The Justice Chronicles, Volume 33: It’s Time to Change the Discussion on Abortion

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court, in the case of Roe v. Wade, ruled 7-2 that the government cannot prohibit a woman from having an abortion. In the history of the 20th Century this decision ranked as one of its most important decisions alongside Brown v. Board of Education.

From day one Roe divided out nation into camps: Those who think abortion murders unborn babies v. those who think a woman’s right to her body is absolute.

If asked where I stand, I will say this: I think every abortion is a missed chance for a new life and it’s a tragedy. But I’ll also say that we live in a society that should value life, all lives and lives at every stage.

From the moment of publication the lines were drawn. Those who supported the opinion called themselves “pro-choice” (and were called “pro abortion” by their opponents). Those who opposed the opinion called themselves “pro-life” (and “anti-choice” by their opponents).

I remember that day and was surprised at how it divided the nation like no other issue since slavery. In the past 46 years I have watched the invective grow stronger and more hateful, and I have seen little in the way of bringing the two groups together and find a common solution.

In the mid 1980s I was a youth minister at a church in Virginia and I attended a conference in Washington D.C. where one speaker spoke about abortion in a way that caught my attention. He was a Catholic priest who periodically met with young women who had an abortion and regretted it. They told him that they had nowhere to go. If they sought help from the pro-choice movement they were told that they shouldn’t regret their decision. If they sought help from the pro-life movement they were told that what they did was unforgivable. He argued that there needs to be a voice that listens to these women and care for them.

But I think we need to move beyond that. I think both sides need to move to a point where it doesn’t matter if abortion is legal or not because we live in a place where all life is precious and abortion is unthinkable. I think we are called to move to a place where life is valued in all its stages: before birth, as children, as adults, and as the elderly. A place where our society ensures that we all have what we need to lead healthy, valued lives.

But here’s my problem: the pro-life proponents generally oppose government programs that provide assistance to young families. We find a bright line from those who oppose abortion and those who oppose government assistance for the poor. Former Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank famously stated this: “The Moral Majority supports legislators who oppose abortions but also oppose child nutrition and day care. From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

I’m not writing this to take sides, but instead to claim all sides need to embrace what late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called the “seamless garment of life.” He argued that those who oppose abortion and claim to be pro-life should not only oppose abortion but also support the protection and respect of life in all stages. He argued against abortion, but also euthanasia and capital punishment.

It means we should ensure that children born into poverty are valued as much as children born into wealth. They should have as much access to nutrition and care. It means that no child should be denied medical care or vaccinations.

But more than that, being pro-life should challenge us to see men and women (boys and girls) as equals. Many women who seek abortions can speak with authority about how they didn’t fully consent to sex. Some were (frankly) raped by men that they knew and shouldn’t have trusted, often by family members. Others felt pressure to have sex with boyfriends out of a fear of loneliness. Decades ago I had a conversation with a teenage mother who told me that her pregnancy resulted from her boyfriend’s claim to “not like” condemns. When I told her she had the right to demand that he wear a condemn she had no idea what I was talking about.

The best path forward to decrease abortions is clear: make birth control easier to obtain and teach sex education to our children. We can learn a great deal from the Netherlands.

Simply put, if we can teach young men that sex should be a dialogue instead of a demand, and if we can teach young women that they have a voice in the decision to have sex, we will decrease unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

I’m not arguing that this will be easy. For much of our history as humans we’ve assumed sex was something that men could demand and women needed to regulate. For much of our history women balanced the desire for intimacy with the fear of pregnancy and abandonment. Too many women faced the task of single parenthood out of the inability to choose to claim the power to negotiate.

It takes two people to make a baby. It should take all of us to value that baby without condition. Only then we will be truly pro-life.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 32: We Mourn For those in the Chabad Center in Poway

For decades now we’ve learned about terrorism directed at places of worship. For those of us who live in the world of faith it’s been hard. We’ve looked at places of worship as sanctuaries, as places where we can feel safe. In the Middle Ages churches were seen as places of refuge: places where, no matter what you did or who was after you, you could find safety.

In the past few years we’ve witnessed acts of terrorism in Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, and other places of worship. This past weekend it came a little close for me. I live in San Diego, about 15 miles from Poway; it’s in my territory for hospice. On the last day of Passover a gunman who had posted antisemitic remarks walked in with an assault rifle. He killed one person and wounded three before being captured.

Any type of religious hatred or bigotry is unacceptable, but antisemitism appears in a league of its own. Jews have been persecuted, going all the way back to Pharaoh, and even today they find their homeland under siege.

I recently heard something that has stayed with me: antisemitism isn’t a disease. It’s not something that comes and goes. Instead it’s like a virus. It’s always there but sometimes it’s dormant. We’re never free from it, and between flareups we can fool ourselves into thinking it gone. But flare up it will, as it did last Saturday.

Our latest example happened, as I said, in nearby Poway. It was the Chabad center. Members of a Chabad center are Orthodox Jews who encourage other Jews to be more observant. They honor the sabbath (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) by refraining from work of any kind. Their members walk to services and they take their faith seriously.

And they are kind. The Chabad members I’ve known have moved me with their generosity and inclusion. They take life seriously, and in case you haven’t heard this, the one fatality was a 60 year old woman named Lori Gilbert-Kaye who took a bullet that was aimed at her rabbi. She gave her life to save another.

Let us pray that the virus of antisemitism remains dormant for long enough that we can truly eradicate this virus.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 31: Fifty Years Ago A Shot Rang Out In The Memphis Sky

I suspect we all sometimes think about the first national event we remember. For me it was the assissination of Martin Luther King (1929-1968).

At the time I was living in Woodbridge, Virginia, about 20 miles south of Washington D.C. I remember April 4, 1968 because of the riots that burned parts of the city. It was a scary time.

Dr. King spent his short life battling against discrimination. He was in Memphis that day to support sanitation workers who were treated horribly. They were virtually all African Americans and they struck against the city of Memphis after the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker. On February 1, 1968 they sat on the back of a sanitation truck to find shelter from the rain. The truck malfunctioned and they were crushed to death. Their coworkers decided that they’d had enough and went on strike. Dr. King traveled there to support them.

Meanwhile, James Earl Ray (1928-1998) saw an opportunity to become a hero in the White community. He learned that Dr. King was staying at the Lorraine Motel and rented a room that gave him a clear shot at Dr. King. At 6:01 PM Mr. Ray aimed a rifle at Dr. King and killed him.

I lived briefly in Memphis and walked to the Lorraine Motel several times. It’s now a museum that educates future generations on discrimination.

We may never eliminate discrimination in our nation but let us all take a moment to honor Dr. King.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 30: No Roy Moore, Character Does Count

On November 9th the Washington Post broke a story about Roy Moore who is running for Senate in Alabama. They reported that in 1979, when he was the District Attorney for Etowah County, he was well known for his attraction to teenage girls. As I write this 9 women have accused him, one of whom was 14 at the time.

Mr. Moore continues to deny any of these allegations and is giving thought to suing them.

At first several members of the Republican Party called for him to drop out of the race and even President Trump said he should drop out of the charges are true. But that has changed. President Trump now endorses him because he doesn’t want the Senate to gain another Democratic seat.

But here’s the thing: character matters. We shouldn’t respect anyone who can vote for somebody who promises to vote their way while, at the same time, has shown he is not safe around our children. Moore claims to be pro life but sees no problem being a man in his 30s who sexually assaults a 14 year old girl. Decades later he sees no problem in accusing her of lying.

We all falter sometimes in what we do and we are all works in progress. But I find no excuse in someone not recognizing this and trying to do better. He told one of his accusers that there was no point in telling anyone because “nobody will believe you”. Sure enough when she came forward, he denied her claims.

The good people of Alabama will choose their senator next month and I pray they care about Moore’s character. Running against him is Doug Jones who is a Democrat. I pray that enough Republicans look at their daughters and recognize that Roy Moore does not represent their values.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 29: Do We Need to Revisit the Limits of Free Speech in the Age of Twitter?

We Americans revere few things more than Freedom of Speech. We are told in the First Amendment of our Constitution that “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech.”

Alas, it’s a right that’s little understood. It means you cannot be arrested for what you say. But it’s often misinterpreted to mean you can say whatever you want without consequences. Here’s my favorite example: in 2010 the popular radio advice hostess Laura Schlessinger came under criticism for her use of the “N word” on her show. When an African American caller (in an interracial marriage) objected to her use of that word, Laura responded: “If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.” You can read about it here. After being criticized for her remarks she appeared on Larry King Live and demanded return of her “first amendment rights.” She believed that freedom of speech protected her from criticism for her words. She didn’t understand that others have the same right to express their opinions, and she was not Constitutionally protected from having her feelings hurt.

But from the beginning we’ve struggled with limits to the rights of free speech. Can you say anything? This debate goes all the way back to President Adam’s infamous Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 which criminalized criticism of the government.

I have no desire to give an entire history of this debate, but we all look to the 1919 Supreme Court decision of Schneck v. the United States. In his majority decision Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote this: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater and causing a panic.”

This make sense. You don’t have the right to speech that directly causes injury to others. But there is also legal precedent that you don’t have the right to prohibit speech that offends you. Many of us remember well the issue of flag burning. In 1989 the Supreme Court decided, in the case of Texas v. Johnson, that burning the American flag is protected speech.

But what about today? If you burn a flag across the street of a VFW hall you’re certainly going to anger the veterans gathered but we can all agree that nobody is in danger. That’s changed.

We’re all still talking about the events last week in Charlottesville but I heard a story that frightens me. The marchers were filmed by many who posted pictures on Twitter, with the hope that the marchers could be called out and recognized for their racist views.

That may be OK with many of us, but it’s not OK with Kyle Quinn. Kyle works for the University of Arkansas and committed the unforgiveable sin of looking like someone who marched in Charlottesville. In an excellent article you can see that someone saw a picture of someone who looked like Kyle and identified him as Kyle (even though Kyle was 900 miles away in Little Rock, Arkansas).

Kyle got a call from someone at the university who verified that he was in Little Rock and suggested that Kyle’s life just got more complicated. He was right.

Soon his Twitter account, email account, etc. blew up. His home address was posted and Kyle and his wife retreated to a friend’s house out of fear for their safety.

I write this because (much like those in the theater when someone shouts “fire”) Twitter, Facebook, and other social media make all of us potential victims of danger. Kyle well knows that a someone with a gun and an agenda (and his home address) may pose exactly the same danger to him as to the theater goers who are stampeded after someone yells fire.

I love freedom of speech as much as anyone. I revel in my ability to disagree with, and even lampoon, politicians I don’t agree with. But I don’t think our founders intended to protect those whose words lead directly to mobs who show up with clubs and torches. And I don’t think they intended to protect the 21st century mobs who traded in clubs and torches for Twitter accounts.

So where do we go from here? Whoever misidentified Kyle made an honest mistake, but hate groups created the environment that made this possible. The march on Charlottesville was organized by a group called Unite the Right.

Previous generations looked on groups like this as reprehensible but protected by the First Amendment. Today we need to look on them as hate groups that can no longer hide behind free speech.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 28. The Money Chronicles, Volume 13: At Last Kansas Can Begin Its Recovery

On October 31, 2014 I blogged about how Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed into law a massive state tax cut. In that post I spoke about how Governor Brownback (and many others) hitched their wagon to “supply side economics.” Simply put, he claimed that if he made massive tax cuts (for both individuals and business) they would put massive amounts of money “back in the pockets” of individuals and businesses. They would then spend that money and so stimulate the economy that even reduced tax rates would bring in more money and put the state on Easy Street.

Unfortunately, supply side economics behaves much like the Atkins Diet: it appeals not because it works, but because it sounds good. Telling overweight people that they can eat bacon omelettes and still lose weight feels just too good to pass up. And telling Americans that they can pay less in taxes and live on Easy Street does the same thing.

OK, did it work? The Kansas Legislature didn’t think so. This week they passed a bill to repeal the tax cuts, and overrode the Governor’s veto. Interestingly enough the legislature is controlled by Republicans.

The tax cuts did nothing except bleed the state dry. Hardest his were Kansas’ 286 school districts. The Kansas State Court of Appeals demanded that the state provide adequate funds for public schools last March.

Even conservative Republicans recognized they needed to bring in more money to educate their children and grandchildren. Even they knew that Kansas’ future depends on an educated citizenry.

I’m writing this because I care about children in Kansas, but I also care about children in all of America. President Trump has proposed a tax plan that also massively cuts taxes and revenues.

I guess he thinks he can do the same thing and get a different result. The rest of us call this dysfunctional thinking.

I pray Congress don’t make the same mistake Kansas made.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 28: We Should All Be Concerned About the Holman Rule

The last few months I’ve written extensively on President Elect Trump out of a concern over where our nation is heading. I’ve also wanted to chronicle his Presidency for future reference; I got the idea from James Fallows who wrote The Daily Trump.

But in the last few days I’ve come across something that concerns me and it comes from the House of Representatives, something called The Holman Rule.

In 1876 the House passed a resolution (the Holman Rule) that allows individual members of Congress to target individual federal employees and reduce their pay to $1.00 per year (effectively firing them). On January 3rd this Congress voted to bring it back. Proponents claim this will allow the firing of dishonest, ineffective or lazy federal workers.

My fear, and the fear of others is that individual members of Congress will use this rule as a way of settling scores.

Career federal employees are often tasked with delivering bad news to elected officials. In it’s January 10th edition, The Washington Post spoke about Arthur Katz, who worked for FEMA, testified before a Senate subcommittee. He said: “I testified before a Senate subcommittee regarding the gross mismanagement of FEMA, including our lack of preparedness for natural disasters. My bosses weren’t at all pleased, but my civil service and union protection meant that I couldn’t just be fired. A few months later, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, and my warnings about FEMA’s problems were proved correct. I kept my job and continued in federal service until my retirement.” Imagine if his bosses at FEMA were able to ask Congress to have him fired?

The General Accountability Office (or GAO) is tasked with overseeing that federal monies are spent properly. Since their job is essentially telling Congress when money isn’t being spent properly, can we imagine any scenario where they will feel their job is secure?

Can anyone feel they can speak truth to power when power has shown its eagerness to stop them?

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 26: What's the Ethical Answer Here?

Nancy and I are currently on vacation in Boston and we’re staying in a nice hotel. When we arrived there was a tag on our door, much like the “do not disturb” sign we’re used to seeing. But this one told us that if we are willing to forego housekeeping service the next day we’d get a gift card for $5.00 in the hotel gift store.

The catch is this: we have to hang it on the doorknob by 2AM. Clearly the early time gave the hotel management the opportunity to call off part of the housekeeping staff and not pay them. In a sense it makes the entire housekeeping staff per diem.

But it also makes good environmental sense. They won’t use water to wash sheets and towels or electricity to vacuum the room.

So as someone who cares about the earth and also cares about economic justice, I’m in a bit of a dilemna. The $5.00 doesn’t affect my decision but I am chewing on deciding between the earth and the housekeepers.

Of course I’m aware that the hotel chain has created this dilemna.

I’m open to feedback on what you think of this.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 25: An Interesting Theological Questions

My friend James wrote a fascinating question to Facebook and tagged me. I’ve been thinking about it since I read it but I feel my answer is too long to post to Facebook. I decided to answer James here.

James is an incredibly kind and generous person and late last year he entered the world of fatherhood. Here is his post:

Theological quandary I’ve had recently:

I believe that God is all-loving. We sing “God is love” in church. And the Gospel of John says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That is a lot of love for God’s creation.

But think about this from Jesus’ point of view: Was God showing love to him by sending him here to live, spread the word, die and be resurrected? Seems like a bit of a crappy thing to do: hey, I’m going to send you to some people who will put you to death, but it’s ok you’ll get better because as part of the Trinity, you’re eternal.

There is a parallel to this in the story of Abraham being tested by God in the near-sacrifice of Isaac. In the end, God is satisfied with Abraham’s faith, and spares Isaac (who probably never wanted to go in the wilderness alone with his dad ever again), but with Jesus, where is God’s mercy? or justice? Is this the act of an all-loving God, a single dad to his son?

Or is this a semantic thing? God the Father giving His Son is the same thing as Jesus the Son choosing to go because Trinity.

EDIT: the main point I’m getting at here is whether God truly is all-loving or not, using the act of God giving Jesus to death from Jesus’ POV: Was God all loving to him?

You ask several wonderful, puzzling, frustrating, and eventually faithful questions. Let me see if I can parse this out.

I’m going to start with the Abraham/Isaac question. Nearly everyone who reads this passage from Genesis has the same reaction: horror. How can anyone, especially God, make this demand on a father? And what father would agree to this? I think we all agree that we would’ve had more respect for Abraham if he had told God to go bother someone else.

Fair enough, but in that time the idea of human sacrifice was not unknown. Those who followed pagan gods often saw human sacrifice as something that was demanded of them. The best description I’ve found on this came in the first few pages of James Michener’s book Hawai’i.

I’m not certain that I’m right about this, but I think God was telling Abraham that human sacrifice will no longer be a requirement of his faith. “The pagans do human sacrifice but those who follow me will not. Unlike the pagan gods I find human life to be sacred and will never demand that you kill as a sacrifice.”

That said, I’m troubled by the idea that God let Abraham get that close to sacrificing his own son. Every time I read this passage I wonder if Isaac lived the rest of his life with PTSD.

But I’m also heartened by the reality that the God of Genesis, the Old Testament, and the New Testament does not demand sacrifice. As a matter of fact, Jesus’ ultimate throw down centered on his cleansing of the Temple in Matthew 21:12.

The phrase “throw down” is a modern term and it means this: someone “throws down” when he or she wants to make a point so badly that he (or she) makes a statement with no regard to the consequences. Jesus’ throw down is the last straw that leads to his arrest and execution.

But James, your point is well taken. What do we say about an all loving God who allowed his Son to be killed (and killed in such a horrible way)? We all understand that Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected unless he died, and had he died of natural causes his resurrection would have meant little more than Lazarus’.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us nothing about Jesus before his conception and if we had only those Gospels we could easily make the argument he didn’t exist before then. Only in John’s Gospel is Jesus described as being “in the beginning with God.” Perhaps Jesus “volunteered,” knowing what he was getting into. This doesn’t make his death any more horrible or painful, but it at least gives Jesus the advantage of knowing that it will turn out well in the end.

The Justice Chronicles Volume 24: Obergefell v. Hodges: At Last Marriage is Equal

Last month the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that gay couples have a right to marry and any laws that prevented that are unconstitutional. It’s been nearly a month since the ruling came out, but I wanted to read the opinion before writing about it (yes, you can actually contact the public affairs office of the Supreme Court).

People who handicap the Court generally assumed Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayer, and Elana Kagan would vote for marriage equality; Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito would vote that states should have the right to decide, and that Justice Anthony Kennedy would be the swing vote that would carry the majority.

They were right. Justice Kennedy voted to strike down laws in those states that prohibit gay marriage. He wrote the opinion for the majority. Justices Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito all wrote dissenting opinions.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy spoke of how “the history of marriage is one of both continuity and change.” Furthermore, “[h]istory and tradition guide and discipline the inquiry but do not set its outer boundaries.” He noted that in 1967 the Court struck down laws in much of the South that prohibited interracial marriage. Additionally in 1978 the Court struck down a law in Wisconsin that prohibited men from marrying if they owed child support, and in 1987 they found that prison inmates cannot be prohibited from marrying. The majority finds this case is a continuation of striking down laws that forbid different people from marrying.

The minority argued that while those other cases did strike down laws that prevented certain classes of people to marry, none of them changed the definition of marriage, that being between one man and one woman. Justice Roberts, in particular, felt that there has been a robust and necessary debate in this country on the definition of marriage and this ruling short circuited that debate. Ultimately he wrote that the definition of marriage should be decided by legislation, not judicial decision.

Justice Scalia agreed with Justice Roberts, and added his own concurrence. He found it telling that societies all over the earth and throughout history have defined marriage the same way: one man and one woman, and yet 5 unelected justices change marriage with the flick of a pen.

Justice Thomas wrote the part of the opinion that troubles me the most. The majority opinion speaks of how marriage equality allows the same dignity to homosexual couples that heterosexual couples have been able to take for granted. Justice Thomas argued that the government cannot confer or deny dignity. He wrote: “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved.” The fact that he is descended from slaves who would doubtless be shocked by this is only part of my disappointment.

Finally, Justice Alito, in addition to concurring with many of the arguments, added this one: this ruling will make it more difficult for those who disagree about gay marriage. He wrote it “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” Further, “[r]ecalling the harsh treatment of gays and lesbians in the past, some may think that turnabout is fairplay.” In other words, this means the bullies may now be bullied.

I make no secret of my support for marriage equality. Far from devaluing marriage, I believe this enhances marriage by making it possible for a group that has been previously excluded. I’ve been married for 17 1/2 years and it’s been wonderful. It’s nice to see that our gay brothers and sisters have that open to them also.

By the way, the ban on interracial marriage was struck down 48 years ago. Most Americans now profess agreement with that decision. I pray that in a few years almost nobody will admit to having opposed gay marriage.