Category: Individual Liberty

Tom Brady was drafted by the New England Patriots in the unimpressive 6th round of the 2000 NFL draft out of the University of Michigan. No one predicted that the slow-footed, lumbering QB in this footage from pre-draft workouts that year would become one of the greatest players in the sport’s history.

But he did. Boy, did he!

I’m no fan of the Patriots and care little for Tom Brady himself, but the guy is a winner and fierce competitor. His statistics speak for themselves. The teams he’s captained for more than a decade have amassed a staggering amount of wins. His three Super Bowl rings put him in rarefied air when the conversation about where he ranks among Hall of Famers starts up. He’s got multi-million-dollar endorsement deals and a super model wife. According to the largely superficial standards of our modern world – dude’s getting it done!

And so as Brady entered this off-season’s contract negotiations, conventional wisdom said that the 35 year-old QB would be in line for yet another big pay-day. After all, these 1%-er, out-of-touch athletes are all money-obsessed jerks, no? Given the “spread the wealth” mentality that increasingly typifies America in 2013, we’ll probably need to get some congressional oversight to limit the salaries of the wealthy jocks parading around the field playing a kid’s game, right? (more…)

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, writing on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is reaching out to members of Congress regarding religious liberty and the HHS Mandate. In a sharply-worded letter, he reminds members of Congress that there is a clear history of protecting the rights of those with religious and/or moral objections to paying for services such as abortion. He then goes on to address the so-called “war on women”:

It can hardly be said that all these Presidents and Congresses, of both parties, had been waging a war on women. I have seen no evidence that such laws, showing respect for Americans’ conscientious beliefs, have done any harm to women or to their advancement in society. What seems to be at issue instead is a new, more grudging attitude in recent years toward citizens whose faith or moral principles are not in accord with the views of the current governing power. And while the mandate for coverage of abortion-causing drugs, contraceptives and sterilization is hailed by some as a victory for women’s freedom, it permits no free choice by a female employee to decline such coverage for herself or her minor children, even if it violates her moral and religious convictions.

Archbishop Lori concludes on this note: “I fear that the federal government’s respect for believers and people of conscience no longer measures up to the treatment Americans have a right to expect from their elected representatives.”

You can read Archbishop Lori’s entire letter here.

King Louis XIV censored Moliere’s 1664 play Tartuffe after determining audience members might too easily confuse the titular priest’s hypocritical nature with every priest in real life. According to the king, some priests’ “true devotion leads on the path to heaven,” while others’ “vain ostentation of some good works does not prevent from committing some bad ones.”

The king’s judgment in many ways also describes individuals who pursue their religious vocations while simultaneously championing secular causes such as proxy shareholder resolutions. This leads to more of the same kind of confusion that King Louie was worried about. Coming from the other direction, groups that recruit nuns, priests, and other religious and clergy to promote these resolutions under the pseudo-spiritual guise of “corporate social responsibility” and “social justice” aren’t being clear about intended objectives. The aim of all this is not salvation of the soul, but political organizing.

While Tartuffe deceived his hosts’ willfully, those proxy shareholders who belong to religious orders may or may not be unwittingly promoting such secular resolutions as, for example, bans on hydraulic fracturing that have nothing to do with their vows. As for the secular groups who join them, could it be possible they even more resemble Moliere’s priest by seeking grace on the cheap when they deploy religious, nuns and clergy to assist in the promotion of proxy resolutions?

And at what point do these faithful cease advocacy of spiritual matters and become mere secular activists?
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When we think of the concept “economic freedom” we often think about essential liberties and the factors that make them possible (e.g., free markets, the rule of law, and property rights). But for Christians economic freedom is not an end unto itself but the means for freeing our resources to use in ways that God intends. Being free of the bonds of economic statism is therefore useless if we use our liberty to enslave ourselves. As Kevin DeYoung asks,
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For George Washington’s birthday, Julia Shaw reminds us that the indispensable man of the American Founding was also an important champion of religious liberty:

All Presidents can learn from Washington’s leadership in foreign policy, in upholding the rule of law, and—especially now—in the importance of religion and religious liberty. While the Obama Administration claims to be “accommodating” Americans’ religious freedom concerns regarding the Health and Human Services (HHS) Obamacare mandate, it is actually trampling religious freedom. President Washington set a tremendous example for the way that Presidents should handle such conflicts.

Washington knew that religion and morality are essential to creating the conditions for decent politics. “Where,” Washington asked, “is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?”

Religion and morality are, Washington wrote, essential to the happiness of mankind: “A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.”

Read more . . .

Today at Ethika Politika, I explore the prospects for a renewed embrace of the Christian spiritual and ascetic tradition for ecumenical cooperation and the common good in my article “With Love as Our Byword.” As Roman Catholics anticipate the selection of a new pope, as an Orthodox Christian I hope that the great progress that has been made in ecumenical relations under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will continue with the next Roman Pontiff.

In addition, I note the liturgical season: “The calling of Lent, for Christians of all traditions, reminds us of the ascetic heart of the Gospel way of life.” I continue to say,

Indeed, how many of our social problems today—poverty, violence, abortion, etc.—would benefit from such personal and relational love? We cannot view such problems with regard to statistics and policies alone (though we ought not to ignore them). On a much deeper level, they show us the suffering of persons in crisis who need the love of those who live a life of repentance from past sin and striving toward the likeness of God, the “way toward deification.”

I have commented in the past on the PowerBlog with regards to asceticism and the free society, but here I would like to explore the other side of the coin. We ought to embrace the radical way of love of the Christian tradition when it comes to the social problems of our day, but as I note above, we ought not, therefore, to ignore statistics and policies.

In his 1985 article, “Market Economy and Ethics,” then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger writes, “A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality.” Heeding this warning means uniting good intentions and sound economics.

Failure to do so, despite having the right intentions and even the right morals, can lead to great error and unintended, harmful consequences. It reminds me of two passages from the readings for the past weekend’s Acton/Liberty Fund Liberty and Markets conference that I had the opportunity to attend. (more…)

“You can be for markets without being against redistribution,” says Erik Angner, a philosophy professor at George Mason University. Angner argues that the Nobel-winning economist Friedrich Hayek offers an alternative to contemporary liberals and leftists on the one hand and conservatives and libertarians on the other. As Amanda Winkler notes,

In a controversial Politco op-ed published in 2012, Angner wrote that while Britain’s National Health System and the price-rigging elements of Obamacare violate Hayekian principles, creating an individual mandate and giving poor Americans some amount of money to spend on health care as they see fit does not. To Angner, vouchers for health care would function similarly to vouchers for education, helping to create stronger market forces and spurring the sort of competition that would lead to a more efficient and robust system.

Economist Tyler Cowan is skeptical that Hayek’s approach would work since, he says, “it is hard to have major government involvement in health care without price controls, or should I write ‘price controls,’ in some manner or another.”

Perhaps more interesting than whether a Hayekian could support Obamacare is the question of whether a Christian who favors free markets should be in favor of income redistribution. Personally, for numerous reasons I’m in favor of encouraging individual redistribution and leery of state-mandated redistribution. One reason, as Arthur Brooks explains, is that “[It] just culturally makes it harder for people who believe in income redistribution to give intuitively, to take personal ownership of a problem.” Believing that aiding the poor is the role of the government provides a disincentive for personal engagement with those in need.

What would most Christians consider a strong, compelling argument (assuming any exist) for free markets and government-mandated redistribution?

In 2010, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who lived with their five children in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, were faced with a choice: abandon their Evangelical Christian religious beliefs or lose custody of their children. The Romeikes had withdrawn their children from German public schools in 2006, after becoming concerned that the educational material employed by the school was undermining the tenets of their Christian faith. After accruing the equivalent of $10,000 worth of fines and the forcible removal of their children from the home, they chose to flee their homeland and seek asylum in the United States. They believed our government was more respectful of religious liberties.

german-banThey soon discovered that was not the case.

On January 26, 2010, a federal immigration judge granted the Romeikes political asylum, ruling they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned to their homeland. The judge also denounced the German policy, saying it was, “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans.” However, President Obama’s Justice Department disagreed. They argued that the family should be denied asylum based on their contention that governments may legitimately use its authority to force parents to send their kids to government-sanctioned schools.

To better understand what Attorney-General Holder and his Justice Department are supporting, let’s look at the German policy. The parent-children relationship is defined in Art. 6 § 2 as follows:
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800px-Statue_in_Minute_Man_National_Historical_ParkSome politicians are calling for new regulation and restrictions on firearms, but why and how does the Second Amendment strengthen liberty? In a thoughtful post at the Carolina Journal today, Troy Kickler offers this historical assessment:

What did early jurists and constitutional commentators say regarding the Second Amendment? St. George Tucker in View of the Constitution of the United States (1803), the first systematic commentary on the Constitution after its ratification, describes the Second Amendment to be “the true palladium of liberty.”

As the preservation of the statue of Pallas in mythological Troy — the Palladium — needed to be protected for the ancient city’s preservation, so the Virginian believed that the amendment ensured liberty’s protection in the United States. If the nation had a “standing army” — Revolutionary era-Americans’ description for a full-time, professional army — while individual Americans were denied the “right to keep and bear arms,” then “liberty, if not already annihilated,” Tucker wrote, “is on the brink of destruction.”

To Tucker, the Second Amendment is the linchpin that ensures the existence of all the other liberties.

Tucker was not alone. Although U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story believed the national government should have more authority than did Tucker, both jurists interpreted the Second Amendment as liberty’s safeguard. In 1833, Story noted in his influential Commentaries of the Constitution: “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of the republic, since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers, and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”

These jurists repeated a widespread interpretation that had been practiced by the states. The first state constitutions — which remained unaltered and in effect after the Constitution’s ratification — protected individual rights to possess and bear arms and allowed for a state militia.

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The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center finds that a majority of Americans now believe the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults, finds that 53% think that the federal government threatens their own personal rights and freedoms while 43% disagree.

In March 2010, opinions were divided over whether the government represented a threat to personal freedom; 47% said it did while 50% disagreed. In surveys between 1995 and 2003, majorities rejected the idea that the government threatened people’s rights and freedoms.

The growing view that the federal government threatens personal rights and freedoms has been led by conservative Republicans. Currently 76% of conservative Republicans say that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms and 54% describe the government as a “major” threat. Three years ago, 62% of conservative Republicans said the government was a threat to their freedom; 47% said it was a major threat.

The fact that 38% of Democrats say the government poses a threat to personal rights and freedoms and 16% view it as a major threat, shows that it’s not just a partisan issue. But while there may be agreement that the federal government threatens our rights and freedoms, there is likely to be divergence of opinion on which rights and freedoms are being threatened. Rather than just having people respond with yes or no to the question, “Federal government threatens your personal freedom?”, it would be helpful for respondents to explain what they mean.

We could, for instance, have them go down the list of rights in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and point out which they feel are threatened. Like most Americans, I’m no legal scholar. But here is how I would respond:
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