The Briefing 10-23-17

The Briefing 10-23-17

It’s Monday, October 23rd, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

What exactly is a nation and how many should there be? Can newly invented constitutional rights really mean what some claim that they mean? And what’s really for sale in the nation’s capital when some vendors say they’re selling T-shirts, very expensive T-shirts?

Part I

Fragility of democracy on display as Catalans, others seek independence

Just how many nations, how many countries should there be in the world? That might sound like something of an esoteric or abstract question. It’s of course, not just a mathematical question. It’s not just a matter of counting, it’s an historical question and it’s a political question and it’s a question front and center, in many of those pressing headlines in the world today. Many of them coming from several different places of the world, landing almost simultaneously on the front pages of the major newspapers of the globe. The reason for that is an unrest on a global scale, and there’s a great deal to be learned by it.

But the most pressing of these news stories right now comes from Europe. It’s easy to answer how many European  countries there should be, at least if you ask the European Union. That’s the Union of 28 recognized European states. Given the breadths of vote, the United Kingdom, Britain is seeking to leave. But so far as the European Union is concerned, it doesn’t want any new member states splitting off from existing member states. But what we face right now in Spain is not only one breakaway region seeking its own independence, but actually several.

But front and center is Catalonia, with its capital city of Barcelona.  In recent weeks, the Catalan government has held an election, a controversial election, an election that was considered illegal by Spain, the nation of which it is a part, and furthermore a publicite that only brought out about 42% of the vote. But that vote was overwhelming in favor of separating from Spain of independence for Catalonia. The Catalan government, headed by President Puigdemont, has been very clear about the fact that it has declared independence. But then at one of the strangest moves in world history, they put their own claim of independence on hold. But so far as the Spanish government is concerned, this is nothing less than a revolt, which could lead to something … can amount to almost a civil war. And the Spanish government acted decisively over the weekend with Prime Minister Rajoy, announcing that he would invoke for the first time in history, Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, allowing the central government of the Prime Minister there in Madrid, to remove the Catalan president and the entire government, if necessary, and to affect and enforce direct rule from Madrid.

That’s a heavy handed movement, no doubt, but in terms of the Spanish government’s perspective, nothing less than the identity and the sovereignty of Spain is at stake. We’ve talked about the fact that Catalonia is a distinct region of Spain, it has its own historical identity. It has its own language, its own capital city, Barcelona, one of the most famous and historic cities in all of Europe. It has its own culture, it elects its own government, a government headed by President Puigdemont.

But what’s interesting is that it isn’t a nation politically so, it doesn’t have independence from Spain. So far as the European Union is concerned, and all, all of it’s member states, Spain is to continue as one nation. There is no support within the European Union for Catalonia, even though it is distinct from much of Spain, separating as a separate nation, and we can understand why. There are separatist regions and nationalist movements within almost every single European country. That includes the United Kingdom, which as a unified monarchy, includes not only England and Wales, but Scotland and northern Ireland. Not too long ago, there was a referendum in Scotland about separating from the United Kingdom. And in Spain, it’s not just Catalonia, as one of 17 semi-autonomous regions that is talking openly about leaving the nation. The bask separatist movement has just about as much historical lineage as does the Catalonian independence movement.

But from a Christian worldview perspective, one of the most interesting aspects of all of this is what you’re not reading about in the newspapers, is probably true that most Americans aren’t paying much attention to this at all. It’s hard to imagine what would interest many Americans, in terms of affairs on the world scene. But as we’re thinking about it, it’s a reminder of the fact that history is never as far from us as we might like to think.

As a matter of fact, if you’re looking at Catalonia, you are looking at a region of the world that has had a national identity of some sort since about 949 A.D. Furthermore, you are looking at the fact that Spain, as we know it in terms of a unified nation, really only goes back to 1469, with the famous wedding of Ferdinand and Isabella, uniting the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, bringing those two together in a form that at least implies what we know as Spain today. But the unified Spain that we know in the 20th and 21st centuries is actually the result of the dictatorship of Generalissimo Frederico Franco, who ruled brutally by military force from 1939 until his death in 1975.

So that means that democracy in Spain only really dates back to 1975. That’s just a generation ago. We’re looking at the fact that democracy in Spain has been a very fragile entity from the very beginning. We tend to think of Europe as being committed comprehensively to democracy, but that flies in the face of the fact that many of those European nations have had a rather awkward, if intermittent, relationship with democracy over the last century or so.

By the way, of course, as you know your history, not only did Ferdinand and Isabella marry in 1469, but in 1492, well, they commissioned Christopher Columbus on his voyage. That’s a part of American history, an indispensable part of American history. And also in 1492, under the monarchy of those who were declared by the Pope to be the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, what we know as the Spanish inquisition was begun. In reality, every where it’s found in the world, democracy is more fragile than may it first appear. The reason for that is that it requires a prior worldview, a foundational worldview, and commitments about human dignity, and limitations of government and human freedom that do not exist on their own. That’s one of the insights that Christians must have in mind in this post-Christian, increasingly secular age. There are many people who want the fruits of a democratic form of government, but they are simultaneously seeking to undercut the foundations of that very possibility of a democratic form of government.

There are separatists and nationalist movements right here in North America, the best known of them, of course, would be Quebec, the Province in Canada, which has had a very strong separatist movement for all of the modern history of Canada. And furthermore, you have similar movements found throughout the Middle East. Most famously, in recent headlines, the movement towards Kurdish independence and national sovereignty. Just in terms of an historical review, this points again to the singularity of the United States of America, and our form of government, which is a constitutional republic, a constitutional republic that has existed under one constitution now for over 200 years, a remarkable fact of history, made all the more remarkable by the fragility and the temporality of democracy elsewhere in the world.

Part II

Massive moral and constitutional questions surround controversy over undocumented teen and abortion

But now shifting here to the United States, and to what amounts to a constitutional question, a very unusual and perhaps unexpected constitutional question, and one that is not even taken seriously by many, who actually are more committed to abortion than to the U. S. Constitution, not to mention the dignity and sanctity of human life.

The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, with reporters Brent Kendall and Laura Meckler, wrote a story in which they said this, “A divided federal appeals court linked Friday, ruled that the Trump administration for now can block an undocumented teenager from getting an abortion, but that it should seek away to transfer custody of the girl, so she can obtain the procedure.”

Now this is a complicated story, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be one of the most important stories we can consider in terms of a constitutional perspective, even more importantly, a Christian worldview perspective. The lead paragraph in the New York Times article is this, “A lawsuit at the intersection of two emotional issues, illegal immigration and abortion, is speeding through the courts, as judges consider whether an undocumented teen in U. S. custody may terminate her pregnancy over the wishes of the Trump administration.” Now, it’s the editorial page of the New York Times, however, that gets right to the issue and gets there quickly with absolutely amazing clarity. Here are the opening words of the editorial that appeared in Saturday’s edition of the New York Times. And I quote, “Jane Doe is a 17 year-old undocumented immigrant, detained in Texas, who is 15 weeks pregnant and is seeking an abortion. The editors go on to say, the Constitution grants her that right, but the Trump administration is determined to subvert it as part of its war on women’s reproductive rights.”

That news article in the Wall Street Journal went on to report that an appeals court had put a federal district court’s judgment on hold, the judgment saying the Trump administration had to allow the young woman to get an abortion. And then the report says, so, “it could consider the case, which raises questions about whether undocumented immigrants in custody have the same constitutional right to an abortion that is accorded to U. S. citizens.”

Now let’s put all of this together. What we have here is a 17 year-old girl, a young woman who is here in the United States as an undocumented immigrant. She is here without legal status. She is being held, both as an undocumented immigrant and as a minor, under the authority of the United States government, and she is 15 weeks pregnant, and she wants to terminate the pregnancy by means of an abortion. She and her advocates have gone to the federal courts in order to demand that she has a constitutional right to an abortion, even though she is clearly not … and is not even claiming to be … an American citizen. And not only that, this claim of a right to an abortion, a constitutional right to abortion, means that the government would have to facilitate in some way, since she is both undocumented and a minor, the actual abortion. The Trump administration has responded that that would violate the conscience of American citizens, and thus that the government should not be in the position of being required to facilitate, which means United States citizens require to facilitate an abortion.

But that New York Times editorial, the opening words of which I read, made clear that to the editors of the New York Times, the constitutional question is moot. I sight it again, “The Constitution grants her that right, that is a right to an abortion.” Well, it’s very clear that if you look at the Constitution, not only is there no language guaranteeing, not to mention even specifying any right to abortion, even imagining a right to an abortion. There is certainly no text in the U. S. Constitution that states that someone who is here but is not a citizen of the United States, is granted a constitutional right to an abortion. And furthermore, there is now a question raised explicitly by this editorial in the New York Times, as to whether anyone who can just get to the territory of the United States cannot now claim a constitutional right to an abortion. And furthermore, the requirement that the federal government of the United States, which means the citizens of the United States, facilitate that abortion.

Now, when we talk about a clash of worldviews in the United States, it’s hard to come up with a more classic example than this. The clash of worldviews means that the singular most important issue, perhaps even the singular most important constitutional right to many in this country, is what is summarized as a woman’s right to an abortion. Any infringement of that right, any restriction of that right, any recognition of the right to life of that unborn child, even any legal recognition of the child, is considered to be the great impediment to the liberty that women are owed under the U. S. Constitution, and that is central to the modern liberal, secular understanding of what it means to be human, and in- in particular what it means to be a woman.

But this also raises some of the most important constitutional questions that we confront, because if indeed someone coming to this country under these circumstances is to be recognized as having a constitutional right to an abortion, a right that doesn’t even appear in the U. S. Constitution, then of course, the entire lying between citizenship, defining the difference between citizenship and non-citizenship, begins to utterly disappear.

But the language that is employed in this opening paragraph is still … regardless of how many times we look at this kind of language … shocking. The last senate says again, “The Constitution grants her that right, but the Trump administration is determined to subvert it as part of its war on women’s reproductive rights.” Now let’s just look at that language for a moment. This is bellicose language, the language of war. And so many times over the course of the last generation or so, conservatives have been sometimes rightly described as being too bellicose in language, the very language of a culture war has become something that has been reconsidered, even though the fundamental reality is undeniable. But here you will notice that on the pro-abortion side, there’s no hesitancy whatsoever to jump right to the language of war. And even to say that when the current administration says th- the federal government should not be in the position of having to recognize or to facilitate a 17 year-old young woman, who is an undocumented immigrant to have an abortion. That is now considered to be a part of the administration’s war on women’s reproductive rights.

Now what I’m pointing out here is simply the fact that the language isn’t accidental. The language points to just how seriously, how vehemently, how urgently the pro-abortion movement considers abortion rights for everyone … and under every circumstance. This is exactly the kind of case that you would think politically, if not even morally, the pro-abortion movement would say, “We don’t want to touch, this is simply too difficult a case, this is too tenuous an argument.” But no. Every argument has to be made at full valence. Every single story on abortion has to be made a part of a larger war. And we’re not using that language. The editors of the New York Times have. The editors of the New York Times conclude their editorial with these words, “Nationally and globally through restrictions on foreign aid, women’s reproductive rights are endangered by administration officials warping policy to their beliefs, regardless of the law. Now they don’t even bother to hide their intent.”

Well, actually, I don’t think there’s been any effort in the pro-life movement, wherever it’s found, to hide that intent. But, to me, the most interesting part of those closing words, are where they accuse government officials of acting, “Regardless of the law.” Well, it might be helpful if the editors actually sighted a law. But I don’t believe there is one. This story to this point really isn’t getting adequate attention. The given issues at stake, it should. Indeed, it must.

Part III

Buy a T-shirt for $45, get marijuana for 'free': Cannabis dealers in D.C. get creative

But finally, a news story from Washington, D.C. that underlines how our economic behavior demonstrates an even more interesting and important underlying moral behavior. The headline in the article about Ashraf Khalil and the associated press is district of cannabis. And the subject is this, buy a wildly overpriced T-shirt, get a free marijuana gift. The word gift is put in quotation marks on the side. What’s the article about? Well, it has to do with the fact that even though in 2014, by means of a valid initiative, the District of Columbia legalized recreational marijuana, it didn’t legalize any way to sell it. Selling marijuana is still illegal. Possessing marijuana, at least in the District, is not exactly illegal now.

But the issue is this, if you can’t sell it, how can you get it. It’s illegal to sell it. Criminal charges could be brought against you, so you can’t sell it. You have to give it away. But if you give it away, there’s no economic incentive, so what do you come up with? You come up with a hundred-dollar T-shirt, and if you buy the T-shirt, you also get a little bit of marijuana as a gift. Or, as the article makes clear, businesses often offering delivery, says the associated press, “Sell everything from coffee cups to artwork, all overpriced and all coming with a little something extra.”

The only reason why the sale of marijuana isn’t yet legal in the District of Columbia is because congress has the right to contravene any District law. And that’s exactly what congress has done in this case. The associated press story tells us that since the legalization of possessing marijuana in 2014, in the District, demand and supply have both spiraled and, not only that, but for citizens of the District of all ages that’s acknowledged in the article. It’s also reported that seven days a week in the District of Columbia, there is some kind of cannabis oriented event going on, in which, as the article says, there are for sale, $50 baseball caps and $80 sweatshirts, and you get a free gift of marijuana … again, on the side. Now, according to this article, that’s seven days a week.

One of those events, held weekly, is described in the article in terms of one night, in which “About 150 people crowded into Peru’s about 25 vendor’s tables offering large jars of buds of marijuana and a huge variety of edibles from brownies to marijuana-infused gummy bears. There were also marijuana vape pens and concentrates, a substance that, according to the associated press, looks like candle wax and requires a water pipe and a blow torch to consume.”

So yes, folks, that is the world, the real world, the world in the District of Columbia, where it makes sense for the associated press to explain that there are now marijuana concentrates sold that require a water pipe and a blow torch to consume. And where the words, cannabis-infused gummy bears will make sense, and where it makes perfect sense that someone would buy a $100 T-shirt, just in order to get the marijuana gift on the side.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. I also want you to know that tomorrow afternoon, at 2:00 Eastern time, I’m going to be hosting another Ask Anything broadcast on Facebook live and on YouTube. Right now you can submit your questions by going to, and then join us tomorrow, Tuesday, at 2:00 Eastern time, at

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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