Category: News and Events

Update, Feb. 2: the Assembly of Bishops issued a press release to “adamantly protest” the HHS mandate.

On the Observer blog of the American Orthodox Institute, I look at the non-reaction of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America to the recent Obama administration mandate that forces most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge. More specifics here. The Assembly of Bishops, charged with the “common witness” for Orthodox Christians in America, was also missing in action during the 2012 March for Life.

Towards the conclusion of this article, I say:

… we can’t dismiss this problem by saying that the Orthodox, broadly speaking, don’t get institutionally involved in politics. Far from it. How else can you explain the churches’ long membership in the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches, Protestant-dominated bodies that exist to put a patina of theological legitimacy on leftist economic and political ideologies?

Patriarch Bartholomew is all too ready to talk about how the Church invented hospitals more than 1,600 years ago, as he did in a 2009 speech sponsored by the Center for American Progress and Georgetown University in Washington. He even noted that these Byzantine hospitals were “public institutions, free of charge and created for the public good.” Although the patriarch stopped short of backing the Obama administration’s health care initiative before this liberal/progressive audience, he endorsed the notion that “every member of society, from the greatest to the least” deserves the best quality healthcare.

But Patriarch Bartholomew and his lobbyists are nowhere to be found when 21st Century American hospitals are feeling the heat from an administration trampling on conscience protections. We’re talking about hundreds of hospitals founded by Catholics, Jews and Protestants and serving people in real need — today and not in some idealized forever-gone past.

In stark contract to the Orthodox bishops, some 135 Roman Catholic bishops in the United States — and counting — have spoken out on this mandate.

Also see this reaction from Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Associated Baptist Press: “Mohler says insurance mandate not just ‘Catholic’ issue”.

Read “Orthodox Bishops Assembly Silent on Moral Issues” on the Observer blog of the American Orthodox Institute.

In my commentary this week, I reflect on the unemployment rate of many newly separated military veterans of our Armed Forces. The grim jobs outlook affects our reservists and National Guard forces too. As You Were, a book I reviewed on the PowerBlog in late 2009, touched on this topic quite a bit.

My first job out of college was working on veterans issues for former Congressman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) I was able to meet and get to know combat veterans from battles like Okinawa, the Chosin Reservoir and Khe Sanh. It was a rewarding and educational experience.

I suspect we will hear more from Washington about how to solve this problem with additional centralized government action. But we already have real commitments and promises to veterans that must be honored and a debt of $15 trillion and growing that is staring down at us. My commentary is printed below in its entirety.

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Playing Politics with Unemployed Veterans

Getting the U.S. economy back on a path to solid growth and the job creation engine jumpstarted is dominating the headlines, talk shows and policy debates in Washington right now. Many of the legislative prescriptions focus on the dismal unemployment woes of newly separated military veterans, whose rates outpace the civilian population. The troubling figures reveal a persistently bleak and stagnant economy.

National unemployment currently hovers around 9 percent, while unemployment for veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars is more than 13 percent. Veterans in the age group of 18-24 are worse off, with an unemployment rate of 30 percent. Dead last in the Union is Michigan, where 30 percent of all former service members are unemployed.

These numbers may only get more discouraging as defense budget cuts push more and more from the active duty ranks into a weak job market.

Federal legislation passed at the end of last year seeks to address the problem with tax credits for companies who hire veterans. The measure could help some, but tax incentives like these generally offer no substantial improvement for removing people from the unemployment rolls.

Better immediate solutions would be omitting special licenses and training required by states to work in certain fields. There is no reason a combat medic in Iraq should not be able to work as an emergency medical technician. Many already have more training than their civilian counterparts do.

In his election-year State of the Union address, President Barack Obama painted a vision of a post-WWII society where triumphant veterans came back and created the strongest economy in the world. In his words, they understood that they were “part of something larger.” Part of that “something larger” after the defeat of fascism was a growing free economy, but they also faced a long twilight struggle against the spread of communism.

To restore prosperity today, President Obama called for a “common purpose” to rally behind. But the obvious common purpose, the reduction of the staggering national debt, was largely ignored by the commander-in-chief during his address. For the unemployed, all Americans, and a free economy, the debt is the largest obstacle to restoring prosperity and reawakening the most expansive economy the world has ever seen. The failure of the American government to live within its means threatens to eviscerate the promises made to America’s veterans. It is a classic case of one moral failing leading to another.

The “something larger” greeting veterans when they come home today is a national debt of more than $15 trillion and an economy burdened by more and more regulations. The White House has already requested a debt ceiling increase to a whopping $16.4 trillion dollars. So great is the obstacle, and so serious is the threat, Indiana’s governor Mitch Daniels dubbed it “the new Red Menace.”

The threat to veterans is substantial. Although veterans’ benefits are justly generous, the government’s fiscal crisis has put those guarantees at risk. Last year, for the first time, some in Washington talked about the necessity of trimming promised pensions and health benefits for military retirees. Politicians are playing politics with veterans when they talk of reducing promised benefits with one side of their mouth and say they are creating jobs for veterans with the other.

Older military retirees can remember a time when they counted on the promise of free health care for life. Many sacrificed more lucrative private sector careers, nonpayment for overtime, and additional time with their family because of patriotism and promised security. Now they pay premiums for their care.

Thomas Jefferson warned of the moral pitfalls and decay of debt when he said, “The earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation.” Profligate spending in the past undermines our capacity to honor present commitments.

With their skills, work ethic, and patriotism, veterans have the ability to overcome the challenges confronting them. Most businesses and companies want to hire veterans. All they need is some assurance that their prospects going forward will not be dimmed by burdensome regulation or economic instability stemming from federal fiscal irresponsibility.

Washington does not understand there is little to be done in terms of a prescriptive policy to cure veteran unemployment. The oft forgotten Calvin Coolidge once warned, “Unsound economic conditions are not conducive to sound legislation.”

The best cure is still a market unleashed from needless regulation and spending policies that reflect a moral and rational resolve. In the end, a federal government that is broke can do little for veterans who earned and are entitled to benefits already promised.

At last summer’s Acton University conference, one of the evening key note lectures included Diet Eman, a Grand Rapids resident and one of the leaders of the World War II Dutch resistance.  As a 20-year-old bank teller in the Netherlands in 1940, Diet dove into underground activities, doing anything she could to protect Jews from the deadly Nazi advance.  She, along with a small minority of ordinary Dutch citizens, bravely put their lives on the line to preserve human life and dignity.

This week, Diet will be speaking in Grand Rapids once again.  On Thursday, February 2 at 7:30pm in the Wege Ballroom at Aquinas College, the documentary, The Reckoning: Remembering the Dutch Resistance will be shown, followed by a Q&A session with Diet.  The event is part of the Aquinas College Social Justice Series, which is a compilation of public events featuring guest speakers and service projects that encourge community involvement and awareness of social issues.

Through their selfless and courageous efforts, the Dutch resistance provided perhaps the greatest service of all, upholding the dignity of the human person.  We welcome you to come learn about this important part of history and dialogue with a woman who helped make it possible.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
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Picking up on the theme of my commentary and blog posts from a few weeks ago, I note (via Carpe Diem) that St. Paul, Minnesota will be welcoming “a new entry coming soon to the food truck scene in downtown St. Paul. Tot Boss will be the city’s first truck specializing in Tater Tots.”

And to lend some more anecdotal evidence to the idea that mobile trucks can lay the groundwork for more permanent and developed enterprises down the road (so to speak), check out this story of Brigitte Wooten in Holland, Michigan, “who for the past 11 years has been doing ribs and pulled pork at the Tulip Festival and other summer events around the state.” Wooten opened Jus’ Ribs & More late last year.

“Now I’m the owner of my own business. And I’m the cook and the dishwasher and waitress and the cashier and the dishwasher,” said Wooten.

Today I’m at the Caring For the Common Good: Why It’s Important To Integrate Faith, Work, and Economics one-day symposium at Cedarville University. As I have opportunity, I will blog regarding the lectures and panel discussion.

First to speak was Rudy Carrasco of Partners Worldwide on the topic of Caring For the Common Good. He spoke on three basic areas: do the poor have stewardship responsibilities, subsidiarity, and protest & invest.

On the first, Rudy noted the poor have stewardship and justice responsibilities. In addition, they are included in the charge of the Great Commission. Finally, they are empowered through Christ. The poor has intrinsic dignity as like the rest of society were created by God.

On the second, it is important to realize those connected most closely to the problem will oftentimes have the first responsibility to solve the problem. John Cowperthwaite, former Financial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971 has said, “In the long run, the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if it is often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralized decisions of a government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.”

On the third, we must be knowledgeable when applying our good intentions to poverty. Sometimes our good intentioned efforts can unwittingly deprive the poor of justice. For example, a church in the US wanted to help provide relief to those affected by the earthquake in Haiti and gathered jars of peanut butter and sent them to Haiti. Though good intentioned, these efforts impacted a local Haitian entrepreneur.

I hope to update this more as the day continues.

Update: Second to speak was Matt Zainea of Blythefield Hills Baptist Church. Matt spoke on the topic: Theology and Economics: Seeing the Whole.

Economic terms are woven into the Scriptures. An example is the usage of “redemption” in the context of salvation. Another illustration is the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. God designed us to be producers and are considered wicked and lazy when like the third servant fail to do so.

Oftentimes a fractured Biblical understanding of economics is communicated as one of more aspects are left out. The complete Biblical understanding starts with us as image bearers being called to work thus able to own property within community operating in shalom. As image bearers, we are called to work and through work our image and calling is shown to the world. Udo Middleman says, “Only in creativity do we externalize the identity we have as men made in the image of God. This then is the true basis for work.”

The externalization of work creates property. Property rights exist, but what is really protected is man’s creative mental activity – his ideas which are externalized into things which he owns and has a right to possess and enjoy.

Work and property are essential elements to create community. One person’s creative activity is to be qualified by other people’s creative activity. Creativity is to be mutually stimulating. Community should be marked by a healthy interdependence.

Shalom is God’s vision of how he wants His people to live together. Shalom is a Christ-centered community flourishing through the interdependent usage of His resources. This is the best model to use even in a broken world.

Update: We ended the day with a panel discussion on the topic of social justice and Scripture. Panel members include Cedarville professors Dr. Jeff Haymond and Dr. Bert Wheeler along with Mr. Zainea and Mr. Rudy Carrasco. Audio for the discussion will be posted in this post and on the Acton website within the next couple weeks.

Acton On The AirDr. Donald Condit is a regular contributor to Acton on matters relating to health care, most recently with his commentary on the Obama administration’s mandate that most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge. That commentary was the starting point for an interview with Sheila Liaugminas on A Closer Look on Relevant Radio last Thursday.

You can listen to the interview by using the audio player below:

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Dr. Donald P. Condit, the author of the Acton monograph A Prescription for Health Care Reform, responds to the Obama administration’s mandate that most employers and insurers must provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge. For more on this issue, see Acton’s resource on “Christians and Health Care.” Sign up for the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary newsletter here.

An Unconscionable Threat to Conscience

By Donald P. Condit, M.D.

In May 2009, President Obama delivered the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame where he proclaimed, to naïve applause: “Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics … ”

What a difference a few semesters make. Last week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ordered most employers and insurers to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs free of charge.  Taxpayers and premium payers are complicit in paying for these “preventive health services” whether they object or not. 

Sebelius deferred, until after the 2012 election, the deadline for religious employers to comply. Meanwhile they must provide instructions so that employees can obtain abortions and services only considered “treatment” if one considers pregnancy a disease. 

With the passing of time, it has become painfully obvious how relativistic and clouded are this administration’s sense of ethics.  The subsequent threat to our liberty is crystal clear and faith leaders representing diverse traditions are speaking out against the White House’s assault on religious freedom in the most forceful way.

Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), did not pull any punches:  “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

Archbishop Dolan met the challenge of this HHS edict: “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable. It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”

Last month, in advance of the ruling, a group of more than 60 Protestant and Orthodox Jewish religious were out front on this issue when they released a letter to President Obama. The religious leaders pointed out that, “It is not only Catholics who object to the narrow exemption that protects only seminaries and a few churches, but not churches with a social outreach and other faith-based organizations that serve the poor and needy broadly providing help that goes beyond worship and prayer.”

Last week, the National Association of Evangelicals said it was "deeply disappointed" by the administration’s ruling. “Freedom of conscience is a sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state,” said Galen Carey, NAE Vice President for Government Relations. “No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience.  The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.”

On the Huffington Post, Romanian Orthodox priest Fr. Peter-Michael Preble, an early supporter of President Obama, said the HHS ruling was a “direct attack” on religious freedom in America and the beginning of more attacks on the faith of Americans. He’s also changed his mind about the president. “Well I now feel I was duped and his brand of change is not what America needs at all,” Preble wrote.

The Catholic Medical Association also responded: “This latest attack by the Obama administration on religious freedom and free speech rights should be of grave concern to all Americans because it is destructive of individual rights and of the common good. It should be challenged and resisted by all legitimate means.”

This HHS decree tremendously threatens the liberty and consciences of organizations across the United States that provide vital health care, social services, and education – to people of all faiths, and no faith – to millions of people by hundreds of thousands of employees.

The scope of these services in the American Catholic world is immense. One in six patients receives care in a Catholic hospital in the United States. There are more than 50 Catholic health care organizations with more than 750,000 employees. More than 150,000 professional  educators serve more than 2 million students a year in Catholic primary and secondary schools.  There are more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities that   educate more than 900,000 students annually.

Pope Benedict XVI’s diagnosis seems prescient.  As Dean of the College of Cardinals, his 2005 homily at the Papal Conclave warned that, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.”

President Obama’s relativistic ethos obscures the truth behind the right to life, the right to conscience protection, and the right to free speech.  His administration’s apparent compulsion for re-election and control over so many foundational elements of our society has led to oppressive policies. This HHS mandate is another tangible example of the threat of relativism.

Let us pray for, and work toward, restoration of consciousness of truth in this country.