Only churches can be religious

How to restrict religion given the Bill of Right’s protection of the “free exercise” of religion?  Easy, the secularists in power are finding:  Define religion as only what goes on behind the walls of churches.

That’s what the administration has done in its abortion pill/contraceptive mandate in exempting only church congregations, while requiring church-run hospitals and other ministries to provide that coverage free of charge even when they violate their religious convictions.

Now colleges are using the same strategy, as Greg Forster reports:

The Supreme Court declared in 2010 that public universities must permit religious student clubs to select leaders who share their faith. UNC-Greensboro is now getting around this by declaring that a Christian student club isn’t really religious.

On what grounds? It isn’t affiliated with a church.

Other schools are apparently pursuing this strategy as well. Expect to hear more about it.

via An Arm of the North Carolina State Government Says Christianity Isn’t a Religion » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

The next step, as in the former Soviet Union:  Religion is restricted to what goes on inside of your head.

 

 

Today politics “is about nearly everything”

Political scientist James Q. Wilson has died.  Among his many contributions was an article on “Broken Windows”–observing that if a broken window in a building doesn’t get fixed, soon all the windows will be broken, an example of how social order must be established in small things so as to create social order in big things–a theory that led to new methods of police work that, famously, caused the crime rate in New York City to drop dramatically.

George Will sums up some of his other insights:

New Deal liberalism, Wilson said, was concerned with who got what, when, where and how; since the 1960s, liberalism has been concerned with who thinks what, who acts when, who lives where and who feels how: “Once politics was about only a few things; today, it is about nearly everything.” Until the 1960s, “the chief issue in any congressional argument over new policies was whether it was legitimate for the federal government to do something at all.” But since the “legitimacy barrier” fell, “no program is any longer ‘new’ — it is seen, rather, as an extension, a modification, or an enlargement of something the government is already doing.”

The normal dynamic of politics, Wilson warned, is a process of addition, candidates promising to add to government’s menu of benefits. Hence today’s problem of collective choice: Can Washington, acknowledging no limit to its scope and responding to clamorous factions that proliferate because of its hyperactivity, make difficult choices? With government no longer constrained by either the old constitutional understanding of its limits or by the old stigma against deficit spending, hard choices can be deferred, and are.

Try, he wrote, to think “of a human want or difficulty that is not now defined as a ‘public policy problem.’ ” The defining is done by elites to whose ideas the political system has become so open that changes of policy often result not from changes of public opinion but from changes in the way elites think. Liberal elites define problems as amenable to government engineering of new social structures. Conservative elites emphasize the cultural roots of many problems and hence their intractability.

America, Wilson said, increasingly faces “problems that do not seem to respond, or to respond enough, to changes in incentives.” This is because culture is often determinative, is harder to change than incentives and impedes individuals’ abilities to respond to incentives. . . .

Wilson warned that we should be careful about what we think we are, lest we become that. Human nature, he said, is not infinitely plastic; we cannot be socialized to accept anything. We do not recoil from Auschwitz only because our culture has so disposed us. Children, Wilson thought, are intuitive moralists, but instincts founded in nature must be nurtured in families. The fact that much of modern life, from family disintegration to scabrous entertainment, is shocking is evidence for, not against, the moral sense, which is what is shocked. And the highest purpose of politics is to encourage the flourishing of a culture that nurtures rather than weakens the promptings of the moral sense.

via James Q. Wilson: America’s prophet – The Washington Post.

Oklahoma and the “conservative life”

Last Thursday the Washington Post had a big feature article–on the front page, no less–about Washington, Oklahoma, which is just down the road from where my wife’s father and brother live.  The article was focusing on Oklahoma as a Super Tuesday state and as one of the most consistently Republican states in the union, voting for George W. Bush at a rate of 65.6% and for John McCain at the exact same rate of 65.6%.   The little town of Washington, population 600, was targeted, I guess because it has the same name as our nation’s capital, and it was presented as exemplifying “the conservative life,” whatever that is.

The stereotypes and condescension abound, presenting the folks of Washington as an exotic tribe, as in a National Geographic special.  But the reporter, Eli Saslow, has a way with description, and his details made me nostalgic for my own Oklahoma roots growing up:

What you see is Sid’s Easy Shop opening downtown each morning at 6, where Sid will sell you gas, rent you a movie, make you a new set of keys or bring your soda to one of the classic red booths preserved from the 1950s. The post office, its roof painted red and white to reflect the stripes of the American flag, opens for business a few hours later. Next door to that, Casey operates her coffee shop with the help of her husband and five kids, who take turns working the register, Yes Sir and Yes Ma’am, and sell T-shirts imprinted with the phrase “Make God Famous.”

What you see is a parade of several dozen well-wishers lining the street and stretching out their hands to the bus every time one of the varsity high school teams leaves to play a road game, and a few hundred people gathering for community workdays to fix up the Little League field so Washington doesn’t waste money on parks and rec. Almost all of the houses in town are single-story ranchers, and more than 70 percent belong to married couples — few Hispanic, fewer black, none Muslim and none openly gay.

What you see are calves dropping in the spring, coyotes circling at night, shooting stars, roaring tornados and thick flocks of birds migrating across skies that round over the horizon.

And yet, the article itself has details that show the folks of Washington are more complicated than he lets on.  The town has no diversity, with few Hispanics and Blacks and no Muslims, the article complains, but it turns out that the rancher being interviewed is Chickasaw, whose ancestors came to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.  I suspect the same could be said for many of the other Washingtonians.   So Native Americans don’t count in the diversity requirements?

It also turns out that the rancher, described riding his pickup to check on the cattle, went to college, worked in St. Louis, and now telecommutes with a financial company.  The preacher in the story with the alarmingly conservative congregation turns out to be from Chicago.

As for Oklahoma being so Republican, the fact is, just a few decades ago, Oklahoma was purely Democratic.  When I was growing up, there was not even a Republican party organization in the county.   All local elections were decided in the Democratic primary.  I don’t think I ever saw  a Republican, except on TV, until my cousin married one.  (There were some in the family who thought such a mixed marriage would never work, and we were all surprised to learn what a nice guy he was.) Back in the 1960s, Oklahoma was famous for its “Yellow Dog Democrats,” meaning that people would vote for a yellow dog if he was a Democrat.

The people condescended to in this article used to be the base of the Democratic party.  Judging from other liberal rhetoric, I thought “the conservative life” was represented by “the 1%,” the rich, the corporate oligarchs.   The people presented as primitive and retrograde in this article are closer to poor.  I thought liberals championed the poor.  Why are they making fun of them?

The Democratic party would do well to ponder why states that were once solidly in their pocket have gone Republican.  The hints are in the article. The people here are zealously against abortion.  They worry about moral values.  Their families are central to everything they do.  They know about family breakups, their teenagers using crystal meth, and crime problems from bitter experience, and they hate the breakdown in social order that these represent and that have reached even Washington, Oklahoma.  But they are proud to be Americans, volunteer to fight their country’s wars, are fiercely independent, and are ardent in their faith.  There was a time when you could be a Democrat, a liberal even, and hold to all of this.

Why has Washington, Oklahoma, become so strange, so alien, regarded as both scary and comical, to today’s liberal establishment?

via To residents of another Washington, their cherished values are under assault – The Washington Post.

Nationalizing the curriculum despite the law

The federal government is forbidden, by law, to establish a national curriculum for the public schools.  So, instead, the Department of Education is orchestrating a “voluntary” movement by dangling federal money to the states that go along.  So far, 45 states are on board, creating a de facto national curriculum.  Peter Wood of the Chronicle of Higher Education, no less, calls foul:

Before 1965, the federal government more or less left the matter entirely to the states, but that year President Johnson championed legislation, the Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA) that put the federal government in the business of funding portions of school districts’ budgets. The framers of the bill, aware that one thing leads to another, put in stiff statutory limitations that prohibited federal involvement with the K-12 curriculum.

Lots of federal legislation affecting the schools has followed over the years but all of it has stuck to the principle that the curriculum is a no-go area for federal authorities. The General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), the Department of Education Organization Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act were solidly aligned on this point. As GEPA put it:

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system…

There are no acts of Congress that create significant loopholes in these prohibitions, and none that offer up a contrary principle inviting the federal government to step into curricular matters.

These laws have been a source of frustration for would-be education reformers, left and right, who often have often been drawn to the idea that with the benefit of a little federal government muscle they could, at last, cut through the seaweed that has so far choked every effort to reform the nation’s public schools.

The Obama administration, facing the same legal obstacles as all its predecessors, chose a novel tactic. It orchestrated a program under the auspices of National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) which proposed standards that the states would be free to adopt. But “free” came with some sweeteners. The Race to the Top dangled hundreds of millions of dollars among those states that chose to adopt the Common Core. As for those states that chose not to…they face some interesting consequences too. I wrote about this last year in “The Core Between the States.”

Eitel and Talbert’s nineteen-page analysis of the legal standing of the Common Core State Standards mounts a powerful case that the Obama administration has overstepped itself. The Road to a National Curriculum does its most devastating work by quoting from Department of Education documents that lay out in plain language the effort to use federal resources to achieve results prohibited by statute. One such document, for example, explains, “The goal of common K-12 standard is to replace the existing patchwork of State standards that results in unequal expectations based on geography.”

Whether you think that is a worthy goal is beside the point. Over the last fifty years Congress has repeatedly told the executive branch of the U.S. government “keep out” of the school curriculum.

via The Core Conundrum – Innovations – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Wood points out that whether one favors a national curriculum or not, this is surely a violation of the law.

What would be the advantages of a national curriculum?  (Would it be likely to lift academic standards and improve learning for the entire country?)  What would be the disadvantages?  (Wood thinks it would squelch what bright spots there are and drag all schools down into mediocrity.)   What other issues do we need to be concerned about?

HT:  Jackie

California judges must say if they’re gay

Besides the precedent in privacy violation, is this the beginning of affirmative action for homosexuals?

In order to make sure gays and lesbians are adequately represented on the judicial bench, the state of California is requiring all judges and justices to reveal their sexual orientation.

The announcement was made in an internal memo sent to all California judges and justices.“[The Administrative Office of the Courts] is contacting all judges and justices to gather data on race/ethnicity, gender identification, and sexual orientation,” reads an email sent by Romunda Price of the Administrative Office of the Courts. A copy of Price’s memo was obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

“Providing complete and accurate aggregate demographic data is crucial to garnering continuing legislative support for securing critically needed judgeships,” Price writes.

The process of self-revealing one’s sexual orientation is an element of a now yearly process. “To ensure that the AOC reports accurate data and to avoid the need to ask all judges to provide this information on an annual basis, the questionnaire asks that names be provided. The AOC, however, will release only aggregate statistical information, by jurisdiction, as required by the Government Code and will not identify any specific justice or judge.”

via California Asks Judges: Gay or Straight? | The Weekly Standard.

And isn’t this stacking the deck for the gay-related court cases on the horizon?

Rights as pretexts for state power

In the course of an essay worth reading as a whole, Mark Steyn identifies a profound shift in the understanding of a human right, from a limitation on government power to a mandate for even more government power:

When it comes to human rights, I go back to 1215 and Magna Carta — or, to give it its full name, Magna Carta Libertatum. My italics: I don’t think they had them back in 1215. But they understood that “libertatum” is the word that matters. Back then, “human rights” were rights of humans, of individuals — and restraints upon the king: They’re the rights that matter: limitations upon kingly power. Eight centuries later, we have entirely inverted the principle: “Rights” are now gifts that a benign king graciously showers upon his subjects — the right to “free” health care, to affordable housing, the “right of access to a free placement service” (to quote the European Constitution’s “rights” for workers). The Democratic National Committee understands the new school of rights very well: In its recent video, Obama’s bureaucratic edict is upgraded into the “right to contraception coverage at no additional cost.” And, up against a “human right” as basic as that, how can such peripheral rights as freedom of conscience possibly compete?

The transformation of “human rights” from restraints upon state power into a pretext for state power is nicely encapsulated in the language of Article 14 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which states that everyone has the right “to receive free compulsory education.” Got that? You have the human right to be forced to do something by the government.

via The Perversion of Rights – Mark Steyn – National Review Online.


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