Memorial Day brings a flood of memories. Our little town always has a parade down Main Street, with floats on the back of farm trucks, the band from the local high school, and our town’s fire trucks, freshly washed and waxed. At the end of the parade, everyone gathers at a monument to our town’s veterans, someone gives a speech, a wreath is laid, a trumpeter plays taps, the flag is lowered to half-mast. Then, the local Grange has a BBQ with free ice cream for the kids. It is very Norman Rockwell.
Just back from an event sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center on religious freedom. It was not exactly “fair and balanced” anymore than Fox News is, although Bill Galston from Brookings was given the microphone and, unsurprisingly, gave the most nuanced of this morning’s presentations. At least the organizers were candid that the day’s proceedings were not just about learning, they were about action. This was the religious right’s highly educated cohort, getting their marching orders and their battleplans.
The avalanche of criticism against, variously, the Obama administration, secularization, gay and lesbian activists, etc., began with Tom Farr of Georgetown who said that in his 2009 address at Notre Dame, President Barack Obama asserted a “lack of rational content” in religion. The relevant words of Mr. Obama’s were: “It's beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us. And those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.” Now, as I recall, I found Obama’s comments strange in a speech at a Catholic university dedicated to the pursuit of faith and reason.
I will be heading out shortly to a conference on religious liberty sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Why these start these things so early, and all the way across town is beyond me. I will file a report early afternoon.
But, here is some food for thought on the issue.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl has an article at the Washington Post explaining the archdiocese's decision to file a lawsuit against the HHS mandate. It is worth noting that Cardinal Wuerl focuses on the same objection Bishop Blaire highlighted - the still-extant, four-part definition of what is, and is not, a religious organization for purposes of exemptions from the new HHS mandate. I am sure there was some gnashing of teeth at the idea that bishops were taking different positions in public on this issue but I don't think the positions are that fundamentally different. The differences are ones of emphasis and context. All agree on the heart of the matter.
In a speech at the Reagan Library, Cong. Paul Ryan said he expects that the GOP will not only win this November's election, but will do so with a "mandate" to "sweep and remake the political landscape." If the option is continued, divided, dysfunctional government or a mandate to enact the Ryan view of government, I;ll take a few more years of divided, dysfunctional government.
Yesterday, the dam broke. In comments made to Kevin Clarke at America magazine, Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, with carefully selected words and a persuasive and important argument, explained his differences of opinion with some of his brother bishops regarding the best way to address the religious liberty concerns the bishops all share.
My monthly campaign analysis for the print edition of NCR is now available online. This month I look at campaign finance in the post-Citizens United era. You can access it by clicking here.
Zenit reports on the establishment of a newly endowed chair at a Roman University in memory of Pope Paul VI. The chair will look at the pontiff's early life and work as well as his later years as Archbishop of Milan and then as Pope. I have long nurtured a profound esteem for Papa Montini, not only because he was the Pope of my youth, but because the more I learn of him and of his writings, the more I see how difficult a job he had of it, steering the Second Vatican Council to its conclusion and overseeing the early years of its reforms. What is emerging clearly is that he was intensely concerned that all the reforms keep the Church focused on Christ. His apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi paved the way for what we now know as the New Evangelization. His contributions to the social teachings of the Church were exemplary. And, even his most controversial encyclial, Humanae Vitae, reads better every year in its prescient concern about the eugenic potential of human tinkering with nature.
My review of the book "Democracy Despite Itself: Why a System That Shouldn't Work At All Works So Well" by Danny Oppenheimer and Mike Edwards, is not available online by clicking here.
Reading court filings is not exactly fun, but it is often very clarifying. And, as is clear from several comments on this blog and elsewhere, and from conversations and emails, people would do well to actually read one of the lawsuits filed yesterday before pontificating on its merits. Or am I the only one tired – oh, so tired – of people blowing off steam, ignoring evidence that does not fit neatly into their prior narrative about whether Obama is hateful or the bishops are hateful, and failing to ask the kind of basic questions that should be asked when evaluating a lawsuit: Is this frivolous? Are the arguments compelling? Are there legal precedents? What are the relative values at stake?
The University of Notre Dame has just announced that it has filed suit against HHS Secretary Kethleen Sebelius and others over the HHS mandate regarding the contraceptive mandate.
"This filing is about the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission, and its significance goes well beyond any debate about contraceptives,” Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president, wrote in a message to members of the campus community. “For if we concede that the government can decide which religious organizations are sufficiently religious to be awarded the freedom to follow the principles that define their mission, then we have begun to walk down a path that ultimately leads to the undermining of those institutions."