Month Archives: June 2015

Supreme Court Coddles Congress on Obamacare

by Travis Weber

June 25, 2015

In an opinion which deals a heavy blow to our foundational separation of powers, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 today in King v. Burwell that the federal government could give out Affordable Care Act tax credits on its own health insurance exchange if a state did not set one up. Why? According to the Court, incredibly, the statutory term “established by the state” actually means “established by the state or the federal government.”

In the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan opinion, the Court basically saves Congress from its own bad handiwork, scrutinizing and considering how the law would fail to work if it ruled on the plain meaning of the statute. In doing so, it illustrates how courts are not supposed to act — as legislator (considering the policy implications of a decision) as opposed to how they should — as judge (ruling on what the law means).

The trouble begins when the Court decides “established by the state” can’t just mean “state,” but must mean more given the “context and structure of the Act.” Because, in the Court’s view, this term has been deemed “ambiguous,” it is compelled “to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

Once the provision is considered “ambiguous,” the Court is left free to jump through all sorts of hoops to reach its desired conclusion. It fruitlessly cautions: “Reliance on context and structure in statutory interpretation is a ‘subtle business, calling for great wariness lest what professes to be mere rendering becomes creation and attempted interpretation of legislation becomes legislation itself.’” I don’t know how the Court has avoided doing that here.

The Court’s mental machinations continue; it claims that while “‘the presumption of consistent usage readily yields to context,’ … a statutory term may mean different things in different places.”

After declining to apply a method of statutory interpretation that says words should not be construed to be mere rhetorical surplus, the Court had to admit the ACA is the type of muddled mess that should have encouraged the Court to have less confidence in its ability to “figure it out” and instead send it back to Congress for fixing, noting that “with respect to this Act, rigorous application of the canon [against surplus words] does not seem a particularly useful guide to a fair construction of the statute.”

Why? Even the pro-ACA majority recognizes that “[t]he Affordable Care Act contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting… . Several features of the Act’s passage contributed to that unfortunate reality.” The majority further notes that the law “does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation.”

However, as the dissent notes, the Court “has no free-floating power ‘to rescue Congress from its drafting errors.’” And “[l]aws often include unusual or mismatched provisions… . This Court ‘does not revise legislation … just because the text as written creates an apparent anomaly.’”

Much of what the Court does here is try to determine what Congress intended to do. Yet with a law containing such obvious, glaring problems and omissions, which we know Members of Congress did not even read, how can we even trust any guesses about what “Congress intended to do?” At one point, the majority cites an illustration “describing a cartoon in which a senator tells his colleagues ‘I admit this new bill is too complicated to understand. We’ll just have to pass it to find out what it means.’” This is a clear reference to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s astonishing comment that Obamacare would have to be passed before what is in it could be determined. I’m not sure if the Court intended it, but the irony — and the jab at Mrs. Pelosi — are rich.

The silver lining of this decision is that it did not expand the administrative state through excessive deference to the IRS interpretation of “established by the state.” The not-so-silver lining is that the Court’s endorsement of mushy reasoning allows anyone and everyone (which includes the administrative state and courts) to play with statutory terms to make them mean what they want them to mean.

The Court properly claimed it had the authority to interpret the provision, but then improperly seized a different type of authority to “save” the law. The Court should have resisted the temptation to play the hero — in what would have been a noble exercise of self-limitation — and deflected the statute back to Congress for fixing.

There is also a subtle assumption of congressional incompetence in this ruling. So inept was Congress in drafting and passing this legislation that the Court had to assume an intent distinctly missing from the text presented to it for review. In doing so, the Court has de facto made law by defining terms comporting with the Court’s desire to save Congress from itself.

Thus, the problem now is that “context” means anything a court wants it to mean. And that’s not a power our Constitution intended courts to have. As the dissent says, if “all it takes to make something ambiguous” is reasoning like the majority’s, then “everything is ambiguous.”

The majority concludes that “[a] fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.” Fair enough, perhaps. But even if one were to accept that assertion, I’m not sure how, in this case, which features one of the most muddled pieces of legislation in existence (which many Members of Congress have admitted they didn’t even read), there can be any understanding of any “legislative plan.”

Justice Scalia’s dissent, joined by Justices Alito and Thomas, has the better argument: “The Court has not come close to presenting the compelling contextual case necessary to justify departing from the ordinary meaning of the terms of the law.”

The majority’s “reasoning suffers from no shortage of flaws. To begin with, ‘even the most formidable argument concerning the statute’s purposes could not overcome the clarity [of] the statute’s text.’ … Statutory design and purpose matter only to the extent they help clarify an otherwise ambiguous provision.”

Exactly. And making such clarifications is exactly the job of Congress. The Court should have ruled based on the words of the statute. If Congress disagreed with the result and wanted it fixed, it would have then had the opportunity to fix the ACA.

As the dissent points out, if the majority’s concern about potentially dooming the ACA is valid, then “these projections would show only that the statutory scheme contains a flaw; they would not show that the statute means the opposite of what it says.” Moreover, “[h]ow could the Court pronounce it ‘implausible’ for Congress to have tolerated [the same] instability in insurance markets in States with federal Exchanges … when even the Government maintained until recently that Congress did exactly that in American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands?”

The dissent nicely summed up the problems with this decision:

The Court’s decision reflects the philosophy that judges should endure whatever interpretive distortions it takes in order to correct a supposed flaw in the statutory machinery. That philosophy ignores the American people’s decision to give Congress ‘[a]ll legislative Powers’ enumerated in the Constitution. Art. I, §1. They made Congress, not this Court, responsible for both making laws and mending them. This Court holds only the judicial power — the power to pronounce the law as Congress has enacted it. We lack the prerogative to repair laws that do not work out in practice, just as the people lack the ability to throw us out of office if they dislike the solutions we concoct… . [T]his Court ‘has no roving license … to disregard clear language simply on the view that … Congress ‘must have intended’ something broader.’ . . .

Even less defensible, if possible, is the Court’s claim that its interpretive approach is justified because this Act ‘does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation.’ It is not our place to judge the quality of the care and deliberation that went into this or any other law. A law enacted by voice vote with no deliberation whatever is fully as binding upon us as one enacted after years of study, months of committee hearings, and weeks of debate. Much less is it our place to make everything come out right when Congress does not do its job properly. It is up to Congress to design its laws with care, and it is up to the people to hold them to account if they fail to carry out that responsibility.

Rather than rewriting the law under the pretense of interpreting it, the Court should have left it to Congress to decide what to do about the Act’s limitation of tax credits to state Exchanges… The Court’s insistence on making a choice that should be made by Congress both aggrandizes judicial power and encourages congressional lassitude… . What a parody today’s decision makes of Hamilton’s assurances to the people of New York: ‘The legislature not only commands the purse but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over … the purse; no direction … of the wealth of society, and can take no active resolution whatever. It may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL but merely judgment.’

The dissent points out that several years ago, the Court twisted the individual mandate (which imposes a penalty for volitional inaction) into the shape of a “tax” in order to save its constitutionality. It also “rewrote the law to withhold only the incremental funds associated with the Medicaid expansion” in order to save another provision’s constitutionality under the Spending Clause. Now, the Court believes the limitation regarding state exchanges “would prevent the rest of the Act from working as well as hoped. So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere.”

Such reasoning reveals the “discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.” Such expansionary reading by the Supreme Court to save unprecedented and large-scale government initiatives harkens back to the New Deal era. While the ACA has multiple problematic implications for religious freedom, the Court got this decision wrong based on an improper understanding of its role and erroneous view of the separation of powers. These are constitutional issues with far reaching implications that go beyond religious freedom.

As Justice Scalia rightly observes: “We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”

Planned Parenthood: Abortion Numbers Up, Other Services Down

by Arina Grossu

June 25, 2015

Americans United for Life (AUL) has released its fourth report in a series of exposés of Planned Parenthood (PPFA).  This report details PPFA’s expansion strategy of building new mega-centers for abortions and how PPFA’s increased focus is on abortion. 

A striking chart shows that from 2006 to 2013, the number of abortions performed by PPFA has gone up while cancer screening and preventative services have gone down by more than 50 percent.   Since 2004, mega-centers have opened in at least 19 cities and with them abortions have gone up nationwide by more than 70,000 abortions annually.

Think of these Planned Parenthood mega-centers as “abortion Wal-Marts.”  Where they open, the smaller abortion centers shut down, and Planned Parenthood gets a bigger piece of the abortion industry pie.  From 2004 to 2011, Planned Parenthood went from performing 20 percent to more than 32 percent of all abortions in the United States.

The abortion market might be in at a decline everywhere else, but at Planned Parenthood, “business” is good.

Yet taxpayer money continues to be handed over to America’s #1 abortion provider.  PPFA rakes in more than $500 million annually from taxpayer funds; this composes more than 40 percent of its overall revenue.

FRC’s Planned Parenthood factsheet also reveals that not only has Planned Parenthood decreased its cancer screening and preventative programs, but it also has decreased adoption referrals.  Comparing 2011 and 2013, the likelihood of a woman getting an abortion rather than an adoption referral at a Planned Parenthood increased from 145 times to 174 times.  From 2011 to 2013, adoption referrals decreased by 18 percent. In addition, from 2009 to 2013, prenatal services steadily decreased and dropped by more than half, and breast exams consistently decreased and dropped by a total of 41 percent.

So what exactly is Planned Parenthood doing besides building mega-centers and ending the lives of developing babies?  Apparently, increasingly little else.

What the Supreme Court(s) Said About Marriage: Part 3 (Washington)

by Peter Sprigg

June 25, 2015

At this writing, we are awaiting an imminent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on a set of cases involving a claim that the Constitution requires states to permit civil marriages between persons of the same sex.

However, several Supreme Courts (state courts, that is) have already rejected similar arguments to those offered in Obergefell v. Hodges. Today, I present Part 3 of a four-part series with key excerpts from those decisions. Part 1 featured the earliest such decision, Baker v. Nelson (Minnesota, 1971). Part 2 featured the decision of Hernandez v. Robles (New York, 2006).

Today, we look at excerpts from Andersen v. King County, a 2006 decision by the Supreme Court in the State of Washington (legal citations are omitted or abbreviated).

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that individuals have a “fundamental right” to marry, as a “liberty” interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Advocates of redefining marriage argue that this “right” necessarily includes the right “to marry the person of their choice,” even if that person is of the same sex. The Washington court responded:

Nearly all United States Supreme Court decisions declaring marriage to be a fundamental right expressly link marriage to fundamental rights of procreation, childbirth, abortion, and child-rearing. In Skinner v. Oklahoma, (1942), involving invalidation of a nonconsensual sterilization statute, the Court said “[m]arriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race.” In Loving [v. Virginia, 1967], the Court said that “[m]arriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival” (quoting Skinner). In Zablocki [v. Redhail, 1978], the Court invalidated on equal protection and due process grounds a statute that prohibited marriage for any resident behind in child support obligations. The Court noted that

[i]t is not surprising that the decision to marry has been placed on the same level of importance as decisions relating to procreation, childbirth, child rearing, and family relationships… . [I]t would make little sense to recognize a right of privacy with respect to other matters of family life and not with respect to the decision to enter the relationship that is the foundation of the family in our society.

The Court also quoted the statements made in Skinner and Loving. See also, Maynard v. Hill, (1888) (marriage is “the foundation of the family and of society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress”).

This procreation emphasis is in contrast to the more adult-centered view of marriage promoted by those who would redefine marriage. In a footnote, the court declared that:

 … the right to marry is not grounded in the State’s interest in promoting loving, committed relationships. While desirable, nowhere in any marriage statute of this state has the legislature expressed this goal.

Like each of the supreme courts that have upheld one-man, one-woman marriage, the Washington court said that allowing infertile heterosexual couples to marry does not undermine the argument that the definition of marriage is rooted in interests related to procreation:

 … [A]s Skinner, Loving, and Zablocki indicate, marriage is traditionally linked to procreation and survival of the human race. Heterosexual couples are the only couples who can produce biological offspring of the couple. And the link between opposite-sex marriage and procreation is not defeated by the fact that the law allows opposite-sex marriage regardless of a couple’s willingness or ability to procreate. The facts that all opposite-sex couples do not have children and that single-sex couples raise children and have children with third party assistance or through adoption do not mean that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples lacks a rational basis. Such over- or under-inclusiveness does not defeat finding a rational basis.

For more information on the legal arguments regarding the redefinition of marriage see: “Marriage at the Supreme Court: Why One-Man, One-Woman State Laws Remain Constitutional.”

One Hundred Forty-Four Years of Marriage

by Cordell Asbenson

June 24, 2015

Dr. Randy Olson recently released data (reported in the Washington Post) examining the rise and fall of marriages and divorces over the last 144 years. Using data from the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Dr. Olson compares the number of marriages and divorces per 1,000 people year by year. By analyzing these data–instead of the total number of marriages and divorces –Dr. Olson was able accurately to compare the rate of marriages and divorces over the past 144 years despite fluctuations in the population numbers.

The results of the data are disheartening, but expected.  It shows that the number of marriages in the United States has fallen consistently since the 1980s. What is more, the number of marriages has dropped to 6.8 per 1000 people, the lowest it has been since 1867, even lower than during the Great Depression.

Despite the fact that fewer people are getting married, intact marriages are as important now as they have ever been. To learn more about the importance of marriage for individuals, the economy, and society as a whole, visit the Marriage and Religion Research website: http://marri.us/home

What the Supreme Court(s) Said About Marriage: Part 2 (New York)

by Peter Sprigg

June 24, 2015

At this writing, we are awaiting an imminent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on a set of cases involving a claim that the Constitution requires states to permit civil marriages between persons of the same sex.

However, several Supreme Courts (state courts, that is) have already rejected similar arguments to those offered in Obergefell v. Hodges. Today, I present Part 2 of a four-part series with key excerpts from those decisions. Part 1 featured the earliest such decision, Baker v. Nelson (Minnesota, 1971).

The next three feature decisions by the highest court in three liberal states—New York, Washington, and Maryland. Unlike the Minnesota decision, each of these was handed down within the last ten years. Each of these states has since redefined marriage, but they have done so through the democratic process, not through judicial fiat. The U.S. Supreme Court should allow the same privilege to other states—the eleven which has chosen democratically to change their definition of marriage, and the thirty which have put a one-man-one-woman marriage definition in their state constitutions.

In Hernandez v Robles in 2006, the Court of Appeals of New York (the state’s highest court) addressed the rational basis which supports the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman (citations abbreviated):

The critical question is whether a rational legislature could decide that these benefits [of civil marriage] should be given to members of opposite-sex couples, but not same-sex couples… . We conclude … that there are at least two grounds that rationally support the limitation on marriage that the Legislature has enacted. Others have been advanced, but we will discuss only these two, both of which are derived from the undisputed assumption that marriage is important to the welfare of children.

First, the Legislature could rationally decide that, for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability, and to avoid instability, in opposite-sex than in same-sex relationships. Heterosexual intercourse has a natural tendency to lead to the birth of children; homosexual intercourse does not. Despite the advances of science, it remains true that the vast majority of children are born as a result of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman, and the Legislature could find that this will continue to be true. The Legislature could also find that such relationships are all too often casual or temporary. It could find that an important function of marriage is to create more stability and permanence in the relationships that cause children to be born. It could thus choose to offer an inducement—in the form of marriage and its attendant benefits—to opposite-sex couples who make a solemn, long-term commitment to each other.

The Legislature could find that this rationale for marriage does not apply with comparable force to same-sex couples. These couples can become parents by adoption, or by artificial insemination or other technological marvels, but they do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse. The Legislature could find that unsatable relationships between people of the opposite sex present a greater danger than children will be born into or grow up in unstable homes than is the case with same-sex couples, and thus that promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships will help children more. This is one reason why the Legislature could rationally offer the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples only.

There is a second reason: The Legislature could rationally believe that it is better, other things being equal, for children to grow up with both a mother and a father. Intuition and experience suggest that a child benefits from having before his or her eyes, every day, living models of what both a man and a woman are like. It is obvious that there are exceptions to this general rule—some children who never know their fathers, or their mothers, do far better than some who grow up with parents of both sexes—but the Legislature could find that the general rule will usually hold.

Later in its opinion, the New York court responded to the chief argument made against its conclusion that a one-man-one-woman marriage definition is rationally related to concerns about procreation and child-rearing:

Plaintiffs argue that a classification distinguishing between opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples cannot pass rational basis scrutiny, because if the relevant State interest is the procreation of children, the category of those permitted to marry—opposite-sex couples—is both underinclusive and overinclusive. We disagree.

Plaintiffs argue that the category is underinclusive because, as we recognized above, same-sex couples, as well as opposite-sex couples, may have children. That is indeed a reason why the Legislature might rationally choose to extend marriage or its benefits to same-sex couples; but it could also, for the reasons we have explained, rationally make another choice, based on the different characteristics of opposite-sex and same-sex relationships. Our earlier discussion demonstrates that the definition of marriage to include only opposite-sex couples is not irrationally underinclusive.

In arguing that the definition is overinclusive, plaintiffs point out that many opposite-sex couples cannot have or do not want to have children. How can it be rational, they ask, to permit these couples, but not same-sex couples, to marry? The question is not a difficult one to answer. While same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are easily distinguished, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples likely to have children would require grossly intrusive inquiries, and arbitrary and unreliable line-drawing. A legislature that regarded marriage primarily or solely as an institution for the benefit of children could rationally find that an attempt to exclude childless opposite-sex couples from the institution would be a very bad idea.

Rational basis scrutiny is highly indulgent towards the State’s classifications. Indeed, it is “a paradigm of judicial restraint” (Affronti v Crosson, New York, 2001). We conclude that permitting marriage by all opposite-sex couples does not create an irrationally over-narrow or overbroad classification. The distinction between opposite-sex and same-sex couples enacted by the Legislature does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.

What the Supreme Court(s) Said About Marriage: Part 1

by Peter Sprigg

June 23, 2015

At this writing, we are awaiting an imminent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on a set of cases involving a claim that the Constitution requires states to permit civil marriages between persons of the same sex.

However, several Supreme Courts (state courts, that is) have already rejected similar arguments to those offered in Obergefell v. Hodges. Today, I begin a series offering excerpts from those decisions.

The earliest was in the Supreme Court of Minnesota, which handed down its decision in Baker v. Nelson on October 15, 1971. The appeal of this case was dismissed “for want of a substantial federal question” by the U.S. Supreme Court — establishing a binding precedent which over two dozen federal judges have chosen to ignore in the last two years.

While the U.S. Supreme Court issued no written opinion in Baker, the Minnesota Supreme Court did. Here are some key excerpts (with legal citations abbreviated):

The institution of marriage as a union man and woman, uniquely involving the procreation and rearing of children within a family, is as old as the book of Genesis. Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson, [U.S. Supreme Court] (1942), which invalidated Oklahoma’s Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act on equal protection grounds, stated in part: “Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race.” This historic institution manifestly is more deeply founded than the asserted contemporary concept of marriage and societal interests for which petitioners contend. The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is not a charter for restructuring it by judicial legislation.

 . . .

The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, like the due process clause, is not offended by the state’s classification of persons authorized to marry. There is no irrational or invidious discrimination. Petitioners note that the state does not impose upon heterosexual married couples a condition that they have a proved capacity or declared willingness to procreate, posing a rhetorical demand that this court must read such condition into the statute if same-sex marriages are to be prohibited. Even assuming that such a condition would be neither unrealistic nor offensive under the Griswold rationale, the classification is no more than theoretically imperfect. We are reminded, however, that “abstract symmetry” is not demanded by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Loving v. Virginia, [U.S. Supreme Court] (1967), upon which petitioners additionally rely, does not militate against this conclusion. Virginia’s antimiscegenation statute, prohibiting interracial marriages, was invalidated solely on the grounds of its patent racial discrimination… .

Loving does indicate that not all state restrictions upon the right to marry are beyond reach of the Fourteenth Amendment. But in commonsense and in a constitutional sense, there is a clear distinction between a marital restriction based merely upon race and one based upon the fundamental difference in sex.

For a more detailed description of Baker, and the full text of the decision, see this blog post from last year.

Parental Opt-Outs and Conscience Exemptions

by Travis Weber

June 23, 2015

It’s a long-established principle that parents can “opt-out” of having their children take part in certain sex education classes they may find objectionable for a variety of reasons. Recently, some have even proposed “opt-in” requirements. One proposal in Utah reportedly “would require all public schools in the state to obtain written consent before providing human sexuality instruction to students, holding harmless those students who don’t enroll.” Such a presumption maximizes freedom; it expands the distance between the heavy hand of the state and individual rights. It doesn’t entirely disconnect the two, but certainly keeps a healthy distance between them. And these parental “opt-out” requirements have widespread support; many understand why they exist: we want to protect individual rights and the freedom of families to raise their children and govern their family unit as they see fit.

Such “opt-out” requirements have an analogue in conscience exemptions in the abortion context. For years, although abortion has been legally protected as a right under the Constitution (erroneously, I might add), our law has also protected the consciences of those who disagree and ensured they are not forced to take part in practices which violate their beliefs. This also maximizes freedom for all Americans.

Similarly, such exemptions naturally follow in the context of same sex marriage, should it be declared to be protected as a constitutional right. In that case, it would be the default position that individuals desiring such marriages would be able to legally enter them, and thus legislation protecting those who disagree from being forced to violate their beliefs through compelled participation in the process of such marriages would be absolutely necessary. Such legislation has already been proposed. At the federal level, the First Amendment Defense Act would provide such conscience exemptions. Similar protections are needed at the state level.

Like parents who want to (and are able to) “opt-out” of having their children exposed to certain matters at school, many have wanted to (and have been able to) similarly “opt-out” of forced complicity in abortion. It is quite logical that many will likewise want to (and should be able to) “opt-out” of forced participation in the process of same-sex “marriage.” In all these cases, the “opt-out” protects individual rights and maximizes personal liberty. It is the quite natural, logical, and freedom-loving position.

Laudato Si: Pope Francis Calls for a Deeper Love of God and Neighbor

by Christina Hadford

June 23, 2015

Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si is less controversial than people think. Although Francis heavily treads in an area previously only lightly touched by his predecessors he merely reiterates established Catholic doctrine. Moreover, Pope Francis’ fundamental message transcends climate change or political provocation: it laments the moral deterioration of man and societal institutions, and optimistically rallies for a purposeful revival of humility, selflessness, and love of God.

At the heart of his exhortation, Francis asks: “What kind of world do we want to leave for those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”

In answering this question, Pope Francis addresses a number of environmental issues. But he does so in a context that all Christians share. God put Adam in Eden to till it and keep it (Genesis 2:15); He forbade man from polluting the earth (Numbers 35:33) or stripping it bear (Leviticus 19: 9-10). The Earth is a gift to man from God; it is a glimpse into God’s unfathomable glory and greatness. Any man that destroys the earth robs future generations of witnessing this piece of God’s glory.

Pope Francis seeks to reinvigorate these Biblical values in Christians everywhere. He does not condone the secular environmental movement that divorces human life from environmental improvement, nor does he support specific policies: “On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views” (61).

Rather than prescribing policy to improve the ecological environment, Francis focuses on solutions to fix the human environment, the heart of the crisis:

Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others. Our openness to others, each of whom is a “thou” capable of knowing, loving and entering into dialogue, remains the source of our nobility as human persons. A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others, much less the transcendent dimension of our openness to the “Thou” of God. Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence. (119)

Our environment is indeed in crisis. Mothers kill their own children, children are taught to choose their own gender, families are torn apart, and material wealth stands as the mark of success. Why, then, should we be surprised that man is indifferent to others’ needs? Mankind has been calloused to his neighbor’s suffering.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis shows that there is a simple and expedient solution for our environmental crisis: the love of Jesus Christ. As St. Francis of Assisi said in the encyclical’s namesake, “Laudate e benedicete mi’ Signore et rengratiate,” “Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.”

Thank You Dad

by Joshua Denton

June 22, 2015

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. For some it will be just another day. For those who never really had the privilege of experiencing an earthly father’s love or whose fathers are no longer with them, it will be a day of mixed feelings of joy and sorrow. For me, it is a day I can reflect on my dad’s ongoing influence in my life.

To show my gratitude to my dad, , for being the great man in Christ Jesus that he is, I’d like to dedicate the following letter to him in honor of Father’s Day:

6/19/2015

Dear Dad,

This Father’s Day I want to thank you for being my Dad. It would be really easy to just buy you a nice Father’s Day card, but I want to really take the time to write a heartfelt thank you.

I know raising me hasn’t always been easy. I have always had a stubborn streak and I remember when I was younger how much trouble I used to get into. I was rebellious and disrespectful and a bad example to my siblings. But you persevered with me and never gave up on me. It might have been easier to let me have my own way, but you took the time to do the right thing. I still remember different times you would sit me down and take me through passages of Scripture and explain why the way I was acting was wrong and how I needed to give my heart to Jesus.

Before I got saved I was selfish and disobedient. I would always get angry, I could never control my temper. Instead I let it control me and tried to use it to control others. I know now that anger is just a manipulation tactic because I used to be that kind of person. But anger never has worked on you, Dad, and you taught me to do better.

I fought your instruction and guidance especially up until I was around 13 years old. I know I caused you and mom a lot of pain, tears, and prayers. Finally, I got tired from running from what I knew all along was the right thing. On November 8, 2008, with you and mom kneeling beside me in front of our couch in the living room I prayed for Jesus Christ to come into my heart and be my Savior and the Lord of my life. And this time, I really meant it.

From that time, I become a changed person. Close family members saw and still see the difference that Jesus made in my life. But if it wasn’t for you, Dad, I wonder where I would be now?

Life raising me still hasn’t been easy for you and mom and I know you’ve said that the teen years are so much more difficult than when I was just a kid. Thank you for being firm with me when necessary, for putting your foot down when you had to. Even when I’m sure it was hard, you still cared enough about me to not let me do certain things. Thanks for loving me Dad. Thanks for protecting me from all the evil that is out there.

Thank you for providing for me, my siblings and mom. Even when times were really tough and it was hard to pay the bills sometimes, we never went hungry. You always worked hard to provide for us. You taught me to work hard with my hands. I have always had to work hard for college and a car – and I’m glad. Some dads can give these things to their kids. That’s great if they can, and I know you would if you were able. But I am glad I have had to work to make a living and earn things. There are more important things that you gave me. Character lessons. Because of you I know how to manage money, plant a garden, how to do a lot of different types of construction, how to treat a lady, how to be strong, how to be a man.

Thank you Dad.

You’ve been a great role model for me. Other role models I have looked up to in the past have failed me, but you’ve always been there for me. I know you aren’t a perfect Dad, and I am certainly not a perfect son, but I sure respect you a lot.

Most of all Dad, I want to thank you for instilling in me a love for God’s Word, and for teaching me how to follow him – no matter what others thought of me for it. I remember you have always said “the most important thing in this world is to get to heaven and help other people get there.” Thank you for teaching me to have an eternal perspective of what really matters in life. Thank you for taking God’s commands to a father seriously by sitting us kids down and spending time in God’s Word with us; explaining passages, answering our questions, and encouraging us to study the Bible for ourselves.

Now that I’m in a different stage of life and living on my own, I’ve acquired a new appreciation for how you raised me. I see more fully now that you set rules and boundaries for a reason, not just to make life harder or to be mean. I’m a young man now Dad, and someday I’ll be a husband and dad myself. I know when those days come I’ll come to realize even more how wise you are. I won’t forget the lessons you have taught me.

I thank God for giving me a dad like you, and I hope someday I can be the kind of man that you are. I love and appreciate you.

Your Son,

Josh

The sad state of fatherhood in America makes me all the more thankful for my earthly father that my heavenly Father has blessed me with. 54% of children ages 15-17 come from broken families – families whose parents are no longer or never were married. Clearly, the presence of a good father in the home

Are Americans Having More Babies?

by Cordell Asbenson

June 19, 2015

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released its 2014 preliminary report on births in the United States. It predicts that, for the first time in seven years, the number of births will rise, increasing the average number of births per mother to roughly 1.9% . If accurate, this increase in births has exciting implications, particularly with regard to the economy.

However, the preliminary report has to be viewed with prudent reservation. In the CDC’s 2013 preliminary report on births, the total number of births was projected to rise above the 2012 total. Yet the final report ended up showing an overall decrease in births due to an over-calculation in the preliminary report of more than 25,000 births.

Turning to the 2014 preliminary report, the increased number of births projected is so miniscule that if the miscalculation made in 2013 were repeated in the 2014 preliminary report, then the overall increase in births from 2013-2014 would be roughly 28,000, an overall increase of less than 0.75%.

The projected increase in number of births is an encouraging step in the right direction, but only a small one. We await the release of the final report to better understand these preliminary findings.

On the importance of a higher birthrate in the United States, see the Marriage and Religion Research Institute’s “The Decline of Economic Growth: Human Capital & Population Change.”

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