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, September 27, 2010

Should the White House defend "Targeted Killings"

According to this report, "[t]he Obama administration sought Friday to block a lawsuit over the scope of its targeted killing program for suspected terrorists, in a case that challenges the government to define the limits of its global battlefield against extremists."  Let's put aside, for now, reactions of the "gee, this wasn't supposed to happen under the Obama Administration" or "Imagine if President Bush did this, how people would howl!" variety.  (Oops.)   I want to ask, instead, whether or not is clear that "targeted", extrajudicial killings are morally unjustifiable.

I take it that, for those of us who think that capital punishment is morally justifiable, it is clear that targeted, extrajudicial killings are morally unjustifiable as punishment.  But, does it follow that it is always unjustifable for the government to authorize, outside of judicial processes, the killing of a person who is thought (with certainty, or something close to it?) to pose an imminent threat to the safety of others?  Does the "distance" between the decision maker and the supposed-soon-to-be aggressor matter?  Or, does the question reduce to the more familiar one about when lethal force is permissible in defense of self or others?  Or, instead, to the question when it is permissible to kill a combatant (notwithstanding the fact that the decision-maker and the supposed-aggressor are not meeting on a "battlefield")?


September 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

School choice

We regularly discuss school choice on MoJ, and in the past we've noted the tendency of political leaders who oppose school choice to choose private schools for their own kids.  This morning President Obama at least was candid about his selection of Sidwell Friends for his daughters, opting not to hide behind a justification such as security needs, admitting that private school offers a better education.

September 27, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Yesterday was Pulpit Freedom Sunday, the day designated to challenge IRS restrictions on political speech by churches.  I'm guessing that the day went by unnoticed in most churches (especially Catholic churches), but Chuck Colson thinks that the time is right for a court challenge.  My own view is that the Johnson Amendment (by which the restrictions were attached to tax-exempt status) did churches a favor by forcing them focus on issues rather than on particular candidates, though I admit that I'm not a fan of the state "forcing" a church to focus on anything in particular.  Further, I do not view tax-exempt status as a government benefit, but as one of the last remaining shout-outs to a meaningful notion of sphere sovereignty in our system.  If churches were given the authority to decide on their own speech, though, I would recommend that they keep up the current practice.  We have a hard enough time not letting our churches be defined by the surrounding culture, and I fear that bringing partisan politics into the pulpit (rather than the underlying issues that may have partisan implications) simply exacerbates that trend.  Thoughts?

September 27, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)


On Saturday evening I performed a set of songs by Leonard Cohen at a venue called Cafe Improv, at the Princeton Arts Council.  I know that several MoJers are interested in Cohen's music.  Here is the link to a video of my performance of "Nancy," which I regard as one of Cohen's finest pieces of social criticism:  http://rgeorge26.shutterfly.com/pictures/14.  Although "Nancy" isn't one of them, many of Cohen's songs feature religious imagery, much of it Catholic.  Even "Nancy" has some references to religion, or to its absence---"in the house of mystery, there was no one at all." 


September 27, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 24, 2010

USCCB Committee on Doctrine Statement on book by Salzman and Lawler

Here is a Zenit story on the USCCB's Commitee on Doctrine's recent statement critiquing a book ("The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology") by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler. Here is a link to the Committee on Doctrine's statement. The Committee concludes that the book's methodology and conclusions depart from authentic presentations of Catholic theology. 

This continues a welcome trend of the Bishops to issue elaborate statements explaining Church teaching and critiquing the work of theologians rather than pursuing a disciplinary approach.

Richard M. 

September 24, 2010 in Myers, Richard | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Execution in Virginia

Here's a post, at America, about the execution by Virginia of Teresa Lewis.  I note that Ms. Lewis was represented, at the end, by my former law-practice colleague (and Notre Dame graduate), Jim Rocap.

In some of the commentary I've read about the case, the fact that Ms. Lewis is a woman has been highlighted.  This fact, it seems to me, is not one that can or should be relevant to the question whether someone who has been duly convicted of a capital crime should be executed.  There is also, as the America post mentions, the question of Ms. Lewis's mental capacities.  It seems to me that these capacities are certaily relevant to the question whether a death-sentence can be justifed, though one has to concede, I think, that any efforts to find a clear "line" -- especially a clear point on the IQ scale -- separating those whose capacities are such that they can deserve execution and those who capacities are not are likely to fail.

September 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Farr on religious freedom, foreign policy, and security

At Public Discourse, Tom Farr reminds us, again, of the importance of religious freedom -- here and abroad -- to stability, security, and peace:

[T]he American experience teaches that religious liberty can be an effective way to engage religious actors in the project of self governance, and to forestall religion-based violence and terrorism. This is why religious freedom should be at the forefront of our counter-terrorism diplomacy. It is no accident that where religious freedom does not exist, or is under siege, Islamist terrorism is incubated, nourished, and exported, including to American shores.

A recent Pew Forum study shows that 70 percent of the world’s population lives in nations where religious liberty is severely restricted, most of them Muslim-majority nations. Extremist policies such as anti-blasphemy and anti-apostasy laws fuel the persecution of Christians in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, and the cruel repression of Muslim minorities in Pakistan and Iran. The absence of religious freedom prevents the emergence of Muslim reformers who oppose religion-based persecution and who are capable of developing a liberal Islamic political theology.

Unfortunately, American foreign policy has long been complicit in supporting authoritarian regimes in Muslim nations. It has also been lethargic and inept in advancing international religious freedom—even though it is required by law to do so—including in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has been especially negligent on this score, failing even to mention religious freedom in its National Security Strategy. Almost two years into the President’s tenure, the senior State Department official responsible for promoting religious freedom abroad is still not in place. As I have argued here and here, the State Department has apparently concluded that the vigorous defense of religious liberty in Muslim-majority nations will offend Muslims and be resisted by their governments. . . .

September 24, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Patriarchal religion, pornography, and woman-hating at Wake Forest

I just received a postcard today for a Wake Forest Law School symposium titled "Patriarchal Religion, Sexuality, and Gender."  The symposium happened last week and I have no direct knowledge of what transpired, but I have a good guess as to the tone and direction of the conversation that took place.  Just for the record, if we want to have a rollicking discussion of the pitfalls of patriarchy, count me in.  I get the feeling, though (in part from my past encounters with the work of one of the keynotes, David A.J. Richards), that the "patriarchy" label was being invoked early and often at Wake Forest, and that most of the ills of human history were pinned to it.  Just from the blurb on the postcard, I learn that patriarchal religion "has been the chief guarantor of straight male power," and that "fundamentalist religions continue to claim authority over the principal social and legal issues of today."  (Until relatively recently, of course, the fundy Protestants were faulted for dropping out of society and using law as a hedge to keep out the wilderness, not for trying to rule the wilderness!)  I also missed out on the opportunity to hear how "patriarchal religious myth" is responsible for "the proliferation of pornography and woman-hating in Western popular culture."  (I guess Jerry Falwell shouldn't have sued Larry Flynt -- apparently he spawned Larry Flynt!)  It's not unusual to come across specific papers along these lines, but I don't often read of an entire symposium (apparently) devoted to this extreme sort of criticism.  Nothing like a fair-minded and balanced engagement with the issues . . .

September 23, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)

Implications of the affirming the priority of the common good

I've long wanted to understand more deeply what was at issue when Jacques Maritain and Charles De Koninck famously disagreed about the nature of the common good (and the individual person's relation thereto).  The recent translation, by Ralph McInerny, and publication, by the University of Notre Press, of The Writings of Charles De Koninck (2009) have been a great help (to me).  This link, to a blog I recently discovered and like a lot, states the terms of the debate with remarkable economy. 

September 23, 2010 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Ah, "change"

David Mills, at First Things, calls our attention to this plea, in The Guardian, for "secularist change."  Mills writes:

By “secularism,” he means a movement that “seeks to defend the absolute freedom of religious and other belief, seeks to maximise freedom of religious and other expression and protect the right to manifest religious belief insofar as it does not impinge disproportionately on the rights and freedoms of others.”

Most of what follows is unexceptionable, but then there’s goal number three, “End unjustified religious discrimination by” and his first example:

• Stopping faith schools from sacking or rejecting a teacher based on his/her religion or marital status.

So: to prevent discrimination, he demands discrimination. Faith schools aren’t allowed to propagate their faith by hiring only teachers who share it, which would seem to be a right implicit in the idea of a faith school. He evidently intends faith schools to become secularist institutions, in the usual sense of secularism. So maybe, even on his own grounds, the characterization and attacks aren’t so unfair after all.

The pope, by the way, is a subtler student of what might better be called “secularity” than this writer.

As Mills notes, the Pope has had good and helpful things to say about "positive" or healthy secularity.  I wrote, a while back at Public Discourse, that:

Pope Benedict XVI has, in recent months, expressed his admiration for the “American model” of religious liberty and church-state liberty. For example, during his trip last spring to the United States, the Pope noted, and seemed to praise, America’s “positive concept of secularism,” in which government respects both the role of religious arguments and commitments in the public square and the important distinction between religious and political authorities. . . .


September 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)