Tag Archives: politics

Rutherford Institute Files Habeas Corpus Petition in Federal District Court for Phoenix Man Jailed for Home Bible Studies

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona in the case of a Phoenix man who is serving a 60-day jail sentence and was fined more than $12,000 for using his private residential property to host a weekly Bible study, allegedly in violation of the city’s building codes. Institute attorneys are challenging the legality of Michael Salman’s imprisonment as a violation of his First Amendment and statutory rights to religious freedom and assembly, in addition to challenging the City’s assertion that if a person holds Bible studies or other forms of religious worship at his residence, he is required to comply with all local laws relating to an actual church that is open to the public. This latest filing comes after Institute attorneys petitioned the Arizona Supreme Court for habeas corpus relief, to no avail. Upon his eventual release from Lower Buckeye Jail, Salman will additionally be subjected to home arrest and random home inspections for allegedly violating his probation by continuing to hold Bible studies on his private property after being ordered not to have more than 12 people gathered on his property at any one time.

“While Michael Salman should never have been charged with a crime for simply exercising his religious beliefs on his own property, to keep him in prison while the question of his basic rights is being considered is the ultimate injustice,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “The continued imprisonment of Michael Salman for simply worshipping God with his family and friends on his own property demonstrates the lengths to which government bureaucrats will go in service of imposing dubious regulations on average citizens.”

Since 2005, Michael Salman and his wife Suzanne have hosted Bible studies for family and friends. However, after some neighbors allegedly complained about the gatherings, city officials got involved. In 2007, city officials ordered the Salmans to stop holding the Bible studies in their home, insisting that they were in violation of the zoning ordinance and construction code. The Salmans subsequently erected a 2,000-square-foot building in their backyard, large enough to hold approximately 40 people, which they proceeded to use for their weekly Bible studies. Attendees parked their vehicles on the Salmans’ 1.5 acre property. In June 2009, nearly a dozen police officers, accompanied by city inspectors, raided the Salmans’ property, searching for violations. Having determined that Salman’s weekly Bible studies constituted a church, city officials subsequently charged Salman with being in violation of various code regulations that apply to commercial and public buildings, including having no emergency exit signs over the doors, no handicap parking spaces or handicap ramps. Salman was later found guilty of 67 code violations. In coming to Salman’s defense, The Rutherford Institute is challenging the city’s assertion that “Bible studies are not allowed to be conducted in your residence or the barn on your property as these structures do not comply with the construction code for this use.” The Institute argues that Salman’s religious gatherings should have been treated as accessory uses under the regulations governing residential property. However, city officials claim that they can treat the Bible studies differently than family reunions, football parties or Boy Scouts solely because they are “religious worship.”

Obamacare, Politics and the Myth of Free Money

By Kevin Holtsberry

A growing chorus, pushed by liberal interest groups, think tanks and a sympathetic media, is castigating governors who are reluctant to expand Medicaid and implement state level exchanges in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling. These critics present themselves as seeking only the good of citizens while accusing the governors of playing politics.

This is disingenuous at best. First, pretending that supporters of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) are not engaged in politics requires a level of naïveté larger than the national deficit. You might recall how the bill was rammed through Congress using every parliamentarian trick available and remains widely unpopular.

You might also recall the immense pressure applied to the Supreme Court in the run up to its decision. Any attempt to overturn the act was portrayed as judicial usurpation and a threat to the American system. And in the aftermath of the decision, the left insisted that the court had spoken and that now the country must fall in line. All of this activity aimed at passing and implementing the most ambitious piece of legislation in my lifetime was certainly not beanbag.

And more importantly, this accusation of “politics” ignores the fundamental fact that public policy in a participatory democracy always involves politics. The components of the act are not somehow exempt from political debate and discussion simply because of a court ruling. And given the stakes, and the forthcoming presidential election, it is only natural that elected officials across the country are being cautious.

Second, the underlying argument assumes that federal spending is somehow “free” money and that the offer of expansion is simply to good to pass up.

In a rather rich case of projection, Innovation Ohio accuses Governor Kasich of playing politics while Ohio loses millions. The ideologically sympathetic Toledo Blade follows a similar line, accusing Kasich of politics on the issue rather than taking the generous federal money and immediately implementing Obamacare in Ohio.

The irony is that this mindset is what has gotten us to where we are today. It is a belief that federal dollars are free and Ohioans should grab every penny lest they be scooped up by other states. The history of Medicaid is one of states getting hooked on federal dollars only to have the program gobble up their budgets even as it offers less and less flexibility and reduced quality of care.

But state taxpayers are federal taxpayers. These dollars don’t magically appear in Washington to be doled out to states, the money comes from individuals in those very same states. Ohioans are rightly concerned about the federal deficit and about paying higher taxes. Increased spending in Washington impacts Ohioans to pretend otherwise is to ignore fiscal reality.

The Blade casually tosses aside the fears of increased Medicaid enrollment through a woodworking effect as if the dollar amounts are not significant. But those numbers are big enough to give governors across the country, both Republican and Democrat, pause. And whose numbers should we trust, state experts or liberal think tanks who support Obamacare?

These governors understand that Medicaid is a deeply flawed system that hooks states on a process of expanded enrollment with the promise of federal funds. Once on this path any attempt to reign in spending or control costs means giving up not only the state’s share of spending but the feds as well.

And is it really realistic to assume the federal government will never attempt to roll back the amount it covers? Half the assumed savings of Obamacare comes from reducing Medicaid reimbursement rates. Facing a deficit beyond what many of us can conceptualize, will Washington continue to pay out vast sums to states already committed to expanded coverage for their citizens?

In reality, what underlies this debate is a mix of politics, policy disagreements and deep uncertainty about the future. Governors understand that what is good for Washington is not always (rarely?) good for the states. They understand that Medicaid is a failed program that has devastated state budgets, increasingly involves reduced flexibility, and carries with it perverse incentives.

Caution in this case is not mere politics but good common sense.

Kevin Holtsberry is President of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions.

Zero Tolerance Victory: Md. Board of Ed. Reverses Suspension of H.S. Lacrosse Players for Possession of Deadly Weapons (Penknife, Lighter)

(Easton, MD) The Maryland State Board of Education has reversed the suspensions of two Easton High School lacrosse players for possession of “deadly weapons,” namely a penknife and lighter found in their lacrosse bags. Although it was understood that the penknife and lighter were tools used by the boys to maintain their lacrosse equipment, the police were called and one player was actually handcuffed, fingerprinted and charged with possession of a deadly weapon. In reversing the suspensions, the Maryland State Board of Education noted that the students had voluntarily told officials they possessed the items, that use of the tools to maintain lacrosse equipment had been tacitly approved by coaches, and that it was the actions of school officials themselves that had caused any “disruption” to the educational process. Ordering that the students’ academic records be completely expunged of the incident, the State Board explained, “This case is about context and the appropriate exercise of discretion, in full consideration of all the facts involved in the case, including whether to suspend and whether to call the police.”

“This is a huge victory for students everywhere,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “It’s a victory of reason and fairness over the kind of hysterical, irrational exercise of authority that teaches children to fear those in power.”

According to Laura Dennis, the mother of one of the suspended boys, school officials reported receiving an anonymous tip that there may have been alcohol on the lacrosse team’s bus on April 13, 2011, when the team was headed to an away game. Based on this so-called “tip,” school officials boarded the bus, told the players to identify their bags, and removed the players from the bus while they searched the bags. During the search, officials discovered a lighter in Casey Edsall’s bag and a number of small tools, including scissors, a penknife, a screwdriver and pliers, in Graham Dennis’s bag. School officials reacted by calling law enforcement officers to the scene. Dennis—whose bag contained the scissors, penknife, screwdriver and pliers—was handcuffed, fingerprinted and charged as a juvenile in possession of a deadly weapon. School officials ultimately suspended both boys from school: Edsall for one day and Dennis for ten days.

Coming to the students’ defense, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute argued that the suspensions violated fundamental principles of due process of law because the lighter and penknife were not clearly prohibited under the school’s policies. Moreover, neither item could reasonably be considered a “dangerous weapon,” Institute attorneys insisted, because the only applicable definitions of “dangerous weapons” make no mention of lighters and specifically exclude small penknives such as the one Dennis used to maintain his lacrosse equipment. Despite an outpouring of public support for the players, the Talbot County Board of Education subsequently elected not to reverse the suspensions and expunge the players’ academic records. Upon appeal to the Maryland State Board of Education, Institute attorneys pointed out—and the State Board of Education agreed—that Talbot County’s policies authorize suspension only as a “last resort” for repeated disciplinary infractions or where a student’s presence is a danger to the school community. The suspension of Edsall and Dennis was therefore “illegal,” as it was in direct conflict with those provisions. Affiliate attorney John W. Garza acted on behalf of The Rutherford Institute in its defense of Dennis and Edsall.

One Ring Government to Rule Us All?

By Cameron Smith

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the protagonist is charged with destroying a ring of immense power. Throughout the novel, characters with the best and worst of intentions strive to possess and thereby control the power of the ring. The more they use that power, the more warped and twisted they become.

While The Lord of the Rings has made its way onto summer reading lists for generations, this work of fiction bears a strong resemblance to what Americans have come to expect of their federal and state governments.

The power of government is unparalleled in America. Combined state and federal government expenditures account for 35.4% of America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Government’s spending influence is augmented by expansive regulation and social mandates.

In their zeal to wield such power, even for the noblest of ends, many American politicians have expanded government’s reach even further. Because the cost of securing control of government grows proportionally to government’s size, politicians who possess the power of government face the temptation to use it in a manner to perpetuate that control.

According to a recent Rasmussen report, almost 40% of Americans believe that the United States engages in crony capitalism where business success depends largely on favorable treatment from the government. Businesses benefitting from such practices have strong incentives to support “friendly” politicians when they come up for reelection. When the government’s role in the economy and society is reduced, so are the opportunities for cronyism.

But the struggle to reduce government’s role has been largely abandoned. The most aggressive political ideas for curtailing the size of government in Washington suggest “controlling” spending at about 18% of GDP. According to a Real Clear Markets article by Dean Kalahar, “for the first 130 years of [America’s] existence, federal spending as a percentage of GDP averaged around 2.5%.”

Instead of reining in government, political characters continue to wrangle over the “correct” way to swing the cudgel of American government.

America’s founding fathers recognized the appeal of expansive government power and the dangers associated with it. As a result, they instituted constitutional limits on the accumulation of that power. But they also knew the system would only succeed so long as it had the consent and active support of the people it governed. When asked at the close of the Constitutional Convention what the founding fathers had produced, Benjamin Franklin responded, “A Republic, if you can keep it!”

Regrettably, Americans have not kept the Republic because they have failed to demand America’s founding principle of limited government be maintained. Unless America elects men and women willing to set aside the ring of government power and enforce the Constitution, government will be, as Barry Goldwater noted, a “monolith of power…bounded only by the will of those who sit in high places.”

Tolkien probably could not have said it any better.

Cameron Smith is General Counsel and Policy Director for the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.

Unanimous U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Right of Churches to Keep Government Out of Hiring, Firing Decisions

(WASHINGTON, DC) In a unanimous ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. E.E.O.C., the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that churches have a First Amendment right to keep the government out of its employment decisions. The case tested the limits of “ministerial exception,” a First Amendment doctrine that bars many employment-related lawsuits brought against religious organizations by employees performing religious functions. In deciding the case, the Court determined that the ministerial exception can be applied to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister and regularly leads students in prayer and worship. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case on behalf of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, asking the Court to adopt a standard that defers to the church’s determination of whether and how an employee is important to the spiritual mission of the church.

The Supreme Court opinion and The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. E.E.O.C. are available at www.rutherford.org.

“This is an important victory for religious freedom. When a church is forced to make employment decisions based on a lawsuit rather than spiritual needs, the end result is that its core activities and spiritual message are inevitably altered in order to accommodate or protect against government pressures or expectations,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Churches must be free to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church governance as well as those of faith and doctrine.”

The case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. E.E.O.C. relates to an employment claim made by Cheryl Perich, who was hired as a “called” teacher for Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in 2000. As a “called” teacher, Perich had to be recommended for appointment by the church’s elders and board of directors. Perich taught math, language arts, social studies, science, gym, art and music. She also taught a religion class four days per week (two hours total), attended chapel with her class once a week and led chapel services twice a year. In June 2004, Perich fell ill, was placed on disability and eventually was diagnosed with narcolepsy. When the school began the process of cutting ties with Perich because she could not perform her duties, Perich brought a claim against the school under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The claim was dismissed under the “ministerial exception” doctrine, which precludes courts from becoming involved in claims that would decide the employment relationship of “ministerial” employees. However, the dismissal was overturned on appeal by the Sixth Circuit.

In filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute asked the Court to reject the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that whether an employee is a “minister” for purposes of this exemption depends on whether “the employee’s primary duties consist of teaching, spreading the faith, church governance, supervision of a religious order, or supervision or participation in religious ritual and worship.”

Sleep, Religion and Politics

Kelly Bulkeley is a scholar who specializes in dream research. Some of his books include Dreaming in the Classroom, American Dreaming, and Dreaming in the World’s Religions. From his research, Bulkeley has discovered the following:

1. Conservatives are more likely to sleep well and report fewer dreams, and liberals are more likely to sleep worse and report more dreams.

2. The most religiously observant Americans (attend a worship service more than once a week) report better sleep and fewer dreams than the least religious Americans (never attend a worship service).

3. A surprisingly frequent type of dream among both conservatives and liberals is a nightmare about work.

It must be stated here that school students would do well not to dream in the classroom. They will get better grades and therefore parents will sleep better. As for religion and politics, I wonder if liberals give their conservative neighbors nightmares or cause them other forms sleep disturbances. Of course, if both regard each other as fascist or Nazis, it is likely that nightmares and sleep deprivations are mutual experiences.

Kelly Bulkeley’s website is http://kellybulkeley.com.

Ohio pharmacist patient care plan in light of national health care costs and-benefits

In recent commentary on health care, Dr. Joseph Mercola provides some evaluative data on the bigger picture on health care benefits. For example, he quotes the Centers of Medicate & Medicaid Services (CMS) reports on the national health expenditure (NHE) as having increase 6.7% in 2006 to a total of $2.1 trillion dollars. That figure represents 16% of GDP and an average of $7,026 spent on health care is for each and every American. Out of pocket expenses paid by individuals amounted to $1.1 trillion or 54% of the total NHE. Prescription drug expenditures increased by 5.8% in the same year.

Based of CMS historical data, NHE was just $253.4 billion in 1980 or $1,100 per person, and accounted for 9.1% of GDP. Since 1960, Continue reading