Charleston and our culture of depraved indifference

This morning I woke up thinking a lot about my unborn son and the chaotic world we live in. The massacre of God’s children in His house in Charleston, SC was all I could hear about on my radio dial as I drove to work. After I parked my car in the garage, I teared up thinking about all that’s going on in the world-a world devoid of Truth, love and charity.

We live in a world that exalts individualism, moral relativism and nihilism over love and community. We live in a world so wrapped up in the idea that each of us can create our own reality that we don’t even recognize signs of distress and danger in our loved ones, our friends and our neighbors, and even if we do, we often struggle with whether or not we should sound an alarm, for fear we might “offend” somebody. Perish the thought!

I don’t know many facts about Dylann Roof, other than that he left evidence of his sick and twisted mind in plain view before he shed innocent blood in the presence of God on Wednesday evening. Innocent blood that was following God’s call to welcome all to the Good News. Among the dead are a recent college graduate, a librarian, a speech therapist, pastors, and a state senator. This evil act should cause us all to pause and ask ourselves, “How do individuals become so detached from society and community, so far gone from reality and God’s love that they commit such atrocious acts against their fellow man that cry out to God for vengeance?”

What compels me to write this morning was the revelation that this lost soul-Dylann Roof-lived with a roommate WHO KNEW something was coming, that Dylann was dangerous, that he had fantastical Charles Manson-like ideas of starting a race war….AND SAID NOTHING! How did we as a society become so plagued by depraved indifference—as Glenn Beck put it this morning—that it becomes an option for us to stay silent in the face of evil? We have all become the neighbors of Kitty Genovese; a nation of people who stay silent while evil occurs because we don’t want to get “in the middle of it.” It comes down to what Pope Benedict XVI called a “dictatorship of relativism” and what Pope Francis calls our “throwaway culture.”

How will this roommate live with the fact that he said nothing? Imagine a friend or loved one, deeply depressed and in a state of mental anguish, told us, “I’m going to end it this week; I can’t do it anymore.” Would we stay silent and not bring them, if we could, to a hospital? Would we not call a suicide prevention hotline? Would we just keep our feelings to ourselves because we want to avoid “rocking the boat” or avoid the possibility of sounding a false alarm?

My parents are 63—they grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in a small, idyllic suburb of Boston. They often tell stories of their childhood and how different “their time” was from ours. The 1950s and 1960s surely had their evils, and we are better today for working to eradicate them, but these “golden decades” for America were wonderful in the sense that in most of America, we looked out for each other. Communities, neighborhoods and churches rallied to help those in need. Neighbors kept a watchful eye as dozens of kids played in the streets. If a father abandoned his family, he was publicly shamed and ridiculed, even if it was in hushed tones. If you did something bad, you could be assured your mother would have been informed by Mrs. Smith down the block before you made it home.

The kids of my parents’ generation didn’t use foul language, certainly not in front of adults. There was a universal moral standard that some things—porn, adultery, promiscuity, dishonesty, lack of respect for others, taking advantage of the vulnerable, foul language—was unacceptable. If a kid was into dangerous things, someone took notice and called it out.

To illustrate the point-where are the memories of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Charleston from our parents’ generation? Where are the news stories about 40, 50, 80+ people becoming victims of gang violence in Chicago over the course of a weekend from that era? Where are the stories of celebrated illegitimacy, adultery, violence, deceit, absentee parenthood and assault of teachers by students from that era?

Walter Williams drove the point home in a column entitled “Culture and social pathology” yesterday, writing,

Foul language is spoken by children in front of and sometimes to teachers and other adults. When I was a youngster, it was unthinkable to use foul language to any adult. It would have meant risking a smack across the face. But years ago, parents and teachers didn’t have “experts” on child rearing to tell them that corporal punishment was wrong and ineffective and “timeouts” would be a superior form of discipline. One result of our tolerance for aberrant behavior was that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2011-12 academic year, 209,000 primary- and secondary-school teachers were physically assaulted and 353,000 were threatened with injury. As a result of this and other forms of school violence, many school districts employ hundreds of police officers.”

Think about that for a minute. We’ve allowed our society to succumb to depraved indifference, such that having full-time police officers at school is something that we accept as a necessary part of life in our modern age! Does anyone ever stop to think about the insanity of accepting that we need to staff our schools with cops because “it’s a fact of life” that some students are so out of control that assaulting teachers (almost 600,000 of them!) or shooting up a school is commonplace in modern America? Or that many parents expect teachers to also serve as mother, father, therapist and disciplinarian for their children?

Consider this-a friend of mine who is a teacher once recounted a story from my high school where the parent of a student who verbally assaulted a teacher told the principle that their child was “having a bad week.” Oh, really? I should have known. Let me ask the secretary to bring in the chaise lounge, play-doh and bubbles, and we’ll talk it out. Try that in a school 40 years ago; the principle would’ve smacked the parent. On second thought, no parent would have even thought of saying that in defense of a disrespectful and insubordinate kid 40 years ago.

We hear after every tragedy that nobody was paying attention to the mental instability of the shooter, or if they were aware of red flags, they were ignored, and that largely seems to be the case. But instead of looking at our permissive culture, we say guns are the issue. Perhaps in a lot of these massacre scenarios, sufficient measures were not in place to prevent seriously deranged kids from getting their hands on firearms that may be in the family home, as was the case with Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter. However, guns were not absent in our parents’ generation. If anything, access was easier! So where is the mental illness coming from?

If you ask me, it is our culture of depraved indifference that sees technology and electronics as a substitute for good parenting. It is a culture wherein, as Walter Williams writes, “Our youth have been counseled that there are no moral absolutes. Instead, what’s moral or immoral is a matter of personal opinion.”

It is our culture that has willful cognitive dissonance, allowing the government to spend billions promoting fatherhood and marriage, while also saying those things aren’t really important, because other arrangements are just as valid. It is a culture that shirks away from teaching our kids the values that served our parents well, because those values are now passé and “oppressive,” and heaven help us if anyone is made to feel bad about their choices in life.

We can blame it on the economy, the changing times and culture, guns, bullying and all manner of other things. Or we can have honest discussions.

How about an honest discussion about our depraved indifference that accepts broken homes, broken communities, and broken souls?

How about a discussion about how parents have shirked their responsibility for the moral upbringing of their children and blame teachers for their children’s failures and transgressions?

How about an honest discussion about how a shared morality is essential to a flourishing society?

How about an honest discussion about how 50% of American children growing up without both parents in the home IS a major social problem?

How about a discussion about how we have banned any mentions of God and the teaching of common morals from schools but encourage it in prison, where it is too late?

How about a discussion about how pointing out wrongs in a loving way to our friends and neighbors is an act of love and an act of charity, rather than an assault on freedom?

How about a discussion about how we’ve created what Pope Francis’s new encyclical terms a culture of consumerism that gets us so wrapped up in working to acquire “things” for our children instead of being physically and emotionally present parents for our children?

Our nation has a choice to make. We can finally have difficult conversations and implement “politically incorrect” solutions that involve us as a community taking responsibility instead of looking to a dysfunctional Washington, or we can forget about our social ills until the next atrocity happens, going about “minding our own business” and avoiding controversy.

What’s it going to be, folks?

As for me, I plan on seeking to discuss these issues so that my son may know a world that values life and community, and shuns a society of depraved indifference.


Thoughts on “Winning the Culture War”

Last night as I was walking out of Mass with my wife, I saw a display case for Lighthouse Catholic Media and picked up a CD entitled “Winning the Culture War,” in which Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College presents a fictional conversation between C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape character and his apprentice, Wormwood. They are discussing how to dismantle Truth by politicizing religion, preaching tolerance, and advancing moral relativism.

One quote from Dr. Kreeft that especially struck me was this one:

“The origins of the moral relativism that justifies the sexual revolution is not intellectual, it’s moral. We’re not confused about moral absolutes, we’re afraid of moral absolutes. Our moral relativism is almost wholly sexual; almost no one defends nuclear war or insider trading or oil spills or even smoking. But anything to do with sex is justified, sanctified and glorified. Even murder is justified in the name of sex. Abortion is fundamentally about sex. Feminism, abortion, divorce, cohabitation-all these issues are about consequence-free sex.”

As a millennial, I grew up in the wasteland left behind in the aftermath of the sexual revolution waged by the Baby Boomers and institutionalized as the framework through which to view all future societal progress. I grew up in a world saturated with sex. Sex on TV, sex in the classroom, sex on college campuses, sex on billboards, sex in the magazines in the supermarket checkout line. And the aforementioned doesn’t even qualify as pornography by modern standards.

Dr. Kreeft’s presentation got me to thinking about our culture, and he is absolutely right. Sex isn’t even exciting anymore. There’s no restrictions to give it the thrill it once gave man. We are simultaneously sexualized and sexless. Sex no longer has meaning or significance in our culture, it’s what you do when there’s nothing good on TV. There are all kinds of sexual issues even in marriages today; sexless marriages, sex that seems routine, a chore, a duty, and sex cheapened by addiction on the husband (or wife) part to porn. And it’s not because God made sex boring, but because man’s designs have distorted sex.

Sex in and of itself-the union of man and woman in a powerful bond of intimacy with a teleological end of bringing new life into the world is no longer enough for the masses. No longer does the mere beauty of the male or female form created in the image and likeness of God prompt sexual desire and drive. Instead, we desire distortions and perversions of what is perhaps is nature’s most beautiful act and seek out images, fantasies and entertainment that degrade and debase sex. We can no longer be fulfilled by timeless love stories; no, we need perversion, domination, abuse, “red rooms,” whips, chains and all manner of diversions to make sex “exciting.” We have men in their 20s seeking treatment for impotency because they can no longer get aroused by a present human female (their wife) after years of living in a virtual world of masturbating to pornography. Worse, men can’t even form the relationships to lead to sexual intimacy, because the “hookup culture” has robbed them of any sense of permanence and commitment.

Our Lady of Fatima said more people will go to hell for sins of the flesh than for all other sins. As a young man navigating our culture, I admittedly bought into the lies promoted by the culture. I had sex outside of marriage, I dabbled in pornography. I damaged myself.

When I met my beloved wife, I couldn’t be the complete gift to her that I could have been had I waited, as she did, to make love for the first time to my spouse. I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to, go back and “undo” my past. Thanks to the grace of God, He was able to restore me before I met my wife, lead me back to Him, and make me a gift to my wife.

After we first got married, my wife was still on hormonal birth control because her endocrinologist insisted she be on it as a type 1 diabetic. Once my wife got on my insurance plan, we were able to find a pro-life endocrinologist and OB/GYN and learn NFP.

There’s simply no other way to say this-there is no substitute for the real thing, without barriers. God intended lovemaking to be a total and complete donation of self to your spouse. When we remove the distortions man has put on sex, sex becomes exciting, thrilling, and full of possibility. Contraceptive sex, by contrast, puts conditions on that gift. It says “I give you everything but my fertility because I don’t completely trust you,” and who wants to make love with someone they don’t completely trust without reservation? Contraceptive sex objectifies people. It uses them for our selfish pleasure. By contrast, natural lovemaking gives and receives. The woman receives the man’s sperm and the man receives his wife’s gift of fertility. Our reproductive faculties are not mere products of evolutionary biology, THEY ARE GIFTS GOD HAS ENTRUSTED TO US, TO BE GIVEN TO ONE PERSON EXCLUSIVELY IN A BOND OF LASTING FIDELITY!

There’s a reason everyone says free, natural, self-donating lovemaking is better on every level; BECAUSE IT IS! But more importantly, every act of lovemaking is an expression of the Sacrament of marriage to the fullest extent. When we make love freely within the context of holy matrimony, there is no fear of rejection or unintended pregnancy. There is, however, hope. Hope and possibility that your mutual self-gift, in cooperation with God, transmitted new life.

Even the use of NFP without grave reason distorts God’s plan sex. My wife and I were still learning NFP when we conceived, but the surprise was pleasant. When we learned we were pregnant, we realized we both had wanted a child, and that we really didn’t have a sufficient reason other than selfishness (i.e. when I get this job or make this amount) to delay having children. Not to mention, having to stop in the midst of intimacy to ask “is this a fertile day?” is a real mood killer.

So much of society is missing out on the thrill of sex that is total, complete, self-giving and life-giving. We’ve distorted sex beyond all recognition, and as witnesses to the Truth of Christ, we have our work cut out for us as we seek to invite people to inquire about the source of our joy and hope. We must meet people in the trenches, speak the Truth with love, and pray for the conversion of individuals and conversion of the culture. Everyone deserves to experience the riches of God’s plan for true unencumbered sexual intimacy with a lifelong partner, in Covenant with God, free from man-made perversions. It is, after all, God’s plan for mankind.

Joe McCarthy is Dead, So Can We Leave Each Other Alone Now?

I haven’t written on this blog in quite some time, but the tyranny of political correctness and the blacklisting of all who sway from the proscribed cultural orthodoxy have reached the point of absurdity, and Americans who value free speech and free expression, religious or not, should be terrified of what’s happening to the first amendment.

It seemingly started with the current Administration’s insistence that all employers subsidize their employee’s sexual activities with contraception, abortions for oopsies and ED medications to get the dirty done.  There was a time in America where sex wasn’t discussed with people other than your partner, but now its conversational material for dinner.  Of course, government shouldn’t be in people’s bedrooms, and neither should your employer.   If our sexual lives are in fact, the most intimate parts of our experiences, to be shared with select few (i.e., the people we’re having sex with), than logic demands none of us can, at the same time, insist our employers pay for it, especially if the employer is a bona fide religious enterprise, such as Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame—the list goes on.  The federal government uses this logic in some cases- such as being the basis on which taxpayers do not fund elective abortions.  It is a “personal decision” and a deeply divisive issue, as they say, so we keep public funds out of it.

Unfortunately, the cultural elite have abandoned their once-championed “live and let live” slogan and is now insisting that not only must polite society tolerate everything under the sun and hold their criticism, but they also must actively participate in activities and commerce to which they object, or else.   You can no longer say, “It’s not my thing, but whatever floats your boat.”  No—YOU MUST ENDORSE, PARTICIPATE, AND CELEBRATE! God help you if you’re a devout Catholic or out of agreement with current cultural mores—you’ll be branded a bigot and your life will be destroyed.

 Legislation to protect people’s exercise of the first amendment to freedom from coercion in religious matters was sparked by human rights commissions across the country slapping artisans-bakers, photographers and florists-with hefty fines for refusing to use their artistic abilities to contribute to activities they morally or religiously object to.  Bakers and the like can refuse to bake a cake for a Nazi or white supremacist rally, but not a same-sex wedding, even if their faith precludes them from doing so.   Surely no court would force a lesbian photographer to work a wedding at the Westboro Baptist Church, or insist a certain New Mexico hairdresser cut the governor’s hair (he dropped Gov. Martinez as a client in 2012 for her opposition to same- sex marriage), but we’ll conveniently refuse to acknowledge those facts.

In Arizona, a bill was castigated as a gateway for “Jim Crow laws” for gays and lesbians, and the media frenzy convinced the public that the ill-fated proposal would lead to the corner pizza parlor refusing lunch service to homosexuals.  No Arizona businesses are currently refusing to serve or do business with gays and lesbians, though it is currently legal to do so. There’s no religion that prohibits selling a slice of pizza to anybody. What the bill ACTUALLY did was allow private parties to assert a RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) defense in litigation with other private parties, if for example, a photographer refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding or the Knights of Columbus refused to rent a function hall for a same-sex wedding reception.  Currently, citizens can only assert a RFRA defense in litigation to which the government is a party.  The bill did not say the judge would rule in favor of the party making a RFRA defense, but no matter.  Hyperbole and hysteria ruled the day and the bill was vetoed.

Or witness the recent debacle over former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich’s forced ouster just weeks after starting the job over an 8-year old donation to support California’s Proposition 8, when 52% of Californians voted to ban same-sex marriage.  Eich apologized when the donation came to light, saying his personal views do not affect his commitment to the Mozilla corporate values of inclusiveness, but that wasn’t enough. and OKCupid CEO Sam Yagan recently apologized for making a campaign contribution to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), who—you guessed it—opposes same-sex marriage.  Yagan claims he was unaware of Cannon’s stance on gay rights.  Uh, hello, the guy is a Mormon Republican from Utah. “I had no idea the Pope was opposed to gay marriage!”  Seriously?!

Whether or not Yagan’s donation was reflective of agreement with Cannon’s approach to taxes and regulation didn’t factor into the hysteria over the latest corporate executive’s sin.

The entire premise is absurd and dangerous.  To wit, until two years ago, Barack Obama was against same-sex marriage, and personally, may still be (who knows or cares?) but no one is demanding his head.  In fact, he continues to say he has good friends who disagree with him on the issue and come at it from a deeply religious perspective.  As noted LGBT columnist and activist Andrew Sullivan recently opined, “The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out.”  In a subsequent post, he wrote, “What we have here is a social pressure to keep your beliefs deeply private for fear of retribution. We are enforcing another sort of closet on others. I can barely believe the fanaticism.” 

The LGBT community rightly condemned the witch hunt led by infamous icon Anita Bryant. Here was a woman who supported laws to fire public teachers who were gay or associated with gays, simply on that basis.  She had no evidence that gay schoolteachers were “recruiting” students.  Forty years later, fanatics on the other side are purging dissidents from polite society, and even LGBT supporters are getting uncomfortable.

Mozilla, like A&E in respect to Phil Robertson, of course are free to operate, hire and fire in accordance with their corporate values.  But digging up personal donations for use as a weapon sets a scary precedent.  What if some CEO down the road is complained about because it is discovered he is a practicing Catholic and some gay employees at said company don’t like the Catholic Church’s position on the issue of homosexual activity and view the CEO’s religious affiliation as creating a hostile environment, even if he or she has never discussed the issue at work? Is the person at issue not fit for a job?   What if CEO made a donation to a campaign to restrict abortion? Would he/she be branded a soldier in the fabricated, fictional “war on women” and canned? What if Jewish employees felt uncomfortable with a CEO’s donation to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel organization? At this rate, “Who did you vote for/donate to in the last presidential election?” will be appearing on an employment application near you.

In the past few years, a staffer at a Boston-area college lodged a complaint of “workplace hostility” against another staff/faculty member he’d never met because, while walking past the accused’s door, he overheard a private phone conversation in which the person in question expressed disagreement with Maine’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage.  In 2005, Costco fired an Canadian employee who was a member of the Knights of Columbus for telling a lesbian co-worker that his Knights council would not rent out their hall for her wedding.  The McCarthyism has become absurd-the mere knowledge of the presence of individuals with opposing opinions, regardless of whether they have ever publicly voiced them, has become grounds for “hostile environment” complaints.

On the other side of the coin-I am disabled, yet I know and have good friends who would be supportive of a decision to abort a disabled child.  Are they awful people? No! I may think they’re woefully misguided and even a little ignorant on that particular issue, but I still respect them and even enjoy discussing our differences with them.  Sadly, most of society has lost the ability to live and let live, to respect that some have deeply held beliefs and that’s that.

In short, what used to be a free country where people were left alone to worship and believe as they saw fit has become one big witch hunt for those who dare to hold beliefs, even privately, that challenge the cultural zeitgeist.

My views as a Catholic on the issue of same-sex marriage–which is that marriage is the union of a man and a woman united to care for any children their union produces–is irrelevant, as this isn’t a post about the merits of same-sex marriage. The facts on the ground reflect the reality that state-recognition of same-sex marriages is, legally-speaking, a foregone conclusion. I have many gay friends for whom I wish nothing but happiness.  People of faith struggle with the issue-where is the balance?  But if I still hold true to the tenets of Catholicism in my personal beliefs, belong to the Knights of Columbus, and, when prompted, voice my opinions, does that make me an awful person unfit to work?  Will my work as a lobbyist for two Roman Catholic bishops render me unemployable?

Joe McCarthy has been dead for almost 60 years.  Let’s stop the witch hunts, acknowledge that religious and political beliefs are not something people ought to be persecuted for unless it’s a bona fide qualification that affects their ability to do their job.  Let’s live and let live, America.  As a wise man once said, “it’s none of my business what other people think of me.”

Thoughts on the Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage

A few weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court heard two cases regarding state and federal laws pertaining to marriage as an institution of one man and one woman. In United States v. Windsor, the Court will decide whether section 3 the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the provision of federal benefits to same-sex couples, violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

The case surrounds the story of Edith Windsor, an elderly New York resident who married her late partner, Thea Spyer, in Toronto in 2007. When Thea Spyer passed away in 2009, Windsor inherited a considerable estate, triggering taxes of some $363,000 for Edith Windsor on the estate. Because the state of New York legally recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, Windsor requested a refund of the estate taxes from the IRS. Citing section 3 of DOMA, the IRS declined.

In a related case, Hollingsworth v. Perry seeks to invalidate California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage in California as a relationship between a man and a woman for legal purposes. After the California Supreme Court invalidated Proposition 22 and granted gays and lesbians the right to marry, citizens responded by passing Proposition 8, invalidating some 18,000 same-sex marriages.

In February 2011, the Obama Justice Department released a statement saying it had determined that sexual classifications ought to be subject to heightened scrutiny rather than rational basis review, and announced it would no longer defend DOMA, which passed in 1996 with strong bipartisan support after a court ruling in which the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the state must have a compelling interest in prohibiting same-sex marriage. The announcement marked the first time an administration declined to defend a federal law duly enacted by Congress. Such action may be a violation of the President’s oath to uphold and defend the laws of the Constitution, but that is a separate issue. With the DoJ declining to defend a federal law, Congress formed the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, appointing Paul Clement to defend the Constitutionality of section 3.

Proceeding from the administration’s established position on DOMA, in the Obama administration’s brief in United States v. Windsor, the Solicitor General writes,

“Tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law under equal protection principles.”

However, in the same brief, Justice acknowledges that DOMA could pass rational basis test review that the Court has historically applied to laws that do not make legal distinctions pertaining to “suspect classes” such as race, gender, or alienage. Thus, the proponents of same-sex marriage are urging the Court to utilize heightened scrutiny in reviewing both Windsor and Hollingsworth, making sexual orientation a suspect class for the purposes of judicial review.

Suspect classes, historically, are those groups with an “obvious, immutable or distinguishing trait.” (City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432 (1985)). The respondent, Edith Windsor, declines in her petition to “distinguish between status and conduct.” While most of society agrees that homosexuality is not a choice, to date, science has been unable to point to any biological cause of homosexual orientation. As such, courts have declined to make sexual orientation a suspect class, inasmuch as it involves a type of conduct. “Homosexuality…differs fundamentally from those [traits] defining any of the recognized suspect or quasi-suspect classes. Members of suspect or quasi-suspect classes, e.g., blacks or women, exhibit immutable characteristics, whereas homosexuality is primarily behavioral in nature.” (Woodward, 871 F.2d)

In other words, same-sex marriage advocates, joined by the Obama administration, is seeking to invalidate the state and federal laws restricting marriage to heterosexual couples on the basis that such laws violate the equal protection clause by discriminating against an entire class of people, and as such, the state has no compelling interest, or “rational basis” in limiting marriage. Furthermore, proponents point to several prior decisions by the Court that hold marriage as a fundamental right, namely, “Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival” Zablocki v Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 383 (1978) and Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967) (same); “marriage is ‘fundamental to the existence and survival of the race’” Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535, 5412 (1942). While Lawrence v. Texas 539 U.S. 578 (2003) invalidated anti–sodomy laws, it did so on the basis that such laws were not applied equally to homosexual and heterosexual conduct, therefore failing to meet the “rational basis” test in violation of the equal protection clause, the Court in Lawrence made a point to say that Lawrence did not establish a right to marry a person of the same sex.

To the contrary, Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972) dismissed an appeal based on the merits of the case of the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling in which they held that the plaintiffs, two men who had filed for a marriage license in Minneapolis, failed in their reliance on the recent Loving v. Virginia decision to find a parallel, writing that “in commonsense and in a constitutional sense, there is a clear distinction between a marital restriction based merely upon race and one based upon the fundamental difference in sex.” On October 10, 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a one sentence ruling on the appeal motion, stating, “The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.” While in most cases presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court’s refusal to hear the case is not an endorsement of the decision below, Baker came to the Court through mandatory appellate review, and thus the summary dismissal is a decision on the merits of the case. As binding precedent, the Baker decision prevents lower courts from coming to a contrary conclusion when presented with the precise issue the Court necessarily adjudicated in dismissing the case. You could say that the Supreme Court has set a precedent as regards same-sex marriage.

There goes the claim that opposing the marriage of two men or two women is the same as supporting miscegenation statutes. The sexual difference is a fact rooted in biology, and no amount of obfuscation can change science.

weddong rings

Going back to the administration’s claim that marriage is a fundamental right, inasmuch as “prejudice may not be the basis of differential treatment under the law,” the Court may disagree. For Constitutional purposes, a right is “fundamental” only if two conditions are met: the asserted right is (a) “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and (b) “implicit in the context of ordered liberty”, such that “neither liberty nor justice” would exist if sacrificed (see Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. at 720-21 (1997)). No one could well argue that marriage of two men or two women is deeply rooted in the history or tradition of any known civilization, let alone our Nation’s. The Obama administration’s claim that “Tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law under equal protection principles,” also faces a tough battle before the Court, inasmuch as the Court has used tradition as a basis for rulings as recently as their unanimous 1997 ruling in Washington v. Glucksberg, wherein the Court rejected a “fundamental right” to commit suicide, assisted or otherwise. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Rehnquist expounded upon moral and legal traditions, stating,

Indeed, opposition to and condemnation of suicide–and, therefore, of assisting suicide–are consistent and enduring themes of our
philosophical, legal, and cultural heritages.

More specifically, for over 700 years, the Anglo American common law tradition has punished or otherwise disapproved of both suicide and
assisting suicide. In the 13th century, Henry de Bracton, one of the first legal treatise writers, observed that “[j]ust as a man may commit
felony by slaying another so may he do so by slaying himself.” The real and personal property of one who killed himself to avoid conviction and
punishment for a crime were forfeit to the king; however, thought Bracton, “if a man slays himself in weariness of life or because he is
unwilling to endure further bodily pain . . . [only] his movable goods [were] confiscated.” Thus, “[t]he principle that suicide of a sane
person, for whatever reason, was a punishable felony was…introduced into English common law.”

Clearly, there is no precedent that bars “tradition” from entering into legal reasoning. If the fact that 700 years of Anglo-American common law tradition bases suicide bans on moral approbation of society is applicable in rejecting a right to assisted suicide, surely millennia of traditional marriage is a compelling basis for continuing to legally define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. The institution of marriage is a priori to the existence of the State; in other words marriage is first and foremost a natural law institution that dates back to the earliest civilizations of man. The State extended protections to marriage in the interest of children. Inasmuch as same–sex unions are not capable of being consummated or producing offspring, it is sound legal reasoning to argue that the state has no interest in recognizing such unions as marriages.

The case of Ms. Windsor is not without merit, however. Rather than being a question of marriage, it ought to call into question the justice of arbitrary tax laws. As a rule, individuals ought to be able to bequeath property to whomever they wish without the recipient incurring taxes on the inheritance. Estate taxes are the equivalent of me knocking on my neighbor’s door shortly after the death of his mother and saying, “I know I don’t know you or your deceased mother, but I am taking half of your inheritance.” Most people not hell-bent on wealth redistribution would sympathize with Ms. Windsor, but the case of Ms. Windsor need not redefine marriage.

Perhaps the greatest question that would stem from a Supreme Court ruling finding a right to same-sex marriage is where you would consequently draw the line on what constitutes a marriage? The respondents in both Hollingsworth and Windsor base their argument on the premise that marriage exist to unite consenting adults in a committed relationship. If the state, as the Obama administration argues, has no compelling interest in preserving an institution rooted in “prejudice” and tradition (traditional marriage), how does one rationally argue for the continuation of the prohibition on marriage of more than two people? As the USCCB writes in their amicus, “One could substitute “polygamists” for “homosexuals” as that term is used in the Windsor decision and arrive at the same conclusion for the former as the Second Circuit did with respect to the latter. “In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) [polygamists] as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination, B) [polygamy] has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society, C) [polygamists] are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter [polygamous relationships; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.” (Windsor v. United States, 699 F.3d 169 181-82 (2d Cir. 2012)).

Now I am not arguing that polygamy and same-sex marriage are the same thing, but that the logic of the Second Circuit leads to the absurd. Or is it absurd at all? Many polygamists base their practice in deeply-held religious beliefs, but Congress deemed that the prohibition of polygamy trumped the free exercise rights of fundamentalists Mormons. If the federal government has no interest in limiting marriage to a man and a woman out of mere tradition, they likewise cannot discriminate against groups of three or more consenting adults. You cannot have a compelling interest in protecting one part of traditional marriage (monogamy) and not the other part (one man, one woman), especially if your case for dispensing with the latter rests on terms like “consenting adults” and “emotional fulfillment.” As recently as 2011, the Supreme Court of British Columbia uphold Canada’s ban on polygamy, writing that “the law seeks to advance the institution of monogamous marriage, a fundamental value in Western society from the earliest of times. It seeks to protect against the many harms which are reasonably apprehended to arise out of the practice of polygamy.” Referring to reports of polygamous marriage, British Columbia’s chief justice wrote further that “there is no evidence that it is a widespread or mainstream phenomenon.” Ditto same-sex marriage.

The redefinition of marriage will have widespread impact on all segments of society, including the constitutional right to religious freedom and free exercise thereof. Colorado recently skirted its ban on same-sex marriage, enacting a civil unions bill that did not include language protecting religious institutions from recognizing such unions in the operation of adoption agencies or charitable organizations. The Colorado Catholic Conference, in pushing for conscience protections, was berated by the bill’s sponsor, homosexual Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), saying,

“What to say to those who claim their religion requires them to discriminate? I’d tell you what I’d say: ‘Get thee to a nunnery, and live there then. Go live a monastic life away from modern society, away from people you can’t see as equal to yourself”

Steadman told the Denver CBS affiliate that “acceptance of homosexuality by all” is why he ran for public office. In other words, we’re dispensing with freedom of religion and the first amendment. My 20-year old notion of two members of the same-sex getting legally married renders millennia of tradition obsolete and bigoted. So, folks, it’s not about marriage. The real objective is to rid society of all moral objections to it, which is why groups such as the Human Rights Campaign are pushing for laws that do not exempt religious institutions from recognizing same-sex marriages. While the Church teaches that homosexuals must be treated with the same dignity afforded to all, it does not recognize two men as a marriage. Try telling that to those who equate dissent with bigotry. When the law seeks to compel religious participation in a state-created definition of marriage, the courts will be very busy adjudicating challenges to such laws on the basis of First Amendment rights.

The basis of the argument put forth by opponents of same-sex marriage is not to deny same-sex couples the right to set up a household, share property and responsibilities, accumulate assets or care for each other. In fact, where there are obstacles to these things, the law should be changed to accommodate such arrangements. Federal law should designate domestic partners as legal claimants of their partner’s remains upon death, for instance. Nevertheless, marriage has a long and storied history as the fundamental building block of society, and ought to remain so.

Thoughts on Sede Vacante

With the shocking abdication of Pope Benedict XVI, the past weeks have been filled with absolutely ridiculous speculation by the mainstream media on the future of the Church and, as ABC’s World News put it, “Americans hope for a new direction.”  The Church has been rocked by scandal and “filth” (Benedict’s words) for the past decade and is certainly not without its institutional shortcomings, but the theology of the Church-in other words, the divinely revealed Truth of the faith-ought not to be in question.

Benedict’s unexpected announcement came on the heels of revelations concerning cover-up of pedophile priests in the Archdiocese of LA by Roger Cardinal Mahony, the former archbishop.  This prompted widespread speculation that the Pope was resigning ahead of bombshell accusations concerning his personal involvement in the systematic evasion of justice by prelates both in the U.S. and abroad.  The viciously liberal and anti-Catholic media wouldn’t buy the fact that the Pope, who in recent images doesn’t exactly convey as a spring chicken, is tired and in failing health.  Keith Olbermann’s successor as primetime hysteric, CNN’s Piers Morgan, tweeted a snide comment to the effect that “popes don’t resign because they’re tired.”  For those of you who didn’t know, Piers is evidently all-knowing.

The media has bigger fish to fry, however.  The Vatican’s continued holding of traditional moral teachings in a post-modern era makes the Church a constant target of derision and ridicule in America’s elite salons.  When in 2005, Pope John Paul II died after a 26-year papacy, the media clamored for a more “democratic” and “liberal” Church, co-opting American political frameworks and imposing them on the Church.  Commentary on whether the Church would cease to advocate for the traditional and the most vulnerable and embrace the secular worldview abounded.  The fact that Terri Schiavo’s torturous death had preceded the great John Paul II’s by mere days provided fodder for speculation as to whether, under a new pope, the Church would allow men to remarry and pull the plug on their wife, in addition to allowing abortion of a full-term pregnancy.  National Public Radio found the prospect of a “new” Church so irresistibly titillating that its “expert panel” on the future of the Church included noted “theologians” from every dissenting “Catholic” group known to man, including the president of NARAL.

In other words, in 2005, the American media was expecting the Roman Catholic Church to fold into the Episcopal Church and govern itself through pop culture and voting, and when the Pope’s “Rottweiler,” Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, the media was bitterly disappointed.  Now that His Holiness Benedict XVI has flown off into the sunset and the sede vacante has commenced, the media quarterbacking will reach a fever pitch.

 The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, a Catholic, led the start of the asininity by proposing that a nun-or group of nuns-be elected Pope.  Because no obedient women religious would ever endorse such a notion, inasmuch as the pope is successor of Peter and therefore male, Dionne is clearly thinking about a “Nuns on the Bus” type that opposes every Catholic social teaching save for the preferential option for the poor, trading the Catechism for an American political platform. Maureen Dowd chimed in with support for women priests and the absurdity of Mary as Virgin.  Dionne, Dowd et al., raises the alarm that the Church risks irrelevancy if “change” is not forthcoming with respect to Catholic social teaching.  Clearly the punditocracy hasn’t been to a campus Newman Center or CUA or Franciscan University lately.  Student participation in the Faith on campus is growing each year, at both public and private colleges, and these students are returning to orthodoxy after a childhood suffering the consequences of the Baby Boomer’s failed social experiments with free love and no-fault divorce.

 At Mass this weekend, the priest gave a very salient homily having to do with Lent and the conclave.  He asked, “If you could put on a red skullcap and vote in the conclave, would you elect a “liberal” or a “conservative” as pope?”  Father spoke of how American Catholics and the media are clamoring for change, holding the absurd notion that a cardinal can simply trade his red hat for a white one and voila, we have theological and/or doctrinal change in the Roman Catholic Church.  Perhaps what must change, he continued, is not the Church, but us.  Perhaps instead of pushing our agenda, we ought to pray for God’s will.  More importantly, however, the Church is not concerned with the temporal.  The Church is ordered towards the divine, the eternal, the Truth.  As such, it cannot be governed by the framework of American democracy.

 Lent invites us to conversion, leaving our sins behind us and turning towards Christ.  If Christ is the leader of the Church, and Christ (as we know) is perfect, then it is us that much change, for if Christ is our leader, His Church is perfect.  We all have our favorite sin, whether it be pornography, greed, lust, gluttony, support of intrinsic evils such as abortion or gay marriage-you name it, we do it.  The media’s clamoring for change, our clamoring for “change” or “modernization” reflects our refusal to turn towards Christ, instead pushing the Church to accept our sins.  I am, as all of us are, a sinner.  But if we banish the word “sin” from culture, what are we left with but an empty culture and existence? 

 Maybe the timing of Benedict XVI’s resignation during Lent, a time for conversion, ought to give us pause.  It is time for us to realize that if we confess Catholicism and the Truth and the Faith, then it is up for us to change for the Church, not the other way around.

Sex, Religion, and our Sick Culture

The controversy over the Obama administration’s mandates requiring all health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives has been raging for three weeks now.  Last Friday, President Obama “accommodated” employers with religious and/or moral objections to the mandate by proposing an accounting gimmick.  Under this “accommodation,” employers with religious or conscience objections to contraceptives would not be forced to offer them to employees, but the insurance companies would be required to provide contraceptives to employees “free of charge.”  As if the mandate didn’t insult religious institutions already, the “accommodation” insults the intelligence of the American people.  After all, when is the last time your insurance company gave you a free lunch?

Through this bogus “accommodation,” the White House, aided by their media allies and dissidents who claim to speak for the Church, have effectively shifted the paradigm of the debate from being about a violation of freedom of religion and the Constitution to one about Bishops and pro-life politicians wanting to force women to conform to their religious values.  As former Clinton pollster and political strategist Dick Morris hypothesized, this was a politically calculated move from the start, beginning with George Stephanopolous’ out-of-the-blue question to GOP presidential candidates about whether or not states could constitutionally ban contraception.  Thus the narrative that the Catholic Church seeks to impose its values on America and ban contraception-all part of a grand design thought up in conjunction with pro-life presidential candidates.

The current fight over the contraceptive mandate stems from our culture, inasmuch as culture forms our politics.  Our society is awash in competing secular ideologies and philosophies claiming to lead to human happiness and liberation.  With supreme court rulings and the passage of laws over the years that run contrary to the common good and human dignity, our culture, and indeed our politics, have abandoned a society rooted in the promotion of human dignity and embraced one that seeks only the right for each man to define right and wrong for himself. Thus, today’s government abandons the first amendment in order to promote evil as good.

Politics aside, the controversy comes just as my 9th grade Catechism class is embarking on a six-week study of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, adapted for teens.  In a catechesis spanning five years, the former Pope sought to re-establish the lost notion of human dignity and true love through his weekly audiences.  What Pope John Paul II sought to counter was the culture of objectification, selfishness, and relativism that had taken hold of the world during the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

In 1930, the Episcopal church was the first to move towards the acceptance of contraceptives, and over time, the other Protestant denominations followed suit.  At the time, even Mahatma Ghandi had preached against birth control, as it allowed us to throw self-discipline and control over our desires to the wind.

In 1962, “the pill” was released to the market.  Invented by a Catholic in an attempt to avoid violating Church teachings on condoms, in 1968 Pope Paul VI released Humanae Vitae, reiterating the Vatican’s teaching against contraception and reaffirming the self-giving of marital union.  The day after the release of Paul VI’s encyclical, the New York Times featured a full-page ad with the signatures of many American Bishops who publicly rebuked the Vatican.  Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body was and is a lesson that seeks to bring the culture back to a view of sexuality rooted in human dignity after decades of attempts to erode the true nature of human dignity.

In a culture that views marriage as a contract lasting only as long as it is convenient, a culture entertained by an industry saturated with sex, and a utilitarian, consequence-free view of sexuality and human dignity, the Theology of the Body curriculum that my students are exploring must seem rather radical, and perhaps even avant-garde to the second generation to grow up in a world of “sexual liberation.”

In the 50s and 60s out-of-wedlock pregnancy was shameful; today it is entertainment and federally-subsidized.  Witness the glamorization of what we should be ashamed of in shows such as MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and pregnant.”  We constantly consume sexually explicit advertising and entertainment that glorifies what was once taboo, and yet we perennially lament the state of our youth, the prevalence of sexual activity among teens, and the breakdown of social mores.

Our culture glorifies the debauched while it views tradition and faith with suspicion.  In contradistinction, TOB promotes a resounding “YES!” to the dignity of man and our right to true love, not an objectified use of women and men for self-gratification.  TOB affirms the inherent good of men and women as they were created for each other in the image of God, and the gift of sexuality that He willed as good to us.  It promotes the dignity of marriage not to the detriment of homosexuals, but to say that sexuality outside that which God has ordered does not fulfill the dignity of the person.

This TOB curriculum is providing a radical alternative to the “sex ed” my students receive at school, which promotes the view that we are all objects for the purpose of pleasure; that morality or religious values held by our parents are a detriment to our capacity for self-determination and prevents us from defining happiness on our own terms.  But as the TOB for Teens video tells us,  the aftermath of casual sex outside of marriage is devoid of respect for the dignity of the human person, and is filled with disappointment and pain.  In a refreshing change of course, my students seem to be eager to grasp the idea that no one is an object; we are all subjects of God, made in His image with dignity.

The next five weeks of catechism class promises to be interesting and revealing.  What do young people think of our culture of decadence, relativism and objectification?  Are they secretly yearning for more out of a relationship than sexual pleasure?  Do they resent the pressures of secular culture?  Will they fix the destruction wrought on us by our parents’ sexual revolution?

Time will tell.

Obama Launches Attack on Catholic Church: “Comply or pay a fine,” DHHS rules.

Coming on the heels of the Obama administration’s  arguing against the constitutional precedent of the ministerial exception in the recent Hosana-Tabor case, in which the Court unanimously upheld the right of religious institutions to decide for themselves who qualifies as a minister, a new mandate requires religious institutions to provide its employees with all FDA-approved methods of contraceptives, including birth control, abortifacients such as the morning-after pill, abortions and sterilizations.  The New York Times and other members of the secularist movement have cheered these hostile encroachments by the government on the consciences and rights of religious institutions and individuals at every opportunity.

The  new contraceptive mandate and the administration’s argument against the ministerial exception are but two examples of continued affronts to religious liberty, however.  Prior to Hosana-Tabor, top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services overruled DHHS recommendations to renew a grant to Catholic Charities USA to aid sex-trafficking victims over issues with the Catholic Church’s position on abortion and contraception.  Career employees at DHHS tried to preserve the grant, telling Obama appointees that the program was one of the most effective in the world, but were overruled due to the political considerations of the administration.

Soon after the administration lost its battle to strip religious institutions of autonomy in hiring decisions, on January 20, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced new rules mandating coverage of contraception, abortions, and sterilization free of charge under the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, otherwise known as ObamaCare.

Since releasing the preliminary rule last year, religious leaders around the country have expressed concern and pleaded with the administration to expand the rule’s narrow religious exemption.  Timothy Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, attended a reportedly less-than-cordial meeting with President Obama, in which he expressed fear that the new rules would violate Catholic conscience rights and more broadly, the freedom of religion clause of the first amendment.   Dolan pleaded with the president to no avail.  Announcing the new rule, Secretary Sebelius said,

“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services. The administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations, which promote healthy communities and serve the common good. And this final rule will have no impact on the protections that existing conscience laws and regulations give to health-care providers.”

While the administration fully intends to violate the religious rights of the masses, the administration did give nonprofit religious institutions until 2013 to accommodate the new rule.  To this Dolan replied, “so what you’re saying is that we have a year to figure out how to violate our conscience?”  Evidently, yes.

While Sebelius expressed confidence that existing conscience laws would not be impacted, the criteria for qualifying for an exemption as a “religious employer for the new mandate are as follows:

1. The “inculcation of religious values” is “its purpose.”

2. It “primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets.”

3. “It primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

4. It is a non-profit organization under sections of the code that “refer to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.”

Despite the administrations flimsy assurances that the mandate is not intrusive, the USCCB-as well as many other religious institutions who serve people from all backgrounds- say the new rules force them to violate core teachings in order to satisfy the whims of the administration’s secularist base.  For instance, an order of nuns would not be required to provide insurance covering contraception and abortion, but a school, university or hospital run by the Order in question would be compelled to violate their religious beliefs, as Raleigh Bishop Michael Burbidge  and many other Bishops have stated.  Catholic Charities, one of the largest social services providers in the world,  running soup kitchens, shelters, and providing numerous other human services in cities all across the country, would be forced to pay for procedures to which they are opposed as well.  Those found in violation of the mandate could be subject to a fine of $100 per day, per employee.   In fact, according to the National Catholic Reporter, the University of Notre Dame faces a decision over whether to comply with the new mandate or face a $10 million fine.

After President Obama campaigned as a figure of unity and spoke of the values of religious freedom both at Notre Dame and on several other occasions, it is clear that despite overtures towards religious liberty, his real allegiance lies with the radical pro-choice activists who make up the base of his supporters.  Secretary Sebelius may claim the mandate has no bearing on “freedom of worship”,  but the “freedom of worship” and freedom of religion are not the same thing.  As Wesley J. Smith writes at National Review,

“The former means that one may believe whatever one wants and worship privately without interference, whereas the latter allows one freedom to live in the world at large consistent with one’s faith tenets, even if they are not endorsed by the state.”

Not only does the administration plan to regulate which religious beliefs are acceptable, they also plan to make religious institutions speak for the pro-choice agenda of  government.  As Secretary Sebelius states,

“We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.”

In other words, the mandate would require those who qualify for the narrowly-tailored exception to refer employees to contraceptive services in the community.  The new HHS rules are clearly unconstitutional, and the USCCB, joining dozens of colleges, dioceses and businesses in a suit against Secretary Sebelius have precedent on their side, embodied in precedent upholding the religious liberties of individuals and associations against the encroachments of the government, such as West Virginia v. Barnette (1943).  But what does the Constitution matter anyway?  Clearly it was not being followed in the drafting of this mandate.

In another sad turn of events, students at Fordham University, a Catholic university, are protesting against its policy of not dispensing birth control on campus.   Students at Fordham are demanding “affordable” (i.e. subsidized) contraceptives as well, and staged an off-campus clinic where students could get contraceptives and other reproductive services not offered on campus.   Fordham, again a Catholic institution, may be changing it’s policy in light of the new HHS rules.

The new mandate represents the continuation of an assault on religious institutions, which has been ongoing by members of the secular elite for decades.  For example, since the cause of gay marriage has arrived on the scene in recent years, faith-based adoption agencies such as Catholic Charities, a longstanding provider of care for children, have been forced to comply with state rulings directing them to place children with same-sex couples, or cease all adoption operations.  Catholic Charities has stopped its adoption operations in Illinois, Massachusetts, and is likely to do so in New York.  Regardless of one’s stand on same-sex “marriage,” forcing religious institutions to comply with secular rules is a violation of the constitutionally-guaranteed free exercise of religion.  All individual rights must be respected, but our secularist politicians fail to balance the scale so that the rights of institutions with opposing, faith-based viewpoints are respected as well.

Inasmuch as the Catholic Church is an institution, extending beyond the sanctuary in service to mankind through education, health care, and charity, it has been the target of attacks in recent years by those who seek to silence truth, faith and reason.  While the Obama administration may think it is scoring a victory, it has picked a fight with one of the oldest institution in the world, and has united conservative and progressive Catholics alike in opposition to government overstepping its bounds.  Therefore, as First Things editor R. R. Reno writes, Catholics and all believers must stand strong for our first, most cherished freedom of religion, up to and including civil disobedience.

Many pick fights with Rome…none have won.