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Michigan Will Allow Secular Marriage Celebrants

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In an April 2 press release, the Center for Inquiry reports:

Secular celebrants are now permitted to officiate and solemnize marriages in Michigan, after the state attorney general reversed the government’s opposition to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Inquiry (CFI). Promising that the state considers CFI-trained and certified Secular Celebrants to be covered by existing statutes regarding marriage solemnization, the presiding federal court brought the case to a close.

You can learn more about this issue here.

10th Circuit Reverses Dismissal Of Inmate’s 1st Amendment Claims

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Khan v. Barela, (10th Cir., March 26, 2020), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 35-page opinion reversed a New Mexico federal district court’s sua sponte dismissal of a federal pre-trial detainee’s pro se 1st and 4th Amendment claims. Erik Khan was a pre-trial detainee for some four years. His 1st Amendment free speech claims involved a prohibition on his reading hard-cover books, newspaper and newspaper clippings. His 1st Amendment free-exercise claims revolved around prison chaplains’ refusal to allow him a clock, prayer schedule, and Muslim calendar to track the timing of Ramadan, and his inability to obtain Ramadan-compliant meals.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Consumer Choice and Society

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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Those who like to celebrate the contemporary capitalist economy frequently do so in terms of choice. Some are quite open that it is consumer choice that excites them, the ability to pick and choose among an immense variety of products, according to one’s whims and desires. Others, more conscious of the shallowness implicit in reducing man to simply a consumer of goods, are wont to point out that even though our society itself may be preoccupied with material possessions, we ourselves as individuals are free to occupy ourselves with better things, with cultural or spiritual goods, for example.  While of course this is true, one might wonder why so few people seem to manifest much interest in these latter types of goods. But perhaps the real problem here is the attempt to reduce human choice solely to the individual level. It is true, of course, that individuals do have the freedom to choose. Our wills were created by God to desire goods, but we have the freedom to choose among goods, to choose appropriately or not, to make choices that do not interfere with the attainment of our eternal salvation, or that make this more difficult or even impossible to attain. This does not mean, of course, that we must always choose the highest goods; rather, as the collect for the Third Sunday after Pentecost in the traditional Roman rite puts it, in such a balanced way, that “we may make use of [transeamus] temporal goods so as not to loose eternal goods.”

But there is much more to say here than simply to exhort one another to make good choices. For we exist not merely as individual choice-making consumers – even when our choices might be of the most laudable kind – but as members of society, and as such, invariably influenced by that greater social whole. In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, St. John Paul II offered a penetrating discussion of the connection between individual choice and the society or culture around us. He wrote (in section 36)

The manner in which new needs arise and are defined is always marked by a more or less appropriate concept of the human person and of the person’s true good. A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of the person which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to human instincts…then consumer attitudes and lifestyles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to the person’s physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.

Here John Paul makes clear the connection between individual choice and the concept or picture of human good which a culture projects. Consumerism is not simply bad choices made by consuming individuals, for these bad choices do not occur in a vacuum. They presuppose the fundamental things that a society values, what it produces and what it teaches about human needs and goods. John Paul notes four matters that require attention, “the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.” For now, let us focus on just one of these, “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility…among people in the mass media.”

Here advertising immediately comes to mind, and it is surely one of the most potent methods of teaching that any society makes use of. Advertising rarely teaches by precept, but more subtly creates illusions as to what is a good or satisfying or exciting life, and what products are necessary to share in such a life. It is not simply the promotion of a particular product, rather it is generally the promotion of “artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality,” for the sake of convincing the public to buy new products or new kinds of products.

It is true that the ability of advertising to influence consumer choice is not unlimited. There have been notable instances of marketing failures because of consumer resistance. But I do not think that anyone looking honestly at our economy today could fail to see that for the most part it is characterized by “artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality,” which convince people that happiness is to be found in the possession of more gadgets or of some particular gadget.

However, it is not simply by advertising that the mass media influence culture and public opinion. The media as a whole present an image of “consumer attitudes and lifestyles” that, more often than not, “are objectively improper and often damaging to the person’s physical and spiritual health.” They do this by the contents of their shows, certainly, but equally as much by the very images they offer, of apparently successful and happy people, and even by the news items they focus on and the way they analyze news events.

In response to this John Paul rightly highlights the need for “educational and cultural work,” the formation of a strong public recognition of man’s true good and, on the other hand, awareness of those false goods which directly appeal to human instincts and fail to subordinate our “material and instinctive dimensions to [our] interior and spiritual ones.” In this connection both the Church and educational institutions at all levels can play an important part. But he also notes “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers…, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.” Here we can ask if the very structure of economic life can contribute to the correct formation or to the deformation of our understanding of the human person. In considering this, if we recall the definition of capitalism offered by Pope Pius XI in his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, as “that economic system in which were provided by different people the capital and labor jointly needed for production” (sect. 100), we might begin to see why a society’s ordering of its economy has profound implications for its cultural, intellectual and spiritual health.

Under capitalism, when separation of ownership and work is the norm, there exists a class of persons, the owners of capital, for whom the economy is not so much a way of supplying mankind with truly necessary and useful products, with real means of satisfying genuine human needs, as it is of making and selling anything that people can be persuaded to buy, of working to create “artificial new needs” in order to promote sales of their products. Hilaire Belloc explained this in a striking passage.

But wealth obtained indirectly as profit out of other men’s work, or by process of exchange, becomes a thing abstracted from the process of production. As the interest of a man in things diminishes, his interest in abstract wealth – money – increases. The man who makes a table or grows a crop makes the success of the crop or the table a test of excellence. The intermediary who buys and sells the crop or the table is not concerned with the goodness of table or crop, but with the profit he makes between their purchase and sale. In a productive society the superiority of the things produced is the measure of success: in a Commercial society the amount of wealth accumulated by the dealer is the measure of success. [1]

The small producer is intimately connected with his product, and generally has some interest or pride in workmanship beyond simply how much money he can make. But necessarily those who are one or more steps removed from the productive process will tend to look at their product as simply something to be sold, and sold not necessarily because it is necessary or useful, but because advertising can persuade people to buy it. Under capitalism, “the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers” will be unusual, because the cultural climate will focus on “the amount of wealth accumulated,” not on the inherent quality of the product or service.

St. John Paul notes also “the necessary intervention by public authorities.” In many people’s minds, this raises the specter of a Soviet-style command economy. But this is a groundless fear. Any type of economy requires a legal system to support it. Capitalism, as much as any other, both shapes the legal environment and depends upon it for structure and support. For example, were it not for the unprecedented powers and rights given to corporations by courts and legislatures since the second half of the 19th century, advanced capitalism could hardly exist. None of this was inevitable, however, but rather the result of corporate influence over government and the general cultural attitudes endemic to a commercial or consumer society.

But a legal system could also work in favor of a distributist economy, an economy characterized, as much as is feasible, by a joining of ownership and work, private ownership for the most part, but private ownership of such a kind that producers are generally interested in more than how much money they can make. “The man who makes a table or grows a crop makes the success of the crop or the table a test of excellence.” Of course he needs and expects to make a sufficient return on his work to support himself and his family, but the ever-present connection with real work and real products tends in the opposite direction from the capitalist separation of ownership and work. Moreover, we should note that ownership in a distributist economy need not be individual proprietorships, but can be employee cooperatives. Such cooperatives will generally be necessary for production which requires large-scale machinery or large capital investment.

Of course, due to our First Parents fall into sin, distributist owners will also be affected by greed, by a temptation to cut corners, and so on. This is part of the human condition. But there is a huge difference between a system which facilitates greed, which promotes a desire to cut corners and defraud customers, and a system that does not encourage such evils. Capitalism promotes sin, distributism does not.

Right now the power of capitalists, particularly as embodied in corporations, is overwhelming. For the most part, distributism must manifest itself in nooks and crannies of the economy. We should seek these out and help them to grow. But there is another thing we can do: we can refuse to allow the culture of capitalism of colonize our minds. We can reject “new needs and new means to meet them” which are not “guided by a comprehensive picture of the person which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones.” We can distinguish in our own thought and life “new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality.” We can thus carry out, in our own minds, in our own families and among our own friends and acquaintances, some of the necessary “educational and cultural work” that John Paul calls for. In short, we can take small steps to break down the oppressive ideology of consumerism which surrounds us and live in the freedom of that truth which can set us free.

Notes:
[1] An Essay on the Nature of Contemporary England (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937) p. 67.

Court Interprets Defenses Under Illinois RFRA and Right of Conscience Act

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Rojas v. Martell, (IL App., March 6, 2020), an Illinois state appellate court answered four certified questions on the state’s  Health Care Right of Conscience Act and its Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The court held that neither the analytic framework not the reasonable accommodation defense of Title VII should be read into these state statutes. It also concluded that transfer of an employee to a job that does not include the religiously objectionable duties may be permissible under the Right of Conscience Act. The issues arose in a case in which a county health department nurse claimed that the health department discriminated against her after she asserted that her Catholic religious beliefs prevented her from providing birth control, from providing Plan B emergency contraception, and from making abortion referrals.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Practical Distributisim: The Cost of Comparative Advantage

This article is part of my posts on the economic system of distributism.  This is from practicaldistributism.blogspot.com which you can find here:

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The advocates of Free Trade deals between countries frequently cite the fact that more products are made available at a lower cost to consumers as proof that their idea makes economic sense. Their explanation of how this works rests on the idea of Comparative Advantage,[1] the idea that one country can produce a good at a lower opportunity cost than other countries. Based on this idea, if the industries in one country focus on those products where they have the lowest opportunity cost, and import products where they don’t, this provides an abundance of lower priced goods for everyone. For the advocates of Free Trade, price [2] appears to be the ultimate test of what is economically good. They scoff at opponents and critics of Free Trade as if their criticisms of it are completely without merit. Even some economists who have dared to question Free Trade, still try to uphold Comparative Advantage as a reasonable idea.[3] The reality is that the Free Trade ideology ultimately rests on Comparative Advantage. Therefore, it is prudent to examine the criticisms of it to see if they do, in fact, merit consideration. I believe that history has proven that they do.

The United States of America used to have a much more robust manufacturing industry. Critics will immediately respond that there is actually a growing manufacturing base in the U.S.,[4] but let me explain what I mean. It is true that certain types of manufacturing are growing in the U.S. However, these are not the same types of manufacturing jobs as in the past. Historically, U.S. manufacturing employed all levels of workers. High skilled and high educated workers developed and designed products, but our manufacturing industries also employed the low to average educated who worked on the assembly lines and did those aspects of manufacturing work that did not require higher levels of education. Over the last thirty to forty years, we have increased the jobs requiring high levels of education and outsourced jobs for those with an average education.

“The mantra that we’ve lost good-paying jobs to China is exactly wrong,” said Michael Hicks, an economics professor at Ball State University who has studied manufacturing in Indiana. “We’ve lost the bad-paying jobs to China and gained good-paying jobs.”[5]

These “bad paying” jobs supported large numbers of middle class families across the country. The “good paying” jobs were precisely ones that those displaced by this shift were unqualified to get. Essentially, the U.S. manufacturing industry has said that, unless you can get a degree in science or engineering, don’t bother applying to them for a job. The callous disregard of this large, middle class group of workers has caused economic and political tremors in the U.S. in recent years. Why were these hard working people turned out by their employers? The reason is Comparative Advantage. Our largest manufacturing employers are focusing only on those areas with the “lowest opportunity cost” to them. This is done without regard to what happens to their fellow citizens, and then they wonder why U.S. citizens don’t have much loyalty to domestic products.

Industrial heavy hitters who were able to develop and grow during an age of protectionist tariffs, now demand Free Trade on the basis of Comparative Advantage. Tariffs used to provide jobs in the U.S. as foreign manufacturers would open factories in the U.S. to avoid paying them.[6] As the threat of tariffs disappeared, so did the jobs.

… “industries where the threat of tariff hikes declines the most experience greater employment loss due to suppressed job creation, exaggerated job destruction and a substitution away from low-skill workers.”[7]

However, this issue goes beyond assembly line jobs. Comparative Advantage, and its necessary Free Trade deals have spread across all aspects of production in every country that has adopted this economic ideology. What happens, though, when the foreign supply lines are threatened? We have already written about how natural and economic disasters in other countries have impacted the availability of products of supposedly “American” manufacturers. The truth is that this is not as rare an occurrence as some may believe. It is easy to forget, though, when these amount to not much more than an inconvenience or an annoyance to us. For example, past flooding in China has resulted in shortages of computer parts for U.S. computer manufacturers. Because these types of events ended up being a temporary annoyance where people had to wait extra time for these parts, few seemed to really consider the greater implications of such a dependence. The fact that our supply chains have not significantly changed in the decades since those incidents shows that those who had enough foresight to raise an alarm were not taken seriously.

The reality is that the same warnings given about too much dependence on foreign manufacturer of critical technology apply to other critical areas. The same warnings have been raised about this type of dependence for things like medicines.[8] It does seem that a lot of these articles focus specifically on the dependence of Western countries on China. There are two reasons for this.

The first and most obvious reason is that China has become the biggest manufacturer of critical computer technology and medical supplies in the world. European and North American companies have outsourced the manufacture of these critical needs to China; a process that has been enabled by the cooperation of their governments. This is despite the fact that China is widely recognized by these governments as consistently violating basic human rights and having sub-standard working conditions that would not be accepted in their own countries, and these supposedly capitalist companies are moving their production to a socialist country. Some advocates of Free Trade say that China has moved to a more “corporatist” form of business model that is (by implication?) more compatible with capitalism. The reality is that corporatism is a socialist economic model that was adopted by the Fascist and Nazi regimes as part of their socialist economic plans.

However, the warnings against this type of dependence was ignored and, with the unfortunate outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, we are once again having to deal with the reality of this issue. The realities in this case are the same. There are both annoyances as our supplies of non-critical products are delayed.[9] There are also more serious consequences as this circumstance has raised the possibility of critical drugs and medical supplies might also be at risk.[10]

However, let’s consider another serious implication of what Comparative Advantage has done to us. It appears that even some of the manufacturing requiring high skilled and highly educated workers have also been outsourced. We seem to forget just how much of our society has become dependent on computer technology. This goes beyond our government offices, our communications networks, and the systems that run our economic industry. The advanced weapons systems used by the defense forces of Western countries are also completely dependent on this technology.

Even though our economic powerhouses have viewed China as an “economic partner” for several decades, I find it hard to believe that the military and intelligence departments of Western countries look at China as much of a partner. However, those departments rely on computer technology made by the companies that do. As a result, our most advanced weapons and defense systems, as well as our communications networks,[11] are all dependent on advanced computer parts made by a potential adversary.  Is this a real threat?

In 2011, it was reported that the “Government Accountability Office found that counterfeit routers with high failure rates had been sold to the Navy, and that counterfeit microprocessors had been purchased by the U.S. Air Force for use on F-15 flight control computers.”[12] A “scientist at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom claims to have developed a software program proving that China — and anyone else — can, and is, installing cyber backdoors on some of the world’s most secure, ‘military grade’ microchips.”[13]

You might think that this is a lot to blame on an idea like Comparative Advantage, but then you have to answer the question of why we no longer make these computer components for ourselves. The U.S. used computers designed and built in the U.S. to put men on the moon. This was not that long ago. Today our most advanced communications and defense systems are dependent on technology we might design, but no longer make. The same is true for medicines and medical supplies. We use computer components without even thinking about it, in our phones, in our cars, and in our home entertainment systems, and these components are all made by a foreign power that is philosophically opposed to the ideas that founded our societies. How did we get to such a place? We got there because our largest industries, and their partners in government, are believers in the theory of Comparative Advantage and have worked together to implement Free Trade agreements to make that theory a reality.

Notes:
[1] https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/glossary/comparative-advantage/

[2] https://practicaldistributism.blogspot.com/2015/08/price.html

[3]  https://economistsview.typepad.com/timduy/2010/07/why-is-the-american-jobs-machine-broken.html

[4] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/01/america-is-still-making-things/512282/

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.cnbc.com/2015/02/05/the-rise-of-made-by-china-in-america.html

[7] Pierce, Justin R. and Schott, Peter K. “The Surprisingly Swift Decline of U.S. Manufacturing Employment”. National Bureau of Economic Research, American Economic Review, Vol 106(7), Dec. 2012, Revised Jan. 2014
https://www.nber.org/papers/w18655.pdf

[8] https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2019/01/exposing_the_risks_of_americas_dependence_on_china_for_medicine.html

[9] https://financemarkethouse.com/2020/02/18/apple-admits-the-coronavirus-will-cause-a-global-iphone-shortage/

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/coronavirus-outbreak-puts-chill-us-businesses-apple-starbucks/story?id=68639376

https://www.just-auto.com/hot-issues/coronavirus-hits-the-auto-industry_id636.aspx

[10] https://www.wired.com/story/the-coronavirus-is-a-threat-to-the-global-drug-supply/

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/healthcare/biotech/pharmaceuticals/coronavirus-pandemic-threatens-to-cut-pharmaceutical-industrys-lifeline/articleshow/73753415.cms

[11] https://www.cnet.com/news/chinese-spy-chip-reportedly-found-in-server-at-major-us-telecom/

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/04/china-planted-chips-on-apple-and-amazon-servers-report-claims

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-10-04/the-big-hack-how-china-used-a-tiny-chip-to-infiltrate-america-s-top-companies

[12] http://www.allgov.com/news/us-and-the-world/counterfeit-computer-chips-from-china-compromised-us-military-equipment?news=843552

[13] https://www.military.com/defensetech/2012/05/30/smoking-gun-proof-that-military-chips-from-china-are-infected

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wk5oLLdTkq0

Title photograph by Thorsten Lindner.

Justice Department Sides With Wedding Photographer In District Court Case

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

The Department of Justice announced yesterday that it has filed a Statement of Interest (full text) in Chelsey Nelson Photography, LLC v. Louisville/ Jefferson County Metro Government, (WD KY, filed 2/27/20).  As previously reported, in the case the owner of a wedding photography business seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of Louisville’s public accommodation ordinance against her. Plaintiff “only accepts requests for services which are consistent with her editorial, artistic, and religious judgment.”  This precludes her from providing photography and social media services for same-sex weddings. DOJ sides with the photographer, arguing in part:

Most commercial transactions will not involve requiring an unwilling speaker to participate in someone else’s expressive activity. But where public accommodations laws do intrude on expression in this way, they are subject to heightened scrutiny….

Photography—and particularly the bespoke wedding photography in which Ms. Nelson engages—is inherently expressive…. By … compelling her to engage in expression promoting and celebrating a ceremony in violation of her conscience, Defendants infringe upon the fundamental “principle of autonomy to control one’s own speech.”

… That is not to say that every application of a public accommodations law to protected expression will violate the Constitution. In particular, laws targeting race-based discrimination may survive heightened First Amendment scrutiny….  The Supreme Court has not similarly held that classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to strict scrutiny or that eradicating private individuals’ opposition to same-sex marriage is a uniquely compelling interest.

You can learn more about this issue here.

No 1st Amendment Violation In Requiring Parolee To Live At Christian Homeless Shelter

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Janny v. Gamez, (D CO, Feb. 21, 2020), a Colorado federal district court dismissed an inmate’s First Amendment challenge to his arrest for parole violations. Mark Janny’s parole officer directed him to stay at a Christian homeless shelter in order to meet the parole requirement that he establish a residence of record. Janny was expelled from the shelter’s program when he refused to attend chapel religious services. The court held that plaintiff’s Establishment Clause rights were not infringed because there was a secular purpose for the homeless shelter requirement. The court also accepted defendant’s qualified immunity defense to an assertion of free exercise violations, saying that it was not clearly established that a parole officer violates a parolee’s rights by requiring him to reside at a facility that provides religious programming.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Valentine’s Day is NOT Pagan

As seems to be common, there are a lot of misconceptions over the origin of the traditions that surround Christian holidays.

As shown here and here respectively, the traditions of Christmas and Easter are not derived from paganism, despite the apparent general popular beliefs to the contrary.

The same goes for St. Valentine’s Day as well.  To that end, here is a great video on this subject.  Check it out!

6th Circuit: Non-Recognition Substantially Burdened Christian Identity Inmates

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Fox v. Washington, (6th Cir., Feb, 6, 2020), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the trial court had misapplied RLUIPA in upholding Michigan’s refusal to recognize prison inmates’ Christian Identity, white separatist religion. The prison system denied Christian Identity adherents the right to group worship and full immersion baptism. The court said in part:

… [P]laintiffs have met their burden ,,, to show that the Department has imposed a substantial burden on their religious exercise with respect to group worship for the Sabbath and holidays….

At step three of RLUIPA, the burden shifts to the Department to make two showings. First, it must prove that the imposition of the substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise was “in  furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.” … Second, the Department must establish that it used “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”… The district court made no such rulings, and the record is not well developed on these issues. “As ‘a court of review, not of first view,’ we will remand the case to the district court to resolve the point in the first instance.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Family Law Tip: Custody Orders and School Buses

I  post some tips regarding family to my Linkedin page (see here) from time to time, and I thought I should start sharing them here too. Below is one of my family law tips, and you can read my articles on family law here and other posts on family law here and all are cataloged here.

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