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Saturday, March 7, 2015

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN THE 21st CENTURY: SOME FIRST PRINCIPLES

The recent attempt by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to seek common ground on questions of gay rights vs. religious rights has, in the main, generated far more hostility and criticism towards the Church than appreciation for the effort. The responses have shed light on one thing though: namely, how few people really understand the underlying principles involved, which ought to properly frame the debate.  Herewith, some principles which ought to govern and be understood relative to the issues in question.

WHAT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IS

Before we get started, let's define "religious freedom".  If understood pursuant to the U.S. Constitution, religious freedom involves three core ideas: That there can be no religious test for a public trust (U.S. Const. Art. VI), that there can be no officially established state church (i.e., no "establishment of religion") (U.S. Const. Am. 1) and that there can be no legal infringement on one's right to the "free exercise" of religious belief and practice (U.S. Const. Am. 1). These legal concepts have numerous practical applications, which can be gleaned from the history which gave rise to the constitutional text, and the subsequent case law based thereon.  Among these practical applications are these core principles of religious freedom:

-"Penalties are impertinent" if they are used to "compel men to quit the light of their own reason, and oppose the dictates of their own consciences."  (John Locke 1689).

-"[N]o official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." (Justice Jackson, W. Va State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)[emphasis added].)

-"Government may neither compel affirmation of a repugnant belief [i.e., a belief a particular citizen believes to be repugnant] nor penalize or discriminate against individuals because they hold religious views abhorrent to the authorities."  Justice Brennan, Sherbert v. Verner (1963).

-"[G]overnment coercion of moral agency is odious."  Gilardi v. U.S. (D.C. Cir. 2013).

With those statements of what religious freedom is as a starting point, let us look at some basic principles which govern  the maintenance of religious freedom, and which Latter-day Saints need to understand.

WHAT INVIDIOUS DISCRIMINATION IS

There are many laws which potentially implicate religious freedom, but since the Church's recent effort to find common ground involved anti-discrimination statutes, and inasmuch as such statutes are increasingly involved in cases which test the limits of religious liberty (especially in light of new definitions of marrage which many religious believers find abhorrent) it is important to properly understand the legal standards involved in traditional anti-discrimination law.  The term "discriminate" comes from a Latin verb, discrimire, which means "to separate, distinguish, or make a distinction."  There is nothing inherently immoral about discrimination, understood as such ("he has very discriminating taste in French cuisine").  What is immoral is discrimination in which persons who are otherwise alike are treated as different, or unequal, on the basis of classifications which might prevent certain individuals from fully participating in society on an equal basis. Even that type of discrimination is not necessarily evil: if John prefers brunettes and refuses to date any blondes, or Julie refuses to date any one who is physically smaller than her, they may be denying themselves of meeting some really great marriage prospects, but that doesn't mean acting on their private preferences is immoral.  However, if those private preferences spill over into areas that are less personal than dating, such as who they choose to employ, and if those preferences are based on irrational distinctions formed out of antipathy (as opposed to being based on rational grounds, such as choosing to hire a reporter whose ethnic background and language skills will allow him to understand communities which the newspaper serves), then "invidious discrimination" is involved.  It is invidious discrimination, and only invidious discrimination, which the government may properly prohibit and regulate.

PRINCIPLES OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

1.  From a Theological Perspective Few Principles in the Gospel Are More Fundamentally Important than the Doctrine of Religious Freedom:  Bruce R. McConkie has put it thus: “Freedom of worship is one of the basic doctrines of the gospel. Indeed, in one manner of speaking it is the most basic of all doctrines, even taking precedence over the nature and kind of being that God is, or the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God, or the vesting of priesthood and keys and saving power in the one true church. By this we mean that if there were no freedom of worship, there would be no God, no redemption, and no salvation in the kingdom of God.”   Bruce R. McConkie A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Deseret Book, 1985) 655 (emphasis added).  This is a fairly remarkable statement. But it makes sense.   To allow the Atonement of Christ to be fully effective in our lives, we must enter into the covenantal ordinances which allow us to fully access the power of the atonement.   If we live under a form of government which prevents us from entering into these covenants, we cannot fully partake of this power.  Thus, as pointed out by W. Cole Durham, the doctrine of religious freedom is not more important than the other doctrines listed by Elder McConkie, but more "basic" (or fundamental) in the sense of being a prerequisite to the fulfillment of the other doctrines.  In that sense, "it is the most basic because none of the other doctrines could become operative or have any meaning or authenticity if we did not have the option to choose them freely."  W. Cole Durham "The Doctrine of Religious Freedom" April 3, 2001 BYU Devotional Address.  

2.  From a Civic Perspective, the Right of Religious Freedom Is Also of Fundamental Importance, as our "First Freedom":    Freedom of religion has been called the "first freedom" both because it is listed in the First Amendment to the Constitution, but, more importantly, because it is a necessary precondition to our other civic rights. James Madison, the father of our Constitution, and of our Bill of Rights, stated this principle as follows, in his Memorial and Remonstrances Against Religious Assessments, written before the Constitution or the First Amendment:

"The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other menIt is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And . . . every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, [must] do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that . . . Religion is wholly exempt from [Civil Society's] cognizance."

Robert P. George, Chairman of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, has explained the precedent nature of religious freedom as involving the fact that this freedom is typically the first to fall, leading almost inevitably to the failure of subsequent societal rights and benefits as well: ". . . societal well-being tends to suffer when religious freedom is unprotected.  Politically, religious freedom abuses are linked with abuses of other human rights.  Economically, religious persecution can marginalize the persecuted, causing their talents to go unrealized and robbing affected countries of added productivity and abundance.  Civically, whenever religious liberty is violated, nations surrender the benefit religious beliefs may yield through the molding of character which enables the responsible exercise of citizenship.  Socially, wherever freedom of religion is abused, peace and security may be threatened, affecting these societies and in some cases the security of the United States and the world."

3.  The Right to Religious Freedom is a Constitutional Right.  As noted above, the right to religious freedom is listed in Article VI of the Constitution (prohibiting any religous test for a public office or a public trust  -- such that it would be unconstitutional, for example, for a State which had chosen to contract with a Catholic adoption agency for the public trust of arranging adoptions, to terminate that contract and prohibit and restrict the agency from continuing to perform this function, on the grounds of the agency's religious beliefs) and in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which prevents government from enacting any law relating to an establishment of religion (i.e., government cannot establish an official State church, -- such that it would be unconsitutional, for example, to require citizens to agree to orthodox belief systems, or to require citizens to attend and participate in a Catholic Mass or a same sex wedding ceremony, if doing so violated the citizen's beliefs) or prohibiting the free exercise of religion by individual citizens (under the "free exercise" clause -- such that it would be Unconstitutional, for example, to prohibit a citizen from engaging in certain religiously motivated conduct, such as invoking God in a Valedictorian speech).

4.  When in Conflict, Constitutional Rights Potentially Preempt Statutory Rights, not Vice Versa. It is among the most fundamental concepts of American law that the U.S. Constitution proscribes what is and is not valid law.  It does this procedurally by establishing the methods for enacting new laws, but, more to the point for present purposes, it does so substantively, by regulating and restricting the ability of Congress and (by extension under the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th amendment), the ability of state and local governments as well, to pass certain laws at all, if they violate the rights against such laws enumerated in the Constitution, especially (but not exclusively) in the Bill of Rights.  Based thereon, the test of any statutory law is whether it infringes upon rights guaranteed in the Constitution, or is valid or invalid under the Constitution's proscriptions.  It is the burden of those who would uphold a statute to prove that said statute is consistent with the Constitution, not the other way around.  The Constitution trumps any statute which violates the Constitution, and any statute which does so is subject to being declared invalid and expunged from the books.  The reverse is not true: a constitutional principle cannot be trumped by a statute.  Gay rights advocates understand this, which is why they have been running into various federal courts to claim that any laws which affirm or maintain the long-standing definition of the pre-political institution known as marriage are unconstituitonal.  They are wrong, of course (Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810, 93 S.Ct 37 (1972)), but in this context they at least understand the nature of the test which must be met, and the opportunity which constitutional tests potentially afford.  

5.  The Right Against Invidious Discrimination Is Statutory, and Therefore Subject to Constitutional Review, if Statutes Are Written or Applied in a Manner Which Conflict Irreconcilably with Precedent Constitutional Rights.  There is no Constitutional right to be served or employed by a private business, or to prevent such a private business from making its decision to deny service or employment on grounds which constitute invidious discrimination against a member of a protected class, by virtue of antipathy towards a member of that class because of his or her race, gender, religion, or other statutorily protected characteristic, which, in recent years, increasingly include sexual orientation and sexual behavior.  To the degree that you have the ability to seek legal redress for such discrimination, that ability is based on anti-discrimination statutes, which prohibit private businesses from denying service to individuals based on antipathy towards members of their protected class, or making employment decisions on the basis of such antipathy.

If such statutes are written or interpreted or enforced in a manner which infringes on religious rights, then such statutes are potentially invalid. The reverse is not, however, true: to the extent that the Constitutional right of freedom of religion infringes on anti-discrimination principles, the Constitutional right is not potentially invalid.  To the extent, if any, that there is any irreconcilable conflict between the Constitutional right to freedom of exercise of one's religion and any statutory protection against private invidious discrimination, the Constitutional right potentially trumps the statutory protection, not the other way around. Based thereon, when certain religious exemptions are codified into anti-discrimination laws or other statutes, this is not necessarily a per se invalid or unfair legislative preference, but a reasonable attempt to ensure that legislation is constitutional, which good legislators should always strive for (upholding the Constitution being the heart of their oath of office).  This does not mean that anti-discrimination laws against individuals with same-sex sexual orientation are necessarily unconsititutional, but it does mean that such statutes must pass constitutional muster.

Contrary to the long standing religious rights which are precedent, inalienable, and affirmed in the constitutional text, many of the more recently claimed rights and privileges which are now taking center stage in the American consciousness, which have been called by some the "erotic rights" (such as the recently discovered constitutional rights or recently enacted statutory rights to have an abortion on demand and without regard to reason, to terminate an inconvenient pregnancy; the right to access to contraception, including for unmarried adults and not-yet-adults; the right to unilaterally divorce one's spouse against that spouse's will even where no betrayal by the spouse justifies the divorce via no-fault divorce laws; the right to engage in sexual acts which were previously illegal; and the right to require that one's relationship be defined as a marriage even if it does not include both a male husband and female wife, such that the State must now pretend that there are no sex distinctions among parents on birth certificates or spouses on marriage licenses) are of relatively recent vintage, and are not referenced in the text of the Constitution.  Certain of these rights or legal protections have become largely uncontroversial, but all of them were enacted in their time with little to no evidence as to the long term effects, for good or ill, of their recognition.  As the decades go by, easier assessments may now be made on that question, and the evidence to date suggests the sexual revolution which gave birth to these new erotic rights is not making society a better place, especially for women and children.    

6.  Constitutional Rights Are Not Absolute.  None of the foregoing is intended to suggest that religious freedom may always be invoked, or should always be invokable, as an absolute trump card and prohibition in every case where a statute is claimed to violate any particular individuals or group's right to conscience.  The First Amendment protection of freedom of speech does not prohibit the government from punishing you for yelling fire in a crowded theater.  A member of a religion which taught its members that they must kill non-adherents would not be able to avoid charges of murder for fulfilling any such commandment, on the grounds that the murder statute violates his rights to the free exercise of religion. The U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that certain governmental interests are sufficiently compelling to allow statutes enacted in furtherance of those ends to be enforced even against Constitutional objections, where the statutes in question meet certain tests, such as with respect to a statute which was not motivated by an intent to violate Constitutional rights, but to further other sufficiently compelling interests, and which was written and applied in neutral fashion and in a manner designed to avoid overly restrictive means to further those interests. 

Thus, gay rights advocates have every right to argue that certain statutory schemes pass constitutional muster, despite any alleged encroachments on religious freedom, if those statutes meet particular legal or logical tests. Such arguments must, however, be rational and reasonable and legally compelling, if they are to be taken serously.  Manichean arguments which presume that any proposed legislation sought by one side or the other must always be taken as representing light and truth and any objections from the opposite aisle must always be presumed to be based in darkness and bigotry, should be treated with contempt, so as to force both sides to formulate and present better reasoning which will hopefully result in superior legislation.  For example, Dallin H. Oaks was asked about a New York Times editorial claiming that the Church was seeking legal permission to discriminate against gays. His response, as quoted by Tad Walch in the Deseret News of January 30, 2015, was a perfect example of insisting on fair and rational dialogue and argument: "When I heard that I can tell you my reaction," Elder Oaks said. "I thought, well that illustrates how much we need to have people educated about the principles we are teaching of fairness and balance, because that's a very unbalanced statement.  I would be ashamed to make a comparable statement saying that nondiscrimination is just trying to wipe out religious freedom . . . .  That would be the equivalent. I'd be ashamed to make that kind of a statement, and I'm sorry that a responsible voice in the New York Times made it. I'm hopeful that he'll see that's not our motivation and that's not the intended effect of what we're doing."  

7.  Invidious Discrimination in Secular Life against Individuals Because of their Sexual Orientation Is Morally Wrong.  I have represented gay clients including in matters involving their relationships with their partners, and I would consider it immoral to decline such representation on the basis of a potential client's actual or perceived sexual orientation.  Likewise, I would consider it immoral for any business which offers general services, not tied in any way to endorsing any particular viewpoint, to discriminate against potential customers on the basis of their sexual orientation.   

8.  Declining to Participate in Certain Events or to Promote Certain Points of View Is Not Morally Wrong, Nor Is it Necessarily Invidious Discrimination. As a lawyer, I am not required to accept a case which would require me to argue for changes in the law with which I personally fundamentally disagree.  No one would claim that a gay lawyer who declined to represent a religious group seeking to file a brief in support of maintaining the traditional definition of marriage was guilty of invidious discrimination against a potential client because of that client's religion, especially if the lawyer indicated that he would have been happy to represent the same group, or any of its members, with respect to other issues, such as a private business dispute, having no political implications.  This seems a fairly easy test, but it is one which government and courts are increasingly failing, as they seek to impose ideological conformity against any who dare to dissent from the new political orthodoxies of our age.

For example, in one recent case, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, a public body founded upon the Orwellian principle that the biggest threats to our human rights are to be found in our fellow citizens, not in our government, disproved that founding principle of its absurd existence, by fining a private citizen for declining, on religous grounds, to photograph a same sex committment ceremony. Although the photographer testified that she would have offered other photographic services to the individuals involved, such that she was not discriminating on the basis of the potential clients' sexual orientation, the commission ruled that she had violated New Mexico anti-discrimination statutes. Would the commission have issued a similar ruling against a gay-owned web-design and hosting business which declined to provide its services to a group wishing to establish and maintain a web site promoting traditional marriage, on the grounds that its denial of services to such a group was based on invidious discrimination against the members of a particular religion?  If you believe it would have done so, please contact me to help you set up a guardianship, as you are clearly not sufficiently intelligent to handle your own financial affairs.  For the rest of us, who are sane enough to understand that this ruling was based on exercising raw political power in order to bully, censor, and intimidate people of faith, and was not based on any sound principle of neutral and universal application, it is worth contemplating the various ways in which the ruling violated virtually every principle of religious freedom and freedom of conscience which the English speaking people have understood since John Locke explained to us over 300 years ago that "penalties are impertinent" if used to "compel men to quit the light of their own reason, and oppose the dictates of their own consciences."   

9.  Declining to Perform Acts Which One Believes to Be Immoral Is Protected Conduct.  An even greater threat to religious liberty than being forced to endorse viewpoints with which one disagrees, is the potential threat of being required to perform acts which one believes to be morally wrong.  Should a Catholic doctor be required to prescribe an abortifacient?  Should an Evangelical pharmacist be required to fill it?  Should a photographer be required to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony if she is personally opposed to same-sex marriage?  Should students at a religious college be prevented from applying for student teaching internships in a public school district?  Should a doctor be required to provide in vitro sperm donation services to a lesbian couple, if he believes children have a moral right to a mother and a father?  Should an adoption lawyer or agency be similarly compelled?  According to long-standing case law, and even longer standing principles of religious freedom in the west, the answer to all of these questions is clearly no. Nevertheless, the wrong answer has been reached, again and again, in recent years.  Notwithstanding long-standing principles of religious freedom, citizens in America HAVE BEEN FORCED to pay an impertinent penalty, to confess by word or act their faith in new orthodoxies, to have their moral agency coerced, to quit the light of their own reason and oppose the dictates of their own consciences, and have been discriminated against because they hold religious views abhorrent to the authorities. How has this happened?  We have sold our birthright of religious freedom for a mess of erotic-rights pottage.  We have decided that religious freedom, though explicitly guarantied in our Constitution, is less important than the judicially created right (no-where explicitly set forth in the Constitution) not only to participate in certain sexual acts, but to force the entirety of society to affirm and celebrate you for doing so. Religious movements and religious adherents brought us abolition and the civil rights movement. The sexual revolution brought us an illegitimacy rate of 50% (vs. 6% in 1960), broken homes, fatherless children, the feminization of poverty, sex selective abortions which overwhelmingly target unborn female children, and a youth suicide rate which is three times higher today than it was in 1950. But no matter: the erotic rights which were pioneered during the sexual revolution are now far more important (despite their overwhelmingly adverse consequences) than the religious rights which are explicitly stated in the Constitution. 

10.  The Constitution Did not Create, but Merely Affirmed, the Right of Freedom of Religion.  It is important to understand that religious freedom, together with the other freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights, were not created therein, but, rather, were affirmed thereby.  Our founding fathers understood this distinction.  The Constitution and the Bill of Rights listed and recognized pre-existing rights, granted by God, not by government (demonstrating another essential reason for religous liberty and for religous involvement in a healthy civil society: as giving the citizenry a source beyond government for its rights and liberties).  The rights listed in the Constitution were argued to be essential reasons for the revolution long before the Constitution was enacted.  As explained by Bernard Bailyn, in The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, at pp 187-189, the great thinkers of the revolutionary tradition argued, many years before the constitution was enacted, that the rights being pursued in the revolutionary struggle were the inherent and intrinsic God-given rights which existed independent of any written legal documentation.  John Dickinson stated in the mid 1760s: Charters are "declarations but not gifts of liberties."  Kings and parliaments cannot give "the rights essential to happiness."  Rather: "We claim them from a higher source -- from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature.  They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives.  In short, they are founded on the immutable maxims of reason and justice." Thus, written statements of rights "must be considered as only declaratory of our rights, and in affirmance of them." Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.  pp 187-89.  Similarly, Alexander Hamilton declared that "the sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records.  They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."  Id. Philip Livingston queried whether he had truly understood an argument to the contrary, raised by the Reverend Thomas Chandler, correctly.  Had that man really meant to say "that any right . . . if it be not confirmed by some statute law is not a legal right"?  If so, Livingston stated: "in the name of America, I deny it."  Rather: Legal rights are "those rights which we are entitled to by the eternal laws of right reason" existing independent of positive law, and standing as the measure of its legitimacy.  Id.  Thus, the rights to religious liberty listed in the First Amendment were not created thereby, but were understood by the revolutionary generation, long before the Constitution was even proposed, let alone enacted, as natural and God-given (not Government-given) and inalienable, as (we might say today), pre-Constitutional rights, which is what they were fighting for. Freedom of religion was one of those rights, and it was not invented by the founders or created by the First Amendment, but rather, understood by the founders and affirmed by the Constitution.  It cannot, therefore, be taken away, no matter what the historically illiterate advocates for 2014's ghastly proposal known as the  "Udall Amendment" have to say about it. 





Books Completed in 2015

JANUARY

Revolutionary Summer by Joseph J. Ellis (Vintage Books 2013). Trade Paperback. 4 stars out of 4. If you don't think American history is interesting, try reading this little book covering the major political and military developments of the Summer of 1776.  It may just kickstart an interest. It is fascinating, engaging, compelling, page-turning.  And it can only make you want to learn even more about John Adams (historically our most underappreciated founder--at long last getting his due), George Washington (who learned a painful lesson in 1776, which he used to his advantage for the next 7 years), Thomas Jefferson (who had no idea of the importance of the Declaration as he was writing it), and the Howe brothers (whose hopes for reconciliation, and fears of repeating another pyrrhic Bunker Hill victory, kept the war from being won by Britain in one swift stroke, and allowed the Continental Army to fight another day).

FEBRUARY

Heretics by G.K. Chesterton.  Kindle.  3 out of 4.  Chesterton was C.S.Lewis's C.S. Lewis.  I could read him for weeks on end and never get tired of his insights or his voice.  Even though I am not particularly familiar with the works of H.G. Wells, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, and the other Chesterton contemporaries whose works are examined here, the gist of the ideas which Chesterton is tilting against are easily recognizable to anyone who has lived through the last 40 to 50 years of American life, in which the social and cultural movements which were first aborning in Chesterton's day have arrived at their full fruition.  It's fascinating to know that the seeds which brought us the sexual and moral revolution of the 1960s were planted so long beforehand, and to witness the dangers of those ideologies being so presciently foreseen at the time. This precursor to Orthodoxy is the inferior book, but it's still worth reading.

Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why It Matters  by Patrick Lee and Robert P. George (Cambridge University Press 2014). Kindle. 3 out of 4.  It is unclear why Robert P. George felt it was necessary to co-author yet another natural law theory defense of traditional marriage, after his similar involvement on what is perhaps already the definitive text: What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, but both books are worth reading.  This is especially true for those who believe the only arguments against redefined marriage are religious in nature, as the authors present a "philosophical" argument on the basis of "reason unaided by faith" which does not "presuppose . . . any revealed source of truth." (Introduction) They do an excellent job.  Understanding why marriage matters from a scriptural point of view (leave and cleave, become one flesh) and also from a logical point of view will be important for anyone seeking to withstand the new inquisitions which the "tolerant" have in store for those of us who remain committed heretics, unwilling to bend to the new orthodoxies of our day.

Pathfinder  by Orson Scott Card.  Audible.  4 out of 4.  A reread, to remember the plot before I dive into reading the final book, which was published late last year. I enjoyed this even more this time around.  Either that or I'd forgotten how much I loved it the first time.  The narration on audible is fantastic, and the two stories meld together perfectly.  My original review is here: http://dadsbookreviews.blogspot.com/2011/05/pathfinder-by-orson-scott-card.html

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

THE BEST BOOKS FOR BOYS. On Creating Lifelong Readers.

I recently came across a blog post claiming to identify the 40 absolutely “best” books for boys, ages 8 to 16.  The whole point of "best of" lists is, of course, to stir up pseudo-anger and indignance and good-natured apoplexy about snubbed omissions and poorly chosen inclusions.  So here's my pseudo- indignance: This particular list was written by someone who, in the course of her listing, admitted never being able to get into Harry Potter, never having herself read any of the Narnia books, and whose omissions and inclusions showed she had no critical taste or faculty whatsoever in books for young male readers (Riordan's demigod series has a unique voice that transcends its Harry Potter rip-off origins, but still: to list him and not Rowling?  Lewis but not Tolkien?  No Bradbury?  No Ender? A year spent reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, as though the cheesy jokes don't get poke-me-in-the-eye stale in the first half of the first book?). Clearly, such lists should be written by someone who has actually been a boy.  Her omissions, in a list with the word “best” in it, made me sufficiently annoyed that I decided I needed to write my own list instead.

Elementary school teachers routinely admonish their charges’ parents to ensure they are reading for twenty minutes a day.  But I don’t know anyone who became a great reader by simply fulfilling this mandatory checked-off task.  Kids either find an author or a series they love and start passionately reading for pleasure (for many more than 20 minutes a day), and then, having consumed that gateway drug, begin a lifelong quest for more such material, or they don’t.  Those who do soon reap what are for the young reader entirely unintended academic benefits of their purely pleasure-motivated self-indulgence.  Those who don’t often find themselves struggling in ways which go far beyond mere academics.  Because most of those who don’t ever pick up the reading addiction and its benefits are boys, it’s especially important that parents of boys be given suggestions (lots of suggestions; what works for some will not work for others) in the hopes that their sons will latch on to something.  This is especially important in a culture where the illiterate screen is ever beckoning.

Herewith, a list of what are, in my purely subjective opinion (which happens to nevertheless be actually objectively accurate), the truly superlative books for boys.  The qualifications for a book making this list are two-fold.  It is comprised entirely of books that I personally read and loved between the ages of 8 and 18, or that one of my three sons (currently aged 10, 20, and 23) personally read and loved between those ages.  In other words, actual boys who have learned to love reading did so via these books.  Alphabetical by author:

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its sequels.  I never finished the first book, but my son, and lots of other young men with the right sense of humor, have loved them.

Isaac Asimov: The Foundation Trilogy; the Robot series.  The kind of mind-blowing stuff that makes sci-fi so popular during that adolescent period of our lives when we get to ask the big questions, and (spoiler alert) if you read far enough in both series they eventually merge. 




Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451; Something Wicked This Way ComesThe Illustrated Man; The October Country; The Martian Chronicles; A Medicine for Melancholy; I Sing the Body Electric; and other short story collections.  The Twilight Zone TV Show was, alas, before my time.  But I had the short stories of Ray Bradbury instead.  They had the same spooky tricky endings, with the added bonus of beautiful writing.  




Bill Bryson: A Short History of Nearly Everything. I'm fairly certain that this book is the reason my second son became a science major in college.  Bryson's engaging writing shows how fascinating scientific literacy should be, if only so many schools didn't do such a good job of taking what should be fascinating and making it interminably boring.  



Edgar Rice Burroughs: Tarzan of the Apes and the sequels / series.  Tarzan was the original superhero.  He had an origin story that explained his superhuman strength, agility, intelligence, and ability to talk to animals, a dual identity (Lord Greystoke and also Tarzan), untold wealth, just like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne, plus lots of cool enemies from the hidden temples and lost civilizations of darkest Africa.  What's not to like?   Burroughs never researched anything, and his stories were full of errors about the geographical locations of various species, proving they were written with one goal in mind: entertainment.  


   

Orson Scott Card: Ender’s Game and its sequels;  Ender’s Shadow and its sequels.  Ender's Game and its parallel novel Ender's Shadow are both great reads, despite Hollywood's failure to do the first novel full justice.  (For a great adaptation, instead of watching the movie, listen to the audioplay, Ender's Game Alive, available via Audible.com) Adult readers will enjoy the sequels to Ender's Game (Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind) and younger readers will enjoy the Shadow Series, although both series dwindle with each volume, rather than building to a satisfactory conclusion, which is typical of Card, who is much better at stand-alone novels than at series.  If that depresses you, then just read Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow.  They work on their own without any need to find out what happens next.   




Arthur C. Clarke: 2001 A Space Odyssey; Childhood’s End.  More good mind blowing big idea sci-fi.

Eoin Coifer: Artemis Fowl series.  Never read these myself, but my two oldest boys must have consumed them, as the house was littered with them when they left home.

Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator; James and the Giant Peach.  When I was in the 6th Grade I had to memorize a poem and recite it in front of an audience.  I chose the long humorous poem about the little girl who ate her grandma's laxatives from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator which was a big hit with students and teachers.  It's still the only poem I've ever memorized (literary memorization had clearly become a disfavored educational trend when I was growing up, stupid public education trends--I could use some good memorized poems).  

Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo.  I read this as an adult, but my son read it while he was growing up.  A great story at any age.  




Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels.  Loved this book when I was a kid.  Tried to get my kids into it by playing an audiobook on a road trip.  But alas, the egotistical Ms. Engle had decided to narrate the book herself, long after she was of the proper age to do so, and her elderly and screeching voice, not to mention moist inadvertent lip-smacking, was so annoying to my kids they begged me to turn it off until I finally had to relent because I couldn't take it any more either.  A note to publishers.  Authors write.  Hire an actor to do the reading.  Especially if the author is in her last gasps.  

Walter Farley: The Black Stallion.  Also a very good movie from my youth.

John D. Fitzgerald: The Great Brain series.  Set in turn-of-the-century Southern Utah (and, in the later volumes, SLC, where the children attend the Catholic academy) and narrated by the titular genius's younger brother, these incredibly entertaining books deserve a much wider audience than they have.  Personally, I think they are better than Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, not as literature, but as entertaining reading for boys.  




The Guiness Book of World Records.  Always loved these as a kid.  They are even more popular now that they come in big color annual hardbacks.  Although I'm not sure they have as many cool facts as they used to. 

Frank Herbert: Dune.  One of the great sci-fi novels of all time.  But don't bother with the sequels.

Conn and Hal Iggulden: The Dangerous Book for Boys.  The publishing of this book could not have been more timely.  Just what our world needed. 




Brian Jacques: The Redwall Series.  I haven't read these, but my oldest son devoured them when he was growing up. 




Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird.  If you read this for school because you had to and you didn't enjoy it, do yourself a favor and read it again.  There's a reason it's so famous.  The greatest American novel ever written.  And it's great for boys who need actual heroes but are living in a popular culture that increasingly refuses to give them any. 

C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Screwtape Letters.  Every Christian should read the Narnia books when they are still too young to understand and decode the symbolism, so they can internalize the symbols instead. And everyone should read the Screwtape Letters at least once a year.




James Michener: Hawaii, The Source.  Books I started to read in my youth primarily to prove to myself that I could read something really long, but kept reading as they gave me a love of history. 

George Orwell: 1984, Animal Farm.  In addition to reading modern YA dystopian novels where the dystopia is merely the backdrop to an adventure story, make sure your kids have read these books where the story had a prescient point to make.  Great reads and great social commentaries at the same time.  

Gary Paulson: Hatchet.  A book I have not yet read, but included here at the counsel of my youngest son, who I am still working on turning into a life-long reader.



Wilson Rawls: Where the Red Fern GrowsSummer of the Monkeys.  Books to make a Fourth Grader cry.  

Ripley’s Believe It or Not books.  I don't know if they still even publish these, with their drawings instead of photographs, and their weird facts.  But I remember being fascinated by the paperbacks when I was young. 

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter series.  My oldest son and I began reading these when he was 8 and the first three books had been published.  They were instrumental in turning at least three of my children into life-long readers.  I love the Harry Potter movies.  Nevertheless, I consider it to be one of the great tragedies of our age and among the most terrible crimes ever committed against imagination that those movies were made so soon, before the series had even been completely written.  Could not one generation of readers have experienced the Harry Potter universe purely and solely as books?  Oh well, at least some of my children got to experience them when they were wholly new, and we were able to read each book before its respective film was complete.  




Louis Sachar: Holes.  Fun plotting. 

Donald J. Sobol: The Encyclopedia Brown series.  In the part of Las Vegas once known as "Charleston Heights" where a grungy locals casino now unfortunately stands, on Decatur between Charleston and Alta, there was once something so much better: a large red, white and blue slide, the kind you use a blanket to slide down, and behind that: a shopping center, with a local library branch, right across the aisle from where I got my hair cut.  I can still remember the librarian in that location who introduced me to Encyclopedia Brown.  I could rarely figure out the solution to each chapter's mystery without checking the back of the book, but Enclopedia Brown did inspire me to try to read more of our family's set of encyclopedias.  I still think of these books every time I spin an egg to test if it has been hard boiled or not.



J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings.  The greatest works of fiction ever written. Bar none. 




Leon Uris: Exodus. A great historical novel about one of the most interesting stories of the 20th Century, the founding of the nation of Israel.

Jules Verne: Around the World in 80 Days; 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  The original steampunk sci-fi.  One of my favorite stories from LDS Church History is about John Taylor, the third President of the Church, coming into the parlor one evening and, upon seeing his son reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, advising him he shouldn't be wasting his time on such things as novels.  Son went to bed, and upon waking up the next morning, came down to the parlor to find John Taylor finishing the book, which he had stayed up all night reading.  He told his son he'd changed his mind and that this was a very good book which he should read. 

Bill Watterson: Calvin & Hobbes collections.  I truly believe that Bill Watterson will be remembered as a genius in the same way that other artists who have been the best in their genre, be it painting, jazz, or baseball, have been remembered.  The rules of the comic strip make it a fairly brutal form to do well (here, take four little panels, now draw me a little picture and add some words that will make me laugh; repeat every day).  This is why most comic strips are just lousy, with most of the comic page of the newspaper not worth the ink it is printed on, giving us 20 Marmadukes or Garfields for every one Frank and Ernest or Wizard of Id or Hagar the Horrible.  Watterson nailed it and his comic strip collections are perfect for boys who are Calvin's age or slightly older. 

H.G. Wells: The Time Machine; War of the Worlds; The Island of Dr. Moreau.  I didn't know til I was much older that H.G. Wells was most famous in his own day not for his fiction, but for his social and political commentaries, most of which were nutsoid early versions of the socialist utopian ideas that made the 20th century so dismal for so many.  Oh well, he still wrote good books.  At least as far as I can remember.  It has been a very, very, long time since I read them. 

E.B. White: Charlotte’s Web.  The one book I tried to read to all of my children.  A timeless classic.

T.H. White: The Once and Future King.  The definitive version of the Arthurian legend for the 20th Century.



The sad fate of my two oldest sons, who learned to love reading in their childhood:


Originally posted on January 28, 2015.
Last Update February 11, 2015

Friday, January 2, 2015

What I learned from the Movies Released in 2014

 What I learned from 2014's Movies:

- If you want to keep stolen art, don't teach your children to Sieg Heil. The Monuments Men

- Spies should never keep their movie ticket stubs.  Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

- Krazy glue is evil.  The Lego Movie

- Large government bureaucracies attract parasites whose purposes are directly contrary to those for which the institution was originally established.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier

- The future belongs to simians.  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  I didn't actually learn this from the movie, but from the group of teenagers sitting in front of us.

- Let the redhead go to England.  The Amazing Spiderman 2

- The best thing about living in a video game would be the reset button. Edge of Tomorrow

- Wings never die.  Maleficent

- Sometimes, the movie is better than the book.   The Maze Runner

- Diplomacy is not the answer.  War is the answer.  How to Train Your Dragon 2

- Star Wars would have been an even better movie if Chewbacca had been played by a walking tree. Guardians of the Galaxy

- Pediatricians should be chubby.  It's comforting.  Big Hero 6

- A child's room should be full of books.  This is vitally important to the future of humanity. Interstellar

- Never let your wife go into the woods.  Into the Woods

- Always tell your neighbors how long you'll be gone, before leaving on a vacation.  The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

- Sometimes, having read the book makes the movie better.  Unbroken
- The Men who lived through WWII were bad to the bone.  Unbroken
- There are some things that can make me weep like a baby, and seeing a movie-screen sized Louis Zamperini running with the Olympic Torch in Japan is one of them. Unbroken

Thursday, January 1, 2015

James Madison: A Federalist and a Republican (Part 2 of a Review of Lynne Cheney's biography, James Madison, a Life Reconsidered)



{This is PART 2 of a Review of James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, by Lynne Cheney.  For PART 1, See:  http://dadsbookreviews.blogspot.com/2014/10/some-thoughts-on-religious-liberty.html}


Lynne Cheney, in "James Madison: A Life Reconsidered" is not simply writing a biography.  Rather, like McCullough on Adams and Chernow on Hamilton, she is engaging in an act of advocacy. Cheney likes Madison, agrees with his views, and wishes to promote his importance in the American pantheon. Thus, she arbitrates every historical argument in his favor, and places him in the best possible light on every question and in each episode of his life.  I don't have a problem with this.  I actually like to understand how people saw themselves, and a sympathetic biography which argues its subject's side of every story is not a bad place to start.  I'm always in favor of a little hagiography when it comes to the founders.  I do love the Fourth of July.

Nevertheless, such advocacy can have its pitfalls, if it causes an author to gloss over tough issues, and thus skip over the most fascinating questions. Hence, the second big problem I had with Cheney's book is that it leaves largely unexamined the great conundrum of Madison's life: how to explain his sudden shift, once the Constitution was created and its Bill of Rights securely in place, from being the nation's leading Federalist, to its second most important Republican.  Indeed, given Cheney's sympathetic tone throughout, the reader can be excused for feeling a bit of whiplash as Cheney warmly admires Madison's achievements on behalf of nationalism in one chapter, only to have his arguments against federal power spoken of with equal fervor in the next.

Madison left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia terribly concerned that, should the delegates' handiwork be ratified, the resulting U.S. Government would not be nearly as strong as he had hoped. If he was bitterly disappointed that the small states had won the battle for equal representation in the Senate, he was even more completely mortified that the national government would have no veto right over state legislation.  This national veto over state laws had been a key element of Madison's Virginia plan, and had met little resistance until the closing days of the convention, when, to Madison's horror, this provision had been unceremoniously and inexplicably deleted from the Constitutional text.  How is it possible that a man with such views would, just a few short years later, work with Jefferson to craft the nullification resolutions in Virginia and Kentucky, arguing for exactly the opposite policy: that federal legislation should be subject to state veto?  How exactly does one understand this great irony?

For Cheney, a few brief remarks from Madison suffice:  Madison was interested in equipoise.  Under the unwieldy articles of confederation, the power of the individual states had made it impossible for anything of national importance to be accomplished in a unified fashion.  Once the Constitution had rectified this imbalance, it became equally important to prevent the national government from becoming overly powerful, and prevent the individual states from pursuing their own best interests. But such equipoise would never have been maintained under the Virginia Plan which Madison had brought to Philadelphia, so other factors were clearly at work in Madison's turnabout.

As it turns out, far more interesting theories than his own self-serving explanations abound.  Cheney's book would have been more interesting if she would have examined them. Instead, the reader is left to other sources.  For a pro-Madison viewpoint, one can review Gordon Woods' book, Revolutionary Characters, in its chapter entitled "Is There a James Madison Problem."  For a more cynical and much more interesting take, Joseph J. Ellis, in his book, American Creation, has examined the question in a chapter entitled "The Conspiracy." Both are great reads, and examine theories such as the following:

Was it Jefferson's influence?  This seems highly likely.  Madison always deferred to Jefferson's wisdom (although he also played an important role in bringing Jefferson's poetic rhetoric down to practical earth: a subject which Cheney does a great job on in some of the most enjoyable passages of her book).  Madison's turn away from Federalism and towards Republicanism accompanied Jefferson's return from France to take up a post in Washington's first Constitutional administration and was developed during a cruise up the Hudson river the two of them took together in 1791.  The fact that, late in his life, Madison would, once again, become an important voice in favor of the Union, during the nullification crisis of the 1830s, after Jefferson had passed away, lends further credence to this idea.

Was it just good politics?  The debate over whether to ratify the constitution had been particularly ugly in Virginia, where it had taken all of Madison's abilities to withstand the arguments of Patrick Henry and his fellow anti-Federalists against ratification, and eke out a narrow victory for the union cause. To the extent that anything the federal government did ever seemed to favor northern over southern interests (an inevitability in future compromises), the narrow support the Constitution had received in Virginia was likely to soon vanish.  Madison could only hope to remain in politics if he was elected to national office from his home state of Virginia.  And since only States-rightists were going to get elected in Virginia, Madison's about-face may be explainable via the most prosaic of all political realities: he simply did what he needed to do to get elected.  The same practical politcal strategy which has been followed by every politician who has ever tacked to the left or right during a primary, and back towards the center in a general election, was, perhaps, invented by Madison, who has been called not only the father of our Constitution, but also of our politics: If you want to serve in elective office, stand with the people whose votes you need.

Was it about slavery?  Any purely political reasons for Madison's turnabout raise the question of why Virginia politics required successful politicians to be wary of federal power in the first place. One obvious answer is the "peculiar institution" of slavery, which sourtherners feared a northern dominated federal government might one day abolish, as indeed ultimately occurred. The niceties and political hypocrisies of the day prevented any open reference to this subject by Jefferson or Madison as a motivating cause of southern political preferences.  (It was apparently somewhat annoying, when waxing eloquent on the thesis that the greatest capacity for republican virtue lay among southern agrarian planters, to be reminded that those same planters were engaged in the most obviously immoral, unvirtuous, and tyrannical activity ever known to man.)  Nevertheless, as argued by Ellis, the very silence of the southern founders on the question of slavery may be the best proof of its elephant-in-the-room status, and later Virginia politicians would be more forthright: "Tell me if Congress can establish banks, make roads and canals, whether they cannot free all the slaves in the United States."  Nathaniel Macon, as quoted by Joseph J. Ellis in American Creation, (Vintage 2007) at p. 175.  Slavery certainly played a role, and Americans who, today, find themselves overly enamored with Jeffersonian rhetoric about about republican virtue, would do well to temper their enthusiasm with a little salt.  In the ultimate test of regional virtue, the Civil War and the fight to abolish slavery, the Republican Jeffersonians were not only on the losing side of history, but the morally wrong side as well.   As Lincoln said, if slavery isn't wrong, nothing is wrong.  It took a strong federal government to end slavery, and then to end Jim Crow, and it took a union much stronger than anything Jefferson envisaged to fight the 20th Century's various forms of anti-republican totalitarianism.

Was it about economic ignorance?  Madison's shift from federalism occurred when he opposed the financial programs and policies initiated by his former friend (and collaborator on the Federalist Papers) Alexander Hamilton, during Washington's presidential tenure.  Hamilton's financial program was modelled after British institutions and policies which had allowed that nation to become among the most prosperous on earth.  Hamilton had spent years of private study learning about those institutions, and the implementation of Hamilton's proposed legislation during his tenure as America's first Secretary of the Treasury make him the most successful and important person to ever hold that office.  The Hamiltonian program allowed the new nation to finally gain a secure financial footing, which it had sorely lacked from the date it declared its independence, and laid the foundations for subsequent free market capitialism which would make Americans among the most socially mobile people on the planet.  Nevertheless, that program's implementation was fought by Jefferson and Madison every step of the way, and with an increasingly paranoid righteous fervor, which, as Ellis points out, can only be completely understood in light of the fact that Madison and Jefferson didn't understand the first thing about economics, and couldn't begin to comprehend many of the principles which Hamilton was talking about.  For all their political genius, Jefferson and Madison were no economic Einsteins: both men would die broke and deeply in debt.

Whatever the cause of Madison's dramatic turnabout, Cheney need not have shied away from this fascinating question, which ultimately strengthens her hero's claim to preeminent importance in American history.  Because Madison's reversal may be the most important thing he ever did for the Constitution.

In a sort of "only-Nixon-could-go-to-China" moment, by joining the ranks of the anti-Federalists, Madison turned them into something other than anti-Federalists.  He tranformed the anti-Federalist movement into Jeffersonian-Republicanism, whose new agenda no longer included overturning the Constitution, but, instead, simply seeking to interpret the Constitution narrowly, and in such a way as to limit federal power.  There is probably nothing Madison could have done to more powerfully secure the ongoing existence of the Constitution, then to thus end any debate over it's continued existence.  By converting the political movement known as anti-Federalism into small federal government republicanism, Madison ensured that the Constitution would survive.  When Jefferson came to office, he did simplify and shrink the size of the Federal Government.  But he didn't overthrow it.  Much of the Federalist program which had been developed over the past 12 years remained in place.  And Jefferson was canny enough to ignore his own limited-government principles when they might stand in the way of important national interests, such as the Louisiana Purchase.

In the meantime, Madison became the father of America's first opposition political party, and introduced party politics into American life.  As much as Americans may claim to hate partisanship, political parties played an important role in the ongoing existence of the union, and continue to stabilize the country today. After the Republicans replaced the Federalists in office, it was no longer possible for any future government to treat its mainstream political enemies as insurrectionist threats to the legitimate government, as the Federalists had done when they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts.  Rather, political parties, and the eventual tradition of those parties finding themselves peacefully rotating in and out of power, gave us a nation which had to tolerate and give credence to the idea of a loyal opposition.  This helped America avoid the fate of other post-revolutionary societies, where the guillotine or the coup d'etat was the only way for transitions of power to occur.

All hail to James Madison, one of the most important fathers of our freedoms.  Someday someone will write a book about him which does him greater justice.  But for now, Cheney's extremely readable and engaging tome will have to do.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

In Search of Principled Distinctions

Question One:

IF A STATE GOVERNMENT MAY NOT COMPEL A JEHOVAH WITNESS TO PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO THE FLAG, AGAINST HIS RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, AS A CONDITION TO ATTENDING PUBLIC SCHOOL, THEN WHY MAY A STATE GOVERNMENT COMPEL AN EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN TO PHOTOGRAPH A SAME-SEX COMMITMENT CEREMONY AGAINST HER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, AS A CONDITION TO OPERATING A PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS?

Other than the sympathies of the members of the judiciary, I can ascertain no principled distinction between these two cases.  If objective principles were applied to both cases equally, both cases should have had the same outcome: freedom from State compulsion to act against one's desires and religious beliefs.  The principles which should protect us against such compulsion (which were applied to the student who didn't want to say the Pledge, but not to the photographer who didn't want to photograph an event she disapproved of) include the following:

-"[N]o official, high or petty, can [under our constitution] prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." (Justice Jackson, W. Va State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)[emphasis added].)

-"[G]overnment coercion of moral agency is odious."  Gilardi v. U.S. (D.C. Cir. 2013).

-"Penalties are impertinent" if they are used to "compel men to quit the light of their own reason, and oppose the dictates of their own consciences."  (John Locke 1689).

-"Government may neither compel affirmation of a repugnant belief [i.e., a belief a particular citizen believes to be repugnant] nor penalize or discriminate against individuals because they hold religious views abhorrent to the authorities."  Justice Brennan, Sherbert v. Verner (1963).

The creation of so-called "Human Rights Commissions" in some of the states is perhaps one of the most misguided political movements of my lifetime, being based on the Orwellian notion that the primary threat to our human rights is our fellow citizens, not our government, to whom we should look for protection from such abuses.  It was therefore inevitable that the "petty officials" of one of these absurd bodies, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission, would prove where the true threat to human rights lies, and begin violating the Constitutionally guaranteed liberties of New Mexico's citizens, and issue an "impertinent penalty" against a photographer who declined on religious grounds to accept the patronage of a same-sex couple who wanted her to photograph their committment ceremony.  How exactly was this decision upheld by the New Mexico Supreme Court?  On what principled basis did they determine that the commission, and their own court, could "force" the photographer "by . . . act" to participate in the new political orthodoxy of our time, requiring all of us to celebrate homosexuality and same-sex weddings, and thereby compel affirmation of a belief the photographer felt was repugnant, and, literally "penalize" the photographer "because" she held "religious views abhorrent to the authorities" on the commission?  On what basis were the monetary penalties they imposed upon the photographer, compelling her to "quit the light of her own reason and oppose the dictates of her own conscience" appropriate?

These are of course silly questions.  The court's decision was an exercise of pure political power, unmoored from any objectively applicable principles whatsoever.  Indeed, it was a refutation of the very idea that such objectively and universally applicable principles should ever apply, especially when there is a political victory to be won, liberal pieties to be upheld, and blasphemous political heretics to be punished.

Whatever your views on same-sex marriage, if you are an American, this should scare you.

Question Two:

WHY DO SO MANY OF THE SAME PEOPLE WHO THOUGHT CLIVEN BUNDY AND HIS ANTI-RULE OF LAW SUPPORTERS IN BUNKERVILLE WERE HEREOES, NOW ARGUE THAT MICHAEL BROWN, AND HIS ANTI-RULE OF LAW SUPPORTERS IN FERGUSON ARE THUGS?

Again, I can see no principled distinction between certain groups of citizens' very different reactions to these two cases.

Cliven Bundy used the threat of physical violence to continue stealing from a neighboring landowner. Michael Brown used the threat of physical violence to steal from a neighborhood shop owner.  If stealing is wrong, what's the difference between these two events?  If using the threat of violence to obtain something to which you are not legally entitled is wrong, then what's the difference?  Is it because Cliven Bundy's victim is almost universally despised: the Federal Government?  So would that make it OK for me to steal from someone you really dislike?

Cliven Bundy's supporters rallied to prevent the enforcement of a court order.  Michael Brown's supporters gathered to express outrage against the decision of a grand jury.  Both groups felt their cause was so just that they could ignore the rule of law and act outside the system of ordered liberty already available to us to fight for political causes, and that winning a political battle is more important than fighting that battle within established rules designed to prevent our political arguments from descending into violence.

Both groups ignored readily available court decisions written by objective third parties setting forth the essential facts of the cases, in favor of highly spun, politicized narratives which were largely based on private fantasy, available on their preferred television channels, radio talk shows, or online comment boards.  Both groups gave in to absurd leaps of logic: Cliven Bundy's statements that the Federal Government does not exist, and has no right to own land, such that only Clark County Nevada can charge him a grazing fee being accepted by his advocates at face value, when, in fact, if that were true, it would mean the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is void and he should be paying his grazing fees to Mexico, which is also owed a whole lot of back property taxes from the rest of us; Michael Brown's supporters walking around with their hands up in ridiculous "don't shoot I'm unarmed" poses that have nothing to do with anything that occurred that day.

Brown's supporters burned down local Ferguson businesses and hurt the economy of Brown's own home town.  Bundy's supporters repeatedly called early morning bomb threats into local Mesquite hotels (whose owners were adjudged guilty, French Revolution style, of insufficient devotion to the cause, by having allowed BLM agents to stay overnight), forcing them to evacuate their guests and causing economic harm to Bundy's own home town.

Media outlets have inflamed and agitated Brown supporters and caused violence, rioting and looting. Bundy called upon every wanna-be Timothy McVeigh in the country to come support his cause, and two of his guests were sufficiently agitated and inflamed to return home from Bunkerville and murder two police officers and a civilian.

In what universe is there any moral distinction between Brown and his Ferguson supporters, and Bundy and his Bunkerville supporters?  From where I'm sitting the only distinction seems to be based on skin-color, political affiliation, and whether you get your news from Fox or MSNBC/Comedy Central.

Question Three:

WHY CARE?

There are three paths a society can take: tending a bit too much towards anarchy, or tending a bit too much towards tyranny, or trying to stay on the proper Aristotelian median, and maintaining some semblance of ordered liberty. A society based on the right median road, maintaining ordered liberty, is the type of society most likely to produce a prosperous, happy, and self-sufficient people, capable of reaching their best potential and finding meaning in life.  It is also the most fragile form of society and government.

To be maintained, ordered liberty requires that a society's political players (which, in a democracy, is all of us) recognize, and adhere to, certain sound principles, transmitted to each new generation. These include: restrictions on the government's right to compel actions in violation of conscience; respect for the rule of law based on procedures and laws developed objectively and intended for universal application to various types of disputes; equality in legal treatment; the applicability of the law even to its creators and executors; separation of powers to create checks and balances upon governmental actions; free market economics; freedom of the press; and other similar principles.

When a society untethers itself from universal and objectively applicable principles, because its citizenry, judiciary, or other governing agents, come to believe that the ends justify the means as to certain political causes and battles, which are more important than maintaining political principles, the fragile system of ordered liberty quickly devolves and is replaced by a form of politics completely inconsistent with ordered liberty:  the politics of arbitrary and capriciously exercised power, leading to pervasive corruption and a cynical citizenry which no longer has any basis for patriotic loyalty to its society, but is instead dominated by individuals seeking to plunder the governmental commons for their own private interests.  The anarchy that follows leads to the rule of local militias and warlords in rural areas, and mob bossess and protection schemes in urban areas. You can see it in any third world country you may happen to visit: the gated and heavily guarded compounds of the few powerful and prosperous, with armed guards playing the same role developed by mercenary knights who guarded medieval moted castles, surrounded by the squalor of the peons.  The only answer to such anarchy is the eventual establishment of tyranny. Some countries get there quicker than others.  One of the signs that your society is walking along that road is when you find yourself perplexed by disparate treatment of and reactions to similar events, with no apparent basis in principle.