Sunday, December 09, 2007

Romney and Religious Freedom.

I must admit that I have been dismissive of Romney since he abandoned the moderate positions he held as govenor of Massachussetts on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. I've also read his article in Foreign Affairs (July/August 2007) which didn't impress me very much. So I admittedly watched his speech at the George Bush Presidential Library, available here, with some negative bias...

As to the speech itself, I thought Romney had some good points, particularly these three: 1) his emphasis on the need to separate of the authority of church and the authority of the state; 2) his statement that the 'conviction of the inherent and inalienable worth of every life is still the most revolutionary political proposition ever advanced'; and 3) that the union of church and state in Europe has not been a happy experience for either the church or state (although I could have done without his cheap dig at Europe, i.e. that the Cathedrals of Europe are "so inspired ... so grand ... so empty").

Romney's rhetoric was clearly aimed at appealing to politically conservative christians, which did put me off. For example, when Romney spoke of those who "seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God," who Romney said "are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong" I also took issue at Romney's assertion that freedom requires religion, and that the US Constitution rests on a 'foundations of faith' and that judges should respect that foundation.

I do not believe that a secularist interpretation of the Constitution, as expressed in an elimination of religious symbols from government and a strict prohibition of government support of religion, poses a threat to religious liberty. Neither do I accept that the US Constitution was constructed on faith. As I read the US Consitution I am struck by how the Founding Fathers were inspired by a number of sources, movements and ideas, including inter alia: the English Consitution (including the English Bill of Rights of 1688); he English Common Law; American Protestantism; and the Enlightenment's emphasis on reason as the proper source of truth, faith and morals.

Finally, Romney's statement that "America's resolve in the defence of liberty has been tested time and again. It has not been found wanting...," was a repetition of the sentiment Romney expressed in his Foreign Affairs article, and one that seems to reveal a messianic view of America.

That said, I was generally pleased that a Republican would make such a speech.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Torture and Positions of Responsibility.

US Judge Richard Posner has been quoted for saying:
"only the most doctrinaire civil libertarians (not that there aren't plenty of them) deny [that] if the stakes are high enough, torture is permissible. No one who doubts that this is the case should be in a position of responsibility."*
While I find it discouraging that Posner, and other legal scholars such as Alan Dershowitz, embrace this view of the legal and moral permissibility of torture, its actually the second part of the quote that I find most interesting. What is expressed here, in the context of torture, is essentially a McCarthyan idea, i.e. that individuals holding convictions deemed to be dangerous should be prevented from holding positions of responsibility.

While Posner may only consider positions of high public office as 'positions of responsibility', it's not clear that he is not also speaking of other positions of public office, such as military officers, police officers, school teachers or even postal workers. This later position was, after all, the one adopted in Germany under the 'Anti-Radical Decree' of 1972 and the issuing of berufsverbot orders.

It would become apologists for the use of torture not to make such sweeping statements as the one qouted above.
*Quoted in Levinson, Sandford, 'The Debate on Torture: War Against Virtual States,' 50 Dissent (Summer 2003).