Tag Archives: Judiciary

#196: A Church and State Playground

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #196, on the subject of A Church and State Playground.

Back in the winter we noted, in web log post #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, that the United States Supreme Court was going to decide a case concerning whether a church-affiliated school could be denied participation in a public welfare program simply because it was sponsored by a religious institution.  That decision has been reached, in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Carol S. Comer, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 582 U.S. ___ (2017), and the majority opinion is very like what we previously suggested, but there are three concurring opinions that quibble on the details and one dissent that is scathing, fairly well reasoned, and as long as the other four opinions combined.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, joined in full by Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Kagan; Justices Thomas and Gorsuch also joined the opinion, with the exclusion of “footnote 3”, and each of them filed a concurring opinion, and joined in supporting each other’s concurring opinion.  Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgement.  It is Justice Sotamayer who wrote the lengthy dissent, in which Justice Ginsburg joined.

To recount briefly, Missouri runs a program which provides funding to resurface playgrounds with recycled tires.  There is a tax on new tire purchases which funds the collection and recycling of discarded tires, converting these into a “pour-in-place” durable soft surface which reduces injuries on playgrounds.  The application process for determining eligibility to receive such a “grant” examines many factors including the economic circumstances of the area, the public use of the playground, and more.  On a list of forty-four applicants, the school ranked fifth, but did not receive one of the fourteen grants because it was affiliated with a religious institution, and the department had a policy of refusing to provide money to any religiously-affiliated institution, consistent with the Missouri State Constitution Article I, Section 7, which we quoted in the previous article.  This led to a court battle over whether the State, by refusing to permit a religiously-affiliated school from participating in a program that provided aid for non-religious programs, had violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, by making eligibility for a public assistance program dependent on renouncing a religious belief or association.

All five opinions discuss the balance between the Free Exercise Clause, that the government cannot interfere with someone’s beliefs, and the Establishment Clause, that the government cannot support one set of beliefs over another.  Neither clause is exactly absolute.  For example, it is agreed that the Establishment Clause does not mean that the publicly-funded fire department can’t put out a burning church or synagogue, or that the police won’t investigate a theft of church property.  The Free Exercise Clause has also been tested, and laws have been overturned which prevented ordained ministers from serving in elected public office, on the grounds that such laws forced a person to choose between his religious beliefs expressed in his vocation and his right as a citizen to run for office.

A lot of the discussion on both sides concerned the previous case Locke v. Davey, 540 U. S. 712 (2004).  In Locke, the State of Washington ran a post-secondary education scholarship program based on outstanding scholastic achievement, but with a specific clause stating that the scholarship money could not be used for ministerial training.  The student claimed that the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, but the Court held that under the Establishent Clause the State could refuse to fund ministerial training, particularly given that the program did not exclude schools which offered such courses or the courses themselves, only a degree program of that nature.  They have always maintained that there was some space between the two clauses, in which States were not compelled by either to act in a particular way; the question was whether in this case the state was forced to act one way or the other, or was free to act as it chose.

The majority felt that this case was more like McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U. S. 618 (1978), in which ordained ministers were barred from seeking election to public office, and the Court held that this amounted to denying a citizen a fundamental right available to all citizens (running for public office) based solely on religious belief.  The playground was not part of a religious training program, but a part of ordinary educational aid made available broadly to the community, and the church had been excluded from the program solely because it was a church, having a religious purpose in its existence.  The denial of the right to participate in the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, because it required the church to choose between abandoning its religious faith and participating in a common government welfare program designed for the protection of children.  A significant part of the decision can summarized in the Court’s words

…denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest “of the highest order.”

Under such “strict scrutiny” the policy failed.

To some degree, the concurring opinions have to do with footnote 3, which reads

This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing.  We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.

Justice Thomas expressed the view that Locke failed to apply strict scrutiny to the facts in that case, and ought to be overturned–but that that was not a question before the court at this time.  However, he thought footnote 3 too limiting, and deferred to Justice Gorsuch’ concurring opinion for that.

Justice Gorsuch says that the Court makes an indefensible distinction between religious status and religious use, and so distinguishes Locke from the present case.  He makes the point thus, comparing the two cases:

Is it a religious group that built the playground?  Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission?….was it a student who wanted a vocational degree in religion?  or was it a religious student who wanted the necessary education for his chosen vocation?

The only justification for the decision in Locke, in Gorsuch’ view, is the “long tradition against the use of public funds for training of the clergy”.  As to footnote 3, he feared it would be misconstrued as saying that the principles on which this decision was based do not apply outside very narrow fact sets, which he thought was incorrect.

Justice Breyer put the emphasis on the fact that the program involved was intended “to secure or to improve the health and safety of children” and was in that sense not different from other public welfare programs such as police and fire protection.  He did not want to extend the decision too far, but thought in this case it was a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause, and that for programs akin to this the fact that the applicant was a religious school should not exclude it.

Interestingly, none of these opinions declared that the Missouri Constitution’s Article I section 7 was unconstitutional; the majority opinion merely stated that as interpreted by the Missouri Supreme Court it ran afoul of the Free Exercise Clause, and so would have to be understood differently in the future.

Justice Sotamayer’s dissent is long, involved, and pointed.

Her most cogent point is that the church identifies the school as part of its ministry, intended to build the foundations of Christian faith in its students, whether children of church members or others from the community.  We have established that States can refuse to pay scholarships for ministerial training.  It is reasonable to conclude that the State can refuse to pay for Bibles, Korans, Torahs, as well as vestments, chalices, sacramental elements.  Arguably the doors, windows, roofs, and walls of church buildings are part of the ministry.  We would not use government money to pay for such acoutrements, because they are in a sense part of the ministry.

Yet it is clear that this is not so.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it was established the Federal Flood Insurance and Disaster Relief could be used to rebuild damaged churches, as long as it was distributed even-handedly–that is, not favoring any particular religion.  So government money can be used for repairing physical plant of religious buildings.

Further, the National School Lunch Act provides discounted and free lunches to students in private and parochial schools without regard for the religious nature of the school, because lunch is neutral and it would be discriminatory against the religious choices of these families to exclude them from an otherwise neutral benefit because they are attending a religious private school.

So on the one hand we ask ourselves whether the playground is part of the ministry of the church, and in a sense it is, but in the same sense that the lunchroom is part of the ministry of the church.  Indeed, from the perspective of the Christian faith, every congregant is an extension of the ministry of the church, and yet we know that people cannot be excluded from government assistance programs simply because they are members of a faith which regards all of its members as ministers.  The government cannot avoid giving money to church ministries, as the church understands them, because whenever money is given to people who belong to the church, it is aiding the ministry of the church.

And on the other hand, we ask ourselves to what degree the support of the playground is supporting the religious mission of the church.  In many states it is a requirement that schools include a physical education program, and although Trinity’s school is essentially preschool the playground may be necessary to their certification–that is, if all schools must have some kind of playground for physical activity, then the playground is clearly meeting a secular, a non-religious, requirement.  Stating that it is a part of the ministry of the church certainly calls the matter into question, but seen in perspective, the answer should be obvious, that state money given to religious institutions for secular purposes such as meals and playgrounds are not a violation of the Establishment Clause, and might well be required, as the majority observes, under the Free Exercise clause.

None of this touches the deeper problem, that the language in the Missouri State Constitution is Blaine Amendment language, which as we observed was inserted for essentially religious (anti-Catholic) purposes.  However, since no party addressed this, that issue remains for the future.

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#194: Slanting in Favor of Free Speech

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #194, on the subject of Slanting in Favor of Free Speech.

In January we looked at a trademark case that had much to do with freedom of speech and offensive language, in web log post #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, in which Simon Shiao Tam named his all-Asian rock band “The Slants”, saying he wanted to use the normally derogatory word to reclaim some pride for his people.  The Patent and Trademark office, relying on the same law against offensive trademarks under which the Redskins sports franchise was stripped of its protection, refused the application, and it was ultimately appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  The Court has delivered its opinion in Matal v. Tam, 582 U.S. ___ (2017), and it has implications for freedom of expression.

The Slants performing April 16th at The Flying Dog Brewery, hosted by the 1st Amendment Society

On a related subject, freedom of speech was also behind Packingham v. North Carolina, 582 U.S. ___ (2017), which struck down a North Carolina law barring anyone on the state’s sex offenders list from accessing Internet social networking sites.  We’ll look at that after Tam.

There was really nothing at all surprising about the Tam opinion, unless it is that once again eight members of the court were in agreement.  Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Breyer.  Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayer, and Kagan, and Justice Thomas also wrote a concurring opinion.  All of them agreed on the essentials:  the so-called “disparagement clause” in U.S. trademark law which permits the denial of trademarks for anything that might be offensive to specific groups or persons is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

As Justice Alito puts it (slip opinion at 22), “Giving offense is a viewpoint,” then (slip opinion at 22-23) quoting from Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576, 592 (1969), “…the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.”  Justice Holmes and Ray Bradbury would be pleased.

It’s good news, too, for the Redskins football franchise:  this was the rule that got them stripped of trademark protection, and so their ongoing legal battle is probably about to be rapidly resolved.  I don’t know if we’ll see a run on offensive trademarks in the near future–after all, as some in this discussion have observed, offending potential customers is not a good way to sell them your product.  On the other hand, the way is open for people to denigrate a lot of groups.  (The decision does not impact the prohibition against using the name of a living person without that person’s permission.)

So, how does the Packingham case fit?

In 2002 petitioner Packingham, then twenty-one years old, had sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, and pleaded guilty to “taking indecent liberties with a child”, a crime that qualifies under North Carolina law as “an offense against a minor” requiring registration as a sex offender.  The status can last three decades or longer.

In 2008, the state passed a law making it a felony for anyone registered as a sex offender in the state “to access a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.”

It strikes me that this is a second punishment.  That is, at the time Packingham was convicted and sentenced, and required to register, there was no law regarding the use of the Internet.  Six years later this restriction was added to his sentence, without so much as a hearing to determine whether it was necessary.  That, though, was not the issue before the court, although Justice Kennedy recognizes the problem in passing.  It is also not stated that Packingham was informed of the new restriction, but that was not before the court either.

In 2010, eight years after his conviction, Packingham expressed his thanks to Jesus for an event in his life, the dismissal of traffic ticket without a hearing, posting this excitement on Facebook.  A Durham police officer managed to connect the Facebook post to the dismissed ticket, and obtaining a search warrant established that Packingham had violated the law.  He was convicted, despite making a motion that the law was a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.  There was no allegation that his Internet communications were in any way suspect or criminal other than that this law forbad him from making them at all.

The conviction flip-flopped its way through the state courts, overturned by the Court of Appeals of North Carolina, reinstated by the North Carolina Supreme Court, not without dissent.  The United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction and struck down the law.

Again we have an effectively unanimous judgement:  Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion of the court, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotamayor, and Kagan, while Justice Alito wrote a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas.  Justice Gorsuch did not participate in the decision, not having been present for oral arguments.

Justice Kennedy’s core point was that the Internet generally, and social media sites in particular, had become the new medium for many kinds of protected speech–obtaining news, expressing political opinions, communicating with others.  It had in essence become the public parks and town squares of old, the place where people gather to interact.  To refuse someone access to the Web would be to curtail their ability to communicate in the modern age.  That is clearly a limitation on freedom of speech, and as such must face scrutiny–the level of scrutiny in which there must be a demonstrable compelling government interest addressed in the least invasive way possible.  The protection of children from sexual predators is so strong a government interest that it might be possible to restrict the freedoms of potential recidivists, but the North Carolina law goes too far.

The concurring opinion agrees that the North Carolina law goes too far, but objects to the court’s identification of social networking sites as having the importance suggested.  Rather, Alito would suggest that it might be possible to prevent sex offenders from accessing many sites where predators might easily prey on children, but the definition of such sites would have to be refined–tellingly, Alito notes that Amazon, The Washington Post, and WebMD all qualify as “social networking sites” under the definition in the statute, and that perhaps the majority of web sites now do, as they provide ways for visitors to communicate with each other through comments on articles, and frequently to create a member profile.  (The other two requirements in the statute are that they provide some sort of revenue stream to their owners and do not exist primarily to facilitate sales between users (e.g., E-Bay, Craig’s List).)

In any case, it appears that the Supreme Court has decided that your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts (they are specifically mentioned) are important protected media for the exercise of your free speech.  That means something.

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#190: Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #190, on the subject of Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion.

To read the conservative press, you would think that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in writing the majority opinion in Sessions v. Morales-Santana 582 U.S. ____ (2017), had turned her back on women’s rights and struck a blow for men.  Yet even from that reporting I could see that Ginsberg was simply staying true to her principles of equal protection (we had discussed her commitment to this previously in web log post #63:  Equal Protection When Boy Meets Girl).  Still, from the sound of it, I thought she ought to be commended for this consistency even when it seemed to go against her more feminist views.

However, unwilling to write about a court opinion I had not read, I took the time to find it and read it (link above to the official PDF), and found that it was a considerably less impressive story even than I had supposed.

I should perhaps have been tipped off by the fact that the decision was effectively unanimous–seven of nine Justices joining in the majority opinion, Justice Thomas writing a concurring opinion in which he agreed with the result but thought the equal protection language went further than necessary to reach it, and the new Justice Gorsuch not having heard oral arguments not participating in the decision.  The court did not consider it controversial.  They did, however, overturn part of the decision of the Second Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, so apparently there was a difficult issue in the matter.

It is also of some interest to us because although couched as an immigration case it ultimately proves to be a citizenship case, and we have addressed the statutes and cases involved in whether or not someone is a natural born citizen in connection with The Birther Issue when it was raised concerning President Obama, and more recently in web log post #41:  Ted Cruz and the Birther Issue.  The terms under which someone is, or is not, born an American citizen are sometimes confusing.  That was what was at issue here.

Morales-Santana was arrested in New York on a number of relatively minor charges, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service decided to deport him to the Dominican Republic, claiming that he was not a United States citizen.  That was where the story started to get interesting.  It seems that the Respondent’s father, José Morales, was an American citizen, having been born in Puerto Rico, and having lived there for almost nineteen years.  Twenty days before his nineteenth birthday he moved to the Dominican Republic to accept a job offer, and soon moved in with a native Dominican woman.  She gave birth to the Respondent, and the father immediately acknowledged paternity and shortly thereafter married the woman, making the child a member of his household.  Everyone assumed the child was an American citizen like his father.

However, the statute defining whether an unwed U.S. citizen father confers citizenship on his out-of-wedlock child specified, among other things, that the father had to have lived in the United States or its Territories or Possessions (Puerto Rico qualifies) for at least five years after reaching the age of fourteen.  José Morales, having left Puerto Rico less than a month before his nineteenth birthday, fell short of that requirement by twenty days.  Therefore he himself was a citizen, but his child, born abroad out of wedlock to a non-citizen mother, was not.

Morales-Santana, however, recognized a flaw in the law.  Had the situation been reversed–had his mother been an American citizen who bore a child out of wedlock with a non-citizen father–the statute only required that such a mother have been in residence for one year following her fourteenth birthday.  That meant, Morales-Santana argued, that women were being given a right that was being denied to men, in violation of the Equal Protection rights as understood by the United States Supreme Court.

The Second Circuit Court agreed, and decided that the citizenship conferred on children of unwed mothers ought equally to be conferred on those of unwed fathers, and stated that Morales-Santana could not be deported because he was, in fact, a United States citizen.

The government appealed, resulting in this decision.

What Ginsberg tells us is that the anomaly in the statute is the exception for unwed mothers.  The five year rule applies in all other related cases–not only unwed fathers, but married couples in which either spouse is an American citizen and the other is not.  If the Court were to rule that the unwed mother status applied equally to unwed fathers, it would have to rule that the same status applied in all these cases–but the legislature clearly intended that the five year rule would be the norm, and the one year rule a special exception for pregnant unmarried girls.  They would essentially be discarding the entire statute in favor of the exception.  Instead, they ruled that the one year exception was unconstitutional–a ruling whose only effect on the Respondent was that he could not claim citizenship through his father based on the inequity of a rule covering mothers but not fathers.

So Ginsberg certainly did strip some women of a statutory right, but she deserves to be credited for doing so consistently with her express view of equal protection.  Asserting that men and women should be treated the same does mean that sometimes women will be treated worse than they otherwise might have been.  This is one of those cases; it otherwise is not that important.

As a footnote, the court notes at one point that the statute asserts that a child born out of wedlock whose father acknowledges him and takes responsibility for his care will be regarded a citizen from the moment of his birth.  That is relevant to our discussion of what it means to be a natural-born citizen.

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#172: Why Not Democracy?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #172, on the subject of Why Not Democracy?.

As I was writing the previous web log entry, #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), I was reminded that we, in the United States of America, do not live in a democracy.  We live in a representative republic.

That fact was brought home to a lot of people in the recent Presidential election, some of whom are still reeling from it.  I have heard many complaints, mostly from young people, that our elected President did not win the majority of the voters, and therefore does not represent the majority of the people.  (It is at least worth mentioning that the actual vote totals will never be certain:  the vote count was never completed in quite a few voting districts because the total would not have changed the Electoral College outcome in those states.)  We should, they insist, change to a more democratic system, in which every vote counts the same.

We could do that.  Things are a bit more like that in other countries, particularly Israel where everyone votes for whatever parliamentary representatives they want and the entire country is treated as a single district.  Even England’s system is more democratic than ours.  However, note that in these countries the voters do not vote for their chief executive–they vote for their legislative representatives, and these in turn choose the chief executive.  Sure, British Prime Minister Theresa May campaigns for the position, but she does so by touring the country telling voters to support their local Conservative Party candidates for Members of Parliament, who in turn vote her into the Downing Street office.  It is still not strictly democratic, although by taking the vote for head of government away from the people and giving it to their elected representatives it actually becomes a bit closer to it.  However, it still can produce the outcome that the party in power, and thus the chief executive, did not actually have the majority of the votes.  It is a flaw of representative government, but representative government is the only way to avoid having every citizen in the country vote on every law.

The electoral map of the 1824 Presidential election, in which Andrew Jackson took the clear plurality of both the popular and the electoral vote but not the majority of either, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives, who selected John Quincy Adams to serve.
The electoral map of the 1824 Presidential election, in which Andrew Jackson took the clear plurality of both the popular and the electoral vote but not the majority of either, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives, who selected John Quincy Adams to serve.

There are, of course, other ways to achieve a more democratic election of the President of the United States.  People have been complaining about it since at least the 1824 election, when the failure of Andrew Jackson to gain fifty percent in the Electoral College resulted in John Quincy Adams, with less than a third of the vote, being selected for the office by the House of Representatives (the only time in history where no candidate obtained fifty percent of the Electoral College vote).  Some years ago when we were examining the Electoral College in detail in connection with Coalition Government, we noted one suggestion, that each state allocate its electoral votes based on the percentage of voters supporting each candidate–and why that would never be enacted.  More recently, someone proposed that states begin changing their system for apportioning electoral votes such that the votes within the state were irrelevant, that each state would give all its electoral votes to whomever won the popular vote nationally.  That would achieve the desired “democratic” outcome.  It would prevent situations like that of the recent election.  The question is, do we want that?

The first point that should be recognized here is that the majority always wants the democratic system.  That’s because in a democratic system, the majority can always impose its will on the minority.

Of course, that often happens anyway–but many great strides forward in these United States have happened precisely because minorities were empowered.  Certainly it is sometimes the case that majorities become entrenched, resisting necessary change until overwhelmed as public opinion shifts, but it has also been the case that minorities have used the system to gain a voice within the process.  There is something called the tyranny of the majority, when minority voices and positions are overwhelmed and trampled by majority opinions.  Our system was designed in part to prevent that.  There is also a tyranny of the minority, when a small group prevents the majority from doing what it deems right through legal intervention, and our system is supposed to prevent that, as well.  Our system produces gradual change by trying to keep everyone somewhat satisfied.  Younger people are less patient, wanting rapid change.  Older people have usually learned that not all change is for the better, but all change has unintended consequences.  Our country advances a bit, then eases back, then advances again, feeling the path carefully.

Meeting of the Electoral College in Ohio, 2012.
Meeting of the Electoral College in Ohio, 2012.

Many other countries have suffered from what we might call “rapid cycling”.  Because they are so controlled by the majority, and because the majority is mostly in the middle shifting a bit to one side and then to the other but the politicians tend to be at the extremes, it is common for one party to be voted into office, make major changes to everything, upset the bulk of their constituents who only wanted things to change a little and don’t like the unanticipated parts, and so be voted out of office and replaced by an opposing party which proceeds to repeal everything the first party did and pass its own extremist programs, leading to its failure at the polls and the return of the original party, or often yet another party, whose agenda then dominates.  Remember, as we have often mentioned in connection with coalition government, we are not in our chosen parties because everyone in those parties agrees with us on every point; we are there because we have agreed to support each other on those points each of us think important.  That means some of the things you want your party to do other members of your party strongly oppose–the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party wants open borders, but the Labor wing definitely does not; the universal healthcare driven through by the Democratic Progressives has gone very badly for labor unions, whose members lost much of their superior healthcare benefits under the program.  Majority opinion is more fickle than a twelve-year-old girl’s crushes.  Democracy leads to such rapid changes.  People think they want one thing, but when they start to see where that leads, they change their minds and want something else.

Our system does not always give us stability.  In recent years the fracturing of political opinion has led to some very unstable situations.  However, rapid change is always unstable, and we have seen much rapid change over those years.  The system is working to slow the change, to keep things at a pace people can accept.

A more democratic system would not be a better one.

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#171: The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention)

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #171, on the subject of The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention).

One subject that intrigues me is what is called church polity, that is, the way various churches and denominations organize and operate themselves both locally and globally.  We call our various subdivisions synods, presbyteries, conferences, and quite a few other names.  Among the Baptists, a highly democratic and congregationalist group (“congregationalist” polity means that the church is run entirely from the bottom up, as church members decide what the denomination believes and does, and anyone who disagrees either goes along for the sake of unity or leaves the group), divide themselves into “conventions”, gatherings that attempt to agree on what is important to them.  Each convention elects a president, who sets the agenda for his term; they also hire staff to provide services for the member churches, such as publications.  I am not an expert on church polity, with only passing familiarity with a half dozen or so denominations, but my mind was caught particularly by the practice of one denomination, the Seventh Day Baptist Convention, and I thought it might have lessons for non-religious people immersed in the secular political world.

Seventh Day Baptist Churchof Plainfield, New Jersey
Seventh Day Baptist Church
of Plainfield, New Jersey

For those who care about such things, the Seventh Day Baptists were founded in England and are the oldest denomination in America to observe a Saturday Sabbath.  Some are perhaps a bit legalistic about that while others are more relaxed–much as found in Sunday-observing churches.  (I have written On Sabbath elsewhere.)  They are otherwise like most Baptist churches.  Once a year–in the United States, it happens in August–they hold a major meeting of the convention, Conference, hundreds of members getting together somewhere for a week of meetings and services and discussions.  (The week prior to this, they have a major gathering for the youth of the denomination in the same location, many of whom then stay for the convention itself.)  It is at this conference that they elect a president.

The interesting aspect is that the president does not at that moment take office.  He is elected to replace the current president, but it is expected that he will take time to tour the denomination, talk to the churches, and develop his “vision” for the denomination during his term.  He remains effectively “president-elect” during this time–an entire year, as the following year at conference he will step into the role, introduce his vision for the year ahead, and oversee the election of the person who will replace him as president elect.  He now has a year to serve as president of the denomination, to make his vision a reality, before the new president takes the office at the next annual conference.

There are a lot of interesting aspects to that.  For one thing, I don’t believe anyone has ever served two consecutive terms, but in the several centuries of history (our local congregation was established before the American Revolutionary War) I could not say whether anyone has filled the position more than once.  It is a small denomination, the sort in which ordinary members all over the country know each other, partly because in addition to this annual meeting they have another annual business meeting one weekend to which everyone is invited, hosted by one of the member churches, and several smaller multi-church gatherings.  So the fact that I know a father and a son who both held the position (many years apart) does not suggest nepotism as much as tradition.  It also means that no one runs on his record–you are not going to be elected to serve two consecutive terms.  Interestingly, you are not really elected based on what you promise to do; you are elected based on the belief of the electorate that you will do something that needs to be done, something that will be good for the denomination.  You are elected, in essence, because people trust you to discover the needs in the church and address them.

Ultimately, too, the system reminds us that all leaders are temporary.  In a democratic system such as a representative federation, almost all leaders serve terms of office which end after a few years.  (Our federal judiciary is appointed for life, but even that ends eventually.)  Some can be re-elected, but many have term limits, and re-election is never guaranteed.  The people we have picked to be our leaders were picked because a large number of us from a very large area of the country thought they would do what needed to be done.  It was not exacty because we liked their policies, although that is part of it and in truth it was also partly because many of us feared the policies of the alternative.  It was, rather, because we perceived these as people who would try to do what America needed to have done.  It might not be exactly what they intended to do initially, and they might not succeed in their objectives, but we needed to change the course of the Ship of State, and this crew seemed to be the best chance to do so.  We know that we are committed to this choice for the short term, and if we are unhappy with it there will be a chance to change in the not too distant future (already serious politicians are working on their twenty twenty presidential campaigns).

Every once in a while I find myself trying to reconstruct the sequence of Presidents and Vice Presidents who have served during my lifetime.  They are all important, and they all have done things that mattered at the time.  Some have also done things with long-term consequences, but despite their importance at the time there are few who can tell you what significant actions were taken by the Eisenhauer administration, or that of Johnson, or Ford, or Carter, or even Clinton.  We remember the scandals, but what Presidents do is rarely remembered outside history books.

So stop worrying about it.  A Presidential term is really a rather short moment in history, even in the course of your life.  There will be other Presidents, some better and some worse than the present one.  Let’s see what this one does, and build from there.

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#160: For All In Authority

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #160, on the subject of For All In Authority.

O.K., show of hands:  how many of you have been praying for our new president?

I see that hand.

img0160Trump

No, I appreciate this.  I have never been much of one for canned uninformed “pray for the President/pray for the leaders”–I never know what to pray, and I’ve been a political writer for several years, and still don’t know what to pray.  Part of the difficulty I face is that we are told to give thanks for the answers to our petitions, but for most of what I can imagine asking I have no reason to expect to see how God has answered–I am not privy to cabinet meetings nor to the thoughts of men.  Part of the problem is that it is very easy to want God to move our leaders to my political opinion, and God does not generally do that, or at least not that I’ve recognized in others.

But I am upset about the people who have been protesting, and particularly because I know that at least some of them would take the name “Christian”.  I do not mean that Christians should never protest.  I am not even saying that Christians should never be involved in overthrowing governments–that’s simply more than I know.  However, the call we were given was to pray, not to condemn.  In a modern democracy, the proper function of protest is to communicate our opinions to our leaders, not to condemn them for theirs.  Communicate, certainly; do not condemn.

One of those who taught me along the way made the statement God gives you the person that you need, not necessarily the person that you may want.  I do not even now remember to what exact situation he was applying that, but I have recognized it in connection with spouses, pastors, and particularly governments.  (I suspect it applies as well to parents, although I was out of the house and married before I heard it; I wonder to what degree it applies to children.)  Proverbs has a verse which in the original speaks of a lot falling in a lap, an archaic concept among archaic concepts for which the Christian Gamers Guild has found a modern translation, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines where they fall.”  Benjamin Franklin noted that if sparrows do not fall without God’s notice, nations certainly do not rise without His aid–and that would undoubtedly apply as well to governments.  At this point we know, incontrovertibly, that God chose to make Donald Trump President of these United States.  We may debate whether that is upon us a blessing or a curse, a reward or a punishment, a path forward or an impediment to truth, but whatever it is, it is what God decided we needed.  This is God’s gift to us, what He has given.

And every gift God gives is good.

Don’t choke on that.  Understand, as I know I have said previously and elsewhere, that when the Bible says that God’s gifts are good, it does not mean necessarily that we will like them.  All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose it says in Romans 8, but it does not mean that everything that happens to us will be pleasant.  Eat your spinach, it’s good for you–this is the kind of good Paul meant there, that whatever comes to us benefits us, whether we enjoy it or not.  Suffering produces endurance.  When Jesus says that God gives both sun and rain to the good and the bad, the righteous and the unrighteous, He did not mean that we all get good things and bad things–he meant that we get the good that is the sun and the good that is the rain.  I do not yet know whether this presidency will be steak or Brussels sprouts–the good I will enjoy or the good I need to endure–but I know that it has been given to us and it is good.

In the early days of the church, nearly all Christians lived in or near Jerusalem.  Then a terrible thing happened.  A Christian named Steven was lynched by a mob.  Instead of the rioters being brought to justice, the local ruler arrested one of the top people in the church, a man named James, and had him executed.  The persecution of believers had begun.  Many, including some of the leaders themselves, fled Jerusalem, left the province known as Judea, and sought homes elsewhere in the Roman Empire.  It was undoubtedly something they would have prayed to end, despite the fact that Jesus told them it would happen–and we see in hindsight that these fleeing believers carried the message with them into places it would not have reached nearly as quickly otherwise, so the church spread and grew as others heard the gospel and believed.  Christians had been told to take the message into the whole world, but were rather complacently sitting in the one small town (and face it, as capital cities of the time went, Jerusalem was a small one) sharing the message mostly with people who had already heard it or knew where to hear it if they were interested.  We needed that trouble to move us in the right direction.

Therefore I know what to pray.  I pray that God will give wisdom to this man and his advisors, so that they will accomplish the task God has given them in the best way possible.  I do not know what that task might be, nor do I know to what degree the answer to my prayer will involve God clearing the path for what the man wants to do and to what degree it involves God impeding that path so that only part of the human program will be accomplished.  I do know that God will accomplish His purpose, one way or another, and the current presidency is part of that.  We are instructed to pray, and not given much understanding of what to pray, but this is enough.  One way or another, this should move us in the right direction.  We might not know what the right direction is (and for those first century Christians it seems to have been every direction as long as it was motion), but we know that God is moving somewhere and will bring us where He wants us to be.

So let us pray.

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#158: Show Me Religious Freedom

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #158, on the subject of Show Me Religious Freedom.

It appears that Missouri has become a battleground for issues of church-state relations.  During the election we noted in web log post #126:  Equity and Religion that there was a ballot issue related to a cigarette tax to fund childhood education which included controversial language permitting such funds to go to programs sponsored by religious institutions or groups.  The measure was soundly defeated, incidently (59% to 40%), but whether that was due to opposition to the almost unnoticed clause about funding religious groups or to the near one thousand percent increase in the cigarette tax can’t be known.  The state is back in the news on the religion subject, as a lawsuit between the state and a church school is going to be heard by the United States Supreme Court this year.

The case is Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley, and SCOTUSblog nicely summarizes the issue as

Whether the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses when the state has no valid Establishment Clause concern.

But perhaps that will make more sense if we put some detail to it.

img0158Tires

Missouri runs a program that collects used tires and recycles them into playground surfacing material, providing schools and other facilities with a durable but softer play surface.  The program is funded by a surcharge on new tires–technically tax money dedicated to the purpose of handling scrap tires.  Trinity Lutheran Church runs a school which has a playground used by the students but also by neighborhood children.  They applied to the program to resurface that playground with the safer materials, but were refused on the grounds of a church-state issue.

Some would argue that the “separation of church and state” is on the state’s side in this, but that is not in the Constitution.  The Establishment Clause means only that the government cannot show favoritism between various religious and non-religious organizations; it can’t promote any specific religion, nor can it oppose any specific religion.  It will be argued as to whether providing playground surfacing materials to a church-run school might be promoting that church, but that is not all that is at stake.  Missouri is one of thirty-eight states which have what is known as a “Blaine Amendment”, after Maine Senator James G. Blaine who in 1875 proposed an amendment to the United States Constitution along these lines.  The Constitutional amendment proposal failed, but the majority of states adapted the concept to a variety of state constitutional amendments which were adopted and are still the law in those states.

The mindset of the nineteenth century was so very different from ours today that it is difficult to grasp.  If ever the United States was a “Christian nation” (I do not believe such an entity ever has or even can exist), it was so then.  Protestant denominations were separated from each other in friendly competition, and often worked together in evangelistic outreach; we had come through two “Great Awakenings” from which the vast majority of Americans, and particularly those who were neither Jewish nor recent immigrants (such as the Chinese in California), were Christians in Protestant churches.  However, those new immigrants–particularly the Irish and the Italians–were predominantly Roman Catholic, and Protestants still feared Catholicism, and not entirely unreasonably.  The fear arose because in countries dominated by Catholicism governments were perceived as following the dictates of the church–a fear which remained in this country until then Presidential candidate John Fitzgerald Kennedy made his September 1960 speech on the subject.  As a result, Blaine was the tip of an iceberg of an effort to prevent Catholicism from conquering America through the democratic process, perceived as in effect making the Pope our de facto emperor.  (We see similar efforts today reacting to the fear that Islamic immigrants will conquer by democratic process and impose Sharia Law on America.)

The word used was “sectarian”, and we might find that word inappropriate for its meaning.  After all, even at the dawn of the 1960s public school classes were opened with prayer and a reading from the Bible.  However, these were Protestant prayers, prayers that would have been embraced by every denomination from Episcopalian to Lutheran to Presbyterian to Baptist to Pentecostal.  They were thus viewed as non-sectarian, not preferring any one Christian denomination over any other.  Up until Pope John XXIII, Catholicism regarded all Protestants as condemned heretics (and it was more recently than that that the church has reached the position that there might be salvation outside the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches).  That was seen as the divisive position; the Protestant’s rejection of that was not seen as divisive, because Protestants were otherwise united and respected each other’s beliefs, at least in this country.

Blaine’s effort was attempting to prevent state money from going to Catholic education (“sectarian schools”).  Missouri’s version is considerably more strict.  It reads:

That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.

Arguably, read strictly this would prevent underpaid teachers in private religious schools from receiving food stamps or Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or prevent unemployed ordained ministers from getting welfare or social security.  No one has made that argument to this point; such programs were then not even imagined.

So this is what the First Amendment actually says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The sense is that the government will not interfere with the opinions of the people, or the expression thereof.  In a sense, the government has to be “opinion blind”–it can’t decline to give food stamps to a member of the Libertarian Party, or refuse to hire someone who previously worked for a Catholic charity, or decide whether someone can speak at a public meeting based on whether he was once Boy Scout or Mason or Gideon.

It would also seem to mean that the government cannot decide that an organization cannot receive public funds for a strictly secular purpose based on whether it is a religious organization.

Let us for the moment take the name out of this case.  Let us suppose that the plaintiff is the Columbia Community School.  It happens to be run by the Columbia Community Fellowship, but is incorporated separately as an educational institution.  Thus the application for materials from the program says that the applicant is “Columbia Community School”.  The question suddenly becomes whether the people who make the decision have the right to ask whether “Columbia Community School” is a religious organization–which under our hypothetical it is, but you would not know that from the name on the application.  Would it be a violation of the first amendment for the government to inquire whether the school is a religious organization?  Two points should by raised.  One is that it is established that the playground is used by children in the neighborhood who have no connection to the school; the other is that many public and private schools rent or even lend their facilities to groups for meetings some of which use these facilities for religious worship services–a use which the courts have agreed is legitimate, and indeed that it would be unconsitutional to forbid such use solely on the basis that publicly owned properties are being used by private individuals for religious purposes on the same terms that they are being used by other organizations for other purposes.  It thus seems that it would be illegal to ask the question, and the only reason the issue exists here is that we assume an organization with the words “Trinity”, “Lutheran”, and “Church” in the name is a religious organization.  While that seems a safe assumption, it is as prejudicial as assuming that someone with the given name “Ebony” or “Tyrone” must be black.

Let us also consider this aspect of the separation of the organization from the purpose.  Brigham Young University is clearly connected to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormons).  It also receives government grants for scientific research.  Should the fact that the school was founded by a religious organization for religious purposes disqualify it from receiving such monies?  If so, should the same rule apply to schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame?  Patently it is legitimate use of government money to support academic research in secular fields, even if performed by religious persons at religious institutions.

It appears that the only sane conclusion here is that the government cannot discriminate against religious persons or institutions in the disbursement of aid for secular purposes.  We might argue that there is a fungible resources issue, that the money the church does not have to spend on playground resurfacing is money they can use for religious purposes, but ultimately the only use that this paving material has is to create safer play surfaces for children, and the only way the church can get that material is through the government program, so denying it would be making “a law respecting an establishment of religion”, clearly forbidden by the Bill of Rights.

The Blaine Amendment, at least in the form it has in Missouri, is unconstitutional.

We’ll see whether the Supreme Court agrees with that later this year.

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#156: A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #156, on the subject of A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks.

Anyone following the Redskins trademark dispute will be interested to know that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that is going to impact that–not the Redskins case itself, but a case close enough in its content that a Virginia federal appeals court has put the Redskins case on hold pending the outcome of the present case.

The case, Lee v. Tam, involves an American rock band whose members are all Asian, who want to trademark their band’s name, The Slants.  The U. S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to register the name on the grounds that it was disparaging of Asian Americans.  However, the Federal Appeals Court for the Federal Circuit overturned that decision, stating that it was an unconstitutional impingement on free speech, concluding that the provision under trademark law forbidding such protection of any trademark which “[c]onsists of…matter which may disparage…persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute” is unconstitutional on its face.

The Patent and Trademark Office has appealed, and the Obama Justice Department has supported that appeal.

The Slants performing at the 2016 Saboten Con at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona, photo by Gage Skidmore.
The Slants performing at the 2016 Saboten Con at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona, photo by Gage Skidmore.

Simon Shiao Tam, founder of the band, argues that they took the name as a way of embracing their Asian heritage, and that it neither offends those Asian Americans who are their fans nor is intended to do so.  He also points out that “slants”, while popularly used as a racial slur, has other non-racial meanings (unlike “Redskins”, “Nigger“, and similar epithets).  Still, the question isn’t whether the word can be used in an inoffensive manner, but whether the government can deny a trademark on the grounds that some might take it to be offensive.

One of the arguments raised by the government is that the State of Texas won a decision that they did not have to permit a personalized license plate design which included the Confederate Flag.  There, however, the argument was that since the plate is an official government document issuing such plates would be as if the government were endorsing the use of that flag.  It is, perhaps, a weak argument–the government cannot legally be endorsing all the organizations which apply for such plate designs, many of whom have political or religious connections–but it is weaker applied to trademarks, as the Office has repeatedly asserted that the issuance of a trademark does not indicate endorsement of what it represents.

Against the government, enforcement of the rule has been uneven.  Numerous trademarks have been issued that include racial epithets or other offensive language.  If the government wins, many of those might have to be rescinded, and might end up in litigation.

Against The Slants, there is at least some reason for enforcement of a rule against offensive trademarks.  A broad decision here could open the door to a wealth of product names far more offensive to far more groups.  A narrow decision would probably have to take the line that whether the trademark is offensive must be determined in the context of whether the audience would perceive it so.  The slogan “Bring your bitch here” is probably not offensive if it is used by a groomer or veterinary clinic, but would be so at the entrance to a bar.  However, the harder case would be whether accommodations near the Westminster Kennel Club dog show could use that slogan to let breeders and trainers know that their animals are welcome in the rooms or dining areas.  Yet the court might here find that context matters and still rule against The Slants, since the question would be whether “slants” is an offensive Asian epithet and they are an all-Asian band.

Ultimately, though, as Ray Bradbury reminded us half a century ago, everything worth writing is offensive to someone.  Any effort to censor free expression in trademarks is doomed to failure, because the issue of what is and is not offensive is too subjective to legislate.

I am inclined to think that people who register and use offensive trademarks in order to be offensive will alienate potential customers and pay an economic penalty for it.  That should be a sufficient disincentive to the practice.  Otherwise, our high courts will spend a tremendous amount of time reviewing lawsuits over whether individual trademark applications are or are not too offensive under whatever standard is adopted.

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#96: Federal Non-enforcement

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #96, on the subject of Federal Non-enforcement.

Someone mentioned recently that he and a mutual friend were planning to start a business.  The friend was going to liquidate his inheritance and together they were going to move to Colorado and become farmers.

If you’re planning to become a farmer and moving to Colorado to do it, your intended crop is pretty obviously marijuana; he did not have to say so.  I pointed out that there were some hazards with such a plan because although marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, it is still illegal at the federal level.  That has impact on a number of aspects of running a business, most notably the banking, since all banks are federally regulated and they are quite reasonably concerned about violating regulations intended to thwart drug trafficking.  It isn’t just that you can’t get loans; it is difficult to get business checking accounts.

His concern was what would happen if a Republican won in the fall, and that is certainly a concern; there is, however, another significant concern which might well matter regardless of who becomes the next President of the United States.

img0096Marijuana

The concern about the Presidential election is certainly obvious.  Federal drug laws related to marijuana production, sale, purchase, and use are not being enforced in Colorado because the Chief Executive has decided not to enforce them.  There is some merit to this decision, since we have a definite conflict of laws situation and part of the concept of the federal/state divide is that states become experimental petri dishes for solutions to problems.  In that sense, letting Colorado experiment with legalized marijuana as a solution to part of the drug trade and associated crime is a very American approach.  The next President might decide otherwise, though, and then enforcement will resume.  However, the question is raised as to whether the President can turn a blind eye to violations of federal law in any of the states.

That question has already been raised in a different context.  The same administration that has decided not to enforce federal drug law in Colorado has also decided not to enforce certain aspects of federal immigration law, and quite a few states particularly in the southwest have sued in federal court–and thus far, the states seem to be winning.  If the President can’t pick and choose what laws to enforce in relation to immigration, he probably can’t do so in relation to drug law.

Of course, the situation is not exactly the same here.  States like Arizona want the federal government to enforce immigration law, and to allow them to do so in the absence of federal enforcement, and the administration is fighting to prevent the enforcement of those laws.  Colorado, by contrast, wants the federal government to refrain from enforcing certain aspects of federal drug law within its own borders, and the federal government is cooperating with that.  Colorado certainly is not going to file suit to have the law enforced.

However, already several of the state’s neighbors have done so.  They claim that failure by federal agencies to enforce federal drug law in Colorado has resulted in illegal drugs crossing state lines more readily, and given them more trouble with their own drug enforcement efforts.  That has not progressed far, but the concept is the same:  can the President of the United States unilaterally decide not to enforce specific federal laws in specific ways or specific places?  Can the executive say no, we will not enforce federal drug policy in Colorado, and we will not enforce federal immigration policy in the southwest?  The courts are already saying no to the latter; the connection is obvious enough that they will probably say no to the former.

If they do, it won’t matter who becomes the next President of the United States:  the federal courts will decide that Colorado can’t prevent enforcement of federal drug law within its borders, and the federal executive cannot choose to ignore those violations.

It might turn around, but at this point the two policies are almost certainly going to be linked, and in a way that decides the degree to which the President of the United States can decide what laws actually get enforced and which ones can be ignored.  It is a dangerous policy to give the executive that much power, and the framers of the Constitution seem to have tried to avoid doing so, but you can never be certain which way the courts will go or on what basis they will make their decisions.

For myself, I would not bet on the Colorado experiment escaping federal intervention for more than a few years, unless Congress decides to change federal law.

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#63: Equal Protection When Boy Meets Girl

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #63, on the subject of Equal Protection When Boy Meets Girl.

United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg does not like the Roe v. Wade decision.

To many, that will sound like nonsense.  Ginsburg is the anchor of abortion rights on the United States Supreme Court, and Roe the seminal case which recognized, some would say created, such a right.  Yet Ginsburg does not disagree that there is such a right; she disagrees regarding the basis of that right, and thus with the reasoning of Roe which is its foundation.

Roe v. Wade is in essence a Right to Privacy case.  Beginning with Griswold v. Connecticutt, in which the court found that the state could not criminalize the act of teaching couples how to use contraceptives in the privacy of their own bedroom, the court inferred that the First Amendment protections of freedom of expression, Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, implied a right to keep one’s personal matters private.  There were several intervening cases which extended that, and there have been others arising since Roe, but in Roe the argument was that the decision to have an abortion was a medical decision between a woman and her doctor, and as such was a private matter in which the government should not interfere without a very compelling interest.

Ginsburg disagrees.  That argument, she claims, makes a private and personal decision a matter to be discussed with a doctor–a paternalistic oversight that according to Ginsburg violates the fundamental right at stake.  She claims that a woman’s decision should be autonomous, something she decides without involving anyone she does not wish to involve.  She makes it an Equal Protection right, covered largely by the fifth through tenth amendments.  Her assertion is that a woman should have the autonomous right to decide whether to bear a child, unimpeded by any considerations including medical ones, because it is solely the woman’s problem.

Ginberg’s reasoning presents serious challenges for those who oppose abortion.  If her line were adopted, current efforts to regulate abortion providers and facilities would be unconstitutional.  As the decision stands, if abortion is a privacy right as a medical decision on the advice of a medical professional, it is completely reasonable for reasonable regulations of the medical profession to restrict access to abortions based on the government’s regulation of health care.  If it is an autonomous right under equal protection, then a woman in theory should be able to have a doctor or anyone she chooses perform one in the privacy of her own bedroom without any government involvement at all.  Yet Ginsburg’s position suffers from some other problems.  She believes she is defending the concept that a woman should be treated exactly as a man would be in the same circumstance, but (apart from the fact that men would not be in exactly the same circumstance) the treatment of men in this circumstance is already worse than the treatment of women, viewed from the perspective of individual autonomy and equal protection.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg official United States Supreme Court portrait.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg official United States Supreme Court portrait.

Let’s look at the situation:  boy meets girl.  We’ll call our girl Ruth, for Justice Ginsburg, and we’ll name the boy Tony, in memorium of the recent passing of her good friend, colleague, and adversary Justice Antonin Scalia.

Ruth and Tony meet, maybe at work, maybe at a party, maybe at school or in the neighborhood.  They like each other, and start seeing each other.  They find themselves attracted to each other.  Human physiology being designed to promote reproduction, at some point they have desires to have sex.  At this point they are just about equal, as far as reproductive rights are concerned.  Some argue that Tony is disadvantaged in that his drives are stronger than Ruth’s, but there aren’t many ways to test that.  Ruth might have more resistance to those drives because the consequences are more direct for her, but in essence it is within the power of each them them to choose, autonomously, not to engage in sex.  It is also within their power to choose, jointly, to risk a pregnancy.

Yes, Tony could rape Ruth; Tony could coerce Ruth by some other inducement.  Women are raped fairly often, usually by men, sometimes by women.  Men are also raped, by men and sometimes by women, but considerably less often–although more often than reported.  Men are more embarrassed about being raped than women are, and so less likely to report it; and they are taken less seriously when they do, partly because some people think a man can’t really be raped by a woman, and partly because men who have never been raped by a woman somehow think they would enjoy it.  Rape, though, is a separate issue:  anyone who has been raped has had rights fundamentally violated, quite apart from the problem of potential pregnancy.

If Ruth and Tony agree to engage in sex, suddenly the entire picture changes:  they no longer have equal reproductive rights.  A significant part of that is simply technological.  Either of them could have an operation rendering him or her permanently infertile, which is generally a drastic step few want to take and is a considerably more expensive and difficult (but ultimately more reliable) procedure for Ruth than for Tony.  Barring that, though, Tony is limited to the question of whether or not to use a condom–a prophylactic device with a rather high failure rate.  Ruth’s equivalent, a diaphram, is a bit more difficult to get (must be fitted by a gynecologist) but considerably more effective; she also has several other options.  Usually she would use spermicide (sometimes known as “foam”) with a diaphram, but she can also use hormone treatments, usually in pill form but sometimes as implants, that disrupt her ovulation cycle.  All of these options have varying probabilities of preventing conception; there are other options.  Intra-uterine devices (IUDs) usually reduce the chance of conception but also prevent or sometimes disrupt implantation, causing a spontaneous abortion–what in popular jargon is called a “miscarriage”, but at so early a stage that pregnancy was not suspected.  In all these ways, all the reproductive rights are on Ruth’s side:  if she chooses not to become pregnant, she has an arsenal of ways to prevent it.

However, young lovers are often careless.  Birth control is so unromantic, so non-spontaneous.  The young suffer from the illusion of invulnerability, that they are the heroes of their own stories and everything is going to work according to their expectations.  People have sex and don’t get pregnant; some couples try for unsuccessful years to have a baby.  A pregnancy is often a surprise, even for those who want it.  People take the risk, and Ruth and Tony might lose.  So now there is a baby on the way, as they say, and again Ruth’s reproductive rights are more than equal to Tony’s.  She can choose to carry the child to term, or to have an abortion.  He has no say in the matter, even if he is her husband.  She might include him in the decision, but it is her decision; she does not even need to inform him that there is a decision.  She can end the story right here.  He cannot.  He has no say about his own reproductive rights.  He cannot say, “I do not want to be the father of a child; terminate it.”  Nor can he say, “I want this baby, keep it.”  He does not, in that regard, have equal protection.

Maybe he does not care; maybe he figures it is her problem.  However, it is not just her problem–it is also his problem.  The inequities are not yet quite done.  If Ruth decides not to have an abortion–exercising her reproductive rights and overriding his–the child is born.  At that moment Ruth has yet another choice:  she can keep the child, committing herself to the difficulties and expenses of raising it, or she can absolve herself of all further responsibility, agreeing never to see the child again, by putting it up for adoption.  I do not want to minimize the agony of that choice, but it is her choice–it is not his choice, and he has no say in the matter.  His reproductive rights are not equally protected.

In most cases, if she chooses to surrender the child for adoption, he has no say in the matter; he cannot say it is his child and he wants to keep it.  That, though, is only half the problem.  If she decides that she wants to keep the child, she can sue him for child support–and indeed, if Ruth is poor enough that she files for public assistance from the state, most states will find Tony and force him to make child support payments, and jail him if he fails to do so.  It is his responsibility to support the child if she says it is.  He can claim that it is not his child–the tests can be expensive, but there is an avenue to avoid false claims–but we already agreed that it is his, so he is going to have to support it.  She had a choice; he has none.

So by all means, let’s think of abortion as an Equal Protection issue.  Men are not protected in this nearly as well as women.  A lot of things would have to change to get there.

In addition to web log posts with the Abortion, Discrimination, and Health Care tags, see also the articles Why Shouldn’t You Have Sex If You Aren’t Married?, and Was John Brown a Hero or a Villain?

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