Legal issues in overturning the insurance mandate

The Obamacare abortion pill/contraceptive mandate is so obviously a government assault on religious liberty that the courts are sure to overrule it.  Right?  I’ve been hearing that.  Eight lawsuits have already been filed.  But the legal issues get complicated, with a precedent that might let the Obama administration have its way.  There is, however, a way to trump that precedent, depending on how the issue is construed.  Journalist N. C. Aizenman gives a useful overview of how the cases will be argued:

The plaintiffs will argue, among other claims, that the rule, which takes effect Aug. 1, interferes with their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by effectively compelling them to provide a form of coverage that conflicts with their beliefs.

To win that argument, they will need to clear a major legal hurdle: A landmark 1990 decision in a case called Employment Division v. Smith, in which the Supreme Court found that if a law is “neutral and generally applicable” — meaning that it is not specifically targeted against any religious group — individuals must comply with it even when doing so imposes a burden on their free exercise of religion.

Writing for the majority in that case, Justice Antonin Scalia — a conservative justice known for his strong identification with the Catholic Church — found that to allow otherwise “would be courting anarchy” by making “the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

In the last decade, the highest state courts of both New York and California cited the Smith decision in blocking First Amendment challenges to state contraceptive-coverage laws virtually identical to the federal rule.

In both instances, the state courts found that their state’s laws met the “neutral and generally applicable” standard set out in Smith. And in both cases, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the lower court’s decision. . . .

In addition to their constitutional challenges, the plaintiffs will try to convince judges that the federal rule violates a 1993 law adopted by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s Smith decision.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton, essentially replaces the “neutral and generally applicable” standard set by Smith with one that is far more stringent. It states that even a generally applicable federal law cannot “substantially burden” a person’s exercise of religion unless the law furthers a “compelling government interest” and does so by the “least restrictive means.”

The plaintiffs argue that because the vast majority of health plans in America already offer contraceptive coverage, the government’s aim to make that coverage virtually universal is not compelling. And they contend the administration could achieve its goal through other means — for example by having the government directly provide contraceptives to women who work for religious organizations that don’t offer it.

via New front in birth control rule battle: the courts – The Washington Post.

Of course the best case scenario would be for the Supreme Court to throw out the whole health care law, which could happen.  It could also NOT happen.

In the meantime, though the issue at first seemed to be a loser for the Obama administration–threatening to cost Democrats the Catholic vote–now the Democrats, with the help of the media, have successfully cast the controversy as a Republican attempt to do away with birth control and thus a Republican war against women!  That means that the administration is likely to insist that the mandate be enforced.


In defense of politics

“Politics” has become a dirty word.  As in: “It’s just politics.”  “They are just playing politics.”  “He’s just another politician.”  This is understandable, but also dangerous.  So says Alec MacGillis, an editor at the New Republic,  who examines a number of recent decisions derided as “political” by liberals and conservatives, showing that it was a good thing that lawmakers had to take the political process–that is to say, voters–into account.  Some of his comments:

It’s not surprising that “political” is an insult. Congress is gridlocked, with a 10 percent approval rating, and the 2012 campaign ads are doing their best to turn voters off.

But there is something troubling about the extent to which our leaders have made politics their bogeyman. Most important issues, from reproductive health to clean-energy investment, are riddled with politics — as they should be. They involve serious questions about what the country values and where it wants to invest its resources. To suggest that one’s own side is free of politics is not only sanctimonious, it’s also destructive. Demonizing politics leads Americans to disengage further from the sphere where big decisions are made, ceding the political realm to the very people who denigrate it at every opportunity.

Politics in its highest form has noble roots, going back to the Greeks — it is the art of government, of ordering life among a people. . . . .

Whatever one thinks about the wisdom of that decision, it was rightfully a political one. Who would we rather have making these decisions — our elected representatives, acting with the input of experts such as FDA scientists but also with an ear to their constituents, or the experts alone? The experts often have their own biases, such as industry ties. Elected officials are at least somewhat accountable to all of us. . . .

Our tendency to view the “political” as something separate from, rather than intrinsic to, the public sphere has side effects. For one thing, it contributes to the laughable distinction in our campaign finance laws between political action committees, which must disclose their donors, and affiliated nonprofit groups, which do not have to, as long as their attacks on candidates revolve around “issues,” not elections. But of course, the nonprofits’ issue ads are no less “political” than the PACs’ explicitly campaign-oriented ones.

But the biggest cost of our indiscriminate disparagement of all things “political” is its potential to further alienate Americans from a process they already have all too much reason to abandon. My time on the campaign trail this season has reminded me that there are few things more disheartening than meeting some of the countless people who have given up on politics — more often than not, people who have a major stake in the outcome. They spit the words out — “It’s all just politics” — with a disgusted wave, as if there were no connections between what they see happening in Washington and their lives, when there are in fact so many. And who can blame them, when they hear the word spoken with the same disgust by the practitioners in the field?

via From Solyndra to birth control, everything’s political. And that’s okay. – The Washington Post.

The UN & NATO authorize our wars, not Congress

So says our Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs:

The Obama administration and Defense Secretary Panetta are contending that when offensive military action is needed, it does not have to go to Congress first for permission but that international agreements, the UN or NATO can override Congressional acts of authorization of war or use of force.

At a hearing that was held in Washington on March 7, 2012, Sen. Sessions of the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned not only Defense Secretary Leon Panetta but also of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey about offensive military action and the permissions that are needed.

Both Panetta and General Dempsey indicated that “international permission,” rather than Congressional approval, provided a ‘legal basis’ for military action by the United States.

In other words, they explained that they didn’t need permission by the Congress and can pursue offensive military action without Congress’ involvement and that the UN would dictate when and how the hostilities would occur, therefore bypassing the War Powers Act.

via Panetta: ‘Use of military force can be granted by UN or NATO, not Congress’ – Atlanta Paulding County Republican |

Nevermind the Constitution, which as a War Powers Clause that specifically invests the power to make war with Congress:

[Congress shall have Power...] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 11

That’s Congress and not the Executive branch–even though presidents have been running roughshod over this Constitutional requirement for our last several wars–and certainly not international agencies!

Foreclosing on churches

The housing market woes are having a big impact also on houses of worship, as banks are increasingly foreclosing on churches:

(Reuters) – Banks are foreclosing on America’s churches in record numbers as lenders increasingly lose patience with religious facilities that have defaulted on their mortgages, according to new data.

The surge in church foreclosures represents a new wave of distressed property seizures triggered by the 2008 financial crash, analysts say, with many banks no longer willing to grant struggling religious organizations forbearance.

Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group.

In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar. That compares to just 24 sales in 2008 and only a handful in the decade before.

The church foreclosures have hit all denominations across America, black and white, but with small to medium size houses of worship the worst. Most of these institutions have ended up being purchased by other churches.

The highest percentage have occurred in some of the states hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis: California, Georgia, Florida and Michigan.

“Churches are among the final institutions to get foreclosed upon because banks have not wanted to look like they are being heavy handed with the churches,” said Scott Rolfs, managing director of Religious and Education finance at the investment bank Ziegler.

Church defaults differ from residential foreclosures. Most of the loans in question are not 30-year mortgages but rather commercial loans that typically mature after just five years when the full balance becomes due immediately.

Its common practice for banks to refinance such loans when they come due. But banks have become increasingly reluctant to do that because of pressure from regulators to clean up their balance sheets, said Rolfs.

“A lot of these loans were given when the properties were evaluated at a certain level in 2005 or 2006,” Rolfs said. “Banks have had to reappraise the value of these properties, whether it’s a church or a commercial office building. Values have gone down, so the loans cannot continue in the same form.” . . .

Solid Rock Christian Church near Memphis, Tennessee, took out a $2.9 million loan with the Evangelical Christian Credit Union at the beginning of 2008, to construct a new, 2,000 seat, 34,000 square-foot building to house its growing congregation.

In the middle of construction, the economy crashed. The church raided its savings to finish the project, but ended up defaulting on the loan.

The ECCU foreclosed and put the church up for auction.

“We are still fighting this,” a church spokesman told Reuters. “We have filed for bankruptcy to stop this foreclosure and to restructure our debt.”

via Banks foreclosing on churches in record numbers | Reuters.

Though the article says that small and medium size churches are most affected–there are more of those–the example is of a megachurch.  My impression is that lots of big congregations may have become over-extended in building their big “campuses.”  Again, the problem is not so much failure to make payments on  a conventional mortgage but having to make a “balloon payment” after a few years, only to find the decrease in the value of the property makes refinancing impossible.  I didn’t realize that churches could go bankrupt.

Have any of your churches had problems like these?

Oklahoma Democrats

I blogged earlier about the  political beliefs that characterize my beloved natal state of Oklahoma.   On Super Tuesday, Oklahoma also held its Democratic primary.  And Barack Obama only received 57% of the vote.  His main competitor for Oklahoma Democrats?  Anti-abortion militant Randall Terry!

See this, with its rather questionable analysis:   Why Oklahoma is so anti-Obama – The Washington Post.  The article begs the question of why Oklahoma urban areas don’t go for Obama the way other urban areas do.  Why does he lose in Oklahoma City while winning in Salt Lake City?  It isn’t because of race, as the article suggests.  Salt Lake City is 79.2% white, with only 1.9% black.  Oklahoma City is only 58.7% white, with 14.6% black.  The article also admits that Oklahoma is far from the most conservative state in the union, according to a recent study not even being in the top 10.  And lots of Democrats are getting elected to state offices, including a recent governor and a current Congressman.  For some reason, Oklahoma is extremely pro-life, including among Democrats.  But why Oklahoma is this way while other similar states are not remains a mystery.


Islamic-friendly Bibles

Many missionary groups in Islamic countries are using Bible translations that avoid offending Muslim sensibilities, getting rid of phrases such as “the Son of God” and “God the Father.”   All in the name of church growth.  And yet Christians in these countries, beleagured as they are, are strenuously objecting to these translations.  Mindy Belz of World Magazine reports:

A team of translators with Frontiers helped produce the disputed translation of Matthew in Turkish, and SIL said some of its consultants helped at certain points in the process. Sabeel Media, a partner organization of SIL, published the translation in August 2011, printing it in book form and posting it online. In the Turkish Matthew, the “alternative form” for “Son of God” is something along the lines of “representative of God,” according to Turkish speakers, and “God the Father” has become “great protector.” A footnote explains the alternate terms: “According to the Jews, ‘God’s Son’ means ‘God’s beloved ruler’ and is equivalent with the title ‘Messiah.’”. . .

The translators emphasize their desire to promote evangelism. Bob Blincoe, the U.S. director of Frontiers, cited in an email lack of growth as one reason for the translation: “The big problem is that church planting among the tens of millions of religious Muslims in Turkey has not been successful; it has not even begun.” Turkey is 99.8 percent Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook. Turks estimate that their country has about 5,000 Christians now, but when Bocek became a Christian in 1988, he was one of a total of 80 Protestants in the country. “One significant barrier may be the existing translation of the Bible,” Blincoe wrote in an email: “These are paraphrases that help a conservative Sunni Muslim audience know what the Bible really says.” . . .

Thomas Cosmades, a Turkish Christian who translated the New Testament into Turkish from the original Greek, mailed a letter to Frontiers at the end of 2007 after he saw a copy of the Turkish Matthew. (Several hundred were printed before the official publication in 2011). Cosmades died in 2010, at age 86, just after he published a new edition of his New Testament. In his letter he wrote that he was “highly disquieted” by the paraphrased Matthew and proceeded to analyze the debatable phrases in detail.

“This translation is not seeking to emphasize the value of the incarnation,” he wrote. “Should the trend continue, who knows where it will lead the coming generation? If Athanasius of old would have encountered such departure from biblical Christology he would have placed these redactors far below the Arians.” . . .

The Pakistan church at large may not know about the debate, but the Pakistan Bible Society (PBS) does. After 20 years of work together, the Bible society and SIL are parting ways over the issue, which is a blow to SIL because now it must operate without the imprimatur of the premier local publisher. SIL said in a statement that the decision not to work together on one project was mutual, the result of “translation style differences,” not just the debate on divine familial terms.

But the general secretary of the Pakistan Bible Society, Anthony Lamuel, wrote in a letter on Jan. 26 that the issue of altering terms for target audiences was central in the decision, and added that such translations have resulted in the “water downing” of Christian concepts: “We the Pakistan Bible Society will not promote experiments with the translation at the cost of hurting the church.”

A woman working on another translation project in Central Asia, who asked for anonymity for the sake of her work, said the debate on the “Son of God” issue in her translation team has deadlocked their project and stirred confusion among local believers who don’t have a Bible in their own language as a reference: “It has eroded their faith in the authority of the Word of God and in us as foreigners who are supposed to be the ‘teachers’ but can’t seem to agree on some basic truths of who Christ said he was. … Sadly it raises doubts and endless discussion, wasting a lot of time.”

Anwar Hussain, the head of the Bangladesh Bible Society, has been at the forefront of efforts in his country the last few years to repel Bible translations from various groups that change divine familial terms. Hussain grew up Muslim, and when he professed Christ as a young man, his family cut ties with him. Edward Ayub, another Christian of Muslim background, is the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Bangladesh and—alongside Hussain—has vigorously opposed the translations. “I want to die for the Bible,” not a misleading translation, Ayub said. “The harm they are doing now for the church will be long-lasting.”

via | Translation battle | Emily Belz | Feb 25, 12.  (Subscription required to read full text.

What connections do you see between this particular tactic on the mission field and the church growth movement here?