Thursday, August 1, 2013

More on the chapel controversy

In no particular order, a grab-bag of thoughts:

The first amendment restricts CONGRESS, i.e., the Federal government from ‘establishing’ a religion, that is; a federally mandated or sanctioned religious institution.

That has been read various ways, with a rough chronology of such interpretations going like this: to mean, that the Feds cannot establish particular Christian sects or denominations as federally sanctioned; to mean the Feds cannot establish Christianity; to mean the feds cannot establish theism, more broadly construed.  At the same time, the explicit mention of the federal level has been read to mean that there is nothing in that amendment that prevents individual states from ‘establishing’ any of the above. As a matter of historical fact, colonies, then states, did do this, but over time, stopped, under pressure of SCOTUS decisions that applied the language to states.

In the case of the USNA Chapels (all save the Levy Center Miller Chapel as far as I know) federal funds were used to construct the buildings.  Some have contended that this (and use of federal land) amounts to federal sanction of Christianity and/or religion, others have argued, in response, that it does not, but is a case of the feds providing facilities in a non-discriminatory fashion, for use by a subset of all mids, faculty, alumni, & etc., something they also do for other such groups.

Clearly, in the case of the main chapel, the intent was to provide ‘indiscriminately’ for all Christians, as the iconography makes plain.

Also, the most recent relevant instruction (1730.3A) I can find states: “Christian weddings are celebrated in the Main Chapel by duly ordained Christian chaplains or clergy. The Levy chapel is restricted to Jewish weddings celebrated by duly ordained and endorsed rabbis.

Also, only certain persons can request weddings at the chapels; alumni, active duty stationed here or near (and their kids) and congregants.  Along with that restriction, all applicants must undergo pre-marital counseling.

Lastly, the instruction states this:  Weddings are considered to be religious sacraments, rites or ceremonies. No civil ceremonies will be conducted in USNA chapels.”  A distinction is being made here between marriages and weddings. Marriages will not be allowed, while Christian and Jewish weddings will.

So, does this instruction or regulation amount to sanction of religion?

AHA argues that it does because the chaplain’s office declined the request of a non-Christian for a marriage ceremony.

As noted in the earlier post, AHA argues both that secular humanism counts as a religion, so that the ceremony would count as a wedding, and that in any case, if you don’t buy that bill of goods, the instruction violates the first amendment in restricting use of the chapel by disallowing ‘civil ceremonies’ for the non-religious or anti-religious.

AHA cannot make up its mind over whether or not Cruz’s ceremony is a religious ceremony or not, so it attempts to argue from both premises, using the scattershot method, hoping one or the other sticks.

The brass tacks:

Does the fact that the Academy has created spaces for Christian, Jewish and Muslim worshipers constitute sanction of religion?

I use the phrase “created space” advisedly. Note; that while such spaces have been created, no one is being required to worship, nor occupy said spaces. What is more, the academy is not expressing, in any explicit way, approval of one or the other of the religions. Still…
The argument appears to be that the approval or sanction is of religion in general and is implicit, given that the academy has taken steps to provide these spaces.

This case would be strong if it were the case that the academy did not, at the same time, provide space for non-religious or anti-religious groups.

But this is not the case. In addition to allowing spaces for non-traditional religions, such as Wicca, the Academy does allow space for groups usually considered non-religious or anti-religious. A mechanism exists whereby ECAs can be created that allow such groups to form clubs, and acquire spaces for use. True, not all such groups have permanent facilities specially set aside for their exclusive use, but this is more a matter of the contingencies of history and space than it is discrimination. Surely, if agnosticism/freethinking/secular humanism were a major belief system in 18th and 19th century America, demonstrated by historical creation and maintenance of one or more large institutions similar to churches during that formative period of the country, and/or if this had also been the case during the period of time during which the Academy was built, the academy would have provided such an exclusive space (or spaces, if there were more than one sect).  But that was not the case, so this did not happen.
Why would the Academy have provided such space(s)? For the same reason that the actual chapel buildings exist; in an effort to create a campus that conduced to the welfare of midshipmen/faculty/staff. 

The Academy, knowing that a good number of mids/fac/staff count it to their welfare to be able to exercise their religion freely, decided to create several spaces for that purpose. What is more, given the demographics, they took pains to provide spaces for as many groups as they could, given space and cost limitations. Large spaces for larger groups, smaller for smaller; permanent facilities for groups it had good reason to believe would not only last, but last in quantity.  So, is there anything wrong with this?

 Thinking counterfactually; if the culture had been such that a significant percentage of the student population belonged to a well-organized secular humanist organization, that had various rites and something akin to ceremonials and holidays, as do now exist, does anyone believe that they would not have been accommodated? Granted, this is counterfactual mongering, but, if it were to have been, I suspect that such spaces would now exist as grand old landmarks of Annapolis.  In that case, extending the thought experiment, suppose that religious organizations were small, only a few mids being Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Then, they would not now have the benefit of the permanent structures. But, would this amount to discrimination in that circumstance? Once again, I think not. It is an unhappy (for them) accident of (counterfactual) history.

Nevertheless, one has to gauge present intent from present action. Does the academy act in ways that show implicit disapproval of secular humanists, atheists or agnostics?  No. The AHA seems to disagree, on the basis that it has not allowed the secular humanist wedding marriage ceremony in the Christian chapel.

I’m not sure that fact establishes this. Consider again the counterfactual world where the main chapel in 2013 is and has been a secular humanist facility:  It is for the use of all sects of secular humanism (the analogs of Christianity’s various Catholicisms and Protestantisms).  It is full of iconography of this belief system (stained glass of major historical atheist figures in science or philosophy, let’s say). There are even renderings of martyrs to the belief system, if any, or historically significant proselytes, (analogs of the apostles) Bertrand Russell for instance, or perhaps the cagey David Hume.

Given all that, suppose now that Christianity has always been a rather small (around 1% or so) element of the American populace, this reflected at the Academy. A Christian alumnus applies for a religious service in the humanist chapel and is turned down on the grounds that the sanctuary is reserved for humanist sects.  Is it discriminatory of that Academy in that counterfactual world to do this? I would say ‘yes’ only if the Academy did not also make genuine attempts to accommodate him/her in some other venue.  Here is why:

The Academy has made space for the secular humanists not because it seeks to sanction the belief system, but because it seeks to provide for the welfare of its students staff and faculty, more particularly, it seeks to allow them to exercise what they individually believe is in their welfare. This ‘making space’ is morally OK just in case the Academy does not provide it because it, as an institution, has come to the conclusion that exercise of humanism is actually the best means to human welfare, and wants to channel its folks that way via behavioral engineering of a sort.  That would be an establishment of humanism, to use the language of the Constitution. So, granted the assumption that it is not the case that this is the motive, the denial of service ipso facto, would not have been morally wrong. 

Rather, it would have been done because the institution had good reason to believe that the proposed exercise of the Christian individual’s beliefs as concern his/her welfare would prove to be offensive to, and directly counter to the values of the persons and institutions for whom the humanist space is provided.  Just as the Academy would be fully in its rights to refuse a Nazi ceremony in the Miller chapel, Levy Hall, for that reason, it would be within its rights to refuse the Christian ceremony in the humanist space.  Whether the individual intends it as such or not, the Christian ceremony in that place, given the cultural context, would be a finger in the eye of the humanists, an act of disrespect.  The Academy is not obligated to in any way countenance or enable disrespect. 

In our world the action undertaken by the AHA seems like this and is probably also a poke in the eye to the Academy, in effect an accusation that it lacks integrity and has suspect motives in providing the spaces it does. Unfair, if you take an unbiased view of things.

That, I think, is at heart why I have a problem with the AHA’s action, quite apart from the minutiae of Constitutional law.