My reflections and musings on the struggle to leave a Christ-shaped impression on the world of law and public policy.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Today's "Liberal" Causes

In a recent article, Professor Peter Dreier appropriated Martin Luther King Jr. as champion of the “liberal” side of several raging public debates. Having been inspired from childhood by the justice of King’s struggle for racial equality and the effective and eloquent way in which he pursued his “Dream,” I find Dreier’s conclusions surprising and counter-intuitive. I reject the assumption that this giant of a man can be so neatly categorized.

Dreier claimed, for instance, that “King would stand — and sit in when necessary — with the LGBT community to help push states toward legalizing same-sex marriage…” The staggering presumptuousness of such a statement is exposed by the preceding sentences, in which Dreier first concedes that “King did not approve of homosexuality,” but then declares that King’s viewpoint would certainly have changed over time in light of the NAACP’s position and growing support for gay rights among black clergy members.

First of all, it is the height of arrogance for anyone to start from King’s known, stated position (disapproval of homosexuality), and assume that he knows King’s psyche, religious convictions and motivations well enough to conclude that King would have done an about face as a result of special interest groups or polling data.

But beyond that, the rationale behind Dreier’s conclusion is unconvincing. Historical giants like King are historical giants precisely because they don’t form their moral views based on cultural trends; rather, they resist man-made constructs that ultimately harm and degrade human beings and lead us, instead, to what is true, good, and beautiful.

William Wilberforce stood against the slave trade and Dietrich Bonhoeffer against the Nazis because, like King, Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer believed that every human being is created in the image of God and therefore has unique dignity and inherent worth. There is no escaping it: at the core of these heroes of humanity is a decidedly and specifically biblical worldview. Their passion for honoring the teachings of Jesus Christ was their motivation for waging war against various iterations of human oppression.

Where would King have stood on gay marriage? I don’t presume to know the answer. Although the Bible consistently identifies homosexual activity as a moral wrong, many today profess to be convinced that Jesus Christ himself would have championed gay marriage as a step toward love, compassion and equality.

My respect for King is deep enough, however, to convince me that he would have studied the Scriptures to critically evaluate that claim. In considering whether recognition of gay marriage really is loving and compassionate, he probably would have examined the reasons for marriage and the likely societal consequences of defining this fundamental institution based on individual preferences. He would have looked past value-laden labels and studied the contents of the package under a lens comprised of both compassion and truth.

Another label King would have parsed is that of “reproductive freedom.” Dreier trots out the fact that King once received a “Margaret Sanger Award” as ironclad proof that he would have been an abortion rights activist. Dreier candidly admits, however, that “King never spoke publicly about his views on abortion,” and that he was assassinated before Roe v. Wade was decided.

We live in a culture committed to the concept of liberty and obsessed with the idea of “choice,” so any conduct packaged in the trappings of “right to choose” (as any conduct at all might well be packaged) appears, superficially, to be a moral good. But I believe King would have balked at the idea of labeling one human being’s purposeful destruction of another human being as a liberty or “choice” that is beyond the power of a civilized society to restrict.

While supportive of Planned Parenthood’s educational efforts on birth control, I think King would have wept at the rate at which babies of color —babies with unique dignity and inherent worth — are being aborted. I think he would have been outraged that a whopping 80 percent of Planned Parenthood clinics are strategically located in minority neighborhoods.

It is impossible for anyone to credibly claim King’s endorsement for causes that arose after his death. But this much we know: King was a follower of Jesus Christ.

His boldness, compassion and commitment to serving others were beautifully consistent with the Christ depicted in the Bible. And just as Christ stood for timeless moral absolutes, I believe King would have looked beyond labels, politics, and polls and stood for transcendent truth, goodness and beauty.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Bradley Manning and Hormone Therapy: Two Formulas of Ideas.

Bradley Manning, sentenced to 35 years at Fort Leavenworth for leaking military secrets, would prefer to live out his prison sentence as a woman called "Chelsea." A bevy of high-profile organizations (including the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, and other gay and lesbian activist groups) insist that failure of the Army (funded by taxpayers' hard-earned dollars) to make this dream come true amounts to a deprivation of human rights. You can read the news story here.

To anyone asking how we, as a society, have arrived at the place where such a demand can be "reasonably" made by a convict, I offer the following logical (?) formula of ideas:

A person's desire to be the opposite gender from that which he or she is physiologically is a type of illness (“gender-identity disorder”).


Gender-identity disorder can be treated by hormone therapy that allows the patient to develop physical characteristics of the gender he or she desires to be or believes he or she should be.


It is “cruel and unusual punishment” for the government to refuse to fund drug therapies for prisoners that may cure or reduce the severity of their illnesses.


Bradley Manning should receive hormone therapy during his prison term, and we (the taxpayers) should pay for it.

But consider this alternative formula of ideas:

A person's desire to be the opposite gender from that which he or she is physiologically is a type of illness (“gender-identity disorder”).


While it is possible to use drugs to change a person's physiological make-up to that resembling the opposite gender, such “treatment” is simply a way of indulging the person's desires, which have already been identified as a disorder.


It is not the responsibility of government to use taxpayers’ money to indulge desires of prisoners that are manifestations of mental illness—nor would doing so be in the prisoners’ ultimate best interests.


Bradley Manning's disorder should be treated with the same counseling and mental health services that are available to all other prisoners, and taxpayers should not pay for him to receive hormone therapy.

Would "human rights" organizations insist that prisoners who suffer from eating disorders be provided with taxpayer-funded liposuction? And if so, would they really be serving the best interests of those who are suffering?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Nation of Liberty or A Nation of Feelings?

Judicial doctrines built upon contemporary America's unhealthy focus on feelings have left fundamental freedoms at risk.

Virginia Christian Alliance (VCA) has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court in the hotly contested public prayer case of Town of Greece v. Galloway.  We are asking the High Court to reevaluate its current, perception-based framework for deciding cases involving religious speech or symbols in public settings and to return to a historically correct interpretation of the Establishment Clause to prohibit only government policies involving religious coercion.

The case arose out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which held that the Town of Greece, New York, had created an unconstitutional "establishment" of religion by allowing local clergy members to offer invocations at Town meetings on a voluntary, non-discriminatory basis.  The Court held that this policy violated the Establishment Clause because, in fact, most of the clergy members who volunteered to pray represented the Christian faith.  This was unacceptable, held the federal court, because non-Christians may have felt left out.  Attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom are representing the Town in the appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

If we can trust James Madison’s explanation to the First Congress, the liberty protected by the Establishment Clause is the freedom from being coerced to support or practice religion.  But under the Supreme Court's modern interpretation of the Clause, it prohibits any word or act which a bystander might perceive as a message of government "endorsement" of religion. 

In our brief, we argue that this reading is entirely at odds with America’s unmistakably religious heritage and the actual practices of those who drafted, debated, and adopted the First Amendment.  In fact, an intellectually honest application of the Court's modern Establishment Clause doctrine would result in the invalidation of countless national traditions, including the Pledge of Allegiance, Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations, Supreme Court opening statements, the National Day of Prayer, and the national motto, “In God We Trust,” which is inscribed upon various government buildings and currency.  

While the Supreme Court's decision in this case is poised to be a landmark ruling on the practice of public invocations, the impact of this case may actually reach much further than the issue of public prayer. 

The case is a perfect example of the impact our culture’s obsession with feelings has had on judicial doctrine.  Emotions--subjective, unknowable, and transitory as they may be—are now a determining factor in constitutional analysis.  Consider, for instance, the following quote which the Second Circuit offered as its rationale for striking down the Town's perfectly neutral invocation policy (which, remember, involves prayers offered by private citizens):  "People with the best of intentions may be tempted, in giving a legislative prayer, to convey their views of religious truth, and thereby run the risk of making others feel like outsiders."

This basis for constitutional decision-making should give pause to the student of American history.  Is this the nation of freedom birthed through the labors of men like George Washington, John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson?  Were these men, who risked being hanged as traitors for their efforts, really concerned with securing the psychological well-being of their fellow man by ensuring that no person would ever be permitted to express in a government setting an idea that might offend another person? 

No.  Their work, and their legacy, was about securing liberty.  And liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of feelings.

Freedom-loving Americans should hope that the Court will use this case to reject the idea that my liberty is endangered when I don't like the ideas you express through spoken words.  Your words pose no threat to my liberty, but the judiciary has begun to allow my feelings about those words to demolish your liberty.

In their genius, our Founding Fathers did not leave offended separationist citizens without remedy for their hurt feelings.  Those who feel offended by references to faith in the public square can certainly vent their policy views at election time.  But when the judiciary indulges litigants' desires to gag religious citizens or public officials and to force religion into the private recesses of society, it is giving them a court-enforced heckler's veto over the liberty of others. 

It is the hope of VCA and the organizations and legislators who joined us in this brief that the High Court will seize upon this opportunity to serve the interest of liberty by rejecting a jurisprudence of feelings.

We would like to thank the following organizations and legislators for joining the brief:

  • Concerned Women for America
  • The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation
  • The Frederick Douglass Foundation of Virginia
  • The Valley Family Forum
  • Fredericksburg Rappahannock Evangelical Alliance
  • The Black Robe Regiment of Virginia
  • Delegate Richard "Dickie" Bell
  • Senator Dick Black
  • Delegate Ben Cline
  • Delegate Todd Gilbert
  • Senator Emmett Hanger
  • Delegate Steve Landes
  • Delegate Bob Marshall
  • Senator Steve Martin
 To read the brief in its entirety, click here.