April 3, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, April 3, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
In a 5-4 split decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled yesterday that aggregate campaign contributions in federal elections could not be capped. As Richard Wolf and Fredreka Schouten of USA Today reported:
The justices ruled 5-4, in a decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, that limits on the total amount of money donors can give to all candidates, committees and political parties are unconstitutional. The decision leaves in place the base limits on what can be given to each individual campaign.
Campaign spending has been a controversial issue in the United States going all the way back to the earliest years of the Republic. The balancing of rights and responsibilities and the fear of government corruption have led to this continuing conversation. The balancing issues are these: on the one hand, there is a clear First Amendment right to the freedom of expression, to free speech, and the courts have ruled, pervasively and comprehensively, that this refers to political speech and that campaign contributions are a form of political speech. On the other side of the issue is the recognition that we do not want to live in a country in which campaigns can be simply bought and sold. Over the last several years, there’s been a cycle, rather now predictable: Congress passes legislation, the legislation itself controversial; the legislation seeks to put some kind of limits either upon individual campaigns or, in the case of the law just struck down, in the aggregate amount, the total amount that any citizen can give to all federal election campaigns combined; then comes the inevitable court challenge and the courts, leading all the way up to the US Supreme Court, have often modified or reversed or, in this case, struck down Congress’s attempt to put these limitations upon campaign spending. Much of this is simply due to the messiness of having a Democratic Republic, a form of government in which citizens can participate in the election of fellow citizens to public office, ranging all the way from local office to the office of President of the United States. But the balancing act is very delicate, not to mention controversial, and it is almost impossible to know how Congress can adopt constitutionally-valid legislation that will actually have an effect.
There’s another more immediate background to this, and that is the incredible escalation in the cost of elections, especially at the federal level. Congressional elections, in terms of spending, now are quantum multiples of what they were just a few generations ago, even in real dollars. Much of this is actually due to the explosion of the media culture. The rise of television is one of the most potent means of electoral campaigning, comes with a tremendous cost. Television cost for advertising and public messaging have been incredibly high and they’re showing no signs of abating, even as other forms of media now supplement what campaigns do through the television medium. The reality when you look at this is that television has made federal election campaigns hugely expensive. Then we’re left in a very interesting position. If we do not allow campaign contributions, rather generous and widespread campaign contributions, then those who run for office will be limited to those who can self-fund their campaigns. In recent years, this has become more prominent than ever. Even generations ago, the United States Senate was sometimes cynically referred to as “The Millionaire’s Club” because only millionaires could afford to run. But we do not want a government of those ruling by virtue of wealth. That kind of oligarchy is exactly what the United States Constitution was intended to prevent.
In the United States, campaign contributions at the federal level come from many sources. One of those, generally allied with the left, is the political power and the economic power of labor unions and similar associations. On the right, corporate giving has been a major issue, but in recent years, corporate support for federal elections has been rather evenly spread between both Democrats and Republicans. The ability of individual donors to participate in federal elections is key to the essential integrity of our democracy, but, of course, it also comes with grave risks. Those with enormous amounts of capital can buy their way into political influence. The decision handed down by the court yesterday does nothing to modify the $2,600 limit on individual contributions to specific federal campaigns. What the court struck down yesterday was the law that had established a limit of $123,200 on the total amount that any individual could spend on all federal campaigns in a given cycle put together. The court ruled, again by 5-4 majority, that that was an unconstitutional limit upon the political participation of individual American citizens. The decision handed down by the court yesterday puts an end to that cap and an end to that law, but, as we all know, it did not put an end to the conversation or to the controversy. Those you can count on will continue.
On Tuesday of this week, the legislature of the state of Mississippi adopted a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That was a very important step and one taken not without controversy. The situation in Mississippi was immediately compared to the controversy that occurred several weeks ago in the state of Arizona where a law there, also establishing a model on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was not signed by Governor Jan Brewer, but was instead vetoed. This led to appreciation and celebration on the left, and yet left many wondering the fate of religious liberty in the state of Arizona and beyond. It also lead many libertarians and even some on the left wondering if the left’s response to that particular legislation had not been overblown; indeed, even endangering their own constitutional rights and religious liberty. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was adopted overwhelmingly by Congress in 1993 in response to a Supreme Court decision in 1990 that had set limits on religious freedom. Congress responded overwhelmingly. In the entire Congress, adding both the House and the Senate together, there were only three dissenting votes. In other words, it was legislation that crossed the political spectrum, overwhelming support of both the left and the right, among both Republicans and Democrats. In the Senate, cosponsors of the legislation had been Democratic liberal Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican conservative Orrin Hatch.
The legalization of same-sex marriage has changed the terrain and has changed the discussion about this law, but the controversy in Mississippi points to something very interesting. The reality is that religious liberty is being threatened from many different sources, and when the state of Mississippi receives this kind of controversy for adopting legislation that basically mirrors a law overwhelmingly adopted by the United States Congress and signed into law by the president of the United States, then Bill Clinton, it tells you that something serious is afoot and that the terrain on the larger issue of religious liberty is genuinely changing. And those who are concerned for the perpetuation and protection of religious liberty have to see what has happened in Mississippi as a very positive and healthy development and the controversy about it as very alarming. Under the leadership of those in the legislature there in Mississippi, such as Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, the Mississippi legislature adopted legislation that avoided many of the problems associated with the proposed law in Arizona. The fact that so many now find this law controversial is itself an ominous development.
Just a few months ago, the Boy Scouts of America changed its long-standing policy and announced that it would no longer discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation for members of scouts, that is, for the boys and young men involved in the scouting organization. This was itself a moral revolution. The Boy Scouts had for years fought, going all the way to the United States Supreme Court, in order to defend its right and its responsibility to establish membership criteria for those boys involved in scouting that excluded the participation of openly gay scouts. Just two years before the change of policy a matter of months ago, the national leadership of the Boy Scouts of America had established that it would not change its policy and also revealed that the vast majority of the parents of the young men and boys involved in scouting fully expected the Boy Scouts to maintain that policy, but they did not maintain it and in a very controversial move just months ago, they reversed themselves. But they did not change the policy that excluded the participation of openly gay scouting leaders, of adult leaders in the scouting organization. The New York Times reported yesterday that the Boy Scouts had now dismissed a gay troop leader in Seattle, Washington. Writing for The New York Times, Erick Eckholm reported:
Nearly a year after announcing that it would admit gay boys but still prohibit openly gay leaders from its ranks, the Boy Scouts of America has dismissed a gay scoutmaster.
The dismissed scoutmaster is named Geoffrey McGrath. He’s an Eagle Scout and software engineer in Seattle, who is reported to be married to his longtime companion. The troop is sponsored by the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, described by Eckholm as “one of hundreds of reconciling congregations in the national Methodist Church that performs same-sex marriages and promotes equality for gays and lesbians.” The fact that this story of the dismissal this openly gay leader made the pages of yesterday’s edition of The New York Times confirms the analysis that we offered when the policy change was announced almost a year ago. In changing its policy in the halfway measure of accepting openly gay scouts, but not openly gay scouting leaders, the Boy Scouts national organization effectively adopted a policy that would please no one. This kind of halfway-house or compromise policy was adopted by the scouts in order to avoid the kind of criticism they were getting for many national sources, including some board members of the national organization who were CEOs of major American corporations, who threatened to pull all support from the Boy Scouts of America if the policy was not changed. The Boy Scouts have been targeted in terms of this kind of policy for some time. The organization was under incredible pressure to change its policy and to accept openly gay scouts and openly gay leaders, but the policy, as was adopted almost a year ago, went halfway and that halfway policy now has the Boy Scouts again totally in hot water. Responding to the controversy over the fired openly-gay scouting leader, national organization authorities said that the issue only became public because the man had stated in a public announcement in the media that he was openly gay. This leads to another set of circumstances that the Boy Scouts of America had hoped to avoid in terms of controversy. Just how openly gay must a person be in order to be recognized as too openly gay to serve as an adult leader in the scouting organization.
There are several lessons to be learned by all of us as we look at this situation. In the first place, we need to understand that there is no refuge in a halfway policy. This kind of morally-compromised policy puts the Boy Scouts in the position of saying it’s okay to be openly gay as a scout, but not as a scouting leader. People on both sides of the national controversy over the normalization of homosexuality recognize that that is an untenable position. It simply cannot long stand. The second thing to recognize is that those who are pressing for the normalization of homosexuality, not just the legalization of same-sex marriage but the normalization of homosexuality writ large across the culture, will not be satisfied with the kind of policy change that the Boy Scouts adopted just months ago. They will press until the Boy Scouts eventually accommodate themselves to the total normalization of homosexuality. The very fact that this story found its way into The New York Times tells us that those who are pushing this agenda now want this to become a new cause in order that the Boy Scouts find themselves under increased pressure to go ahead and change the second part of their policy; now to accept openly gay scouting leaders as well. We can only predict that that change will be relatively fast in coming. The untenable position the scouts had put themselves into in the present will lead to even further changes in the future and, as many will predict, it will lead to the eventual redefinition of the scouting organization writ large. But this is a culture-wide controversy. It did not begin with the Boy Scouts and it profoundly will not end there.
Shifting to a different font on the issue of religious liberty, the Erasmus column in The Economist published in London, ran an article entitled, “How Europe Defines Religious Freedom.” The point of this column is very important. It distinguishes between the view of religious freedom held in United States, at least in terms of our political and legal heritage, and the view of religious liberty held in Europe. As The Economist points out, the fundamental right of religious liberty in the United States is respected by the United States Constitution, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—that statement, of course, from the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment. As The Economist states:
This elegant form of words, on whose interpretation millions of words have been expended, has no precise equivalent in Europe. The “free exercise” of religion is guaranteed [in Europe], albeit with qualifications, by Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
That document reads:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
The European statement goes on to say that freedom of religion can be limited in the interests of what is identified as “public safety, the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” As The Economist states, that seems quite a broad range of exemptions. So in theory, at least, there’s a vast distinction between the way religious liberty is defined and defended, relatively defended at least, in the United States and Europe. There is no parallel in Europe to the No Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution. That’s because several European nations continue to have established state churches. But there is also no precise equivalent to the Free Exercise Clause because the religious liberties that are stated within the document of the European Convention on Human Rights do not have the precise equivalent of what is found in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
But the point being made by The Economist is that even though Europe and the United States now differ in theory, they are increasingly not differing in practice. And as the article makes clear, this is not because Europe is moving towards the American example, but because American courts are increasingly moving to the European example. And that European example leads to an ongoing negotiation of religious rights between those who argue for the free exercise of religious liberty and, on the other hand, those who say their religious liberty has to accommodate itself to the interposition and the promotion of other rights. In the United States, as I have said, this has led to the situation in which we have a conflict of liberties. We have the new and very assertive power of erotic liberty being put over against religious liberty, and increasingly in the courts and in at least many arenas of public opinion, erotic liberty is triumphing over religious liberty.
Perhaps the most important insight from the Erasmus column in The Economist is that it is hardly good news that American courts and the court of American political opinion are now trending towards an agreement with the European settlement on religious liberty. That settlement is not the equivalent of the American tradition of religious liberty and we had better understand that. But it is very helpful to know, as we analyze the current situation with the threats to religious liberty in our own day, that American courts are increasingly thinking European on these issues. This is something we will have to watch, and we’ll have to watch it very closely.
Finally, a very revealing article appeared recently in The Guardian, a left-wing paper published in London. But the article isn’t about something going on in Great Britain, but rather something that is taking place in Denmark. But in order to understand this new development we have to understand what’s not taking place in Denmark, and what’s not taking place are Danish couples having children. The birth rate in Denmark is now so low that virtually everyone there understands that the future survival of the Danish civilization is very much at stake. Now note carefully, the Danish are known for their very liberal and permissive sexual morality, but the moral separation of sex from the institution of marriage has led to a breakdown in terms of the childbearing among Danish couples. Danish couples are simply not having babies. The current birth rate in Denmark is as low as ten for every 1,000 people. The new development is that there is a tour company in Denmark that is offering a rebate to couples who on holiday will actually begin the process of having a baby. The tour company’s advertising this as “an ovulation discount.” But here’s a prediction: once you have the separation of sex from the institution of marriage and the inevitable fallen birthrates takes place, an ovulation discount or whatever you want to call it is not going to reverse that trend.
This is a moral trend, not first and foremost an economic trend, and, as governments around the world have discovered, you cannot reverse a moral trend even with economic incentives. When marriage is not protected and respected at the very center of the civilization and the society, the birth rate will fall, and that’s because that is a moral issue not first and foremost a financial issue. As Christians must well understand, this is fundamentally a worldview issue, and the worldview problem is not going to be reversed with an ovulation discount offered by a tour company.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 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’m speaking to you from Destin, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.