December 17, 2014
Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) has been blacklisted from a local Washington D.C. bike shop, at least according to the sign in their window reading “Andy Harris Not Welcome.” For those planning to visit who want to avoid a similar fate, the cautionary tale here is don’t expect to uphold federal marijuana laws in the District if you want to get your derailleur adjusted.
Earlier this month, Rep. Harris successfully attached bipartisan language to the omnibus spending deal designed to block enactment of a marijuana legalization initiative that the District passed in November. Pot activists have decried the action as an example of an outsider meddling in local affairs. “You don’t serve us, we don’t serve you” is the tagline to their blacklist sign, a reference to the fact that Rep. Harris’ district is in Maryland and not in D.C.
What’s going on, aren’t Republican’s for self-government and local control?
It’s a fair question to ask and one that Rep. Harris along with Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) have addressed in a Washington Post op-ed. I won’t attempt to repeat it here but the thrust of the argument is: yes, Republicans are the party of self-government and local control, but they’re also the party of the Constitution and respect for the rule of law.
Federal law is explicit, under the Controlled Substances Act it is unlawful to manufacture, distribute or possess marijuana. Furthermore, Article I, § 8, cl. 17I of the Constitution grants Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever” over the District of Columbia. The charge that Congress is somehow treating the District unfairly or in a way they would not treat another city ignores the fact that the District is unlike any other city.
Every year, the Appropriations Committee, on which Rep. Harris sits, provides federal payments to the tune of $500,000,000 to the District of Columbia for the cost of judges, court personnel and defendant representation. They provide payments for programs in areas like education and security. The Department of Justice provides payment for federal attorneys to prosecute local crimes and house prisoners. Federal taxpayers do not fund similar activities in any other city.
As Reps. Harris and Pitts rightly point out in their op-ed, if marijuana laws aren’t confusing enough, nearly a quarter of the District is federal park land and is policed by 26 different enforcement agencies—places and personnel that would still answer to federal law, not D.C. legalization.
Congress has a direct responsibility over the District of Columbia. One that apparently gets you kicked out of bike shops.
December 12, 2014
Think Progress reported yesterday on a decision by the city of Dallas to revise regulations on feeding the homeless. These revisions, which made it easier to feed and care for those living on Dallas streets, were motivated by a federal court ruling last year in favor of several religious ministries desiring to take food to the homeless and feed and care for them wherever they are found.
Years ago, Dallas had cracked down on feeding the homeless and placed restrictions on how it could be done, and several Dallas area ministries and individuals who were impacted by these changes sued. The Think Progress report discusses these events:
“After Big Hart Ministries Association and Rip Parker Memorial Homeless Ministry sued the city, six years passed before a judge ruled that the law violated the charities’ religious liberties under a Texas statute. Wednesday’s City Council vote carries the judge’s logic further, softening the rules charities face and effectively ending Dallas’ effort to clamp down on on-the-street feeding programs for the indigent regardless of religious affiliation.” (emphasis added)
Big Hart Ministries Association, Rip Parker Memorial Homeless Ministry, and William Edwards had sued under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). The Texas RFRA states that (1) sincere religious practices (2) cannot be substantially burdened by the government unless the government (3) has a compelling interest which it is (4) advancing by the least restrictive means possible. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs had alleged that – in violation of the Texas RFRA – they had a sincere belief that their religion requires them to care for the homeless, and that the city was substantially burdening that belief by making it impossible to carry out with heavy regulations on feeding the homeless. Early in 2013, a federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs religious beliefs were indeed substantially burdened, and the city did not have a compelling interest in its regulations – thus, they violated the Texas RFRA. Finally, this past week, in response to this ruling, the Dallas City Council approved changes to regulations on feeding the homeless.
Think Progress does not refer to the Texas RFRA by name – but that’s the law which has benefitted the homeless in this situation. This is exactly what RFRAs – whether in Texas or elsewhere – are meant to accomplish: protect the exercise of sincere religious faith, in recognition of the valuable role it plays in society and benefits it brings to people around us. Furthermore, and contrary to many popular claims, RFRAs do protect religious exercise “regardless of religious affiliation.” A quick search of how the laws have been used in court will reveal that they have protected religious exercise for a variety of faiths.
It would be nice (and intellectually consistent) for Think Progress to extend this logic to other situations implicating RFRA. Indeed, the beauty of law is that it is blind to political preferences. This is why having RFRAs passed into law is so important to protecting religious freedom today. When religious freedom is diminished and made part of a political game, everyone suffers.
At Family Research Council, we fully support RFRA and what it stands for – protecting the exercise of faith for all in the face of often overreaching and too powerful governments.
December 9, 2014
Each Christmas my wife Joy and I set up our tree and relive the memories of past years. For every year of Joy’s life she has received an ornament commemorating a major life event. There is a baby crib for year one and a Crayon box for a few years later. There is an ornament for her first car and for her college graduation. There are many “Joy” ornaments as can be expected for someone with such a cheery Christmas name. And there is one of my favorites, the one that reminds us of our marriage. Sadly many couples do not spend Christmas together. Many more use the holiday, not for sharing sweet memories but for hurtful words and unkind actions. Others spend it shuttling the kids between their broken homes.
I consider my marriage to my wife to be precious as well as sacred. When we said our vows we both sincerely understood and meant “for better or for worse” and “‘til death do you part.” A recent article in First Things on the danger of no-fault divorce laws demonstrates the sad reality for many families harmed by recent American attitudes toward divorce. The article lists some casualties of no-fault divorce including “abandoned spouses, the institution of marriage, and American society itself.” No-fault divorce gives the false impression that there is an easy way out of the difficulties of marriage. Rather than seeking to understand one another, become more loving, and to get counseling when needed, many couples simply give up on marriage. But divorce is never that simple. It affects children, the couple, and the country. A society whose basic family unit is not functioning in harmony cannot expect its political institutions to function well. A society where the marriages are not accountable to God cannot expect its other institutions to be accountable to God.
Love in marriage is a difficult thing. One sees all of the faults of their spouse. It can be easy to become frustrated and discouraged. But marriage is not about one, it is about two who have become one. No fault divorce has caused many homes to become not a place of joy at Christmas but one of bitterness and broken hearts. We must work to change the no-fault divorce culture to a marriage-is-precious culture. So this Christmas if you are struggling, let your spouse know you believe your marriage is precious and seek help. If you are happily married then I recommend going home and, like me, giving your Joy a loving Christmas hug, it will do more good than you know.
December 5, 2014
Christianity Today has assembled a thoughtful collection of observations by Evangelical leaders on the tragic death of Eric Garner. I encourage readers of the FRC blog to take a few moments and read through it. Probably no one will agree with everything each of the contributors has written, but surely we can all agree that the Body of Christ must more actively pursue racial reconciliation.
Paul the apostle teaches us that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). Faithful Christians believe this, and at FRC we have long affirmed it; most Christians I know practice it. At my racially diverse suburban church, I’ve seen wonderful evidence of how people of “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9) can serve the living King together with joy.
But the pain of the African-American community concerning the deaths of Eric Garner and, earlier, Michael Brown, is palpable. The wise words of Lifeway’s Ed Stetzer capture the point well: “I wasn’t in the grand jury room, and I don’t know the evidence, but many godly African American leaders are hurting and they are explaining why. I think we should listen to them.”
Listen to FRC President Tony Perkins’ interview with Bishop Harry Jackson, Senior Pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland on the Bishop’s meetings and experience on the ground before and after the Ferguson Grand Jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, and check out the racial roundtable dialogs hosted by Pastor Darrin Patrick (of The Journey church in St. Louis) for some probing thoughts about the church, race and reconciliation.
December 2, 2014
In a post-election article in Politico, James Hohman describes what he terms “fault lines” as the 2016 Republican presidential field emerges. Among the issues he mentions are Common Core, NSA eavesdropping, immigration, Medicaid expansion and gay marriage. Noticeably absent: abortion.
Why? One reason is that advocates of protecting unborn children and their mothers from a predatory abortion industry are winning. According to the Guttmacher Institute (ironically, once the research arm of the country’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood), “In 2013 alone, 22 states enacted 70 antiabortion measures, including pre-viability abortion bans, unwarranted doctor and clinic regulations, limits on the provision of medication abortion and bans on insurance coverage of abortion. However, 2013 was not even the year with the greatest number of new state-level abortion restrictions, as 2011 saw 92 enacted; 43 abortion restrictions were enacted by states in 2012.” Guttmacher also notes that by mid-2014, “13 states (had) adopted 21 new restrictions that could limit access to abortion.”
The implications of these new laws and regulations are profound: As noted by Catholic Family Association president Austin Ruse, “How effective have some of these state legislative efforts been? A few years ago, Texas had 40 abortion clinics. Now, it has less than ten and counting.” Put another way, thousands of unborn children in the Lone Star state will be welcomed into life and their mothers defended against the abortion industry’s exploitation.
Although Barack Obama’s commitment to unrestricted access to abortion-on-demand is almost legendary (infamous, more accurately and sadly), the new Republican House and Senate can still pass pro-life bills that not only will set the stage for victories in a future pro-life Administration but which will remind the GOP rank-and-file that they can rely on those for whom they voted to keep their word. A promise to defend life is especially worth keeping in an era when cynicism about politics and politicians is too well-deserved.
A second reason is that the potential contenders for the GOP presidential nomination two years from now are smart politicians: In the Republican Party, abortion is as settled as a difficult issue ever can be, and those vying for the party’s top electoral slot realize they must commit to defending life or fail in their effort to win the nomination. Last month’s election verified this: Brad Tupi of Human Events observes that “Of those voters who said abortion should be illegal, 73 percent were Republicans and 25 percent were Democrats. These results conform to the stated platform positions of the two major parties.” Tupi rightly comments that “voter turnout was abysmal, about 36 percent. This is the lowest turnout since World War II.” However, it’s also noteworthy that those who turned-out last month compose the core of the GOP’s voters, the men and women who will also vote in the 2016 primaries and whose votes will determine the next Republican presidential ticket.
Overwhelmingly and nationwide, Republican office holders are pro-life. All but a handful of the Republican Members of Congress, both House and Senate, are advocates (actively or at least passively) of the sanctity of life from conception until natural death. And as Dave Andrusko writes in National Right to Life News, last month a “diverse field of Republicans (won) in state legislative races; almost all are pro-life.” That’s why, in a lengthy analysis piece, Politico reporter Paige Winfield Cunningham argues that “the GOP victories in the statehouses and governor’s mansions … are priming the ground for another round of legal restrictions on abortion.” Cunningham predicts “a wave of anti-abortion laws” in the states.
We at the Family Research Council will welcome that wave. For those of us committed to protecting lives within the womb and helping their mothers with their little ones, born and unborn, that wave will be more like a cleansing flood. Let it come.
December 2, 2014
Perhaps it is just me, but recently I seem to have run across a good number of stories about religiously-inclined or conservative women promoting “modest fashions” with new businesses and websites. Of course, this has happened before, but there seems to be something different going on this time.
I noticed this recent manifestation when reading an article in the daily newspaper, The Times of Israel, which observed that of the many style websites and Jewish websites “Fabologieis unique in being a lifestyle website that blends chic Jewish living with high fashion.”
The article discusses the company, Fabologie, and its founder, Adi Heyman and describes her as being “as unashamed to flaunt long hemlines and sleeves as she is to post missives linking trends to the weekly Torah portion.” A recent story (and video) on Refinery29.com is entitled “Meet Brooklyn’s Hasidic Hipsters” and discusses two Hasidic clothes designers living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Not surprisingly, some of their best customers are Muslim women.
While looking around the Fabologie site, I found this article, “Seize the Dough,” that addresses baking my favorite bread, challah. Apparently, an international challah-baking event took place in late October to bring Jews together religiously and culturally. The interesting development here is how this appears to be another instance of how the Internet allows communities to develop quickly and host world-wide events at relatively little cost. (See the theory of the Internet and the “long tail.”)
In 2013 down in Louisiana, Sadie Robertson, a teenage grand-daughter of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the TV show Duck Dynasty, set out to create a line of dresses to be marketed mostly to teenagers wishing to dress conservatively but fashionably. Robertson teamed up with highly-regarded designer Sherri Hill to produce her dress line called “Live Original.”
So, why shouldn’t Christians in the South and orthodox Jews in Brooklyn be able to get together to escape the tyranny of fashion mandates they find morally unacceptable? Given the huge populations of religious women who would value this market, it is surprising this hasn’t happened more quickly. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we hear about collaboration along these lines, fashion shows in NY (Brooklyn, of course), and televised awards shows from Nashville and Tel Aviv. Why not?
December 1, 2014
Writing at the Berkley Center’s Religious Freedom Project blog, Samuel Gregg explores the idea – and idea for which new evidence is consistently emerging – that religious freedom is good for business.
Gregg begins by noting historically that as certain religious groups have been marginalized in political life, they have turned their energies toward commerce – and prospered. In other cases, certain groups have been marginalized in their nation’s financial life – thus handicapping the economy. This isn’t good for growth, obviously. Gregg then focuses his attention on the more recently discovered correlation between economic growth and religious freedom:
“[T]here is growing evidence that respect for religious freedom tends to correlate with greater economic and business development. One recent academic article, for instance, found (1) a positive relationship between global economic competitiveness and religious freedom, and (2) that religious restrictions and hostilities tended to be detrimental to economic growth.”
Moreover, other rights and freedoms are not entirely unaffected:
“[T]he strongest interest that business has in being attentive to the religious freedom of individuals and groups is the fact that substantive infringements upon one form of freedom often have significant and negative implications for other expressions of human liberty. If, for instance, governments can substantially nullify religious liberty, then they are surely capable of repressing any other civil liberty. This included rights with particular economic significance, such as the right to economic initiative and creativity, property rights, and the freedom of businesses to organize themselves in ways they deem necessary to (1) make a profit and (2) treat employees in ways consistent with the owner’s religious beliefs.”
He concludes by noting that, nevertheless:
“[M]ore work needs to be done in this area. Correlation is not causation. While there do seem to be significant correlations between restrictions on religious liberty and the economic freedom of individuals and corporate bodies, the case for causation requires further elaboration.”
But, businesses take note!
“If … the various forms of liberty are as interdependent as they seem to be, business surely has at least a high degree of self-interest in seeing substantive conceptions of religious liberty and the rights and protections associated with religious freedom prevail.”
Businesses take note, indeed.
November 20, 2014
Family Research Council does not take a position on immigration reform. We’ve got enough on our plate, from protecting unborn children and their mothers from a predatory abortion industry and sustaining traditional marriage as the foundation of our culture to protecting religious liberty as the “first freedom” of our republic.
However, we take a strong position on the Constitution: We believe in it. We agree with the Founders that a written text contains objective meanings and that, to borrow a phrase from Jefferson, neither an activist judiciary nor an impatient president has a right to turn the Constitution into a “thing of wax.”
That’s why conservatives have every right to be concerned, even alarmed, by the President’s pending announcement of an Executive Order on U.S. immigration policy.
The Constitution invests the President with the authority to enact policies to ensure the faithful execution of laws passed by Congress and signed into law by the Executive (Section 3, Article II), and the “executive power” (or “vesting” power) granted the President (Article II, Section I) universally is recognized by constitutional scholars as involving only execution of federal laws, removing from the Executive Branch those officers who serve at the President’s discretion, and the formation and execution of foreign policy.
Then-Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v Sawyer (1952) offered a three-fold test for whether an Executive Order is valid:
- “When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.”
- “When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain. Therefore, congressional inertia, indifference or quiescence may sometimes, at least as a practical matter, enable, if not invite, measures on independent presidential responsibility.”
- “When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter … Presidential claim to a power at once so conclusive and preclusive must be scrutinized with caution, for what is at stake is the equilibrium established by our constitutional system.”
The operative phrase in the above bullets is in the third paragraph: “measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress.” Clearly, as National Affairs’ Andrew Evans writes, “President Obama’s executive order is intended as a substitute for a law that Congress has not passed.”
Finally, federal Courts have ruled that Executive Orders that surpass the express intent of Congress can only be executed in times of national emergency. Even then, according to the
U.S. Code, “When the President declares a national emergency, no powers or authorities made available by statute for use in the event of an emergency shall be exercised unless and until the President specifies the provisions of law under which he proposes that he, or other officers will act. Such specification may be made either in the declaration of a national emergency, or by one or more contemporaneous or subsequent Executive orders published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.
In other words, even in the extreme event of a national emergency, the President has to justify by what authority he is declaring such emergency. And clearly, while both legal and illegal immigration policy involve a host of difficult issues, the Administration has not demonstrated, nor can it demonstrate, that any such emergency exists. If it did, why did the President – as he himself put it – wait a full year for Congress to act?
Legal scholar William J. Olson and Rutgers University historian Alan Woll have rightly noted that “Powers were separated not to make government more efficient but to restrain the natural bent of men, even presidents, to act as tyrants.” Mr. Obama hasn’t gotten what he wants, so he is acting like a monarch unconstrained by legality. This is not constitutional, republican governance. It is something else altogether – something that should evoke in everyone who values his Constitution-based liberty apprehension about what might come next.
November 19, 2014
If you have some time, watch FRC’s lecture with Jim Tonkowich discussing his new book, The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today. One particularly interesting aspect of the talk was Tonkowich’s discussion of the rise of religious freedom during the Roman Empire. Of particular importance was the Edict of Milan of 313 A.D. Read George Weigel’s First Things blog on this important document. Referencing the great church historian Robert Louis Wilken (The First Thousand Years), Weigel describes the document’s foundational significance in Western political thought and practice:
[The Edict] involved all religions, not just Christianity; it went beyond mere toleration and embodied a more robust idea of religious freedom, based on the conviction that true faith and true worship cannot be compelled; and it treated the Church as a corporate body with legal rights, including property-owning rights. Thus the not-really-an-Edict of Nicomedia and Elsewhere cemented into the foundations of the West ideas first sketched by the Christian philosopher Lactantius: that coercion and true religious faith don’t mix because “God wishes to be adored by people who are free” (as Joseph Ratzinger would rewrite Lactantius a millennium and a half later, in the 1986 Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation). The rather humane provisions of the mis-named “Edict of Milan” were not infrequently ignored in subsequent Western history; but that doesn’t alter the fact that the “Edict” had a profound and, in many respects, beneficial influence on the future of the West.
(Weigel quotes a passage from Wilken revealing that the Milanese origins of the documents putting the policy into effect arose from meetings between Emperors Constantine and Licinius during a state wedding.)
So, watch the lecture and learn other interesting things that will impress your friends and confound your opponents.
November 17, 2014
As a non-Catholic, I have followed with some interest the controversy concerning Pope Francis and his attitude toward abortion. Although he has made clear pro-life statements all along (“Every unborn child, though unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of the Lord, who even before his birth, and then as soon as he was born, experienced the rejection of the world”), some voices on the Left seem to have become nearly giddy at the prospect of the Pope softening his church’s stance on the sanctity of life.
Let’s put the issue to rest: Following are excerpts of comments he made today to a group of Italian Catholic physicians in Rome. Read them, and then ask yourself if there’s any way you can say this man is not pro-life:
… in the light of faith and right reason, human life is always sacred and always “of quality”. There is no human life that is more sacred than another - every human life is sacred - just as there is no human life qualitatively more significant than another, only by virtue of resources, rights, great social and economic opportunities … When so many times in my life as a priest I have heard objections: “But tell me, why the Church is opposed to abortion, for example? Is it a religious problem?” No, no. It is not a religious problem. “Is it a philosophical problem?” No, it is not a philosophical problem. It’s a scientific problem, because there is a human life there, and it is not lawful to take out a human life to solve a problem. “But no, modern thought…” But, listen, in ancient thought and modern thought, the word “kill” means the same thing. The same evaluation applies to euthanasia: we all know that with so many old people, in this culture of waste, there is this hidden euthanasia. But there is also the other. And this is to say to God, “No, I will accomplish the end of life, as I will.” A sin against God the Creator!