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Yesterday, President Obama signed an executive order to prohibit the federal government from contracting with anyone who "discriminates" on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In short, it forces the 24,000 entities who contract with the federal government and employ 28 million workers -about one-fifth of the nation's work force-to promise that they will never decline to hire someone based on their sexual activity or desire to be a different gender.
As a result, any church, non-profit organization, or business that believes marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman - a position the President agreed with only two years ago - could be ineligible to compete for public contracts or grants.
The executive order also bans "discrimination" against federal employees based on their gender identity.
In recognition of the fact that every major religion has taught that sexuality is best confined to natural marriage for thousands of years, a request for religious exemptions from the mandate was made.
That request was denied.
Explaining why the religious exemption was not included, one administration official said, "You can use religion to only hire people who share your religion, but you can't discriminate against someone who is of your faith who happens to be LGBT, unless they fall within the ministerial exception."
In other words, if a job applicants says he is part of your religion, the church cannot conclude that his lifestyle shows otherwise. The federal government now says the individual, not the church, determines whether a person is in good standing with the church.
This is the new, progressive understanding of the separation of church and state where the state tells the church how to operate.
The full impact of this executive order remains to be seen, but it could be significant.
Catholic, Mormon, or Christian colleges who require employees to refrain from sexual activity outside of natural marriage could see all their student's lose access to federal student aid.
Religiously affiliated hospitals and social services organizations, like Catholic Charities USA that have served the most destitute, could find their government unwilling to partner with them any longer.
Para-church organizations or non-profit organizations that would like to apply for federal grants to run mentorship programs, adoption services, or convict re-entry programs could find themselves automatically ineligible.
Businesses that would like to compete to work on federal highway projects, provide school lunch programs, or fill defense contracts could be required to affirm the government's statement of faith to be eligible.
It remains to be seen whether the government will ask entities to affirm the state's sexual values as a condition of partnering with them or if they will simply cut-off those who have been part of a controversy. But no one should feel particularly safe.
If the left is good at anything, they are good at sniffing out people who disagree with them and making it harder for them to live their lives.
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the President is ordering American believers to bow to the golden image he has erected or be thrown into the proverbial fire.
This executive order raises a myriad questions, not the least of which is, who will the government partner with to help serve the needy if the churches are disqualified?
To my knowledge, neither the Freedom From Religion Foundation nor the American Atheists have a robust national network that exists largely to serve the less fortunate.
Perhaps that isn't as important as making sure your child's Christian college can't object if her male teacher begins showing up in class as a woman.
Of course the loss of funds will not stop the church from being the church. Being disentangled from government will likely be a good thing in the long-run.
But it is not encouraging that the disentanglement is happening as the government forces people who want the freedom to follow their faith into ghettos where full participation in the market place is not allowed.
Unfortunately, this executive order may only be a foreshadowing of things to come.
A logical next step will be to condition a church's tax-exempt status on their willingness to affirm a non-discrimination statement that is likely inconsistent with their faith.
It would be no small irony if all the churches lost their tax-exempt status because they weren't involved in politics.
In the same way, business licenses may soon be conditioned upon agreement with a non-discrimination statements that orthodox believers would be unwilling to sign.
There isn't much that can be done about this executive order in the short-term because Barack Obama will be President until January, 2017.
But there is a tremendous amount that can be done to delegitimize this war on pluralism and conscience rights moving forward. Politicians have taken away religious freedom because those affected have not, en masse, been willing to defend themselves.
The American church gets to decide if they prefer to be patted on the head and congratulated for their commitment to being non-political or if they want their grandchildren to be free.
Yesterday, in the United States Senate, Washington Sen. Patty Murray voted with fifty-five other Senators to roll back religious freedom.
Specifically, she voted for legislation that would force businesses like Hobby Lobby to pay for contraceptives that violate their sincerely held beliefs.
While Hobby Lobby pays for sixteen different forms of birth control in their coverage, Sen. Murray and others are frustrated that businesses have the freedom to make choices they disagree with.
In the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court said that the contraception mandate violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because there are ways for the government to make the objectionable forms of birth control available without forcing people to violate their conscience.
If it’s really that important, the government could simply pay for it.
However, instead of proposing legislation to make the objectionable forms of birth control available to Hobby Lobby employees that might want them, Sen. Murray drafted legislation that would make it easier for her to force people to violate their beliefs.
Her website claims that the legislation would “restore the contraceptive coverage requirement guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act and protect coverage of other health services from employers who want to impose their beliefs on their employees by denying benefits.” (emphasis added).
Oddly, it appears that saying “no” to someone who asks you for something is imposing your beliefs on them.
However, forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do is not.
Her legislation would is intended to be a “legislative fix” to the Hobby Lobby decision and repeal significant protections in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Curiously, RFRA was itself a “legislative fix” to the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in City of Boerne v. Flores.
In the time we’ve moved from "Hammer pants" to skinny jeans, Congress has moved from being alarmed when the Supreme Court takes away the people’s freedom to being alarmed when the Court limits the government’s ability to control the people.
Religious freedom wasn’t always seen as a problem on the left.
In 1993, RFRA passed the House of Representatives 425-0 and passed the Senate 97-3. Vast right-wing, co-conspirator Bill Clinton signed it into law and later called it one of his greatest accomplishments as President.
Sen. Murray voted for it as well.
Her shift on this issue is symbolic of the left’s shift on individual liberty generally. Nothing about RFRA changed in the last twenty years.
What changed is the urgency with which the left feels the need to control people’s lives.
In 1993, the idea that employers can be forced to pay for their employees abortions would have been greeted with a universal raise of the eyebrow.
Now that Sen. Murray believes that forcing people to violate their conscience is not only permissible but desirable, she is being forced to undo the protections for individual liberty she once championed.
When it comes to religious freedom, at least she can say she was for it before she was against it.
If you want to share your thoughts with Senator Murray, you can contact her at (202) 224-2621 or click here to send her a message.
We hear a lot of "a survey has found that..." or "studies prove that..." Public opinion has a big effect on issues that we face. But when presented with such surveys, studies, or polls, how do we know if all the information is accurate? Can we trust everything it says? There have been numerous instances where no one is calling out the errors or omissions in the information presented. Here is a good example that recently happened in Australia:
A study conducted by the University of Melbourne found that same-sex couples are better parents than heterosexual couples. The Australian university collected data from 500 children of same-sex attracted couples or married parents to "established population samples" (information collected from heterosexual homes). The study claims that children in same-sex homes, whether the parents are married or not, scored 6% better than children in heterosexual homes when it comes to the physical health and the social well-being of the children.
However, there are four noticeable errors in the data gathering for this study: (1) there were problems with the methodology; (2) there is no explanation of the comparison group of children; (3) there are huge contrasts in their heterosexual and same-sex parenting samples; and (4) the study contradicts itself. All these issues combined makes for a study that is inaccurate.
Problems with methodology
One of the biggest problems with this study is the methodology has problems. Even the authors of the study admitted there were significant problems with the way the data was collected.
For starters, a group of 500 people is a very small sample and the 500 participants that were selected was not a good representation of children from same-sex marriages. Of the 500 children selected for the study, 406 kids came from a household with an annual income from 60K - 250K. If this were a representative sample, that would mean that 81% of people make at least 60K a year.
Also, the sample that was studied was a "convenience sample". This means the study was targeted towards gay communities, gay publications, etc., where people in those communities are more likely to attract people who are interested in the topic.
This then led to another problem: parents knew what they were signing their families up for. If you know that your family is not a happy one and you have both health and emotional issues in your home, you are not going to fill out a study on the well-being of your family.
Probably the biggest problem was that the information was collected from self-reports completed by the parents for the children. Also, knowing the importance of the political and rhetorical implications of this study, same-sex parents have a strong reason to provide a positive response to the study, thus skewing the results of the study.
These problems combined make for a study that is not representative of the general same-sex homes. The children were not part of the study at all. Everything is based on the parents' perspective of their family. Unless the children are completely open with their parents on everything going on in their life, the study is not an accurate description of the child's health and well-being.
There is no explanation of the comparison group of children
Another flaw in the study is that the authors failed to explain the difference between the sample group and the control group. For instance, they never clarified whether the children from heterosexual homes were from low or high income, single parent or married parent homes, etc.
The authors use income and education to form their opinion, but all they provide in the study about heterosexual homes is the information comes from an "established population [sample]". This is not an accurate description of what the study is using to compare children from same-sex homes to those in heterosexual homes. How would we know if children who come from same-sex homes are better than children from heterosexual homes if we don't know what type of families they come from?
There are huge contrasts in their heterosexual and same-sex parenting samples
One more problem with the study is there are huge gaps in the parenting "samples". There is no information given regarding the demographics of the heterosexual parents, but the study does explain some of the demographics of the same-sex parents.
As was stated before, the sample of children was not a representative group, thus, the parents are not a representative sample, either. One of the reasons being that most of the parents that took the study were from higher income households, had higher education levels, and tended to be older than most heterosexual parents.
Of the 500 children that were studied, 406 children came from households with an income of 60K - 250K, whereas the average heterosexual household has an annual average income of 64K. Also, 384 (76%) of the 500 children had parents with at least an undergraduate degree. That is higher than the average American with bachelor degrees (in 2012, 30% of American adults had a bachelor's degree). Further, the study doesn't specify the age of the parents when their first child was born. With same-sex parents becoming first time parents at a later age than most heterosexual parents, they will already have achieved an educational goal, higher income, and life stability. When combined, these factors characteristically foster a more positive outcome for the children.
Study contradicts itself
Finally, a huge error made by the study authors is that they contradict themselves. For example, the study claims children from same-sex homes do better than children from heterosexual homes. However, the study also claims that those same children from same-sex homes are more likely to suffer from serious harm due to the social stigma concerning their family.
In a recent article, Simon Crouch, one of the authors of the study, wrote that "stigma is a common problem. Around two-thirds of children with same-sex parents experienced some form of stigma due to their parents' sexual orientation which, of course, impacts on their mental and emotional well-being".
The whole study explains how children in same-sex homes are 6% more likely to have better health and well-being. However, this cannot be true if the children could also be experiencing stigma impacting their mental and emotional well-being?
The four flaws of this study have not been adequately addressed by the authors. Likewise, the media is not questioning the contradictions. This study had enormous omissions, yet no one called the authors on it. Sadly, this happens a lot with studies and surveys, especially with issues that will have huge political implications. With all the information we have coming at us today, it is important that we stay informed and make sure that the data is fair and accurate.
When the Supreme Court released their decision inHobby Lobby v. Sebelius on Monday it started the race to understand what it means for the other challenges to the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare.
The Hobby Lobby case established that the mandate violates the religious freedom of private, family owned companies, but a number of religiously affiliated non-profit organizations have challenged the mandate as well.
Obamacare includes an exemption from the mandate for churches, but that does not extend to thousands of religiously affiliated organizations like hospitals, colleges, universities, religious schools, and charities.
For example, Tyndale House Publishing, which is owned by the nonprofit Tyndale House Foundation and is the largest Bible publisher in the world, has been deemed not religious enough to be exempt.
Another non-profit organization that does not want to be forced to purchase contraception in their insurance plans is Little Sisters of the Poor, an international organization of Catholic nuns that cares for elderly poor people.
They have filed a lawsuit claiming that the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage violates their religious freedom.
In an effort to accommodate religious organizations without exempting them, the Obama Administration has told Little Sisters to sign a letter that the organization’s employees (nuns) could then use to obtain birth control coverage.
However, Little Sisters has argued that signing a letter that someone else would use to obtain birth control makes them complicit in something they believe is wrong.
The Department of Health and Human Services responded by claiming that Little Sisters should not object to signing the letter because it does not make them a party to the transaction but only releases them from the obligation of providing birth control themselves.
But the premise is wrong.
If the free exercise of religion means anything, it means the government doesn't get to tell the people what is important to them as a matter of conscience, they get to honor it.
When the government tells you what beliefs are approved, that looks much more like an establishment of religion rather than the free exercise of it.
The good news is that the Hobby Lobby decision rejected the idea that government can decide for individuals when an action is morally objectionable.
Justice Alito, in the majority opinion, wrote, “[The objection to the mandate] implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another. Arrogating the authority to provide a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question, HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.”
He continued, “it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.”
This seems like good news for Little Sisters of the Poor.
The government’s argument that religious organizations should be content with the accommodation being offered appears to have been rejected on the grounds that the government doesn’t get to dictate to its subjects err... the people...what is acceptable to them on moral grounds.
If, as we hope they will, the Supreme Court agrees that the contraception mandate violates the religious freedom of non-profit organizations as well, then we can go back to figuring out who thought it was critical to guarantee birth control coverage for an order of nuns in the first place.
Today we are all a little more free.
In a historic victory for religious freedom, the Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cannot be forced to pay for early abortion drugs for employees.
The Obamacare mandate at issue requires, among other things, that twenty different contraceptive methods be covered by employer insurance. Two families, the Greens and the Hahns, objected to four of the specified contraceptive methods on moral grounds.
So they went to court and argued that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was passed by Congress in 1993, protects them from being forced to violate their conscience. In response, the Obama Administration argued that RFRA only protected the rights of individuals and not of for profit companies.
Today, the Supreme Court agreed with the families by concluding that, at least in this case, RFRA protects decisions made by these families in their business life as well as their private life.
In essence, the court said that people do not automatically surrender their religious freedom when they start a business and become job creators.
This decision is particularly significant for Washington businesses like the Everett based Electric Mirror, which filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.
Electric Mirror is owned and operated by the Mischel family who are committed evangelical Christians. One member of their family, Aaron Mischel, was adopted after his birth mother was convinced not to go through with a planned abortion.
They do not provide abortion coverage or pay for contraception that covers abortion in the health insurance plans for their employees.
Electric Mirror President Jim Mischel, the brother of Aaron Mischel, explains, "Our desire to promote life and protect the most innocent among us is not just theoretical for businesses like ours, it is deeply personal. We consider it a responsibility and a privilege to do everything we can to take care of our employees and their families, but that does not extend to helping them do things we believe are wrong. The fact that the law gives you the right to do something should not mean that I, as your employer, am obligated to participate in it with you. We are thankful that the Supreme Court acknowledged that my beliefs and my business are not separate."
Justice Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, shared this sentiment, "It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiff are mistaken or unreasonable."
Abortion industry advocates dislike the decision because they claim it allows employers to get in between the relationship of a doctor and the patient.
In reality, however, employers want to stay out of their employees' doctor's office but the mandate attempts to pull them, kicking and screaming, into the consultation room so they can pay the bill.
You may have the right to own a shotgun, but your boss shouldn't be required to buy one for you.
Employers should be free to offer compensation packages that are acceptable to them and employees should be free to work for whomever they want. If the parties cannot agree, both should be free to find a better fit.
When government decrees prevail, only those who agree with the decree win. When individuals retain the right to make decisions for themselves, everyone wins. Giving the government power over the individual because they'll use it in a way we like is not a long-term plan to peace and prosperity. That sword always ends up having two edges.
We can all be thankful for this important decision, but there is still a long way to go.
Tonight, say a prayer for the Greens, the Hahns, and the Mischels whose involvement in these cases have resulted in all of us being a little more free today than we were yesterday. Then consider what you're willing to do to protect our religious freedom. After all, freedom isn't free and we can't ask them to do all the work.
Stay tuned, tomorrow we will look at what this means for florists and pharmacists who are also in court trying to protect their religious freedom.
As soon as tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will release their decision in lawsuits involving Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two family owned businesses who have challenged the Obamacare mandate requiring employers to pay for contraceptives that cause abortions for their employees.
The businesses object to paying for four of the 20 types of contraceptives the mandate requires employers to provide because of their belief that they cause abortions.
The mandate threatens the existence of these businesses which employ more than 14,000 people.
In the case of Hobby Lobby, the fine for failing to comply with the mandate is as much as $1.3 million per day.
The plaintiffs have asked the Supreme Court to find the mandate unconstitutional claiming it violates their First Amendment Right to the free exercise of religion and their Fifth Amendment right to due process and equal protection under the law.
In its decision, the Supreme Court will first determine whether a for-profit corporation can "exercise religion".
While it is undisputed that individuals have the right to the exercise of religion (though there is much debate about what that means as well) the government is arguing that corporations cannot claim the religious freedom protections at all.
In essence, the Obama administration believes the government can force Hobby Lobby to do things they could not force the Green Family, owners of Hobby Lobby, to do if they did not have a business.
Of course, the Green Family sees their business as an extension of themselves and do not believe they surrendered their right to make decisions consistent with their faith once they built a business and started employing people.
If the Supreme Court agrees with the families that corporations can claim religious freedom protections, the court will then decide if the mandate restricts their religious freedom. If they conclude that it does, the court will then decide whether the burden is justified by a "compelling government interest" in providing contraception and whether there is a way to accomplish the same goal without restricting religious freedom.
Put another way, "could the government make contraceptives available to employees in a way that did not take away people's religious freedom?"
The answer to that question is almost certainly, yes.
As with the florists, photographers, and bakeries, these cases are just another example of government attempting to force people to do things that violate their conscience as a condition of doing business.
Religious groups and business owners should not have to violate their faith in order to be in compliance with the law. Nor should families have to choose between their faith and their livelihood.
People of faith do not forfeit their religious freedom when they choose to start a business.
Some argue that they don't understand the big deal about providing contraceptive coverage for employees, but that is beside the point. It's not the role of government to define what people believe or what our faith includes. That's the role of the church.
If the left is going to really care about the separation of church and state, they will stay out of the business of telling individuals and companies what their faith requires.
It is worth noting that the government has exempted 100 million employees from these mandates for commercial and political reasons. But for companies that want out of the mandates for conscience reasons, the government is arguing that there is a "compelling government reason" to force them to comply.
While our ability to influence the Supreme Court's decision in this case is limited, we have significant influence over the future of religious freedom in Washington State and around the country generally.
There are elections this fall in every part of our state, and we encourage you to ask those who are on your ballot how they feel about religious freedom. Do they support these mandates against businesses that don't want to pay for contraceptives that cause abortions? Do they support lawsuits against small businesses like Arlene's Flowers because of their belief about marriage?
Then allow their answers to inform your vote. Make sure your friends and neighbors who care about religious freedom know whether the candidates on their ballot support religious freedom as well.
The lawsuit against Arlene's Flowers could be done away with in a single legislative act, but the legislature will only protect religious freedom if the people who elect them insist on it. That means those of us who support religious freedom need to be the squeaky wheel, in the most pleasant way possible.
To ask your legislators how they feel about these issues, click here. If you would rather ask these questions over the phone, you can reach all your legislators at the same time through the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000. Even if you don't know who your legislators are, just provide your address to the operator and they will tell you.
We want to know what you learn as well because every citizen should know how every legislator feels about religious freedom.
To paraphrase the lesson from the Little Red Hen, if we don't help protect our religious freedom, we should not expect to enjoy the benefits of it. And given the aggressive nature of those wanting to take away religious freedom, if we do nothing, we can be quite confident we won't.
To change or not to change. That is the question.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services departed from a long-standing policy when they agreed to use taxpayer dollars to pay for the sex change operation of a 74 year old Army Veteran who wants to be a woman.
While the decision does not create a right to have taxpayers fund sex-change operations, it opens the door for those who want to make the request and paves the way for the argument that sex changes are medically necessary and therefore must be funded.
Marissa Richman, the secretary of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, in response to the decision said that, "Everybody here is just really excited and elated that we are going to be able to help a lot of people who couldn't get help and might have suffered depression or even tried to commit suicide because they didn't have the resources to fulfill their dreams."
The argument is that sex change operations reduce stress for those who want them by helping their body conform to their perception of themselves.
The facts don't seem to support the premise though.
A 2011 study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden followed 324 people who had sex change surgery and found that after 10 years, those who had sex change operations are twenty times more likely to commit suicide than the comparable nonstransgender population.
Johns Hopkins Hospitals stopped doing sex change operations in the 1970's because their studies found that psycho-social adjustments after surgery were no better than those who dealt with gender identity issues but didn't have surgery.
In other words, it didn't help people feel better.
Still, the fact that sex-change operations don't actually help anyone isn't the most concerning thing about this movement.
You may recall that earlier this year there was a significant effort in the Washington State legislature to outlaw therapy to help minors eliminate or reduce unwanted same-sex attraction. This bill, which passed the House of Representatives, would have outlawed this kind of counseling from a licensed therapist even if it was from a church employee or pastor, inside a church building, and done at the request of the client.
Both New Jersey and California have already banned the practice.
We have apparently reached the place where gender is fluid but our sexual impulses are unchangeable; we need not submit to our DNA but we must submit to our feelings.
We are told that it is wrong to prevent someone from changing their gender but it is equally wrong to help someone change their sexual desires.
These positions can only be reconciled if we believe that reality is defined by how we feel.
But is it?
One of the things that separates us from animals is the ability to have rational thoughts about what is good, true, and beautiful separate from what we feel. However, the entire effort to redefine marriage, family, gender, and parenthood is built on the premise that reality is defined by how you feel and how you feel cannot change.
That isn't simply a disservice to people who struggle with their sexuality or gender, it's a disservice to all of us because everyone struggles with impulses that, if acted upon, will ruin their lives and the lives of those around them.
Those who never learned to distinguish between how they feel and what they ought to do fill our prisons and asylums.
Those who did are honored in our monuments and museums.
We honor them because we acknowledge that the ability to distinguish between reality and how we feel is not only possible, but the only path to the kind of world we want to be part of.
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