National Day of Prayer and ever present politics

This is a dicey year for the president threatening religious liberty to be issuing a proclamation to honor the day called for national prayer. He chose his words carefully.

Let’s look at President Obama’s proclamation:

Prayer has always been a part of the American story, and today countless Americans rely on prayer for comfort, direction, and strength, praying not only for themselves, but for their communities, their country, and the world.

On this National Day of Prayer, we give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience.

Hold on. Right there. That wording reveals a narrow view of what constitutes religious freedom, specifically that it means people can pray or worship, or not, according to…what?…their conscience. So there it is again, another example of this administration morphing freedom of religion into freedom of worship. Which views the participation of religiously informed people in the public and political arena as something to be defined and restricted by government. While those people are welcome to go behind the doors of their home or worship space and do whatever prayers or services they wish.

And “according to the dictates of their conscience” is peculiar wording for a president whose administration is, through the HHS mandate, requiring individuals and religious institutions to do something that violates their conscience.

Back to the proclamation:

Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation. May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other, and rely on the better angels of our nature in service to one another.

May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other? Who constitutes each other? Who is excluded from the class of those worthy of such protection or provision of care? Of course, it’s the unborn, every human being already in existence but not yet completely through the birth canal at delivery. Who in the abortion industry or among its supporters is listening to ‘the better angels’ that by human nature, we all surely have?

Let us be humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue.

Yes, let’s.

Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering.

Without attaching to such relief the condition that contraception and abortion be part of the package of aid.

Let us also pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have answered our country’s call to serve with honor in the pursuit of peace. Our grateful Nation is humbled by the sacrifices made to protect and defend our security and freedom. Let us pray for the continued strength and safety of our service members and their families. While we pause to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending liberty, let us remember and lend our voices to the principles for which they fought — unity, human dignity, and the pursuit of justice.

Yes, let us remember and honor human dignity. And the pursuit of justice. And be unified in our defense of the liberty to do so in private and in public.

Amen to that.

UPDATE: Religious freedom expert interprets Obama’s prayer proclamation.

“The human rights of women”

As declared, or addressed, by the 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Particularly, Norway’s Ambassador.

Morten Wetland made an extremely strong statement condemning any religion, morality or tradition that stands in the way of the human rights of women.

For Norway, this essentially means that any group that does not consider abortion (or “sexual and reproductive rights”) to be a human right, is getting in the way of the human rights of women.

Hold on. Human rights cover human beings. One gender doesn’t trump another. And human beings young enough to be pre-born are not only not covered at all (sorry for the double negative, but it is), they’re actually the casualty, the collateral damage, of this trumped up “reproductive right” at the core of “the human rights of women.” As oddly dehumanized as all this sounds.

What is most striking however, is not their verbal attack on the values that cultures “hold most dear” but their irresponsible use of the term “moral hazard”.

After the financial crisis, many of us became frightfully aware of what the term “moral hazard” describes. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, “moral hazard” is the “tendency to take undue risks because the costs are not borne by the party taking the risk”. For example, if you know that the government is going to bail you out even if the risks you take in the financial market would be too risky otherwise, you are more likely to take those risks anyway, especially when you are using someone else’s money.

Good explanation. Who else would notice this but the folks at Turtle Bay?

So, from Norway’s perspective…

…those countries that refused to allow for language supportive of an international right to abortion into the final outcome document or “agreed conclusions”, were compromising a woman’s right to abortion and her well being merely for the defense of their own ignorant beliefs.

Norway would also claim that standing up for such backward values is an easy thing to do, especially when those who defend them have less to lose than the women  kept from a “right” to abortion. But again, that is what they claim.

Sometimes I’m just struck by the inanity of these words, dressed up as official-sounding declarations.

Unfortunately for them, this year it was undeniable that the only countries worried about women and their health at CSW were the countries that fought adamantly for woman’s health care over an invented “right” to abortion.

Okay, now we’re talking.

This past week, it was the United States, Norway, and the European Union that were unwilling to compromise on ideology and to support language that would benefit the health of mothers and rural women, not people of faith. For people of faith, the family is sacred and the mother’s role invaluable. Thus it goes without saying that the health of the woman, and the health care she deserves to receive when she is pregnant, is a priority for countries that support traditional values. Unfortunately, for the EU, US, and Nordic countries, the right to abortion was of even greater importance than these values.

And these are supposedly the most highly developed, intellectually steeped regions on earth, right? Don’t answer that.

Vaclav Havel’s legacy

How utterly simplistic to call a blog post to such a task. This does not pretend to do that. It’s merely intended to be a signpost along the way.

It’s a different path. We are coming up to speed on revolutions these days. But we are not attuned to profoundly enduring leaders.

Vaclav Havel was one.

The son of a wealthy developer who toiled as a lab assistant and lowly brewery worker after being denied a higher education, Havel’s works earned him five years in communist jails, where the chain smoking writer fell ill with chronic lung problems that eventually contributed to his death on Sunday at 75.

A playwright whose work was banned following the 1968 Soviet invasion of then-Czechoslovakia, he rose from political prisoner to become a president-philosopher who continued to fight for human rights until the end of his life.

Which is why we’re now hearing the tributes this man has deserved for so long. Like this one by NRO editors, well stated.

Czech Communists were brutal, but temperamentally Havel was not prepared to give way to persecution. His defense was to write plays, comedies of the absurd with humor and vitality within them. Several of the plays had a dissident writer as hero and leader of unofficial opposition like himself. A favorite subject for mockery was Communist language designed to present falsehood as truth.

How familiar. Since the time of the Sophists, in fact, who have their modern inheritors.

Havel caught our attention on the way to becoming an unlikely president of people he personified. Wherever that media fascination went, it returned for worthy tribute now. The CSMonitor:

Friends say he was an unfailingly polite, humble man who was not cowed by the threat of imprisonment.

“Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance,” he wrote in a letter to Czechoslovak President Alexander Dubcek in 1968.

Jailed in the 1970’s for criticising the government’s human rights record and twice later, he eventually led some 300,000 protesters to topple it in the Velvet Revolution…

Known as a freedom supporter, he was fired from a theatre where he worked following the Soviet invasion and became a dissident, organising people who did not support the regime.

In perhaps his most famous work, the essay “Power of the Powerless”, Havel explained why.

“You do not become a “dissident” just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances,” he wrote in 1978. “You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society.”

It begins as an attempt to do your work well…” What a remarkable, fundamental statement. How perfectly (and defiantly) human.

NRO editors continue:

Hundreds of thousands of people at last began to gather in Prague as in other Soviet-occupied capitals and to call for Havel. “I am only on supply, an amateur standing in for a professional politician,” he said in an improvised speech to the expectant crowd. He meant it. Slight and stooping, casually and even slovenly dressed, with a moustache that gave his face a somewhat woebegone expression, a heavy smoker, he wished to be taken then and afterwards not as a president but as an artist and, in certain engaging moods, even as an eternal student. His offices were in the Prague Castle (immortalized by Kafka), and he was known to ride a scooter along its immense corridors. The thrust of his later writings and speeches was that Communism had made everyone morally ill, or “spiritually impoverished,” in another phrase of his, and it was humanity’s task to recover what had been forfeited.

I keep thinking of the similarities to Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope

NRO didn’t stop with that editorial. The editors asked contributors for a symposium, and they willingly submitted tributes.

…Havel stood for principles that are increasingly seen in today’s West as quaint and irrelevant to its politically correct, multicultural, and progressively less democratic present — an attitude succinctly summarized by the Guardian in its eulogy of Havel, “whose spirited defiance of Soviet-imposed totalitarianism . . . [has] nothing to offer to the Czech or European experience of today.”

And so what most tributes focus on are Havel’s great literary accomplishments, his moral courage, and the peaceful nature of the Czech revolt against Communism.

This is all true, of course, but Havel was anything but the peacenik these portrayals make him out to be. For Václav Havel was first and foremost a freedom fighter against the totalitarian evil that had descended on Europe after WWII and enslaved his people along with all of Eastern Europe.

Self-deprecating to a fault as he was, this self-proclaimed “confused intellectual,” who believed that “there’s always something suspect about an intellectual on the winning side,” never once compromised his firm conviction that evil must be confronted, with force if need be, for freedom to be victorious. And so, at a time when the West was doing its level best to appease Communism through Ostpolitik, détente, arms control, and assorted delusions, Havel called it “Absurdistan” and the sterile culture it had imposed “Biafra of the spirit.”

How incisive…

Throughout his political career and after it, in countless writings, speeches, and interviews, Havel stood in defense of the politically oppressed, whether in Burma, Iran, or Belarus, and never shied away from the struggle for freedom. As late as two years ago, he signed an open letter to President Obama warning him of the threat Russia continued to present and of the danger of appeasing Putin.

It was said of Churchill that upon coming to power during WWII, he “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” Perhaps the most appropriate eulogy to the great Czech would be to say that, alongside fellow freedom fighters Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, Lech Walesa, and Margaret Thatcher, he mobilized the language of freedom and sent it to defeat Communism as the last and greatest curse of the 20th century.

In this past week, three well-known figures have passed away. Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il. I’ve posted on the first, will leave to other media the news out of North Korea, and hope to inspire someone to reflect on the great spark of humanity Havel leaves us in his witness to hope, much like Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II.

My esteemed editor Michael Cook is far better than I at saying what should be said about these things. But let me not miss the opportunity to express appreciation for a life well-lived, a courageous stand for human rights and dignity and grace. Especially at a time when we crave leaders, but identify…at least some of us…less and less with defined political parties.

Victor Davis Hanson says it well enough…

Václav Havel was one of the great men of letters, who, like an Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Mario Vargas Llosa, used his towering cultural and literary stature to war against the fascism of the Communist Left. Therein the rare Havels of the world became veritable men without a country — not only are they hated by the state machinery of totalitarianism and put in mortal danger, but after the storm has passed, the liberal intellectual community never quite welcomes them back, and is privately a bit embarrassed by them, as if there must have been a better way for men of such intellect and caring than adopting a loud and unequivocal rejection of leftist statism. And yet they are not quite conservatives either, or at least conservatives in the contemporary American sense, and so these independent-thinking intellectuals and writers who enter politics with a deep suspicion of the state never really have a home — which makes their courage and candor all the more striking, as they are rare.

Death penalty in America

The fact that there’s a disparity is not the main point. Its existence is the problem, in whatever form it takes.

By now it’s worldwide news that two high profile executions took place in the US this week. The fact that it shocked the world may or may not have shocked American citizens used to this form of ‘justice’.

Troy Davis may be dead, but his execution Thursday in the American state of Georgia has made him the poster boy for the global movement to end the death penalty.

World figures, including Pope Benedict XVI and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, human rights groups and commentators urged the execution to be halted — but to no avail. On Wednesday Davis was put to death by lethal injection for the 1989 killing of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail despite doubts being raised over the conviction.

The execution sparked angry reactions and protests in European capitals — as well as outrage on social media. “We strongly deplore that the numerous appeals for clemency were not heeded,” the French foreign ministry said.

“There are still serious doubts about his guilt,” said Germany’s junior minister for human rights Markus Loening. “An execution is irreversible — a judicial error can never be repaired.”

Activism mounted in the final days and hours of the campaign to save the life of this man.

A worldwide campaign had sought clemency for Davis, and a number of high-profile leaders raised questions about his guilt, including liberals like former President Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and conservatives like William Sessions, the former head of the FBI under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

After the state parole board denied Davis’ clemency request Tuesday, human rights activists mounted last-ditch efforts to save him. Laura Moye of Amnesty International USA called the board’s decision “an international human rights scandal.”

I happened on the Dylan Ratigan show randomly just in time to hear this. The commentator makes a fervent case for the dignity of all human life, no matter what.

Right.

So here’s an impression I’m left with.

The other night, I tuned into either CNN or Fox News or one of the networks as they were covering the vigil outside the prison where the execution would take place. In one glance, captured on the screen at that moment, I was struck by the line of activists arrayed on one side of the road holding signs and candles in hopes of a last minute stay of execution, that this single life would be saved in the end, though law allowed for that life to be taken. They were going to stay there until the end, hope against hope, on behalf of human dignity. Across the street, arrayed in force with riot gear, was the contingent of forces armed with the weapons necessary to carry out the law as it stands, enforceable with police presence. Nervous news anchors described the scene on the screen, where guards were prepared for intervention if the activists moved to save the life of the person inside.

It was jarring, that moment. And so clear to me an analogy for what takes place all across America on most days at abortion clinics.

It’s exactly analogous. Inside a public institution, human life is at risk of extermination, execution, for no crime other than being targeted as expendable for purposes deemed permissable by society. In that moment on that television screen showing the live shot of activists holding candlelight vigil, who didn’t have the legal right to cross the line to save a life, the commentator said the guards were prepared for any effort those activists may make to move in. They had no right to cross the line. The execution was legal.

The cries about crimes against humanity, and human rights violations, have been fervent and widespread. How many of them support abortion ‘rights’? Violence is violence, and murder is murder. No matter what you call it. As uncivilized and inhumane as it is for even suspected criminals, how much more so…or even arguably the same…for the most vulnerable and innocent human beings being held…not in a cell…but in their mother’s womb?

They’re targeting Christians

Though this is not new, it is intensifying.

While they’re dancing in the streets in America and especially college towns, they’re closing schools and hunkering down in Pakistani towns.

Amid security fears, Christian schools and other institutions closed in Pakistan following the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden. Additional police have been placed around churches in cities across the country.

“They have put us on alert, calling for the closure of our institutions and placing more police personnel in front of churches,” said Father Mario Rodrigues, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Pakistan. “Christians in Pakistan are innocent victims, even in this situation: any excuse is good to threaten or to attack.”

In Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden had apparently lived quietly for several years, a small Catholic community was on high alert after the US raid. The pastor of St. Peter Canisius church cancelled several services, and four police were on guard outside the building.

Note that this story opens with the presumption that a Christian was guilty of something, though completely unproven.

Following the discovery of a burnt copy of the Qur’an in a Christian cemetery, 500 extremists attacked a Christian neighborhood in Gujranwala, a city in Punjab province in northeastern Pakistan. Fearing for their lives, numerous Christians fled their homes.

The attack occurred on April 30, one day before President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. Three Christians and more than 20 extremists were arrested following the attacks.

Wait…fact check. The report cites that 500 extremists (500!) attacked a Christian neighborhood. Christians fled. Then Christians and a handful of extremists were arrested. Is anybody asking the obvious questions here?

Meanwhile, in Nigeria

An estimated 14,000 people, most of them Christians, have fled their homes in the north-central Nigerian state of Kaduna following the latest in a series of attacks by supporters of presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, who lost the April 16 federal election to Goodluck Jonathan.

The attackers…

Buhari supporters, “most Muslims, who make up a small fraction of the population of Kafanchan, launched guerrilla-type attacks against innocent citizens who live in their immediate vicinity,” according to a report from the Diocese of Kafanchan’s justice and peace commission. At least 300 have been slain, and 300 homes have been destroyed.

These are only a few instances of Christian persecutions carried out every day across the world. We have to know this. It’s a human rights issue, for crying out loud.

Religious liberty not guaranteed

For years we’ve seen signs that the constitutionally protected freedom of religion is under new and real threats. The temptation may have been to think ‘Yeah….but’…and not really believe it could become in America what it is in oppressive countries. If so, think again. (After all, remember…the Constitution was intended and worded to protect life. Look where that went.)

Cardinal Francis George has a sobering column out, and snips of it grabbed my attention.

Like this:

The challenge to religious freedom is clearer in countries whose governments actively persecute the church. In our own country, the challenge to the church’s freedom is basically cultural; anti-Catholic bigotry is an acceptable prejudice and the church is often regarded with contempt, which sometimes reduces her freedom of action.

This is not news, but a reminder. However, here he takes a turn…

For many years, the church could rely upon the law in this country to protect her against enemies; now, however, the law itself is often adversarial, used to destroy rather than protect. The Catholic Church in this country is perhaps less free to govern herself now than at any time since the founding of the American Republic.

Think about that. Laws are getting more restrictive on freedom of religion and conscience protections. Like the new Illinois civil union law that claims to also guarantee religious freedom…

But the end of the 111th Congress and the seating of the newly elected one after Christmas is a new day for interpreting and applying legal mandates.

…Pope Benedict XVI said: “One of the most important cultural challenges in our own post-modern world involves the way we understand truth. The dominant culture, the culture propagated by the marketplace of the media, adopts a skeptical and relativist attitude towards truth, considering it as equivalent to mere opinion and, consequently, believing that many truths can legitimately coexist. But the desire that lies in the heart of man testifies to the impossibility of resting content with partial truths…

Spot on. Who wants a “partial truth”? But even getting to that understanding is a gnarly issue.

Let’s get back to Cardinal George’s assessment that the current cultural climate is hostile to religious freedom and self-determination. And concede the point that religious liberty is under threat.

The U.S. government’s ability to promote any kind of human rights in other nations is obviously limited. Nevertheless, religious liberty is the proverbial canary in the mine. If a state won’t respect this most basic freedom of conscience, it isn’t likely to respect people’s lives and dignity in any context…

Washington’s ability to promote religious liberty overseas always will be limited. Nevertheless, religious persecution must be part of Washington’s human rights dialogue with other nations.

But that will go nowhere if it doesn’t begin at home.

Disabilities Act has an anniversary

And it may be short-lived.

This should be a momentous occasion.

As the nation marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Monday, a new survey finds that the law has not made meaningful progress in improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Many social and economic gaps still exist between the 54 million Americans with disabilities and those without, according to a survey conducted by the Kessler Foundation/National Organization on Disability. The report found that the disabled still lag in key areas such as employment, access to health care and socializing.

But the way things are going, it’s about to get worse.

This is beyond comprehension.  Plans are apparently afoot to gut NHS services and more strictly ration care.

And the recess appointment President Obama just made to run things like this in the States is in love with that system.

Wesley Smith, who knows this stuff better than most anyone, warns we’re heading for a meltdown.

We are at jarring odds with human rights and the protection of human dignity in this country.

For Eric Wright, 25, the ADA has been a factor for almost his entire life. He was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get to his job at the Internal Revenue Service in Washington, D.C., where he helps the agency comply with federal requirements for making the agency’s electronic and information technology accessible to the disabled.

Wright participated in individual education plans (IEPs) throughout grade school, and in college he used a note taker in classes and was given extra time on tests because it took him longer to type.

“There was never a point in my life where, if you saw me outside my home, that you wouldn’t know I had a disability,” Wright said. “But, thanks to the ADA, the people around me — including my family, teachers and employers — knew that I shouldn’t be excluded from a normal life.”

Pray that doesn’t change.

Semantic gymnastics in media

The tactic of changing style books in different print and electronic media is to change how news consumers think about what they’re hearing. I recall the first tactic was making ‘pro-life’ a pejorative. Then the style books changed and they were not to be called ‘pro-life’ anymore, but ‘anti’-something, as in ‘abortion-rights’, or ‘opponents of abortion rights’. You know, plant the negative connotation about a social movement and turn public opinion against them as a bunch of activists who want to take rights away.

It would be tempting to call it a game, but semantic engineering has changed the way we hear public debates about social issues. Control information and you control thought.

National Public Radio has taken that tactic to the next level. They’ve changed their style books again.

The folks at National Public Radio understand the power of words. Managing Editor David Sweeney announced yesterday that the station would no longer refer to people in the abortion debate as “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” Instead, the station will say “abortion rights advocates” and “abortion rights opponents,” according to a memo circulated to NPR staff.

In making this change, NPR is shifting the terms of the debate to make it more friendly to the pro-choice position.

This is a fair and reasonable article, and I like the critical thinking they apply here:

Is NPR planning on referring to advocates of gun control as “gun rights opponents”? As the Cato Institute’s David Boaz wrote earlier this month,

“In 415 NPR stories on abortion, I found only one reference to ‘abortion advocates,’ in 2005. There are far more references, hundreds more, to ‘abortion rights,’ ‘reproductive rights,’ and “women’s rights.’ And certainly abortion-rights advocates would insist that they are not ‘abortion advocates,’ they are advocates for the right of women to choose whether or not to have an abortion. NPR grants them the respect of characterizing them the way they prefer.”

I called Sweeney to ask him if NPR was going to change its terminology concerning gun rights. He did not return my call (I will post an update if he does).

NPR has chosen stilted terminology that conveys pro-choicers and pro-lifers in positive and negative lights, respectively. The station could just as easily (though perhaps with less aesthetic appeal) have labeled the two groups “pro-rights of the unborn” and “anti-rights of the unborn.”

And here’s the key, I think:

But NPR apparently does not see it that way. The station’s staff sees the issue — and now frames it on air — as a battle over women’s rights, not the rights of the unborn.

This debate will advance in greater strides when everyone can understand that it’s about both.