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.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Robby responds to Chip (again)

I don't want to be too rough on Chip Lupu, but things get curiouser and curiouser, don't they?  Let's review the history.  A seasoned New York Times reporter quotes Chip making an accusation that impugns the motives of people whose views he disagrees with:  they are "fear-mongering."  I pointed this fact out in response to a post by Michael P. which asked:  "If [Chip] is wrong--as Robby asserts--why is he wrong?"  Michael P. then invited Chip to respond.  Chip submitted a comment saying the following:

"I was not happy with the attribution of the word "fear-mongering" to me in that story.  I never used it in talking to the reporter.  I did say, as I do believe, that the concerns and fears of the anti-same sex marriage movement are vastly overstated—that's an objective reference, relating their statement to the actual state of the law, and is not a subjective imputation of motives."

Having plenty of experience myself of being misrepresened and even misquoted by reporters, I immediately accepted Chip's account of the facts, expressing frustration, which I said I'm sure Chip shares, that a reporter would manufacture a quote from him in order to present him as impugning other people's motives when he had done nothing of the kind.  I said that such conduct on the part of a reporter is outrageous.  We have lots of disagreements on MoJ, but I suspect that not a single participant or reader of this blog would disagree with me about that.

But now Chip steps forward with another comment, one that begins by saying "[t]here is no point beating up on the New York Times."  And why should the Times reporter be given a pass when she manufactured a quote to present a source as impugning the motives of others?  Well, a bit more information now surfaces.  Chip reveals that the reporter actually read to him in advance the language she was attributing to him. He was given full notice that he was being presented as impugning other people's motives, but he did not object.  In defense of his permitting the reporter to present him as doing something that his first comment assured us he was in no way intending to do, he says "I did not know that 'fear-mongering' was in quotation marks."  But surely that doesn't matter.  If Chip didn't mean to impugn others' motives, he would have objected to being characterized as doing that, whether the word "fear-mongering" was in quotation marks or not.  But then Chip says that he "did not focus on the offending word until it was too late."  Well, okay, but it was rather a big thing to miss, and he obviously noticed that the term was being used in characterizing his view since he himself reports that he did not know or suppose that it was being put in quotation marks.  So, as I say, things get curiouser and curiouser.

Enough of that, though.  Let's turn to the substantive issue of laws that would, for example, force physicians and other health care providers who object to the taking of innocent human life to refer for abortions and even perform or assist in them in some circumstances.  Now, I don't want to question Chip's motives, because I know he is an honorable man,  But it seems to me that his argumentative strategy for justifying his endorsement of such impositions boils down to an effort to depict those on his side of the debate as sensible moderates standing aloof from the substantive moral disputes, who are objectively "balancing" competing "rights and interests."  (Of course, "balancing" of this sort will necessarily be by reference to some standard that will itself reflect a moral position; and that position will, in the end, dictate the result of the "balancing."  But lay that aside for now.)  Those of us who believe that doctors and others have a right not to be forced to implicate themselves in killing unborn human beings, and that entire fields of medicine should not be "cleansed" of Catholics and other pro-lifers who simply cannot, in conscience, comply with laws that would mandate them to participate in feticide, are depicted as "utterly insensitive to competing rights and interests."  It's the oldest rhetorical maneuver in the book.  And how convenient for abortion supporters, too.  Pro-life physicians, nurses, pharmacists, are left with the following options:  violate your consciences or leave your professions.

The final paragraph of Chip's most recent comment presents liberalism's "old time religion" on the role of religion and religiously informed moral judgment in public life and the formation of public policy.  It rehearses various implausible liberal dogmas, including the one that claims that deviations from liberal beliefs about sexual morality and marriage represent sectarian views that cannot be rationally defended apart from appeals to revelation and religious authority.  The truth is that there is a serious rational debate among intelligent and intellectually sophisticated people of goodwill about the morality of various forms of sexual conduct and the nature of marriage.  Religions have something to say on the subject; and religious people have every right to enter the public square and make their arguments in the languages of their traditions--just as they have done on everything from gladiatorial contests, to feuding, to slavery and civil rights.  Not just conservatives, but also liberals who recognize the flaws of their tradition's "old time religion"--I have in mind scholars such as Michael Sandel and Bill Galston--recognize that liberal views about sex and marriage have no right to prevail in the domain of policy or anywhere else by the dubious expedient of ruling competing views out of bounds.  Liberals, no less than conservatives, have an obligation to make their arguments about sex and marriage and answer the counterarguments advanced against them.

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