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Last week was a busy one, news-wise, and this may have slipped by you. Suddenly, 4.5 million people in the 5 U.S. territories (American Somoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are now exempt from Obamacare. Just like that.

What’s the story? Obamacare costs too darn much, and insurance providers were fleeing the U.S. territories, leaving many without insurance or at least affordable insurance. These territories have spent the last two years begging to get out from under this law, only to be told the Department of Health and Human Services

has no legal authority to exclude the territories” from ObamaCare. HHS said the law adopted an explicit definition of “state” that includes the territories for the purpose of the mandates and the public-health programs, and another explicit definition that excludes the territories for the purpose of the subsidies. Thus there is “no statutory authority . . . to selectively exempt the territories from certain provisions, unless specified by law.”

Laws, let us remember, are made by Congress. Unless they’re not. For instance, last week, the Department of Health and Human Services said they’d reviewed the situation and

the territories will now be governed by the “state” definition that excludes the territories for both the subsidies and now the mandates too. But the old definition will still apply for the public-health spending, so the territories will get their selective exemption after all.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, there seems to be some elasticity in the White House’s definition of “state.” And, may I add, some elasticity in the democratic process, the Constitution and rule of law. Perhaps a review via Schoolhouse Rock will help.








children-600pxWhat is the “border crisis?”

The “border crisis” is the frequently used term for the spike in unaccompanied minors who were caught illegally crossing the border U.S. border over the past few months. According to the Congressional Research Service, the number of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) arriving in the United States has reached alarming numbers that has strained the system put in place over the past decade to handle such cases.

In 2013 the federal government housed about 25,000 minors who were going through deportation proceedings. This year, that number is expected to rise to over 60,000. There has also been an increase in the number of UAC who are girls and the number of UAC who are under the age of 13.

What countries are the minors coming from?

Four countries account for almost all of the UAC cases (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico) and much of the recent increase has come from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

In fiscal year 2009, Mexican UAC accounted for 82 percent of the 19,668 UAC apprehensions, while the other three Central American countries accounted for 17 percent. By the first eight months of FY2014, the proportions had almost reversed, with Mexican UAC comprising only 25 percent of the 47,017 UAC apprehensions, and UAC from the three Central American countries comprising 73 percent.

Why aren’t UACs turned away at the border?
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, July 10, 2014

Justice Sotomayor Misses the Mark: Religious Non-Profits Should Prevail
Vincent Phillip Muñoz, Public Discourse

The contradictory reasoning of Justice Sotomayor’s Wheaton dissent exposes a glaring weakness in the legal argument requiring religious non-profits to comply with HHS’s regulatory scheme.

What is the Point of Business Ethics?
David Cowan, Center for Christian Business Ethics

What is most robust in business organizations is the legalism, the playing by the rules as much as one has to, but it does not translate into a behavioural pattern in organizations. It is much more of an intellectual assent or conformity to legalism. In other words, it is very Old Testament.

If Government Gives Contraception, Government Can Take It Away
Leslie Loftis, The Federalist

To rely on government to mandate contraceptive coverage is to give government the power to control contraception.

These Five Points Will Broaden Your Definition of “Faith and Work”
Art Lindsley, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

There is a significant need to recover a biblical theology of work in our time. In the past there has been a failure of the evangelical church to address a theology of work.

dirty100pic-300x300There is a company in the U.S. that those who want businesses to be more socially-conscious should love. The company starts employees out at $15/hour, far higher than the minimum wage. Raises have been given throughout even the harshest of economic downturn. Employees always get Sundays off.

There’s another group that could easily be called socially-conscious. These folks take care of the neediest elderly people, any race or religion, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

Despite the business practices and mission of both these groups, they are on the list of the “Dirty 100” – a list created by the National Organization of Women (NOW) to delineate organizations suing the Obama administration regarding the HHS mandate. Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor and others on the list are considered “dirty” because they do not want their religious freedom impinged upon. Here’s how NOW sees it:

The two plaintiff corporations in Hobby Lobby [and Conestoga Woods] want the “freedom” to deny important health care services to thousands of women who work for them – whether or not they share their bosses’ religious faith or agree with their views on contraception. The plaintiffs, in other words, seek to extend their power as employers to include power over their employees’ medical decision- making. But the case also reflects a power struggle between government and corporate power, twisting the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantee into a club that enables a private business to act in ways that elected governments cannot limit or deny.

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USA-Thomas_Jefferson_MemorialThomas Jefferson believed that the practice of one’s faith should not be impinged upon by one’s government. He wrote of this in a letter or address to the Danbury Baptist Association:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions,” he wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

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KuyperEtch (1)The Obama administration’s HHS mandate has led to significant backlash among religious groups, each claiming that certain provisions violate their religious beliefs and freedom of conscience.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling was a victory for such groups, but other disputes are well underway, with many more to come. Even among many of our fellow Christians, we see a concerted effort to chase religious belief out of the public square, confining such matters to Sunday mornings, where they can be kept behind closed doors.

In navigating these tensions, Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program (Ons Program) offers a wealth of perspective, particularly when it comes to how Christians ought to think about their role in the broader society. Recently translated under the title Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government, the book contains an entire chapter in opposition to a “secular state,” including a marvelous bit on freedom of conscience that’s worth excerpting at length.

“There should be freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom of worship,” Kuyper writes, “but above all, the root of all these freedoms: freedom of conscience.”

The conscience marks a boundary that the state may never cross.

The limits to state power reside in the will of God. Government has as much power as God has assigned to it. No more; no less. It sins if it leaves unused a portion of the power assigned to it, but also if it arrogates to itself any power that is not assigned to it.

There is only one power without limits: the power of God, whence it is called almighty power. Anyone who accords the state the right to exercise power as if it had no limits is guilty of “deifying” the state and favoring “state omnipotence.” That is not indulging in “oratorical phraseology” but simply indicating a purely logical concept. [emphasis added, here and in any bolded text hereafter]

Kuyper certainly believes that government has a role to play, noting that “government alone has public power,” granted by God, “whereas all other organizations in and of themselves are of a private nature.” (more…)

t873In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court just announced its ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, holding that, “as applied to closely held corporations, the government’s HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA).” The full opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, can be read here.

Although there is still much to digest, and although the majority opinion still leaves quite a bit of room for related battles to continue, it’s worth noting that that whatever perceived “narrowness” we see in the decision — confining things specifically to closely held corporations — remains a significant victory, particularly given our culture’s prevailing attitudes about business.

According to HHS, by simply incorporating one’s business in the pursuit of profit — “without in any way changing the size or nature of their businesses” — a company “would forfeit all RFRA (and free-exercise) rights” (quotes from Alito’s paraphrase). The arguments supporting such a view vary, including the principal argument advanced by HHS that corporations cannot “exercise religion.”

Alito dissects this from a variety of angles, and does so rather compellingly. But one of the more noteworthy sections is his refutation of the notion that for-profit corporations aren’t protected by RFRA because they “simply seek to make a profit.” (more…)

Supreme_CourtSupreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority (5-4) opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. The decision was decided in large part because it aligns with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law that passed the U.S. Senate 97-3 and was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. The law is intended to prevent burdens to a person’s free exercise of religion. At the time, it had wide ranging bipartisan support and was introduced in the House by current U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

That four justices voted against the decision speaks to the current ideological divide at the court and in the nation of a once non-controversial understanding of religious liberty.

Some significant lines from Alito’s majority decision are below:

As applied to closely held corporations, the HHS regulations imposing the contraceptive mandate violate RFRA.

Religious employers, such as churches, are exempt from this contraceptive mandate. HHS has also effectively exempted religious nonprofit organizations with religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services. Under this accommodation, the insurance issuer must exclude contraceptive coverage from the employer’s plan and provide plan participants with separate payments for contraceptive services without imposing any cost sharing requirements on the employer, its insurance plan, or its employee beneficiaries.

…the court held that HHS had not proved that the mandate was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling governmental interest.

RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty…

Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.

HHS has also provided no evidence that the purported problem of determining the sincerity of an asserted religious belief moved Congress to exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protection.

Government could, e.g., assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives to women unable to obtain coverage due to their employers’ religious objections. Or it could extend the accommodation that HHS has already established for religious nonprofit organizations to non-profit employers with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.

Hobby-Lobby-StoreThis morning the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate (see here for an explainer article on the case). The Court ruled (5-4) that that employers with religious objections can opt out of providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Here are six points you should know from the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito:

1. The “Hobby Lobby” decision is really a collection of three separate lawsuits.

Although the focus was primarily on one plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, the case actually combined three separate lawsuits by three different companies: Conestoga Wood, Hobby Lobby, and Mardel. In the three cases before the Supreme Court, the Court agreed that the owners of three closely held for-profit corporations have sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices that operate after that point.

2. The opposition by the companies was to only specific contraceptives. 

 Of the 20 contraceptive methods approved by the FDA and required to be covered by the HHS mandate, four may affect an zygote from developing by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus. The belief that these four contraceptive cause an abortion was the religious reason these three companies opposed the contraceptive mandate.

3. The Court determined that the mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Church vs. StateIf you thought the Obama Administration had taken its final swipe at religious liberty with the HHS mandate, think again. At Catholic Vote, John Shimek tells us that there is a new attack on American’s religious liberty, and it won’t affect just Catholics.

According to Shimek, the social media website Buzzfeed announced that the White House is drafting an executive order that will bar federal contractors from discriminating against anyone based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

President Obama is moving on the issue a week after talking about the important role that administrative action can play in advancing LGBT rights.

At a question-and-answer session at the White House last week, Obama spoke about how transgender students can now “assert their rights” following recent Education Department action laying out an expanded view of sex discrimination protections under Title IX.

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