Archive - February 2017

1
Religious Freedom: All For One, One For All
2
The Vatican: A Religious Body or Holy Mediator?
3
Winning Clean
4
Arguing More With the New Critics of Religious Freedom
5
Pro-Life, Pro-Family, Pro-Refugee

Religious Freedom: All For One, One For All

The following piece is reprinted from The Observer at the University of Notre Dame, February 22, 2017, where it was titled, “Stand Against Persecution and Exclusion.”

By now, a wide array of critics of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on refugees — including a passel of United States Catholic bishops — have explained with force and perspicacity how the action amounts to a failure of charity, hospitality and justice. Among the many baneful dimensions of the order is President Trump’s rhetorical insistence that Christians are to be favored and Muslims disfavored for entry into the U.S.

In fairness, the order itself does not privilege Christians or bar Muslims per se, and, in fact, makes religious persecution a factor that enhances a refugee’s case for entry — arguably a positive development that has historical precedent in the refugee policy of the United States. Even this gain, though, is offset by an indefinite bar of all refugees — whatever their religion — from Syria, one of the worst sites of religious persecution in the globe.

More troubling still, though, are Trump’s many statements that have advocated banning Muslims from immigration to the U.S., spoke of Muslims in derogatory terms and called for privileging the protection of Christians. These statements, undoubtedly designed to please the president’s most ardent supporters, are unjust and unwise. Making this case and denouncing the order are numerous leaders of Catholic, mainline Protestant and evangelical churches and of Christian organizations dedicated to relief, development and the alleviation of persecution.   

I applaud the protest of these leaders as co-director of a project, “Under Caesar’s Sword,” whose purpose is to promote solidarity with the world’s persecuted Christians. Based jointly at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture and the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., and funded by a grant of $1.1 million from the Templeton Religion Trust, “Under Caesar’s Sword” is the world’s first systematic global investigation of Christian responses to persecution.

The project is timely and urgent. Nearly 3/4 of the world’s population lives in a country where religious freedom is strongly curtailed, and Christians suffer persecution and discrimination more than people of any other faith. The advocacy group Open Doorsreports that persecution only increased in 2016, when some 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith and some 215 million Christians faced persecution. Among the worst violators are the governments of North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Eritrea and India, as well as the Islamic State.

“Under Caesar’s Sword” reports the reality of this persecution but more centrally conveys the range of Christian responses to it, many of these hopeful and courageous. A better understanding of these responses can help the rest of the world, not least a Catholic university, stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians. On Thursday, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will be celebrating a mass for persecuted Christians at 5:15 p.m. in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, followed by the screening of a short documentary film on the subject in Washington Hall at 6 p.m.

Solidarity with persecuted Christians, though, in no way justifies the exclusion of vulnerable Muslims from sanctuary in the U.S. or indifference to any human right of Muslims. Religious persecution of any kind and against anyone is a violation of the human right to religious freedom, which several major human rights conventions articulate. The Catholic Church committed itself to this human right definitively in its landmark declaration of 1965, “Dignitatis Humanae,” rooting religious freedom in the dignity of the human person and his or her search for religious truth.

Muslims themselves suffer the violation of religious freedom in great numbers. In some countries, Muslim minorities like Shias, Ahmadis and Sufis are persecuted at the hands of Sunni Muslim governments. Elsewhere, Muslims face repression at the hands of governments dominated by other religions, like Hindu India and Buddhist Burma, or secular governments, as is the case in China, Syria, Egypt, Turkey and several Central Asian republics. Muslims have faced harsh discrimination in the West, too. Even in the United States, which is relatively tolerant and open to Muslim assimilation, Muslims have been denied the right to build mosques and attacked by other citizens, as they were in a wave of incidents following President Trump’s election.

This is not to deny the frequency of violence committed by Islamist militants in the U.S. and around the world. President Trump’s policy, though, will do little to reduce this violence. The vetting of refugees is already remarkably stringent. The U.S. has accepted some 750,000 refugees since Sept. 11, 2001, not a single one of whom has committed a terrorist attack. 

Worse, the policy is likely to set back, not privilege, the cause of persecuted Christians. First, it undermines the credibility of these Christians’ appeals to universal human rights, makes their protests look like special pleading and hinders their already difficult task of gaining sympathy from human rights groups, the mainstream media, Western governments and international organizations. 

Second, the policy bequeaths recruiters of terrorists a perfect argument, confirming their contention that the United States wishes to fight a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam.

Finally, the policy suffocates a narrative that deserves far more attention: that of solidarity between Christians and Muslims in common cause against violence and persecution. One of the major findings of “Under Caesar’s Sword” is that Christians often respond to persecution by forming bonds with people of other faiths as a bulwark against extremists. “Under Caesar’s Sword” scholars document such cooperation with Muslims in Nigeria, Kenya, Syria, Iraq, India and Indonesia.

After Islamist attacks on Coptic Churches on New Year’s Day in 2011 in Alexandria, Egypt, Muslims joined hands in a human shield around Coptic churches during their worship services, and Christians likewise surrounded mosques. In the U.S., when Florida pastor Terry Jones burned the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders joined to demonstrate against Jones’ deeds. 

We best promote religious freedom for one faith by doing the same for all faiths, and when we promote the religious freedom of one faith to the exclusion of others, we undermine our efforts even for that one faith.

Daniel Philpott

professor of political science

Feb. 20

The Vatican: A Religious Body or Holy Mediator?

Later next month, I’m looking forward to attending a conference in Rome on Vatican foreign policy called “Pope’s on the Rise! Mobilization, Media, and Political Power of the Modern Papacy.” The gambit of that conference is that the Vatican can and should make substantive contributions to global policy and politics. I agree, but the shape of that and its limits are all important. The Vatican’s mediators and its diplomats can give the world of global politics back a language it so desperately needs: a language of virtue, morality, dignity, and means—not just ends—as more than long-term expedience. Its very existence and confessions are a cap and check on unrestrained capital, tyrannical governance, and hyper-individualism. But that witness is strongest when made prophetically, and it is sometimes limited and compromised when it delves too deep into policy. It is rhetoric—it is a witness—that can ennoble and mediate, but it cannot coerce nor prescribe. I has limits, and it has perhaps reached those limits in Venezuela today.

I have a longer reflection up on Venezuela at the The Berkley Center forum today, on “The Pope’s Divisions.

Winning Clean

This op-ed in this past Sunday’s New York Times is one of the profoundest pieces I’ve read on military ethics in a long time. Again and again we hear about the allegedly excruciating dilemmas — can we torture this person to save scores of others?, and so on. The author, a soldier in Iraq, argues something very different: to compromise on ethics not only undermines the purposes the U.S. is fighting for but delays and hinders victory. He commends his piece to us in this age of Trump. Rightly so.

Arguing More With the New Critics of Religious Freedom

Over the past year or so, I and my colleague, friend, and fellow ArcU contributor, Tim Shah, have been arguing with what we call the “new critics” of religious freedom. They hold that religious freedom is a Western principle, reflecting Western power and history, and should not be exported, especially to the Muslim world. We demur.  Some previous pieces are here, here, here, and here.

Now, Tim and I have written an extended review essay of their most recent work, published in the Journal of Law and Religion. It’s our most extensive critique yet. We welcome continuing debate!

Pro-Life, Pro-Family, Pro-Refugee

Like many people, I experienced the vitality and vigor of the pro-life movement, marching with others in the streets this past Friday, January 27th — in my case in my home town of South Bend, Indiana.  In Washington, DC, the marchers heard Vice President Mike Pence proclaim that, at last, “life is winning.”

The untruth of that claim brings me to tears.  After that appearance, Pence joined the president to sign the order imposing a four-month ban on all refugees, an indefinite ban on (the most vulnerable) Syrian refugees, and a halt to the arrival of even those who have already been vetted and approved for a visa to enter the country.

This order is personal for me.  Through the work of my parish, and then the help of lawyers obtained through the migration office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a family who came as refugees from Iraq has been working for over two years to obtain a visa for the matriarch of the family, who faced significantly higher and longer layers of vetting because she had been a teacher in government schools.  The others could not miss the chance to flee when they were approved, and it has been a very tough two years.  She is alone, in poor health, has no way to earn a living, and is isolated from those she loves the most.

Finally, last month the visa was approved.  Her beautiful family–husband, two daughters and their husbands, each family with five little kids in our local schools, 15 total, waiting for one more–were all overjoyed.  I was overjoyed. (See this story in the South Bend Tribune of February 1, 2017.)

And now this.  On the same day that these leaders claimed the pro-life mantle–the same day!–this order comes down.  I think of the effect on this family and on tens of thousands of families in very desperate situations, including thousands of others also already vetted and approved.

I want to emphasize here that I am not making the connection to the pro-life movement as a rhetorical device.  I have been a public and staunch pro-lifer my whole life. Like many others in the movement I opposed the previous administration’s numerous attacks on the right to life, including the HHS mandate.

But the politics of this week will in the end erode, not build up, a culture of life.

And the policies of this week, in particular the executive order of Friday, deserve robust condemnation—especially from Catholics.  We are the tradition of faith and reason. Not only is this order unchristian but it is also irrational. Of the terror attacks that have occurred in the U.S. since September, 11, the number of perpetrators from the list of banned countries is precisely zero.  Why was Saudi Arabia not on this list, or Russia, both of whom have been home to terror perpetrators in the U.S.?

While there are more eloquent ways to state the opposition to this ban, I think that the faith and reason test is simple and clear.  Indeed, if our Thomistic tradition teaches us that grace perfects nature, then what we are seeing is how irrationality perverts faith.  And indeed, I dare say that some outside of our Catholic, pro-life fold are waiting to hear from more of us about why our faith—faith in the person and teachings of Jesus—is not quite as offended by the present actions as it was by the previous administration.

And so this is a call. In your parish, or university, or city, consider making it known you wish to join—in the name of the pro-life movement—the display of repudiation for the unjust and unchristian orders of this week.  The point will not be to grandstand and feel good about being more righteous than the administration.  It will be to try to seek some legislative, judicial, or cultural remedies for the sake of our communities’ many refugee families and immigrants in vulnerable legal statuses.

Perhaps you can meet with officials. Perhaps you know someone in a position of influence. We must have hope that some aspects of this order, and the direction toward which it leads, can be walked back if enough people resist. Whatever we do, I hope it involve praying together and saying loudly together: “this is not the culture of life.”

Two days after the order was signed, I brought the beautiful Iraqi family to a gathering of faithful people, people from the Church, who prayed with and over this family.  What they witnessed was not an “issue” but an encounter with real people, people who themselves are afraid but whom we have no rational basis to fear (I was grateful when they explained the layers and layers of vetting they received).

Lastly, in addition to having no rational basis to fear this family—or their matriarch whose reunification with her family is now in question—we do in fact risk losing the grace which God is offering to us. For the words of Christ himself tell us that in encountering the refugee we encounter Him.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.