Jun 13

Grand understatement.

But that’s what Former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI Danny Coulson said when a news show anchor asked his initial thoughts during the ongoing reporting of the terror attack in Orlando, Florida early Sunday, as events continued to unfold there and the events were still very fluid.

‘A really tough day for America.’ In fact, it was the worst mass shooting in American history. It was the latest attack in the war jihadists have waged on us and the rest of the world that is not them. We need, our government and the international community needs, to understand this and not use other language and excuses for it.

A terrorist who pledged allegiance to ISIS went on a rampage at a gay nightclub in Orlando, targeting gays. Only a day later,  groups and spokespersons and leaders of organizations issued responses and statements to denounce and blame others – Christianity and ‘extreme masculinity’ among other target groups – without seeing the irony of targeting groups who were not them.

This provides us the opportunity crises usually do to pull together as a unified body of citizens, within a community and nation, and globally a union of people of goodwill, to stand for the good and resolve to remove the evil, which is at work everywhere to remove us in its path to power.

Profiles of the attacker continued to add details, including that someone who knew him said ‘he hated gays, women, blacks, Christians…’ Groups that use this attack to blame other groups in America only lend support to the terrorist group to which this attacker and the San Bernardino attackers and the Fort Hood attacker and others have done, by pledging allegiance to ISIS to destroy everyone who is not them.

The New York Times reports that

Influencing distant attackers to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State and then carry out mass murder has become a core part of the group’s propaganda over the past two years.

And how are they doing this, generating this propaganda? They are masterful at using social media to appeal to, recruit and indoctrinate young men (and women) to their ideology and militant cause.

So Charles Krauthammer has some sensible advice, directed at that fact, stated clearly and in brief:

There’s only one way to go after this, and that is the Osama bin Laden theory – and he knew about jihadism – of the strong horse and the weak horse.

I think…ultimately, the only way to decrease recruitment is not with logic, not with argument, not with really clever programmers who know how to do Twitter. It is by defeating the jihadists or showing them retreat.

These movements only grow when they have a sense of inevitability and growth. Once they’re in retreat, people stop recruiting. They’re not going to die in a suicide attack for a movement that is not advancing. And that means attacking ISIS where it is.

Showing them in retreat means changing policy to put them into retreat, then using social media to show that they’re not winning and not growing, anymore.

It’s time to make it a really tough day for the terrorists. Every attack in recent years was said to be a ‘game changer’. But it never was. It’s time for the end game now, before more mass casualties of innocent civilians, more genocide in other lands farther away, while there is new resolve.

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Jun 08

Fracture.

There are as many ways to say what this means for America as there are Americans, though most people are baffled and couldn’t answer the question of how the primary season of Election 2016 began and ended as it did.

To recall (it seems so long ago now), that long season started out with a wide field of Republican candidates of different strengths and weaknesses entering primary season many months ago, and wound up with perhaps the least likely one of all as the party nominee. And the Democratic Party’s two candidates were longtime Washington insiders in an anti-establishment climate, though Sen. Bernie Sanders convincingly represented himself as the oustsiders’ candidate.

On the final primary day of 2016, Hillary Clinton prevailed to become the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump had already arrived as the Republican candidate weeks ago. This is about as unlikely as it gets.

Of all the commentaries and analyses out there to date, one of the most incisive and clarifying accounts comes from Yuval Levin and his new book The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism.

Some highlights from his book, and the conversation I had with him on radio this week…

One of his main themes and central points is that American party politics is stuck in nostalgia for an earlier time when each party believed things were good, or as they should be, and should be again now. For the Democrats, he says, it’s 1965, for Republicans, it’s 1981.

“There’s a sense that everything is breaking down, that America doesn’t work like it used to,” he told me. “The defining theme is that America is not what it used to be. The middle of the 20th Century is the time most people in politics are most nostalgic for now.”

I asked him about his book’s reversal of the perception that we’re in the start of a new phase of American politics, whereas he contends we’re experiencing the end of the last one. “It is the last gasp of an exhausted and nostalgic baby-boomer politics”, he claims.

“So now we have this political situation with two 70 year old candidates yelling at each other over the best way to go backward,” he told me. “And it’s very hard to imagine that as the beginning of the next phase of American politics. In this election we’re seeing the crashing of the baby-boomer centered approach to political life. The question is really what comes next.”

Well put.

Levin continues: “Our problems are distinct to this moment. We would do much better to empower problem solvers throughout the country instead of looking to one leader or a handful. Power has been flowing upward toward Washington. But we have a better chance of addressing problems if we allowed power to flow through communities and institutions. Family, community, church, school, civic institutions.”

Refreshing ideas, and proven to be true from the past, ironically. “The more public policy can be decentralized, the better the hope that it’s going to be more effective, more in line with our Constitution, more in line with what’s going to work better,” he continued. “Most people are persuaded that the way our government works now is not working.The way politics have been handled results in absurdities like the president of the United States deciding who should use which bathrooms in schools.”

Solving problems at the most local level is known, in social teaching, as subsidiarity, and Levin points to that as the ideal. “One thing we do now is embody this idea that the solutions are going to come from our communities,” he said. “Take care of our own problems directly, not wait for someone else. Take, embody and populate institutions that take on problems directly. There’s a great passage in Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville that says ’When there are problems to be solved, Americans don’t fold their arms and wait for an official to show up, they take it upon themselves’. That’s the spirit we need to have in this election.

Levin says the struggle for religious liberty is central for subsidiarity in this society. “There’s such resistance from the government to allow institutions that embody the moral impulse to take care of things in this country” he said. “This must be fought at the local level.”

However, a convincing pragmatism helps. “It’s important that we who think we have solutions need to make them attractive to political leaders and our fellow voters,” Levin added. “In order to make them politically powerful, you first have to make them attractive to your neighbors. And then your political leaders.”

Start now, if you haven’t already. There may be months left, but they’re going fast. And the year has proven that anything can happen. Even, and especially, the unforeseen.

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Jun 01

See how fast a grassroots effort can be launched?

We need to learn from this.

Being Memorial Day, I was out and about and taking the rare break from constant news coverage. But getting into my car just after headline news was underway, I caught an interview with a Cincinnati zookeeper about a silverback gorilla they just lost, without an immediate context, though with very reasoned remarks about the animal’s enormity and strength, and a sincere appreciation for all the concern expressed for the occasion, tough as it was but necessary. What the heck happened, I thought.

It didn’t take long to learn. CNN’s report was the first account I got of the events that led to the demise of Harambe for the protection of the child in his grip. Though I’m assuming nearly all of you know this story by now, here’s that early account of the basics.

Zookeepers shot and killed a rare gorilla on Saturday after a 3-year-old boy slipped into its enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo, triggering outcry over how the situation was handled.

If they had to do it again, they would respond the same way, the zoo’s director said Monday.

Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said he stands by the decision to kill 17-year-old silverback Harambe to save the child. The boy went under a rail, through wires and over a moat wall to get into the enclosure, according to the zoo. Footage shot by a witness shows Harambe dragging the child through the water as the clamor of the crowd grows louder.

Zookeepers shot the 450-pound gorilla with a rifle, rather than tranquilizing him. The brief encounter sparked widespread Internet outrage over the decision to shoot Harambe and whether the child’s parents were to blame for failing to look after him.

But those second-guessing the call “don’t understand silverback gorillas,” Maynard said in a news conference. And, they were not there when it was time to make the crucial decision.

“That child’s life was in danger. People who question that don’t understand you can’t take a risk with a silverback gorilla — this is a dangerous animal,” he said. “Looking back, we’d make the same decision. The child is safe.”

End of story, right? You know that’s not the case. Activists who rush to protect different species other than homo sapiens lit up the internet and social media with reaction to this event, championing the cause of the gorilla over the safety of the little boy.

Even though famed, celebrity veteran animal zookeeper Jack Hanna reaffirmed the danger of the situation and his sheer lack of doubt that the animal would have killed the boy had not the zookeepers taken the swift action they did.

Harambe was a silverback male. When an intruder enters the gorillas’ territory, the male asserts itself; having people shrieking at it from above while it’s confused would only further antagonize it. Hanna says the instant he saw the footage of an agitated Harambe yanking the kid roughly through the water by the foot, he knew it would have ended with the child dead had zookeepers not intervened. To give you a sense of the power the animal has, he notes that humans need a hatchet and a sledgehammer to generate the force needed to crack the shell of a green coconut. Male silverbacks can do it with their bare hands. Let that thought guide you in what lay in store for the kid.

But it didn’t, for animal activists who place more value in animal life than human.

Carolyn Moynihan wrote about it here. Blogger Max Lindenman says activists show “what happens when justice is pursued without any notion of transcendent human value”. These are good pieces to read, consider and absorb. So is Mona Charen’s NRO piece on the moral confusion that comes with treating animals like people.

My reaction was deeply felt and concerned with the impromptu and organized reaction of animal activists, which swiftly erupted into a campaign, while so many of us are working to get attention on the populations of human beings being seized, held hostage, tortured and massacred in the Middle East, Nigeria and elsewhere, with insufficient response from the international community who has a ‘responsibility to protect’, acknowledged formally since the 2005 World Summit to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Having recently attended the UN conference on international religious freedom, genocide and mass atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities, I’m more keenly aware than ever of the need for attention to this crisis growing in urgency all the time. Speakers from the US, Europe, Iraq and Syria gave powerful witness to the daily reality for vulnerable populations of people fleeing for their lies, or camping out in tents by their churches while they could still stay safely there (safety refugee camps could not provide Christians and Yezidis), hoping the West would take up their cause and call for awareness and relief.

Where’s the ‘guerilla activism’ there?

Iraqi priest Fr. Douglas Bazi, from Erbil, wonders:

I too know what the people in the camps have been through, because like them, I was kidnapped by terrorists, and tortured simply because I was Christian…How did this happen to my people? Who bears the moral responsibility of this? What should be done for the Christians who remain in Iraq? And just as important, for those Iraqi Christians and other refugees whose lives are on hold in this situation in other countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan…

My people are losing hope. And we are disappearing. Every day our members are growing smaller. Soon we will be small enough for the world to forget us completely. Then, Christianity in Iraq will essentially be gone. Can we change the future? Does the will exist among the good people of this world to change this reality? Has this finding of genocide come in time to make a difference? And what can we do with it now?…

There are many who would say, mostly from a distance, that it is important to save Christianity in Iraq for a culture and for historical reasons. There is a great truth to this course. But friends, the Christians of Iraq, we are living, breathing human beings, not museum pieces. If there is a fundamental reason that they should survive, it is simply this: on our small earth, peaceful people should have the right to live in their homes in peace and dignity. And when the world stands by and watches any peaceful people disappear, it is a wound to the entire world, all the time, and wounding will kill us all.

We don’t know what we don’t know, but some media groups are working to spread awareness and inform us. Groups like Citizen GO who participated in the conference and worked to generate awareness, Aid to the Church in Need, Knights of Columbus, In Defense of Christians, CNEWA, Picture Christians, Iraqi Christian Relief Council, 21 Wilberforce Initiative, and many others.

When we saw the spontaneous eruption of activism on social media and in on site demonstrations on behalf of a gorilla, drawing a stunning amount of impulsive, instantaneous response, all I could think of was how great it would be if we could generate that same kind of grassroots activism on behalf of women, children, young boys, men, the elderly, and all who live right now, at this moment, in moral danger personally, and danger of extinction as a group.

I’m not going to ask ‘is that too much to ask for?’ Because I know it’s not. It just takes conviction, impetus, will and action that follows from it. This can happen in a heartbeat. So many depend on that.

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May 31

We needed the occasion, to remember in America, and with our friends abroad, what greatness is.

We needed it to celebrate honor, duty, service and sacrifice in such a year as this. It fell just about halfway through this contentious, dishonorable, politically charged and pivotal election year, so it would be nice if it were more of an opportunity to re-ground ourselves in what we just celebrated, than to let the day go by as a wonderful recall of noble heroism embodied in countless acts of virtue, of ‘grace under pressure’, impulsively carried out to serve or save another without hesitation or concern that it may be a final act in the life of that hero, who only thought they were doing the right thing.

‘The right thing’ has become a political calculus these days, ‘right’ being as redefined as so many other terms in our shared social life, as if there were no moral compass and objective natural law of what we ought to do and what we can’t not know, apart from the dictates of the culture of relativism as manifested in media, law and politics.

Everywhere I turned and looked on Memorial Day weekend seemed more filled than ever with witnesses to greatness in acts of goodness, displays of loving gratitude, celebrations of appreciation for the ultimate act of service for a single other person, groups of others, or countless populations of others, sometimes in a split-second decision to take that action, out of the impulse to protect and to save.

Here are two examples.

On my radio program, I had the opportunity to feature three individuals in two wars. Adam Makos told me about the story of Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown, two great friends and Navy pilots in the Korean War, a story that fills the pages of Makos’ book Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice.

“On December 4th, 1950, the Korean War had turned very dire. We had 10,000 U.S. Marines surrounded by 100,000 Chinese communist troops at a place called the Chosin Reservoir, way up in northern North Korea. Men like Tom and Jesse would fly [from their nearby naval carrier ships] to give air support to the Marines. They would drop bombs and strafe, and that’s when Jesse Brown was shot down. He was hit by a bullet from the ground, from a Chinese soldier, and he crash-landed in the only place he could — on the side of a North Korean mountain.”

Brown’s wingman, Tom Hudner, witnessed what happened, and then saw smoke rising from the nose of Jesse’s plane, which lay 13 miles behind enemy lines. Hudner said, “I’m going in.” All the other pilots remained silent.

Makos continued, “Tom knew his friend was about to die, and he was willing to give his own life to try to change that. With his wheels up, Tom circled around and came to a skidding, screeching stop alongside of Jesse’s plane. Tom got out into that deep snow and set out to try to save his friend’s life. It had never happened before; it has never happened since.”

Among the many extraordinary lessons in this story is the transcendent nature of friendship, human dignity and faith. Discrimination in society over race, religion, background and economic class falls away in war, the great and terrible equalizer. It is life lived at its absolute essence, informed by a powerful transcendent belief, that emerges in all the accounts of war heroes.

That was personified in the service and witness of Fr. Vincent Capodanno, Marine Chaplain who served in the Vietnam War and lost his life in the most extraordinary acts of ministering to dying men during a firefight that exposed him to mortal danger. I featured his story on that Memorial Day program as well, but it barely scratched the surface of a profoundly deep belief in and dedication to the care of others, body and soul, who are in front of you in whatever circumstances you’re in, and theses were dire.

The whole account is in The Grunt Padre, the fuller account of Fr. Capodanno’s service and sacrifice in detail, during his time in Vietnam 1966-1967. Christ Stefanick does a good job summarizing it in this video.

Some snips:

He knew that where the fighting was thickest, is where a chaplain might be needed the most.

One marine said

“He just gave me a look like ‘don’t worry, it’s going to be okay’.” Then the gas started getting lobbed, and Fr. Capodanno refused to take the Marine’s gas mask. “He said ‘no, you need it more than I do’. At that moment, he was just gone from my view.”

A marine was hit with shrapnel. When Fr. Capdanno got to him, “a bubble of peace descended around him. All he heard was his voice: ‘God is with us all this day. Someone will be here soon to help you.’ Fr. Capodanno was always able to see the crisis of the moment from an eternal perspective…Capodanno didn’t survive that day. He was running to minister to a medic who was shot, just yards from the machine gunner who had targeted him. He was shot 27 times in the back. He died in a field in Vietnam with that medic.

The excerpt from The Grunt Padre about that final assault is profound. It’s what Corporal Ray Harton recalls in a powerful testimony of Fr. Capodanno’s final minutes. Harton was hit repeatedly in the battle after “the carnage started”.

I don’t know how long I lay there. I found myself getting weaker and could see the North Vietnamese soldiers moving in on us…I thought everyone else was dead. I prayed to God, for I knew I was bleeding to death…I expected a bullet or bayonet at any moment. As I closed my eyes, someone touched me. When I opened my eyes, he looked directly at me. It was Father Capodanno. Everything got still: no noise, no firing, no screaming. A peace came over me that is unexplainable to this day. In a quiet and calm voice, he cupped the back of my head and said, “Stay quiet, Marine. You will be OK. Someone will be here to help you soon. God is with us all this day.”

As Stefanick notes, Fr. Capodanno didn’t survive the day. But his service and witness are beyond extraordinary.

And so were those told by others throughout the Memorial Day weekend, in so many ways and places, from the Mall of Washington events honoring service members in different wars, to tributes published and broadcast in so many outlets. Many note that it’s a memorial held beyond US borders.

Like this one in Cambridge, England.

And this one in France.

Taking it all in, allowing ourselves to be filled with gratitude for so many individuals who so nobly gave everything they had for another human being, and inspiration that these countless stories are being continued in so many ways today in battles to save endangered populations from extinction, villages and towns and refugee camps from assault and violence, and the most vulnerable human beings from enslavement, trafficking, torture and death, we should be filled with hope.

And that each of us has the power of greatness within us to serve the common good, and the responsibility to do what’s in our reach each day, without looking for a savior in politics. The sooner we do, the less we’ll believe that making America great, or ‘getting’ hope and change, relies on a politician or someone running for political office.

It relies on each and all of us.

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May 25

At least a third of them turned against abortion.

What caused that?

This.

When faced with the reality of the abortion procedure, many people who are pro-choice change their minds instantly. A video put out by Live Action shows former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levantino describing and showing the process of a second-trimester (13-24 weeks of pregnancy) surgical abortion procedure. Dr. Levantino has preformed over 1,200 abortions and explains in detail how babies are ripped apart limb by limb in these procedures.

It’s a roughly 4 minute video, with the procedure part done in medical animation instead of graphic photos, plainly and simply stating the facts and showing what’s done in an abortion.

Live Action approached people on the street and asked them if they were pro-choice. To those that said yes, even up to the point of birth, they showed Dr. Levatino’s video of the procedure. After watching the video, the people who claimed to be pro-choice changed their minds on the spot. They admitted they were unaware of how developed babies are at this point in pregnancy and described the video as “inhumane.”

Live Action President Lila Rose told me on radio Wednesday that many people who identify as ‘pro-choice’ and accept the abortion movement’s language and rhetoric about rights and women’s health don’t really know what abortion is or does, they just don’t know what this is about. Until they see it so clearly explained. “It’s a medical narrative they see in the video, precisely accurate, done in medical animation, with Dr. Levatino explaining,” she told me. “They make the emotional and mental connection when they see the video.” A connection they never made before, never having had the opportunity or occasion to learn the truth.

“We’re strategically getting in front of people and showing them the truth, with authority and gravity, in a huge effort to educate people about abortion” Lila told me. The project assumes the best about people, that they believe what they do based on misconceptions about the topic and issues and realities. Giving them that benefit of the doubt, and the opportunity on a hand held video device to see a brief video for their consideration, the Live Action team found that most people took the occasion to watch it and respond. In the short time it’s been posted, over 43 million people have viewed it online, and over two hundred on the sidewalks of Los Angeles where the team showed people passing by. Which is why the link above shows both the video of the procedure, and the video of reactions to having seen it.

There have been almost a million views of that ‘man on the street’ video, Lila said.

“Abortionists have worked for decades to keep women in the dark about how developed their preborn children in the womb are and what abortion procedures actually entail for both the mother and the child,” said Lila Rose, president and founder of Live Action.  “The more people learn about abortion, the more they see how barbaric and inhumane it is — whether the abortion is committed by depriving a preborn child of nutrients for days until she dies, or by ripping her limbs apart while she’s still alive, or by injecting her with a drug to induce cardiac arrest.”

Almost half of the pro-choice women polled — 46 percent — felt that the medical animations should be shown to high school sex education classes, and 39 percent felt that pregnant women considering abortion should watch them.

This is extraordinary.

“Pro-choice women told us that young people and women considering abortion should have access to these facts about abortion, not just to the pro-abortion spin that seems to dominate media, entertainment, and politics today.  The Internet allows us to spread the truth about abortion faster and farther than ever before, and the fact that these videos have already been viewed over 42 million times to become the most-watched pro-life videos in history proves it,” said Rose.

Under the post of the ‘man on the street’ reaction video, NRO said

America’s views on life are changing for the better as science and technology reveal the fascinating stages of life babies progress through from the moment of conception. Videos like this one are helping to change the debate and show uninformed individuals what it is they actually profess to believe in when they say they support pro-choice policies.

This will be a major topic in the presidential election and other government seats up for election in November, and Lila Rose and others are working to meet with each of the candidates and their campaign staff to ask more specific questions than ‘Where do you stand on abortion?’ They and their organizations and followers are eager to hear the responses.

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May 19

Their lives depend on the West knowing their names, their plight.

As unimaginable as it is that a Christian mother of five has spent seven years in prison in Pakistan, charged with blasphemy for taking water from a well in a hot field while berry picking and considered an infidel, corrupting it…she remains imprisoned and in isolation, for her safety from threat of death inside the prison and certainly outside it, if she were to be released in the increasingly hostile environment there.

How bad is it? This bad. The American Center for Law and Justice, which drove a social media campaign along with the inside legal proceedings, to free Pastor Nadarkhani. ACLJ is now working on freeing Asia Bibi in a nearly impossibly complex Pakistani legal, cultural and religious-based penal system.

International human rights organizations have taken up her cause as a just one, and an emblematic case that puts a human face and name and humanity and dignity on the ‘issue’ of Christian persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere. The UN conference I recently attended on international religious freedom, genocide, and atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities, continued for two more days at a different venue where Asia Bibi’s daughter (who speaks no English) gave a very powerful testimony in her silent witness of tears and her very presence.

What can we do? Pray for Asia Bibi, her family, and the countless other victims of persecution and death for their faith. Support Aid the the Church in Need, which is supporting individuals, families and groups in dire need. They’re on the ground there, able to direct relief where it’s most desperately needed. Call on elected representatives who either ignore theses cases, or relegate them to lower priority status while they negotiate with nations that are or could be involved in the fate of these people.

Add the cause of Fr. Tom to those prayers and efforts. Despite rumors to the contrary, he is reportedly alive, well, and possibly soon to be released.

Father Tom was seized March 4 after a militant group stormed a home for the sick and elderly run by Bl. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Aden in the country’s south west. Four sisters of the religious congregation and 12 lay people were killed in the attack on the facility.

According to an eyewitness report recounted by Aleteia, Father Tom was residing on campus because the church in town where he was based had been sacked and burned last September. The Salesian priest “heard the screaming and consumed all the Hosts,” the account noted. However, “he had no time to consume the large Host, so he threw the oil out of the sanctuary lamp and dissolved it in the water.” The letter reported that a neighbor saw the terrorists put the priest into their car. “They did not find any trace of Father anywhere.”

During Holy Week, unconfirmed stories began circulating in India claiming that the kidnappers planned to crucify the priest on Good Friday. Pope Francis appealed for Father Uzhunnalil’s release last month.

In its most recent statement, issued May 5, the Salesians said the situation was “still uncertain” but added there were “deep and heartfelt prayers” for Father Tom in the hope he could soon “continue the valuable service” he was carrying out at the Yemeni mission.

As we go about our daily work, business, leisure activities and distractions, these and countless other prisoners and hostages and victims of persecution are going through a martyrdom simply for their faith. Twitter campaigns and other social media activism have kept some of them alive, by keeping their names and stories before people in power who can do something for them and populations of people whose names we don’t know and faces we don’t see, whose stories are lost in the inhumanity of grabbing them from their homes, destroying their papers, seizing their properties, and sentencing them to anonymous torture and brutality. ‘The world must act’ said more than one of the UN conference participants. Being aware and committed is, at minimum, the beginning of an end to these crimes against humanity.

If #WeAreN2016 and #FreeAsiaBibi can do anything like the Twitter campaign for Pastor Nadarkhani, there’s more hope than those suffering now can imagine.

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May 16

Supreme Court Justices’ unanimous ruling favors the nuns.

It was sort of a non-decision, but all eight justices jointly agreed to vacate lower court rulings, call on both sides to work things out better (which was really a directive to government lawyers), and bring sanity to a long, unnecessary and costly ordeal that has run through the court system across the country over a federally mandated contraceptive delivery scheme that already exempted major corporations and millions of Americans.

Enough already. So said the ruling, in so many words.

The parties, the court said, should have another opportunity to work out a way to deliver contraceptives that doesn’t violate the religious objections of the Little Sisters and their co-plaintiffs.

Most important, the Supreme Court took away the administration’s tool for bullying: The government, it said, “may not impose taxes or penalties” on those who refuse to authorize their plans to provide the contested coverage.

It was so targeted against Catholic and other Christian groups, it had to be reconsidered.

“The Little Sisters won, but what this unanimous ruling shows is that there was never a need for anyone to lose,” said (Becket Fund for Religious Liberty legal counsel Mark) Rienzi. “The government will still be able to meet its goal of providing these free services to women who want them—not just for those with religious plans—but for the tens of millions in exempted corporate and government plans.”

The government always had that ability, was already doing it in those already exempted, and never needed to choose this controversial challenge to religious liberty in America.

…the opinion is an obvious rebuke to the Obama administration — and rightly so. The Obama administration has shown no compunction about using the full force of the federal government to coerce a group of nuns into violating their religious vows. But following oral arguments in March, the Court requested supplemental briefs from both parties addressing whether the government could provide contraception coverage without entangling religious nonprofits, and the government grudgingly admitted that it was possible. According to the Court, the “substantial clarification and refinement” of the parties’ positions suggests that a compromise satisfactory to both sides is possible.

If not for the government’s obstinacy, that would have been possible long ago. HHS had already exempted an enormous number of employers from the mandate, among them large corporations — Exxon, Pepsi, and Visa — and government entities, including New York City and the U.S. military. Tens of millions of American employees have insurance plans exempted from the mandate. Yet the Obama administration has insisted on foisting its fiat on nuns, archdioceses, Christian colleges, and the like. The liberals on the Court could have sanctioned this contemptible imposition. A 4–4 split would have left the lower courts’ rulings in place, and three of the four courts had ruled against the Little Sisters or their co-plaintiffs. The Court’s willingness to vacate those decisions suggests that, despite its left-leaning majority, this Court is not entirely hostile to religious liberty. This is, recall, largely the same Court that ruled unanimously against the Obama administration in Hosanna-Tabor when the federal government claimed for itself the power to determine who is and is not a “minister.” (Emphasis added)

Hosanna-Tabor was decided unanimously on January 11, 2012. Nine days before the federal government turned around and claimed for itself again the power to determine what a religious ministry, institution and employer was, and what it could and must do. It took four years and four months, and one fewer justice, for the Supreme Court unanimously to rule again in favor of this fundamental freedom protected by law.

In the nearly six months left before the presidential election, the parties’ and candidates’ views of religious freedom will play a more important role in debates, townhalls, and campaigns, as they should.

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May 11

He claims to have a mandate. So do they.

As the New York Times reports it, GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump claims he has ‘a “mandate” from his supporters to run as a fiery populist outsider’ instead of embracing “a traditional, mellower and more inclusive approach” that some party leaders advocate. He got this far being provocative, and he’s not changing course now, he says, according to the Times.

Such behavior, rhetoric, and the determination to keep doing more of the same now that he has virtually wrapped up the nomination, has left many conservatives wondering and asking ‘What to do?‘ Kathryn Lopez notes the angst, and offers sobering considerations.

What ails us is a disordered view of what politics is about. We seem to have a bipartisan problem of looking for a savior in a president — it’s the stuff both of Barack Obama’s “We are the ones we have been waiting for” campaign and of Republicans (and now even some Democrats) idolizing the memory of Ronald Reagan. So take a deep breath, everyone — whomever you do or don’t support this presidential-election season. The presidency is vitally important, of course. But not in the ways we’ve been tending to think. Donald Trump didn’t start the fire, and there was never going to be a perfect presidential candidate who could put it out. That’s our work — the work of good citizenship.

Which is exactly the point Stephen White makes in his new book Red, White, Blue and Catholic.

It’s a perennial question: Can Christians be good citizens? The author of the second century “Letter to Diognetus” addressed this question. Three centuries later, St. Augustine wrote City of God largely in response to the same question. In American history, the question has been asked more specifically of Catholics, for a variety of reasons. At its heart, the question is about the nature and scope of the political good: Is the good of the political community compatible with Christian claims about the nature and destiny of the human person? Catholics should relish the chance to address that question because it gets to the very heart of the faith.

Which is living what’s known as ‘the social gospel’, the respect for human dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity. All of which can be helped or hindered by social policy made through the political process.

White continues:

I think one danger which arises from our politics of permanent crisis is the temptation to think that if we could just get people to vote the right way, and therefore have the right people in government, everything would take care of itself. Needless to say, having the “right people” winning elections is hardly a sufficient condition for a flourishing republic. The health of the republic depends upon our being a people possessed of certain virtues. The cultivation of those virtues — those habits which enable us to live our freedom well — is primarily the work of civil society. Government can help a little, and hinder a lot. But most of the work of forming citizens falls to families, schools, churches, businesses, and so on.

Which gets to what has become a struggle for people trying to get on with living out the  mandate of forming and serving a just and virtuous society. And that’s where the politics of passion gets mixed up with anger, and prudence becomes more necessary. In

This divorce between principle and prudence has made false political idealism seem attractive. It has also made prudence one of the most difficult virtues to understand and to defend in our current political climate. But if we want a just society, we must begin by recovering the right understanding of prudence. There is perhaps no better way to begin such a recovery than by studying the patron saint of statesmen, Thomas More.

The article notes that in More’s work Utopia, he explores “with great subtlety and wit the dangerous dynamics of anger and political idealism.” It’s a good study for our particular season. Having a character suggest that ‘politics is impervious to truth’, More makes his central point:

Don’t give up the ship in a storm because you cannot hold back the winds . . . Instead, by an indirect approach, you must strive and struggle as best you can to handle everything tactfully—and thus what you cannot turn to good, you may at least make as little bad as possible. For it is impossible to make everything good unless all men are good, and that I don’t quite expect to see for quite a few years yet.

How well this lesson transcends the times, and how apt it has become yet again.

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May 04

Against all conventional wisdom, he has become the GOP’s presumptive nominee for president.

But the only consistency in this wild political season has been its unpredictability, in both parties. This has been an election cycle far out of the bounds of political models and establishment control and certainly, conventional wisdom. Very different winds have been blowing in America since the early GOP campaigns launched last year and over a dozen candidates joined the crowded field by early 2016. Who would have thought back then that it would wind up like this.

That unforeseen force of nature has caught up American Democrats since Hillary Clinton began what was supposed to be an easy stride to the convention podium this summer to accept the Democratic nomination for president, only to be outshone in popularity by longtime Democratic Socialist Senate veteran Bernie Sanders. She may well be the inevitable candidate, but it’s May and she’s not there yet. That’s remarkable.

It has been a bruising, belligerent, demeaning, undignified and uninspiring battle to date. Conventional wisdom had Ohio and/or Florida as always pivotal in putting candidates over the top. This time, all the states played a key role, but it was Indiana that handed Donald Trump the decisive win that, suddenly, turned him into the inevitable GOP candidate for presidency. It also knocked Sen. Ted Cruz out of the race all of a sudden.

Here’s the New York Times early analysis, one of the few outlets swift to offer anything more than a placeholder paragraph or two until they could process what just happened. Essentially, it shows a matchup of two unpopular candidates, another remarkable reality in this year’s election. Donald Trump packed stadiums and arenas and picked up momentum on ‘the Trump Train’ as time went on, but for all those primary victories, he continually polled behind Clinton in a general election matchup. Until the night of the Indiana primary.

The Times story doesn’t report this, but one of the latest polls showed Trump about even in that faceoff. The bigger story is that polls and predictions haven’t meant much this year, as people at the grassroots defied them again and again. The Times article had to fill the analysis with something, so it resorted to conventional wisdom. Which makes no sense. People reacted. We have become a reactionary nation, visceral and impulsive and driven by emotion. How voting polls show one thing in people registering to vote for the first time or first time in a long time, longer lines at many polling places, reflecting engaged citizens, while popularity polls show the ‘unlikeability’ factor rather high for the now presumptive GOP and Democratic candidate, is beyond reason and virtually beyond precedent.

I recently heard former Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry on a news show, asked for his opinion on Trump. He said: “We have never had anyone on the political stage who is as talented at selling a brand as Donald Trump. Now selling a brand is different from managing a country, so we’ll see.”

We’ll see whether and how the tone, tenor, content and character change in this new stage of Election 2016. And we’ll be watching, and listening, closely.

 

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May 03

Faith groups are attacked, Christians specifically targeted for elimination.

World leaders, governments, international organizations and human rights champions have risen the threat and awareness level in recent months over crises that have been occurring for years out of sight and largely off public radar. Now there’s a new urgency, and some leading voices are asking if it’s coming in time to make a difference.

That’s only one concern expressed at last weekend’s International Congress on Religious Freedom in New York, a three day event that opened Thursday with a U.N. conference sponsored by the Vatican’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

Presenters included people who experienced or witnessed atrocities being committed against religious minorities.

Led by remarks from Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., the event had an intensely sensitive agenda.

That, I can vouch for, having attended all of it.

The world’s greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II is unfolding today in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and Iraq have lost their lives, entire communities have been displaced or wiped out, while neighboring communities or nations have strained to accept millions of people fleeing years of war and terrorism. We face the very real prospect of the extinction of many of the communities indigenous to the region.

Anderson gave background and findings of a nearly 300 page report his organization and In Defense of Christians submitted to the State Department and Congress in March, documenting atrocities and extensive evidence of genocide in the region.

And it showed that terms like ‘religious cleansing’, or ‘crimes against humanity’ are by themselves inadequate to describe both the magnitude of the tragedy and the clear intent of the perpetrators. The State Department’s declaration of genocide on March 17th marked only the second time that such a determination had been made by the U.S. government while the crime is occurring.

And then he added

Isis and the victims we interviewed agreed on one thing, many of those targeted were targeted because of their Christian faith…Our recent fact-finding mission to Iraq found evidence of (atrocities including) murder, slavery, property confiscation and expulsion. Many of the incidents have not been previously reported. But based on what we learned, it is our impression that what we know today is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Anderson was only the first of the speakers, and his testimony set the tone for a powerful, intensive, collaborative witness to what Pope Francis calls a “third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing”, which he called genocide, adding “I insist on the word”.

In Rome, the Trevi Fountain was lit red, in commemoration of Christian martyrdom, and mass execution of other religious minorities, to call the Western world to attention. Sitting through the UN conference on it, hearing powerful testimony, expert reports and stunning witness, I hope and pray it worked. The event in New York certainly seemed to mark a turning point.

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