Religious Morality
and Discrimination

Besides prejudice and discrimination because of ethnicity or race there is also discrimination because of religious beliefs. Much traditional discrimination against women and perhaps most discrimination against homosexuals is not necessarily predicated on beliefs about people's abilities or characteristics but on religious beliefs about the proper roles of the sexes and about the proper forms of sexual behavior. People may be becoming increasingly offended by the notion of separate roles in life for the sexes, and it has become quite common for gay rights advocates to bluntly call people who disapprove of homosexuality "bigots"; but the principle in these issues is different from those concerning ethnic stereotypes. The issue is often not one of matters of fact but of traditional moral beliefs about sex, usually based on religious moral commandments. The irony of recent, politically correct discourse is that strident "progressive" statements about gender roles or homosexuality often go with a reluctance to criticize Islam, or even accusations that criticism of Islam is the "hate speech" of "Islamophobia," even as attitudes and practices in conservative or fundamentalist Islam concerning gender roles or homosexuality may be harsh to ferocious.

Homosexuality (at least for males) is clearly and strongly prohibited by Leviticus 18:22, which says "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is an abomination" (or "an outrage," "detestable," "loathsome" -- , tô'êbhâh, from the verb , ti'êbh, to loathe). The seriousness of the offense is later driven home at Leviticus 20:13, where it is ordered that the offending parties are to be put to death. Classical Islâm seemed less worried about homosexuality, and there is nothing in the Qur'ân itself comparable to Leviticus 18:22 or 12:13; but modern radical Islam is fiercely intolerant of it -- homosexuals are currently hanged in Iran, with death also recommended by Islamic jurists in Europe and elsewhere. And all traditionalistic Islam has strongly endorsed public separation for the sexes, as well as concealment of the female figure, up to and including the face.

Some now say that it is merely an "interpretation" of Leviticus 18:22 to say that it condemns homosexuality, since to "lie with a man as one lies with a woman" is an ambiguous euphemism. However, if one is to be stoned to death for doing this, it must be pretty serious, and it is mysterious what other such grave offense this could be referring to.

While all these strictures may be regarded as remnants of archaic societies, there are plenty of Jews, Moslems, and Christians who take them at face value as direct and unavoidable commands from God, for which they will be called to account hereafter. For all we know, they might be right; and certainly no one accuses Jews or Moslems of being bigots because they think they are commanded by God not to eat pork [note].

An example of this involved radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whose planned television show some years ago generated some protest. Curiously, "Dr. Laura" changed her mind about homosexuality. I personally heard her say on the radio years ago that she didn't believe that God would give people homosexual desires without allowing them to act on them. I had heard that argument already. It is not a very good argument, since it could as easily be said that God would not give pedophiles a desire for children without allowing them to act on it [note]. Dr. Laura herself at some point evidently thought better of this, since her position now is strictly one of Biblical morality. This is what many gay political activists cannot accept. Even if Dr. Laura is willing to leave them alone to live whatever peaceful life they want, they now simply do not want to be judged as immoral -- and they attack this as "hate speech" that promotes gay-bashing violence.

Religious rules about diet or sexual behavior are often interpreted, not as necessarily accomplishing practical goods in life, but purely as signs of obedience to God, or as fulfilling a purpose for us that God has set beyond our comprehension. It is not unreasonable that abstention from homosexual or other sexual practices or separate spheres in life for men and women may be adopted purely as signs of obedience to God. Many aspects of such religious commands, of course, like forcing women, or anyone, into certain ways of life, or like putting homosexuals to death, violate the moral law as recognized here.

We therefore cannot have a general respect for all traditional or religious moral principles. Our question about these principles must be instead where we draw the line between what we must forbid as a matter of justice in public life and what we must respect as a matter of private choice as religious individuals govern their own affairs according to their beliefs. The answer is simple enough: Believers can adopt their religious rules, or any rules, for themselves if they wish, as matters of individual liberty and voluntary association; but if they try to impose their rules by force on us or others (including their own coreligionists, or their children [note]), we have every right to stop them; but if it is just that we don't like the way they live life because of these rules, we simply don't have to associate with them.

The problem for us arises now where believing employers, or landlords, might not wish to employ, or rent to, those who evidently transgress their religious laws. From the Civil Rights Act of 1964 women have been included in anti-discrimination legislation, and homosexuals are now commonly included also (while paradoxically several States still outlaw homosexual and other "unnatural" sexual acts). Many believe that the purpose of such laws is actually to assault religion, both by forcing believers to associate against the principles of their traditional sexual roles and by forcing them to accept homosexuals and associate with them as morally no different from anyone else. In a sense, they are right that their religion is being assaulted, since the laws do not allow them their proper liberties of association in the "ordinary commercial transactions" that the Supreme Court now regards as government business. The idea that people have a right not to be discriminated against by private individuals in private and voluntary transactions involves a fundamental and extremely dangerous confusion about the very nature of civil rights.

The moral law as presented here forbids both the judicial prohibition of mere sexual acts between competent (usually meaning, in this context, adult) persons and any attempt to abridge freedom of association by forcing people to accept homosexuality, or anything else, that may offend their private moral beliefs, whether religious or otherwise. When it comes to employment, we may feel certain that discrimination against women or homosexuals on religious grounds is deeply irrational, even offensive to our sense of the good (as a hortative), but it is, after all, the employers who pay the cost of that discrimination -- and they may be quite willing to pay it for the sake of obedience to God, even as Kosher eating or Moslem prayer imposes costs that seem burdensome to most non-Jews or non-Moslems. If we do not believe that somebody should be forced to work for a certain employer against their will, the same freedom of association allows that no employer should be forced to employ a certain person against their will. And if the employer happens to believe the Biblical command, "Everyone who does any of these detestable things -- such persons must be cut off from their people" (Leviticus 18:29), then it is a great moral wrong to force that employer to associate with someone in a way that will cause a breach of that command, when it does not involve any use of coercion, force, or fraud against anyone else.

An extreme example of the desire to judicially limit freedom of association based on religion, and to thereby restrict the free practice of religion, may be found in the following story:

Associated Press [Los Angeles Daily News, Saturday, February 11, 1995]:

PHILADELPHIA -- Three large placards are posted on a tiny church in a rundown neighborhood. One says "All are Welcome," but a second, smaller one, adds that only those who have tested negative for the AIDS virus are welcome.

Bishop Nathan Giddings, leader of the 38-member Old Ship of Zion, said that people with AIDS aren't welcome in his congregation because "they suffer from a plague." Homosexuals aren't welcome either "because they have abandoned the way of the Lord."

Advocates fighting AIDS discrimination said they're troubled by the policy and are looking into possible remedies.

"They are causing a lot of harm with their signs," said Nan Feyler, executive direction of the Philadelphia-based AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. "To have that kind of sentiment that's vilifying to people, especially in that neighborhood, it runs against the message we're trying to send."

However, Feyler said that because of the separation between church and state, Giddings' congregation in North Philadelphia does not fall under federal and state laws barring discrimination against people with the disease.

But Kevin Vaughan, executive direction of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, believes the church could be held accountable if it could be proved that Giddings excluded anyone with AIDS or HIV, which by laws is considered a disability. Vaughan said his group sent a letter to Giddings after reading about the church in Monday's Philadelphia Daily News.

Clearly, the "Old Ship of Zion" congregation, besides being mindful the of Biblical prohibition of homosexuality above, is also thinking of the passages requiring the isolation from the community of those with a "plague":

Leviticus (13:45, King James) And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. (13:46) All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.

(Modernized, 13:45): And the diseased one who has the infection, his clothes must be torn, and his hair must be unkempt, and he must cover his lower face, and he must cry, "unclean, unclean." (13:46) All of the days that he has the infection, he is unclean. Unclean, he must live alone, with his dwelling outside of the camp.

Whether we approve of this or not, there is no doubt that Reverend Giddings takes his Old Testament seriously. Indeed, when the transmission of AIDS is largely associated with homosexual sex acts, Giddings' rejection of those with this "plague" more clearly relates to the rest of his moral convictions than did the original Biblical injunction, since it is hard to imagine what lepers, etc. could have done to have brought their disease upon themselves. Homosexual acts, however, especially the anal sex, often promiscuous, through which AIDS is most easily transmitted, qualify as "unclean" in both ancient ritual and modern hygenic senses. AIDS political activists hate to admit that this behavior was ever even imprudent, much less immoral.

The most troubling thing about the Associated Press story, on the other hand, is not Reverend Giddings' archaic religious attitude but that it is not "the separation between church and state" that enables this congregation to accept the members whom they wish: It is the separation between government and private life, or between political society and civil society, a much more fundamental, general, and important separation than that between church and state. Anti-discrimination laws only apply to business and commerce because of New Deal court decisions that, in effect, make businesses into branches of the government. This has already been applied to private clubs, which have been denied liquor licenses to force them to accept the kind of membership (women, minorities, etc.) that politicians and "civil rights" lawyers think they should have. If churches are to be branches of the government also, then there is certainly no form of private association that will truly be free of government regulation and control. Prosecuting people for practicing discrimination in friendships, dating, and marriage could not be far behind, as in politically correct Madison, Wisconsin, a woman has already been found guilty of practicing "homophobic" discrimination by refusing to accept a Lesbian woman who answered her advertisement for a roommate. Advertising for a roommate, it seems, means that, as part of business and commerce, one no longer has freedom of association in chosing the roommate.

Several cases in this regard have concerned the Boy Scouts of America, which requires scouts to profess a belief in God and will not accept openly homosexual scoutmasters. On March 23, 1998, two such cases were decided by the California Supreme Court, which held that the Boy Scouts were not businesses and so were not covered by the California Unruh "civil rights" law. The majority opinion was that, "The Boy Scouts is an expressive social organization whose primary function is the inculcation of values in its youth members." The plaintiffs had argued that the Boy Scouts were businesses "because the group has retail shops and licenses the use of its insignia" (Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1998). The Court has previously held that a private country club and a "nonprofit boys' club" were businesses. Since most churches have some form of business dealings, like retail shops, a general ruling that this makes such organizations businesses could be used to forbid religions to "discriminate" against those who do not profess their doctrinal or moral teachings.

The reaction of the plaintiffs and some politicians is instructive. One of the atheist twin boys in one suit said, "The Scouts taught us to stand up for what we believe in, no matter what people say, but I guess it was just a bunch of words to them." This seems to mean that the Scouts themselves cannot stand for anything, since they should, presumably, tolerate anything that this boy happens to believe. Indeed, he should stand up for anything he believes worthy, but there are plenty of other organizations, atheistic or "humanistic," where he will not be denying the principles upon which the organization was founded. The homosexual would-be scoutmaster, likewise said that, "What they have done is create a regulation that now makes it necessary for people to lie." Necessary for them to lie to do what? Belong to an organization with traditional religious moral standards? Why would this gentleman want to belong to such an organization in the first place? What he wants, indeed, is to force other people by law to stop morally condemning him.

One Justice of the Court, Stanley Mosk, although concurring with the opinion on legal grounds, nevertheless expressed his opinion that the plaintiffs were worthy of being Scouts and that, "Regrettably, the situation will remain such until the law changes." In other words, Justice Mosk thinks it "regrettable" that a private organization should be able to exercise its own moral discretion. "There oughta be a law," was a sentiment echoed by some legislators, though they did not think it politically possible to pass such a law.

On August 5, 1999, the New Jersey Supreme Court, upholding a lower New Jersey court, unanimously decided that the Boy Scouts there violated a "public accommodations law" by excluding homosexuals. The opinions of the justices were that the disapproval of the Boy Scouts was mere "bigotry" and that "social science" has proven that homosexuality is not "immoral" because homosexuals can "contribute responsibly and positively to society." The justices do no seem to have heard of the principle that liberty allows people to do things for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reasons. Nor do they seem to understand that many people get their morality from the Bible. Whatever "social science" may or may not have done, its conclusions are not relevent to the legal issue. Clearly, the New Jersey justices are motivated by a belief that people should simply not be allowed, in any area of life, to "discriminate" on the basis of traditional religious beliefs or morality.

The New Jersey case went to the United States Supreme Court, which, although vulnerable to such dishonesty, is certainly no more radical than the Calfornia Supreme Court, and much less so than the New Jersey. On June 28, 2000, the Court overturned the New Jersey ruling. Only five Justices, however, upheld the right of private and voluntary association. The minority Justices were either seized with a sudden, and uncharacteristic, Tenth Amendment scruple, or agreed with the New Jersey holding that unfounded prejudices or a "habitual way of thinking" cannot be allowed to enjoy First Amendment protection.

Jon Davidson, an attorney for the "Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund," says, of the California case in the Los Angeles Times story, that, "Scouting has just cut themselves off from a supply of talented leaders by taking this view." So what? Don't Jewish organizations cut themselves off from talented Christians and Moslems? What business is it of Mr. Davidson (or the New Jersey Supreme Court) what principle a private organization uses as the basis of its association? The problem is that Mr. Davidson has undertaken a totalitarian project to force involuntary associations on people who hold religious and moral beliefs that he doesn't like. He and his cause have no more right to do that than the religious would have to stone him to death, as the Bible requires, for his practices. Both sides, instead, must observe the "live and let live" principles of voluntary association. But "gay rights" activists, who once merely wanted to be left alone to live their lives, now frequently use politics and the law to force their views and practices on others.

Similar issues occur in a decision of a panel of the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeal on January 14, 1999 (reported in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, January 15, 1999). In a 2 to 1 ruling on a case from Alaska, the Court upheld the right of landlords to practice "discrimination" by refusing to rent to tenants, like unmarried couples, whose practices violate the landlords' religious beliefs. The decision overruled both the Alaska and the California Supreme Courts. The Court held that the right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment outweighed other considerations. The contrary argument, from the California Supreme Court and from Paula Haley, the "executive director" of the oddly named "Alaska State Commission of Human Rights," is that nobody has the right to exercise their religious beliefs in economic transactions. In other words, when people try to make a living, they can be forced by the state to do so by violating their religious beliefs. This is a very bizarre conception of "human rights." It was also argued that allowing the landlords to apply their religious principles would involve a forbidden "establishment of religion" -- which seems to mean that if the state does not prohibit the application of religious principles in private transactions, this creates an established religion. In those terms, the only way to avoid establishing a religion would be to prohibit religious practice altogether -- which is likely to be the agenda of those who don't want to be "discriminated" against by any religious judgments in any context.

Although this is the correct finding, it is for the wrong reason. The discretion of the landlords is not a First Amendment issue but a Fifth Amendment issue. As in the case of the Philadelphia Church above, private association is not just protected by freedom of religion but more fundamentally by privacy and private property rights. Thus, the right of the landlords to rent to whom they please is protected by the "Takings" clause of the Fifth Amendment, "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." Thus, landlords might be paid to rent to people they do not want to rent to, but they cannot simply be required to do so. The laws in question about renting involve unconstitutional "takings" of private property rights.

This decision is certain to be appealed to full 9th Circuit Court and then to the Supreme Court. Although the Supreme Court has somewhat expanded protections against "takings," it is unlikely that they would restore property rights so completely in a case like this. Instead, there is an excellent chance that the full 9th Circuit Court and even the Supreme Court will reverse the decision and hold, not just that the property can be "taken" for the public purpose of non-discrimination (a fully accepted practice at this point), but that religious scruples cannot be exercised in economic transactions. That is more consistent with the historic attack on privacy, private property, and freedom that really has continued with great regularity.

A major issue of the 2012 political season was the decision by the Obama Administration that some Catholic institutions, like schools and hospitals, whose purpose was not sufficiently or purely religious, would be required to provide birth control in the medical insurance they offered their employees. Since birth control is contrary to Catholic moral teaching, and it would also encompass the "morning after pill," which is an abortifacient, i.e. it induces an abortion, which is contrary to the moral convictions, not just of Catholics, of most conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews, this led to some controversy. Catholic leaders felt betrayed by the Administation, which had previously assured them, sometimes personally by the President, of its sympathy and sensitivity to Catholic scruples.

Congressman Darryll Issa (R-CA -- an Arab American; , Îsâ, is Arabic for "Jesus," the family being Lebanese members of the Antiochian Orthodox Church) held hearings on the matter. The Democrats, however, wanted to shift the narrative for their own purposes. They wanted Issa's committee to take testimony from a Georgetown University Law School student, Sandra Fluke. Fluke was an activist with an organization at Georgetown, "Law Students for Reproductive Justice." The University is a Catholic institution, and Fluke had long agitated against Catholic opposition to birth control, abortion, etc. It was even suggested that she attended Georgetown specifically to attack Catholic positions on these issues and organize students against them. The Democrats wanted her to testify about her right to have birth control paid for in her health insurance. Issa did not consider this relevant to the issue before the committee, which was whether institutions of religious affiliations, even if their primary mission is not religious, can be forced to violate their moral principles. After a fashion, of course, it was relevant, since Fluke and the Democrats believe that they have a right to have all health related matters paid for by others, even when the others have moral and religious objections.

The Democrats arranged a press conference for Fluke to give her testimony, but they set it up, with the appropriate tables and chairs, to make it look like Congressional testimony. In the course of her statement, which was essentially criticism of Catholic doctrine and the assertion of a right to free medical care, she claimed that birth control had cost her in excess of $3,000 a year. She said that his imposed a financial hardship on 40% of the Law School's female students, many of whom were forced to go without contraception.

One immediate response to this was incredulity. No one believed that contraception, whether through birth control pills or prophylactics, could cost anything remotely like what Fluke said. And if it involved prophylactics, how often would one need to have sex to run up such a bill? What had Fluke been doing? And, of course, if she was using prophylactics, why did she need to be the one to pay for them?

The Democrats were immediately indignant that Fluke was being accused of promiscuity, prostitution, or something. And they decided that criticism of her was part of a general Republican, Catholic, and Conservative "war on women." Not only was Fluke being smeared, but if mandated health insurance does not cover birth control, we were told, this was the hateful oppression of women by taking away their right to birth control. Of course, interviews with "women's reproductive rights" advocates and activists, as in Fluke's testimony, almost always revealed their real feelings and complaints, which were simply hostility for the Catholic Church and its moral teachings.

The principles involved in all this warrant careful examination. One is the confusion in popular discourse about the meaning of insurance. Since insurance is about pooling risk, where most of the insured will actually not return with a claim, it is a mistake to call something "insurance" where there is not risk, but certainty. Birth control, which may be used by most adult women, is something in which there is certainty, not risk, which means that the discount of cost made possible by true insurance is vanishingly small -- i.e. what you pay in health insurance will closely match the simple retail cost of what is "insured." What today is called "health insurance" is largely no more than a pre-paid contract for things, like routine doctor's visits, where there is more certainty than risk. Insurance companies, like Blue Cross, originally promoted this principle so that they could get paid in advance for medical care and thus secure an income stream and remove some risk from their business, giving them an income and the use of money that otherwise might only come to them later. There is actually little benefit in this to the patient, except the slight discount that the insurance company would pay for the use of the patient's money between payment and claim. Real insurance would be for things about which there is real risk, namely disease or injury. However, other distortions are introduced -- for instance, deals with drug companies for deeply discounted drug prescriptions, where the retail price of a drug may be hundreds of dollars but the price under "insurance" less than ten dollars. The economics of this situation warrants examination in its own right.

To the Left now, "insurance" means that all medical needs in perpetuity must be met, covered by only nominal payments on the part of the patient, or taxes on others. It is a "public good," defrayed by "society" at large. Thus, Sandra Fluke could not admit that birth control might be a trivial expense, or something that was not an appropriate matter of health insurance in the first place. Even the use of birth control medications for medical reasons, as for menstrual pain, if this would not be covered either by Catholic institutions, only raises the question why an employer or school is involved in health insurance in the first place. The only reason, as it happens, is that health insurance is taxed at lower rates as "benefits," while privately purchased health insurance does not received the same tax consideration. So all this is a function of the tax code, not of any intrinsic property of health care. Any real debate about those issues would only expose the socialist agenda of the Left, in which "rights" to health care, jobs, housing, vacations, pensions, etc. translates into the obligation of the government and "society," meaning those productive of taxes, to pay for them. The dismal record of Euro-socialism, not to mention the fate of the Soviet Union, although increasingly dire and evident to anyone keeping track of recent events, is something to which the American Left is blind with grim and stubborn determination. It can get political traction only with heated and deceptive rhetoric like the "war on women."

Underlying political and moral principles of this debate are even more significant. One is the tendency of politics in modern democracies to promise the removal of the consequences of one's actions. Thus, if bad things happen to you because of your own imprudence, politicians can made that go away. The Welfare State will provide an income, medical care, etc., even if your behavior had made obtaining a job, or preserving your health, unlikely. After all, the imprudent, the lazy, the wreckless, the violent, the self-destructive, etc., are truly merely unlucky, by having been born with the wrong character or in the wrong circumstances. John Rawls would say that "fairness" requires social arrangements that would satisfy anyone who could not predict, behind a "veil of ignorance," what kinds of personal or cultural endowments they would be born into. Thus, given the possibility that we might be born Ethiopian peasants, we would endorse the idea that wealthy and successful countries should pay enough to lift the Ethiopians to an equal level of welfare.

The moral hazard of this is palpable. If anyone can demand equal welfare regardless of their own actions, then there is no reason why anyone should bother to be prudent in the first place. All incentive for living a conscientious and responsible life is removed. Even more, the promise of politicans to remove the disabilities of imprudence is usually accompanied by a positive denigration or condemnation of the prudent. After all, we don't want the imprudent to feel bad in comparison to the prudent. So the natural rewards of prudence must be characterized as the result of "privilege," unfair advantage, exploitation, or theft. If we add a Cargo Cult economics into the mix, then the prudent have no more claim on wealth, and no more credit for its production, than anyone else. The hard working Korean who expects to enjoy the fruits of his labor is at least selfish, and at worst a criminal -- in short, a Marxist class enemy. Thus, the moral hazard works inward from both ends, reward the imprudent and to insult, demean, and condemn the prudent. The logical result of this is a society of resentment, envy, and poverty, in which all productive efforts and instincts are destroyed by relentless political and legal attack, such as we see developing most fully in Greece at the moment (Spring 2013), with France and California not far behind.

In relation to the "reproductive justice" of people like Sandra Fluke, the principle is that no sexual behavior is bad or should have adverse consequences. Thus, no one is at fault for diseases spread by promiscuity; and no one (except men) should be troubled by unwanted pregnancies, which a woman ought to be able to terminate at any time for any reason, perhaps even after birth. But there is another prinicple involved even apart from the erasure of the consequences of actions. The Left does not like the distinction between postive and negative rights. Thus if I have a right to free speech, or a right to any sexual behavior between consenting adults, I also have a positive right that imposes a duty on others, not only to pay for the mitigation of any adverse consequences of all of this, but to subsidize my behaviors in the first place. Thus, if you do not pay for the way I wish to exercize my free speech, my political activities, or my sex life, you are denying me my rights altogether. In other words, negative rights are worthless unless I have a positive right to make you pay for their exercise. Of course, this is one way that Marxists could dismiss the negative rights of "bourgeois democracy" and substitute a totalitarian police state where everyone, in principle, had a positive right to all goods and benefits. Of course, we cannot then allow just anyone to exercise all those old bourgeois rights, like free speech, smoking, firearms ownership, or political opposition. That's all fascism, which is beyond the pale. Class, race, and gender enemies are people whose rights, wishes, freedom, and even existence need not be respected.

In the face of the socialist sophistry, vicious antipathy to religion, moral perversity, and closet (or open) Marxism of Democrats, "progressives," and other Lefists, the Republican Party rose in resolution, power, and fury... No, just kidding. It was more like the French at the Maginot Line. To the "war on women," the Republicans simply never countered with accusations of a Democrat "war on religion" or a "war on conscience." Not even uninhibited personalities like Rush Limbaugh thought to use these characterizations. Yet conservatives are well aware of leftists assaults on religion and have written extensively about it. And even if they thought that a "war on religion" would appeal to too narrow a base, a "war on conscience" could be made into a electric issue for anyone. The Democrats had shoved Obamacare down the country's throat, and now they wanted to make people of conscience pay for the sexual behavior of other people, to which they have moral objections. Nor do we hear Republicans explaining the moral hazard of the Welfare State. The silence on all this was deafening. And absolutely inexplicable.

A war on religion and conscience is evident in other recent events. At Florida Atlantic University, a student, Ryan Rotela, was suspended for refusing to participate in a class assignment for an "Intercultural Communications" class. He was instructed to write "Jesus" on a piece of paper, place it on the floor, and step on it. In Edo Period Japan, something of the sort was required of the Japanese to demonstrate that they were not Christians. Otherwise they might be tortured to death. Fortunately without the dangers of such sanctions, yet, Mr. Rotela refused to step on the name of Jesus. But sanctions there were, until word of the incident got out. Then it turned out that the professor who oversaw the class, Dr. Deandre Poole, was actually unaffiliated with the University but happened to be the chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party. Why he was doing this, or why the University thought they could get away with it, remains unclear. There is a operative priniciple, however, which is that insulting and offending Christians in public life is perfectly acceptable, even while anything offensive to, say, Islâm is already regarded by the elite as the "hate crime" of "Islamophobia." Stuff like this has been going on for years, and there have even been cases where schools have told children that they were not allowed to pray before their meals, because, of course, prayer is not allowed in school. While the courts have, so far, upheld the right of students to pray on their own time; the mentality demonstrated by these incidents is alarming and chilling. It is hard to understand how anyone with half a brain could try and implement such policies, but in fact one will never be disappointed in underestimating the intelligence, or overestimating the viciousness, of such people.

Even attacks on Catholic morality more direct than that of Sandra Fluke are to be seen. At George Washington University, some homosexual students requested of the University that Father Greg Shaffer of the Newman Center "be removed for creating an environment hostile to gays." Father Schaffer, it seems, had condemned homosexual acts as "unnatural and immoral" and had counseled gay students to remain celibate. It was possible that the "Office for Diversity and Inclusion" would not regard such diverse sentiments, teachings, and advice as something that the "diversity and inclusion" of the University would want to "include" on its campus. One wonders if similar advice from Islamic 'ulamâ' would pose a similar problem. Nevertheless, despite the outrageous nature of the request, the principle involved again warrants careful examination. The forces of totalitarian political correctness want religious objections to homosexuality to be simply silenced. But "progressive" lack of undertanding of, or antipathy to, free speech and religious conscience is not something idiosyncratic or isolated. It is a trend -- promoted by prestigious academics and, even worse, law professors. While the courts have had little patience with such things to date, there is no difficulty in imaging that the "progessive" views of the increasingly intolerant cultural, political, and legal elite will soon work their way into a significant presence, if not dominance, in the courts. It is not difficult to see a dark night of tyranny lying ahead.

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Religious Morality and Discrimination, Note 1

We should also be aware that religion alone was not used in the West in the moral condemnation of homosexuality. Laws against homosexuality did not cite Leviticus. Homosexuality and other "unnatural" sexual acts were "crimes against nature." This would include what is now called "sodomy," i.e. anal sex; but all "unnatural" acts, such as oral sex, were typically also called "sodomy." We might suspect that attempts to construct secular reasons to condemn homosexuality and sodomy were ultimately motivated by religion, but the effort was consistent with the Catholic doctrine, at least, that morality as such has a rational basis and can be rationally justified. The notion of "crimes against nature" thus came to be founded in a dense body of traditional moral doctrine, going back to Aristotle.

Two features get us most of the way to a rational moral condemnation of homosexuality. First is the Aristotelian principle that natural objects possess final causes, i.e. intrinsic purposes. This is part of Aristotle's theory of causality, in which things are produced by "efficient" causes, i.e. what we now call causes in general, but also have by their nature intrinsic purposes, called "entelechies," i.e. the "end within." The traditional example was the acorn, which contains "within" the end of the oak tree into which the acorn would grow. We now know that the acorn actually contains DNA, which codes, by way of efficient causes, the growth of the oak tree. Thus, the duality of cause and purpose has been lost in the modern scientific evaluation of nature, in which there are no final causes and no natural objects possess intrinsic purposes.

Second is the principle that intrinsic purposes are normative. Part of this goes back to Aristotle, for whom that at which "all things aim" is the "good." Thus, everything with a purpose, which is everything, has a "good" in relation to its own end. To Aristotle is added the adage of St. Thomas, that "the good is to be done," i.e. a good end imposes a moral duty to fulfill the purpose. While Aristotle's point may be well taken, however, this cannot be used, as St. Thomas does, to posit a moral duty. In the first place, many activities have purposes, and the purpose may even be called "good" in relation to the activity, but both activity and purpose may in themselves be morally wrongful. Thus, there is the profession of contract killing, and a contract killer, a "hit man," may even be "good" at what he does, exciting, in some cases, even aesthetic admiration; but this does not mean that the profession or its activities are morally acceptable, let alone a moral duty.

In larger terms, most ethics, ancient and modern, including that of Aristotle and St. Thomas, fails to distinguish between moral and non-moral value, such as discussed here as the polynomic theory of value. Thus, there are moral goods, like honesty, and non-moral goods, like a good pizza. One has a moral duty, an imperative, to be honest; but a good pizza is only a hortative good, something that we would like to see, for which we may strive, and where we may urge others likewise, but is rather ridiculous as a matter of moral duties. At best, one may undertake a contractual duty, as a chef or restaurateur, to do one's best in producing a good pizza.

In the course of nature, the genitals would seem to have a fairly clear natural function. Their use in heterosexual sex has the characteristic consequence of producing offspring. This is not surprising in terms of Darwinian Evolution, where the success of a species consists in its ability to reproduce. Aristotle thus also would have no difficulty identifying the natural purpose of genitals, together with the judgment that the purpose is a good, not only in relation to the essence of genitals, but in general.

If St. Thomas then makes the use of genitals and their natural purpose normative, he must encouner a couple of difficulties. One is that not all "natural" sex and reproduction are going to be morally acceptable for him, but only what takes place in sanctioned relationships. It is not clear why such scruples override an imperative to reproduce, and we certainly find no such inhibitions elsewhere in nature. Also, and more severely, the religion of St. Thomas values, indeed exalts, celibacy, in which the natural use of the genitals is altogether suppressed. It is going to take a bit of sophistry to provide for celibacy in such a theory as has just been recounted.

The problems with all this will otherwise be obvious. Even if natural objects have purposes, and biology itself sometimes seems twisted in sophistry to avoid such language, this cannot be normative. Biological organs often have more than one function, and Evolution itself depends on the transfer of organs, tissues, or molecules from one use or function to another (e.g. the humble keratin proteins consitute skin, scales, feathers, horn, hooves, fur, hair, fingernails, claws, etc.). Genitals themselves have a conspicuous effect over and above reproduction, which is pleasure, and this figures in human evolution, not just as the spasm of the moment, but in order to enhance pair bonds, which provide for the greater security of offspring.

Now, at this website, moral duty itself is posited in terms of a modified principle from Kant or John Stuart Mill that actions are morally acceptable as long as they do not violate the innocent, competent will of others, or, in the absence of innocence or competence, substitute justice (where wrongful actions must be stopped or punished) or their own self-interest (in the incompetent) instead. In these terms, sexual acts between consenting (competent) adults are morally acceptable, and homosexuality or "unnatural" sexual acts do not create a moral problem.

As is common in ethics, however, moral and prudential questions are not always distinguished. Thus, when the AIDS epidemic got going in the 1980's, a favorite slogan was that all sufferers were "victims," whose innocence apparently obliged everyone else to pay for their treatment, or for the research to find a cure for the disease. An unwillingness to stop all other research and devote every resource to AIDS was taken as a sign of "homophobia." There was little sense in this that the promiscuous lifestyle of many homosexuals had itself contributed to the development and spread of the epidemic, meaning that they were to some degree responsible for the problem. And while bathhouses and other venues eventually were shut down, as public health hazzards, the claim seemed to survive that the lifestyle itself was above criticism, as long as it was conducted in terms of "safe sex." That promiscuity as such might have been imprudent was lost in the now familiar approach that the moral acceptablity of "unnatural" sexual practices not only implied their prudence also, but that practitioners had a right to their lifestyle for which others might be obliged to pay, if necessary. This principle would later be enlarged in the Sandra Fluke controversey, in which my right to be left alone to my own follies nevertheless means that others have a duty to pay for them.

In the end, one returns, whether in Aristotelian or in Darwinian terms, to the purposes of sexual organs. Some homosexuals are positively derisive of "breeders," i.e. people who have children; and this is clearly conformable to the modern decline in birthrates and the failure of industrial societies to maintain their populations through reproduction alone. "Yuppies" (young urban professionals) became "Dinks" (dual income, no kids), and various countries and communities are thrown back on immigration, often of people with very different cultural values and practices, to maintain their workforces. On the other hand, the cause célèbre of marriage and of reproduction through artificial insemination or host mothers is evidence of a trend among some homosexuals to recreate the nuclear family of heterosexual couples. There is some irony in this, in a day when what is "natural" is used to promote, or condemn, certain kinds of food, medicine, cosmetics, clothing, etc., while "artificial" forms of reproduction, simply in order to avoid actual sex between opposite sexes, is clearly unnatural in a sense beyond the imaginations of Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas. Thus, if modern culture is going to use the concept of the "natural," consistency or clarity requires some debugging, as well as serious questions about the status of reproduction in modern society.

At the same time, the good faith of some activists may be called into question, as in the following excerpt from a speech by the feminist and lesbian Masha (Maria Alexandrovna) Gessen:

It's a no-brainer that we should have the right to marry. But I also think, equally, that it's a no-brainer that the institution of marriage should not exist. [applause] So, that causes my brain some trouble and part of why it causes me trouble is because fighting for gay marriage generally involves lying about what we're going to do with marriage when we get there. You know, because we lie that the institution of marriage is not going to change. And that is a lie. The institution of marriage is going to change and it should change and again, I don't think it should exist. [address to Sydney Writer's Festival, Sydney, Australia, 19 May 2012]

This curious rant seems to show real hostility towards marriage, with the determination to destroy the institution for others, by means of claiming it, after a fashion, for herself. Thus, the religious who believe that homosexuals are not simply asking to be left alone, and to enjoy the security of their own bedrooms and bodies, but are launching attacks on traditional institutions, with the goal of destroying traditional and religious life for everyone, are often handed some evidence of this suspicion.

One might beg forgiveness for the reflection that the revival of militant Islâm may not be suprising as a "natural" reaction, far beyond the discontent of Christians, to these manifestations. Thus, when the Believers come, "gay liberation" and other liberties would receive short shrift, as in Iran, and without the superfluous considerations of Aristotelian ethics. Meanwhile, as the Left exults that Putin's Russia has offered assylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, exposing more evils of American imperialism, Putin has outlawed outward displays of or "propaganda" for homosexuality. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill recently (21 July 2013) called the legalization of homosexual marriage "a very dangerous sign of the apocalypse." As with Islam, one can only sympathize as the politically correct are torn between their love of the enemies of America and their discomfort at the morally illiberal and intolerant attitudes of these enemies. Of course, if gay rights are not too much to abandon to defeat America, we might realize that the real enemy of the Left is capitalism and liberal democracy, not harsh attitudes about homosexuality. After all, Fidel Castro has consistently persecuted homosexuals for decades, with scarcely a blip in the adoration of the Left for him. Gay activists might consider again that their best course is to ask to be left alone, not to demand more than tolerance from others, and to avoid tyring to use the law to force the moral acceptance of others for their lifestyle. They have mistakenly drifted into the totalitarian mindset that anything but whole-hearted assent to their cause is the equivalent of a political crime.

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Religious Morality and Discrimination, Note 2

I am actually not aware of the Bible prohibiting pederasty. Also, Leviticus does not bother to prohibit a woman to "lie with another woman as with a man." Why pederasty is overlooked should be a matter of some interesting inquiry (and it would certainly comfort to those who actually advocate pederasty, like the late beat poet Allen Ginsberg). The failure to prohibit lesbianism, however, does not seem like an oversight, since the passage on homosexuality is immediately followed by one prohibiting bestiality for both men and women. This makes it look like lesbianism simply didn't matter. What women do with each other, especially in the privacy of a polygamous household, does not compromise their fertility or the legitimacy of their children. The modern idea that lesbians simply would not marry would not have been relevant in an ancient world where marriage could have little to do with love or sexual attraction. When Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium says that homosexual men make the best husbands, we know we are dealing with very different expectations. Marriage and children fulfill the duty to one's ancestors. Sexual attraction is nice, but not essential. Sexual "orientation" is not relevant.

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Religious Morality and Discrimination, Note 3

Children are a tough case, since maximum latitude must be allowed to parents to raise children as they see fit. But if that is done abusively, or is seriously prejudicial to their present or future well being, as we see it, then we are justified in intervening.

This is already pretty much the standard in American law, but it may also be said to have already gone too far. Children can be taken away form their parents on the merest suspicion of child abuse without any kind of due process, and this has resulted in multiple outrages to innocent parents. Since the principle must be that actual parents will in general have a greater interest in the well being of their children than will transient bureaucrats, the legal presumption must be in favor of parents, whatever individual cases can be cited that make this sound like a bad idea. Putting families at the mercy of bureaucratic whim, especially if the "child protective services" bureaucrats are foolishly thought to be "disinterested" and thus worthy of arbitrary, discretionary authority, is to commit a common fallacy conducive to tyranny in general. It is already clear that such bureaucrats are often motivated by ideological, political antipathy towards the traditional family or by a sort of child-abuse witch-hunting hysteria. Once the bureaucrats get hold of the children involved, it is now obvious that, if they are young enough, the children can be indoctrinated and brain washed to give any kind of testimony needed to substantiate abuse charges. From any point of view, such abuses are much more serious and dangerous than those of violent or irresponsible individual parents.

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