Should Religion Have a Place in Government?

Millennial writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig recently spoke at the Yale Political Union, arguing the negative position on the resolution: “religion has no place in government.” Here is a small segment of her speech:

I’ll now turn to the idea that religion ought to have a place in government….

There are several reasons why. The first is that law both expresses and enforces certain moral truths which cannot be divorced from broader moral systems, and for the religious — those sharing communities of some overwhelming concern — it’s disingenuous nigh impossible to deliberate on what truths the law should express without citing their religious priors.

And this, secondly, allows their co-religionists to hold them responsible for their claims. The tendency of liberal societies to bifurcate religion and politics into two separate spheres — one private, one public — encourages religious participants in political deliberation to equivocate somewhat about their motives and beliefs, as it’s not really possible in that political context to interrogate them. Yet it should be. As long as the religious are going to participate in governance, it’s going to be better, not worse, to argue out the legitimacy of their claims on their own grounds, rather than accounting for all religiously motivated argumentation as both void and unassailable on the grounds of its privacy. Politics are already religious, as I have argued, and are intrinsically so; in that case, it’s better that we be clear and direct about our convictions than cloak them in a flimsy veil of privacy.

Lastly, when religion is entirely privatized and politics dominates the public realm totally, there is little with sufficient moral weight to check political hegemony. There is a reason totalitarians seek to swiftly snuff out religious dissenters, and there is also a reason that religions nonetheless endure. The likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were able to resist hegemonic — and unjust — political exercise not out of reserves of private religious virtue, but because they produced religious objections to the evils of their respective states and pressed these cases politically, in public. From this perspective it is easy to imagine why the modern nation-state might insist that religion be privatized and ejected from the public sphere; it should be equally easy to imagine why we should resist that effort.

And this doesn’t apply only to fringe cases where extreme resistance measures (as against fascist regimes or racist violence) would otherwise be excused even by garden variety liberals. Indeed, destructive ideologies exert hegemonic control over our everyday, ordinary lives, and in many cases seek to exclude religious reasoning much to their benefit. Eugene McCarraher argues, for example, that in contemporary society religion has been displaced by a kind of Mammon-worship precisely to facilitate the dominance of global capitalism…

The full speech can be read here.


US Will Ban Smoking in Public Housing

via NY Times:

Smoking will be prohibited in public housing residences nationwide under a federal rule announced on Wednesday.

Officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development said that the rule would take effect early next year, but that public housing agencies would have a year and a half to put smoke-free policies in place. The rule will affect more than 1.2 million households, the officials said, although some 200,000 homes already come under smoking bans adopted voluntarily by hundreds of public housing agencies around the country….

Anti-smoking advocates consider smoke-free housing the latest major front in the long-running campaign to curb exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. The rule covering public housing forbids cigarettes, cigars, pipes and hookahs (or water pipes) — but not electronic cigarettes — from being smoked in all living units, indoor common areas, administrative offices and all outdoor areas within 25 feet of housing and office buildings.

Housing agencies that already ban smoking said they enforced their policies through warnings and fines coupled with education, including counseling and smoking-cessation aids like nicotine patches.


Assisted Suicide Quickly Becoming a Major Cultural Issue for Millennials

While the nation watched the shocking rise of Donald Trump in the Electoral College, much less notice was paid to the passage of a referendum in Colorado. Proposition 106 legalized a terminally ill patient to request from a doctor drugs to end his or her life. Colorado became the sixth state to legalize euthanasia, sparking what could quickly become a national trend.

The measure was controversial, to the point that the Denver Post turned away from its general support of assisted suicide legalization to specifically oppose Prop 106. The measure, in the Editorial Board’s eyes, lacked oversight and “would entice insurers to drop expensive treatments for terminal patients even when medical advances might add months or years more to a life that a patient may wish to take.” The editorial also noted that it would be the doctor that administered the drug who would provide counseling on the decision, which is an extreme conflict of interest. Concerned that the public would not know how the proposition was overseen, and that the law would be abused, this major paper urged voters to vote against 106. Yet it passed with ease.

Last month, an even more troubling vote occurred on the other side of the country. “Death with Dignity” advocates pushed the Washington, DC City Council to consider an assisted suicide legalization bill. The selection of DC as a location to push the legislation was not a coincidence, as advocates noted that DC’s demographics were vastly different than the states where assisted suicide was legal. That is, DC has a major African-American and Latino population, and they did not want the issue to be seen as a white upper class issue.

Euthanasia is always included in the list of non-negotiable issues for a Catholic conscience, usually mentioned in the same breath as abortion. However, assisted suicide lacks nationwide statutory guidance, and until recently, few states had rules on the books permitting the practice. Thus while it always has been a line drawn in the culture war sand, that stance has not been tested for many of us Catholics.

Yet as the practice gains acceptance, it is our fellows Catholics who, again, check their own religious views at the door so as to not impede people from practicing theirs. Jerry Brown, former altar server and lifelong Catholic, signed the California euthanasia legislation when a veto would have stopped it in its tracks. And while the total number of people who participate in assisted suicide annually pales in comparison to the number of aborted children, there are two factors that should trouble anyone who considers how far this movement could spread.

The first is the popularity of assisted suicide, or rather the general permissive attitude towards it. Polling on the acceptance of this issue does not mirror that of abortion, which has consistent support/opposition numbers regardless of the generation polled. Rather, polls show that acceptance of assisted suicide mirrors that of gay marriage, which means the issue is becoming even more accepted as the years pass. A 2015 Gallup poll showed that 68% of people approved of allowing a doctor to help a patient end their life, an increase of 16% in twenty years. Among adults aged 18 to 34, that number is 81%. Pro-life advocates are comforted by the fact that our generation is just as anti-abortion as the previous ones, if not more so. Assisted suicide opponents cannot say the same.

The second factor is how easy it is for the category of patients eligible for assisted suicide to expand. In Belgium, an early adopter of legalized euthanasia, doctors for the first time euthanized an underage minor in September. The child reportedly gave consent and was suffering from a terminal disease, but the country had prohibited the mercy killing of minors until two years ago. In fact, the category of who is eligible for assisted suicide grows, with proponents using the argument that they are unable or cannot ethically deny people the right to end their lives simply because they fall into a certain category. The Colorado referendum, allegedly modeled after Oregon’s legislation, actually removed some of the reporting and counseling requirements. The infamous “slippery slope” argument fits quite adequately in the assisted suicide debate.

While abortion will remain a passionate debate for years, the structure of the debate was set in place by the generation who witnessed and grew up in the wake of Roe v. Wade set the tone for the reaction afterward. For Millennials, assisted suicide is the tough moral debate for our generation. While no one wants to witness another person suffer, or force someone else to watch a loved one experience seemingly needless pain, the consequences of legalized assisted suicide are frightening and an anathema to everything the Church values. Rather than strive to provide comfortable, dignified options to help people through a terminal illness, insurance companies and medical practitioners could push patients to the quicker and cheaper assisted suicide route. For the poor who don’t want to burden their family with medical bills, assisted suicide may seem like a compassionate solution, even if the rich would feel no similar pressure. The definitions of terminal, pain, and consent quickly expand and can fit a wide range of categories, encompassing any inconvenient ailment that is easier to solve with a lethal dose of a prescription.

As a Democrat, the idea that my party could embrace this position after it has already embraced abortion on demand is terrifying. For a party searching for popular policy positions to trumpet, and already comfortable with the idea of “the right to”, November 8, 2016 could one day be the date when assisted suicide reached a turning point in U.S. policy. With slowly building momentum and silent popular support, Colorado this week became another battleground in the next big fight over human life and dignity.

Robert Hay, Jr. (@roberthayjr) is a writer based in Alexandria, VA.


For the People Not the Powerful: An Interview with Senate Candidate Foster Campbell

Foster Campbell is the Democratic candidate in the final US Senate race in 2016, a contest to represent Louisiana. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed him on his approach to politics and public policy:

You’ve said, “Matthew 25 is my guide post. I’m on the side of the least of these.” Responding to a question about how he might describe his political philosophy, FDR once said, “I am a Christian and a Democrat, that’s all.” Is that similar to how you might describe your approach? What role does your faith play in your approach to politics and commitment to siding with the poor and vulnerable?

I have always had a message and goals that transcend party. This isn’t a race about Republicans and Democrats. I also don’t wear my religion on my sleeve. There’s no wrong way to do the right thing. I just wake up in the morning, informed by faith, and armed with the facts and make decisions that I think will help regular people. Government has a role to play in making people’s lives better. You can’t starve prosperity out of our nation. I don’t know any other way to be than the way I am.

You tweeted that you agreed with Pope Francis—that climate change is real and Louisiana is feeling the effects. Why is this such an important issue for Louisiana and how will you make protecting the environment a priority?

We lose a football field of land every hour. I’m the only person in this race who will admit we have global warming and that humans play a role, at least in part, in causing it. We have a Master Coastal Restoration Plan aimed at restoring and protecting our coast, but it’s $50 billion short. I believe our coast is a national treasure. We are America’s gas station. There are common sense, science-driven policies that can keep our businesses running and repair our coast at the same time. If we continue to fail on this front, Louisiana will soon disappear. We are the first state in the nation who has had to relocate our people due to land loss – a direct result of climate change. I’m fighting for our Louisiana way of life. Without our coast, we can’t be who we are. I’m fighting for commercial and recreational fisherman, for people who work offshore drilling oil, for generations of our people who know our identity is intimately linked to our coast.

There is some talk about Republicans privatizing core entitlements programs, which you oppose. Why is privatizing Medicare and Social Security a mistake? Why should young people be concerned about such plans?

Republicans were against the GI Bill of Rights. Against Social Security. Against Medicare. Now that most of them benefit from the programs they think they’re great. Privatizing Medicare and Social Security allows the players in the stock market to gamble with the retirement security of the entire nation. I will never support selling Medicare or Social Security to Wall Street because it will lower benefits and could destroy our economy overnight if our seniors, or an entire generation of people, lose their benefits in a crash like 2008. Privatization usually does save money – by making us pay for it. I won’t balance our federal budget on the backs of hardworking people who paid into the system their whole lives. It’s immoral.  Read More


Pope Francis: Drug Addiction is a Type of Slavery

via Vatican News:

Pope Francis told the two-day conference on Narcotics that those who fall into the snares of drugs are victims who have “lost their freedom” in return for “a new form of slavery.”

Reflecting on the causes of drug addiction, the Holy Father said it results from a variety of factors: “the absence of a family, social pressure, propaganda from traffickers, the desire to live new experiences.”

However, he said, “every addicted person brings with them a distinct personal history, which should be listened to, understood, loved, and, where possible, cured and purified. We cannot fall into the injustice of classifying them as if they were objects or broken junk; rather, every person should be valued and appreciated in their dignity in order to be cured. They continue to have, more than ever, dignity as persons and children of God.”

He said it is no surprise that so many people fall into drug addiction since “mundanity offers us a wide spectrum of possibilities to find a fleeting happiness”.

The Pope went on to approach the problem of narcotics from both the supply and demands sides of the equation.

The supply of drugs, he said, is an “important part of organized crime”, and its supply chain must be rooted out and destroyed.


Fr. Greg Boyle: Love is the Answer

Earlier this month, Fr. Greg Boyle, the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries, spoke at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. Prior to his keynote, he shared a few thoughts with Fr. James Martin. Here are some highlights:

His full keynote address can be viewed here:


Donald Trump is Now the Standard-Bearer of the Pro-Life Movement. We Should be Ashamed.

Catholics are once again the swing vote that has decided who will be the next President of the United States. Donald Trump has won voters who self-identify as Catholic 52% to 45%, reversing President Obama’s 2012 win. Among Catholics, Trump outperformed numerous past Republican presidential candidates.

Catholic voters in America have given Donald Trump both the presidency and a Republican-controlled Congress. But for pro-life Catholics, one question must be considered: is this the person we want to represent the pro-life movement?

As a college student, millennial, and devout Catholic, I take both my faith and the right to life very seriously. I don’t simply want abortion to be prohibited, but for all people to be supported and for their humanity to be affirmed, dignified, and upheld. I am pro-life for the whole life. This means standing against abortion, the death penalty, unjust wars, and euthanasia. It also means being in favor of a living wage, accessible and affordable healthcare (especially for mothers and their children in times of need), mandated paid maternity leave, and more funding for crisis pregnancy centers. Everything that society can do to protect and support pregnant mothers and their babies should be offered, because this commitment to life and human dignity is what will ultimately end a culture of assisted suicide, abortion, objectification, and xenophobia. This will bring about a genuine culture of life. These are all things I consider when I enter the voting booth.

Many of my friends who are devout Catholic millennials support these same values, and many struggled to determine how they would cast their ballots. Sadly, due to their care for the unborn child, many felt they had no choice but to vote for Donald Trump due to his newfound commitment to appointing judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade.

Personally, I could not bring myself to vote for either major party candidate.  I voted for a whole life write-in candidate. On election night, as my friends watched the results of the election pour in, we looked at each other in disbelief. Many who voted for Trump had thought they were making a protest vote, that he wouldn’t actually become president. But now, he is the President-elect of the United States. Read More