Article VI Blog

"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

United States Constitution — Article VI:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

  • Bits and Links

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 07:12 am, April 30th 2010     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Freedom Matters…

    James Bopp makes an entirely secular argument for it.

    Joe Carter quotes a foreign policy argument for religious freedom.

    What Carter’s quotation points out is that religious freedom is part and parcel of true democratic freedom:

    Of course, religious liberty promotion is no more a political science panacea than was democracy promotion. But as Hitchen claims, “Religious liberty would help society grow so complex that no totalizing ideology, no philosophical monism, could feasibly dominate the public square, because no single ideology would accurately reflect social reality.” That’s a modest goal, no doubt, but one worthy of being embraced by conservatives.

    One of the primary reasons that we fight for Romney’s religion NOT to be an issue is that for it to be an issue is a chick in the armor of our democracy.  This is another such chink, and this, well, there is some pot-and-

    This is true, even given that all religion is not the same.  The freedom to practice any religion, even bad ones, is needed to maintain democracy and democracy is needed to maintain religious freedom.  Only when bad religions cross the behavioral line do we need to seek to control them.

    Which is why this is a little silly.  Unless we are pursuing both at the same time, chastising a nation for just one can be counterproductive.

    And this link is just for our lawyer friends.

    Have a good weekend.


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    So, What Else Is Going On?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:21 am, April 28th 2010     &mdash      7 Comments »

    Just to conclude the “humor” discussion, and emailer reminded us and this blog post tells the story of Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior’s resignation over a  religiously/racially tinged joke.

    Secretary of Agriculture James Watt, working for President Ronald Reagan, made the following quip about “diversity”:

    “I have a black, a woman, two Jews, and a cripple. And we have talent.”

    The press went apoplectic.

    Watt resigned in disgrace within weeks as a veritable firestorm erupted around him.

    Funny, a liberal does it, we document it, we point out it is in poor taste, etc.  But there it ends.  A conservative does it and heads have to roll.  Who’s tolerant again?

    And with that question in mind – even the very liberal Huffington Post has nasty Mormon comment problems.  But then, they are just generally nasty.

    Just Bits and Pieces…

    This blog post at “Mormon Bloggers” has been getting some play in some circles in the last few days.  The “flip-flop” charge towards Romney is, at this point, yesterday’s news.  But this has gotten a little traction because it is written by a Mormon.  That fact leads me to conclude that our contention that the flip-flop charge has traction at all is because it plays into the “Mormons lie” meme is validated; otherwise, it would not make a difference if the post was written by a Martian.

    James Dobson is endorsing candidates.  This is something he was loathe to do when he was with Focus on the Family.  IS this story a sign of new times for America’s leading Evangelical?

    If Bob Jones University was really that “iconic,” the endorsement of Romney would have mattered more than it did.

    Important history lessons from:

    Sullivan’s animus towards Palin is based on her placement of her religion at the forefront of her life and his placing his homosexuality in front of his faith.

    Lowell adds . . .

    The big problem many conservatives have with Mitt Romney is that they simply don’t think he’s conservative enough.  For them that’s where the flip-flopper charge comes from.  (And, I freely concede, the Governor has a lot of explaining to do about that Massachusetts healthcare bill.  I think he has a good story to tell there, but it’s full of nuance and hard to tell in a quick soundbite.)  I have two “buts” to add, however.

    1. But some of the “flip-flop” criticism is just over the top and smacks of political dynamiting by arch-conservatives with a hidden agenda.  For example, we keep seeing the canard that Romney is somehow against the Boy Scouts generally, especially on sexual orientation issues, a claim thoroughly debunked here.  And yet some people keep bringing that idea up.  It’s very close to the gutter-based whisper campaigns we have all seen against other candidates about marital infidelity and similar scurrilous tales.  Like I said, political dynamiting by pros who know exactly what they are doing.

    2. But as we have noted here many times, the flip-flopper charge is just too convenient for people who oppose him because he is a Mormon. “Oh, I have no problem with his religion; some of my best friends are Mormons.  It’s just that he keeps changing his positions . . . and did you know he is in favor of gay Scoutmasters?”  We’ll keep seeing this rubbish for some time, but if Romney gets the GOP nomination my guess is that it will fade away.


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    More On Religious Humor

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 12:19 pm, April 26th 2010     &mdash      1 Comment »

    Check out the Anchoress on Obama’s NSA opening with a “Jewish” joke.

    All-in-all, I’d call it a very unwise joke for a security advisor to The American President to make, especially if the president is trying to convince the nation -by his words more than his actions- that he supports capitalism and the free market, the existence of Israel and the defeat of the Taliban.

    The truth is the joke would have been inappropriate under any president; the White House and its administrators should never be in the business of laughing at anyone but themselves, because other-directed humor signals insecurity; self-denigrating humor does the opposite.

    A joke, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and -to some extent- so is a slur. How one receives a thing says much more about oneself than any joke or compliment or hateful remark.

    If you take the events of the last few days, you could easily conclude that religion is considered, at least by the left, as the last “safe” object of such derisive humor.   Any other kind of stereotypical humor is considered off limits, and yet in the last few days we have seen all sorts of religion based humor, not to mention replays of religion based humor to justify religion based humor.  If you think about that it’s the old “everybody’s doing it” defense.

    I take this as a sign of the general disfavor in which religion finds itself.   And much of it comes form the perception that religion is “intolerant.”  Whether it is Islamic threats of violence, or Evangelical dismissal of political candidates of other religions, there is sufficient evidence to justify such concerns.   If religion is going to keep its place in society, we need to learn how better to handle our differences.   Islamic threats of violence are a problem not easily solved, but religion based voting seems pretty easy to me.

    Lowell adds . . .

    I just have to weigh in on this one. The Jewish joke in this situation used the stereotype of Jews as greedy merchants. I find this event almost unbelieveable.

    Here’s the video of National Security Adviser General James Jones giving the keynote speech at a meeting of the Washington Institute For Near East Policy:

    I am a little pressed for time today, so will simply say that this is so wrong and so inappropriate on so many levels that I hesitate even to being trying to list them. I do wonder what would be happening if a Republican had made this mistake. (Imagine Mitt Romney telling a joke like that. He has too much class to do so, but try anyway.)

    There are more links and commentary at The Lid.


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    A Little More on South Park and Satirizing Religion

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 11:36 am, April 26th 2010     &mdash      1 Comment »

    If you’re following this issue you won’t want to miss Ross Douthat’s piece in the New York Times today. The take-home point:

    This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that “bravely” trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.

    I agree with John’s post below (responding to my own post just below his): I do not like religious humor.  (I do recognize that it will always be with us, however.)  So the announcment that South Park’s creators plan a Broadway play making fun of my own religion (Mormonism) did not make me happy. The only silver lining I can see is that at least my church is considered sufficiently important to warrant satiric attack.

    But back to Douthat’s op-ed. Read the whole thing.


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    When Is It Funny?

    Posted by: John Schroeder at 06:39 am, April 26th 2010     &mdash      3 Comments »

    We were silent too long last week, but we experienced some technical difficulties with our news gathering system and my recovery is not yet to a point where I can chase this stuff down rapidly.

    “South Park” Hates Religion

    I know that the cartoon “South Park” can be outrageously funny, but I never could watch it on a routine basis, I was uncomfortable that it made so much fun of people’s misfortune and when it discussed religion it just made me angry.  I speak in the past tense because while the show is still in production, I have paid no attention in a very long time.  But it hit the news this past week for the first time in a long time.

    It caught my eye when our friend Peggy Fletcher Stack pointed out that the creators of South Park are crafting a Broadway musical based on the Book of Mormon.  But then Comedy Central decided to edit (censor?) an episode based on its depictions of Mohammed and apparent threats from Islamic sources.   Here is the story from:

    I’ve never thought religion was a good place for humor, other than perhaps self-deprecating humor.  People who take their faith seriously think to make fun of it is sacrilegious.  I am not sure that being even-handedly sacrilegious helps much either, it just insults more people.  While I would never deny Jon Stewart the right to do the “comedy” he profiles in Lowell’s post, I did not find it funny.  Note that Lowell had to warn you about it.

    Years ago there was a  televangelist by the name of Earnest Angley.  He was almost the definition of “self-parody.”  (Sadly I cannot find him on YouTube.)  I would watch that show and laugh until I cried.  Then one day he came to South Bend, Indiana where I was living.  A Catholic priest friend of mine and I decided to “take in the show.”  (Imagine that, a Catholic priest in the same town as Notre Dame University, but I digress)   Earnest Angely ceased being funny when we were sitting in that audience.  Not because his shtick was different – it wasn’t – but because of how seriously those sitting around us took it.  It was not shtick from their perspective and had I sat there and laughed, I would have accomplished nothing but to hurt them.  Not to mention that even though I disagreed pretty extensively with ‘ol Earnest’s take on Christianity, to squelch, through laughter, what faith these people did have – I would have made enemies when I needed to make friends.

    Death, physical violence, and other threats are an inappropriate response to sacrilege.  While it may be a matter of free speech to allow sacrilege – legally – such sacrilege is nonetheless highly inappropriate.  There are other ways to be funny.  That being the case, the old Jewish tradition of “shunning” makes a lot of sense.  Of course, threats of violence should be responded to with appropriate physical safeguards for the objects of the threats, but beyond that, silence should be the response.  When we verbally respond to the prevarications of those that threaten we act as if they matter, when we should be shunning then from the community of the reasonable.

    Speaking of which, would coverage like that wanted by GetReligion here make rifts wider or smaller?  I am wondering if it does not give voice to those that should be shunned.

    The National Day Of Prayer

    I have to part with my friend Hugh Hewitt who this week denounced on-air the court decision declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.  Hugh, of course, defended the non-sectarian practice of the day – but the problem is its practice has grown increasingly sectarian in recent years.   To his credit, President Obama is attempting to defend the day in court.

    But Obama should do more.  He needs to “fire” (he does not have direct power to do so, but needless to say he can bring an inordinate amount of pressure to bear on those that can) Shirley Dobson, Chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, and bring in someone that can bring a far less sectarian feel to the enterprise.  The first action by that person should be to put institutional controls in place that will prevent the kinds of abuses seen under Shirley Dobson from occurring again.

    If those events occur, then perhaps in deed, and not simply legal argument, the National Day of Prayer will have a leg to stand on as the appeals move forward.  Otherwise, I don’t think the defenders of the day have a leg to stand on


    Do we care about the religious make-up of the Supreme Court?  I care about judicial philosophy and credentials, but religion?  This is supposed to be our first “post-racial” administration, a term defined by many to mean that race simply does not matters, politics alone does.  If we accept that definition, I’m ready for “post-religious” too.

    That’s going to bring a lot of howls from a lot of my friends, but I’d much rather have a judge that votes to overturn Roe v Wade based on sound legal reason regardless of the religion, than one that votes to overturn based simply on religious conviction.  The first vote is defensible in the American system, the second reduces such a critical issue to simple sectarian adherence.

    That Kennedy Speech

    Archbishop Chaput continues to discuss it. (HT: First Thoughts)  At some point, I think this argument gets too far into the long grass.  The difference lies in dogmatism and reason, not religious influence.  When we elect someone, I think we expect them to be true to themselves, and religion is an enormous part of the formation of an individuals character. but we do not enact national policy on the basis of religious dogma – we enact it on the basis of reason and truth.

    Now, most of us believe our religion to be the source of truth, and that is fine, but truth is evident on its own, and we can argue based on that fact, but to simply dogmatically dictate policy is a problem.

    Kennedy, I believe, overstated.  He wanted to make sure people understood that Rome could not use him to dictate American policy and in so overstating he did move things a a wrong and secularist direction, but I also believe that direction was inevitable.

    Which brings us to…

    This little NYTimes book review by Mark Halperin:

    Romney deals not a whit with either his well-earned reputation for moving right on critical issues or the unique political challenges his Mormon faith represents. If he runs again, he will have to address both matters. It is striking that he chose not to do so here.

    Boy, talk about an attempt to force an issue.  But then Halperin’s partisan leanings have long been evident.  But it is interesting to note how, even in 2008, Romney has stopped short of the overstatement that Kennedy made in the ’60′s and how pilloried he was for that after the “Faith in America” speech.

    You know, Romney is loathe to “toot his own horn” character wise, which is in itself a mark of character, but I wonder if the key to this thing in ’12 is to shift the discussion to character versus dogma as I outlined above?   Thinking out loud here – comments?


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    Religion-Based Comedy and South Park: One of Jon Stewart’s Finest Moments

    Posted by: Lowell Brown at 09:57 pm, April 25th 2010     &mdash      1 Comment »

    I am not a South Park viewer, but like many Americans I see South Park clips on YouTube and in other blogs.  I don’t watch Daily Show much either, but thanks to Instapundit I saw this Jon Stewart Daily Show segment about the recent controversy over a South Park episode that made fun of several religions, including Islam.  Reportedly, the South Park Episode known as “201 satirized numerous religious figures, including Buddha and Jesus and . . . Muhammad.  After Comedy Central received the usual death threats, the network decided to “bleep” the episode’s references to Islam’s prophet.   The L.A. Times summarizes the story:

    [T]his week, after an ominous threat from a radical Muslim website, the network that airs the program bleeped out all references to the prophet Muhammad in the second of two episodes set to feature the holy figure dressed in a bear costume. . . .

    Comedy Central declined to comment on the latest incident. But “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone clearly disagreed with their bosses’ handling of the situation. A statement posted on their website said that executives “made a determination to alter the episode” without their approval and that the usual wrap-up speech from one character didn’t mention Muhammad “but it got bleeped too.”

    The network may have thought it had no choice after, the website of a fringe group, delivered a grim warning about last week’s episode, which depicted Muhammad dressed as a bear.

    “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show,” the posting said. A photo of Van Gogh’s body lying in the street was included with the original posting, which has been unavailable to some Web users since news of the item broke earlier this week. “This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”

    As you might imagine, controversy followed Comedy Central’s decision to bleep.  Jon Stewart, a Comedy Central star, devoted ten minutes of his April 22 show to the issue.  Warning: the following is not for the thin-skinned:

    The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
    South Park Death Threats
    Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

    Stewart made this remarkable statement, among others:

    “I owe a lot of religious people an apology.  Not for making jokes at their expense, but for not appreciating, and thanking you, for how well you’ve handled it.”

    He then shared a few clips from prior Daily Shows poking fun at Jews, Christians (all branches, including Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), Hindus, voodoo, wiccans, Rastafarianism, Buddhists, Scientology, the Kwanzaa holiday, and even atheism.

    Bravo to Stewart for standing up for free speech and at the same time acknowledging that his show frequently offends religious sensibilities.  We’ve certainly been critical here of religious bigotry, but never of free speech. If a candidate of a particular faith – Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, you name it – is singled out or attacked on the basis of his religion, you’ll see us on the housetops decrying that bigotry.   But death threats, however thinly veiled, are despicable and in this case are really only another form of bigotry.

    South Park’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, issued this statement:

    In the 14 years we’ve been doing South Park we have never done a show that we couldn’t stand behind. We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn’t some meta-joke on our part. Comedy Central added the bleeps. In fact, Kyle’s customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn’t mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped too. We’ll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we’ll see what happens to it.

    A sorry tale, all in all.  We hope America learns from it.


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