The Best Places To Live In Order To Stand Your Religious Ground Without Falling Into A Moral Sinkhole

I think the magazines that list “best places to live” need a fresh criterion: where can you find the best place to stand your religious ground in these days of incessant war on religious liberty.  I was thinking Topeka or Wichita might work until the Kansas Senate backed off their “religious liberty” bill.  Maybe Idaho or Arizona, or even Maine?  Is it safe to move to a state where I might not be able to stand my religious ground without the guarantee of Caesar at my back?  I see one article claiming that “Kansas Christianists seek monopoly on worldly honors and emoluments” (Fred Clark via Patheos blog).  Sounds great!  But then I read that the “useful idiots for Baal…who would rather have Jesus bake cakes for gay weddings” (according to Erick Erickson at Redstate.com) seem to have gotten to the lukewarm Christianist legislators and they went squishy.  I am feeling afraid the lawmakers in Maine and Arizona and even Idaho might not stand their religious ground either.

But now good news, via Talking Points Memo: “Clerics Issue Fatwa: Muslims Can’t Live On Mars”: the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in the United Arab Emirates have decreed a fatwa saying that “a one-way journey like that ‘poses a real risk to life, and that can never be justified in Islam.”  Why am I suspicious that they are just tricking me into believing it is safe on Mars–and then they’ll impose Sharia law there?

“It’s Not About Giving People Equal Status Because You Like Them”

The BBC News has a headline today, “Irish grapple with gay rights in New York and Ireland.”  Mayor Bill de Blasio is sitting out this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Bill Donahue of the very anti-modernist Catholic League said: “I have gone on the radio inviting gays to march with the Catholic League, provided they do not draw attention to themselves or to some extrinsic cause.”  I say Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times hits it on the head when he writes: “Being personally benign is neither here nor there….It’s good that most of those who oppose gay marriage love and respect and cherish individual gay people, though they should hardly expect a pat on the back for not hating their fellow citizens.  But….the whole point of the law is that it’s not about giving people equal status because you like them.  It’s about freeing people from subjection to the arbitrariness of other people’s benevolence.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is going to find itself affirming this very point in the near future (2015), with, I expect, Anthony Kennedy being the fifth vote.  Or it could be a bigger majority, if a couple other Catholic justices are paying attention to Fintan O’Toole.

Rhinoceros Whistle Might Be A Better Description

Hat tip today to Delphine Minoui, whose op-ed piece, “Egypt’s Rhinoceros Allegory,” was published today in the NYT.  She writes that Egyptians are more and more bowing in submission to Field Marshal Al-Sisi in a way that reminds her of how characters in Eugene Ionesco’s play “Rhinoceros” (by the way there is also a movie starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder!) grow rhinoceros horns, one by one, as a sign of their urge to conform and thus “join the universal family.”

I had been thinking about the loud choo-choo whistling through Chattanooga last week that likely made the difference in a 712-626 vote by VW workers against forming a union.  Despite the neutral-to-positive stance of the apparently happy-go-lucky German owners, some of the workers caught the message of the anti-union billboards: if you vote union, you are an Obama-lover and you may as well move to Detroit and be black.  Racialized dog-whistling has been a bedrock right-wing strategy for a long time: conservative Democratic Senators filibustered against civil rights by claiming they were victims of anti-states’ rights extremism; Nixon crafted his “Southern strategy”; Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign in the same Mississippi county where civil rights workers Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman were murdered in 1964; Bush operatives in South Carolina put out ads attacking John McCain for having a “black baby” before the 2000 primary; not to say anything about the venom directed at Barack Obama.

“Dog whistling” makes sense if the whistle is clearly audible to some but hidden from others.  But as racist and anti-gay marriage whistles get wider media exposure these days, is it time for new figures of speech?  How about “rhinoceros whistling”?

“Very Tasty, But Not Pizza”? From A Guy Who Gets A Steady Government Paycheck, But Is Certainly Not A “Justice”

So-called “Justice” Antonin Scalia, apparently desperate for attention in the wake of recent media focus on a Supreme Court fantasy league (you win by guessing how each justice will vote on upcoming cases), has gotten it by asserting, in a Washington’s birthday speech at Chicago’s Union League Club, that while Chicago pizza is “very tasty, it’s not pizza.”  This from a guy who grew up in Elmhurst, Queens, which I am sure is a very pleasant place, but is it “the city”?  No it is not.

Scalia found it “truly appalling” that students at elite law schools today have often never read the Federalist Papers, blaming it on “an age that worships diversity and moral relativism.”  He attacked the Supreme Court itself for having “adopted the demonstrably unhistoric view that the Constitution forbids not merely the favoring of one religion over the other, but even the favoring of religion in general.  In fact, it forbids the former but not the latter.”

This last assertion is about as sound as his dismissal of Chicago pizza.  Supreme Court jurisprudence on the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment is back in the news this year.  I am not a player in the fantasy-SCOTUS game, but I can say that Scalia might edify himself by looking, before he casts any more votes in actual cases, at the versions of the First Amendment that were in fact proposed and rejected by the First Congress in 1789, especially in the Senate on September 3, 1789.  They do not support Scalia’s blanket assertion.  (See my last blog post, “War On Religious Liberty Update,” for details.) They are available, for example, in Appendix One of John Witte, Jr.’s Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment: Essential Rights and Liberties.  To sum up what actually happened in September 1789, the First Amendment drafts that prohibited laws establishing “one religious sect or society in preference to others” or laws “establishing any particular denomination” or “infringing the rights of conscience” or “establishing articles of faith or a mode of worship” were all set aside in favor of the actual First Amendment.

As John Witte remarks, one can plausibly develop both “thin” and “thicker” interpretations of the First Amendment, bearing in mind that “free exercise” and “establishment” “were the broadest terms at hand to describe the principles and province of religious liberty” and to define the “outer boundaries of proper congressional conduct.”  Scalia speaks as if his approach, “nonpreferential aid” and “noncoercive support” for religion, is what all non-ignorant and historically literate people would accept as obvious.  But readers of Douglas Laycock’s law review articles on “‘Nonpreferential’ Aid to Religion: A False Claim about Original Intent” and “‘Noncoercive’ Support for Religion: Another False Claim about the Establishment Clause” (1986 and 1992; reprinted in Laycock, Religious Liberty: Overviews and History, 2010) will likely see  Scalia’s assertions more as convenient ideology than well-founded history.  Put another way, Douglas Laycock is judicious, Antonin Scalia is not.

War On Religious Liberty Update: Easy Yokes and Light Burdens Edition

Opinions differ, to put it mildly, on the meaning of religious liberty today.  A book on Hinduism by Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago has been pulped or is being pulped right now by Penguin India following a lawsuit against the publisher by a conservative Hindu nationalist, on grounds of “offending religious feelings of Hindus,” according to stories in the Guardian. In Kansas, it seems some Republicans in the Kansas Senate are backing away from support for a so-called “protecting religious freedom regarding marriage” bill just passed by the Kansas House (which a Slate blogger rightly called an abomination reminiscent of the Jim Crow era).  Politicians from President Obama to Bobby Jindal to your local legislator are busy presenting their versions of what religious liberty means.  Everyone says they want to uphold religious liberty.

Is there a formula to help navigate the competing claims of Hobby Lobby, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and all the rest?  The First Amendment is our canonical American text on freedom, and it may seem to some too broad and vague.  But Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia has presented decisive evidence that what the Founders intended is not consistent with the right-wing claims that “the government can openly support religion so long as it doesn’t prefer one religion over others.”  The legislative record, Laycock notes, “tells a very different tale.  A lawyer drafting the right-wing view might write: ‘Congress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination of religion in preference to another.’  In fact that is exactly how it was written in 1789 by members of the first Senate.  But the Senate rejected that version and two similar versions that explicitly stated the right-wing view….A conference committee produced the version ultimately ratified as the First Amendment: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.’  This is the broadest version considered by either house [in 1789].  It speaks generically of ‘religion,’ not ‘religion,’ ‘a national religion,’ or ‘any particular denomination of religion.’  It forbids any law…that relates to an establishment in any way.  In light of the alternatives Congress considered and rejected, it is best understood as requiring the government to be entirely neutral towards religion….Here, the intent of the framers is as clear as it ever gets; the right wing distorts that intent to suit its own preferences.”

Those not happy with Laycock’s exposition of the original meaning of the First Amendment (written for a USA Today column in 1985 but fresh as a daisy, and reprinted in Religious Liberty: Overviews and History, 2010, pp. 529-30) might say very well, but times have changed and we are now faced with a horrifying war on religious freedom as well as moral values.  I might wonder “so what’s new,” but let me say instead that invidious (if not hateful) discrimination against whole classes of people is not the way to defend religious freedom, and is increasingly indefensible–as the Kansas Senate, for example, is apparently grasping, and as judges and legislators in Kentucky, Virginia, and Indiana have decided this week as the case against same-sex marriage collapses.

Should I give an appearance of evenhandedness and acknowledge that President Obama has a major blind spot regarding religious liberty, as columnist Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post claimed recently?  The President may have blind spots, but Parker does not seem to be familiar enough with the facts on the ground re the Little Sisters of the Poor case to do anything other than throw rhetorical bricks at the President.  No one is going to compel the Little Sisters to provide abortifacients, or even birth control, to their employees.  The somewhat more challenging issues come in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases, where the latest government brief (Feb. 10, as respondent to Conestoga) has crystallized a hard-to-impeach version of the questions presented: “1. Whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993…allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners.  2. Whether the requirement that non-exempted, non-grandfathered group health plans include coverage of contraceptives violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”

The government brief has it just right.  The real issue here, and in so many other putative “religious liberty” cases and controversies, is whose freedom counts, and who bears the burden when some complain that their consciences are violated by a generally applicable public law.  I would say it is clear that a for-profit corporation is an inanimate creature brought into being by state charter, and has no tender conscience to offend.  A religiously-based nonprofit is quite different, and accommodations should often be made so long as the Little Sisters, the Vedanta Society, the Presbyterian Youth group, the synagogue, or similar groups attest to their conscientious objections–which may indeed involve writing some kind of “permission slip,” if you want to put it that way.  Such cases can be tricky; however the Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, and for that matter Town of Greece v. Galloway cases ought to be disposed of easily.

Does the Supreme Court relish sorting all this out?  They do face some vexing, difficult cases, but if five or more justices can tune out the faux-outrage ginned up by the political right over supposed violations of religious liberty, and focus on upholding “neutral laws of general applicability” with the usual exceptions and accommodations where warranted, their yoke will be easy and their burden quite light.

NSA Chief Dines On Caviar and Fine Wine At White House While His Utah Data Center Gasps and Begs For Water

While Keith Alexander, outgoing NSA chief, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, and other leading lights of the military-industrial-surveillance complex ate and drank at the White House last night along with French dignitaries, the NSA’s beleaguered Bluffdale, Utah data center is threatened with cutoff of its water supply by a bill recently introduced in the Utah legislature.

I must say I had no idea that there was any water left in Utah to cut off.  Anyhow, the Tenth Amendment Center, which worked on the model legislation (in this case, the “Utah 4th Amendment Protection Act) is on the move: “The Constitution. Every Issue, Every Time. No Exceptions, No Excuses.”  They attack the “sweetheart water deal” the NSA reportedly got from the town, but their aims go far beyond quibbles over two dollars versus three or four dollars per thousand gallons.  I think their constitutional argument, based on the “anti-commandeering doctrine,” is sound enough as far as it goes.  The fascinating issue to me is how far will legislators in Utah (or in states with plentiful water–think voodoo surveillance data centers on the bayou!) go to challenge federal surveillance.  People in the mountain west, perhaps more than in most other U.S. regions, claim to prize individual liberty in the form of “negative liberty” and freedom from state intrusion.  But will a state legislature really take concrete action against the surveillance state?  I doubt it,  though I am ready to be surprised about the outcome.

Nonetheless I am very skeptical of claims that the anti-surveillance “boil” is headed down to a “simmer” (as Walter Pincus of the Washington Post asserted the other day), because major elements of the political right and left are committing themselves to the cause of reining in the NSA–just today Senator and soon-to-be-presidential=candidate Rand Paul is joining a class action lawsuit against NSA warrantless surveillance.

The NSA “Domestic Surveillance Directorate” webpage, in the face of all this plebeian uproar, puts on its jaunty “what? me worry?” face in “2014 Status of the Utah Data Center”: “We are happy to report that we ‘dodged a bullet’ recently when President Obama gave his January 17th speech on NSA ‘reforms.’  We were all ready to provide complete transparency about the current operating status of the Utah Data Center, but happily now it looks like we won’t have to!”  How’s that for attitude?

Ex-Pope Thanking G-d He No Longer Has To Smile At Life-Sized Chocolate Replicas Of Himself

Giving credit where credit is due: Ex-pope Benedict knew how and when to leave the room!  Whether it was an act of radical humility, or a get-me-the-heck-outta-here move, he made way, as it turned out, for a rockstar successor, who posed in front of a chocolate version of himself the other day.  Pope Francis, cool as he may be, has some tricky choices on the near horizon, choices Joseph Ratzinger is probably relieved not to have to worry too much about anymore.

Some Of My Best Friends Are Paranoid Libertarians

And I thought they were sorta special and maybe even unique.  But now it seems that forty-odd years after President Richard Nixon said “we are all Keynesians now,” we are all becoming paranoid libertarians.  Cass Sunstein’s column last week in Bloomberg View (glossing on a piece by Sean Wilentz in The New Republic) tells us “How to Spot a Paranoid Libertarian.” Sunstein used to be a well-respected U. of Chicago professor researching nudges, that is, behavioral economics and law . Then he became President Obama’s chief regulatory officer during the first term–so from the paranoid libertarian (henceforth PL, whenever I feel like abbreviating) point of view you could call him the principal deputy antichrist (especially if you were Thomas Perkins in San Francisco and were trying to follow up on your tantrum about a “progressive Kristallnacht”).  Sunstein’s top tips on PL-spotting: look for presumption of bad faith on the part of government officials, a love of slippery-slope arguments, a sense of victimization, and indifference to trade-offs between liberty and any other values.

Sunstein seems dismissive of anyone more paranoid about government intrusions than he is (which in 2014 is most people, I think), and says Wilentz has performed a “valuable public service by pointing to the libertarian manifestation of Hofstadter’s “paranoid style in American politics.”  Sunstein does not specifically endorse Wilentz’s insinuation that the views of Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange are unsavory.  But frankly, it is not and never has been all about Snowden.  I could care less whether he was freaked out by how many Muslims there are in London (or whether Greenwald could be kinder and gentler).  The issue is about 300 million Americans and even more people worldwide whose lives are likely to be affected by out-of-control surveillance regimes–not the personal weaknesses of the leakers.

Libertarianism, both economic and social, is in a waxing phase, to the point where we might even get a quasi-libertarian president next time–by “quasi” I mean legal pot yes, legal heroin no.  PL seems to many to be the last refuge of political sincerity in an era of self-conscious frivolousness.  And “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” often derided as know-nothingism, could be seen as just a reflection of the sea in which we swim–a turbulent mixture of (at least half-hearted) Keynesian policy and dog-whistle-enabled paranoid libertarianism.

As I said, some of my best friends are, or were, paranoid libertarians.  I kind of like them better when they stick with their flamboyant “out” (so to speak) selves, and don’t try too hard for respectability.  It is a little dismaying, for example, to see a column by ultimate libertarian Richard Epstein of NYU Law School (not actually someone I have met, though I knew some of his U. Chicago colleagues) on “My Rand Paul Problem,” distancing himself from “hard-line libertarianism.”  Epstein always seemed to me a pretty extreme exemplar of anti-government theory, and why he would claim to have stopped drooling and foaming at the mouth against statism now, at his advanced age, is beyond me.  Speaking of staying true to one’s flamboyant self, watch out for Joe Biden trying out paranoid libertarianism on Democratic primary voters next time! He might take PL out for a spin in New Hampshire and Iowa–watch out Hillary!

Another Performative Self-Contradiction From Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Mayor Ford said he would not attend Toronto’s Pride Parade because “I can’t change who I am.”

But gay people can?  Because they are more flexible than you?

P.S. Another mayoral candidate said he would go to the pride parade so long as he got a Super Soaker.  Just the spirit that is missing from our overly serious American politicians! Think how quickly gridlock would be resolved if Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell battled it out with nerf super soakers!

Indubitable Confirmation Of Stephen Hawking’s New Theory That There Are No Truly Black Holes

Hawking now says there are only “gray” holes, and no event horizon, from which nothing can escape, after all.  Great news!

And the proof of this is just in: North Korea has updated its version of the internet, which used to look like Windows.  In the braver new world of 2014, the North Korean operating system is now Red Star, which looks a whole lot like Mac OS X!  Everything’s up to date in Pyongyang City!

My only question is, is this good news or bad news for the new Microsoft CEO?

And Who Are They To Judge The Pope And The Vatican? The United Nations Committee On The Rights Of The Child, That’s Who

And why does a United Nations committee have any authority over the Holy See? Because the Vatican (or the “Holy See”) as a sovereign entity, of its own free will, ratified the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, they subjected themselves to the eventual judgment of the UN Committee charged with monitoring adherence to that international agreement.  Delegates from the Vatican met with committee members publicly in mid-January, and now the Committee has issued recommendations.  The Vatican’s pinched and clipped (from news.va) initial official response: sure, we’ll take a look at your recommendations when we have a chance, but we “regret” that you are infringing on our “religious freedom.”  And we are not really in charge of local priests or bishops, anyway (we don’t believe you, said the committee).

The Committee found the Vatican wanting on these (and other) grounds:

1) The Vatican still refuses to acknowledge unreservedly that children are “the subjects of rights” (that is that they have inalienable rights) not conditioned by the compatibility of the UN Convention (which the Vatican ratified in 1990 without anyone threatening them with military invasion) with internal laws or rules of the Vatican State.  This is a key point, because the Vatican seems to still want to have it both ways by being a sovereign city-state, belonging to the international community of nations, and yet hanging on to a shield (canon law) against any moral, let alone legal, accountability.

2) The Vatican, contrary to the non-discrimination provisions of the UN Convention, continues to use the discriminatory expression “illegitimate children” and furthermore continues to contribute to social stigmatizing of and violence against gay, lesbian, and transgender adolescents, as well as children raised by same-sex couples.

3) The Vatican continues to frustrate movement toward equal opportunity for both girls and boys by continuing “to place emphasis on the promotion of complementarity and equality in dignity, two concepts which differ from equality in law and practice provided for in article 2 of the Convention and are often used to justify discriminatory legislation and policies.”  Therefore the Committee “urges the Holy See to adopt a rights-based approach to address discrimination between girls and boys and refrain from using terminology that could challenge equality between girls and boys…[and] remove from Catholic schools textbooks all gender stereotyping which may limit the development of the talents and abilities of boys and girls and undermine their educational and life opportunities.”

4) “The Committee is particularly concerned that in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests, as observed by several national commissions of inquiry.”

5) The Vatican has denigrated the principles of respect for the views of the child, including children’s rights to freedom of expression, association, and religion, and the rights of the child to be heard in relevant legal proceedings.  The Vatican has not cooperated with efforts to address the root causes of anonymous abandonment of children by “providing family planning, reproductive health, as well as adequate counselling and social support,” and has instead condoned a culture of silence and shaming, e.g. the Magdalene laundries of Ireland.  The Vatican has “not taken the necessary measures to protect and insure justice for girls…forced to work in slavery…deprived of their identity…and…imposed with an obligation of silence…no action has been taken…to cooperate with law enforcement authorieties those who were were responsible for the abuse as well as all those who organised and knowingly profited from the girls’ unpaid work.”

6)  The Holy See “still does not consider corporal punishment” and ritual beatings of children, which remain endemic in some Catholic institutions and countries, to be prohibited by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

7) The Vatican, despite claiming to “hold inviolable the dignity and entire person of every child,” has enabled the “vast majority of abusers and almost all those who concealed child sexual abuse to escape judicial proceedings in States where abuses were committed.  Moreover, “due to a code of silence imposed on all members of the clergy under penalty of excommunication, cases of child sexual abuse have hardly ever been reported to the law enforcement authorities in the countries where such crimes occurred… Reporting to national law enforcement authorities has never been made compulsory.”

8) The Committee “recommends that the Holy See consider seeking expert advice, among others, from the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on violence against children and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

In sum, the UN Committee is saying that the Catholic Church is still in deep denial and in need of multiple interventions, since it seems unable and unwilling to clean itself up.  The Committee “welcomed” the impending revision of family-related provisions of Catholic canon law (which I agree sends a promising signal) but the overall tone of the report is harsh, judgmental, and bleak, if not completely despairing.  It has already provoked defensive reactions from some Roman Catholics in and out of Rome, who assert, for example, that a) the UN is out of its depth and b) the Church has already made a lot of unacknowledged progress. John L. Allen, now of the Boston Globe, argues in his February 5 column that the UN committee report may prove counterproductive by giving ammunition to those still fighting change.  Perhaps, but one might wish to hold the archbishops and cardinals of the Catholic Church to a higher standard of maturity and humanity than Allen (no doubt through long experience) does. The terse initial response of the Vatican, after reading through the Committee report, seems clueless and quibbling–who really cares about curial protestations of “religious freedom” in light of “the case of a nine-year-old girl in Brazil who underwent an emergency life-saving abortion in 2009 after having been raped by her stepfather”–a case in which the local archbishop “sanctioned the mother of the girl as well as the doctor who performed the abortion, a sanction which was later approved by the head of the Roman Catholic Church’s Congregation of Bishops.”  If you read commentaries claiming that the UN is poking its head where it does not belong by criticizing the official Catholic position on abortion, I would suggest bearing in mind the actual circumstances in Brazil (among other cases) that led the UN committee to urge “the Holy See to review its position on abortion which places obvious risks on the life and health of pregnant girls and to amend Canon 1398 relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services can be permitted.”  That is not a demand, as the Vatican’s “permanent observer” at the UN in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, asserted today, for a blanket “acceptance of abortion.”

The UN Committee is not infringing on anyone’s religious liberty here: the Vatican is free to listen to the report’s recommendations or not.  Tomasi said that “trying to ask the Holy See to change its teachings is not negotiable.”  But the UN Committee is not negotiating, they are making action recommendations based on their own mandate, influenced by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights drawn up after World War Two, and perhaps by a fashionable cosmopolitanism.  Maybe the Catholic Church should consider incorporating more Enlightenment-based, secular-human-rights-based, and cosmopolitan thinking into its doctrines and canons, especially if that would help minimize future abuses of vulnerable children.  But in any case nobody is taking away Catholic freedoms, including the freedom to repent and change.  When the Vatican replies to the committee report by “reiterat[ing] its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child, in line with the principles promoted by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and according to the moral and religious values offered by Catholic doctrine,” but then complains that the Committee has tried to interfere with the Church’s exercise of its religious freedom, one can only wonder, whose freedom really counts here?  And do the “moral and religious values” the Vatican references include any sense of proportion regarding how far short of common decency the Catholic Church fell in its treatment of sexual abuse victims?  If not, if still not, who is really schismatic, heretical, and heathen today?

Pope Francis has been rightly praised for the invitational tone of his papacy, which was certainly a welcome change.  Just by his fresh and improvisational tone, he diverted the eyes of much of the world’s media–and I do not mean to fault him yet for this–from the grim scandals of sexual abuse.  But this UN document is unsparing, even though is not accompanied by any enforcement mechanisms or sanctions (to paraphrase Stalin, the UN committee has no tanks or divisions at their disposal).  It is a message from one “moral high ground” to another. It is unprecedented in reach, in that it is the first overall indictment of the Vatican so far as I know from an agency with a global mandate, based on an international statement of moral principles with which the Vatican voluntarily undertook to comply.  Pope Francis may or may not reply directly to this report (somewhat as the head of Goldman Sachs may or may not deign to reply to papal condemnations of the inequities attendant on globalized finance capitalism). But the moral challenge is there, if he is ready to address it more directly than he yet has.

War On Little Sisters Update: Supreme Court Makes Them Handwrite Their Own Permission Slip

The Little Sisters of the Poor are not likely to be forced by the federal government to pay for anybody’s birth control, let alone any woman’s abortion, no matter how their lawsuit goes.  But the anti-Obamacare rabble-rousers have pretended that the Little Sisters’ religious freedoms were about to be grossly violated.  Media coverage of the Supreme Court’s one-paragraph extension of the injunction in their case portrayed it as a victory for the Little Sisters and their Becket Fund lawyers, because they will not, for the time being, be obliged to fill out the government form (a form characterized by a Becket Fund representative as a “permission slip,” but which would simply have registered their putatively religion-based objections to contraception and thereby freed them from any complicity in the ostensible scandal and evil thereof–the case is quite baroque already).

In fact, as UPI Senior Legal Affairs Writer Michael Kirkland pointed out yesterday, “Little Sisters Jab, But No KO.”  Kirkland gives the misleading impression that employees at nursing homes run by the Little Sisters might get birth control coverage if the nuns agreed to sign the government form.  (Lyle Denniston’s coverage at Scotusblog is more reliable. ) However, Kirkland correctly notes that the Supreme Court order still obliges the Little Sisters to inform the federal beast in writing that they “are non-profit organizations that hold themselves as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services…applicants need not use the form prescribed by the government.”  The Becket Fund did a little victory dance, perhaps because they can now express their objections to the contraceptive mandate in 64 different crayon colors.

The really important cases, with the potential to open up whole new realms of corporate privilege, are Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, coming up for oral arguments March 25.  Scotusblog has links to some of the dozens of “Amicus” briefs filed already.