Month Archives: May 2014

O Say Canada Can You See?

by Robert Morrison

May 6, 2014

My colleague Rob Schwarzwalder’s blog post on the important Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway raises the central issue in this dispute. The town fathers went out of their way to welcome prayers by citizens of other religions than Christianity. They recognized their own obligation to cast their nets broadly. No one could reasonably say his religion was being disrespected. But that good faith effort, that exercise in civility, was not enough for Citizen Galloway. Instead, this person determined to take her complaint all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Forget civility. Forget good neighborliness. If I am offended, I have a constitutional right to shut down my fellow citizens’ freedom of speech and free exercise. Or so this claimant thought. And whenever any atheizer is unhappy that his neighbor believes that this is one nation under God, there will be wealthy and powerful pressure groups racing in to court, ready to help extinguish the lamp of religious liberty.

Rob Schwarzwalder asks where is the civility, where is the maturity in that? He’s right. Not every crank has a cause of action.

I’ve always been impressed by the baseball fans at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. Whenever the Orioles play Toronto Blue Jays, the fans all stand for “The Star Spangled Banner.” (And they shout out the “O’s” in “O Say.”) Those fans should be especially proud to belt out our National Anthem this season, since it’s the Bicentennial of Francis Scott Key’s powerful poem that has become our stirring song.

After our National Anthem, everyone stands respectfully for our Northern neighbor’s National Anthem, the beautiful and evocative “O Canada.”

No one petulantly refuses to honor the other country’s anthem. That’s a tribute to true civility. But we should not forget that two hundred years ago, Britain ruled Canada and used it as a base to make war on us. Those “rockets’ red glare” and ” bombs bursting in air” were British rockets and British bombs. And Canada remained loyal to the British in their attempt to destroy our young republic.

As for the Canadians, their anthem contains the verse “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

On guard against whom? It’s not against the Moose or the Polar Bear. They stand on guard against the Yankees — US!

Both National Anthems are written (in effect) against the other. And yet we are today the best of friends.

Different systems, different perspectives. Very different national goals and ethos, but we are more than civil, and more than good friends. Canada and the U.S. enjoy the longest undefended border in the world.

The key is to honor your neighbor and respect his traditions.

We can certainly learn a lesson in cordiality at Camden Yards. Instead of having to sue one another, maybe we should say “Take me out to the ball game!”

Justice Kennedy’s Reminder: Some Americans Just Need to Grow Up

by Rob Schwarzwalder

May 5, 2014

In the majority opinion he issued today on public prayer, Justice Anthony Kennedy made a number of arguments with serious implications for religious liberty in the United States.

His opinion and the coincident opinions of Justices Alito and Thomas and the dissenting opinions by Justices Breyer and Kagan all deserve close scrutiny.  Religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberties, and any time the Supreme Court speaks about it, all Americans should listen carefully.

With that said, there is a particularly noteworthy thread of argument woven throughout Justice Kennedy’s opinion.  Several times, he alludes to a fact that needs to be expressed more often, both in our courts and everyday life: Mature adults should act that way.

Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith,” he argues. In other words, rather than wear your religious beliefs and cultural mores like touch-sensitive antennae, act enough like an adult that you don’t take offense unnecessarily or easily.

With respect to public prayer, Justice Kennedy writes:

… the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understand that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens, not to afford government an opportunity to proselytize or force truant constituents into the pews … That many appreciate these acknowledgments of the divine in our public institutions does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve of its content.

In other words, respect, decency, civility, and self-control are assumed in a nation that is not only diverse in its religious composition (although the overwhelming majority profess some form of Christian faith) but also composed of self-governing men and women who have the common sense not to take offense too readily.

Kennedy continues:

In their declarations in the trial court, respondents (those who filed suit against the Greece council’s permission of sectarian prayer) stated that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected.  Offense, however, does not equate to coercion.  Adults often encounter speech that they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront rom the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum, especially where, as here (Greece, New York), any member of the public is welcome in turn to offer an invocation reflecting his or her own convictions.

Hear a religious or political comment you don’t like? Justice Kennedy is saying that unless it is personal, disrespectful, or invasive, deal with it: That’s part of being an adult.

Over-dramatization and sensational hand-wringing derive from our media-driven fascination with the morally lurid, even when that luridness is quite isolated.  Consider the responses to the recent repulsive racial comments of Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers professional basketball team. They were disgusting, but they do not demand an exaggerated inflation of the presence of racism in America.  Commenting on the pervasiveness of racism in light of the Sterling affair, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, “More whites believe in ghosts than they do in racism”.

Put another way, does racism exist?  Sure.  But is it representative or preponderant or something about which to be panicked?  No.  Abdul-Jabbar is calling on his fellow Americans not to get carried away, not to magnify a relative anomaly into a

looming crisis.

In the same way, hearing “Jesus” or “the cross of Christ” in a prayer shouldn’t set peoples’ teeth on edge any more than watching a liberal Democrat opine on network television should upset a conservative Republican: You might disagree with the content, but you shouldn’t try to stifle the right of someone to express a profoundly-held belief or conviction as long as it is expressed with adequate civility and courtesy.

Citing Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, Justice Kenney argues that “the Constitution does not guarantee citizens a right entirely to avoid ideas with which they disagree.”  And as to prayer at public or government-related events, he concludes:

Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy.  And should they remain, their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed.  Neither choice represents an unconstitutional imposition as to mature adults, who “presumably” are “not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure” (Marsh, 1983).

Justice Kennedy’s ruling is a welcome reminder that some of our fellow citizens just need to grow up.  Whether, in our era of political correctness and ready woundedness, they will or not is a different question.

Canada Celebrates Israel Democracy

by Robert Morrison

May 5, 2014

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement today expressing Canada’s goodwill on the occasion of Israel’s birthday. The statement is a sincere one and represents the admiration that goes out from one democracy to another.

Reading the Prime Minister of Canada’s statement made me want to check www.whitehouse.gov to see how our own very eloquent president would greet the Israelis. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find anything. You can get the President’s witty talk at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. Mr. Obama admitted that last year, the first of what we pray will be his last term, was a bad one for him. Why, it was so bad, the president jibed, that “even the 47% were telling Mitt Romney they were sorry.” That was funny.

But no message to Israel, the only democracy in the Mideast. No kind words to our only trustworthy ally in the region.

Well, maybe I could find it on the State Department website. Surely, Sec. of State John Kerry would like to make nice to Israel. He needs to after his infamous gaffe comparing Israel’s future to “apartheid,” like South Africa’s past.

Checking in at www.state.gov, I searched and searched for birthday messages to Israel. Nada. None. Nowhere.

I did find a glowing statement about our improving relations with (drumroll, Marine Band, please) ANGOLA! Well, that’s good news.

Digging deeper into the State Department’s informative website, I learn that ex-Sen. Russ Feingold is Mr. Kerry’s Envoy to the Great Lakes.

Who knew we even had an envoy to bodies of water?

Which only serves to remind me that Israel could teach our water borne envoys a lot. As in parting the waters, stilling them, and walking on them.

This is a day for the rest of us to thank God we have friends in Israel. Who blesses you I will bless; who curses you I will curse says the Lord.

That promise comes to us from an even higher authority than the president, the secretary of state, and even higher than the White House Correspondents.

To read the entire statement from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, click here.

In the Fight for Life: NAACP v. Radiance Foundation

by Lela Mayfield

May 1, 2014

This week, the media have been focused on Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his recent (highly racist) remarks caught on tape by his girlfriend. As the account goes, Sterling is now banned for life from the NBA and may have his ownership of the team revoked.

Until this unseemly incident, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) planned to award Sterling with the “Lifetime Achievement Award.” This is an interesting situation for two reasons; according to a recent Time Magazine interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who used to work for Sterling) this rant was actually nothing new for him, and if Sterling has indeed had a history of vocalizing his racism, then why would the NAACP award this man with a “Lifetime Achievement Award?”  Is it really possible that no one else on the award committee knew of his history of distasteful rhetoric?

The other reason that this is quite an intriguing scenario is that the NAACP is ensnared in another situation that has not seen the light of day in the mainstream media. I’m referring to the lawsuit brought by the NAACP against the Radiance Foundation.

The Radiance Foundation is a Christian pro-life organization founded and run by Ryan and Bethany Bomberger. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about not only abortion, but the importance of fathers and adoption and also to show the disproportionate trends of abortion in the black community and its lasting impacts.

The Real Controversy…

Last year, Ryan Bomberger wrote an article detailing the support that the NAACP has given to Planned Parenthood. In the article he parodied the NAACP acronym by saying the acronym should stand for the National Association for the Abortion of Colored People. Given the NAACP’s avid support for and laud of Planned Parenthood, he’s not incorrect. After receiving a Google alert about the article, the NAACP then sued Bomberger (who is also black) for misleading the public and trademark infringement. The 4th Circuit judge has ruled in favor of the NAACP.

The Irony…

How can the NAACP justify almost giving an award to a man who has had a history of racism, but sue a man who is only seeking to defend and support millions of black children in the womb? But I suppose this really shouldn’t come as a surprise given the NAACP’s history of praise for an organization (Planned Parenthood) completely anathema to the main purpose of the Association, the Advancement of Colored People. One really starts to wonder the motives of the NAACP. Contemplating giving an award to a known racist, and praising an organization started by a known eugenicist, while then suing a man who seeks to defend the lives of millions of black children, is all quite confusing and contrary to the initial purpose of the NAACP.  What would Dr. King say today? It makes little sense for a group created to assist and support people of color to attack a pro-life ministry working to save the lives of millions of these very same people. 

When a Nation Prayed

by Robert Morrison

May 1, 2014

I should be ashamed of myself if I were the First of May,” Winston Churchill said as he swept into Number 10 Downing Street. It was a bitter, cold, London day of sheeting rain in 1940. Churchill had just arrived for a meeting with Prime Minister Chamberlain and the War Cabinet. The military and political situation on the Continent looked as dreary as the weather.

I think Winston should be ashamed of himself anyway,” wrote 25-year old John Colville in his diary that day. The brilliant young “Jock” was private secretary to the Prime Minister. And, ever loyal, he thought Winston was conspiring to oust Neville Chamberlain and take his place. Actually, Winston was the only Churchillian who wasn’t plotting against his chief.

Ten days later came the deluge. German panzer tanks and Stuka dive bombers taught the world what blitzkrieg (lightning war) meant as they swept into neutral Holland, overran Belgium, and drove deep into France.

A political crisis simultaneously unfolded in London on that 10 May 1940. A vote of No Confidence in Prime Minister Chamberlain’s faltering Norwegian expedition was taken in the House of Commons. Chamberlain’s Conservative Party won that vote, but he was personally humiliated by the desertion of scores of Tory Members of Parliament. Chamberlain could not remain as Prime Minister.

The Labour Party Opposition refused to serve in a national coalition government under Chamberlain. That left only Lord Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, and Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, as possible successors.

Chamberlain, after momentarily thinking he might hang on in the face of that morning’s German onslaught, recognized reality and submitted his resignation to King George VI.  The King clearly preferred Halifax as Prime Minister and told him so. So did Chamberlain. So did most of the majority Tories in the House of Commons. But Halifax demurred. He did not think he could effectively lead a national coalition from the House of Lords.

That left Churchill. The King sent for him and asked him to form a new government. All the while, in France, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the French Army were reeling under the hammer blows of Hitler’s seemingly invincible Wehrmacht. No one had imagined such a powerful drive. In 1914 in World War I, the German Army had been stopped at the River Marne. It was called “the Miracle of the Marne.” But there would be no miracles for prostrate France in 1940.

At this dark hour, it appeared that the BEF would be cut off and smashed by a combination of German armor (tanks) and air strikes from the Luftwaffe. The BEF withdrew first to Calais, on the coast of France, then to Dunkirk. Their backs were literally to the English Channel.

One British unit at Calais was encircled by the rapid German advance. Facing annihilation or surrender, they sent a three-word cable to London, to Whitehall, Britain’s War Office. “But if not…” was all that their message said. It was all it had to say. Britons knew their King James Bible. Those words were from the Book of Daniel. The three young Israelites defied the pagan king’s order. They prayed to God to deliver them:

But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up”

In the new War Cabinet, Prime Minister Churchill was by no means powerfully seated. Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax remained in the inner circle. Churchill could not safely defy them.

Halifax wanted only two things. He thought Britain should pursue talks with Hitler through the intercession of Italy’s Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. And, the pious Halifax thought there should be a National Day of Prayer in Britain for the rescue of the encircled BEF.

The story of those Five Days in London is told in all its drama by the gifted pen of John Lukacs. Winston wanted no hint of talks with the treacherous Mussolini or, certainly, with the “wicked” Adolf Hitler. But he could not come right out and say so in the War Cabinet.

So, he went along instead with Halifax’s call for a National Day of Prayer. Candidly, Winston viewed such an exercise as something of a waste of time at such a moment. He was spending every waking minute trying to bring the BEF home and guarding against a possible airborne assault by German paratroopers. He worried the Germans might seize London while the British Army was stranded in France. He agreed, not with the best of grace, to go to Westminster Abbey with Lord Halifax for the Prayer Service.

King George VI had a higher view of prayer than Winston did. He took to the air in a broadcast to the people. Afflicted with an almost paralyzing stammer, the King nonetheless submitted to careful coaching from Lionel Logue (in an episode made famous by the Oscar-winning movie, “The King’s Speech.”)

The King delivered these lines flawlessly:

In this fateful hour we turn, as our fathers before us have turned in all times of trial, to God Most High…Let us with heart and soul humbly but confidently commit our cause to God and ask His aid that we may valiantly defend the right as it is given us to see it…

Winston Churchill had stirred the English soul with his powerful rhetoric, to be sure. He called upon the British people “to so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say this was their Finest Hour.”

What happened next? The Germans did not swoop down on undefended London with paratroopers. In France, their tanks were halted by order of the Fürer, Adolf Hitler.

The English Channel in those late May days was not stormy as it usually was, but “calm as a millpond.” And the encircled BEF began to be evacuated. Slowly, at first, the soldiers were brought off the beaches. They had to leave behind their tanks, their artillery, their trucks, and all their supplies.

Still, they were brought off. In the War Diary he dutifully recorded every day — even when Buckingham Palace was hit by German bombs — the King kept a tally of the daily toll of those rescued from Dunkirk.

Operation Dynamo, as the evacuation was called, employed some 222 vessels of the Royal Navy, 91 passenger ships or merchant vessels and a mosquito fleet of small fishing smacks. Even tugboats, ferry boats, and sailboats were mustered into service. All of this amazing rescue operation, and the King’s prayers for its success, are recorded in the work of his official biographer, Sir John Wheeler-Bennett. (Sir John was also coached for his childhood stammer by Lionel Logue.)

In the end, a total of 335,000 troops were brought over to England from France. Of these 111,000 were French soldiers, many of whom had bravely manned the defense perimeter. So, even in the midst of military disasters that would soon bring about the Fall of France, Britain would not be left undefended. A third of a million soldiers would stand ready to repel any German invasion.

Winston Churchill was stunned at the enormity of what had been achieved. Sometimes skeptical, Winston now gratefully called Operation Dynamo “a miracle of deliverance.”

Today, we Americans enter our own National Day of Prayer at a somber and threatening time. Iran is racing unimpeded to develop a nuclear bomb. Russia is bent on carving up Ukraine. The Taliban in Afghanistan awaits only our withdrawal to spring. Will friendly Taiwan next feel the hot breath of an invader?

Around the world, America is on the retreat. And the only people who seem to fear the Government of the United States are our fellow Americans.

Surely, this is a Day when we need the help of God Most High. If a King could humble himself in prayer, surely we can, too. 

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