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.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How is NARAL et al. like the NRA?

Pro-choice Will Saletan on the Kermit Gosnell case in Philadelphia:

I'd like to think that in the months ahead, Pennsylvania's abortion providers and pro-choice groups will work with legislators and the governor to fix the regulatory problems that led to the Gosnell fiasco. But I worry that many of them won't. I've seen providers and their allies in the reproductive rights community circle their wagons before. I've seen them deny the significance of bad doctors, dirty clinics, and a woman's death. I've seen them resist inspections and dismiss abortion laws the way the NRA dismisses gun control.

February 17, 2011 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Is Facebook killing the church?

Richard Beck thinks so; here's an excerpt of his argument:

The difference between Generations X and Y isn't in their views of the church. It's about those cellphones. It's about relationships and connectivity. Most Gen X'ers didn't have cell phones, text messaging or Facebook. These things were creeping in during their college years but the explosive onset of mobile devices and social computing had yet to truly take off.

So why has mobile social computing affected church attendance? Well, if church has always been kind of lame and irritating why did people go in the first place? Easy, social relationships. Church has always been about social affiliation. You met your friends, discussed your week, talked football, shared information about good schools, talked local politics, got the scoop, and made social plans ("Let's get together for dinner this week!"). Even if you hated church you could feel lonely without it. . . .

But Millennials are in a different social situation. They don't need physical locations for social affiliation. They can make dinner plans via text, cell phone call or Facebook. In short, the thing that kept young people going to church, despite their irritations, has been effectively replaced. You don't need to go to church to stay connected or in touch. You have an iPhone.

Sure, Millennials will report that the "reason" they are leaving the church is due to its perceived hypocrisy or shallowness. My argument is that while this might be the proximate cause the more distal cause is social computing. Already connected Millennials have the luxury to kick the church to the curb. This is the position of strength that other generations did not have. We fussed about the church but, at the end of the day, you went to stay connected. For us, church was Facebook!

To the extent that this argument has merit, I'm guessing it holds more truth for Protestants than for Catholics.  In general, my experience of Protestant churches is that the churchgoing experience is more social, especially for young people, than the experience at most Catholic churches, where the experience is more centered on the individual, and where folks tend to flee as soon as Mass is finished (or sooner, in many cases).  In any event, it's an intriguing thesis.

February 17, 2011 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)


What is the Christian argument for a statewide ban on Sunday liquor sales?

February 17, 2011 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Agriculture vs. Agribusiness

Mary Berry Smith chronicles her farm tour of Western Kentucky in an essay at Front Porch Republic. Here is a sample:

I would like to say a few things about the abuse of the farmer in the system. In contrast to the first farms we visited, the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feed Operation) was markedly different. Three generations of a farm family were there—grandfather, father and grandson—but they never spoke. Their banker spoke, an extension agent and a representative from the companies that process the farmers’ chickens and hogs spoke.

...The representative from the pork company was truly astonishing. He told us that the farmer was a million dollars in debt to his company, and that the farmer’s profit was in the manure he could spread on his cornfields to sell to other farmers. (The problem of that manure is for another time.) He also exhorted us to tell others that these are great places and not to worry about pollution or disease because science would take care of it.

He actually suggested to us all the things there are to worry about in this system and then told us that science—the word “magic” could be substituted here—would solve all problems. He, of course, made the cheap food argument and the feeding-the-world argument, which I have come to regard as pure fantasy. You cannot make a case for feeding people by destroying the source of food. And anyone with any imagination could see that the same amount of meat could be produced in that area by having more farms and farmers raising animals in a sustainable way.

One way to revitalize small town and rural America would be to end federal subsidy and regulation that favor agribusiness over sustainable agriculture.

February 17, 2011 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Spiritual, But Not Religious: Comparing the U.S. and Europe

It is commonly thought that Europeans are godless. In fact, as Grace Davie and Andrew Greeley in independent work have confirmed, more than half of Europeans believe in God, but they do not belong to any religious denomination. Davie calls this “believing without belonging.” We might call it “spiritual, but not religious.”

As I discussed yesterday at religiousleftlaw.com, a rising percentage of Americans (20%) belong to no religious denomination. Many might assume that these American are atheists or agnostics, but as Putnam and Campbell argue in American Grace, a very small percentage of this group fall in the category of atheists or agnostics. They are classic believers who do not belong.

Most interesting, at least to me, is that the principal cause of joining this group is political. Jose Casanova has argued that a principal cause of Catholics leaving the Church in Europe was its tight connections with corrupt dictators and kings. There is an irony here. The Church often maintained these connections in order to receive privileges to aid its evangelization. But doing so had huge anti-evangelical effects. Of course, sometimes it was more complicated. The Church sided with Franco in part because the socialists were killing priests (I am not sure if the Church ever considered being neutral). In any event, anticlericalism is a significant aspect of those who belong to no church in Europe.

The rising number of those who belong to no religious group in the United States is also politically motivated. According to Putnam and Campbell, it is primarily a reaction against the religious right. There is a strong tendency among young people (the largest component of this group) to associate organized religion with the religious right and a tendency to see the religious as hypocritical, judgmental, homophobic and insincere.

The sociology of religion suggests that as people grow older and have children, they turn to religion (though the Europeans do not fit that pattern). If the young turn to organized Christian religion in the U.S. when they have children, they are likely to turn to mainline Protestant churches rather than to Catholic or evangelical churches. If immigration is not considered, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has already experienced a percentage decline equivalent to that of mainline Protestants. It may not get better for the Catholic Church. Putnam and Campbell argue that churches distant from the political right have a recruiting opportunity with this increasingly large group. If in Europe those who do not belong are anti-clerical; in the U.S. those who do not belong are opposed to conservative views of sexuality in general, and conservative views of same sex relations in particular.  

I am not suggesting that the Catholic Church should change its positions in order to gain members (though it might to more to stress that it is tolerant of those (in its view wrongly) who as a matter of conscience disagree)). I do think this data reveals formidable obstacles to evangelical efforts by the Church.  

Update: It turns out that those without a religious home tend to stay that way even after having children. Indeed, the percentage of those leaving this category is lower than any of the major religious traditions. By contrast, 60% of Anglo Catholics leave the Church entirely or are only nominal Catholics. Importantly, the retention rates for Latino Catholics is far higher, a factor that will become more and more significant in the future.

February 17, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)


For the next few days, I will be in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah -- at Alta -- where the skiing is better than it is anyplace else on the planet.  If the goal of "Catholic" anything -- legal theory, etc. -- is, ultimately, to "be happy with Him in the next," I think that -- at 10,500 feet in the Utah sunshine -- I can consider this trip MOJ official business.   

February 17, 2011 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How much is a life worth?

We don't like putting a dollar figure on the value of a human life, especially ex ante, but when we're trying to evaluate the wisdom of regulation, it's an unavoidable inquiry, and federal agencies are currently revising their calculations.  It still makes me squirm though, as I think it should.  As I remind my Torts students, if we truly viewed human life as priceless beyond all measure, wouldn't we have prohibited car manufacturers from designing vehicles that go faster than 30 mph?

February 16, 2011 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tax Increases and Prudential Judgment: When are They High Enough?

In his post earlier today, my colleague Rob Vischer provocatively proposes that "a good Catholic cannot rule out tax increases in today's fiscal climate" and confesses that he finds the anti-tax camp "more infuriating" than the anti-government spending cuts camp.  In the end, though, Rob acknowledges that taxing and spending debates fall into the realm of prudential judgment.

Considering only one aspect of those practical, real-world, economic factors, we have compelling evidence just today that the zenith for what counts as a reasonable tax rate plainly has been reached here in Minnesota.  Today's editorial from the consistently left-leaning Minneapolis Star-Tribune is headlined:  "Dayton plan misses competitive reality."

If Minnesota were an economic island, the call for tax fairness across income lines that Gov. Mark Dayton made with his budget-balancing proposal Tuesday would have considerable appeal in this traditionally egalitarian state.

. . .   Dayton's proposal would also give Minnesota the highest top-tier income tax rate in the nation in the next three years . . . .

And the total size of his proposed new taxes appears likely to rank at or near the top this year among the 50 states.

Dayton's proposal is true to this state's 20th-century preference for taxation based on ability to pay. But Minnesota is not an economic island.

The rigors of the 21st-century economy demand that the state leaven its egalitarian impulses with the imperatives imposed by worldwide competition for highly mobile capital and talent. Most states have tax systems more regressive than Minnesota's.

What Dayton proposes would make Minnesota an outlier, at a time when the penalty for a reputation as a high-tax state is large and growing.

At what point are taxes high enough?  Well, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune opines that the new Democratic governor's tax increase proposals are dangerous to the economy and likely to frighten away new capital investment in the state -- an editorial I would not have expected to read in that newspaper until the flames of Hell had been suffocated beneath deep drifts of Minnesota-style snow.  Sometimes prudential judgment becomes a prudential imperative.  In Minnesota at least, we've reached that point.


February 16, 2011 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The New York Times on Accountability

A couple of days ago The New York Times ran an editorial entitled “More Shame” in which it critiques the Roman Catholic Church—especially its hierarchy—on the ground that children are still at risk of being victims of sexual abuse. The journal relies on the recent grand jury report from Philadelphia which notes, amongst other items, that as recently as the 1990s, children are still being sexually assaulted and abused by clerics and laity.

The editorial advances three important points about this tragic situation. The first is that children remain at risk in spite of either good intentions or due to mismanagement of the assignment of “credibly accused priests” to new assignments. I cannot argue about the importance of raising the gravity of this matter knowing that children remain at risk. The problem cannot be responsibly addressed unless action is taken against all “credibly accused” persons—not just priests.

The second point advanced by the editorial pertains to recommended action of the Archdiocese to remove “credibly accused priests from ministry and financing truly independent investigations.” But, again, why limit this action to “credibly accused priests”? Why not make the exhortation holistic and remove all credibly accused persons? Or is it that only clerics alone deserve such action? If so, the problem will continue to plague us and future victims.

This brings me to the editorial’s third point regarding the grand jury’s recommendation that the Pennsylvania civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims be suspended for two years. The editorial urges that all states do the same. Otherwise, “[t]here will be no justice or healing until all victims’ voices are heard and the church [sic] finally shows true accountability.” My point is why restrict the impact of this comment and the presumed suspension of statutes of limitations to the Church? It is clear that those members of the Church who have defiled themselves by sexually assaulting and abusing children are but a small percentage of those responsible for the tragedy and the horror, the sin and the crime. According to the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children [NAPSAC], there are over 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the U.S. today. It is clear that a small percentage of these cases is attributable to the misconduct of Church members. Should we not be concerned about the remaining majority of juvenile sexual abuse cases if “true accountability” is the goal? I reply in the affirmative. That is why NAPSAC has argued that abuse claims which have been barred in the past—such as those against public school systems—also benefit from statutory reform. Unfortunately The New York Times’s editorial places the blame only on the Church. This may help some victims; however, the large majority will be denied the “true accountability” which this journal of opinion claims to pursue.


RJA sj


February 16, 2011 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Small town America

I spent last weekend in a fairly small Nebraska town where my youngest is doing a two year teaching stint through Creighton's Magis program.  Charming with friendly inhabitants, I couldn't help but ponder the future of this and still smaller towns in a global economy.  The town's pharmacies and grocery stores have closed because they cannot compete with Walmart and Walgreens.  I assume, but don't know, that the farmers are dependent on agribusiness for their sustenance.  As banks consolidate, I assume some of the legal work (title work, etc) have moved to Omaha or Lincoln. 

Are there models for building thriving and dynamic small rural communities given the market conditions today that don't involve antique stores or becoming the location for a Walmart distribution center? 

February 16, 2011 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)