Friday, July 17, 2015

What Difference Does It Make? Do Words, Facts, History, Truth, Law, or Morals Matter? Part 2

One of the main purposes of this blog is to help us understand our culture, and particularly, the cultural biases and pressures that tend to shape our perception of reality.  This post, and the last one, are my attempts to understand one aspect of what is going on in our culture, at least in the United States, and how it affects our thinking and action.  My interest, for the purposes of this blog, is how it affects our thinking about the origin, nature, and role of civil society as broadly understood, and the standards by which we understand issues of integrity and accountability.

I remember well when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Romer v. Evans in 1996.  The Supreme Court had previously held in Bowers v. Hardwick that the Georgia law which criminalized certain homosexual acts was constitutional. Then, in 1996, the Supreme Court invalidated a Colorado State amendment to its constitution which sought to foreclose any branch or political subdivision of the State from protecting persons against discrimination based on sexual orientation and specifically overruled Bowers v. Hardwick.

One reason I remember this decision so well was that a good friend came to me shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision and suggested that this decision portended a more significant change to America than Roe v. Wade, the decision that essentially legalized abortion subject to certain caveats.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my last post, my discussion here addresses several major decisions of the U. S. Supreme Court which seem to have a teutonic effect on the thought and lives of many in America.  However, the implications extend far beyond the immediate subject matter of these decisions of the last few weeks, and while local, that is, pertaining to the United States, the principles have potential world-wide application.

In my last post, I focused my attention on the use and what I suggested was the corruption of language. My attention here is my attempt to address what I have understood to be the very foundations of law, or at least some of the theoretical and philosophical underpinning of legal thought.  Many years ago during a lecture I presented, I argued that differences among judges were not so much based on differences in determining the facts in given cases, or differences in determining the applicable law, including precedent, and how it was to be interpreted.  Rather, the differences among judges, and Supreme Court justices in particular, occurred because of their lack of consensus on the very core of legal thought.  It is this issue which draws my attention here.

It is also important that I note for the record that although I am a lawyer, I am not a lawyer who has specialized in Constitutional law.  I leave any constitutional analysis to those who live with the Constitution on a daily basis, whether in courts, the classroom, or in constitutional litigation.  My facility with this area of law is rudimentary at best, so I do not speak as an expert on matters relating to the Constitution.  My interests have always been jurisprudential and how various worldviews inform our thinking about law and its place in society.  Nevertheless!

I don't deny, as Justice Kennedy wrote in Obergefell v. Hodges, that "[T]he identification and protection of fundamental rights is an enduring part of the judicial duty to interpret the Constitution." However, as I think back on what President Lincoln and others through history have said, I am not convinced that the Supreme Court is the only body capable of interpreting the Constitution, notwithstanding the language in Marbury v. Madison (1803), which is established law to the effect that it is the province and  duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, and where there is a conflict between legislation and the U.S. Constitution, the Constitution prevails.  The problems often occur with language, such as "due process," and "equal protection," which seem broad and to many, ambiguous.

But, I think some humility is in order, that sometimes we get it right, but often we get it wrong.  For lower courts, that is one reason we have appellate courts.  Although the Supreme Court and lower courts, and  for that matter most courts, follow their own precedents and those of higher courts within their appellate chain, they do change their minds on what the Constitution says, or at least as interpreted by them in the past.   Indeed, as describe above and herein, that is exactly what the Supreme Court did in Romer v.  Evans when it overruled Bowers v. Hardwick.

And as Justice Scalia warned in his dissent, "the stuff contained in today's opinion [Obergefell v. Hodges] has to diminish this Court's reputation for clear thinking and sober analysis.

Well, on 26 June 2015, the Supreme Court issued its opinion and decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. While for many, this decision was not unexpected in light of a series of earlier decision over the last 20 years, it still came as a shock to those who are committed to the democratic process and to the words of the U.S. Constitution.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated:
     The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons within a lawful realm to define and express their identity.  The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.
By way of background, the cases before the Court come from Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, all States which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  The Court was faced with two issues, each one related to the cases decided by the lower court.  First, does the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution require a State to issue a marriage license to two people of the same sex?  Second, does the Fourteenth Amendment require a State to recognize a same-sex marriage licensed and performed in another state which does not grant that right?  Justice Kennedy opined that numerous same-sex marriage cases have reached the Courts of Appeals in "recent" years and the courts have written a substantial body of law that now helps the U. S. Supreme Court explain and formulate the underlying principles regarding marriage.

How that works, I am not sure, since the Supreme Court does not usually take its cue from lower courts. Moreover, to the extent that these cases are in someway constitutionally based, it would seem that the principles would emanate from the relevant Constitutional provisions rather than the substantial body of law developed in the lower courts regarding marriage that would help the U.S. Supreme Court explain and formulate underlying principles regarding marriage.  It might be helpful to recognize that this "substantial body of law" did not simply arise out of some ether.  The Supreme Court, and especially Justice Kennedy writing for various majorities, took the lead in its early decisions regarding same-sex relationships, which opened the door to the Courts of Appeals, to extend those holdings invalidating the democratically established laws in the various states.

As noted by Justice Kennedy: "After years of litigation, legislation, referenda, and discussions that attended these public acts, the States are now divided on the issue of same-sex marriage."  But, that is the stuff of democracy and our federal political system, and impatience with democracy and consensus is a bit unseemly, if not unconstitutional.  Of course the states are divided because they have been deprived of the democratic processes through which change is made, particularly after the Supreme Court invalidated State laws regarding same-sex relations, and invalidated much of the Defense of Marriage Act which was passed overwhelmingly in Congress and signed into law by President Clinton. What is less clear in Justice Kennedy's opinion is how he thinks we got to this state of affairs.

As this map of the United States shows, prior to the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, only thirteen States and the District of Columbia had approved same-sex marriage by legislation or referenda, such as ballot initiatives or amendments to the States' Constitutions. Twenty-five States had bans against same-sex marriage overturned by court decisions.  As of the date of the Obergefell decision, thirteen States still defined marriage as between a man and a woman.


Notwithstanding this, the Court held that the right to marry is a fundamental right, inherent in the liberty of a person, and that under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment same sex couples may not be deprived of the right to that liberty and the right marry.

But, first, what Justice Kennedy said, we can embrace, no matter our views on the outcome.  Justice Kennedy, and the members of the majority specifically acknowledged and stated that marriage "has existed for millennia and across civilitzations."  Moreover, the majority acknowledged that "the Court explained two Terms ago, 'that until recent years, . . . marriage between a man and a woman no doubt had been thought of by most people as essential to the very definition of that term and to its role and function throughout the history of civilization.'"

Indeed, he wrote, that:
     It cannot be denied that this Court's cases developing the right to marry presumed a relationship between opposite-sex partners.  The Court, like many institutions, has made assumptions defined by the world and time of which it is a part.
* * *
. . . the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.
* * *
Marriage also affords the permanency and stability important to children's best interests.
Quoting Alexis de Tocqueville from his Democracy in America, Justice Kennedy continues:
There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is so much respected as in America . . . [W]hen the American retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it the image of order and peace. . . . . He afterwards carries [that image] with him into public affairs.
Here, Justice Kennedy explained that the Court echoed Tocqueville, explaining that marriage is "the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress."  I think most of us can agree with that.  What was missing was context and Tocqueville's observations regarding civil society in America.  Tocqueville continued immediately after the quote attributed to him by Justice Kennedy saying: "In the United States, religion regulates not only the mores; it extends its dominion to the mind."  According to Tocqueville's margin notes in his original writing of Democracy in America, "American liberty was born in the bosom of religion and is still sustained in its arms."

In his dissent, the Chief Justice wrote:
     This universal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is of no historical coincidence.  Marriage did not come about as a result of a political movement, discovery, disease, war, religious doctrine, or any other moving force of world history - and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians.  It arose in the nature of things to meet a vital need: ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and father committed to raising children in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship. . . .  ("For since the reproductive instinct is by nature's gift the common possession of all living creatures, the first bond of union is between husband and wife; the next, that between parents an children; then we find one home, with everything in common.")[Emphasis added]
* * *
     Society has recognized that bond as marriage.  And by bestowing a respected status and material benefits on married couples, society encourages men and women to conduct sexual relations within marriage rather than without.  . . .  "Marriage is a socially arranged solution for the problem of getting people to stay together and care for children that the mere desire for children, and the sex that makes children possible, does not solve."
     This singular understanding of marriage has prevailed in the United States throughout our history.  The majority accepts that at "the time of the Nations founding [marriage] was understood to be a voluntary contract between a man and a woman. . . . .
      The Constitution itself says nothing about marriage, and the Framers thereby entrusted the States with "the whole subject of domestic relations of husband and wife."  . . .  There is no dispute that every State at the founding - and every State throughout our history until a dozen years ago - defined marriage in a traditional, biologically rooted way.  The four States in these cases are typical.  Their laws, before and after statehood, have treated marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
So what changed?

According to Justice Kennedy, the majority observed changes and developments in marriage to be not merely superficial, but rather "deep transformations in its structure."  The changes Justice Kennedy referred to related to arranged marriages giving way to pairings based on romantic love, racial restrictions on marriage removed, and where husbands and wives were recognized separately rather than as a single legal entity.  Whether or not these changes in how marriage was viewed in society were transformative as stated by Justice Kennedy, they did not change the basic structure of marriage as it was recognized throughout the millennia and across civilizations.

Moreover, as Justice Kennedy observed, a greater number of gays and lesbians began living openly
together, and expressing the desire to have their relationships recognized as marriages.  The Majority recognized that over the last few years, public opinion on marriage had shifted rapidly, in no small part due to the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, and those specifically written by Justice Kennedy and increasing public acceptance of what the Supreme Court had legitimized.  It was noteworthy that the majority did acknowledge that as of 2012, voters and legislatures in eleven States and the District of Columbia changed their definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.  What about the other 39 States that did not change their definition of marriage through democratic and legislative means?

The majority attempts to justify its position regarding this new right protected by the U. S. Constitution, on the basis of four "premises" articulated under the "Due Process Clause" and the "Equal Protection Clause" of the Fourteenth Amendment.  First, there is a right to personal choice regarding marriage which is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.  Second, the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a "two-person union" unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals.  Third, marriage safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education as a central liberty provided by the Due Process Clause.  Fourth, our Nation's traditions make it clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order. What was significantly missing was some logical and legally acceptable rationale for the majority's conclusions.

Justice Kennedy, in advancing his point that the "right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals," wrote:
The right to marry thus dignifies couples who "wish to define themselves by their commitment to each other." . . . Marriage responds to that universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.  It offers the hope of companionship and understanding and assurance that while both still live there will be someone to care for the other.
As one observer noted, this sounds like "the cry of a lonely and frustrated 10-year old girl rather than legal reasoning one would expect from the U.S. Supreme Court when advancing some Constitutional theory of due process."

The dissent noted that the petitioners in this case did not rely on a violation of an enumerated constitutional right, since of course, none existed; there being no right of "Companionship and Understanding" or "Nobility and Dignity" clause in the Constitution.  Rather they relied on what the Court called a "most sensitive category of constitutional adjudication," that is, substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment under which some liberties are "so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental."  Yet, the majority seemed to ignore those traditions and the consciences of our people over the centuries and all people over many millennia and across civilizations when it redefined marriage.

The Chief Justice, in his dissent, stated that "allowing unelected federal judges to select which unenumerated rights rank as fundamental - and to strike down state laws on the basis of that determination - raises obvious concerns about the judicial role."  Apparently not obvious enough to the majority.

The crux of the decision was stated clearly by the Chief Justice in his dissent when he wrote:
     The majority's driving themes are that marriage is desirable and petitioners desire it. The opinion describes the "transcendent importance" of marriage and repeatedly insists that petitioners do not seek to "demean," devalue," "denigrate," or "disrespect" the institution.

Maybe not, although the agenda of the LGBT movement one reads about in the news media suggests otherwise.

Former Supreme Court Justice, Benjamin N. Cardozo, wrote in a classic little volume, The Nature of the Judicial Process," regarding the work of judges as they decide cases: 
What is it that I do when I decide a case?  To what sources of information to appeal for guidance.  In what proportions do I permit them to contribute to the result?  In what proportions ought they to contribute?  . . . If I am seeking logical consistency, the symmetry of legal structure, how far to I seek it?  At what point shall the quest be halted by some discrepant custom,by some consideration of social welfare, by my own or some common standards of justice and morals?  . . .  Some principle, however, unavowed and inarticulate and subconscious, has regulated the infusion .  It may not be the same principle for all judges at any time, nor the same principle for any judge at all times. . . . It is often though these subconscious forces, judges are kept consistent with themselves, and inconsistent with one another.
Before addressing what Justice Cardozo argued approximately 90 years ago, and how we might understand the majority's opinion, there are several questions I would like to raise that seem quite pertinent.
1.  Has society the right to pass judgment at all on matters of morals?  Ought there, in other words, to be a public morality, or are morals always a matter for private judgment?
2.  Second, if society has the right to pass such judgment, has it the right to use the weapon of law to enforce it?
3.  Third, if so, ought it to use that weapon in all cases or only in some; and if only in some, on what principles should it distinguish?
4.  Fourth, moral knowledge is knowledge about what?  Once that is answered, we face the epistemological question; that is, how is moral knowledge achieved?  And if that is answered, we face the question of motivation, that is, the reason, if any, one has to take an interest in, or care about moral knowledge.

There are some words of caution in the celebration of the Court's opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges. Indeed, the President had the White House lit in rainbow colors celebrating the decision, and tweeted that "Justice arrived like 'a thunderbolt,'" and "#Love Wins."  In a statement issued by the White House,
Tonight, the White House was lit to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to progress and equality, here in America and around the world. The pride colors reflect the diversity of the LGBT community, and tonight, these colors celebrate a new chapter in the history of American civil rights.
Yet, one week after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision was issued, Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University School of Law writing in the Washington Post, admitted that he had long advocated same-sex marriage and was "deeply moved" by this historic ruling.  Indeed, what Professor Turley admitted was that he agreed with Justice Scalia's dissent in the Lawrence v. Texas case [which I will discuss shortly] that this "signaled the end of all morals legislation," something for which Professor Turley and others had argued.

Of course, no legislation or court decision is moral free.  The question is, as posed above, whose morality will control.  Indeed, how does the legislature or court distinguish between the various moralities and on what principles does it focus when it decides which it must choose to follow?

But, while Justice Kennedy's opinion might be celebrated in some precincts, when he called for the "dignity" and profound hopes and aspirations of many loving couples, there were matters of concern.  For the "use of a dignity right as a vehicle presents a new, unexpected element since it may exist in tension with the right to free speech or free exercise of religion."  Of course, this is not the first time he has written about dignity.  For example, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa, v. Casey, Justice Kennedy wrote:
Our law affords constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education.  Our cases recognize "the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted government intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person's the decision whether to bear or beget a child."  Our precedents "have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter."  These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person can make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.  At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of the human life.  Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood where they formed under compulsion by the State. [Emphasis in the original]
Oh my!

The late Judge Robert Bork called this phrase regarding the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of the human life, indicative of "New Age jurisprudence."  Attorney Robert Bennett described it as an "open-ended validation of subjectivism."

Professor Turley argued that there are dangers lurking in Obergefell decision, and that the celebrations may be short-lived,  Noting that Justice Kennedy used the word, "dignity" almost a dozen times in his opinion for the majority, Professor Turley wrote:
     Dignity is a rather elusive and malleable concept compared with more concrete qualities such as race and sex.  Which relationships are sufficiently dignified to warrant protection?  What about couples who do not wish to marry but cohabitate?  What about polyamorous families, who are less well accepted by public opinion, but are no less exemplary when it comes to, in Kennedy's words on marriage, the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family?  The justice does not specify.  It certainly appears as if Obergefell extends this protection because same-sex unions are now deemed acceptable by the majority.  [I am a bit skeptical of this conclusion based on polls because of the push/pull nature of much of the poling and its selectivity, as well as the way the questions are worded.  But, even so, while polling may suggest what a select group of people think, it has little place in determining truth or reality.]  The courts may not be so readily inclined to find that other relationships are, to quote the opinion, a "keystone of the Nation's social order," when they take less-orthodox forms.  But, popularity hardly seems like a proper legal guide to whether a relationship is dignified.
     With the emergence of this new right, we must now determine how it is to be balanced against other rights and how far it extends.  For example, it is clearly undignified for a gay couple to be denied a wedding cake with a homosexual theme. Yet, for a Christian or Muslin baker, it might also feel undignified to be forced to prepare an image celebrating same-sex marriage.  Should the right to dignity trump free speech or free exercise [of religion]?
     Other groups outside the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community could invoke this precedent, since the reasoning does not concern a protected sexual-orientation class, but rather a citizen's right to dignity.  Could employees challenge workplace dress codes as intruding on their right to "define and express their identity"? Could those subject to college admission preferences raise claims that race or gender classifications deny their individual effort to "define and express their identity"?
* * *
. . . But if we are to protect the dignity of all citizens, we need to be careful that dignity is not simply a new way for the majority to decide who belongs and who does not belong in our "Nation's social order." 
Thinking about what Justice Cardozo wrote so many years ago, has prompted me to return once again to postmodernity and its effect on how we think about the world and life, and indeed, the perhaps powerful effect it had on the reasoning of the Court in a series of cases culminating in the Obergefell v. Hodges decision.

Modernity alters the day-to-day social life and undercuts the traditional beliefs, habits, and customs. One of its most distinctive features is an increasing interconnectedness between two extremes; namely extensionality and intentionality.  There are globalizing influences on one hand, and personal dispositions on the other.  It is a post-traditional order, but not one which replaces the sureties of tradition and habit with the certitude of rational knowledge as suggested in the Enlightenment.

As I wrote in my last post, modernity institutionalizes the principle of radical doubt and insists that all knowledge takes the form of hypotheses.  Claims which may very well be true, are in principle are always open to revision, and may have to be abandoned at some point.  Relationships exist solely for whatever rewards the relationship can deliver.  Trust is no longer anchored in criteria outside the relationship itself, such as, kinship, social duty, or traditional obligation.

Where there is no truth, except the proposition that there is no truth, and where ideas of an individual may be in flux, interesting, creative, and even important for that individual, these ideas can no longer be rejected on the basis of some exclusive truth claims.  Since ideas cannot be rejected, the individual or group making the truth claims is marginalized and ultimately rejected as narrow-minded, bigoted, extreme, or an out of date traditionalist.  This results in repression of moral questions which day-to-day life pose, but which are denied answers.

With all of this, there is a growing importance of a "new thinking class," with some undesirable consequences.  Expert knowledge is pursued as an end in itself.  Specialized knowledge, which can only be understood by other specialists, creates a gap between the experts and ordinary people. Justice Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion that:
Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises and neither they or their beliefs are disparaged here.  But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequences is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on the exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose liberty is then denied.
* * *
     Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocated with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriages should not be condoned.  The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.
Several observations might be appropriate.  First, I know as a judge and to my embarrassment, that there is a tendency to rely on precedents that I have written.  In a way, it is kind of lazy to start one's research and writing this way, but we seem to do it all the time and it is time saving while providing some level of consistency.  Justice Kennedy has done it here in Obergefell v. Hodges, because the very specific decisions he relied on were his decisions which overturned State laws addressing certain homosexual conduct, and his incremental approach to requiring same-sex marriage to approved in all of the States.

But, one of the things that I have found helpful over the years is contained in this gem of wisdom Justice Cardozo addressed in his book, The Nature of the Judicial Process.  Even in times of exploding litigation and the need to try and decide cases, it is important for members of the judiciary, including Justices on the Supreme Court, to reflect on, and examine "inherited instincts, traditional beliefs, acquired convictions, and the resultant outlook on life. a conception of social needs, a sense in [William] Jame's. phrase of 'the total push and pull of the cosmos' which, when reasons are nicely balanced, must determine where the choice shall fall."

In any event, he begins with Bowers v. Hardwick (a 1986 5-4 decision, with majority opinion written by Justice White), in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia law deemed to criminalize certain homosexual acts.  At that time, most States had anti-sodomy laws.  He then cites his opinion in Romer v. Evans, 1996, in which the Supreme Court invalidated a Colorado Constitutional amendment that sought to foreclose any branch or political entity in Colorado from protecting persons against discrimination based on sexual orientation as a result of "animus toward a class it affects," and lacking a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.  Perhaps in light of his discussion in Obergefell v. Hodges, this "animus" must be based on some "decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises."

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated that:
        A second and related point is that laws of the kind now before us raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward a class of persons affected.  "[I]f the constitutional conception of 'equal protection of the laws' means anything, it must at the very least man that a bare . . .  desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot constitute a legitimate government interest."
Justice Kennedy summarily dismissed the State's argument that the Amendment before the Court represented a respect of other citizens' freedom of association, and in particular the liberties of landlords and employers who have personal or religious objections to homosexuals.

In 2003, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority in Lawrence v. Texas, overruled Bowers, holding that the Texas laws making same-sex intimacy a crime, "demeans the lives of homosexual persons." He writes:
     The Court began its substantive discussion in Bowers as follows: "The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy and hence invalidates the laws of may States that still make such conduct illegal and have do so for a very long time.  That statement, we now conclude, discloses the Court's own failure to appreciate the extent of liberty at stake.
Justice Kennedy traced the history of these kinds of laws back to criminal laws passed in Britain in 1533.  After reciting the history of such laws, both in the UK and in the US, he wrote that the historical grounds upon which the majority relied on in Bowers were more complex than indicated by the majority opinion and concurring opinion.
     It must be acknowledged, of course, that the Court in Bowers was making the broader point that for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral. The condemnation has been shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for the traditional family. For many persons these are not trivial concerns but profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles to which they aspire and which thus determine the course of their lives. These considerations do not answer the question before us, however. The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law. 
This is the same questions I posed above.  Has society the right to pass judgment at all on matters of morals, and if it does, has it the right to use the weapon of law to enforce that judgment.  If the majority equates society with a majority of Supreme Court Justices, then, apparently society has that right.  If a majority of Supreme Court Justices is not the same as society, then what weight should the Supreme Court give to society's judgments on matters of morals?  What is left hanging is the next question I posed.  If society has the right to use the weapon of law to enforce its judgments on matters of morality, ought it to use that right in all cases or only in some, and if only in some, on what principles should it distinguish?

Justice Scalia, in his dissenting opinion, wrote that "[T]he Court's response today, to those who have engaged in a 17-year crusade to overrule Bowers v. Hardwick, . . . is very different.  The need for stability and certainty presents no barrier."  He continued that while he did not believe in rigid adherence to stare decisis [the doctrine of following precedent] in constitutional cases; but that he did believe that the Court should be consistent, "rather than manipulative in invoking the doctrine." Speaking of the controversy surrounding Roe v. Wade permitting abortion, Justice Scalia quoting Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, wrote, "Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt."  The decision here in Obergefell v. Hodges is very different from that expression is Planned Parenthood.

Notwithstanding the majority's opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Scalia wrote without rebuttal that "[C]ountless judicial decisions and legislative enactments have relied on the ancient proposition that a governing majority's believe that certain sexual behavior is 'immoral and unacceptable' constitutes a rational basis for regulation."  Moreover, "State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bower's validation of laws based on moral choices."  "What a massive disruption of the current social order, therefore, the overruling of Bowers entails."  However, Justice Scalia did observe that nothing in the Lawrence decision implicated a "fundamental right" under the Due Process Clause.

Addressing then Justice O'Connor's concurring opinion, Justice Scalia wrote:
The cases she cites do not recognize such a standard [a more searching form of rational basis review], and they reach their conclusions only after finding, as required by the conventional rational-basis analysis, that no conceivable legitimate state interest supports the classification of the issue.  . . .  Justice O'Connor seeks to preserve them by the conclusory statement that "preserving the traditional institution of marriage" is a legitimate state interest.  But, "preserving the traditional institution of marriage" is just a kinder way of describing the State's moral disapproval of same-sex couples.  [emphasis in the original]
As Justice Scalia wrote in Lawrence v. Texas, it is clear that the Supreme Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role as of assuring, as neutral observer, that democratic rules of engagement are observed.   Further,
This case "does not involve" the issue of homosexual marriage only if one entertains the belief that principle and logic have nothing to do with decisions of this Court.
But, as Justice Scalia wrote, Justice Kennedy was not finished with the issue.  Thus, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) holding that it was unconstitutional, impermissibly depriving persons of equal liberty under the Fourteenth Amendment.

There are several things in United States v. Windsor, that are interesting in what Justice Kennedy wrote there and that are important for this discussion of Obergefell.  First, he wrote that the President's refusal to defend DOMA presented a procedural dilemma and represented the President's determination regarding the constitutionality of DOMA.  This is somewhat encouraging, because it suggests that the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution might not be the only interpretation.  Secondly, he discussed the evolution of thought regarding marriage, noting that it was only in recent years that "many citizens had even considered the possibility that two persons of the same sex might aspire to occupy the same status and dignity as that of a man and woman in lawful marriage [emphasis added]."  Third, he recognized that DOMA "expressed 'both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (Judeo-Christian) morality."

As I thought of this, and the series of decisions culminating in Obergefell v. Hodges, and particularly Justice Kennedy's role in shaping what has been taken as this newly discovered law regarding marriage, I thought back to my friend, Professor Ronald Dworkin, and his book, Law's Empire.

Briefly stated, Professor Dworkin, argued in a series of books extending some 25 years, that there is inevitably a moral dimension to an action at law, and so also a standing risk of a distinct form of judicial injustice.  Whereas positivist might claim that there can be no "right" answers to legal controversies, only "different" answers, Dworkin insisted that there were, indeed, right answers, and that the controversy about whether there were "right" answers or not, was really about "morality," not metaphysics, and that the "no right answer" thesis, understood as a moral claim, is deeply unpersuasive in morality as well as in law.

While Professor Dworkin and I often disagreed about some of these moral dimensions in our discussions, especially with regard to some of the more controversial moral questions, I think that he was absolutely correct when he argued that lawsuits always involve issues of morality and fidelity.   We think we know what morality is, but "fidelity" in this context is a bit different.  According to Dworkin, fidelity raises the questions of how the community's law differs from its popular morality or traditional values, and how it differs from what true justice requires of any state, no matter the popular convictions or traditional values.  It is when the courts veer from morality and values that were for the most part settled in a community or nation, that questions of fidelity arise.  These judicial judgments, or legislation or regulatory requirement become debated and controversial and a community or nation become unsettled with regard to its own identity and direction.

I think that the Chief Justice, in his dissent is right in this regard, when he wrote:
But this [the majority's] approach [to due process] is dangerous for the rule of law.  The purpose of insisting that fundamental rights have roots in the history and tradition of our people is to ensure that when unelected judges strike down democratically enacted laws, they do so based on something more than their own beliefs.
I think that this is what the late Professor Dworkin was addressing in his book, Law's Empire, when he spoke of fidelity.

Something that I think is worth noting was Justice Kennedy in his opinion in United States v. Windsor, expressly recognized the fact that there are over 1000 federal laws in which marital or spousal status is addressed.  What courts cannot do and what the democratic process at least allows to some extent is some considered evaluation of the impact on these laws resulting from decisions, such as the instant decision, regarding the definition of marriage.

Indeed, there is a tendency for the Court to take broader policy positions than are required by Article III of the Constitution which limits the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and inferior courts to justiciable "cases" and "controversies."  I see no general warrant in the U.S. Constitution for the Supreme Court or lower federal courts to speak ex cathedra on all matters social, economic, political, policy, and moral when those matters are being debated within society. When it does so, it seems to me to violate the separation of powers, both horizontally, that is, between the three branches of government, and vertically, that is, between the central federal government and the states.

One legal scholar has written that Justice Kennedy is the first "gay" justice on the Supreme Court just as President Clinton was described as the first black president.  I am not prepared to judge, nor could I judge Justice Kennedy's biases in favor of same-sex relationships notwithstanding the language he has used in these decisions.  My sense is that he is probably more libertarian in his views regarding sexual matters and marriage than favorable to same-sex intimacy and marriage, and although his view of the "due process clause," does not appear to be well reasoned, and his views with regard to "equal protection of the laws," are unclear, they must be quite broad to recognize same-sex intimacy and marriage, while perhaps denying "equal rights under the law" to other classes of individuals.

But there is also language in the these decisions, and especially Obergefell v. Hodges, which is troubling.  Justice Kennedy appeared to breezily dismiss concerns about religious freedom.  Although he did acknowledge the existence of religious freedom under the First Amendment, he really short-circuited what was recognized in the First Amendment saying that neither those who oppose same-sex marriage on the basis of religious beliefs are disparaged in his opinion.  Indeed, as I quoted above from his opinion, "those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned."  Further, he states that they may continue to teach the principles that are so fulfilling to them, protected by the First Amendment.  Again, this reminds me of Genesis 3, when the serpent misquoted God, thereby denying the substance of His command.

Of course, we know that the First Amendment grants freedom from State establishment of religion and prohibiting the free exercise thereof.  Perhaps it is the limiting language of Justice Kennedy that caused such a response by the dissenting justices and confusion on the part of much of the public.

Which brings me to another characteristic of postmodernity.  While postmodernity with its stress on privatization, one of its benefits is that it provides the opportunity for individual freedom, freedom to buy more, to travel more, and freedom from constraints of community tradition and other people.

One question humanity always faces is one of sovereignty and authority.  We are either under authority, both as individuals and as a people, or we are not.  And I do not believe that the last option is humanly possible.  What the majority suggests in this line of cases, is that the individual is sovereign, at least with regard to sexual matters and marriage.  That is what Justice Kennedy speaks of when he talks about autonomy.  And if we as individuals are sovereign and autonomous, then how can we be a people under law?

But, privatization is also limiting.  For example, in areas of religion, modern society allows freedom of religion, but only so long as it is confined to private and personal preference, family, and private association. This sets up a sort of harmless spiritual reservation established by the architects of secular apartheid.

But as the Chief Justice wrote in dissent,
     In sum, the privacy cases [cited by the majority] provide no support for the majority's position, because the petitioners do not seek privacy.  Quite the opposite, they seek public recognition of their relationships, along with corresponding government benefits.
A second trend in postmodernity is pluralization, or the process whereby the number of options in private sphere radically multiplies at all levels, especially with regard to worldviews, faiths, and ideologies.  This may be beneficial for the variety and richness of life and life experiences it brings to society, an openness to people of different traditions and life experiences with the opportunity to examine one's own presuppositions and ideas.

However, with the increase in choice and change, and modern question marks, there is almost an automatic decrease in commitment, continuity, and conviction in relationships, ideas, worldviews, and faiths.

As stated by the Chief Justice, "Expanding a right [to same-sex marriage] suddenly and dramatically is likely to require tearing it up from its roots."

He ended saying:
Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner.  Celebrate the availability of new benefits.  But do not celebrate the Constitution.  It had nothing to do with it.

What the Chief Justice does not say is that we are celebrating what has traditionally been regarded as "sin" in all monotheistic religions, and indeed, in many faiths, in this country and around the world for many millennia.

Which now leads me to one more aspect of modernity and postmodernity.

What does this have to do with civil society, and how it is organized, recognized, and function in a given community or nation?  During the oral argument in Obergefell v. Hodges, the issue of tax exempt status of churches and religious based organizations arose as a result of some questions posed by one of the justices.  See: http://rvanbroekhoven.blogspot.com/2009/11/government-civil-society-charity-and.html

But, it goes beyond that.  This puts at risk the religious rights of professional counselors, other professionals, school teachers, parents of children in public schools, government officials such as county clerks, and wedding services providers.  Something we have already seen even before the Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell v. Hodge.

It may not affect the rights of ministers of all faiths to perform marriages in accordance with their own faith commitment regarding traditional marriage, at least not now, but it could threaten a church's tax exempt status as admitted by the Solicitor General, the housing policies of religious schools, colleges and universities, the accreditation of such schools, the employment policies of churches, religious schools, and organizations, government contracts and the ability to provide social services within a community.

The discussion regarding the implications of these decisions to civil society will continue in the next post and what should be done about it.



Monday, July 13, 2015

What Difference Does It Make? Do Words, Facts, History, Truth, Law, or Morals Matter?

It has been a year since I posted anything here.  Perhaps I really did not have that much to say.  But, now I think I do on a matter of great importance, it seems.  I realize that what I write here and in the next post is particularly pertinent to the United States, but I also think some of the general themes and implications have broader, international implications for civil society generally, and should be of interest.  Perhaps, many around the world are already dealing with some of these issues and those in the U.S. are just now facing what others have faced for years.

One of the characteristics of today's society, is a certain skepticism about a lot of things of importance.

Yet, at the same time, something of an expression of frustration when strongly held positions are really not subject to rational discussion.  It is a little like the response we frequently hear to a question or statement: "whatever?" Indeed, I don't think that it is a question at all that is meant to pursue a line of questioning or inquiry.

The response, "What difference at this point does it make?" given at a U.S. Congressional hearing expressed not only the sentiment about the specific matter in inquiry, in that case, what happened that led to the deaths of an American Ambassador and three others in Benghazi, Libya on 11 September 2012, but a frustrated attempt to cut off any discussion about what happened on that night.

The question does not simply arise out of the Congressional hearings regarding the attack on the American compound at Benghazi, but it seems to me to address something that has been going on for a while, and most recently in a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  While the King v. Burwell decision relating to certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, and Obergefell v. Hodges relating to the question of whether same-sex marriage is a Constitutionally protected right, the cultural and legal situation present in the United States, and no doubt elsewhere, raise questions about the place of words, facts, truth, history, law, and morality in cultural discourse and whether they have any importance in communications generally.

The question I have here is how this can affect the third sector, its integrity and transparency, its fundraising communication, its accountability, and, indeed its role in society, if there is such a role anymore, except as limited by government fiat or restrictions.

This reminded me of the first question recorded in human history.  Perhaps you remember it. Recorded in Bible, Genesis 3:1, we have the story of the crafty serpent coming to the woman and asking: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'!" misquoting what God really said: "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die."  This first question in the Bible seems innocent enough.  It seems to require a simple answer, and then we move on.  Any question, like this one, claims our attention to a particular feature of our world.

First, there is here the implicit attack on the character of God.  Indeed, many of our questions really do little more than attack the character of the person with whom we are speaking, and we not really seeking a responsive answer. But, also, there is a difference between asking a question, and questioning, that is, engaging in an exploration or dialogue.

This was brought home to me in a recent book by Matthew Lee Anderson, The End of Our Exploring."  Learning to question well is of vital importance, both with regard to being a part of a conversation that will not be shut down before the exchange of information, and for being open to wherever the conversation leads us to understand the world around us, or to understand what is going on, whether within the government, as was the case in the Congressional hearing, or into any inquiry regarding transparency and accountability of a charitable organization.

As Matthew Lee Anderson, wrote the goal of good questioning is truth.  "Unless [we] have some interest in the answer, some fundamental concern about the result, we would hardly say that they have begun 'questioning.'  Those who question (rather than merely ask questions) have something wrapped up in their pursuit, such as the meaning of their lives will be altered depending on what they see (or fail to see)."

So, where do questions come from?  Why should we search out the world if we did not think that we would find something better for us, or better than what we think we know?  The love of goodness and desire for truth precede our knowledge and stands beneath and within all of our exploring.  Questions bubble up from our communities and the challenges we face as we try to live well within them. These inquiries reveal what we make of ourselves, of the convictions we take for granted, and of our commitments, for as expressions of loves, they signify we we most care about

Good questioning cultivates an openness to the world, and the matter at the center of the discussion, and a willingness to consider things with the hope that the questioner might learn something.  The inquiries don't stay on the surface.  Rather, they explore the why and the how to discern the fundamental shape of things.  But, they are more than that.

I have spent the better part of 45 years in a courtroom, either as a trial lawyer or as a judge.  Lawyers questions are seldom neutral.  Lawyers and legal teams have an objective and their questions or examinations are worded accordingly.  Judges' questions may be a little different.  But both come from somewhere and take us somewhere. They slant our perspective in particular directions and make some answers or responses more plausible than others.

We are not left without models of good questioning.  For example, engaging in dialogue through the art of questioning explores issues of logical consistencies or inconsistencies, personal bias and reasons for such biases, what cultural pressures exist that inform opinions of those engaged in the dialogue, what values are important,

The questions, or questioning, posed during the hearing on the Benghazi facility attack were attempts to get to the truth of the situation in Benghazi, whereas, it seems that the response to this hearing, "What difference does it make?" was meant to shut down the inquiry or the conversation.  It was like the question quoted above from Genesis 3:1.  But, it was also an attack against the U.S. Senate Committee and the character of the Committee members engaged in the inquiry regarding the violence and death at Benghazi.

I thought of this during some of the discussion regarding the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell.   The issue before the U.S. Supreme Court was whether tax credits authorized under the Affordable Care Act, which were to serve as subsidies to lower insurance premiums, were available to those enrolled in the Affordable Care Act health care system whether under Exchanges established and run by the States as the statute plainly says in seven places, or also through federal Exchanges.  So the issue before the Court was whether the premium assistance or tax credit was available to someone who buys insurance on an Exchange established by the Secretary of Health and Human Services notwithstanding the language in the statute that "each state shall establish an American Health Benefit Exchange . . . for the State"  If the State chose not to establish such an online exchange or marketplace for the purchase of health insurance, the Act provided that the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall establish and operate within such a state such an exchange."  The Act then provided that a tax credit was available to an enrollee in an insurance plan through "an Exchange established by the State under [an specified section of the Act]."

Aa it turned out, only 16 states and the District of Columbia established their own Exchanges, and the remaining 34 elected not to establish exchanges, thereby leading to the establishment of Exchanges for those states by the Secretary of Health and Human Resources.   Notwithstanding the language in the Act, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the same agency which provides nonprofit certification, promulgated a rule which made the tax credits available to enrollees on both State and Federal Exchanges.  The procedural history is a bit complicated, but suffice to say that the U.S. Supreme Court stated that "If the statutory language is plain, we must enforce it according to its terms." While the plain meaning rule would interpret this language exactly as it was written, the Court held that oftentimes the meaning or ambiguity of certain words may only become evident when placed in a context, suggesting here that "the Act may not always use the phrase 'established by the State' in its most natural sense."

What the Chief Justice, writing for the majority, said was that the words, "an Exchange established by the State" really meant was "all Exchanges established by the State or the [U.S.] Secretary of Health and Human Services."  According to the majority, the words "an Exchange established by the State" were ambiguous.  Perhaps these words were ambiguous because six members on the Court interpreted them one way while three members of the Court, and 34 States interpreted them another way, i.e., based on their plain meaning.

While it is clear that context does play a major role in the interpretation of statutes such as the Affordable Care Act, and instruments, such as contract.  As the dissent opined, "context is a tool for understanding the terms of a law, not an excuse for rewriting it."  Much of the analysis of the majority dealt with the overall policy objectives of the law and the danger of the so-called "economic death spiral" where "premiums rose higher and higher, the number of people buying insurance sank lower and lower, and insurers began to leave the market entirely."   It appeared that the words in the statute did not have their plain meaning, either in the words themselves, or the immediate context in which they were used (particularly within the specific statutory sections in which they were located), rather that for some reason, the Chief Justice writing for the majority was seeking to save the Act from such a disastrous result.

We might reasonably ask "Why?"


We have been reminded since Thursday, 25 June 2015, when the Court announced its decision in King v. Burwell, that the Chief Justice similarly in an earlier case,  National Federation of Independent Business v. Sibelius, seemingly rewrote the same statute to save it from a constitutional challenge.  There, the challenge was that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution did not permit the federal government to mandate everyone to buy insurance or face a penalty for failure to do so.  Although that challenge prevailed, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Affordable Care Act on the basis that the  word "mandate and penalty " did not really mean "penalty," rather it meant "tax," notwithstanding the fact that this "tax" did not originate in the House of Representatives as required by the Constitution, Article 1, Section 7, Clause 1.

But, the Court was not done with interpreting language that seemed plain to many.  The U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 4, Clause 1, provides:

The Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof, but Congress may at any time make or alter the Regulations, except as to the Places of Chusing Senators.

Four days after its decision in King v. Burwell, i.e., 29 June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission.  Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority (5 to 4), said that the word, "Legislature," in Article 1, Section 4 did nor really mean "Legislature"as argued by the State Legislature, rather it "simply meant "the power to make laws" and that this included "independent commissions," which had their legislative authority over redistricting of Congressional districts.  According to the Court, the Clause quoted above was "intended to act as a safeguard against the manipulation of electoral rules by politicians and factions within the States to entrench themselves or place their interests over those of the electorate."  Indeed, the majority held that this history and purpose of the Elections Clause weighed "heavily against such a preclusion [i.e., the power of the people of Arizona to create a commission operating independently of the State Legislature], as does the animating principle of our Constitution that the people themselves are the originating source of all powers of government."

The Arizona Legislature, sued the independent commission arguing that the word, "Legislature" in Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, meant specifically and only the representative body which makes the laws of the people.  Accordingly, the State Legislature argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the above quoted Elections Clause precluded resort to an independent commission created by an initiative to accomplish redistricting.  The independent commission argued that the Elections Clause did not confine the word, "Legislature," to elected representatives, rather the term encompassed all legislative authority conferred by the State Constitution.  Apparently, "Legislature" does not really mean "Legislature," rather is refers to the authority of making laws or power which makes them, namely, the people themselves which are the originating sources of all powers of government.

Chief Justice Roberts writing for the dissent, discussed that the 17th Amendment transferred power to choose United States Senators from the "Legislature" of each State, to the people thereof.  His dissent, dated the just four days after his majority opinion in King v. Burwell, took the majority to task for interpreting the word, "Legislature," as it had, rather than following the plain meaning of the word. Recounting the history of the "arduous, decades-long campaign in which reformers across the country worked hard to garner approval from Congress and three-quarters of the States," the Chief Justice noted that "Didn't they realize that all they had to to was interpret the term "the Legislature" to mean "people?"  He then simply notes: "What chumps!"

Part of my interest over the years, and especially when dealing with the operations of nonprofit organizations and monitoring against certain prescribed Standards, has been in language. Specifically, that we have become careless about language. Language is the means whereby our rationality and relationality are enabled simultaneously.  These are the attributes that distinguish us as human beings. Language is the means by which we know and name things and we know each other by sharing what we know.

Amazingly, just three days earlier, on 26 June 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.  Many of the issues raised in Obergefell v. Hodges will be discussed in the following post.  However, one point should be made when we think about language and definitions.

What was curious was that Justice Kennedy writing for the majority, did not address the definitional
issues surrounding the word, "marriage," although he did admit that the centrality of marriage had existed for millennia and across civilizations. Ignoring the long-held definition of marriage and how that definition was understood through the millennia and across civilizations, he attempted to propound the idea that same-sex individuals had the same right to marry just as those of the opposite sex.

The Chief Justice, dissenting with three other justices, was not so eager to go along with this, writing that "The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage."  Further, "The real question in these cases is what constitutes 'marriage,' or - more precisely - who decides what constitutes 'marriage.'"  Or, "As the majority acknowledges, marriage 'has existed for millennia and across civilizations."  But, that "For all those millennia, across all those civilizations, 'marriage' referred only to one relationship: the union of a man and a woman."  The Chief Justice continues on this theme about the matter of words and the definition of marriage as clearly understood throughout the millennia of human history.   For example, Chief Justice Roberts wrote on page 2 of his dissenting opinion

     This universal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is no historical coincidence.  Marriage did not come about as a result of a political movement, discovery, disease, war, religious doctrine, or any other moving force of world history - and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians.

What is interesting, and consistent with the Chief Justice's description of "marriage" is that the definition he provides in his dissent is consistent with the definitions I found in every dictionary, both abridged and unabridged.  The one possible exception is one of the recents editions of Black's Law Dictionary (Ninth Edition, 2009).  The word, "marriage" is defined in various contexts over more than three pages, all of which are ambiguous with regard to whether the word "marriage" includes heterosexual unions of one man and one woman, or same-sex unions.  The only place it is clear is in the definition of "same-sex marriage."  According to this definition. it is "the ceremonial union of two people of the same sex; a marriage-like relationship between two women or two men." As of the date of this dictionary, according to this definition, the United State government and most States did not recognize same-sex marriages, even if legally contracted in other countries such as Canada.

Professor E. D. Hirsch, Jr. wrote two helpful books on interpretation: Validity of Interpretation and The Aims of Interpretation.  In these, Hirsch argues differences between how professions interpret documents, such as lawyers, literary scholars, or Biblical scholars, are based on methods within the professions that rely on a wider range of immediate relevant knowledge.  However, the determination of general principles is properly the concern of general hermeneutics.  The problem, as Hirsch sees it, is that the conception of valid interpretation has come to be regarded with profound skepticism.  At stake is the right of any discipline to claim genuine knowledge.

The practical goal of every discipline, according to Hirsch, is consensus - the winning of firmly grounded agreement that one set of conclusions is more probable than others - and that is precisely the goal of valid interpretation.  Our task of interpretation has been made difficult by the assault of the past eight or more decades on the sensible belief that a text means what an author meant, and perhaps more importantly, what the words used actually and objectively mean.  Interpretation includes both functions whenever it answers the questions: "What does the text mean?" and "What use or value does it have?" In other words, meaning embraces every aspect of representation, including wording and that which serves as a unit of speech distinctive in a particular language.  Significance, is the meaning as it relates to something else.  Meaning is a principle of stability, and provides for, and limits the range of perspectives or interpretations available to determining if the text is meaningful.

The argument over the last century is that the meaning of a text changes from age to age and from reader to reader.  If such a theory of semantic mutability were true, then it would legitimately banish the author's meaning as the normative principle.  The same would hold true for words that have had established meaning and significance throughout an extended period of history.

According to Wittgenstein, "mind reading is not the duty of the interpreter, who is obliged to understand only those meanings which the public norms of language permit."  The norms of language refer to the principle of sharability.


What we have seen in society over the years has been the attempt to co-opt certain words that throughout history have had clear historical meanings and significance, and use them for something completely different.

Part of my interest over the years, and especially when dealing with the operations of nonprofit organizations and monitoring against certain prescribed Standards, has been in language. Specifically, that we have become careless about language.  Language is the means whereby our rationality and relationality are enabled simultaneously.  These are the attributes that distinguish us as human beings.  Language is the means by which we know and name things and we know each other by sharing what we know.

German philosopher, Josef Pieper, observed that words first convey reality, that is, that something is
real, and then these words identify that reality for someone else.  Secondly, words denote the interpersonal nature of human speech.  Since language sustains our engagement with reality and with one another, when words become corrupted, human existence itself will not remain unaffected.

George Orwell, picks up this theme in his novel, 1984, where he argued the central importance of language to human thought was that it structures and limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating and expressing.

If control of language is centralized in a political agency, Orwell argued, this could alter the very structure of language to make it impossible to conceive of disobedience or rebellious thought because there would be no words with which to think them.  However, it is not just disobedience or rebellious thought that is affected.  Where words have no reliable and sustained meaning, where there is no stability in language and words used to convey any thoughts, then there would cease to be words with which to think such things.

We are not simply talking about the evolution of "marriage" thought, as suggested by Justice Kennedy. What we are really addressing is the very corruption of language that makes it impossible to think about marriage in any reasonable terms.  This is why there are all these claims of marriage relating not only to same-sex coupling, but also to plural and incestuous marriage claims.  The lawsuits are just beginning, and the Supreme Court has opened up the gates of confusion and litigation, and probably heartbreak, with its corruption of the language.

For our immediate purpose, words such as, "trust," "truth," "integrity," "accountability," "justice," "equality," "equal opportunity," "fairness" "corruption" "gender," and "gay," for example, may have several meanings, often in conflict with each other.  And now, marriage!

Conventions of language can sponsor different meanings from the same sequence of words, and interpreters can and do disagree.  But, when there are disagreements. how are they to be resolved? One interpretation may be as valid as another,  so long as it is "sensitive" or "plausible," in reading a text or in common use throughout society.  Moreover, although verbal meaning requires the determining will of the author or interpreter (here the Supreme Court), it is true that the norms of language exert powerful influence and impose an unavoidable limitation on the wills of both author and interpreter. From Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Alice is right to say that Humpty Dumpty cannot successfully make words mean anything he wants them to mean.  Yet, this is just what Justice Kennedy and the majority in Obergefell v. Hodges did.

Lastly, in this regard, Justice Scalia, writing separately in dissent said: "The world does not expect logic and precision in poetry or inspirational philosophy; it demands them in law.  The stuff contained in today's opinion has to diminish this Court's reputation for clear thinking and sober analysis."

But, is any of this really a surprise?  In response to the cold logic of the Enlightenment, there arose a movement known as Existentialism.  Soren Kierkegaard insisted on the irreducibility of the subjective, the personal dimension of human experience and life, particularly with regard to the aspiration to "become an individual."  Martin Heidegger maintained that the answer to the question of being is to be found by a line of inquiry which begins with an inquiry into the existential constitution of human life which one discovers from an explanation of our actions.

Whereas some thinkers, such as Jurgen Habermas, referred to the period known as postmodernity as the state or condition of society which was said to exist after modernity, it also marked the end of modernity.  Jean-Francois Lyotard understood modernity as a cultural change characterized by constant change in the pursuit of progress, whereas postmodernity represented the culmination of that process.

The period, basically since the 1950s (although that is subject to debate) has been viewed as "anti-ideological," associated with various movements, such as, the feminist movement, racial equality movement, gay rights movement and in the late 20th century, some forms of anarchism and anti-globalism.  While none of these reflect all of these ideas, they borrow from them.  Doubt is a pervasive feature of modern critical reason, permeating into everyday life as well as philosophical consciousness. It forms the general existential dimension of the contemporary social world by institutionalizing the principle of radical doubt and insisting that all knowledge take the form of hypothesis.

Claims which may be true are in principle open to revision and may have to be abandoned at some point. Systems of accumulated expertise represent multiple sources of authority, frequently internally contested and divergent in their implications.  Notions of trust are particularly at risk.  Relationships exist sole for whatever rewards the relationship as such can deliver.  Trust can no longer be anchored in criteria outside the relationship itself, such as kinship, social duty, or traditional obligation.

Deconstructionism simply carries the project forward with its critical analysis of texts emphasizing inquiry into the variable projections of meaning and the message of the work.  Jacques Derrida in his Of Grammatology, influenced the theoretical enterprises in the humanities and social sciences, such as law, anthropology, historiography, linguistics, psychoanalysis, political theory, feminism, and gay and lesbian studies.  From the moments that there is meaning, there are nothing but signs; we think only in signs, and words have meaning only because of the contrast-effects with other words. Derrida argued that to be effective, deconstruction needs to create new terms, not simply to synthesize the concepts in opposition, but to mark their difference and eternal interplay.

Is it any surprise that "Exchanges established by the States" can mean "Exchanges established by the States and Secretary of Health and Human Services?"  Is it any doubt that the word, "Legislature" in Article 1, Section 4, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution does not really mean that?  That it actually means "the people" who have the power to make laws because of "some animating principle in the Constitution.

And how about the word, "marriage?"  Does it surprise anyone that this word, after many millennia across all civilizations, no longer refers to the unit of a man and a woman, the basic bedrock of society?



What does this have to do with civil society, how it functions in a larger society, how it communicates its mission, purpose, and programs, and how it submits to standards or norms of integrity and accountability?  If words do not have objective meanings, then how do we communicate rationally and relationally, and indeed, how do we even think about what  we are about?

Or in the words of Secretary Hillary Clinton, "What difference does it make?"  What difference does it make if we can no longer communicate or think about matters such as trust, truth, integrity, accountability, justice, equality, equal opportunity, fairness, corruption, gender (now that according the FaceBook, there are 58 gender classifications), or gay?  How do we establish Standards of governance, integrity, accountability, and truthfulness in communications if we have no idea what those words mean and how they apply to civil society organizations?  And, if we are unclear about Standards, because words are simply symbols with no objective meaning, how do monitoring bodies, government or independent/self-monitoring organizations, perform their obligations to the public and to civil society organizations being monitored?

Maybe like the Reformers of old, we are all Chumps!







Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Anniversaries Help Us Remember



I, the Lord of sea and sky.
I have heard My people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin,
My hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear My light to them?
Whom shall I send?

I, the Lord of snow and rain.
I have borne my people's pain.
I have wept for love of them, They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts of love alone.
I will speak My word to them,
Whom shall I send?



I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them,
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide,
Till their hearts are satisfied,
I will give my live for them.
Whom shall I send.




Tuesday, April 8, 2014

World Vision: A Question of Identity and of Calling



The events of last week regarding World Vision's change in employment policy and then its subsequent retraction, reminded me of a meeting I had a number of
years ago in China.  With the buzz of news, blogs, and Tweets, immediately following the announcements by World Vision, U.S., I decided to think a little more reflectively on what this all meant, and why.

The announcement came as a surprise to many, myself included, and was viewed immediately as controversial, either as a welcomed or unwelcomed change to this great humanitarian organization.

According to the initial announcement, World Vision's American branch would no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.  As reported in Christianity Today online, "Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule." But the policy change announced on Monday, 24 March 2014, will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed by World Vision.

In an exclusive interview with Christianity Today, my friend, Rich Stearns, the President of World Vision U.S., explained the rationale for this change.  He asserted that it was a very narrow change and should be viewed by others as "symbolic not compromise but of Christian unity."  World Vision U.S., hoped to dodge the division tearing churches apart over same-sex relationships by holding to its long-held philosophy of parachurches deferring to churches and denominations on theological issues so that it could focus on uniting Christians around the world serving the poor.

This has gotten me thinking about identity and calling.  When we think of identity, we think of the fact or state of being the same one as described.  Or maybe we think of it as the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in character and personality over time.  In terms of logic, identity refers to the assertion that two terms refer to the same thing.  All of this carries the sense of individuality, personality, uniqueness, and distinctiveness.

"Calling" raises a slightly different idea.  The idea of calling is a religious term, but it is more than that.  Os Guinness in his well-known book, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, states that "At some point every one of us confronts the question: How do I find and fulfill the central purpose of my life?"  He writes how in "an early draft of Fyodor Dostoevsky's, The Brothers Karamazov, the Inquisitor gives a terrifying account of what happens to the human soul when it doubts its purpose: 'For the secret of man's being is not only to live . . . but to live for something definite.  Without a firm notion of what he is living for, man will not accept life and will rather destroy himself than remain on earth . . .  .'"  It seems to me that this can also apply to organizations.

Call it the greatest good (summum bonum), the ultimate end, the meaning of life, or whatever you choose.  But finding and fulfilling the purpose of life comes up in a myriad of ways and in all seasons of our lives.

But, it is not just a personal thing.  As The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (Unabridged) puts it: a call is a summons to a profession, vocation, or trade.  So, as Os Guinness argues in his book, this purpose for life can be found only when we discover the specific purpose for which we were created and to which we are called.

The reaction to this change in one of the world's largest humanitarian organizations was swift, and largely critical.  But, it is not simply a large humanitarian organization.  Since World Vision has long been regarded as a premier Evangelical organization, it is not difficult to guess the lines of divisions among those critical of the change or supportive of the change.

However, on 26 March 2014, just two days later, World Vision reversed this decision.   In a letter posted to the World View constituency and media, Rich Stearns announced that the U.S. Board had just publicly reversed its decision to change their national employment conduct policy:

 Dear Friends,
Today the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its decision to change our national employment conduct policy.  The board acknowledged that they [sic] made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness with the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. 
We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction.  You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and humbly ask for your forgiveness.
In our board's effort to unite around the church's shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with the World Vision U.S.'s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, "We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible authoritative Word of God."  And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our Christian partners.  As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.
We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.  We ask that you understand that this was never the board's intent.  We are asking for your continued support.  We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.
While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created in God's image and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.
Please know that World Vision continues to serve all people in our ministry around the world.  We pray that you will continue to join with us in our mission to be "an international partnership of Christians whose mission is the follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God." 
As I read both the initial announcement, and rationale, for the change to the employment conduct policy, and now its retraction or reversal, several things have come to my mind that I believe must apply to all charitable organizations. These are things that have been at the forefront of my thinking over the past 40 years of experience in the third sector, and particularly, as a member of a number of boards.

At the same time, I feel a little sadness that many may view both the initial announcement, and this immediate reversal of its earlier announcement following a firestorm of criticism, as a concern for its effect on its fundraising, child sponsorship, and trust within the Christian community that has supported World Vision since its founding.  What seems to be missing throughout this entire situation is any clear understanding that marriage is pre-political, notwithstanding the affirmation of the Biblical teaching and World Vision's statement of the creation narrative.

But, first this.  I had the privilege of meeting with the senior leadership of China's Ministry of Civil Affairs, Department of Social Welfare and Charity
Promotion.  The Deputy General Director of the Department posed an interesting question in the course of our discussion.

The question was this: Are standards of Integrity and Transparency established by each country or culture, or are they more permanent?

The context was our discussion about the nature of integrity, transparency, and accountability within the nongovernmental civil society, or third sector, and the role of charity monitoring of that sector.  The question was really whether there are eternal truths, external to our space and time, that establish standards of integrity against which charitable organizations should be monitored, or whether these standards are established locally based on the history, culture, and traditions of a particular country.  Of course, a key underlying thought to that question was who was to monitor this activity and against what standards.

About 18 months later during a public lecture at Shantou, University, Shantou, Guangdong Province, one of the advanced students asked an interesting question.  China, http://www.rvanbroekhoven.blogspot.com/2013/02/global-trends-in-civil-society.html  This was the question:  Are there differences between the way Americans are engaged in charity with their history and tradition of Christianity, and the way the Chinese are engaged in charity without that tradition?  Again, an interesting and somewhat provocative question in an audience filled with people, students, faculty, and citizens of the local metropolitan area, where I had no knowledge of the backgrounds of those attending.

I was reminded of these questions when I heard of the World Vision change in its employment policy which was then reversed within two days.

There is something that often happens in any organizations, but for our purposes, in nonprofit organizations that make up our civil society.  We simply forget our identity and why we were established in the first place.  In other words, we forget who and what we are, and to what we were called to be and do. And we forget by Whose authority and Whose standards our identity and our calling are forged.  Thus, the relevance of the questions posed to me in Beijing and in Shantou.

Any concept of accountability must, it seems to me, include some standards against which compliance and accountability are to be determined.  But, that still does not solve the problem.  The law, may in its own way, set forth standards applicable to how a nonprofit organization must be organized and operated.  Some of these may have moral content or be based on some standards of morality, while other laws might simply reflect certain administrative or ministerial requirements that do not invoke some profound moral standard.  As a result, many laws are country specific, and reflect the history, culture, and traditions of that country.

Similarly, organizations may have their own standards of integrity and morality, as well as reflecting the organization's values and culture.  To the extent that they embody some principle of integrity or morality, the question often is raised about the source of those principles of integrity or morality.

Rules or standards of etiquette, on the other hand, are generally culturally and traditionally specific to a place and time.  They simply involve manners, and for the most part, carry no particular moral standards.

The problem becomes more difficult when we talk about morality.  It is important to distinguish morality and values.  They are not the same although the terms are frequently used interchangeably without much thought.  If there are no first principles, however general, that may be expressed to convey moral content, then it seems that any real discourse about what is right or what is wrong, what is moral or what is immoral, what is good, or what is bad, is basically impossible.  There must be some set standards against which all arguments concerning standards are discussed and evaluated.  This does not mean that there cannot be interpretive differences or differences in their application.

So much of the issues that gave rise to the confusion over the changed employment conduct policy of World Vision U.S. and its subsequent reversal is related to that difficulty we have in talking about these kinds of issues without some clear and permanent baseline against which our discussions are conducted. And it is this which leads me to the questions of identity and calling.

I recall when Bob Pierce, an American pastor, founded World Vision in the 1950s preaching and making movies to raise awareness about poverty in Asia. Bob Pierce set about as simply one man trying to help one child in one country with $5.00, and began the child sponsorship program in 1953, caring directly for children in orphanages.  In the late 1960s, the child sponsorship program spread to more countries in Asia and South Central Asia.

From those earlier years, World Vision was always thought to be within what was considered to be the core of evangelicalism, and I make this comment theologically rather than politically as the term is so often thought of today. That was its identity, but it was also its calling.

I also remember when the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) was founded, World Vision was one of the founding members, and perhaps without that early leadership of Stan Mooneyham and Ted Engstrom, both previous presidents of World Vision of World Vision International, ECFA may never have gotten off the ground as a standard-setting and accrediting body for evangelical organizations.  It was Stan Mooneyham and Ted Engstrom, working with Billy Graham and other senior leaders of American evangelicalism that led to the formation of ECFA.

From its founding, ECFA has been distinctive in its vision of being Evangelical, that is, centered on the tenets of orthodox Biblical Christianity, and promoting integrity in the Evangelical nonprofit sector in the United States.  Indeed, the ECFA mission statement is: Enhancing Trust in Christ-Centered Churches and Ministries.

In this respect, ECFA Standard 1 provides:

Every Organization shall subscribe to a written statement of faith clearly affirming a commitment to the evangelical Christian faith, or shall otherwise demonstrate such commitment and shall operate in accordance with biblical truths and practices.
In an age in which words are twisted and used for purposes other than their original meaning, it is important to recognize that what is expressed in this ECFA Standard 1 is not a statement of political or popular understanding of what evangelicalism is and what evangelicals are.  Rather, it expresses the theological understanding of that term as generally described in the ECFA's doctrinal statement of faith, which is set forth as part of that Standard.

In essence, ECFA affirms a number essential elements undergirding the evangelical Christian faith. For my purpose here, I only identify three.  First, a believe in the Bible to be the inspired and only infallible, authoritative word of God.  Second, the belief in the Trinity of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. eternally existing in three persons.  Third, a statement of what those beliefs are.

Like many others involved in the charitable sector, I regarded Ted Engstrom as something of a mentor for more than 20 years, first when he was Chairman of the Board of Directors for ECFA and later during my tenure as Chairman of that Board.  But, I first knew Ted in the mid-1950s when he was a leader in Youth for Christ, and followed him later as he became president of Youth for Christ International.  And, indeed, it was during my Chairmanship of ECFA when Rich Stearns also became a member of the Board of ECFA.

Which brings me back to the questions of identity and calling.  Rich Stearns wrote a great little book in 2009, The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer that Changed my Life and Might Just Change the World.  In his introduction, Rich Stearns asks two questions: What does God expect of us?  What is the Christian Faith About?  In other words, what is our identity and what is our calling.  But he then goes on to press the question further:
     I am a Christian -- perhaps you are too.  [This is a matter of identity]  But, what does that mean exactly?  To even be a Christian, we must first believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  That in itself is not small idea.  If it is true, it changes everything, because if Christ is God, then all that He said and did is deeply significant to how we live our lives.  So we believe. But God expects more.
     And so the question, "What does God expect of me?" is a very profound one -- not just for me, but for everyone who claims to follow Christ.  [Here, Rich addresses the question of calling and gets very personal as he moves away from the abstract and theoretical.]   Jesus had a lot to say about it.  Yes, He did give us deep insights into the character of God and our relationship to Him as well, but He also spoke at length about God's expectations, or values, and how we are to live in a world.  So, how are we to live? What kind of relationship are we to have with a holy God?  What is God asking for, really, from you and me?  Much more than church attendance.  More than prayer too.  More than belief, and even more than self-denial.  God asks us for everything.  He requires total life commitment from those who would be His followers.  In fact, Christ calls [emphasis added] us to be His partners in changing our world, just as He called the Twelve to change their world two thousand years ago.
* * *
      The idea behind The Hole in Our Gospel is quite simple.  It's basically the belief that being a Christian, or a follower of Jesus Christ, requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God.  It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world.
     If your personal faith in Christ has no positive outward expression, then your faith -- and mine -- has a hole in it.  
So that is the context in which we can consider both the announced revised employment conduct policy by World Vision U.S., and its retraction several days later.  It is really a question of identity and calling.  You see, World Vision is not just another large humanitarian organization among a number of humanitarian organizations, providing the same or similar type of relief to the poor, needy, downcast, and disenfranchised, as good and as important as those things are.

As Rich Stearns point on in his book, the humanitarian identity and calling flows from what it means to be a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ.  Rich does not go straight to the challenge to be a public and transforming change agent in our relationships with the world.  He could.  But, he does not.  His entire thesis and book is based on the idea that the Gospel, and of Christian identity involves first of all, requires the follower of Jesus Christ to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that if Jesus Christ is God, then everything He said and did is deeply significant to who we are and how we live our lives, not simply our engagement with the poor and disenfranchised.

If, as Rich Stearns argues, the gospel has a hole in it, then it is important to understand what the gospel is.  And Rich points out, both in his prologue and in the first chapter, that the gospel is "glad tidings, esp. concerning salvation and the kingdom of God as announced to the world by Christ." Further, "This new kingdom, characteristics of which are captured in the Beatitudes (Matt: 5:3-10), would turn the existing world order upside down.

This book, The Hole in the Gospel, is the compelling true story of Rich Stearns, who left his position as the corporate CEO of Lenox, Inc., a major U.S. corporation, to lead World Vision. This is all about his personal calling, "a call that tore him out of his corner office at one of America's most prestigious corporations -- to walk with the poorest of the poor in our world."  But it is more than that.  It is the recognition of a call to which Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision recognized when he is established World Vision; a Biblically based identity with the poor and a call to serve them in the name of Jesus Christ.   This is both World Vision's identity and its calling.  It is also what distinguishes World Vision from many other worthwhile humanitarian organizations.

World Vision, U.S. states on its website, that it is committed to the poor.  That:

The resources at our disposal are not our own.  They are a sacred trust from God through donors on behalf of the poor.  We are faithful to the purpose for which those resources are given and manage them in a way that brings maximum benefit to the poor.
* * *
We are stewards of God's creation.  We care for the earth and act in ways that will restore and protect the environment.  We ensure that our development activities are ecologically sound. 
Both of these statements reflect a philosophy of stewardship based on Biblical teaching.  In other words, both of World Vision's identity and calling are also based on the concepts of stewardship.

I think it is also what World Vision might not have carefully considered enough in the announcement of its changed employment policy, and what I think might have been under the surface in its reversal of that revised policy, was this idea of Christian identity and its calling as stewards of all of God's creation and resources dedicated to ministering the the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the poor.  It seemed to defer to the variety of understandings of the authority of the Bible and its definition of marriage to sources outside of World Vision.  In a world and age of changing social norms, this can be dangerous to one's identity and sense of calling.

Now this:



On Friday, 4 April 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported a story that had already been in the news.  It was about the Chief Executive Officer of Mozilla, the nonprofit organization behind Firefox Web browser.   According to its website, "The Mozilla Project is a global community of people who that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet."  It is a community-based approach that views the Internet as a global public resource that must remain open and accessible, as a means of enriching the lives of individual human beings. The Mozilla Foundation invites all people to join to support its principles and to make this vision of the Internet a reality.

The Chief Executive Officer and co-founder, Brendan Eich, announced in a blog
that he was resigning as CEO and leaving Mozilla. Brendan Eich was the creator of JavaScript for Netscape Navigator, a brilliant engineer that was one of the co-founders of Mozilla.  But, he had also presumably been known for his opposition to same-sex marriage and had contributed $1,000.00 to support Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that sought to ban same-sex marriage in California.  Although there were some stirrings of disapproval at the time of the donation, it was this donation that became the trigger for the outburst against Mr. Eich at the time of his selection as CEO.

The New Yorker magazine reported that none of this was a surprise, although his resignation came only two weeks after he assumed the office of CEO.  There was an outrage in the technological community in Northern California, and within the Mozilla community.  But, it was a petition circulated by the dating site, OKCupid recommending that customers stop using Firefox, and the call from some of the Mozilla employees for his resignation that led to just that.

As the New Yorker reported, "the obvious point to make about Eich's resignation is that it shows how much a part of the mainstream that support for gay rights has become, particularly in the technological world."  So, "the real mystery here, then, is not why Eich stepped down but why he ever got the job in the first place."  He was essentially forced out of his own company after running the show for two weeks.

None of this was about government censorship.  One writer stated that Eich did not have any right to be the CEO of Mozilla.  "His personal views were simply at odds with community standards." Whatever those "standards" are, assuming of course that they are "standards."  But again we have a question of what Mozilla is and what it was called to be when it was formed. all of which was set out in its organizing vision statement.

Then this:


Little Sisters of the Poor is an international congregation of Roman Catholic woman religious, originally established during the French Revolution and later established in its aftermath in 1839, and in 1868 came to America.  As part of a network of collaborators, it serves the elderly poor in more than 30 countries around the world.  Its mission, or calling, is to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ.

Its vision is to contribute to the culture of life by nurturing communities where each person is valued, the solidarity of the human family and the wisdom of age are celebrated, and the compassionate love of Christ is shared with all.

Its statement of "Stewardship" states: "the recognition that all life and all other goods are gifts from God and should therefore be used responsibly for the good of all; trust in God's Providence and the generosity of others to provide for our needs; just compensation for our collaborators; a spirit of gratitude and sharing."

When the Congress of the United States passed, and the President signed, the Affordable Care Act, the Act and implementing regulations mandated certain coverages to be included in health insurance coverage.  The mandate covered contraceptive services for all employers and educational institutions without cost sharing to the employee.  The services covered included contraceptives and contraceptive services, including abortifacient drugs and devices, and female sterilization.

Failing to obtain an exemption from the mandate as a "religious employer," the Little Sisters of the Poor filed a class action lawsuit seeking to uphold its rights to carry out its vows of obedience in the service to the poor.  In its statement when faced with the denial of its application for exemption, the Little Sisters of the Poor said:
     Because the Little Sisters of the Poor cannot in conscience directly provide or collaborate in the provision of services that conflict with Church teaching, we find ourselves in the irreconcilable situation of being forced to either stop serving and employing people of all faiths in our ministry -- so that we will fall under the narrow exemption -- or stop providing health coverage to our employees.  Either path threatens to end our service to the elderly in America.  The Little Sisters are fervently praying that the issue will be resolved before we are force to take concrete action in response to this unjust mandate. 
So although the U.S. Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction while the case is being litigated through the courts, the litigation continues to drain resources and energy as the Little Sisters of the Poor continue to attempt to vindicate their identity and calling, but also to vindicate the Constitutionally recognized right of religious freedom.

Several years ago, CIVICUS  observed in its newsletter, and I have repeated here and in talks I have given, that threats to the charity sector, and to charities in particular, come in three different forms. First, there are those threats which are internal to the organization.  Then there are those threats which are external to the organization or sector.  These may included barriers that prevent organizations from becoming established to how they operate and raise funds. The third threat includes those threats that are common to human life and existence, such as war, conflict, or natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes or typhoons, or volcano eruptions to suggest a few.

So, loss of trust.  Some of this loss simply occurs as a result of scandals reported in the media.  But, this loss of trust may occur in a variety of ways that are not directly connected to any "scandal." While not a scandal, charities may lose trust when disclosures of fundraising, or use of funds are inadequate or when the ratios of administrative or fundraising expenses to operations may suggest that funds are not being used effectively for the purpose for which they were raised, or for the mission of the organization.  There may be a loss of trust on the part of the public for something as simple as the way funds are raised and how those funds are used.  Similarly, a loss of trust, especially in the case of a particular supporting constituency when there are policy changes, expansions of mission emphasis, or maybe just change in leadership.

So, loss of trust in not just limited to the perceived scandals that are reported in the media.  There may be legitimate decisions taken by boards of charitable organizations that seem to shake the confidence and trust of its donor public.

Governments receive their funds through taxation and coercion; businesses through the sale of goods and services.  Loss of trust may adversely affect the reputation and authority of government, and loss of trust may adversely affect the viability and sustainability of a business.  But loss of trust to a charity can affect not only the reputation of that charity, but also the well-being of other charities, and indeed the entire sector in a community or country, and thus the welfare of the community.

However, the charity and charity sector is also challenged by external threats, such as the legal and quasi-legal means whereby governments restrict the space in which charities operate.  These may include barriers to entry, such as those which discourage or burden, or prevent formation of organizations or their operation as charitable entities.  There may be barriers to speech and advocacy, which may include the use of laws to prevent organizations and associations from engaging in the full range of free expression and public policy.  Others may use laws as means of restricting a charity's ability to raise and use funds necessary to carry out its work, or that prevent the organization from carrying out the legitimate activities for which it was established.

I would include within this variety of external threats, threats which might not be occasioned only by government action.  It may well be that external threats to the existence or effectiveness of a charitable organization arise because of changing norms or public pressure.  As certain norms and practices change and spread through societies, public pressure through protests, funding, and more recently, through the negative use of social media, may pose threats to specific charitable organizations or classes of charity.  In such cases, the charitable organization may simply bow to the pressure, and change policies which are considered to be in conformance with prevailing social norms or at least to those norms which seem to get the most attention, particularly in new media and social media networks.

If moral standards never change and are eternal and universal, it is clear that cultural norms do change, and often that change is at variance with well-known tried and true principles of morality.  Of course, there will always be debates about the source and authority of those moral codes, but this does not suggest that there are none.  In the case of World Vision and Mozilla, the same-sex marriage issue predominated in the internal decisions regarding employment and conduct policies and the selection of leadership without regard to their respective identities and callings.  But, these decisions also resulted from the external pressures caused by changing norms, in large measure advanced in social media and in the mainstream press.

Little Sisters of the Poor was faced with losing its long-standing identity and calling in order to be in compliance with the law and regulations or to face extinction or heavy fines which would result in its demise in America. Although the issue drawing most attention in the media regarding this particular litigation, as well as those joined in similar lawsuits, is the question of religious freedom, what is also at stake is the identity and calling of Little Sisters of the Poor and similar religious charitable organizations.

Isn't it true that every organization, whether or not it is a charity, faces the same questions of identity and calling, or what some might think of as mission.  I think that in the case of World Vision and Mozilla, there might be some loss of trust on the part of its donor constituency or users in the case of Mozilla. Certainly, there are boycotts in play for Mozilla, and it may lose some of its browser clientele.  Also, whether or not Brendan Eich got the comeuppance he deserved as some suggest, or was himself a victim of intolerance will be debated for sometime.

While there is no question that World Vision will survive and prosper over the long haul, there is no question that its trust and reputation has been harmed, if not by the actually change in policy, then by the way it was announced with the immediate retraction.  So, for a season, there might continue to be some controversy.  But, knowing Rich Stearns as I do, and being familiar with approximately 55 years of history of World Vision, I think that the organizations contrite and humble apology to its constituency, and indeed to the larger evangelical community, will do a great deal in restoring its trust with its loyal partners, child sponsorship supporters, and larger world-wide constituency.  It may lose some donors and partners because of it stand, but I think in the long run, it will have preserved its identity and calling.  That is good!