Senator Milquetoast

It’s good that U.S. Senator Gary Peters has spoken out against the President’s anti-immigration Executive Order. But sadly, the voice is muffled.

“As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, my top priority is ensuring we’re doing everything we can to keep Americans safe. But I am also proud to represent vibrant Muslim and Arab American communities that are integral to Michigan’s culture and our economy.

The first sentence is pure political muffery: “my top priority… doing everything… keep Americans safe.” What is missing is a clear point of view, what he (or his office) thinks. The second sentence is little better: he’s “proud to represent.” yeah yeah yeah. This is indirect speech, at a distant from a straight forward presentation of the case.

There are big, legitimate issues of national security involved. This is the natural forceful lead. And it’s powerful, as Mother Jones demonstrates.

In the second paragraph Sen. Peters compounds his wishy-washiness.

“One of America’s founding – and most sacred – principles is the freedom of religion. I am extremely alarmed by President Trump’s executive order that effectively implements a religious test for those seeking to enter the United States…

The shift to First Amendment issues has a nice ring to it, but again one may ask whether it demonstrates a grasp of the actual Constitutional issues involved with the Executive Order. If anything the focus on Freedom of Religion plays into the cultural push of the President’s order, namely that of privileging Christian America. Immediate feedback from Trump supporters indicates their approval of the action. So rather than change opinion the appeal to the First is a sign of political boundary making. It is a lost opportunity.

And then finally there is a return to muffery with the final sentence:

 “While I support continued strengthening of the refugee screening process, I remain opposed to the suspension of the refugee admissions program.”

This is the sound of a man trying to have it both ways. “While I….” Oh, be direct. Know what time it is, and what the issues are. In the days ahead the battle needs far more direct, far clearer expression of ideas. Now is no time to waffle.




Roughing up the journalists

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Reading Max Fisher’s laundry list of confrontations between journalists and the police in Ferguson MO can leave one drained. Or in despair. We have entered the strange stage set of public political theatre. So police officers who have put on the regalia, the costume of the security State, no feel an obligation or perhaps a freedom to act out that role.

The weapons, the helmets, the vehicles and body armor are all signs of Authority. One is not to challenge them, certainly not in an age of Security. Yet fundamentally one must. One must challenge precisely because this is a theatre, a mock show. Challenge in order to save them from themselves, from the cloak of curses that seeps into them like oil (Ps 109.17). The cycle of violence keeps asking for escalation, because it is the substance, the purpose of Authority. Such a sign, is of course one that pushes out the republican truths of discourse and citizenship.

As long as we engage in our political Security Theatre, we render ourselves unable to see our neighbor. For some that is a flaw, the fear is that for others it is a feature.

Why the Second folows the First

At MLive there has been a raging war over the propriety of openly carrying firearms to civic meetings. this leads to a number of talking points, perhaps the central role of guns and rights. Does force undergird the establishment of free speech. As one commentator put it:

Guns protect your free speech. In fact guns gave you your free speech.

Free speech and free minds are the necessary foundation to gun rights. Freedom begins when we move away from the Hobbesian war against all, when we covenant together. Freedom takes place precisely when we limit our turn to private force.

Moreover, the notion of guns as protection means first that there must be a notion of justice. That is, to be legitimate force must first be used to a just end, otherwise it is simply the expression of the subjective self, of whim. So how then do we determine justice? Force cannot provide the answer, rational discussion must. Thus, free speech necessarily precedes the weapon, because only be such speech (or philosophy) can we determine when force is just and proper.

Literally, without free speech and free minds you would not know what to do with your gun.

Free Speech v. Slavery

Fergus Bordewich reviews a rather interesting book by Jefferson Morley, Snow Storm in August (Doubleday, 2012),  about an incident in ante-bellum Washington. In the clash of slavery and the abolitionists, Bordewich comments

The author rightly underscores the fact that, throughout the antebellum period, “the need to defend the slave system overwhelmed the protections written into the Bill of Rights.” In Francis Scott Key’s case against (abolitionist Rueben) Crandall, the slave-owning district attorney charged, for instance, that the mere possession of abolitionist publications was “always indictable” because they were intended to “produce excitement, tumult, and insurrection.” In other words, even white men were not to be allowed to own, read or distribute documents that offended slave owners.

Wall Street Journal, July 16 2012.

Fortnight for Freedom

Charles Honey’s column last Sunday sets the conflict between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church over the mandate to provide contraception in certain employment settings. Honey is skeptical, but he does point to the bishops report, and that is worth some comment.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, head of the bishops’ committee on religious liberty, recently told the U.S. Bishops Conference meeting in Atlanta the liberty campaign is no “walk in the park,” either. He said some reaction had been “hostile, sometimes unfair and inaccurate and sometimes derisive.”
He also said bishops’ concerns go beyond the health-care mandate. His committee’s report, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” also cited state immigration measures, such as an Alabama law prohibiting priests from baptizing or preaching to illegal immigrants.

It is an odd thing  to engage in the public square by refusing to provide either references to or third party provisions for contraception, yet such is the Church’s stance.  Odder yet,  to treat the federal mandate as an “unjust law” thereby requiring acts of conscience, similar to the unjust laws protested during the Civil Rights era — this is a case of intellectual (one is tempted to say “jesuitical”) abuse. It doesn’t fly.

Of course, it might fly were the core social teachings of the Church focused on sex. But they are not. These are emanations of emanations from the great teachings on social duty, in the Bible, in the Fathers, and in the actual practice of the Church. The voice and witness on these matters is a gift to not only others who make a Christian confession, but to society as a whole.

Bluntly, the hostility to artificial contraception is a product deriving from the manner of the Church’s reasoning, and so is something less ecumenical and more particular, even sectarian. Sectarian beliefs ought to be guarded within the bounds of a religious body, but when that body is employing non-adherents, hired on basis of secular merit — say like Mercy Health, the sole provider of healthcare in Muskegon County — then the case for making those beliefs integral to the institution seem strained.

The Bishops are right to be concerned about maintaining the integrity of their witness. they subvert it with the turn to the sectarian with their non-adherent, secular employees.

Update: The discussion continues on in an engaging dialogue with Kevin Rahe, an articulate lay Catholic. Continue reading “Fortnight for Freedom”