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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rights. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Ignore the Right of Conscience at Your Peril

At the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, we are treated to an ominous scene. Dozens of subjects are marched to the gallows and hanged as an official reads an edict from the local magistrate declaring:
In order to affect a timely halt to deteriorating conditions and to ensure the common good, a state of emergency is declared for these territories by decree of Lord Cutler Beckett, duly appointed representative of His Majesty, the king.

By decree, according to martial law, the following statutes are temporarily amended:
  • Right to assembly, suspended.
  • Right to habeas corpus, suspended.
  • Right to legal counsel, suspended.
  • Right to verdict by a jury of peers, suspended.
By decree, all persons found guilty of piracy, or aiding a person convicted of piracy, or associating with a person convicted of piracy shall be sentenced to hang by the neck until dead.
The message the filmmaker wants to communicate is unmistakable. Unilaterally jettisoning the rights of the people allows despotism to flourish. As we watch even a young boy approach the hangman's noose, we are to recoil at the injustice of it all. We are to understand Lord Beckett as evil.

What About the Greater Good?

The film's portrayal of such measures is ham-fisted, which is to be expected when the heroes are the pirates. In reality, pirates have been and still are real menaces to society. They threatened life, peace, and property. So, would declaring a suspension of rights for the general safety of the colony and the colonists be the right thing to do? I guess it depends on the rights in question and the circumstances necessitating it, but such actions prove to be dangerous.
At the beginning of the Civil War in the U.S., President Lincoln suspended the right to trial for Southern sympathizers in the North who were sabotaging telegraph cables and attacking troops. A U.S. News and World Report article reports how Lincoln believed such drastic action would be limited and for a very short period, with no long-term effects.1 However, the powers in the state of Missouri took martial law to new levels and greedily clung to the efficient effectivelness of forcing the citizenry to its own point of view:
In March 1865, a newspaper correspondent in St. Louis reported that many Republicans in Missouri—not just the state's leaders—had come to admire the efficiency of martial law: "So far from being unpopular, it is believed that a large portion of our loyal people are willing to see a provision incorporated in the charter of the city, requiring six months of martial law to be imposed . . . every five years to clean up all the little cases of outraged justice, loose indictments, public corruption and private peculation, which the ordinary courts cannot reach.2
The article quotes historian Eric Foner that Lincoln found "It is much easier to put these restrictions in place than it is to stop them."3

The Danger of Losing Our Right to Conscience Today

Today, there is a mindset gaining ground in our courts and among our politicians that certain rights are less important than what they perceive as the good of the public. The rights of individuals to exercise his or her sincerely held religious convictions by refusing to participate in same sex union ceremonies has come under attack. Small business owners, like Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, Cynthia and Robert Gifford, Aaron and Melissa Klein, and a bevy of others have felt the power and pressure of the state to violate their beliefs and their consciences in order to two what those in power perceive as an appropriate line.

What makes the states' actions all the more insidious is the fact that there is no imminent threat of "rebellion or invasion" which Lincoln pointed to when issuing his suspension of the law. There aren't even any pirates that threaten one's life, peace, and property. There are only those who assert they must quash such acts of defiance in order to fight "discrimination," as Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner Diann Rice declared in ruling against Masterpiece Cakeshop:
Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be — I mean, we — we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to — to use their religion to hurt others.4
To see the irony of Rice's statement, you should probably read the article "How a Cakebaker Became an Enemy of the State" over at The Federalist. It is Rice and those who think like her who are actually the ones justifying discriminative policies that jeopardize the rights of the citizenry. She sounds very much like the Lord Beckett character, declaring the curtailment of rights simply to "affect a timely halt to deteriorating conditions and to ensure the common good." But what happens when that power is targeted towards other ideas, perhaps ideas that Rice herself holds? She may find that it is much easier to put these powers into place than it is to get rid of them.


1. Ewers, Justin. "Revoking Civil Liberties: Lincoln's Constitutional Dilemma." U.S.News & World Report. U.S.News & World Report. LP, 10 Feb. 2009. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.
2. Ewers, Justin. 2009.
3. Ewers, Justin. 2009.
4. Harsanyi, David. "How A Cakemaker Became An Enemy Of The State." The Federalist. The Federalist, 06 Sept. 2016. Web. 06 Sept. 2016.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

SCOTUS Ignoring the Constitution

It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions It's the end of June and it means that another round of Supreme Court decisions have been released. One of the biggest decisions getting press is the finding in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, where the Court overturned a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of other ambulatory surgical centers in the state. Because this is the first Supreme Court ruling on an abortion case in nearly 20 years, it has gotten a lot of press. However, the bigger story is the decision the Court made to not hear a case.

Today, the Court's majority denied a hearing for the owners of a Washington State pharmacy who are resisting being compelled by state law to sell abortifacient drugs at their business. This is a terrifying decision, and not simply because it involves abortion. The case hung on the fact that compelling someone to engage in commerce against their convictions and religious beliefs is unconstitutional. That's what free exercise of religion means. That's why the Pilgrims left for America and it's why religious freedom was demanded as the first of the amendments guaranteed in the Constitution. To simply ignore that now is to gut the very freedom upon which our country is built.

Lest anyone think I'm exaggerating, I offer this quote from James Madison on the need for religious liberty separate from any state compulsion:
Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man's right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

2. Because if Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves (emphasis added).1
What makes Madison's arguments even more interesting is in this instance he was arguing against compulsion from the state to subsidize a particular form of Christianity, but he anchored his arguments in the understanding that personal conviction takes precedence over the state's desire. It is the guarantee that the people have the right of conscience to live out their beliefs to the Governor of the Universe first that is inalienable. In denying the hearing, the Court 's majority is denying that any such right exists.

Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito understood the problem rejecting the case poses for religious liberty. In their dissenting opinion, they call this “an ominous sign” and conclude “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” 2

I'm concerned. I'm deeply concerned that judicial reinterpretation is erasing the very rights upon which this country was built and why it should exist. Madison thought it was a big deal, maybe our judiciary should, too.


1. Madison, James. "Amendment I (Religion): James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments." The Founder's Constitution. The University of Chicago, 1987. Web. 28 June 2016.
2. Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman. Supreme Court of the United States. 28 June 2016. Supreme Court of the United States. Supreme Court of the United States, 28 June 2016. Web. 28 June 2016.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Separating the Sacred and the Secular is a Bad Thing

The Secular Coalition of America (SCA) is asking people to knit a brick "to help rebuild the wall of separation between church and state."1 In a recent press release, the organization derided the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision and is hoping to visually protest it by creating a knitted wall. This is not a surprise as the release also identifies their purpose "to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all."2

Is it the best guarantee of freedom for all, though? The SCA seems to maintain that government should remain wholly secular and uninfluenced by those who are motivated by their faith commitments to rebel against laws which they deem in violation of their religiously-informed moral choices. Certainly the Hobby Lobby family's argument was such.

But does a position of purely secular governance conflict with "the best guarantee of freedom for all?" For example, a Christian bishop had been petitioning the President of the United States to change his policy on a certain matter because it violated his Christian principles. He explained the motive for his demands were rooted in God:
It is not a pleasant task to make an appeal, where excited public feeling may arouse unkind suspicions and unjust accusations. Few men love more than myself the approval of their fellow citizens, and none desire more the affection of those among whom they labor. I dare not be silent; I fear less the reproaches of the people than the anger of GOD.3
While such a statement would surely inflame the folks of the SCA, this man's religiously motivated quest was actually successful. The man in question was Bishop Henry B. Whipple and the policy he sought to change was the treatment of the Dakota and Sioux Native Americans by the federal government.  According to a Los Angeles Times article by Gustav Niebuhr, Whipple had petitioned President James Buchanan but never received a response. After Lincoln was elected president, he continued his letter writing campaign which eventually resulted in a meeting with the president. Whipple single-handedly saved the lives of 265 Dakotas who were sentenced to death.4 This happened because one man's religion motivated him to push his beliefs into the political arena.

Of course, Christians spurred by their faith to change political policy for the better is nothing new. William Wilberforce fought for over two decades in the British Parliament to end the slave trade.5 Elizabeth Fry sought reforms for prison conditions and the welfare of inmates, even using Bible studies to reform those thought incorrigible.6 So it goes throughout history. Even during the days of Rome, it was one Christian monk named Telemachus who stood up to the popular practice of the Gladiatorial games and gave his life so others' would be spared.

Each one of the people above took an unpopular position and advocated against government standards of their day. They did so simply because governmental policy violated their religiously-based morality. If the SCA's concept of strict separation were in place at any of those times, people would not be better off. The Dakotas, the slaves, the prisoners, and the gladiators would not be more free, but less free.

The first amendment of the Constitution guarantees that the federal government will neither establish any official religion, but it also guarantees that the free exercise thereof by the citizens of this country shall not be prohibited. The first clause is to make sure religion doesn't come under government control. The second is to make sure that citizens' religions have the ability to inform their understanding and their worldview. These are prescriptions against government, not against people who own businesses, people who petition the government, nor even policy decisions brought before the government. The SCA would silence people such as Bishop Whipple simply because his message comes from a Christian point of view. I can think of at least 265 reasons why that's wrong.


1. "Knit a Brick." Secular Coalition for America. Web. Accessed 18-07-2014.

2. "Secular Coalition Condemns SCOTUS Decision to Strike Down Contraceptive Coverage Requirement." Secular Coalition for America. Web.  30-06-2014.  Accessed 19-07-2014.       

3. Whipple, Henry B. "Plea for the Red Man." Project Canterbury. Web. Reprinted from the "Missionary Paper," No. 24, Epiphany, 1868.

4. Niebuhr, Gustav. "How a bishop moved Lincoln, and saved 265 Dakota Indians." The Los Angeles Times. 17-07-2014. Web.

5. "William Wilberforce." 08-08-2008. Web.

6. "Elizabeth Fry." 08-08-2008. Web.

Image © Copyright John Vetterli and licensed for reuse under thisCreative Commons Licence

Monday, July 07, 2014

Rights Don't Come From Nature

Last week I began to examine how the rights of all people, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, must be rooted in God. I looked at the concept of rights being bestowed by governments or by the common consent of the people within a society and found both wanting. Today, I'd like to look at the possibility that rights come from our natural existence rather than a divine creator.

In such discussions, it becomes important to clarify our terms. We must understand both the concept of rights and the concept of nature to which I'm referring. For rights, I've covered that somewhat in my last post. However, to reiterate I quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which has a fairly good summation on the universality of human rights:
Human rights are universal All living humans—or perhaps all living persons—have human rights. One does not have to be a particular kind of person or a member of some specific nation or religion to have human rights. Included in the idea of universality is some conception of independent existence. People have human rights independently of whether they are found in the practices, morality, or law of their country or culture. This idea of universality needs several qualifications, however. First, some rights, such as the right to vote, are held only by adult citizens or residents and apply only to voting in one's own country. Second, the human right to freedom of movement may be taken away temporarily from a person who is convicted of committing a serious crime. And third, some human rights treaties focus on the rights of vulnerable groups such as minorities, women, indigenous peoples, and children.1
When I am discussing nature as the supplier of rights, I'm pointing to the idea that the natural world is all there is; we exist only because of the physical laws of the universe and perhaps some fortuitous chemical combinations and mutations that ultimately resulted in human beings. This concept is well known as metaphysical naturalism or materialism and has many adherents within the scientific community. Those who ascribe to this worldview and still seek to maintain that human rights are real would seek to ground those rights in the natural world instead of God.

But this is where the problem lies. Nature cannot bestow rights at all. The natural world is what we observe. It has materials and laws, such as the laws of gravity or the laws of physics, which describe how certain materials interact. If one drops a cannonball off a ledge, it will fall at a certain acceleration. If one combines an acid and a base, the result will be salt and water (and possibly a big explosion!)

But laws such as these are merely descriptors. They tell what will happen if certain conditions are met. Human rights are something different. For while all living persons have rights, it is not the case that all living persons will be able to exercise those rights. People are denied their rights by dictators or repressive regimes all the time.

That means that nature only provides an "is" description of the way things are while someone being allowed to exercise his or her rights fall into an "ought" description. Rights are things based in the intrinsic value of being human. Nature doesn't care about value, it is indifferent to whether creatures live or die. Species have gone extinct since the dawn of time, even without man's help. Sickness can wipe out entire nations. That is simply how things are. This means that rights are fundamentally different from nature and the description of what is. An "ought" can only be derived from a moral law, which must come from a transcendent mind.

Scottish skeptic David Hume is famous for explaining the is-versus-ought distinction. Hume explains that simply because something is the case, it does not mean that such ought to be. In Book III, Part 1, Section 1 of A Treatise of Human Nature he expounds on this, writing that "moral good and evil belong only to the actions of the mind"2 and therefore cannot be reasonably derived from only external circumstances. He continues, "All beings in the universe, considered in themselves, appear entirely loose and independent of each other. It is only by experience we learn their influence and connection; and this influence we ought never to extend beyond experience… But to choose an instance, still more resembling; I would fain ask any one, why incest in the human species is criminal, and why the very same action, and the same relations in animals have not the smallest moral turpitude and deformity?"3

As Hume has shown, there is no way to connect the "is" of the natural world to the "ought" of human rights. Even if you argue that such rights help human beings survive, who is to say that humans shouldn't go extinct? Nature doesn't care. Therefore, as rights are part of those "actions of the mind" it requires a mind to ground them, and since human rights are universal, that mind must not only transcend all of humanity, but be able to establish value for all of humanity. The Creator of humanity would fill both necessary conditions for universal human rights to exist. Therefore, the Founding Fathers had it right: it is only in our Creator that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights.  No other explanation makes sense.


1. Nickel, James. "Human Rights." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. ©2014 The Metaphysics Research Lab. Web. 13-12-2013. Accessed 7-7-2014.

2. Hume, David. "Moral Distinctions Not Derived From Reason." A Treatise of Human Nature, Book II, Part 1,Sect. 1. Project Gutenberg. Web. 10-11-2012. Accessed 7-7-2014.

3. Ibid.
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