Africa’s abortion-rights breakthrough

Despite U.S. right-wingers' best efforts, Kenya's abortion restrictions are being loosened in hopes fewer women die

Africa's abortion-rights breakthroughA Kenyan woman visits the Marura health clinic in the district of Laikipia. (Credit: Charlott Schönwetter)

We weren’t officially there to talk about abortion, but I asked the four Kenyan women in a Laikipia health clinic anyway. Did any of them have friends who had died of illegal abortions?

Three out of the four said they did.

What, if anything, did they think needed to be done? The oldest woman had already fiercely declared abortion to be wrong. “Family planning,” each one replied, by way of a solution. Then one said to the interpreter, quietly, that she had something to add. “Family planning doesn’t always work,” she half-whispered.

Something else, in fact, has been done to address the fact that unsafe abortion leads to 30 to 40 percent of maternal deaths in Kenya, according to one estimate. In 2010, after a heated proxy war fought by both sides of the American political divide, Kenyans approved a constitution that moderately eases the country’s abortion restrictions. Whereas abortion was previously allowed only with permission from three doctors – one of whom had to be a psychiatrist, an impossibility in most parts of the country – now a single medical professional can certify that an abortion is necessary for a woman’s life or health, which can be broadly construed. And for the first time, reproductive health is enumerated as a constitutional right.

But what both will mean in practice is very much an open question.

“I don’t expect that overnight, providers everywhere are going to be providing lifesaving abortions,” says Charlotte Smith, director of policy at Ipas, which advocates for safe abortion worldwide and is providing technical support to the government’s transition. “I imagine that as in any place that has over 150 years of a very restrictive abortion law, it’s going to take a lot of providers a lot of time to feel that they would be protected,” even if they support abortion rights. Still, Smith says, “It’s kind of amazing progress if you look at where Kenya has come from.”

Getting the constitutional language alone didn’t come easily. After both Obama and Biden lent their support to constitutional reform, Republican Rep. Chris Smith declared, “This is an administration that is very aggressive in promoting the killing of unborn children and the wounding of their mothers by way of abortion worldwide.” Smith and his American conservative allies charged that U.S. funds marked for civic education around constitutional review were actually illegally advocating for abortion rights and intimidating opponents. The U.S. embassy in Nairobi was unequivocal: “These claims are categorically false, and those making such allegations are lying.” Jay Sekulow’s American Center for Law and Justice, a key architect for the conservative legal revolution, even opened an office in Kenya that year. By way of compromise, the final constitution also included language about life beginning at conception, but church leaders urged Kenyans to vote no anyway.

“A lot of the talking points said by the Kenyan judges and the politicians came straight from the Republicans,” Dr. Joachim Osur, the director for Ipas’ Africa Alliance programs, told me, adding, “Some of them were saying that women in the streets would be forced to have an abortion even if they didn’t want to.”

Kenyans I spoke to around the country remain annoyed at the hijacking of the constitutional review process, which emerged as a way of healing after a violent political crisis that killed over a thousand people and displaced hundreds of thousands. Osur went so far as to suggest that abortion was a poison pill, an attempt by vested interests against land reform to take the whole thing down.

“There were a lot of people who did not want change to happen in Kenya,” he says.

He and other reproductive health advocates would have preferred to go through an act of parliament rather than the constitution, but they fought the battle that came to them, with the support of some of the major medical leadership in the country. They, after all, were the ones who had to deal with the women who had “backstreet abortions,” who harmed themselves, who overdosed on quinine intended for malaria patients or on herbal concoctions.

“We medics, we advocate for safe abortion,” Eunice Wanjiku, the nurse in charge at the clinic where I met those four women, told me. On the other hand, she came up with what seemed like a pretext to get as far away as possible from everyone else to tell me that.

And the controversy amounted to a national conversation of sorts. “What this whole fiasco brought about is that for the first time, people discussed the issue of abortion openly,” Osur said. “It helped reduce the stigma around it.”

It was an issue of acute timeliness in a country where 488 mothers die for every 100,000 live births and where unmet need for family planning is estimated at 26 percent for adult women, according to health ministry figures. Dr. Bashir Issak, director of reproductive health at the Ministry of Health, suggested in an interview that in recent years, family planning in general had been sidelined by vertical funding focusing on HIV/AIDS. (The Gates Foundation, which funded the International Reporting Project trip that brought me to Kenya, is on a big push to make family planning a major part of the developing world agenda, including with an international summit in London next week, though the foundation does not take a position on or fund abortion-related activities.)

Meanwhile, eight years of the Bush administration’s enforcement of the global gag rule – prohibiting U.S. funding to any organization that so much as discusses safe abortion, and defunding the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) – had a chilling effect on contraceptive access, as family planning clinics across the country closed and preemptively zealous enforcement led to birth control shortages. A Stanford study last year crunched the numbers and found data to support what health professionals on the ground told me several times: The illegal abortion rate in countries like Kenya rose as a result of Republican policies.

Even though the Obama administration has lifted the global gag rule and restored UNFPA funding, groups that get U.S. funding are still hamstrung by the Helms Amendment and the Siljander Amendment, which respectively prevent the funding of abortion or the funding of advocacy for safe abortion. In practice, this can lead to some contortion.

Take Kisumu Medical and Education Trust, which I visited recently. It was ineligible for U.S. funding under the Bush administration because it works on comprehensive reproductive healthcare – from adolescent health to advocating for safe abortion access to caring for women who have had unsafe abortions. Under Obama, they’ve gotten a U.S. government grant to improve the services of 650 healthcare providers when it comes to infectious diseases like malaria and HIV. “But we are not allowed to spend any of this money on anything related to post-abortion care or abortion,” said director of programs Sam Owoko. “You have to separate the room where you’re doing post-abortion care and the room where you’re doing everything else,” and, he said, even have a separate set of tools, no easy task when resources are already so scarce.

Frustrated reproductive health professionals have pointed out that the same commodities USAID won’t fund because they can be used for elective abortion – manual vacuum aspirators, Misoprostol — are the ones recommended for lifesaving post-abortion care or postpartum hemorrhage. Every year, roughly 20,000 women are treated in public hospitals for abortion-related complications – as health professionals are required to under Kenyan law — and that doesn’t count the ones who go to private facilities or who never make it to a hospital.

Some of those MVAs and pills are, of course, already quietly being used for safer abortion in remote clinics around Kenya, as was quite plain on my visits to health facilities. Some of these providers are simply opportunists, like the high-earning illegal abortion provider in a Nairobi slum visited by two of my colleagues on the trip. (He enforces his own informal restrictions that sound a lot like laws that have been passed or attempted in the U.S.: no married women without permission from their husbands, and no schoolgirls without permission from their parents.)

Others clearly feel as Osur does: “I do not think it is morally right to wait for women to start the abortion at home and wait for them to start bleeding so you can finish the job at the clinic. I don’t see any morality in that.”

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at

Religious freedom: use it or lose it

This is a Paul Revere moment for America. But it's not the British who are coming; it's Big Brother.

Do you assume America is a free country? Do you assume religious freedom is guaranteed in America? Most of us learned that in school and have taken it for granted ever since. In other countries people might have to worry about whether and how they can practice their religion. Not here. This is America, after all.

Why do we think this way? It partly has to do with our law.

The founders and framers of our system of government met in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft the Constitution, to delineate and circumscribe the powers of government. They then submitted the Constitution to “we the people” to ratify. But many people all over the country worried that the document they came up with didn’t do enough to protect our rights and liberties. And so one of the first things the First Congress did was to propose a Bill of Rights, which became the first ten amendments to the US Constitution.

Not by accident did the First Amendment begin with religious freedom, protecting it from infringement in two ways: (1) by prohibiting an official, governmentally-sponsored religion (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion’) and (2) by protecting the people in their free exercise of religion (“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”).

What does this mean? It doesn’t mean that in this country you have just the right to believe whatever you want to believe. Even in North Korea they have that right, because as a practical matter no one can force you to believe or not believe something. The free exercise of religion means the ability to act on those beliefs. To practice your religion in private or in public. To proclaim your religion to others, if you wish. To spend your money in furtherance of your own religion, and not in furtherance of anyone else’s. To promote what you think is moral, and to not promote anything you think is immoral. These are all necessary consequences of the idea of religious freedom.

But law without practice is a dead letter.  Our faith in our American freedoms also has something to do with our history.

The first English-speaking Catholics to come to these shores, led by Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, in 1634, practiced religious toleration, remarkable for its day. The idea then in vogue was to create a community where everyone was on the same page in everything. Catholic countries were supposed to be Catholic. Protestant countries (and colonies) were supposed to be Protestant. Well, Lord Baltimore bucked the trend. And in 1649 the Maryland General Assembly enacted an Act of Religious Toleration, which promised to every self-described Christian that he or she should not “be troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof… nor any way compelled to the belief or exercise of any other religion against his or her consent.”

To his credit, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, who arrived to Puritan Boston in 1631, would go even further. Driven from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious dissent, his colony would allow freedom to practice religion to everyone: Protestants, including Quakers, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. In 1658, the Rhode Island General Assembly reminded the other colonies in New England that “freedom of different consciences, to be protected from enforcements, was the principal ground of our Charter… which freedom we still prize as the greatest happiness that men can possess in this world.”

Abraham Lincoln had occasion to join his voice to the cause of religious freedom in the 1840s, a time when Nativism was exhibiting its persistent anti-Catholic strain: “The guarantee of the rights of conscience, as found in our Constitution, is most sacred and inviolable, and one that belongs no less to the Catholic, than to the Protestant, and… all attempts to abridge or interfere with these rights, either of Catholic or Protestant, directly or indirectly, have our decided disapprobation, and shall ever have our most effective opposition.”

A hundred and twenty-five years ago, in 1887, James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, went to Rome to take possession of his titular church, Santa Maria in Trastevere, the oldest church in Rome dedicated to Blessed Virgin. He gave a famous sermon there celebrating the American tradition of separation of Church and state. He said, “For myself, as a citizen of the United States, without closing my eyes to our defects as a nation, I proclaim, with a deep sense of pride and gratitude, and in this great capitol of Christendom, that I belong to a country where the civil government holds over us the aegis of its protection without interfering in the legitimate exercise of our sublime mission as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

That Church in Rome where Cardinal Gibbons spoke contains the mortal remains of Cardinal Campeggio, a Renaissance prelate who had been sent to England to judge, along with Cardinal Wolsey, the annulment proceeding of Henry VIII against his wife Catherine of Aragon. This reminds us, of course, of the martyrs John Fisher and Thomas More who both gave their lives to protect the freedom of the Church when the King put himself in place of pope and bishops at the head of the Church in England, something which clearly violated the first article of Magna Carta, “that the English church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.”

There are lots of moral lessons to be drawn from the story of Henry VIII. But since I’m a lawyer I want to emphasize legal technicalities, and particularly this bit about the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta guaranteed the rights of the Catholic Church in England. But the chief executive officer of the country tossed it away because he had the will to do so. He had the power to do so largely because not enough people stood up to him. We remember our sainted martyr John Fisher. He was made a Cardinal by the pope, but his “head was off before the hat was on.” There were 13 other bishops in England at the time. Do you remember any of their names? Probably not, because when the winds blew their house caved in. We remember Thomas More. But there were many more lawyers and government officials at the time. They heard what the lion wanted, and they gave it to him.

This fall we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, pretty clearly the greatest religious event of the last century. In some ways the American contribution to the Council is principally to be found in its Declaration on Religious Freedom, the handiwork of the American Jesuit John Courtney Murray, which solemnly affirmed: “that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”

Now we are implicated in this battle over the HHS mandate concerning contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization. It could have been another flashpoint. Denmark, for example, has just required churches to solemnize same-sex weddings. In Ireland, the government is seriously proposing abolishing the centuries-old priest-penitent privilege, thus enabling the government to force priests to violate the sacred seal of confession, something that has been well-settled in the common law since the days of Henry II and St Thomas Becket. In Nigeria, in what seems like a weekly ritual, Christians are being killed for attending church.

How fortunate we are that we are not encountering any of these obstacles to living in accord with our consciences. Still, the threat to our religious freedom is real. When our government tells us we must pay for acts we believe and know to be immoral for everybody, our situation is comparable to what’s happening in these other places, even if isn’t precisely similar. So what are we called upon to do?

Of course, we want to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But we must also render to God the things that are God’s. Conscience, as the voice of God within, is distinctly a resident of Our Father’s house. When the government tries to force conscience to bow to Caesar, we have no choice but to obey God rather than man. When the authorities in Jerusalem ordered Sts. Peter and John to stop preaching about Jesus, they replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” 

Note the context and the details. Peter and John didn’t say the authorities were illegitimate. They didn’t tell the authorities what they must believe. They even invite their listeners to judge for themselves according to their own consciences. But they stand their ground on one point: that they must do the will of God, no matter what anyone else—government included—says.

It’s a bit of a Paul Revere moment. Only this time it’s not the British that are coming. It’s Big Brother. Or, if you prefer, think of Rosa Parks.  We can go along and sit quietly in the back of the bus, or we can stand up for human dignity and the rights of conscience. When it comes to our precious heritage of religious freedom, we must either use it or lose it.

By: Dwight Duncan is professor of law at University of Massachusetts School of Law Dartmouth.

The Beloved Country - crying out for leadership

A visit to South Africa showed there are still reasons to cry, and reason to hope.


Young South Africans need good leaders. Picture: Komati Foundation

Last year I spent five months living in Johannesburg, South Africa. I left Australia with warnings still ringing in my ears – the concerns of friends who told me about Joburg’s crime rate, the murders, how you couldn’t even stop at a red traffic light for fear of being mugged. But what an amazing country I discovered.

My first impressions: the unbelievably cloudless sky (which continued throughout winter), beautiful leafy suburbs with massive gated houses, and a real sense of community among locals. Twenty-four hours in and I had seen the most brilliant sunset ever, eaten typical African dishes, and met South Africans with accents varied enough to represent the 11 official languages. I was even living with a dog that had a Swahili name – Mrembo (beautiful). Awesome.

To get myself more acquainted with South Africa I had read Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country.  It tells of a place where country and city are polar opposites, with strong family and community bonds in rural areas becoming somewhat lost in the crowds and anonymity of urban life. Upon arrival, I started with The Mind of South Africa: The Story of the Rise and Fall of Apartheid by Allister Sparks, and watched the movie, The Power of One, which added complex layers to my once straightforward understanding of the nation’s history.

I had thought that the Dutch arrived, colonised, didn’t get along with the native Africans, and now they do. Well, not exactly. I did not realise that there was also the English-Dutch tension, conflict between different black tribes, and the introduction of slaves from Indonesia and India that would all contribute to a whole new race of “coloureds”, who weren’t sure if they belonged on the black or white side of debate.

I watched Invictus before my trip, and having had read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, some years earlier, I was already filled with admiration for this man who showed such tireless dedication to the good of his country and immense wisdom in dealing with people on all sides of apartheid. I hoped against hope that I would bump into him during my stay -- even he has to venture out for groceries or a Maccas run, right? My friends laughed at this hope of mine but believe it or not … Yeh, I never met him. I did, however, meet a man who had worked with him, the former mayor of Johannesburg, Isaac Mogase.

A friend of mine knew Mr Mogase’s wife and when I went along for the visit I met her husband too. Upon hearing that I was a journalist, Isaac Mogase asked me to write his story. He had been hoping to do this for a while, not just as a memoir but also to make clear the values with which the ANC (African National Congress) had started out, as the party is now, unfortunately, only a shadow of what it was intended to be.

The ANC was once the party of hope and change, that which brought the nation into a new and promising era. Its great aim was a united South Africa in which the inequalities of colonialism and apartheid would be overcome, and where citizens would enjoy an ever increasing quality of life, pride in their country and unity amongst themselves.

Now the ANC is better known for corruption and scandal. Its leaders spend more time in the spotlight for stupid remarks that subvert their ideals rather than for their political endeavours. Take, for example, Jacob Zuma, current president of South Africa. He has been charged for corruption and rape in the past. He has been married six times, with four of his wives still around, another divorced from him and the last dead. He also has who-knows-how-many illegitimate children.

Next we have Julius Malema, who up until recently was president of the ANC Youth League. While I was in Africa, he was under investigation for corruption and money laundering. Here was a man who had failed most of high school, who has been pulled up many times for racist comments, and who doesn’t possess the expected charisma of a leader. I struggled to see how he had managed to gain such power.

It’s sad to admit, but South Africa’s leaders leave a lot to be desired. Instead of providing an example for the younger generations, they reflect some of the problems that a turbulent history has left in its wake. Following from this, it’s hardly surprising that certain lifestyles are accepted and are all too typical. Single mums are the norm, whether they fell pregnant in or out of wedlock. I found many girls to be very naive about how they deserve to be treated in relationships, and I found many young men awfully forward about what they were after. Polygamy also exists without secrecy – a man with his wives and multiple children picnicking of a weekend is not a rare sight.

Although I grew up hating the stereotype that sexual permissiveness was higher in Africa, the evidence was all around me in South Africa. There are high rates of promiscuity, prostitution and sexual violence, and South Africa is home to 17 per cent of the world’s HIV/AIDS sufferers. Every day, some 900 South Africans contract the virus and another 500 are dying from AIDS-related illness.

With so many struggles, the family structure is incredibly weak, and the example of the nation’s leaders is hardly turning this around. In such a context, a leader like Isaac Mogase is so important. He has managed to support his family, remain faithful to his wife and work through their trials together. Even Mrs Mogase, who had to deal with the consequences of her husband’s political career and his frequent spells in jail, remained loyal to him throughout. Together they brought up intelligent children who respect people of every skin colour. They have beautiful grandkids now that are lucky to have a stable family environment.

In my meetings with the Mogases, I asked them about what made their family and values different to other South Africans, and why. They mentioned the close-knit nature of the community they grew up with, a beautiful part of the African culture. They were lucky to have support from an extended network of family and friends, and they stressed the importance of their personal relationships with God and their church community. As Mrs Mogase put it, “If you suffer with support, this makes a difference!”

The Mogases also talked about the common attitudes of black South Africans, who make up the majority of the population. Since apartheid, and to make up for past injustice, many feel that they deserve special treatment without having to work hard. While understandable, this does tend to keep the racial divide alive. So while many will only give tit for tat, the Mogases feel that “There’s beauty in giving, especially when you don’t expect to get back.” As for working hard, Mrs Mogase put it best: “You must never complain about being hungry. If you’re hungry it’s because you’re too lazy to cook!”

It definitely isn’t all bad in South Africa. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such national pride – the flag was emblazoned on a myriad of surfaces from murals to hats to graffiti to car mirrors. When Australia won the rugby against South Africa, I learned not to bring it up if I wanted my company to remain pleasant.

In the first few weeks I thought a lot of guys were trying to pick me up, but it turned out they really were being friendly. There was also that friendly guy who stole my credit card, but then there were the others who helped me to look for him and contact my bank to cancel the card. There was even a guy who gave me an impromptu tour of the area since I had no money to get into the museum.

The NGO I worked for while there, the Komati Foundation, was an example of the effort to build the nation from within. They have established a hospitality school for young women, so that instead of falling pregnant early and discontinuing education, they can have more options. They run activities for young people that encourage the mixing between people of all social and racial backgrounds, and foster an environment in which they see there are more possibilities for their lives than the lifestyles of the country’s leaders.

I encountered many young people who had considered leaving behind the social difficulties of life in South Africa by joining the stream of emigrants, but who instead decided that it was people like them who could help to promote change in future generations. So while the nation still struggles to emerge from a volatile history, these committed young people give hope for a new generation of leaders who can lift the nation's cultural standards and allow all South Africans to walk tall under that clear blue sky.

By: Tamara Rajakariar is an Australian journalist who worked for Sky News in Sydney for a year before taking some time off to travel. She currently works as a writer in the fashion industry. She is also one of three young women running Workshop — a project encouraging women to “be all-you-are”.

What’s Behind the HHS Mandate?

What do the University of Notre Dame, EWTN, and the Archdiocese of New York have in common?

More than you probably think. Each is a Catholic institution, of course. Each is also suing the Obama Administration over the HHS “contraception” mandate. Each is going to be spared the Hobson’s choice between complying with the mandate and betraying its mission if any one of four possible scenarios comes to pass. Each nonetheless continues to stand in grave peril of institutional martyrdom.

The first scenario will play out on Thursday, the last day of the current Supreme Court term. If the Court throws out the whole Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the mandate will go with it. The reason is not that the pending decision is about contraception or religious liberty. It is that the mandate depends entirely for its force upon the survival of PPACA.

The second scenario will go down on November 6. If Mitt Romney is then elected our next president, you can be sure that he will soon thereafter announce his intention to rescind the mandate.

The chances that one of these two scenarios will occur are pretty high. The chances that the Obama administration will fare poorly in the pending lawsuits (by Cardinal Dolan, et al.) are pretty high, too. When those dim prospects become apparent to the administration, it is likely—and this is the third scenario—to invite the complaining Catholic institutions to the bargaining table, to significantly expand the current wafer-thin exemption from the mandate. But if the administration imprudently digs in its heels, some time in 2014 the Supreme Court is likely to rule that the exemption must be expanded in order to comply with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That would be scenario number four.

Because it is almost certain that at least one of these possibilities will come to be, the day of reckoning for Notre Dame, Mother Angelica, and Cardinal Dolan will be postponed.

I say “postponed,” and not “canceled,” advisedly. The ideological commitments that have emboldened the Obama administration about contraception are deeply held. They are held to be very important. They are resilient. They are not limited to the reproductive rights supposedly protected by access to contraception, even when contraception is broadly defined to include abortifacient drugs. These deep convictions about liberty and equality and religion entail trouble for religious liberty, no matter which exit route the present mandate takes.

I say “entail” advisedly, too. Religious liberty in the new dispensation is derivative of these deeper moral and (as we shall see) epistemological commitments. Religious liberty is, from this point of view, an afterthought, a residue which is unfortunately too vaporous to protect Catholic institutions from existential crises.

What are these ideological commitments? There are three of special note.

The first is dedication to advancing the ideology of “equal sexual liberty.” This powerful complex of ideas comes in both straight and “gay” versions.

When President Obama announced his phony “compromise” about the mandate on February 10, he plainly stated what the mandate was for: “Every woman should be in control of the decisions which affect her health. Period.” Given the context of these remarks, Obama meant, specifically, what is usually called “reproductive health.” His overriding commitment to this reproductive health—evidenced by, for example, the “contraception” mandate—presupposes that women will and should have lots more sexual intercourse than they have interest in conceiving children. According to this widespread view, sexual license shouldnever impede a woman’s lifestyle, at least no more than it does a man’s. Marking the most recent anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the President said that “our daughters must have the same opportunities as our sons.” Obama’s notion of equal opportunity extends to the bedroom as well as to the boardroom.

Catholic Charities in Boston and Washington, D.C., already have been martyred by the “gay” version of “equal sexual liberty.” They were obliged to abandon their adoption charities when public authority refused to accommodate their objections to same-sex “marriage.” Right now, Catholic schools in Ontario are being bullied by an “anti-bullying” law that compels parochial schools to set up “Gay-Straight Alliances.” These clubs would contradict the sexual morality that every Catholic institution is obliged before God and the Church to teach, by word and by deed. Were they to comply with this “bullying” law, Ontario’s Catholic schools could not give the perspicuous witness to the faith that is their raison d’etre, just as America’s Catholic schools could not, were they to comply with the Obama Administration’s “contraception” mandate.

This far into the Age of Aquarius, no more needs to be said about the meaning and seductive appeal of “equal sexual liberty.” It is the emerging public orthodoxy about where sexual satisfaction, expression, and identity fit into the good life, and about the government’s responsibilities to establish conditions that make this life achievable for all with ease. This orthodoxy commands the cultural heights and has achieved ascendancy in the academy. We are in the midst of a high-stakes fight over its grip on our law. The outcome of this battle is in doubt.

It is easy to see already that “equal sexual liberty” is a natural predator of Catholic institutions, which are standing contradictions of almost all that the new orthodoxy proposes. What is not so apparent, however, is why the new orthodoxy has so totally eclipsed considerations of conscience, tolerance, and liberty in the thinking of self-identifying liberals such as Barack Obama. It is scarcely surprising that he and other like-minded officials are beguiled by “equal sexual liberty.” It is nonetheless curious that they should so remorselessly subordinate religious liberty to the new ideological colossus. One would think that our cherished “first freedom” would have a bit more staying power.

Looking at what Obama and like-minded folks think about religion dispels the curiosity. I do not mean here to consider their opinion about the value of religion, which value Obama (for example) affirms to be very high. I refer instead to their understanding of religion’s relationship to certain strategic moral propositions, and to the truth-value of religious claims as such.

Hence, the second ideological commitment is to treat the moral propositions that undergird the conservative alternative to “equal sexual liberty” as subjective religious beliefs incapable of rational defense. These include the propositions that people begin at fertilization; that marriage is strictly limited to the union of man and woman; and that the norms of sexual morality are many and that they are rooted in the marital relation. These propositions combine to refute the emerging orthodoxy of “equal sexual liberty.” Being propositions about morality,moreover, they are asserted by their adherents as truths of reason, albeit truths that are confirmed by religious authorities and by revelation.

Promoters of the new orthodoxy nonetheless boldly declare these claims to be “religious beliefs,” tout court. They just as boldly declare that, because they are “religious beliefs,” these claims are rationally indefensible. They may be held by the faithful as if they are genuine truths. But in reality these putative truths are subjective projections, verbal formulae which may function as the ligaments of a community, as so many fallible and revisable expressions of the ineffable depths of spiritual experience. They are badges of individual or religious communal identity. Because they are rationally indefensible, they are to be perceived and to be treated by outsiders as prejudice. Religious “doctrine” is thus a species of bias. So, the Church’s moral condemnation of sodomy and opposition to same-sex “marriage” amount to hallowed homophobia.

The third commitment is to identify the public value of institutional ministries, such as Catholic Charities and Saint-Somebody Hospital, entirely with the “secular” services they offer. Adherents of the new orthodoxy can and often do recognize the value of these organizations’ religious identity—to the religious people who staff them. Anyone can see that religion supplies added motivation, enthusiasm, and meaning to many of those working in these ministries. But these peculiar satisfactions are construed by the new orthodox to be private; they are personal delights that do not register as any sort of public good. The public value of these ministries is comprised of just so many hot lunches prepared, heart bypasses performed, and reading competency tests passed. Viewed from the public square, then, these organizations’ religious character is invisible. Being invisible, it cannot have measurable value. Having no detectable value, it cannot serve to justify any allowance that would impair the government’s provision of conditions conducive to “equal sexual liberty.” So, exempting Catholic Charities from placing kids with a “gay” couple is a concession to private bias that is productive only of public mischief, insult, net loss.

An English Law Lord recently expressed this sum of the three orthodox commitments, in a case where he denied relief to a relationship counselor who could not in good conscience endorse the sexual activities of same-sex couples. Lord Justice Laws declared that any exemption would be “unprincipled,” for it would not “advance the general good on objective grounds, but … give effect to the force of subjective opinion.” How so? Laws asserted that it “must be so, since in the eye of everyone save the believer religious faith is necessarily subjective, being incommunicable by any kind of proof or evidence. It may of course betrue; but the ascertainment of such a truth lies beyond the means by which laws are made in a reasonable society.” Against the demands of “equal sexual liberty” for homosexuals and lesbians, solicitude for the opaque commitments of the religious subject count for nothing.

It is natural, and right, to say that the HHS mandate undermines religious liberty. But it is important to add that this argument about religious liberty is more about the adjective than it is the noun. It is chiefly an argument about whether religion isabout reality, truth, the way the cosmos is really structured, or whether it is about the byways of an individual’s psyche.

By: Gerard Bradley is Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School and a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute. This article has been republished with permission from Public Discourse. 

Teen girls get ‘porn star’ treatment - with mum’s help?


A couple of weeks ago my local newspaper thought it newsworthy that men are getting Brazilian waxes. Now an Australian paper reports that girls as young as 14 are being accepted for what it euphemistically calls “intimate beauty treatments”.

Apparently their “boyfriends” are demanding it. And, thanks to the sexual liberation won for them by their mothers and grandmothers generations, the girls are saying yes.

Worst of all, it seems that some mothers are going along with their daughters to make it clear that they have permission. One shop owner in Brisbane says:

''Mostly it is girls around 16 but we do occasionally get younger girls in, but they must have a parent with them,'' the store manager said.

Do you get these 'parents'? One, their daughter wants to get what child and youth advocates point out is a “porn star” treatment. Two, this is to please the girl’s boyfriend (real or imaginary). At 14? At 16? Don’t they care that she is making herself a sexual object, or about the likely consequences?

Melinda Tankard Reist, a leading critic of the pornification of culture and the sexualization of girls, notes the harmful effects on young women’s body image:

''They've come to despise their natural bodies,'' she said.

How very sad, that adult women are prepared to sacrifice the happiness and health of girls in this way.

By: Carolyn Moynihan


“I felt as if I had been given my country back”

It was all joy. There had been such muddles over the complex ticketing arrangements, and such hostility from sections of the mass media, and such horrible things said by campaigners opposed to the Church’s teachings, and such tragedy over the evil actions of priests who had betrayed their calling.

But now, here was Pope Benedict, arriving at Edinburgh airport and standing next to the Queen for the national anthem.

Pope Benedict is small. And quiet. His voice and manner is that of a gentle, kindly professor, with a warm smile and large intelligent eyes. Long years in public view have trained him in the art of maintaining stillness and dignity while speeches are made and greetings are exchanged, but he still doesn’t look quite at home with military bands and official formality; he walked nicely along the guard of honour but was much smaller than all of them. Things got more relaxed when he was sitting chatting with the Queen (she is small, too) and the Duke of Edinburgh, and everything positively erupted into joy when he cheerfully donned a tartan scarf and went out into the city.

He has a rapport with the young – not unexpected in one who spent years teaching them at universities – and a gentle pastoral style with children. People held up babies to be blessed, waved flags and banners of welcome, and called out greetings – and when he celebrated the first Mass of his visit, at Bellahouston Park, before a vast crowd, with everyone roaring out glorious hymns, the style of the visit was established.

Why were we led to believe that this was a nasty, cruel, ranting figure of hate? People who had never met Joseph Ratzinger, who hadn’t read his books, who knew very little about him, repeated one another’s myths and legends – even though the internet makes available masses of material, videos, books, reports, interviews, and more. When he arrived in Britain, the reality became clear: this is a man who long ago placed his entire life at the service of Christ, and has, down all those years, tried faithfully to imitate Him and to live according to His teachings. And it shows.

I was privileged to be invited to Westminster Hall, where, in an extraordinary moment of British history, the Pope was to address Members of Parliament and a great gathering of men and women in public life from across Britain. These walls have echoed to the great events of British history – notably the trial of St Thomas More, who in this place was condemned to death for refusing to follow a king’s rebellion against papal authority, adhering to God and conscience instead. And now, here was a pope arriving – heralded by trumpeters standing in the arches of the great glowing window of stained glass.

The band of the Coldstream Guards played as we waited seated on gilt chairs set in long rows on the ancient stone flags, above us the great hammerbeam roof, and on either side the old grey walls with their Norman arches. A line of former prime ministers awaited his Holiness, along with the Speaker of the House of Commons who would introduce him. He came with the Archbishop of Canterbury from an ecumenical Vespers in Westminster Abbey, another first for a pope.

He arrived looking small and polite, and there were handshakes and pleasantries. And then came his speech. The voice, low and quiet, with its fizzy accent and precise vowels, takes a moment to assimilate: this is no passionate orator. But he had us spellbound. He drew attention to the central issues of our day – the big questions: by what values do we live? How on earth do we decide? Does it matter what is right and wrong? Have we anything by which we can make decisions and judgements? Are we spiritual and cultural orphans, adrift with nothing to guide us?

With clarity, and delicate precision, this priest who represents an authority dating back in an unbroken line across two millennia, spelt out what Western man knows but has forgotten: we cannot live as though religion does not exist, we cannot live without truth. Man has to use his mind, he has to open himself to what is good and true and beautiful. Attempts to marginalise faith – including Christianity – impoverish all and rob human beings of their dignity. Parliamentary democracy – a gift from Britain to the world, and a heritage of which British people should be proud – did not arise in a spiritual vacuum, and will not flourish in one.

I felt as if I had been given my country back again. For too long we have been told that our ancestors, with their assumptions about God and man’s unique destiny, were ignorant and muddled, and that now we must shake off the nonsense passed on to us. Morality as previously known was dangerous; it could now be reinvented by television pundits and if we were smart we would not challenge their views.

Now, sitting in Westminster Hall, I heard all this challenged, and new and much more interesting vistas opened up: of course we must be allowed to think along large lines, to lift our minds to things that are great and noble, to ponder the things of God, and to connect these with our public life, our common life and the search for the common good.

The Pope was not asking for the Church to have a privileged position, not seeking the reinvention of a Church-dominated society; on the contrary, he was inviting us all to a national conversation, a way of living and serving one another in a country where there are people of many faiths and none, and where the place of faith is recognised and enjoyed and honoured for the contribution it can make and the good fruits it brings.

He was applauded all the way down the aisle – where he stopped to view the plaque that commemorates Thomas More – and afterwards the glorious bells of Westminster Abbey pealed out as people milled about in a wonderful traffic-free area, savouring London in a new way.

Whatever you think about the Pope, there has to be an admission that he wasn’t what most people had expected, and his message was timely.

I expect we’ll ignore it. We have become used to dismissing matters of religion (“Oh, it’s all rubbish”; “Causes more trouble than it’s worth” etc) and we find it easier to sludge along with our culture soaked in TV soap operas and rising crime figures and drunken teenagers hanging around bleak shopping centres shouting at one another on Saturday nights. But we would be stupid to do this. We have been given another vision of Britain – brighter, more interesting , and one that we know is realistic, honest, and attractive. It echoes with our common sense and our desire to get along with one another in a workable way and achieve things. It carries resonance from the best of our past and offers a way forward.

Please, don’t let us marginalise faith in God, or ignore what Christianity offers, or sneer at the possibility that men and women can know about the deepest and greatest things. Perhaps it shouldn’t have had to take a Pope to tell us this. But he has done so, and it is a wake-up call. Often, elderly gentle clergy with quiet wisdom do say wise things.

Joanna Bogle writes from London.

Is tolerant Islam a myth?

It appears to be a sign that you’re doing something abundantly right when the leaders of major Arab and Muslim groups demand that your conference be monitored by the thought police to make sure nothing too incendiary is being said.

This happened in Canada recently when the Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Islamic Congress insisted that a gathering entitled, “On The Front Line of Immigration, Terrorism, and Ethno-Politics” by investigated by the Toronto Hates Crimes Unit.

We’ll never know if the boys and girls in blue in the True North Strong and Free –- a quote from the Canadian national anthem that only just still rings with an authentic tone -- responded to these somewhat hysterical cries.

But one of the speakers, internationally renowned author Bat Ye’ or, is more than used to such persecution. This diminutive, gentle and brilliant woman in her late 70s seems to positively terrify her critics. Being deported because of Arab anger would, however, be nothing new to the author of a host of internationally acclaimed historical works on the history of Islam and its treatment of Jews and Christians.

She and her family were forced to leave their native Egypt in 1957, part of the more than a million Jews who were exiled from Muslim states after the Second World War and the foundation if Israel. Bat Ye’or’s name roars the horror of it all. It is a pseudonym, meaning Daughter of the Nile in Hebrew. Her given name is Gisele Orebi.

The persecuted Jews of the Middle East. The silenced catastrophe. A wave of innocents whose existence in Arab lands pre-dated the birth of Islam. Their numbers were greater than those of Palestinian refugees and they were frequently treated far more harshly. Yet the world said very little and today the Islamic bloc and their allies in the United Nations and elsewhere pretend the post-Biblical exodus did not happen.

“It is, I suppose, deeply ironic that I was told that I was not allowed to live in Egypt when I was a girl and now as a grown woman I’m told, in part by people from Egypt, that I shouldn’t come to Canada either. As for Israel, they’d like that to disappear,” she says, more bemused than bitter.

“Where ought I to go? No matter. The story has to be told, the true story of how Islam has treated and still does treat its minorities.”

It is her collection of work on the Islamic conquest of the Christian heartlands of Egypt, Palestine, Syria and North Africa that have caused so much frustration from Muslim opponents. She writes in detail of Dhimmitude, the method in which Jews and Christians were subjugated and humiliated.

“As late as the early twentieth-century in some Muslim countries Jews had to remove their shoes when they left their own quarter, were not allowed to ride a horse, were treated as second-class citizens. This idea of equality is nonsense. Their numbers were restricted, especially in the Holy Land, and the same was true of Christians. There were periodic pogroms, right up till the 1940s.”

A pause, searching for the right words. “What occurred back then is history, but history has to be understood and accepted. What we have now is revision, denial. Muslim immigrants are taking this false idea of the past to Europe and North America, along with a culture that does not share the Western notion of tolerance, equality, criticism of religion and freedom.”

The concept of dhimmitude is little known in the West but Bat Yeor is doing a great deal to correct that state of affairs.

“The whole notion differs fundamentally from the Western, Christian idea of tolerance” she explains. “Obviously Christians have not always lived up to this idea but modern pluralism is a direct result of Christian thinking. Islamic ideology, on the other hand, aspires to something entirely different. At best it is a paternalistic tolerance for a despised minority but often outright persecution. This is what has happened in contemporary Egypt.”

Indeed so. Christians enjoyed a relatively open and equal citizenship under more secular Cairo governments but under a more aggressive Islam they are persecuted, attacked, forcibly converted, exiled and killed. “Part of the horror is the pain they suffer,” she explains. “The other is the denial we see and hear from Egypt and from Muslims throughout the world. The same applies to Pakistan, Sudan, Turkey and so many other Islamic societies.”

So the idea of Islamic tolerance is untrue?

“Completely so. Dhimmitude is the natural consequence of the jihad mindset. As a Muslim you conquer, dominate and convert because Islam is to triumph. That you would then respect those who do not become Muslim is self-contradictory. Those who reject Islam are considered immoral and the immoral are never to be trusted. This is why it is so difficult to form a working relationship between the West and genuine Islam, even when it appears to be moderate. We have to question motives, we have to understand intentions.”

This thesis of the spread of such ideas is discussed at length in what may be her most famous and controversial book, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis. In it she argues that Islamic fundamentalism has found its way to Europe because most Muslim moderates are frightened of speaking out and European intellectuals and activists have been seduced by its anti-American dynamic.

“I cannot stress enough the incompatibility between the concept of tolerance as expressed by the jihad-dhimmitude ideology, and the concept of human rights based on the equality of all human beings and the inalienability of their rights. In Europe there is a connection between local socialism, communism and neo-fascism with the judeophobia and anti-imperialism of the new Muslim communities.

“There are courageous Muslims who do resist but it is difficult and dangerous. There is an underground of sharia law across Europe, with terrible treatment of women. This is combined with the threat of violence aimed at anybody who speaks out against what is going on. Censorship through fear. We even see this to a mild degree in Canada, an example being the attempt to stop me entering the country.”

The cause of Palestine, she emphasises, is at heart about the triumph of Islam. “Most of Palestine is in Jordan but we do not hear cries for Jordan to return land. This isn’t about the rights of the Palestinians but about the refusal to accept a non-Muslim state in the region. Palestine has become the fashion of the West, without them understanding the deeper issues of the conflict.”

Paradox wrapped around irony packaging hypocrisy. Untied by a brave and wise woman who wants only peace and juctice but who is still being persecuted for what she is and what she says. A daughter of the Nile, a teacher for the world.

By: Michael Coren is a broadcaster and writer living in Toronto, Canada.

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