Monday, March 8, 2010

Do Judges Decide With Their Souls?

The Washington Post today writes about religion and the Supreme Court. John Paul Stevens, the lone Protestant on the bench, turns 90 next month.

The question of faith and the court has come up often lately and I too have pointed out that a majority of the justices are Catholic. Yet the justices seem to make decisions that are less predicated on their faith than on their political ideology.

Of course the most conservative justices on the court tend to think of themselves as "post-religious."

Clearly, the court thinks of itself as post-religious. Last fall, Alito said he was frustrated that discussions about the court's Catholic majority became "one of those questions that does not die." He complained of "respectable people who have seriously raised the questions in serious publications about whether these individuals could be trusted to do their jobs."

Scalia has said he would be "hard-pressed to tell you of a single opinion of mine that would have come out differently if I were not Catholic." Ginsburg has said that whereas her predecessors on the court have been known collectively as the "Jewish justices," she and Breyer are "justices who happen to be Jews."

The article also quotes the fantastic Marci Hamilton. Here's a clip:

Such diversity makse religious labels at best incomplete. "Just because there is a disproportionate number of Catholics on the court doesn't mean that you will know how the decisions will come down," said Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at the Cardozo Law School in New York, who has written extensively about religion and the court.

Other scholars agree that even on questions of the separation of church and state, a justice's generally liberal or conservative philosophy is a far better indicator than religion. Sotomayor, for instance, seems likely to side more with colleagues appointed by Democratic presidents than with the court's conservative Catholics, appointed by Republicans.

But perceptions matter, too. Religion becomes a diversity consideration just like ethnicity and gender, especially with 51 percent of Americans identifying with one of the Protestant religions.

Clearly, Obama did not consider Sotomayor's Catholic upbringing to be disqualifying, despite the court's majority. "And the president has every right to ask [a potential nominee], 'What is your position on how you would separate your faith from the rule of law?' " Hamilton said.

Perceptions also matter, she said. As religions become more politically active, it is natural for the public to wonder about the influence on the court.

Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor surprised some last fall at a conference when asked about the need for geographic diversity on the court. "I don't think they should all be of one faith, and I don't think they should all be from one state," she said.

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Changing Mystical Practice.

NYTimes columnist Ross Douthat had an article yesterday on the way Americans have changed mysticism. He writes:

Yet by some measures, mysticism’s place in contemporary religious life looks more secure than ever. Our opinion polls suggest that we’re encountering the divine all over the place. In 1962, after a decade-long boom in church attendance and public religiosity, Gallup found that just 22 percent of Americans reported having what they termed “a religious or mystical experience.” Flash forward to 2009, in a supposedly more secular United States, and that number had climbed to nearly 50 percent.

In a sense, Americans seem to have done with mysticism what we’ve done with every other kind of human experience: We’ve democratized it, diversified it, and taken it mass market. No previous society has offered seekers so many different ways to chase after nirvana, so many different paths to unity with God or Gaia or Whomever. A would-be mystic can attend a Pentecostal healing service one day and a class on Buddhism the next, dabble in Kabbalah in February and experiment with crystals in March, practice yoga every morning and spend weekends at an Eastern Orthodox retreat center. Sufi prayer techniques, Eucharistic adoration, peyote, tantric sex — name your preferred path to spiritual epiphany, and it’s probably on the table.

This democratization has been in many ways a blessing. Our horizons have been broadened, our religious resources have expanded, and we’ve even recovered spiritual practices that seemed to have died out long ago. The unexpected revival of glossolalia(speaking in tongues, that is), the oldest and strangest form of Christian worship, remains one of the more remarkable stories of 20th-century religion.

And yet Johnson may be right that something important is being lost as well. By making mysticism more democratic, we’ve also made it more bourgeois, more comfortable, and more dilettantish. It’s become something we pursue as a complement to an upwardly mobile existence, rather than a radical alternative to the ladder of success. Going to yoga classes isn’t the same thing as becoming a yogi; spending a week in a retreat center doesn’t make me Thomas Merton or Thérèse of Lisieux. Our kind of mysticism is more likely to be a pleasant hobby than a transformative vocation.

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Internet Users Say More Science and Religion Please!

How do you use mobile media and the internet for news? And what would you like more of? Science and Religion Today writes:

Check out this snippet from a new report by researchers at the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, who surveyed people who use the Internet as a news source:

Asked what subjects they would like to receive more coverage, 44 percent said scientific news and discoveries, 41 percent said religion and spirituality, 39 percent said health and medicine, 39 percent said their state government, and 38 percent said their neighborhood or local community.

Some other great tidbits from the Pew study:

Americans send mixed messages in the survey about how they feel in a world where news is updated constantly and they can access news all the time. We asked respondents about how the volume of news might play into this: “Compared with five years ago, do you think it is easier or harder to keep up with news and information today?” Some 55% say it is easier, only 18% say it is harder. One quarter of adults (25%) say there is no difference between now and five years ago.

Yet even as they say it is easier to keep up with the news, Americans still feel overwhelmed. Fully 70% agreed with that statement: “The amount of news and information available from different sources today is overwhelming.” Some 25% “completely agreed” with that statement and 45% “mostly agreed.”

And this:

When it comes to the quality of coverage itself, respondents give correspondingly mixed signals. Just under two-thirds (63%) agree with statement that “major news organizations do a good job covering all of the important news stories and subjects that matter to me.” Yet 72% also back the idea that “most news sources today are biased in their coverage.” Some of the explanation for this dichotomy seems to be rooted in the views of partisans. Liberals and Democrats are more likely to say the big news organizations do a good job on subjects that matter to them, while conservatives and Republicans are the ones most likely to see coverage as biased.

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Connecticut Seeks to Define Assisted Suicide.

On Monday the Connecticut courts began examination of the laws forbidding assisted suicide. A case that seeks to determine aid in dying as separate from assisted suicide has been brought by two doctors in that state:

On Monday, judges will begin deciding what suicide means or dismiss the case on whether state law applies to doctors who help terminally ill patients die.

Two doctors and end-of-life advocates filed a lawsuit filed to get some clarification on the state's ban on assisted suicide and hope it prevent second-degree manslaughter charges for doctors who prescribe medication to help patients end their own lives, the New Haven Register reports.

Fairfield doctors Gary Blick and Ronald Levine regularly care for the dying, according to court papers and said they said fear of being prosecuted stopped the doctors from giving dying patients medications that would aid a peaceful death.

The state is working to convince the judge that the issue of assisted suicide is best left to the legislature. It's the same route the Montana state attorney took in that case last year.

More info From the Hartford Courant.

WTIC provides some background on the suit, noting the involvement of the Connecticut Catholic Conference:

Separately, the Connecticut Catholic Conference asked the judge to become a party to the lawsuit. The judge has yet to rule on that request.

Connecticut Catholic Conference lawyer Lorinda Coon said the lawsuit is a backdoor effort to legalize doctor-assisted suicide in Connecticut.

The Catholic Church opposes suicide.

From the Christian site LifeNews, an interesting quote from Perry Zinn-Rowthorn, associate attorney general, that points to the religious opposition against aid in dying, linking it to abortion. As well, the site calls the doctors pro-euthanasia:

Zinn-Rowthorn also pointed to a measure in the state legislature that attempted to legalize abortion that had 14 pages of regulations and safeguards and warned that overturning the assisted suicide ban would lead to a free-for-all targeting the terminally ill and elderly.
"We don't have any of those safeguards," he said, according to the newspaper. "It would be dangerous, from a public health policy (standpoint), to issue this type of sweeping public policy change by declaration."
Attorney Daniel Krisch represented the pro-euthanasia doctors and argued the state should allow people to make their own decision about whether to get help from a physician to kill themselves using lethal drugs.
"Judges aren't supposed to legislate ... are we really asking the court to do that here?" the judge asked Krisch.

But by far the most interesting aspect of this suit is the way the Connecticut Catholic Conference is trying to work as co-defendents of the suit by petitioning to team up with the state. The church has a new boldness since their successful efforts during the summer to pass the Stupak amendment. In other areas around the country, they continue to fight patients' rights by taking over hospitals and ending reproductive services.

These and other instances of increased Catholic conservatism are strongly contrasted against their challenges last week, noted by Elissa Lerner at TheRevealer.

This motion to intervene has yet to be decided on but you can read the motion here.

And you can find all the briefs and additional information about the suit here.

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