Following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the numerous wars among the onetime member states of the former Yugoslavia, the 1999 Treaty of Rome established the International Criminal Court to end impunity for crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. While the court’s mandate also included the crime of aggression, a review meeting the last two weeks in Kampala, Uganda, wrestled with defining that crime and establishing related rules for the court’s jurisdiction. A major issue is whether the court should leave the identification of the crime of aggression to the United Nations Security Council on the grounds that naming aggression involves political judgment. Smaller nations, not wanting to leave the decision to the Big Five on the Security Council (Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and the United States) propose instead moving it to the General Assembly—whose actions are even more political.
In its short history, the court has made serious advances in extending the rule of law to states, establishing warrants for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur and Joseph Kony, the notorious leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, for crimes against humanity. While some African leaders are among the court’s foremost critics, others argue that it has already made a substantial contribution to establishing the rule of law across that continent. Its record suggests that in the future it may even be able to address the question of aggression where major powers are involved. It is unreasonable to think that international law should be applied only to lesser powers and emerging states and not to major powers. A possible compromise lies in allowing the Security Council to retain jurisdiction for a stated period of time, with jurisdiction reverting to the court once that time has elapsed.
National Day of Prayer
Is a national day of prayer unconstitutional? Yes, ruled a federal judge in Wisconsin, Barbara Crabb, in mid-April, because such a statute points to “an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function.” Her ruling stemmed from a lawsuit brought by the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which claimed that a national day of prayer violated the separation of church and state. Last year, the Obama administration asked Judge Crabb to dismiss the organization’s case, and she has stayed her ruling pending the completion of appeals.
The issue of a national day of prayer arose as far back as 1775, when the Continental Congress called for one in the course of forming a new nation. Two decades later President John Adams set May 9 as a day not only of prayer but also of fasting at a time when the United States was at odds with France. In his proclamation in 1863, Abraham Lincoln also called for a national day of prayer and fasting as the Civil War ground on, in the hope that “genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon” for “our presumptuous sins.”
Congress finally established a national day of prayer in 1952, and in 1988 it set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue a proclamation asking Americans to pray. With wars raging in the Middle East and Central Asia—whatever the outcome of Judge Crabb’s ruling—the proclamation may seem to many not unreasonable, especially when we too might accuse ourselves, in Lincoln’s words, of “presumptuous sins.”
A Win-Win Situation
On a playing field in Indianapolis a few weeks ago, Vince Lombardi’s slogan, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” would have been clearly out of place. The junior varsity girls softball team from Roncalli Catholic High was set to play Marshall Community, an inner-city middle school playing its first softball game ever.
After nine Roncalli girls were walked by the Marshall pitcher, the girls realized there is more to sports than crushing the opponent. They probably could have won 100 to 0. Roncalli had not lost a game in over two years but decided to offer to forfeit the game rather than humiliate the Marshall girls.
What happened next? The Roncalli team spent the next two hours teaching the Marshall girls how to get better instead of beaten. Together they practiced batting and fielding, running bases and how to use the equipment the Roncalli girls shared with them. Marshall had come with only two bats, no helmets, no cleats and five balls.
Even after the game, this spirit continued. Roncalli’s J.V. coach, Jeff Taylor, appealed to the parents of his girls for equipment for Marshall—used bats, gloves, helmets and team shirts. Reebok and the Cincinnati Reds also contributed to assist the Marshall girls. Instead of an embarrassing blowout victory for Roncalli, the loss became a win for everyone.
Blessed Pope John XXIII, after whom Roncalli Catholic is named, once remarked that he especially enjoyed being with children because they did not take him to be a pope with fancy robes, but simply an old man. We are sure he looked down with smiles upon the childlike spirit and friendliness of the two softball teams that day.