The Almost Nearly Perfect People Redux

Swedish schools, religious as well as secular, distinguish between “education” and “learning,” as odd as that may sound. The former is the curriculum; the latter, the time spent, for example, at recess, lunch, or social gatherings — outside the context of teaching. Religious education and practice are allowed only outside the highly regulated curriculum. Even then, any religious activity, such as school prayer or the lighting of Shabbat candles, must be voluntarily undertaken. In each case, it is up to the parents either to include their children in the activity or to opt out.

This means that there is in fact no religious education in Swedish schools — it is legal only outside the state-mandated curriculum — and so there is no religious education to outlaw. What the state would now outlaw, however, should the proposed legislation pass, is the opportunity for Christian, Muslim, and Jewish children to feel part of a group they can identify with, to learn about their religious and cultural heritage, and to partake of a value system that isn’t built on a belief in the almighty state, blessed be its name.

… As we all know, it is much easier to outlaw liberty — that has always been Sweden’s default choice — than to struggle with the questions it raises and the perils it poses.

(Annika Henroth-Rostein, Sweden Aims to Outlaw Religious Education, Which Is — Already Illegal)

“The question” here is Muslim immigrants now 10% of the Swedish population, with 11 Islamic schools segregating boys and girls. My blog title is based on this book, which is on my bought-but-not-yet-read list.

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It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Fraud on the courts?

Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, … justified the birth-control decision by saying, in part, that Catholic tradition requires respect for “the conscientious decisions of members of our community.” Of course, Notre Dame community members can exercise their consciences without receiving university-provided contraception. And there is also the serious possibility that Notre Dame abused the legal process when it sued the Obama administration for relief. If the university had standing on religious-freedom grounds, how can it now explain its decision to facilitate coverage of birth control?

Notre Dame’s leadership has embarked on a campaign to put the university on ​the same footing as the nation’s other elite schools. In so doing, it often has renounced its obligation to shape the moral landscape of the society it inhabits, and, more importantly, to form its own community properly.
The Catholic Church is never more effective than when it when it acts as a countercultural force. It offers the modern world a radically different vision of human sexuality from the one most young people are taught. With the decision to provide birth control, Notre Dame has forfeited its chance to stand in moral opposition to a utilitarian sexual culture. It has chosen to stop speaking to the kind of life that makes people whole.

When the administration recently announced that undergraduates would be required to live on campus for at least six semesters, Father Jenkins defended the rule by saying the university makes no apologies about being a place of faith. “If that’s what they want, they should come here, but if that’s not what they want, there are many other places—great places—to go to,” he said.​The connection between Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and its campus-residency rules is tenuous. But Father Jenkins still imposed this rationale on students who dislike the new policy. Why, then, does he refuse to assert Catholic identity as grounds for refusing to cover contraception?

(Alexandra DeSanctis in the Wall Street Journal, emphasis added)

Let me unpack the “possibility that Notre Dame abused the legal process.” I assume that Ms. DeSanctis is alluding to some sort of claim that Notre Dame could not, without violating its religious convictions, provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. Now it’s saying, in effect, “Oh. Never mind. Catholic tradition requires respect for ‘the conscientious decisions of members of our community,’ and that requires us to cover contraceptives.”

I sure as heck can see her point.

* * * * *

It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.

Bigotry is an incapacity to conceive seriously the alternative to a proposition.

A man … is only a bigot if he cannot understand that his dogma is a dogma, even if it is true.

(G.K. Chesterton) Be of good courage, you who are called “bigots” by those who are unable to conceive seriously the alternatives to their dogmas.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

North of the Border, Up Canada Way

No State really cares what its people believe, so long as they keep it to themselves, and salute the State’s gods on all State occasions. The State’s gods today may be Abortion and Sodomy and Gender Metamorphosis. We might want to laugh at the idiocy of it. But they are gods, State gods, and every citizen must salute, as we see in this form-ticking exercise. Those who refuse must confront the State’s high opinion of itself.

This does not mean you can’t be a Catholic — so long as you keep it in the privacy of your own mind. It is only when you act as a Catholic, that you deliver yourself into the State’s hands.

… So long as we remain meek and obedient, to anything we are required to sign, the Antichrist himself wouldn’t care less what we think. The trouble arises only when we fail to sign, salute, or check the right boxes. That is, from the Antichrist’s point of view, a form of defiance that requires punishment — a punishment that we have brought upon ourselves, as will be condescendingly explained.

[M]ost apostatize under pressure, and I think this has always been so …

Pray for their souls, but don’t worry about them, on the practical level: for they will disappear. They have no foundations, no real opinions, and they don’t breed. The generation that follows “nominal Catholics” are not even nominal. The generation after that does not even get born. Over time, only the faithful remain.

Focus on what is within our power, which starts not with “outreach” and “dialogue” but with rebuilding our Church. For she is very weak, and we must make her strong.

(David Warren to the Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada; H/T Rod Dreher)

It is not impossible to defeat the “Twisted Nanny” state, but the precedent is weak:

God bestows such Grace that we could all be martyrs, but in practice we don’t want to receive it. The courage that we don’t have is not something we’re inclined to pray for — and when I say “we” I do not only mean people at the present day. The history of earthly tyranny corresponds to the human search for the path of least resistance. As Alexander Solzhnitsyn used to say, if everyone in Soviet Russia would get up one morning, resolved to speak only the truth, the Communist Party would collapse by noon. Yet through seventy-five years, that never happened.

“Resolved to speak only the truth.” That’s what’s so endearing about Jordan Peterson. Indeed, maybe that’s all that’s endearing about him, but it’s more than enough. Canada needs him. We need him.

And don’t give me any bull about “That’s Canada. It can’t happen here.” It is happening as free exercise of religion is now equated with and vilified as “an excuse for discrimination.”

It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.

* * * * *

We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.


From a religious-freedom bill to a proposed English-only constitutional amendment, Georgia politicians and advocates are invoking Amazon’s name.

The prospect of luring the retailer here is being used as political ammunition, notwithstanding that Inc. is months away from picking among Atlanta and 19 other finalists for the location of its second headquarters.

Jeff Graham, who runs the state’s leading gay-rights organization, Georgia Equality, said he mentions the prospect of losing the online-shopping giant to rally opposition to a religious-freedom bill he considers discriminatory.

It is difficult to divine how state legislation will influence Amazon’s decision. A person familiar with the matter said Amazon will measure metro areas’ inclusiveness, and the consideration or passage of such legislation will be a factor in its decision-making.

Amazon, which has closely guarded its site-selection process, declined to comment on how heavily such legislation might weigh on its choice.

In its pitch in September to cities seeking to draw its promised 50,000 jobs and $5 billion of investment, Amazon said it sought “the presence and support of a diverse population, excellent institutes of higher education, local government structure and elected officials eager and willing to work with the company.”

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos has been a supporter of gay rights, and Amazon has said any city it picks must be a “compatible cultural and community environment.”

(Wall Street Journal)

* * * * *

We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Abuses of power

Rod Dreher revisits for the third time the Edgardo Montara case from the 19th-centry papal state that included Bologna, Italy. He quotes a Patheos column by Eve Tushnet, which quote includes this:

I am not sure I’ve seen any discussions of Catholic “postliberal” politics which acknowledge the need for any peaceful social order to accept and accommodate disharmony. If your temporal political goal is public harmony you can either a) make a lot of compromises with unbelief and sin for the sake of peace or b) impose order by force, thus creating a lot more chaos, cruelty, and sin … Any reasonably okay society will have a lot of uncriminalized sin and a lot of unpunished crime, because the things you need to do to root out and punish sin will themselves involve sinful abuses of power.

That’s a great summary of why, some 50 years ago, I supported decriminalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults. But since I believe, now as then, that those acts are sinful, I’ve been unwilling to go further into things like protected class status.

I’m not alone in that. But the nation is moving toward suppressing as intolerable the disharmony folks like me create. Dreher:

Here’s the thing that is very hard to get progressives to understand: liberalism today is turning illiberal in a way that resembles the Papal States of Pio Nono. Many on the left don’t see it because they are caught up in the relentless logic of virtue. Let’s step away from the religion aspect for a second. Have you been watching the progressive mob savaging Margaret Atwood — Margaret Atwood! — as a traitor to feminism for having said publicly that a Canadian academic punished for sexual harassment was denied due process? The Handmaid’s Tale author was a hero to feminists yesterday, but today she’s a monster because she deviated ever so slightly from the Virtuous Position. Extremism in the pursuit of progressive virtue is no vice …

Progressive militants are thrilled to throw dissidents from their purity project on the metaphorical bonfire, torching careers and reputations for the sake of Justice. And if one protests that this or that person was treated unfairly, well, mistakes might be made, but maybe it’s time that the Enemy (males, whites, straights, religious believers, et al.) knows what it feels like to be oppressed. That’s the rationale.

I have no doubt that there are more than a few progressives who read the controversy over Edgardo Mortara’s case and are rightly appalled, but who would tomorrow cheer the State for removing a child deemed transgender by experts from the home of his Christian parents who disagree.

Well of course they would! Gender is indelible, like baptism used to be superstitiously described, and the state is obliged to raise a boy-girl as a girl, as the Papal states thought they must raise a baptized Christian as Christian. Isn’t that obvious!?

Contemporaneously, Dreher and two others forecast other suppressions that may be more imminent.

First, Alan Jacobs sees Christian colleges and universities being destroyed by loss of accreditation for resisting the Zeitgeist:

As I have noted in another venue, calls are already being made for Christian institutions to lose their accreditation also. Many Christian colleges will be unable to survive losing federal aid for their faculty and students alike; … a loss of accreditation is likely to be the death knell for all of them, because that will dramatically reduce the number of students who apply for admission. Students with degrees from unaccredited institutions are deemed ineligible for almost all graduate education, and for many jobs as well. How many parents, even devoutly Christian parents, even those few who can afford it (given the lack of federal student aid), will be willing to pay to send their children to institutions if that narrows their future horizons so dramatically? Almost none, I suspect.

The people who argue that Christian institutions should support the modern left’s model of sexual ethics or else suffer a comprehensive shunning do not think of themselves as opponents of religion. And they are not, given their definition of religion, which is “a disembodied, Gnostic realm of private worship and thought”. But that is not what Christianity is. Christianity intrinsically, necessarily involves embodied action in the public world.

Carl Trueman foresees trouble from Title IX and pressure to revoke tax exemption:

The specific point of conflict is likely to be (once again) Title IX legislation that prohibits sexual discrimination at any institution of higher education receiving federal funding. The law does allow an exemption for religious organizations such as colleges and seminaries, an exemption to which I shall return. What is worrying is the increasing elasticity of the legislation, which was extended under President Obama to include transgenderism. That “Dear Colleague” letter has since been rescinded, but the underlying cultural commitments that made Title IX expansions plausible remain in place.

Some colleges—for instance, Hillsdale and Grove City—stand apart from federal funding. Such places thus seem relatively safe. But are they? There is another point of vulnerability: the 1983 Supreme Court ruling in Bob Jones University v. United States. This ruling denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University because of policies regarding interracial dating that were judged contrary to a compelling government policy. The text of the decision can be found here, but the key passage reads as follows:

The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest.

However we may cheer the particular result of the Bob Jones case, the implications unfolding in today’s climate are concerning. Replace “racial” with “sexual” in the paragraph above, and the point is clear.

The usefulness of Title IX and Bob Jones for the sexual-identity revolution lies precisely in the fact that most Christians see them as sound in what they were originally meant to accomplish, even as some might cavil at their heavy-handed application in after years. In a world where the law increasingly seems to exist not to protect minority opinion but to impose the sexual or identitarian taste du jour, the uses of these laws are increasingly sinister. Yet their origins make them hard to oppose with any cultural plausibility. For this reason, the religious exemption in Title IX will, I suspect, either fall or become so attenuated as to be in practice meaningless.

Dreher in a separate blog elaborates Trueman’s point:

Trueman points out a truth that far, far too many Christians refuse to acknowledge: that the political assault on orthodox religious institutions is happening because American culture has radically changed. Fighting politically and legally are necessary, but ultimately not sufficient to save us, because we increasingly don’t have the people with us. Writes Trueman, “It is the heart that must change if arguments are to carry any weight. And only things that go that deep will avail us at this time.”

But Dreher is getting used to being ignored:

I’ve been thinking about that all weekend, and how unprepared American Christians are for it. We really do labor under the self-indulgent illusion that It Can’t Happen Here. Oh yes, it most certainly can — and it is.

(Emphasis added) How can people be so insensate? A commonly-identified culprit is secularism, but Dreher names two more:

The other day, I had an e-mail exchange with a prominent scholar who studies religion in America. It’s not part of his public profile, but he happens to be a believing Christian. He was extremely pessimistic about the situation here, given the long-term data he is seeing about how the advance of secularism, consumerism, and individualism is routing belief.

(Emphasis added)

But some of that routed belief thinks it’s still faithful. We have met the enemy and he is, if not us, at least among our ranks. We will, in due course, have those routed believers held up as the truly exemplary believers.

We need to tolerate disharmony, as I think was done with decriminalization of sodomy, but that’s not where we seem to be headed, and this time I and mine are going to be the stigmatized.

If you’re a faithful and orthodox Christian, you are, too.

* * * * *

“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Speech or Religion?

I wrote several times, I’m pretty sure, that I thought the Masterpiece Cakeshop case would be argued by Jack Phillips’ attorney, and would ultimately be won, as a case about compelled artistic expression, a violation of the First Amendment’s speech clause. Free speech and compelled expression precedents are more strongly in Phillips’ favor than the current state of the law on free exercise of religion. Or so I thought.

I stand by that, but I’ll admit that the justices asked some pretty skeptical “where do we draw the line” questions about when or whether a cake is expressive, when a craft is art, and stuff like that (the last clause is my fudge factor — I’m not going back to review the transcript of argument again).

[Digression: I don’t think they’d have asked those skeptical questions had the case not implicated our newest Super-Right, the right to have everyone in every way affirm your every expression of your every sexual (and “gender”) whim. So it appears that the law of the land has another distortion factor baked into it: an LGBT distortion factor has taken root, joining the original abortion distortion factor (“no legal rule or doctrine is safe from ad hoc nullification by this Court when an occasion for its application arises in a case involving state regulation of abortion”) and a little-remarked creationist distortion factor (Creationists categorically lose cases involving science teaching—and intelligent design advocates get labeled “Creationists”).]

But I do disgress. I wrote today because someone I respect thinks, after scrutinizing the Masterpiece Cakeshop oral arguments, that the case could turn on the free exercise of religion after all.

Mark Bauerlein and Mark Movesian recently chatted about this on the First Things podcast. Bauerlein is no lawyer, but Movesian is a law prof, and he thinks Anthony Kennedy may smell blood in the water: a lack of neutrality or of general applicability in the Colorado law, which could be fatal under Employment Division v. Smith‘s new test for free exercise violations (the “when does the constitution create a religious exemption to a law” question).

The lack of neutrality (e.g., gerrymandering to target an unpopular religion) has been fatal in only one famous case since Employment Division v. Smith, to the best of my recollection: a case involving Hialeah Florida targeting the Santeria religion, Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah. But general applicability has been a wider problem, because, basically, religion gets an exemption if anyone gets an exemption, and our laws typically are riddled with “small business,” “Mrs. Murphy’s Boarding House” or other piddly little exemptions that someone lobbies for powerfully or that seem fair to legislators.

So here’s the problem: Colorado has, on something like three occasions, exempted cake bakers from making cakes that opposed gay rights or same-sex marriage. I assume those cakes were sought by provocateurs who, frankly, I would have dismissed as misguided and counterproductive (I actually may have so dismissed them). But by asking for a Bible-shaped cake with a Romans 1 “Clobber Passage,” the provocateurs may have turned refusal into “anti-Christian discrimination.”

Not only did those other three bakers win on the basis of dubious distinctions from the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, but a couple of Colorado’s Civil Rights Commissioners slung some bigoted-sounding remarks at Jack Phillips, with which Justice Kennedy grilled Colorado’s attorney. (Pro Tip: Do not let any mean words pass your lips if Anthony Kennedy may eventually be judging your case.)

I’ve taken more time than intended hyperlinking to terms of art and cases that not all readers may know, so I’ll wrap up.

Bauerlein, the non-lawyer, was delighted to think this might be decided on free exercise of religion grounds. I disagree. I would consider it remarkable and disheartening if Jack Phillips won on “an oopsie!”—catching the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in an inconsistent application of its facially neutral and exceptionless law—because that would be a narrow decision where I’d like, the cases that have built up in this area need, and the Supreme Court normally delivers, something bigger and more definitive than “this one Colorado law was applied to Jack Phillips in an nasty and inconsistent, and therefore unconstitutional, manner.”

The country doesn’t get a lot of guidance out of that on how to behave in the future, and what guidance it does get tends toward “use some guile and maintain plausible deniability when you stick it to Christian bigots.”

But if Colorado’s “oopsie” prompts overruling of Antonin Scalia’s nadir, his new free exercise test in Employment Division v. Smith, and restoration of the status quo ante, the Wisconsin v. Yoder free exercise test, I would be stunned and very, very happy.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Masterpiece Cakes thoughts

The consensus, with a few dissenters, is that the oral arguments Tuesday portend victory for Jack Phillips, proprietor of Masterpiece Cakes. I’m going to assume that for purposes of this blog.

What worries me now is how he will win. There are a number of options, but I’ll just mention three.

  1. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission (or whatever they call it) was biased against Phillips and its decision can’t stand. This has the benefit of being true; the bigotry of one commissioner was manifest. But by the time a case gets to the Supreme Court, who wins this particular case is barely relevant; the case now is about principles that are going to govern cases nationwide. The court never would have taken the case if it was only about Jack Phillips and the Colorado commissioners. It would be terrible if the only result of this case was “commissioners shouldn’t utter their bigotries aloud.”
  2. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission has applied its facially “neutral law of general application” (terms of art) with “an evil eye and uneven hand” (anachronistic terms of art), so the law is unconstitutional as applied to Phillips’ bona fide religious scruples. In other words, he wins under the free exercise of religion clause. This result would be mildly surprising, but the evil eye and uneven hand appear to be there. A provocateur asked another baker for a bible-shaped cake with some of the “clobber passages” inscribed on it. The baker refused. The provocateur filed a discrimination complaint, which he lost, partly because the baker had served other Christians (proving he’s not anti-Christian), though the Commission ignored that Jack Phillips served other homosexuals. (Transcript of Oral Arguments 58-59) This tends de facto to negate “general application,” so a subtle escape route of Employment Division v. Smith opens for Jack Phillips (and presumably for others in Colorado). I’d still hope against this outcome, which would sort of be limited to Colorado, with a cautionary note to other states to enforce their law equally, across-the-board. It’s an invitation to lots more litigation and to set-ups like the Christian provocateur with his clobber passage cake.
  3. Jack Phillips reasonably believed that Craig and Mullins were seeking one of his custom-designed wedding cakes, and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission denied him discovery from Craig and Mullins to prove that. A wedding cake is primarily a festive, celebrative central ornament in wedding receptions, only secondarily food. An artist or artisan cannot constitutionally be compelled to create fruits of his artistry in celebration of something he chooses not to celebrate for any reason. In other words, he wins under the free speech clause (which protects against compelled artistic expression).  This has seemed Phillips best shot since I first learned of the case. It was in the first sentence out of Kristen Waggoner’s mouth on Phillips’ behalf (although she noted that his objection to speaking was religious). One of the little ironies is that free speech has become a powerful protector of dissident Christians who may have weak free exercise cases thanks to our brother, the late Justice Scalia, who took leave of his senses one day and penned Employment Division v. Smith (which turned out to have some escape routes, so it wasn’t as bad as initially feared). The “problem” here is Justices agonizing, some probably insincerely, about “where to draw the line.” That will be the interesting analysis if Phillips wins on free speech/freedom from compelled expression, which I think is the best analysis, but then I’d probably draw the line very, very protectively against compelled speech—maybe further than most of my readers.

Update: I regret rushing this blog, because it made me forget my favorite way Jack could win.

The court could decide that Jack did not refuse service to anyone because of their sexual orientation, but because they wanted him to adorn a same-sex wedding reception (with a custom creation, Jack believed).

Like Option 1, above, this has the virtue of being true. But Colorado equated that with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation because same-sex marriage is really, really closely correlated to sexual orientation. Thus did it refuse categorically to recognize a vital distinction, thus extending the legislature’s law beyond what it may have intended and setting up this constitutional clash.

There’s some reason to think that may be where pivotal Justice Kennedy is headed.

MR. COLE: … the public accommodations law does not say you must treat everybody; it says you cannot discriminate on the basis of protected categories.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, but this whole concept of identity is a slightly — suppose he says: Look, I have nothing against — against gay people. He says but I just don’t think
they should have a marriage because that’s contrary to my beliefs. It’s not -­

MR. COLE: Yeah.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: It’s not their identity. It’s what they’re doing.

MR. COLE: Yeah.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I think it’s – –  your identity thing is just too facile.

(Transcript of Oral Arguments 86-87)

I like this possibility because it seems to me that:

  • It leaves intact the core protection of persons against discrimination because of their sexual orientation. (I’ve never been convinced that’s more that a vanishingly rare problem in the realm of public accommodations, but if it is a problem, this covers it.)
  • It gets to the nub of Jack Phillips’ objection and validates it. Jack’s sincere professions of willingness to serve all people, and history of serving all people, got lost in the politics of this issue, with him getting branded just another Christianist homophobe. That was false and, yes, facile. Jack deserved better.
  • It avoids all the parade of horribles and slippery slopes that attend the “what’s artsy enough and what isn’t?” questions. Nobody, artist or not, is discriminating against persons as person if they decline to help provision an event they find objectionable.

Yes, in a few corners of the country, it may be hard for same-sex couples to get vendors for their celebrations, as an amicus argued. But custom cakes, floral arrangements, wedding invitations, photographers and such are “not goods or services like lodging or transportation necessary for full participation in public life,” as Rabbi Dovid Bressman argued in a friend of the court brief.

That gets us back to the heart of this case: the couple’s sense of entitlement. I don’t think that sense commands validation men and women of goodwill.

* * * * *

I would a thousand times rather have dinner with secular liberals of a certain temperament than with a group of religious conservatives who agreed with me about most things, but who have no sense of humor or irony.

(Rod Dreher)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.