The Briefing, Monday, December 3, 2012

TODAY 1. The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage — A Decision Not to Decide is Still a Decision. 2. First Same-Sex Marriage in West Point’s Chapel — What it Means. 3. Sharia Law Combines with Autocracy in Egypt. 4. The Two-Edged Sword of Palestinian Statehood. 5. Does Justice Require that Stay-at-Home Moms Leave Home? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. The U.S. Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage — A Decision Not to Decide is Still a Decision

The justices of the Supreme Court went behind closed doors last Friday to decide whether to take a list of cases, including crucial cases concerning same-sex marriage. It was expected that the Court might announce its decision in one or more of the same-sex marriages cases on Friday, but no announcement came. This morning at 9:30 the Court has scheduled another opportunity to announce cases, but the more traditional announcement on Mondays is the list of cases the Court will not take.

Many Americans, including millions of Americans concerned about the same-sex marriage cases, may not understand what such an announcement might mean. For example, if the Court announces that it will not grant a hearing to the case known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, same-sex marriage will almost immediately become fully legal in California.

The reason for this is quite simple. If the Supreme Court decides not to take the case, it will let stand the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court ruled that California’s voter-initiated Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, sustaining an earlier ruling to that effect in a San Francisco Federal District Court.

In other words, a decision not to take the case is still a decision — a decision to allow the Ninth Circuit’s decision to stand.

It takes four justices to agree to take a case, and at least five justices to decide most cases. Observers of the Court often try to predict such decisions, but the decision making process of the justices is hidden from view.

In addition to the Proposition 8 appeal, there are cases dealing with the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA], passed into law in 1996. The Court will have a harder time declining to hear that case, given the fact that it represents a frontal challenge to a Federal law passed by Congress and signed into law by the President Bill Clinton.

In any event, a decision in any of these cases, if taken up by the Court, would likely come in late summer.

Some same-sex marriage advocates are already celebrating what they believe will be a major victory at the Court, one way or the other. “2012 has already been the watershed year in the history of this movement,” Chad Griffin told USA Today. Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also said: “It’s so clear where this country’s headed.”

Speaking of a DOMA case, Paul Clement, a former Solicitor General of the United States under President George W. Bush told the paper, “The Court will want to take this case and get it resolved.” Time will tell.

2. The First Same-Sex Marriage Ceremony in West Point’s Chapel — What it Means

This past Saturday, Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was the site of a same-sex marriage ceremony. It was a first for the stately chapel, and it came over a year after President Obama rescinded the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that prohibited openly-gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

As NBC News reported:

“Penelope Gnesin and Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate, were exchanging vows in the regal church in an afternoon ceremony attended by around 250 guests and conducted by a senior Army chaplain.”


“Fulton said the only hassle involved in arranging her ceremony came when she was initially told that none of West Point’s chaplains were authorized by their denominations to perform same-sex weddings. Luckily, she said, they were able to call on a friend, Army Chaplain Col. J. Wesley Smith. He is the senior Army chaplain at Dover Air Force Base, where he presides over the solemn ceremonies held when the bodies of soldiers killed in action oversees return to U.S. soil. The couple planned on adding other military trappings to their wedding, including a tradition called the saber arch, where officers or cadets hold their swords aloft over the newlyweds as they emerge from the church.”

Though the wedding was the first held in the Gothic-styled Cadet Chapel, it was the second at West Point. The first was just a week earlier, held in a smaller chapel on the campus.

According to the Pentagon, the ceremony did not indicate the Army’s approval of same-sex marriage — a doubtful point made necessary by fact that the Federal government defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

What does all this mean? The celebration of a same-sex marriage ceremony in Cadet Chapel at West Point, complete with the saber arch and full military honors, represents a huge step toward the normalization of same-sex marriage, and of homosexuality itself, in the larger society. The event was a powerful symbol of the great revolution in sexual morality that marks our times.

3. Sharia Law Combines with Autocracy in Egypt

Last week, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi consolidated his grip on power, establishing himself as an autocrat with apparently unlimited political power. Morsi had previously handed down a set of decrees that established his rule as beyond any judicial constraint, leading to protests in the streets.

As last week came to an end, Morsi approved a rushed new draft of an Egyptian constitution. To no one’s surprise, the draft constitution supports Morsi’s new claims to power. Also to no one’s surprise, the new constitution bears all the marks of influence by Morsi’s colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The new constitution includes references to Sharia law, without specific language that would limit its application.

As The Wall Street Journal reported:

“The draft constitution was finished early Friday by Egypt’s 100-member Constituent Assembly, a body that had been conceived as representing Egyptians broadly. The group became dominated by Islamist politicians, however, after it was boycotted by Christian and secular members who had made up more than one-quarter of it.”


“Many legal experts said they saw major ambiguities and contradictions in several articles dealing with the role of Shariah, or Islamic law; the powers of the president and the legislature; the nature of the judicial and electoral systems; and the establishment of regulatory and oversight bodies and agencies.”

This is a sad development for Egypt. As one observer noted, the new constitution combines the autocracy of Anwar Sadat with the Islamist agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead of an Arab Spring, the signs in Egypt point to a new dark and dangerous epoch.

4. The Two-Edged Sword of Palestinian Statehood

The decision of the United Nations to grant “observer state” status to the Palestinians last week is still reverberating throughout the world. The U.N. took this action despite the fact that the Palestinians have utterly failed to meet the most minimal criteria for statehood. The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934) represents the international standard for defining the marks of statehood. According to that agreement: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”

The Palestinians have met none of these requirements. To the credit of the Obama Administration, Susan Rice, the U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, set her argument clearly: “This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”

Nevertheless, the granting of “observer state” status does mean that the Palestinians can now claim to be a state, and to appeal for membership on U.N. bodies and international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court.

This may set up an interesting two-edged sword for the Palestinians, as Christine Hauser of The New York Times reports:

“In recent years, the Palestinian Authority has tried to have its accusations of Israeli war crimes investigated by the International Criminal Court, only to see its request go nowhere because the Palestinian territories were not recognized as a state. But now the court says it will take a fresh look at the issue after the United Nations General Assembly voted to enhance the standing of the Palestinians, conferring on them the word “state” as part of their new status as nonmember observers. On Friday, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors office said it ‘will consider the implications of this resolution.'”

That represents a threat to Israel, which could now find itself tied up in international criminal courts for decades. But the double-edged nature of the threat was also made clear by the Times.

Hauser reported:

“Some analysts said that by accepting the jurisdiction of the court, the Palestinians could also open themselves up to prosecution for war crimes, including Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians.”

The action of the U.N granting observer state status to the Palestinians is likely to breed more division, rather than to enhance the cause of peace.

5. Does Justice Require that Stay-at-Home Moms Leave Home?

Jill Filipovic of The Guardian [London] begins her article by pointing to a recent statement by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bade Ginsburg that has drawn a good bit of controversy. Justice Ginsburg said last month that there will be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine female justices.

In her words:

“So now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But ther’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

Filipovic  then argued that “It’s not unreasonable to think that, at some point, nine of the finest legal minds in the country would belong to women.

Interestingly, that is where the article actually gets interesting. Filipovic turns to argue why more women are not reaching the highest ranks of the law. Her answer is that the desire to “have it all” takes many women out of the routes to power in the law and other professions. As women decide to marry and have children they take on responsibilities that limit their progress in their chosen profession.

In an extended argument, Filipovic argues that many men actually do “have it all” because they have stay-at-home wives. As she explains,

“Consider, for example, the fact that only 44% of married male lawyers have a spouse who is employed full-time. That means that more than half of male lawyers have a person at home who can dedicate significant amounts of time to taking care of every aspect of the couples’ out-of-work life: housekeeping, childcare, home finances, vacation-planning, social calendaring. Female lawyers, by contrast, are overwhelmingly married to partners who have full-time jobs. It’s a whole lot easier to be the kind of employee who works 16-hour days and dedicates your life to your job when that’s the only thing you actually have to worry about – because you have a spouse who takes care of all the rest.”

Her answer to this inequity?

“Justice Ginsburg is right: there will be enough women on the supreme court when we see it filled by nine female justices. But that won’t happen until women have real access to power and when, crucially, men start to change by actually pulling their own weight, not relying on stay-at-home wives, being aware of just how deep unconscious gender bias goes, making efforts to promote and mentor women, and recognizing that, for all of their individual hard work, they were also given a heck of a lot for free.”

She asserts that men must pull their own weight and stop “relying on stay-at-home wives.” In her worldview, justice requires that stay-at-home wives and moms must leave home and go into the workforce simply because their existence in the home is harming their professional sisters.

Filipovic is not alone in making this kind of argument, but it is still worth taking a clear-headed look at it when it appears in public. Brace yourselves for similar arguments to come. The feminist movement is supposed to be all about choice, but leading feminists show little respect for women who decide to stay at home as wives and mothers.

I discuss all these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.

Links to articles cited:

The Briefing, Monday, November 26, 2012

TODAY: Autocracy in Egypt as Morsi Launches an Islamist Coup / The Real Aims of Hamas / India Executes a Terrorist / An Oklahoma Judge Sentences a Teenager to Church / Larry Hagman Dies — But Is Death Really “Just Another Stage in Our Development?”  I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. An Islamist Coup in Egypt — Autocracy on Display

“God’s will and elections made me the captain of this ship.” So declared Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last week as he issued a presidential edict that gave him unchecked power in that nation. Morsi is the first democratically elected president in Egypt’s history, but he was elected with the support of the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood. This fact gave rise to the fear that his election would lead to an anti-democratic end: one citizen, one vote, one time.

Morsi had previously discharged the Egyptian legislature and with this new edict he defied the authorities of the courts to constrain his power. The New York Times warned that Morsi’s actions raised the specter of “a return to autocracy.” Actually, Morsi’s moves created the reality of an antocracy.

Dashing the hopes of many who had championed the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011, Morsi has created a virtual dictatorship with one exception — he does not hold direct control of the military. Indeed, the draft constitution proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood does not put the military under civilian control.

As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, this puts Egypt on the road to becoming the next Pakistan — a very lamentable truth. The Journal was right to call Morsi’s actions an “Islamist coup.”

But, as the Journal warns:

“Mr. Morsi says his diktat will merely last as long as it takes the country to adopt a new constitution, which is what authoritarians always say. They claim to be a necessary step on the way to democracy, but democracy never arrives. Mr. Morsi’s rationalization is that he must have this power to “protect the revolution,” as if the demonstrators who deposed Hosni Mubarak in 2011 merely wanted another Mubarak with a beard and prayer rug. Mr. Morsi is claiming more power than Mr. Mubarak ever had.”

As is almost always the case, President Morsi claimed to assume unlimited power for the cause of saving the revolution that brought him to power. “The people wanted me to be the guardian of these steps in this phase,” he told Reuters.

This is the language used by autocrats who assume absolute power. It happened in the French Revolution and in the Bolshevik Revolution. It is still the language of the Communist Party in China.

Christians understand exactly what is going on here — human beings will seek absolute power if they can gain it. In a fallen world, every leader must be held accountable by checks and balances, and every healthy system of government requires a real separation of powers. Otherwise, tyranny inevitably results.

This just proves Lord Acton’s observation that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Christians, informed by the doctrine of sin, understand why this is true.

2. The Real Goals of Hamas

We just pray that the fragile cease fire in Gaza and Israel can hold, but Israel’s predicament was made clear by the fact that the international press claims the cease fire as a victory for Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the government in Gaza — the same organization that launched the recent rocket attacks on Israel.

Clearly, Hamas sees the cease fire as a victory. Young men in Gaza bragged to Western reporters that their rockets had landed for the first time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Furthermore, The New York Times reported that the relatives of slain Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari were celebrating his death. “Rest in peace. The mission is accomplished,” read one sign near the home where his relatives, including two wives, were staying.

One of his widows made her understanding clear:

“Allah give him a big honor because he is going to go to paradise; thanks for God for all this . . .  All this happened because this is from our God and this is the work of Jabari and the fighters here in Gaza. Thanks for God. It’s a big victory.”

Keep in mind that one of the central goals of Hamas, as made clear in its founding charter, is to raise “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

That is what Israel is really up against when it comes to Hamas and its aims.

3. India Executes a Terrorist

India hanged a terrorist last week, its first execution since 2004. Officials executed Ajmal Kasab, the young man who was the sole surviving terrorist in the 2008 attack on Mumbia that killed 164 and wounded more than 300 people.

At his trial, Kasab admitted that he was one of 10 terrorists who conducted the attack and he also admitted that the attack was supported by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. Kasab was clearly visible on video, shooting and killing civilians in Mumbai.

He was sentenced to death, and hanged last week after appeals for clemency failed. He was barely out of his teens when he participated in the terrorist operation.

India has the death penalty, but it is used very infrequently. Like many nations, including the United States, there is growing discomfort with the death penalty itself. Nevertheless, India’s citizenry offered wide support for the death penalty in this case, eventually resulting in Kasab’s hanging.

What does this demonstrate? At the very least, it indicates that, even in nations that are moving away from the death penalty as a common sentence for the crime of premeditated murder, some crimes still seem to demand the ultimate punishment available to human justice.

But that justice, vital as it is, cannot restore the lives Kasab and his accomplices took that day.

4. An Oklahoma Judge Sentences a Teenager to Church

Another aspect of human justice was evident in an Oklahoma courtroom recently when a judge sentenced a teenager to attend church for ten years.

Erick Eckholm of The New York Times reported,

“Initially there was little outcry in Muskogee, Okla., last week when a judge, as a condition of a youth’s probation for a driving-related manslaughter conviction, sentenced him to attend church regularly for 10 years. The judge, Mike Norman, 67, had sentenced people to church before, though never for such a serious crime. But as word of the ruling spread in state and national legal circles, constitutional experts condemned it as a flagrant violation of the separation of church and state.”

The Tulsa World reported the facts of the case:

“The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene. Alred, a high school and welding school student, admitted to Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.”


“Although not legally drunk – he was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness – he was underage and, as a result, considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol. Alred was charged with manslaughter as a youthful offender. He pleaded guilty in August, with no plea deal with prosecutors to govern his punishment.”

Judge Normans ruling is now challenged by the ACLU and others, who charge that the sentence is unconstitutional. The judge was clearly attempting to find an alternative sentence that would accomplish some approximation of justice, mixed with an effort to reclaim a young life.

As a matter of law, the sentence probably is unconstitutional. At the same time, the sentence demonstrates the painful limits of human justice. What is an appropriate sentence for a 17-year-old boy under this circumstance? What are the aims of justice? Even Judge Norman’s critics will be stuck on that excruciating question.

5. Larry Hagman Dies — Is Death Really “Just Another Stage in Our Development?”

Actor Larry Hagman, star of television’s Dallas series on CBS, died last Friday in Dallas, Texas at age 81. He died of complications from cancer, which he had discussed openly in recent months. Hagman had previously undergone a liver transplant and other health crises.

He was at one point the most recognizable male actor in the world, given the audience attracted to Dallas. The “Who Shot J.R.” episode of that series drew the second-largest audience in television history (exceeded only by the final episode of M*A*S*H).

Hagman delighted in his work as an actor, playing the loathsome character J.R. Ewing with relish. His fellow actors professed their enjoyment of working with him.

Speaking several years ago, Hagman said that death is “just another stage of our development.”

He continued: “I honestly believe that we don’t just disappear. We don’t go into a void. I think we’re part of a big energy curtain, an energy wave, in which we are like molecules.”

Every worldview has to answer the challenge of understanding death. Larry Hagman’s worldview, perhaps influenced by Eastern religious thought, is on full display in that comment.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.

Links to articles cited: