Thursday, May 2, 2013
One of the issues raised in the various posts by Bob Hockett, Michael Scaperlanda, Patrick Brennan, and MOJ-friend Paul Horwitz is the challenge of defining "proselytism." The word (like "discrimination", perhaps) has acquired a connotation of "persuasion, advocacy, or communication of an aggressive, underhanded, intolerant, insulting, or disrespectful kind." Of course, it need not be involve any of those adjectives. A few years ago -- as part of a very enjoyable lecture series organized by Patrick -- I did a paper called "Changing Minds: Proselytism, Religious Freedom, and the First Amendment," in which I tried to underscore the fact that "proselytization," correctly understood, should not and need not involve any unworthy tactics or dignity-denying premises, but can and should be understood as an invitation -- and invitation to "come over," and to change not only one's mind, but one's view and way of life. Here's a bit from the abstract:
Running through and shaping our First Amendment doctrines, precedents, and
values is a solicitude for changing minds - our own, as well as others'. Put
differently, the Amendment is understood as protecting and celebrating not just
expression but persuasion - or, if you like, proselytism. There are, therefore,
reasons grounded in our Constitution and traditions for regarding proselytism
and its legal protection not as threats to the common good and the freedom of
conscience, but instead as integral to the flourishing and good exercise of that
freedom. This same solicitude for persuasion and freedom pervades the writing of Pope John Paul II, who regularly insisted that the Church's evangelical mission
does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The Church proposes - thereby
inviting the exercise of human freedom - she imposes nothing. The claim here,
then, is that proposing, persuading, proselytizing, and evangelizing are at the
heart of, and need not undermine, not only the freedoms protected by the
Constitution, but also those that are inherent in our dignity as human persons.
With respect to the recent and ongoing argument here at MOJ about "Mikey" Weinstein and the DoD, it seems to me that -- putting aside what I regard as the facts that Weinstein is a hateful bigot who should no more be a part of even merely symbolic consultation with our government than should Fred Phelps and that it is entirely appropriate, on this site or any other, to express concern about such consultation -- it seems to me really important that any regulations and policies designed to (quite appropriately) protect our men and women in the service from abuses of superiors' authority (whether those abuses involve unwanted and aggressive religious messages, or take any other form) not reflect a premise or presumption that the content of traditional religious teachings and practices is substantively objectionable and therefore not-to-be-discussed-or-advocated in the armed services and also not reflect a premise or presumption that evangelism itself -- the invitation to "come over" -- (as opposed to abusive instances of it) is objectionable, even among members of the service.