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July 2008 Archives

July 2, 2008

Obama's Faith-Based Initiative Proposal--Skeel

Barack Obama’s new faith-based initiative proposal has already been described as a Sister Souljah moment. In a sense it is. It’s a calculated jab at one group (the portion of the Democratic base that cringes at any overlap between religion and government) that demonstrates his bona fides to another (all those Americans who hold less separationist views). But the original Sister Souljah moment was almost purely symbolic. This one could have important practical implications if Obama becomes president.

Obama’s proposal differs from the version President Bush promoted at precisely the point where the Bush program met its Waterloo. President Bush insisted that religious charities should be able to discriminate on religious grounds in their hiring decisions. This aspect of the plan met fierce resistence early in Bush’s first term, both among those who are hostile to any government funding of religious organizations and among those who suspected that the program involved the government so deeply in religion that it would be struck down under the Establishment Clause. The initiative was quickly derailed, and has survived only as a tiny shadow of the original plan.

Obama’s proposal, by contrast, would not permit religious organizations to make hiring and firing decisions based on faith in any portion of the organization that received public funds.

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July 3, 2008

Bill's Fiftieth

We won’t ordinarily celebrate events like birthdays on this blog, but today’s is special enough to warrant an exception: Bill has just turned 50. It’s hard to believe he is fifty years old now, but it is also hard to believe that a scholar who has contributed so much for so long is only fifty. My prayer, to use the terms of Bill’s remarkable reflections on time in his recent blog posts, is that this year will bring not just survival, but a great deal of life.

Happy Birthday, Bill.

July 10, 2008


I suppose everyone has a favorite tree. Mine as a child was an elm, the only tree in our backyard, that had a thick, sturdy branch just low enough for kids to jump off into a pile of fall leaves. We’re blessed with a number of trees in our yard in the Philadelphia suburbs, but none as memorable as that elm. The tree with the prettiest leaves in our area is the tulip poplar– the leaves are like miniature fleurs-de-lis and cascade down from the tree’s crown– but we have to walk a few blocks to see one.

If I had to name my least favorite tree in our yard, I might well have settled on a tall, crooked, scraggly pine tree that stood squarely in the middle of our view as we looked out from our screened in back porch.

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July 13, 2008

Tony Snow--Stuntz

I never met Tony Snow, the onetime White House press secretary who died of metastatic colon cancer yesterday. But I wept when I heard the news. Much to my surprise, Snow emailed me a few months ago after he heard about my disease—we must have a mutual friend or two, though there can’t be many: I’m not well connected in either media or political circles. He wrote to encourage me, and to offer some practical advice. The best advice was this: keep living. Cancer and its treatment can occupy every waking moment (while drastically increasing the number of sleeping moments). Don’t let it, Snow said. Live and work and, most of all, love—as much as you can, as often as you can. It was and is terrific advice. And it was an extraordinarily kind thing, the act of an uncommonly good and decent man—coming from one who, even then, was fighting the last stages of this awful disease. My heart and my prayers are with his family. May God bless each and every one of them in this hard time.

Mike Vick--Stuntz

One of last week’s less prominent news stories of the past week was Mike Vick’s decision to file for bankruptcy. As everyone reading this post presumably knows, Vick was the Atlanta Falcons’ star quarterback; he was convicted of running a dogfighting enterprise in violation of federal law. His punishment is not only the 23-month prison sentence he is now serving, but tens of millions of dollars in lost salary and endorsements.

Vick’s case raises two problems that our legal system has never solved. The first is how to punish the wealthy and powerful when they commit serious crimes. Equality would seem to suggest that defendants like Vick should serve the same time as defendants who have none of the money and fame he enjoyed. But is that equal justice? Vick has lost much, much more than the typical criminal defendant who has much less to lose. How is equality to be measured in such cases? I don’t know the answer, but I don’t like the answer our justice system gives in cases of this sort. If Vick had not been the celebrity athlete he was, he would never have been prosecuted. Maybe rich celebrities deserve to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us—but if so, I’m not sure why.

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July 24, 2008

Judge McConnell's New Religious Liberty Case--Skeel

Judge McConnell, the former law professor and leading First Amendment scholar who is now a judge on the Tenth Circuit, issued a potentially important religious liberty case yesterday. As described by Rick Garnett over at Mirror of Justice, the court ruled “that Colorado violated the Constitution when it refused, on the ground that the school is "pervasively sectarian", to permit otherwise-qualified students to use publicly funded scholarships at Colorado Christian University.” (Link to Mirror of Justice here, and to the case here).

I haven’t read the case yet (that’s on the to-do list for today), but the facts may be an important test of the Supreme Court’s skepticism in recent years of rules that exclude religious groups or schools from benefits that are broadly available to other groups, and of the one case (Locke v. Davey) running against this trend. More on this soon.

July 25, 2008

More on the Religious Liberty Case--Skeel

Judge McConnell’s opinion in the case involving Colorado’s denial of Colorado Christian University’s request to participate in the state’s scholarship program because the university is “pervasively sectarian” seems completely persuasive as an application of the Supreme Court’s recent First Amendment Religion Clause decisions. (The case is linked to yesterday’s post: here). Judge McConnell points out that the exclusion of pervasively sectarian institutions both discriminates among religions (sectarian institutions qualify, but not pervasively sectarian ones) and requires the state to pass judgment on religious belief and practice.

My one qualm about the decision is really a qualm about the path the Supreme Court has taken in these cases over the past decade or so. It seems to leave no room for state institutions to distinguish among potential recipients when deciding who to fund or not fund. The usual test case is an organization like, say Ku Klux Klan University, which might be difficult to deny funding to on some readings of the analysis in cases like this one.

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July 31, 2008

Should Evangelicals Forgive the Environmental Movement?--Skeel

Last week I finished reviewing the coverage of environmental issues in Christianity Today over the past forty years (for an article described in this post), and in Sunday school heard a discussion of Christ’s warning at the end of the Lord’s Prayer that “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14) Forgiveness and evangelicals’ stance toward environmentalism don’t seem to have a great deal in common. I wonder if perhaps they should.

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