Category: Individual Liberty

CensorUNot content to trample only the religious freedom side of the First Amendment, the federal government has decided to ignore the free speech side too.

As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education have joined together to mandate that virtually every college and university in the United States establish unconstitutional speech codes that violate the First Amendment and decades of legal precedent.

In a letter sent yesterday to the University of Montana that explicitly states that it is intended as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” the Departments of Justice and Education have mandated a breathtakingly broad definition of sexual harassment that makes virtually every student in the United States a harasser while ignoring the First Amendment. The mandate applies to every college receiving federal funding—virtually every American institution of higher education nationwide, public or private.

The letter states that “sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature’” including “verbal conduct” (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA School of Law, says that this is telling universities to institute speech codes:
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In The Examiner, Tim Carney asks, “When do 21 Republicans senators vote for higher taxes? Answer: When the biggest businesses and local politicians hire top K Street lobbyists to push for the tax-hike legislation.”

A few weeks ago I wrote about how government and big corporate collusion decreases market fairness. NPR had a great write up explaining why Amazon is one of the main culprits pushing for expansion of online sales taxes.

Carney explains how former Mississippi Senator and Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott has his hands all over the Market Fairness Act. “Governors all over the country, have been active in saying this is a states’ rights issue for them,” said Lott. The states’ rights argument is that the federal legislation would fully empower governors and state legislatures to collect sales taxes for online purchases.

Carney adds:

Republicans’ aversions to taxes and regulations are often rooted in a desire to be “pro-business.” Once Wal-Mart and Amazon join hands, pro-business Republicans were happy to support legislation leading to higher taxes…

So there’s the formula for winning Republicans over to a tax-hike bill: combine a states’ rights argument with a K Street all-star team representing the biggest businesses in the industry.

In the next issue of Religion & Liberty, author Peter Schweizer talks about cronyism and sheds additional light on Washington’s moral failing to tackle the problem. You can find a preview of that interview on the PowerBlog.

Author Peter Schweizer in Tallahassee, Florida on September 19, 2012.

After being sentenced to federal prison in 2001 for racketeering, Louisiana’s former governor Edwin Edwards, long famous for his corruption and political antics, humorously quipped, “I will be a model prisoner as I have been a model citizen.” In his 1983 campaign for governor against incumbent David Treen, Edwards bellowed, “If we don’t get Dave Treen out of office, there won’t be anything left to steal.” The kind of illegal corruption once flaunted by Edwards is on the decline. There is less of a need. Legal corruption in government is more prevalent and easy enough to secure. (more…)

tyndaleAfter apparently recognizing the absurdity of arguing that a Bible publisher is not a “religious employer,” the Obama administration has dropped its appeal in the case of Tyndale House Publishers v. Sebelius. “For the government to say that a Bible publisher isn’t religious is outrageous, and now the Obama administration has had to retreat in court,” said Matt Bowman senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented Tyndale in the case.

Following the government’s request, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Friday dismissed the administration’s appeal. This means the preliminary injunction temporarily halting the mandate — as it applies to Tyndale — will stand as the case moves forward.

The Obama administration required most businesses to comply with the Health and Human Services mandate by August 2012. Some faith-based organizations — including hospitals and universities — have a so-called safe harbor until August of this year. Tyndale does not qualify for the extension.

While this is a victory for Tyndale, there are still fifty-nine other lawsuits currently challenging the mandate. Maybe if the administration loses a few more of these cases they’ll decide that it’s not worth continuing to fight to allow the HHS to violate the religious liberties of Americans.

Reading through Scalia Dissents: Writings of the Supreme Court’s Wittiest, Most Outspoken Justice, I came across this gem: “No government official is ‘tempted’ to place restraints upon his own freedom of action, which is why Lord Acton did not say ‘Power tends to purify.’”

The comments from Justice Scalia emerged from Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992). A fuller context to his words gives added meaning to the threat to liberty and the rule of law from activist courts:

The Court’s statement that it is “tempting” to acknowledge the authoritativeness of tradition in order to “cur[b] the discretion of federal judges” is, of course, rhetoric rather than reality; no government official is tempted” to place restraints upon his own freedom of action, which is why Lord Acton did not say “Power tends to purify.” The Court’s temptation is in the quite opposite and more natural direction – towards systematically eliminating checks upon its power; and it succumbs.

Jordan Ballor reminded me of a similar Lord Acton quote: “Everybody likes to get as much power as circumstances allow, and nobody will vote for a self-denying ordinance.”

It’s called the “Marketplace Fairness Act,” but how fair is it and who does it really benefit? The legislation, which is expected to pass the Senate, is heralded by supporters as instituting market equity to the brick and mortar retailers. Supporters also proclaim it will help to alleviate state budget shortfalls. The Marketplace Fairness Act gives new authority to states to directly collect sales taxes from online retailers. Jia Lynn Lang at The Washington Post explains:
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We’ve almost all seen some of the creepy messianic videos associated with President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. If you’re in need of a refresher there are examples here and here. It isn’t solely a problem of the political left though. Throughout history there has been varying belief in political saviors of different ideologies. There are many on the right who firmly believe that political changes alone will transform our culture and institutions.

However, as government dependency continues to grow to record levels, we are reaching new heights in state worship and adoration. I wrote more about this topic in “As Secularism Advances, Political Messianism Draws More Believers,” a commentary I published last year.

Currently, I am reading Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became our State Religion by Benjamin Wiker. The book offers some good insights on the assaults on religious liberty, increased secularism, and political messiahs. Here’s an excerpt from his new book:

Modern political utopianism, as we shall see, is an attempt to discard the necessity of grace (and hence of the church), even while state power replaces grace as the instrument for perfecting man. Liberalism is more than the rejection of Christianity; it is the absorption and transformation of its doctrines. Before the Christian doctrine of grace, no one would have dared think about perfecting the whole human race–a few, select individuals, a small group or clan or class of society, yes, but not the whole human race. With Christianity, God’s grace is indeed open to all, and so all may share in the perfection of holiness, but this offered grace takes full effect only in the Kingdom of God, that is, only in heaven. Liberalism takes the church’s salvific mission and makes it a merely political goal, one to be achieved in this world by human power alone, a heaven brought down by force to earth, where we become the authors of our own salvation.

And finally, here is a look at the somewhat comical yet sad end result of state and leader worship in North Korea:

On October 5, 2011, Acton welcomed John Blundell, Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, to deliver a lecture as part of the 2011 Acton Lecture Series. His address was entitled “Lessons from Margaret Thatcher,” and provided insight into the Iron Lady from a man who had known Thatcher well before she became the Prime Minister of Great Britain. You can watch his lecture below.

Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher

Ronald Reagan & Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013) provided the West with many morally courageous moments. The moniker, “The Iron Lady” was bestowed upon her by the Soviet Army newspaper Red Star in 1976 because of her piercing denouncement of communism. Thatcher, of course, adored the unofficial title.

She toasted President Ronald Reagan after his then controversial Westminster speech in 1982, declaring, “We are so grateful to you for putting freedom on the offensive.” It is often forgotten today that 195 of the 225 Labour MP’s boycotted Reagan’s harsh condemnation of the Soviet Union. In her book, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, she reminded Americans to “never believe that technology alone will allow America to prevail as a superpower.”

Thatcher had a strong tie to the Acton Institute. She was the recipient of the 2011 Faith & Freedom Award. She was also interviewed in the pages of Religion & Liberty. Below is a great excerpt from that 1992 interview:

R&L: Would you comment on the temptation to identify virtue with collectivism?

Thatcher: Liberty is an individual quality and a moral quality. It does not exist in the abstract, but only in a civilized state with a rule of law. Without that, the strong would oppress the weak. The collective law is what makes individual freedom work. I remember a famous quotation of George Bernard Shaw, “Freedom incurs responsibility; that’s why men fear it.” Too many people try to cast their personal responsibility on to the state. It is so much easier to parade with banners demanding that government do something to remedy a wrong than it is to take action oneself. But it will build neither character nor independence.

The ultimate collectivist was, of course, the communist state. It operated the most total tyranny the world has ever known. It had all of the brutal, evil characteristics of other tyrannies, with its secret police, absence of remedy, and no opposition. In addition to that, it confiscated everyone’s private property and took away everyone’s job, so they became totally dependent upon the state.

The danger is that the more you turn to the state, the more you are diminishing the sense of freedom and the responsibility of the individual, and the more difficult it is to re-establish when the Communist system has gone.

As has been mentioned today on the PowerBlog, Margaret Thatcher was a recipient of Acton’s Faith and Freedom Award in 2011. Due to her declining health, she was unable to accept the award in person. Accepting the award in her place was John O’Sullivan, the Executive Editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and former senior aide in the Thatcher government. The comments of O’Sullivan on Margaret Thatcher, her government and her character are below.