Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The End of Abortion Rights?

Dahlia Lithwick has an interesting essay in Slate about the Death of Roe v. Wade. She shrewdly points out that although numerous unconstitutional abortion regulations are being passed around the country, they remain unchallenged because pro-choice advocates fear that one of these cases will be used to allow Justice Samuel Alito the opportunity to provide the fifth vote that will overturn Roe, the case that recognized a woman's constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

What makes Lithwick's essay noteworthy is her guess is still that the Roberts court is as uninterested in overturning the law as its challengers are in forcing the issue. It does not want to be the court that makes abortion illegal, or all-but-illegal, in America. The backlash would be staggering. If pro-choice advocates don't challenge the abortion laws, however, then the Roberts Court gets its way: we have a legal system where Roe is on the books but meaningless because women lack access to abortion. Lithwick suggests that is an unacceptable state of affairs and that it would be better to put abortion laws to the test rather than to let the Court overturn Roe without really overturning Roe.

Muslim Women Talk about Wearing the Veil--or Not

NPR has this interesting series of interviews of Muslim women discussing their attitudes toward the veil and reasons why they eventually decided not to wear it. It is a great opportunity to hear the voices of actual Muslim women instead of legislators.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Yemeni Women Protest

The women are protesting their president's comments that it is un-Islamic for women to join men in the demonstrations against his rule. The women went back out into the streets arguing that the president had misinterpreted Islam.

Catching up on Theologians in Trouble

Dr. Mary Hunt, a feminist theologian who is co-founder and co-director of Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) and writer at Religion Dispatches, identifies some Catholic theologians in trouble.

Elizabeth Johnson, a distinguished theology professor at Fordham University, received a lot of media attention after her book, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (Continuum 2007) was condemned by the U.S. Catholic bishops because it “contaminates the traditional Catholic understanding of God.”  More interesting than their conclusion was their decision not to tell Professor Johnson that she was under investigation or to ask her questions about her book before issuing their condemnation. This appears to violate the bishops' own norms for dealing with theologians.

Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois was excommunicated in 2008 for advocating women's ordination and now is being ousted from his religious order unless he recants his support for women's ordination.

Meanwhile 55 of 188 dioceses risk being out of compliance with the bishops' national policy to prevent sexual abuse of children.

Texas Republicans Reject Supreme Court Ruling

Mother Jones tells the story of Texas Republicans' continued opposition to Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision that invalidated Texas' statute prohibiting gay sodomy. Despite the Court's ruling, the state law continues to identify "deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex" as a misdemeanor offense. Republicans are again resisting Democratic efforts to take the unconstitutional law off the books. Houston Democratic Representatives Jessica Ferrar and Garnet Coleman have introduced legislation several times over the last few years updating the penal code, but the Republicans have refused to cooperate. And it doesn't look like they will cooperate this year either.

Governor Rick Perry and the Republican Party's platform oppose Lawrence and want homosexual relations to remain illegal. Just a reminder that supporters of states' rights don't always support individual rights.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Abolish The Ministerial Exception

My colleague Professor Ronald Turner and I posted our opinion of the important ministerial exception case on the American Constitution's Society's blog. We hope the Supreme Court will decide to allow employees to sue their religious employers instead of sweeping these cases under the First Amendment rug.

Listen to Jimmy Carter

“The discrimination against women on a global basis is very often attributable to the declaration by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam, and other religions that women are inferior in the eyes of God,” former President Jimmy Carter said last week.

The Carter Center held a big conference last week on human rights, focusing on how the world's religions may contribute to women's inequality. Two years ago President Carter resigned from the Southern Baptist Church to protest its treatment of women. At that time, he said: "The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Remembering Geraldine Ferraro

Geraldine Ferraro is remembered as as the first woman nominated for national office by a major party thus ending the men's club of national politics. She had a more difficult time with the men's club of the Catholic Church. As a Catholic member of the House of Representatives and as a vice-presidential candidate, Ferraro was attacked by New York's John Cardinal O'Connor for her support of abortion rights. Ferraro had signed a then-notorious letter with other Catholics claiming there was a diversity of Catholic opinion about abortion. O'Connor insisted there was no such diversity.

It is hard to believe that the bishops are still fighting this battle and that with Republican help they almost shut the government down to stop Planned Parenthood from providing contraception, even to married women. Fortunately Democratic women Senators stepped into Ferraro's shoes and defended women's rights to health care. 

A Strong Dissent from Justice Kagan

Justice Elena Kagan picked up Justice Stevens' Establishment Clause torch in a powerful dissent in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn. Arizona taxpayers challenged a state tax program that gave tax credits to school tuition organizations that discriminated on the basis of religion when they awarded the tuition benefits. The Court ruled that the taxpayers lacked standing in an obscure decision by Justice Kennedy, who wrote that there is a constitutional difference between tax credits and government expenditures so that taxpayers may claim Establishment Clause violations about the latter but not the former. Justice Kennedy's distinction seems to fly in the face of the normal tax rule that foregone revenue is the same as an expenditure.

Justice Kagan's dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor, complained about the "novel" and "arbitrary" distinctions made about tax law and charged that the decision "enables the government to end-run Flast's guarantee of access to the Judiciary." The decision, she wrote, would "diminish the Establishment Clause's force and meaning," and "damage[] one of this Nation's defining constitutional commitments."

Justice Stevens was the strongest defender of the Establishment Clause on the Court, so it is good to see that Justice Kagan has take up his mantle. She uses a great analogy to drive home her point that the Establishment Clause requires taxpayer standing if it is to be enforced:

Imagine that the Federal Government decides it should pay hundreds of billions of dollars to insolvent banks in the midst of a financial crisis. Suppose, too, that many millions of taxpayers oppose this bailout on the ground (whether right or wrong is immaterial) that it uses their hard-earned money to reward irresponsible business behavior. In the face of this hostility, some Members of Congress make the following proposal: Rather than give the money to banks via appropriations, the Government will allow banks to subtract the exact same amount from the tax bill they would otherwise have to pay to the U. S. Treasury. Would this proposal calm the furor? Or would most taxpayers respond by saying that a subsidy is a subsidy (or a bailout is a bailout), whether accomplished by the one means or by the other? Surely the latter; indeed, we would think the less of our countrymen if they failed to see through this cynical proposal.

Thus we should think less of Justices Kennedy, Roberts and Alito for failing to see through this cynical proposal.

Protecting Nonbelievers from Believers

Be sure to read this great article by U. of Miami law professor Caroline Mala Corbin, explaining how nonbelievers, a growing segment of the population, are treated unequally whenever the government uses expressions like "In God We Trust" or places public religious symbols (like crosses) on government property.