Category: Individual Liberty

gty_pope_francis_kim_davis_wg_150929_16x9_992On the papal plane back to the Rome, Pope Francis said that government officials have a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty if they feel it violates their conscience. “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said.

The pontiff admitted, though, that he “can’t have in mind all cases that can exist about conscientious objection.” But what would he think about the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who objected to having her name on same-sex marriage licenses?

Turns out he told her, in person, to “stay strong.”

At least that’s the report of Davis’s lawyer, Mathew D. Staver. According to Staver, Davis and Francis met at the Vatican embassy:

Pope Francis talks aboard the papal plane while en route to ItalyWhen Pope Francis gave addresses at the White House, Congress, and the UN, he mentioned the importance of religious freedom. But many people (including me) were rather disappointed that he didn’t speak more specifically about what sorts of religious liberties are under threat.

Once aboard the papal plane, though, it appears the pontiff provided more clarity on the issue. According to Reuters, the pope said government officials have a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty, such as issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals, if they feel it violates their conscience.

How did the framers of the Constitution seek to preserve liberty and protect against tyranny? Many Americans would say that to protect the individual and minorities against the tyranny of the majority, the Founding Fathers added the Bill of Rights and gave the power to enforce those rights to the Supreme Court.

But as Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, explains, that answer is wrong—dangerously wrong—and has led to an overall reduction in freedom.

March for Life(1)Imagine if the government were to tell an organization dedicated to veganism that, because of a new mandate, they must purchase a meat platter to serve at their monthly meetings and that the chair cushions in their conference room must be made of leather.

Appalled by this governmental intrusion, the vegans ask to be excluded from the mandate since none of their members wish to eat bologna while sitting on dead cow skin. They also point out that a group of Jain vegetarians who meet next door were given an exemption and that they are merely asking to be treated similarly.

The government considers their request and decides to deny the exemption. The reason? Unlike the Jains, the vegans’ objection is based on moral philosophy rather than religion.

Such reasoning would be morally and legally absurd. Yet it is the exact reason the Obama administration gave for denying an exemption from the HHS’s abortifacient mandate to March for Life, a non-religious, non-profit pro-life organization whose staff opposes all forms of abortion, including those caused by contraceptives that can act as abortifacients.

womensequalitydayIf you’ve been on Facebook today you’ve probably noticed the graphic promoting “Women’s Equality Day” which claims “On Aug 26, 1920, women achieved the right to vote in the US.”

President Obama also issued a proclamation today which begins, “On August 26, 1920, after years of agitating to break down the barriers that stood between them and the ballot box, American women won the right to vote.”

The problem with these claims is that they imply American women had no right to vote prior to the certification of the 19th Amendment. But as Joshua Treviño explains,


We’ve had our busiest Acton Lecture Series in institute history over the course of the first six months of 2015 – we’ve had more public events at the Acton Building in that period of time than we had all of last year, I believe; I’d venture to say that 2015 is already the busiest year in that regard in the 25-year history of the Acton Institute. We’ve had a bit of a pause in the events schedule over the summer, which means that now is a great time to catch up and highlight some events from earlier in the year that you may have missed.

On April 14th, Acton joined with our friends at the Mackinac Center to host Timothy P. Carney – author, senior political columnist at the Washington Examiner, and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute – who spoke on the topic “Is Big Business a Danger to Economic Liberty?” Carney’s talk and the Q and A session that followed are now available for your edification via the video player below.

We’ve seen lots of commentary on the lopsided outrage over the inhumane death of Cecil the Lion — how the incident has inspired far higher levels of fervor and indignation than the brutal systemic barbarism of the #PPSellsBabyParts controversy or the tragically unjust murder of Samuel Dubose.

At first, I was inclined to shrug off this claim, thinking, “You can feel pointed grief about one while still feeling empathy about the other.” Or, “the facts of the Cecil case are perhaps clearer to more people.” Or, “How can we be sure this imbalance actually exists?”


But alas, the social media rants and media (non-)developments of the past few days have only continued to confirm that the reaction we are witnessing is, indeed, stemming from some kind of distorted social, moral, and spiritual imagination. This isn’t just about what is or isn’t bubbling up in the news cycle. It’s about what’s brewing, and in some cases, festering deep inside our hearts. (more…)

city lightsWhat’s the purpose of lighting in a large city? That may seem like the a fine example of a stupid question, but it’s not. While we could answer that question with suggestions like safety, allowing for extended commercial hours and ease of travel, lighting may now be used as a way to collect data on private citizens.

Using a combination of LEDs and big data technology, public lighting is the potential backbone of a system that could use billions of fixtures to collect data about traffic congestion at an intersection or a consumer walking down the cereal aisle, to name just a couple of applications.

What’s being called “intelligent environment” means lighting won’t simply be hardware but software, collecting data on everything from traffic congestion to gunshots to tracking a particular shopper in a grocery store. (more…)

Not the Only “Option”

This is the question I ask in response to Rod Dreher et al. at Ethika Politika today. By liberalism, of course, I mean the (classical) liberal tradition as a whole, not just progressive forms of it common on the social and political left.

I write,

So in one sense Benedict Option enthusiasts are not all wrong. Liberalism is the problem the same way “culture” is the problem, or “society,” or “religion,” or “secularism,” or any other general noun that mutually admits of several concrete forms with varying degrees of moral worth. And it’s everywhere.

… Even our anti-liberals are liberals. Long ago, most gave up on their respective utopias and decided that reform from within liberal societies was a more prudent path than violent revolution or quietist withdrawal. So [Jeff] Guhin is right when he says, “We are all liberals now.”

Why, again, is that a bad thing?

Read my full essay, “The Liberal Option’s Answer to the Benedict Option,” at Ethika Politika here.

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, July 17, 2015

graffiti_litter“Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact,” said G. K. Chesterton. “The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes.”

Recognizing the fact of sin should be the beginning of all inquiries in how we should arrange public policy. This is especially true for those of us who champion liberty. Because order is a necessary precondition of liberty, we need to maintain order by limiting and impeding certain types of sinful behavior.

Throughout human history, sin has been restrained through norm, rules, customs, and laws, and traditions. Inevitably, certain individuals push back against these restrictions and complain that they hinder their own personal liberty. Sometimes this is true, of course, but more often than not it is merely an individual wanting to put their own self-centered actions and behaviors ahead of the reasonable needs of society.

Some have argued that as long as only a relatively few people break the norms and rules that it would have little to no affect on society. But this misses, as Chesterton might say, the fact of sin, especially the fact of sin as a social contagion.

Take, for example, the victimless crimes of prostitution, vagrancy, or public drunkenness. Theoretically, we could justify the decriminalization of all these acts since they do not necessarily harm other people or their property. I’m not likely to become a vagrant because I see one on the streets, so what harm does it do?

As it turns out, such actions do lead to harmful affects on society. As the renowned criminologist James Wilson notes: