It's clear the City of Philadelphia is far more anxious to punish the free exercise of religion than to serve its most vulnerable children.
Not just foster care providers, but religious groups of all kinds are closely following the case of Fulton v. the City of Philadelphia. Indeed, all those who care about our nation’s children should be.
While this case before the U.S. Supreme Court to be decided in 2021 directly concerns the provision of foster care, by placing hypothetical arguments about non-discrimination ahead of the religious freedoms ensconced in the First Amendment — and ahead of children’s actual needs — the broader ramifications of the case threaten to force religion further from the public sphere.
In his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
The majority offers a cursory assurance that it does not intend to disparage people who, as a matter of conscience, cannot accept same-sex marriage. That disclaimer is hard to square with the very next sentence, in which the majority explains that ‘the necessary consequence’ of laws codifying the traditional definition of marriage is to ‘demean or stigmatize’ same-sex couples.
Fulton v. Philadelphia demonstrates how right Roberts was to be concerned. The attorney for the city, Neal Katyal, claimed during oral arguments that a religious foster care agency, by following the prescriptions of the religion which it represents, would “stigmatize” LGBTQ individuals, especially children. Having asserted that traditional religious beliefs are bigoted and damaging, he thus argues that they must be prohibited in practice.
In particular, the city’s claim that the stigma is associated with Catholic Social Services’s provision of foster care cannot withstand even a cursory examination. Whatever feeling of harm or stigma might be involved, it would emerge from the biblical belief — which is supposed to be protected by the First Amendment — that same-sex relationships are forbidden; whether or not this teaching was applied to foster care would be essentially irrelevant. Yet the city, knowing that it can’t directly attack religion, claims that the damage occurs when a religious foster care agency conforms to those beliefs.
Taking the attack on religion a step further, Philadelphia equated religious diversity with mutual hostility: its lawyer claimed that foster care would be “balkanized” if various religious groups were each allowed to serve children in need consistent with their religious beliefs, working with supportive families seeking to partner with those agencies. Frankly, it’s quite scary to see such open hostility to free, diverse religious practice from a city government — and one could hardly seek more decisive proof that freedom of religion is, in fact, on trial in this case.
The threat here is clear, and not limited to Catholics. In Judaism, we believe it essential to raise a Jewish child to learn both our books and our observances. If applied consistently, the city’s argument would prohibit a Jewish agency from insisting upon placing a Jewish child in a Jewish home. Rather than demonstrating the First Amendment’s respect for different traditions and beliefs, Philadelphia is demanding universal conformity to state doctrine.
What is most troubling in all of this is that the city has lost sight of the ultimate goal: to serve children in need of foster care. There is a grave shortage of families willing to open their homes to foster children, and religious agencies, by working specifically within their faith communities, can expand that pool.
Plaintiff Sharonell Fulton is but one of many who are certified by Catholic Social Services and have room in their homes to care for children. The city is keeping these foster care providers on the sidelines because of CSS’s religious beliefs, offering only theoretical arguments about hypothetical harms to justify callous denial of homes to children in need.
As was clear at oral argument, no same-sex couple has been prevented from fostering or adopting by Catholic Social Services, or ever would be. Were such a couple to ever present itself to CSS, attorney Lori Windham told the court, CSS would help the couple to find one of the many other agencies that can assist them and better attend to their needs.
Based solely upon a far-fetched, theoretical claim of “stigma” that reflects hostility towards biblical beliefs, the city’s actions are therefore forcing dozens if not hundreds of actual (very non-theoretical) children to languish in group homes and institutional settings rather than being placed with loving foster parents.
The city has made its disregard for children’s actual needs quite obvious. Responding to the fact that Catholic Social Services has provided foster care to needy Philadelphia children for more than two centuries, long before the government was involved, Katyal argued that “whatever these [private] entities did before, like CSS, they never selected who cares for kids in city custody, applying state criteria.” In other words, the city claimed that whether these children are wards of the state is a more central consideration than whether they need foster care.
This is heartless, and even more fundamentally flawed. To be sure, the city has notargued that CSS provides an inferior service. It even acknowledged that CSS has been a “point of light” in the child welfare system. Yet the city also claims that closing down such an agency and preventing it from helping the more than 250 children in need of a foster home today would somehow be a net benefit for society.
So it is not merely true that Philadelphia wishes to squelch free religious practice — it is also clear that the city is far more anxious to punish the free exercise of religion than it is to serve the city’s most vulnerable children. The shocking part is that it was necessary to go all the way to the Supreme Court to ask for the obvious: that the city of Philadelphia should both respect different religious beliefs, and put the needs of children first.
Considering the Supreme Court’s rejection of New York state’s restrictions on religious gatherings during the pandemic . . .
. . . and California governor Gavin Newsom’s dinner at The French Laundry, and the mayor of San Francisco dining in the very same restaurant the following night, and the Los Angeles County supervisor dining in a restaurant after voting to ban outdoor dining as well as indoor dining, and the mayor of Denver flying off to see family after telling residents to avoid unnecessary travel, andNancy Pelosi visiting a hair salon in violation of local restrictions, and the mayor of San Jose breaking his own restrictions by attending a big Thanksgiving dinner with multiple households present, and the mayor of Washington, D.C., attending a Biden victory party in Delaware after barring all nonessential interstate travel, and [insert all subsequent examples of politicians violating their own quarantine restrictions here] . . .
. . . maybe it’s time for governors and mayors to get out of the lockdown-by-decree business and get back into the recommendation business. Americans have been through a terrible ordeal of a year, and they’re not going to just stay home behind closed doors with Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year’s coming up. Clearly, these sweeping restrictions are far too strict, because otherwise elected officials wouldn’t be breaking their own rules all over the place.
The first vaccinations in the U.S. will start in about two weeks. Until the vaccine is widely available, we’ve got another month or two (or three?) of frequent handwashing, social distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks when indoors, and maybe throw in taking some Vitamin D or other vitamins and supplements to keep our immune systems at tip-top shape. Americans aren’t going to stay away from restaurants or religious services entirely, so tell them to space the customers or worshippers out as much as they can and keep hand sanitizer plentiful and ubiquitous. Americans aren’t going to stay away from their elderly relatives entirely, so tell them to get tested before and try to minimize exposure until the gathering. Take the precautions that you can, where you can, when you can. This is not a perfect or risk-free system; perfect and risk-free systems don’t exist. As the Christmas carol goes:
Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow,
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow,
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
In short, mayors and governors, don’t ask your citizens to make any sacrifice that you’re not willing to make yourself.
Because if another bunch of fat-cat politicians try to decree that no one should get together for Christmas, and that everyone should stay out of restaurants and church and so on, the reaction from much of the public will be a metaphorical middle finger, and that reaction will be entirely deserved. Elected officials didn’t start this pandemic with a ton of trust and respect for their authority, and the worst among them have destroyed what was left in the past few weeks.
Life lessons from the dissident, politician, and activist
Natan Sharansky has been a computer scientist, a chess player, a refusenik, a dissident, a political prisoner, a party leader, a government minister, a nonprofit executive, and a bestselling author. He never expected to be a school counselor.
But the coronavirus dashes expectations. In early March, when the virus began to appear in Jewish communities outside New York City, Sharansky found himself online, in an unaccustomed position. He began to share with students and parents whose schools were closed how he had coped during years in confinement.
“At first, it seemed absurd, even obscene,” Sharansky writes in his latest book, Never Alone, coauthored with the historian Gil Troy. “How could my experience of playing chess in my head in my punishment cell compare to being cooped up in gadget-filled homes wired to the internet—with computer chess—especially because this isolation is imposed to protect people, not break them?”
What Sharansky realized is that the costs of lockdowns do not depend on the reasons behind them. The sudden and seemingly arbitrary interruption of individual plans, movements, and relationships causes psychological harm. Sharansky recorded a brief YouTube video for the Jewish Agency—you can watch it here—offering his five tips for quarantine. Recognize the importance of your choices and behavior, Sharansky advised. Understand that some things are beyond your control. Keep laughing. Enjoy your hobbies. Consider yourself part of a larger cause.
“Surprisingly,” Sharansky writes, “this short clip went viral, reaching so many people all over the world within a few days that it made me wonder why even bother writing this book.” His reaction was another example of his droll and often self-deprecating wit. The video, however helpful it may be, does not match the power and wisdom of Never Alone. Part autobiography, part meditation on Jewish community, the book ties together the themes of Sharansky’s earlier work, from his prison memoir, Fear No Evil (1988), to his defense of cultural particularity, Defending Identity (2008). It is a moving story of emancipation and connection, of freedom and meaning.
Sharansky was born in 1948 in the Ukrainian city of Stalino. His given name was Anatoly. His parents were educated professionals who downplayed their Jewish identity. They did not want to risk political and social reprisal. “The only real Jewish experience I had was facing anti-Semitism,” he writes. The precocious youth spent his early years playing chess. He learned to navigate a Soviet system that maintained its rule through fear. He became captive to doublethink. He repeated official lies and myths not because it was the right thing to do, but because it was the safe thing to do.
Sharansky enrolled in the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. “I dived into the republic of science,” he writes. “This world seemed insulated from the doublethink I had mastered at home.” Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War prompted him to discover his heritage. “Realizing how little I knew about this country that so many people were now asking about made me hungry to learn more.”
Sharansky studied representations of Biblical scenes hanging from the walls of Moscow’s galleries. He came across a samizdat copy of Leon Uris’s Exodus, a potboiler historical fiction that describes Israel’s founding. “It drew me into Jewish history, and Israel’s history, through my Russian roots. It helped me see myself as part of the story.”
The following year the Soviet nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov wrote his “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom.” Sakharov argued for freedom of inquiry. He demanded the protection of human rights. “Sakharov was warning that life in a dictatorship offers two choices: either you overcome your fear and stand for truth, or you remain a slave to fear, no matter how fancy your titles, no matter how big your dacha,” Sharansky writes. “Ultimately, I couldn’t escape myself or my conscience.”
Inspired by Sakharov, Sharansky applied for a visa to immigrate to Israel in 1973. He was rejected. He was unable to leave the Soviet Union. That made him a refusenik. “My life as a doublethinker, which I had consciously begun at age five the day Stalin died, was over. The professional world I had built for myself, my castle of science, collapsed instantly. Now, I could say what I thought, do what I said, and say what I did.”
The twin concerns of Sharansky’s life—identity and freedom—became fused. “Democracy—a free life in a free society—is essential because it satisfies a human yearning to choose one’s path, to pursue one’s goals,” he wrote in Defending Identity. “It broadens possibilities and provides opportunity for self-advancement. Identity, a life of commitment, is essential because it satisfies a human longing to become part of something bigger than oneself. It adds layers of meaning to our lives and deepens the human experience.” Freedom offers choice. Identity provides direction.
It would be a while before Sharansky could enjoy his own freedom. By 1975, he was working with Sakharov. The next year he formed the Moscow Helsinki Group to pressure the Soviets to live up to the commitments they had made in basket three of the Helsinki Accords. The KGB arrested him in 1977. “I spent the next nine years in prison and labor camp,” he wrote in Fear No Evil, “mainly on a special disciplinary regime, including more than 400 days in punishment cells, and more than 200 days on hunger strikes.”
In prison he played chess games in his head. “I always won.” He would tease the guards with anti-Soviet jokes. He was not afraid. What could they do—put him in jail? He communicated with his fellow inmates through morse code. They would drain the toilets and speak to one another through pipes. He read Soviet propaganda esoterically, between the lines. He figured out what was actually going on by determining what the authorities had omitted.
Sharansky was in prison when he heard that President Ronald Reagan had called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire.” The year was 1983. Reagan had uttered the famous—and controversial—words in a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals. “It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it,” Sharansky said in a 2004 interview. “For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin’s ‘Great October Bolshevik Revolution’ and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution—Reagan’s Revolution.”
Sharansky and his wife Avital had been apart since her immigration to Israel the day after they married in 1974. Throughout his imprisonment she worked tirelessly on his behalf, and on behalf of other refuseniks and dissidents. She found an ally in Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu. She met with Reagan, who began asking Soviet leaders to release Sharansky. Gorbachev freed him on February 11, 1986. He was reunited with Avital in Frankfurt Airport. They flew to Israel. “‘It was just one long day,’ Avital sighed later that night, in our new home in Jerusalem. ‘I arrived in Israel in the morning. You arrived in the evening. It was just one very, very long day in between.’”
He became Natan. He entered Israeli politics. He helped resettle one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. He opposed the Oslo peace accords. He resigned from Ariel Sharon’s government over the policy of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. His work as an activist was devoted to building what Reagan had described as “the infrastructure of democracy.” Sharansky distinguished between free societies and fear societies. “The structural elements that enable democratic societies to respect human rights—independent courts, the rule of law, a free press, a freely elected government, meaningful opposition parties, not to mention human rights organizations—were all glaringly absent in fear societies,” he wrote in The Case for Democracy (2004).
Sharansky’s career resists summary. It offers lessons in courage, freedom, justice, belonging, and hope. What makes his example especially relevant is his insistence that freedom and identity, liberty and tribe, are not just compatible but codependent. “To have a full, interesting, meaningful life,” he writes in Never Alone, “you have to figure out how to be connected enough to defend your freedom and free enough to protect your identity.” The same puzzle confronts nations. “Benefiting from the best of liberalism and the best of nationalism, together we can champion the joint mission to belong and to be free as both central to human happiness.”
Governments establish the conditions of liberty. But identity must come from below. The most positive and enduring sources of identity are not found in politics. They are located in civil society. The institutions of family, faith, and community tell us who we are, what we want, where we should turn.
People are antecedent to government. And they must remain so, if democracy is to survive. This is the unforgettable teaching of Natan Sharansky, hero and champion of freedom.
This past week in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the Supreme Court re-entered the dangerous minefield at the junction of religious liberty and anti-discrimination. The current dispute arose when Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services announced that it would no longer refer children to Catholic Social Services (CSS) for placement in foster care because CSS refused to consider same-sex couples as potential foster parents. CSS was, however, prepared to accept into its foster care all children regardless of their sexual orientation. After prolonged negotiations with the city failed, CSS sued. It seeks, in the words of the Third Circuit, “an order requiring the city to renew their contractual relationship while permitting it to turn away same-sex couples who wish to be foster parents.” The Third Circuit upheld the position of the city.
Resolving this delicate confrontation requires a return to first principles. Let’s start with the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion, as elaborated in Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith. Alfred Leo Smith, a drug guidance counselor, was denied unemployment benefits after being terminated for consuming peyote, a controlled substance, as part of a religious rite. The court held that his religious beliefs do not “excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the state is free to regulate.” The First Amendment did not require Oregon to accommodate Smith’s religious practice. Any neutral law of general applicability was acceptable, notwithstanding its disparate impact.
Notably, the word exercise is broad enough to cover not only Smith’s use of peyote but also CSS’s adoption policies. Accordingly, under no circumstances should Philadelphia be allowed to pass an ordinance that requires the Catholic Church to ordain women as priests, or to offer family aid services paid from its own funds to same-sex couples. The question in Fulton is whether CSS’s free exercise rights are forfeited when the city supplies public funds and matching services to CSS and the children it puts up for foster care.
The point is contentious. During oral argument, Justice Elena Kagan insisted that Philadelphia has a compelling state interest to eliminate all forms of discrimination against same-sex couples. Stanford professor Jeffrey Fisher, who represented two-nonprofit organizations that sided with the city, made a similar point by insisting that if Philadelphia lost this case, city police officers would be able to refuse to enforce certain laws to protect those same-sex couples just by citing their religious convictions.
Both of these claims miss the central point. The real risk of government abuse arises when the state exercises its exclusive power to enforce the criminal laws. Given that state monopoly power, state actors have a correlative duty to treat all persons equally and therefore are disallowed from bringing personal religious convictions to bear on criminal law enforcement.
The situation, however, is quite different whenever the government grants public funds to organizations to discharge some public purpose. This contest raises tension between a state’s independent regulatory authority and its ability to impose conditions on such grants. It is often incorrectly asserted that the government has extensive freedom of choice when it puts “its” money behind a particular program, such that it can act in an “entrepreneurial” fashion even if it cannot regulate private church conduct. As one observer suggested, “[r]eligious groups typically have little leeway to shape government programs that they object to.”
These oversized claims for state control should be roundly rejected. The government does not have some private stash of cash to dole out on whatever terms and conditions it sees fit. Virtually all of its money comes from taxation, fines, and fees. Those monies are paid into the city by both supporters and opponents of the city’s ban on CSS. Just as it would be wholly inappropriate to exclude non-religious programs from participating in the city’s foster programs, so too is it wholly inappropriate to exclude the religious organizations solely because of their religious beliefs. Excluding either group from the class of recipients while forcing them to make contributions into the common fund creates an illegitimate cross-subsidy from groups without political power to groups with it.
That fundamental fiscal imbalance implicates the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions, which supplies the much-needed counterweight to inappropriate exercises of state monopoly power. The parallel common law rule holds that any public utility or common carrier has, by virtue of its monopoly power, the duty to offer services to all customers on fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory terms. The public law doctrine of unconstitutional conditions applies that principle to the strongly entrenched and indisputable state monopoly powers of regulation and taxation. But the state should have no power to regulate parties in competitive industries, where there are many alternative sources of supply. Accordingly, the state cannot license private Catholic hospitals only if they are willing to perform abortions at will, which can be done at many other facilities.
Similarly, whether the issue regards dispensing cash or using public facilities, the state cannot use its monopoly power to impose viewpoint conditions on public grants. Thus, no one thinks (I hope) that the city of Philadelphia can use its power to prevent CSS or its foster parents from using city streets to render their services unless they accept same-sex couples for foster care. The basic test is whether the condition that the city government wants to impose is designed to improve the overall efficiency of public services, or if the condition is instead intended to serve as a form of viewpoint discrimination. Thus, the city can require all vehicles that CSS uses on public roads to meet the uniform standards of vehicular inspection, but it cannot condition CSS’s use of vehicles on the alteration of its religious beliefs and practices.
It is painfully clear that the state cannot identify any efficiency justification for excluding CSS from its foster care program. The city operates a useful platform that brings together parents and other guardians with children in need of foster care through a wide array of organizations. The more choices on both sides of the platform, the better the system. We know that CSS increases the supply of foster care, which reduces the risk of shortages of foster placements. It also allows many parents or guardians seeking a Catholic family to obtain their first choice of foster parents. In oral argument, Justice Samuel Alito noted that CSS has never had to turn down an applicant for foster care who desired to place a child with a same-sex couple. Instead, CSS acted a liaison with other groups to secure those children with a satisfactory placement. Why should anyone oppose a system that leaves everyone better off, simply because one provider among many insists on adhering to its deeply held religious beliefs? There is no interest, let alone a compelling state interest, to undermine a matching program that has worked well for decades.
Fulton follows on the heels of the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which threw out a set of penalties that the Colorado Commission imposed on Jack Phillips, a devout Christian who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple on religious grounds. In a most unsatisfactory opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy chastised the commission only for its boorish behavior, not its substantive actions. Thus in the present case, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit had an easy hook on which to uphold the city, which acted with proper professional candor in dealing with CSS, unlike its Coloradan counterpart. But the ultimate issue in both cases is not about manners. It is about the abuse of monopoly power (exercised with civility or otherwise).
Masterpiece offers the converse situation to Fulton. In Masterpiece, a competitive market eliminated the need for Colorado to force any merchant to take on any customer, given that a host of merchants were eager for the same-sex couple’s business. But in Fulton, the state’s monopoly position requires it to apply the nondiscrimination rule for the benefit of CSS. In their effort to counter this contention, both Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan argued that allowing for discrimination against same-sex couples might open the way to allowing discrimination on the grounds of race. In my 1992 book Forbidden Grounds,I argued that private parties have the right to engage in any form of discrimination in private competitive markets, including discrimination by race—in part because that principle provides a clean justification for private affirmative action programs. But even if that argument is rejected emphatically for public institutions, recall Justice William Brennan’s 1984 opinion in Roberts v. United States Jaycees, which upheld Minnesota’s antidiscrimination law as applied to a large public club, only to insist “that choices to enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships must be secured against undue intrusion by the state.”
The foster care arrangements fall into just this category. This implies that CSS, like all other qualified agencies, may choose foster parents on whatever grounds it wants, race and religion included. The expectation is that the Supreme Court will reverse the Third Circuit. Hopefully, it will also overrule Smith.
With the anniversary of our independence from Britain just around the corner, the social strife now appearing ubiquitously on social media has many of us questioning what is happening to America. From those whose lineage goes back to the original European settlers to those who earned their citizenship in just the last few years, we’re wondering, some of us, if the nation as we’ve known it can survive.
It can—and it will. We’ve been through worse and come out the better for it. We are not perfect and never have been. We are, however, still what Lincoln called “the last, best hope of earth.”
Are there inequities? Sure, just as there are in any country. Here we have freedoms guaranteed to us by our Founding documents that allow us wide latitude—some would say too wide, these days—to express our concerns about our leaders and about the policies that shape the nation. This is not the case in China, Somalia, Cuba, Venezuela or any of the other dictatorships that many of the young Americans now protesting only know as dots on a globe or listings on Wikipedia. Yet few of them, given the chance, would swap our system of government, the rights we enjoy and the economic realities of living in those countries for life in the United States.
Some are nonetheless cheering on those who’ve chosen violence. Most of us still abhor the rioting and looting and the assaults and murders of police officers and others seeking to keep the peace. We can see no justification for it, no matter how serious the perceived injury might be. That speaks well of the majority. We are not yet the kind of animals those who would bring the entire system crashing down, though some would like to get us there on the fast train.Ads by scrollerads.com
Some of them believe, and they’ve made this abundantly clear, that the social contract has been broken. That the government we have now lacks the consent of the governed and, according to Locke and other Enlightenment philosophers, the people have the right to seek a replacement by any means necessary.
They’re within their rights to think that and to proclaim it. To most of us, though, this is nonsense. And it will continue to be nonsense as long as peaceful means remain available to bring about change in government.
Are we perfect? No, and we never have been. Are we better than every other country? Many would say yes but, to be fair, let’s agree that we at least consistently rank in the top ten. Rather than feel we are inexorably stained by our slaveholding past—a past not unique to this country, and a practice that still exists in other parts of the world—and that there is no way to overcome it, let us celebrate how far we have come. As Independence Day approaches, let us remember how America has consistently led the world, how we have been a haven for the oppressed, how our sons and daughters have given life and limb in the fight against tyranny in many parts of the world and how we remain a beacon to those longing for freedom and as close to a true meritocracy as any nation that has ever existed.
America is the place where you can rise above the circumstances of your birth to accomplish and acquire. It is also where you can fall from great heights, sometimes spectacularly, and lose everything. Elites and establishments do exist in just about every walk of life, but they are more open and democratic here than in most other parts of the world. Meanwhile, we have become the place where, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said so many years ago, the sons and daughters of former slaves and former slave owners can meet together over the table of brotherhood.
To some, none of that matters. They want to remake America according to what they feel and follow the dictates of largely ill-considered contemporary truths that have failed as governing principles in the other nations that have tried to implement them. They ignore at their peril the eternal truths expressed and refined through thoughtful debate by the Founders who, while not perfect, should be judged by history and by us for the body of their accomplishments and the sum of their lives. “If men were angels,” James Madison said, “no government would be necessary.”
Well, men are not angels and those who conceived and wrote the governing compacts still in force today should be praised for their vision and for their belief that what “this new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” had to offer, has to offer, and will have to offer in the future. It is superior to what any other nation on earth at the time could do. Lincoln Steffens was wrong. The future did not work.
Life. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. The American story is just as much about the ongoing struggle to secure these for everyone, generation after generation, as it is about anything else. Some things have come easier than have others. The struggle endures but shall not end until those objectives have been achieved. Freedom is the aim and always, God willing, shall be.
A professor claims religious people are afraid of atheists and Democrats because they're projecting ignorance and hatred. Maybe instead religious people just follow the news.
“White evangelicals fear atheists and Democrats would strip away their rights. Why?” asks a recent op-ed in the Washington Post. The op-ed author, Paul A. Djupe, a professor at Denison University and scholar with the Public Religion Research Institute, offered two completely out-of-touch reasons.
The first is “because that’s what they’re hearing, quite explicitly, from conservative media, religious elites, partisan commentators and some politicians, including the president.” The second is an “inverted golden rule,” meaning white evangelical Protestants “express low levels of tolerance for atheists, which leads them to expect intolerance from atheists in return.”
It’s not about projection or an authoritarian impulse. Religious conservaties worry atheists and Democrats will strip their rights because they have repeatedly witnessed attempts, typically by Democrats, to strip them of their religious liberties.
Examples of Democrats’ attempts to gut religious liberties abound. Perhaps the most high-profile example was the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) federal mandate in 2011, as part of the Affordable Care Act, mandating that certain employers provide all FDA-approved contraceptives, including abortifacients, in their health insurance plans. The narrow religious exemption did not include religious nonprofits such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns that manages homes for the elderly poor across America, nor businesses such as Hobby Lobby.
A district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled against the Little Sisters of the Poor, and it was only in 2016 before the U.S. Supreme Court that the liberties of the religious order were secured. Hobby Lobby won in a separate 2014 case.
This is hardly the only recent example. Over the last decade and a half, a number of jurisdictions, including the state of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have targeted Christian adoption agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex or unmarried couples. Many of these adoption agencies have since closed.
The pro-choice organization NARAL, a prominent supporter of Democratic candidates, opposes conscience laws that allow medical practitioners to exempt themselves from activities that violate their religious beliefs, such as abortion or euthanasia.
Several Democratic presidential candidates have declared their support for legislation that would prohibit employers — including Christian schools or organizations — from maintaining rules about their employees’ sexual behavior. When the media reported that Vice President Mike Pence’s wife Karen had taken a position at an evangelical Virginia school that prohibits employees and students from homosexual behavior, left-leaning secular media ruthlessly attacked her. A cake baker in suburban Denver, despite the U.S. Supreme Court upholding his religious liberty in 2018, is still facing harassment by the state of Colorado.
Federal law still prohibits employers discriminating based on a person’s religious beliefs or affiliation, but conservative Christians can read between the lines. If city, county, and state governments are willing to target people for their “bigoted” beliefs, and if left-leaning judges seem increasingly willing to rule against religious liberty, it’s hard to imagine governments will be objective, neutral arbiters in their hiring practices toward religious conservatives.
Much the same can be said regarding many of our nation’s education institutions. If a university either explicitly promotes or willfully ignores leftist activism that seeks to silence opposing viewpoints — such as Middlebury College’s treatment of Polish academic, politician, and devout Catholic Ryszard Legutko — it’s fair to assume such institutions will not be hiring anyone who reminds them of Legutko. We’d be foolish to think this doesn’t also apply to woke companies.
Djupe’s research polled a cross-section of American society, more than 2,500 people, which included a variety of religious and political beliefs. Respondents were asked whether certain selected groups should be permitted to exercise various liberties, such as giving speeches in the community, teaching in public schools, or running for public office.
As evidence of tolerance among atheists and Democrats, Djupe and fellow researcher and political scientist Ryan Burge discovered that 65 percent of atheists and 53 percent of Democrats who named Christian fundamentalists their least-liked group were willing to allow them to engage in three or more of these activities. This, Djupe notes, is a higher proportion with tolerance than the overall sample and a higher proportion than white evangelicals. Ergo, Djupe and Burge conclude evangelicals fear atheists and Democrats not because these groups intend to restrict their rights, but because religious conservatives aim to do this to their political enemies.
Perhaps, though, restrictions on conservative Christians giving speeches, teaching in public schools, or running for public office are not theoretical. Across the United States over the last generation, real-life people of faith have suffered the infringement of their religious freedom. Whether or not those doing the infringing are atheists is unclear, but they are almost always on the political left.
This is why white evangelicals are afraid Democrats will attack their religious liberty — because they already have been for years. It also largely explains why this same demographic remains electorally wedded to Republicans, including President Donald Trump.
Notice that in almost all the above examples, it has been the judicial branch slowing the tide of anti-religious liberty initiatives. This has been the case even when activist judges at one level are overruled by more conservative judges at a higher level of the court system.
Trump is appointing right-leaning federal judges at rapid rates. Thus far, he has appointed 50 judges to circuit court benches, double what President Barack Obama had achieved at this point in his first term. Judges, many religious conservatives wager, may be one of the most effective means of safeguarding religious liberty.
None of this is news. Conservatives, and certainly religious conservatives, have been talking for generations about the need for a conservative judiciary to prevent attacks on America’s most treasured freedoms. That liberal mainstream media and secular academia are allied in deflecting attention from this truth in favor of research aimed at maligning religious conservatives demonstrates how out of touch they remain. Who says they learned something after the 2016 presidential election?
As part of its ambitious “1619” inquiry into the legacy of slavery, The New York Times revives false 19th century revisionist history about the American founding.
Across the map of the United States, the borders of Tennessee, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona draw a distinct line. It’s the 36º30′ line, a remnant of the boundary between free and slave states drawn in 1820. It is a scar across the belly of America, and a vivid symbol of the ways in which slavery still touches nearly every facet of American history.
That pervasive legacy is the subject of a series of articles in The New York Times titled “The 1619 Project.” To cover the history of slavery and its modern effects is certainly a worthy goal, and much of the Project achieves that goal effectively. Khalil Gibran Muhammad’s portrait of the Louisiana sugar industry, for instance, vividly covers a region that its victims considered the worst of all of slavery’s forms. Even better is Nikole Hannah-Jones’s celebration of black-led political movements. She is certainly correct that “without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different” and “might not be a democracy at all.”
Where the 1619 articles go wrong is in a persistent and off-key theme: an effort to prove that slavery “is the country’s very origin,” that slavery is the source of “nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional,” and that, in Hannah-Jones’s words, the founders “used” “racist ideology” “at the nation’s founding.” In this, the Times steps beyond history and into political polemic—one based on a falsehood and that in an essential way, repudiates the work of countless people of all races, including those Hannah-Jones celebrates, who have believed that what makes America “exceptional” is the proposition that all men are created equal.
For one thing, the idea that, in Hannah-Jones’ words, the “white men” who wrote the Declaration of Independence “did not believe” its words applied to black people is simply false. John Adams, James Madison, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others said at the time that the doctrine of equality rendered slavery anathema. True, Jefferson also wrote the infamous passages suggesting that “the blacks…are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind,” but he thought even that was irrelevant to the question of slavery’s immorality. “Whatever be their degree of talent,” Jefferson wrote, “it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others.”
The myth that America was premised on slavery took off in the 1830s, not the 1770s. That was when John C. Calhoun, Alexander Stephens, George Fitzhugh, and others offered a new vision of America—one that either disregarded the facts of history to portray the founders as white supremacists, or denounced them for not being so. Relatively moderate figures such as Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas twisted the language of the Declaration to say that the phrase “all men are created equal” actually meant only white men. Abraham Lincoln effectively refuted that in his debates with Douglas. Calhoun was, in a sense, more honest about his abhorrent views; he scorned the Declaration precisely because it made no color distinctions. “There is not a word of truth in it,” wrote Calhoun. People are “in no sense…either free or equal.” Indiana Sen. John Pettit was even more succinct. The Declaration, he said, was “a self-evident lie.”
It was these men—the generation after the founding—who manufactured the myth of American white supremacy. They did so against the opposition of such figures as Lincoln, Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglass, and John Quincy Adams. “From the day of the declaration of independence,” wrote Adams, the “wise rulers of the land” had counseled “to repair the injustice” of slavery, not perpetuate it. “Universal emancipation was the lesson which they had urged upon their contemporaries, and held forth as transcendent and irremissible [sic] duties to their children of the present age.” These opponents of the new white supremacist myth were hardly fringe figures. Lincoln and Douglass were national leaders backed by millions who agreed with their opposition to the white supremacist lie. Adams was a former president. Sumner was nearly assassinated in the Senate for opposing white supremacy. Yet their work is never discussed in the Times articles.
In 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney sought to make the myth into the law of the land by asserting in Scott v. Sandford that the United States was created as, and could only ever be, a nation for whites. “The right of property in a slave,” he declared, “is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.” This was false: the Constitution contains no legal protection for slavery, and doesn’t even use the word. Both Lincoln and Douglass answered Taney by citing the historical record as well as the text of the laws: the founders had called slavery both evil and inconsistent with their principles; they forbade the slave trade and tried to ban it in the territories; nothing in the Declaration or the Constitution established a color line; in fact, when the Constitution was ratified, black Americans were citizens in several states and could even vote. The founders deserved blame for not doing more, but the idea that they were white supremacists, said Douglass, was “a slander upon their memory.”
Lincoln provided the most thorough refutation. There was only one piece of evidence, he observed, ever offered to support the thesis that the Declaration’s authors didn’t mean “all men” when they wrote it: that was the fact that they did not free the slaves on July 4, 1776. Yet there were many other explanations for that which did not prove the Declaration was a lie. Most obviously, some founders may simply have been hypocrites. But that individual failing did not prove that the Declaration excluded non-whites, or that the Constitution guaranteed slavery.
Even some abolitionists embraced the white supremacy legend. William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution because he believed it protected slavery. This, Douglass replied, was false both legally and factually: those who claimed it was pro-slavery had the burden of proof—yet they never offered any. The Constitution’s wording gave it no guarantees and provided plentiful means for abolishing it. In fact, none of its words would have to be changed for Congress to eliminate slavery overnight. It was slavery’s defenders, he argued, not its enemies, who should fear the Constitution—and secession proved him right. Slaveocrats had realized that the Constitution was, in Douglass’s words, “a glorious liberty document,” and they wanted out.
Still, after the war, “Lost Cause” historians rehabilitated the Confederate vision, claiming the Constitution was a racist document, so that the legend remains today. The United States, writes Hannah-Jones, “was founded…as a slavocracy,” and the Constitution “preserved and protected slavery.” This is once more asserted as an uncontroverted fact—and Lincoln’s and Douglass’s refutations of it go unmentioned in the Times.
No doubt Taney would be delighted at this acceptance of his thesis. What accounts for it? The myth of a white supremacist founding has always served the emotional needs of many people. For racists, it offers a rationalization for hatred. For others, it offers a vision of the founders as arch-villains. Some find it comforting to believe that an evil as colossal as slavery could only be manufactured by diabolically perfect men rather than by quotidian politics and the banality of evil. For still others, it provides a new fable of the fall from Eden, attractive because it implies the possibility of a single act of redemption. If evil entered the world at a single time, by a conscious act, maybe it could be reversed by one conscious revolution.
The reality is more complex, more dreadful, and, in some ways, more glorious. After all, slavery was abolished, segregation was overturned, and the struggle today is carried on by people ultimately driven by their commitment to the principle that all men are created equal—the principle articulated at the nation’s birth. It was precisely because millions of Americans have never bought the notion that America was built as a slavocracy—and have had historical grounds for that denial—that they were willing to lay their lives on the line, not only in the 1860s but ever since, to make good on the promissory note of the Declaration.
Their efforts raise the question of what counts as the historical “truth” about the American Dream. A nation’s history, after all, occupies a realm between fact and moral commitments. Like a marriage, a constitution, or an ethical concept like “blame,” it encompasses both what actually happened and the philosophical question of what those happenings mean. Slavery certainly happened—but so, too, did the abolitionist movement and the ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. The authors of those amendments viewed them not as changing the Constitution, but as rescuing it from Taney and other mythmakers who had tried to pervert it into a white supremacist document.
In fact, it would be more accurate to say that what makes America unique isn’t slavery but the effort to abolish it. Slavery is among the oldest and most ubiquitous of all human institutions; as the Times series’ title indicates, American slavery predated the American Revolution by a century and a half. What’s unique about America is that it alone announced at birth the principle that all men are created equal—and that its people have struggled to realize that principle since then. As a result of their efforts, the Constitution today has much more to do with what happened in 1865 than in 1776, let alone 1619. Nothing could be more worthwhile than learning slavery’s history, and remembering its victims and vanquishers. But to claim that America’s essence is white supremacy is to swallow slavery’s fatal lie.
As usual, Lincoln said it best. When the founders wrote of equality, he explained, they knew they had “no power to confer such a boon” at that instant. But that was not their purpose. Instead, they “set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere.” That constant labor, in the generations that followed, is the true source of “nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.”
By Madeline Osburn • The Federalist
On Saturday, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley addressed the class of 2019 at The King’s College in New York, where he called on the graduates to reject the Pelagian worldview that dominates our public way of life.
Hawley, who has also recently questioned the uses of social media and railed against Facebook for data and privacy violations, noted that Pelagius was loved by the wealthy, educated aristocrats of Rome, “because he validated their position and their power.” He called out the elites of Wall Street and Silicon Valley in his commencement address for the same Pelagian love of hierarchy enforced on Americans today.
Pelagius was a British monk and a moralist who rejected Saint Augustine’s views on sin and grace for a different view of human freedom and prosperity, in which freedom was earned. Hawley discussed how the elites of American society implement a Pelagian worldview, and ultimately threaten freedom for all humans.
A society that is divided by class, where one class has all the advantages, is a society gripped by hierarchy. It is also a society defined by elitism. Of course, our elites don’t use that word. They say their privileged position comes from merit and achievement. They point to their SAT scores and prestigious degrees. They talk about economic efficiency.
How Pelagian of them.
The truth is, the people at the top of our society have built a culture, and an economy, that work mainly for themselves. Our cultural elites look down on the plain virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice. Things like humility and faithfulness. They celebrate self-promotion, self-discovery, self-aggrandizement. Self. Self. Self.
And then when industry shifts jobs overseas they say, well, workers should find another trade. I mean, capital must be allocated to its most efficient use.
When workers without college degrees can’t get a good job, they say, that’s their fault – they should’ve gone to college.
Now, I rather suspect – it’s just a hunch – that if globalization threatened America’s tech industry or it’s, say, banking sector, that we would hear a different tune. I slightly suspect we would hear that these industries are the lifeblood of the American economy and must be defended at all costs. And that’s just my point. The elites assume that their interests are vital, while everyone else’s can be done without. They assume their value preferences should prevail, while denigrating the loves and loyalties of the great middle of America. That’s the nature of elitism. And at the end of the day, this hierarchy, and this elitism, threaten our common liberty. For the steady erosion of working-class jobs and working-class life for millions of Americans means losing respect, it means losing their voice, it means losing their standing as citizens in this nation.
Our Pelagian public philosophy says liberty is all about choosing your own ends. That turns out to be a philosophy for the privileged and for the few. For everybody else, for those who cannot build an identity around what they buy, for those whose life is anchored in family, and home, and nation, for those who actually want to participate in our democracy, today’s Pelagianism robs them of the liberty that is rightfully theirs. And we cannot afford to let it to happen any longer. The age of Pelagius must end.
When I entered Congress, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and I have followed through on that promise. The political elites of both parties don’t like what I’m doing. They have a vision of government that is very different from the vision laid out in the Constitution. As the elites see it, the American people are their subjects, and a benevolent privileged few—standing above the law—must watch over the rest of society.
History and logic show us that no matter how “good” the leaders are, unrestrained government invites corruption and cronyism. On the whole, government power always benefits the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of others. Some of the reasons are just common sense. It costs a lot of money to lobby Washington. Even the best-intentioned government official cannot sort out what’s right when he spends most of his time hobnobbing with one percent of society.
Wherever government power has proliferated, societies have become poorer, crueler, and less productive. The extreme examples are found in Communist states, but we need not look that far. Europe is wracked by economic chaos and civil strife because decades of big government bred dependence, resentment, and division among its peoples. In my own state of Michigan, bankrupt Detroit is a victim of the corruption and failed incentives that accompany too much government. Continue reading
Hello, my name is Elbert Lee Guillory, and I’m the senator for the twenty-fourth district right here in beautiful Louisiana. Recently I made what many are referring to as a ‘bold decision’ to switch my party affiliation to the Republican Party. I wanted to take a moment to explain why I became a Republican, and also to explain why I don’t think it was a bold decision at all. It is the right decision — not only for me — but for all my brothers and sisters in the black community.
You see, in recent history the Democrat Party has created the illusion that their agenda and their policies are what’s best for black people. Somehow it’s been forgotten that the Republican Party was founded in 1854 as an abolitionist movement with one simple creed: that slavery is a violation of the rights of man.
Frederick Douglass called Republicans the ‘Party of freedom and progress,’ and the first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was the Republicans in Congress who authored the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments giving former slaves citizenship, voting rights, and due process of law. Continue reading