Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sheila Suess Kennedy: Republican in the ACLU 1

I started Sheila Suess Kennedy's 1997 book, What's a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing in the ACLU?  Sheila Suess Kennedy was a Republican who led the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.
I have three items.

1.  Is Kennedy a libertarian who agrees with less government in the economic sphere and also the social and cultural spheres?  In the book, she does present herself as an economic conservative.  She talks about the inefficiencies of government bureaucracy, her belief in individual rights rather than group rights, and the importance of Barry Goldwater's question of whether or not the government should even be involved in certain areas (rather than taking for granted that it should be).  On pages 25-26, she quotes from the introduction to her position papers from her run for Congress as a Republican in 1980, in which she criticized the Democrats' desire to "throw public money at social problems", along with "More and bigger federal programs, federal regulations, and federal mandates".  She still supported programs, however, but she wanted for them to "bring the disadvantaged into the mainstream, rather than encouraging continued dependency", and she was a critic of tax policies that weakened rather than strengthened families.

But Kennedy has also advocated positions that would probably not be characterized as economically conservative or as libertarian.  On her web site, for example, she has criticized Grover Norquist and Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare.  And I remember reading a column that she wrote for the Indianapolis Star in which she was critical of the Bush tax cuts.

Is this economically conservative?  Well, perhaps one could make the case that the Bush tax cuts themselves were not economically conservative, for Bush's policies cut taxes while increasing government spending.  But I think that many economic conservatives and libertarians would support Grover Norquist and at least view Paul Ryan's plan as a step in the right direction, for Grover Norquist is for cutting taxes and also shrinking the size of government, and the Ryan plan is a step towards replacing Medicare with private alternatives, at least for seniors who would choose that (since seniors under Ryan's plan would be able to choose between staying in Medicare and going with the private alternatives).

But perhaps Kennedy never was an economic libertarian, strictly-speaking.  As you can tell from the introduction to her 1980 position paper, she was against programs that encouraged dependency, but she still favored programs.  I doubt that a libertarian would even favor programs, at least not if they're administered by the government.

2.  Pastor Greg Dixon of the Moral Majority sought to ban rock concerts at city parks in Indianapolis, and Kennedy (an attorney who worked for the city at the time) criticized that as "content-based" discrimination.  Yet, she appeared to oppose the city setting up a creche (a nativity scene) on Monument Circle, which was "owned and maintained by the State of Indiana" (page 22), but she was apparently all right with the creche being "moved to the lawn of Christ Church Cathedral, still on the Circle but across the Monument" (pages 22-23).

At first, I thought that Kennedy was contradicting herself: Why is it content-based discrimination to ban rock concerts at a city park, but not to ban a nativity scene on Monument Circle?  Now, I can see a distinction.  In the case of Monument Circle, the city itself owned the nativity scene and the parks department set it up, and so tax dollars were going to promote a religion, which (according to the law) violates the Establishment Clause.  I doubt that Kennedy would oppose, say, a church holding services at a city park, since the city park in that case would not be promoting a religion.  But here's a question: Would she be open to a church setting up a nativity scene on publicly-owned property, or would that tread on the Establishment Clause?

A lot of times, when I hear debates about the separation of church and state, the discussion often revolves around offense.  A non-Christian is offended by a prayer at a public school, and so he or she sues the school for violating the separation of church and state.  Offense is probably relevant to the debate: for example, Kennedy talks about Jewish students when she was growing up who were rightfully offended by their public school's Easter play, which conveyed the message that the Jews killed Jesus.  And yet, there is much more to the debate than offense.  Kennedy, after all, was for allowing rock concerts at city parks, even though they offended Pastor Greg Dixon.  And she was all right with moving the nativity scene to a church lawn, and so the issue was not that people had a right to be shielded from exposure to religion.  Rather, the issue was that the government should be neutral on religious matters.  As I read more of Kennedy's book, perhaps I'll learn more about what is at stake in this debate.

3.  I'm from Indiana, and so I thought that it was cool for Kennedy to mention people I knew about----often because I read about them in the newspaper when I was a kid: Mayor William Hudnut III of Indianapolis (whom, I was surprised to learn, was a minister), Congressman Andy Jacobs, and Greg Dixon (though I'm more familiar with his son and his church, particularly its conflict with the government----see here).

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