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How the Mighty Fall

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The mighty fall like freshly cut hair. The metaphor suggests itself with the news that former Sen. John Edwards no longer goes to a Beverly Hills salon to shell out hundreds for a haircut but now heads over to "Supercuts" in Raleigh where a mere $12.95 will do the job.

Watching the mighty fall risks the sin of schadenfreude, but it is, nonetheless, a healthy instinct in a democracy. And, besides, in this case, it gives us the chance to recall an all-time YouTube favorite.

Imperiled Centrists

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Yeats wasn't talking about Blue Dog Democrats when he wrote "The Second Coming," but one line of that masterpiece seems appropriate to the political situation today: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold."

Political looks at the difficult elections prospects of a host of moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the 2012 election, a development on the left that is as troubling as the retirement of moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe is for the right. Moderation is not a value per se, but it is necessary in a democracy to have politicians within each political party that are willing to challenge the orthodoxies of their own. Only a pro-life Democrat can ever hope to bring the rest of that party to a reconsideration of their views, just as only a pro-immigration reform Republican can get her party to reconsider their views on that issue.

Unfortunately, the increasing dependence of members of Congress on the mopre extreme elements within their parties is a problem for which no solution seems plausible. As long as redistricting is done along partisan lines, all the political juice will come from the extremes.

Rights - Not the Whole Enchilada

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Mark Silk raises a good point regarding the on-going debate over religious liberty in a post at his blog “Spiritual Politics” over at RNS. “[C]hanging civil norms always pose new challenges for weighing free exercise rights against others that are also constitutionally guaranteed.” There is always a balancing act when adjudicating rights within a constitutional framework and no rights, including our First Amendment right to freedom of religious expression, are absolute.

Ad Multos Annos Pope Benedict

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Today is the Holy Father's 85th birthday. I wish him not only many happy returns of the day but many happy years. He is an outstanding pontiff whose writings and talks have inspired millions and invited those with ears to hear to consider their faith more deeply. He has not shied away from diaolgue with the world - his conversation with Jurgen Habermas, published in book form - displays a critical mind at work in ways few of us could keep up, but he has never forgotten that for a Christian, as we discern the signs of the times, Christ remains the measure.

Remembering Bishop Roman

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Bishop Augustin Roman, the Cuban-born auxiliary bishop of Miami, was buried on Saturday. In addition to the prelates from the United States who came for his funeral, bishops from Cuba and Haiti also attended and, in a rarity, the Apostolic Nuncio also flew down from Washington.

It was not only the hierarchy who engaged in this unprecedented outpouring of affection. The U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz, who is a Cuban-American, issued a statement recalling Bishop Roman's special place in the life of the Church and the Cuban-American people:

On behalf of myself and the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See, I wish to express my deepest condolences on the passing away of His Excellency Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Román, the human rights leader who became the first Cuban-American to be consecrated a bishop in the United States.

Schneck v. Ryan at NPR

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From this morning's "Morning Edition," at NPR, Professor Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University (where I am a visiting fellow) takes on Cong. Paul Ryan's claims that his budgetary proposals are in line with traditional Catholic social teaching.

It goes without saying that Schneck's views - and maybe even Ryan's - are more sophisticated than those offered in the NPR piece by David Barton and Rick Warren.

Kaveny v. Garnett on Employment Division v. Smith

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My two favorite Notre Dame law professors - okay, they are also the only two Notre Dame law professors I know, but I do like both of them and can scarcely contain my admiration for each - are engaged in debate over the religious liberty jurisprudence as embodied in the important Supreme Court decision Employment Division v. Smith.

Here is Kaveny's first post.

Here is Garnett's post.

And here is a subsequent post by Kaveny.

I am not a lawyer, so I especially appreciate the ability of both Kaveny and Garnett to explain complicated legal issues in terms the rest of us can understand.

Sarah Posner - Propagandist Extraordinaire

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Sarah Posner is a propagandist, not a journalist.

Last week I wrote about how pre-existing narratives can actually becloud our vision of contemporary events, rather than elucidate them. Of course, in some sense, we all have pre-existing narratives or else it would be impossible to place data in context, impossible to make sense of the world or bring our different sets of beliefs and experiences into some kind of coherence. But, anyone wishing to be intellectually honest must be aware of the down-side of pre-existing narratives, the way they can miss nuance, dismiss alternative arguments and frustrate the possibility for political resolution.

Rev. Gaddy Embarrasses Himself

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The President of the Interfaith Alliance, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, issued a statement yesterday expressing his “disappointment” at the USCCB’s document on religious liberty. I do not know the Rev. Dr. Gaddy, and now I am glad that I don’t. Here is the text of his statement and my comments will follow:

It is with great disappointment that I read the proclamation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on religious freedom. While I believe there are real threats to religious freedom in our nation today, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Catholic Church’s definition of religious freedom is one that is only concerned with its own beliefs and practices and makes no room for those whose views differ. In the democratic society in which we live, we are fortunate our government makes accommodations when necessary to protect our beliefs and practices, but the Constitution still trumps scripture in every case. In fact, it is because of this understanding that religion – all religion – has been able to flourish in the United States.

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