hobbylobby1The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby contraception case. But which arguments will have the most influence on the justices? Michael McConnel, a respected Religion Clauses scholar from Standford, explains which four arguments are most likely to be important:

Cutting through the politicized hype about the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga case (“Corporations have no rights!” “War on Women!”) the Justices during oral argument focused on four serious legal questions, which deserve a serious answer:

(1)  Could Hobby Lobby avoid a substantial burden on its religious exercise by dropping health insurance and paying fines of $2,000 per employee?

(2)  Does the government have a compelling interest in protecting the statutory rights of Hobby Lobby’s employees?

(3)  Would a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby give rise to a slippery slope of exemptions from vaccines, minimum wage laws, anti-discrimination laws, and the like?

(4)  Has the government satisfied the least restrictive means test?

I think the answer to all four questions is “no.” I offer brief thoughts on each below.

Read more . . .

Jacopo_Tintoretto_-_Moses_Receiving_the_Tables_of_the_Law_(detail)“Are there then no laws in the legal sense in the law of Moses?” asks Cornelis Vonk, the Dutch Reformed pastor and preacher.

“Of course there are, but there is much more besides.”

This, and what follows, comes from Vonk’s newly translated Exodus, the second primer in CLP’s growing Opening the Scriptures series:

Through his law, the Lord also taught Israel what sorts of social measures did and did not please him… Neither did the Lord forget to teach his people through the torah how they could please him through wise and generous economic measures…

…In the torah the voice of a Father is heard. God was teaching his chosen people what life is really all about so that they would follow his example and model themselves after his image.

He wanted them to be friendly and merciful, righteous and wise in daily life. Time and again the torah tells the Israelites, “You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (Deut. 15:14–15). The Lord’s commands to Israel often had such a reason or motive attached to them. The torah had its basis in the deliverance from Egypt, which was the liberation of life. That’s why the various social, economic, and legal measures all contain a hearty echo of the gospel. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, March 28, 2014

AGIOS-LOYKASAt Patheos, Joel J. Miller discusses how God uses work to fashion our souls:

Not long ago I looked at an icon of Archbishop Luke of Simferopol and Crimea, a recent Orthodox saint who lived from 1877 to 1961. Following the fashion, the image was timeless. It could have been painted a thousand years ago. But there in the icon — to my surprise — were surgical implements!

The archbishop worked as a surgeon and scientist. He was well known for his prowess with a scalpel and the quality of his research work, captured in his many articles and papers.

“I help people as a physician,” he once said, “and I help them as a servant of the Church. . . .”

It’s common in icons to see holy objects: scrolls, books, crosses, prayer ropes. But here were tools of a trade. Of course, in the rights hands, for the right service, those tools are seen by the church as holy objects too.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Friday, March 28, 2014

ObamaCare v. Religious Liberty
Wall Street Journal

A majority of Justices seem skeptical of the contraception mandate.

Why Catholics Love Evolution and the Big Bang
Daniel McInerny, Aletia

FOX’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series may not be everything we would like it to be, but not for the reason you might think.

Choice, Not More Spending, Is Key To Better Schools
W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm, Investor’s Business Daily

Education looms as both cause and cure for the decline of the middle class and the widening gap between rich and poor.

The Pope Talked to Obama Today About Religious Liberty. Will It Matter?
Katrina Trinko, The Foundry

During a meeting today, Pope Francis talked to President Obama about religious freedom, an issue that has come under heightened scrutiny in recent years as religious business owners have objected to Obamacare’s contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs coverage mandates.

Pope Francis gives President Obama a copy of his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel”)

Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, and Barack Obama, the first black American president, finally met today in an historic tête-à-tête inside the Vatican Apostolic Palace – and for nearly double the originally scheduled time.

Romans could peer inside the fortified Vatican walls via a special streaming set up on Vatican TV’s web site, where they saw a U.S. delegation (which included Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney) checking watches while waiting in earnest for the two world leaders to conclude their meeting.

It is no small secret that there is considerably high tension between the Catholic bishops of America and the Obama Administration, as the Catholic episcopacy has opposed Obamacare’s controversial mandates concerning the provision of contraceptive products, sterilizations and abortafacients.

The Bishop of Rome is, no doubt, on his American bishops’ side.

With the computer speakers on full blast, it was the closest thing to eavesdropping on the two men, or at least an honest attempt to do so. Though no shouting matches could be overheard, my own fantasy led me to envision the Holy Father “schooling” the President.
(more…)

bitcoin“For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property.”

With those ten words, the IRS has made it more difficult — if not impossible — for bitcoin and other virtual currencies from gaining widespread, mainstream acceptance as a currency for commercial transactions. Because they are now treated as property, virtual currencies are considered, like stocks, bonds, and other investment property, as capital assets and will be subject to capital gains tax.

But why does this hinder bitcoins use a currency? The answer is fungibility: Bitcoins are no longer completely fungible.
(more…)

Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben

It’s been a long, cold winter. Not to mention expensive due to heating bills depleting bank balances for those fortunately possessing enough scratch to pay their utilities. For others forced to wear sweaters around the clock and sleep with three dogs to stay warm while keeping the thermostat tuned just above freezing to save money, it may take months before reaching a zero balance on the monthly propane/gas/natural gas/electricity statement.

Imagine how prohibitive those bills would be if we relied on the so-called renewable energy schemes rather than relatively cheap and plentiful fossil fuel sources to warm our igloos and power our personal vehicles and those oh-so-necessary snowplows. In a word borrowed from Thomas Hobbes, it’d be brutish.

Love it, hate it, or just plain indifferent, U.S. dependence on fossil fuel energy will remain relatively unchanged for the foreseeable future. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates our appetite for carbon-based power will hold steady more or less until 2040: “The fossil fuel share of energy consumption falls from 82% in 2012 to 80% in 2040, as consumption of petroleum-based liquid fuels declines, largely as a result of slower growth in VMT [vehicle miles traveled] and increased vehicle efficiency.” (more…)

In USA Today comes this story from the Associated Press:

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday permanently removed a German bishop from his Limburg diocese after his 31 million-euro ($43-million) new residence complex caused an uproar among the faithful.

Francis had temporarily expelled Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst from Limburg in October pending a church inquiry.

At the center of the controversy was the price tag for the construction of a new bishop’s residence complex and related renovations. Tebartz-van Elst defended the expenditures, saying the bill was actually for 10 projects and there were additional costs because the buildings were under historical protection.

But in a country where Martin Luther launched the Reformation five centuries ago in response to what he said were excesses and abuses within the church, the outcry was enormous. The perceived lack of financial transparency also struck a chord since a church tax in Germany brings in billions a year to the German church.

The Vatican said Wednesday that the inquiry into the renovation found that Tebartz-van Elst could no longer exercise his ministry in Limburg and that Francis had accepted his resignation, which was originally offered Oct. 20.

Back in October, I was part of a panel of guests on the BBC program World Have Your Say, discussing the question, “Should Religious Leaders Live a Modest Life?” The springboard for the conversation was the scandal surrounding Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst.

At the Boston Globe yesterday, John Allen sees this as a potential sign of a social gospel alliance between Pope Francis and President Obama, whose first meeting is today: (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, March 27, 2014

Conscience as Sacred Property
Jeremiah G. Dys , Canon & Culture

Caesar has provided us with a lamentable choice. Today, it is not the coliseum, nor are Christians being driven to the catacombs under totalitarian persecution. The choice presented to us, however, is no less unjust.

A new crusade: Aid proposed to stop Christian persecution in the Middle East
Meredith Somers, Washington Times

The United States can help Christians being persecuted in the Middle East by using foreign aid to modify behaviors in countries where persecution is rampant, educating U.S. diplomats about the issue in their assigned regions and asking for help from Arab-Americans, a panel of religious freedom researchers said Monday.

Religious Freedom: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t
Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review Online

Conservatives have been divided over the best way to protect religious freedom: constitutional or statutory, legislative or judicial. Almost all conservatives have believed, at every point in the last few decades, that laws should avoid forcing religious believers into violating their consciences whenever possible.

The Quaker Exemption and Religious Liberty Today
Thomas Kidd, ERLC

As oral arguments begin in Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the HHS abortifacient mandate, we might ask what the Founders would think about this case?

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Many who reject capitalism in favor of some “third way” do so because they often mistake it for government-corporate cronyism, says Jonathan Witt in this week’s Acton Commentary. But in countries that have begun extending true economic freedom to the masses, capitalist activity has already lifted hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty.

Happily, a new piece in The Economist magazine offers some helpful medicine for the confusion, insisting on the distinction between cronyism and capitalism while also pointing to some hopeful signs that a rising middle class around the globe is gaining the clout to fight the power structures that still wall millions out of the wealth creation game. My reservation about the article is that it misreads America’s Progressive era, and in the process, leaves cronyism’s favorite trick unexposed.

According to the piece, crony capitalism in America “reached its apogee in the late 19th century, and a long and partially successful struggle against robber barons ensued. Antitrust rules broke monopolies such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. The flow of bribes to senators shrank.” Later, it tells readers that while developing countries are making progress against cronyism, “governments need to be more assiduous in regulating monopolies.”

The full text of his essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.