Category: News and Events

I had the opportunity to speak at the Fortnight for Freedom event held by the Church of the Incarnation in Collierville, Tennessee, on June 21. The venue and the crowd were among the best I’ve ever encountered. Below, you can read my excerpted remarks:

On the Question of Religious Liberty

If I understand correctly, this is the beginning of the Fortnight for Freedom here at the Church of the Incarnation and around the nation. The need for this special fortnight arises from recent actions of the government which indicate that religious freedom may be in serious danger. Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate requiring all employers who offer insurance to provide coverage for contraceptive and abortifacient products and services. The mandate contained no exemption for religious institutions such as universities, charities, and hospitals who might find difficulty complying for reasons of faith and conscience.
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“I was Hungry and You . . . Called your Congressman” is a good report from Kristin Rudolph over at the IRD blog. The article covers Bread for the World president David Beckmann’s comments to a group of “emergent Christians” in Washington D.C.

From the piece:

Beckmann lamented that “very little progress has been made against poverty and hunger” in the US over the past few decades. This, he explained, is because ”we haven’t had a president who’s made the effort” to address hunger since President Lyndon Johnson launched the “war on poverty” in the 1960s. Unfortunately, he said, every administration since Johnson has prioritized other issues ahead of solving poverty and hunger. Beckmann admitted: “The federal government can’t solve all the problems,” but it can “provide a framework” for others to follow. Further, he said “the states cannot do it [address poverty] without the federal government. The federal government has real power and authority and we have to use that.”

Rudolph ably addresses many of the problems in Beckmann’s argument. The religious left and its insatiable appetite for more government continues to neglect the underlying issues of poverty.

Bread for the World has been highlighted on the PowerBlog specifically by Jordan Ballor in “The Politics of Hunger.” The appetite to solve hunger will be unfulfilled for any organization where its primary mission is to look towards the federal government. Beckmann, perhaps unknowingly, has made one good point though, government is now such a bloated bureaucracy, it can no longer prioritize or achieve goals.

In what was dubbed the “Bailout Game” of the 2012 European Championships, the German national team defeated their Greek counterparts, the 4-2 score only slightly representative of the match’s one-sidedness. The adroit, disciplined Deutscher Fuβball-Bund owned 64% of the ball, prompting at least one economic retainment joke and the asking of the question: What does this game mean for Europe?

Not much, according toIra Broudway of Bloomberg Businessweek, who last week issued a preemptive “calm down” to the throngs of journalists, broadcasters and politically-aware fans itching to work their witticisms into the soccer-as-political-grudge-match conversation. Chill out, he says; thinking soccer could have any say in the realm of global affairs is “mass lunacy.” He’s right, the German’s systematic defeat of the Greece’s beloved Blue-White’s won’t spur any continental economic legislation or seal Greek’s fiscal fate. But maybe Broudway’s treatment of the match’s relevance is a tad too dismissive.

To deny the social influence of sports, especially in soccer-crazed Europe, is to forget about a history of cultural milestones. Less than two weeks before Germany and Greece met on the pitch, international tensions between Poland and Russia, together with a poorly-scheduled game-time resulted in violent riots on the streets of Warsaw. For a brighter recollection, think only of the Miracle on Ice, the 1995 Rugby World Cup or you name that sporting-event-turned-movie. For better and for worse, athletics have an undeniable ability to inspire and incite.

But what’s behind this potential? Social scientist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has written and spoken widely on the topic of “earned happiness.” It’s difficult to think of a realm that encourages earned happiness more than athletics. Sports pit conflicting dreams of teams, cities, nations against each other and promise fulfillment to the winner. Done fairly, competition even maximizes potential for all involved parties.

Imagine the consequence of a Greek victory. No, a victory wouldn’t have paid back billions of euros of debt, but it might have reaffirmed the possibility of achievement for a people decimated by a burdensome fiscal situation. It may have at least modeled the idea of earned happiness for a society that today knows more about learned dependency.

Who knows, maybe that dream still exists for one of Europe’s debt-ridden nations. Germany’s next opponent? Italy. Squaring off on the other side of the bracket? Portugal and Spain. Soccer fans and the globally-concerned can at least speculate about the cultural implications of the coming week of soccer, and what it has to say to Europe’s present economic context. Vamos!

Need a logical defense of religious freedom? Look no further than First Things‘ “On the Square” web exclusive, where future University of St. Thomas assistant philosophy professor Tomas Bogardus tackles a proposed restriction of an idea long taken for granted in free countries. Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, recently published an article, “The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom,” which proposes to limit “the legitimate defense of religious freedom to rejecting proposals that stop people from practicing their religion.”

Singer’s article addresses some global examples. Recently, the Dutch parliament began reviewing legislation that would mandate the stunning of livestock before slaughter. This of course violates the customs of Judaism and Islam, both of which require practitioners to eat meat only from animals that were conscious when killed. To dissenting Jews and Muslims, Singer’s solution is simple:  Don’t eat meat. He says, “When people are prohibited from practicing their religion—for example, by laws that bar worshiping in certain ways—there can be no doubt that their freedom of religion has been violated. But prohibiting the ritual slaughter of animals does not stop Jews or Muslims from practicing their religion.” Singer then transposes this approach to the HHS mandate: Because no Catholic teaching requires Catholics to establish and run hospitals, the state can order Catholics to provide employees with health care packages that cover birth control medications. If Catholics don’t like that, they can close the doors to their hospitals without damage to their doctrinal standards.

Bogardus’ response is well-reasoned and relevant:

One catches a glimpse of Singer’s utopia, full of vegetarian Muslims and Jews and Christians who employ no one. And all under compulsion of the state. His argument for this utopia has three steps. One: if a policy does not compel religionists to violate a teaching of their religion, then the policy is not an improper infringement on the practice of their religion. Two: if a policy does not unduly infringe upon the practice of a religion, it is not a violation of religious freedom. Three: since e.g. the Obama Administration’s mandate does not require Catholics to violate any Catholic dogma, Singer concludes that the mandate doesn’t violate Catholics’ religious freedom. Q.E.D., as philosophers are said to say.

So much for the argument. What shall we say in response? At least this: Singer’s argument succeeds only if every step is true. Yet the first two steps of Singer’s argument cannot both be true, since together they lead to absurd conclusions. Isn’t it possible, after all, for a policy to violate someone’s religious freedom even without compelling her to transgress any teaching of her religion?

He goes on to address both hypothetical and actual situations that, under the lens of Singer’s microscope, prove problematic. The full column is relevant, insightful and absolutely worth a read as issues of religious freedom become more pressing in our present context.

In a post about the “Nuns on the bus” tour, National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez reminds us that “at a time when the very ability of church organizations to freely live their mission of service has been compromised by federal mandates, it is especially important to debate the role of government with clarity and charity.” In her essay, she brings in the the PovertyCure project and Rev. Robert A. Sirico’s new book, Defending the Free Market: A Moral Case for the Free Economy.

About PovertyCure, Lopez notes that “the project asks if we have been raising ‘the wrong questions’ about the causes of poverty and how to address them.” She goes on to quote Rudy Carrasco, the United States Regional Facilitator for Partners Worldwide, who said this in relation to the PovertyCure mission: “Everybody has capacity, talent, and ability. Everybody has responsibility. Everybody has stewardship responsibility. I don’t care what dirt hovel you’re living in, in Brazil or Mexico City or Manila. You have a responsibility to be a steward of the resources under your control because you have a heavenly Father who has put great things inside of you, that [are] waiting to be called out and developed and extracted.”

Download Carrasco’s AU 2012 lecture here.

Religious people have a big role to play in the defense of freedom, Lopez says.

“When freedom is divorced from faith, both freedom and faith suffer,” Father Sirico writes in a new book, Defending the Free Market. “Freedom becomes rudderless, because truth gives freedom its direction. Freedom without a moral orientation has no guiding star. On the other hand, when a people surrenders [its] freedom to the government — the freedom to make moral, economic, religious, and social choices and then take personal responsibility for the consequences — virtue tends to waste away and faith itself grows cold.”

The nuns on the bus may not be cheerleaders for the bishops or the Fortnight for Freedom, but their road trip can be a helpful accompaniment. Fundamentally, this debate we’re having about God and Caesar is about much more than a presidential election: It’s about who we are as a people and whether we do not merely tolerate but welcome — and even encourage — religious believers as economic and political participants. The sisters and the bishops are on the same page there.

Read “Without Freedom No One’s Got a Prayer” by Kathryn Jean Lopez on National Review Online.

Prager University has a new course up and running. The lecturer? Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America—and How We Can Get More of It as well as the recently published The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise. Brooks’ lecture, titled “Earning Happiness: The Moral Promise of Free Enterprise,” makes a case for the free market as the economic system most conducive to human welfare. In the lecture, Brooks says, “Free enterprise matters not just because of its unparalleled material benefits but because of its unparalleled moral benefits.”

Video:

The Prager University course page can be found here.

The New York Times interviewed Rev. Robert A. Sirico about a movement by professors at Duquesne University, a Catholic school in Pittsburgh, to organize a union. The Times writes that, “Duquesne is arguing that its affiliation with the Spiritans, a Roman Catholic order, affords it a special exemption from the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. It’s a conflict between church and state, the school’s lawyer argues, to allow workers to file for a union election.” Rev. Sirico, Acton’s president and co-founder, responded to the question of whether or not “the importance of unions in Catholic teaching is historically contingent.”

“In the industrial revolution, the church was concerned about communism, and not just capitalism but savage capitalism,” Father Sirico said. “People were being brutalized. That’s just not the case in Pittsburgh today.”

The Times piece provoked a harsh response from America Magazine’s In All Things blog. In “Sirico Completely Wrong on Church’s Support for Unions,” Vincent Miller, the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, said it was “hard to find the proper tone to engage so serious a distortion.”

The Church’s support for unions based on Natural Law. They are forms of “private society” that serve the interests of their members within the context of the common good. The argument is based on natural law, not on any relativistic read of specific needs which vary from decade to decade. The natural right of such socieities to exist is a fundamental part of the doctrine of Subsidiarity, which pundits like Fr. Sirico are so fond of quoting without ever understanding.

Read “For Duquesne Professors, a Union Fight That Transcends Religion” by Mark Oppenheimer in the New York Times.

While you’re at it, pick up a copy of Rev. Sirico’s new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy.