The Briefing 08-28-14

The Briefing 08-28-14

The Briefing


August 28, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Thursday, August 28, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Utah polygamy ban struck down furthering absolute confusion on marriage

While in a federal appeals court issues related to same-sex marriage were being debated, yesterday in the US district court in Utah, a federal judge decisively struck down that state’s ban, not on same-sex marriage, but on polygamy. At the end of last year, the same judge had put Utah’s ban on polygamy on hold, but yesterday he struck it down. Utah’s law required by the federal government of Utah before it was allowed to enter the Union, prohibited polygamy in very clear terms, but without using the word. Instead, inserted in the law in Utah was a prohibition that included the language:


…or cohabits with another person.


In his decision handed down yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that that phrase is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion. The ruling comes after the lawsuit had been filed by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives. They had left Utah fearing prosecution but they sued the state, claiming that the law was an infringement of their religious liberty. At the end of last year, just days after yet another federal district court judge had stuck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, Judge Waddoups had appeared to believe that Utah’s ban on polygamy also violate the Constitution. The attorney that represented the Brown family in this case, Jonathan Turley of the George Washington Law Center in Washington, is a very well-known litigator with a national reputation. Responding to the judge’s decision handed down yesterday; he declared this a victory for families. Declaring it a moral good that such families can integrate now into society and,


…not fear prosecution merely because of their family structure.


As calls for the legalization of same-sex marriage began to increase in the last decade, those who defended traditional marriage as the union of a man and a woman, were often accused of exaggerating and using scare tactics by suggesting that the legalization of same-sex marriage by inference and implication would throw the door open wide for the legalization of polygamy as well. The defenders and proponents of same-sex marriage suggested that this would not be the case. As a matter of fact, several federal district court judges and others who have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage did so while insisting that logic of their decision would not, in any way, open the door to polygamy. But even as a federal judge in Utah at the end of last year struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage, it was not a matter of years – not even a matter of months, just a matter of days – before yet another federal district court judge began the process of dismantling the state’s law against polygamy. Yesterday Judge Waddoups put the final nail in the coffin of Utah’s law against polygamy.


It’s actually hard to exaggerate the moral meaning of Judge Waddoups’ ruling. After all, what we are talking about here is something that most Americans still believe is largely unthinkable, the legalization of plural marriage and of polygamy. In making his ruling, Judge Waddoups made one very interesting observation. Around America today is not uncommon at all for people to cohabitate and to have multiple romantic partners, but once they begin to live in a domestic context, they are now ruled to be violators of the law and their relationships are criminalized. The legitimacy of that insight from Judge Waddoups is that our society has basically itself, weakened any defense against polygamy by accepting routine cohabitation as well as sex and romantic relationships outside of the institution of marriage. But Judge Waddoups ruling goes far beyond any striking down of the law against same-sex marriage in terms of dismantling the entire cultural logic and moral meaning of marriage as the central institution of civilization. The reason for that should be immediately apparent when you put those two federal court decisions together. Just handed down days apart in Utah, and now finalized yesterday.


What we are looking at here is the effective end of morals legislation when it comes to marriage. Just a couple of years ago when U.S. Federal Court Judge Vaughn Walker struck down California’s proposition eight, a constitutional amendment approved by voters there in 2008 defining marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman, he also struck directly at the heart of the moral meaning of marriage, ruling that it was a form of oppression and discrimination to prevent members of the same-sex, in this case a couple of the same-sex, from getting married and enjoying the legal and societal recognition benefits of marriage. But when you fast forward to Judge Waddoups decision handed down yesterday, Judge Waddoups basically declared that the issue of number in the marital relationship doesn’t really matter either – or in terms of his specific ruling that any law criminalizing polygamy is unconstitutional. So put these two decisions together, while at this point Judge Waddoups ruling does not require the state of Utah to recognize the plural marriage of the Browns, it does require the state to no longer criminalize polygamy – effectively authorizing it. So Judge Walker, followed by a host of other federal judges now, has dismantled marriage in terms of its historic structure of gender. Now you have another federal district court judge who has dismantled it in terms of number. So, redefining marriage in terms of both number and gender, leads to an almost absolutely confusion when it comes to what marriage is and who made be recognized as married. Several attorneys are now getting in line for an effort to require states now to recognize plural marriages with the same kind of benefits and protections offered to marriage throughout the centuries.


Back in July of 2011 when attorney Jonathan Turley first took up the case of the Browns, he published a column in the opinion pages of the New York Times in which he tied the legalization of polygamy directly to the US Supreme Court’s decision striking down all walls against sodomy, the case known in 2003 as Lawrence v. Texas. As he wrote,


Since the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, Americans have enjoyed unprecedented freedom in their lifestyles and private relationships. The decision held that states could no longer use the criminal code for social engineering, dictating the most intimate decisions of citizens in their choice of partners and relations. But even as states have abandoned laws criminalizing homosexual and adulterous relations, they have continued to prosecute one group of consenting adults: polygamists.


Looking at that statement we can see the worldview there revealed. For, when he speaks about laws that had prevented polygamy, he speaks of the states, not being involved in the protection of marriage, but rather involving themselves in what he terms “social engineering.” In explaining his defense of polygamy he argued that in our society today there are numerous ways to have plural relationships, it’s widely accepted he says, that a person can have multiple sexual relationships outside of marriage and can even now have children with such partners. But, he says, the minute that person expresses a form of formal and spiritual commitment and then, using the word of the law, “cohabits” with those partners, it’s defined as a crime. You may recall that back in 2003, when the Supreme Court handed down the Lawrence decision, Justice Antonin Scalia retorted with a dissenting opinion in which he accused the majority in that case, the opinion written by Anthony Kennedy, not only if opening the door for legalization of same-sex marriage, but of polygamy as well. And on that count, Jonathan Turley responds,


Justice Scalia is right in one respect, though not intentionally. Homosexuals and polygamists do have a common interest: the right to be left alone as consenting adults. Otherwise he’s dead wrong. There is no spectrum of private consensual relations — there is just a right of privacy that protects all people so long as they do not harm others.


Couple of other quick observations, in the first place, what we see here is a classic expression of the current sexual morality. That sexual morality now holds that the only defining and important moral principle is consent. So long as the persons involved in any sexual relationship are consenting adults, then there is understood to be no moral problem whatsoever, and society is told that it must simply accept the new arrangements. Finally, we also note that in his protest against laws against polygamy, Jonathan Turley says that the only factor of real interest here is whether or not the law is proved to prevent a harm to others. Well just consider that for a moment.


The only harm that he would consider here is a harm that is limited directed to the individuals involved. No reference here is allowable to the larger harm to society, or the injury to marriage as an institution. But as we have seen in the forward march to the legalization of same-sex marriage, the issue of harm to marriage and the larger society is simply excluded from moral consideration. That’s very telling. And it’s also very ominous

2) ‘Euthanasia tourism’ boom in Switzerland reveals quiet moral revolution on sanctity of life

Have you heard one of your friends or neighbors perhaps say that they have plans to go to Switzerland? Well as Julie Beck reports at the Atlantic, you’d better wonder what they mean if you hear someone making that expression, because as she explains, Switzerland does not yet have clear regulations on assisted suicide. And it has become a destination of choice for persons of other countries seeking assisted suicide, or euthanasia.


This kind of ‘euthanasia tourism’ is expanding, and as she explains, “the six voluntary right-to-die organizations in Switzerland, each operating solely by its own criteria, have offered their services to residents outside of Switzerland.”


So, as she explains, when people for instance in England say that they’re going to be going to Switzerland, what they really mean is that they’re going to be seeking assisted suicide. It has become a shorthand or a euphemism for the intention to take one’s life. But not only to commit suicide, but to have assistance in doing so.


Switzerland, a nation known for its commitment to liberal moral values, is itself somewhat shocked and troubled by this development. The Swiss government is at least considering tightening restrictions and laws in order to prevent the nation from becoming the prime destination for euthanasia tourism.


But, as Beck indicates, previous efforts to try to legislate some kind of restriction on assisted suicide and abortion in Switzerland have met with no success. But as her report in the Atlantic indicates, virtually half of all the euthanasia tourists heading to Switzerland recently have come from Germany. Coming in next, in terms of countries of origin, were the United Kingdom and France.


Most Americans, by now, are at least aware of the moral revolution represented in the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage. Fewer seem to be aware of the moral revolution that is taking place mostly in Europe, but also in some American states, towards the redefinition of the sanctity of human life and the end of life when it comes to assisted suicide and euthanasia. But Americans had better get schooled on it, and fast, because the states of New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Montana already have a right-to-die provision, known in the United States more commonly as ‘aid in dying.’


Efforts to legislate the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia are becoming contemplated in other American states as well. Keep in mind the deadly logic of this movement. After all, the earlier European nations that legalized assisted suicide or euthanasia have demonstrated the fact that they have been unable to draw the line in terms even of the criteria defining the persons who could seek the end of their life by assisted suicide or other assisted means.


For instance, in the nation of Belgium, it has now become legal for children to seek assisted suicide, even if they do not have an intractable or interminable disease. In other European nations, persons have sought and received assisted suicide solely because they were dissatisfied with their quality of life, something, we should add, that often changes in an individual’s experience. Not only for the worse, but for the better.


Furthermore, the logic of voluntary euthanasia often slides almost immediately into involuntary euthanasia. And even when it is claimed that the euthanasia is always voluntary, it isn’t voluntary in a true moral sense. For instance, often times pressure is now put on the elderly to end their lives by means of assisted suicide or euthanasia because, it is claimed, they are representing (in terms of their long term care and cost) a financial burden to their family. It may well be that there is no legal involuntary nature in the euthanasia in that count, but it’s certainly not un-coerced. And you can see how this will almost immediately apply to others in society as well. Those who are the aged, the infirm, anyone who is an expense to the family or the society may face the logic of being told that the society, or their family and loved ones, would be better off if they were dead.


There’s also another major moral concern on this issue, staring us in the face in our own nation. As bioethicist Wesley J. Smith has recently written in the pages of First Things, there is now a direct threat to the conscience provisions whereby physicians and other medical personnel have been able to refuse to cooperate in the engine of death because of their religious and moral convictions. But, as Smith argues, this is now being threatened by direct action by groups such as the ACLU, which in Washington state, in his words,

Began trolling for potential clients to sue medical professionals or facilities that refuse to participate in certain legal procedures or transactions based on religious objections.


In their statement seeking plaintiffs, the ACLU wrote, “The ACLU believes that everyone in Washington has the right to receive health care that is not restricted by the religious beliefs of others.” The so-called ‘healthcare’ explicitly documented by the ACLU included abortion, assistance in suicide, and the dispensing of drugs in pharmacies.


Currently, legal protections are in place to prevent physicians from being forced to participate in abortions, although in some cases, medical students claim they are being required to take part in abortion as a part of their medical training and certification. But the same protections are more rarely extended to other health care professionals, including pharmacists. In many states, pharmacists are required to dispense abortifacient drugs, including the morning after pill. And Wesley Smith now warns that there are efforts in various states to extend that lack of protection to physicians as well. And, not only on the issue of abortion, but also on assisted suicide.


As Smith reports,


Quebec just legalized euthanasia, and requires every doctor to either euthanize, legally qualify patients, or cooperate in finding a doctor willing to provide a lethal injection. Victoria, Australia has a similar law requiring all doctors’ participation or complicity in abortion.


Furthermore, and even more ominously, closer to home, he reports that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has published an Ethics Committee opinion that denies conscience provisions on the issue of abortion to its members.

The statement reads, and I quote,


The first important consideration in defining limits for conscientious refusal is the degree to which a refusal constitutes an imposition on patients who do not share the objectors’ beliefs. One of the guiding principles in the practice of medicine is respect for patient autonomy, a principle that holds that persons should be free to choose and act without controlling constraints imposed by others. Respect for autonomy has particular importance in reproductive decision-making, which involves private, personal, often pivotal decision about sexuality and childbearing.


Thus, an official panel of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is sending a message; ‘Give up your moral concerns about the sanctity of life, and start performing abortions and participating in the abortion process, or at some future date, risk losing your certification.’


As Smith concluded his article,


Indeed, in coming years, medical professionals who believe in the Hippocratic Oath’s prohibition against killing could well be driven out of medicine.

3) Japan’s looming population crisis evidence of dangers of liberal worldview

Finally, the issue of falling birth rates in advanced industrial nations has caught the attention even of the Journal for Foreign Affairs. In a book review of a recent publication by Steven Philip Kramer on ‘how governments can address the issue of falling birthrates,’ the very respectable journal indicates that some governments, at least, are beginning to wake up to the problem. And in most of the world, especially, in the modernized world, the problem is not that there are too many births, but now, far too few. In Europe, virtually all countries have a current birthrate that is far below the replacement rate, meaning a decline in population, a decreasing number of young persons, and a vastly increasing percentage of older citizens. This is financial and demographic disaster, because in any economy, there have to be more young people working than old people who are being supported in terms of the economy.


Furthermore, the decline of birthrates in these countries now threatens not only the economy, but other aspects of the culture as well. But, ground zero of the population implosion isn’t actually even in Europe, where most nations now have that birthrate under the replacement rate.


No, ground zero in Japan. And just this week the Japan news has reported that the number of babies born in Japan in the period from January to June dropped 2.7% from a year earlier to a low of 496,391 births, “pointing,” the paper says, “to the possibility of the annual figure slipping below the one million mark for the first time on record.”


The government of Japan, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abo, is doing its very best to encourage citizens to have more babies. But whatever they’re doing, this most recent report indicates that is it not working; the birthrate is already falling. This same newspaper a matter of months ago reported that nursing homes and care facilities in Japan have had to turn to robots in the care of elderly patients. There simply aren’t enough younger people in the work force to do the work. There are too many old people, not enough young people. And so Japan’s answer at present is, ‘bring in the robots.’


Christians looking at this situation recognize that a birthrate is not just a measure of demographics and population. It is an indicator of moral values, and worldview. And a society that no longer has a central interest in welcoming babies is a society that is writing its own birth warrant. And when you consider what’s going on in so many western industrialized nations, and also in some nations such as Japan, you have to wonder if British writer Malcom Muggeridge in the last century wasn’t right when he pointed to the death of Western civilization and said that it would likely come as an answer to what he called ‘the great liberal death wish.’


This report out of Japan, combined with reports from other nations may well indicate that that great death wish is closer to fulfillment than even we feared. Put simply, an empty nursery for the nation indicates that the nation has no future.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to


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Podcast Transcript

1) Utah polygamy ban struck down furthering absolute confusion on marriage

Utah Polygamy Law Partially Struck Down By Federal Judge Following ‘Sister Wives’ Lawsuit, International Business Times (Mark Hanrahan)

One Big, Happy Polygamous Family, New York Times (Jonathan Turley)

2) ‘Euthanasia tourism’ boom in Switzerland reveals quiet moral revolution on sanctity of life

‘Going to Switzerland’ Is a Euphemism for Assisted Suicide, The Atlantic (Julie Beck)

Will Doctors Be Forced to Kill?, First Things (Wesley J Smith)

3) Japan’s looming population crisis evidence of dangers of liberal worldview

The Other Population Crisis: What Governments Can Do About Falling Birth Rates, Foreign Affairs (Richard N Cooper)

Japan records fewer than 500,000 births in first half of year, Japan Times

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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