September 18, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, September 18, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Appeals court ruling sets up Obamacare religious freedom clash in Supreme Court
Repeatedly the issue of the Obamacare contraception mandate has come before us and before federal court. But everything was reshaped yesterday when in St. Louis, a federal appeals court ruled against the Obama administration. At the center of the case was the state of Missouri and two Christian organizations that claimed that their Christian convictions would be violated if they were forced even indirectly to be the agents of providing contraception coverage. Now recall as we’re thinking about this that that contraception coverage would include all forms of contraception including some that might be abortifacient in their effect. Thus the fact that there are many Christian organizations that cannot in conviction participate in that kind of coverage.
The Obama Administration shortly after forcing through the Affordable Care Act in Congress turned to hand down a mandate stating that all employers would have to offer contraception coverage and that’s comprehensive contraception coverage to all their employees. There was a very narrow exclusion for Christian organizations and by the way that had to be forced after the Obama Administration tried to make it even more narrow and yet the Obama administration left in place and this is the crucial issue, the requirement that employers that were exempted from the contraception coverage nonetheless, be agents of triggering that coverage by sending a statement that was required by the Department of Health and Human Services. Christian organizations and not just Christians but some of other religious groups as well, made complaints to the courts and sought relief and yet what happened yesterday is a departure from what had happened in other federal appellate courts. As Robert Barnes of the Washington Post tells us,Show Full Transcript
“A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis said forcing two Missouri organizations to offer contraceptive coverage to employees — even indirectly — would violate the groups’ religious freedoms.”
At the center of this issue is the religious freedom restoration act, an act that was overwhelmingly adopted by both houses in Congress and an act that requires two specific things. First of all, it says where possible, government has to accommodate the concerns of religious citizens, whether they are individuals or organizations. Further, it goes on to demand that if the government is going to be in violation of those conscience rights, it would have to do so because of a compelling state interest. The second thing the act calls for is the fact that the government must indicate that it sought to reach a reasonable accommodation with religious conviction on these issues. The court ruled yesterday that the Obama Administration had failed those tests. It did not seek to make a reasonable accommodation. Now at the center of that is something we need to think about. The Obama Administration could have reached an accommodation that would have exempted these religious organizations from any participation, even in the sense of being an indirect agent of triggering this contraception coverage. What it appears and it can only appear this way, is that the Obama Administration wanted to do this in order to make a point. And up until now, Christian ministries and others that had sought relief from this kind of mandate had not found much success in the courts, but yesterday the eighth U.S. circuit Court of Appeals did indeed rule in favor of these two Christian ministries.
Now that raises another question, why does that almost automatically set up the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States will eventually hear the case? It’s because the highest courts under the Supreme Court of the United States are the various U.S. circuit courts of appeal and those circuits if they are conflicting set up a situation in which only the Supreme Court can eventually settle the question. In one sense, it was probably inevitable all the way back to the 1960s that the issue of contraception would remain front and center in the cultural and moral conversation of this nation and yet it wasn’t necessary that this case, this question would reach all the way now likely to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Obama administration could have found a reasonable accommodation. It was determined not to do so and now finally, it has found an answer coming from the eighth U.S. circuit Court of Appeals in which a court says that the government simply didn’t do enough. With so many conflicts set up now between religious liberty and sexual liberty, this is one of those issues we’re going to have to watch closely and now it appears that we will watch it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Obama defends Planned Parenthood, furthers culture of personal autonomy idolatry
On a similar front President Barack Obama found himself in the headlines again yesterday, but this time on the issue of abortion. As Laura Bassett reports for the Huffington Post, President Obama said yesterday that he strongly opposes any legislation against Planned Parenthood and he promised to veto a pair of house bills that would strip federal funds from the organization and impose new restrictions on abortion. The White House released a statement yesterday saying that the Republican backed bills,
“Would have the same consequence of limiting women’s health care choices.”
While we’re looking at the way a moral revolution happens and we’re looking at the way the cultural and moral issues are framed, here again, we have the issue of choice. This is a really interesting development; it’s one that we need to note time and again. Going back to the 1970s, the case for abortion was rarely made in these terms. The case was made by pro-abortion advocates that a woman had a supposed right to an abortion and this was grounded either in privacy rights or in some other form of argument that was based in constitutional law. But as it became increasingly clear that the Supreme Court did not settle the abortion issue, culturally and morally speaking for the American people in the Roe decision. And as it became clear that the pro-life movement was gaining traction in the culture, pro-abortion advocates began to choose a new language. They began to emphasize what they referred to increasingly and pervasively as choice, the right of a woman to choose.
The public relations behind this was clear and it is conceded by many pro-abortion advocates they were seeking to find a language that fit the new style of American moral discourse. The new way that Americans talked about making moral decisions. Those moral decisions were no longer framed overwhelmingly in terms of right and wrong, but rather in terms of the gradation of personal autonomy that was summarized in the one word choice and what we see in the announcement made yesterday by the White House is a continuation of the same moral language. It’s also a perpetuation of the same moral worldview. It is a worldview that raises personal autonomy, personal decision, personal choice, to a virtually idolatrous position in terms of moral decision-making. Not mentioned at all, it is important to note by the White House in a statement, not mentioned at all is the unborn child. It is simply ignored by the White House; it is simply ignored by those whose worldview can be summarized in the word choice.
There is moral sadness and there’s heartbreak in the White House statement yesterday, but there’s no real surprise and that’s because President Barack Obama as a candidate and as president has been the most aggressively pro-abortion candidate or President in American history. Early in his political career, not just lately, but early in that very short political career before he became president he opposed even the partial-birth abortion ban act. He has supported even what’s called the partial-birth abortion. He has rejected every single effort to restrict abortion in any way. There is no indication that he believes that any abortion should not happen under any circumstances and at no point in his entire political and public career has he ever acknowledged even the existence of the unborn child as an important moral question.
Sometimes Christians ask the question, do we really have to be involved in politics? They might ask it another way, does politics really matter? Just consider the statement that came from the White House yesterday and ask yourself the question out loud? Does politics really matter? Does it really matter who’s in the White House? When it comes to an issue as clear and as crucial as the sanctity of human life and not only on that issue, but on that issue alone, just imagine how important the presidency of the United States really is, how important every congressional seat really is, how important every senator really is, how important every state legislator really is. And if you were already tiring of all the attention to the 2016 presidential election and, frankly, on one hand, that’s already understandable, just recognize in this statement from the White House yesterday what’s at stake, and remember it really is important.
NFL teams profit from gambling in guise of fantasy football even as it denounces gambling
Next, on the gambling front there’s been a lot of attention to the development of so-called fantasy football. Joe Drape and Ken Belsen writing for the New York Times yesterday tell us that one of the biggest developments, culturally and economically having to do with pro-sports in general and the National Football League in particular is the rise of gambling in the form of what’s called fantasy football. By the way, the story yesterday begins with an amazing fact that I found downright astounding. As they write,
“The average amount of actual game action over the course of a three-hour broadcast of an N.F.L. game is about 11 minutes.”
So in other words, if you distilled the entire broadcast of an NFL game down to the time the ball is actually in play. It’s not three hours, it’s not two hours, it’s not an hour, it’s 11 minutes. People are watching three hours to see the ball in play 11 minutes, but that’s not really what’s going on and we all know it. And beyond the numbers in terms of just how much time is actually given to the action in the game, the reality is that the NFL and pro-sports in general represent a huge cultural phenomenon and now they also represent a tempting target for the gambling industry and yet as this article New York Times makes clear, the NFL right now is skirting the edges of both the law and the perceived morality of the situation here. Drape and Belsen say that those who were watching the three-hour broadcast of an NFL game this season might have noted that they were shocked by how much advertising time, how much commercial time was actually given to fantasy football and they explain it’s because the money behind it is huge and it is increasing fast. They write,
“So high are the potential financial rewards that the companies have found eager partners in N.F.L. teams, even as the league remains a staunch opponent of sports betting.”
Now, by the way, the New York Times has given stellar attention to this story not only yesterday, but also over recent months, going back even to June in 2015, Ken Belsen one of the co-authors of the new article, wrote an article that was describing the,
“N.F.L.’s Unsteady Stance on a Tricky Gambling Landscape.”
And in that article published back in June, Belsen cited Scott Andresen, a sports and entertainment lawyer who teaches at Northwestern University, who said,
“It’s the biggest hypocrisy in sports. The N.F.L. and other leagues are in opposition to legalized sports gambling because they haven’t quite figured out how to monetize it. Once they do, they’ll all be on board.”
Now this is a really interesting test case to see if Americans are recognizing the moral problem that’s right before their eyes. There is no question these articles and the reality of fantasy football makes very clear, there is no question what we’re talking about here is gambling. But it’s not presented as gambling; it’s presented as something else. An article appearing elsewhere in the media over recent days indicated that the vast majority of people who are playing in these fantasy football games will lose money and they will lose money through a process of barely disguised wagering and thus it is undeniably a form of gambling. The hypocrisy behind the charge coming in the New York Times is the fact that the NFL says it is against gambling, but it’s allowing its individual teams to participate in gambling by means of fantasy football and as that professor at Northwestern University made very clear, as soon as the professional leagues can figure out how they can find a way legally to encourage gambling, then they’ll be right into it. The article is also very clear saying that casinos at present have not touched this business, not because they don’t think it will be lucrative, but because they’re not sure it’s legal and they don’t want to put the rest of their gambling business in legal jeopardy.
The hypocrisy comes up again in the New York Times article when Belsen and Drape write,
“Officially, executives at the N.F.L. have a long-held position against sports gambling and have kept a distance from the daily fantasy sites, even preventing Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and other current players from participating in a fantasy sports convention this summer because it was held at a casino in Las Vegas.”
But they go on to write,
“The league’s leadership, however, has done nothing to stop individual teams from diving in, and two powerful N.F.L. owners — Jerry Jones of the Cowboys and Robert K. Kraft of the New England Patriots — have stakes in DraftKings [one of the two big companies that is now exploding in its business of fantasy football].”
Now this is a really interesting article, because here we see the fact that one centerpiece of popular American culture professional football in the form of the NFL is taking the official posture that gambling will ruin and corrupt the sport. That’s the argument that has been made by the NFL for years. That’s why they have fought the ability of off-site betting to include NFL games in terms of the wagering, but as this article makes very clear, the NFL is simply apparently trying to find a way to back into the gambling business and one of the ways that it appears this might happen is through fantasy football. Now one of the demonstrations that this really is gambling is the fact that most of the people who are involved in it will lose money and other people will win at the expense of those who lose. So professional football has sought to prevent casinos and others from getting into the business, but now they’re allowing their teams to actively participate in what’s basically the very same thing just disguised and clothed in different form. But as one man deeply involved in the gambling business had said and by the way, this is Johnny Avello, director of the sports book at Wynn Las Vegas said,
“I’ve been in this business all my life, and when you put up money on an event and you get a return on whatever the outcome of that event, it — to me — that is gambling. There’s money changing hands.”
And this is where Christians understand that wherever you have money changing hands you have the opportunity for sin to raise its head and we also need to understand something else. Another thing clearly taught in Scripture is that sin will find a way to corrupt virtually everything to which we put our hands, including something like football. So while many Americans see football as well, American as apple pie, the reality is that the NFL is increasingly becoming financially involved with the very gambling industry they said by their own words would corrupt the very enterprise they represent.
But finally on this issue, what Christians have to understand is that gambling is simply in terms of this kind of enterprise incompatible with Christian discipleship. There is no way that Christians can be involved in an industry that would seek to separate people from the money they earned by their labor and instead entice them to put that money at risk and potentially to put their families and their financial security at risk by gambling rather than by working, by gambling rather than by saving, to put the matter bluntly, we’re no longer talking about an office betting pool, we’re talking about a vast new expansion of the gambling industry and we’re talking about an issue that’s recognized to be a significant moral and legal issue and we’re not talking about a story that appeared in the front pages of the New York Times or even in the business pages, but rather on the front page of the sports section.
Self-inflicted wound of marijuana on Colorado not a laughing matter
Next, the issue of marijuana has appeared in recent days because it’s been in the headlines in so many different ways. Yesterday, in the New York Times there was an article that seems almost unreal. The headline in the article by Julie Turkewitz was this,
“Colorado treats buyers to a one-day marijuana tax break.”
As she writes,
“Some called it Christmas for stoners. Others warned of marijuana anarchy.
“Marijuana products across Colorado were nearly tax free on Wednesday — a one-time tax break forced by a quirk in the state Constitution. The break knocked away the state’s 10 percent tax on cannabis purchases — which is imposed on top of the existing state sales tax and any municipal taxes — and marijuana shops around the state spent months coordinating their distribution plans, advertising deep discounts in addition to the tax vacation and encouraging customers to start lining up at dawn.
“I’ve been saying ‘Happy holidays’ to everybody today,” said Mandie Farrow, 21, a dry cleaner employee who had just left the Grass Station, a shop that was offering 50 percent off on top of the tax break.”
When the state of Colorado legalized so-called recreational marijuana, its own governor at the time, John Hickenlooper said he was afraid that the state will become the laughingstock of the nation and now even one of the owners of the marijuana shops quoted in the article said,
“I can only imagine what it looks like for the outside, for people who are not in Colorado, They must think we’re crazy.”
Well, I think he’s onto something there. As Turkewitz reports,
“The tax break is a boon not only for customers, but also for marijuana growers, who are excused from paying a 15 percent tax on all sales they make to stores. On Wednesday, Subarus, minivans and armored trucks stuffed with marijuana crisscrossed the state as growers raced to get their product out of warehouses and onto store shelves before the close of business.”
The newspaper in Colorado Springs that is a Colorado Springs Gazette expressed the fact that they were concerned also about what the result of this day would be,
“For advocates of marijuana anarchy, holidays don’t get better than this.”
But the editors went on to warn,
“A sudden drug surplus stands to burden employers, law-enforcement schools, hospitals and responsible parents.”
The editors went on to say,
“It will undoubtedly make pot more available to kids who can lose eight IQ points with regular use. That’s neither magical or funny. It is tragic.”
But morally speaking, one of the most important insights here is that this is a self-inflicted wound by the state of Colorado, where voters knew exactly what they were doing when they legalized marijuana in the state. They lied to themselves and they lied publicly by saying that they would find a way to make certain that marijuana would not get to the people who should not have it and yet as report after report has indicated, all of these things have basically failed to accomplish their promise purpose in the state of Colorado. And then comes Wednesday of this week, one man cited in the article had recently moved to Colorado from Laredo, Texas, presumably, largely because of the legalized marijuana. He went on to say,
“The marijuana industry is the main draw for this state.”
And all this time people in Colorado thought it was the Rocky Mountains and other assets of the state of Colorado that was drawing people, now they’re being told it’s mainly marijuana. The young man taught me a new word, by the way when he spoke of his profession, which is as a “budtender,” like a bartender.
Finally, cited in the article is Tim Cullen who owns Colorado Harvest company, it has three marijuana growing operations and three shops, including one described as being in a Denver strip that is increasingly known as the Green mile because of the prevalence of marijuana shops along the roadway.
“On Wednesday, he said in a telephone interview, his employees hauled about 300 pounds of marijuana out of his growing operations and into his shops in order to avoid taxes. He said all his stores had lines out the door in the morning. “We’re rocking and rolling,” he said.”
It’s hard not to look at a news story like this and laugh at the antics going on in the state of Colorado. But sadly, this really isn’t a laughing matter. It’s not a laughing matter when you understand that teenagers in the state of Colorado are even more likely to smoke marijuana than they are tobacco. It’s not a laughing matter when the use of marijuana has become so prevalent among students at Colorado’s colleges and universities. It’s not a laughing matter when it is known that many people have become ill by tainted marijuana and when it is clear that the state of Colorado actually has no mechanism to ensure that the marijuana sold in its legal shops even meets the same kind of food standards it would be required of the produce department in the local grocery store. It’s not a laughing matter when it is documented now that people in Colorado have used marijuana far more potent than they thought it was and at least one young man jumped to his death under the influence of this very potent marijuana. It’s not a laughing matter when you consider the moral issues that are at stake here. It’s hard not to laugh when you have a city that now has a so-called Green mile and when there’s a new job classification as budtender. But it’s really not a laughing matter and Christians who understand what is at stake here can only look at it with a serious sense of concern and with the Christian worldview understanding that what is set loose in a society will indeed be sent loose. And now we are told that one state in the very center of the union, the state of Ohio, will soon be considering whether to do the very same.