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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Tolerance And Polemics

Where are the limits of personal freedom of belief in our society? Is there a "values consensus" on which we can base a litmus test for qualification to be eligible for participation in public life? Can we form such a consensus? (I don't think so, but I am interested in hearing other people's opinions.) If we cannot, should we fight a prolonged war of cultures or just demarcate areas in which we won't dispute each other? That has been the relatively consistent tradition in the US.

Discussion at Gindy's. Post and some comments at QandO (Questions and Observations).

A depressing article in the National Post (Canadian) about the British academic blockade of Israelis:
The British Association of University Teachers has now created a blacklist against Jewish Israeli academics -- really a blue and white list -- reminiscent of the worst abuses of McCarthyism. And just as McCarthyism was a barrier to peace between the U.S. and the Soviet Union - by contributing to a dangerous atmosphere in which each side vilified and threatened the other - so too does the British lecturers' boycott endanger the progress now being made toward peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. It is not surprising therefore that even the Palestinian Al-Quds University in Jerusalem released a statement against the British association blacklist, saying, "We are informed by the principle that we should seek to win Israelis over to our side, not to win against them ... Therefore, informed by this national duty, we believe it is in our interest to build bridges, not walls; to reach out to the Israeli academic institutions, not to impose another restriction or dialogue-block on ourselves."

But instead of heeding the moderate words of those they claim to support, British university teachers will collectively punish Israeli academics in a manner that leading Palestinian academics do not support. They've become more Palestinian than the Palestinians, and at precisely the time when Israel is taking more risks and making more sacrifices for peace than it has since Camp David in 2000. A spokesman for the Union of Jewish Students got it exactly right when he said, "Things in the Middle East are moving forward while in the U.K. they are moving backwards. These boycotts have struck a blow at talks between Israel and Palestine." As Israel's ambassador to London Zvi Ravner noted, "The last time that Jews were boycotted in universities was in 1930s Germany."

Not only is the academic blacklist harmful and wrong; it may also be illegal. According to Jocelyn Prudence, head of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, "This would appear to run contrary to contractual law, race and religious discrimination law, and academic freedom obligations."
The case of William Pryor's filibustered confirmation to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is interesting. On the one hand, his very publicly expressed opinions don't square with the Supreme Court's legal rulings. On the other hand, his history as a judge tends to show that he rules in conformity with the Supreme Court's decisions, not his beliefs. He has a good record of being upheld on controversial cases such as one in which he reined in an Alabama law trying to ban partial-birth abortions. Here is the case against Pryor. Here is some of what is not being said in the case against Pryor. The charge that he is being blocked on the basis of a religious litmus test doesn't seem very well founded, but there does seem to be a test based on his beliefs and not his judicial record.

What do you think? There are polemics on both sides that tend to obscure perhaps more truth than they illuminate. There has been a lot of anti-Catholic ranting by pundits, that is true. But after reading the above it also seems to me that it is wrong to represent the opposition to Pryor's nomination as anti-Catholic. Both sides seem to me to be miscasting the other side's opinions. This seems like a dangerous tactic. I can't deny that there may be a core of truth in what each side is saying either, because people do have differences of opinions on basic issues which sometimes do correlate to religious doctrines or the lack of them. But they don't fall neatly on religious lines, and is it helpful to represent all of our differences as religiously based? It is certainly not accurate.

Andrew Sullivan:
But one element of our politics - one that happens to have a veto on Republican social policy - does hold that religion should dictate politics, and that opposition to a certain politics is tantamount to anti-religious bigotry. They're very candid about that, as we saw last Sunday. As Bill Donahue put it: "The people on the secularist left say we think you're a threat. You know what? They are right." Very senior Republicans echo the line that there is a filibuster against "people of faith." This isn't just about gays, although we've felt the sting of the movement more acutely than most. It's about science, stem cell research, the teaching of evolution, free access to medical prescriptions, the legality of living wills, abortion rights, censorship of cable and network television, and so on. The Schiavo case woke a lot of people up. I was already an insomniac on these issues. Maybe I'd be more effective a blogger if I pretended that none of this was troubling, or avoided the gay issue and focused on others....
I'd like to think that a qualified doctor like Bill Frist could say on television that tears cannot transmit HIV. But he could not - because the sectarian base he needs to run for president would not allow it.
Here Sullivan is either uninformed or being disingenuous on at least two points; for the others see QandO's discussions lately. First, if Terri Schiavo had had a living will under Florida law there would have been no need to litigate. The living will would have settled the matter. To associate the two is flat wrong, and I know of no religious denomination that thinks living wills should be illegal. There are plenty of people that think they are misleading and that a lot of people don't understand what they are signing, but that's another issue entirely which is being dealt with by private organizations. Second, Bill Frist really said:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (Off Camera) Well, wait, let me stop you, you don't know that, you believe that tears and sweat might be able to transmit AIDS?

SENATOR BILL FRIST Yeah, no, I can tell you that HIV is not very transmissible as an element like, compared to smallpox, compared to the flu.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS(Off Camera) Let me just, I wanted to move to another subject, let me just clear this up, though. Do you or do you not believe that tears and sweat can transmit HIV?

SENATOR BILL FRIST It would be very hard. It would be very hard for tears and sweat, I mean, you can get virus in tears and sweat but in terms of the degree of infecting somebody, it would be very hard.
He got cut off by Steffie both times. But HIV can be expressed in bodily fluids and it has been found in sweat. While there are no confirmed cases of transmission by tears and there are not likely to be, in part that is because of rules like this:
Ophthalmologists, Opticians, and Ophthalmologic Care Providers

Researchers have rarely isolated HIV from tears,(50,51) and then only in extremely low concentration. HIV has been isolated from the conjunctiva, cornea, iris, and retina of infected patients despite zidovudine (AZT) treatment.(51) There is no documented case of transmission of HIV by exposure to tears or ocular tissue.

All health care workers, including ophthalmologists, opticians, and others performing ocular examinations, should follow universal blood and body fluid precautions.(52) All workers should wash hands with soap and water before and after contact with each patient. Gloves should be worn when direct contact with ocular tissues, tears, and other body fluids is anticipated. Providers with cuts, scratches, or dermatologic lesions on the hands should defer direct patient care until these conditions resolve.
The above is pretty much from the CDC guidelines. There has been at least one case in which herpes virus was passed through sweat in a tanning salon. It's wildly unlikely but you still take precautions, including not using the same gloves for more than one patient. There was one confirmed case in which a dentist somehow infected six of his patients with HIV. Even lightning does sometimes strike people, and the CDC rules are designed to avoid that possibility.

So Frist was right on the scientific money with what he was trying to say. Only very small amounts of the virus are found in tears and HIV really isn't that infectious, thus chances for infection are extremely low. Still, medical authorities recommend standard precautions against contact with bodily fluids for this and other viruses. It is not Bill Frist's constituency that is determining his stance and Sullivan is indulging in polemics by writing that.

But back to the main issue - religion and the culture wars. Do you believe in hate-speech laws? I don't. Do you believe that in order to have a civil society we must have freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion and a barrier against the state promulgating religion in any way? I have been reading that "freedom from religion" quite frequently. You might want to read this article by Jane Kramer in the New Yorker, which discusses the French idea of freedom of religion against the US idea of freedom of religion:
The French are very clear that their laws have to do with freedom from religion. When a student under the age of majority enters a French school, that student enters the protection of the laws of the secular state: neither religion nor antireligion will enter that domain. They call it the sanctuary school, l’ecole sanctuaire, which is, of course, an irony—but the French public school does function as a kind of secular church. They are not preaching secularism so much as removing religion aggressively from the classroom.
and on why the no veils in school law was felt necessary (which tends to discredit Kramer's statement above about "not preaching secularism"):
But in France, with all its freedoms, so many young women seem to be capitulating to Islamist pressure. It usually starts with the young men who are recruited, and the symbols of successful recruitment are the women in the family. In other words, the women are the symbol of the new identity of the man. When you see a twelve-year-old girl coming to school in a chador, where for two or three generations no one had worn one, you have to look at this as the expression of an enormous pressure from the men in the girl’s family. You’re really dealing with a born-again movement, and the girls get the short end of the stick, because the boys don’t have to change what they study, how they dress, and so forth.
The reason why they did this is that perception was that it was unhealthy. That's the long and the short of it. I am not sure that any culture, much less ours, can eradicate a system of values. Something must guide us. However it does seem possible to concentrate on the fundamental issues themselves and drop the religious labelling as a political tactic.

I can't help but agree with QandO in the post linked above that if the left wants to persist in fighting a war against religion it will be wildly unsuccessful over the long term. That is why I believe that the Republicans tried to frame the Democratic opposition to Pryor's nomination as anti-Catholic. It concerns me no end that pundits of the left seem to be falling into the trap of firing away against religious denominations in the US. They are going to inspire the freedom crowd to align with the Republicans, because it is both unbecoming and unconstitutional to demand that a person practice their religion only in privacy. I don't think we can get gays out of the closet by shoving Pope Benedict in there and slamming the door.

There is a basic contradiction between demanding public tolerance and affirmative acceptance for same-sex couples, for instance, while demanding that committed Catholics or Baptists get their offensive Bible verses out of the public eye on the grounds that they are hurtful. It seems to me that a stronger position would be to argue for tolerance on an inclusive basis. Why can't the secularists define religion to themselves as an alternative lifestyle of which they don't approve but which they will defend on grounds of tolerance and peace? Strictly speaking, the teaching of most large religious congregations in this country demands kindness and support toward same-sex couples even while it maintains that this behavior is not the model.

The constitution sets forth no right to be publicly approved of and affirmatively accepted, and we have a long history of publicly tolerating behavior that we do not privately approve.
If we are going to abandon the standard of tolerance I don't know where we will find common ground. If you know, please tell me.

Here is a short one on the AUT from the Astute blogger. They are starting to show just how intolerant the "tolerant left" really is. Thought control at it's best.

Thanks for the link, Gindy!
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