Friday, October 8, 2010

One Man’s Opinion: Common Sense Views on Key Supreme Upcoming Court Cases…Bravo St. Paul Archbishop John Nienstedt!

                 Feast of St. Bridget of Sweden*
                              2 Takes on Supreme Court Docket.
           This session of the U. S. Supreme Court will have more thorny cases to consider than normally.  Herewith, this non-lawyer takes a common-sense swing at two cases the current docket presents.
                               1.   Snyder v. Phelps Free Speech Case.
         The irony here is this: Do heartless, stupid  attention-grabbers have the right to free speech even as they denigrate the funerals of brave men and women who have laid down their lives to protect that right?  The eccentric sliver of Protestants who attend the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas maintain that the U.S. is paying the price for immorality including toleration of homosexuality by the wars which take the lives of soldiers, which is evidence of God’s wrath.
         The church charges that by accepting the legislative enactment of “don’t ask, don’t tell” instead of flatly banning homosexuals, the military is guilty of perverting God’s standards and hence everyone who serves is guilty and those killed in war are testimonials to God’s judgment in punishing America.  Interestingly enough the Catholic church is cited since it alleges that Albert Snyder, father of fallen Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder taught his son to “defy his Creator by teaching him to support the largest pedophile machine in the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity.” Snyder is asking the Court to uphold a jury verdict of nearly $11 million (reduced later to $5 million) for intentional invasion of privacy. 
         I would hope the Court rules that however repugnant, the church has a right under the 1st amendment to protest.  Any tinkering with the 1st amendment even in this matter could lead to Court punishment of all sorts of unpopular statements including, under the rubric of “hate speech” (which I abjure)  repression of homilies and speeches as seen in Sweden and Canada—usually on the side of censorship of expression of Natural Law-guaranteed rights.  “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is nothing more than a protection of privacy which we enjoy every day of our lives. Government should  not have the right to pry into anyone’s private life.
           It should be noted also that in the free marketplace of ideas where issues like this should be adjudicated, a group called “The Patriot Guard Riders”—motorcyclists who are military veterans—has organized to counter the ideas shouted by the Westboro-ites.   There is another consideration that has to do with property rights.  Assuming the cemetery is private property and the family purchased the burial plot, what Westboro is doing with its inflammatory signs (“God Hates Fags!” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”) could amount to trespass.  Therefore the city could impose a reasonable distance away from the gravesite for these protesters similar to what Dearborn, Michigan does during its Islamic Day celebration.  The worst thing that could happen is if Court liberals,  using this isolated outrage as pretext,  nudge the door open for further government regulation of dissent.
            In  this controversy someone who  favors  government regulation of speech is bound to cite…and misquote…Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dictum which purportedly held that freedom of speech does not give one the right to shout “fire!” in a crowded theatre. The correct version of Holmes’ now cliché-ridden opinion contains the word “falsely”—one does not have the right to shout falsely “fire” in a crowded theatre.  If the place is burning down you certainly do have the right but not to mislead.
                                           2. Sossamon v. Texas.
         Texas prison inmate Harvey Sossamon sued the state of Texas because he was not allowed to use the prison chapel which he alleges violated his religious freedom.   It is true that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 protects the right of inmates to practice their faith and the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas had violated Sossamon’s rights by preventing him from using the chapel….but.   But said the Court, Texas is not responsible for paying Sossamon damages.  The Prison Fellowship argues, however, that by denying Sossamon the state cut him off from resources he needed to help him reform his life.  The National Association of Evangelicals and the U. S. government filed briefs supporting him (Justice Kagan has recused herself). 
         I’m with the 5th Circuit.  Chapel visits are not necessary to lead Sossamon to reform  his life…even Catholic Mass and the sacraments (while desirable)… and while the state was culpable, he should not receive damages.
        These are my views anyhow.  Let me know how you feel…whether you agree or disagree.   More Supreme Court cases next week.
                                          Bravo Archbishop Nienstedt!
          Here’s a story from my old stamping grounds, Minnesota, that concerns my old university, St. John’s, written up in my old newspaper where I held my first journalism job, The St. Cloud Times. Written sob-sister-like it details that the officious archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, while celebrating Mass at Saint John’s abbey church, refused…refused! give the Holy Eucharist to a group of gay and lesbian students who approached him wearing rainbow sashes identifying themselves as belonging to the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender  group calling itself PRISM (People Representing the Sexual Minority).   And not only that…get this!...he ordered—ordered—them back to their pews!   Awwwwwww.
        The photo editor of The Record, the student newspaper where I wrote features and was associate editor, Sophoujen Chhin, a Cambodian American, was dismayed.  The reason she went to Saint John’s in the first place was  “when I walked into St. John’s Abbey, I sat in the balcony where a warm light enveloped me, coming from the stained glass above and that’s when I felt the most loving presence of God.” Good as far as it goes but--.  She’s a Buddhist but because the archbishop was so autocratic she wants to join PRISM because…well….she’s “bi-curious.” Isn’t that ducky? 
        Don’t you wish somebody around here could muster the same resolve as Archbishop Nienstedt?    Don’t hold your breath.
  *: Saint Bridget of Sweden [1303-1373].  She was born the daughter of Birger Persson, governor of Uppland in Sweden, one of the richest landholders in the country.   Bridget received a thorough religious education.   As was the custom, she was married at the startling age of 13 to Ulf Gudmarsson who was then 18. Their marriage was blessed with eight children, among them Saint Catherine of Sweden.  Her husband died while on a journey with his wife in 1341.  She devoted the remainder of her life to the Church.
       She founded an order of nuns, The Brigittines which was supported by King Magnus and his Queen.  Her example and advocacy to women were exemplary and she spent the remainder of her life traveling, recruiting postulants.  She spent much time in Rome and the Holy Land.  She strongly advised Pope Urban to leave Avignon in France where he was in exile and return the papacy to Rome. She died in the sweet odor of sanctity  in Rome and  her remains were conveyed to a monastery at Vadstena. She was canonized in 1391.

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