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, November 17, 2020

One Christian’s Fallible Thoughts on the Lessons of (and Warnings from) the Election for People of Faith on Both Sides


To my faithful friends and family of who voted for the losing candidate:

“[Biden’s] victory caused people to weep in joyful relief as they became aware of the heaviness that had afflicted their hearts, after they’d suddenly been relieved of it.”

The words above express what so very many of us felt when the presidential election was finally called days afterward. I myself was startled to find tears forming in my eyes when I knew for certain that the Trump presidency was now in its last days. I truly felt like a heavy weight had been lifted off my chest.

I do understand that those who voted for President Trump had a very different emotional reaction after his defeat: grief, anger, fear, denial. I do wish to extend sympathy toward Trump supporters with their deeply felt disappointment. I have always sought to understand in a sympathetic way why so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ reached a decision to support this man, who I saw as so undeserving of their faith (and I speak more of what I think I’ve learned in my words to Biden supporters below).

But in the interests of understanding each other in the community of Christian faith, I do ask those who voted for Trump to take a moment and try to understand (and perhaps even find empathy for) why so many of us felt intense relief that we would not be experiencing another four years of this presidency. Can you appreciate the wounds that so many Americans felt from the hostile words, blizzard of insults, and unceasingly childish behavior of the man in the White House?

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November 17, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Friday, October 16, 2020

Ending the Train-Wreck Presidency (or Why I'm Voting for Biden)

In my professional life, I have not been reticent to express my opinions on matters of the law and legal reform, taking clear and I believe well-informed public positions on matter of public policy.  In my personal life, I have not been quiet in expressing my political views, including judgments about candidates.  (And in expressing political opinions here, I of course do so in my personal, academic, and professional capacity, not on behalf of my Mirror of Justice colleagues or speaking for the University of St. Thomas.). My colleagues, professional associates, family, and friends know where I stand on major issues:

  • I believe in robust protection of religious liberty, including the right of individuals, religious schools, and churches, mosques, and synagogues to express religious views and exercise religious practices that may not be in vogue with the cultural elite.
  • I believe that educational choice — including (especially including) religious schools — is one of the most powerful engines for progress, equal opportunity, and racial equity.
  • I believe that the right to life of the unborn should be recognized as a compelling civil rights cause.
  • I believe that people in urban areas, as well as suburban or rural, have a right to be safe from violence, whether safety is endangered by racist police subcultures and unnecessarily militaristic practices or by foolish calls to defund and abolish the police.
  • I believe that law-abiding citizens have a constitutional right to own a gun for self-defense or sport and am a gun owner myself.
  • I believe in freedom of speech and defend it against threats by self-righteous intolerant persons in the cultural elite of academia, media, and government or elsewhere in society.
  • I believe that socialism is a dangerous ideology with a long history of destroying economic prosperity and undermining liberty throughout the world.
  • And I believe that government and politicians are as often the problem as the solution, so that we often (not always, but often) are better advised to look for community-based partnerships for the common good.

I understand and respect that most people who share all or most of the beliefs that I have just articulated will find it difficult or impossible to support Joe Biden for president.  They instead find themselves, even with grave misgivings, forced to the conclusion that President Trump is the lesser evil in this election.  I love many people and know and appreciate others who, while acknowledging the grave flaws in this disordered man and saddened by the choice, will reluctantly cast a vote for Donald Trump.  And I know others who conclude the only alternative is not to vote for president or to cast a protest vote for a write-in or third-party candidate.

Train-wreck_137015But I submit these conclusions are badly mistaken at this moment in history.  The greater good, the higher priority right now is to bring an end to this train-wreck presidency.

I do not think that religious liberty, free enterprise, educational opportunity, public safety, or the right to life of the unborn are at all safe in the insecure hands of this president.  Indeed, I fear that the principles that I hold most dear are endangered in the long run (and not so long run) by being so closely associated with this toxic figure.

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October 16, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Wajahat Ali: If Amy Coney Barrett Were Muslim

In today's New York Times, Wajahat Ali wrote a column titled, If Amy Coney Barrett Were Muslim. Drawing parallels with Judge Barrett's Catholic background and experiences, Ali points to the scurrilous and bigoted comments made by many on the right about Muslims in public life. While I am disappointed that he compromised the strength of his argument by ending with a political attack on Judge Barrett's judicial philosophy (confirming leftist bona fides is apparently obligatory these days at the New York Times), Ali's column strikes me as a sadly fair description of hypocrisy and anti-Muslim antipathy among many Americans, including those who claim to care about protecting religious faith.  Ali's column should be read by every faithful Catholic, both to be reminded of the importance of a robust understanding of religious liberty and to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters when they suffer bigoted attacks and ignorant attitudes.



October 13, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Braver Angels: "What We Will Do to Hold America Together"

Braver Angels, a diverse group of people of different backgrounds and political beliefs, strives to bring America together and help move us in a united way toward the common good.

"What We Will Do to Hold American Together" is a public letter speaking to unity in these divided times.

You can read -- and sign -- the letter here.

October 8, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Jeannie Gaffigan: On being Catholic and voting for president

Jeannie Gaffigan, wife of my favorite comedian Jim Gaffigan and, as the link shows, a talented writer, devout Catholic, and thoughtful Catholic citizen, has a piece in America titled: “My loved ones told me ‘real’ Catholics vote for Trump. Here’s my response.”

October 3, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Friday, September 25, 2020

Christianity Today: Why the Supreme Court Makeup Matters Beyond Abortion

Christianity Today has a collection of short essays by a host of legal experts -- including two of us on Mirror of Justice -- about why the Supreme Court's makeup has implications beyond the question of abortion.

September 25, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

First Things on Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris and Religious Liberty

Kenneth Craycraft at First Things has provided a timely and troubling reminder of Senator Kamala Harris’s narrow views on religious liberty, her legislative proposal to weaken the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,  and her past suggestions that belonging to a Catholic organization may disqualify someone from public office.

Please understand, and my Mirror of Justice colleagues may recall some of my past posts to confirm as much, I do not offer this link to un-endorse Joe Biden, much less indirectly endorse Donald Trump. Rather, I think it important that those of us who cherish religious liberty and rightly condemn anti-Catholic statements have our eyes wide open as we go into this election and anticipate a possible transition of power. If Joe Biden is elected President, we may hope that Vice President Harris will come to a more inclusive attitude toward Catholics and a more robust view of religious liberty. And it will remain important for us to remain vigilant and speak out when necessary. Joe Biden has insisted that he wants to unit Americans and will resist attempts to divide us. His support for religious liberty, for Catholics and others, may be a test for him as to whether that promise holds true.

September 8, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Mirror of Justice Anniversary: Revised Past Post on Purpose of Blog on Catholic Legal Thought

Although posted many years ago, I came across this again recently and it no longer appears to be retrievable online. I’m redacting it into a more general discussion of the purpose of a blog on Catholic Legal Thought (rather than focused on the controversy of the moment that prompted the original post).  I hope it still resonates today.

In blogging on the Mirror of Justice, we should not just be talking to each other but mindful of our larger audience, who are not always privy to the richness and diversity of perspectives, projects, and internal dialogues that constitute the growing and exciting field of Catholic Legal Studies. In so doing, we often are responding to what we see as errors by other public commentators, including other Catholic thinkers. But whenever we poke at supposed flaws in another Catholic thinker’s message, we should acknowledge the flaws our own ability to get out our message and to more effectively penetrate the culture with our alternative approach toward thinking about issues of legal and public moment.

We should not make the mistake of treating the blogosphere as the universe. Most of us blogging on Catholic legal issues devote far more attention to these matters in the context of serious scholarship published in traditional venues and through carefully developed presentations and responses at conferences. Questions about Catholic teaching and social justice are the subject of regular and spirited debates among Catholic legal scholars of all political hue in symposia and at various conferences. While blogs, such as Mirror of Justice, are an important means by which Catholic Legal Studies is developed, a blog hardly substitutes for the other means either in terms of scholarly depth or community-building.

And in translating Catholic teaching into public-regarding proposals, we must remember the principle of prudential judgment in Catholic thought. That the laity are given the apostolate of working within the political realm means that the Church must respect and honor the different expertise of political leaders, economists, lawyers, and others regarding appropriate measures undertaken to promote social justice.  Most questions of public policy involve prudential judgments that should be guided by moral principles—and here is where Catholic Legal Studies is important in offering a framework for discussion and principles upon which to draw—but upon which persons of good will and common faith reasonably may differ.

For example, whether certain circumstances present the occasion for the use of military force in accord with principles of just war or whether a particular piece of legislation regarding provision of governmental benefits to the disadvantaged or disabled is the best means to advance the preferential option for the poor are questions that demand both morally sensitive and realistically pragmatic evaluations. In answering such policy questions, the decision-maker often must balance conflicting moral precepts or justifiable human interests, or at least may find that the underlying moral principles do not point unambiguously in one direction.

Church leaders contributing to a moral dialogue in public society appropriately may opine as to whether a particular measure or proposed course of action contributes to or undermines the common good. But policy suggestions by clerical or lay leaders in the Church must not be mistaken for the teaching of the Magisterium on matters of doctrine and morals to which all faithful Catholics must confess. In sum, most policy choices involve the exercise of prudential judgment, and the Church respects the expertise and special vocation of those holding public office in making those decisions.

In contrast with most public policy matters, which require prudential judgment and on which persons taking different views do not thereby fall out of communion with the Church, there are certain forms of societal behavior that implicate public policy that are so manifestly and grievously wrong as to be categorically prohibited.  In these instances of intrinsic evil—slavery, genocide, racist oppression, and abortion—moral principle and public policy effectively merge, sharply circumscribing prudential judgment.

Finally, we should avoid the common categorical error of too readily and simplistically labeling Catholic thinkers in secular political terms. I do not mean to resist the label conservative, which has its purpose, but neither is it fully descriptive of my thinking or my engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition. Whether categorized as conservative or liberal, one point of consensus among those of us across the spectrum on the Mirror of Justice is that we intend to be a contradiction to this society, in seeking common ground or at least a common framework for discussion that transcends ideological lines.

February 13, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Overheard Today at the National Prayer Breakfast

Democratic co-sponsor (Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.):  “If we’re to heal our division, we need to spend time together; we need to stop judging one another.”

Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute and a convert to Catholicism:  “How do you do it in a country and world roiled by hatreds we can’t seem to bridge? Contempt kills. Ask God to take political contempt from your heart. And sometimes when it’s too hard, ask God to help you fake it. Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing. To go against your human nature. To follow Jesus’ teaching. You believe in Jesus! Follow his teachings.”

President Donald Trump:  “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong. Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.”

Jesus:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

February 6, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Thursday, October 3, 2019

"It’s not because I am good. It’s because I believe in Christ."

A very public story of tragedy and violence set on a stage of racial injustice that ends with expressions of mercy and faith.

If you have not taken the time to watch the two videos following the sentencing of Amber Guyger and the response of Brandt Jean, the brother of the homicide victim Boothan Jean, and that of Judge Tammy Kemp, you should do so.  As one of the reporters described it, this was a scene of "extraordinary grace."  No person of faith can fail to be inspired and brought to tears.

In a troubling period of our history in which people of Christian faith too often are seen by the public as apparently advocates for cruel policies and agents of division rather than as witnesses for the Gospel, this episode reminds us that Christ still walks among us through his disciples.

October 3, 2019 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink