Into the wilderness

Today we head out for a little cabin in the big woods.  We will have no internet connection, no cell phone reception, no cable television, and no newspapers.  If we survive, we will crawl out of the wilderness like Rip Van Winkle, if Rip Van Winkle only slept for five days.   Still, we have been looking forward to this for a long time.  That does mean that I won’t be doing any blogging for the rest of the week.

If we can avoid dying of exposure or getting eaten by wild animals, I’ll be back the first of July.  In the meantime, if something happens in the world that you think I would normally blog about–for example, if the Supremes rule on Obamacare–please make a comment to that effect here and discuss as you think appropriate.

If all goes well, I’ll be posting again on July 2.  By then I’ll probably be grateful again for the blessings of civilization, technology, and the information age.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy being without them.

[Updated by tODD: Actually, at the risk of presuming on our good host's hospitality, I'm going to create at least one new post for the discussion of the Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. United States, as I assume that's one topic we'll want to discuss here, and it might keep discussion a bit tidier than having it all in one thread. And, come Thursday, I'll set up another one specifically for the Supreme Court ruling on the health care law.

Feel free to discuss other matters here, or to propose topics we could discuss in separate posts this week. I'll do my best to create posts on topics that seem of general interest. I know I'm often wrong about everything you hold dear, but I'll try to be impartial here -- at least, in the creation of discussion posts. I just don't want us all trying to discuss everything in one thread for four days. I know how whiny you guys can get when you're not getting your Cranach fix.]

Happy Augsburg Confession Day!

On this day 482 years ago–June 25, 1530–the Reformation princes and free cities confessed their faith before Emperor Charles V at the Diet (the governing assembly of the Imperial states) held in Augsburg, Germany.  The 28 articles drawn up by Philipp Melanchthon (not Luther!) became known as the Augsburg Confession.  It was the first confession of faith of the Reformation and, to this day, it is perhaps the most succinct and definitive summaries of Lutheran theology.

Part of its genius is that it spells out what did NOT change in the Reformation churches–the continuity with historical Christianity that later protestants would throw out–as well as precisely what elements in the medieval church did need to be reformed.  The Augsburg Confession is still startlingly relevant to today’s controversies of theology and practice.

Honor the day by reading it:  Augsburg Confession – Book of Concord.

Matthew Harrison’s open letter

Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, has issued an open letter from religious leaders to Americans, stating why they object to the Obamacare insurance mandate requiring coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients.  It’s getting some notable attention.

FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION:
Putting Beliefs into Practice
An Open Letter from Religious Leaders in the United States to All Americans

Dear Friends,

Religious institutions are established because of religious beliefs and convictions. Such institutions include not only churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship, but also schools and colleges, shelters and community kitchens, adoption agencies and hospitals, organizations that provide care and services during natural disasters, and countless other organizations that exist to put specific religious beliefs into practice. Many such organizations have provided services and care to both members and non-members of their religious communities since before the Revolutionary War, saving and improving the lives of countless American citizens.

As religious leaders from a variety of perspectives and communities, we are compelled to make known our protest against the incursion of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) into the realm of religious liberty. HHS has mandated that religious institutions, with only a narrow religious exception, must provide access to certain contraceptive benefits, even if the covered medications or procedures are contradictory to their beliefs. We who oppose the application of this mandate to religious institutions include not only the leaders of religious groups morally opposed to contraception, but also leaders of other religious groups that do not share that particular moral conviction.

That we share an opposition to the mandate to religious institutions while disagreeing about specific moral teachings is a crucial fact. Religious freedom is the principle on which we stand. Because of differing understandings of moral and religious author- ity, people of good will can and often do come to different conclusions about moral questions. Yet, even we who hold differing convictions on specific moral issues are united in the conviction that no religious institution should be penalized for refusing to go against its beliefs. The issue is the First Amendment, not specific moral teachings or specific products or services.

The HHS mandate implicitly acknowledged that an incursion into religion is involved in the mandate. However, the narrowness of the proposed exemption is revealing for it applies only to religious organizations that serve or support their own members. In so doing, the government is establishing favored and disfavored religious organizations: a privatized religious organization that serves only itself is exempted from regulation, while one that believes it should also serve the public beyond its membership is denied a religious exemption. The so-called accommodation and the subsequent Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (AN- PRM) do little or nothing to alleviate the problem.

No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice. We indeed hold this to be an unalienable, constitutional right. If freedom of religion is a constitutional value to be protected, then institutions developed by religious groups to implement their core beliefs in education, in care for the sick or suffering, and in other tasks must also be protected. Only by doing so can the free exercise of religion have any meaning. The HHS mandate prevents this free exercise. For the well-being of our country, we oppose the application of the contraceptive mandate to religious institutions and plead for its retraction.

Sincerely yours,

Leith Anderson, President National Association of Evangelicals
Gary M. Benedict, President The Christian and Missionary Alliance U.S.
Bishop John F. Bradosky, North American Lutheran Church
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church Bishop, Fellowship of International Churches
The Very Rev. Dr. John A. Jillions, Chancellor Orthodox Church in America
Sister Loraine Marie Maguire, l.s.p., Provincial Superior, Baltimore Province Little Sisters of the Poor
The Rev. John A. Moldstad, President Evangelical Lutheran Synod
Deaconess Cheryl D. Naumann, President Concordia Deaconess Conference The Lutheran Church MS
The Most Rev. Robert J. Carlson, Archbishop of St. Louis
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York President United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., Superior General of the Sisters of Life
Sister Barbara Anne Gooding, R.S.M. Director, Department of Religion Saint Francis Health System
Sister Margaret Regina Halloran, l.s.p. Provincial Superior, Brooklyn Province Little Sisters of the Poor
The Most Blessed Jonah, Archbishop  Orthodox Church in America
Imam Faizul R. Khan, Founder and Leader Islamic Society of Washington Area
The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Director of Interchurch Relations Orthodox Church in America
The Most Rev. William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore Chairman USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty
Sister Maria Christine Lynch, l.s.p., Provincial Superior, Chicago Province Little Sisters of the Poor
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President NHCLC Hispanic Evangelical Association
Sister Joseph Marie Ruessmann, R.S.M., J.D., J.C.D., M.B.A. Generalate Secretary Religious Sisters of Mercy
The Rev. Mark Schroeder, President Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America
Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, l.s.p., Communications Director Little Sisters of the Poor
Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent The General Council of the Assemblies of God

Commentary on Harrison’s “Open Letter”

Julia Polese of the Institute for Religion and Democracy on LCMS President Matthew Harrison’s open letter on the Obamacare insurance mandate. (I draw your attention to what pro-infanticide ethicist Peter Singer has to say on the topic.)

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) recently released a statement on religious freedom expressing solidarity with the Roman Catholic Church in their fight against the HHS mandate requiring religious institutions to provide contraception to employees. In a video statement on the Synod’s website, President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison emphasizes the first amendment guarantee that religious people not only have freedom of assembly, but mentions that “Congress cannot make laws that prevent the free exercise of religion in this country,” which not only means freedom to assemble but freedom to “practice our religion in the public sphere in institutions that we have and run as Christians or other religious people.” The statement was signed by an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people, from Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan to Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and Imam Faizul R. Khan, the founder and leader of the Islamic Society of Washington Area.

The statement comes at the beginning of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom” events. Centered around local dioceses, the events intend to rally Catholic laypeople to the cause of religious liberty with special prayers and marches. The left has shown typical paranoia about these events, questioning their funding (because, as we all know, you scratch a Catholic and find a Koch brother) and motives (Sammie Moshenberg: “It’s a marketing ploy.”). The LCMS’s statement, however, shows that the HHS mandate is not only a Catholic problem, but one for all religious people in the United States.

Rev. Dr. Harrison identifies the crucial difference in the invocation of the First Amendment in this debate. For many supporters of the HHS mandate, freedom to assemble is reinterpreted to mean freedom from public engagement from a religious worldview. Professor Peter Singer, the notorious utilitarian who has argued for infanticide in the past, articulates this angle in his latest piece. He asserts “the Obama administration’s requirement to provide health insurance that covers contraception does not prevent Catholics from practicing their religion. Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals and universities.”

This limitation is not true freedom of expression, but instead an implicit command for bifurcation of the religious person’s life. Freedom of conscience is great until it butts heads with the conscience shaped by thinkers like Rousseau and Bacon. At its root, it is moving any religious mindset to a private sphere. Leave your beliefs in church where they belong. In a blog on the Washington Post website this morning, Bishop Lori articulated what is wrong with this conception of religious liberty. He wrote: “As we often say, we serve people because we are Catholic, not because they are. It is why so many Catholic schools enroll so many non-Catholics; Catholic hospitals don’t ask for baptismal certificates upon admission; and Catholic soup kitchens don’t quiz the hungry on the Catechism.” As a Reformed Southern Baptist whose alma mater stands both on the Potomac and the opposite side of the Tiber, I am thankful for this impulse to service and I must say that my education was best when unapologetically Catholic. A shared worldview can form partnerships in the public square between the sons of Martin Luther and those loyal to the Pope.

The HHS mandate is only a symptom of a grander impulse to demand religious people to abandon their views that do not overlap with modern liberalism in the public square. It is not just about contraception, but a clash of worldviews. For this reason, the ecumenical statement from the LCMS in support of the Catholic Church is encouraging in its explicit recognition of this problem and the Mainline Left’s response (or lack thereof) reveals where its true intellectual heritage lies.

via Lutherans and Catholics Together « Juicy Ecumenism.

President Harrison makes a very useful distinction:  Religious liberty is not just  “freedom of assembly,” as in “the right to worship” behind four walls, which is how some officials are construing it.  The Constitution specifically protects the “free exercise” of religion, which takes it out of just the place of worship into the public arena.

Presidential lawlessness

Charles Krauthhammer on how President Obama is acting lawlessly, doing something that he himself earlier said would be unconstitutional:

In late 2010, he asked Congress to pass the Dream Act, which offered a path to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants. Congress refused.

When subsequently pressed by Hispanic groups to simply implement the law by executive action, Obama explained that it would be illegal. “Now, I know some people want me to bypass Congress and change the laws on my own. . . . But that’s not how our system works. That’s not how our democracy functions. That’s not how our Constitution is written.”

That was then. Now he’s gone and done it anyway. It’s obvious why. The election approaches and his margin is slipping. He needs a big Hispanic vote and this is the perfect pander. After all, who will call him on it? A supine press? Congressional Democrats? Nothing like an upcoming election to temper their Bush 43-era zeal for defending Congress’s exclusive Article I power to legislate.

With a single Homeland Security Department memo, the immigration laws no longer apply to 800,000 people. . . .

Imagine: A Republican president submits to Congress a bill abolishing the capital gains tax. Congress rejects it. The president then orders the IRS to stop collecting capital gains taxes and declares that anyone refusing to pay them will suffer no fine, no penalty, no sanction whatsoever. (Analogy first suggested by law professor John Yoo.)

It would be a scandal, a constitutional crisis, a cause for impeachment. Why? Because unlike, for example, war powers, this is not an area of perpetual executive-legislative territorial contention. Nor is cap gains, like the judicial status of unlawful enemy combatants, an area where the law is silent or ambiguous. Capital gains is straightforward tax law. Just as Obama’s bombshell amnesty-by-fiat is a subversion of straightforward immigration law.

It is shameful that congressional Democrats are applauding such a brazen end run. Of course it’s smart politics. It divides Republicans, rallies the Hispanic vote and preempts Marco Rubio’s attempt to hammer out an acceptable legislative compromise. Very clever. But, by Obama’s own admission, it is naked lawlessness.

via Charles Krauthammer: Obama’s amnesty-by-fiat — naked lawlessness – The Washington Post.

Romney’s Vice-Presidential pick?

If we are going to do our traditional “guess the vice-president” game, we’d better hurry, since, reportedly, Mitt Romney will announce his choice before the Republican convention.

It seems to me that the conventional wisdom that the vice president doesn’t matter is wrong on several levels.  The person who holds that office has assumed the presidency quite often, not just when the president dies in office but as the heir apparent as the next party nominee.  In light of that, the casual way presidential nominees have tended to pick their running-mates seems to me to be unconscionable.  And if the office itself is “not worth a warm bucket of spit,” as one statesman described it, that is due, in part, to few of the office holders taking advantage of its potential.  The president of the Senate–that is, the person who presides over the deliberations and who can break a tie vote–could be a powerful position, especially when the body is closely divided as will probably be the case after this election.  I think, at the very least, that the conventions should nominate and elect the vice presidential candidates.

Back to our game:  In addition to guessing who Romney’s running-mate will be, I’d like to hear who you would like it to be.  That is, who would make you feel better about voting for the Romney ticket?


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