A win for public prayer, and freedom, at Supreme Court – Mero Moment, 5/13/14


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


In the May 5 U.S. Supreme Court decision City of Greece, New York v. Galloway, the court saved public prayers in legislative settings and, in doing so, reminded Americans that freedom transcends modern progressivism.

In the court’s decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, “The Court is not persuaded that the town of Greece, through the act of offering a brief, solemn, and respectful prayer to open its monthly meetings, compelled its citizens to engage in a religious observance.”

Secularists, represented by Americans United For the Separation of Church and State, claimed that public prayer violated the Establishment Clause and offended the sensibilities of non-believers.

The court responded, “As a practice that has long endured, legislative prayer has become part of our heritage and tradition, part of our expressive idiom, similar to the Pledge of Allegiance, inaugural prayer, or the recitation of ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court’ at the opening of this Court’s sessions.”

The court continued, “It is presumed that the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understands that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens, not to afford government an opportunity to proselytize or force truant constituents into the pews. That many appreciate these acknowledgments of the divine in our public institutions does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve its content.”

The court concluded, “The principal audience for these invocations is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing.”

Early in my career I had the privilege of working on legislation to reinstate prayer in public schools. Our argument was simple: Prayer, in any public setting, is an acknowledgement of a higher authority and this acknowledgement is essential to freedom. In fact, this acknowledgment has a very secular justification for public prayer.

Opponents of public prayer are concerned with any gesture that suggests a preference for one religion over another religion. Indeed, many opponents of public prayer, especially atheists, cringe at the idea of any acknowledgement that, to them, seems irrational. But, irrational or not, recognition of a higher authority in government has its virtue. It regularly reminds legislators – hopefully even humbles legislators – that the exercise of their political power has limits.

Opponents of public prayer also claim that such religious expressions are divisive. But any divisiveness exists from opponents only. They choose to be offended and freedom will not long endure if a choice to be offended is the governing doctrine in a free society.

The new progressive religion worships idealistic harmony and seeks to enforce its sensitivities very insensitively upon anyone who disagrees with them. Conservatives believe in “live and let live.” The new progressive religion does not. The court is right to defend a rational basis in public prayer.

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

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This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. – See more at: http://sutherlandinstitute.org/news/#sthash.U4TrwSKm.dpuf
This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. – See more at: http://sutherlandinstitute.org/news/#sthash.U4TrwSKm.dpuf

Video: Senators Cruz, Lee speak at Sutherland dinner

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas urged a defense of “the tradition of sacrifice and religious freedom that our country was built on” as he spoke last week at Sutherland Institute’s 2014 Annual Dinner at The Grand America Hotel.

In a concise speech laced with humor, Senator Cruz praised religious freedom and the rule of law. “Religious liberty should not be treated like a redheaded stepchild, as a less valuable right than the rest of the Bill of Rights.”

He took President Obama to task for setting aside various parts of Obamacare by fiat despite the fact that Congress had passed the health care law.

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks April 25 at Sutherland dinner in Salt Lake City.

Sen. Ted Cruz speaks April 25 at Sutherland dinner in Salt Lake City.

Senator Cruz compared today’s climate to that of the late 1970s – economic malaise, ineffective foreign policy, high spending and taxes: “If there’s one person on the Earth glad of the job Barack Obama’s doing, it’s Jimmy Carter.”

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, who introduced his colleague, spoke about the meaning of freedom, emphasizing that free markets and strong institutions of civil society create opportunities for upward economic mobility.

“We have an understanding in our country that freedom ultimately does not mean ‘you’re all on your own.’ Freedom, properly understood, means ‘we’re all in this together.’”

Click here to watch Senator Cruz’s speech.

Click here for Senator Lee’s speech.

Elder Oaks urges mutual understanding on religious freedom issues

Elder Dallin H. Oaks speaks at Harvard Law School in 2010.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks speaks at Harvard Law School in 2010.

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we’re done and we might as well be dead,
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my head

Elder Dallin H. Oaks quoted these lyrics from South Pacific last week in a speech at Utah Valley University, explaining that he is “optimistic in the long run” despite the current threats to religious freedom from our courts and popular culture.

Elder Oaks, a lawyer who served as a Utah Supreme Court justice before becoming a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, said,

In this country we have a history of tolerant diversity — not perfect but mostly effective at allowing persons with competing visions to live together in peace. We all want to live together in happiness and harmony. We all want effective ways to resolve differences without anger or contention and with mutual understanding and accommodation.

There are points of disagreement between those who insist on free exercise of religion and those who feel threatened by it. Similar disagreements exist between those who insist on nondiscrimination and those who feel that some of its results threaten their religious liberty. There are no winners in such disagreements. Whatever the outcome in one particular case, other disagreements persist, and we are all losers from the atmosphere of anger and contention. In this circumstance of contending religious rights and civil rights, all parties need to learn to live together in a community of goodwill, patience, and understanding. …

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Time to say no to the real bigots

stopsignEvidently when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer needs an excuse to veto a bill, any excuse will do. As Brewer vetoed SB 1062, a state religious freedom restoration bill modeled after federal law, she settled on a single message: Arizona doesn’t have religious freedom problems. Her veto letter states,

Senate Bill 1062 … does not seek to address a specific and present concern related to Arizona businesses. The out-of-state examples by proponents of the bill, while concerning, are not currently issues existing in Arizona.

The presumption here is that when a conflict between religious freedom and sexual politics does occur (and it will), Brewer will gladly accept SB 1062 back for her signature. But, not to be too cynical, we know that won’t be the case. Brewer vetoed the bill because of political threats from homosexual activists and their corporate lapdogs – threats that were magnified through the echo chamber of “gay-friendly” media. Brewer’s veto is an act of failed leadership and embarrassing cowardice.

Embarrassment. That about sums it up. Brewer was embarrassed personally. Arizona’s business community was embarrassed by negative public relations and empty threats of boycotts. And a few spineless legislators were made to feel embarrassed by the childish tantrums of partisan activists.

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Using public policy to cover a multitude of sins

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

sutherland file pictures 009Sutherland Institute recently released a statement in support of the state Legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid under Obamacare and how it’s choosing instead to pay for expansion itself. Among the many criticisms we’ve heard, one stands out. On Twitter, one critic wrote to us, “Your group really hates Americans who aren’t perfect in the way you approve.”

For many years I’ve wondered how it’s possible that liberals and progressives can’t tell the difference between private lives and public policy. Hardly a day goes by when some personal dysfunction or tragedy isn’t followed by “there ought to be a law” to memorialize someone’s personal problem – usually in the name of tolerance or compassion.

Traditionally, public policy has been limited to matters of procedural justice, negotiating conflicts among competing rights and certain economic externalities such as pollution. But the rise of selfish individualism has changed public policy forever. The rise of selfish individualism to the level of a civil right in the forms of feminism and sexual politics, family breakdown, divorce, single parenthood, fatherless homes, cohabitation, children’s rights and a simple lack of fertility among married couples has changed the focus of public policy away from protecting the common good to championing a multitude of personal dysfunctions.

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Freedom from the fringes

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Back in my Navy flying days we had a saying: If you’re not getting shot at, you’re not over the target. Apparently talking about founding principles, self-governance, and individual rights and responsibilities puts us over the target, because there’s been a lot of incoming lately.

A lot of the shots come from thoughtful, interested, and concerned people who just disagree. Nature and nurture give us different priorities, values and beliefs. Vive la différence. Thoughtful debate is what keeps us in business.

But all too many reactions are just meant to grab headlines or come from small-minded, unpleasant people who think that tearing someone else down builds them up. It’s easy to wonder why we should suffer some of them.

A lot of this has at its root, or at least in the stem, the confused reaction that so many on the left (do we call them progressives or liberals? I can’t keep track, and they’re neither of those things anyway in the true meanings of the words) have to the role government has come to play in our lives.

“Government should protect us but shouldn’t spy on us. It should fill our refrigerators but stay out of our bedrooms. It should ensure our health care but not tell us what health care to get.” Their ideals are at once libertarian in that government should leave us alone, and communitarian in that it should provide for all of our needs. They are also loath to criticize anyone else’s chosen beliefs or lifestyles … unless of course they don’t agree, in which case they’ll declare those beliefs intolerant.

In the days before suburbs, fast food and widespread prosperity, these self-declared arbiters of cultural mores were largely ignored or left to rot by the larger population, who understood through their works that freedom did not equate to narcissism, and that success was more often cumulative than spontaneous … and more worthy of admiration than of envy.

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Thomas Jefferson and John Adams: Founding Fathers pass together on the 50th Fourth of July

Founding Fathers, political combatants and finally old-age companions: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

Founding Fathers, political combatants and finally old-age companions: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams

As the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence drew near, twilight was fast approaching for two living American icons. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were dying. Former presidents both, of course, but more than that, the two had been catalysts at every major step in the formation and advancement of the infant United States: the arguments for freedom, the break from England, the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the Revolution, the Constitution, the early years of a new republic. But now the mortal sojourn was drawing to a close for these two men of immense capacity.

They had been invited to numerous Fourth of July celebrations in 1826, but each was too weak to attend any of them. Adams was asked for some thoughts that local leaders could share during the Quincy, Mass., festivities. “I will give you,” Adams proclaimed, “Independence forever!” When asked if would like to say anything else, he replied, “Not a word.”

Jefferson composed a letter that was shared widely across the country. He wrote, in part:

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government…. All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God. These are the grounds of hope for others; for ourselves, let the annual return to this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

Neither was expected to live to the Fourth, but both men did. As Adams lay breathing with great difficulty, efforts were made to make him more comfortable by changing his position. He awoke and, told that it was the Fourth, said clearly, “It is a great day. It is a good day.” Read more

Tonight on PBS: 'First Freedom' documentary by Utah filmmaker

“First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty,” a film by Utah filmmaker Lee Groberg on the history of religious liberty in America, airs tonight at 7 on KUED as well as on hundreds of PBS affiliates across the country.

Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes that the 90-minute documentary “takes a look back at the religious rights America’s founding fathers intended through a mix of dramatic recreation – filmed in Colonial Williamsburg and elsewhere, mostly along the East Coast in historic, colonial settings – and interviews with contemporary historians.”

Click here to see a preview on the PBS website.

Owen featured “First Freedom” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV Week. He writes, “While the notions of religious freedom and separation of church and state may seem like topics out of a musty history book, look no further than the most recent presidential election to see how the topic remains relevant.” Read more

Secede over pot and Obamacare? You're nuts

Ron Paul

Did you know that there are public petitions in all 50 states in support of secession? I didn’t, but former presidential candidate Ron Paul knows. He likes the idea that states should secede from the Union. He says he’s taking his cue from our Founding Fathers and argues that:

Secession is a deeply American principle…There is nothing treasonous or unpatriotic about wanting a federal government that is more responsive to the people it represents.

Paul goes on to say that the successful state ballot measures about marijuana will test federal powers and could lead to secession. He says the same thing about Obamacare and Medicaid expansion – even though the United States Supreme Court has already ruled against such federal powers. He says, “If a people cannot secede from an oppressive government, they cannot truly be considered free.”

I think we can all agree that the Declaration of Independence is the American argument for justifiable secession. Read more

Mero: Why I am a conservative and not a libertarian

Below are the opening and closing remarks delivered by Sutherland Institute President Paul Mero Thursday during the 2012 Freedom Fest held in Las Vegas. He was part of a debate on the topic of whether LDS Church members (Mormons) should be conservative, liberal or libertarian. Mero succinctly outlines why (a) he is a conservative and (b) why he is not a libertarian.

Why I am a conservative

I am a conservative because I am a Latter-day Saint.

Authentic conservatism assures mankind that rights and responsibilities, by their very natures, are always in conflict, and it provides a reasonable way for free men to justly and peaceably resolve the two. It does so through a certain moral ecology – the inherent universality of the human person (in other words, a reasonable understanding of what it means to be a human being).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints adheres to its own moral ecology: Human life is defined, purposeful and ordered; justification for any human action is based on that action’s accurate reflection of the human identity (that is, outward expressions of inherited traits as a literal child of God); and man’s happiness is largely dependent upon free-will choices that either conform to God’s will or not. Read more