Culture Friday: Sphere sovereignty

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 27th of April, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s episode of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard. 

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

It’s Culture Friday and time to welcome John Stonestreet. John is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

John, good morning. 


We reported yesterday on this program the progress of a bill in California that has set off First Amendment alarm bells.

This bill overwhelmingly passed the state assembly and is now moving ahead in the state senate. We reported it’s likely to be approved in about a month and on the governor’s desk by June.

Essentially it’s a measure to expand the state’s ban on so-called sexual orientation conversion therapy for children — expand it to adults.

But it’s much more sweeping than that.

It has the high potential, because of the way it’s written, to ban certain books.

Some supporters of this proposal have said that that is fear-mongering. But I want to play some audio from a California lawmaker, Al Muratsuchi. He was taking issue with the argument that the measure violates the First Amendment, and what you’ll hear is this assemblyman saying, no, it doesn’t.

Follow the chain of reasoning: it can’t be a violation of the First Amendment, because what we’re going to ban, we’re putting into the category of fraud, and fraud has no protection under the constitution.

Listen to this:

MURATSUCHI: As a former prosecutor with the attorney general’s consumer-rights section and as a prosecutor of the consumer legal remedies act in particular, I want to make it absolutely clear that the First Amendment does not prohibit banning fraudulent conduct. The faith community like anyone else needs to evolve with the times. The science is clear. When you look at the support lists, it includes the California Medical Association, the California Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics. So the claim that the First Amendment can be used as a defense for promoting a fraudulent conduct is a fallacious argument.

John, what do you say?

STONESTREET: Well, I think anytime you say California’s going to take this bill and use it to advance a progressive cause and eliminate all distraction and dissent, that’s not fear mongering, that’s history. That’s what California does. That’s what the state legislature has done for a really, really long time. And they have a reputation for it and it’s a well-earned reputation for it and this one really is no different.

The language of this is so sweeping it’s impossible for it not to cover just basically a lot of first amendment issues. It’s sweeping enough, for example, where sexual orientation change is defined somewhere between changing orientation and curbing behavior. But the language of this bill is anything at all, essentially, that discourages one from living out the sexual orientation that they have. I mean, it’s not even clear enough if somebody wants to change their orientation or they want help curbing sexual appetite. There’s no provision here that if they go to someone that provides services that they cannot be brought up under these charges of fraud. It’s pretty amazing.

I know, for example, this would affect Summit Ministries, who I used to work for, they have long had a conference in California. What does that mean for a kid who pays to go to a conference and there, as part of the week-long or two-week-long conference, they have a small group leader and they ask for accountability or what does God say about sex outside of marriage as someone with same-sex attraction?

This bill could sweep into that sort of stuff. You say, well, that’s not what it’s intended to do. Well, we’ve never known laws to stay where they’re intended. They go where the language allows them to go. And sometimes even beyond that. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything to keep it from going into this territory.  

I wrote a book on same-sex marriage. There’s no way the sale of the book I wrote on this would be allowed under this provision if it were taken to the letter of the law.

The other thing, too, it’s more than just kind of banning books. All of this stuff is so vaguely worded, and I think this comment that we just heard from this lawmaker, Al Muratsuchi, makes it evident. It’s just trying to change the rules legislatively to push forward this agenda.

Last summer, remember, we discussed the case of Charlie Gard. He was the infant born with a rare genetic condition known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. It’s a terrible disease and he died in July of last year in England.

But the case had to do with parents being prohibited from attempting experimental treatments. The government blocked his parents at every turn, and essentially forced them to remain in the country, and receive no treatment until their infant son died.

Well, that’s happened again. The current case has to do with Alfie Evans. The doctors removed life support on Monday of this week. The parents tried to remove him from the country for alternate treatment. Italy granted Alfie Evans Italian citizenship and offered transportation and admission to a Vatican hospital. None of this would cost England’s public health service a dime. But the state and the courts denied it all.

The parents had no choice but to sit and await their young son’s death.

Pope Francis took up Alfie’s cause, as he did the cause of Charlie Gard.

But here we are again.

It’s a parents’ rights issue. It’s a natural rights issue.

But here’s my specific question for you: Is this just the fatal flaw of nationalized health care? What’s the lesson here?

STONESTREET: You know, that’s a great question. Is this the fatal flaw? I do think there are lots of fatal flaws of nationalized healthcare. Is this it? I’m not sure it’s the fatal flaw of nationalized healthcare as it is just really bad policies that Britain has. Joe Carter did a terrific piece this week, very helpful on here’s what you need to know about Alfie Evans. It’s some unique language in a law, but what it does is it violates, I know we talked about it here before, which is sphere sovereignty. And the idea of sphere sovereignty is an idea that comes out of Abraham Kuyper’s way of looking at the relationship between Christianity and culture. And says, look, there’s spheres of culture that have God-ordained authorities within them and government is one and the home is the other. And then we could go down the line certainly.

But you look at it and when an authority outside of a sphere crosses over into another sphere, that’s when problems exist. So when the government starts to play the parents or in that sense when the parent starts to play the government. That’s where this stuff gets confused. Because I think both sides of this kind of see the other one as jumping the line. The parents are saying how can you possibly tell me that I can’t take my child because that’s my God-given authority. The state has assumed authority into areas of medicine that supersede even parental rights.

Another way to look at this or another way we could analyze the situation is a Catholic understanding of subsidiarity which is that all things considered equal, those closest to the problem are best equipped to deal with it, right? So if my child disobeys me, I don’t need to call the FBI. That’s out of order. And it’s just an epidemic of a secular society in which everything, essentially, ultimately has to be held together by the state. And I think that’s where this confusion comes from.

Underneath all of this is kind of the ever true maxim that I say a lot, which is ideas have consequences and bad ideas have victims. So, as we’re kind of fiddling around with who’s in charge and the state is playing the role of, in this case, both parent and God, then we have lives that are at stake. And that’s what happens in situations like these when society gets disordered in this way.

That is John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, thank you.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) A car drives past flowers and other tributes for terminally ill British toddler Alfie Evans placed outside the British Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, April 26, 2018. 

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