After a hiatus of nine months, President Obama has nominated Rabbi David Saperstein to be the next U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, an office within our State Department.
That Rabbi Saperstein is Jewish is a blessing: It is an affirmation that the United States rebukes the anti-Semitism rising in so many countries, and that we believe Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox can partner together in standing for the “unalienable rights” bestowed to us by our Creator, including what our Constitution affirms is our “first freedom,” religious liberty.
As he speaks and works on behalf of our country, Rabbi Saperstein will, I hope, prove to be an effective and assertive advocate for those persecuted for their faith. However, I fear he is entering his new role with his hands tied: Barack Obama has sought to cabin and diminish lived-out faith in our country. What our President and his administration fail to sustain and advance at home they cannot defend and encourage abroad.
One solemn guard proceeded on the well-trodden 21-step march in front of the tomb. The clock was striking three o’clock, and the sound reverberated off the surrounding marble as silence fell. A baby gave a cry. My cousin leaned over to me and whispered, “Eerie.”
There was something eerie about it, but also something beautiful, hushed, a kind of respectful awe that pervades a sacred place. This place is sometimes called “our Nation’s Most Sacred Shrine”—Arlington National Cemetery.
Here is the place where rest those who have given the last full measure of devotion to the protection of a country worth defending. Here a ground consecrated by blood, sweat, and tears, here the bones of men who carried a nation to victory on their backs, spurred by the fire of patriotic allegiance. From the greatest of men to the humblest, all now are equal.
These hallowed grounds draw some three million visitors each year, many of whom flock to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They gather for the history, the renown, for the memory of the fallen. They assemble to witness the famed and sacred ritual in honor of the soldiers known but to God.
Our country is losing such rituals, such attention to sacred details. There are other sacred shrines in this country, but this cemetery, this ground hallowed by the sacrifices of dead patriots, is the most sacred. Many religious ceremonies still maintain a level of liturgy, but the state has forsaken public liturgy and replaced it with an informality that trivializes sacrifice. Perhaps this is why Arlington draws such crowds, because tourists see such things that have become unknown in the life of the nation.
The crowds gather before the hour strikes, witness the ceremony, and leave before the new guard takes even one march. Rather than accepting the challenge, “Could you not spend one hour with me?” as have the soldiers who guard the tomb for their hour-long shifts, tourists spend the bare amount of time seeing the “exciting” parts, and then they depart.
The demands of schedules, of young children, or perhaps of a sense of emotional overwhelmedness press-out lingering. Yet should contemplation of sacrifice be only transient? Are there ways that, in our daily lives, we can ponder why we live in the freedom we enjoy?
If only such beautiful liturgy could be reintroduced to daily life. Americans should meditate on the sacrifices that have made freedom possible, and remember that the work of the dead is not finished, but advanced. We must be dedicated to the furthering of such work. We should allow beauty to permeate the soul, whether it be in the form of artwork, music, or prayer. And we should put ourselves in the state of mind to receive such beauty, and allow the blessings that have been passed down from our ancestors to elevate our minds to a greater purpose. If only such reverence would be given not only to the dead, but to the Creator of the living and Reviver the dead. If only we would have the patience and the mindset to witness and enter fully into the entirety of sacred ritual, and, along with the guard, spend one hour on the hallowed grounds to revere the hallowed, unknown name.
Ronald Reagan once said that great change starts at the dinner table.
One Easter Sunday morning after the Vigil Mass, my family sat down to a beautiful yet simple brunch, still in our pajamas. It was nothing extraordinary, but it remains in my memory as one of the most harmonious days of my life, surrounded by family, in the peace of the Risen Christ.
But there is something greater that allows for a dinner table to even exist and for a family to be around it. That something is love.
In God’s first words regarding mankind in the beginning, He established the whole basis for love and marriage in the Trinity: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). This Trinity, the plurality of persons (“our”) in a singular unified entity (“image”) speaks the generative Word that brings humankind into existence. This love is the love which is reflected in the institution of the family.
In marriage, the persons of the husband and wife become one body. They take upon themselves the work of God and partake in the creative words of the Trinity. The parents also choose to make man in “our likeness.” Their unitive love produces children, just as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the communion of the Father and the Son. The family, in its unity of distinct members, becomes a reflection of the Trinity.
President Reagan also said that the strong and loving families fathers help create are the soul of a nation. The family is the most fundamental institution of any nation, so vital that it is the very animating factor of society. It is the institution that stems from and proceeds towards charity, towards the heavenly institution which it reflects — the Trinity.
When the family sits down at the dinner table, all the members come together to share in a meal made possible by the provisions of the father and the nurturing of the mother.
And as a Catholic family, my family begins our meal with the Sign of the Cross and grace; we mark ourselves in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We invoke the love of the One Name upon our one family.
The dinner table is the place where love engenders transformation, radical changes that pour out from the family to the nation. Some of those changes are immediate; others take place over time, taking root on good soil to blossom later. Yet whether sudden or subtle, the dinner table is where life is fashioned and souls cultivated, souls which set the world aflame.
This earthly table is a prefigurement of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. It is a place of communion in familial love, the starting place for change, and an earthly vision of the eternal end in the heavenly banquet.
Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia this day one hundred years ago. Serbian army figures had been implicated in the assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his consort, Sophie, in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo just one month prior. The shaky, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire had issued a list of nearly impossible demands of Serbia. Surprisingly, Serbia agreed to almost all of these stringent demands.
Nonetheless, the Austro-Hungarian military high command wanted war, needed war. And the Austrians had been given a “blank check” by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. The unwavering support of Austria’s far more powerful ally was critical to Austria’s decision this day. Few could have imagined that Austria would risk war with its much smaller neighbor had it not had the German Army’s military might standing alongside.
That was because Serbia was under the protection of its huge ally, Russia. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia viewed himself as the leader of the Slavic peoples within and outside of his vast domain and Serbia was mostly a Slavic nation.
It is likely there are proposals and assumptions in Ryan’s plan with which I agree, and others with which I do not. What has caught my attention is the way some of the media are covering his remarks. Here are some examples:
Ryan’s plan is substantive, far-reaching, and clear. It has much to commend it. Let’s also grant for the sake of argument that in addition to wanting to offer proposals that offer real hope, Ryan wants to dispel some of the stereotypes about Republicans not caring for the poor. That’s perfectly understandable and politically valid.
Yet with that said, why should he or anyone have to dispel a notion that is, itself, patently false?
Conservatives have long offered myriad proposals to help address issues of economic opportunity, educational failure, family collapse, and the struggles of millions of Americans wrestling with at-best modest incomes and dwindling hopes.
Why? Simply because so many in the “mainstream” media repeat it so often and, concurrently, so seldom report on the many ideas conservatives have generated that are designed to address intransigent social and economic problems. This is maddening, even if predictable, and also one of the principal reasons conservatives now operate their own print and electronic media outlets and networks.
Of course, sometimes a conservative spokesman will say something untoward or excessive. Pick a politician, Left or Right, who sometimes says things not almost immediately regretted. Do such offensive but incidental comments characterize entire movements, whole patterns of philosophy and ideas? No. Yet much too often, conservatives are portrayed as the purveyors of greed and callousness because of the few stupid statements of a few people.
“Economic indicators cannot measure the values held by our children, or the suffering felt by broken families,” according to my old boss, U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-IN). “We have discovered that our growing GNP also includes massive prison construction to house a lost generation, drug counseling in elementary schools, suicide hotlines, teen pregnancy centers, and clinics for battered children” (https://wikis.engrade.com/morality1/morality4).
The Senator said this in a speech in 1991. Since then, at least two things haven’t changed: The media’s general stereotyping of conservatives as heartless materialists, and their failure to report conservative ideas about how best to help our fellow citizens in need.
To death and taxes, perhaps media disinterest in conservative proposals should be added as an inevitability. This is not excuse for conservatives not to “stay in there pitching,” but a reminder that the next time you’re tempted to ask, “Why don’t conservatives say something about (pick your issue)?,” in all likelihood they already have.
Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins expressed deep gratitude and relief early this morning after learning that Meriam Ibrahim and her family arrived in Italy.
Meriam is a Sudanese Christian, married to a U.S. citizen, who was sentenced to death by a Sudan court for the “crime” of converting from Islam, and 100 lashes for “adultery.” Meriam spent months in a notoriously rank Sudanese prison with her 21-month-old son and her newborn daughter. More than 53,000 people signed a WhiteHouse.gov petition launched by FRC asking President Obama to grant her expedited safe haven in the United States. Yesterday, Perkins testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations regarding her case.
Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins testified today before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations regarding the case of Meriam Ibrahim. You can read the testimony here.
Nearly 53,000 people signed a WhiteHouse.gov petition launched by FRC asking President Obama to grant her expedited safe haven in the United States.
Yep — that’s what conservatives believe. The written text had and has a defined meaning, alterable only by amendment. As Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has written, “The Constitution itself is not a document of convenience. It specifies an onerous process — bicameralism and presentment — to pass legislation. It imposes a system of checks and balances among the branches. Perhaps most important, it limits the types of power the federal government can exercise.”
That’s not what President Obama believes, however. In his article, “A Brief History of Obama’s Biggest Constitutional Flops,” constitutional scholar Damon Root writes, “Despite his training as a former constitutional law lecturer, President Barack Obama continues to push dubious legal theories that fail to persuade even the most liberal justices to vote in his favor.”
Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate, Mr. Obama expressed great frustration with the “constraints” of the Constitution, observing of the Supreme Court under the late Chief Justice Earl Warren, “… the Warren Court, it wasn’t that radical. It didn’t break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution, as least as it’s been interpreted, and Warren Court interpreted in the same way that, generally, the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties, says what the states can’t do to you, says what the federal government can’t do to you, but it doesn’t say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn’t shifted.”
At least Mr. Obama admits, albeit grudgingly, that the Founders actually meant something definitive when they wrote the Constitution — even though the then-law school lecturer implies we need to “break free” of such limitations.
So it came as a surprise today when his spokesman cited original intent in chiding the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for issuing a ruling stating that the wording of the Affordable Care Act does not give license to the federal government to “subsidize health insurance premiums for people in three dozen states that use the federal insurance exchange.”
“You don’t need a fancy legal degree to understand that Congress intended for every eligible American to have access to tax credits that would lower their health care costs, regardless of whether it was state officials or federal officials who were running the marketplace,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “I think that was a pretty clear intent of the congressional law.”
So, now President Obama is concerned with the intention of federal law? Well, that’s great news. I wonder how that will apply to, say, the First and Tenth Amendments of the Constitution, which he has, up to now, only applied at best erratically. Their meaning, and the meaning of the Constitution generally, can be known through the Federalist Papers, James Madison’s “Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention in 1787,” and the ratification debates held in the states as the early Republic wrestled with whether or not to affirm the Constitution itself.
However, the original intent of any document is expressed in its text, not in what we wish it would be. And the text of Obamacare provides no basis for the federal subsidization of health insurance premiums for, again, “people in the three dozen states that use the federal insurance exchange.”
You can’t have it all ways, Mr. President — either originalism based on the clear meaning of the text matters or it doesn’t.
Earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled that the Obama Administration could not force family businesses, like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, to violate their conscience in order to earn a living.
Another blow to Obamacare was delivered by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals today in a 2-1 decision, Halbig v. Burwell, affirming that the Administration has to follow their own law, as written and can’t either make it up or change it as they go along. The court ruled that federal subsidies to assist individuals in purchasing insurance are only available to those who purchase healthcare through an exchange created by their state, not a federally created exchange in a state. The Affordable Care Act text is extremely clear, only individuals who live in states that have set up their own healthcare exchange are eligible to receive income subsidies to assist in lowering the cost of purchasing healthcare.
The problem is many states did not set up their own exchange for a variety of reasons, including the cost of developing and running an exchange, and in some cases because they disagreed with the principle of Obamacare in general. Even some states that did originally decide to set up a state exchange, like Oregon, later dissolved it due to high cost and joined the federal healthcare.gov exchange. This year, 36 states decided to forgo developing and creating their own state exchange and instead opted to have the government create an exchange to operate in their state. Recent news reports also say that Massachusetts, if their exchange is not working properly in time for upcoming 2015 enrollment this fall, will plan on joining the federal exchange in their state.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows for this possibility and says the federal government will create an exchange in the state if the state doesn’t. The issue is the ACA doesn’t say that money can go to the federally created exchange in those states. The Administration funded subsidies in these states anyway and thus the lawsuit with the option delivered today. Individuals in these 36 states who needed to purchase healthcare, if not provided by their employer, looked to the federally created exchanges to satisfy the individual mandate requirement. A recent study by HHS found that 87 percent of individuals who purchased healthcare on the federally created exchange were eligible to receive an income subsidy.
Now, this ruling could derail the entire Obamacare train.
Plans on the healthcare exchanges were not as cheap as individuals originally thought they would be. Between high deductibles, high monthly premium costs, and lack of participating providers in certain designated areas, people did receive a sticker shock when they shopped on the marketplace last year. Now, if this ruling stands, individuals will not have the luxury of having the high cost of premiums masked by income subsidies if their state did not set up their own exchange.
Assuming that no other states back out of operating their own exchange this upcoming plan year, individuals in 36 states will have to cover the entire cost of healthcare premiums on their own. This could result in thousands of individuals opting to pay the tax penalty rather than pay for the high cost of many of these exchange plans. If less people purchase healthcare, especially young people, there will be less healthy people in the pool, which could raise rates even more because healthcare insurance companies will have to compensate for the cost of covering pre-existing conditions.
If there is one thing that Americans should realize about Obamacare by now, it’s that the executive branch does not have the power to write the law, enforce the law and interpret the law however it sees fit. The executive is in charge of faithfully executing the law. To date there have been 42 changes to Obamacare. Today’s ruling affirms that the President cannot change a law just because it is unpopular.
What does this ruling mean for average Americans? The ruling in Halbig v. Burwell affirms that the President cannot pick and choose what parts of the law he wants to follow. This ruling also illustrates to the American people that Obamacare really is as bad as Republicans said it would be. The Administration cannot mask high premiums, failed state exchanges, broken websites, and unenforced provisions with income subsides to those prohibited from receiving them according to the text of the Affordable Care Act.