Former Congressman Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. In an Emerson College poll of Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa conducted before and after the debate this week, his support was so low, it didn’t even register. The man who was once considered the liberals’ best hope for retaking a U.S. Senate seat in overwhelmingly red Texas is running so far in back of the pack, he’s in danger of falling out.
Now, he’ll have to pander to the single-issue constituencies within the Democratic Party, as well as the punditcrats who fell in love with him during his Senate bid, for enough support to keep his campaign afloat.
That’s probably why he answered unhesitatingly and in the affirmative when CNN’s Don Lemon asked in a recent forum, “Religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities—should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”
To be fair, he probably didn’t think about the question very thoroughly before answering. He didn’t consider all the implications inherent in his response for a nation like ours, which was founded, in no small way, as a sanctuary for those seeking religious liberty. But answer that way he did, and he has to accept he’ll be criticized for it.
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O’Rourke’s answer reminded me of another political leader who, centuries ago, when confronted with an unresolvable conflict with the church over a different issue regarding marriage, chose to take matters into his own hands.
It’s a complicated story, central to the storyline of the Academy Award–winning film A Man for All Seasons, that’s not as well-remembered as it should be. In brief, King Henry VIII, unable to obtain a papal annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, broke with Rome and established the Church of England with himself as the head. He then moved into the second of the many marriages for which he is infamous.
While this schism horrified church leaders and Catholics who continued to profess allegiance to Rome, others went along quietly, if not gladly, for economic reasons. Henry, as he moved forward to consolidate his control, seized church assets, bringing valuable land and other properties under royal control or, to put it more bluntly, taxed them into submission.
This is precisely what CNN’s Lemon proposed, and O’Rourke supported, despite this country’s long history of tolerance on matters of individual conscience and religious doctrine. The so-called separation of church and state, a phrase that appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution but comes instead from a letter on the subject of religious liberty written by Thomas Jefferson to a congregation of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, exists to protect the church from the state and not vice versa.
Religious organizations are part of the dynamism that makes the nation what it is. It’s an observation going back as far as Alexis de Tocqueville, if not further. They are a vital part of the national fabric and perhaps the only ones strong enough and well-funded enough to compete with the state in the delivery of what we now consider essential social services. Like the government, religious groups run hospitals, provide for the poor, educate the young, care for the old and engage in other activities without which the country might grind to a halt.
That they can do as much as they do to improve Americans’ lives is in part because they are largely free of the burden of taxation imposed on individuals and businesses. To force them to turn over funds that would be used for good works, as punishment for not getting with the rest of the cultural elites on the doctrinal matter of the nature of marriage, would constitute an enormous constitutional and cultural overreach. Yet O’Rourke went there, even if he did later clarify his position, walking it back outside the area of doctrine and into the bright light of matters related to the delivery of public services. Can other Democrats who want to be president be all that far behind?
It used to be said that what was once called the “religious right” wanted to use the power of the government to impose its views on everyone else. Maybe—though I always found the allegation specious. Now, the pendulum is swinging. It is the secularists, whose views O’Rourke initially endorsed (again, one hope’s without thinking), who appear to be driving the train in a way that could have profound implications for the future of America.
Linda Greenhouse omits the anti-Catholic bias at the heart of a new case before the Court.
The headline is jolting. “Religious Crusaders at the Supreme Court’s Gates.” Thus starts Linda Greenhouse’s analysis of the actual and potential religion cases before the Court during its October term. Her thesis is that the Court’s relative restraint in its religion cases the previous term represented the justices’ merely “biding their time.” This term the gloves may come off. Now the Court may well “go further and adopt new rules for lowering the barrier between church and state across the board.”
She focuses on an Institute for Justice case that the Court has accepted for review, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. It involves a Montana supreme-court-ordered termination of a state tax-credit scholarship program that “helped needy children attend the private school of their families’ choice,” including religious and nonreligious schools. The precise issue before the Court, in dry legalese, is this: whether the Montana court’s decision “violates the religion clauses or the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools.”
Greenhouse is incredulous. If SCOTUS rules against Montana, then, according to her, “the logical consequence is that a state that once had a program offering financial support to religious and nonreligious schools alike . . . and that subsequently shut down the program entirely can be deemed to have violated a principle of religious neutrality.”
“Can that possibly be the law?” she asks. But her summary isn’t exactly right. She pays short shrift to the key fact of the case. The Montana court’s ruling was based on the state’s Blaine amendment, an artifact of odious 19th-century anti-Catholic bigotry. In fact, the words “Blaine amendment” appear nowhere in her piece.
A brief history lesson is in order. As Mike McShane explained in an instructive Forbes piece last year, in the latter part of the 19th century, America’s public schools were often “nominally Protestant.” They would frequently start their days with prayer, the students would read from the King James Version of the Bible, and they’d sometimes even sing hymns.
So when Senator James Blaine proposed amending the United States Constitution to state that “no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations,” he was not attempting to stamp out public-school religiosity. He was attempting to deny aid to Catholic parochial schools.
Blaine’s federal amendment failed, but his language found its way into 37 state constitutions. As McShane notes, the anti-Catholicism of the amendments is betrayed by the words “sect” or “sectarian.” In the language of the time, Protestant instruction was “nonsectarian.” Catholic instruction was “sectarian.”
Let’s look at the relevant language of the Montana constitution. The section at issue is entitled “Aid prohibited to sectarian schools” and prohibits the use of public funds “for any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”
Mr. Blaine, meet your amendment.
So let’s go back to the question posed by Linda Greenhouse. “Could that possibly be the law” that states are prohibited from ending “a program offering financial support to religious and nonreligious schools alike”? Yes, it can possibly be the law. Indeed, it should be the law — when the state ends support because it’s enforcing a legal provision that in purpose and effect engages in blatant religious discrimination.
The twin constitutional pillars of religious liberty in the United States — the free-exercise clause and the establishment clause — don’t just protect liberty by disestablishing religion (by preventing the formation of a state church). They protect liberty by preventing punitive anti-religious policies. They prevent the state from targeting religion for disfavored treatment.
Targeting religion for disfavored treatment is exactly what Blaine amendments do. They were aimed squarely at Catholics. Yet as so often happens with attacks on liberty that are allegedly narrowly targeted, the government expanded its scope. Now the law aimed at Catholics affects all people of faith. When it comes to participation in public programs — programs they bought and paid for with their own dollars — Montana’s religious citizens and religious institutions are entitled to equal treatment under the law.
Texas senator Ted Cruz took to the Senate floor Thursday afternoon to denounce anti-Semitism moments before the Senate unanimously passed his bipartisan resolution condemning all forms of anti-Semitism.
“We’re living in an era where the need for a strong and clear condemnation of anti-Semitism has become acute,” Cruz said.
Cruz then went on to discuss the uptick in anti-Semitic attacks and violence in the United States and abroad, highlighting such horrific incidents as the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh which killed eleven people.
“We have seen the growth on our college campuses of movements to aggressively boycott products made by Jews in Israel,” he continued, highlighting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
During his speech, Cruz pointed to the House of Representatives’ failure to pass a resolution earlier this year specifically condemning anti-Semitism after Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) made numerous anti-Semitic remarks including insinuating American Jews have a dual loyalty to Israel.
“When the House tried to condemn anti-Semitism, sadly they were instead forced to water it down into a general resolution decrying bigotry of all sorts,” Cruz said. “There’s of course nothing wrong with condemning bigotry and hatred in general.”
“But anti-Semitism is a unique prejudice, with a unique history, that has led to unique horrors throughout history,” Cruz added. He noted Jews are the most targeted religious group in America today according to data from the FBI.
Cruz noted that American Jews have been subject to discrimination throughout the history of the United States, including being barred from certain social clubs, academic institutions, neighborhoods, and hotels.
“This is a shameful legacy and it makes it all the more incumbent that we as a Senate speak in one voice and stand resolved that the United States condemns and commits to combating all forms of anti-Semitism,” he said.
The resolution passed with unanimous consent and included fourteen Democratic cosponsors including Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I.,Vt.).
By Charles Fain Lehman • The Free Beacon
The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief Thursday in support of students claiming they were discriminated against after the state of Montana denied them placement in a tax credit scholarship program because the school they attended was a Christian one.
The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, concerns a the Montana Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which allows Montanans to deduct up to $150 of their contribution to a privately run scholarship program. The state department of revenue prompted the suit when it added a rule prohibiting tax credits for contributions to schools owned or operated by “a church, religious sect, or denomination.”
A group of parents brought suit on behalf of their children in December 2015 after they were denied participation in the scholarship program because their children attended a Christian-run school. The suit made it to a state trial court, which sided with the parents; the state then appealed to the Supreme Court of Montana, where DOJ lodged its Thursday amicus.
by Bill McMorris • Washington Free Beacon
The president of the University of Notre Dame called criticism of appeals court nominee Amy Barrett’s Catholic faith “chilling” in an open letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.).
Rev. John I. Jenkins sent the letter after Feinstein, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, criticized Barrett’s nomination in light of her Catholic faith. Feinstein asked Barrett, a Notre Dame law school professor, if she could be trusted to impartially weigh in on cases involving abortion, given the Church’s opposition to the practice.
“I would never impose my own personal convictions on the law,” Barrett said during a Wednesday confirmation hearing. Continue reading
Liberals just aren’t very liberal these days. The word “liberal” comes from the Latin word meaning freedom, and in the 19th century, liberals in this country and abroad stood for free speech, free exercise of religion, free markets, free trade — for minimal state interference in people’s lives.
In the 20th-century, New Dealers revised this definition by arguing that people had a right not only to free speech and freedom of religion but also, as Franklin Roosevelt said in his 1941 Four Freedoms speech, freedom from fear and from want. Continue reading
The Supreme Court this morning issued its ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. At issue was whether closely held companies like Hobby Lobby could be forced by the government to provide abortifacient coverage to its employees, in defiance of its owners’ deeply held religious beliefs.
In a 5-4 ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other closely held companies do not have to provide contraceptive coverage that conflicts with the religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. Here are 5 major takeaways from the Supreme Court’s decision. Continue reading
“It is eerily ironic that only days after Obama told students to reject the voices that warn of government abuses and overreaching, it turns out that the Obama Administration has been systematically abusing the constitutional rights of so many Americans.”
by George Landrith
When President Barack Obama recently spoke at Ohio State’s commencement, he told the graduates to reject voices that express concerns about government abuses. He mocked the idea that reasonable, thinking Americans might be concerned that government can become too big, too unaccountable, and too heavy-handed.
Obama’s directive to ignore those concerned with potential abuses of big government was stunning for at least two reasons. First, it is as American as apple pie and baseball to be wary of the promises of government officials and the abuse of power. Second, within a week, several Obama Administration scandals had broken wide-open – each proving that those concerned about government tyranny were right. Continue reading