“Truth” or some form of that root appears no less than 30 times in the Diocese of Lansing’s written objection to the Michigan Supreme Court’s ADM File No. 2022-03 personal-pronoun proposal.
Proposal background: Party and attorney pronouns would be allowed on the first part of every Michigan court document caption and . . .
Parties and attorneys may also include any personal pronouns in the name section of the caption, and courts are required to use those personal pronouns when referring to or identifying the party or attorney, either verbally or in writing. Nothing in this subrule prohibits the court from using the individual’s name or other respectful means of addressing the individual if doing so will help ensure a clear record.
An analogy from The Emperor’s New Clothes fairy tale (by Hans Christian Andersen) closes the Diocese’s eight-page objection. The Diocese implies that its opposition is like that of the “rightly” truth-telling child:
The Court should not adopt a rule . . . that would enshrine a falsehood.
It has become the fashion for many leaders in our society to acclaim the fad that is gender ideology lest they be accused of not seeing what others apparently see. “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!”
The Court should not lend its credibility to this project. As the little child in Hans Christian Anderson’s story rightly said as the emperor passed by: “But he hasn’t got anything on.” Indeed.
How much worse if the Court adopts a rule compelling judges to affirm the beauty of the emperor’s new clothes?
“A little too ironic.”
Analogies can be a persuasive legal writing tool. But The Emperor’s New Clothes is a particularly poor analogy from a religious representative whose perspective stems from an unshared and self-perceived “truth”—not an objective read of Michigan law or state case precedent.
A full read of the fairy tale shows why this is so.
Indeed, the “honest old minister” was the first person who lied to the Emperor about how the fabric for his “new clothes” looked in Jean Hersholt’s English translation of the fairy tale. A person of public faith who the Emperor believed in, trusted, and relied on for an update did not tell him the truth.
“I’d like to know how those weavers are getting on with the cloth,” the Emperor thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the fabric. It couldn’t have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he’d rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole town knew about the cloth’s peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.
“I’ll send my honest old minister to the weavers,” the Emperor decided. “He’ll be the best one to tell me how the material looks, for he’s a sensible man and no one does his duty better.”
So the honest old minister went to the room where the two swindlers sat working away at their empty looms.
“Heaven help me,” he thought as his eyes flew wide open, “I can’t see anything at all.” But he did not say so.
Both the swindlers begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent pattern, the beautiful colors. They pointed to the empty looms, and the poor old minister stared as hard as he dared. He couldn’t see anything, because there was nothing to see. “Heaven have mercy,” he thought. “Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth.”
“Don’t hesitate to tell us what you think of it,” said one of the weavers.
“Oh, it’s beautiful—it’s enchanting.” The old minister peered through his spectacles. “Such a pattern, what colors! I’ll be sure to tell the Emperor how delighted I am with it.”
“We’re pleased to hear that,” the swindlers said. They proceeded to name all the colors and to explain the intricate pattern. The old minister paid the closest attention, so that he could tell it all to the Emperor. And so he did.
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Separate from the analogy miss, it still seems to me that the proposed court rule change cannot be about religion especially when the proposal will allow “the court [to alternatively use] the individual’s name or other respectful means of addressing the individual if doing so will help ensure a clear record.”
The expectation of treating others with courtesy and respect does not violate any known bona fide religion. We must remember that our “one court of justice” foundational rule of law and separation of church and state principles simply forbid an individual judge or court staff member’s personal religious beliefs from influencing how our courts treat people. Const 1963, arts 6 § 1 and 1 § 4.
The Diocese’s objection tries to equate a judicial position with a religious one. But that can never be.
Litigants and the public are entitled to neutral jurists. Judge John G. Roberts explained this during his confirmation hearing for Chief Justice of the United States:
I do know this, that my faith and my religious beliefs do not play a role in judging. When it comes to judging, I look to the law books and always have. I don’t look to the Bible or any other religious source. S Hrg 109-158, Serial No. J-109-37 (September 13, 2005), p 227.
If we can all agree with Chief Justice Roberts’ approach, then there is no need to misanalogize from a partially remembered childhood fairy tale.
And if we cannot agree with Chief Justice Roberts’ approach, then we should consider Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s writings, including his book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. Or watch the book-inspired movie executive produced by Martin Scorsese (and currently streaming). In a separate interview, Fr. James reminds and encourages:
Church teaching is not just a few lines. It’s Jesus’ example. And in Jesus, we see someone who is consistently reaching out to people around the margins. To me, that’s the most fundamental of church teachings. I think that’s the one we’re overlooking the most.
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I think the first thing that the church needs to do is to listen to the experiences of LGBTQ people, which the church, for the most part, is still not doing. It’s preaching about them, and issuing condemnations about them and making statements about them without actually listening to them.
A post-script. Appreciation to Lou (a judicial employee) for sharing their truth in this written comment submitted to the Michigan Supreme Court on March 3.