Principle Matters – Political Power vs. Policy Power

There is exactly one thing standing between the American people and the type of government the founders of the nation envisioned. That one thing? For members of Congress to do their job!

For far too long Congress has ceded its authority to the executive branch and the regulatory state. Why has so much power shifted from the legislative branch to the executive branch? Because members of Congress have decided to abdicate authority in order to avoid accountability. Less accountability makes re-election much easier.

My former boss, Senator Mike Lee, uses a simple example to illustrate: Members of Congress love to pass bills with inspiring names, such as the “We shall have clean air” act. (Because after all, who is going to vote for dirty air?) Then within the bill Congress transfers all authority to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to decide what clean air is, what it isn’t, how to comply with the law and what the penalties will be for violations. Further, Congress allows EPA to be the judge, jury and executioner of law. There are no checks and balances for potentially outrageous and overly burdensome regulations or excessive penalties.

When an individual or company is being hurt by these regulations and they rush to a member of Congress for help or relief, the representative can say, “Hey, don’t yell at me, I just voted for clean air. You will have to go complain to the EPA.” Then that individual or company has to go to someone at EPA who is not elected by or accountable to the citizens. When Congress abdicates its policy power to federal bureaucrats, it rarely ends well for the American people.

On the other hand, we also have too many so-called leaders in Washington who are more concerned about maintaining their political power than using their constitutional policy power in conjunction with their power of the purse. Such leaders distract and even discourage the general public with fake fights, false choices and a steady stream of divisive drama. Political power seekers know that if the American people believe that we are too divided as a nation to solve a problem, it gives Congress the excuse to do nothing and the executive branch an excuse to do whatever the president wants through executive order. The result is that power, money and influence stay with Congress, along with the wealthy and well-connected. We need to demand more from Washington.

Congress abdicating policy power and obsessing on political power has weakened the checks and balances within our republic, fostered dysfunction within government, and rightly fueled public frustration toward elected officials. Congress caused this mess, and only Congress can clean it up by reasserting its power and proper role. By putting Congress back in charge of making and funding federal policy, we can once again put the American people back in charge of their government – as it should be.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Outrage, riots and knowing where you’re going

It is so easy to get swept away in the fog, rhetorical riptides and tweet storms of the digital age. Leaders can overwhelm the public with a whirlwind of words designed to distract and confuse – often leaving citizens wondering where in the world we are. If we do not know where we currently are, it is impossible for us to chart a course to where we truly want to go.

Long years ago, before cell phones, Google Maps and GPS systems, I was on a speaking tour in Ireland. On the first day of my tour I was scheduled to speak to corporate executives at a company in Cork. I set out for the speech with a very specific and detailed old-school map. I immediately encountered several ring roads and roundabouts, and soon had no idea where I was. After about 20 minutes of wandering through the Irish countryside, I realized that this was not a good use of my time and I did the hard thing: I bit my ego and pulled into a little gas station at the side of the road to ask for directions. Map in hand, I went in and asked the man behind the counter, “Where am I?” The man obviously knew I was a foreigner, because he just flashed me a big Irish grin and said, “Why, you’re in Ireland don’t you know!” I then tossed the map at him and asked, “Where am I on the map?” Once the attendant pointed to our specific location I had no problem navigating my way to my speaking engagement. By stopping to figure out where I was, or what the present reality was, I was better able to chart the right course to my desired destination.

Before a critical debate in the United States Congress, Daniel Webster said: “Mr. President, when the mariner has been tossed about for many days in thick weather on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun to take his latitude and ascertain where he is in relation to his desired course. Let us imitate this prudence and before we float on the waves of this debate refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to surmise where we now are.”

As a nation we have been through some thick weather and tossed about, to say the least. Here are a few areas where I believe we need to figure out where we really are before we start to try and solve the problems:

Education

Regulation

National division

Poverty

Criminal justice

Federal lands

Health care

(Just to name a few …)

Before the American people and our elected representatives float on the waves of debate on these critical issues, let’s stop and determine where we are today.

By specifically identifying our present reality we will be able to chart the best possible course to reach our desired destination as a nation.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Vision for Religious Freedom

True equality requires the protection of religious liberty. Religious freedom ensures equal treatment for all of God’s children.

To understand the former, one need only contemplate the contradiction in values, morals and logic contained in this scenario: A demand for equality leads to legal protection of an individual’s right to their core belief and expression regarding sexuality, but leads to legal prosecution of another individual for exercising their right to their core belief and expression regarding God. That is, in fact, a form of intolerance and inequality masquerading as equality.

To understand the latter, one need only ponder the historical fact that religion was a driving force behind the abolition of the English slave trade, the emancipation of American slaves, and the American civil rights movement. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. did not lead America’s civil rights movement in spite of his religious identity, but because of it.

Very early on in America’s history, Alexis de Tocqueville noted: “Religion, which, among Americans, never mixes directly in the government of society, should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not give them a taste for freedom, it singularly facilitates their use of it.”[1] Part of what Tocqueville meant is that religion shapes the experience of citizenship. It is easy to see then, why the freedom to practice religion is critical to the nation’s order and character.

The interconnectedness of religion, equality and freedom is uniquely American. Other nations have viewed religious freedom in different ways. The French Revolution’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man had a “religious freedom” provision, which subordinated the right to the perceived interests of the state: “No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” This approach allowed for unfettered freedom to believe, but severely constricted the ability to act on or express that belief.

Even the charter of the Soviet Union guaranteed “freedom of religious worship,” which looked nothing like what Americans would recognize as freedom. The governing principle of Communist Russia was that everyone was free to believe what they would like, but with the caveat that expressing those beliefs in contradiction to the laws and will of the state would be severely punished. In practice, even the guarantee of freedom of belief was never honored.

Contrast the foreign ideas of freedom of religious views and religious worship to the American principle of religious freedom. Religious freedom is core to the way Americans constitute ourselves as a people. The pursuit of religious liberty motivated the establishment of America’s second English colony in 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Religious freedom also holds a unique place in our constitutional order: It is literally the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.

Religious freedom in the Constitution is found in two places. The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There is also a provision in the text of the original Constitution, less remarked upon, but no less important. Article VI says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Taken together, these provisions, and similar ones in the constitutions of each state, show that the American ideal is one of robust protection for religious belief, worship and expression in the public square. These protections include three connected principles:

  1. All human beings should be free in their religious beliefs and practices without suffering persecution or official discrimination, except in the rare instances where a religious practice compromises a compelling governmental interest (e.g., protecting innocent life).
  2. Religious organizations must be free to determine doctrines and practices, including standards for membership, and to carry out their activities without government interference.
  3. No one should be forced by the government to affirm or support beliefs to which they do not freely ascribe.

Despite the robustness of the American principle of religious freedom contained in the Constitution, limited conceptions of religious freedom have their advocates in the modern United States. There has been a rhetorical shift among some to speak of a “freedom of worship.” This means that churches and individuals can believe and teach what they like, and perhaps even select their own clergy and perform their own ceremonies, but this “freedom” essentially ends outside the door of the meetinghouse, mosque, cathedral or synagogue.

For instance, a prominent government official recently argued that religious freedom was merely a “code word” for darker motives, such as hate for a particular group of people – the implicit suggestion being that the government can restrict the freedom of people of faith if their beliefs conflict with the official government-endorsed ideology: discriminating against religious people because of their beliefs, in the name of anti-discrimination.

A related notion is that other protections, like freedom of speech, are adequate to protect religious people. Thus, a recent Supreme Court decision dismissed concerns about religious organizations and individuals being asked to facilitate conduct at odds with their beliefs by saying that they still have the ability to verbally express their teachings. But the freedom to state one’s core beliefs becomes largely meaningless without its intended companion: freedom to live according to those core beliefs.

A free society prioritizes religious freedom. It recognizes what Tocqueville observed, that religious devotion fosters accountability that, in turn, secures the qualities in citizens that allows for a broadly tolerant and pluralistic community that is both safe and open. It also recognizes America’s historical reality: that religion is tied to equality, and without religious freedom equality would not exist in its current form in America.

With very rare exceptions – the damaging effects of which can be alleviated by existing constitutional principles – religion inculcates in its adherents a spirit of civility and public-spiritedness that allows a free society to flourish. It motivates individuals to come together to care for those who are less fortunate and to protect those otherwise excluded from the bounties of a prosperous nation.

Religious freedom is a foundation of a decent, equal and free society.

 

[1] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 280 (translated by Harvey C. Mansfield & Delba Winthrop, 2000).

AG Reyes takes oath after ‘whirlwind year’

photoOn Monday, Jan. 5, Sean Reyes took the Attorney General oath of the office, just as he did when he was appointed by Governor Herbert to fill the vacancy a year ago. In so doing, he continues as Utah’s chief law enforcement officer and leader of the largest law firm in the state.

As a former administrator of one of Utah’s fine, large, private law firms, I am somewhat familiar with the challenges associated with the practical and organizational dimensions of AG Reyes’ responsibilities. Leading and coordinating the efforts of any large group is difficult. Being accountable to do so in the “glass house” of service in the public sector can be daunting, even when things are going well. To observe that things were not going well when Reyes stepped into the role 12 months ago would be an understatement.

In his inaugural address, Attorney General Reyes described those circumstances.

A year ago we were faced with serious distrust by the public in our office, a demoralized workforce, dissatisfied clients, a lack of infrastructure, we lacked many policies, consistency, resources, vision – and we were tasked with handling cases of great import to the state and nation as well as investigations internally and externally into our office.  And that was just on the first day.

Further noting,

… client satisfaction hovered somewhere between dismal and really dismal (I like to say galactically dismal).

Describing efforts since that time, he said,

In this whirlwind year, … we as an office have focused our attention on returning to being a law office and not a political one, focused on legal excellence, professionalism, and our duty to defend the citizens, businesses and laws of Utah.

Underscored by several musical performances representing his diverse family lineage, Reyes acknowledged the influence of his wife, Saysha, their six children, and his parents and ancestors.

Readers of the transcript of his remarks will learn how the state’s 21st attorney general feels he has been prepared for the rigors of the office by personal and professional experiences and by his cosmopolitan heritage – from the Philippines, Spain, Japan and Hawaii. A foundation of strength that will be necessary to surmount current high hurdles and the high bar he has set for himself and his colleagues.

The pleasure-versus-pain calculation of modern morals – Mero Moment, 6/10/14

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Head of Epikouros (Roman, AD 100-120) - Epikouros (341-270 BC) was founder of the Epicurean philosophy that pleasure (emotional tranquility and absence of pain) was the greatest good.

Head of Epikouros – founder of the Epicurean philosophy that pleasure (emotional tranquility and absence of pain) was the greatest good.

Every year since 2001, the Gallup organization has surveyed Americans regarding the moral acceptability of 19 social issues. These social issues range from birth control to extramarital affairs, from divorce to suicide and from human cloning to medical testing on animals.

Of the 19, the most morally acceptable behavior is the use of birth control, even across party lines. Largely accepted, although with less consistency across party lines, are divorce, sex between an unmarried man and woman, stem cell research, gambling, the death penalty, buying and wearing animal fur, out-of-wedlock births, homosexuality and medical testing on animals.

Coming at this list from the other direction, extramarital affairs, cloning humans, polygamy and suicide are seen by Americans as highly unacceptable. Three issues were found to be largely unacceptable: sex between teenagers, pornography and the cloning of animals. Interestingly, the most contentious social issues of the day – the two issues that divide society right down the middle – are abortion and doctor-assisted suicide.

I mentioned in a previous commentary that one author calls this new moral acceptance “utilitarian hedonism” – a fancy term to describe the growing sentiment in society that pleasure is an intrinsic moral good and a moral pursuit. Now, this isn’t a new idea. Utilitarian ethics have been around as long as selfish people and were canonized as a science into polite society nearly two centuries ago. Some of the old believers even created a calculus of pleasure and pain intended to identify, measure and weigh nearly every human action to maximize pleasure and reduce pain.

This all gets rather silly. But there is a growing fascination with pleasure as a political credo. The Gallup poll attempts to measure the degree to which modern Americans accept behavior that gives pleasure and reject behavior that gives pain. Again, the most morally acceptable behavior in the Gallup survey is the use of birth control. While civil libertarians like to get misty-eyed about the right to control one’s own body, in this other context, birth control is more about pain relief. Unsupported unwed mothers are viewed as a stain on a progressive society, especially in an age of inexpensive and widely available birth control.

Polygamy also is viewed as harming woman and children but it doesn’t have a pill to make it go away. Its only prescription is legal prohibition on the conduct. Public opinion behind each of the 19 categories in the Gallup survey is highly predictive in terms of pleasure and pain. Read more

Utah’s ‘inner rings’: the healthy and the sinister – Mero Moment, 4/29/14

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Self-Portrait_in_a_Circle_of_Friends_from_MantuaDuring the Memorial Lecture at King’s College in 1944, famed Christian apologist C.S. Lewis delivered remarks titled “The Inner Ring.” His purpose was to share with those college students a psychological force in their lives even greater than sexual desire. C.S. Lewis described the “inner ring” as the desire to be on the inside of whatever social or economic group provides us with status, prestige or wealth.

Lewis remarked that these “inner rings” are quite natural and many are personally useful and socially constructive. Think of people of faith. Here in Utah many Latter-day Saints make sacred covenants placing them within an “inner ring” of their faith community. College students join fraternities and sororities. Country clubs are a type of “inner ring.” So too are sports teams and high school clubs. Even in our close circle of friends there are certain friends who we count on and trust. These are our “inner rings.”

The fact is that human beings have a natural attraction to associate in groups like families and friends. Nobody wants to be an “outsider” when it comes to the things we love most. Even in politics, insider relationships are what matter most if influence is to be found.

But as Lewis warns, not all “inner rings” are useful and constructive. Some are nefarious, even evil. In the world of politics, we call these sinister groups by many names. We hear tales of evil doings inside America’s greatest philanthropic foundations and among the nation’s wealthiest people – and, to a certain degree, everyone buys into the idea that evils are perpetrated every day to benefit a few wealthy individuals. The progressive left now calls them the “1 percent.”

The most predominant and unhealthy “inner rings” in Utah are what I refer to as “cronyism.” There are certain businessmen in Utah who feel as if they are the adults in the room, our caretakers who know what is best for the rest of us and why Utah needs to be more enlightened and progressive. They know what “real” cities look like and how enlightened people are supposed to think. They envision Utah for everyone else while they live how they want regardless of the common good.

While Utah is filled with many wonderful people who use their wealth to serve those in need and relieve suffering, cronies of the “inner ring” use legal plunder, through the force of government, to get gain and become wealthy through government positions, contracts and taxpayer-financed business schemes that primarily benefit them and their friends.

They thrive on political power and only scandal reveals their circles. And when they’re out of power they do everything they can to get it back. I have spent my career fighting against these cronies and, fortunately, many good and decent people have formed their own circles of influence to promote the common good. But these two worlds do collide and when they do it’s sometimes hard to tell the wheat from the chaff. After all, the insiders need to look distinguished and sound respectable to get gain. Ronald Reagan warned us about people who say, “I’m from the government; I’m here to help.” You might also keep your eye on Utah businessmen and their cronies who require tax dollars to do their business.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

Receive the Mero Moment each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here.

Reid abandons impartiality on Swallow

REIDSCUtah State Senator Stuart Reid, showing his displeasure with Attorney General John Swallow’s lack of regard for public opinion during a recent press conference, sent a letter to many of his Senate colleagues with the subject: “My loss of impartiality.”

Senator Reid provided Sutherland with a copy of the letter:

Leaders and Colleagues,

Both the Senate and the House have already spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out the best approach to recover public trust in the Attorney General’s office and in state government generally. It is apparent that we will spend even more time and possibly millions of dollars trying to restore public trust. This is and has been our primary focus, as it should be in this case, particularly while numerous other investigatory agencies are trying to discover if any of the accusations of criminality against General Swallow can be substantiated. In the face of our reasonable efforts to secure the faith of the people in our government and on the heals of the House’s decision not to impeach at this time, General Swallow declared to the press that he does not care about public opinion. That declaration was sandwiched between both a celebratory attitude and at moments flippant responses to the press.

Read more

Google on a search-and-destroy mission against online child porn

GoogleplexwelcomesignThis is a great piece of news to start the week with:

[Google] is creating a database of images depicting child exploitation – to be shared with tech companies, law enforcement, and charities – in order to scrub the images from the Internet. …

Google’s plan is to build a database of child porn images that can be shared with other tech companies, law enforcement, and charities around the world. The database will let these groups swap information, collaborate, and remove the images from the Web.

Part of the technology behind this database comes from a technique Google already uses called “hashing,” which tags images showing sexual abuse of children with a unique identification code. Computers can recognize the code and then locate, block, and report all duplicate images on the Web. Google plans to have the database up and running within a year.

Google’s Jacquelline Fuller wrote on the company’s blog Saturday:

We’re in the business of making information widely available, but there’s certain “information” that should never be created or found. We can do a lot to ensure it’s not available online—and that when people try to share this disgusting content they are caught and prosecuted.

Undoubtedly some of the criminal-minded will find ways to hide their online “work” from Google, but the search engine’s efforts toward making child pornography harder to post and to find is a giant step in the right direction. We are delighted to see Google using its massive resources to fight this unspeakable abuse of children.

Weighing decisions of character against feelings of discomfort

In our continued debates over moral issues, it is not uncommon for politicians, opinion leaders and others to announce that, after agonizing over the issue, they have decided to change positions or announce positions in favor of things like abortion or redefining marriage or whatever.

Some of these announcements are well-meaning and sincere, some are opportunistic and cynical. A common explanation is that the experience of a relative or friend or prominent advocate has led to the change of heart (or mind). It’s probably not appropriate to try to guess motives – and certainly not to assume ill motives – but sincerity is not the only factor that ought to be considered.

For instance, how should our discomfort (even very acute or agonizing discomfort) caused by the fact that moral standards appear to create hardships for others be weighed against other considerations? Does the fact that we know or admire or love someone who has rejected the standard absolve us from upholding it?

To paraphrase a statement I heard years ago, there is a need for decisions of character apart from sympathy. Read more

Real 'moral sense' involves balancing conflicting principles

Josh Greenman, a New York Daily News opinion and editorial writer, recently tweeted, “If you believe conception instantly creates a human being, it makes moral sense to ban all abortions. Exceptions are craven compromise.”

Greenman’s assertion got us thinking. Making moral sense isn’t about taking basic moral notions and connecting them to a simplistic and unbending logic in order to arrive at a universal conclusion that leaves no room, short of cynical calculation, for exceptions based on real-life situations. That’s ignorant ideological moralizing, not “moral sense.”

Genuine “moral sense” is about working through the moral conflicts that real life inevitably creates and finding a workable solution to balance equally moral, and sometimes conflicting, principles. Case in point: Making moral sense is balancing one perfectly moral principle (we should protect the life and health of unborn children) with another perfectly moral principle (we should protect the life and health of pregnant mothers-to-be). Read more