Friday, September 18, 2015
Catholic University is going to be the hub of activity next week as we host the Pope. Timed perfectly before his visit is an important conference regarding religious freedom.
The Religious Freedom Summit occurs today and is co-sponsored by The Catholic University of America, Baylor University, the Georgetown-Baylor Religious Freedom Project, and the Knights of Columbus. Speakers include our own Mark Rienzi, as well as former congressman Frank Wolf, Sarah Liu, and Judge Ken Starr. Details and follow up information can be found here.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
This is the subtitle of an important conference going on today through Wednesday in Cincinnati. The Freedom Summit is an effort by Christian churches to come together and discuss important components of today's human trafficking problem. It describes the Summit as follows:
Sponsored largely by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, this conference is yet another important example of the role organized religion can play in the movement against human trafficking. Furthermore, it brings into the spotlight the often ignored reality that race plays in human trafficking.
To end this form of exploitation, organizations and individuals must engage in difficult conversations and confront the reality that we all contribute to human trafficking and that we have more people enslaved throughout the world today than at any time in human history. No doubt this conference will contribute to the the national conversation looking to end this exploitation that enslaves millions everyday.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
This is the title of an important new book available for order this month featuring many of our fellow MOJ bloggers or friends of MOJ. Contributors include Fr. Robert John Araujo, Thomas Berg, John Breen, Robert George, Michael Scaperlanda and many others. Gerard Bradley notes in his foreword that “[t]he moral evaluative perspective which unfolds in succeeding pages illumines, justifies, and critiques America’s laws.” One of my favorite reviews is from Michael Novak who states:
"Precisely because I am not a lawyer, I really liked this book. For an outsider, it provides a crisp guide to the history of American Catholics under American law – a fairly friendly and yet often antagonistic encounter. I hadn’t known that there are 29 Catholic law schools in the United States today...."
The book also features chapters from two of my colleagues here at Catholic University. My colleague, Robert Destro authored a chapter entitled “The Ethics of Lawyers & Judges Perspectives from Catholic Social Teaching." Additionally, my colleague Lucia Silecchia authored "The Call to Stewardship: A Catholic Perspective on Environmental Responsibility."
From the publisher: "Here readers will find probing arguments that bring the critical perspective of Catholic social thought to bear on American legal jurisprudence."
Friday, February 6, 2015
Last term, the Supreme Court reversed a restitution award for a victim of child sexual abuse images (a.k.a. child pornography) and ruled in Paroline v. United States, that this victim could not receive mandatory restitution under 18 U.S.C. 2259. In Paroline, the defendant was a possessor of the images. Although the Court recognized that “[i]t would be inconsistent …to apply the statute in a way that leaves offenders with the mistaken impression that child-pornography possession (at least where the images are in wide circulation) is a victimless crime,” the Court ruled that the victim would have to establish that the possessor was a proximate cause of her harm. So, somewhat paradoxically, the Court recognized the harm caused by possessors, but applied a nearly impossible and unworkable standard for victims to actually receive restitution for that harm. (It should be noted that in doing so the Court was not alone, but other lower courts required proximate cause as well.)
While a blow to the ability of victims of child sexual abuse images to be able to recover from this pernicious exploitation, the decision sparked legislative actions. Yesterday, the Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Restitution Act passed 19-0 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not only is the Act a step forward for victims. It also represents a refreshing change in Congress working together for what is inherently good, as it is sponsored by Orin Hatch and Charles Schumer, among others.
Friday, October 10, 2014
Today the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay. The awards convey several distinct messages worthy of consideration.
First, they underscore the reality that so many children in our world, particularly girls, live in quite grave circumstances. Not only are they not afforded basic human dignity, but often they are seen as commodities and property. Indeed, the world cannot be "at peace" when such a disconnect exists between the inherent dignity of the person and institutions such as child labor and exploitation. Second, the awards again focuses the world on the significant problem of child trafficking and oppression of girls. In a world which has seemingly forgotten that over 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped and likely sold into sexual servitude 179 days ago, a reminder of the plight of these girls is needed. This awards highlight child labor and child trafficking as very real and entrenched problems.
In many ways these awards remind me of the 1979 Nobel Peace Price awarded to Mother Teresa "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace." These 2014 awards continue to reflect that peace is threatened and elusive when children live in conditions of objectification and oppression. That awareness is the good news. The bad news is that we stated these things back in 1979... and yet we have not seemed to be able to improve the future for these children.
Perhaps the insight Mother Teresa offered at her acceptance speech could be useful to us today. Below are some excerpts, but the full speech can be found here.
... He was that little unborn child, was the first messenger of peace. He recognised the Prince of Peace, he recognised that Christ has come to bring the good news for you and for me. And as if that was not enough - it was not enough to become a man - he died on the cross to show that greater love, and he died for you and for me and for that leper and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of Calcutta, but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo - and insisted that we love one another as he loves each one of us. And we read that in the Gospel very clearly - love as I have loved you - as I love you - as the Father has loved me, I love you - and the harder the Father loved him, he gave him to us, and how much we love one another, we, too, must give each other until it hurts. It is not enough for us to say: I love God, but I do not love my neighbour. St. John says you are a liar if you say you love God and you don't love your neighbour. How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbour whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live. And so this is very important for us to realise that love, to be true, has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us, it hurt him. And to make sure we remember his great love he made himself the bread of life to satisfy our hunger for his love. Our hunger for God, because we have been created for that love. We have been created in his image.
* * *
There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty - how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.
* * *
And so here I am talking with you - I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next-door neighbour - do you know who they are? I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long - do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children - their eyes shinning with hunger - I don't know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her - where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew - and who are they, a Muslim family - and she knew. I didn't bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see this is where love begins - at home.
* * *
Because today there is so much suffering - and I feel that the passion of Christ is being relived all over again - are we there to share that passion, to share that suffering of people. Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society - that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult. Our Sisters are working amongst that kind of people in the West. So you must pray for us that we may be able to be that good news, but we cannot do that without you, you have to do that here in your country. You must come to know the poor, maybe our people here have material things, everything, but I think that if we all look into our own homes, how difficult we find it sometimes to smile at each, other, and that the smile is the beginning of love.
* * *
I never forget some time ago about fourteen professors came from the United States from different universities. And they came to Calcutta to our house. Then we were talking about that they had been to the home for the dying. We have a home for the dying in Calcutta, where we have picked up more than 36,000 people only from the streets of Calcutta, and out of that big number more than 18,000 have died a beautiful death. They have just gone home to God; and they came to our house and we talked of love, of compassion, and then one of them asked me: Say, Mother, please tell us something that we will remember, and I said to them: Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family. Smile at each other. And then another one asked me: Are you married, and I said: Yes, and I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at Jesus because he can be very demanding sometimes.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
The other day I found myself re-reading Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, Evangelii Gaudiem. In light of last week’s news, the following excerpt jumped out at me where he discusses how we are all invited:
…to receive God’s love and to love him in return with the very love which is his gift, bring[ing] forth in our lives and actions a primary and fundamental response: to desire, seek and protect the good of others.
The message is one which we often take for granted, and can repeat almost mechanically, without necessarily ensuring that it has a real effect on our lives and in our communities. (Evangelii Gaudiem, para. 178)
Later in the document, when more specifically discussing this call to protect the most vulnerable in society, Pope Francis singles out victims of domestic violence. He writes “[d]oubly poor are those women who endure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to defend their rights.” (Evangelii Gaudiem, para. 212)
As I previously blogged, much of this last week has demonstrated how society has taken for granted, indeed, accepted a certain level of violence against women, thereby negatively “affecting our lives and communities.” However, Thursday also demonstrated how some women senators have engaged in the very actions Pope Francis exhorts us all to do.
A bipartisan group of 16 women senators wrote Commissioner Roger Goodell expressing dismay with the NFL’s “policy” regarding domestic violence. Central to this letter is this most basic but poignant observation:
We are deeply concerned that the NFL’s new policy, announced last month, would allow a player to commit a violent act against a woman and return after a short suspension. If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL.
The NFL is a major American business whose teams split $6 billion in revenue in 2013. I would hope that in most businesses if an employee (let alone a public figure) knocked a co-worker unconscious and was indicted, he would be severely disciplined. This certainly would be true if he beat unconscious a person because of his or her class, religion, or creed. But somehow it is not true if he beat unconscious a person because of her gender. That apparently is more acceptable.
I am pleased that these senators are seeking to help protect women. It is sad, however, that this business needs to be told this basic truth: “If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL.”
A full text of the letter can be found here.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
So, exactly what did you think domestic violence looked like?
In the wake of TMZ’s release of the elevator video recording of Ray Rice’s vicious beating of his now wife, Janay Palmer, everyone has something to say. Now we are horrified. Now the team is outraged because, as Coach John Harbaugh put it, the videotape “changed things.” Why?
I think I know the answer. It changed things because now we cannot hide. Now, we cannot blame the victim as the Ravens suggested in an early tweet talking about how Ms. Palmer “regrets the role she played” in the incident. (Was that the role her face played in receiving Rice’s punch, hitting the wall, or hitting the floor?) Now we cannot whitewash with the sterile label “domestic violence” a 206 pound man punching a woman unconscious, then dragging her body and dropping it face down onto the floor. It changes things because now we cannot look the other way. The ugliness and the viciousness of what the words “domestic violence” mean are laid bare and there is no escaping it no matter how hard we try.
And we tried hard. This is not a situation in which nothing was known prior to yesterday’s release of the video. It was already known that Rice hit her with such force that she was unconscious. It was already known he was charged with aggravated assault, not simple assault (although the prosecutor approved a diversion program). It was already known that there was at least a video of him dragging her unconscious body from the elevator. But amazingly we as a society generally - the NFL and the Ravens particularly- managed to minimize.
So why are things different now? Things are different because, after the videotape, society and the NFL are now faced with the ugly truth: that domestic violence is exactly that – violence; and what Ms. Palmer experienced was the violence of a closed fist hitting her head with such force that she immediately was knocked unconscious as her body fell against the wall. It was the violence and humiliation of being unceremoniously dragged into a hallway with so little dignity that she lay there injured, unresponsive, and humiliated with her skirt pulled above her waist on the floor.
How did this willful ignorance happen? Two decades after the Violence Against Women Act, twelve years after the Catholic Conference of Bishops wrote “Violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form-physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal is sinful; often, it is a crime as well" - how is it that we are still looking the other way? The sad truth is that this happens because we do not afford women and children the inherent dignity they deserve. We even give this victimization a different label, “domestic violence” and treat it differently than what it is: a fist to the face.
We do not want to face the reality of violence against women and children. Just think back to the Steubenville high school football players convicted of rape. This was a case covered up and one that may not have been prosecuted but for the videotapes of both circumstances surrounding the event and the teens discussing it. Remember the outrage at Penn State? It was outrage only felt when the testimony of an adult eye witness was released to the public through the grand jury. Not until the reality of what women and children victims experience behind closed doors is placed front and center are we willing to reluctantly acknowledge what it is.
Some have commented that this termination is a watershed moment. Sadly, I am not so optimistic. Ironically, on the same day that Ray Rice was let go from the Ravens, the NCAA lifted the ban on Penn State’s post season play because “they have made remarkable progress” in their cover up of one of their former coaches molesting children on campus. Remarkable progress for such a serious institutional failure? This further underscores society’s preference to sweep away not only the victimization, but the institutional willful ignorance as well. As Joey Galloway questioned, “[w]hen you start to peel back these penalties, what are you saying about the initial crime?”
We simply do not take violence against women and children seriously because we hide from its reality. We do so because our society simply does not afford victims the inherent human dignity belonging to all people. Not until we recognize what this violence is, can we effectively respond and prevent its occurrence by working with victims and offenders.
Many now are asking whether the NFL knew of this video prior to yesterday. There are, however, more fundamental questions: given what was known, why did we need a videotape to be repulsed? Why does the existence of a video change things? But it does.
According to the Domestic Violence Hotline, 3 in 10 women will experience some form of intimate partner violence or stalking. In the minute it took to read this piece 24 people have been victimized in this way. Chances are there was no video camera to force us to hold those abusers accountable.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Yesterday I blogged about the Roundtable Discussion co-hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Global Freedom Network, and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. More information has become available about the content of that important meeting which the Embassy described as follows:
[T]he Embassy was proud to co-host with the Global Freedom Network and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences a digital video conference with Luis CdeBaca, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, to discuss this year’s U.S. Department of State's Trafficking in Persons report. Over 40 representatives from the Vatican, Embassies to the Holy See, NGOs, and media outlets were present to learn about the report and talk about how to improve and increase anti-trafficking efforts.
As I mentioned in the earlier post, this meeting exemplifies one of many efforts to bring together different stakeholders to discuss and combat one of the most pressing moral and legal issues of our time. Of particular interest to MOJ readers may be the comments of Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo. Among other things, he comments on this interplay between an overwhelming social problem and the potential for defeating it when religions, governments, and the private sector actors find common ground and act:
Because of the human and moral scandal they mean and interests involved, which lead to pessimism and resignation, many international institutions have turned their backs. This is why the 2014 TIP Report is so important, which we can say was especially motivated by President Obama’s visit to Pope Francis, as confirmed one of the opening photos.
We must thus be grateful to Pope Francis and to President Obama and to Secretary of State John Kerry for identifying one of the most important social tragedies of our times and having enough confidence in democratic institutions to instruct them to be responsible to spot human trafficking, engage our communities, and commit to take action. As you know, after our November workshop, we decided to tackle this issue by founding an interreligious partnership called the Global Freedom Network, which you can read more about on our website www.gfn2020.org
* * *
As religious people we can repeat the words of Pope Francis during the canonization of the Mexican St Guadalupe García Zavala, “this is called 'touching the flesh of Christ'. The poor, the abandoned, the sick and the marginalized are the flesh of Christ. And Mother Lupita touched the flesh of Christ and taught us this behaviour: not to feel ashamed, not to fear, not to find 'touching Christ’s flesh' repugnant. Mother Lupita had realized what 'touching Christ’s flesh' actually means”. Pope Francis’ words are a clear response in the light of Jesus Christ’s message to this new form of contemporary slavery, which constitutes an abhorrent violation of the dignity and rights of human beings.
The full text of the Bishop’s remarks, as well as those of U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Ken Hackett and U.S. Ambassador At Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca, can be found here and are definitely worth the read.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Today is the first UN World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. To commemorate the day, the U.K. Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, has blogged about a roundtable hosted by Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Vatican-based Global Freedom Network (an initiative of Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby) and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. He has entitled the piece, “Human Trafficking: Responding to the Pope’s Appeal.”
Teaching, writing, and studying Human Trafficking can be a dark subject matter. This was underscored for me this summer when I taught my Human Trafficking seminar every day in Catholic University Law School’s Rome Human Rights Program – as opposed to once a week as in a regular semester. I saw that the material became a bit overwhelming to these young adults in the class when faced with such a volume of information at such a fast pace. It is often difficult to see anything positive in the field. Yet, this post struck me for two reasons.
First, it is a nice reflective piece on concrete ways governments, religious institutions, and private entities can come together to address a complex social issue. It is no surprise to me that central in this event was the U.S. Ambassador at Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Person, Luis CdeBaca. He has done an excellent job of recognizing and including in this movement the work of religious organizations and private entities.
Second, and somewhat unrelated – it struck this Irish woman how amazing it was that a British official was publicly posting a reflection on how we all need to respond to a pope’s appeal for action. It is not only that one could not have imagined such an act 20 years ago. One could not underestimate the tension between Catholics and non-Catholic in Britain - less than 7 years ago former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was called a “fool” for converting to Catholicism.
Yet, today we see unity from across social groups behind this abolitionist movement as reflected in this blog piece.
Therefore, notwithstanding the difficulty in working in this area, there are small rays of hope that great social challenges can be overcome…and Catholic legal and social thought is playing a role.
Friday, July 25, 2014
It has been over 100 days - 102 days to be exact. 102 days since Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 girls and threatened to sell them into sexual slavery. I worry that in today’s 24-7 news cycle that fact has become “yesterday’s news.”
As a human trafficking scholar I think a great deal about the parallels between the slavery of today and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. I have considered the role of the bystander in both these systems, trying to imagine how it was possible for people - particularly the bystanders - to justify the ownership of human beings as property. It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around the concept that it was acceptable and not shocking to abduct, buy, and sell other people.
And then 100 days pass since these girls were abducted and threatened to be sold and it seems as though this terrible crime is no longer at the forefront of the American consciousness. It is perhaps no longer shocking.
Three months after the crime, Malala Yousafzai visited Nigeria and met with President Goodluck Jonathan who claimed he would bring back the girls “as soon as possible.” Well, apparently “as soon as possible” means right after he finishes spending $1.2 million, not on the rescue effort, but on hiring the American public relations firm, Levick, to improve his image. It seems to me that such an amount of money may have been better spent actually trying to rescue the girls…rather than paying Americans to explain why the government has not done so. If that is “as soon as possible” I would hate to see what “when I get around to acknowledging it happened” looks like.
Yet, the outrage is gone. The shock is gone. We in the West seem to have largely moved on to other issues. How can this be? It may be because on some level we accept the objectification of people…just like bystanders accepted slavery centuries ago.
Some reject the parallels drawn between human trafficking and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, asserting that there is an important distinction between legally sanctioned slavery and that which is not state supported. These events underscore that laws do not the society make. While it is indeed symbolically important to end laws that sanction slavery or other moral wrongs, it is necessary but not sufficient. A legal shift is interesting but a social shift is what is required. And we in the West seem not to have made that shift.
While I support Pope Francis’ bold call for human trafficking to explicitly be treated as a crime against humanity it will amount to nothing until we as a global society truly value the lives of such victims as though they were our own children…until the shock lasts longer than a week, a month, or 102 days. Until that day comes the parallel between the bystander in the 1800’s and the rest of us unavoidable.