August 2, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, August 2, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Democratic platform on taxpayer-funded abortion is now the most radical in the world
Kristen Day and Charles Camosy, writing at the LA Times, point out that the 2016 Democratic Party platform is not only the most pro-abortion in history, it also in their words “betrays millions of the Democratic faithful.” Day and Camosy write themselves as Democrats and they are representing a very declining breed, a breed on its way to extinction, and that is the pro-life Democrat, especially when it comes to a pro-life Democrat who is in elective office.Show Full Transcript
The point being made is that the party platform for 2016 is so radically pro-abortion that it actually describes the party’s commitment to abortion as unequivocal. That means that virtually everything else, every other concern, every other moral issue, every other political priority, has to give way to the central mandate to protect abortion rights under every circumstance in every imaginable opportunity, in any form, at all costs. The issue of cost is also very important because one of the most important issues in the 2016 Democratic platform on abortion is that the party is now in alignment with its standard-bearer, that is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee in calling for an abolition of what is known as the Hyde amendment, and this is really important.
The Hyde amendment was adopted by Congress in the year 1976—keep in mind that is three years after the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down legalizing abortion in all 50 states. One of the big questions in 1973, at least until 1976, is whether or not American taxpayers would be put in the position of having to pay for abortions for women who were covered in particular by Medicaid. Until 2016 no platform of the Democratic Party had called for the abolition of the Hyde amendment, but that is until now. Looking back eight years ago it was abundantly clear that at that time Barack Obama, then Senator Barack Obama, was the most pro-abortion candidate in American history, certainly to be the standard-bearer of any national party. But now we see the fact that Hillary Clinton is, if anything, eclipsing the pro-abortion position of President Obama. Targeting the Hyde amendment has very special significance because back in 1976 a clear majority in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, understood that it would be absolutely wrong to ask the American taxpayer by means of Medicaid to cover abortion when so many Americans believe that abortion is nothing other than murder. It was a very clear political compromise in 1976; it was also a moral compromise.
As a political compromise, it nonetheless won by very large margins. But now the Democratic Party, having largely purged itself of any pro-life elected officials, is now going for broke on the issue of abortion. In their declaration as Democrats of a betrayal by their own party, Day and Camosy point to three ways that the 2016 platform betrays Democrats they described as “like us.” They say, and quite rightly, that the Democratic platform calls for a repeal of all federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion. Support for abortion rights, they explain, in the Democratic platform is deemed unequivocal. Secondly they point out that the platform asserts what it calls reproductive health as to include access to what’s defined as “safe and legal abortion.” They described this as being core to women’s, men’s and young people’s health and well-being. Note the absence, of course, of any reference to the unborn child. Third, in terms of the betrayal, Day and Camosy point to the fact that the 2016 Democratic platform removes a commitment to religious liberty in the context of abortion, which had been included even just four years ago in the Democratic platform.
But the big issue is the targeting of the Hyde amendment, and in order to understand why that is so important let’s just consider what’s now going on as a major controversy, not between Democrats and Republicans, but between Democrats and Democrats or, even in one sense, we now know between the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party and the vice presidential nominee of the very same party. This led to no small amount of consternation and controversy in the Democratic Party over the weekend, and that controversy is not at all settled.
As Ruby Mellen reported on Sunday for CNN, it was on that very network on Jake Tapper’s program known as “State of the Union” that Senator Tim Kaine indicated that he still differs with Hillary Clinton on the long-standing rule banning federal taxpayer dollars from funding abortions, that is the Hyde amendment. As Mellen wrote,
“That’s a rare policy disagreement with Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, and her running mate, who said he was ‘so humbled’ to be chosen for the ticket.”
The Virginia Senator told CNN,
“My job is really to just do everything I can to support a great Clinton presidency and I’m really excited to be off and running on that task.”
But as you go back to just a matter of days ago when the Democratic Party was holding its national convention in Philadelphia, it was assumed, even as the party platform was in motion and being adopted, that Senator Kaine, having been chosen as the vice presidential nominee of the party, would be on board with the Clinton proposal, and with the position now of the Democratic Party. It appeared that way even on July 24 when on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, Robby Mook, who is the chairman of the Clinton campaign, appeared on the same program and said that Senator Kaine would,
“…stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde Amendment.”
In the interview this past Sunday, however, Senator Kaine said,
“My voting position on abortion hasn’t really changed. I support the Hyde amendment, I haven’t changed that.”
Jake Tapper then pressed the Senator saying that Mook, the chairman of the Clinton committee, had told CNN otherwise:
“That is not accurate and I don’t think Robby has said that, Jake,” the senator reported.
However, of course, the campaign manager had said just that. As CNN also reports, on July 26, that Jesse Ferguson, a spokesperson for the Clinton campaign, told CNN that Senator Kaine’s commitment to stand with Hillary Clinton on repealing the Hyde amendment “was made privately.”
Well, it’s now apparent that if that agreement was made, it was significantly—if not entirely—unmade this past Sunday morning by the candidate himself. Now we look to the fact that Emma Green writing in The Atlantic points out what a political disaster this is.
“From a purely political perspective, Kaine’s stance seems like the worst possible strategy.”
“It has angered Clinton’s progressive supporters—including groups from NARAL, which has expressed ‘disappointment’ in Kaine’s position, to Planned Parenthood, which said it ‘strongly disagrees’ with Kaine on Hyde. And Kaine—whose selection as VP was almost certainly designed to attract more moderate voters to the Democratic ticket—seems unlikely to win over social conservatives with his personal support, and public capitulation, on Hyde.”
But the bigger issue here really isn’t politics; it’s the morality of the situation, and it’s the reality of what abortion is. It is the killing of an unborn human being. Leaving Secretary Clinton aside for a moment, Senator Kaine has put himself in absolutely untenable moral terrain. He has staked out a position in which he claims to be personally pro-life, but in terms of policy, supports abortion rights to the extent that he is now signed on to the Democratic platform, virtually abortion on demand under any circumstance. Furthermore, as Green points out, his capitulation on the Hyde amendment, if that’s how it’s going to be spun by the campaign, is actually another sign of the absolute abortion extremism of the modern Democratic Party. It is as if abortion has become something of sacramental importance to the American left, and in particular now to the Democratic Party. Even going back, say, 20 years ago, it was still possible to talk about a pro-life Democratic caucus in both houses of Congress. No more. They have been virtually made extinct as a species. We also look at the fact that the divide on abortion is now almost absolute in terms of American politics and, for that matter, at almost every level.
But Senator Kaine has put himself in the position in which he claims really to stand in two different worlds—in a private world, in which as a Roman Catholic he holds to the sanctity of human life and says he believes what the Roman Catholic Church teaches when it comes to the sanctity of life and, on the other hand, as a public official he stands in clear support of abortion rights, and now increasingly even unfettered and unrestricted support. We’re looking at something here that was pioneered about a generation ago by then New York Governor Mario Cuomo who in an infamous address at the University of Notre Dame made very clear that he saw his private conviction and his public responsibility as two completely separable worlds.
One of the interesting things to note here is that both Cuomo and Kaine identify as Roman Catholics, but the Roman Catholic Church’s official catechism actually on the issue of abortion makes it impossible to be a faithful Catholic and not to apply the understanding of the Roman Catholic Church on abortion in terms of political decisions.
But let’s step back for a moment and leave the Roman Catholic Church aside. Though the late Governor Cuomo and the current Senator Kaine identify as Roman Catholics, the same tendency can be found elsewhere as well, where people claim that they have a private conviction but that stands wholly apart from their public policy. That might be something that would have at least some moral credibility if it were an issue in terms of military policy or perhaps economic policy, but not when it comes to the objective value of human life. Either abortion is simply the removal of excess and unwanted tissue, or it is the murder of an unborn human being. It is morally indefensible to hold to a position that says in private one believes it to be murder but in public, in terms of one’s public responsibilities as an elected official, one is ardently for the right to commit that murder.
Going back to Day and Camosy in their article in the LA Times, they point out that the Democratic Party’s platform in the United States in 2016 would put the United States of America far to the left of even the liberal governments of Western Europe on the issue of abortion. In targeting the Hyde amendment, the 2016 Democratic Party platform and its Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have made very clear that they will not compromise at all on the issue of abortion. It’s all or nothing, and they believe they can have it all. Now they want to make each and every American taxpayer complicit in having to pay for the abortions undertaken by others. The battle for the sanctity of human life in this country now opens an entirely new chapter.
Iowa Civil Rights Commission threatens to silence church pulpits on LGBT issues
Next, we’ve been watching over the last couple of years a growing battle between what can be defined, on the one hand, as erotic liberty and, on the other hand, religious liberty. We’ve been seeing the closing of the American heart on the issue of religious liberty and now perhaps the closing of the American opinion in terms of the nation’s highest court.
Richard Wolf, writing a very important article for USA Today, says that the Supreme Court’s defense of religious freedom may be on the decline. That is the actual wording of the opening of this article at USA Today. Wolf, a veteran observer of the Supreme Court, goes on to write,
“Still reeling from the death of its most devout justice, Antonin Scalia, the high court has put preventing discrimination above protecting religion in a series of cases over the past year, from same-sex marriage to abortion and contraception.”
As I say, that we’ve been watching this now for some time. It is clear that not just the Supreme Court, but the larger American legal community, is shifting in its understanding of the balancing of what might be defined as liberties. The venerable understanding of religious liberty as America’s first liberty is now being negotiated away issue-by-issue and case-by-case in favor of what might be called sexual liberty or erotic liberty. That’s a new liberty that was identified by the nation’s highest court, following the examples of some of America’s intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s. Of course, it is taken most dramatic shape in terms of the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
As Wolf writes, the alarm for religious liberty is now found in what he describes as, “an obscure order issued on the last day of the recent term,” and it came from Justice Samuel Alito.
On the last edition of The Briefing in the last season we discussed this very document. Justice Alito, considering the fact that the Supreme Court had just refused to consider an appeal being made by a family-owned pharmacy that will now in Washington State be required to dispense all contraceptives, including what could be contraceptives that would be abortifacients, Justice Alito said that the Court was sending what he defined as an ominous sign. He said,
“If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.”
Now that would be an ominous statement if it were made, for example, by a cultural commentator or someone writing in a major American newspaper. But that’s not the source of the statement. Those words were uttered in an official statement released by a sitting justice of the United States Supreme Court. Justice Alito, you’ll remember, back in 2014 in the oral arguments for the same-sex marriage case—Justice Alito made very clear in his conversation in the oral arguments and especially in questions he asked that then Solicitor General of the United States, Donald Verrilli—Justice Alito made very clear that he saw religious liberty on the line and in danger.
Now, in light of the fact that the Supreme Court refused even to take the case on appeal from the pharmacist in Washington State, Justice Alito now sees that religious liberty is being marginalized to the point that he made the comment of his concern on the very last day of the last Supreme Court term. Richard Wolf’s point in this USA Today analysis piece points to the fact that the trend is now virtually impossible to deny. Interestingly, he cites as one authority in his article Douglas Laycock, who is a religious liberty expert at the University of Virginia School of Law. He says,
“The risk arises when core issues important to liberals are at stake, such as women’s access to all methods of birth control.”
And to that must be added the issues of the sexual revolution. Laycock then said,
“The liberal justices are willing to protect religious liberty when their more favored issues are not at stake, or perhaps when the case is clear enough.”
Just consider what this means. Professor Laycock is telling us that the liberal justices of the United States Supreme Court are willing to defend religious liberty so long as there isn’t a higher priority. And that higher priority, as Laycock says, is attached to core issues of importance to liberals and, in particular, those issues have to do with sexuality and personal autonomy with abortion and contraception and the sexual revolution. We’re now warned. When those issues are at stake, religious liberty is going to take a backseat.
Keep that in mind with a story that recently emerged from the state of Iowa. William Petroski, reporting for the Des Moines Register, wrote,
“Two conservative Iowa churches contend the Iowa Civil Rights Commission is violating their rights to free speech and religious liberty by censoring their views on human sexuality and forcing them to open restrooms to members of the opposite sex.”
Petroski went on to write,
“The Fort Des Moines Church of Christ filed a federal lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Des Moines claiming the commission’s interpretation of state civil rights law prohibits church members from making any public comments — including from the pulpit — that could be viewed as unwelcome to people who do not identify with their biological sex.”
Now wait just a minute. When you see a story like this, you almost expect immediately to be told that there is merely a misunderstanding, that this somehow is a misinterpretation of the advice that was given by this official state commission in Iowa. Of course, you expect the reassurances to be made. No one would tell a church to violate its convictions on issues of morality or doctrine or theology. But that’s not what happened in Iowa and, all too dangerously, this story is being effectively swept under the rug. I want to credit the Des Moines Register, the most influential newspaper in Iowa, with actually writing about the story. William Petroski went on to explain that,
“The Iowa Legislature in 2007 prohibited discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The issue that is now coming to the surface in Iowa came after the Civil Rights Commission there in Iowa put out an advisory pamphlet. And in that pamphlet it basically said that churches are generally exempt from many of these nondiscrimination policies, but not always. And when those churches legally constitute themselves as a public accommodation, they come just as much under the law and under the purview of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission as any other organization, business, or governmental entity.
Now once again, you expect there to be an immediate explanation that that wasn’t what the commission meant. But that’s not what happened. As Petroski reported, it is clear that at least two churches and the Civil Rights Commission in Iowa,
“…are interpreting these bona fides in wildly different ways.”
Petroski cited Paul Gallagher, Law Professor at University of Iowa Law School, identified as an expert in constitutional law, who said,
“It would be ‘blatantly unconstitutional’ for state officials to try to regulate the content of church sermons.”
Now, just for a moment, can you imagine that that statement would even be made necessary in terms of a major American newspaper, but there it is. He went on to say,
“The notion that the Civil Rights Commission can prohibit a church from sermonizing in whatever hateful or discriminatory way they want is absurd on its face.”
However, the very same law professor went on to say that access to church bathrooms by transgender persons is “a more complicated matter without an easy answer.”
According to the paper, the state and federal governments cannot regulate religious exercise directly, but religious institutions are not exempt under the federal Constitution from general laws that apply to everyone. Again, that is a summary of what is cited to law professor Paul Gowder. The professor then summarized,
“So I guess the honest answer to the bathroom question would be, I am not sure.”
The real shocker in the Des Moines Register piece came in a comment quoted by Drake University Law Professor Maura Strassberg, identified also as expert on sexuality law. According to The Register,
“Strassberg said sermons that stick to human sexuality matters pertaining to theology would be constitutionally protected. But she suggested situations could arise where a preacher’s remarks could cross over the line into harassment.
“There is a line: You can go from, ‘This is what God believes’ … to ‘You are bad, so we don’t want you here.”
The simple point to be made here is that here you have a liberal law professor who is claiming the ability to decide and to discern on her own what from the pulpit would be constitutionally protected speech and what would not. The legal issue here is that the state Civil Rights Commission in Iowa is claiming that churches effectively turn themselves into private accommodations rather than private religious organizations when they invite nonmembers even to a church service. This is a bizarre and very dangerous legal doctrine. It effectively would turn every church that has even the slightest evangelistic ambition into a public accommodation that would then come under all of the laws that would govern what could be effectively a government organization.
The Alliance Defending Freedom is taking up the cause of one of the churches, the Fort Des Moines Church of Christ, and has filed for a pre-enforcement challenge—that is, a lawsuit that allows citizens to challenge the law in order to preempt its effect as unconstitutional. The most important issue in this is that the Iowa Civil Rights Commission advised churches in this pamphlet that they turn themselves into public accommodations when they open their worship services to the public.
Now here’s something very, very interesting, and it tells us a great deal not only about how this issue is unfolding, but about how government works. If you go right now to the website of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and download this pamphlet, available even today, you will read:
“Places of worship (e.g. churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.) are generally exempt from the Iowa law’s prohibition of discrimination, unless the place of worship engages in non-religious activities which are open to the public. For example, the law may apply to an independent day care or polling place located on the premises of the place of worship.”
Now wait just a minute. The problem is, that doesn’t sound at all like what the churches are alleging. At that point I noticed that this is a revised edition from July 2016, the original edition until it was revised in the aftermath, or the in the midst of this controversy, was quite different. And as you might expect, as is almost always true on the internet, this document is still available in this form on the state of Iowa’s website:
“Does this law apply to churches? Sometimes. Iowa law provides,” says the statement, “that these protections do not apply to religious institutions with respect to any religion-based qualifications when such qualifications are related to a bona fides religious purpose.”
Now wait just a minute. This means that here you have the Iowa Civil Rights Commission declaring that it’s going to decide when and when not a bona fide’s religious purpose is being fulfilled. The statement then reads,
“Where qualifications are not related to a bona fides religious purpose, churches are still subject to the laws provisions. For example, a childcare facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public.”
Well, there it is. There’s the explosive statement still available in a PDF document by the Civil Rights Commission of Iowa, still on the website of the Iowa state government. The revision back in July in the midst of this controversy was an attempt to try to make the controversy go away. But the point is that the Iowa Civil Rights Commission has now bared its teeth to churches. I repeat the last sentence
“Where qualifications are not related to a bona fides religious purpose, churches are still subject to the law’s provisions. For example, a childcare facility operated at a church.”
And then these words,
“…or a church service open to the public.”
Let those words settle in. They define, perhaps more graphically than anything we have seen of late, the challenge to religious liberty we all now face.