Posts Tagged ‘Government’

That Which is Best NOT Left Unsaid

“I watched the news waiting to hear a very specific combination of words…”

Today President Obama addressed the United Nations and I was listening to what he said. Usually I don’t care about these kinds of speeches but a large part of the reason for my interest in this one came from the fact that in many Islamic nations there have been calls for international bans on speech that insults Islam and specifically that insults Muhammad.

In that rather charged political environment I was listening for what I hoped he would not leave unsaid. You see, I’ve been concerned about the administration and their attitude towards our Constitutional rights so I was listening for the President to say something about them. I’m glad to say that he did not disappoint. Here are a few selected quotes which were pretty much what I wanted to hear:

We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture.

These are not simply American values or Western values; they are universal values…

[True democracy] depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear, and on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people…

In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others…

I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. As president of our country, and commander in chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.- President Obama’s address to the United Nations, 9/25/2012

I have been growing increasingly concerned that the federal government in general and the Obama Administration in particular were becoming disinterested in protecting our Constitutional rights. What I wanted to hear our president do was defend the concept of freedom of speech and promote it in a global setting. That’s what he did here. Yes, he could have been more forceful and in your face, but that probably wasn’t wise in this setting.

I agree with Hunter Baker, the Constitutional formulation of free exercise of religion with the state anti-establishment clause is the best approach. But in recent years, I’ve seen things that make me fear that America is taking a more secular approach, that is, a forcing of religion out of the public square. “Believe what you’d like but keep it to yourself,” is an inferior approach to freedom of religion and it foolishly believes that human beings can be compartmentalized. It isn’t possible to believe, really believe, that humans were created in God’s image and not allow that to inform what you believe about abortion and end of life decisions and how people should treat each other. We may not all agree on those things but however we formulate it, the notion of the image of God informs it.

What has recently concerned me is the way the Obama Administration has been handling questions of freedom of religion in the area of contraception and abortion and the Affordable Care Act. Ross Douthat stated the problem well. He pointed out that churches are exempt from providing healthcare that includes contraception and abortion but a charity that is Roman Catholic or a university that is Christian is not exempt. And this was done in the name of “freedom of worship” which is not another name for freedom of religion. The net effect is a dilution of free exercise and instead a form of secularism where only churches can have religious scruples about these matters and other institutions may not.

So when President Obama spoke to the UN, as a minimum I wanted to hear him actually defend freedom of speech and freedom of religion. If he went on to promote them, and he did, that would be even better. The president’s speech was very encouraging given how the federal government has been compromising our freedoms since 9/11. Thank you President Obama.

One Small Step

Roman Catholics, right or wrong, teach that artificial forms of birth control and any form of abortion is against God’s law and therefore wrong. It is a religious conviction, a belief that it is God’s will and that human life is sacred. Monty Python’s “Every Sperm is Sacred” distorts the teaching in order to lampoon and protest it. The teaching is not popular these days, even amongst practicing Roman Catholics. But it is official Roman dogma, part of their religion and the US constitution is supposed to protect the free exercise of religion. It no longer is. Hunter Baker said it well,

The Department of Health and Human Services has determined that religious institutions (including Catholic ones) must include coverage for contraceptive services in the care insurance they provide to employees. This is not a big deal, we have been told, because Catholic churches will be exempted, and the organizations adversely affected will be given a year to make their peace with the situation.

He punctuates the summary this way, “Let that sink in for a minute. You’re a Catholic organization. You have just been purposefully placed on a collision course between your God and Caesar. But it’s okay. Caesar is going to give you a year to stop being so upset.” Our democratically elected government has decided that reproductive choice is more important than religious freedom. Sex trumps faith. It doesn’t matter what your church teaches about sexual ethics, the state has determined how it much act. That is chilling.

This is coming from two protestants (Baker and I) who are alarmed at how our government is stepping on the rights of a church we don’t completely agree with. I don’t know where Baker stands on contraception (though I’m fairly confident he is against abortion) but I disagree with how Rome prohibits it. But I disagree more with how Washington has now prohibited that prohibition. Rome has a right to be wrong.

And it isn’t just conservative, evangelical voices who are upset. John Kass is an editor at the Chicago Tribune and he expresses a similar concern, albeit from a different perspective. I don’t agree with his secular “religion in private” approach, 1And really, doesn’t this debate prove that the secularist “religion is a private matter” is unsustainable? Obama is trying to separate religious belief from public policy and failing. Religion belongs in the public debate not because we’ll all agree on it but precisely because we do not. We need to protect those we disagree with and ensure their rights are curtailed in a private, quite, dark corner. Ours might be next. but I do appreciate and agree with his concern that politics is stepping on even that here. Consider:

With great will and personal charm, Obama pushed through government-run health care. The problem was never with giving care to the needy. The problem was that this policy increased federal power. And now Americans are learning a terrible fact about what happens to freedom as federal authority grows…

Obama has sent the spinners and town criers galloping out of the White House to say, incorrectly, that this debate is only about contraception. It is not. It was always about federal power trampling religious freedom, and now the White House is panicking.

Kass is correct. Our federal government has been increasingly taking more and more power to itself and when it does that, it gets the power from somewhere else. At first the power was taken from States. Now it is coming from us. Small steps at a time. A little here, a little there. I hope this little step set off the burglar alarm because, folks, we’re being robbed.

It is fascinating that this is an election year and we see the federal government make such a huge gaff. I hope this kind of thing wakes people up. The Occupy Wall St. protest had good intentions but they were shooting at the wrong target. The problem didn’t abide only in Wall St., it real home is in Washington. We have got to stop electing those who promise us our wildest dreams and start electing those who promise to keep out of the way of us chasing those dreams. Including dreams of religious freedom.

But wait! The White House has heard our lament! They have proposed a compromise. After extending the kindness of giving organizations a year to get over it, the White House has gone even farther. Now the organization doesn’t have to pay for contraceptives. The insurance company must provide them free of charge. Religious freedom preserved, right? Not really. I mean, are all health care insurance providers going to, from this day forth, take a reduced profit based on how many pills they give away each year? Not likely. Rates will rise to compensate for this “free” service and still religious organizations are required to pay. Can we have our freedoms back? Please?

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1. And really, doesn’t this debate prove that the secularist “religion is a private matter” is unsustainable? Obama is trying to separate religious belief from public policy and failing. Religion belongs in the public debate not because we’ll all agree on it but precisely because we do not. We need to protect those we disagree with and ensure their rights are curtailed in a private, quite, dark corner. Ours might be next.

THE Space Pen

In the 1960s, the story goes, NASA realized that astronauts would need a special pen for recording data, instrument readings etc. when in space. This pen would have to be capable of writing upside-down, in zero gravity, and in extremely high and low temperatures.

NASA enlisted some of the finest minds in the country and set them to work. After much trial and error, years of work, and the expenditure of 1.5 million dollars, they finally succeeded in developing a space pen. And the Russians? The Russians used pencils.

(From BBC History Magazine)

Gag Reflex

I recently bought a mouth guard thing because my dentist and my wife said I’m grinding my teeth at night. The dentist recommended one on Amazon or they could charge me $600 to custom make one. I went with Amazon (buying one off eBay just didn’t seem right.) I discovered two interesting things in the process. First, our federal government has actually spent time regulating mouth guards. Seriously, there is a warning on the package that says federal law requires you buy one from or under the direction of a health care professional. I mean, what would happen if someone just went out and bought one and started using it without being told to? Chaos, folks, utter chaos. I’m covered here since my dentist told me to. (Also, in case the FBI is reading, I’ve left those huge, unnecessary white tags hanging off my pillows, mattresses and patio furniture cushions.)

Second, I’ve discovered that I have a more sensitive gag reflex than I realized. I wonder if that’s regulated too?