March 23, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, March 23, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
ISIS attack in Brussels an act of terror and a crime against humanity
Over the weekend, intelligence and law enforcement officials in Europe told us that the question was not “if” but “when.” Chillingly, the “when” came even earlier than anyone had dreaded. On Tuesday morning, the word came that the Islamic State had carried out yet another deadly attack, this time with at least three bombings that have killed over 30 people. As Reuters reported late yesterday, the news came even as the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing attacks on Brussels that took place on a rush hour Metro train in the Belgian capital and also at its airport. What was described as a well-coordinated assault triggered security alerts across Europe—and Europe had already been highly sensitized with alerts at the highest level ever since the arrest over the weekend of Salah Abdeslam, the man who is believed to be the linchpin and the sole survivor behind the Paris terror attacks that took place last November.
Explosives and an Islamic flag were found after an apartment was raided a week ago and also in that apartment they had found a fresh fingerprint of Abdeslam that had put police on his trail. It is not known yet, however, if Salah Abdeslam was involved personally in the attacks that took place yesterday, but what is known is that the Islamic State is claiming credit, not only for what took place horrifyingly in Paris in November, but now also in Belgium just yesterday. It is also known that Belgian authorities found another bomb that was set to go off and were able to detonate it without loss of life. What we saw over the weekend in the aftermath of the arrest of Abdeslam was the fact that military intelligence had discovered that what was really happening in the Islamic State attacks in Paris was even more horrifying than was originally known. These attacks, it is now known, were calculated for maximum carnage. It turns out that the Islamic State has traded symbolic locations for these attacks to attacks that are likely to increase the number of casualties.Show Full Transcript
One of the most horrifying aspects of what took place in Belgium yesterday is that the bombs, crude though they were, included artifacts such as nails that were intended to cause maximum damage, maximum injury and maximum death. In the statement claiming responsibility for the terror attacks, the Islamic State said,
“We promise the crusader alliance against the Islamic State that they will have black days in return for their aggression against the Islamic State.”
Belgium, the site of the attacks on Tuesday, has a particular strategic importance in the midst of all this. On the one hand, it has a very large population of immigrants from the Middle East who have been returning to Iraq and associated areas. Just this past weekend intelligence officials had indicated that they were unable to track all of the people going back and forth between Belgium and ISIS dominated areas and furthermore, they were unable to track the traffic itself. Furthermore, Brussels is known to have several neighborhoods where terror activity has been fomenting and has been encouraged; after all, it was in at least one of these neighborhoods that the neighbors and family members hid some of those who were later killed in a shootout with police after the Paris bombings. There was every expectation even as it was printed in major newspapers over the weekend and on Monday morning in this country that the question once again was not “if” but “when”, and the “where” was also at least partly predictable in terms of what had been known to be targeted towards Brussels. We should also note that Belgium has entered into the alliance with other nations in terms of sending warplanes in order to defeat ISIS and that was what was cited by the Islamic State when it identified Brussels as being part of the “crusader alliance against the Islamic State.”
An important historical note is in that reference to the so-called crusader alliance because that goes back to the fact that ISIS is identifying itself as locked in a global conflict against Christianity and states associated with Christianity that the Islamic State wants to date all the way back to the Crusades in the middle ages. The Islamic State not only claims to be an actual functioning state under sharia law, but the Islamic State also claims to be the representation of Islamic rage over against Europe and in particular revenge against the Crusades—thus, the alliance identified as the crusader alliance targeted here in the statement coming from ISIS.
One of the things we have noted time and again is the fact that the United States and European governments seem to respond to all these attacks not only with an unexpected measure of surprise, but also with a moral understatement about what is taking place. Andrew McCarthy, writing for National Review, brings this:
“Defense Secretary Ash Carter happened to be scheduled to testify before Congress today. Thus, he provided the government’s first reaction to the jihadist atrocity in Brussels, in which 31 are dead (the toll is expected to rise) and scores of others have been wounded. Secretary Carter called the attacks a ‘tragedy.’”
McCarthy then writes,
“The mass murder obviously has tragic effects for those killed and wounded, and for their families, but this is not a tragedy. It is a war crime targeting a civilian population in the course of an ongoing war, which — notwithstanding the reckless posturing by the commander-in-chief — is not close to ‘winding down,’ much less being over.”
Let’s just remember the fact that President Obama at one point spoke of the Islamic State as the “JV team” in terms of international terrorism, and the President has stated repeatedly that the United States and its allies are making advances in terms of the effort to stop ISIS. And furthermore, the phrase “winding down” is something attributable to the President himself. McCarthy then writes,
“It was simply shocking this morning to watch split screens. On one, we saw President Obama spend fleeting seconds on a peremptory acknowledgement of the attacks before moving on to his long, celebratory speech about how he has put the Cold War to rest in Cuba by working with “President Castro.” On the other screen, Belgians chaotically fled fire and debris while emergency personnel rushed the wounded to ambulances and carried out the dead.”
Then McCarthy writes this very important paragraph, and I quote,
“Our enemies are at war with us. They continue to execute acts of war, not tragedies, against us. We cannot ‘end’ the war by withdrawing from it; we can only lose that way. We cannot prevail, or even adequately protect ourselves, without seeing the enemy plain: radical Islam — Islamic supremacists determined to impose sharia on the world, with jihadists as the pointy end of the spear, and ideological sympathizers as their support system.”
That paragraph has the ring of truth and moral urgency to it, and it is an example of clearheaded understanding of what is actually happening in the attacks undertaken by ISIS against the civilization of the West. What we’re looking at here is an attempt not just to bring about something that can be described as a tragedy, but an attempt to bring Western civilization to its knees, indeed to bring Western civilization to an end. The Islamic State has declared itself to be the implacable foe to the death against Western nations and against the very idea of Western civilization. It has identified that civilization in a way that modern secular Europeans are absolutely anathema so to do—that is, to identify the civilization of the West with its historic Christian roots. Western seculars have been trying to run from that heritage for the better part of the last century and more, but this group the Islamic State understands that theology matters. And driven by their own vision of radical Islam, they understand just how weak Europe is, they understand just how weak the response is likely to be and that weakness is demonstrated when that Secretary of Defense of the United States of America refers to what took place in Belgium yesterday as merely a tragedy. That statement is itself a tragedy.
As the philosopher Richard Weaver reminded us time and time again, ideas have consequences, and bad ideas can have very bad consequences indeed. The idea behind the secular revolution is that God doesn’t matter; God doesn’t exist, and theology can’t matter. And thus when confronted with an implacable foe like the Islamic State driven by a theological agenda, Western secular European leaders find themselves puzzled as to how a thing could be and how such murderous attacks can actually be driven by the doctrine of Islam—that is, a doctrine that in this case is believed and those beliefs are leading to carnage on the streets of Europe.
Just on Monday, fresh after the weekend, the Financial Times published an article in which Belgian authorities said that Salah Abdeslam, arrested on Friday, was almost assuredly planning to “restart something” when he was apprehended by police in a shootout. Well, the reality is, he almost assuredly did restart something, and it wasn’t prevented even as Abdeslam was arrested. On the day before the attack, Belgium’s federal prosecutor said,
“What is clear and we’ve already said it many times is that the network was large, a network of friends, a network of family a network that already existed for other kinds of illegal activity and which was at least in part, called into action for the flight of Salah Abdeslam.”
We now know horrifyingly so that it was called into action for far more.
SCOTUS battle today over religious freedom: Little Sisters of the Poor vs. Obama Admin
Next, shifting to the United States, this is going to be a very big day before the United States Supreme Court. As the Wall Street Journal reports,
“A four-year-old fight between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration reaches the Supreme Court [today], in a bishop’s challenge to the health-care law’s contraception requirements that could alter the boundaries of religious freedom.”
The Wall Street Journal went on to say that,
“Eight justices will weigh how far the government has to go to accommodate religiously affiliated employers that object to including contraception in workers’ insurance plans. The outcome could affect as many as a million Catholic nonprofit employees.”
That’s a significant understatement. As a matter of fact, the way this court case goes could decide the fate of many who are working not only for Catholic institutions, but for evangelical organizations as well. At the very center of this dispute is a Catholic order of women known as the Little Sisters of the Poor. And there is no question that in the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor over against the Obama Administration, we’re looking at a fight that was entirely avoidable by the Obama Administration and one that portends a great deal of danger for all believers, including American evangelicals. That’s why I and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary joined in party in this case with the Little Sisters of the Poor, an unlikely coupling by any estimation.
The Wall Street Journal wasn’t wrong when it said that today marks the capstone of a four-year struggle against the Catholic Church and the Obama administration. The problem is, however, that it’s not just the Catholic Church that is facing a disaster when it comes to religious liberty if this case is decided the wrong way. This goes back to the passage by the United States Congress of the ObamaCare legislation signed into law by President Obama. The Affordable Care Act came with a so-called contraception mandate—that is, a mandate that all employers covered by the Act must offer free contraception to female employees, and this is extended to the so-called morning after pill or what could be abortifacient contraceptives, which is to say medications that would cause an early term abortion. That’s why common cause joined together evangelicals and Roman Catholics, and that is why the case before the Supreme Court today has such high-stakes for us all and for the entire question of religious liberty.
The stakes are made very clear when you consider editorials that were published in recent days in two very liberal newspapers, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The Editorial Board of the New York Times said that the case comes down to this:
“Do religious objectors get to disobey the laws they dislike, even when that places burdens on others?”
The Los Angeles Times similarly came out solidly against the Little Sisters of the Poor. They went on to argue that “no good deed goes unpunished”, and they were crediting the Obama Administration with what they called a “good deed” in offering a form of accommodation to the Little Sisters of the Poor and to other religious objectors when it comes to the contraception mandate. But that’s where we need look at the worldview that’s being exposed here. The Los Angeles Times is actually suggesting that the Obama Administration acted under the goodness of its heart to offer a fair accommodation to religious objectors. But let’s just consider the fact that originally, the Obama administration offered no such accommodation at all. It was only under massive political pressure that the Obama Administration through the Department of Health and Human Services offered any accommodation. The law exempted churches and integral relations of those churches, but it did not exempt religious institutions and organizations like colleges and schools or, in this case, a group that is doing human services work, a group of nuns known as the Little Sisters of the Poor. They were offered no such blanket coverage.
Instead, under political pressure, the Obama Administration offered an accommodation whereby these organizations would have to sign a statement dictated by the Department of Health and Human Services at the federal level that would indicate their unwillingness by conviction to enter into an insurance coverage to their employees that would include the contraceptives that might include also the abortifacients. In return, the Obama Administration said that the insurance carriers under the qualified plans would instead have to pay for the contraceptives themselves. But you have to recognize that is merely an accounting trick; it is merely a trick in terms of who is actually writing the check, because the organizations as religious employers are still going to have to pay the full insurance coverage fee for every single employee. That is itself a rouse; that is not an accommodation. But furthermore, as the Little Sisters of the Poor have argued and will argue today in court, signing that document actually facilitates the very thing that their conviction will not allow.
Constance Veit, identified as Director of Vocations for the Little Sisters of the Poor, said in a statement Saturday in the New York Times,
“Some have mistakenly claimed that we can just sign a piece of paper and receive an exemption. Indeed, Health and Human Services claims it ‘accommodated’ our religious beliefs and offered us an ‘opt-out.’”
She then writes,
“I wish that were true. In fact, the government has candidly told the Supreme Court that we ‘don’t get an exemption’ at all. Rather, what Health and Human Services [that’s the Obama Administration] is calling an ‘opt-out’ is really an ‘opt-in’ — a permission slip where we authorize the use of our religious health plan to offer services that violate our beliefs and waive our protections under federal civil rights laws. That’s why they need our signature.”
And that’s why the Little Sisters of the Poor are suing, and that’s why it matters to all of us. Writing in the Weekly Standard back in January of this year, Joseph Bottum pointed out that the Obama administration chose this battle, and they chose to bring a battle all the way to Supreme Court against the Little Sisters of the Poor. You would think that political judgment alone would’ve led the Obama Administration to have at least avoided this. But the Obama Administration today before the U.S. Supreme Court is going to stare down the Little Sisters of the Poor. As Bottum wrote,
“A quiet waiver for the Sisters back in 2012 would have saved the administration some of the political headache of defending Obamacare, yet again, before the Supreme Court. If nothing else, the waiver would have put a less sympathetic group as lead plaintiff in this case. Just listen to the name: Little Sisters of the Poor. Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, from the liberal edge of the Supreme Court, couldn’t stomach the Tenth Circuit being mean to the Little Sisters; in January 2014 she issued the emergency injunction that has brought the case to the full Court.”
Bottum also writes, a now seven years into the Obama Administration, we see a pattern from the Obama Administration. He describes it as “the pattern of opposition to religious institutions.”
He then writes,
“Back in 2009, in the early days of Obama’s presidency, there was some talk of the new administration’s care for the religious. Thus, for example, while she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton would occasionally speak of this country’s commitment to ‘freedom of faith,’ at home and abroad.”
Bottum went on to say,
“We should have seen the problem signaled by that slightly odd phrasing, for ‘freedom of faith’ is the freedom to hold one’s faith in private.”
Bottum goes on to say that, so far, the government is not threatening faith, if faith is defined as what takes place in one’s private home. Instead, he says,
“The attack has been instead on religion itself — the freedom of faith to assert itself in public. The old argument was that religion had intruded too far into governmental space, and thus, for example, public-school prayer had to be banned and religious monuments needed to be removed from public parks and courthouse grounds. The newer notion, percolating through the years of Obama’s presidency, is that religion has intruded too far into public space, and thus any exemption from the practices of ordinary businesses is inherently bad.”
Writing on Monday at the Wall Street Journal, John Garvey who is President of the Catholic University of America reminds us,
“When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, President Obama vowed that he wouldn’t let it be used for federal funding of abortions. That promise was necessary to get the law passed. Bart Stupak, a congressman at the time, and a small group of pro-life Democrats provided the necessary votes. In regulations implementing the act, HHS has chosen a different, and more offensive, way to fund abortions: It makes Catholic and other religious employers pay for them.”
Well, that’s where evangelical Christians have to look very carefully at exactly what is said here.
“It makes Catholic and other religious employers pay for them.”
That will almost assuredly include an evangelical college or university or organization very close to you, very close indeed. That’s why it’s not just the Little Sisters of the Poor who are before the Supreme Court this morning; it is all of us.
6-year-old girl ripped from foster home in government overreach that defies common sense
Finally, a heartbreaking story coming from Southern California: Jim Holt, reporting for The Signal, a newspaper there in Southern California, wrote,
“Amid crying and chanting, county social workers Monday collected a 6-year-old foster child from the Saugus parents desperately fighting to keep her, acting on a court order that concluded the girl’s Native American blood requires her placement with relatives in Utah.”
This is truly a heart-wrenching story, and it has to do with a little girl named Lexi who for the past four years and more has been in the home of a Christian couple there in Southern California. They are the only mother and father she has known. And yet, county social workers removed her from that family on Monday, as Hailey Branson-Potts reported for the Los Angeles Times,
“Because the girl is part Choctaw, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act — intended to limit the breakup of Native American families through adoption or foster care placement — applies to her case, the Oklahoma-based Choctaw Nation said in a statement.”
Now the interesting thing here is that, according to media reports, Lexi, as the little girl is named, is only 1.5% Choctaw, and that means that that 1.5% explains why under the heavy hand of federal law, the six-year-old girl was being removed from the only family she knows in order to be placed with the family that is preferred by the group back in Oklahoma. But as it turns out, the new home of this little girl is to be in Utah with a family that is not of the Choctaw nation. It is a family to which she has some biological ties, but she was removed by the court from the custody of her mother and father and placed in foster care because she was desperately in need of a stable home. Now she’s been taken out of that home.
The bottom-line lesson here for those who operate from the biblical worldview: Anytime government at the largest level possible gets involved in a law like this that comes down to a little girl whose genetic heritage is identified and triggered by this law at just 1.5%, you have a situation in which government cannot competently handle this. When government intrudes into a situation like this at this level, it actually defies common sense and finds itself arguing on behalf of an abstract principle that has been federalized into law.
What needs to be understood here is that at the center the story is not just an abstracted law, it is not just federal policy, it is a little six-year-old girl who now finds herself wrenched away from the only family she has ever known. That tells us a great deal about how brokenness can lead to just more brokenness; but it also tells us just how difficult it is for a federal government to intrude into the decisions of a family and get things right.