Commentary Magazine


Topic: church and state

What’s Wrong with U.S. Public Diplomacy?

I had written a couple months ago about the seemingly uncoordinated and scattershot approach in which U.S. embassies engage in the name of public diplomacy. An interlocutor pointed me to a speech delivered by retired Foreign Service officer Donald Bishop to the Council of American Ambassadors earlier this fall. While so many practitioners of public diplomacy circle the wagons to protect budgets and the system they know and in which they thrive, Bishop speaks directly:

Public diplomacy makes less difference in spite of the many studies and reports that proclaim its importance, despite the many new programs in the graduate schools, despite words of praise on all the appropriate public occasions, despite Congressional support for exchanges, despite Secretary Clinton’s decree that “every officer is a Public Diplomacy officer,” and despite the fact that Public Diplomacy officers are working harder than ever.

Bishop continues to suggest three separate problems, or rather clusters of problems. The first is organizational. Public diplomacy has been shunted aside to a bureaucratic corner. “The appointment of well-spoken Under Secretaries from related fields has not worked as intended. They have had scant bureaucratic power and no real sway over the allocation of Public Diplomacy people and money,” he writes, adding, “Public diplomacy training has become too brief. Many experienced Public Diplomacy officers no longer aim to lead large country programs, hoping rather to be DCMs [Deputy Charge of Missions], DAS’s [Deputy Assistant Secretaries], and Ambassadors, and this shifts their professional focus away from communication.”

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I had written a couple months ago about the seemingly uncoordinated and scattershot approach in which U.S. embassies engage in the name of public diplomacy. An interlocutor pointed me to a speech delivered by retired Foreign Service officer Donald Bishop to the Council of American Ambassadors earlier this fall. While so many practitioners of public diplomacy circle the wagons to protect budgets and the system they know and in which they thrive, Bishop speaks directly:

Public diplomacy makes less difference in spite of the many studies and reports that proclaim its importance, despite the many new programs in the graduate schools, despite words of praise on all the appropriate public occasions, despite Congressional support for exchanges, despite Secretary Clinton’s decree that “every officer is a Public Diplomacy officer,” and despite the fact that Public Diplomacy officers are working harder than ever.

Bishop continues to suggest three separate problems, or rather clusters of problems. The first is organizational. Public diplomacy has been shunted aside to a bureaucratic corner. “The appointment of well-spoken Under Secretaries from related fields has not worked as intended. They have had scant bureaucratic power and no real sway over the allocation of Public Diplomacy people and money,” he writes, adding, “Public diplomacy training has become too brief. Many experienced Public Diplomacy officers no longer aim to lead large country programs, hoping rather to be DCMs [Deputy Charge of Missions], DAS’s [Deputy Assistant Secretaries], and Ambassadors, and this shifts their professional focus away from communication.”

The second problem, he observes, is the fact that there is “division among the American people over our nation’s purposes in the world.” Bishop is correct, even as so many ignore this basic fact. As national security becomes a political football, partisan and philosophical divisions undercut the ability to advance a coherent strategy. Another point Bishop makes but is so often overlooked is the impact of rancorous American political debate on our adversaries’ propaganda:

If I know anything from three decades of reading foreign editorials and columns, it’s that indigenous foreign criticisms of the United States are quite rare. Rather our critics rewrite, repackage, and amplify what they hear in our own domestic debates. Division and rancor in our domestic politics ricochets back to us from abroad, and we live in rancorous times.

This doesn’t mean that Congress should temper its debate, but in a globalized age it behooves our elected officials to recognize that hyperbole might end up fueling those who seek not to craft a batter strategy, but rather defeat America entirely. Simply looking back at some of the rhetoric aired regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and how congressional statements were picked up and recast on insurgent media should give pause to the bipartisan array of officials who were quick to declare new Vietnams or allege ill motives on the part of national-security leaders.

A subset of division about disputes regarding America’s role in the world is religion. Again, Bishop addresses the issue head on:

In the war on terrorism, however, we confront an ideology based on extreme religion. Americans have always been ginger about discussing religion, and too often I have seen officers turn away from opportunities to discuss faith by simply saying “in America, we have separation of church and state.”  This is a non-starter for dialog with religiously motivated people. My point is that because religion and its role in society are domestically contentious, we have been unable to agree among ourselves how to discuss religion with foreign audiences. This hurts us in the current struggle.

American officials so often misinterpret separation of church and state. While the U.S. government should certainly support no official religion, diplomats must understand that the word secular, when translated into Arabic, has a negative connotation suggesting the notion of being against religion. To avoid the subject of religion and religious ideology when operating in religiously conservative societies is to surrender credibility and forfeit the battle of ideas. Discussing religion need not be synonymous with proselytizing.

For Bishop, the third set of problems revolves around strategy. He quotes an Inspector General report on the Bureau of International Information Programs which posed basic questions:

What is the proper balance between engaging young people and marginalized groups versus elites and opinion leaders? Which programs and delivery mechanisms work best with which audiences? What proportion of PD [public diplomacy] resources should support policy goals, and what proportion should go to providing the context of American society and values? How much should PD products be tailored for regions and individual countries, and how much should be directed to a global audience?

To this, Bishop adds a few questions of his own:

  • What’s the value of venue-based Public Diplomacy — American Centers or American spaces — in an age of distributed information? 
  • When the internet and DVDs make high and low American culture available throughout the world, what’s the value of traveling jazz trios? 
  • How does the nation that stands for religious liberty communicate with international actors whose fundamental premises are religious? 
  • In war zones, how can Public Diplomacy work with the influence disciplines in the armed forces — information operations and the discipline formerly known as psychological operations? 

It seems that secretaries of state in recent administrations have sought to compete with their predecessors in mileage traveled, as if logging miles somehow became a metric of wisdom or diplomatic success. Leadership is not simply about free travel and five-star hotels, nor should an appointment to lead the State Department be the ultimate perk. Rather, being secretary of state should be about management and implementing a coherent strategy. Until a president appoints a secretary of state who takes seriously his or her responsibilities to answer fundamental questions and make diplomacy part of a coherent strategy, the State Department and American diplomacy are destined to flounder as an expensive failure.

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Faith, Liberty, and the “Price of Citizenship”

In 2007, a boardwalk pavilion in Ocean Grove, New Jersey lost its tax-exempt status after its owners, a Methodist organization, declined to allow same-sex couples to reserve the space for their weddings on religious grounds. The tax exemption was granted as part of a program to encourage owners of private property, such as the Ocean Grove beachfront space, to open their land to public use. The rest of the Methodist organization’s land retained its tax-exempt status.

It wasn’t equivalent to a church losing its exemption for denying its chapel for use in a same-sex wedding ceremony, but it was nonetheless concerning for defenders of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. It was sure to be only the beginning of such challenges, especially as acceptance of same-sex marriage increased. And now another domino has fallen. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the New Mexico Supreme Court “ruled Thursday that the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company violated state law when they turned away a lesbian couple who wanted to hire them to take pictures of their ceremony…. They rejected the argument of the devout Christian owners of Elane Photography who claimed they had a free speech and religious right not to shoot the ceremony.”

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In 2007, a boardwalk pavilion in Ocean Grove, New Jersey lost its tax-exempt status after its owners, a Methodist organization, declined to allow same-sex couples to reserve the space for their weddings on religious grounds. The tax exemption was granted as part of a program to encourage owners of private property, such as the Ocean Grove beachfront space, to open their land to public use. The rest of the Methodist organization’s land retained its tax-exempt status.

It wasn’t equivalent to a church losing its exemption for denying its chapel for use in a same-sex wedding ceremony, but it was nonetheless concerning for defenders of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. It was sure to be only the beginning of such challenges, especially as acceptance of same-sex marriage increased. And now another domino has fallen. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the New Mexico Supreme Court “ruled Thursday that the owners of an Albuquerque wedding photography company violated state law when they turned away a lesbian couple who wanted to hire them to take pictures of their ceremony…. They rejected the argument of the devout Christian owners of Elane Photography who claimed they had a free speech and religious right not to shoot the ceremony.”

The Methodist owners of the boardwalk pavilion were participating in a government program, and were told they had violated the public nature of that program. In the case of Elane Photography the court found, as Sterling Beard points out, that the photographers’ policy violates the state’s human-rights law that “prohibits a public accommodation from refusing to offer its services to a person based on that person’s sexual orientation.”

Challenging the ruling doesn’t necessitate a belief that private businesses are not subject to anti-discrimination laws. But the ruling suggests that the owners of Elane Photography’s Christian beliefs are now classified as discriminatory under the state’s human-rights laws, threatening to put church and state in open–and open-ended–conflict. The part of the court’s decision that has received the most attention is this:

At its heart, this case teaches that at some point in our lives all of us must compromise, if only a little, to accommodate the contrasting values of others. A multicultural, pluralistic society, one of our nation’s strengths, demands no less. The Huguenins are free to think, to say, to believe, as they wish; they may pray to the God of their choice and follow those commandments in their personal lives wherever they lead. The Constitution protects the Huguenins in that respect and much more. But there is a price, one that we all have to pay somewhere in our civic life.

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship.

The Huguenins are told by the courts that documenting and commemorating in pictures and words a ceremony that violates their religious beliefs is, though private enterprise, a public accommodation. And they are further told that their compulsion in this practice is “the price of citizenship”–in other words, the court thinks the Huguenins’ beliefs are not only technically discriminatory, but anti-American.

The truth is, the Huguenins challenged on free speech as well as free exercise grounds, and they attracted the support of legal scholars who support same-sex marriage but also value free speech. Eugene Volokh, Dale Carpenter, and the Cato Institute filed an amicus brief on the Huguenins’ behalf, arguing that photography is clearly protected under the First Amendment as creative expression:

Of course, when a photographer tells a couple that she does not want to photograph their commitment ceremony, the couple may be offended by the photographer’s disapproval. But the First Amendment does not treat avoiding offense as a sufficient interest to justify restricting or compelling speech. See, e.g., Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989).

The fact that people have a constitutional right to engage in writing, singing, photography, and the like also responds to the argument that people who do not want to photograph same-sex commitment ceremonies should just stop photographing weddings. Creating expressive works such as photographs (unlike delivering food, driving limousines, or renting out ballrooms) is a constitutional right. People who want to preserve their First Amendment rights to be free from compelled artistic expression cannot be required to surrender their First Amendment rights to engage in artistic expression in the first place.

Additionally, the court’s decision is a pertinent reminder that those making such decisions on American law and practice will often be ignorant of the religious doctrine they are dismissing, and that this ignorance will be a factor in rulings that impact religious Americans. The New Mexico court, for example, decided it had precedent to infringe on religious practice in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. The New Mexico court quotes the trial judge in Virginia justifying a ban on interracial marriage by saying that God created the different races of man and put them on different continents, and that the “fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The New Mexico court follows up with this comment:

Whatever opinion one might have of the trial judge’s religious views, which mirrored those of millions of Americans of the time, no one questioned his sincerity either or his religious conviction. In affirming the Lovings’ convictions, Virginia’s highest court observed the religious, cultural, historical and moral roots that justified miscegenation laws.

That is a gross distortion of Christian belief by ignoring the difference between a Virginia judge assuming the intent of God and the wedding photographers following doctrinal text. One doesn’t have to share the Huguenins’ faith to see the flimsiness of the connection or worry about the effects of setting judicial precedent by relying on such a fundamentally dishonest rendering of the subject–to say nothing of how insulting it is to Christians to make such a comparison in the first place.

Nor should anyone underestimate the damage that can be done by judicial rulings on religious freedom that are propelled by hostility and ignorance to both religious practice and constitutional law.

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Religion and the Public Square

Like Alana, I re-read John F. Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in light of Senator Santorum’s statement that he wanted to “throw up” in reaction to it. I concur with much of what Kennedy said, even as I’m familiar with (and somewhat sympathetic to) those who believe the speech went too far in dividing people’s private beliefs from their public duties and keeping religious convictions from shaping our public debate. Respectful disagreement with a serious speech is one thing; feeling the need to vomit all over it is quite another.

There are some important things missing from Santorum’s critique of Kennedy’s address. One is context. Those who served by Kennedy’s side have said no obstacle to the presidency handicapped Kennedy more than the widespread charge that a Catholic in the White House could not uphold America’s traditional and constitutional distance between the church and the state. The fear was that Kennedy would take his orders from the Vatican. Polls showed that well over half of Hubert Humphrey’s support was based solely on Kennedy’s religion. “People here aren’t anti-Kennedy,” said the publisher of West Virginia’s Coal Valley News. “They are simply concerned about the domination of the Catholic Church.” One article, written prior to the 1960 Wisconsin primary, mentioned the word “Catholic” 20 times in 15 paragraphs, even as it overlooked Kennedy’s positions on key public policy matters. That is what Kennedy was facing at the time.

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Like Alana, I re-read John F. Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in light of Senator Santorum’s statement that he wanted to “throw up” in reaction to it. I concur with much of what Kennedy said, even as I’m familiar with (and somewhat sympathetic to) those who believe the speech went too far in dividing people’s private beliefs from their public duties and keeping religious convictions from shaping our public debate. Respectful disagreement with a serious speech is one thing; feeling the need to vomit all over it is quite another.

There are some important things missing from Santorum’s critique of Kennedy’s address. One is context. Those who served by Kennedy’s side have said no obstacle to the presidency handicapped Kennedy more than the widespread charge that a Catholic in the White House could not uphold America’s traditional and constitutional distance between the church and the state. The fear was that Kennedy would take his orders from the Vatican. Polls showed that well over half of Hubert Humphrey’s support was based solely on Kennedy’s religion. “People here aren’t anti-Kennedy,” said the publisher of West Virginia’s Coal Valley News. “They are simply concerned about the domination of the Catholic Church.” One article, written prior to the 1960 Wisconsin primary, mentioned the word “Catholic” 20 times in 15 paragraphs, even as it overlooked Kennedy’s positions on key public policy matters. That is what Kennedy was facing at the time.

“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed,” JFK said in Houston, “in other years it has been — and may someday be again — a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.”

That is a warning worth heeding. And when Kennedy insisted that “I do not speak for the Catholic Church on issues of public policy,” he was simply saying what Santorum is saying today on the matter of contraception. Senator Santorum says he has his own personal views on contraception, which track with the teaching of the Catholic Church, but that he has no intention of banning contraception. (Hopefully, no faithful Catholic will develop emesis based on Santorum’s stand.)

The core argument Kennedy was making in his 1960 speech is that there should be no religious test for public office – and in making that argument, Kennedy was upholding the Constitution (specifically Article VI). To Kennedy’s credit, he said, “If the time should ever come – and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible – when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.” Kennedy also stated he would not “disavow my views or my church in order to win this election.”

I’d simply add that President Kennedy, in his remarkable inaugural address, gave one of the most eloquent reaffirmations of the animating spirit of the Declaration of Independence. “And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe,” President Kennedy said, “the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” Obviously, Kennedy was not in favor of a completely naked public square.

There are many Democrats Rick Santorum could target with wrath and contempt; John F. Kennedy should not be one of them.

 

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