in showing mercy to those who are stuck in their sins.

The last lesson is that too often we have forgotten the proper reaction of a Catholic to the teaching authority of the Church.  We live in an individualistic age, where we are the judge and measure of all things.  Nothing is accepted on authority, everything has to pass muster in my own court of final appeal. That’s an interesting approach, when it comes to matters of faith — if you’re a Protestant.  They believe in the authority of private judgment on matter spiritual and dogmatic, and do not consider themselves bound to accept any external authority.

But we’re not Protestants, we’re Catholics, and our response should be along the lines set forth by St. Ignatius Loyola in his famous Rules for Thinking with the Church:

We must put aside all judgment of our own, and keep the mind ever ready and prompt to obey in all things the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church.

In short, our response to the teachings of our Church — not the abstract concept of a Church, but our actual bishops and our actual pope — has to be centered on the virtue of docility.

We will all have to wait and see what is the ultimate outcome of the Synod, and what the Holy Father decides.  But in the meantime, I’m thinking a lot about confidence, generosity, and docility.

Love for Animals, Danger for Humans

October 9th, 2015

I had the pleasure of attending a very interesting lecture at Fordham Law School, entitled “The Law, Science, and Ethics Behind the Nonhuman Rights Project and Its Struggle to Achieve Fundamental Legal Rights for Nonhuman Animals”. The principal presenter was an attorney, the leader of that project, who deeply loves animals.  He has brought numerous lawsuits attempting to persuade courts to declare chimpanzees to be legal persons, and thus entitled to rights and protection under the law.

This subject is particularly interesting to me, and I am completely in support of the argument that we have a moral obligation to love and treat animals humanely.  I am a vegetarian, and I have very serious moral objections to the way that industrial farming treats animals.  Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’, was very firm in insisting on the immorality of animal cruelty and the duty to treat animals humanely.

But even more important to me is the issue of legal personhood.  In the law, only those entities that are deemed “persons” possess the ability to assert rights, duties, freedoms and immunities that are legally enforceable.  In essence, the law will only recognize you and defend your rights if it considers you to be a “person”.

Under current American law, legal personhood is recognized for human beings (with an important exception I’ll discuss in a second) and entities that are created under the law and called “juridical persons” (e.g., governments, corporations, partnerships, and other associations).  No American law has ever recognized legal personhood in non-human animals.

Unfortunately, the two most notorious Supreme Court decisions in history both specifically denied personhood to a class of human beings.  The Dred Scott decision held that blacks were not persons under the law and thus “they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” — so they could be held as chattel slaves.  The Roe v. Wade decision similarly held that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn” — and thus they could be killed with impunity.  An equally appalling New York State Court of Appeals decision, Byrn v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, also specifically denied that unborn human beings are legal persons and thus have no rights that are bound to be respected by those lucky enough to be already born.   

That brings us to the lawsuits that seek to have chimps defined as legal “persons”.  It would be easy to view these actions as ludicrous, and I imagine that most people would dismiss them as such.  As a legal matter, I believe that the cases are meritless.  Their theory rests on the inconsistency of the law recognizing some humans as persons, while denying that status to others — which is true, but irrelevant when it comes to animals, which are, by definition, non-human.  And it relies heavily on an eighteenth-century English case that decided that slavery was not recognized under English common law.  But if you cite the common law as authority, you have to accept it whenever it’s contrary to your position too.  And English and American common law — as well as statutory and constitutional law — have never treated animals as persons, and always considered them to be property.  Wishful thinking and good intentions can’t make the law into something that it has never been.

But an unconvincing legal theory is not the most dangerous thing about these lawsuits, and the entire effort to have animals recognized as legal persons.  The animal personhood effort is premised on the fundamentally flawed idea that there is no relevant moral difference between humans and other animals — a rejection of “human exceptionalism”, which has been an axiom of law and society throughout history.  Instead, they seek to define personhood by reference to characteristics such as whether the animal is “autonomous and self-determining”, or whether they “possess the complex cognitive abilities sufficient for personhood” (to quote from the chimp’s court filings).

But these are inherently arbitrary.  Who decides what is sufficient, and what is not, and by what standard?  Do we draw the line at the “complex cognitive abilities” of chimps, or at dolphins, cats, dogs, chickens, insects, etc.?  Who is to say what degree of  “autonomous and self-determining” is enough to grant rights, and when it is not?  How an anyone tell, without any bright line standard — such as the obvious difference between the human species and an animal species?

Even aside from the legal chaos and arbitrariness that would result, there’s an even greater danger — if that’s the standard for determining personhood for animals, what if the same standard is applied to humans?

We know that the courts have no problem deciding that unborn children aren’t persons.  But what about newborn babies, who clearly are not “autonomous and self-determining” yet, and haven’t developed to the point where they “possess complex cognitive abilities”?  How about those who are in a permanent vegetative state?  Or advanced Alzheimers patients?  Will they be defined as non-persons, so that they have no protection under the law — and they can be treated as property to be mined for their organs,  or killed if they become too expensive to maintain?

This is not an idle set of questions, or a speculative “slippery slope”.  There are people, like the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, who would gladly exclude from legal personhood those humans who lack sufficient “complex cognitive abilities” to satisfy his personal standards.

When law is made, laudable motives are not sufficient.  It’s wonderful that the Nonhuman Rights Project loves animals, and we absolutely need to grant greater legal protection to our fellow creatures. But the unintended consequences of legal changes must also be considered.  And the inevitable result of the animal personhood legal theories would be dangerous — and deadly — to humans.

We Need to be More Mary, and Less Martha

September 24th, 2015

Over the last few days, as the Holy Father was in Cuba, and now is in the United States, I have been hearing and seeing too much of a very sad thing. People have been highly critical of the Pope for what he has said, what he has not said, what he supposedly has said, what he supposedly does not understand, etc., etc.

A good bit of this is, I believe, well intentioned. Much of it, in my opinion, stems from honest misunderstanding. Some of it, unfortunately, comes from people who are in the grips of ideology and cannot see beyond their self-contained categories. Some of it, even more unfortunately, is openly hostile and disrespectful.

I am very, very guilty of second-guessing and fault-finding, and it is a constant refrain when I go to Confession.    I totally understand its attraction — after all, I am always right about everything, and there’s something wrong with people who disagree with me (irony alert!).  Still, it baffles me that so many Catholics are so easily willing to place themselves on the Throne of Peter and proclaim the Holy Father to be wrong about pretty much everything he says and does.  The old joke has come true — there may be a shortage of vocations to the priesthood, but there appears to be no shortage of vocations to the papacy.

I have sworn off reading anything about the papal visit from the media (both Catholic and secular), and am committed to listening only to what the Holy Father actually says, not what people wish he had said, or what people think he has said.  The Holy Father’s actual words are very easily accessible on the Vatican website.

This is not a time for us to be murmuring and complaining.  This is a time for open ears and hearts. In Luke 10, we read:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a village; and a woman named Martha received him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Peter, the Vicar of Christ Himself, has come among us to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our day and age.  The needful thing is for us to set aside our worldly cares and worries.  They will be with us tomorrow, and always.  The good portion is to to sit at his feet and listen attentively.

Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse

September 15th, 2015

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen headlines about a Kentucky county clerk who was sent to jail briefly, because she refused to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples, based on her religious beliefs.

As with virtually every recent controversy on this subject, this one led to an huge amount of rhetoric by people who lack even the most rudimentary understanding of what the laws regarding religious liberty entail.  There is the old adage that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”, and that certainly applies here — the law of religious liberty is really not that hard to learn and understand.

The most egregious example of public, culpable ignorance can be found in a recent article by a physicist, who entitled his piece “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists”.  I generally couldn’t care less what a militant atheist might say.  But I couldn’t resist commenting on one thing the professor says in his screed, namely:

To what extent should we allow people to break the law if their religious views are in conflict with it?

There’s another old saying, “A man has to know his limitations”.  I am a lawyer, and I know virtually nothing about physics.  I therefore have the good sense not to write a single word about physics, pretending that I know what I’m talking about.  Would that the professor had the same sense, and refrained from pretending that he knew the first thing about the law.

This is really not that difficult.  The laws of the United States — including the First Amendment to our Constitution — are actually quite clear in recognizing that the government cannot easily impose laws upon people when they conflict with the person’s religious beliefs.  In other words, when a person claims a religious exemption, they are not breaking the law, they are merely asserting their basic human rights.  If the government or a private person fails to recognize that exemption, they are the ones who are breaking the law, not the religious believer.

A very clear example can be found in the Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court held that the federal government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by not recognizing that the company was exempt from the HHS contraception/abortion mandate, due to their religious beliefs.  Or in the hundreds of civil lawsuits where employers are required to recognize religious holidays or clothing, cities are banned from restricting street-corner evangelists, schools are prevented from closing religious clubs or newspapers, etc.

And it doesn’t stop with the Constitution.  Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, a law that has been in effect for over forty years, utterly rejects the idea that an employee has to surrender their religious beliefs as a condition of keeping a job.  Instead, it imposes a duty on the employer to exempt employees from work requirements that conflict with their religion, so long as that does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. In other words, for the last four decades, employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for their employees, not vice versa.

Similar statutes exist in every state, and in many localities.  Here in New York, our state Human Rights Law has been in existence for about seventy years.  It explicitly imposes on employers a duty to make reasonable accommodations for sincerely-held religious beliefs.  There are also other many other laws that protect religious liberty from government imposition.  Most notable are federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.   One time, I counted the number of religious exemptions recognized in New York law, and managed to find about two dozen.  More legislation is being proposed, such as the First Amendment Defense Act.

In short, the law protecting religious liberty is well-established, and can be easily accessed and understood.  Certainly a person who opines on the law in a public forum should be expected to inform themselves of these basic facts.

So it’s hard to chalk these kinds of statements and arguments to good faith ignorance.  Rather, it seems more likely that the person is inveterately hostile to religion, and, due to this animus, will not even consider the facts or arguments that stand against their position.

I think, if you were to consult a dictionary, that would be a pretty good definition of bigotry.


Mercy for Everyone Involved in Abortion

September 3rd, 2015

[I was asked to contribute to an online forum about what the Church has to say to those involved in abortion. This is an expansion of my contribution]

When Pope Francis announced, as part of the preparation for the Jubilee of Mercy, that he was granting all priests around the world the faculty of forgiving the sin of abortion through the Sacrament of Confession, many people were confused. Some of the questions included, “Don’t priests already have that authority?” “DOes this mean that women who previously confessed, weren’t really absolved?” The news coverage, as usual, was embarassingly amateurish, and awful.

Fortunately, some sane voices offered explanations. Cardinal Dolan made clear that the priests of the Archdiocese of New York (like those in most, if not all dioceses of the United States) have long had this authority, and that people involved in abortion should rest assured that the mercy of God was always available to them.

One thing that I found interesting in all the discussion, was that people were speaking as if the only people involved in abortions were the mothers in crisis who sought them out. But there’s another group of people involved as well — abortionists, and the people who work in abortion clinics.

Over the past few months, we have seen the undercover videos that have exposed Planned Parenthood’s ghoulish trafficking in the body parts of aborted babies. We are naturally appalled, and angry. Our first impulse is to condemn, not just the ideologies that led them to act this way, but also the persons themselves.

This is where the Church — and through her, Jesus himself — enters the conversation.

Pope Francis’ has consistently stressed several basic Gospel messages — the call to encounter and accompany people, and the notion that realities are more important than ideas.

Too often we think of abortion situations through a particular frame — whether it’s the ideology of “reproductive choice” or pro-life principles — that keeps us on the level of ideas and can even de-humanize those we are dealing with. But we are not dealing with abstractions, but with people — not just the woman in crisis who entered that clinic and her vulnerable unborn child, but the clinic workers as well. And we must encounter them all as real human beings , including those who are performing abortions.

From this perspective, the Church can invite clinic workers and abortions to embrace what they really need deep down — a softening of their hearts through the mercy and love of God.  They can be led, perhaps by our compassion and prayer, to a conversion of heart so they can encounter the women and unborn children who come to their clinics as people, and not as clients or as raw biological materials.  If God’s grace can can bring them to that point, we can then accompany them on their path, offering prayer, love and practical help. Former clinic worker Abby Johnson’s ministry, And Then There Were None, is a very good example of this.

The message of the Church to those involved in performing abortion is the simple message of Jesus himself — an offer of mercy and an invitation to conversion: “You don’t have to be that way. There is another path, one that leads to happiness and peace. The message of mercy and a new life is for you too. We’re all on that same path. Come walk with us.”

Knowing and Caring

August 4th, 2015

In the last few weeks, there have been a series of news stories about the horrific practices of the group I like to call the Temple of Moloch because of their devotion to the destruction of children — Planned Parenthood.

The videos were taken by a man who assumed a false identity so that he could meet with staff members of Planned Parenthood, to gain information about their practices of “harvesting” fetal tissue from aborted children. As an aside, I have previously expressed my opinion that these “undercover” tactics involve immoral acts of lying to the Planned Parenthood staff: see here  and here. The immorality of the undercover operation, however, does not affect the truth of what was exposed.

The videos expose yet another ugly face of abortion. The Planned Parenthood staff members coldly and callously discuss how they “harvest” organs and other tissue for use in experiments, and how they carefully maneuver to barely avoid violating federal laws against the sale of human tissue. If ever we wanted proof of the corrosive effect of sin on the human soul and character, these videos would be Exhibit One.

Many pro-lifers are hoping that these new revelations will be a landmark event, providing the public with irrefutable evidence of the evil of abortion and the humanity of unborn children. This, they hope, will turn the tide against the Culture of Death. I wish with all my heart for that to be true, but in order for that to happen, there’s one essential step that has to be taken.

People need to start caring.

It has been evident for many years, and certainly since routine ultrasounds for pregnant women, that people are either well aware of the humanity of the unborn child, or they are culpably blind to that fact.  The truth of what abortion does is clear for any to see, especially since the major debate over partial birth abortion two decades ago.  With the advent of the internet age, all the facts are out there, as easily accessible as a quick trip to Wikipedia.  Our lawmakers certainly know what abortion is and what it does — the various methods were even explicitly described in blood-chilling detail in a famous Supreme Court decision.

The problem really isn’t that people lack sufficient knowledge.  It’s that people just don’t care enough for things to change.

Our modern society is built on a foundation of sexual liberation.  Contraception, with abortion as a back-up method, is an essential component of that.  And the sad fact is that a majority of the American people are so committed to sexual liberty that they are willing to tolerate a massive number of abortions — almost 1 million each year.  They are also willing to provide massive amounts of money — over half a billion dollars of taxpayer money — to support Planned Parenthood, which kills over 300,000 children every year.

This can change.  People can declare that “enough is enough”.  They can show compassion for every human child, and for mothers in difficult situations. They can decide not to support legalized killing of children.  They can elect representatives who will change our laws.  They can reject death as the easy answer to all of our problems.

We already know all that we need to know.  We need to care.