Yesterday, many on the left had a hearty laugh about the statement by Bishop William E. Lori on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the administration’s effort to force the church to violate its principles by paying for insurance coverage for practices it opposes. The left-wing site Talking Points Memo in particular thought it was ludicrous for Bishop Lori to claim a government mandate that Catholic institutions pay for contraception is akin to one that would force Jewish delis to serve pork. To the left, the analogy is ludicrous, because getting free birth control from your employer is, they believe, a constitutional right, and a ham sandwich is merely a whim.
But Lori was absolutely right. The attempt by the president to force all employers, even those whose religious convictions forbid them from doing so, to provide insurance coverage for contraception is no different than a hypothetical law that would require all places that serve food to include non-kosher items on the menu.
As Lori said, the fact that many Jews eat pork does not undermine the right of kosher restaurants to exclude it from the menu. Nor should it obligate them to provide ham or shrimp or cheeseburgers to their non-Jewish employees for lunch. Rather than their refusal to do so being a case of observant Jews “imposing their beliefs” on others, a law that sought to force such restaurants to alter their fare to conform with a government dictat would allow the state to use its power of coercion to run roughshod over the religious beliefs of its citizens.
Lori went even further and analogized the president’s “compromise” on contraception by saying it was no different than if the state allowed the kosher delis to not put pork on its menu and to have its employees serve ham sandwiches but forced them to allow pork distributors to set up kiosks on the premises where free ham sanchwiches would be served, the cost for which would be born by the kosher deli owners.
If the analogy sounds ludicrous it is only because there is no national meal plan to feed Americans in the way that Obamacare has nationalized health insurance. But, as Lori points out, there isn’t any more need for anyone who works at a Catholic institution to get birth control from the church than there is for a pork-craving customer to get ham from a kosher deli. In both cases, there is nothing preventing either person from working someplace else or just going down the block to get the item they want from somewhere else. The attack on the church demonstrates not only the contempt of this administration for religious freedom but the threat that its signature health care bill poses to constitutional liberty.
The impulse to impose these regulations on the church has no more to do with the correctness of the Vatican’s ruling on contraception than the validity of kashrut. Both are religious beliefs that must be respected if we are serious about protecting religious freedom in this republic. Such freedom either exists for all or for none.
Bishop Lori’s statement deserves to be read in full:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, for the opportunity to testify today. For my testimony today, I would like to tell a story. Let’s call it, “The Parable of the Kosher Deli.”
Once upon a time, a new law is proposed, so that any business that serves food must serve pork. There is a narrow exception for kosher catering halls attached to synagogues, since they serve mostly members of that synagogue, but kosher delicatessens are still subject to the mandate.
The Orthodox Jewish community—whose members run kosher delis and many other restaurants and grocers besides—expresses its outrage at the new government mandate. And they are joined by others who have no problem eating pork—not just the many Jews who eat pork, but people of all faiths—because these others recognize the threat to the principle of religious liberty. They recognize as well the practical impact of the damage to that principle. They know that, if the mandate stands, they might be the next ones forced—under threat of severe government sanction—to violate their most deeply held beliefs, especially their unpopular beliefs.
Meanwhile, those who support the mandate respond, “But pork is good for you. It is, after all, the other white meat.” Other supporters add, “So many Jews eat pork, and those who don’t should just get with the times.” Still others say, “Those Orthodox are just trying to impose their beliefs on everyone else.”
But in our hypothetical, those arguments fail in the public debate, because people widely recognize the following.
First, although people may reasonably debate whether pork is good for you, that’s not the question posed by the nationwide pork mandate. Instead, the mandate generates the question whether people, who believe—even if they believe in error—that pork is not good for you, should be forced by government to serve pork within their very own institutions. In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.
Second, the fact that some (or even most) Jews eat pork is simply irrelevant. The fact remains that some Jews do not—and they do not out of their most deeply held religious convictions. Does the fact that large majorities in society—even large majorities within the protesting religious community—reject a particular religious belief make it permissible for the government to weigh in on one side of that dispute? Does it allow government to punish that minority belief with its coercive power? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.
Third, the charge that the Orthodox Jews are imposing their beliefs on others has it exactly backwards. Again, the question generated by a government mandate is whether the government will impose its belief that eating pork is good on objecting Orthodox Jews. Meanwhile, there is no imposition at all on the freedom of those who want to eat pork. That is, they are subject to no government interference at all in their choice to eat pork, and pork is ubiquitous and cheap, available at the overwhelming majority of restaurants and grocers. Indeed, some pork producers and retailers, and even the government itself, are so eager to promote the eating of pork, that they sometimes give pork away for free.
In this context, the question is this: can a customer come to a kosher deli, demand to be served a ham sandwich, and if refused, bring down severe government sanction on the deli? In a nation committed to religious liberty and diversity, the answer, of course, is no.
So in our hypothetical story, because the hypothetical nation is indeed committed to religious liberty and diversity, these arguments carry the day.
In response, those proposing the new law claim to hear and understand the concerns of kosher deli owners, and offer them a new “accommodation.” You are free to call yourself a kosher deli; you are free not to place ham sandwiches on your menu; you are free not to be the person to prepare the sandwich and hand it over the counter to the customer. But we will force your meat supplier to set up a kiosk on your premises, and to offer, prepare, and serve ham sandwiches to all of your customers, free of charge to them. And when you get your monthly bill from your meat supplier, it will include the cost of any of the “free” ham sandwiches that your customers may accept. And you will, of course, be required to pay that bill.
Some who supported the deli owners initially began to celebrate the fact that ham sandwiches didn’t need to be on the menu, and didn’t need to be prepared or served by the deli itself. But on closer examination, they noticed three troubling things.
First, all kosher delis will still be forced to pay for the ham sandwiches. Second, many of the kosher delis’ meat suppliers, themselves, are forbidden in conscience from offering, preparing, or serving pork to anyone. Third, there are many kosher delis that are their own meat supplier, so the mandate to offer, prepare, and serve the ham sandwich still falls on them.
This story has a happy ending. The government recognized that it is absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich; that it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed with the coercive power of the state; that it is downright surreal to apply this coercive power when the customer can get the same sandwich cheaply, or even free, just a few doors down.
The question before the United States government—right now—is whether the story of our own Church institutions that serve the public, and that are threatened by the HHS mandate, will end happily too. Will our nation continue to be one committed to religious liberty and diversity? We urge, in the strongest possible terms, that the answer must be yes. We urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to answer the same way.
Ham Sandwiches and Religious Freedom
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A noble end.
When I was a boy, maybe 10, I hauled an old four-inch refracting telescope that my great aunt kept on the veranda of her summer house out onto the lawn and began pointing it at various stars. Stars look pretty much the same through a telescope as they do to the naked eye, only brighter. But planets look very different. And suddenly, there it was, Saturn, floating majestically upon the inky seas of the universe, its rings fortuitously at full tilt, as they are only about every 15 years. I began shouting, “It’s Saturn! It’s Saturn!” and dancing with excitement. My aunt, greatly amused, thought I was becoming hysterical, as I suppose I was.
For the last 13 years, I and millions of others have been dancing through the Saturnian system itself, thanks to a remarkable space probe called Cassini.
The Cassini space mission ended this morning when, on orders from NASA, it plunged into Saturn’s dense atmosphere and burned up. It was sending data up until the very end and almost certainly broke up within seconds of its last transmission at 7:55:46 AM (EDT).
What a journey it has been. It was launched on October 15, 1997, flew by Venus twice and earth and Jupiter once each to gain momentum (the planets, therefore, slowing down infinitesimally and moving ever so slightly further from the sun to conserve the angular momentum). It reached Saturn, 950 million miles from the sun, on July 1, 2004, the first space probe to orbit the giant ringed planet.
For the next 13 years, Cassini explored the planet, its rings, and its fascinating astronomical zoo of satellites (Saturn has 62 moons at last count, Cassini having discovered seven of them.) The most interesting of these satellites is Titan, larger than the planet Mercury, and second in size among the solar system’s moons only to Jupiter’s Ganymede. It is the only moon in the solar system to have a dense atmosphere (like Earth’s, mostly nitrogen).
On January 14, 2005, a module, named for Christiaan Huygens who had been the first (in the 17th Century) to decipher Saturn’s rings and who discovered Titan, landed on that world and took 350 pictures before succumbing to the deep cold on the moon’s surface.
They revealed a world both wildly exotic and strangely familiar. Titan is the only body in the solar system besides earth to have liquids on its surface—rivers, lakes, and seas of liquid methane.
There are far too many things that were explored in this remarkable, nearly flawless mission, to go into here. NASA has a list of some of the major ones. But it will be years before the mountains of data sent home by Cassini will be fully analyzed.
A matter of sovereignty.
An insidious form of political correctness is creeping into the English language on little cat feet.
It probably started with the word Koran, which has been in the English language since 1725. Suddenly it began appearing as Quran, which is a transliteration of the Arabic, and even Qu’ran. What appears to English speakers as a meaningless apostrophe is actually a breath mark carried over from Arabic, which, like Hebrew, does not write out the vowels. In English we do, and so we don’t need breath marks.
What is wrong with Koran? Exactly nothing. The idea that we should use the transliterated Arabic word instead of our own word is pure political correctness deriving from the classic linguistic fallacy of conflating the word and the thing denoted by the word. The Koran is the holy book of Islam. Koran is a word in the English language.
This line of thinking gives Arabic speakers, not English speakers, control over many English words. Does that mean we have to use Arabic transliterations for such English words as sofa, admiral, and zero, which derive from Arabic? I’m pretty sure Arabic speakers would laugh at the opposite idea, that we English speakers get to determine how English-derived words in that language should be spelled in Arabic.
In this month’s issue of Discovery magazine, there is an interesting article on how the Incas, who lacked a written language, used knots on strings as a mnemonic device. The magazine spells the word Inca as Inka. Inca has been in the English language since 1592, borrowed from Spanish. Spanish got it from Quechuan, the language of the Inca people. Spanish priests wanted to use Quechuan as an evangelical tool, and so they wrote it down, using, of course, Spanish orthography; Quechuan having no orthography of its own.
Then in 1975, the Peruvian government promulgated a new orthography of Quechuan, which uses the letter K whereas in Spanish the letter C would be used. Does Discovery magazine think that Peru’s Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua should determine how English words are spelled instead of Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English Dictionary? Apparently.
During the Winter Olympics of 2006, which were held in the lovely city of Turin, Italy, (where I’m happy to say I’ll be next week for a conference), the NBC announcers were instructed to call the city by its Italian name, Torino. Does that mean we have to say Milano, Roma, and Firenze instead of Milan, Rome, and Florence?
That way lies madness. Under that doctrine, foreign place names should be spelled and pronounced as they are in the local language. OK, but then what do we call the capital of Belgium, which in English is Brussels? Belgium is a painfully divided country linguistically. French-speaking Belgians call the capital Bruxelles while the Dutch speakers call it Brussel (I haven’t a clue how that’s pronounced in Dutch, a language notoriously difficult for foreigners to pronounce correctly).
What do we do with the English Channel? Half the coastline is in France, after all. Should it be the Anglo-French Channel? The French couldn’t care less what we call it in English, by the way. They call it la Manche, which means “the sleeve,” after its shape.
The only solution to this idiocy is to let native speakers of each language have full sovereignty over the vocabulary of their own language.
The United Nations thinks the rest of the world needs a “21st Century makeover.” To accomplish that, the international body is turning toward some of the most outmoded ideas of the 19th Century.
Far from wringing his hands over the global trend toward populism and the nationalist extravagances that typify it, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi is wrapping himself in populist economic anxieties like a familiar old blanket.
“A combination of too much debt and too little demand at the global level has hampered sustained expansion of the world economy,” he said in a statement on Thursday, despite the fact that global economic growth has shown no signs of slowing. For this lamentable state of affairs, Kituyi’s agency didn’t blame governments that spend beyond their means and borrow when they should be investing. He didn’t even blame a pronounced global recession from which the world began to emerge only recently. Instead, the United Nations lays the blame on “neo-liberalism.”
“The whole neo-liberal mantra that ‘there is no alternative’ has begun to fall apart,” said UNCTAD’s globalization director, Richard Kozul-Wright. “There are plenty of alternatives out there, and they are urgently needed given the kind of economic and social imbalances that we are currently facing.”
What is “neo-liberalism?” It’s a lot like paleo-liberalism. You might better know it by its more popular moniker, which Kozul-Wright was careful to avoid: classical liberalism. In the context of a national economy, it is the belief in reduced or non-existent trade barriers, the free movement of capital, and the privatization of industry. It’s Adam Smith and David Ricardo. And it’s the bane of Keynesians’ existence.
Kozul-Wright speaks so contemptuously of the phrase “there is no alternative” because, like so many of his fellow travelers at Turtle Bay, he came of age at a time when the pejorative “TINA” was a dirty word. It was Margaret Thatcher’s battle cry when she successfully privatized the utilities and industries that Clement Atlee nationalized. It was the slogan that marshaled support in a newly united Germany for the transition in the East toward a market economy. It was a phrase coined by the philosopher and early conservative thinker Herbert Spencer whose Darwinian maxims are still resented by, well, people who use the word “neoliberalism” like it were a slur.
Kozul-Wright has a point about tackling government debt and inflation, which is nearing the point of crisis in the United States and the United Kingdom respectively. His prescriptions—the end of austerity and a massive drunken government spending spree—would seem to miss the mark. More important, though, Kozul-Wright is right about something else. There absolutely is an alternative to the classically liberal economic ethos that conquered the world when the Berlin Wall fell. For the historically literate, however, it’s not a desirable alternative.
As COMMENTARY’s Sohrab Ahmari has chronicled for over a year, classical liberal economics are opposed not merely by Keynesians but by a more reactionary sort. Advanced economies transitioning away from heavy industry have produced armies of the dispossessed and disillusioned. These legions span the traditional right-left political spectrum. They are united by protectionism, economic nationalism, and a robust social safety net (one extended only to the right kind of people).
These movements, like Kozul-Wright, are backward looking. And while he would no doubt consider himself hostile toward the forces of reaction that have assumed power over the course of this decade, the policies he advocates are both populist and nationalist. They are the products of despair and hopelessness, and it is no accident that illiberal economies are so often stewarded by illiberal governments.
There is no shortage of irony in the fact that UNCTAD’s “globalism director” shares a set of economic prescriptions with millions of Westerners who reject globalization. “Prosperity for all cannot be delivered by austerity-minded politicians, rent-seeking corporations, and speculative bankers,” Kozul-Wright wrote for The Guardian on Thursday. “Unlike the textbook concept of pure competition, our hyper-globalized world has been accompanied by a considerable concentration of economic power and wealth in the hands of a remarkably small number of people.” This is the perfect synthesis of the Occupy Wall Street creed with Steve Bannon-style economic chauvinism—two ideologies that share more in common than either would prefer to admit. Neither is especially friendly toward the kind of enlightened republicanism that has made the West a beacon of freedom and prosperity unmatched in human history.
Many have set out to prove that there is, in fact, an alternative to economic liberalism. They lead prison states that subject their people to authoritarianism and privation. While Venezuela’s Bolivarians lecture the West on the folly of TINA, their ministers are advising the public how to avoid starvation by raising rabbits. Meanwhile, in the heart of a city where the bounty of unfettered capitalism overflows, men like Richard Kozul-Wright and Mukhisa Kituyi lead comfortable lives lecturing the public on the excesses of Adam Smith. The very lives they lead stand as an irrefutable testament to the hollowness of their ideas.
An awful new normal.
At least 22 people were injured after an improvised explosive device detonated aboard a London Underground train on Friday. The crude bomb–apparently contained in a white bucket wrapped in a plastic bag–went off as the train was leaving toward central London from Parsons Green station, 15 minutes from where I live. Several victims suffered flash burns while others were crushed in the stampede that ensued.
Across the English Channel, meanwhile, a hammer-wielding assailant struck two women in the eastern French town of Chalon-sur-Saone. The women survived. The attacker had shouted Allahu Akbar.
This is the West’s new normal.
Some officials wish we would put up with terrorism much as we accept other urban nuisances such as traffic, vermin, and pickpocketing. Recall former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s words following the Nice truck attack in July 2016 that killed 86: “Times have changed, and we should learn to live with terrorism.” According to the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, former President Obama liked to remind his staff that Americans are more likely to die from slipping in their bathtubs than from terror attacks.
But these glib assertions can never calm people frightened of taking the Tube or boarding a plane, knowing there is always chance, however slight, of something going boom or gunshots ringing out to cries of Allahu Akbar! Bathtub slips may be more deadly, statistically speaking, but they are by definition accidental. They don’t possess that malign, war-like aspect that defines modern Islamic terrorism.
Nowadays when you step into a Tube train, you are aware that you are entering a battleground. Even the most enlightened, progressive commuter can’t help but notice the woman in the burka or that young man with the long beard scowling in one corner of the carriage. The sight raises a dozen anxious questions and emotions. Now, statistically speaking, that woman or that young man is just “trying to get on with life.” But as the French philosopher Pierre Manent wrote in his book Beyond Radical Secularism:
The immense majority of our Muslim citizens have nothing to do with terrorism, but terrorism would not be what it is, it would not have the same reach nor the same significance, if the terrorists did not belong to this population and were not our fellow citizens. These terrorist acts would simply be odious crimes subject to ordinary justice if they were not guided by an aim of war and by the intent to ruin the very possibility of a common life.
So long as a small but significant minority of Muslims takes a war footing against the West, terror will persist, and no amount of statistical sophistry and empty rhetoric from leaders will assuage legitimate fear.
The best opponent Democrats could hope for.
Mere days ago, Breitbart’s Steve Bannon told “60 Minutes” that “our purpose is to support Donald Trump.” Then, on Wednesday, Trump decided to make an immigration deal with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi over Chinese food. Within minutes, Breitbart was dubbing the president it had pledged to support “Amnesty Don.”
For Breitbart, accusing someone of supporting “Amnesty” is tantamount to calling him a child molester, so negative is its understanding of the word. That is why a White House spokesman declared afterward that Trump “will not be discussing amnesty.” But in the next sentence, the spokesman said Trump would consider “legal citizenship over a period of time.”
That, my friends, is the very definition of amnesty, pure and simple. Forget his Orwellian newspeak: The Trump spokesman was acknowledging his boss had agreed to follow the provisions of the so-called DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for 800,000 people.
Yes, follow this. Donald Trump, the most anti-immigration president in a century, and maybe of all time, is going to oversee the first wide-scale amnesty since the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act led to the legalization of 3 million illegals.
I like this plan, by the way. But let’s face it. With this deal, Trump has betrayed his core followers and a significant campaign promise—the most startling such turnabout since the first President Bush went back on his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge.
What gives? When it comes to the DREAMers, Trump surely knows that polls show a near-majority of Republicans (46 percent in the latest Morning Consult survey) support citizenship for those brought to America by their illegal-alien parents as children and who know no other home.
But he didn’t stage his takeover of the Republican Party by gaining the support of those Republicans. No, Trump came to power in the GOP by consolidating the party’s extremes and then moving on the center, which was split among a dozen other candidates. And he did so in large measure by talking about immigration and immigrants in a startlingly hostile manner.
This gave him a reputation for politically correct plain speaking and a willingness to consider wild policy options—a deportation force and the construction of a 1,900-mile wall even through deep river beds—no conventional politician had or would.
And he gained the passionate support of all those who claimed the GOP had become a party of wimps mired in the Washington swamp, unwilling to bring the fight to the Democrats, unable to crush liberals. And what has he done over the past two weeks? He has struck deals with Schumer and Pelosi and gave those two signature Democrats almost everything they could have hoped for.
This is a potentially significant moment on the American Right, which is a far more complex agglomeration than either its leaders or its most hostile critics tend to acknowledge. Trump is abandoning his true believers in favor of an explicitly anti-ideological, anti-partisan approach—only a month after it appeared he was retreating into their loving arms.
He is not a systematic man. He is an improviser. It would be a mistake to see any kind of deliberate long-term strategy here. Last week Trump knew he wanted the debt-limit fight to go away and he made it go away with no fuss for three months. This week he knew he wanted to dispose of the DREAMer issue before it became a total pain and he made that happen, too.
Trump once said his followers would stand behind him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. Becoming “Amnesty Don” is as close to firing that shot as anything any politician in recent times has ever done.