Category: News and Events

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
Thursday, June 26, 2014
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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…)

washington1One of the best books I’ve ever read on American history is Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer. I’ve always been an admirer of the painting Washington Crossing the Delaware by German American artist Emanuel Leutze. The painting of course has been criticized by commentators for its inaccuracy. Fischer notes in the first chapter of his book:

American iconoclasts made the painting a favorite target. Post-modernists studied it with a skeptical eye and asked, “Is this the way that American history happened? Is it a way that history ever happens? Are any people capable of acting in such a heroic manner?”

One of the interesting things that Fischer notes is that in the 1950s the painting was removed for a time from Metropolitan Museum of Art because “romantic history paintings passed out of fashion among sophisticated New Yorkers.” He also notes that “among the American people the painting has never passed out of fashion.” (more…)

Some of the missing Nigerian schoolgirls

Some of the missing Nigerian schoolgirls

If you are a parent, imagine your child is missing. You cannot find him or her. Gone. Nothing you can do. If you are not a parent, try to imagine how it must feel to have a loved one, the most loved one, taken from you. It is heart-wrenching. Gut-churning. Evil.

The parents of 219 girls in Nigeria are living this. Their daughters were stolen from them two months ago, and they are still missing. Two months. Just imagine that. Your precious child – gone – a hole in your family, now for 60 days.

Voice of America is reporting that while 57 of the girls who were initially kidnapped by Boko Haram were able to escape, the whereabouts of 219 are still unknown.

The latest figures on the number of missing girls come from a final report released by a government fact-finding committee appointed by [Nigerian] President Goodluck Jonathan.

Submitting the final report, Brigadier General Ibrahim said Friday that the militants initially took 276 girls, but 57 escaped — either as the trucks drove away or soon after.

Sabo said his committee members met with resistance when they visited Chibok last month to talk to some of the escaped girls. The militants raided a secondary school in Chibok village and forced the students onto trucks.

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JMM_17 1As a new feature for the Journal of Markets & Morality, the folks at Journaltalk have helped us create discussion pages for the editorial and each of the articles of our most recent issue, vol. 17, no. 1 (Spring 2014). The issue is forthcoming in print in the next few weeks but already published online. While all articles require a subscription (or a small fee per article), this issue’s editorial on the state of academic peer review is open access.

Just another reason to sign up for or recommend a subscription to the Journal of Markets & Morality.

Subscription information can be found here.

Our most recent issue (17.1) can be found here.

And be sure to check out discussions on other articles and publications at Journaltalk here. It looks to be a promising forum for continuing discussion of academic research and scholarship.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
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The much-touted Lego Movie drops on disc today, and before you pick up your copy, I encourage you to remember that “Everything Really Is Awesome.”

the-lego-movie-movie-poster-11Emmet’s words to Lord Business apply to us all:

You don’t have to be the bad guy. You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe. And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you. And you… still… can change everything.

Everything really is awesome, or in other words, all is gift, so get your hands dirty.

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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