Archived Posts June 2014 | Acton PowerBlog

[Part 1 is here.]

That most colossal blunder of Marxist experiments, the Soviet Union, collapsed more than twenty years ago, and yet Marxist thinking still penetrates the warp and woof of contemporary culture, so much so that it’s easy even for avowedly anti-Marxist conservatives to think from within the box of Marxism when considering the problem of cultural decay. Breaking out of that box means emphasizing but also stretching beyond such factors as insider cronyism, class envy, and the debilitating effects of the welfare state.

So, for instance, the influential 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau rejected the doctrines of the trinity, the deity of Christ, miracles, and the idea of original sin, writing that at one point as a young man he suddenly felt very strongly “that man is naturally good” and that it was only from the institutions of civilization “that men become wicked.” Rousseau’s view has had enormous cultural consequences, giving credence to the perennial human impulse to do whatever feels natural, never mind how stupid or destructive.

The English writer and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple put it this way in an interview he gave for The Truth Project: (more…)

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

Earlier today, Rev. Sirico spoke with WSJ Live’s Mary Kissel about the contraceptive mandate ruling, religion’s place in the public square, and the historical context of the Supreme Court’s decision. Watch below:

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.

Hobby-Lobby-StoreThis morning the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on the Health and Human Services (HHS) contraceptive mandate (see here for an explainer article on the case). The Court ruled (5-4) that that employers with religious objections can opt out of providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Here are six points you should know from the majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito:

1. The “Hobby Lobby” decision is really a collection of three separate lawsuits.

Although the focus was primarily on one plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, the case actually combined three separate lawsuits by three different companies: Conestoga Wood, Hobby Lobby, and Mardel. In the three cases before the Supreme Court, the Court agreed that the owners of three closely held for-profit corporations have sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices that operate after that point.

2. The opposition by the companies was to only specific contraceptives. 

 Of the 20 contraceptive methods approved by the FDA and required to be covered by the HHS mandate, four may affect an zygote from developing by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus. The belief that these four contraceptive cause an abortion was the religious reason these three companies opposed the contraceptive mandate.

3. The Court determined that the mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, June 30, 2014

Since the era of Adam Smith economists have been asking, “What creates wealth?” One key answer is specialization and trade. On a timeline of human history, the recent rise in standards of living resembles a hockey stick — flatlining for all of human history and then skyrocketing in just the last few centuries.

As economist Don Boudreaux explains, without specialization and trade, our ancient ancestors only consumed what they could make themselves. How can specialization and trade help explain the astonishing growth of productivity and output in such a short amount of time—after millennia of famine, low life expectancy, and incurable disease?

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

The Intuitive Guide to Religious Liberty Law
Jordan Lorence, Public Discourse

Common sense can tell us whether particular citizens should be exempt from certain government policies for religious reasons. Codifying such instinctive judgments into formal statutes is more difficult.

Insurers Expect a Nearly $1 Billion Bailout under Obamacare
Jeffrey H. Anderson, The Weekly Standard

Most Americans don’t think it’s their job to bail out insurance companies who lose money under Obamacare, but that’s exactly what’s poised to happen.

Reform Conservatism on Work and Poverty
Ross Douthat, New York Times

Where reform conservatives tend to argue for a welfare system and tax code organized more explicitly around work and family, Edsall’s piece makes the case that we’ve already tried something like that approach — have been trying it, in fact, since the early 1990s — and that it has worked out pretty badly, failing completely at its stated work-promoting aims while making life increasingly desperate for the very poor.

The Surprising Link between Church Attendance and Job Satisfaction
Art Lindsley, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

A high level of involvement in your church can help you have higher job satisfaction and commitment. That’s what Baylor University sociologists discovered in a recently published study.

[Part 1 is here.]

Economic freedom does generate certain challenges. The wealth that free economies are so effective at creating brings with it temptation. Wealth can tempt us to depend on our riches rather than on God. The temptation can be resisted, as we see with wealthy biblical characters like Abraham and Job. But it’s a challenge the church should be mindful of, helping its members cultivate a balanced view of money and of our responsibility and opportunities as stewards of the things God has given us.

The free society also can be hard on communities, since the free enterprise system makes for such a mobile society. Michael Miller talks about this: the opportunities and demands generated by a complex market economy mean that people often end up moving far away from their childhood homes and the network of relationships that surrounded that home. In seeking to meet this challenge, we need to ask ourselves what strategies would effectively address the problem, and are there well-intended policies that are likely to make the problem worse. In essence, we need to exercise the virtue of prudence.

The sociologist Robert Nisbet has some useful insights here. In his 1953 work The Quest for Community, he developed the case that greater centralized political authority and social safety net spending beyond a certain minimal level actually begin to undermine civil institutions and community, since people depend less and less on their family and community bonds and more and more on state-sponsored humanitarian assistance.
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Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Friday, June 27, 2014

AlfredPalmerwelder1Over at the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, Larry Saunders shares about his journey from pastor to grocery-store clerk to blue-collar factory worker to current MBA student in search of a white-collar job, offering deep and personal reflections on faith, work, and meaning along the way.

When he became a United Methodist pastor, Saunders enjoyed certain aspects of what he calls the “white collar work of ministry,” finding “a strong correlation between my personal sense of vocation and my gifts.” “I believed was contributing value to the world,” he writes.

Eventually, however, due to the conflict and stress involved and various other factors, he left the ministry in search for something different. After struggling to find work elsewhere, he settled into a factory job, working second shift for about 30% less than he made previously.

The job had its advantages, but after two years in the position, Saunders was struggling to find meaning in his work, and he wasn’t the only one:

Based on my limited anecdotal evidence, I think most [of my co-workers] do not find their jobs meaningful, but they never expected to in the first place.  For them, work is only a means to meet their basic needs and desires for leisure. Their major sense of meaning is derived totally outside the workplace.

If I had been a pastor to my blue collar co-workers, I would have advised them generally not to get too tied up in an identity derived from their day jobs anyway, but rather to focus on doing a high quality of work and not to equate their jobs with their callings. In the midst of my own foray into working the factory floor, I am now not so sure I would have found that very helpful to hear from my pastor. It is surely easier said than done. (more…)

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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