Posts tagged with: law

Anti-Abortion Activists Demonstrate Outside The Supreme CourtWhat was the Greece vs. Galloway case about?

The short answer: The constitutionality of saying religiously specific prayers (e.g., praying in Jesus name) at government meetings and functions.

The (slightly) longer answer: In the town of Greece, located in upstate New York, the Town Board sessions were opened by a prayer from local clergy, mostly leaders of Christian congregations although in a few instances members of other faith traditions offered the invocation (a Jewish man, a Baha’i leader, and a Wiccan). The Second Circuit Court ruled the prayers were unconstitutional since they aligned the town government officially with a particular faith — Christianity. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

What was the Supreme Court’s ruling?

In a 5-4 decision, split along traditional right-left lines with Justice Kennedy joining the majority, the court ruled that the town’s practice of beginning legislative sessions with prayers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court concludes:
(more…)

gr cityThe city of Grand Rapids, Mich. continues to deny the Acton Institute application for property tax-exemption, even as Acton presents evidence to support such status.

The Acton Institute, recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and ranked #11 in the world as a social policy think tank by the University of Pennsylvania, received notice from City Assessor Scott Engerson that it did not meet the criteria for tax-exempt status for property tax purposes.

Most people think that if they’re a tax-exempt 501(c)3 they’re exempt from property tax, and that’s not the case in Michigan,” he said. “In regard to Acton, it’s the charitable piece that the city was not able to definitively conclude.”

Acton is one of 435 organizations appealing the city’s ruling regarding tax-exemption this month alone. Today, Acton made its appeal. (more…)

In a new video from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Green Family, owners of the embattled retail chain, Hobby Lobby, discusses the religious foundation of their business and the threat the federal government now poses to those who share their beliefs.

“What’s at stake here is whether you’re able to keep your religious freedom when you open a family business,” says Lori Windham, Senior Council at The Becket Fund, “whether you can continue to live out your faith in the way that you live every aspect of your life.” (more…)

Tunisia Arab SpringConversations about economic development often gravitate toward such topics as monetary policy, trade regulation, tax structures, infrastructure, etc. These are critical pieces of the puzzle indeed, but there exist even more primary components of prosperity that are often skipped over.

In our interview with Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute, he lists a few of the foundational elements of growth:

Rule of law is essential if you want to have a functioning economy. You cannot have a functioning economy without secure property rights. You cannot have a functioning economy unless contracts are enforced. You cannot have a functioning economy if government officials can act in an arbitrary fashion.

The Property Rights Alliance, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, publishes research concerning private property and rule of law. Earlier this month, the organization released its annual 2013 International Property Rights Index (IPRI), which measures the intellectual and physical property rights of 131 nations from around the world, representing 98% of world GDP.

The 2013 IPRI represents the seventh edition of the index and focuses on three core components:

  1. Legal and Political Environment
  2. Physical Property Rights
  3. Intellectual Property Rights

Countries received a score (on a scale of 0 – 10, where 10 is the highest value for a property rights system and 0 is the lowest value) in each of these areas; those scores were then averaged to calculate the “IPRI score.” The countries receiving the top five IPRI scores were Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands. The United States claimed the 17th spot.

(more…)

Lemkin

Raphael Lemkin

Today marks the 54th year since the passing of one of the world’s most influential international human rights lawyers. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term ‘genocide’, made the crime illegal under international law, and possessed an almost prophetic sense of the atrocities that would occur under Nazi tyranny in World War II, died a largely unnoticed man. Only seven people attended his funeral, and to this day, many have not heard of Lemkin or the great contributions credited to his name.

The following account of Lemkin’s life and work is largely drawn from “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, the 2002 book by Samantha Power. Power was named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on August 2nd.

Early Insights

Born in 1900 to a large Jewish family in the village of Bezwodene, Poland (now near Volkovysk, Belarus), Lemkin became conscious of crimes against religious and minority groups at a young age. At the age of 12, he read the book, Quo Vadis, which recounts the Roman Emperor Nero’s massacres of Christian converts in the first century.

Lemkin learned about the Ottoman Empire’s extermination of its Armenian minority in 1915, and the 1920 assassination of Mehmet Talaat, the architect of the genocide. While studying linguistics at the University of Lvov, he asked one of his professors why the Armenians did not arrest Talaat instead. The professor said there was no law under which he could be arrested. “Consider the case of the farmer who owns a flock of chickens,” he said. “He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing.” Lemkin was deeply troubled by this response and the idea that “state sovereignty” effectively permitted leaders to exterminate entire minority groups. (more…)

I’m catching up on reading after the holiday last week, and the July 4 edition of the Transom has some gems, including this bit from Alexis de Tocqueville on the mindset of tenants:

There are some nations in Europe whose inhabitants think of themselves in a sense as colonists, indifferent to the fate of the place they live in. The greatest changes occur in their country without their cooperation. They are not even aware of precisely what has taken place. They suspect it; they have heard of the event by chance. More than that, they are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such things have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called “the government.”

They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved. They are so divorced from their own interests that even when their own security and that of their children is finally compromised, they do not seek to avert the danger themselves but cross their arms and wait for the nation as a whole to come to their aid. Yet as utterly as they sacrifice their own free will, they are no fonder of obedience than anyone else. They submit, it is true, to the whims of a clerk, but no sooner is force removed than they are glad to defy the law as a defeated enemy. Thus one finds them ever wavering between servitude and license.

This description of servile and licentious tenancy can be directly contrasted with a vision of responsible and faithful stewardship, in which the steward acts in the interests of his or her lord. As Paul writes, “it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2 ESV). On the Christian view, it is in our best interest to align our interests with God’s, submitting our stewardship to his will and his law.

Today at Acton University, Fr. Michael Butler gave an engaging lecture on the subject of Orthodoxy and natural law. Despite the contemporary ambivalence among many Orthodox (if not hostility) toward natural law, Fr. Michael argues that it is present in the Eastern Tradition from the ancient to the medieval and modern periods, focusing especially on the thought of the seventh century Byzantine Saint Maximus the Confessor.

A few months ago, I observed,

While it may be that there are important differences between a Thomist understanding of natural law and an Orthodox understanding of natural law, the historic difference is most assuredly not that Thomists accept it while the Orthodox do not.

Fr. Michael’s research further strengthens this statement and helpfully highlighted some of the similarities and differences between natural law in St. Maximus and that in Aquinas. The audio of his lecture will be available on Ancient Faith Radio in the coming weeks, but in the meantime I will briefly share some of Fr. Michael’s insights here. It’s a little heady, but worth consideration. (more…)

Rev. Sirico addresses the 2013 Law Day Celebration

Rev. Robert A. Sirico speaks at the 2013 Law Day Celebration

May 1st was Law Day across America, and here in Grand Rapids, the Acton Institute joined the Catholic Lawyers Association of West Michigan to sponsor a Law Day Celebration at the St. Cecilia Music Center. The chosen theme for Law Day this year was “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All,” and responsibility for delivering a keynote address on that theme fell to Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico, who reflected on the role of faith in the legal profession in a time of great turmoil in society, in part because of the way that the law is currently being used to effect social change.

The event also featured the presentation of the Catholic Lawyers Association of West Michigan’s Thomas Moore Award to Michigan Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Murphy.

You can listen to that presentation, as well as Rev. Sirico’s address, using the audio player below.

Today at Ethika Politika, I critique David Bentley Hart’s recent (non-)response to the critics of his attack on natural law in public discourse last month, appearing in the most recent issue of First Things. My article, “Hart’s (Non-)Response to His Critics: Trying to Have It Both Ways?” is a response to Hart’s recent article, “Si Fueris Romae.”

While Hart’s most recent article may seem unrelated, it starts to sound remarkably similar to his article on natural law from last month about half way through. It is this convergence between the two that I examine and critique.

Ultimately, Hart seems to be trying to “have it both ways” when it comes to natural law. I find this to be particularly evident from his conclusion, in which he criticizes US policy toward China, writing,

Decade upon decade, we hear of the arrest, imprisonment, torture, and murder of China’s religious minorities (house-church Christians, Tibetan Buddhist monks, and so on), of the cruel measures taken to enforce the nation’s one-child policy, and of countless other chronic atrocities, but our response consists in little more than a sporadic susurrus of disapproval, just loud enough to flatter ourselves that we have principles but not so loud as to allow those principles to interfere with fiscal or trade policy. We try to shame the ruling party with pious panegyrics on “human rights,” as though the concept had any appreciable weight outside the cultural context that makes it intelligible, but we buy and borrow from the party, and profit from its policies, without hesitation or embarrassment. I think the government of the PRC might be pardoned for concluding that our actions, and not our words, indicate where our true values lie.

While at Ethika Politika I critique his reliance upon the concept of natural rights even while claiming that only our “cultural context … makes it intelligible,” there is another point to consider here. Putting aside the inconsistency of his principles, would his recommendation — more restricted “fiscal or trade policy” — really have the effect that he hopes? (more…)

“Is there a religious way to pump gas, sell groceries, or advertise for a craft store?”

In a new paper, “God and the Profits: Is There Religious Liberty for Money-Makers?,” Mark Rienzi asks the question. (HT)

Rienzi, an assistant professor at the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, writes in direct response to the federal government’s HHS contraception mandate, focusing on the religious liberty challenges faced by for-profit companies. As Rienzi argues, imposing such penalties requires “singling out religion for disfavored treatment in ways forbidden by the Free Exercise Clause and federal law.”

From the abstract:

Litigation over the HHS contraceptive mandate has raised the question whether a for-profit business and its owner can engage in religious exercise under federal law. The federal government has argued, and some courts have found, that the activities of a profit-making business are ineligible for religious freedom protection.

This article offers a comprehensive look at the relationship between profit-making and religious liberty, arguing that the act of earning money does not preclude profit-making businesses and their owners from engaging in protected religious exercise.

Many religions impose, and at least some businesses follow, religious requirements for the conduct of profit-making businesses. Thus businesses can be observed to engage in actions that are obviously motivated by religious beliefs: from preparing food according to ancient Jewish religious laws, to seeking out loans that comply with Islamic legal requirements, to encouraging people to “know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” These actions easily qualify as exercises of religion. (more…)