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How we resolve our disputes

Entries in religion (3)


Hopes to Settle

The headline for the lead article in the local section of today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reads “Archdiocese hopes to settle.”  Music to a mediator’s ears.  The article quotes Milwaukee Archbishop Listecki and the attorney for 15 plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits in Milwaukee County Circuit Court over the Archdiocese’s handling of clergy sex abuse cases.  The Archbishop said he wants to be responsive to victims, and avoid a trial in court and extensive legal fees.  The attorney for plaintiffs said the victims want exposure of all offenders, disclosure of all files, and closure.  That would be very poetic justice.  How nice when both parties publicly state their motivation up front. 

A retired Cook County (Illinois) judge will be the mediator.  One roadblock immediately appeared when plaintiff’s attorney said that a desire by the Archdiocese to seal the documents would be a deal breaker.  It remains to be seen whether the judge will be able to avoid that obstacle to settlement.  It is nice to see mediation getting such prominent attention in the media.  But will the parties’ publicly expressed intentions be followed in private negotiations and mediation?  Or is it all just so much “hopium”?  Determining the parties’ true motivations is the beginning of the process, not the end.  It has taken the parties 15 years to decide to try mediation in these cases.  A quick end is not necessarily in sight merely because they have agreed to mediate, but it is a good first step. 


A prayer for relief

My parents taught me that there are several things you should avoid discussing in polite company, at least until you get to know them better. Politics and religion are near the top of that list. Well, excuse me Mom and Dad, but everyone else has been discussing this in public lately. I’m talking about Judge Crabb’s decision in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Obama. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin held the National Day of Prayer to be unconstitutional. I don’t intend to rehash the arguments on either side. My question is why anyone wants the government to declare a day of prayer? Don’t most religions advocate prayer at least once every day? And the law merely provides that the President shall issue a proclamation establishing a day when Americans may turn to God in prayer. Isn’t this superfluous? Americans may turn to God in prayer any day they like, or every day, or never. The National Day of Prayer does not change that. So, regardless of whether this law is constitutional, the real question is why anyone cares? If I were an atheist, it would not make me feel any different about being an American. I would know that I was part of small minority with or without that law. And if I were a religious zealot, how does the law benefit me? Does my faith in, or need to pray to, an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator really need the government’s help? If the government helps religion or prayer in the same manner that FEMA helped New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, I think we would have a nation of atheists within a very short period of time. In other words, as Michael Kessler of Georgetown University said recently, “if you’re religious and want prayer recognized nationally, having the government do it is a really bad idea.” Amen. This law should be filed under “Be careful of what you wish for. You may get it.”



Rites or rights of the season

It’s June — time for graduations.  Let’s go down our checklist:

  • take final exams and pass all courses
  • get cap and gown
  • file lawsuit
  • go to church

Hmmm … I don’t remember those last two items being on my checklist when I graduated from high school or college.  But they are today.  A federal judge in Milwaukee recently refused to enjoin a public school district from holding its graduation ceremonies in a church.  The plaintiffs claimed that holding the graduation in the church violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state.  The school district said it could not hold the ceremonies at its schools due to lack of space and the church was the most practical and convenient alternative.  The judge agreed with the school district, at least to the point of refusing to issue a preliminary injunction.  The lawsuit is still pending and a trial date will be set to determine whether the district violated anyone’s constitutional rights.  The plaintiffs have said they will appeal the judge’s decision on the preliminary injunction.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published an editorial suggesting it would be best to drop the appeal and the lawsuit. 

In the meantime, the school district is building larger auditoriums at its high schools (after 6 to 8 years of using church facilities) and will hold graduation ceremonies at the schools next year.  So much for separation of this church and state.  Now, can we separate the schools from the courts?  

If other school districts make their graduates go to church in order to participate in graduation ceremonies, I suspect the courts will once again be called upon to interpret that pesky 1st Amendment.  What does “establishment of a religion” really mean?  For those who would suggest that this is much ado about nothing, I would ask you to substitute the word mosque, Shinto shrine, Buddhist or Hindu temple, or synagogue for the word church in this story, or in my checklist.  Is it still about nothing?