Jan 09

As they say in politics, the optics are bad in this one.

A legal expert on my radio show this week said their firm, extensively involved in lawsuits against the administration’s HHS mandate, said they were frankly surprised that the administration continued to push forward on the unprecedented mandate after the 2012 election at all, much less pushing it vigorously and committing teams of lawyers to defending it in courts across the country in 91 different lawsuits representing institutions, corporations, small business owners and individuals. But they have.

It was always destined to go to the Supreme Court, and will in March, since the high court decided to hear two key cases involving what some call the ‘contraceptive mandate’ and others the ‘contraception delivery scheme mandate’. It’s stayed off the public radar for the most part, largely due to media ignoring it and Americans being inundated with so many other cases of big government overreach, in other areas.

That hasn’t stopped the vigorous movement to hold off, reverse, overturn, or declare unconstitutional the Obamacare HHS mandate. It’s all here.

Including the New Year’s Eve ruling by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were hesitant to even go to court, their lawyers tell me. They’d rather be doing everything they’ve done for 175 years to take care of the sick, elderly, dying, and just caring for people. They didn’t want this fight. But they won’t give up on it the way they never give up on the sick and needy.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Little Sisters of the Poor run a nonprofit Colorado nursing home and hospice and therefore ought to be exempt under what the White House calls its “accommodation” for religiously affiliated institutions like parochial schools, hospitals and charities.

The problem is that to qualify under the “accommodation,” religious organizations must sign a legal contract with their insurer certifying that the religious organizations refuse to subsidize contraceptive services. “This certification is an instrument under which the plan is operated,” the contract notes, then informs the insurer of its “obligations” under the rules.

Those include a command that the insurer “shall provide” contraception to all enrollees, supposedly independently and for free. The political point of the accommodation was to pretend that the costs of contraception or abortifacients are nominally carried by a third-party corporation, but the insurers are really only the middle men. The Little Sisters thus argue that signing the certification contract directs others to provide birth control in their place and makes them complicit.

Boiled down, the Justice Department’s legal response on Friday was: Shut up and sign the form.

Yes, ‘it’s just a piece of paper,’ they contended.

Within hours, dozens of news stories appeared online that put the sisters at the center of a contentious national debate on what constitutes strong-arming a religious congregation to provide contraceptives and other abortion-inducing drugs to its employees.

The sticking point for both sides is a waiver/authorization form that the Little Sisters must fill out to take advantage of a so-called accommodation for non-profit ministries. The form, however, has a dual purpose—it signals opposition to the mandate, but also authorizes a third-party to provide the services it finds morally objectionable.

“The Little Sisters and other applicants cannot execute the form because they cannot deputize a third party to sin on their behalf,” stated the Becket Fund, which represents the Little Sisters, in a brief responding to the Obama administration. The group added that the administration is “simply blind to the religious exercise at issue.”

The Obama administration minimalized the importance of the form, enticing the Little Sisters to “secure for themselves the relief they seek” …“with the stroke of their own pen.”

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel for the Becket Fund who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the nuns, said in a statement Friday that the administration was “trying to bully nuns into violating their religious beliefs.”

If the sisters don’t sign the waiver/authorization form, or if the courts don’t uphold the injunction, they could be subject to devastating IRS penalties that could add up to millions of dollars a year.

As Fr. Dwight Longenecker notes, we’ve seen this scenario before.

Where have we heard this before? Henry VIII and the Act of Supremacy. In November 1534 the English Parliament decreed that King Henry VIII was the “only supreme head on earth of the Church of England.” Everyone who held public office had to take the oath of supremacy, and most did. After all, it was “only a few words…only a pen stroke if you like…only a piece of paper.” At first the authorities even made it easier for people with tender consciences. A clause was added to the claim that the king was the head of the church: “insofar as the law of God allows.” Many of the clergy took the oath while they kept their fingers crossed with the compromise clause.

Once they got most to comply the compromise clause was removed. Those who had compromised now found that they had sworn the oath in the original form and they were held to it. When Henry’s illegitimate wicked daughter Elizabeth came to the throne the Oath of Supremacy was extended to schoolteachers, local authorities, university students–virtually anyone in any position of authority. To refuse to take the oath was treason, and the oath was demanded by the officers of Elizabeth’s police state.

The issue here is of the tactics used to suppress opposition. An oppressive government will insist that those with religious objections conform. They will say, “It is only a piece of paper. It is a mere pen stroke. What harm can there be in taking this way out we have offered you?” However, if it is a mere pen stroke or only a piece of paper, then why does the government insist on conformity of the Little Sisters of the Poor? If it is only a piece of paper or a pen stroke, why bother? Because it is most assuredly not a mere piece of paper or a pen stroke. It is the violation of the sister’s conscience by the government authorities. Why does the federal government insist on this detail? Because they know that if one group is allowed to have an exemption on religious grounds, then all groups may claim a similar exemption because of religious beliefs.

If this religious belief is honored, then every other religious belief on every other issue must also be honored. What is at stake in this argument, therefore, is not the comparatively minor issue of whether some Catholic sisters should authorize a third party to pay for contraceptive services, but whether any group, individual or business has the right to opt out of a government program which imposes on their lives and their beliefs. This government, like Henry VIII’s and Elizabeth I’s and all other tyrants, says “No. The will of the state takes precedence over religious opinions. You will conform.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, newly elected head of the US bishops conference, the body which found unusual unanimity in standing against this violation of religious freedom and basic conscience rights, explains.

Pope Francis inspires Catholics and non-Catholics alike with his focus on the gospel call to serve “the least of these.”

Our faith calls us to put first the needs of our brothers and sisters who suffer in poverty, and Catholics are justly proud of our network of schools, hospitals and social service ministries that work every day to help the poor and vulnerable.

Yet the ability of these ministries to live out the fullness of our faith is in jeopardy.

The mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services forces countless Catholic schools, hospitals, and social service organizations to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception in violation of Catholic teaching. The mandate went into effect on Jan. 1; ministries now are faced with the choice of violating our deeply held beliefs or paying crippling fines.

If these ministries don’t comply, the financial penalties may mean that some may have to close their doors. As that happens, the poor and those who serve them will be hurt the most. Forcing our ministries to divert funds from serving their neighbors to paying government fines will have real consequences for real people.

Archbishop Kurtz, a wise, kind, gentle and devoted shepherd, is trying to strike the right balance while serving needs justly.

We have spent significant time and effort seeking sincere dialogue with the Obama administration in hopes of preventing this impasse, and we are long-standing advocates of accessible, life-affirming health care. Yet our concerns continue to go unheard. The administration has crafted an “accommodation” that continues to compel our ministries to participate in providing drugs and services that violate our deeply held religious beliefs.

With the implementation date now upon us, we have made one more effort at dialogue, again asking President Obama to exempt nonprofit institutions caring for those in need from the harsh penalties imposed by the mandate.

The administration has shown flexibility in implementing other provisions of the Affordable Care Act, issuing numerous delays and exemptions for many employers and individuals.

We’re only asking that it offer that same consideration to those who want to live by their religious beliefs without facing government penalties for doing so…

On behalf of those served by our schools, hospitals and social service ministries, we will continue to resist the burdens imposed by the HHS mandate.

We hope and pray that the administration and Congress will protect us from those burdens, and that the courts will uphold our freedom to serve those who depend on us.

Some members of Congress are trying, relentlessly, to protect conscience rights and religious freedom. They need support and encouragement. Though everything is not political, everything is made political. In that world, the term ‘optics’ is often applied to actions that will be reported on and judged by the public.

The Little Sisters of the Poor in court seeking protection from administration lawyers is not good optics. To say the least.

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Jan 07

Few knew she suddenly ruled against Obamacare’s HHS mandate. But they sure noticed her dancing in Times Square that night.

Nobody knew it was coming. So how odd it was to see the breaking news that Justice Sonia Sotomayor had just ruled to delay the Obamacare birth control mandate in th e waning hours of New Year’s Eve.

Sotomayor acted on a request from an organization of Catholic nuns in Denver, the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. Its request for an emergency stay had been denied earlier in the day by a federal appeals court.

The government is “temporarily enjoined from enforcing against applicants the contraceptive coverage requirements imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” Sotomayor said in the order.

Sotomayor, who was in New York Tuesday night to lead the final 60-second countdown and push the ceremonial button to signal the descent of the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball, gave government officials until 10 a.m. EST Friday to respond to her order.

I see this not three hours before that midnight ball drop in Times Square, not knowing she’s there. I’m watching Twitter and Facebook and online news sites erupt with word about the ruling. And then I see her dancing in Times Square.

What just happened?!

Becket Fund explains.

Tonight the Little Sisters of the Poor received a temporary injunction from the Supreme Court protecting them from the controversial HHS contraceptive mandate. The injunction means that the Little Sisters will not be forced to sign and deliver forms tonight authorizing and directing others to provide contraceptives, sterilizations and drugs and devices that cause abortions (see video).

”We are delighted that the Supreme Court has issued this order protecting the Little Sisters,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund. “The government has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people–it doesn’t need to force nuns to participate.”

The order was issued by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is the Justice assigned for emergency applications from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Justice Sotomayor also ordered the federal government to file a brief in response to the Little Sisters’ application.

Prior to the order, preliminary injunctions had been awarded in 18 of the 20 similar cases in which relief had been requested.

”Virtually every other party who asked for protection from the mandate has been given it,” said Rienzi. “It makes no sense for the Little Sisters to be singled out for fines and punishment before they can even finish their suit.”

The Little Sisters are joined in the lawsuit by religious health benefit providers, Christian Brothers Services, Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust. The Plaintiffs are also represented by Locke Lord, a national law firm, and by Kevin Walsh, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

To date, there are currently 91 lawsuits challenging the unconstitutional HHS mandate.

In fact, one expert told me Monday that he had expected the administration to drop the thing after winning the 2012 election, and admitted surprised that they’re as dug in as they are in pressing something so oddly ungrounded and without any merit whatsoever.

The Chicago Tribune editors published this editorial following Sotomayor’s ruling.

The administration has set out a complicated standard for whether a company or organization should be exempt from these rules. On one end stand for-profit corporations, which aren’t exempt. At the other end, churches and some other religious institutions, which are excused. In the middle are many groups that have a religious affiliation and a faith-based mission, such as Catholic-affiliated universities and hospitals, and the Little Sisters of the Poor in Colorado.

Earlier this week, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, complained in a letter to Obama that while the administration had “relaxed the rules” for many Americans’ health plans, “one category of Americans … has been left out in the cold: Those who, due to moral and religious conviction, cannot in good conscience comply” with the contraception mandate.

That provision, he added, “harshly and disproportionately penalizes those seeking to offer life-affirming health coverage in accord with the teachings of their faith.”

The administration has made numerous exceptions to the rules of Obamacare — including delay in the insurance mandate for employers and many individuals. About a year ago, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would draw a distinction between religiously affiliated employers and secular employers. But it still sought a guarantee that their employees would have contraceptive coverage.

We’re not arguing against insurance coverage of contraceptives. But a government mandate that religious organizations violate the tenets of their faith is an unconstitutional reach.

Right. As they conclude, Obamacare is the law of the land. But the constitutional protection of religious freedom is more deeply and historically embedded in this country’s foundation, and there’s no defensible reason why it might be denied – or even challenged – now.

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Nov 15

The general public and the media are finally dealing with the reality of Obamacare. Great numbers of Americans have a nearly two year jump on that process.

To recap what many people probably forgot, the infamous HHS mandate was announced in January 2012, a throwdown to faith based institutions and employers requiring them to either violate their consciences or pay a prohibitive penalty. It signaled the government’s disregard for Constitutional and federal law protecting religious freedom rights. And it triggered an almost immediate response of legal challenges to the administrations’ audacious breach of those rights.

To date, this unconstitutional mandate in Obamacare has racked up 77 court cases with over 200 plaintiffs bringing suit against the administration. Most of which has flown under radar while the press wasn’t paying attention and Americans were going about their business. Except for the Americans who couldn’t conduct their business any longer without violating their conscience and deeply held beliefs, or paying a punitive fine for refusing to do so.

In every case, the government’s attorneys have had to defend in court the indefensible, and they’re losing in some significant cases and getting admonished by some judges. Like last week’s decision by the 7th Circuit Court

that found the Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate to be in violation of federal religious liberty protections. The court called the administration’s argument that religious freedom disappears when doing business “unsound and extraordinary.”

That’s right. The administration’s attorneys argued that when people enter into business, they check their religious freedom rights at the door. Breathtaking, really.

“All Americans, including job creators, should be free to honor God and live according to their faith,” said Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, who argued before the 7th Circuit in May. “The court’s decision joins the majority of other rulings on the mandate, which have found it to excessively conflict with our nation’s guarantee of religious freedom to all Americans. The decision rightly foresees the dangers of allowing government to have this kind of power. If the government can force family business owners to act contrary to their deepest convictions under the threat of fining them out of business, it is a danger to everybody.”

Precisely. And that court said as much earlier in this case.

In January, the 7th Circuit issued an order in Grote Industries v. Sebelius that temporarily stopped enforcement of the mandate until appeals could be resolved.

“We hold that the plaintiffs–the business owners and their companies–may challenge the mandate. We further hold that compelling them to cover these services substantially burdens their religious exercise rights…,” the 7th Circuit’s decision states. “On the government’s understanding of religious liberty, a Jewish restaurant operating for profit could be denied the right to observe Kosher dietary restrictions. That cannot be right. There is nothing inherently incompatible between religious exercise and profit-seeking.”

I happened to plan Wednesday’s radio show this week as an update on the HHS mandate lawsuits, given all the news on that front lately while the rest of America has been focused on the other drastic consequences of Obamacare. Besides lead counsel Matt Bowman updating that 7th Circuit Court decision, I had Prof. Dwight Duncan on as a guest on constitutional law and the HHS mandate, the author of this article on religious freedom who most recently filed an amicus brief in the DC Circuit Gilardi decision that struck the mandate.

Prof. Duncan said it’s not up to judges and to government to decide if something violates Catholic moral teaching, it’s up to clergy and theologians to decide what’s moral, and that’s where the Religious Freedom Restoration Act kicks in. That federal, bi-partisan law passed under the presidency of Bill Clinton requires the government to prove a compelling interest in violating religious freedom rights, and that it’s going about it in the least restrictive means possible. This administration under this mandate can’t meet either of that two-pronged test.

The hour before the radio show went on the air Wednesday, the US bishops conference wrapped up their Fall meeting and released a ‘Special Message‘ on the HHS Mandate, reinforcing their commitment to defending and protecting religious freedom for institutions, employers and individuals in spite of government mandates that violate them. That statement played into discussions with both legal experts Matt Bowman and Dwight Duncan on the show that day.

But Thursday, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, chairman of the committee on religious liberty for the US bishops, took time to come on the radio show to talk about that statement on the HHS mandate.

Here’s part of what it said:

Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers. Beginning in March 2012, in United for Religious Freedom, we identified three basic problems with the HHS mandate: it establishes a false architecture of religious liberty that excludes our ministries and so reduces freedom of religion to freedom of worship; it compels our ministries to participate in providing employees with abortifacient drugs and devices, sterilization, and contraception, which violates our deeply-held beliefs; and it compels our faithful people in business to act against our teachings, failing to provide them any exemption at all.

Despite our repeated efforts to work and dialogue toward a solution, those problems remain. Not only does the mandate undermine our ministries’ ability to witness to our faith, which is their core mission, but the penalties it imposes also lay a great burden on those ministries, threatening their very ability to survive and to serve the many who rely on their care.

The current impasse is all the more frustrating because the Catholic Church has long been a leading provider of, and advocate for, accessible, life-affirming health care. We would have preferred to spend these recent past years working toward this shared goal instead of resisting this intrusion into our religious liberty. We have been forced to devote time and resources to a conflict we did not start nor seek.

As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation. We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences. We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.

Here’s what Archbishop Lori said on my radio show. “We’re determined to continue our ministries according to the Gospel of our faith. This is an important message to send, and important to send it unanimously. The big problem with the HHS mandate is that it’s the government dividing up our ministries. If you’re serving the public, you have to play by rules other than your own. That’s a fundamental problem and a great burden on our religious liberty.

“I do believe we’ve raised a lot of awareness of a lot of Catholics, underneath there’s a ground shift in our ability to provide educational services, healing services. The government says we have to provide things that go against our beliefs and go against human dignity. It’s a difficult climate in Congress to get beyond the partisan labels. But we’re not coming at this from a partisan point of view, it’s fundamental.

“Since 1919, the bishops have been on this, saying accessible health care has been a really important thing for people everywhere. We have certainly have been willing and able to advance that everywhere. Our hospitals and health clinics do untold amounts of uncompensated health care every year. And in the pursuit of this very laudable goal, we find ourselves sidetracked by this mandate, absorbing our time, absorbing our resources, when in fact we would prefer to put that same time and energy into serving the poor and the needy.

“How ironic that when the government decides to do accessible health care it decides to put one of its staunchest allies in its sights. The Catholic Church is the largest provider of health care, social services and education.

“Here’s where Pope Francis is so beautiful, in many ways, but especially this. He says ‘bring the Gospel out of the four walls of the Church into the world. And that’s what we passionately believe we should be doing. We do it in health care, we do it in social services, we do it in education. But we’re being told that by doing that, we play by other rules, by government rules. We compete on contracts, but we compete on the basis of excellence. And just because we do this, doesn’t mean we have to surrender our faith.”

The bishops ended their ‘Special Message’ with this:

We seek to answer the Gospel call to serve our neighbors, meet our obligation to provide our people with just health insurance, protect our religious freedom, and not be coerced to violate our consciences. We remain grateful for the unity we share in this endeavor with Americans of all other faiths, and even with those of no faith at all. It is our hope that our ministries and lay faithful will be able to continue providing insurance in a manner consistent with the faith of our Church. We will continue our efforts in Congress and especially with the promising initiatives in the courts to protect the religious freedom that ensures our ability to fulfill the Gospel by serving the common good.

It’s just one of the fallouts of Obamacare, and the one long forgotten by some. But it has endured and will, in the effort of Americans committed to do good works informed by faith and moral principles in serving people in need, without coercion by government.

And by the way, this mandate is inevitably headed to the Supreme Court.

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Jan 16

In another twist on news that doesn’t square with other news, and words by the president that don’t match actions by the president…

Mr. Obama declared January 16th Religious Freedom Day. Here’s the Proclamation:

Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose.

Right there is a tip off to where his administration has been going with religious liberty in America, transitioning it to the freedom to worship.

But immediately afterward he makes this fine set of points:

Today, we celebrate one of our Nation’s first laws to protect that right — the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Written by Thomas Jefferson and guided through the Virginia legislature by James Madison, the Statute affirmed that “Almighty God hath created the mind free” and “all men shall be free to profess . . . their opinions in matters of religion.” Years later, our Founders looked to the Statute as a model when they enshrined the principle of religious liberty in the Bill of Rights.

Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose…Americans of every faith have molded the character of our Nation. They were pilgrims who sought refuge from persecution; pioneers who pursued brighter horizons; protesters who fought for abolition, women’s suffrage, and civil rights. Each generation has seen people of different faiths join together to advance peace, justice, and dignity for all.

Define “all,” because different faiths have joined together over several decades to advance rights that don’t apply to the entire class of human beings who exist in the mothers’ wombs but are as yet unborn, and over most of 2012 to advance rights that are being denied employers who morally object to his HHS mandate. People who are battling in courts across the country to defend “the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose”.

The president continues:

As we observe Religious Freedom Day, let us remember the legacy of faith and independence we have inherited, and let us honor it by forever upholding our right to exercise our beliefs free from prejudice or persecution.

Indeed.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty issued this statement soon after the Proclamation was released.

“Today we welcome the President’s Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day. However, we deeply regret that the President does not mention the HHS mandate, which was issued by his administration and which is now trampling the religious freedom of millions of individuals, schools, hospitals, charities, and businesses throughout our nation.  Perhaps this mismatch between words and deeds can be explained by the phrase “freedom of worship,” which the President uses in the first sentence of his proclamation. Religious freedom certainly includes worship, but it extends beyond the four walls of a church. If it is not to be an empty promise, religious freedom must also include acting on one’s deepest religious beliefs when one is feeding the poor, caring for the sick, educating the young, or running a business. The HHS mandate ignores that simple truth and is therefore out of step with our traditions and our laws, which promise religious freedom for all.”  — Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

So again I’m left wondering whether the president hears his own statements and considers them. Because actions speak louder than words, and his are saying contradictory things.

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Dec 19

It was always wrong. But because it was issued by executive fiat, its violation of law had to go through the process of being tried, and there are many lawsuits standing against it.

This one scored a victory.

Today, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. handed Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College a major victory in their challenges to the HHS mandate.  Last summer, two lower courts had dismissed the Colleges’ cases as premature.  Today, the appellate court reinstated those cases, and ordered the Obama Administration to report back every 60 days—starting in mid-February—until the Administration makes good on its promise to issue a new rule that protects the Colleges’ religious freedom.

This is major.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius cannot enforce the Obamacare contraception mandate as it is written, but must follow through on a promise to rewrite the rule to accommodate religious liberty, a federal appeals court ordered.

The Obama administration “represented to the court that it would never enforce [the mandate] in its current form against the appellants or those similarly situated as regards contraceptive services,” the three judges hearing the case wrote in their order.  The Obama team made that promise during oral arguments against Wheaton College and The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which sued over the contraception mandate but lost at the lower court level.

“There will, the government said, be a different rule for entities like the appellants .  .  . We take the government at its word and will hold it to it,” the judges wrote.

They ruled that the Obama administration must rewrite the regulation by August 2013 and provide updates to the court every 60 days. If the government fails to do so, the lawsuits may proceed.

The court also noted that the Obama administration had not made such an expansive pledge outside the courtroom.

“The D.C. Circuit has now made it clear that government promises and press conferences are not enough to protect religious freedom,” The Becket Fund’s Kyle Duncan, who argued the case, said in a statement.  “The court is not going to let the government slide by on non-binding promises to fix the problem down the road.”

Yesterday’s ruling marks the second time in two weeks that a judge has decided that Obama’s promise to change the rule eventually is an insufficient remedy to the religious liberty issues raised by opponents of the mandate.

“There is no, ‘Trust us, changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution,” Judge Brian Cogan wrote in his ruling in favor of the Archdiocese of New York two weeks ago. “To the contrary, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment in particular, reflect a degree of skepticism towards governmental self-restraint and self-correction.”

It’s about time it gets applied.

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Sep 09

That floor fiasco over the party platform was reported as the Democrats ‘booing God.’ Which is only partially true.

Some of the booing was over the platform amendment changing the reference to Israel, though the amendment covered both and caused a floor fight. Which, as everyone paying attention to this stuff at this point knows well by now, went weirdly through multiple stages of negative statements, followed by denial and charges of misreporting, followed by evidence that the reporting was accurate which led to spin of the original point all along. Followed by the floor vote on the amended wording in the platform.

Here’s just one snip from CNN:

Anderson Cooper openly mocked the Democrats’ attempts to brush past the controversy surrounding changes to its platform on Wednesday night.

Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz appeared on the network to discuss the rancorous opposition to the insertion of new language about God and Jerusalem into the platform. Wasserman-Schultz told her interviewer Brianna Keilar that there had been “no discord” when the platform was amended. It was an audacious statement to anyone who had seen the footage of the boos and shouts that came when the amendments were proposed — as well as the fact that convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa had to try three times before he got a result he was satisfied with.

After Wasserman-Schultz’s interview, Cooper did a verbal double-take. “That’s an alternate reality,” he said. “From a reality standpoint … to say flat-out, there was no discord, is just not true.”

Right. The party doesn’t entirely know what it stands for, but in its official statement it claims to stand for more radical ideology than Democrats in recent history ever did.

Connect the dots. The week opened with that welcoming video saying that “government is the only thing we all belong to.”  It was Orwellian.

Fast forward through all the celebration of abortion, with all the shouting and yelling about reproductive rights, and the sanctimonious spin about gay marriage and the complete lack of reference to the battle for religious freedom, and you get to the platform fight over adding the mention of God. That’s directly connected to the rest.

First thought I had was of the EU hammering out a constitution and two popes imploring Europeans and their leaders not to rewrite history and deny their Christian heritage and reject their very identity. Fortunately, Dr. Paul Kengor had the same thought and expressed it with keen insight.

The God opponents were the predictable Western European progressives: leftist Eurocrats in Brussels, Labor Party atheists in Britain, German socialists, Scandinavian secularists, and, naturally, the French leadership. The God supporters included new EU member states that survived godless communism—with Poland in the forefront—and the continent’s preeminent religious figure: Pope John Paul II.

The pope, suffering from advanced Parkinson’s, took up the fight with vigor. In the summer of 2003, he devoted a series of Sunday Angelus addresses to this political issue that transcended politics. He made arguments akin to those made by the American Founding Fathers: It is crucial for citizens living under a constitution to understand the ultimate source from which their rights derive. Their rights come not from government but from God. What government gives, government can take away. What God gives, government cannot take away.

So to the point of contention at the DNC in Charlotte:

That the Democrats, in 2012, would find themselves in a similar battle is no surprise.

Now this is interesting…

I’ll never forget the night Barack Obama won the 2008 election, when I turned on CNN and glimpsed an unknown Republican congressman from Wisconsin named Paul Ryan. When asked about Obama’s victory, Ryan said he was most concerned about “the Europeanization of America.”

“That’s it!” I said to myself. “That’s exactly it. Who is this guy? He nailed it.”

A further “Europeanization” of America is the best description of what has transpired under the Obama administration, especially its first two years under a fully supportive Democratic Congress. In 2009-10, we witnessed incredibly wasteful Keynesian-style prime-the-pump “stimulus,” partial nationalizations, “Obama-care,” explosive public-sector growth and unionization, demonization of the banking and investment and oil industries, stagnant unemployment, class-warfare rhetoric unlike anything I’ve ever heard in this country, and debt-to-GDP ratios approaching Greece standards. We’ve experienced a record-long non-recovering recovery reminiscent not of the American experience but of Western Europe…

Here in America, the staunchest liberal-Democrat areas, such as California, Massachusetts, and New England, all have European-level birthrates, divorce rates, abortion rates, and even church attendance. New England, in many ways, is a microcosm of Western Europe.

By the time of the 2012 Democratic convention, party delegates had already (following Barack Obama’s lead) embraced everything from unlimited taxpayer-funding of abortion to gay marriage. How does one get to these positions? Answer: by removing God. Fittingly, then, the delegates merely need to take the next evolutionary step: exclude God.

The heads of that party have been making strident moves to do that in a number of ways, but nothing as brazen and sweeping as the HHS mandate that by federal fiat relegates religiously informed consciences to powerlessness, and religiously run businesses, insititutions and social ministries to the morally bankrupt position of being neither able to practice or preach what they believe.

The fact that the practially non-existent ‘accommodation’ is so narrow it wouldn’t even apply to Jesus is not an unintended consquence.

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Aug 07

The HHS mandate went into effect. Religious institutions have a year ‘to figure out how they’re going to violate their consciences’, as NY Cardinal Timothy Dolan put it. Other employers have to do it now. And on the same day, Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day was held across America. How are they connected?

Both events represented a line crossed with new limits on the ability to hold and express personal beliefs without government restriction.

The Becket Fund went to court that day filing an appeal for injunctive relief, and said this:

“Remember August 1, 2012.  Today begins a violation of American conscience like we have never seen before in our country, and Wheaton College personifies it,” said Kyle Duncan, General Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.  “Everyone knows Wheaton is a school that lives out its faith.  But today our government is telling Wheaton it is not ‘religious enough’ to have a conscience, and so can be forced to participate in abortions or face heavy fines.  Wheaton’s only recourse is to ask the federal courts for emergency relief.”

Wheaton does not qualify for the one-year “safe harbor,” which the government offered to certain religious organizations as a temporary reprieve from the HHS mandate.  So, in a few short months, Wheaton faces the prospect of over a million dollars per year in fines and other penalties—unless it agrees to violate its core religious beliefs by providing insurance coverage for “emergency contraceptives” that they believe cause abortion.

“Wheaton’s employees are standing with the school but they are afraid,” said Duncan.  “Many employees have said that, if Wheaton is forced to terminate insurance coverage, they will not be able to afford health care for their families.  Wheaton has always provided generous employee benefits, but now the government is forcing it to choose between caring for its employees and honoring its faith.  The government should never be able to put anyone in that position.”

But by fiat, they are, defying previous boundaries to government intrustion into religious liberty and conscience rights.

The American Life League issued this warning on August 1st:

The president’s HHS Mandate redefines and marginalizes religious freedom in favor of government ideology. History tragically teaches us that if our government can abolish one constitutional right, then all constitutional rights are put in jeopardy.   This path sets a dangerous and foolish precedent that First Amendments rights such as freedom of speech, association, freedom of the press, and the rights to assemble and petition the government may be just as easily curtailed in the future.

The other big event that day was different in scope and scale and historic precedent, sort of. But it became a benchmark in American life and culture, as unlikely as the Chick-fil-A fiasco seemed when it first erupted.

Remember that heady time not so long ago when Americans concerned about the unintended consequences of same-sex marriage were told that we had nothing to fear because the redefinition of marriage to accommodate gays and lesbians would not affect our families or our freedoms? You and your churches and businesses can go on believing what you want about marriage, we were told; just let us do our thing and we’ll let you do yours.

How times have changed. In just a few short years, a movement once known for championing tolerance has become the epitome of intolerance. Using their culturally sanctioned victim status as cover, America’s gay-rights leaders have become the iron-fisted enforcers of a strict new speech code in which anyone who questions same-sex marriage is denounced as a hateful, homophobic bigot. Erstwhile pleas for “dialogue” about the best way to protect both the institution of marriage and gay and lesbian interests have been replaced by blatant bullying and vicious personal attacks.

She’s right.

Mayors in Chicago, Boston and San Francisco pronounced Chick-fil-A unwelcome in their communities…

The marriage views that prompted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to denounce Chick-fil-A and its jobs as unwelcome in a city plagued by crime and unemployment apparently did not bother Emanuel when spouted by his former boss, President Barack Obama, who embraced same-sex marriage only three months ago. As for those “Chicago values” of which Chick-fil-A ran afoul, don’t ask Emanuel to explain how a family-owned company that graciously serves gays and lesbians along with anyone else willing to buy its chicken sandwiches offends Windy City ideals but anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan — whom Emanuel embraced the same week he was chiding Chick-fil-A —does not.

Consistency never has been the strong suit of the marriage redefinition crowd. Nor has respect for diversity — if by the term one means ideological, not simply sexual, difference.

Still, the hostility, contempt and even outright bullying directed at those who oppose same-sex marriage has exploded…

That’s not an exaggeration.

One example:

As police and store employees grappled with graffiti that appeared overnight on the back wall of a Torrance Chick-fil-A, online supporters and protesters alike criticized the vandalism.

“Tastes like hate” was scrawled in large black lettering on the wall of the restaurant, mimicking the chain’s advertising.

“The Chick-Fil-A stores are all independently owned. Vandalism, like that in L.A., hurts the local owner who may not share Cathy’s views,”  a Twitter user…posted, referring to company President Dan Cathy’s recent public stand against same-sex marriage that has sparked a national uproar.

And btw…Dan Cathy didn’t take a public stand against same-sex marriage, which few have taken the time or trouble of researching the story to point out. He responded to a question by a Baptist press outlet whether he believed in the Biblical definition of marriage, and he replied that he did. Media have been irresponsible in their handling of this story.

But back to the vandalism on the outside of a LA franchise, spray-painted “Tastes like hate.”

“wow really?

(my sentiments exactly)

it’s one thing to protest Chick-fil-A but vandalism? im all for freedom of speech but this has gone too far,” (someone) wrote on Twitter. “Wow. So 2 wrongs make a right now days?” wrote another Twitter user from North Carolina.

Many wrongs. Here’s another.

A vandal spray painted an anti-hate message on a Des Peres [Missouri] Chick-Fil-A on Saturday in what appeared to be a response to the fast-food chain owners’ opposition to same-sex unions.

According to the store, someone spray painted “don’t hate” one of the store’s brick walls and “tastes like hate” on the drive-through path.

I’m embarrassed for all the good and upright citizens in the gay community who would never stoop to these low-grade intimidation tactics.

So here’s a learning moment, brought to us by someone who both stooped to the level of harrassment without thinking it through, and learned something from the response on the other side of the provocation.

A minor Internet sensation erupted this week when Adam Smith, former CFO and treasurer of medical supplies manufacturer Vante, videotaped himself bullying a Chick-fil-A drive-thru employee. Smith was fired by his company because of his behavior, but the young woman he harassed provided a model in how to respond to hateful speech.

In the video, initially titled “Reduce $’s to Chick-Fil-A’s Hate Groups,” Smith orders a “free water” from the Chick-fil-A drive thru for the purpose of insulting and harassing the young service worker. “I don’t know how you live with yourself and work here,” he tells the employee at the window. “I don’t understand it. This is a horrible corporation with horrible values. You deserve better.”

“I’m a nice guy, by the way . . . totally heterosexual,” he continues. “Not a gay in me, I just can’t stand the hate.”

Hate. Where do people get these ideas? They manufacture them. They generate them. Then they believe them.

The company that Smith works for issued a press release announcing that Smith is “no longer an employee of our company” and that they expect their “company officers to behave in a manner commensurate with their position and in a respectful fashion that conveys these values of civility with others.”

So the piece continues…

Such behavior has become all too common among those who support homosexual rights and will likely occur with increasing frequency in the future. But what makes the video noteworthy is the gentle and kind response of the Chick-fil-A employee.

I don’t know if, Rachel, the young woman in the video, is a Christian, but her response provides a helpful model for believers. Caught off guard in an uncomfortable and demeaning situation, she responds with civility and gentleness, expressing a desire to serve others. There’s a time to respond with arguments and persuasion and there are times when all that you can do is respond with kindness. Rachel has obviously developed the type of character that would allow her to quickly realize what response was needed.

And it was effective.

UPDATE: Mr. Smith apologized to Rachel and answered questions about his actions.

Look at both videos. It’s a remarkable transformation, the initial provocation and the effect of this young woman’s witness to dignity and respect. That update should be at least the same Internet sensation, but deservedly more.

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Jul 22

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Ft. Hood, Tucson, Aurora…and shooting sprees outside the US just as stunningly random and horrible and evil…each and all leave us speechless.

Not that there hasn’t been plenty of running commentary on these massacres from the moment they erupted, much of it irresponsible and politically motivated. Disregard that, it’s worthless. These massacres assault human sensibilities and draw us together and force us – again – to dig deep and go inside to a place usually left unchecked, badly shaken and afraid and in search of comfort and safety and meaning.

How do we process and cope with this horror? Each time it happens, communities and nations and disparate groups of people not usually in contact much less sympathy, draw in and band together somehow. But what is the bond? How is it expressed? It must be expressed.

At a time like this, when words like ‘horrific’ even seem inadequate for something inexpressible, we need pause…

President Obama cancelled his campaign events Friday, telling supporters “there will be other days for politics…This will be a day for prayer and reflection.”

“While we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living,” the president said. “The people lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers, they were husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.”

Obama said if there is anything to take away from the tragedy, it is the importance of how people treat and love one another.

All true. We have a deep and instinctive need for prayer and reflection. We have to consider what causes a person to take the life of another. The people whose lives were taken were sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. They had a future and potential that will not be realized and never fulfilled. We must learn from this how people treat and love other human beings.

On my radio show that day, I reflected on all this. Respectfully, I wondered aloud how these sincere sentiments square with an ideology that affirms the right to willfully end the life of human beings in their youngest, most vulnerable times of growth. It was brief, this little soliloquy, but sincere also.

One of my guests was National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez, who made the good point that some politicians call on us to integrate faith at times they deem appropriate. But faith’s full integration is always appropriate, she said. We’re called to prayer as a nation by the president, but at the same time we’re in a national battle for the right to express morally informed voices in the public square, or live public life as fully integrated religious actors in the arena of exchange and ideas.

“We no longer have a common language,” she said, and she’s right. “The lack of understanding of our first freedom makes it impossible to have a coherent conversation.”

Frankly speaking, our first, most cherished liberty is the right of conscience. Media people and regular citizens wondered aloud, a lot, how someone could do what the shooter did last week in Colorado, as if there were no conscience.

Meanwhile, we’re in a national battle over the right to live according to conscience. We have to get this right.

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Jul 05

What will Independence Day 2013 look like in America?

That thought crossed my mind in the middle of the day, seeing coverage of both celebrations of the Fourth across the country and deliberations of the ObamaCare ruling across the news networks. I’ve been traveling a lot lately and maybe it’s a good thing not to try keeping pace with the onslaught of analysis pouring out over the past week of what Chief Justice John Roberts might have been thinking when he issued the decisive and historic opinion in upholding ObamaCare as constitutional, as a tax. Especially in its implications for the integrity of the Supreme Court.

Had a majority of the justices struck down Obamacare, the court — fairly or unfairly — would have become a bigger issue in the presidential campaign than usual and in ways that could have been damaging to its authority.

Everything has become political. Even the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

Americans know that the Declaration of Independence proclaims as a matter of fact that they “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But when Obama recites this line, he omits the word “Creator.”

Listen carefully to how Obama censors that famous line. Here are his own words: “all men are created equal, that each of us are endowed with certain inalienable rights.” He doesn’t say who endowed us.

Obama has done this so often that it can’t be a slip of the tongue or a glitch of the teleprompter. Changing the words of the Declaration of Independence is part of Obama’s determination to remove everything religious and every mention of God from every aspect of our public life in order to fundamentally transform us from “one nation under God” into one nation under the Federal Government, especially the executive branch, with no higher power recognized.

The US Bishops called the Fortnight for Freedom for that reason, and though the event closed with a liturgy and addresses on Independence Day, it really served as a rocket booster to propel the movement to defend constitutional liberties forward.

No government should tell religious organizations either what to believe or how to put their beliefs into practice. We indeed hold this to be an unalienable, constitutional right. If freedom of religion is a constitutional value to be protected, then institutions developed by religious groups to implement their core beliefs in education, in care for the sick or suffering, and in other tasks must also be protected. Only by doing so can the free exercise of religion have any meaning.

This is a year of historic consequence in America. The president, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, elected representatives of the republic and citizens who may have taken liberty for granted all have a new – and very different – stake in it.

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