Category: Individual Liberty

vintage 4th of julyWe Americans will celebrate 238 years of freedom this Friday. In 1776, the 13 colonies unanimously declared:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Freedom was declared; the men and women of the colonies no longer wished to live under a monarchy, but rather sought a free republic, where they could decide their own fates.

Today, it seems as if many Americans respond to this ideal with, “Meh….” (more…)

Acton Institute President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico had a busy media day yesterday in the wake of the release of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius case. using the audio player below, you can listen to an interview with Rev. Sirico on The Michael Berry Show on Houston’s 740 AM KTRH radio where the impact of the decision is examined. Additionally, beyond the jump I’ve embedded Rev. Sirico’s appearance on Bloomberg TV’s Street Smart with Trish Regan, where he participated on a panel discussing the decision.

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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.

coolidgebAs we read about the increase of scandal, mismanagement, and corruption within our federal agencies, it is essential once again to revisit the words of Calvin Coolidge. Recent actions at the IRS, Veterans Administration, and the ATF gunwalking scandal all point to systemic problems that come from an entrenched bureaucracy. As more and more of the responsibilities of civil society is passed over to centralized powers in Washington, federal agencies have exploded with power and control, leading to greater opportunities for abuse. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, a favorite stump speech line of former presidential candidate George Wallace was, “When I get to Washington, I am going to throw the briefcases of the pointy headed intellectuals into the Potomac.” Wallace was of course speaking about the entrenched bureaucracy in the nation’s capital.

Bureaucracy of some form is necessary under government. But we live in an era where constitutional constraints are eschewed and the bureaucratic machine is becoming more politicized. “Bureaucracy is undoubtedly the weapon and sign of a despotic government, inasmuch as it gives whatever government it serves, despotic power,” declared Lord Acton. Bureaucracy, by its nature, is problematic to the notion of self-government.

Bureaucracy is a threat to liberty and it’s not accountable to the people, that is the main point Coolidge is reminding Americans in the excerpt from a speech he gave as president at the College of William & Mary in 1926:

No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from local self-government. No plan of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government, those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. Being irresponsible they become autocratic, and being autocratic they resist all development. Unless bureaucracy is constantly resisted it breaks down representative government and overwhelms democracy. It is the one element in our institutions that sets up the pretense of having authority over everybody and being responsible to nobody.

Rise-and-DeclineThere is an informative podcast on a new book titled The Rise and Decline of American Religious Freedom over at the Library of Law and Liberty. The author, Steven D. Smith, is the Warren Distinguished Professor of Law, University of San Diego and Co-Executive Director of the USD Institute for Law and Religion. Smith challenges the popular notion that American religious freedom was merely an enlightenment revolt from European Christendom and was meant to uplift a secular interpretation of the First Amendment.

Smith will be a guest writer over at their blog for the month of July. Below is an excerpt from the description of the podcast:

Our conversation begins with the history of the ratification of the First Amendment. What do we make of the fact that the religion clauses were scarcely debated in the Congress that approved them? Smith argues that this should dissolve any notion that a grand constitutional moment occurred and that gave us the religion clauses as “articles of faith” in secularism. We discuss Smith’s view that the lack of debate owed to an existing consensus that wanted to prevent the national government establishing a national church while the states would continue their established churches, in some cases, and other lesser forms of religious influence in their laws. Contrary, Smith argues, to a national standard of religious freedom or secularism, the constitutional course was “contestation” or an ongoing conflict between religious and secular claims. Thus the Court’s separationist jurisprudence of mid twentieth century, Smith discusses, was a departure from original understanding of religious liberty and its practice for most of our history.

Smith also discusses and disputes the view that American religious freedom is an outcome of the Enlightenment. His controversial claim is that it is a recovery of a key concept of Western civilization, freedom of the church, and, its later Protestant development, freedom of the “inner church” or conscience. Recovery is here stressed because it was modern political development, Smith notes, that had subordinated the church to the state and to be stripped of institutional freedom.

Listen to the podcast:

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Coolidgepic Next week at Acton University I am giving a lecture titled, “Calvin Coolidge and his Foundational Views on Government.” One of the great things about studying Coolidge is that he is extremely accessible. Coolidge noted during his political career that practicing law was valuable for honing communication skills that promote brevity and clarity in speech. The Coolidge lecture at Acton University will attempt to do likewise. He’s a president that probably would have little trouble with the 140 character limit on Twitter. If you aren’t able to attend Acton University, I’m told the lecture will be recorded, and at some point will be available for a very small fee.

One of the most relevant things about Coolidge today is that in his era he was battling the progressive scheme to perfect man in an attempt to move beyond the spirit of America’s founding principles. In one masterful broadside against the progressive scheme delivered on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he declared:
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edmund burke 1In his new book, The Great Debate, Yuval Levin explores the birth of America’s Left and Right by contrasting the views of Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. I’ve written previously on his chapter on choice vs. obligation, and in a recent appearance on EconTalk, Levin joins economist Russell Roberts to discuss these tensions further, addressing the implications for libertarians and conservatives a bit more directly.

It should first be noted that Roberts and Levin offer a dream pairing when it comes to such discussions. Roberts, a self-professed libertarian and classical liberal, offers each guest a unique level of intellectual empathy, meeting even the most vigorous intellectual opponents at their best and brightest arguments (see his discussions with Jeffrey Sachs). Likewise, Levin, while a true-and-through conservative, is not prone to the variety of anti-libertarian caricatures that predominate the Right. If we hope to uncover the actual distinctions between the two, these men are up to the task, and the historical context makes it all the more meaty. Listen to the whole thing here.

About halfway through (36:39), Roberts asks Levin directly how a libertarian might discern between Burke and Paine, admitting sympathies for both sides. Levin answers with a lengthy response, noting, first, how libertarians typically take a more Burkean approach to centralized knowledge and power:

There is a strong and important strand of libertarianism that is very Burkean, because it emphasizes especially the limits of our knowledge and the kind of skepticism about the uses of power. And so ultimately believes that power needs to be restrained because there are permanent limits on what we can do…And it inclines many libertarians to market economics and to restraints on the role of government and the power of government. And in that sense aligns them with a lot of Conservatives who think more like Burke. (more…)

One of my favorite website’s is The Mighty. They feature short stories and video clips that uplift, enlighten and inspire. To be honest, I get a bit discouraged some days. I have to read about a lot of bad stuff like human trafficking in order to do my job. Sites like The Mighty help keep me focused on the great work that humans are: created in God’s image and likeness.

Let’s be honest: it’s easy to get discouraged. There are still a lot of folks out of work, small businesses face huge obstacles, and our culture is toxic. But we can do something about all that. In this short video, high school student Steven Claunch talks about his obstacles, and how he has created success. Illustrated by Avi Offer, the video (originally presented as a TedEd talk) reminds us that we can stay steeped in difficulty, or we can create success.

calvinThere are two intriguing articles at The Federalist today. They deal with different topics (mass murder and institutional racism), but they share insights into the same topic: victimization. It seems our culture wants to take whatever is happening and make it all about “me.”

First, Heather Wilhelm writes about the tragic news from California on Friday, where it seems that Elliott Rodger killed 8 (including himself) and injured 13. Rodger was known to have mental health issues, and his family had reportedly asked police to make a welfare check on him about a month before his killing spree. What Wilhelm is concerned with, however, is how this tragic occurrence got hijacked by social media into a victimization rampage, with the hashtag #YesAllWoman. Overlooking that fact that four of those killed were men, people started turning the discussion from Rodger’s illness and actions to what had happened to them: it’s all about me.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “hours after a shooting rampage in this coastal college town that the alleged gunman said was ‘retribution’ against women who’d rejected him, a woman launched a conversation on Twitter about what it’s like to feel vulnerable to violence. ‘As soon as I reached my teens, I didn’t feel comfortable being outside in the evening on my own street,’ the woman wrote in one of her first posts under a Twitter hashtag called #YesAllWomen.” (more…)

kuyper12In Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government, a translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program, Kuyper sets forth an outline for his Anti-Revolutionary Party.

Founded by Kuyper in 1879, the party had the goal of offering a “broad alternative to the secular, rationalist worldview,” as translator Harry Van Dyke explains it. “To be “antirevolutionary” for Kuyper, Van Dyke continues, is to be “uncompromisingly opposed to ‘modernity’ — that is, to the ideology of the French Revolution and the public philosophy we have since come to know as secular humanism.”

Greg Forster has compared the work to Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution, calling it “equally profound and equally consequential.” And indeed, though written nearly a century later and set within a different national context, Kuyper’s philosophy aligns remarkably close with that of Burke’s.

The similarities are most notable, perhaps, in the area of social order. Kuyper expounds on the subject throughout the book, but in his section titled “Decentralization,” his views on what we now call “sphere sovereignty” sound particularly close to Burke’s, though rather uniquely, with a bit more “Christian-historical” backbone.

Kuyper observes a “tendency toward centralization” among the revolutionaries, wherein “whatever can be dealt with centrally must be dealt with centrally,” and “administration at the lower levels” is but a “necessary evil.” Such a tendency, he concludes, “impels to ever greater centralization as soon as the possibility for it arises.” (more…)