On Friday the Obama administration proposed a rule that it says will appease the concerns religious organizations have about the controversial abortion/contraceptive mandate issued last year by the Department of Health and Human Services. Here’s what you should know about the mandate and the proposed changes.

the-pillWhat is this contraception mandate everyone keeps talking about?

As part of the universal health insurance reform passed in 2010 (often referred to as “Obamacare”), all group health plans must now provide—at no cost to the recipient—certain “preventive services.” The list of services includes sterilization, contraceptives, and abortifacient drugs.

If this mandate is from 2010, why are we just now talking about it?

On January 20, 2012, the Obama Administration announced that that it would not expand the exemption for this mandate to include religious schools, colleges, hospitals, and charitable service organizations. Instead, the Administration merely extended the deadline for religious groups who did not already fall within the existing narrow exemption so that they will have one more year to comply or drop health care insurance coverage for their employees altogether and incur a hefty fine. For example, Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned company that is opposing the mandate, is facing fines up to $1.3 million per day.

Is there a religious exemption from the mandate? If so, who qualifies for the exemption?
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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, February 4, 2013
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My Valuable, Cheap College Degree
Arthur C. Brooks, New York Times

I possess a 10K-B.A., which I got way back in 1994. And it was the most important intellectual and career move I ever made.

Will the United States Fight Religious Persecution?
Jillian Kay Melchior, Doublethink Online

Religious freedom continues to decline around the world, and persecution is on the rise. In September, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported that three-fourths of the global population—more than 5 billion people—live in countries with “high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities involving religion.”

Christians in Syria Fleeing Country as Crisis Reaches ‘Unprecedented Levels of Horror’
Stoyan Zaimov, OCP Media Network

As the civil war in Syria has reached “unprecedented levels of horror,” according to the U.N., Christians are being forced to flee their homes as avoiding the violent conflict has become less of an option.

Grace for Monotonous Work
Andre Yee, Desiring God

Somehow it seems easier to view our work as reflecting God’s glory as Creator in our creativity. Creativity is a reflection of our Creator. But how do we glorify God when engaged in the repetitive work that seems to be completely devoid of creativity?

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, February 4, 2013
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Last night millions of young Super Bowl viewers were introduced to one of the most influential conservatives in modern America. And it was done with this commercial.

Rush Limbaugh is often credited with the dubious honor of bringing conservative talk radio to the masses. And it is certainly true that Rush paved the way for Hannity, O’Reilly, and other pundits by perfecting the three-hour babblefest. But the true pioneer and undisputed king of conservative radio is Paul Harvey, a man who never required three hours and 36 commercial breaks to get his message across.

Harvey-PaulFrom 1951, when he joined ABC News, until his death in 2009, the “largest one-man network in the world” dominated radio. His show was carried on 1,200 radio stations, 400 Armed Forces Network stations around the world, and his column appeared in 300 newspapers nationwide. (His broadcasts and newspaper columns have been reprinted in the Congressional Record more than those of any other commentator.) Despite his dominance, Harvey is often overlooked as a influence on American politics and culture even though he had millions more listeners than any other conservative on the radio (including Rush). His “Paul Harvey News and Comment” aired for 5 minutes in the morning and for 15 minutes before noon. Yet Harvey managed to say more in those 20 minutes than other hosts say in 180.

While most other conservative pundits preach to the choir, Harvey was an evangelist for the conservative perspective. His disarming folksy charm made his conservative views appear to be nothing more than good old common sense. Because of his approachable style, Harvey has probably done more to promote non-ideological conservatism than any other figure in modern America. Growing up listening to him in the 1970s and 1980s is the reason I became a conservative. I suspect many other Generation-X conservatives would say the same.

Those of us who believe in the dignity of the person, the importance of social institutions, the need for economic freedom and limited government owe an invaluable debt of gratitude to the great broadcaster. We should thank God he made Paul Harvey. And pray that the Lord soon sends us another communicator as winsome and gifted in explaining the value of virtue of freedom.

If there is one day where young and old, Republican and Democrat, black and white, the 99% and the 1%, put down their weapons and disputes, it is on Superbowl Sunday. The game, the ads, the food, and so on, turned Superbowl Sunday into a major spectacle. The spectacle has not gone unnoticed among religious leaders. In fact, as Superbowl viewership has increased to over 100 million in recent years so has the discomfort about the game and the spectacle.

Tony Wood, Pastor of Preaching & Vision at Moment Church in Tustin, CA, posted on Facebook that “Sunday will be an interesting day as millions of Americans wake, look in the mirror, and choose which God they worship more – Football or Christ.” Nashville area pastor Ray Ortlund, over at The Gospel Coalition said that 2008 was his last Superbowl because, “It has become an intensified concentration of vulgarity and ego, with enough athletics in the game and cleverness in the commercials to trick me into watching. It’s simply not what I’m living for.” A fringe group of lay-preachers calling themselves “Citizens Against Super Bowl Idolatry” is planning to protest outside the game in order to warn the American public about the “deeper implications of Super Bowl idolatry in American life … ,” according to Birmingham lawyer, James Leonard Elsman.

Perhaps these religious leaders can take a little comfort in the fact that Superbowl viewership is actually expected to drop slightly this year, according to Brad Adgate, senior VP-research for Horizon Media.
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Blog author: jcarter
Friday, February 1, 2013
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In the Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan explains how Catholic Schools can combat falling enrollment while keeping standards high:

I have heard from many leaders in business and finance that when a graduate from Catholic elementary and secondary schools applies for an entry-level position in their companies, the employer can be confident that the applicant will have the necessary skills to do the job. Joseph Viteritti, a professor of public policy at Hunter College in New York who specializes in education policy, recently said, “If you’re serious about education reform, you have to pay attention to what Catholic schools are doing. The fact of the matter is that they’ve been educating urban kids better than they’re being educated elsewhere.”

The evidence is not just anecdotal. Researchers like Helen Marks (in her 2009 essay “Perspectives on Catholic Schools” in Mark Berends’s “Handbook of Research on School Choice”) have found that students learning in a Catholic school, in an environment replete with moral values and the practice of faith, produce test scores and achievements that reliably outstrip their public-school counterparts.

This is why, to the consternation of our critics, we won’t back away from insisting that faith formation be part of our curriculum, even for non-Catholic students.

Read more . . .

Since the 1970s, Black History Month has been a time to focus on some of the highlights of the black experience in America. In 2009, Jonathan Bean put together a wonderful book recounting the vital role liberty played in the American black experience. In Race and Liberty In America: The Essential Reader, Bean demonstrates that from the Declaration of Independence to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning school assignment by race, classical liberalism differs from progressive liberalism in emphasizing freedom, Christianity, the racial neutrality of the Constitution, racial solidarity, and free enterprise. Bean recalls rich history.

For example, James Forten (1776-1842), a free black who fought in the revolutionary war became a wealth sailmaker in Philadelphia reflecting on the importance of liberty in a 1813 petition to the Pennsylvania state legislature that would have deprived free blacks of basic rights. Forten was deeply concerned about maintaining the rule of law:
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Over at Fieldnotes Magazine, Matthew Kaemingk offers a good reminder that in our social solutions-seeking we needn’t be limited to thinking only in terms of market and state. By boxing ourselves in as such, Kaemingk argues, Christians risk an overly simplistic, non-Biblical view of human needs and human destiny:

When presented with almost any social problem (education, health care, poverty, family life, and so on), today’s leaders typically point to one of two possible solutions—a freer market or a stronger state. But in opposition to these rather myopic solutions, I think there is a more complex and biblical lens through which leaders can consider the social eco-system and the people who move around in it.

Instead of simplistic descriptions of human beings as either clients of the state or competitors in the market, the Christian Scriptures present humanity in a refreshingly complex way. We find a complex creature with a wide variety of gifts, abilities, interests, aspects, loyalties, and solidarities. Created in the image of God, human beings in the Bible are anything but simple. They are musical, communal, religious, artistic, familial, charitable, scientific, literary, moral, athletic, fun, and funny. The robust anthropology found in the Bible depicts a creature that could never be fully defined, controlled, content, or nourished by the market or the state alone—thank God.

This perspective ties in well with Rev. Robert Sirico’s final chapter in his book, Defending the Free Market, where he criticizes the popular notion of homo economicus, from which plenty of bad economic policy and market decision-making has been generated:

Any man who was only economic man would be a lost soul. And any civilization that produced only homines economici to fill its markets, courts, legislative bodies, and other institutions would soon enough be a lost civilization. Familial love, voluntary dedication to philanthropy and faith, the creation of art and music would be at their most minimal level, and whole sectors of life would completely vanish. Focusing the whole of life on the acquisition of quantifiable goods does not bring true happiness or peace, as almost everyone knows. We all have material appetites, but we do not (pray God) always feed them…Human beings find ultimate fulfillment not in acquisition but in developing, sharing, and using their God-given creative capacities for good and giving themselves to others. (more…)

The Emperor Constantine with his mother Helen, both traditionally commemorated as saints.

The Emperor Constantine with his mother Helen, both traditionally commemorated as saints of the Church.

This month marks the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan. While much debate surrounds the relationship of Church and state in Christian Rome, even key figures like the Emperor Constantine (traditionally considered a saint by both East and West), the Edict of Milan is something that anyone who values liberty, religious liberty in particular, ought to commemorate as a monumental achievement. While a previous edict in 311 had offered some toleration to Christians, who spent almost their first 300 years having to fear for their lives any one of many local outbreaks of persecution that periodically plagued Pagan Rome, the Edict of Milan for the first time granted the Church the same status, including property rights, as other religions. It did not establish Christianity as the state religion (that would not happen until the end of the fourth century). Even then, the history, like all history, is messy. Often different emperors had widely different practical perspectives toward their role (or lack thereof) in religion. As Lord Acton has stated, liberty is the “delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” and that includes religious liberty and Christian Rome. In all cases, it was not a total separation of Church and state, but it was an achievement, a maturation if only for a time, that marked the end of centuries of martyrdom for Christians in the Roman (now Byzantine) empire. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Friday, February 1, 2013
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School Choice: Key to Improving Hispanic High School Graduation Rate
Israel Ortega, The Foundry

The problems with American education are especially pronounced among Hispanics: Latino students lag behind white peers in high school graduation rates across the country. Meanwhile, California’s Hispanic population will be the state’s largest ethnic group in 2013.

The Internet, Human Creativity, and Freedom
Taylor Barkley, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics

The value of a free and open internet is rarely disputed in Western countries, because its benefits are so apparent. The internet has lowered or eliminated barriers restricting access to knowledge, business, education, and many other aspects of society.

What can we learn from free Internet access at McDonald’s?
Mark J. Perry, AEI Ideas

Who does a better job of serving poor and low-income Americans and students by providing free, high-speed Internet access to those who can’t afford it at home – the government or the market?

Reforming Omelas: America’s Moral Debt Problem
Tyler Castle, Values & Capitalism

Generally, a modest amount of debt is not an issue; in fact, it can be a sign of growth. But our nation is now getting to the point where its ability to pay back interest on the debt, and at some point, the debt itself, is coming into question.

Gadsden_flag.svgAmerica, for the obvious reasons, holds strong ties to Europe. But it is a country that has primarily been associated with a distinctness and separation from the turmoil and practices of the continent. In his farewell address, George Washington famously warned Americans about remaining separate from European influence and declared, “History and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” Class strife, conflict, and instability already long characterized the European fabric at the time of the American Revolution. Likewise, many American colonists already thought of themselves as free and distinct before the revolt. At the time of the revolution, some 400 wealthy noble families controlled Great Britain. America had an aristocracy for sure, but it was much more merit based than Europe. It embodied a more egalitarian spirit, local communities were culturally connected and would have been suspicious of attempts at centralization. So obviously countless problems ignited and there was a fanning of flames when the Crown started making decrees and commands of the American colonists.

I have a copy of Sam Gregg’s Becoming Europe, which is next on my reading list. The recent calls for gun control and the curtailing of 2nd Amendment Rights out of Washington immediately reminded me more of the American – European divide. I’d point you to Gregg’s work for the formative economic study on our evolution towards European democratic socialism, but I want to make a few short observations on the topic, which might be beneficial to expand on after I read Becoming Europe. (more…)