Monday, March 21, 2016
I suppose it's possible, dear readers, that it slipped past your notice that Mirror of Justice marked its 12th (!) blog-versary a few weeks ago. The first "Welcome" post, from Mark Sargent, went up on Feb. 3, 2004. Here it "is":
Welcome to Mirror of Justice, a group blog created by a group of Catholic law professors interested in discovering how our Catholic perspective can inform our understanding of the law. Indeed, we ask whether the great wealth of the Catholic intellectual and moral tradition offers a basis for creating a distinctive Catholic legal theory- one distinct from both secular and other religious legal theories. Can Catholic moral theology, Catholic Social Thought and the Catholic natural law tradition offer insights that are both critical and constructive, and which can contribute to the dialogue within both the legal academy and the broader polity? In particular, we ask whether the profoundly counter-cultural elements in Catholicism offer a basis for rethinking the nature of law in our society. The phrase "Mirror of Justice" is one of the traditional appellations of Our Lady, and thus a fitting inspiration for this effort.
A few things about this blog and us:
1. The members of this blog group represent a broad spectrum of Catholic opinion, ranging from the "conservative" to the "liberal", to the extent that those terms make sense in the Catholic context. Some are politically conservative or libertarian, others are on the left politically. Some are highly orthodox on religious matters, some are in a more questioning relationship with the Magisterium on some issues, and with a broad view of the legitimate range of dissent within the Church. Some of us are "Commonweal Catholics"; others read and publish in First Things or Crisis. We are likely to disagree with each other as often as we agree. For more info about us, see the bios linked in the sidebar.
2. We all believe that faith-based discourse is entirely legitimate in the academy and in the public square, and that religious values need not be bracketed in academic or public conversation. We may differ on how such values should be expressed or considered in those conversations or in public decisionmaking.
3. This blog will not focus primarily on the classic constitutional questions of Church and State, although some of our members are interested in those questions and may post on them from time to time. We are more interested in tackiling the larger jurisprudential questions and in discussing how Catholic thought and belief should influence the way we think about corporate law, products liability or capital punishment or any other problem in or area of the law.
4, We are resolutely ecumenical about this blog. We do not want to converse only among ourselves or with other Catholics. We are eager to hear from those of other faith traditions or with no religious beliefs at all. We will post responses (at our editorial discretion, of course.) See "Contact Us" in the sidebar.
5. While this blog will be highly focused on our main topic, we may occasionally blog on other legal/theoretical matters, or on non-legal developments in Catholicism (or on baseball, the other church to which I belong.)
6. We will be linking to relevant papers by the bloggers in the sidebar. Comments welcome!
Although we decided, a few years ago, to move away from "Comments" boxes (though comments, thoughts, and suggestions from readers are always welcome, and we have often posted them as free-standing posts), I'm opening (or, at least, I am trying to) the "Comments" to this post, because I'd like to get thoughts, reactions, reflections, etc., from readers on how well (or not!) we've done over the past 12 years at living out the "charge" that we set for ourselves 12 years ago . . .
Friday, March 18, 2016
As Kirk notes, Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., has in the past bemoaned the loss of civility in public discourse and the unwillingness of many Americans to actually engage one another in argument. For this kind of dialogue to take place, civility is an indispensable pre-condition.
In a press release announcing the award, Father Jenkins noted the "toxic political environment" in which we live "where poisonous invective and partisan gamesmanship pass for political leadership." In honoring these men, he said that Notre Dame was “not endorsing the policy positions of either [Biden or Boehner], but celebrating two lives dedicated to keeping our democratic institutions working for the common good through dialogue focused on the issues and responsible compromise.”
Kirk rightly questions what kind of contribution to civil dialogue Joe Biden has actually made given the fact that he led the vociferous charge against the nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas – a move (one might add) that in part accounts for the highly partisan nature of the current fight over Justice Scalia’s now vacant seat.
More importantly, she points out how the decision to award the medal to Biden violates the USCCB’s statement Catholics in Political Life in which the bishops specifically teach that “[t]he Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
The problem in awarding the Laetare Medal to Joe Biden is that since the mid-1980s Biden has been a consistent champion of the abortion license created by the Court in Roe v. Wade. He has also been a proponent of same-sex marriage and stem cell research destructive of human embryos, while his support for freedom of religion (as opposed to a miserly freedom of worship) has been dubious at best.
For these reasons, Kevin Rhodes, bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, has openly criticized Notre Dame for its decision to honor Biden (here). It remains to be seen whether Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., the University’s commencement speaker, will attend the festivities.
As Kirk notes, Winters (quite predictably) tries to discredit both the bishops’ statement and anyone who would criticize Notre Dame’s decision to bestow the medal on Biden by engaging in the very kind of incivility that Jenkins bemoans.
It is perhaps an unwanted conclusion for some (but nevertheless a fact) that there are certain positions on certain issues – such as support for the abortion license – that are simply outside the Catholic pale. While universities (secular and religious) and other public fora should foster genuine engagement on these matters, a Catholic university like Notre Dame should avoid honoring those who seek to advance positions that are inimical to its identity. Notre Dame’s attempt to honor one Catholic politician who supports the legal murder of unborn human life and one Catholic politician who opposes the same under the gloss of support for “civility” cannot help but convey the idea that, for Catholics, the issue isn’t really all that important, and even if it were, supporting abortion is perfectly acceptable so long as one does it with the proper sense of demeanor.
What Winters says is true: "[T]here is more to know about a candidate or government official than their position on abortion." But when a Catholic university knows that he or she supports the legal killing of unborn human beings, it knows enough not to publicly honor that person, even if one might privately admire that individual for other reasons.
Kirk’s whole article is worth reading, but especially her conclusion:
Civility unhinged from its connection with preserving an order (a “civilization”) that allows other higher goods to flourish devolves into a self-righteous tool of political correctness wielded to eliminate disagreement. We should argue with our opponents because to do so pays them the honor of thinking that they have an argument to engage and because it assumes that there is a truth that we both desire to seek. Not addressing the real arguments of one's opponents is a hallmark of the lack of civility. To reduce civil public discourse to a thin façade of sentimental politeness suggests that disagreement itself—no matter how civilly presented—is ill-mannered, unfriendly, and unreasonable. A claim for civility in this sense is merely a bludgeon – albeit sometimes an elegant one – to silence one’s opponents.
March 18, 2016 | Permalink
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Minnesota's assisted suicide proposal was withdrawn by its sponsor during its hearing today, which apparently drew impassioned testimony from both supporters and opponents, according to this report from our local paper. Apparently the sponsor (Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center) understood the opposition as resulting from "misunderstandings" about the legislation, rather than a very clear understanding and rejection of the proposal. She's planning on re-introducing it next year, because "it would be easier to pass if DFLers [Minnesota-speak for Democrats] regained control of the House in November."
A bill in Minnesota to legalized suicide was tabled by its chief sponsor today after a hearing at which many opponents showed up to warn of dangers from the bill. From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
Another opponent, Kathy Ware, said the legislation sends the wrong message about people who are disabled and depend on others for care. She has a 21-year-old son, Kylen, who is mentally impaired and has cerebral palsy and epilepsy.
Ware said people seeking life-ending medication in Oregon have cited conditions shared by disabled people, such as being less able to engage in activities, losing dignity or losing control of bodily functions. The last reason particularly upset her....
“I don’t want any kind of vote,” she told fellow senators. “We’re not ready for it … it’s abundantly clear.”
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life encouraged their members to show up. Charlie Camosy, my fellow board member at Democrats for Life of America, wrote a terrific Star-Tribune op-ed encouraging liberals in particular to oppose the bill, calling assisted suicide "an idea that loses its appeal as it becomes more tangible."
(HT: St. Thomas Law alum Michael Blissenbach)
At Commonweal, Anthony Annett has a characteristically hard-hitting but, in this particular case, I believe overstated and in places unfair post called "Catholic Republicans Are Implicated in the Rise of Trump." He is, among other things, responding to our own Robby George's recent call for Catholics not to support Trump (and, in so doing, to prevent the Republican Party from being a reasonably effective even if obviously imperfect vehicle for some causes about which many Catholics care, including the pro-life cause).
The Trump phenomenon is, to me, extremely discouraging and most unwelcome. That said, I appreciate that it's also complicated and that the explanations for it are, too. (I've found folks like Rusty Reno, Ross Douthat, and Charles Murray helpful in understanding what's happening.) The argument in Annett's post is, basically, that conservative Catholic Republicans are "directly implicated in Trump’s meteoric rise. They actively supported the economic policies that fed the beast of insecurity, and they actively undermined the values embedded in the Catholic social tradition that might have acted as a bulwark against this narcissistic blowhard."
Readers can decide for themselves if Annett's descriptions of the policies he mentions, and their effects, are accurate and can determine whether they agree with his understanding of and claims about the implications for policy of Catholic Social Thought and of principles like subsidiarity. It does seem to be the case that many Trump voters are motivated in part by frustration having to do with their understandings of free-trade and other economic policies that Republicans (and, in recent decades, most leading Democrats) have favored. (Whether these voters are correct to think that Donald Trump -- or, for that matter, Bernie Sanders -- has an understanding of economic matters that would ameliorate their frustration is another matter.) Again, there are some commentators who have written thoughtfully on this. But, in my view, Annett paints too broadly, and neglects the many ways in which the loss of a "bulwark against this narcissistic blowhard" (and I certainly agree that Trump is one) is a result of civil-society-institution-and-moral-ecology undermining policies, values, and social changes that are more accurately associated with the Democratic Party and the left-liberal side of American politics. (He does, in one parenthetical sentence, acknowledge that "[t]he Democrats don’t have a stellar record here either. They have spent the past few decades favoring Planned Parenthood, Wall Street, and the 'creative class' over their traditional constituency." I'd call this a considerable understatement.)
Now, all that said: I agree with Robby and others that, on balance and all things considered, the Republican Party has been a useful vehicle -- and that's all, for me, a political party can and should be for Catholics: not part of our identity and not, in itself, an object of loyalty -- for several causes and on several issues that matter to me (e.g., school choice, judges, religious freedom, life, anti-communism, etc.) On some other issues (e.g., criminal justice, immigration, etc.), I would prefer different policies to the ones that Party generally promotes. If the nominee of the Republican Party, however, is Donald Trump, then it seems to me that it becomes unable -- disqualified, really -- from playing even this "vehicular" role (for me). I think the same is true of a Democratic Party led by Sec. Clinton (and, in effect, by Cecile Richards). And so, as I suggested in an earlier post, I'm becoming resigned to writing in my former governor, Mitch Daniels, and spending a fair amount of time praying the rosary and drinking Basil Hayden's (a good Catholic bourbon).
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Since my last post on this issue, assisted suicide legalization proposals in both Nebraska and Maryland has been defeated in committees. Great news!
Let us hope for the same result in Minnesota, where the Senate’s Health, Human Services and Housing Committee is holding a hearing on the "Minnesota Compassionate Care Act" (SF 1880). Charles Camosy published a great essay in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, presenting the "liberal" case in opposition to legalizing assisted suicide. Among other great things, he writes:
Against the individualist approach, liberals focus on how policies impact vulnerable people who are pushed to the margins. In a youth-worshiping and capitalist culture, older people are understood as a drain or burden on their families and society. Hardly surprising, then, that older people would feel “tired of life” and seek a way out. But it is diabolical to make it easier for vulnerable people on the margins to kill themselves. Good liberals must absolutely affirm the goodness of their existence — especially when the surrounding culture can make them feel unwanted and burdensome.
We've been blessed and honored at St. John's Law School to have had, within the last month, visits to our Colloquium in Law and Religion by Professor Robert George (who gave a paper on "Religious Liberty and the Human Good") and Professor Mark Tushnet (who discussed his skepticism about religious accommodation in this recent piece). Two men; two rather different sets of views; a perfectly equilibrated set of perspectives for a seminar on such matters.
At the still point, there the dance is...
Sunday, March 13, 2016
MoJ readers are probably aware that I am strongly opposed to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I have been sharply critical of the character of both of these candidates, as well as many of their policies and proposals. I believe that they are unfit to be President. But I am opposed to hatred directed towards anyone--including Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. Each of them, like every other human being, is a precious individual made in the image of likeness of God. Even in criticizing their character, as I believe we must do in view of the fact that they are seeking high office, we must bear that in mind.
In view of what is now happening to Mr. Trump, I must add this point: He, like every candidate, has a right to give his speeches and hold his rallies without disruption. Efforts by MoveOn and other leftist groups to prevent him from speaking are utterly disgraceful. Moreover, Mr. Trump (notwithstanding his own shameful statements about "punching people in the face") has the right to personal safety. That is an absolute right. Criticism of him and his policies is legitimate and necessary; but hatred directed towards him is unacceptable and dangerous.
March 13, 2016 | Permalink
Saturday, March 12, 2016
It's true, alas, and shameful, that Donald Trump's rhetoric about "punching people in the face" and so forth, and the tactics of some of his particularly overheated supporters, bring to mind the rhetoric and tactics of the fascist parties of the 1920s and 30s. That is among the many reasons I have forcefully and publicly spoken out against the Trump campaign, including in a recent public appeal by a group of Catholic thinkers to our fellow Catholics and all citizens of goodwill. But it is equally true, and every bit as shameful, that the hard left, including many Bernie Sanders supporters (though, it must be emphasized, without encouragement of any sort from Senator Sanders himself), employ vile rhetoric and engage in acts of intimidation that also call to mind the rhetoric and tactics of those fascist parties. The clashes between the Trump people and the left-wing radicals are beginning to get violent and I fear that they will escalate. More memories of Europe in the 20s and 30s. On Friday night, the hard left (urged on by MoveOn.org and an organization styling itself "People for Sanders") succeeded in a deliberate effort to shut down a Trump campaign rally in Chicago by deploying intimidation tactics and creating an atmosphere in which the threat of violence was palpable. That is fascism. And its effect will be to reinforce the narrative Mr. Trump has so successfully pressed about the need for a strong leader who will stand up against those who have been assaulting American values, undermmining America's interests, stifling America's public debate, and threatening the basic freedoms of ordinary Americans. (One more thing, the hard left honed its techniques of intimidation by using them successfully over the past decade or more to shut down dissenting speech on campuses and to enforce ideological conformity. Those of us who earn our daily bread in university environments are all-too-familiar with the kind of thing that went on in the streets of Chicago last night. You can expect more of it.)
March 12, 2016 | Permalink