backpageBackpage.com has, for years, been a place for people to buy and sell household items, cars, post ads for apartment rentals … and for human trafficking. Despite the fact that the site allows for the trafficking of men, women and children, law enforcement has been lax in clamping down on the trading in flesh. Even worse, Backpage allows for the use of Bitcoin, which means such transactions are virtually untraceable.

Breitbart News reported:

A recent court case, Doe v. Backpage.com LLC, brings the issue in to astounding focus. The case filed through the Massachusetts federal court by two women details the horrifying abuses they endured as minors when they were sold for sex through ads placed on Backpage.com. Unfortunately, this case is not the first time we are hearing about this; it is one of the numerous accounts that have been reported in the last few years.

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29taxes.2-500In an attempt to trap Jesus, some Pharisees and Herodians asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” In response, Jesus said,

“Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The Pharisees and Herodians “marveled” at Jesus answer, but had they asked an agent of the Roman IRS they likely would have been given a similar answer.

Governments have always had to contend with citizens who make what are considered “frivolous tax arguments” to avoid complying with tax laws. Such arguments rarely work (it’s usually not effective to try to present a creative interpretation of tax law to the people who interpret tax laws) but people keep trying.

The IRS has an entire list of responses to the most common frivolous tax arguments. Here are four of my favorites:
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Blog author: jcarter
Monday, April 13, 2015
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What Should the Pope’s Ecology Encyclical Say?
John M. Grondelski, Crisis Magazine

There has been some discussion of news reports that Pope Francis plans to write an encyclical letter on ecology and the environment. In anticipation of a possible papal letter on those subjects, two recent articles struck my attention.

Religious conservatives are the targets of discrimination, lawyer says
John M. Glionna, LA Times

Here’s why Christian businesses feel like they’re the ones being discriminated against.

How To Save Religious Freedom
Rachel Lu, The Federalist

America is hosting a war between ideological and cultural enemies. Religious freedom is losing, and big government is winning.

How to employ the very hard to employ
Angela Rachidi, AEI Ideas

Social enterprises have a long history in the U.S. They differ from typical government programs in that they are a business, usually operated outside of government, with a concern for the bottom line. They are typically started by people who want to make a difference in society by helping others.

While living in Nigeria, a twenty-four-year old woman named Ope met a man offering to help her find employment abroad. She was told she would be working as a nanny or in a factory. Instead, she was forced into prostitution. “It was like I was a slave,” she says.

The BBC has put together an animated version of Ope’s story, a heart-rending tale of modern-day slavery.

indiana-religiousfreedomOver the past few weeks the American media has revealed two important truths: (1) Religious freedom has become a surprisingly divisive and controversial topic, and (2) very few people understand what is meant by the term “religious freedom.”

Is religious freedom merely the liberty to attend worship services? Is the freedom limited to internal beliefs or does it also apply to actions taken in the public square? Should religious freedom ever trump other societal goods?

Joseph Backholm of the Family Policy Institute of Washington examines those questions and explains what religious freedom entails:
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Blog author: jcarter
Friday, April 10, 2015
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Why Evangelicals Should Love the Pope
Peter Wehner, New York Times

How best to live out one’s faith in this world has been a complicated issue throughout Christian history, and it remains so today.

When Conservative School Reforms Work
Seth Mandel, Commentary

Conservative education reformers are at several distinct disadvantages: union control of public education, the government’s broad power to protect its market dominance, restrictions on leveling the playing field between public and parochial schools, etc.

Who Will Stand?
Robert P. George, First Things

Are there political or religious leaders who will step forward? Are there intellectual or cultural leaders who will muster the courage to confront the mob?

Why Surrogacy Violates Human Dignity
Arland K. Nichols, Crisis Magazine

Surrogacy became mainstream when in the 4th season of the popular sitcom, Friends, the ever-spacey Phoebe became the surrogate mother of her brother’s children, in the episode titled “The one with the embryos.”

Does free enterprise hurt the poor? Is it unfair and driven by greed? Did it cause the Great Recession? In this brief video, AEI president Arthur Brooks answers these questions and more about free enterprise.

homeless-coderOn his way to work in 2013, tech entrepreneur Patrick McConlogue walked past a homeless man, Leo Grand, who was exercising with a heavy chain. McConlogue took this as a sign of Grand’s internal drive and motivation and decided to try an experiment:

The idea is simple. Without disrespecting him, I will offer two options:

1. I will come back tomorrow and give you $100 in cash.

2. I will come back tomorrow and give you three JavaScript books, (beginner-advanced-expert) and a super cheap basic laptop. I will then come an hour early from work each day—when he feels prepared—and teach him to code.

Leo turned down the money and took the opportunity to learn how to code. McConlogue saw this a portending great things: “It turns out Leo is a genius particularly concerned with environment issues.”

McConlogue initially gave Grand a laptop and some books and met with him an hour a day for tutoring. Later he would take off work for five weeks to work with Grand full-time on a smartphone app, “Trees for Cars.” Even before the app launched, McConlogue was dreaming about how to scale up the process into a program to help other “people in need”:
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Should corporate donations to political causes remain private or shouldn’t they? Your writer would argue for the former as he holds the U.S. Supreme Court nailed it with its Citizens United decision. Progressive shareholder activists, naturally, disagree.

Except, that is, when incredible secrecy suits progressive social and political ends. The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, for example, asserts Citizens United is the worst kind of travesty against all things they desire made transparent – as does ICCR member Walden Asset Management.

While “dark money” corporate donations give ICCR and WAM the Screaming Mimi’s, both groups are quiet as church mice when it comes to secretive funding of such progressive agendas as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. For example, ICCR and WAM haven’t uttered a peep concerning software magnate Tim Gill’s advocacy group OutGiving, a highly secretive group of millionaires who funnel money into campaigns supportive of LGBT causes and candidates likely to support them. (more…)

Jesus Christ the Apple TreeToday is the 70th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the Flossenbürg concentration camp. I’m privileged to offer a brief reflection on Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy over at Public Discourse.

I’ve been working on Bonhoeffer’s thought for over a decade now, and I’m often struck by the depth of his conviction and insight in such troubled times. One of the things about him that I try to highlight in the Public Discourse piece is how Bonhoeffer’s courageous action for the world today was rooted in hopefulness for the world to come. As so many others have often pointed out, and rightly so, Bonhoeffer’s theology and biography are intimately related.

For example, in principle Bonhoeffer affirmed God’s institution of marriage: “Through marriage human beings are procreated for the glory and service of Jesus Christ and the enlarging of Christ’s kingdom.” But even when faced with the dangers of resistance to Hitler and the travails of war and social discord, he took the step of proposing to Maria von Wedemeyer. Planning to marry her was an act of courage, a concrete form of affirming and accepting God’s will for this world.

There is an apocryphal saying attributed to the sixteenth-century reformer Martin Luther, that “if I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” As Scott Hendrix writes, this saying (although it has precedent in a story attributed to Francis of Assisi) actually arises from the Nazi era in Germany: “Scholars believe it originated in the German Confessing Church, which used it to inspire hope and perseverance during its opposition to the Nazi dictatorship.”

Bonhoeffer lived out his own form of that insight through his engagement to Maria in 1943, shortly before his arrest and eventual execution. May Bonhoeffer’s life and work continue to inspire hope and perseverance even in the midst of our suffering and confusion.