Category: News and Events

Blog author: jderks
posted by on Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Yesterday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) held a Senate hearing on his proposed bill, the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2014. The bill, reading at just four pages, serves as a tool to combat “paid prioritization” in the network traffic business in an effort to maintain open competition in that market. This idea, known as net neutrality, as explained by Joe Carter, assumes “that a public information network should aspire to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally” as well as equal treatment in “giving users the bandwidth to reach the internet-connected services they prefer.” All of this has come under threat, as a DC Circuit Court struck down the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) power to regulate net neutrality on January 14 of this year.

Under proposed FCC rules poised to take effect this November, internet providers, like Comcast, would be able to charge tolls to broadband users, like Google, for speedier service to its site, with the ultimate cost burden being shifted upon consumers. The Christian Post explains how the new policy will impact faith based groups. Without net neutrality, service providers could censor the voices of religious advocacy groups, or anyone else unable to pay a premium, effectively violating the First Amendment and “stifl[ing] free speech rights.”

Since the FCC’s rollout of new regulations, Senator Leahy has mounted the “No Tollbooths For The Internet” campaign. Opponents of the bill argue that although traditional tolls are burdensome to drivers, they are essential in maintaining and repairing road systems for a better commute. Similarly, it is argued that internet tolls would be charged to companies to reach internet users in return for a superior service. (more…)

The Liberty Bell in PhiladelphiaRegarding the Hobby Lobby decision and the Supreme Court, I believe the National Review editors summed it up best: “That this increase in freedom makes some people so very upset tells us more about them than about the Court’s ruling.”

I address this rapid politicization and misunderstanding of religious liberty and natural rights in today’s Acton commentary. The vitriolic reaction to the ruling is obviously not a good sign for religious liberty and we’re almost certainly going to continue down the path of losing rights of conscience and free expression. Obviously, I hope I’m wrong. But I wanted to step back and take a more comprehensive look at where we are now.

One point I make in the piece is that our federal lawmakers no longer hold a consensus to protect religious liberty, as they did with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Back then, there was overwhelming unification and bipartisanship to protect and strengthen religious liberty, that is a thing of the past and it has been swallowed up by partisan politics. Our collective partisan politics is becoming bigger than our once common understanding of natural rights.

Another point I stress is that there is an obvious difference on the very meaning of religious liberty that cuts through our country. This is well known to those who pay attention to these issues. Many saw the Hobby Lobby ruling not as a ruling in favor of the rights of conscience and liberty, but only a temporary setback in divorcing religion from public human affairs.

The Supreme Court ruling is being politicized in a myriad of vicious ways and that by itself is a bad sign for religious liberty. It will be a tough task going forward to educate people on the necessity of a vibrant understanding of religious liberty and natural rights that promotes the common good.

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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Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Tuesday, July 1, 2014

ISIL flagStrategy Page has an excellent piece on Iraq’s ISIL and the political crisis there. Here are some of the most salient points.

    • ISIL is Al Qaeda’s arm in Syria and Iraq.
    • ISIL began as ISI or “Islamic State in Iraq” and was seeking to regain power for Sunni Muslims. “…
    • “…after U.S. forces left in 2011 the Iraqi government failed to follow U.S. advice to take good care of the Sunni tribes, if only to keep the tribes from again supporting the Islamic terrorist groups. Instead the Shia led government turned against the Sunni population and stopped providing government jobs and regular pay for many of the Sunni tribal militias. Naturally many Sunni Arabs went back to supporting terror groups, especially very violent ones like ISI.”

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    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…)

    Blog author: rnothstine
    posted by on Monday, June 30, 2014

    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.

    redstatebluestateIn discussions of political issues, the American public is too often described in a binary format: Left/Right, Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State. But a new survey by the Pew Research Center takes a more granular look at our current political typology by sorting voters into cohesive groups based on their attitudes and values:

    Partisan polarization – the vast and growing gap between Republicans and Democrats – is a defining feature of politics today. But beyond the ideological wings, which make up a minority of the public, the political landscape includes a center that is large and diverse, unified by frustration with politics and little else. As a result, both parties face formidable challenges in reaching beyond their bases to appeal to the middle of the electorate and build sustainable coalitions.

    The new typology has eight groups: Steadfast Conservatives, Business Conservatives, Solid Liberals, Young Outsiders, Hard-Pressed Skeptics, Next Generation Left, Faith and Family Left, and Bystanders. (See addendum below for descriptions of each group.)

    Pew Research’s most recent report uses cluster analysis to sort people into these eight groups based on their responses to 23 questions covering an array of political attitudes and values. Here are a few of the interesting highlights from the report:
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    Blog author: sstanley
    posted by on Thursday, June 26, 2014

    Dec. 17 airpower summary: Reapers touch enemy forcesDrones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have been a prominent and controversial topic in the news of late. Today, the Washington-based Stimson Center released its Recommendations and Report on US Drone Policy. The think tank, which assembled a bipartisan panel of former military and intelligence officials for the 81-page report, concluded that “UAVSs should be neither glorified nor demonized. It is important to take a realistic view of UAVs, recognizing both their continuities with more traditional military technologies and the new tactics and policies they enable.”

    The report is thoughtful, and balanced, and makes a point that most discussions about drones miss. For the most part, the conversation has primarily been about the great evil that drones could cause—though of course Amazon has been in the news a fair amount by their desire to use drones for shipping packages. But what about the potential good that drones could do? Just because something could be used for great evil doesn’t meant it couldn’t also be used for something virtuous. Although this report focuses on military and government use, it’s interesting to look at the uses of drones for good in nonmilitary activities.

    A worthy example is Matternet, a relatively new company that hopes to use drones to bring lifesaving supplies like food and medicine to villages without easy access to roads. From their manifesto:

    We founded Matternet on the belief that we should take the most advanced technology where it’s needed most. It’s our fundamental belief that technological solutions will evolve faster and better where the need is most extreme. (more…)

    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.

    Integrated Justice - front cover (1)Christian’s Library Press has released Integrated Justice and Equality: Biblical Wisdom for Those Who Do Good Works by John Addison Teevan, a book that seeks to challenge popular notions of “social justice” and establish a new framework around what Teevan calls “biblically integrated justice.”

    The term “social justice” has been used to promote a variety of policies and proposals, most of which fall within a particularly progressive economic ideology and theological perspective. Educated in economics, theology, and intercultural studies, and with extensive experience in both politics and the pulpit, Teevan has witnessed these tendencies firsthand, proceeding to dissect the host of flaws, gaps, and inconsistencies therein.

    Teevan’s unique and creative approach will surely interest the most experienced of “social justice” interlocutors, but his writing is also highly accessible for those just getting warmed up. Weaving together thought and action from a variety of directions and points in history with remarkable clarity, Teeven concludes with a refreshingly integrated economic, philosophic, and biblical framework. For young evangelicals in particular, who have lately become fond of leveraging “justice” vocabulary toward a variety of aims and ends, Teevan’s unique blend of careful analysis and practical application offers a particularly relevant challenge to the status quo.

    Teevan explores a variety of areas and ideas, ultimately pointing the way to a framework wherein the pursuit of justice is expanded beyond mere economic redistribution, restoring many of these activities to the realm of personal stewardship through which “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). (more…)