Mar 29

Someone ask the flamethrowers if they’ve read the law. It’s nothing new.

So much has erupted in big media and social media since Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law the other day, sanity is another thing we need to restore.

On Thursday, Indiana governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law, and some celebrities, politicians, and journalists–including Miley Cyrus, Ashton Kutcher, and Hillary Clinton, just to name a few–are absolutely outraged. They say the law is a license to discriminate against gay people

which is simply not true. However, they’re making that perception a reality in people’s minds by repeating that exact mantra often and everywhere they can.

So calmer, wiser voices are speaking up to clarify just what this is all about. There are primers on RFRA all over the place, for those interested in knowing the truth behind the blowup. Here’s the Weekly Standard.

Is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act really a license to discriminate against gay people?

No. Stanford law professor Michael McConnell, a former appellate court judge, tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD in an email: “In the decades that states have had RFRA statutes, no business has been given the right to discriminate against gay customers, or anyone else.”

It’s actually the opposite. It’s a protection of individuals, business owners, others, from being discriminated against for conducting their business according to their beliefs. Which applies in any number of possible scenarios, some offensive to one group or another, but necessary as a uniform framework law.

So what is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and what does it say?

(this is important, pay attention:)

The first RFRA was a 1993 federal law that was signed into law by Democratic president Bill Clinton. It unanimously passed the House of Representatives, where it was sponsored by then-congressman Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and sailed through the Senate on a 97-3 vote.

The law reestablished a balancing test for courts to apply in religious liberty cases (a standard had been used by the Supreme Court for decades). RFRA allows a person’s free exercise of religion to be “substantially burdened” by a law only if the law furthers a “compelling governmental interest” in the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”  (emphasis added)

So the law doesn’t say that a person making a religious claim will always win. In the years since RFRA has been on the books, sometimes the courts have ruled in favor of religious exemptions, but many other times they haven’t.

However, the Weekly Standard notes the dramatic overreaction to the perception of the law since it passed late last week.

Meanwhile, activists are calling for a boycott. The CEO of SalesForce, a company that does business in China, is pulling out of Indiana. The NCAA has expressed concern about holding events there in the future. And the city of San Francisco is banning taxpayer-funded travel to the state.

Mollie Hemingway takes a closer look at that SalesForce boycott, among others, in this piece at the Federalist.

SalesForce is a $4 billion cloud computing company based in San Francisco. And its CEO Marc Benioff opposes religious liberty protections. He’s so extreme about it that when Indiana passed a bill that protects religious liberty, he announced he was pulling business out of the state….

Benioff argues that protecting religious liberty makes travel to Indiana unsafe for customers or employees. This would be a foolish slander about any state that protects religious liberty. But have you been to Indiana? They’re almost too nice. This is a shockingly stupid claim for someone to make about liberty protections. Besides, this bill protects people from improper government restrictions on religious liberty, contrary to most media coverage of the bill.

Anyway, it’s worth looking at who Benioff happily does business with.

The company has a branch based out of Beijing in the People’s Republic of China, a Communist-controlled country that is a human rights nightmare.

There’s a nicely revealing snip there from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom report on China detailing some of that country’s latest abuses.

Then Hemingway makes a point of what the RFRA is, both the federal and state versions. And applies critical thinking to this exercise in knee-jerk reaction.

The United States has since 1993 had a federal version of the bill signed by Gov. Mike Pence yesterday. And Indiana joins 18 states with versions of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

If SalesForce CEO Benioff is going to be consistent, he’s not only going to have to lay off everyone who works out of his Chicago, Indianapolis, Tampa and Northern Virginia offices, but he can’t even do business in Alabama, Connecticut, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

And there are more to consider. Check out the specifics in the thorough piece.

Also, Benioff may want to review his many contributions to candidates. He’s given a ton of money to candidates who voted for state or federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi, President Barack Obama, and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Here’s a helpful primer the Gospel Coalition’s Joe Carter put together. At bottom,

Many media outlets identified the Indiana bill as being “anti-gay.” Unfortunately, rather than being outraged at finding they were lied to by politicians and journalists, most Americans will not bother to learn the truth and will remain ignorant about these important laws that protect our “first freedom.”

And for those who want to perpetuate the distortion that this latest extension of a longstanding, bipartisan protection of religious freedom is ‘anti-gay’, here’s what law professor Daniel Conkle wants to share, which he did in USA Today.

I am a supporter of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. But as an informed legal scholar, I also support the proposed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). How can this be?

It’s because — despite all the rhetoric — the bill has little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom.

The bill would establish a general legal standard, the “compelling interest” test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion. This same test already governs federal law under the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. And some 30 states have adopted the same standard, either under state-law RFRAs or as a matter of state constitutional law.

Applying this test, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Muslim prisoner was free to practice his faith by wearing a half-inch beard that posed no risk to prison security. Likewise, in a 2012 decision, a court ruled that the Pennsylvania RFRA protected the outreach ministry of a group of Philadelphia churches, ruling that the city could not bar them from feeding homeless individuals in the city parks.

In sum,

The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land. It is anything but a “license to discriminate,” and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.

There’s plenty more to say, and since this story is exponentially growing bigger and hotter, ballooning with the help of media and social media campaigns fueled more by visceral reaction and emotion than information and consideration, there will be more opportunities, with all this attention, to focus on the truth of the matter.

Meanwhile, here’s the text of the Indiana law.

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Mar 25

“Motherhood itself is now on trial.”

A leading constitutional lawyer, and one of the leading attorneys (if not the leading one) involved in high profile surrogate parenting cases in the US, made that claim, and not lightly nor without deep knowledge of the issues involved. Harold Cassidy was chief counsel in the first contested surrogacy case in the United States that struck down surrogate mother contracts as unenforceable, the ‘Baby M’ case. Decades later, he’s now sounding alarms about the issue of surrogacy and where it’s headed. In New Jersey especially now, but far beyond ultimately.

Some fervently believe that if gestational surrogacy laws were to be widely accepted they would irreparably change human civilization. Gestational surrogacy is now front and center for debate, not only in New Jersey, but across the nation. It demands attention…

The Baby M court made the following observations: private adoptions are disfavored; the surrogacy arrangement places a child without any regard for the child’s best interests; it circumvents all laws that require counseling of the mother before she surrenders her rights; and the compulsion of the contract makes surrender of the child after birth not truly voluntary or informed. Beyond that, the arrangement exploits women as a “surrogate uterus” or an “incubator” and expects a mother to act as an inanimate object, which denigrates the woman in her role as mother.

Back at that time, Cassidy made the prescient observation of the corrupting influence of money in the purchase of babies. Here he cites one of New Jersey Chief Justice Wilentz’s remarks in the court opinion.

There are, in a civilized society, some things that money cannot buy. In America, we decided long ago that merely because conduct purchased by money was “voluntary” did not mean that it was good or beyond regulation and prohibition. . . There are, in short, values that society deems more important than granting to wealth whatever it can buy, be it labor, love, or life.

That would prove to be a powerfully prophetic statement.

Cassidy went on to become the attorney for a different high profile surrogacy case, this one gestational surrogacy (not the biological mother carrying the child). The mother was Angelia G. Robinson, “AGR” as she would later be known in court papers. It’s a case study in how surrogate parenting can be fraught with problems.

Robinson felt that the girls were her responsibility and that she was the only person in the world who could protect them. The bond and love for the girls who had developed by then and in the ensuing months was far more powerful than anything she ever anticipated. The growing sense of moral obligation to her daughters increased as she realized that her daughters needed their mother.

Read the whole thing, it goes from bad to worse.

Which people involved in the industry of ‘making babies’ knew, all along. Alana Newman was a ‘donor child’, and has devoted herself and her time to both warning of and healing from the impact of reproductive technologies that favor the adults at the expense of the children. The calculus is off, she says.

All of the virtues play into our fertility or marriageability. And if virtues and trustworthiness are too slow to develop, we may miss out on our natural fertility window. If a certain amount of virtues education is not observed after the wedding day there will be more divorces—which I’ve come to understand increases the use of egg donors and surrogates as divorced women in their 40s and 50s seek to remarry and bond their new relationship with a child, or remedy loneliness as single mothers by choice.

Or same-sex couple wanting children, the situation at the heart of longstanding debate. George Weigel puts it bluntly here, in this piece on ‘Children As Commodities.’

Moreover, in their determination to deny reality ”or perhaps reinvent it” the proponents of the D.C. surrogacy bill have adopted a species of Newspeak that would make George Orwell cringe. You can get a flavor of it in a letter written by a friend of mine to his D.C. councilman:

“ . . . in reading the bill I was struck that nothing was said about the child to be born out of the surrogate agreement. Much is said about the rights and responsibilities of the ‘gestational carrier’ (a very strange expression) and the ‘intended parent,’ but nothing is said about the child. The child is treated as a thing to be used as the gestational carrier and intended parent wish. This is the most troubling feature of the proposed law. It gives no indication that one is dealing here with a human person who will have feelings, thoughts, and memories. These are all swept aside as though the child to be born will have no interest in how he or she came into the world, who his or her parents are, and all the other things that are so fundamental to our identity as human beings.”

“Gestational carrier”? The D.C. bill not only treats the child as a thing, a commodity that can be bought and sold; it treats the woman bearing the child in the same way.

Where are the laws regulating these things, asks Margaret Datiles Watts, a DC area attorney who writes on legal issues of bioethics and the family.

Michael Cook called it early, that surrogacy would become “one of the big human rights issues of the first half of our century”.

I hope that the Nobel Peace Prize committee is listening. But I fear that it is not.

The reason is simple: it would offend supporters of same-sex parenting. Every Nobel Peace Prize needs both an acclaimed hero and a despised anti-hero. If the Swedish Women’s Lobby or Jennifer Lahl’s Center for Bioethics and Culture or Alana Newman’s Anonymous Us Project, were the hero, who would be the anti-hero?

The UN Commission on the Status of Women heard Jennifer Lahl just days ago, on Egg Trafficking and Rented Wombs, and How Not To Make Babies.

Some cases of surrogacy go beyond coercive to exploitive. One woman describes her twin children being taken from her at the hospital and given to the father. Until that moment, she had expected to raise her children in shared arrangement with the father, with whom she had a platonic friendship. She was not aware he was using her as a “breeder” for him and his male partner.

“How do we promote reproductive justice for all in these third-party arrangements?” Lahl asked…

“For science to serve rather than hurt us, we must always link what we can do to what we should do,” said Archbishop Auza, the Vatican’s representative to the UN.

Alana Newman is speaking out again on that subject, after the flap between Dolce & Gabbana, and Elton John.

This past week has seen the outrage generated by parents of donor and invitro-fertilization children following a now-infamous Panorama magazine interview conducted with the fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana, wherein Domenico Dolce proclaimed, “You are born to a mother and a father — or at least that’s how it should be. I call children of chemistry, synthetic children.” Immediately, Elton John advocated a boycott of the designers’ products in retaliation for the perceived offense against his two sons, who were conceived via an egg donor and surrogate mother.

Speaking as two donor-conceived young women—alive because of reproductive technologies—we felt an urgent need to respond…in support of Dolce and Gabbana.

So they go on to say

(Elton) John’s children were commissioned in partnership with his spouse, David Furnish, and it is not yet public information which man is the biological father, or if they both are and the children are not fully genetically related…

It is important to note, however, that infants, toddlers, and all of these “miracle” beings are too young to protest their own objectification. We however, are now of age and in a position to speak for ourselves. “Synthetic” indeed is a harsh and inaccurate description of us offspring born by third-party reproduction. Dolce’s word choice was a mistake. But there is much underlying truth in what he said: “life [does] have a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.” Emphasis ours.

Those of us conceived non-traditionally are full human beings with equal capacity in every regard—no one need question our humanity. It is not our individual, case-by-case worth as humans that is debatable; rather, it is how we value human beings in general that warrants discussion. Has anyone asked John for how much he purchased his kids? How much money he and Furnish paid the boy’s genetic and birth mother for their absence and invisibility?

It’s not brave, this new world of technological capabilities.

Some suggest that spending more money on making children means that they are more loved. Our children are definitively wanted, they say.

“The baby doesn’t care anything about the money,” says marriage and family therapist Nancy Verrier, regarding the issues surrounding surrogacy. “That’s not what hurts the baby. The baby is hurt by the separation, by the loss of that mother that it knows.” This ever-present realization of loss remains with both mother and child throughout their lives. Nature has ensured that mothers and children attach to one another, as it is a trait necessary to our survival; without motivation to love or instinctively care for her child, why would a mother protect her children from potential danger? She wouldn’t, and that would have heralded the end of our species. With this biological connection so immediate and meaningful, why doesn’t society view maintenance of that connection as more imperative?…

Growing up donor-conceived, it has been a great struggle to comply with the commandment “Honor thy mother and thy father,” because in order to obey the desires of one parent we must agree to the obliteration of the other. We plead, we beg: let us honor both our mothers and fathers as essential and irreplaceable.

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Mar 19

How and whether it was observed depends on perspective.

I happened to be in Rome, in the middle of a brief visit with my son, who came by the hotel in time to head to St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus and read me the message on his cell phone from Vodafone (in Italian) which said something like ‘If the world is an epic, it is thanks to woman.’ The message then said in celebration, free internet access would be given to all subscribers that day… And I asked him to repeat that. Neither of us knew anything about this Festa taking place on a day already important to me and marked for celebration for other reasons. So he said it’s apparently Women’s Day in Italy, and we thought it nice that the cell phone company started it off with a nice message. It was a little baffling to us both, since Italy celebrates Mother’s Day as the US does, and this day was set apart from that to celebrate all women, which we did not know.

Then we headed to St. Peter’s. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Sometime late that day, a splendid one in Rome with family spending hours outside in glorious weather walking, dining, strolling, talking, enjoying gelato, with more strolling amid countless other families, I went online ever so briefly. And learned that articles and blog posts were dedicated to revealing the origins of International Women’s Day in socialism and communism, something most citizens of the US never knew because it’s not celebrated here and hardly noticed as an international story.

But when we read that, it stood so at odds with our experience in Rome, the first experience of this occasion. Whatever it is or was for anyone else anywhere, here’s how I first encountered the Day of the Woman (besides the Vodafone message my son read to me).

At the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis finished his remarks relating to the Sunday Gospel with these remarks.

…“a greeting to all women! To all the women who work every day to build a more human and welcoming society. And a fraternal thank you to those who in a thousand ways bear witness to the Gospel and work in the Church. This is for us an opportunity to reaffirm the importance and the necessity of their presence in life. A world where women are marginalised is a barren world, because women not only bring life, but they also give us the ability to see beyond – they see beyond themselves – and they transmit to us the ability to understand the world through different eyes, to hear things with more creative, more patient, more tender hearts. A prayer and a special blessing for all women present here in the square and for all women! Greetings!”

It was a beautiful finish to a message that sent us off on what I said was a glorious day, and along the way we saw everywhere the Italian bouquets of ‘mimosas’, the small yellow flowers that symbolize the day, and I was greeted by shop owners and restaurant hosts with a warm ‘Buona Festa!’

Reading the stories online later about the socialist roots of the day, decades earlier, I thought of the many times we had crisscrossed the Pantheon walking around Rome those days. It was originally erected as a pagan temple or building of some sort, possibly dedicated to many gods. It was later consecrated as the church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. Which seemed emblematic to me, of meeting something where it is and bringing to it a Christian presence, reflecting the glory of what Pope Benedict referred to as the ‘new humanism.’

Like when my family visited Ireland and came upon the Hill of Slane, on which St. Patrick lit a Paschal fire to rival the ‘festival fire’ on the opposite Hill of Tara lit by a pagan king, initiating a longstanding, sacred Catholic Easter Vigil rite.

In other words, it is indeed what you make of it.

So since my initiation into this festival honoring women on March 8th happened as it did in Rome, hearing Pope Francis honor the role of women as he did, it seemed to me a current day acknowledgement of the unique role of women recognized by the Second Vatican Council in its closing remarks, among countless individual ones by popes and councils. After addressing different, diverse identity groups, the Council fathers said this:

And now it is to you that we address ourselves, women of all states — girls, wives, mothers and widows, to you also, consecrated virgins and women living alone — you constitute half of the immense human family. As you know, the Church is proud to have glorified and liberated woman, and in the course of the centuries, in diversity of characters, to have brought into relief her basic equality with man. But the hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is under-going so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.

Simply not falling? That’s it? Yes, that is what they were saying.

You women have always had as your lot the protection of the home, the love of beginnings and an understanding of cradles. You are present in the mystery of a life beginning. You offer consolation in the departure of death. Our technology runs the risk of becoming inhuman. Reconcile men with life and above all, we beseech you, watch carefully over the future of our race. Hold back the hand of man who, in a moment of folly, might attempt to destroy human civilization.

Wives, mothers of families, the first educators of the human race in the intimacy of the family circle, pass on to your sons and your daughters the traditions of your fathers at the same time that you prepare them for an unsearchable future. Always remember that by her children a mother belongs to that future which perhaps she will not see.

How beautiful is that?

And you, women living alone, realize what you can accomplish through your dedicated vocation. Society is appealing to you on all sides. Not even families can live without the help of those who have no families.

How sensitive an understanding of roles that was, and is.

Especially you, consecrated virgins, in a world where egoism and the search for pleasure would become law, be the guardians of purity, unselfishness and piety. Jesus who has given to conjugal love all its plenitudes, has also exalted the renouncement of human love when this is for the sake of divine love and for the service of all.

Lastly, women in trial, who stand upright at the foot of the cross like Mary, you who so often in history have given to men the strength to battle unto the very end and to give witness to the point of martyrdom, aid them now still once more to retain courage in their great undertakings, while at the same time maintaining patience and an esteem for humble beginnings.

What a profound statement of understanding, acknowledgement, appreciation and appeal this is, even in its brevity.

Women, you do know how to make truth sweet, tender and accessible, make it your task to bring the spirit of this council into institutions, schools, homes and daily life. Women of the entire universe, whether Christian or non-believing, you to whom life is entrusted at this grave moment in history, it is for you to save the peace of the world.

This needs to be recalled now. We are presently in the midst of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Next Monday, my radio program will be dedicated to the proceedings of some lively, engaging, and intense meetings. And to giving voice to women who speak to the role of life giver, nurturer, caregiver, humanizer, peacemaker, and the witness of what Vatican II saw as “the vocation of woman…achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved.”

Which beats the hell out of whatever socialists and communists intended by fabricating something like an international women’s day according to their designs.

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Mar 04

Why does this continue? Why hasn’t ISIS been stopped, long ago? Why are they advancing?

NBC News Richard Engel addresses the root problem in this report.

He’s reporting on the situation on the ground where the US president claims to be ‘partnering‘ with forces to drive back ISIS.

Engel said the U.S. doesn’t exactly have an ideal partner on the ground — not even in the Iraqi Security Forces, and certainly not in Syria. The Iraqi army has been heavily depleted over the past few months and reconstituted with Iranian advisers and ground forces. And many Sunni villagers, he says, are “afraid” of the Iraqi army.

“They don’t want the Iraqi army to come into their villages. So we talk about a partner on the ground that we are going to team up with to rid Iraq of ISIS. Well, that partner on the ground, in many cases, is a reason that many people support ISIS in this country.”

And he continues to speak out from the front line, calling attention to the Kurds who desperately need help from the ‘international community.’ Because they need relief and support.

But what the Kurdish fighters lack in equipment, they make up for in fighting spirit. After ISIS swept violently into Iraq in June, the Kurds regrouped and have managed to take back much of the ground they lost. The men here say they are fighting for their homeland and for their families.

“We will stand here and fight for as long as we have to,” Capt. Massud Aziz Osman said. “We are fighting against everyone’s enemy.”

Like many here, Osman, a father of four, says that the Kurds have been left to fight alone, abandoned by the Iraqi army and offered only limited support by the U.S. and its allies.

“ISIS is the common enemy,” he says, “and anyone who isn’t here fighting them is without a god or a faith.”

But Kurdish officials say determination alone may not be enough to see this battle through. They have recently become more vocal — calling for increased aid from the international coalition.

I’ve had a number of guests on radio in recent weeks, examining this crisis from every angle more days than not. They are deeply and wholly committed to facing, naming, confronting and eliminating the greatest existential threat of our time.

Former Congressman Frank Wolf co-founded ‘The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative‘, an actively committed, on the ground, front line organization giving voice to leaders of Christian leaders representing thousands of the faithful, which should be tenfold that number. They’re doing everything in their power to call for action, policy changes and humanitarian assistance to ensure freedom, protection and human dignity for Christians threatened by extinction in the ancient land of their birth. A group  of religious leaders they recently visited in Iraq lamented:

This is not just the end of Christianity but the end of our ethnicity who have lived here for thousands of years. We believe this is genocide.

They continued: We do not have opportunities for education. We do not have opportunities for work. We do not have opportunities for healthcare. What is left for us?

Consider the brutal reality, not reported in most media:

The Islamic State’s desecration and destruction of historic sites of religious and cultural heritage is unprecedented in Iraq. In Mosul, IS has turned an 800-year-old house of worship into a place of torture. Another church in Mosul that has existed for 150 years is being utilized as a prison, and yet still another is serving as a weapons storehouse.

All of the religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq face this deplorable reality. Yezidis note that this is the 73rd intentional targeting of their community. What has changed with the Islamic State is the speed and scope by which these religious and ethnic communities are being decimated. The Nineveh Plains had been one of the last relatively safe havens for Christians, Yezidis, Shabak, Turkmen and other minority groups, but with the fall of Mosul and surrounding areas in the summer of 2014, Iraq’s minorities have no place to go and are nearing the precipice of total disappearance.

This is appalling, a shock to the senses, a call to action. Something frequent guest Nina Shea has been doing for a long time, reporting on the raw reality and calling for what must be done.

President Obama must acknowledge that ISIS has religious objectives, that its actions are not simply random acts of “extreme violence,” and that ISIS aims to make the region – and beyond– pure for Islam. Maybe then, America’s generals would recognize that Christian, as well as Yizidi, communities are prime targets for ISIS, that Kurdish militias need to be equipped and pressed to protect them and air strikes need to be more seriously deployed.

And how has the president responded?

With at least an apparently distinct lack of gravity and sense severity of the threat and necessary response.

In an interview on foreign policy, president Obama said something that prompted the questioner to ask how he thought the media covers terrorism, and whether they sometimes overstate the level of alarm people should have about terrorism. The president’s response was ‘Absolutely. If it bleeds, it leads.’

It’s bleeding, Mr. President. It’s time to lead.

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Feb 24

It depends on how carefully you choose your words.

This Washington Post headline was attention grabbing: ‘The progressive ideas behind the lack of free speech on campus.’

It has a provocative opening setup.

Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic? A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at “challenging the ideological echo chamber” elicited this ominous “trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: “Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.”

What?

Challenging an “ideological echo chamber” is a good idea. What went wrong with that good intention?

One of my fellow panelists mentioned that the State Department had for a time banned the words “jihad,” “Islamist” and “caliphate” — which the transcript flagged as “anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language.”

I described the case of a Brandeis professor disciplined for saying “wetback” while explaining its use as a pejorative. The word was replaced in the transcript by “[anti-Latin@/anti-immigrant slur].” Discussing the teaching of “Huckleberry Finn,” I questioned the use of euphemisms such as “the n-word” and, in doing so, uttered that forbidden word. I described what I thought was the obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet.

Two of the panelists challenged me. The audience of 300 to 400 people listened to our spirited, friendly debate — and didn’t appear angry or shocked. But back on campus, I was quickly branded a racist, and I was charged in the Huffington Post with committing “an explicit act of racial violence.” McCartney subsequently apologized that “some students and faculty were hurt” and made to “feel unsafe” by my remarks.

Unsafe? These days, when students talk about threats to their safety and demand access to “safe spaces,” they’re often talking about the threat of unwelcome speech and demanding protection from the emotional disturbances sparked by unsettling ideas.

This is intellectual dishonesty, bankrupt ideology and ‘politically correct’ bullying carried through to its logical conclusion. Though the irony is, those who do it can’t discern logic.

“Unsettling ideas”? What is academia about, if not ideas that provoke thought, challenge debate, fire neurons and engage critical thinking skills. Whatever happened to the art of argument? Forensics?

Progressivism, that odd misnomer.

How did we get here? How did a verbal defense of free speech become tantamount to a hate crime and offensive words become the equivalent of physical assaults?

You can credit — or blame — progressives for this enthusiastic embrace of censorship. It reflects, in part, the influence of three popular movements dating back decades: the feminist anti-porn crusades, the pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses.

What to say? This could launch a book, or three. Read the piece and digest its arguments, it’s revealing.

But as for the “feminist anti-porn crusades”, there’s plenty to say that could fill volumes alone on that topic, on how very selective feminists have been in the past few decades to speak out against objectification of women. The latest of which is the vile ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ campaign, which has predictably taken its first publicized toll (with no way to account for the private ones).

Here’s the real anti-porn crusade. And here.

As for the “pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses”, this will take truthful, dedicated and committed rehabilitation – not just efforts but movements – to really recover what’s been lost in the decades of groupthink that took over academia and legitimate intellectual inquiry, and turned out reactionaries who no longer know the rich history of civil, religious and humanitarian rights, first principles, and the consistent ethic of human life and dignity that undergirds them.

They may get annoyed by technological devices constantly feeding them ‘auto-correct’ and ‘auto-suggest’ replacements for what they really feel and think and want to say. But they fail to see it happening in more consequential communications in the classroom, the debate halls and in the public square.

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Feb 17

They keep upping the outrage to provoke the West. Is the West sufficiently provoked?

How can we tell? What would it take for ‘the international community’ to do something forceful and consequential to engage this enemy of civilization and at least pause if not halt the violence that’s so extreme, it’s breathtaking in its savagery? Who will even call it what it is?

Iraq’s UN Ambassador, for one.Iraq’s U.N. ambassador alleged Tuesday that Islamic State militants were committing genocide, a day ahead of an emergency Security Council session.

The session comes in the wake of the extremist group’s claim that it massacred 21 Christian Egyptians in Libya.

Mohamed Ali Al-Hakim told Security Council members, “These terrorist groups have desecrated all human values. They have committed the most heinous criminal terrorist acts against the Iraqi people, whether Shi’ite, Sunni, Christians, Turkmen, Shabak or Yazidis. These are, in fact, crimes of genocide committed against humanity that must be held accountable before international justice.”

He spoke as reports surfaced that the charred remains of dozens of people had been found in the Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi, which came under Islamic State control last week.

While civilized people were still trying to catch their breath and sensibilities after the mass and highly publicized beheadings of 21 Christians, news that “the charred remains of dozens of people had been found” in a strategically located Iraqi town emerged, though very few media outlets have reported on it so far. BBC has.

The VOA news story continues, giving voice to the outrage mounting over these atrocities.

Egypt’s foreign minister is in New York for the meeting after President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi asked the council on Tuesday to mandate international military intervention in Libya.

“What happened is a hateful crime against humanity, not only against Egyptians,” el-Sissi told France’s Europe 1 radio, a day after his forces retaliated against the killings by launching airstrikes against what Cairo said were Islamic State militants in eastern Libya.

“I address this message here to Europeans and the French in particular,” he said. “I said it to the French president four months ago when I met him: Watch out — what’s happening in Libya will transform the country into a breeding ground that will threaten the entire region, not just Egypt, but Egypt, the Mediterranean basin and Europe.”

Precisely the point the terrorists want to make clear. This story on the anguished, urgent outcry of Pope Francis over the horrific violence, is revealing.

Pope Francis said: “The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a blood that cries out to the Lord.”

“It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Lutherans,” the Pope continued. “They are Christians. Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ.”

A video of the decapitation of the 21 Copts kidnapped in Libya at the beginning of January was posted online by jihadist websites Sunday. The footage shows black-clad militants leading their captives in orange jumpsuits along a beach before forcing them to kneel.

The title of the video is: “A Message Signed With Blood To The Nation Of The Cross.” One caption reads: “The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church.”

The wording of the message was a clear intent to provoke outrage, instill terror, and show disdain. Note this:

Before the mass beheading, one of the militants stands with a knife in his hand and says: “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for.”

Where have we recently heard reference to “crusaders”? Oh yes, the president. This appears to be a signal that he was heard abroad.

It was also deviously designed as a signal of another sort.

Images from the video show waves of the Mediterranean breaking on the beach, turning red from the blood of the victims.

The killings took place less than 500 miles from the southern tip of Italy, raising concerns that ISIS has established a direct affiliate within striking distance of Europe. One of the militants in the video speaks directly to their intention, saying the group now plans to “conquer Rome,” the Associated Press reported.

That has come up before verbally. Now they’ve added a visual, to further intimidate and cast fear. In Rome, Francis will show no fear, but he’s both emotional and determined in his remarks about this brutality against innocents.

In the face of the brutal slayings, Pope Francis urged all Christians to work even harder for unity among themselves.

“As we recall these brothers and sisters who were killed only because they confessed Christ,” he said, “I ask that we encourage one another to go forward with this ecumenism that is emboldening us, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians”.

The president will not acknowledge that, nor that Islamic terrorism is Islamic terrorism. He called the beheaded Christians ‘Egyptian civilians.’ But it’s important to call things what they are, and Pope Francis does.

Pope Francis on Monday castigated the Islamic State barbarians who beheaded 21 Coptic Christians purely for their religious beliefs — and he called the victims “martyrs” whose blood “is a testimony which cries out to be heard.”

“Their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me,’?” the sickened pontiff said. “They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians.”

Here are their names. Pray for them, their families, their communities, and an end to the violence.

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Feb 17

The film’s opening exposed a deep wound. It needs healing.

Whatever happens to the book and film franchise, the real life toll of human torture it exposes has to stay prominent in public debate and social action. It’s been in the shadows for far too long, and done incalculable damage.

There’s pornography addiction. Which this group of innovative human rights advocates calls ‘the new drug.’ The site is loaded with information and resources.

Dr. Peter Kleponis told me on radio that after spending nearly two decades in marriage counseling, something changed, and the reality of the scourge of pornography addiction started becoming more apparent and more urgent in the crises he found himself dealing with, though nobody would talk openly about it. That was eight years ago, and he’s been working on treatment for men and couples over those years.

Why the silence? Fear, shame, confusion, the mainstreaming of the porn culture. Which became more prominent with the release of this film. Look at this middle-school class project, worked into a crossword puzzle.

There’s the dismissive excuse that as long as people consent to what they’re doing, it’s nobody else’s business. But with cultural dysfunction, sometimes consent is not enough.

“As long as he or she is consenting, it’s OK.” No it’s not, because people consent all the time to practices that they know are destructive and this doesn’t make such practices right. First, people can be pressured by their culture or their peers into things that they know are harmful to them. The fear of being left out or laughed at can motivate the teenager to do drugs that are physiologically damaging to his body. He may know that they are harmful and that he will suffer consequences for doing them. But he doesn’t want his friends to think that he isn’t cool enough to do things that are physically risky. So he ‘consents’ in order to fit in. His ‘consent’ may seem voluntary but really he is being pressured by the people in his surroundings, and his fear of social rejection overcomes his better judgment. Women and men all the time are afraid of not fitting in or being part of the cool crowd. So they ‘consent’ to sexually exploitative practices that they know are damaging in order to be accepted. The sixteen-year-old girl ‘consents’ to sext pictures of her naked torso in order to fit in with the social climbers at school…

The point is that history is full of examples of mass cultural delusions. Just because large numbers of people think that something is right or intriguing or cool doesn’t make it in fact right or intriguing or cool. A democratic majority is a poor basis for a healthy sexual morality.

A lot of times my students these days tell me that they want to help stop the sexual trafficking industry. They are shocked by the idea of exploited women – girls, even – being made to do things that are predatory and damaging. Whenever they say this to me I always respond, “do you really want to do something to stop sex trafficking? Change yourself first before you try to change others. Don’t look at porn, don’t promote sexual practices that are exploitative of others, and don’t put money in the hands of people whose movies stir up a desire in the culture for the trafficked girls.” “Fifty Shades” is wrong because it is stirring up a desire in people for exploitative sexual practices. It makes people want to do things that enable predatory industries like sex trafficking to flourish.

This MSU study bears out the harm that comes from exposure to pop culture porn, like ‘Fifty Shades.’

Young adult women who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher. Further, women who read all three books in the blockbuster “Fifty Shades” erotic romance series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.

All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in “Fifty Shades,” said Amy Bonomi, the study’s lead investigator…

Compared to participants who didn’t read the book, those who read the first “Fifty Shades” novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours.
Those who read all three books in the series were 65 percent more likely than nonreaders to binge drink — or drink five or more drinks on a single occasion on six or more days per month — and 63 percent more likely to have five or more intercourse partners during their lifetime.

Bonomi, who has a doctoral degree in health services and a master’s in public health, said she is not suggesting the book be banned or that women should not be free to read whatever books they wish or to have a love life.

However, it’s important women understand that the health behaviors assessed in the study are known risk factors for being in a violent relationship.

And they don’t end up the way Hollywood portrays in this film series.

“They’re making out as if this caught on all by itself, but it wasn’t organic growth. There’s been a juggernaut of media behind this, and it’s selling to women an image that somehow if you love a sadist out of his (abuse) you’ll have a great life,” (Dr. Gail Dines) said.

“When in reality, how ’50 Shades’ would end is that she’s running for her life to a battered women’s shelter, with children in tow, she’s got her front teeth knocked out, she’s got cigarette burns up and down her arm…she’s living off the grid without a bank account or a cell phone, cause these sadists never let go.”

The media celebration of the books and movies shows an irresponsibility and an ignorance about how violence against women is perpetuated, Dines added.

“You have a media who’s celebrating this violence against women,” she said. “No other group would be celebrated when they’re beaten and tortured like this, it would be considered an outrage. For any other minority group, if you had a film that would eroticize them being violated, people would absolutely be tearing down the cinemas in the streets. And what do we have here? We have a massive media juggernaut promoting it.”

Dines, who is also a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, said she believes “50 Shades of Grey” has also caught on because we live in a culture where pornography is considered acceptable.

“If you want to understand the popularity of this, you have to look at the way pornography has literally hijacked the way people think about sex and sexuality,” she said.

As a sociologist, Dines said she has seen a lot of research about the effects of pornography on the brains of boys and men. The younger someone becomes addicted to porn, the more difficult it is to break away, she said. Furthermore, regular viewing of pornography is re-shaping the way boys’ brains are forming.

“We’ve got 40 years of experimental psychology research which tells us that the more porn men look at, the more boys look at, the more they believe it,” she said. “The jury’s not out about that – that has been known in the science literature for years and years.”

There’s also plenty known by the international experts in human trafficking, like Elizabeth Yore, who tells me that the film ‘Fifty Shades’ portrays torture as romance, and helps predators groom their victims. Help stop this. Be alert to signals that it may be happening right around you.

And be aware of the porn effect. And resources available to eliminate it, and heal the wounds it causes, no matter how deep or dark they seem.

If all of this helps just one person, it will have served its purpose. And if ‘Fifty Shades’ has any redeeming value, it’s in opening this critically needed public discussion, exchange and forum for help to protect and restore human dignity.

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Feb 09

Did Obama do a moral equivalency of Christian Crusaders with Islamic terrorists today?

Well, yes. But he won’t call them “Islamic”, though that’s what they call themselves.

Expert analysts are talking daily now about the president’s refusal to address the threat we face globally. Time after time he’s had the opportunity, notably in the State of the Union address in January.

But in addressing the National Prayer Breakfast last week, Obama turned it into a chance to call religious extremism out. Of sorts.

In his comments at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, President Obama condemned violence in the name of religion and pointed to religious groups other than the Islamic State that have perpetrated acts of terror in human history.

Note, other than the Islamic State, which has mutilated, crucified, beheaded, raped, enslaved, burned alive, beaten to death, tortured and terrorized countless populations of innocent women, children, men, elderly, anyone and everyone in their path.

Obama continued with this astonishing statement:

“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place,” the president said, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Oh geesh. This is more than a ‘here we go again’ moment. This is critical mass. The president of the United States. Going there.

Our news is increasingly made up of one outrageous act of barbarism committed in the name of Allah after another…

Against this backdrop of horror, our President feels the need to step back and take the long view. Instead of talking about Islam’s connection to the slavery of young girls right now, the President wants to lecture us on Christianity’s connection to slavery 150 years ago. Instead of condemning ISIS’ undeniable connection to Muhammad right now, he wants to re-focus our attention on the Crusaders and the Inquisition. Instead of condemning the Charlie Hebdo attackers Islamic extremism in a clear voice he wants to also condemn those who insult the faith of others (as if these two things were equally problematic).

This is not a much needed exercise in humility. This is a dodge, a cop out.

The ongoing threat to peace and human dignity from religion is not coming from Christianity, nor does it stem from Christian arrogance. The Christians being slaughtered in Nigeria, in Syria and Iraq, and in Egypt do not need a lecture on humility. The President ought to drop the moral equivalence and confront the threat we face in the here and now. And if he feels the need to lecture on religious humility, there is one religion that desperately needs to grasp the concept, right now in this century. In case it’s not already clear, that religion is not Christianity.

So in the name of Christianity, and for the purpose of clarifying the history of the Crusades now that we have this window opportunity, here are a couple of good articles by academics who know what they’re talking about.

Author and historian Thomas Madden.

Most people in the West do not believe that they have been prosecuting a continuous Crusade against Islam since the Middle Ages. But most do believe that the Crusades started the problems that plague and endanger us today. Westerners in general (and Catholics in particular) find the Crusades a deeply embarrassing episode in their history. As the Ridley Scott movie Kingdom of Heaven graphically proclaimed, the Crusades were unprovoked campaigns of intolerance preached by deranged churchmen and fought by religious zealots against a sophisticated and peaceful Muslim world. According to the Hollywood version, the blind violence of the Crusades gave birth to jihad, as the Muslims fought to defend themselves and their world. And for what? The city of Jerusalem, which was both “nothing and everything,” a place filled with religion that “drives men mad.”

On September 11, 2001, there were only a few professional historians of the Crusades in America. I was the one who was not retired. As a result, my phone began ringing and didn’t stop for years. In the hundreds of interviews I have given since that terrible day, the most common question has been, “How did the Crusades lead to the terrorist attacks against the West today?” I always answered: “They did not. The Crusades were a medieval phenomenon with no connection to modern Islamist terrorism.”

But you have to be open to learning the truth to accept that and stay with the article, short as it is. Madden knows this, too well.

It is generally thought that Christians attacked Muslims without provocation to seize their lands and forcibly convert them. The Crusaders were Europe’s lacklands and ne’er-do-wells, who marched against the infidels out of blind zealotry and a desire for booty and land. As such, the Crusades betrayed Christianity itself. They transformed “turn the other cheek” into “kill them all; God will know his own.”

Every word of this is wrong. Historians of the Crusades have long known that it is wrong, but they find it extraordinarily difficult to be heard across a chasm of entrenched preconceptions.

Which obviously includes the president.

Madden continued teaching, for those who were open to learning. Here’s a piece he wrote two years later.

Many historians had been trying for some time to set the record straight on the Crusades — misconceptions are all too common. These historians are not revisionists, but mainstream scholars offering the fruit of several decades of very careful, very serious scholarship. For them, current interest is a “teaching moment,” an opportunity to explain the Crusades while people are actually listening. It won’t last long, so here goes…

Misconceptions about the Crusades are all too common. The Crusades are generally portrayed as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics. They are supposed to have been the epitome of self-righteousness and intolerance, a black stain on the history of the Catholic Church in particular and Western civilization in general. A breed of proto-imperialists, the Crusaders introduced Western aggression to the peaceful Middle East and then deformed the enlightened Muslim culture, leaving it in ruins. For variations on this theme, one need not look far. See, for example, Steven Runciman’s famous three-volume epic, History of the Crusades, or the BBC/A&E documentary, The Crusades, hosted by Terry Jones. Both are terrible history yet wonderfully entertaining.

So what is the truth about the Crusades? Scholars are still working some of that out. But much can already be said with certainty. For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression — an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity — and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion — has no abode.

It’s an extensive piece, well worth reading to learn the history of the Crusades. Take the time for it, too few people in media and politics will.

But they should get this from Madden’s conclusion:

From the safe distance of many centuries, it is easy enough to scowl in disgust at the Crusades. Religion, after all, is nothing to fight wars over. But we should be mindful that our medieval ancestors would have been equally disgusted by our infinitely more destructive wars fought in the name of political ideologies. And yet, both the medieval and the modern soldier fight ultimately for their own world and all that makes it up. Both are willing to suffer enormous sacrifice, provided that it is in the service of something they hold dear, something greater than themselves. Whether we admire the Crusaders or not, it is a fact that the world we know today would not exist without their efforts. The ancient faith of Christianity, with its respect for women and antipathy toward slavery, not only survived but flourished.

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Feb 07

Sunday’s first International Day of Prayer Against Human Trafficking is the latest in a series of actions.

This has been a hallmark of Francis’ papacy, this deep distress for victims of ‘the throwaway culture’ the widespread abuse of humans in so many terrible ways, met by (he warned) the ‘globalization of indifference,’ where people live ‘in bubbles.’ He said these things, in a stirring if not stunning homily, in his first apostolic journey outside Rome after being elected pope, on the small island of Lampedusa, destination for so many refugees who perished at sea under harsh conditions, many trafficked by profiteers. He said we fail to see these people, and asked, woefully, how it is that we could fail to see these people.

I wish to offer some thoughts to challenge people’s consciences, to lead them to reflection and a concrete change of heart”.

“’Adam, where are you?’ This is the first question God poses to man after his sin. Adam lost his bearings, his place in creation because he thought he could be powerful, able to control everything, to be God. Harmony was lost, man errs and this error occurs over and over again also in relationships with others. The ‘other’ who is no longer a brother or sister to be loved, but simply another person who disturbs our lives and our comfort. God asks a second question, ‘Cain, where is your brother?’ The illusion of being powerful, of being as great as God, even of being God Himself, leads to a whole series of errors, a chain of death, even to the spilling of a brother’s blood! God’s two questions echo even today, as forcefully as ever. How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live … we do not take care of that which God created for all of us, and we are no longer capable even of looking after each other. And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.

This homily and its message laid groundwork that connected to Francis’ longtime concerns for the castoffs of society.

Today no-one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters; we have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, perhaps we say to ourselves: ‘poor soul…!’, and then go on our way; it’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalisation of indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others, it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it is none of my business. The globalisation of indifference makes us all ‘unnamed’, responsible yet nameless and faceless…

And meanwhile, human trafficking has grown as a global ‘industry’ and it has become what is often referred to, correctly, as the new slavery. Like in this post about ‘Buying and Selling People’, reported by Caritas, a Catholic Church mission.

Pope Francis said last December, “Trafficking in human persons is a crime against humanity. We must join forces to free the victims and to stop this ever more aggressive crime, which threatens not only individual persons, but also the foundational values of society, as well as international security and justice, along with the economy, family structure and social life.”

That can work very well and has, demonstrably, when Church and State collaborate in goodwill as best they both can within their realms.

Clarifying the unique contributions of both civil authority and the church, Pope Francis said:

“Our meeting today includes law enforcement authorities, who are primarily responsible for combating this tragic reality by a vigorous application of the law. It also includes humanitarian and social workers, whose task it is to provide victims with welcome, human warmth and the possibility of building a new life. These are two different approaches, but they can and must go together.”

The gentleness and compassion of the sisters have their place alongside the firmness of the UK police. The victims must be cared for in the warmest and most loving manner possible, and the perpetrators, on account of the grisly nature of their trade, must be pursued and punished with force.

It is not the gift of all to be warm and loving enough to earn the trust of these victims. Nor is it the gift of all to have the strength and the resilience to confront the perpetrators. Both extremes are required because both extremes are present. The extreme of total devastation needs to be covered in total mercy, as frostbite needs a total, and gradual, thaw. The extreme of total aggression and lust needs to be extinguished in total justice, as a bonfire needs to be doused in gallons of water.

Here, the Catholic Church and the United Kingdom are reaching out to each other, each realizing the other’s unique and essential role in combating human trafficking. The Church cannot search boats or conduct raids or impose legal restrictions on certain nations or groups, nor can the United Kingdom create a network of compassionate people dedicated to serving others who will love, cherish, and rehabilitate the victims.

Very clarifying. The article also goes on to show what happens when political activism intervenes to block the Catholic Church from doing what its ministries and social services have done best to serve and care for the vulnerable and abused. In the US. those services were barred from reaching the neediest because of ideological agenda.

But look at what they are doing when allowed to serve freely, like these sisters in the Philippines. It’s extraordinary. And breathtaking. Read it and weep. And be thankful for the dedicated servants who aren’t looking the other way, or failing to notice the enslaved at all.

The problem is global and growing.

“Official data reported to UNODC (United National Office on Drugs and Crime) by national authorities represent only what has been detected. It is very clear that the scale of modern-day slavery is far worse.”

Look at the fact sheet from just what they do know.

And in places we don’t tend to think about, the children who are falling through the cracks in so many places.

International Child Protection Attorney Elizabeth Yore lists resources to get informed about human trafficking and start to do something. She added this one in one of several discussions with me on radio.

So much can and must be done. Which gets back to Sunday’s International Day of Prayer Against Human Trafficking.

Strikingly, the prayer day announced in Tuesday’s news conference will bring together several Vatican departments as well as the main umbrella groups for women and men in religious orders, since those congregations have long been on the front lines of the anti-trafficking fight.

Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the prayer day is a mobilization on a global scale.

“Our awareness must expand and extend to the very depths of this evil and its farthest reaches,” Turkson said, “from awareness to prayer … from prayer to solidarity … and from solidarity to concerted action, until slavery and trafficking are no more.”

The date for the initiative is the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, considered a patron saint for trafficking victims. Born in 1868 in Darfur, Sudan, she was kidnapped at the age of nine and sold into slavery, first in her country and later in Italy. She died in 1947 and was declared a saint by Pope St. John Paul II in 2000.

Read the whole article. It’s compelling, as Francis and the Vatican intend the event to be.

Sister Carmen Sammut of Malta, a member of the Missionary Servants of Our Lady of Africa and the president of the International Union of Superiors General, said the day of prayer is intended to achieve two things:

First is a lament in the Biblical sense: “We want to cry out in the name of all the victims [and ask], ‘Until when, Lord’?”

Secondly, “We want to light up the world, that is, to bring hope to those who are without hope.”

That, and more.

When presenting the initiative in the United States in December, the auxiliary bishop of Seattle, Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the US committee for migration, said that “if just one person realizes from this day that they or someone they know is being trafficked, we will have made a difference.”

This is an ongoing, determined mission fueled by the fire of Francis’ passion for the ‘throwaways’ of the culture.

The theme of Pope Francis’ Message for the 48th World Day of Peace, held Jan. 1, was “Slaves no more, but brothers and sisters.”

“We ought to recognize,” Francis wrote, “that we are facing a global phenomenon which exceeds the competence of any community or country. In order to eliminate it, we need a mobilization comparable in size to that of the phenomenon itself.”

And with persistent commitment. This requires much more attention. Stay tuned.

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Feb 06

Cover for all sorts of grime.

However the book series Fifty Shades of Grey came to be wildly popular, I’ll let social scientists figure out and help us sort through the ravages of our culture for the past five decades or so. But because it has turned into a heavily funded, slickly filmed and produced, and very cleverly marketed big budget film about to be released for Valentine’s Day weekend – a real twist of ironies there – people need to be aware of what this is all about. So many aren’t. Zac Alstin tried to help out here.

From its first pages Fifty Shades of Grey is firmly situated in the realms of mediocre fan fiction, beginning with an awkward and clichéd scene in which the protagonist helpfully describes her own appearance in the mirror. It continues with a quality of prose and characterisation that would be hard to reconcile with the book’s success but for the knowledge that the “erotic romance” genre is underpinned by readers’ sexual fantasies – in this case, the sexual fantasies of a hundred million Twilight readers already primed for an R-rated elaboration of their favourite tale of forbidden love…

As one author put it: “Two years ago, it was all vampires. Now it’s BDSM. Kink is the new vamp.”

Unfortunately BDSM does actually exist, whereas vampires do not…

Put those thoughts together and go to Miriam Grossman, featured here already for her expert insight and advice on the issues related to the themes of Shades of Grey. She speaks with expertise of those young readers primed for an elaboration on tales of forbidden love, without understanding the true nature of love. In fact, Dr. Grossman has written a four part series to help navigate this cultural minefield. It’s well done, from the first post, a parent survival guide on how to talk with teens and young adults about the subject.

There’s a lot for them to figure out, but they’re utterly lost. What do I want, and how do I get it? How do I deal with peer pressure and navigate the hook-up culture? Are there consequences to sex, or is it just about fun? What’s normal? What’s not?

Please know, these are kids who by and large do well in other areas. They’re successful at school and with friends; some of them are accomplished musicians and athletes. But romance? That’s where they’re thrown off-track, and there are lots of tears, anger, and regret.

I often wonder to myself, I know this kid has responsible, loving parents…where are they?

Moms and dads, guardians and grandparents, I urge you: no matter how awkward it is, you must speak to your children about intimacy – what it is, and what it is not. I’m talking not only about teens, but also tweens who are mature, or who hang out with teens.

Now brace youselves…

The perfect opportunity is here. Hollywood’s gift to us this Valentine’s Day is Fifty Shades of Grey. With Universal Picture’s mega million dollar publicity campaign, and a soundtrack by Beyonce, your child is about to be bombarded with a dangerous message about romance.

That’s a gift?

Fifty Shades of Grey teaches your daughter that pain and humiliation are erotic, and your son, that girls want a guy who controls, intimidates and threatens. In short, the film portrays emotional and physical abuse as sexually arousing to both parties.

You know these are foul lies, but your kids may not be sure. If the world was a better place, they would never hear such awful things. But this is the world we live in.

The good news is you can turn this to your advantage. Don’t dread all the hype, because it’s a chance to connect with and help your child in a big way. Every billboard, preview, and sound clip is a precious opportunity, a chance to warn your child about being manipulated. It’s a springboard for discussion about disturbed relationships – how to recognize and avoid them.

You can prepare for this with a little homework.

1. Learn about the film’s plot and main characters, Christian and Anastasia – this will give you credibility. Do this by reading a synopsis such as the one on Wikipedia. If you want more than that, there’s a long, detailed one at thebookspoiler ( warning: obscene language ).

2. Identify some opportunities for private and uninterrupted time with your child. Perhaps in the car, or while working together in the kitchen or garage. If you don’t think it’s going to happen, consider a bribe: There’s something really important I want to talk about. If you turn your phone off for fifteen minutes while we chat, I’ll give you five bucks. There’s nothing wrong with this.

My goal is this: by Valentine’s Day, you’re going to say: thank you, Universal Pictures. I used to procrastinate about talking with my child about this difficult subject. But Fifty Shades is so extreme, so over the top, that I had to step up to the plate. And I’m so pleased I did…because we had one of the most important conversations of our lives.

Good advice. Because these young people engaging entertainment media and pop culture all the time are sure confused. But so are their parents. I had Patrick Trueman on my program this week, former Justice Department head of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, and current President of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, to discuss how his organization is engaging this rollout of what he repeatedly called hardcore porn pitched as romantic fantasy. He said the film promotes torture, abuse and sadomasochism, normalizes domestic violence, and particularly violence against women.

That same afternoon, a young friend excitedly planning her wedding told me, anxiously about two women she knew who were planning to see the film when it comes out on Valentine’s Day weekend. One was her mother-in-law to be. The other is her friend who works at an abused women’s shelter. This, declared my friend, is the extent to which people are clueless about the harsh, perverse and graphic reality of this film. And it highlights the need to inform them.

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