Category: News and Events

decPerhaps the most enduring legacy of the Declaration of Independence is that it sought to overturn the long abuses and powers of tyrants. It revealed the truth of self-government and that power is inherent in the people. In the second introduction of the document, Jefferson declared:

…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Jefferson, always the philosopher, reminds the reader that governments are instituted to protect the natural rights of man, to preserve their freedom above all else. Government is not intended to serve the bureaucracy, rulers, or an elite class.
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charles carroll

Charles Carroll

This weekend marks another celebration of America’s birthday of Independence from our colonial rulers. It is typical to praise the founding fathers for what they did in 1776 and the subsequent years to lay down the foundation for this country. Very often, when people talk about the founding fathers they are referring to Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, or one of the many currently well-known statesmen of the Revolution. This year though, when people sing the praises of the Founding Fathers, I would urge them to think of one more man, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

All the men that joined together to sign to the Declaration of Independence took a great risk in putting their name on that document. However, not many took as a great a risk as Charles Carroll, a representative from Maryland at the Second Continental Congress. Carroll’s prominence was well known throughout the colonies, and he was considered to be the wealthiest colonist at the time of the signing, as noted by Samuel Gregg is his book Tea Party Catholic. With that wealth brought distinction for his ideals, stemming from his education in Catholic schools and his Catholic faith. By signing the Declaration he risked not only his life, but his entire family fortune as well. (more…)

TeaPartyCatholicBruce Edward Walker, recently wrote a column for the Morning Sun that relates the recent Supreme Court decision on Hobby Lobby with America’s Founding and Samuel Gregg’s latest, Tea Party Catholic. The piece begins by discussing the Declaration of Independence and one of its signers, Charles Carroll,  “a successful Maryland businessmen,” Walker says, “who was also Roman Catholic and thus denied voting rights and the freedom to hold government office under British colonial rule. In other words, Carroll had a  bigger dog in the fight for independence than any of his fellow American Protestant revolutionaries.”

Walker continues:

For Gregg, Carroll represents a fitting template for contemporary Christians of a particular denomination who advocate for lower taxes and less government intervention in the exercise of their respective faiths or other aspects of their lives. Such pushback against the state was the impetus for our War of Independence, and is the spark that ignited the Tea Party movement – the latter whose members fight for similar freedoms without ridiculous assertions of resorting to guns, jihads, crusades or even remote considerations thereof. (more…)

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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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…)

    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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