Saturday, July 28, 2012

On Liberty, Commerce, Faith, and Power

We SWNIDishly collate three recent news stories.

Largely unnoticed on this side of the Atlantic was the decision of a German court to outlaw the practice of circumcision in Germany. If Gentle Readers conclude that such a decision appears remarkably insensitive to the lessons of German history, they should consider themselves conventionally thoughtful. It is expected that the German parliament will pass a law reversing this decision. Apart from such action by the Bundestag, German Jews and Muslims must either emigrate, leave the country temporarily to circumcise their children, or secretly violate the court's ruling.

Massively noticed on this side of the Atlantic has been the kerfuffle over remarks from Dan Cathy, prez of Chick-fil-A, about marriage. Apart from the rather noxious public response to Mr. Cathy's unsurprising remarks (we should think that a restaurant that closes on Sundays on principle would affirm nontraditional family arrangements?), some mayors and aldermen have notably stated that their municipalities are now officially off limits to the world's best chicken sandwich.

Less noticed, however, has been the very definite rejoinder from most quarters that our Republic's Bill of Rights, specifically the cherished First Amendment to the Constitution, forbids any government in our Republic from restricting commercial activity because of a speech act. Even (get ready) the ACLU has weighed in for the rights of Chick-fil-A.

Meanwhile, as our body politic alternately fumes and dithers about the implications of the Affordable Care Act for the upcoming election, more legal action is quietly pushing things along. In Colorado, a private business owned by Roman Catholics sued to prevent the ACA from forcing them to provide free contraception to their employees, something that would violate the religious faith of the business's owners. They won, and they are expected to prevail on appeal.

All of which is to say that:

  • in matters of religious liberty, it is better to be American than German. The Bill of Rights is a more potent guarantor of human rights than the unfettered welfare state.
  • in matters of controversy, the American commitment to free speech and free practice of religion remains robust even if it will always and inevitably be under assault.
  • as people fret and even suffer under the social pressure to conform to prevailing opinions (one Chick-fil-A executive has tragically died of a heart attack since the controversy erupted, and we know employees who express personal stress and dismay over the scorn directed to them personally), they need to take the long view. More often than not in the history of Our Republic, attempts to force ideological conformity have failed.
So we urge those who, like us, hope to see religious liberty preserved to take the long view, to exercise patient endurance, offering sensible, thoughtful responses to queries about their beliefs, rather in the style enjoined by the first of the Petrine epistles.

And to that end, we offer a true story.

We work for a Christian institution of higher education that as recently as a decade ago was seeking for the first time to gain authority from our state government to grant licensure to public school teachers. We found the state bureaucracy unresponsive to our petitions and queries. After months, the state's response to our case was taken over by a new officer. He asked to meet with us. In frank and cordial conversation he indicated that he believed that our institution was the object of prejudice on the part of state officials. He said, "I've been the object of prejudice, and I don't like it. I don't think that others should be the object of prejudice either." To explain the personal aspect of his utterance, I mention that the gentleman is openly homosexual.

Anyway, with his wise maneuvering of the wheels of government, our institution received the state's approval.  After the approval was granted, another state official spoke candidly and apologetically to one of our faculty members. She confessed that when our petition was initially held up, one member of the state's apparatus said that the program couldn't be authorized because graduates of the program serving as teachers would try to "lay hands" on and heal students who had accidents on the playground.

You can't make this stuff up.

In the years since (about seven, we recall), the program has won two prestigious statewide awards and a graduate has been named Ohio Student Educator of the Year. The program is not just accepted; it is respected and lauded.

Patience, persistence, fortitude, confidence.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Yahoo! News Scooped by SWNID

Awhile back we caught a bit of wind in our blogging sail when our opposition to his organization's divisive presentation of non-biblical theology gained the attention of Mr. Ken Ham. As we've noted, Mr. Ham quietly ignored our repeated objections to his insistence on young-earth creationism as the standard of Christian, biblical orthodoxy, but he could not ignore our implication that his organization might have exhausted financial supporters' interest.

Well, Yahoo! News blogger Liz Goodwin recently posted a similar observation. Noting what we did, that AIG has delayed groundbreaking on Ark Encounter because of lousy fundraising results, Goodwin offers this additional fact, surely disturbing to all linked to AIG:

To add to the bad news, the Creation Museum is having its lowest attendance year yet. Last fiscal year, 280,000 people visited, compared to 404,000 the first year it opened in 2007. [Ark Encounter Vice President Michael] Zovath thinks that potential visitors have been less willing to travel to the museum because of the poor economy.

We've made the observation before (in person, not on this blog) that the issue the Creation Museum faces is not getting people to come once but getting them to come twice. That's true of most museums, which typically schedule special exhibits and events to induce patrons to return. After all, unless a museum houses a particularly impressive collection of artifacts and displays, why would people travel and pay for a rerun?

We therefore suggest gently that Mr. Ham's enterprise is in the inevitable decline faced by enterprises like his. There is a reason why the circus travels from city to city, and promotes new and better acts when it returns to town the following year.

Not that we expect the museum to close next week. We expect that AIG has banked a lot of boodle, that Ham has a number of donors who will offer rescue funds when they're needed.

But we do expect a long, slow, noticeable decline in influence. Ham has already been disinvited to a major homeschooling convention for his bitterly divisive rhetoric. We expect that in the future, he will not be excluded so much as ignored.