Saturday, August 15, 2009

Confluence: Religion, Education, States' Rights 

This article in the Wall Street Journal, online, is another example of government intrusion into religion, education, and freedom.

The director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Charlotte, N.C., ruled that Belmont Abbey College, a small Catholic education institution, in Belmont, N.C. discriminated against female employees because the college refused to cover prescription contraceptives in its health insurance plan.

In March, 2009, the college was informed that a case filed against it in 2007 [by eight employees], claiming discrimination in the restrictions for contraceptives under the employee-provided health plan, had no value and all was fine. Inexplicably the case was reopened and now the college is charged with violating federal law.

Turns out that the EEOC guidelines refuse to consider that an institution's religious beliefs exempt it from offering benefits such as birth control pills. The guidelines in the state of N.C. do allow for exemptions based on religion.

If the college refuses to change its policy, the EEOC will pursue legal action.

When does the government have a right to enforce its laws on religious institutions?
Can a religious hospital that opposes abortion be forced to perform one?

What about religious freedom as defined in the 1st Amendment?

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Side replies to bishops post 

There were many great comments made on my reflection on the bishops' letter. It's not an easy thing to discuss, and I would point out that those who disagree with many of my posts are on conventional ground in arguing against me there. Let me add a couple of points made to me from outside that chat.

My former producer Matt Reynolds pointed me to the story of Zacchaeus (from Luke 19.) Worth remembering that Jesus called him by name and asked to stay with him without any demands made. Zacchaeus was a tax collector (a private function in the Roman empire; Zacchaeus probably was a subcontractor for one rather than one himself: on this the Bible isn't so clear) but who wants to hear Christ's teachings. When called he repents of his sins of his own volition, consistent with the observation I put forth for the rich man in Matthew 19.

An ELCA pastor notes for me Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms; I'd heard of this before but not spent much time reading it. The kingdom of the left is the worldly kingdom, ruled by law and man's reasoning powers. The kingdom of the right is God's, ruled through faith and His grace. Government is therefore divinely ordained, but operates in a world where the Devil also roams. We can't just accept every government action as being the result of God's left hand. So we should ask the bishops: What is it about requiring non-Christians to pay taxes that allows us to preach Christ crucified and resurrected and the grace of God?

He also tells me to look at Philippians 4:17, in which Paul thanks the church in Philippi for the gifts they send him, which had been the most generous of all of his churches. "Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account." Paul clearly is laying out how he is not collecting the money for himself (Paul too having the experience of tax collection is certainly sensitive to the perception!) but that it develops a generous heart in the people who give. Is it possible that paying taxes creates character in the citizenry? I dare say not.

Many thanks to Mitch for his notice of my earlier article; their discussion was equally enlightening.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Some Weekend Thoughts: Health Care, Notre Dame 

It's been a very hectic few weeks but things are finally settling down a bit. I thought I'd voice a few opinions on two issues of the day: Nationalized Health Treatment and Obama at Notre Dame. The only relationship between the two is Obama's confidence that he has all answers to all problems and can talk both sides of an issue in the same speech.

First, national health care. The leftist Democrats want us to be more like Europe, with its nationalized health care. It worked fine when their population was young and relatively homogeneous. No longer is it young and no longer is it homogeneous. The workforce is declining as are birthrates. So, how can it continue? Rationing? Yes.

The Democrats tell us they can provide a government run health system that will cut cost yet they ignore one of the key costs but our health care system: Lawsuits. IF the US were to go to a "loser pays" tort system on medical lawsuits (maybe all lawsuits for that matter), the cost of medical practice insurance would plummet. We would no longer need extraneous tests to protect doctors from being sued because they "didn't do everything to ____________, insurance rates would drop and given our ingenuity, medical services would improve, costs would decline - all without government intervention.

Can we go this route? Not with Democrats in power - one of their largest source of funds is from tort (ie sue them) attorneys.

The second issue is Obama at Notre Dame. I have to hand it to him and his cronies. Getting an honorary degree from Notre Dame, while supporting abortion and even die after surviving a botched abortion is a real coup. Then again, perhaps Notre Dame is not the Catholic institution I was raised to believe it was.

This article in the American Thinker is excellent. It describes how the Catholic universities have morphed left along with most of the public institutions. I wonder how many current attendees at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. know that their universities originally were religious institutions. I left the Catholic Church a long time ago but still respect its liturgy, basic beliefs, and strength when it functions as the institution it could be. It is a sad day when a US President who holds the social and theological view that Obama holds, is given the award he got Sunday.

Where is the backbone of any belief system that holds people accountable for their actions?

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Friday, May 15, 2009

But whose morals, Excellency? 

I obtained last night a copy of a letter that reinforces the Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota's bishops' letter from March. It was sent out to all Lutheran pastors in at least one synod this week. "Lutheran" in this case represents the ELCA branch, so you LCMS and WELS folks can relax, or shake your heads, or both. From the first link (the second letter):
All six Minnesota bishops of the ELCA signed on to a letter encouraging Minnesota legislators and the Governor to �allow us all to be a part of determining a future for Minnesota in which dignity and value of each one of us is upheld. The challenge is not just yours � it�s ours.� ... They followed up with an April 16 visit with legislative leaders and Governor Pawlenty to convey with their presence that �the budget is a moral document that reflects the choices we make for our life together. The measure of our moral fiber as a people is how we treat those who need our help the most.�
As I pointed out in the post this morning, the budget at some point becomes Governor Pawlenty's responsibility, in particular at that moment when the Legislature discharged its duties and sent bills forward to him. There were listening tours, testimony and negotiations, and then a swift tax bill that Pawlenty vetoed. Given the tone of the rest of the LCPPM's letter, I daresay they would not agree with the veto:
Join the chorus of concerned people of faith and voice your support for a moral budget. Here�s how:
  1. Contact your state representative and state senator and say that �We are not afraid of tax increases if it means poor people who are sick can get health care, families who lose their homes find shelter, and children are cared for.� ...
  2. Pass this message along to your friends and family and urge them to take action.
  3. Write a letter to the editor and submit it to your newspaper and/or your church newsletter. If you or someone you know relies on Minnesota�s network of health and human services, tell that story.
Now let me not pretend to be a religious scholar. But I sit in church each week and attend Bible study. I've worked as well as a church treasurer. If we had members, or neighbors, or recent immigrants to our town that we thought were in need, what would we do? There would be a sermon, and then there would be the offering. If we wanted extra money to help, we may pass the offering plates around a second time and designate those funds for those in need. It would be reinforced with the many, many verses in the Bible that ask us as believers to help the poor.

If the bishops thought the best way to help the poor was to give the state more revenue, I do not see any restriction that would prevent them from passing the plate while saying "our government needs more money. We are told to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and so we think at this time you should as a believer give more to our government. We will mail it in for them." As the treasurer, I could send a check to the state. (Here's a form you'll need. You're welcome.)

But this is not what the bishops seek. They wish to ask the state to compel non-believers into contributing to causes believers seek to fund. They remind me of the quote that inspired Amity Shlaes' great book, as written many years ago by William Graham Sumner.
The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the Forgotten Man. For once let us look him up and consider his case, for the characteristic of all social doctors is, that they fix their minds on some man or group of men whose case appeals to the sympathies and the imagination, and they plan remedies addressed to the particular trouble; they do not understand that all the parts of society hold together, and that forces which are set in action act and react throughout the whole organism, until an equilibrium is produced by a re-adjustment of all interests and rights. They therefore ignore entirely the source from which they must draw all the energy which they employ in their remedies, and they ignore all the effects on other members of society than the ones they have in view. They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government, and, forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion - that the State cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.
Bishop A and Bishop B (and W, X, Y, and Z, in the case of this letter) want to compel nonbeliever C to do for poor D what they won't ask believers F, G, H &c. to do by the offering plate. They do so under the guise that "a budget is a moral document".

And my budget is, in fact, a statement of the morals of my own family. My church's budget is a statement of the morals of my church. The government is not a church, or a family. The government's budget is not a statement of the entire society's morals. It is a compulsion of the majority upon the minority.

Where, dear bishops, is that compulsion a "moral statement" directed in the Bible?

I recall only that when the rich man heard he could not enter the kingdom of heaven without sacrificing all his earthly possessions, "he went away sad, because he had great wealth" ... and Christ let him go. The bishops are not so inclined.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

What I wouldn't give for more educated churches 

An article in this morning's local paper describes three bits of "food for thought" being discussed at a local church.
One in 10 U.S. households experiences hunger.

A basic North American meal travels 1,500 miles to get to your dinner table.

Research shows that hungry children are more anxious and depressed and less likely to do well in school.

Food and its connection to the community will be the topic of a new study series at a St. Cloud church known for examining complex issues.

�Food for Thought� begins Sunday at First United Methodist Church. It�s open to the public.

This is the fourth study series hosted by the church. Past series have focused on Islam, Christian identity and war.
Let's take those three points separately; they don't hold up well to actual thought:
  1. One in 10 hungry is one of those bits of alarmist garbage you read on liberal websites. Its origins are a USDA report that Robert Rector debunked fifteen months ago.
    In 2006, around two-thirds of food insecure households experienced �low food security,� meaning that these households managed to avoid any disruption or reduction in food intake throughout the year but were forced by financial pressures to reduce �variety in their diets� or rely on a �few basic foods� at various times in the year. According to the USDA, the remaining one-third of food insecure households (around 4 percent of all households) experienced �very low food security,� meaning that at least once in the year their actual intake of food was reduced due to a lack of funds for food purchase. At the extreme, about 1.4 percent of all adults in the U.S. went an entire day without eating at least once during 2006 due to lack of funds for food.
    1.4% went an entire day -- this is known by some of us as fasting. If you were a high school wrestler, you may have experienced "very low food security".

  2. How far your meal travels is not an issue as far as hunger is concerned. In fact, the ability of food to travel is a blessing of our modern trading system. That item in and of itself should be an indication that you are talking greenism through the kitchen door and are trying to end the process that has made the world so much wealthier. If we restrict food trade, we're reducing the very "variety in their diets" that is being used to bloat the number of people hungry!

  3. With those two put out of the way, the third point is that hungry kids do less well in school and are more anxious and depressed. True enough, but that tells us nothing of whether this is a problem. Kids forced to listen to soft jazz on the school intercom all day are probably anxious and depressed too, but luckily schools don't do that.
I am often bombarded with such messages in churches (I was raised Methodist, and such messages is only one reason I am no longer.) Whenever I question the pastor or the lay leaders about why they think such things are true, they trot out points like these three without any critical thought whatsoever. On the list of places I wish I could spend more time teaching economics, a seminary would be pretty high in priority. Even in very conservative Protestant denominations (I have very little experience with non-denominational churches, so I won't infer about them) the level of understanding of basic economic principles is parlous. We want people to trade with each other. We want people to eat, but we also want them to trade with each other. Places that trade with each other are less likely to war with each other. Give trade and peace a chance!

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"We shall not fight our battles alone" 

Joshua Sharf, who lost his run for the Colorado House last night, relates a story about Bob Schaeffer, who lost to Mark Udall for the U.S. Senate seat in Colorado. Joshua says Schaeffer recited a paragraph of a Patrick Henry speech by heart to him when in a 'candidate school'. As I spent this morning visiting with Captain Ed and the First Mate, who opened their home to me to avoid a long drive late night this Election Night, I said very imperfectly what Henry said so much better.
There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.
Vigilance and bravery and the will to act are by choice, as is one's faith.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

This is just wacky 

A note from former student Liz:
Pat Robertson's crowd encouraged people to hold a prayer meeting in front of the Golden Bull Statue on Wall Street to intercede on behalf of the economy. (falls under the things that are really funny at 4 am). We had an emergency reading of the Book of Exodus so Mallory (her infant daughter) would know why this is completely unacceptable behavior.
"They have quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them. They have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it and have sacrificed to it and said, 'This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!'" Exodus 32:8. Maybe they expect Pat to play Moses. Good luck with that.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Vilification doesn't pay 

The latest in your Sarah-Palin-is-a-wacko attack: She's a Pentecostal. Hide the children! Final Word producer Matt (a/k/a Antoine) explains:
While some "Bible-believers" may disagree on Theology, but they don't deride them. This is what these AP Reporters don't get. When you don't have a evangelical or even a Judeo-Christian worldview, it's extremely hard to understand the theological differences and the different style of worship that happens in a Pentecostal church. They express their worship outwardly. Maybe I can help them understand. That furrow that Chris Matthews feels for Barack Obama, that's close to how Pentecostals feel about their triune God, the Father, Son (that's Jesus) and Holy Spirit. When they feel the Holy Spirit move, it is expressed through verbal worship.
In the group I have breakfast with many mornings, this "she's a Pentecostal" thing had already reached one of our group who supports the Democratic candidate. "They do that speaking in tongues thing" he said. And another guy at the table, whom everyone knew goes to a fundamentalist church and has some different views on religion, said "so do I. What would you like to know about it?" A little education happened after that.

A third guy usually there but not that time is a pastor friend. He says, in short, while we have theological differences people who profess Christianity are spreading the Word, and we do not argue with them. There's always an opportunity to get a little education, one that I try to take.

But the vilification of Governor Palin will continue, since nobody will countenance her being more popular than the would-be Community-Organizer-in-Chief; and who think the only sisterhood that should matter should be lead by women in pantsuits. Maybe it works, but maybe the pantsuits this time will be the ones getting a little education.

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