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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.

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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.  Match.com 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 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.

The Real Story Behind the Battle to Defund Planned Parenthood

Watching the apocalyptic debate over the averted government shutdown last week, one would rightly think that one party was crying wolf over our fiscal mess so they could relegate the poor and the undesirable to the dark alleys of the streets and the other party was saying, “what mess? This is just about abortion!  You evil, women-hating pro-lifers, you!”

The media narrative was that Republicans had come to town not to change Washington’s course (assuming that’s even plausible), but to “kill women,” as Representative Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) put it.  Republicans campaigned on the issue of a need to rein in a government that had become to expensive and unmanageable.  Pledging to cut $61 Billion in discretionary spending out of a nearly $4 trillion budget, Republicans tried to cut funding for the nation’s largest provider of abortions, Planned Parenthood, a non-profit that manages to post profits, donate to political candidates, and avoid paying taxes.  Try doing that as a church.

Lila Rose, a young, pro-life activist who went undercover to expose the illicit practices of Planned Parenthood clinics around the country, caused a stir in January when her organization, Live Action, exposed video of Planned Parenthood advising a man posing as a pimp on how to obtain abortions for teen prostitutes while avoiding the suspicion or involvement of law enforcement.  When the “pimp” offered that the girl was 15, the Planned Parenthood employee responded that she didn’t need to know how old the girl was.

Naturally, Fox News, being the only “agenda-driven” news outlet in the country, was the only network that covered the expose.   The mainstream media largely ignored the fact that the videos were only the latest evidence of Planned Parenthood’s long history of law-evading practices when it comes to minors.  Emboldened by their recent electoral gains, pro-life members of Congress seized the latest evidence to remove all federal support for Planned Parenthood, first in a stand-alone bill, H.R. 3, and then as a rider to the budget proposal for FY 2011, which should’ve been passed in August 2010 by the prior Congress.  Abortion proponents pounced, saying that the elimination of funds for Planned Parenthood would pose health risks for poor women, citing that in addition to contraception and abortions, Planned Parenthood provides affordable preventive care such as mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, pap smears, and breast exams.    Not missing a chance to criticize the “misogynist” U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, the abortion rights movement threw the book at the Church for supporting the elimination of federal funds for the nation’s largest abortion provider.

With budget negotiations down to the wire, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) accused Speaker John Boehner and his GOP majority of being willing to shut down the federal government for the first time since 1995 in order to “throw women under the bus.”  The media naturally ran with the tired old “Conservatives and pro-lifers are anti-woman” narrative, which won the day.   Late Friday evening, Boehner and Reid announced a last-minute budget deal  that would cut $38.5 billion from the current FY budget, which we are 6 months into, in exchange for dropping the social policy riders.  The media celebrated the victory, praising Boehner for dropping his “crusade against women” to keep the lights on in Washington.

Just when you think the story is over, the Wall Street Journal‘s William McGurn reported Tuesday that according to anonymous sources present at last week’s meeting between the President and Messrs. Boehner and Reid, Obama was the man who refused to negotiate on funding for Planned Parenthood, saying, “Nope. Zero. This is it, John.”   Perhaps instead of the media narrative characterizing the Republicans as willing to shut the government down in order to “throw women under the bus,” there’s an alternate narrative: President Obama and his supporters in Congress were willing to shut the government down rather than cut Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.  Maybe the President is the ideologue here.  In Obama’s effort to appear “above the fray,” his past statements as Senator and presidential candidate show that he is unequivocally supportive of government funding for abortions, as is evident by his party’s refusal to attach the long-standing Hyde Amendment, prohibiting government funding of abortions, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

McGurn further noted that while Planned Parenthood asserts that abortion constitutes a small part of the services they offer, their own data shows that over 97% of pregnant women they treat receive abortions from Planned Parenthood, meaning that less than 3% of women that go to Planned Parenthood’s clinics are there for prenatal care or preventive services.  Did I mention Planned Parenthood and founder Margaret Sanger’s historic support of abortion to advance eugenics, which is the systematic elimination of populations society deems “undesirable,” including the disabled, racial minorities, and the poor women whose services they claim to provide?  Or that Planned Parenthood’s Political Action Fund spent more than $443,000 in support pro-choice candidates in the 2010 election cycle?   And yet, no one is threatening to take away their tax-exempt status.  Conversely, abortion and gay rights supporters have been trying to strip the Catholic Church of their non-profit status for years, yet, unlike Planned Parenthood, they do not receive federal funds or make monetary contributions to political candidates; they’re simply telling the congregation what the Church teaches on these issues. 

Preventive care for poor women is a laudable cause.  However, Planned Parenthood’s claim that none of their federal funds go to abortions is not credible, given the fungible nature of money.  Plenty of crisis pregnancy centers provide prenatal and preventive gynecological care, and yet the pro-choicers would have a fit if these organizations received federal funds.  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg just signed an ordinance requiring crisis pregnancy centers in New York to post multiple signs alerting patients that as crisis pregnancy centers, they do not provide or refer patients for abortions or contraception.  Bloomberg invited opponents to challenge the law in court, indicating that the ordinance may well be unconstitutional, but that by signing it, he was doing what he “thinks is right.”  There goes the argument that pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion.  Why else would you require these organizations to post such signs, other than to discourage women from hearing about pro-life options?

Abortion rights is one of the most divisive issues in our nation, drawing passionate feelings from both sides of the debate.  When an organization has declared its mission to be the protection of a woman’s “right to choose” or, more bluntly, to kill her child, no matter what the reason behind the choice, that organization has no place receiving public funds, especially when money is tight and the country is headed for fiscal disaster.  If we want to be supportive of poor women and help them raise their children, why not pay a living wage and provide federal dollars to crisis pregnancy centers?

Back to the World after a hiatus

What an interesting year it has been!  A move to Maine, a job at Maine Med, a failed relationship-and out of all of it, personal growth and maturation.  Though I am unexpectedly back in NC, it appears it is for some greater purpose yet unbeknownst to me.  Time will tell.

Now that I have time on my hands and a renewed desire to comment on events occurring in the world, in life, and in the Church, I hope to use this space to contribute to a more informed debate about a myriad of issues.

The Pursuit of Happyness

I had the pleasure of watching the Academy-Award winning “The Pursuit of Happyness” tonight.  If you’ve never seen it, it is about a hard-working man determined to make a better life for himself and his son.  It’s about opportunity, yes, but it is also about the hard work required to make the most of our opportunities.  Hard work pays off with success.  The main character, Chris, struggles to get an internship at a local investment firm and competes with 20 other interns for a shot at a full-time brokerage position.  He works hard and after weeks of spending nights in homeless shelters and subway bathrooms with his son, he earns a job as a broker and later sells his own brokerage firm for millions.

What the movie reminded me of is the promise of America.  The promise that if you work hard enough, you can achieve whatever you set your mind to-a higher degree, a promotion, a vacation home, a family, whatever it may be, its all determined by your willingness to work for it.  But part of getting there is having the educational wherewithal to recognize that everyone deserves opportunity to show society what they can contribute, whether its a talent, service, a product, their time or even prayer-all of us have something unique to contribute regardless of our race, class, abilities or whatever other trait of difference we might possess.  Sadly, there is a lot of ignorance in the world-Chris experiences this in his quest for the broker position.  

Aside from the economic conditions,  a lot of people face discrimination every day beccause of their race, gender, sexuality, disability, or other difference.  Employers often don’t look at people’s talents or abilities, but rather people’s appearances or differences.  Sadly, this often leads employers to miss out on a wealth of talent.  I have had my share of experiences too.  Yes, they can be disheartening, but I believe they are signs from God saying he has another position or vocation in store for me, and perhaps it is to educate students and employers about the abilities of all kinds of different people.  The fact is everyone is different in some way.  Some have visible “disabilities,” some may be dyslexic or have ADD.  Some may be a racial minority facing discrimination from bigots.  The beauty of all of our differences is that they are what make each of us unique.  They are what makes the world so full of wonder!

I am thinking of how I can help educate others and defend people’s rights to contribute to society.  Perhaps one way is as a lawyer.  I will figure it out in due time.  In the meantime, I have written a column about these issues which I have posted below. I sent it to some newspapers, but I never heard back, so I have posted it here.  I’ll keep you guys posted-I am thinking of how to maybe start a resource center of some sort to educate people about the importance of valuing diversity, and how to let people know that the promise of America, that all men are created equal, endowed with the right to go in the pursuit of happyness.

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America’s people have made remarkable progress in learning to accept differences among themselves.  America is the only country founded on the premise that “all men are created equal” and Americans embrace many unique cultures, making us the envy of the world.  Over the last five decades, numerous laws have been enacted to advance the cause of civil rights for all.   However, perception is very different from reality.

Growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a town known for its prestigious institutions of higher education and progressive atmosphere, I learned the value of embracing diversity.  I myself represent a diverse population-I have Cerebral Palsy, which affects my speech, hearing and fine motor skills.  Nonetheless, because of the excellent schools in my area, and as well as the hard work of statesmen and disability rights advocates like former Senator Bob Dole and the late Senator Edward Kennedy, I received a top-notch education just like every other child.  Of course, growing up does not come without bumps in the road-I was the target of the occasional bully, but those incidents simply test our ability to remain strong in the face of ignorance.

In 2005, I went off to college at a small private university in Washington, DC.  During this time, I was blessed with the opportunity to intern both on Capitol Hill and with advocacy and media organizations, including the office of former Senator Elizabeth Dole.  I was given those opportunities based on my ability to contribute to those organizations, and never felt discriminated against because of my “disability.”  In fact, most were so wildly impressed with my ability to effectively advance a cause through written word that I had to turn down offers for internships. 

After two years in Washington, I decided to transfer to the University of North Carolina to major in public health.  As a Tar Heel, I served as a member of the Daily Tar Heel editorial board and was on the men’s crew team.

I received my degree in May, 2009.  I finally had a piece of paper that proved my ability.  Unfortunately, the assumption that having a degree would largely eliminate misconceptions about my ability to contribute to the workplace has sometimes proved to be unfounded.  Economic troubles aside, during the past year I have experienced discrimination by potential employers, including one local firm that refused to hire me because of my speech impediment, which they thought would hinder my ability to communicate with clients, the majority of which are medical practices, despite having no difficulty understanding me during the interview.  However, they assured me that they would keep me in mind for jobs that required mostly computer work.  I was told I had a great skill set, but rather than giving me the chance to show them my capabilities, I was told I wasn’t fit to interact with clients.  My resume did not matter-my speech impediment did.  After growing up in a community that preached tolerance, I was disappointed to find that some of the very people who preach tolerance and understanding are not willing to look past some things, such as a disability.

Other prospective employers would call to offer me an interview, only to say “we just wanted to thank you for applying” after hearing my speech impediment, which some incorrectly associate with cognitive impairment.  I may wear hearing aids, but I am no fool-employers do not call job applicants simply to thank them for applying.

The irony is that I have successfully interacted with medical professionals and their staff my entire life, both out of medical necessity and out of a desire to give back to a community from which I have received much.  As a middle and high school student, I led efforts to raise money for TelAbility, a telemedicine program at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.   As a public health student, I served as an intern for the American College of Preventive Medicine, where I met with members of Congress in an effort to build support for the “Preventive Medicine and Public Health Training Act,” which is now being reviewed by committees in both houses of Congress.  In short, my Cerebral Palsy does not have any bearing on my ability to be a productive member of the workforce and society as a whole, nor does it hinder my ability to communicate with professionals, business clients or members of Congress, for that matter.

What I have learned is that our courts and legislatures can write laws and administer justice all day long.  Laws are pointless in the absence of an educated public.  My experiences have had a positive effect, however, inasmuch as they have inspired me to apply to law school in hopes of being an advocate and policymaker so that others might not face discrimination in the future.

Minorities, especially the disabled community, face discrimination in all areas, including employment, romance, and the state budget-making process.  People stare.  Individuals make false or hurtful assumptions, or use people with disabilities as the butt of jokes, as Family Guy recently did in a distasteful attempt to poke fun at a polarizing political figure.  While we cannot change the past, we can change the future.  While understanding my speech may require a little extra effort for some, those who take the time to listen to me or get educated about other people with all sorts of disabilities will learn that despite a speech impediment, or impaired physical or cognitive ability, we are capable of contributing great things to the workplace and to society.  So take the time.  Look beyond first impressions, and get educated!

The Progressive War against the First Amendment

Just this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R., Calif.) told the press corps “But we have to pass the bill so that we can see what’s in it.”  Aside from the alarming, and most likely true, fact that no one really knows what is in the health reform bill, Pelosi, at the request of the President, as agreed to use an arcane parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation and intended only for budgetary matters, to pass a bill whose support only declines as Obama revamps efforts to build support for it.  Both houses of Congress have passed a health care bill, though the two bills differ radically in their substance. 

Two weeks ago, Obama unveiled his own plan for reform, which closely mirrors legislation passed by the Senate.  The President’s plan would make half a trillion dollars in cuts to Medicaid, not to shore  up Medicaid’s  insolvency, but to fund an expansion of the entitlement state by means of heavy insurance subsidies.  Like the Senate bill, Obama’s plan also places massive tax increases on the American people, mandates “preventive care” free of charge-in other words, patient co-payments for regular check ups or preventive tests would be prohibited- and leaves out language prohibiting taxpayer funded abortions.

The House leadership is determined to pass a bill roundly criticized and opposed by a majority of voters.  The plan is to vote on Obama’s version, after which the Senate will then “fix” using reconciliation, which requires a simple 51-vote majority for passage, rather than the standard 60 votes needed under normal Senate rules.  The problem is, Obama’s proposal isn’t even in bill form yet.  To add insult to injury, members who voted “yes” in November have now switched to “no” votes, one member has died and a handful have resigned.  This makes reform extremely difficult to pass through the House.  In a quiet admission of the fact that Pelosi lacks the votes to pass the President’s signature initiative, she has directed Rules Committee Chair Rep. Louis Slaughter (D., N.Y.) to manipulate House rules so that the bill proposed by the president will be considered “passed” without ever having voted on it.  How this is constitutional is anyone’s guess.

Pro-life leader Rep. Bart Stupak, architect of language in the House bill that prohibits any direct or indirect taxpayer funding of abortion, has vowed to stop reform if the Senate does not adopt more restrictive language in regards to abortion funding.  In an effort to con centrist Democrats into voting for the Senate bill as proposed by Obama, Senate leaders have assured Stupak and his allies that the abortion language would be “fixed” during the reconciliation process.  However, as of Saturday, the House leadership has suspended negotiations with Stupak and his cadre of pro-life Democrats.

To further complicate matters, constitutional law and parliamentary experts say that the Senate cannot use the reconciliation process until the President signs the House-passed Senate bill into law.  Assuming these experts are correct, for anyone who believes that the Senate is going to add an amendment restricting funding to abortion to an existing law, I’ve got swamp land to sell you.

Alas, it is no accident that the Obama/Senate proposal does not expressly prohibit publicly-funded abortions, nor does it protect the religious conscience rights of health care providers.  This is telling inasmuch as the President and Henry Waxman have spoken in favor of publicly funded abortions.  In fact, last summer Obama delivered a weekly radio address in which he declared that “any health reform bill must cover basic care, including reproductive services…”  If this is clearly the will of those calling the shots, including the President and Rep. Waxman, who told Rep. Stupak this week that the Democrats’ aim was to end federal prohibition on abortion funding, which has been in place since 1976.  This follows a quiet negligence by the Democratic leadership to attach the Hyde Amendment to last year’s budget. 

Furthermore,  this dose of intellectual honesty from Waxman is consistent with quiet maneuvers such as ending the Mexico City policy and attempting to overturn federal conscience clause protections for health care workers.  Always wanting to have their cake and eat it too, these are often the same people that vehemently oppose laws that require women to view an ultrasound image of their child before aborting it.  Go figure.

The progressive movement has its heart set on ramming their agenda down the nation’s throat, no matter what the objections of the people they claim to represent.  Their efforts to eliminate conscience clause protections for health workers, publicly fund abortions, and dictate the views and mores of the public know no bounds.  On March 1, the District of Columbia started granting same-sex couples the right to marry.  Aside from the merits in favor or against allowing same-sex couples to wed, the law passed by the DC City Council provided no exemptions for religious organizations, requiring all employers, churches included, to abide by “non-discrimination rules” and recognize same-sex couples in providing benefits, etc.

While the DC law was being debated, the Archdiocese of Washington came under fire for saying that this law, barring the addition of a conscience clause, would hinder the Catholic Church’s ability to provide services to the underprivileged community in Washington while remaining faithful to the Catholic faith.  The Archdiocese and Catholic Charities, who provide a large proportion of services to the DC community, including soup kitchens, shelters, schools and adoption services, came under fire for throwing the poor under the bus in order to continue their “anti-gay bigotry,” with the supporters of the law saying that the Archdiocese would not be required to perform gay marriages.

 The argument has nothing to do with being “anti-gay” or sanctifying same-sex marriages, and everything to do with the ability to fulfill their social mission without compromising core religious beliefs, namely that marriage is between a man and a woman, a tenet central to Roman Catholicism.   The bill may not require the Archdiocese to perform same-sex marriages, but it does require the Archdiocese to recognize these marriages by prohibiting them from declining to provide health benefits to same-sex couples, thus constituting a forced, de-facto recognition and approval of same-sex marriage by the Catholic Church.  Archbishop Donald Wuerl has asked Congress to intervene and amend the DC law, but he has not been successful.  As a result of this flawed law, the Archdiocese of Diocese has ceased providing adoption services and benefits to all spouses.

These incidences are indicative of a clear bias against religion by the progressive movement and an effort to silence opposition to their social agenda.  More objectively, the negligence of the Congress to include conscience clause protections in the health bill, coupled with DC’s refusal to provide conscience clause protections to religious individuals and institutions mark a dangerous trend of running roughshod over the first amendment, which explicitly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”