In this week’s Acton commentary, I reflect on the past year’s developments for InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a ministry of Prison Fellowship. In June a federal judge in Iowa ruled against IFI’s work at Iowa’s Newton facility. In his ruling (PDF here), the judge wrote that the responsibility for combating recidivism is “traditionally and exclusively reserved to the state.” This means that since reducing recidivism is a “state function,” anyone working to combat recidivism is by definition a “state actor.”

Panopticon blueprint by Jeremy Bentham, 1791

I contrast the judge’s perspective with that of IFI and other advocates of the importance of civil society, using the theories of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham to highlight their differences. Bentham too thought that reform was the task of the government. He argued for the construction of prisons along the model of his “panopticon,” literally meaning “all seeing,” where the extreme use of constant surveillance and individual sequestration would break down the anti-social behaviors of convicted criminals. It was a rather unintuitive program, to say the least, but an influential one nonetheless.

Bentham thought so little of religious practice in fact, that he thought communal worship would destroy his isolationist agenda. In other types of prison facilities prisoner solitude would necessarily be disturbed when prisoners were given “the benefits of attendance on Divine service.”

Under Bentham’s plan, however, prisoners “might receive these benefits, in every circumstance, without stirring from their cells. No thronging nor jostling in the way between the scene of work and the scene destined to devotion; no quarellings, nor confederatings, nor plottings to escape; nor yet any whips or fetters to prevent it.” The communal aspects of worship could thus be entirely dispensed with while placating the necessities of religious adherence.

All of these events effecting IFI’s work occurred in a year that saw a sharp increase in violent crime. For more on the broader picture of the year’s legal developments for faith-based work, see this year’s “The State of the Law 2006: Legal Developments Affecting Government Partnerships with Faith-Based Organizations” from the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy. The report includes a section devoted to IFI’s case.

And as a recent article in the NYT magazine observes, there is a growing political coalition on the topic of prison reform. Chris Suellentrop writes with regard to a specific piece of legislation that almost passed in the last congressional session, but may be brought up again in the future, “If the Second Chance Act fails to pass, it will not be because the two parties cannot agree on the importance of rehabilitation programs in prisons. But it may be because they disagree on the role religious organizations should play in rehabilitation.” (HT: Mirror of Justice)

Read the entire commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Our series on the year in review continues with the second quarter:

April

“Surprise! Evangelical Politics Isn’t Univocal,” Jordan J. Ballor

So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues….

May

“How Do You Spell Relief?” Jordan J. Ballor

If Congress really wants to address the rising price of oil over the long-term, the only thing it can really do is act on what it directly controls. Congress doesn’t control supply and demand, but it does control how much it adds in taxes to the price per gallon. Why not cut or suspend the federal gas tax indefinitely?…

June

“There are more environmentalist misanthropes than you think,” Jay Richards

But anyone who reads widely in the environmental literature knows that suggestions such as Pianka’s are not uncommon. In fact, the desire for mass human death follows logically from the anti-human beliefs of some radical environmentalists. Some are more consistent in their beliefs than others. But Pianka is by no means the only person to express such opinions….

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 26, 2006

This series will take a representative post from each month of the past year, to review the big stories of the past twelve months. First things first, the first quarter of 2006:

January

“Who is Pope Benedict XVI?,” Kishore Jayabalan

Despite his many writings, scholarly expertise and long service to the Church as Prefect of Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, there’s still much of an unknown quality surrounding Pope Benedict XVI….

February

“The Mohammed Cartoon Controversy,” Kishore Jayabalan

What’s missing from this debate is some kind of normative standards for civil discourse, something which has been missing from the Western media for some time….

March

“The White Man’s Burden,” Michael Miller

Planners operate from top-down schemes that are often well intentioned but have not worked. Searchers on the other hand avoid large scale plans and look for entrepreneurial solutions to solve problems that take into account incentives and accountability….

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, passes along a Christmas message over at Phi Beta Cons on National Review Online. Reflecting on the Incarnation, Sirico says, “This belief teaches us to take seriously human history, its institutions, economies and social relationships, for all of this, and more, is the stuff from which human destiny is discovered and directed.”

At the Christmas staff meeting Rev. Sirico passed on similar thoughts to us, and concludes with this, which I pass along to all of you: “It is my prayer, at this sobering and holy time of the year, that you, in the midst of your families and your work, will discover the eternal significance of the contingency of time so as to experience the bliss that eternity affords.”

Well said.

Blog author: dwbosch
posted by on Friday, December 22, 2006

A climatologist reflects on his visit to AGU’s conference last week. Salient bit here:

What I see is something that I am having a hard time labeling, but that I might call either a "hangover" or a "sophomore slump" or "buyers remorse." None fit perfectly, but perhaps the combination does. I speak for (my interpretation) of the collective: {We tried for years – decades – to get them to listen to us about climate change. To do that we had to ramp up our rhetoric. We had to figure out ways to tone down our natural skepticism (we are scientists, after all) in order to put on a united face. We knew it would mean pushing the science harder than it should be. We knew it would mean allowing the boundary-pushers on the "it’s happening" side free reign while stifling the boundary-pushers on the other side. But knowing the science, we knew the stakes to humanity were high and that the opposition to the truth would be fierce, so we knew we had to dig in. But now they are listening. Now they do believe us. Now they say they’re ready to take action. And now we’re wondering if we didn’t create a monster.

Read the whole thing. I wonder when this will spread among anti-global warming Evangelicals. (hat tip)

[Don's other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist]

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Friday, December 22, 2006

I like this feature on John Scharffenberger in this week’s U.S. News and World Report. It captures in anecdotal form almost all of the ingredients in entrepreneurial success. There is disregard for “conventional wisdom” and there is hard work and dedication. The author doesn’t articulate it this way, but there is also an ethical concern for quality product and the good of the customer. Entrepreneurial success isn’t as simple as all that, however. There is also “luck and timing,” and, without explicitly drawing attention to the fact, there is also the assistance of existing financial resources to draw on. The story is at once edifying and realistic, an excellent piece of business journalism by Kim Clark.

New President of Mexico Calderon spent yesterday at the US Mexican border greeting Mexicans returning home for Christmas. His message was two-fold. First, a pledge to create jobs in Mexico:

“The generation of well-paid jobs is the only long-lasting solution to the migration problem,” Calderón said before greeting immigrants in cars packed with Christmas gifts.

Calderón, who took office Dec. 1, pledged to fight corruption to make Mexico more attractive to foreign investors.

“We need to ensure that more investment crosses the border into Mexico rather than Mexican labor heading to the United States,” the new president said.

This has been my message about the immigration issue, too. I said it at an Acton conference for Mexican bishops, and I’ve said it in print many times.

The other interesting fact in this article is the scale of the Christmas migration: an estimated 1.2 million people will return to Mexico for Christmas from the US this year. I have been aware of this phenomenon since we lived in Santa Rosa CA, north of San Francisco. Santa Rosa has a substantial agricultural community, part of the Wine Country. My daughter’s elementary school was probably 75% Mexican. The place cleared out at Christmas time. The school simply accepted as a fact of life that most of the kids would be gone for a month around Christmas time. Bear in mind, that many of them were making a 12 hour drive to their homelands in Mexico.
This is part of the phenomenon I addressed in my National Catholic Register article, Give Us Your Heart. Many, many Mexicans keep their bodies in America but their hearts in Mexico. It would be better for all of us for them to be able to be integrated: let one place or the other be truly home.

By the way, Calderon’s second message was: Merry Christmas! (They’re allowed to say that in Mexico!)

I was glad to see a group of American Muslims register their objection to the Iranian government’s Holocaust Denial conference. A group of Muslims went to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. The Muslims were members of All Dulles Area Muslim Society. Holocaust survivors also attended the ceremony.

The idea for the ceremony originated with (Imam Mohamed) Magid, whose Sterling (VA) mosque has been active in interfaith efforts. After hearing radio reports about the Iranian meeting, “I said to myself, ‘We have to, as Muslim leaders . . . show solidarity with our fellow Jewish Americans,’ ” Magid recalled after the speeches.

He contacted Akbar Ahmed, an American University professor active in inter-religious dialogue, who asked the museum to hold the ceremony.

“It’s important that the world knows there are Muslims who don’t believe in this (Holocaust denial),” Ahmed said after the ceremony. Also in the delegation were representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council….

The Holocaust victims expressed gratitude for the gesture by the Muslims.

“We could live together in peace if only more of these things were happening,” said Halina Peabody, 74, a native of Poland who lives in Bethesda, Md.

She’s right.
Cross posted at my blog.

over at National Review Online.

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, December 21, 2006

Rev. Robert Sirico examines the nature of giving, which keeps us all so busy during this Christmas season. “Without exchange, without private property and a moral sense of its foundation, giving would be limited, impossible or morally dubious,” he writes.

Read the commentary here.