Friday, June 21, 2019
Friday, June 21, 2019
Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality of the Peace Cross: A Preview of an Important Decision for Religious Liberty
Very important news yesterday from the Supreme Court of the United States. In a 7-2 decision, the nation's highest court upheld the constitutionality of a peace cross erected now on public land in Maryland. It is a very big case. One of the questions to ask when you're looking at any major Supreme Court decision is, what would be the result if the court had decided this otherwise? If the court had decided that the cross is unconstitutional, the ricochet effect would have been wide. You would have seen, for example, that if the logic pertained that this cross on this land in Maryland is unconstitutional, a violation of the constitution of church and state, as is often described, and furthermore an unconstitutional establishment of religion, if that had been the ruling in the case of this cross in Maryland, the very same logic would have extended to the famous cross at Arlington National Cemetery or to crosses just about anywhere across the landscape of the United States, especially as they are involved in war memorials or in other kinds of civic ways of memorializing the dead.
We're looking at a huge decision and it's a very complex decision. Indeed, when you look at the 7-2 vote, the number is reassuring, but there's another way to look at it. There are nine justices. The vote was 7-2, but there were no less than seven different opinions handed down by the court. That is not unprecedented, but it is extremely rare, especially on a case of this magnitude. As we discussed previously on The Briefing, Justice Ginsburg had indicated the likelihood of this result. She had indicated that she was likely to be in the dissent. Indeed, she wrote the dissenting opinion in this case that was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. So you're looking at nine justices, seven different opinions, only one of those opinions that dissent, which means that amongst the seven who were in the majority, there are six different opinions as to the rationale.
What does that tell us? It tells us that even though seven justices ended up on the same side of the specific question as to whether or not this war memorial is unconstitutional, they got there by six different arguments. If anything, what this demonstrates is the breakdown of the court's jurisprudence on the issue of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. It demonstrates that on questions of, for instance, public memorials, on questions of religion in public life, this court is inherently not only divided but confused. This is the same court that just a matter of years ago handed down in a single morning two apparently contradictory decisions about memorials on public land. Now you have seven justices with six different opinions on supposedly one side of an argument. Now, let's be clear. I am very thankful that the court decided this case. I'm very thankful that the court decided this case this way. I'm very thankful that seven justices were united in affirming that when there is something like a Christian cross as part of a war memorial on government property, it need not be seen as an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
But at the same time, as a country, we are in a very bad place when our own highest court is so divided even on how to arrive at a right decision. On this edition of The Briefing, I want to report this news, and I want to underline the magnitude of the Supreme Court decision. I also want to make clear that had this case been decided the other way, we would be in very deep trouble in this country. So I want to talk about it to this extent, but I also want to take time on Monday's edition of The Briefing to take a much closer look at the actual arguments that are made, the arguments and the counter arguments, in this case not only between the majority and the minority but also within the majority. We're going to look at what are in these opinions and what's at stake. That will come on Monday.
Mass Cultural Delusion on Marijuana: Doctors Explain the Risks of Marijuana for Young People in the New York Times
But next we turn to the fact that marijuana is again in the news. The state of New York appeared to be moving towards legalization only for that legislation to break down over some of the most ridiculous issues imaginable. The most important thing is that it didn't break down over the basic morality or even the safety of the use of marijuana. It came down to basic political and economic concerns, but the most important news on marijuana came in an opinion piece that was published in the New York Times on June the 17th. The title of the editorial: "Marijuana Damages Young Brains." The authors: Kenneth L. Davis and Mary Jeanne Kreek. Davis is the president and chief executive of the Mount Sinai Health System and Kreek is the head of the Laboratory of the Biology of Addictive Diseases at Rockefeller University.
I mentioned those identities and professional roles intentionally because there is enormous medical and scientific credibility with the fact that these two individuals are the authors of this article. Davis and Kreek begin, "Recent efforts to legalize marijuana in New York and New Jersey had been stalled but not killed by disputes over how exactly to divvy up the revenues from marijuana sales and by worries about drugged driving." The authors say these are important issues, but another concern they said should be the center of the debate, the medical implications of legalizing marijuana, particularly for young people.
Their next words: "It's tempting to think marijuana is a harmless substance that poses no threat to teens and young adults. The medical facts, however, reveal a different reality." They continue, "Numerous studies show that marijuana can have a deleterious impact on cognitive development in adolescents, impairing executive function, processing speed, memory, attention span and concentration. The damage," they go on to say, "is measurable with an IQ test."
The authors then go on medically to explain why particularly young human brains are susceptible to damage from marijuana. They defined the brains most at risk as the brains of adolescents and young adults. They also go on to make the argument that the adolescent and young adult brain is still developing not only cognitively, but physically well into the twenties, and marijuana, they argue, has an undeniable and documented effect of irreversible harm on those young minds to such a degree that it can be measured immediately and something as simple as an IQ test. That means that IQ points are effectively lost in young brains by the use of marijuana, and as these medical scientists make clear, about that fact there is very little real debate. They explain the reason the adolescent brain is so vulnerable to the effect of drugs is that the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision making, judgment and impulsivity, is still developing in adolescence and young adults until age 25.
In marijuana, it is the substance THC, as it's known, that is particularly damaging because it can "permanently changed neuro pathways that are related to cognition, including learning, attention and emotional responses. In some adolescents, it can also lead," they write, "to long-term dependence."
Furthermore, even as they say the issue is now rather universally recognized amongst doctors and medical scientists, they go on to say that the problem is actually getting worse. Why? Because the marijuana is far stronger than in previous decades. They write, "The risk that marijuana poses to adolescents today as far greater than it was 20 or 30 years ago, because the marijuana grown now is much more potent." In their words, "In the early 1990s the average THC content of confiscated marijuana was roughly 3.7%. By contrast, a recent analysis of marijuana for sale in Colorado's authorized dispensary's showed an average THC content of 18.7%." This is a fact that's been well documented in the major media and in recent science, but it's important to recognize that you're not going to hear legislators rushing to legalize marijuana and to raise state revenues with income from the sale and tax of marijuana, you're not going to hear them pointing to this fact. You're also not going to hear them pointing to the fact that adolescent brains are particularly susceptible and that the age range of this danger extends all the way, as these medical doctors make clear, to age 25.
Now, something else to note is that when you do have state governments saying that they're going to legalize marijuana, they almost always say "We recognize that marijuana is more unsafe for younger citizens. Therefore," they say, "we're even going to spend some of the tax revenue we're going to get from the sale of marijuana for anti-marijuana efforts directed towards young people, even young adults as well as high schoolers and college students." But as it turns out, the evidence is now in in the states where marijuana has been legalized, and there's no real surprise. It turns out that making marijuana legal in any context means that it is more likely to show up in other contexts. Furthermore, adolescents are presented by the legalization of marijuana with the reality that many people are now arguing that marijuana is safe and marijuana is cool, but just not for you yet.
Consider what kind of moral messaging that really sends. It is effectively saying to young people, "You're just going to have to wait for this thrill the rest of us will enjoy now because you're just going to have to wait." And as this article makes very clear, the medical science indicates that if you're going to follow this research, they're going to have to wait a very long time. I'm just going to say I don't think the legislators are making their pledges with a straight face.
But we should also note that this article indicates that there is at least some concern, logically enough, with what is defined here as drugged driving. The reality is that in the states and locales that have legalized marijuana, there has been an increase of drivers who have been stopped for driving under the influence of marijuana, but that influence is not nearly so easily measured as is the case with alcohol. Furthermore, even the laws against driving while under the influence of marijuana are behind the times.
But from a Christian worldview perspective, there's another big question here. If indeed it is irrefutable, if it's largely universally affirmed that the use of marijuana can have deleterious irreversible effects in the minds of young people, why would even someone over the age of 25 say, "Well, it must be safe for me. I've got a few spare brain cells"? You also have to wonder how many of those adults who rationalize the use of marijuana go on to say, "And, yes, I know that it is by a multiple far more potent than the marijuana that society condemned even during the 1960s." We are engaged in a mass exercise of cultural self-delusion on the issue of marijuana, and I pointed to the fact that if you're looking at this kind of moral transition, you're also looking at something that's happening in record time.
You're talking about the fact that just a few years ago, no state had legalized marijuana. Now there appears to be a rush towards that legalization. It's also important to note that in the rush to legalize marijuana, all the health risks are minimized. They're understated. Politicians and others that are supporting this legalization don't want to talk about the dangers. It's sort of like what we see in the states also legalizing gambling. Gambling has a horrible effect upon the community, so much so that you have legislators come back later and say, "Oh, yes, we need to devote some of the money we get from the enterprise of gambling in order to orchestrate anti-gambling movements, or at least movements that would mitigate the danger of addictive gambling and its effect on the community." So you have a society that is effectively double-minded in all seriousness on these issues. You have states legalizing something, taking tax revenue by the economic activity, and then using some of that tax money to put it back into efforts to get people not to be addicted to what they have themselves lured them into doing.
But before leaving this article, let's remember how much it stresses the fact that the young human brain is a developing brain, a brain that is susceptible to damage, a brain that can sometimes experience damage that is irreversible, a brain that is indicated by an incomplete development of cognitive abilities and decision making and emotional control, and then consider the next article to which we turn.
A 13 Year Old Is an “Adult” on the Internet? Parenting in an Age of Personal Technology and Unrestricted Internet Access
This past Wednesday's edition of The Wall Street Journal had a near full page article in the print edition with the headline, "Why 13 Is the Age of Adulthood Online." The article is by Julie Jargon, and it raises a hugely important issue. It raises a question I haven't heard many people address. How is it that the age of authorization for so many things on the internet including social media platforms is age 13? Where did that come from? 13 year olds can't get a license to drive. 13 year olds can't be drafted. 13 year olds can't vote. 13 year olds cannot buy alcohol. How did 13 become the designated age?
Jargon tells us it wasn't by accident, but most people have no idea how the age was set, and it is obvious the age was set much too low. Jargon writes, "At 13, kids are still more than a decade from having a fully developed prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in decision making and impulse control." Now, wait just a second. That's almost the very same language that we just saw in the article that had to do with marijuana in The New York Times. This one has to do with the Internet and the Wall Street Journal, and here again we see the young human prefrontal cortex. Who would have expected that in one week? So the article begins by reminding us of the developing brain and then Jargon writes, "And yet parents and educators unleashed them on the internet at that age. That's age 13 if not before, because they're told children in the U.S. must be at least 13 to download certain apps, create email accounts and sign up for social media."
The article continues, "Parents might think of the age 13 requirement as a PG-13 movie rating. Kids might encounter a bit more violence and foul language, but nothing that will scar them for life. But," she continues, "this isn't an age restriction based on content. Tech companies are just abiding by a 1998 law called the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. That's COPA, which was intended to protect the privacy of children ages 12 or under." She continues, "It's meant to keep companies from collecting and disseminating children's personal information, but it has inadvertently caused 13 to become imprinted on many parents psyches as an acceptable age of internet adulthood." It's telling that here you have a major article in the Wall Street Journal underlining the fact that that judgment is nuts.
But as the article continues, it tells us that the problem is even worse because many of the social media platforms, which by the way did not even exist and were not imaginable in 1998, they only require a click off from the user indicating that the user is at least 13 in order to establish an account and be fully active online. That's to remind us the individual doesn't even have to be 13, but only has to affirm that he or she is 13. And as the article makes clear, the law shields those platforms from liability if it turns out the user isn't yet 13, because they only violate the law if they know the individual saying he or she is 13 is not actually yet 13. But that's an implausibility, and it basically becomes a license for young people even under 13 to go just about anywhere online.
But this article for Christians is even more important because it points to the fact that the key deficiency here isn't even on these social media platforms. It's not in the internet companies, it's not really the fault of Congress, it's the fault of parents. The article is effectively asking the question, "What sane parent is ready to turn a 13-year-old child loose in the world, loose in Times Square, loose on the French Riviera, loose in Las Vegas? But effectively even worse is setting them loose on the Internet."
This article also reminds us of how many things happen in Washington not so much because of malice, but just because of the incompetence of government to envision every outcome. So when Congress was debating this 1998 law, it was to defend the privacy rights of children, but in order to do that, Congress had to define a child in the law, so they had to have some kind of definition which would come presumably by age. So it came as a process of negotiation with the technology industry, and that age was 12 and under, which meant that the magic number was 13.
But it's also interesting to note that there was a moral issue at stake here, and this should not please parents. Jargon writes, "In his initial bill, then-Representative Markey," that's Edward Markey of Massachusetts, now a U.S. Senator, "said that a child was someone under 16, but there was push back from eCommerce companies about cutting off their access to this lucrative market. These companies found an unlikely ally in civil liberties groups. The fear," I'm quoting here from the article, "The fear was requiring teens to obtain parental permission might curtail their ability to access information about birth control and abortion, or getting help in abusive situations." Now, we can understand the inclusion of abusive relationships in this context, but birth control and abortion? That's serving a moral agenda, a moral agenda in the service of the sexual revolution. How many parents knew that that was behind the legislative decision to lower the age of unrestricted access from 16 to 13?
Speaking of this legislative compromise back in the 1990s Senator Markey said now, "It was too young, and I knew it was too young then. It was the best I could do." Jargon then writes, "Because 13 has become the internet age of adulthood, experts believe there's a generation of kids growing up too fast." Again, David Anderson, a child psychologist and senior director of the Child Mind Institute points out that the adolescent brain is a brain under construction: "It's not so much about how they'll behave online, but whether they're ready for what they're going to encounter. Social media opens up a very adult world." Now again, this is a secular concern that is published in a secular newspaper citing secular authorities. How much more concerned should Christian parents be?
Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal in a box alongside the article mentions just some of the things that now legally a 13 year old or someone who claims to be 13 can do online: "Share photos and stories on Instagram, form a Facebook group, tweet and retweet on Twitter, send and receive Gmail, create Google docs, create a YouTube channel, send disappearing photos on Snapchat, post and comment on Reddit, and create a Pinterest board." Jargon then writes, "We're left in a world where kids who are too young to drive or vote can say and do things online that could haunt them forever. What's the solution?" she asked. And then she concludes her article, "Parents can educate children about the consequences of posting before thinking, but first they can limit kids access to social media until they're socially and emotionally ready. Parents can hold out from giving their children phones as long as possible, and then," the article says, “monitor them once they do."
The advice coming from one authority in this field, Jim Stier said, "Delay, delay, delay." Now, from a Christian worldview perspective, that sounds like very good advice, but not enough advice. What isn't even suggested in this article is that there are places on the internet where no one should go. Back in the 20th century, one of the most important voices in French theology was a thinker by the name of Jacques Ellul. He talked about what he described as the technological imperative. In an age when technology was still fairly new, he had the theological insight to understand that the existence of a technology came with a change in morality. The very fact that a technology existed and would be used implies the moral use of the technology, and he warned any technology that exists will be used. It will be used by someone somewhere, and someone is going to misuse the technology.
But he also talked about the idolatrous power of technology, because eventually it comes with another kind of imperative. The existence of the technology implies that you and I should use it, and if you and I should use it, then why shouldn't everyone use it? The technological imperative is exactly what many parents have surrendered to when it comes to their children and technology. The technology exists. Their friends all have smart phones. They must have smart phones. In order to be safe in society, I need to be able to reach them at any moment. They need a phone, and furthermore, I need them to develop socially, and how are they going to develop socially without social media? There is no denying that these social media platforms do allow some level of human connection, but we have many adolescents and young adults who are able to connect basically only online.
They lack the ability to have a conversation in person. They lack the ability to sustain a relationship face to face. Instead, they have shifted their lives online, and this article demonstrates that even secular authorities and the secular world recognize that we have created a huge problem. So the vocabulary term of the day turns out to be "prefrontal cortex," and it comes in two different articles on two different apparently unrelated issues in two different major newspapers, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, both articles crying out danger.
Why Does Your Dog Look at You So Lovingly? Even the Way Dogs Raise Their Brows Has Worldview Significance
But as the week comes to an end, I want to conclude The Briefing on a happier note, answering the question that apparently is burning in every human mind. That question is this: why can dogs lift their eyebrows? Yes, no kidding. That news made the New York Times, also with a headline, “Linking Dogs with People with the Lift of the Brow."
James Gorman is the author of the article telling us how it is that scientists believe that dogs have come to the ability to lift their eyebrows and what that means. Well, what it means is that a dog has an advantage over other animals in communicating with human beings. It turns out that the lifting of the brow isn't so important for communication dog to dog. Without going into detail, dogs tend to communicate very differently, but it does turn out that the lifting of the brow is key to a dog's ability to relate to human beings. We communicate a lot with our facial muscles. We communicate a lot by the lifting of the brow. The researchers don't have a clue if dogs know what they mean when they lift their brow, and the researchers indicate they really don't have a clue if dogs interpret anything by human beings lifting our brows, but they have developed the ability to lift their brows in order to communicate.
And here's the key: They relate to human beings in a way other animals don't because they share with us this ability, and it comes down to this: dogs in adoption facilities that lift their brows to prospective adopters tend to be adopted rather than other dogs. It turns out we like dogs who look back at us and lift their brow as if to say, "Don't you know I love you? Don't you want to pick me up? Don't you want to take me home? What is bothering you? It's bothering me too. I'm your dog. The lifting of my brow indicates so."
But then the article gets to the naturalistic, materialistic scientific point of view rooted in evolution to indicate that the answer to the question as to how dogs develop this capacity must be because by natural selection, the very engine of evolution, the dogs who had the ability to lift their eyebrows reproduced to more successfully than the dogs who lacked that ability. That is that the canine to exercise their levator anguli oculi medialis, they were more likely to reproduce and to survive than other dogs.
Once again, as we do worldview analysis, we come to understand that eventually we explain everything consistently with our worldview. That means that if you are an evolutionist, believing that everything in the cosmos is an accident and that evolution has to explain the accident of life and every aspect of life, then eventually you have to say that that dog you love exercising the levator anguli oculi medialis is doing so for no reason the dog understands at all. It's just a survival mechanism. But I don't believe that. I believe that a Creator God to His glory gave dogs this ability because He wanted to say through dogs to human beings, "I love you and you need a friend."
But by the time you reach the end of this article, researchers remind us that cats do not have the ability that dogs have to lift the brow. They do not look at us so adoringly. The article's final words: "And although animals may close one eye, and despite the vast amount of evidence on the internet, there is no scientific evidence that dogs or any other animals wink." And so with both a wink and a friendly lifting of the brow, thanks for listening to The Briefing.