Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Questioning Roberts About His Religion

The following is an imaginary exchange with John Roberts at his judicial committee hearings:

Sen. Leahy: Judge Roberts, we've read that your Catholic faith is very important to you. Will your religious views affect your decisions as a Supreme Court justice?

Judge Roberts: The answer to that question, senator, is both Yes and No. Permit me to explain. My religious faith imposes upon me moral obligations to be diligent, honest, and fair in fulfilling my role as a justice of the Supreme Court, and I pray that with God's help I will meet those obligations.

However, my role as justice will be to decide what the constitution says about the matters that will be before me. It is not my task to decide what it should or shouldn't say, nor to decide on the basis of what I think is moral or immoral. I have been nominated to be a jurist, not a legislator.

Thus even if I thought that the constitution stated something in direct opposition to my religious convictions my responsibility would be to decide the case on the basis of the constitution and not on the basis of my convictions. It is not the Court's job to make law or to change the constitution. That is the province of the legislative branch of government.

Indeed, it is my religion, senator, that dictates that I be honest in assessing what the constitution says and that I carry out its mandates faithfully. So to that extent, yes, my religion will certainly influence my decisions.

Such an answer would almost certainly bring an end to the questions about Roberts' religion.

Every Day, In Every Way ...

We reported several weeks ago on a story that credited abortion on demand for the sharp drop in crime in the U.S. since the 1970s.

David Brooks writes to tell us, though, that the decrease in criminality is only one social indicator that suggests that we are becoming a healthier society. He gives four reasons for this happy state of affairs, and none of them is that we've aborted all the problems:

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of family violence in this country has dropped by more than half since 1993. I've been trying to figure out why. A lot of the credit has to go to the people who have been quietly working in this field: to social workers who provide victims with counseling and support; to women's crisis centers, which help women trapped in violent relationships find other places to live; to police forces and prosecutors, who are arresting more spouse-beaters and putting them away. The Violence Against Women Act, which was passed in 1994, must have also played a role, focusing federal money and attention.

But all of these efforts are part of a larger story. The decline in family violence is part of a whole web of positive, mutually reinforcing social trends. To put it in old-fashioned terms, America is becoming more virtuous. Americans today hurt each other less than they did 13 years ago. They are more likely to resist selfish and shortsighted impulses. They are leading more responsible, more organized lives. A result is an improvement in social order across a range of behaviors.

The decline in domestic violence is of a piece with the decline in violent crime over all. Violent crime over all is down by 55 percent since 1993 and violence by teenagers has dropped an astonishing 71 percent, according to the Department of Justice. The number of drunken driving fatalities has declined by 38 percent since 1982, according to the Department of Transportation, even though the number of vehicle miles traveled is up 81 percent. The total consumption of hard liquor by Americans over that time has declined by over 30 percent.

Teenage pregnancy has declined by 28 percent since its peak in 1990. Teenage births are down significantly and, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions performed in the country has also been declining since the early 1990's. Fewer children are living in poverty, even allowing for an uptick during the last recession. There's even evidence that divorce rates are declining, albeit at a much more gradual pace. People with college degrees are seeing a sharp decline in divorce, especially if they were born after 1955.

I could go on. Teenage suicide is down. Elementary school test scores are rising (a sign than more kids are living in homes conducive to learning). Teenagers are losing their virginity later in life and having fewer sex partners. In short, many of the indicators of social breakdown, which shot upward in the late 1960's and 1970's, and which plateaued at high levels in the 1980's, have been declining since the early 1990's.

I always thought it would be dramatic to live through a moral revival. Great leaders would emerge. There would be important books, speeches, marches and crusades. We're in the middle of a moral revival now, and there has been very little of that. This revival has been a bottom-up, prosaic, un-self-conscious one, led by normal parents, normal neighbors and normal community activists.

The first thing that has happened is that people have stopped believing in stupid ideas: that the traditional family is obsolete, that drugs are liberating, that it is every adolescent's social duty to be a rebel.

The second thing that has happened is that many Americans have become better parents. Time diary studies reveal that parents now spend more time actively engaged with kids, even though both parents are more likely to work outside the home.

Third, many people in the younger generation, under age 30 or so, are reacting against the culture of divorce. They are trying to lead lives that are more stable than the ones their parents led. Post-boomers behave better than the baby boomers did.

Fourth, over the past few decades, neighborhood and charitable groups have emerged to help people lead more organized lives, even in the absence of cohesive families. Obviously, we're not living in a utopia, where all social problems have been solved. But these improvements across a whole range of behaviors are too significant to be dismissed. We in the media play up the negative, as we always do. The activist groups emphasize the work still to be done, because they want to keep people mobilized and financing their work.

But the good news is out there. You want to know what a society looks like when it is in the middle of moral self-repair? Look around.

Brooks may be a Pollyanna, but there certainly is a difference between what our society is today and what it was in the 1970s when it seemed that it was coming apart at the seams. His article is encouraging news, but we wonder how things can possibly be as good as he says they are after having suffered through five years of George Bush.

An Argument For the Death Penalty

This is a good argument for the death penalty for crimes other than murder:

A gloating rapist called his teenage victim's mother on a stolen mobile phone to tell her about the depraved attack, police revealed today. Armed with a screwdriver, he subjected the 15-year-old girl to two sickening sex assaults in west Belfast. A second thug used a metal bar to batter three boys she was with and stop them rescuing her.

The girl, who is from the north of England but was holidaying in Belfast, has been left severely traumatised by the double rape early today. Police chiefs shocked by the brutality of the attack have launched a hunt for the men, both in their late teens. Chief Superintendent Ken Henning said: "This was horrendous and disgraceful. It has caused untold distress to the victims and their families." The girl and her friends were confronted by the pair as they walked along Blacks Road just before 3 am.

Cash and mobile phones were stolen before the girl was dragged into a BP petrol station forecourt and raped. The boys, two 15-year-olds and one aged 14, were ordered to strip to the waist and beaten repeatedly. "These three men were literally held hostage while this went on," Mr Henning said. "They were helpless to go to her aid as they were being threatened and struck by a metal bar." The terrified youngsters were then taken up a driveway at the nearby Colin Valley Golf Centre where the girl was raped again.

"The individuals who carried out the attack took her mobile phone, rang her mother and told her what they had done," Mr Henning added. SDLP member Patricia Lewsley was outraged at the level of cruelty involved. "It is hard to imagine the kind of ordeal that this young girl endured," she said. "It was cruel in its planning and evil in its execution. It is clear that this attack was not spontaneous.

"It is clear that these sick criminals will strike again. That is why, for the safety of everyone in the area, I am appealing for anyone who may have any information on this evil crime to contact the local police as soon as possible."

Why should these animals, if caught, have their existence subsidized at taxpayer expense, including the taxes that will be paid by their victims and her family. They will live off the state for twenty years or so and then be released back into society while this girls' life and that of her family is doubtless seriously damaged. If a dog behaved this viciously it would be put to sleep. So, too, should people be who would do something as depraved and cruel as this.

ELCA Assembly

Posts on Viewpoint may be a little sporadic this week as I am at the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Churchwide Assembly in Orlando and the folks here have our time pretty much filled from morning till night.

Yesterday's session may be of interest to those following the changes occuring in churches around the country with respect to ordaining homosexual clergy. There are two resolutions to be voted on this week related to the ELCA's handling of gay and lesbian issues. Resolution two would essentially permit churches to bless commited same sex unions and reolution three would permit the ordination of gay and lesbian pastors.

Last evening the assembly, some 1000 laypeople and clergy from synods across the country, decided on the rules which would govern the assembly's voting procedures. To summarize, the conservatives (or traditionalists) wanted to make it harder to adopt resolutions 2 and 3 (although the resolutions themselves were only obliquely referred to, everyone knows that they're the five hundred pound gorilla in the middle of the living room), by adopting rules that would require changes to traditional practice to achieve a 2/3 majority. The liberals wanted to make it easier to adopt the resolutions on sexuality and worked to have these rules struck out or amended.

It seemed that there was good news and bad news for both sides. The liberals' motions to strike out or amend the rules required a simple majority to pass, and this they rarely achieved. However, the conservatives' motions to accept the rules required a 2/3 vote and this they consistently fell short of by a few tenths of a percent.

On balance, it seemed to go well last night for the liberals who managed largely to get their way even though they were often in a 66% to 34% minority. In the long term, however, conservatives can be encouraged that even if they don't have a 2/3 majority, they do appear at this point to have a large enough majority to block adoption of the controversial resolutions later this week.

This is just my take on the events from one little corner of the assembly hall, of course. Perhaps, it will prove to be wrong. I'll try to post further updates on Viewpoint for those of our readers who might be following the issue.