Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Robby replies to Chip (where's Fred MacMurray when you need him?)

I'm grateful to Chip Lupu for responding to Michael Perry's request for a comment on his post and my reply.  I'm glad that Chip regrets the use of the word "fear-mongering" that, he says, was wrongly attributed to him by the New York Times reporter.  He says that he didn't use the word.  It must be frustrating to him, as it is to me, that the reporter claimed to be quoting Chip directly.  Indeed, the reporter singled out the word for placement in quotation marks.  It is outrageous conduct on the part of the reporter, and another black mark against the Times.

Having expressed regret about the rhetoric attributed to him, Chip nevertheless closes his reply by accusing me of not having a "balanced" view of the subject of religious liberty and the claims of conscience.  Looking closely at Chip's third paragraph, we can easily see the worth of this accusation.  One has a "balanced" view when one sides with Chip on such questions as whether physicians should be required to refer for abortions and in some cases perform them, and whether pharmacists ought to be required to dispense abortifacient drugs,  One doesn't have a "balanced' view when one disagrees with Chip.

The most important thing to see about that paragraph is that Chip doesn't deny that the impositions on conscience that I catalogued are coming at Catholic and other pro-life physicians, nurses, and pharmacists.  It's just that he thinks some or many of these impositions on conscience are justified.  Pro-life health care workers, Chip says, "cannot just ignore those women's interests [in obtaining an abortion] because they dislike what the women plan to do."  Note Chip's characterization of the ground of pro-lifers' objections to implicating themselves in the deliberate taking of innocent unborn human life:  they "dislike" what the women plan to do.  That characterization, if Chip can get the reader to buy it, even if only implicitly, would be very helpful to his effort to weaken the moral force and intellectual plausibility of conscience claims by pro-life health care workers (and people like me who lack a "balanced" view).  After all, governments legitimately require people to do things they "dislike" all the time.  But the truth is that pro-lifers don't merely "dislike" abortion.  That is at best a tendentious and grossly inadequate characterization of their view.  They reasonably believe that abortion is the deliberate taking of innocent human life.  That should matter in thinking about whether it is just to compel pro-life health care workers to implicate themselves in abortions.  Now, Chip is entitled to his view that the impositions on conscience he favors are justifiable.  What no one is entitled to do, in my opinion, is to deny what is a plain matter of fact, namely that these impositions are indeed coming at pro-lifers in the health field.  So I'm glad that Chip didn't deny it.  The fact that he didn't deny it is, to my mind, the most telling and important thing about his comment.

I was a bit puzzled by Chip's claim that the Manhattan Declaration's sections on marriage are "obviously a statement of theological views dressed up in sort-of secular talk."  What's the charge here?  Is it that the Manhattan Declaration pretends to be a secular statement while in reality it is a theological statement?  Could the Manhattan Declaration have possibly made it clearer that it is a religious statement.  Its subtitle is "A Call of Christian Conscience."  It says that "[w]e, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians . . . act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person."

In my own scholarly writings, I usually analyze moral problems as matters of natural law.  That's the business I'm in.  I present arguments that do not appeal to revelation, theological convictions, or authority of any type beyond the authority of reason itself.  The Manhattan Declaration is a different kind of project, however.  Although the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions, the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and the right to religious freedom are certainly defensible as matters of natural law, they are also principles of Christian faith (as the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical Protestant traditions understand the faith), and the Manhattan Declaration presents them as such.  The signatories, far from hiding (or "dressing up") their Christian convictions in "sort-of secular talk," place these convictions in the foreground. 


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