Clash of freedoms?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. – First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

41053A7BDEUnless you have been living the past week on a deserted island, you know that lots of folks are fussing over the new Indiana religious freedom law.  There are thousands of news articles about it and analyses pro and con.

However, I’m presenting you with the non-legal, non-technical, non-political, common sense explanation of how to understand this mess.

First, this had nothing to do with the civil rights movement and whether some people have to sit in the back of the bus or can’t get a sandwich at the lunch counter.

Second, this has nothing to do with whether someone can marry someone of the same gender, multiple genders or a tree.

Third, this has nothing to do with imposing my beliefs on anyone else.

What is has to do with is being able to live according to my religious beliefs.

So…rather than debating these in abstract terms, we’ll use an example to show how things should work in a real world that respects religious freedom and individual conscience.

Let’s say, just for the sake of discussion, that I’m a devout Catholic and I own bakery that makes really scrumptious cupcakes.  And in the course of a business day, I have a series of customers with whom I have the following interactions:

  • KDOALRLDV8Mary and Jane each order a cupcake and after devouring them exclaim, “for sure, these are the best cupcakes ever.” They explain that they are planning a wedding and ask if I could supply six dozen cupcakes with a cute little rose on each one for their reception.  I say I would be happy to do that.  Then they ask if I could also bake a wedding cake and have a butter cream sculpture of two naked women kissing on top of the cake.  To that, I explain that I don’t do butter cream nudes or kissing women, but they can pick anything else from my catalogue.  At this point – in a sane world – Mary and Jane would get the cake somewhere else (or realize the cake they wanted lacked good taste – at least in the artistic sense).
  • Ralph wanders into my shop and orders a cupcake, takes one bite and proclaims me to be the cupcake master, the boss of batter, the sultan of sugar…you get the idea. He then says he wants to order 500 white cupcakes for his upcoming Ku Klux Klan convention and have me there to hand them out — he’ll be sure to credit me as his supplier.  Hmmmm…..well…..I explain that I have no interest in being a part of his convention because what his organization stands for runs counter to my faith.
  • Smith enters my shop, buys a cupcake and nibbles around the edges, noting she is watching her weight – but says if she were not counting calories she would engulf the cupcake. She explains that she is having a confirmation party for her daughter and would like to order 50 cupcakes and a big cake with a Christian cross on top.  And could I deliver them? I say that would be fine – here is my sample book so you can pick out the cross design you like most.

Three very different customers, but the one thing they have in common is that I graciously served each of them when they entered my shop and asked for something I had for sale.  I didn’t ask them to identify their gender preference, racial beliefs or religion.  Each wanted a cupcake and I sold it to them.

However, when they asked me to get involved with them in a manner that would run with or against my values, I did make different choices.  That is something our constitution allows me to do.  There is much common sense in the constitution.

God is right on rights


Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and—within the limits of the moral order and the common good—to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events. – Saint John XXIII, PACEM IN TERRIS

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. – Declaration of Independence

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. – Article One, UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

 Human rights come from the government. – General belief of most members of the news media

Many members of the news media were stunned a few days ago when a man announcing his run for political office mentioned that our fundamental rights come from God.  The typical comment went something like this:

“Is that guy crazy?  I mean, like, everyone knows the government gives you rights.  I mean, for sure…God doesn’t make laws, Congress and the President make laws.  That’s where I get my rights.  Duh.”

This would be really funny were it not laying the groundwork for tyranny.  Many of our citizens believe that good (and goods) come from the government, which determines what we can and can’t do – apparently for the common good.

The government has some important roles in society. But it ought to make sure that our rights (which really do come from God) are protected and (occasionally) serve as referee when rights come into conflict.

Example:  I believe I have the right to freedom of movement.  In other words, I should be able to go out my front door, get into my car and drive to Zesty Burger.  However, other people have the right to public safety and a peaceful neighborhood, so government reasonably requires that I drive on the street, not my neighbors’ yards, at a reasonable speed and with a muffler to dampen engine noise.  HOWEVER:  it isn’t the government that grants me the right of movement – God does.  Of course, a tyrannical government could deny me what God has granted.

Example:  I’m walking down the street with a T-shirt that says, “Jesus Loves You.”  It doesn’t say, “If you don’t believe in Jesus I’ll kill you.”  So, my reasonable expectation is that I ought to be able to wear my T-shirt without incident – that the government will protect my right to self expression.  Unfortunately, in today’s politically correct world, someone likely will call the police and claim I’m wearing something offensive that should be banned from public display.  Some folks are easily offended these days.

I have some shocking news for the purveyors of “rights come from government” nonsense: God was here first.  Think about it.

God created man.  When the population grew past a handful (man having fallen into sin), folks needed to organize some sort of government, not so they could determine right from wrong, but to make sure that they were following the moral rules then had received from God.

It isn’t complicated.  And if you can get the Catholic Church, Founding Fathers and UN to agree on it, I’m betting it is right.

Catholic games


So…you get a flock of faithful Catholics together at a religious convention and they play a question/answer game.  An obvious question:  If you could meet any Saint, who would it be and what would you ask them?

This generates some fairly predictable answers:  St Theresa, St Therese, St John Paul, St Ignatius and so forth.  But for me, it would be St Joseph.

What a man of faith and devotion.  He is engaged to a young woman who is suddenly pregnant and he knows he isn’t the father – but he embraces his role as the earthly father of God.  He protects his young wife and son, fleeing with them to a foreign land.  He stays in the background, providing food and shelter for the family, working as a carpenter, a completely faceless and unknown figure in the Bible.  Unquoted.  Uncredited.

In fact, what I’ve recounted in the last paragraph is about as much as we know about him.

There are so many questions I could ask him…

What sort of a boy was Jesus?  Was he studious?  Was he athletic?

Was Mary a good cook?  Did she sew?  Did she sing?

But the one question I would ask is how he came to peace with being completely selfless.

Selflessness is the most important attribute for a father – and the one many of us struggle with the most, being the imperfect humans we are, prone to wanting what we want.

In the movie “Parenthood” the mom and dad are having a silly argument about family priorities and the dad, played by Steve Martin, complains, “my whole world is have to.”

It is a sentiment fathers often feel (moms too), as in have to get up early, have to go to work, have to shovel the show in the driveway, have to mow the lawn, have to take out the garbage, have to pick up the kids after soccer practice, have to, have to have to.

But I have a feeling that St Joseph thought more in terms of “my whole life is blessed to.”  And I would ask how he came to live life in such a beautiful state.  As my family could attest, I could use the advice.

Pizza Please

“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”

― Samuel Taylor ColeridgeThe Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Pope Francis generated headlines (nothing new about that) in the past week.  This time it was his comment that he figures his pontificate might be brief – perhaps only four or five years.

This might happen for one of two reasons.  First, being relatively old, he might die.  Second, he might decide, like his predecessor, to retire.  I think he was musing more than predicting.

He also admitted that he wishes he could just go out anonymously and wander into one of the local pizzerias and have a pizza.  I can understand this desire, having been to Rome a number of times and feasted there on the world’s most wonderful pizza.

(Digression…I live in Chicago, which has the best pizza in the Western Hemisphere.  It is way better than that limp stuff New Yorkers call pizza.  But even Chicago pizza is a half step lower than Roman pizza.  Of course, you could make the case that they are very different styles of pizza and essentially complete different foods, but that is a debate for another place and time.)

Anyway, to live in Rome and be unable to just stroll down the parkway to the nearest pizza joint would be awful.  It certainly is among the greatest sacrifices the Holy Father makes in his service to the Church—and all of us.

I have to think there is a way to address this:

  • He has proved to be creative and resourceful, so maybe he could come up with a clever disguise ala Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty during World War II. A couple Swiss Guards could tag along, but they would have to trade their blue-and-gold pajama suits for khakis to look like tourists.
  • The Vatican staff could chip in and rent out an entire pizza parlor for an afternoon and throw the boss a party. Swiss guards could surround the place and keep their fancy pants.
  • I bet there is a nearby pizza place that would set up shop in the Vatican cafeteria.
  • If all else fails, there must be a decent pizza shop in Rome that delivers.

Please, people of the Vatican, don’t let Pope Francis spend the rest of his papacy pining for a pizza.  You don’t want him walking in the Vatican Gardens muttering, “pizza pizza everywhere, but not a crust to chew.”

Joining the “I” team

I'm lucky to be gaining an Irish daughter.
I’m lucky to be gaining an Irish daughter.

“What are you?”

I’m American.

“I know that, but what ARE you – where did your family come from?”

That’s the moment in the standard getting-to-know-you conversation that I realize they are not looking for the answer I want to give:  My family is from Ohio and I was born in Columbus.

They want to know if I’m Italian, German, Irish, Polish or some other place of consistent ethnic identity.  For my wife, this part of the conversation is easy; she is 100 percent genetically Italian.

For my kids, because they are 50 percent Italian and 50 percent the mangled mix that I am, they say they are Italian.  That’s OK with me.

That’s because I’m not really sure about me.  I know that the first member of my dad’s family to arrive in America fought in the Revolutionary War.  And most people would be proud to say that.  Unfortunately, in my case the guy fought as a mercenary on the British side.

Between the ignominious start and today the family on both sides (my mom and dad) has harbored a motley mix of various nationalities.  German seems to be the dominant background, but the name was changed from Fehr to Fair at some point when it was more favorable to be of English than German heritage.  There are rumors of Bavarian, Hessian, English, Dutch and, perhaps, a snipped of Irish in the gene pool.

In reality, I don’t know, so I’ve always answered the “where are you from” question with, “mostly German.”

However, this is changing from now through St. Patrick’s Day and for the rest of 2015.  As of now, I’m Irish (at least partly).  And this isn’t because of that possible splotch of Irish DNA in my history.

No, it is because this year my son, Lance, is marrying a beautiful Irish woman, Karen Brady, and they will make their home in Ireland.  We’re making plans for the trip to the wedding.  It will be a very Irish affair.  And as part of it all, I hereby claim to be Irish by association, affiliation and implication.  I promise to do my best not to be a disgrace.

Elephants are awesome


Wedged between news of war, mayhem and the latest Clinton lies, we learned today that Ringling Brothers Circus is phasing out elephants.

I’m disappointed.  The circus has featured elephants for more than a century.  And at the risk of convincing readers I’m politically incorrect and deeply insensitive, I’m not sure a circus is such a bad place for an elephant to live.  And I certainly don’t trust People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which claims circus elephants are mistreated.

Are elephants mistreated?  Probably – once in a great while.  Dogs, cats, horses, children, senior citizens and prison inmates all are mistreated sometimes.  But apart from the moral issue, it would be really foolish for a circus to mistreat its elephants and a circus is a business operated by smart people.

Think about it.  An elephant is really valuable.  According to an Associated Press report I saw today, Ringling Brothers spends $65,000 a year to take care of each elephant.  That’s a lot of hay, peanuts and tender-loving care.  And since the elephants are paraded in front of huge crowds, you can’t have them looking scrawny and bruised, limping around all morose and un-elephantine.

A happy, contented, peaceful elephant is a profitable elephant.

But the folks who own the circus are tied of loony demonstrators, lawsuits and silly legislation.  Yes, some cities have banned elephants. (Although this might simply be an outgrowth of big-city Democrats trying to do away with Republicans.)

Now that we’re going to have a circus without elephants, what is next?  A rodeo without steers?  Dressage without horses?  The Westminster Kennel Club Show without dogs?

I say:  “Bring back Jumbo.”