Notes and Comment Blog

Based on Biblical principles

Jul 5th, 2014 6:14 pm | By

There’s a thing, or at least a website, called Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Who knows, maybe it is just a website, with no actual members at all. Anyone can set up a website and call herself an Association of something or other, provided (I assume) she doesn’t steal the name.

Anyway this Christian Medical & Dental Associations has a Moral Complicity with Evil Ethics Statement. It defines its terms right at the beginning, in the first paragraph.

Moral complicity with evil is culpable association with or participation in wrongful acts. Evil is defined as anything immoral or wrong based on Biblical principles. Questions about moral complicity with evil can arise in regard to an individual’s relationship to or involvement with past, present or future evil.

That’s it. That’s the terms defined. They go on to say we shouldn’t do evil, and to quote some bible verses saying the same thing, but that’s all you get by way of defining terms. It’s a little…thin. Evil is defined as anything immoral or wrong based on Biblical principles, ok, but which principles? The one about dashing the infants’ heads against the wall for instance? They don’t say. I guess it’s just whatever the individual decides it is on any given day.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Vatican, Exorcism and Witch hunting in Africa

Jul 5th, 2014 5:40 pm | By

Guest post by Leo Igwe

The recent approval by Pope Francis of the practice of exorcism has dealt a heavy blow to efforts to combat witch hunting in Africa.

At a time when the UN and the international community are exploring ways of tackling horrific abuses related to belief in witchcraft, the papal recognition of the association of exorcists comprising 250 priests in 30 countries is a huge setback. It dims the prospects of making witch-hunting history in Africa. In fact, the Vatican’s approval of exorcism will end up legitimizing this abusive process. Going by the current trend in witch persecution, the region is going to experience more witch hunts, not less.

This is because millions of Africans are Catholic. They look to the Vatican for guidance in the practice of their faith. This means the decision by the pope to recognise exorcism sends very disturbing signals. Many Africans will interpret this development to mean an endorsement of witch hunting because witch hunting is believed to be a form of exorcism.

Witchcraft is part of the demonological narratives in Africa. And most African Catholics claim that witchcraft is a form of evil spirit that can be expelled by priests or pastors.

The Catholic church has not really been at the forefront of the witch craze in Africa.

Though the church has always maintained the belief in the devil and the practice of exorcism, the Vatican has not come out expressly this way to endorse the process of expelling the devil. European missionaries who introduced christianity to Africa did not put much emphasis on the devil or exorcism. They focused mainly on building schools and hospitals as tools of evangelization.

But the fact is that the position of the Catholic church in Africa on witchcraft and exorcism has been ambivalent. Many churches have appropriated charismatic forms of christianity in order to halt the loss of members to Pentecostal churches. Some ‘charismatic’ Catholics priests ‘unofficially’ practice exorcism.

But the Pentecostal churches are the ones mainly in the business of preaching about the devil, deliverance and the witch hunting campaign. Pentecostal churches have appropriated the witchcraft narratives into their ministries. They preach that witches exist; that witches are demons that can possess people; and that people possessed by the demon of witchcraft can be delivered or exorcised. Pentecostal pastors are the modern day witch hunters.

But with this new development at the Vatican, things are going to change. Catholic churches in Africa will now be officially joining the witch-finding ministry. We should expect to see many churches across the region becoming witch hunting centers. Witch-hunting catholic priests, who have been practicing on the margins, will be mainstreamed. And this will surely be an unfortunate development for the cause of enlightenment in Africa and the world.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

They can’t be trusted

Jul 5th, 2014 5:35 pm | By

Exactly. David Ropeik writes today July 5 at Psychology Today that the theocratic Supremes can’t be trusted, because they’re dishonest. Yes they are.

…more and more, trust in the most important part of that system, one of the basic foundations on which this great nation rests, is being eroded. The U.S. Supreme Court is supposed to be the final neutral arbiter of what is and what is not legal, but more and more the 5 person conservative majority on the court is undermining trust in the nation’s highest court, and ultimately the very fairness of how America works, by appearing to decide cases based on their personal ideology rather than an objective consideration of the law.

Just Thursday, and to little notice compared to the high profile ruling earlier in the week in the Hobby Lobby case, the court seemed to say that non-profit institutions have the right to impose their religious views on their employees, specifically in this case Christian opposition to contraception and abortion. (Read the ruling itself here.) There is one big and SCARY difference between this ruling and Hobby Lobby, and it raises serious questions about whether the conservative majority is honestly following the law, or dishonestly finding ways to impose their personal ideology on how America works.

Yes, and that’s not even all. They lied in the Hobby Lobby ruling itself, saying it was a narrow ruling and then the next day throwing it wide open.

This is far more corrosive to trust in the Supreme Court than the fight over contraception, or abortion, or whether you are a conservative or a liberal and like or dislike any of the Court’s specific decisions. This is about the honesty of the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, and therefore trust in this important institution. The court used one line of thinking in one ruling, and then tossed it out in the next, allowing the majority to move toward more conservative values. Don’t take it from me that this is about the fundamental issue of honesty. Take it from three of the Court’s Justices themselves! In a remarkable and scathing dissent, the three women on the court, Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Ginsburg said:

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today,” Sotomayor wrote. “After expressly relying on the availability of the religious-nonprofit accommodation to hold that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] as applied to closely held for-profit corporations, the Court now, as the dissent in Hobby Lobby feared it might, retreats from that position.”

There’s also the fact that all five of them are men, and all five of them are Catholics. They’re basically channeling the Vatican. Yes, I think that’s dishonest, and unconstitutional.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Requiring that we become complicit in evil

Jul 5th, 2014 4:48 pm | By

Let’s go back to February 2012 for a sample of the rhetoric used by the Catholic theocrats to demand special exemptions from ordinary secular laws. A Catholic priest at the top of Human Life International made a statement.

We at Human Life International stand with the Catholic bishops and a diverse group of organizations and individuals in rejecting the false compromise offered by the Obama administration in an apparent attempt to gain wider acceptance of the mandate that requires free coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortion inducing drugs.

Having closely examined all available information on the compromise, we are appalled at the cynicism displayed by both its content and the means by which it was announced. The original unjust mandate required that conscientious objectors to this policy would be forced to pay for insurance that will cover morally abhorrent ‘care.’

With the so-called compromise we are still forced to pay for insurance that covers procedures and drugs that directly contradict our religious beliefs. The compromise is a distinction without a difference and merely an accounting trick that does nothing to change the fact that we will have to pay for chemical abortions, sterilizations and contraception for any employee.

The phrase “that directly contradict our religious beliefs” is the core of their case, and it’s meaningless. It’s empty. It’s so arbitrary that it could apply to anything. Forcing everyone to defer to it and be harmed by it is sheer bullying.

If their “religious beliefs” tell them that contraceptives are evil, then their religious beliefs are terrible things, which should have no purchase whatsoever on public life.

The Obama administration’s verbal engineering is an egregious and blatant attempt to divide certain Catholic organizations from others and from the bishops, all in an effort to secure even the thinnest possible façade of Catholic approval. Sadly, the administration has found prominent organizations to be complicit in this calculated move. It should be noted that though the bishops were not consulted on this compromise, it appears that Catholic Health Association (CHA) and Catholic Charities USA were consulted and their agreement secured before the bishops even had an opportunity to examine the proposal. The Obama administration’s proposal was clearly not an attempt at good faith dialogue and genuine compromise.

The apparent agreement between the Obama administration, CHA, Catholic Charities and Planned Parenthood is utterly untenable from a Catholic point of view, requiring that we become complicit in evil.

Except that there is no evil here, the “evil” is invented, it’s manufactured, it’s worked up for the purpose of religious vanity and privilege-enhancement.

It appears that the stalwart unified voice of bishops, laity, Catholics and all citizens of good will compelled the administration to offer this weak, symbolic compromise because of questions about what the mandate meant for President Obama’s reelection campaign. We have seen clearly the ideological goals this administration is pushing with this unjust mandate. We can only imagine what will be inflicted on Catholics and on all Americans should the president win reelection and not have to worry about currying favor with Catholics.

It’s the Catholics who are doing the inflicting.

Under the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’), the HHS has entirely too much unchecked power over health care in the United States, and given their history of disregard for both religious liberty and human life, we have no confidence that the federal government can be trusted to administer health care that respects the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death. Not only do we support legislation currently being considered in Congress to ensure clear and strong protection for freedom of religion and conscience, but we also call upon our political leaders to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety so that it may be replaced by a system in which human life and dignity, and the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, are secured.

Really? Do these people have anything to say about the for-profit health care system that chews people up and spits them out? What’s that got to do with “the dignity of every human person”? Do these people have anything to say about harsh sentencing laws, proliferating prisons, low wages, dangerous working conditions? Do they pay any attention to human beings after the fetal stage?

This compromise offered by President Obama demands that we compromise our religious beliefs and our commitment to the health and life of women and children while they compromise nothing. We at Human Life International stand with our Bishops and call upon the administration to honor the freedom endowed by God and honored by our nation’s Bill of Rights. We will render unto Caesar only that which belongs to him and not what belongs to God.

Talk about being complicit with evil…


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Oh, the part about limited scope? Just kidding.

Jul 5th, 2014 4:18 pm | By

Here’s a piece of news I missed, despite (I thought) paying close attention:

Less than a day after the United States Supreme Court issued its divisive ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, it has already begun to toss aside the supposedly narrow interpretation of the decision. On Tuesday, the Supremes ordered lower courts to rehear any cases where companies had sought to deny coverage for any type of contraception, not just the specific types Hobby Lobby was opposed to.

I’m dumbfounded. They really are opening the door to letting godbotherers do everything they can to impede women’s access to contraception, including getting extra special gift-wrapped gold-plated exemptions from ordinary laws that apply to everyone else.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the the 5-4 opinion, used numerous qualifiers in an attempt to limit its scope, but a series of orders released by the court Tuesday contradict any narrow interpretation of the ruling.

So Alito (and the others) must have been lying, yes? They didn’t change their minds overnight, after making the ruling public…so they must have lied about limiting its scope.

The court vacated two decisions by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit—Autocam Corp. v. Burwell and Eden Foods v. Burwell—and commanded the appeals court to rehear the cases in light of the Hobby Lobby decision. In both instances the Sixth Circuit had rejected requests from Catholic-owned businesses that sought to exempt the companies from offering insurance that covered any of the 20 mandated forms of birth control. The Supreme Court also compelled the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reopen a similar case, Gilardi v. Department of Health & Human Services. “With Tuesday’s orders,” wrote The Nation‘s Zoë Carpenter, “the conservative majority has effectively endorsed the idea that religious objections to insurance that covers any form of preventative healthcare for women have merit.”

Can we secede?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

A helps B to accomplish an external act by an act that is not sinful

Jul 5th, 2014 11:53 am | By

Another article by Leslie Griffin on the Supremes and Catholic moral theology. There’s some overlap with the article I posted about yesterday.

I never expected to see Father Henry Davis’s Moral and Pastoral Theology (1935) cited in a Supreme Court opinion.

But there it was in footnote 34 of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, in which the Court ruled that two non-Catholic families, the Greens and the Hahns, were not required to comply with the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Father Davis was an English Jesuit and famous moral theologian who died in 1952 at age 85. The string cite quotes Father Davis’s text as follows: “Cooperation occurs ‘when A helps B to accomplish an external act by an act that is not sinful, and without approving of what B does.’”

Not “sinful.” That’s a concept that has no place in a Supreme Court ruling, because it’s purely religious. The justices have no business trying to define what’s “sinful” for us, much less allowing the Catholic church to impose its views on the matter on all of us.

Catholicism has a warped and impoverished idea of what morality is, what we owe to each other, what matters and what doesn’t. It has done terrible things itself, and still fails to apologize for them. It still does terrible things right now. It’s morally bad, and not any kind of model.

Davis was one of the best practitioners of the old art of the Catholic moral manual, books that were usually written by priests for other priests. The manuals presented illustrative “cases of conscience,” so that priests could give moral guidance to Catholics as well as learn to assess what was sinful in the confessional. Davis was particularly incisive in writing about the principles of formal and material cooperation with evil. Many of his cases centered on medical ethical questions of cooperation with “evil” procedures and employees’ participation in “evil” actions commanded by an employer.

So, not in any way appropriate for a Supreme Court ruling.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

They objected to filling out a one-page form

Jul 5th, 2014 10:57 am | By

In January, the columnist Jamie Stiehm wrote in US News & World Report:

Et tu, Justice Sonia Sotomayor? Really, we can’t trust you on women’s health and human rights? The lady from the Bronx just dropped the ball on American women and girls as surely as she did the sparkling ball at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Or maybe she’s just a good Catholic girl.

The Supreme Court is now best understood as the Extreme Court. One big reason why is that six out of nine Justices are Catholic. Let’s be forthright about that. (The other three are Jewish.) Sotomayor, appointed by President Obama, is a Catholic who put her religion ahead of her jurisprudence. What a surprise, but that is no small thing.

In a stay order applying to an appeal by a Colorado nunnery, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Justice Sotomayor undermined the new Affordable Care Act’s sensible policy on contraception. She blocked the most simple of rules – lenient rules – that required the Little Sisters to affirm their religious beliefs against making contraception available to its members. They objected to filling out a one-page form.

She did? That’s odd, since she wrote an opinion objecting to the same thing just a couple of days ago. I’m confused.

Well maybe it’s because the situation is different after the Hobby Lobby ruling. The Washington Post seems to be saying that:

After the Hobby Lobby decision, the court sent back for reconsideration by lower courts cases that involved companies whose owners say their religious beliefs do not allow them to offer any contraceptives.

And the Wheaton College case is one of dozens that object to a compromise the Obama administration has offered to religious organizations, hospitals and ­colleges.

Under this arrangement, the groups are required to fill out a form, EBSA Form 700, to register their religious objections. This enables their insurers or third-party administrators to take on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The organizations do not have to pay for the coverage, and the cost is borne by the government or in other ways.

But some of the colleges and organizations say that signing the form authorizes the third parties to provide the contraceptive coverage, making them complicit in actions that offend their religious beliefs.

Summoning all the lawyers to explain.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Religious Freedom Café

Jul 5th, 2014 10:33 am | By

More from Mrs Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The Vatican-led Supreme Court

Jul 5th, 2014 9:42 am | By

How did we get here?

Wikipedia gives one quick rundown.

Other Catholic justices included Pierce Butler (appointed 1923) and Frank Murphy (appointed 1940). Some accounts note that Sherman Minton, appointed in 1949, was also a Catholic; however, during his time on the Court he was a Protestant, though his wife’s Catholic faith was noted at the time in relation to the notion of a “Catholic seat”.[71] Minton joined his wife’s Catholic faith in 1961, five years after he retired from the Court.[72] Minton was succeeded by a Catholic, however, when President Eisenhower appointed William J. Brennan to that seat. In fact, Eisenhower intently sought to appoint a Catholic to the Court—in part because there had been no Catholic Justice since Murphy’s death in 1949, and in part because Eisenhower was directly lobbied by Cardinal Francis Spellman of the Archdiocese of New York to make such an appointment.[73] Brennan was then the lone Catholic Justice until the appointment of Antonin Scalia in 1986, and Anthony Kennedy in 1988.

Like Sherman Minton, Clarence Thomas was not a Catholic at the time he was appointed to the Court. Thomas was raised Catholic and briefly attended Conception Seminary College, a Roman Catholicseminary,[74] but had joined the Protestant denomination of his wife after their marriage. At some point in the late 1990s, Thomas returned to Catholicism. In 2005, John Roberts became the third Catholic Chief Justice and the fourth Catholic on the Court. Shortly thereafter, Samuel Alito became the fifth on the Court, and the eleventh in the history of the Court. Alito’s appointment gave the Court a Catholic majority for the first time in its history.

And the Vatican’s triumph was complete.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Tenth rate, is it?

Jul 4th, 2014 5:58 pm | By

By way of refreshment – a bit of John Cleese and Michael Palin attempting to argue with Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood the Bishop of Southwark about the merits and blasphemous nature of The Life of Brian. Muggeridge is extraordinarily rude and unpleasant, and Stockwood carries on like a Monty Python character himself.

Michael Palin was here on a book tour about 15 years ago and he gave a talk at a bookstore, with Q&A. During the Q&A he talked about this encounter, and said that it made him uncharacteristically shirty (his word). I can see why – Muggeridge and Stockwood breezily accuse them of lying, just for one thing. They’re poisonous. Dear dear Christianity, so bad for the character.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Never mind what the women think

Jul 4th, 2014 4:33 pm | By

Getting sick of Hobby Lobby? You know how it is – there are some subjects I’ll just keep poking at for days.

Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, has a post at Scotus blog. The NWLC filed an amicus brief in support of the government.

Taking as a given the companies’ sincere religious beliefs that certain forms of contraceptives cause abortions (even though scientifically and medically inaccurate as outlined here), the majority seriously errs by then also taking as a given the companies’ claim that the insurance requirement for their employees imposes a substantial burden.  According to the majority, the burden is substantial because the companies say it is.  The majority undertakes no legal analysis of this burden claim…

Which is the nature of religious claims, isn’t it, and part of what makes them so frustrating and so inappropriate to impose on other people. With secular claims, reasons tend to be forthcoming, and if they’re not people are mostly free to reject them. But with religion it’s just a matter of faith, so what’s the point of undertaking any kind of analysis? But that’s all the more reason not to let the claims prevail.

The majority assumes a compelling interest, thereby not addressing the importance of birth control for women’s health and the course of their life

The next major legal issue in the case also gets short shrift from the majority.  Justice Alito states that he will “assume” that the government’s interest in providing contraceptive coverage to women is compelling.  As Justice Ginsburg notes, “Perhaps the gravity of the interests at stake has led the Court to assume . . . that the compelling interest criterion is met in these cases.”

By assuming rather than addressing the compelling interest, however, the majority avoids an analysis of the impact of birth control on women’s health and lives.  It allows the majority to avoid any mention of how birth control reduces unintended pregnancy and improves women’s health and the health of any children they might have.  It allows the majority to avoid discussion of how birth control treats certain medical conditions women may have and is directly linked to women’s social and economic opportunities.  (Our brief to the Court  explains these benefits in much greater detail.)  As a result, the opinion dealt only with the perspective of the company and not the impact on women.

Because it’s a Catholic perspective and they’re all Catholics (and men) themselves? Because it’s a religious perspective, and they think religious perspectives should get extra deference? Both? Probably both.

Both Justice Alito’s decision and Justice Kennedy’s concurrence emphasize that this decision is limited in its scope, that other health care services such as immunizations or blood transfusions need not be implicated, and that other non-discrimination laws are not necessarily open to the same challenge.  It is cold comfort to women to be assured that only their right to essential contraceptive care will be undermined.  But it is also of little assurance that the majority provides such skimpy legal analysis to bolster the limited nature of its decision.  The short shrift the majority gives to the legal analysis of this assertion underscores the decision’s doctrinal weakness and makes this decision even more of a bitter pill for women to swallow.

The more I read the bitterer the pill gets.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Making them complicit

Jul 4th, 2014 4:09 pm | By

And of course just as everyone predicted, Hobby Lobby is only the beginning. The camel is halfway into the tent already, and there’s a whole long line of camels streaming toward the tent even now.

In a short, unsigned opinion, the court said that Wheaton College in Illinois, at least temporarily, does not have to comply even with compromise provisions in the law that the college says still violate its religious beliefs.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the action cast doubt on the very accommodation the court’s majority seemed to endorse Monday in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which concerned businesses that objected to providing birth control that offends the owners’ beliefs.

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” wrote Sotomayor, who was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. “Not so today.”

She said Thursday’s order “evinces disregard for even the newest of this court’s precedents and undermines confidence in this institution.”


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

If corporations

Jul 4th, 2014 3:27 pm | By

From Mrs. Betty Bowers, America’s Best Christian.

If corporations had to tithe 10% of their income to every religion they claim to follow, they’d quickly petition the Supreme Court to stop calling them people.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Wariness of making a converse error

Jul 4th, 2014 3:06 pm | By

Originally a comment by Seth on It turns out nice people are Nazis!

It’s not true, in general, that ‘nice people are Nazis’. But the converse was true; i.e., the average Nazi was a ‘nice’ and ‘good’ and ‘decent’ person, as measured by the standards of their peers. Upwards of five hundred thousand people (only half of them Germans) were involved in the Holocaust (which rendered extinct approximately twelve million people, about half of them Jewish); by far, the vast majority of these people were ‘just doing their jobs’, being nice and agreeable, attempting to make the world a better place. That was their intent (and the stated intent of every single National Socialist). That is one major reason why intent weighs very little next to consequence; sure, there’s a difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter, but that difference is much smaller than the difference between a convicted criminal and an unconvicted civilian.

Ophelia, I think your objection boils down to wariness of making a converse error; it may well be true that most moral actors are disagreeable people, but that does not logically entail that most disagreeable people are moral actors. This is basic logic, but it is beyond most people, especially those who get their news from their networks of friends and colleagues rather than checking the source material. In short, the results of this experiment may well be sound, but your own concerns are still valid–just because someone’s asocial (or mildly anti-social), it doesn’t necessarily entail that they will effect moral outcomes, even if most of those who do effect moral outcomes turn out to be asocial.

As a generally-irascible anti-authoritarian, I like to put myself in the latter camp…but such requires (at least) honest self-reflection, a working moral theory, and the ability to change one’s mind (and subsequent behaviour). Most people who subscribe to the rule ‘if people are mad, you’re doing something right!’ generally fail on these and other essential criteria, and so they generally fail to be moral actors. They do not negate the results of the experiment, but they do limit its scope, and we would be well to keep in mind the laws of logic before drawing erroneous conclusions from its results.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Bishops and justices working together

Jul 4th, 2014 12:00 pm | By

More brilliant commentary on Hobby Lobby, this from Leslie Griffin, who co-blogs with Marci Hamilton, under the banner

Advocating for religious liberty, women’s rights and children’s rights

By “religious liberty” they don’t mean what The Catholic Five mean.

Today, in an ironic and shrewd decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, five male Catholic Supreme Court Justices aided the project of the U.S. Catholic bishops to impose their opposition to all contraception on all American women. The opinion was ironic: four Justices who previously ruled that Congress lacked the authority to pass the Affordable Care Act required the government to pay for contraceptive services. The decision was shrewd; the Justices promoted contraceptive restrictions in two cases where the plaintiffs (the Green and Hahn families) were not Catholic. Today’s plaintiffs were morally opposed to only 4 of 20 FDA-approved methods of contraception. However, Catholic and other commercial enterprises will now be able, as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in dissent, “to exclude from their group health plans all forms of contraceptives.” With the Court’s help, the bishops moved a step closer to their goal of restricting contraceptive freedom for everyone.

A big step. The bishops must have been wetting themselves with joy all week.

The bishops’ fingerprints are all over the opinion in two ways. First, the taxpayers have to pay for contraceptive insurance for employees of religious for-profits, the Court ruled, because the government had previously decided to accommodate the religious non-profits who objected to contraception. The vociferous lobbying of the American Catholic bishops was the cause of that accommodation.

Second, the Court’s analysis of the “substantial burden” prong of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) is riddled with arguments from Roman Catholic moral theology about cooperation with evil. The bishops could have written that part of the opinion themselves.

That’s all the more disgusting because the bishops are evil. The bishops want women to die rather than have a lifesaving abortion to complete a miscarriage. The bishops order Catholic hospitals and healthcare networks not to provide such abortions. They order their subordinates to commit murder by negligence. They’re evil and they claim to be better than the rest of us.

Justice Alito provided an unconvincing theological response to Ginsburg’s persuasive attenuation argument. The Greens’ and Hahns’ belief that the four contraceptives cause abortion, he wrote, “implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another.” It is not for the Court, he concluded, to determine whether a burden is substantial or insubstantial; that is the moral judgment of the plaintiffs.

Interpreting statutory language like “substantial burden” is precisely what the Court is supposed to do. Instead, Alito invoked a classical Catholic analysis of the principle of cooperation with evil, even (in this case without Catholic plaintiffs) footnoting two books about Roman Catholic moral theology written in 1935 and 1949 by Jesuit priests Henry Davis and Thomas Higgins.

Cooperation with evil is it? Like…Nazism? Sadistic prisons for children of single mothers in Ireland? Sadistic prisons for children of First Nations parents in Canada?

No no no, not that kind of evil. Using contraception kind of evil.

The bishops couldn’t have done any better if they had written that part of the opinion themselves. Their anti-contraceptive theology started in 1930 and has never been updated to reflect American Catholic family and work life. Now, with the Court’s help, Catholic employers will be free to impose their morality on Catholic and non-Catholic employees alike because Justice Alito doesn’t want them to cooperate with the evil of reproductive liberty, which is supposed to be protected by the Constitution.

I’d better stop before I grind all my teeth to powder.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Without meaningful consideration of the impact on their employees

Jul 4th, 2014 10:02 am | By

Marci Hamilton on the Hobby Lobby ruling.

It is simply a fact that five male Catholic Supreme Court Justices have now transformed what is already a bad law into a truly dangerous one, all for the apparent purpose of undermining women’s access to contraception. Whatever the legal reasoning, the optics are very bad on this one, and whether intentionally or not, they stoke the perception that the Justices are in league with the Catholic bishops in the latter’s attempt to turn the clock back on not just Roe v. Wade but also Griswold v. Connecticut, as Leslie Griffin argues here

Oh surely not. Just because they’re all Catholic and…


This is, in fact, a sly opinion that not only delivers free exercise rights to for-profit corporations without meaningful consideration of the impact on their employees but also renders an interpretation of key elements of RFRA that render it a mightier sword than it ever was. RFRA’s ugly underbelly and its pretense to reflect the First Amendment are now in full view. 

Emphasis added. Along with the male bias and the Catholic bias there’s perhaps also the employer class bias. Why is it employers who get to impose their religious beliefs on employees and not the other way around? Why are the employees treated as inert objects that the employers get to push around as they like?

Hamilton wryly thanks the court for being honest about its move to make RFRA even worse than it already was.

We can now rid this debate of those who keep trying to dress this RFRA wolf in sheep’s clothing with statements like, RFRA merely codified what has been “the law for 50 years.” No, this has been the law for a few years, and it has been a bad law that is driving our culture to unprecedented discord and Balkanization. The United States’ successful, long-honored balance between religious freedom and the rule of law was displaced by RFRA, which invites religious adherents to demand a right not only to believe and practice but also to impose their beliefs on others.

And who are those others? We are; all of us. We have met the others and they are us.

This decision reveals RFRA in all its subversive and ugly glory. It empowers the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable. It invites believers to impose their beliefs on others. It is a weapon.

Justice Ginsburg is correct that the majority provided a “decision of startling breadth,” possibly applying to “employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others).”

The tide in favor of RFRA has turned, though, with the progressive groups that supported the religious groups to obtain RFRA’s passage in the first instance awake to RFRA’s inherent dangers. It is heartening to see the likes of the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Planned Parenthood taking a stand against extreme religious liberty. And they are now joined by gay rights groups and children’s advocates who deeply understand the harm that can be done in the name of religion.

RFRA should be repealed before we further test the limits of the insatiable demands for religious liberty at the expense of too many others. 

Well, we can dream.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Vatican gives the nod to exorcists

Jul 4th, 2014 8:52 am | By

The Vatican bounces from triumph to triumph. While its US arm was rejoicing at the Catholic victory handed down by the Supreme Court, the head office was giving a huge boost to the people who hunt and torture “witches”.

Exorcists now have an extra weapon in their fight against evil – the official backing of the Catholic church. The Vatican has formally recognised the International Association of Exorcists, a group of 250 priests in 30 countries who liberate the faithful from demons.

Notice the wording. (That’s the Associated Press saying that, published by the Guardian.) Note the absence of scare-quotes on “evil” and “demons.”

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported this week that the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy had approved the organisation’s statutes and recognised the group under canon law.

More than his predecessors, Pope Francis speaks frequently about the devil, and last year was seen placing his hands on the head of a man supposedly possessed by four demons in what exorcists said was a prayer of liberation from Satan.

The head of the association, the Rev Francesco Bamonte, said the Vatican approval was cause for joy. “Exorcism is a form of charity that benefits those who suffer,” he told L’Osservatore.

Well at least there’s a “supposedly” and a “what exorcists said was” in there.

But the point is – the evil is actually the Vatican’s. Here’s the Vatican endorsing the idea that demons exist and that they represent evil and that they can possess people and that there are exorcists and that exorcists can do something about evil demons. Here’s the Vatican doing this in a world where there are people who torture and murder children and women (and more rarely adult men) they accuse of being witches. Here’s the Vatican encouraging that kind of belief and the actions that go with it.

If you’re looking around for evil, look at the Vatican.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Free to get threats

Jul 3rd, 2014 5:31 pm | By

Mubarak Bala is out of the psych ward he was forced into but he’s not out of danger.

A Nigerian atheist released from a psychiatric unit to which his Muslim family committed him by force has said he is getting death threats for blaspheming against Islam.

Mubarak Bala, a 29-year-old chemical process engineer, said he is in hiding in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria where sharia law holds and some interpretations deem blasphemy punishable by death.

“People are threatening me, I mean life-threatening threats,” he said on Thursday. He said he was too frightened of drawing attention and wouldn’t allow an Associated Press video journalist or photographer to come to his hiding place.

Bala said that since he renounced Islam and declared himself an atheist, he has not only lost the trust of his father and elder brother, but many friends.

“Most of my friends condemn me and tell me I am bound for hell and that in an Islamic state, I would be killed. Blasphemy is a serious thing here,” said Bala, who describes himself on his Twitter page as an ex-Muslim.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Be safe

Jul 3rd, 2014 4:44 pm | By

The Onion has 4th of July safety tips.

  • Most serious injuries happen on July 4th, so set off your explosives on the day before or the day after.

That’s the best tip; I’ll stick with that one.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It turns out nice people are Nazis!

Jul 3rd, 2014 4:33 pm | By

Just following orders. The Milgram experiment. You know the drill.

Can it be cut up into smaller pieces? Of course it can.

A new Milgram-like experiment published this month in the Journal of Personality has taken this idea to the next step by trying to understand which kinds of people are more or less willing to obey these kinds of orders. What researchers discovered was surprising: Those who are described as “agreeable, conscientious personalities” are more likely to follow orders and deliver electric shocks that they believe can harm innocent people, while “more contrarian, less agreeable personalities” are more likely to refuse to hurt others.

Ok wait. Slow down. Let’s not be in a hurry. Part of me is very apt to believe that, and not just because I’m possibly the least agreeable person on the planet, but really more because I do think a more adversarial attitude toward the given, the status quo, the conventional wisdom, the mainstream, does make people less likely to follow orders unthinkingly. Therefore I need to pause before thinking “well of course,” because it’s too…well, easy.

I’ve learned to be more suspicious than I used to be of people who fancy themselves more contrarian and less agreeable than others, because I’ve encountered so many people who fit that description who turn out to be dedicated, disciplined, hard-working assholes.

So, having said that, let’s proceed with caution.

For an eight-month period, the researchers interviewed the study participants to gauge their social personality, as well as their personal history and political leanings. When they matched this data to the participants’ behavior during the experiment, a distinct pattern emerged: People who were normally friendly followed orders because they didn’t want to upset others, while those who were described as unfriendly stuck up for themselves.

“The irony is that a personality disposition normally seen as antisocial — disagreeableness — may actually be linked to ‘pro-social’ behavior,’” writes Psychology Today’s Kenneth Worthy. “This connection seems to arise from a willingness to sacrifice one’s popularity a bit to act in a moral and just way toward other people, animals or the environment at large. Popularity, in the end, may be more a sign of social graces and perhaps a desire to fit in than any kind of moral superiority.”

No, I’m still suspicious, because again that sounds so self-flattering. “I’d better be a rude grumpy asshole, because that makes me more likely to act in a moral and just way toward other people, animals or the environment at large.” That hasn’t always been my experience, I have to say.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)