March 19, 2014
Sometime in the next few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether it will hear the case of Elane Photography v. Willock. The owners of Elane Photography are Christians, and their views and beliefs are reflected in how they run their business. Yet the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Elane Photography violated New Mexico’s anti-discrimination law provisions regarding sexual orientation when its owners refused to agree to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Elane Photography’s owners are merely asking the government to not compel them to participate in actions which violate their religious beliefs. Consequently, when the government forces them to participate in the same-sex ceremony by photographing it (with the threat of a fine if they refuse), the government is forcing and compelling Elane’s owners to speak a certain message in violation of the First Amendment.
Even supporters of same-sex marriage see the danger of the government’s position and its use of anti-discrimination law in this case. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Eugene Volokh (professor at UCLA law school) and Ilya Shapiro (with the Cato Institute) point out that a ruling against Elane Photography here sets a dangerous precedent that allows the government to compel speech in the cause of furthering equality through powerful and broad anti-discrimination laws. The next victim may be someone quite unlike Elane’s owners. It could be “a freelance writer who declines to write a press release for a religious organization with which he disagrees.” According to the New Mexico Supreme Court’s reasoning in Elane Photography, this writer has violated anti-discrimination law because his refusal to write such a press release is discrimination based on religion, just like Elane Photography’s refusal to photograph the commitment ceremony is being viewed by the government as discrimination. Yet a photographer, writer, speaker, publisher, or other artist “must have the First Amendment right to choose which speech he creates, notwithstanding any state law to the contrary.”
As Volokh and Shapiro state, “a couple that is told by a photographer that she does not want to photograph their commitment ceremony may understandably be offended. But avoiding offense is not a valid reason for restricting or compelling speech… . The First Amendment secures an important right to which all speakers are entitled — whether religious or secular, liberal or conservative, pro- or anti-gay-marriage. A commitment to legal equality can’t justify the restriction of that right.”
Elane Photography highlights an important point — individuals with different views regarding the definition of marriage can still agree that free speech must trump “forced equality.” Indeed, the freedom from such “compelled speech” is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When speech motivated by religious beliefs is forced to pass muster with the government’s censors and Americans are forced to speak a certain message under the threat of fines and force of law, all who love individual liberty and free speech (regardless of personal views) must stand up and pay attention.
March 18, 2014
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal cited the challenge of measuring college success. As college debt increases, it will likely become more important to acquire tangible measure of collegiate success. Some members of Congress and the Department of Education have weighed in with new ways to measure college outcomes.
The problem with establishing uniform measurements is that education is multi-faceted. Getting a job is not necessarily an indication of academic success. College is not designed to be a job training center, but to give students a greater understanding of the world. Education is valuable beyond the workforce in such areas as voting, training children, and morality. If a degree does not directly lead to a job, then it is not necessarily wasted. If going to college leads to a job, it does not mean the education was exceptional.
It is important to accurately assess the many benefits that college education can provide. But we should be assessing those benefits at the local level and should seek to discourage any government imposed national measurements. From No Child Left Behind to Common Core, we have learned that we must be wary of our government’s involvement in education. Keep an eye open for national collegiate success measurements and tell the federal government to keep out of the classroom.
March 17, 2014
I have been pleasantly surprised by a cable show on A&E that celebrates family and follows the activities of a large American family that runs a business. I am not talking about Duck Dynasty. Rather, it is the show that follows DD: Wahlburgers about which I write. Wahlburgers tells about the efforts of Mark, Donnie, Paul, and Alma (their mother) Wahlberg to start a restaurant franchise (Wahlburgers) that specializes in hamburgers and sandwiches. The first restaurant is located near Boston in Hingham, Mass.
Of course, Mark and Donnie Wahlberg are the actor/singer/entertainers of various art forms. Paul is the chef who produces the recipes and food. Paul also manages the restaurant(s) and lives near Boston — as does his mother. Mark lives in Los Angeles; Donnie is a New Yorker these days. All of the family members are hard-working and entrepreneurial.
It turns out that the Alma Wahlberg raised something like nine children in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Apparently, the family grew up living around or below the poverty line. That may be due to the divorce of the parents in 1982, but Alma did raise the family on a shoestring. Alma is the peacemaker and mediator who keeps the brothers working together. As one would expect from someone who raised so many children, she is practical and she knows their personalities. Her kids mind her when she tells them to get in line. Alma is definitely the Alpha Wahlberg. That said, her sons absolutely adore her and the childhood she gave them.
A&E was insightful when it placed Wahlburgers after Duck Dynasty each Wednesday evening. While the families themselves and the programs are quite different, the centrality of family lies at the core of each series. Fewer than ten Wahlburgers have been produced, so the show could go completely off the rails. I hope future episodes focus more on Alma, Paul, and the business’s development with less time on the oddball family friends. We shall see, but it is worth a look via DVR sans commercials.
March 17, 2014
I was just going along for the ride. My good wife had always wanted to go to Ireland. Since I didn’t speak Irish, and since I didn’t have any known Irish ancestors, I wasn’t sure why I should go. Still, since it meant so much to my beloved spouse and since it was our thirtieth wedding anniversary, I thought I should go along with her.
We flew into Shannon. Immediately, we had a wrinkle. Lots of wrinkles, actually, since our airline lost our bags. Happily, my missus had planned an extra day in the little town of Ennis prior to the start of our scheduled tour.
We rushed to the local department store to buy some extra clothing for what we expected would be a 10-day stay. Everywhere, the people were amazingly friendly. So we decided to take a walking tour of Ennis. It was not known as a tourist spot, but tour guide Jane O’Brian could make any stop interesting.
March 13, 2014
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The director of FRC’s Center for Human Dignity, Arina Grossu, was in New York this week for the U.N.’s Conference on Women. At event in a packed room, co-sponsored by our friends at the Catholic Family Association and REAL Women of Canada, Arina gave a convincing presentation on lowering maternal mortality around the world and how the UN should not focus on abortion legalization or “reproductive rights” but on real medical solutions to lower the risk of maternal mortality.
Abortion remains one of our great national shames, and is extending well beyond surgical procedures. As Arina wrote earlier this week in The Daily Caller, “Early medical abortions are on the rise … Using gestational data from the CDC, Guttmacher estimated that 36 percent of abortions up to nine weeks’ gestation in 2011 were early medication procedures compared to 26 percent in 2008.”
But there’s good news, too: Last week, the Alabama state legislature passed four bills designed to curtail abortion, including “a fetal heartbeat bill, which would ban abortion when the fetal heartbeat is detected at about six weeks.”
The fight for life continues. The unborn deserve the protection of law. Their mothers deserve better than the exploitation of the abortion industry. Whether at the U.N. or in the states, FRC is working with our pro-life allies to achieve those great goals. Thanks for standing with us as we stand with the most vulnerable of us all.
Senior Vice President
Family Research Council
P.S. Download (at no charge) Senior Fellow Peter Sprigg’s new study, “Understanding Windsor: What the Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act Did - and Did Not - Say” here.
Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life
March 12, 2014
My friend Bob Patterson has written a perceptive piece in National Review Online on what should be recognized as the natural alliance between national security conservatives and socially conservative Christians.
As he notes, “(President Obama) anticipates spending $844 billion on federal welfare programs in 2015, a whopping 4.6 percent of projected GDP. In comparison, President Reagan whittled federal welfare spending to 2.2 percent of GDP in his second term. To put it another way, in 1985 we spent nearly two and a half times as many dollars on defense as on welfare, but if Obama gets his way, next year we’ll be spending 35 percent more on welfare than on defense. And that doesn’t count state-level welfare spending, which accounts for the highest single line-item of state budgets.”
Read Bob’s piece in its entirety here.
March 10, 2014
Legal scholar and novelist Garrett Epps opens his recent piece in The Atlantic with the following statement: “If the conservative justices uses [sic] the same logic they have in the past, Hobby Lobby’s case against the contraceptive mandate doesn’t stand a chance.”
Mr. Epps conveniently finds praise for Supreme Court precedent, a position often either used or discarded as best serves the cultural assault on Christian ethics. Indeed, one can scarcely find lamentations about discarded precedent as district courts currently invent a federal constitutional right to same sex marriage. Here, however, Mr. Epps simply distracts from the free exercise issues in the Hobby Lobby case.
Hobby Lobby’s case centers on a free exercise claim brought under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). But Mr. Epps relies almost entirely on Establishment Clause cases as he attempts to argue that Hobby Lobby has no right to refuse to pay for certain contraceptives.
March 7, 2014
In an arresting piece about his denomination’s struggles in dealing with homosexuality, United Methodist Pastor Talbot Davis writes:
When therapy turns into theology … our experience and our empathy determine our doctrine. I’ve been in those counseling sessions. Asked to officiate a same-gender wedding. Invited to bless a same-gender union. And the pastor in me longs to tell folks what they want to hear, yearns to affirm the narrative I’m privileged to be part of. And yet over against that personal, pastoral desire, I hear another question: have we become so good at empathetic listening that we have lost the capacity for critical thinking?
Because it seems to me that the role of the Scripture has been precisely to guard against what so many of us now do in elevating personal experience to the level of revealed truth. Theologically, then, Scripture protects us from ourselves. Which is why Paul tells Timothy: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (and) why Jeremiah declares: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Personal experience and individual feelings — even when others share those experiences and feel those feelings — are among the weakest of rationales for shifting theology and changing doctrine. The reason the church does theology and arrives at doctrine is to protect us from our natural tendency to turn what we feel into what we believe.
Feelings of warmth and acceptance are natural with respect to people we love, like, and respect. To lack them is virtual sociopathy. Yet the Bible calls Christians to stand for truth - not with rancor or anger, but with the right balance of kindness and firmness.
Not to uphold the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality is to show a lack of love. Sexual intimacy as God intended it - within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman - is beautiful, life-affirming, and life-giving. Sexual intimacy outside these parameters, however enjoyable transiently, leads to the withering of the soul and the erosion of society.
Pastor Davis is right: We cannot derive our theology from our emotions. Theological doctrine stems from another source, the unchanging Word of God, and is as it is because a loving Designer enables us to realize our sexuality best in the context of heterosexual, monogamous marriage.
March 5, 2014
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on this day in 1946. His phrase — “an iron curtain has descended across Europe” — was seen by some as the beginning of the Cold War. But Churchill wanted nothing more than to rally the democracies to take a strong stand, a united stand for their own freedom.
Churchill understood Russia’s great suffering during World War II. More than twenty million Russians, Ukrainians, and other peoples of the then-USSR had perished in what they called “the Great Patriotic War.” Churchill certainly wanted no new world war.
His message was essentially the same that wise American presidents from George Washington to Ronald Reagan had spoken of — peace through strength. With President Harry Truman on the same stage, the honored world statesman said:
February 28, 2014
On Wednesday, a U.S. district judge in Texas ruled that the state’s law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman was unconstitutional. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling adds to a growing list of rulings striking down state marriage amendments. Judges in Utah, Oklahoma, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia have been all too willing to substitute their individual judgment for the voice of the people on a question that our Constitution leaves to the political process.
District Judge Garcia recycles the faulty reasoning seen in other marriage cases in recent weeks. Specifically, he asserts that Texas has no rational basis for recognizing marriage as the union of a man and a woman, ignoring the state’s argument that marriage should be recognized as such in policy because the state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that a man and a woman who bring a child into the world raise that child as dad and mom. The vast majority of Texans share this historic belief. With Wednesday’s ruling, their right to uphold that ideal has been trampled on as Texas politicians such as Senator Ted Cruz have pointed out.
Judge Garcia chose to overlook the fact that as a class of people, only opposite-sex couples are biologically capable of having children and that as a class, same-sex couples are not. By failing to acknowledge this fundamental difference, Judge Garcia bypasses what this discussion is all about: the understanding of marriage as an institution that brings men and women together to responsibly care for any children their union produces. Texas has no interest in affirming who a person can love; it does have an interest in ensuring that children are raised by their mom and dad. Marriage best accomplishes that purpose and should be recognized as a legitimate and indeed rational interest.