Religious Freedom Facts
Re “Bridging Our Divisions” (Editorial, 4/27): It is indeed unfortunate, but not unpredictable, that “religious liberty has become a partisan issue.” The legal adage quoted by Justice Ginsburg in her dissent to the Hobby Lobby case, “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins,” is particularly apt to the current debate regarding state religious freedom laws. The situation is not helped by politicians and activists on both sides who do not take the time to understand existing laws or the legislative reforms they endorse.
Religious practitioners are protected not only by the First Amendment but also by various state and federal laws. The Indiana Constitution, for example, which was adopted in 1851, provides, “No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.” As recently as 2001, the Indiana Supreme Court interpreted this clause as meaning, “the police power of the State is limited and may not materially burden” the freedom of religion. In keeping with this preference for religious freedom, Indiana’s recently adopted antidiscrimination law specifically exempts churches and nonprofit, tax-exempt religiously affiliated organizations, including schools.
Thanks to Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., for his historical reflection, “Return to Saigon” (4/27). Some years ago Henry Kissinger related the following tragic story at the U.S. Army War College, where I was teaching at the time. He was directing the evacuation of the embassy in Saigon from the White House. He stated that there was a bureaucratic slip-up, resulting in not enough helicopters actually being deployed for what was needed to evacuate the many people who were awaiting rescue. Meanwhile, Capt. Stuart Herrington was a member of the security unit for the evacuation. He had been telling the Vietnamese that the United States would evacuate all of them, but it soon became clear that would not be the case. Years later at the Army War College Herrington and Kissinger met, whereupon Kissinger told Herrington, “I owe you an explanation.”
Tax Pollution, Not Labor
From the perspective of Catholic social teaching, “The Taxman Cometh,” by Joseph Dunn (4/13), omits much. First, the Center for Tax Justice has documented that taxes in our country are barely progressive overall, while active state-level tax “reform” efforts in recent times are heavily regressive.
Second, our national tax structure encourages the mining and burning of fossil fuels, while taxing labor (and thus hiring). This is against Catholic social teaching to steward the environment. If we end tax incentives for fossil fuel mining and phase in a tax on the burning of fossil fuels, we could significantly reduce business and personal taxes, with special help to the poorest, or else give an equal-dollar amount, Alaska-style rebate to all Americans. Several studies suggest that such a plan would stimulate the economy and dramatically reduce heat-trapping air pollution that most threatens the poorest.
Justice for All
Re “Called to Account. Finally” (Current Comment, 4/6): It is good news, wonderful news, that the murderers and assassins of Central and South America, many trained in the United States at the School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, are running out of places to hide. There is, however, also a rather glaring omission in this comment. Killed at the same time as the six Jesuits in El Salvador were their housekeeper/cook, Elba Ramos, and her daughter, Celina Ramos. I write in hope that when the murderers are apprehended and stand trial they will be charged and held accountable for all eight deaths.
Re “Lord, Have Mercy,” by Jeanne Bishop (4/6): I teach a bible study and am part of a group of Catholics that brings the Eucharist to a maximum-security prison, where about 70 percent of the men have committed murder. Every man who has spoken to me about his crime has said, “You wouldn’t recognize me if you met me when I first entered the prison system.” All of the men I talk with are remorseful and most can’t forgive themselves because they don’t know if their victims or their victims’ family could ever forgive them. I tell them they are created in the image and likeness of God and when I look into their eyes I see Christ looking back at me. Ms. Bishop’s letter to David Biro was beyond kind, bringing him out of the darkness into the light of Christ.
Re “A Space for Women” (Editorial, 3/30): If I were running a business or a political campaign or a secular non-profit organization, I would, of course, want to hire and retain men and women who could advance the mission of the organization and assure its continuity and growth. Now assume that as I interview female candidates, I point out to them that they are absolutely welcome here, but certain positions in leadership are not open to them. Other positions might become open to them, and our company has a committee studying that, which will get back to me at some indefinite future date.
I can only imagine that the woman to whom I spoke would first wonder what planet I was from, then slam the door while leaving the building and probably call an attorney. Most definitely she would take her talents elsewhere. It’s 2015. Women are prime ministers of great democracies. They are C.E.O.’s of such major corporations like General Motors, Yahoo!, IBM and Pepsico. Women are among the top physicians and lawyers, and presidents of major universities. We’re running out of excuses.
Re “Transformed From Within,” by Rev. Ryan Rooney (3/30): I want to thank Father Rooney for his honesty and service to the church. Though I have never had a weight problem, I did not walk until I was 3 years old and there was a fear that it could be spina bifida. Time revealed that it was simply slow development. At the suggestion of a local doctor, my mom enrolled me in ballet classes, and that started a lifetime of exercise. It has bothered me most of my life that people comment about my “fitness” as though it were genetically related, i.e., “easy” for me. As the author writes, it is a daily effort (enjoyable in the end).
My parents also instilled in me an appreciation for the gift of food. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s concept of cheap grace versus costly grace. Our relationship with food is costly grace. I do not grow my own food. Someone else’s labor gets me my food, and I must appreciate that. I must go shopping for my food; I must cook my food; I must clean up after my cooking. All this takes time. Most of all, I must savor every bite while eating it. With more natural foods available now, it is easier for me to appreciate what I eat as God’s gift. Good eating and physical exercise make life in God better and better over the decades!
Re “The Rights of Unions” (Current Comment, 3/23): The statement that “From the standpoint of Catholic social teaching, [right to work] laws are problematic: they privilege the rights of the individual over the good of the group” is simply not true. In 1895 Pope Leo XIII wrote, “whilst it is proper and desirable to assert and secure the rights of the many, yet this is not to be done by a violation of duty...not to touch what belongs to another; to allow every one to be free in the management of his own affairs; not to hinder any one to dispose of his services when he please and where he please” (“Longinqua,” No. 17). These are precisely the principles that right to work laws uphold.
That right to work laws are aimed at destroying labor unions may or may not be true. The main purpose of such laws is to eliminate the closed shop (coercive unionism), to assure that a person is not compelled to pay tribute to a union for the privilege of employment. The argument that nonmembers should pay into the union because they receive the same benefits that the union has secured is specious at best and a downright lie at worst. The union is capable of including in the contract with the employer a clause that restricts the union benefits to union members in good standing.
I agree that unions are imperfect institutions. However, Catholics should assist rather than resist political attempts to make the current union system obsolete.
In “Confirmation Bias” (4/27) Michael A. Marchal makes a case for moving confirmation back to age 7, before first Eucharist, and creating “an alternative, nonsacramental rite for personal reaffirmation of baptismal vows later in life.” Readers weigh in.
Celebrating the sacrament of confirmation with adolescents, when they are smack-dab in the middle of “searching faith,” has never made sense to me. It’s a sacrament of initiation, not a sacrament of maturity. Pope Pius X erred when he moved first Eucharist to age 7 and left confirmation sitting out there alone.
We have created the sacrament of confirmation in our own image as some graduation rite into “adult faith” instead of the sealing of our baptismal promises. Perhaps we should do as the Orthodox do and receive chrismation (all three initiation sacraments) just after birth and then concentrate on doing lifelong catechesis from that point forward.
A 7-year-old barely understands Communion, let alone confirmation. It seems confirmation is and has been a choice. That said, high school students are sometimes not ready for confirmation. Lumping the sacraments together at second or third grade takes all choice away from the individual and puts it in the hands of the parents. The church needs to study developmental stages and then decide how to offer confirmation with the sensibilities of the post-modern era in full view. Let’s meet the people where they are.