Allow me to make a very direct statement. I believe it is time for the Church in this country to stand up for religious freedom.
Especially over the course of the last few years, we have seen repeated efforts — in the courts, in state legislatures, in Congress and on Pennsylvania Avenue — to erode what has been called the first freedom: religious liberty. (more…)
Thankfully, a bunch of attorneys did not write the founding documents of our nation. Otherwise, we’d be stuck with a Bill of Rights about 700 pages long, and a “we’ll have to pass it to find out what’s in there” attitude. Instead, we have simple things, like Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. That’s easy, isn’t it?
Not to everyone. As NRO’s Jonah Goldberg notes, some folks think that free speech has a whole bunch of clauses, sub-sets or rules that apply before you can actually say what’s on your mind. He is particularly upset that there are a number of people who believe that it’s okay to say what’s on your mind, as long as it isn’t upsetting to, well, Muslims. (more…)
The First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”) is for all Americans. I know that seems obvious, but the folks at Salon seem to need a reminder.
Jenny Kutner has taken offense to a group of Catholic women expressing their opinion. The topic is birth control. (Let me just say that good Christians disagree on this topic. I’m not discussing the legitimate use of artificial birth control here, but rather the right to express one’s opinion on the topic.) In response to the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Hobby Lobby, Buzzfeed featured a group of women holding signs that expressed why they chose to use birth control. About a week later, Buzzfeed featured another group of women who held up signs explaining why they chose not to use artificial birth control. And that’s when Kutner lost it. (more…)
Katherine Stewart is most unhappy about the recent Supreme Court decision, Greece v. Galloway. The Court upheld the right of the town of Greece, New York, to being town hall meetings with prayer, so long as no one was coerced into participating. And that makes Ms. Stewart unhappy.
In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Ms. Stewart decries the Court’s decision as something akin to a vast, right-wing conspiracy.
The first order of business is to remove objections by swiping aside the idea that soft forms of establishment exist at all. Here, the Greece decision delivers, substantially.
A second element of the plan for undermining concerns based on the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause is to reinterpret public acts as personal expressions of speech by private individuals. Thus, when the minister appointed by the municipal government of Greece bids “all rise,” the Supreme Court majority tells us, this is not an establishment of religion because the words are not uttered by public officials. And when the town leaders respond with a sign of the cross, that isn’t establishment either, because, just then, public officials are acting as private individuals.
Another prong in the assault on the Establishment Clause is to use neutrality among religious denominations as a wedge for inserting the (presumed) majority religion into state business.
Here’s one for the you don’t know whether to laugh or cry file: the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security have discovered and quashed an online shop’s attempt to parody the two agencies for behaving like Big Brother.
The silver lining: Dan McCall, owner of the shop, is hoping to restore his his First-Amendment rights through the courts.
To ridicule electronic surveillance disclosures, he paired the NSA’s official seal on T-shirts for sale with the slogan: “The only part of the government that actually listens.”
He also has one with the sub-heading “Spying On You Since 1952,” and altered the NSA seal to read “Peeping While You’re Sleeping.”
“The NSA and DHS claims there are laws specific to them that prohibit you from doing anything with their logo and we don’t think that jives with First Amendment rights,” McCall said Thursday. (more…)
Gizmodo has an intriguing post about attempts to regulate and even criminalize photography. As Wendy McIlroy reports, “In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.” She goes on to detail some of the exceptions and caveats, noting,
The legal justification for arresting the “shooter” rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where “no expectation of privacy exists” (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.
It is simply amazing the level of accountability and transparency that can now be achieved because of technological advancement. Certainly the Founders didn’t imagine that video recordings would ever exist, much less become important sources of evidence in legal cases.
Are there any compelling reasons that the burden of proof should be on the photographer rather than the law enforcement officer in these kinds of situations? McIlroy continues, observing “recordings that are flattering to the police – an officer kissing a baby or rescuing a dog – will almost certainly not result in prosecution even if they are done without all-party consent. The only people who seem prone to prosecution are those who embarrass or confront the police, or who somehow challenge the law. If true, then the prosecutions are a form of social control to discourage criticism of the police or simple dissent.”
Merely using a camera certainly doesn’t entitle you to do anything you want and expect protection under the First Amendment. But in clearly non-aggressive instances, where police are acting in public and there is the clear potential for recorded data to be used as exculpatory or convicting evidence, the public’s right to accountability and transparency should be respected. Again, writes McIlroy, “Cameras have become the most effective weapon that ordinary people have to protect against and to expose police abuse. And the police want it to stop.”
It’s of course understandable why officers wouldn’t like being recorded, any more than the average person would like to be recorded when doing their jobs. But the job of a law enforcement official isn’t the same as that of an accountant, an editor, or a janitor. It’s a public service position, and one that acts officially and with government sanction in public.
Maybe in our technological age law enforcement officials should increasingly expect to be recorded. Or at least always act as if what they are doing is subject to public scrutiny.
The other day with Schools Of Government, I bemoaned the number of undergrads and graduate students in the United States who are stamped by the “academic” majors and programs within universities for the expressed purpose of preparing them for bureaucratic life and perhaps leadership in the municipalities, state and federal governments of these United States.
Depending on whose numbers you use, over 25% of our economy is government – and growing. And since government operates on OPM – other people’s money – that means that three-quarters of the country’s private net worth is floating the entire boat. Reason enough to thank your dry cleaner the next time you pick something up. That goes for anyone else whose hands are hardened by toil.
Fr. Sirico coincidentally brushed on that subject in his latest Acton Notes piece that the postman brought this weekend. He writes:
“The boom was a result of government intervention with markets, and the bust has been the inevitable result. Many people miss this completely. So they blame the most conspicuous sectors in society they can: businesspeople and traders on Wall Street, no matter how unjust this blame is.”
But leave it to George Will to tie all this together. In a current commentary titled “Blinded By Science” Will hits on a more specific dilemma facing Constitutional Government in America. And that’s what the science fanatics who promote climate frauds together with those about to be exposed in the nutrition arguments (Harvard’s just released an analysis of saturated fats. Stay tuned.) – assert with lucrative help of OPM from government and quasi-government bureaucracies. Those named in the articles include the just resigned Head of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia; the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); and a U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change – Todd Stern.
Mr. Will suggests that this last fellow may be guilty of violating U.S. Constitutional law.
“It is tempting to say, only half in jest, that Stern’s portfolio violates the First Amendment, which forbids government from undertaking the establishment of religion. A religion is what the faith in catastrophic man-made global warming has become. It is now a tissue of assertions impervious to evidence, assertions which everything, including a historic blizzard, supposedly confirms and nothing, not even the absence of warming, can falsify.”
But as we move into the second full week in Lent, I’m comfortable deferring to the Ten Commandments on matters of temptation and sin. Specifically:
3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth:
5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God [am] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth [generation] of them that hate me;
In this week’s Acton commentary, I researched and wrote about the danger of speech codes and the limiting of free expression on college campuses. Like many conservatives in an academic atmosphere, I have also lived through the deceit and intimidation of out-of-control ideologues on campus. It has been an issue I have been extremely passionate about since I witnessed and spoke out against administrators trying to squelch free expression while in school myself.
An important reference, and recommended reading for anybody interested in this topic is The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. The authors Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silversgate offer some essential comments:
What remain of the 60s on our campuses are its worst sides: intolerance of dissent from regnant political orthodoxy, the self-appointed power of self-designated “progressives” to set everyone else’s moral agenda, and saddest of all, the belief that universities not only may but should suspend the rights of some in order to transform students, the culture, and the nation according to their ideological vision and desire.
The authors later add:
The theory of “repressive tolerance,” or, more precisely, its practice of “progressive intolerance,” still governs the extracurricular lives of nearly all of our students. It is easy, however, to identify the vulnerabilities of the bearers of this worst and, at the time, most marginal legacy of the 60s: They loathe the society that they believe should support them generously in their authority over its offspring; they are detached from the values of individual liberty, legal equality, privacy, and the sanctity of conscience toward which Americans essentially are drawn; and, for both those reasons, they cannot bear the light of public scrutiny. Let the sunlight in.
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) offered a write up concerning my piece, and since they are the experts, it was nice to receive a positive endorsement from them. The research and action they have put forth on this issue is nothing short of remarkable.
It was an incident at my alma mater, Ole Miss, which ignited a free speech discussion on campus, that brought my attention back to this important issue. I explained in my commentary:
Just last month at the University of Mississippi, the campus newspaper The Daily Mississippian reported that the University Police interrupted a staged reading of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. It was suggested that the readings be moved to a free speech zone or what the university calls “speakers corners.” An English instructor named Griffith Brownlee replied by reading the First Amendment and saying “The whole country is a free speech zone.” Once the university found out it was a department-sanctioned event they called the whole affair “a misunderstanding.” As Brownlee herself pointed out in the article, one suspects the irony of attempting to limit the words of an author who wrote against totalitarian tactics was lost on some school officials.
My local library is apparently having a problem with youth gangs who are using the public computers to access social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. The hooligans are defacing each others sites, sending threatening messages, and causing other kinds of trouble.
From the Wyoming Advance, “A place that should be safe for children has seen graffiti, assaults, loud and vulgar language, patron intimidation, public sexual encounters, carving gang symbols in furniture, and more.”
What is the library to do? “As a solution, KDL has employed a part-time security guard who interacts with youths and is on-duty during key teen use times. They are also poised to install filters that limit access to social networking sites on all but six of the 40 library computers in an effort to quell the problems.”
“It is only a trial,” Martha Smart, KDL director, said. “It’s very important to provide freedom of access to information for the public. We want to protect people’s First Amendment rights.”
“Transit workers are installing speakers this week to pump classical music from Seattle’s KING-FM into the Tacoma Mall Transit Center. The tactic is designed to disperse young criminals who make drug deals at the bus stop or use public transportation to circulate between the mall and other trouble-prone places.” Let’s just hope they don’t add any Wagner to the playlist.
Update: Still on the case, Tim Disselkoen summarizes the reactions of a KDL spokesperson: “Garrison said the library has acceptable use policies in place regarding the Internet, and Mish said they work to educate youth about cyber-bullying, online predators, and other potential areas of concern. While KDL has declined to block all access to the social networking sites, parents can restrict their children’s access to such sites through their library cards.”
The theme of the role of the libraries not acting in loco parentis has come up in a couple different quotes from library officials. “If parents are concerned about the use at the library, we can block children’s Internet use,” Garrison said. “We can block the total Internet, we cannot block certain access.” The story concludes, “But KDL officials have said acting in the role of parents is not a duty libraries perform.”
According to The Church Report, a new resource has been released which offers churches guidelines for keeping their activities and functions within the letter of the law. As non-profit organizations, churches are held to the same standard as registered charities and cannot engage in certain forms of public speech.
A report by The Rutherford Institute, “The Rights of Churches and Political Involvement” (PDF), examines in detail what the restrictions are for churches. There are two main areas: “first, no substantial part of the organization’s activities may consist of carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation; and second, the organization may not participate in political campaigning in opposition to, or on behalf of, any candidate for public office.” For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to focus on the former case rather than the latter, since I take it for granted that churches shouldn’t be institutionally involved in campaigning for a specific candidate. For more on this second aspect of the law, see this post on the use of church directories by political parties, passed on by Joe Carter.
In its summary of the first type of restriction, the report states:
In short, only one reported court decision has found a religious organization in violation of section 501(c)(3) by engaging in “substantial” legislative activities. The IRS, however, refuses to abide by any precise standards, such as a percentage rule, to measure when “substantial” legislative activities have occurred. Hence, a church or religious organization seeking to acquire or maintain a tax-exempt status must be aware that there is always some risk that its attempt to influence legislation will prompt the IRS to pursue an audit and perhaps even revoke its tax-exempt status.
It goes on to say that “one risk adverse approach might be for a church to report pending legislation to church members, without proposing, supporting or opposing any legislation.”
The bottom line seems to be this: “Tax exemptions for churches and religious organizations are a privilege and not a constitutional right. In fact, to acquire and maintain this privilege, churches and religious organizations may have to forsake heretofore protected constitutional rights under the First Amendment.”
This means that if it is something that is germane to the proclamation of the gospel, a church must be willing to lose its tax-exempt status. The government could potentially use tax-free status as leverage to keep churches quiet about political activity. If the pastor and consistory feel that the issue is one of religious imperative, something like a status confessionis, the church must resist the temptation to impose restrictions on its own speech in the interest of maintaining a privileged position.
This clearly calls for prudence and wisdom on the part of the church leadership. I’m not suggesting that churches simply cast off their tax-exempt status on a whim. But when the issue comes down to one of keeping silent over clear moral evils or losing their special status, churches must choose the latter. Their ultimate allegiance must be to Christ and not Caesar.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the context of the enforcement of the Aryan clauses prohibiting pastors of Jewish heritage from ministry in the state churches, writes of the rare instance in which the church must “put a spoke in the wheel itself.” In his essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” he says, “Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and desirable when the church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order, i.e. when it sees the state unrestrainedly bring about too much or too little law and order. In both these cases it must see the existence of the state, and with it its own existence, threatened.”
He continues to argue that “there would be too little law if any group of subjects were deprived of their rights, too much where the state intervened in the character of the church and its proclamation, e.g. in the forced exclusion of baptised Jews from our Christian congregations or in the prohibition of our mission to the Jews. Here the Christian church would find itself in statu confessionis and here the state would be in the act of negating itself. A state which includes within itself a terrorised church has lost its most faithful servant.”
One such instance of the state making “too much law” and intervening “in the character of the church and its proclamation” would be the criminalization of certain types of speech as hateful or offensive.