hist-ff-first-amendment-7195911What do Americans know about the First Amendment? Since 1997, the First Amendment Center has attempted to find out by taking an annual survey of the “state of the First Amendment.” The results for 2013 are about as depressing as you’d expect:

Americans were asked what they believed was the single most important freedom that citizens enjoy. The majority (47%) of people named freedom of speech as the most important freedom, followed by freedom of religion (10%); freedom of choice (7%); right to vote (5%); right to bear arms (5%); right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (3%), and freedom of the press (1%).

Women were twice as likely as men to name freedom of religion as the most important freedom. Thirteen percent of women named freedom of religion, whereas only 6% of men did.

Freedom of religion is literally the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment, making it the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights. It was listed first because of it’s historic importance to the Founders and their forefathers. Yet today only 10 percent of Americans think it is our most important freedom? No wonder our government officials are so unconcerned with violating our religious liberties.

Then again, it could be that most American aren’t even aware that religious liberty is a specific freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. For instance:


closed-businessThe Obama administration and several courts have effectively said that religious freedom doesn’t apply to money-makers — at least, not when it comes to purchasing abortion-inducing drugs for your employees.

In a recent piece for USA Today, Mark Rienzi, author of a marvelous paper on the relationship between profit-making and religious liberty, argues that drawing the line on “for-profit” vs. “non-profit” is a mistake for anyone who believes “conscience” belongs in business.

Offering a brief summary of the more recent demonstrations of “conscience” among money-makers, Rienzi invites us to imagine a world where values and business are separated:

We regularly encounter businesses making decisions of conscience. Chipotle recently decided not to sponsor a Boy Scout event because the company disagreed with the Scouts’ policy on openly gay scoutmasters. It was “the right thing to do,” Chipotle said.

Starbucks has ethical standards for the coffee beans it buys. Vegan stores refuse to sell animal products because they believe doing so is immoral. Some businesses refuse to invest in sweatshops or pornography companies or polluters.

You can agree or disagree with the decisions of these businesses, but they are manifestly acts of conscience, both for the companies and the people who operate them. Our society is better because people and organizations remain free to have other values while earning a living. Does anyone really want a society filled with organizations that can only focus on profits and are barred from thinking of the greater good?

Yet the persecution we see is quite selective. (more…)

According to James Madison, when lawmakers exempt themselves from the legislation they pass, “The people will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty.” Over 1,200 organizations and companies have already secured ObamaCare waivers. However, currently making big headlines is a deal worked out by the President and Congress that exempts congressional members and staff from the full effect of the law. In actuality, lawmakers had to go back and secure the hefty subsidies for Congress and staff as that was set to end when the health insurance exchanges are implemented on January 1, 2014. The Wall Street Journal does a good job of covering the details of the exemption and stressing the point once again that Washington lawmakers voted on and passed a bill they didn’t bother to examine. The lack of oversight and vetting of the bill has led to the subverting of the legislative branch, as the executive branch has been rewriting portions of the law to make it even more favorable to Washington.

Arguing in favor of ratifying the U.S. Constitution in Federalist #57, James Madison made this argument:

I will add, as a fifth circumstance in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of the society. This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together. It creates between them that communion of interests and sympathy of sentiments, of which few governments have furnished examples; but without which every government degenerates into tyranny. If it be asked, what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer: the genius of the whole system; the nature of just and constitutional laws; and above all, the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America — a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.

If this spirit shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty.

Those are weighty words by Madison, but now they point not to the optimism of a new country trying to secure a lasting liberty, but the kind of despotism that should be feared by the people.

Visigoths sack RomeThe travails of Detroit’s bankruptcy and the implications for the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) continue to garner speculation about the place of art in society and the value of the DIA to the city, both now and in the future.

Emergency manager Kevin Orr has “formally engaged Christie’s to appraise a portion of the city-owned multibillion dollar collection at the DIA.” John Fund at NRO has advised that even a limited number of paintings could be sold, keeping the remainder of the collection intact. This would allow for a reformation of the institution itself, “to make the art in the DIA more relevant to the people who actually live near it.”

Meanwhile, Graham Beal, the director of the DIA, plays a dangerous game of brinksmanship in the media. By Beal’s account, any change to the DIA would result in the shuttering of the institution: “If works of art are sold by anybody, that breaks the operating agreement — then that money ceases to come from the three counties, then the DIA will effectively be closed down.” Such claims continue to be made despite the real danger of liquidation by order of a federal judge and regardless of the realities of the institution’s operating budget. For fiscal year 2011, the DIA had an operating excess of nearly $22 million.

But Beal doesn’t seem inclined to give any quarter to talk about changes to the DIA. Thus he’s called suggestions like mine to “privatize” the DIA “a bit of a fairy tale.” But if anyone is living in a fantasy land, it’s those who think the DIA will be immune to the political turmoil surrounding Detroit. Rather than galvanizing around efforts to save the DIA, political and civic leaders in Detroit seem increasingly intent on looting the collection: “The Van Gogh must go,” said Mark Young, president of the Detroit Lieutenants and Sergeants Association. “We don’t need Monet – we need money.” The combined interests of the city’s creditors and pensioners might just be enough to sink the DIA. As Philip Terzian writes, “the financial claims of creditors might well have greater weight than the principle of a distinguished art collection in Motown.”

Barbarians are at the gates of the DIA, and the director fiddles. The best thing for a thriving DIA would be to become fully independent, but by all accounts Beal is uninterested in pursuing such options. Having gained a spot at the public trough, the DIA seems loathe to give it up, even if it means endangering the future of the institution.

First they came for the Picasso. Then they came for the Van Gogh. Then they came for the Rivera…

Blog author: ehilton
Monday, August 12, 2013

It’s no secret that the number of people receiving food stamps in the U.S. has exploded in the past few years. Not only is it easier than ever to get food stamps, the government actively recruits people to sign up. Is there waste? Are your tax dollars being used wisely? Fox News thinks not.

In a recent series called “The Great Food Stamp Binge”, reporter John Roberts spent some time with a young, healthy surfer in California. His reason for being on food stamps? Watch and see.

020705_1579_0012_lslsEntitlement reform cannot succeed by eliminating dependence, says Adam J. MacLeod. Instead we should aim to promote healthy dependencies.

In his address, Obama placed entitlement programs in perspective, observing that many people fall on hard times through no fault of their own. “We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives,” he said, “any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm.” He lamented a bygone era “when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.”

Here the president touched on a very real concern for many Americans: the fear of being left to fend for oneself. While economic rights are reasonably viewed as liberating, their liberating function can be overstated. Humans are by nature dependent beings. Even independently wealthy people are dependent upon others for goods such as friendship, art, and learning. And most people are not independently wealthy.

So lawmakers cannot, and should not attempt to, do away with humans’ dependence upon others. Instead, they should aim to foster healthy dependencies and to eradicate unhealthy ones. At its best, law does not free us from others but instead channels our dependence toward those who will take our wellbeing into consideration and act upon it. It encourages moral connections between dependent people and other dependent people.

Read more . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, August 12, 2013

The Isolationist Immigration Gospel of the Evangelical Immigration Table
Bill Blankschaen, Faith Walkers

Although I have great respect for many of the evangelical leaders who signed on to the original letter from the Evangelical Immigration Table, I have a few problems with how the evangelical label is being exploited for political gain.

The State of Economic Freedom in the United States and the World
The American

The developing world is increasingly embracing economic freedom, and reaping the benefits. So why are the United States and the EU heading in the opposite direction?

Families, Flourishing, and Upward Mobility
James K.A. Smith, Cardus

A healthy, flourishing society depends on structures and institutions beyond the state. Even the economic life of a nation cannot be adequately (or justly) fostered by just a couple of “spheres” (as Abraham Kuyper called them) like the market and/or government.

Did Jesus Tell Martha Not to Work?
Joy Buchanan, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

Christians are called to work, but if that is making us exhausted and anxious, then we could actually be making work into an idol.