The limits of free speech according to Bernie and Hillary

The first amendment protects our right to free speech. Does that right extend to groups that we join comprised of like-minded people?

During the midst of the civil rights struggle of the 1950s, the state of Alabama decided that the NAACP was stirring up too much trouble. The state went to court to kick the NAACP out of Alabama, using a variety of arguments and legal maneuvers, including a subpoena for the NAACP’s membership lists.

The NAACP brought a countersuit, NAACP v. Alabama. The case ultimately went to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in favor of the NAACP’s right to continue operating in Alabama. Furthermore, the Court held that “freedom to associate with organizations dedicated to the ‘advancement of beliefs and ideas’ is an inseparable part of the the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Makes sense to me.

But, as George Will points out, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and legions of others think that such protection should NOT be extended to groups involved in political campaigns.

Under a logic that escapes me, the opponents of collective free speech in political campaigns (isn’t that a venue where we want to maximize free speech?), think that the Supreme Court’s 1958 NAACP v. Alabama decision is wonderful, but that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that the government can’t stop non-profit groups from spending their money to express their opinions in political campaigns, is egregiously unfair and awful.

Would I prefer that less “group” money be spent in political campaigns? Probably. I also would prefer that we Americans spend less money on our pets and more on charitable causes.

Should the government regulate our spending on political campaigns or our pets? No.

Free speech in a democracy, particularly in political campaigns, is not limited to individuals standing on street corners shouting their ideas or tweeting their ideas on Twitter. Free speech includes banding together with others, raising money, and spending money on advertising. This is a liberty that is worth the abuses and ugliness that come along with it.

If Bernie and Hillary don’t like it, they should propose an amendment to the Constitution that makes an exception to free speech that prohibits campaign spending by groups. Then, the stakes will be out in the open for all to see and debate.

Blame It All – and, I Do Mean ALL – on Somebody Else

Rod Dreher has written a scathing review of Ta-Nehisi Coates book Between Me and the World. I haven’t read the book. However, I did watch an interview of Coates by Charlie Rose. Apparently, Coates makes the same point in the book that he did in the interview, namely, whatever bad or immoral thing happens to black people, even if it is perpetrated by other blacks, it is the fault of white people. Apparently there are no exceptions. If you’re hearing good things about Coates book, which is in the form of a letter to his son, read Dreher’s review for some counterbalance.

Dreher also takes the opportunity to mention a memoir by another black man, The Wind in the Reeds, by actor and New Orleans native Wendell Pierce. Pierce tells his story of hardship from a much different place and with radically different assumptions and worldview than Mr. Coates. Again, read Dreher’s article for more about The Wind in the Reeds, which will be released in September. I look forward to reading Mr. Pierce’s book. I think I’ll skip Mr. Coates’ Between Me and the World.

Rubio’s Foreign Policy – Not so impressive

A few days ago I expressed my appreciation for Marco Rubio’s articulate rationale for pursuing and supporting policies that will reduce the number of abortions, even if those policies are half-measures compared to the equal protection deserved by unborn babies.

I’m not nearly impressed with Rubio’s foreign policy vision. As pointed out by Daniel Larison and A.J. Delgado at The American Conservative, Rubio promises to be an aggressive, activist international interventionist. As Larison puts it:

“While he [Rubio] claims not to want to promote conflict, Rubio has a remarkable knack for advocating policies that would raise tensions in almost every region of the world. He imagines that this is necessary as ‘a means of preserving peace,’ but in practice it is a recipe for confrontation and costly entanglements.”

There’s a lot I like about Rubio. This, I don’t.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Huddled Masses – Not Really

Alan Cross, author of the DownshoreDrift blog, reminded me of something really striking in his post today about the increasingly strident immigration debate. I had forgotten about these words etched on the Statue of Liberty:

 “…Give me your tired, your poor,
   Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
   The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
   Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
   I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As Cross points out, “Donald Trump is upset because he says that we are not getting the “best and brightest” and all of the really “smart people.” He claims to be a great American. He claims to be a conservative. But, the actual American, Conservative values are summed up in Emma Lazarus’ words. The Real, Historic America wants the tired, poor, huddled masses and wretched refuse. The Real, Historic, Conservative view believes that America is a great place – even a transformative place – where people can come from all over the earth and work and make a life for themselves. We are a nation of immigrants and many of our ancestors came here with nothing but dreams for the future – dreams that they fought, worked, and died for to see come true.”

Of course, we shouldn’t get too starry-eyed about the past. Many Americans, after their families had been here for one or two generations, conveniently forgot how their ancestors got here and began looking down their noses at those who were just arriving. But, my impression is that those prejudices were less a part of post-World War 2 America than at some previous times. Maybe it was just easier to take a friendly view of immigrants between 1935-1990 because, according to statistics from the MIT Center for International Studies, immigration was low compared to several previous periods in American history.

And, who knows, Lazarus who wrote those words in the late 19th century, might have felt less generous if she had realized that the USA would become a modern welfare state attempting to provide a social safety net for everyone, including illegal aliens. We live in a different time with a different set of challenges. I agree with those who say that immigration, particularly the illegal variety, is an unfair burden on American taxpayers. I oppose amnesty for those who came here illegally.

But, there are a lot of options for moving forward that don’t require denigrating immigrants or ignoring the realities of how a large number of illegal immigrants are contributing to the good of America.

Lazarus’s words inspire me. They remind me of an attitude and outlook that helped make America great. I wonder if fans of Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric want to erase those words, which have welcomed immigrants to New York for over a century, and replace them with something like, “If you’re not smart, go back to where you came from”? I wonder how many of us would be U.S. citizens today, if that had been the policy when our ancestors came here?

How the SSM Debate Made Me a Libertarian

After listening to yesterday’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage (SSM), I am now an unabashed political libertarian. It’s a political philosophy that I’ve been leaning towards for years, but the SSM debate has now sealed the deal for me.

Have my views regarding the morality and wisdom of SSM changed? No. If anything, I am more convinced than ever that SSM is an oxymoron, that it will be detrimental to society as well as many individuals, that homosexuality is a warped expression of human sexuality, and that homosexual acts are sins.

I believe that the same can be said about premarital sex, adultery, about most instances of divorce, as well as a whole host of other actions and attitudes involving not only human sexuality but all of our relationships with one another and the rest of God’s creation. I hold these convictions because I embrace what most Christian churches have taught over most of the last 2000 years regarding these matters. Those churches have arrived at those teachings as they have sought to interpret the teachings of Jesus and the apostles as preserved in the New Testament scriptures.

Those of us who seek to follow Jesus as Lord make a critical error if we believe that the governments of this world are somehow partners with God’s people in ushering in the kingdom of God. Governments are indeed ordained by God and necessary for civilization. But governments, no matter the form, are comprised of sinful human beings. And, governments always possess and utilize the power of coercion. Every government, no matter how well-structured its forms and well-intentioned its participants, will eventually fail and fall. To think otherwise is to set up an idol that will compete with the one Lord who has promised that He and He alone ultimately will bring peace and justice.

Therefore, the God-ordained roles for government are few in number and narrow in scope. Enforcing contracts? Yes. Building infrastructure for the common good, for example roads? Yes. Protecting its citizens against any who would deprive them of life, liberty, or their property? Yes. Protecting the helpless against imminent danger? Yes.

Defining and sanctioning “marriage”? No. Government should enforce contracts. If adults want to enter into a contract with the property rights and responsibilities that we have traditionally associated with marriage, then, as far as the government is concerned that should be allowed – not because it is good, but because adult citizens should be free to associate and enter into legally enforceable agreements with one another, as long as those agreements do not deprive others of their life, liberty, or property.

Justice Alito asked the lawyer arguing for SSM this question: why should we deny marriage to two women and two men who want to get married? Read the transcripts, if you wish. I’ll just say that I found her answers unpersuasive – and, ironically one of those answers sounded strangely similar to the “tradition” argument used by SSM opponents.

Once the Supreme Court declares that there is a constitutional right to SSM, which it will almost certainly do, then there is no logical reason that the government should deny marriage rights and responsibilities to any group of consenting adults who choose to enter into that contract.

Meanwhile, religious communities – including churches – who hold to the traditional definition of marriage should act in accordance with our teachings. That means not performing weddings or recognizing arrangements that we do not consider marriage, even if they are allowed by the state.

Most of us Christians need to wake up and take a lesson from our Anabaptist brethren: “Christian nations” do not exist. Governments, whether they be democracies, monarchies, or oligarchies, can claim that they are. They can even fake it for extended periods of time. But all governments ultimately depend on power and coercion for their existence. That’s not the way of Christ. So, how can they possibly be “Christian”?

Christians in the United States should work to make our democracy a libertarian democracy. This means that we will be surrounded by institutions and activities that we believe are wrong and that, in the long run, are harmful to human beings and our societies. (News flash: that is going to be the case until Jesus returns no matter what form of government we have and no matter who’s in charge of it.) But, it is also the best way to create an environment where Christians, no matter how despised we may be for our beliefs, can live out and act on those beliefs; and, most importantly, have the freedom to speak the Good News that Jesus Christ died for our sins, is risen from the dead, and will return to set all things right.


The Crisis of Islam

In The Crisis of Islam, Near- and Middle Eastern historian Bernard Lewis gives an historical overview of the conflicts over the last, oh, 1400 years or so between Islam and “the West.” It was written in 2003, so a lot has happened since then: the “completion” of American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the so-called Arab Spring, civil wars in Libya and Syria, the killing of Osama bin Laden,  the rise of ISIS, just to name a few. But, given that most of the book is devoted to giving a historical perspective, it’s still valuable. And, most of Lewis’s themes and conclusions don’t seem to have been contradicted by anything that has happened since he wrote the book. I judge his biggest omission to be his failure to acknowledge and discuss the deep Sunni/Shia schism in Islam and the implications for the Middle East. Still — Lewis is a good writer and this is a good read.

The Foolishness of Making Things Happen

Dallas Willard is so right:

“So often the work of the leader or pastor is so hard and so full of disappointments and their own lives are empty – and, they eventually blow up. It’s because they haven’t heard the message that Jesus gave. They heard another message. And, perhaps with the best of intentions they were driven into a life whether they thought their job was to make things happen — and that’s the worst position you can be in. Of course, you’re going to act. But, your job is not to make things happen. We live in the Kingdom of God where God is active, His Spirit is present, His Son is alive; that’s where we live. They will make it happen. And if we make it happen the result will be our converts, and then probably we’re going to have to keep making them do things, because they’re depending on us to jump start them, and keep them going, rather than putting them on to the living Kingdom of God and the living Christ and allowing them to live interactively, one-on-one, with God — and transform the world in which they’re living.” – Dallas Willard (Living in the Presence of Christ, Lecture 1)

Free Expression for All! (Except for Traditional Religious Believers)

In the wake of the murders in Paris of the Charlie Hebdod staff, I have been encouraged by the outpourings of support for freedom of the press and freedom of speech. But, it is obvious that many, at least here in the U.S., despite their declarations of such support, believe they know best when those freedoms should be restricted. For example, the New York Times editorial writers…….

If you haven’t heard, last week the city of Atlanta fired Kelvin Cochran, the chief of its Fire and Rescue Department. Cochran charges that it was because he expressed his condemnation of homosexuality in a book he wrote in 2013.

Well, the NY TImes editorial writers, recent defenders of Charlie Hebdod’s right to publish cartoons considered blasphemous by many Muslims (and by the way, I can understand why many Muslims would be offended), apparently see no contradiction between that defense and cheering the firing of Cochran. How strange. Just a few days ago, David Brooks, columnist for the NY Times pointed out this kind of hypocrisy among many self-identifying liberals, for example, the enforcers of political correctness on college campuses.

Rod Dreher discusses the chilling hypocrisy of the NY Times editorial board. And Denny Burke highlights, what seems to at least some of us to be, the obvious implications for religious liberty. Both point out the admission by the city of Atlanta that there was absolutely no evidence that Chief Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians. In other words, the NY Times finds it laudable to fire people because of what they believe and say, even when what they are saying is consistent with the traditional teaching of three of the world’s great religions. (Although, I agree with Rod: I think the way that Cochran expressed himself was graceless. I wouldn’t have said it the way he said it. But, that’s fodder for another post.)

We are in for some big debates in this country regarding freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. But, I suppose that’s been obvious for quite some time.

The War in Afghanistan – Over?

The last few days, there have been numerous news stories about the end of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. I’m glad that it’s “over.” But, there’s a reason I put “over” in quotation marks. As a friend of mine told me on New Year’s Eve, even as the news media is focused on the end-of-the-year end of the war, her son is being deployed by the Air Force to …… Afghanistan. This Bloomberg story gives some of the reasons why it’s still not over.