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Contemporary Arrogance is the Perfect Fodder for Human Evil

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At this present moment there are three Australians sitting in Iranian prisons. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Jolie King, and Mark Firkin have all been charged (and, in Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s case, convicted) with espionage. Jolie King and Mark Firkin have been accused of flying a drone over a military installation without a permit whilst the charges against Kylie Moore-Gilbert remain unclear.

To say that Jolie King and Mark Firkin were naïve would be an understatement. The couple, who raise money for their global adventures on Patreon, stated on their vlog that their ambition is to “inspire anyone wanting to travel and also to try to break the stigma of travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media.”

Some countries have a bad reputation for a reason, a fact Jolie King and Mark Firkin seemed unwilling to comprehend. Iran, in particular, has a bad reputation for political repression, human rights violations, and corruption. Iran has been noted for using excessive violence against political dissidents, suppressing the media, carrying out arbitrary arrests, and using inhumane punishments.

No wonder Amnesty International has stated that the human rights situation in Iran had “severely deteriorated.” Iranian prisoners lack access to adequate medical care, trials can hardly be described as fair, and confessions obtained using torture are freely admitted in court. It was even reported in June 2018 that defendants accused of breeching Iran’s national security laws were being forced to choose from a list of just twenty state-approved lawyers.

There is nothing new about Jolie King and Mark Firkin. History is filled with people who deny the existence of evil. And many of them have paid the ultimate price. Jay Austin and Lauren Geogehan claimed in their blog that “evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives that are not our own.” This beautiful sentiment didn’t stop them being stabbed to death by Islamic State jihadists in Tajikistan.

A large part of this problem comes from the social disease of moral relativism. We have lived with peace, prosperity, and freedom for so long that we’ve forgotten what it is like not to have them. Our complacency has led us to believe that all moral beliefs are equally valid. And it has led us to believe that there is no such thing as evil.

The problem with moral relativism is that it is not true. Actions have consequences and some consequences just happen to be bad. Saying that all moral beliefs are equally valid is no different than saying that one cannot make judgements about the behaviour of others because there is no absolute standard of good and evil. It’s a rather convenient argument when people are doing the wrong thing and know it.

There are two fundamental problems with moral relativism. The first is that it is a self-defeating argument. By saying that there is no absolute morality you are, in fact, making an absolute claim. The second is that hardly anyone actually believes that morality is relative. If they did, they would regard rape and murder as being equally acceptable behaviour as charity and kindness.

Rather, people use moral relativism to justify their own immoral behaviour. It gives people an easy way out by allowing them to behave in whatever manner they please without moral justification. And this, when you think about it, is precisely what people want: the freedom to do whatever they please without having to feel guilty about it.

Socially progressive people like to see themselves as so sophisticated that they can do away with good and evil. Jolie King and Mark Firkin bought into such a worldview. They now find themselves sitting in Iranian prisons for their troubles. Such is the price of modern arrogance.

PRIESTS SHOULDN’T BE FORCED TO VIOLATE THE SEAL OF THE CONFESSIONAL

Pope Francis hears confession during penitential liturgy in St. Peter's Basilica at Vatican

Priests and Ministers of Religion in South Australia will be required to report child abuse confessed to them under new laws that come into effect in October.

The Children and Young People (Safety) Act 2017 has replaced the Children’s Protection Act 1993. The Attorney General’s Department has claimed that these changes will “better protect children from potential harm, and align with the recommendations of the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.”

These new laws represent a disturbing phenomenon. Namely, the use of a highly emotive issue as a means for undermining the rights and freedoms of others. This law, and others around Australia (the ACT Parliament has passed similar laws with almost universal support), blatantly violates both religious liberty and the right to privacy.

Confession is one of the most important aspects of the Catholic Faith. Comprising one of the seven sacraments (the others being Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, the anointing of the sick, and Holy Orders), Catholics believe that an individual who confesses his sins is speaking directly with God. Whatever is confessed remains between that individual and God.

The privacy of the Confessional is known as “the Seal.” The Vatican has had strict rules on the privacy of the confessional since 1215 and Priests are bound by a sacred vow not to break the seal. A Priest who breaks the seal, even after the penitent has died, faces excommunication.

Some critics have accused the supporters of these new laws of undermining religious liberty and of targeting the Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, criticised the law, say: “The Government threatens religion freedom by appointing itself an expert on religious practices and by attempting to change the sacrament of confession while delivering no improvement on the safety of children.”

Some priests have even claimed that they would rather go to prison than break the seal of the confessional.

At some point, people are going to have to realise that children are not the centre of the universe. They are going to have realise that their safety is not so important that it trumps the rights and freedoms of everybody else. The laws passed by the Parliament of South Australia are an absolute violation of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.

Countries like Australia have had a great tradition of separating politics from religion. Now it seems that this distinction only goes one way. It is seen as totally unacceptable for the Church to use its power and influence to affect politics, but for some reason it is seen as perfectly acceptable for the state to interfere in religion.

One cannot help but cynically suspect that politicians in South Australia are using children as a backdoor method for allowing the all-seeing eye of the state into relationships that were once deemed absolutely private. That which is confessed to a Priest ought to remain absolutely private. The contents of my conscience (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are none of the state’s business.

Those who support this blatant attack on the rights and liberties of others should ask themselves what their opinion would be if the law violated their private relationship with their doctor, lawyer, or psychiatrist.

WHY I AGREE WITH THE DEATH PENALTY

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February 3rd last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the execution of Ronald Ryan (1925 – 1967), the last man to be hanged in Australia. Since then, the general consensus has been that the death penalty constitutes a cruel and unusual punishment. Contrarily, however, it is the opinion of this author that the death penalty is not only just, but a key part of any justice system.

There are two main arguments against the death penalty. First, that it is an exceptionally expensive form of punishment. And second, that the death penalty leaves no room for non-posthumous exoneration.

The first argument is one of economics, not of morality or of justice. It does not argue that the death penalty is immoral, only that it is expensive. What this argument suggests is that a price tag can be placed on justice. That the most important factor determining a case is not whether justice is served, but how much money it will cost.

The way a society punishes murder is reflective of the value that society places on a human life. The life of a human being is not something that can have a time-based value placed upon it. It is something that has immeasurable value and purpose. The Norwegian mass-murderer, Anders Breivik, a man responsible for the death of seventy-seven people, received a sentence of just twenty-one years for his heinous crimes. A society that decides that the value of an individual’s life amounts to only one-hundred days is one that has no respect for the sanctity of life.

The second argument carries a great deal more weight. It is an undeniable fact that innocent people have, and continue to be, executed for crimes they did not commit. In the United States, prejudice against African Americans, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, and other people often meant that justice was not as blind as it should have been. Furthermore, in an era before DNA evidence, convictions were based upon less reliable physical evidence and eyewitness testimony. And such evidence naturally carried a higher rate of false convictions.

There are two problems with the innocence argument. First, the advent of DNA along with other advances in forensic science has meant that the possibility of executing an innocent person is very low. DNA may not be foolproof, but when combined with eyewitness testimony and additional physical evidence, it makes a guilty verdict all the more concrete.

Second, the innocence argument is not an argument against the death penalty. Rather, it is an argument against executing an innocent person. It only applies when the condemned man is not actually guilty of the crime he has been convicted of. What it does not address is how a person whose guilt is certain beyond all possible reasonable doubt ought to be treated. When an individual’s guilt is that certain the innocence argument no longer carries any weight.

There are two primary arguments for the death penalty. First, that there are crimes so heinous and criminals so depraved that the only appropriate response is the imposition of the death penalty. And second, that the death penalty is an essential aspect of a just and moral justice system.

That there are crimes so heinous, and criminals so depraved, that they deserve the death penalty is self-evident. Carl Panzram (1892 – 1930), a thief, burglar, arsonist, rapist, sodomite, and murderer, told his executioner: “hurt it up, you Hoosier bastard, I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around.” Peter Kürten (1883 – 1931), also known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf, told his executioner that to hear the sound of his own blood gushing from his neck would be “the pleasure to end all pleasures.” Finally, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (1942 – 1994) was convicted of forcibly sodomising, torturing, and strangling thirty-three boys and young men. The question, then, is not whether or not any individual deserves the death penalty, it is whether or not the state should have the power to execute someone.

The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes. It is frequently forgotten, especially by humanitarians, that the key aspect of a criminal penalty is not rehabilitation or deterrence, but punishment.

In other words, what makes a justice system just is that it can convict a person fairly and impose on them a penalty that is commensurate with the nature and severity of the crime that person has committed. What separates the death penalty from extra-judicial murder is that the condemned person has been afforded all the rights and protections of law, including due process, a fair and speedy trial, the right to trial by jury, the presumption of innocence, and so forth, regardless of their race, religion, sexuality, or gender. When a sentence of death is imposed upon a murderer, it is not a case of an individual or group of individuals taking vengeance, but of a legitimate court of justice imposing a penalty in accordance with the law.

What makes the death penalty an integral part of any justice system is not that it constitutes a form of revenge (which it does not) or that it may deter other individuals from committing similar crimes (which it also does not). What makes it just is that constitutes a punishment that fits the crime that has been committed.

WHITE HOUSE BACKS BILL TO BAN ABORTIONS AFTER TWENTY-WEEKS

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The Trump administration has officially backed legislation that will ban abortions after twenty weeks. A statement from the White House read:

“The bill, if enacted into law, would help to facilitate the culture of life to which our Nation aspires. Additionally, the bill would promote a science-based approach to unborn life, as recent advancements  have revealed that the physical structures necessary to experience pain are developed within 20 weeks of  fertilization”

The bill, which is labelled the ‘Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act‘, is being sponsored by Republican Congressman from Arizona, Trent Franks. Under the bill, anyone who performs or attempts to perform an abortion on a fetus twenty-weeks or older will face criminal penalties, including a fine or a term of imprisonment of up to five years. Naturally, exceptions have been made which will allow women to utilise the medical procedure after the deadline if her life is in danger or if she is a victim of rape or incest.

As if on cue, the bill has faced a strong backlash from morally repugnant pro-choice groups, who have slammed it as ‘cruel’ and ‘unconstitutional’ (because America’s founding fathers totally believed in the right to murder unborn babies).  Heather Boonstra of The Hill condemned it as an attempt to “politicise women’s health, limit access to abortion care and stigmatise people who need later abortions” (the accusation of ‘politicising’ women in any way is a little rich coming from the left).  Similarly, Planned Parenthood tweeted: “20 week abortion bans are: unpopular, unconstitutional, part of the agenda to ban ALL abortion.”

ANTHONY WEINER JAILED

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The former Democrat Congressman and front-runner for mayor of New York, Anthony Weiner, has been sentenced to twenty-one months in a Federal prison followed by three years of supervised release for child pornography offences.

Weiner pled guilty in May to charges of transferring obscene material to a minor, a crime which carries a maximum penalty of ten years.

During the sentencing, Weiner begged for leniency and wept on several occasions. He told the court:

“The crime I committed was my rock bottom. I have lost so much and appropriately so … I long ago  forfeited the right to ask for the benefit of the doubt from you or from anyone.”

Prosecutors had sought a two-year custodial sentence. However, Weiner’s attorneys argued that their client’s “remarkable process” over the past year and the fact he had never attempted to meet with the victim warranted a lighter sentence. Judge Denise Cotes dismissed the defence’s argument, stating Weiner’s crime was serious enough to warrant jail time.

ANTHONY WEINER TO BE SENTENCES ON SEPTEMBER 25TH

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Disgraced former Democrat Congressman from New York, Anthony Weiner, is facing up to ten years in prison when he is sentenced on September 25th for sending sexually explicit images of himself to a minor.

Court papers filed by prosecutors this week alleges that on two occasions, February 18th and 23rd 2016, Weiner used graphic and obscene language to convince a fifteen-year-old girl to expose herself and masturbate while he watched on Skype. The court papers also allege at Weiner, 53, was aware of the fact that girl was underage.

Prosecutors are asking that a two-year jail sentence be imposed on Weiner who pleaded guilty in May to sending sexually explicit images of himself to a minor.  Weiner pled guilty as a part of a plea bargain that would mean he would only have to serve a sentence of twenty-one to twenty-seven months.

JUSTICE AND MERCY

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This is our weekly theological article.

It is a common complaint of the media that criminals are not given an appropriately severe punishment. An article in The Express, SNP Plot to Scrap Short Jail Sentences Could See Thousands of Criminals Avoid Prison, argues that plans to introduce a “presumption against” sending people to prison will mean that thousands of people convicted of serious crimes will avoid prison. In another article, this time from the Herald Sun, prosecutors in Australia complained that the sentences criminals received were not in line with community standards.

Of course, this represents the common misconception, perpetuated by the media, that the judiciary exists to serve the standards of the community. It does not. Rather, the Justice System exists independently of both public opinion and politics. It bases its decisions on equality before the law and justice for all.

Much of the media’s rhetoric is designed to feed off of our very human desire for revenge based justice.  When we read about a rape or child murder in our daily newspapers, often our first reaction is to wish all kinds of cruel and inhumane punishments to be exacted on the criminal guilty of those crimes. Our indignation turns us into barbarians, not civilised people.

In his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II warns of how justice can quickly devolve into cruelty and hatred when it is not tempered by mercy:

“It would be difficult not to notice that very often programmes which start from the idea of justice and which ought to assist its fulfilment among individuals, groups and human societies,  in practice suffer from distortions. Although they continue to appeal to the idea of justice,  nevertheless experience shows that other negative forces have gained the upper hand over justice,  such as spite, hatred and even cruelty.”

God tempers His divine justice with mercy.  If He were to judge us purely on our thoughts and deeds we would surely be condemned to hell. But in his mercy and love for us, He allowed his only Son to suffer and die on the Cross so we may be freed from the shackles of sin and death.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; justice without mercy is cruelty.” It is precisely this idea, that justice ought to be tempered by mercy, that should drive the way we treat those who have harmed us. As Isabella tells Antonio in Measure for Measure: “it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but tyrannous to use the strength of a giant.” We should never forget that the person who has wronged us is a human being who is as loved by God and as deserving of His forgiveness as we are.