March 26, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, March 26, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court was ground zero for one of the most important debates in recent American history, and that debate took place, in terms of the oral arguments presented, in two cases, which were combined in a double session before the nation’s highest court. The two cases were Sebelius versus Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods versus Sebelius. Both of them on the same question of the constitutionality of the ObamaCare legislation’s contraception mandate and the Obama administration’s very clear determination that they were going to hold almost everyone to making the availability of birth control, including potential abortifacients, the rule of law for every corporation in America, including those that were headed by persons with very deep religious convictions and including corporations that were established around a deeply conviction Christian vision. That includes Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, and those two corporations, represented by their attorneys, had the opportunity to make their case before the nation’s highest court yesterday.
Now before turning to what happened before the court, let’s consider what happened in the court of public opinion. The headlines around the country demonstrated the fact that there’s anxiety, especially on the part of the cultural left, about how this case could go if indeed the court finds for Conestoga Woods and Hobby Lobby. But the editorial boards of many of the nation’s leading newspapers left no doubt whatsoever about their determination to shame the court into finding against Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods. The editorial board of The New York Times on March 22 ran an editorial entitled “Crying Wolf on Religious Liberty,” suggesting that there were no real religious liberty issues at stake in the ObamaCare legislation’s contraception mandate. The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post both ran similar editorials with the editorial boards declaring that there is no real problem here and that there are ominous repercussions that will come if the court finds in favor of the religious liberty claims made by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods.
But when the oral arguments took place yesterday, it was apparent, as there was live blogging and live reporting out of the nation’s highest court, that the courts justices, at least many of them, were not accepting the arguments put forth by the Obama Administration. As a matter fact, David Savage of the LA Times reported it this way:
The Supreme Court’s conservative justices sharply criticized part of President Obama’s healthcare law Tuesday, suggesting they will rule later this year that requiring Christian-owned corporations to offer their employees contraceptives coverage violates the freedom of religion.
You find similar coverage at The Washington Post, similar coverage at The Wall Street Journal, and as a matter fact, when you start looking at other coverage around the web, you find similar analyses. For example, Ian Millhiser, writing for Think Progress, that is a liberal media outlet, says that it was apparent in the oral arguments that justice Anthony Kennedy, widely and commonly considered to be the swing vote on this case as in so many others, had defined the case before the court yesterday as an abortion case and, according to those who were hoping for a ruling against Conestoga Woods and Hobby Lobby, that was an ominous sign for their case. And that’s why The New York Times coverage by Adam Liptak gets very interesting because, as he says, the court “seemed ready to accept that at least some for-profit corporations may advance claims based on religious freedom.” But the justices, he said, appeared divided along ideological lines over whether the objections before it, based on a requirement in President Obama’s health care law, should succeed. As Liptak writes, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who probably holds the decisive vote, asked questions helpful to both sides. He appeared skeptical that the two family-controlled companies that objected to the contraception coverage requirement were burdened by the law as they could cease providing health insurance at all. He also expressed solicitude for what he called the rights of employees, but, says Liptak, he also had reservations about whether the government could require the companies in the case to provide coverage in light of the many exemptions and accommodations it has offered to other groups.
That’s where the coverage by David Savage in the LA Times gets right to the point. He writes that Justice Kennedy said in response to US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli—he was making the administration’s case. He was arguing on behalf of the Obama Administration and, thus, on behalf of the mandate. Kennedy said, “Your reasoning would permit requiring profit-making corporations to pay for abortions.” That was a devastating line. That was a very revealing statement coming from Justice Kennedy and that’s why there are now shockwaves spreading throughout the entire pro-choice and pro-ObamaCare legislation world about the statement made by Justice Kennedy in that context. Because Justice Kennedy made the point, in terms of his statement, to Solicitor General Verrilli, if your argument holds, if the argument made by the administration were to prevail, there is nothing that would prevent forcing a for-profit Christian Corporation to pay for abortions.
It’s clear that those on the cultural left fear the direction the court may take in this case. Walter Dellinger, a former acting United States solicitor general said, “If Hobby Lobby were to prevail, the consequences would extend far beyond the issue of contraception.” And there are others who are saying the same thing. Mr. Dellinger went on to say, “A win for Hobby Lobby could turn out to be a significant setback for gay rights.” Meanwhile, on the other side, you have similar understandings of what would be at stake if Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods lose the case. But here comes a very interesting question. Why would gay rights now be before the court in this case when there was nothing in the case that was apparently about gay rights? It’s because the religious liberty arguments that were put forth by the lawyers for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods yesterday are almost exactly the kinds of arguments that will later be put forth in the arguments that are made on behalf of Christians as related to contested questions in the workplace and in the larger economy with the legalization of same-sex marriage. Both sides knew it yesterday, in terms of the oral arguments, and both sides are now waiting almost breathlessly to see what in the world the court will say about this issue because even as it will surely not be the last word, this is going to be a very important word. Both sides are basically in agreement that this is the most important religious liberty case to come before the nation’s highest court in almost a quarter of a century.
Next we turn to another story that is also very, very important. It’s headline news as well. It has to do with that massive mudslide that took place in Arlington, Washington, there in Snohomish County, where approximately one square mile of earth simply disappeared, apparently swallowing up over 100 people in terms of that awful and unexpected accident. The landslide took place on Saturday morning, wiped out about thirty houses in Snohomish County there in the state of Washington. What is so scary about this is that we take for granted the fact that the ground under our feet is stable, and those who were inhabiting this particular square-mile that virtually disappeared going down a hillside and surrendering into quicksand, they assumed—and had every right to assume—that the ground under their feet was firm. But it wasn’t. As we know now, it was actually taking the form of volcanic ash that had been saturated with water, and in retrospect it was an accident waiting to happen. But that accident waited many, many decades to happen. Indeed, it might have waited centuries to happen, and yet when it happened, it had vast devastation in its wake. At least fourteen people are known to have died and the number of people missing has now climbed to 176. We’re talking about a massive death toll in terms of this horrifying accident. Chief Travis Hots of the Snohomish County Fire District 21 said, “We’re still in a rescue mode at this time, but the situation is very grim. We’ve not found anybody still alive since Saturday.” How horrifying it would be to find out all the sudden that the ground began to swallow you up and to swallow up many other people as well, and to know that even as we do count on that ground under our feet being firm, we even sing about it and talk about it, “How Firm a Foundation,” we understand it’s not quite so firm as we might think it to be. In other words, in a Genesis 3 world, we take some things for granted that we have no right to take for granted. We assume a certain form of safety and security in that which sometimes will simply give way and swallow us up. There is a parable to be seen in what has happened at Snohomish County, Washington, and there’s also grave human injury and human pain. We need to pray for those in this area of Washington State who have lost so much. We need to pray that there could be some others who are survivors who still may be found. And we need to be reminded—every single one of us—that even the ground under our feet is not so firm and stable as it appears.
It was that great early American theologian and preacher Jonathan Edwards in that most famous of his sermons, “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God,” who made very clear that we as sinners are walking across what appears to be very firm ground, when actually it is a very thin net. And as he reminds sinners, “Sinners, you never know when your foot may fall.” How true that is and how horribly we are reminded of that when we see these headlines out of Washington State.
Another parable came alive before our eyes when earlier this week five colleagues of Ponzi-scheme-convicted criminal Bernard L. Madoff were also convicted of crimes, crimes of complicity with Bernie Madoff in what is now regarded as the largest Ponzi scheme or financial fraud in world history, involving billions of dollars—not just millions, but billions of dollars. Bernard Madoff will serve the rest of his time in prison. As a matter fact, in several lifetimes he could never serve all the time that he was sentenced to in terms of his criminal convictions. He admitted being the mastermind of this massive Ponzi scheme. That’s a scheme that is basically a form of financial fraud in which you invite persons to invest, but then you spend their money. You make them think they’ve actually gained by their investment by asking other people to invest, taking their new money and giving it to your old investor. Eventually, the whole house of cards falls, and as the Bible says, the fall of that house is very great. Now that was demonstrated to us on the convictions of these five people, but as we’re thinking of the moral and worldview importance of this, we need to recognize that the secular press is talking about this in terms we can understand. Christians can immediately understand.
The court that convicted these five persons who were accused of complicity with Bernie Madoff came to the conclusion that there was no way they could possibly not have known that this was a Ponzi scheme and a massive system of financial fraud. Even though Bernie Madoff said he was the only one who knew, even as these five defendants said they didn’t know what they were doing, they were just coming up with computer programs and keeping books and doing other things to assist Mr. Madoff, the court in rendering its judgment said it was impossible that they didn’t know that this was fraud. After all, the computer programs they were asked to devise, the double books they were asked to keep, the actions they were assigned to accomplish, would only make sense in terms of a massive fraud. And, furthermore, as the secular media, led by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, has made clear, they benefited by means of this conspiracy. In other words, this tells us a great deal about human nature. Bernie Madoff got into this believing that he would somehow get out of it. He never expected to be caught. He didn’t do this expecting to spend the rest of his life in prison. What about those who invested with him? After all, they were investing with them in a frenzy because he was producing returns far and above what other similar investors were able to produce. Now why would he be able to bring those returns? Well there is no rational indication that he had access to any forms of investments that others didn’t have. He wasn’t that much wiser than anyone else. In other words, those investors, as courts have ruled, should have known that something was fishy, and yet they didn’t want to believe that. They hid it from their own eyes, as Bernie Madoff must’ve lied to himself about the inevitability of the fall of his fraud and the fact that he would be caught. And now these five employees—the court has rendered its verdict. They knew; they had to know. They could not, not know that what was going on before their eyes with their complicity was a massive financial fraud. And, yet, who knows the hearts of these individuals? Maybe they really did lie to themselves, and what does that tell us? It tells us that we as human beings, fallen, frail, fragile human beings, deceitful and sometimes dishonest human beings, will not only lie to others, we will lie to ourselves, and sometimes it takes a court and its criminal conviction verdict to make very clear these folks were lying to themselves.
Finally two rather incredible stories, both of these on marijuana, both of them very revealing, and I do mean very revealing. The first has to do with the report coming from the Times Washington Bureau that the pot industry now has new allies among political conservatives. Evan Halper writes:
Hoping to get pot legalized in Nevada, an investment firm specializing in the fast-growing marijuana industry invited the ballot initiative’s backers to pitch 150 financiers at a Las Vegas symposium. Within 10 minutes, they raised $150,000.
But what makes this story really interesting is that the person behind this is a conservative political activist or, at least, he’s defined as, identified as a conservative political activist. The man’s name is Michael Correia. He’s an advocate for the 300-member National Cannabis Industry Association. He’s a former Republican Party staffer, who for two years worked as a lobbyist for the American Legislative Exchange Council—that’s a very conservative advocacy group. And as Halper writes:
For him, the work is largely about the federal government unnecessarily stifling an industry’s growth. Any conservative, he said, should be troubled when companies can’t claim tax deductions or keep cash in banks or provide plants for federal medical research.
It’s an interesting statement; a very revealing statement. As the paper says, “For him, the work is largely about the federal government unnecessarily stifling a industries growth.” Well, what that states is the fact that at least for some who call themselves conservatives, any industry that grows is by its very nature of growth a good industry. In other words, there are some who would call themselves conservatives whose actual legacy and impact will be anything but conservative. They are not conserving those things that must be conserved; they’re simply making a radical argument for human liberty, a libertarian argument that says the government has no right to control me or to state that I can’t be involved in the marijuana business.
It’s an interesting argument, but it also shows us something else in a fallen world. When something like the marijuana business now comes up and when there are massive opportunities for millions and billions of dollars to be made, people are going to line up to get a part of that business. And some, who are arguing from what they claim will be a conservative pro-business worldview, will say it’s wrong for government to say that people can’t smoke marijuana, can’t produce marijuana, can’t sell marijuana, can’t transport marijuana, can’t keep money in bank accounts from selling marijuana, and can’t grow marijuana just about anywhere they want to grow it. That kind of libertarian argument is often described as conservative because many of the people making the arguments have worked in conservative organizations and advocacy groups. But make no mistake; from a worldview perspective, this isn’t conservative. The conservative worldview is based in the understanding that certain things must be conserved. Those include moral habits and institutions, such as marriage and family, and the conservative worldview understands that even though there is a tremendous danger from the growth of government, government does have legitimate purpose in maintaining moral restrictions upon some human behaviors. If you don’t believe that government should have any restrictions upon human behaviors, just consider what’s going to happen in terms of the outworking of the legalization of marijuana. Even those who’ve been pushing for it now recognize there are complexities they didn’t even see coming. As the governor of Colorado said to other governors, “You better watch out because we’re a living experiment about what the legalization of marijuana is going to look like,” and Governor Hickenlooper said to his own colleagues, “You better not jump in this pool too fast or you might drown.”
That leads to the second article. It appeared in yesterday’s edition of USA Today. The headline is misleading. The headline is this: “Veterinarians Ask Owners to Keep Their Dogs Off Grass.” Why is it misleading? Because they’re not talking about dogs walking on grass or doing what dogs do on grass, they’re talking about dogs eating grass; that is, ingesting marijuana. As Trevor Hughes writes:
Residents of Colorado and Washington state aren’t the only ones getting high on legal marijuana: So are their four-legged friends.
The states’ decision to legalize recreational pot is driving an increase in the number of dogs scarfing down marijuana-infused cookies, brownies and butters. Unlike humans who can metabolize marijuana in a few hours, dogs feel the effects far longer. The sight of a glassy-eyed dog sprawled on the floor or stumbling around frightens pet owners, veterinarians say.
One leading animal doctor in Colorado, that’s Tim Hackett, director of Colorado State University’s veterinary teaching Hospital, said. “We see dogs stoned out of their minds for days. They’re a mess. The pot goes in cookies and butters. Dogs love that stuff and they won’t eat just one.” Hughes writes:
The marijuana itself isn’t particularly harmful to dogs, but any dog that eats a pound of butter will get sick and could die. A stoned dog also can’t vomit or breathe well, he said. “The dogs are terrified.”
Well I guess so, but the really revealing part of this is the fact that, again, sin has consequences that sometimes go far beyond the direct sinner involved. Here you have pets who are showing the consequences, showing up in veterinary hospitals in Colorado, stoned out of their minds and in danger of their lives, because they’ve been ingesting marijuana brownies, cookies, and—what I didn’t even know before existed—marijuana butters. And, as it turns out, even some who’ve been pushing for the legalization of marijuana are saying, “Wait just a minute. It’s hurting our pets.” And in response to that, I want to say, well, what about your kids? Your own health department is reporting that your own kids are far more likely to have a first cigarette that’s marijuana than tobacco. This is moral insanity, but it’s also a part of the outworking of those who are trying to push a merely libertarian worldview. Libertarians have something to add to our political conversation, but Christians have to recognize we can never embrace unreservedly that libertarian worldview because it denies some of the goodness of the moral restraints that God puts in His created order, in human society, including the proper role of government, as Paul makes very clear in Romans chapter 13. And, as oddly enough, comes in the form of testimony from a parable of glassy-eyed canines in Colorado, who wonder what in the world has just happened to them.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice at 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.