Category: Individual Liberty

I want to be very clear from the outset that moral concerns surrounding transgender identity are not unimportant. But in the likely event that we don’t come to any national consensus on that question any time soon, it is important not to overlook other moral and social concerns that are far more pressing. In particular, there are legitimate concerns regarding safety and privacy, no matter which side one favors, but resorting to the force of law will leave some real victims vulnerable.

On the one hand, the Anti-Violence Project’s 2014 Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Hate Violence found that compared to violence among the general population, “Transgender women [i.e. biologically male] survivors were 1.6 times more likely to experience physical violence and 1.6 times more likely to experience sexual violence, when compared with other survivors.” I have seen headlines connecting this violence with restroom use in the past, but now that the issue has become politicized those stories are harder to locate. In any case, privacy and safety are real and major concerns for many. We should not be indifferent to this.

On the other hand, according to the CDC,

  • Nearly 1 in 5 (18.3%) women and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives.
  • Approximately 1 in 20 women and men (5.6% and 5.3%, respectively) experienced sexual violence other than rape….

Again, privacy and safety are real and major concerns here. We should not be indifferent. (more…)

cracked-flag-fragment-america-dividedThe fabric of American society is tearing at the seams. Whether witnessed through the disruptive insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders or the more mundane fissures of pop culture and daily consumerism, Americans are increasingly divided and diverse.

Yet even in our rash attempts to dismantle Establishment X and Power Center Y, we do so with a peculiar nostalgia of the golden days of yore. You know, those days when institutions mattered?

This is particularly evident in the appeal of Mr. Trump, whose calls to burn down the houses of power come pre-packaged with a simultaneous disdain for the power of bottom-up diversity and the liberty it requires. Once the tattered castle on the hill is torched to the ground, we’re told, we will receive a greater castle on a higher hill with a far more deserving king. The scepter will be yuge, and with power restored to the hands of a man shrewd enough to exploit it, surely we will “win” again. (more…)

Feeling the Bern

Alvino-Mario Fantini, editor-in-chief of the The European Conservativeand Michael Severance, operations manager of Istituto Acton, co-wrote an op-ed for The Catholic World Report Are Pope Leo XIII and Pope Saint John Paul II “feeling the Bern”? The article was published yesterday as a concluding reflection on Acton’s April 20 Rome conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time“.

The op-ed  summarizes some of the main moral theological and anthropological points expressed last Wednesday — especially those made by the theologian of the papal household Fr. Wojciech Giertych, OP. Fr. Giertych  reminded everyone present that Pope Leo XIII, the first pope in centuries not to have temporal power over the Papal States, did not have a state-centric approach to anthropology. Pope Leo, said Giertych, “insisted that by nature man precedes the state – and independently of it he has the right to provide for his own needs (RN, 7).” (more…)

As Americans face an increasing wave of pressure on religious liberty here at home, Christians around the world are enduring unprecedented levels of persecution.

According to We Stand With Them, a new group focused on “standing with those who stand with Jesus,” 100 million Christians were targeted for their faith in 2015, including a 136% increase over the previous year in believers who were killed for their faith. Last year was “the worst year for Christian persecution on record,” according to the group.

In a powerful new video, they aptly illustrate the situation:

As the narrator explains: (more…)

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is the most famous quote by the English Catholic historian Sir John Dalberg-Acton. It also appears to be the overriding theme of the teaser-trailer for the new movie Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice .

The quote is even stated directly in the trailer in a voiceover (by actress Holly Hunter). Is it applicable in this context? Would Lord Acton agree that absolute power has corrupted Superman? I think he would.

That particular quote comes from a letter to Bishop Creighton in which Lord Acton explains that historians should condemn murder, theft, and violence whether committed by an individual, the state, or the Church. Here is the context:
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mass-incarcerationWith the 2010 publication of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander, the conversation about America’s exploding prison population singularly became focused on the intersection of race, poverty, and the War on Drugs. According to the narrative, the drug war disproportionately targets blacks in lower income communities as a means of social control via the criminal justice system similarly to the way Jim Crow controlled blacks in the early 20th-century.

The one problem with mass incarceration-as-Jim-Crow thesis is that it does not fit the empirical data. The drug war is not the reason that today we have nearly 2.5 million people incarcerated in this country. In the mid-1970s the U.S. prison population grew from about 300,000 to 1.6 million inmates, and the incarceration rate from 100 per 100,000 to over 500 per 100,000 largely due to violent crime, property crime, and rogue prosecutors. Drug policy changes would, therefore, have little effect on prison population rolls.

The first significant challenge to the Alexander thesis came from Yale Law School professor James Forman, Jr. In a 2012 article, “Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow,” Forman observes that drug offenders constitute only a quarter of our nation’s prisoners, while the violent offenders make-up about one-half. While sympathetic to the ways in which those living in poor black communities are more likely to end up incarcerated than those in middle-class black communities, it is simply not true that drug policy, targeted at blacks, is driving prison numbers.
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As the author of a book titled The Roots of Coincidence, Arthur Koestler would appreciate the coinky dinks of the past week. First, I finished re-reading Koestler’s two nonfiction works of 20th century European madness, Dialogue with Death and Scum of the Earth. One details the author’s imprisonment by Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War and the other covers his incarceration by the French in the first months of World War II – and both are harrowing.

Second, last week I viewed Trumbo, Spartacus, and the Coen brothers’ latest cinematic opus, Hail, Caesar! Trumbois another Hollywood tale of how the Second Red Scare oppressed the creative caste of Tinsel Town, violated their First Amendment rights and ruined lives of people inherently better than you and I because of their entertainment industry connections or something. The title character of Trumbo was resurrected from Red-baiting ignominy by a screenwriting credit on the Stanley Kubrick sword-and-sandal epic Spartacus, which aired last week on Turner Classic Movies. Hail, Caesar! includes a subplot about bumbling communists in the final days of the Hollywood studio system. Oh, and back to Koestler: His first novel was 1939’s The Gladiators, which also told of the Roman slave revolt led by – readers already are way ahead of me here – Spartacus.

It’s been one of those weeks!

Let’s unpack this, shall we? Koestler noted in the 1965 reissue of The Gladiators that (more…)