Cody, Wyoming, USA - View across the rugged undulating rugged landscape of Buffalo Bill State park showing the rocky mountains  near Cody, Wyoming, USA. As can be seen the sagebrush thrives in this landscape despite the aridity and the fact that this shot was taken in the height of summer.

10 FAQs on the transfer of public lands

10 FAQs and resources

The beginning of Utah’s 2017 legislative session should bring good news for Utah’s public lands. Rep. Keven Stratton (R-Orem) is introducing a resolution aimed at securing control of our public lands in the hands of those who know and love them the most – the people of Utah. For too long federal mismanagement of our public lands has devastated the environment, depressed local economies, underfunded public education, and blocked recreational access. Our public lands, our communities and our families deserve better.

For the last five years, Utah has pursued legislative efforts and explored legal avenues to transfer title to 31 million acres of U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands to the state in an attempt to remedy the consequences of federal management. (This effort does not include national parks, national wilderness, or the vast majority of Utah’s national monuments.)

HCR 1, Concurrent Resolution on Public Lands, moves toward making this a reality. Stratton’s resolution encourages the state to continue to pursue legislative means but stipulates that “in the absence of satisfactory legislative progress” by Dec. 1, 2017, the state will file a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court.

As this resolution gets more attention over the coming weeks, those opposed to local control of our public lands will undoubtedly try to blur the line between fact and fiction in an attempt to drum up opposition. To combat their unfounded rhetoric, the Coalition for Self-Government in the West has produced a document titled Transfer of Public Lands: 10 FAQs & Resources, designed to dispel the myths surrounding the movement to transfer public lands to willing Western states. We hope the public and legislators will look to this document and its accompanying resources to learn more about what the transfer will mean for the state of Utah and the benefits of local management.

Bears Ears National Monument designation

From Sutherland Policy Analyst Matt Anderson:

   “We call on the President-elect and Congress to rescind this national monument designation and allow local voices to be heard and incorporated into how the Bears Ears region will be protected. Furthermore, we call on these elected officials to amend the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval for future monument designations. 

   Pleas for the president to stay his hand from Utah’s entire congressional delegation, Governor Gary Herbert, the State Legislature, local Native American groups and all of San Juan County’s commissioners and city councils fell on deaf ears. Instead, the President’s legacy and the demands of extreme environmental and corporate interests are now reflected in how more than 1 million acres of San Juan County will be managed.”

From Sutherland President Boyd Matheson:

   “The fact that the president is designating the Bears Ears National Monument at 6 p.m. Eastern on the Wednesday of Christmas vacation — and from 3,000 miles away in Hawaii no less — shows complete disrespect for the people of San Juan County. The citizens of this nation make monuments to honor true statesmen. President Obama declaring a monument unto himself with the stroke of a pen is not only unstatesman-like, it is undemocratic. The people of America should expect more and the people of San Juan County deserve better.

Orlando, Florida, USA - October 28, 2016: President Barack Obama makes the case for Hillary Clinton to young voters at the University of Central Florida.

Sutherland Institute condemns imminent Bears Ears National Monument designation

According to multiple sources, President Barack Obama will designate 1.4 to 1.9 million acres in San Juan County as the Bears Ears National Monument next week.

Sutherland Institute condemns this blatant abuse of executive power and calls on Congress and President-elect Donald Trump to commit to rescind this national monument designation and allow local voices to be heard. 

Furthermore, we call on these elected officials to amend the Antiquities Act to require congressional approval for future monument designations. 

 Sutherland Institute, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and the entire Utah congressional delegation, along with San Juan County Navajos, recently held a press conference in Washington, D.C. San Juan County Navajo Susie Philemon said, “Native Americans have given up enough of their ancestral lands for national monuments. President Obama, we the local native residents of San Juan County, Utah, have managed to protect this enchanted place and will continue to do so. Please do not take this land from us. Please don’t break more promises … not again.

Sutherland Institute continues to encourage San Juan County residents to make their voices heard by sharing their stories via video and written posts on social media.

In Washington, Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson said, “Often overpowered by well-funded, out-of-state environmentalists and big corporate interests are the voices of the people who actually live in San Juan County.” He continued, “A wealthy man’s monument should never come at the expense of a working man’s dream.”

Matt Anderson, policy analyst at Sutherland Institute, said, “There are many ways to be careful stewards of the land. Our public lands can and ought to be used for multiple and often complementary uses. Rather than a monumental mess by executive order, real compromise – which includes state and local voices – is the way to ensure responsible land management. Utahns across the political spectrum and citizens across the country should support this approach.”

Anderson concluded, “Instead of principled and sensible management of their home, the people of San Juan County will be subjected to increased heavy-handed and ineffective federal regulations – putting archaeological sites at risk as never before, devastating the local economy, restricting traditional Native American practices, and jeopardizing the future of San Juan County. Our friends in San Juan County deserve better.”  

Legal backgrounder: The Obama administration’s attempt to rewrite Title IX

When Congress enacted Title IX in 1972, it did not intend to give the president or executive agencies a blank check to write dramatically new social policy.

That, however, is precisely what the administration is doing today by announcing that it has reinterpreted that statute to require schools to create new policies on restroom use, so as to accommodate those who would like to use the restroom of the opposite sex.

The administration’s position goes beyond its legal authority. Only Congress can make so fundamental a change in the law. On issues of this magnitude, which implicate issues of the rule of law, safety, privacy, self-government, federalism, and more, the process is critical. The president cannot legislate with a stroke of a pen. Something this important cannot be a matter of bureaucratic fiat.

Forty years ago, Congress approved the Education Amendments of 1972 by 88 percent in the Senate and 69 percent in the House, sending them on to President Richard Nixon for his signature. The heart of that law is Title IX:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Congress has occasionally supplemented and modified the law in the ensuing decades, but in the last few years, something more troubling has begun to occur. It is nothing short of an attempt by the current presidential administration to rewrite this venerable statute without congressional oversight.

The attempt to remake Title IX began recently. In April 2014, the Department of Education issued “guidance” on enforcing Title IX, the law banning sexual discrimination in education, in the context of sexual violence. The 46-page document includes an interpretation of the statute that includes “gender identity”: “Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR [Office of Civil Rights] accepts such complaints for investigation. Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations.”[1]

In January 2015, OCR issued a dear colleague letter interpreting this document as requiring schools to provide all facilities and services based on the self-identified gender of students. This letter informed an unnamed school official (the information is redacted in the available copy):

The Department’s Title IX regulations permit schools to provide sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing, athletic teams, and single-sex classes under certain circumstances. When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex in those situations, a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity. OCR also encourages schools to offer the use of gender-neutral, individual-user facilities to any student who does not want to use shared sex-segregated facilities.[2]

The letter referenced two OCR investigations that resulted in out-of-court resolutions.

The first involved Arcadia School District in California. There, OCR investigated complaints of discrimination against transgender students, specifically that “the District prohibited the Student from using sex-specific restroom and locker room facilities designated for boys during his sixth and seventh grade years.”[3] The agreement between OCR and the District required the District to hire a consultant, create a support team at the parents’ request, and

  1. provide the Student access to sex-specific facilities designated for male students at school consistent with his gender identity; however, the Student may request access to private facilities based on privacy, safety, or other concerns;
  2. provide the Student access to sex-specific facilities designated for male students at all District-sponsored activities, including overnight events and extracurricular activities on and off campus, consistent with his gender identity; however, the Student may request access to private facilities based on privacy, safety, or other concerns;
  3. treat the Student the same as other male students in all respects in the education programs and activities offered by the District; and
  4. ensure that any school records containing the Student’s birth name or reflecting the Student’s assigned sex, if any, are treated as confidential, personally identifiable information; are maintained separately from the Student’s records; and are not disclosed to any District employees, students, or others without the express written consent of the Student’s parents or, after the Student turns 18 or is emancipated, the Student.

At the district level, the school agreed to implement new discrimination policies to “specifically include gender-based discrimination as a form of discrimination based on sex, and b. state that gender-based discrimination includes discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, gender expression, gender transition, transgender status, or gender nonconformity,” revise policies to “to ensure that all students, including gender nonconforming and transgender students, are provided with equal access to all such programs and activities,” provide training to employees on transgender issues and provide reports to OCR.[4]

The second resolution involved a complaint against Downey School District, also in California, and alleged more general harassment of a male student who now identified as female.[5] The resolution agreement requires the district to “continue to treat the Student the same as other female students in all respects in the education programs and activities offered by the District, including access to sex-designated facilities for female students at school, and at all District-sponsored activities, including overnight events, try-outs and participation in extracurricular activities on and off campus, consistent with her gender identity.”[6] The district was required to enact the same kinds of policies required of Arcadia.

In June 2015, the Department of Justice filed a “Statement of Interest” in a federal case in Virginia which argues the OCR position as the appropriate interpretation of the requirements of Title IX: “The term ‘sex’ as it is used in Title IX is broad and encompasses gender identity, including transgender status.”[7] The case was brought by the ACLU on behalf of a student, born female, but who now identifies as male. The student alleges she was allowed to use the boys restrooms for a few weeks but the school district then enacted a policy that specified bathroom assignments follow biological sex. For students with “gender identity issues” the district designated private facilities. The ACLU says this “segregates transgender students from their peers.”[8]

The district court actually dismissed the claim, saying the OCR interpretation is not a plausible reading of the law and conflicts with an earlier Department of Education regulation that says schools may segregate based on sex, which this court said must include biological sex.[9] The ACLU has appealed.[10]

In another case, in Palatine, Illinois, a boy who identifies as a girl sought access to the girls locker room rather than the private facilities offered by the school. The student filed a complaint with the Department of Education with ACLU help, and OCR told the school it needed to allow the student to use the girls locker room.[11]

These cases are having an impact on other schools’ policies. In Hillsboro, Missouri, despite a student walkout opposing the policy, the high school allowed a male student who identifies as female to use women’s facilities. A news report explains:

Districts that refuse to allow students to use a bathroom for the gender with which they identify could run afoul of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, said Kelli Hopkins of the Missouri School Boards’ Association.

“The Office of Civil Rights has issued an opinion that says, if you do this, you have engaged in gender discrimination,” Hopkins said. “At the same time, there is no case law or statute in Missouri that says this is against the law.”

Schools found to have violated a student’s civil rights are at risk of losing some of their federal funding, Hopkins said.[12]

Fairfax County, Virginia, also implemented a policy adding “gender identity” to the district’s discrimination policy after being told OCR could terminate federal funding if it did not.[13]

In December 2015, a federal court in California denied Pepperdine University’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging the university’s basketball team discriminated against two lesbian players. The court concluded, “[S]exual orientation discrimination is not a category distinct from sex or gender discrimination. Thus, claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation are covered by Title VII and IX, but not as a category of independent claims separate from sex and gender stereotype. Rather, claims of sexual orientation discrimination are gender stereotype or sex discrimination claims.”[14] The court cited the EEOC guidance on Title VII as support for this conclusion.

Most recently, activist groups have set their sights on religious schools that have sought an exemption from these interpretations of Title IX. Title IX has long allowed schools to request an exemption from the statute if “application of the law would conflict with specific tenets of the religion” so as not to lose federal funding and open themselves to private lawsuits. The exemption will be granted as long as a school can show it is controlled by a religious organization and it identifies which applications of the law conflict with its religious teachings. At the urging of the Human Rights Campaign and others, the Department of Education announced earlier this year that it would “create a searchable database that reveals the names of colleges and universities that have received exemptions on religious grounds from federal civil rights protections.”[15]

Now, on May 13, 2016, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice issued another letter reiterating its claim that Title IX “encompasses discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.”[16] In fact, the letter brazenly asserts that it is not adding “requirements to applicable law.” The letter also specifically invokes the possibility that schools may lose federal funds if they are not in compliance.

Some excerpts from the letter illustrate how remarkably broad and novel the administration’s requirements are:

The Departments interpret Title IX to require that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity. Under Title IX, there is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that students must meet as a prerequisite to being treated consistent with their gender identity. Because transgender students often are unable to obtain identification documents that reflect their gender identity (e.g., due to restrictions imposed by state or local law in their place of birth or residence), requiring students to produce such identification documents in order to treat them consistent with their gender identity may violate Title IX when doing so has the practical effect of limiting or denying students equal access to an educational program or activity.

A school’s Title IX obligation to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex requires schools to provide transgender students equal access to educational programs and activities even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns. As is consistently recognized in civil rights cases, the desire to accommodate others’ discomfort cannot justify a policy that singles out and disadvantages a particular class of students.

**

The Departments have resolved Title IX investigations with agreements committing that school staff and contractors will use pronouns and names consistent with a transgender student’s gender identity.

**

Title IX’s implementing regulations permit a school to provide sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing, and athletic teams, as well as single-sex classes under certain circumstances. When a school provides sex-segregated activities and facilities, transgender students must be allowed to participate in such activities and access such facilities consistent with their gender identity.

The provision getting the most attention relates to the use of locker rooms and restrooms and specifically precludes a solution where schools provide single-user facilities to a student to assuage privacy and safety concerns:

A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity. A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so. A school may, however, make individual-user options available to all students who voluntarily seek additional privacy.

On a subject of this importance, process matters. A massive shift in the meaning of federal law is not something to be done by a bureaucratic agency at the stroke of a pen.

[1] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence” April 29, 2014, pp. 5-6, at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/qa-201404-title-ix.pdf.

[2] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, Letter, January 7, 2015, at https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2015/07/09/gloucestersoi.pdf (Exhibit B).

[3] OCR Case No. 09-12-1020 (July 24, 2013), at https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2013/07/26/arcadialetter.pdf.

[4] Resolution Agreement Between the Arcadia Unified School District, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, and the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, OCR Case Number 09-12-1020, July 24, 2013 at https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/crt/legacy/2013/07/26/arcadiaagree.pdf.

[5] OCR Case No. 09-12-1095 (October 14, 2014), at http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/downey-school-district-letter.pdf.

[6] Resolution Agreement, Downey Unified School District, OCR Case No. 09-12-1095 (October 14, 2014), at http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/downey-school-district-agreement.pdf.

[7] Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, Statement of Interest of the United States, Civil No. 4:15cv54 (June 29, 2015).

[8] ACLU, “G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board,” November 23, 2015 at https://www.aclu.org/cases/gg-v-gloucester-county-school-board.

[9] G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, Civil No. 4:15cv54 (Eastern Dist. Va. 2015) at https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/gg-v-gloucester-county-school-board-opinion.

[10] G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, Brief of Plaintiff-Appellant, No. 15-2056 (4th Cir. October 21, 2015) at https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/gg-v-gloucester-county-school-board-plaintiff-appellants-brief.

[11] Duaa Eldeib & Robert McCoppin, “Feds Reject School District’s Plan for Transgender Student, Locker Room” Chicago Tribune, October 21, 2015, at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-transgender-student-locker-room-palatine-met-20151012-story.html.

[12] Doug Moore, “Hillsboro High Students Walk Out Over Transgender Dispute,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 1, 2015, at http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/hillsboro-high-students-walk-out-over-transgender-dispute/article_be488fab-d239-5944-9733-32f569dcdc32.html.

[13] Lauretta Brown, “Feds Forcing Schools to Adopt ‘Nondiscrimination’ for Transgender Teachers and Students,” CNS News, May 7, 2015, at http://cnsnews.com/news/article/lauretta-brown/feds-forcing-public-schools-adopt-nondiscrimination-transgender-teachers.

[14] Videckis v. Pepperdine University, Case No. CV-15-00298, (C.D. Cal. 2015) at https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=17457110398961965746&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr.

[15] Liam Stack, “Government to Reveal Colleges With Title IX Waivers,” New York Times, January 21, 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/us/government-to-reveal-colleges-with-title-ix-waivers.html.

[16] U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students,” May 13, 2016, at http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201605-title-ix-transgender.pdf.

SUTHERLAND SOAPBOX: There Will Be Order

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

When it comes to figuring out how to live together in society, there’s one thing we can all be sure of. It’s this: There will be order.One of conservatism’s icons, Edmund Burke, captures this concept beautifully in a 1791 letter:

What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?

It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; inproportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves.

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

So many great little gems there from Edmund Burke. Liberty, he argues, if it is not bridled by wisdom and virtue, can run unrestrained into folly, into any number of vices, and finally into unrestrained madness.

self-controlConservatism holds that ordered liberty is the optimal way to secure freedom while maintaining order in a civil society. But in order to maximize freedom, each of us must control our appetites and our passions. Because if we don’t, some external force will control them for us.

If we cannot rely on self-control; if our families are too broken to love us and teach us and nurture us; if our religions are too corrupt to call from within us the better angels of our nature, or if we are too corrupt to hear that call; if our schools are ineffective wrecks; if all of this is true, if these little platoons, as Burke called them, fail us, we will still have order.

Society might, as it has throughout history, devolve for a time into chaos. But some one, or someones, will seize control in the chaos and produce some form of order. It might be a dictatorship. It might be an oligarchy. It might be socialism.

Some may say America is now no better than any other country, and worse than a lot of them at maximizing freedom. It is true, in the U.S., we have seen the rise, for instance, of the police state and the diminution of individual rights. Partly, we can blame this on the natural desire of man to rule over man, but also partly, we can safely say, this is the result of the failure of individuals, families, churches and the other “little platoons” to sufficiently self govern. As families and churches fail, government will naturally, and with little encouragement, fill the void.

But there is hope. The United States, along with many other countries, was created as a nation of laws, and not of men. And, fortunately, the foundational laws that created our republic, and the free market economic system built alongside it, both reflect the realities of the inherent good and evil of human nature. Other ideologies actually try to change human behavior, which is why they always have and always will fail. So, yes, ordered liberty does require some government coercion, but in a free society, that coercion conforms to human nature.

No system is perfect. But America is built on the most solid foundation yet devised by humankind. The responsibility, therefore, lies with us. If civil society is crumbling around us, the repairs must start with us, with our families, with our little platoons. Because there will be order. How much freedom we will have to go along with it is up to us.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

There will be order – Sutherland Soapbox, 3/10/15

self-controlThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

When it comes to figuring out how to live together in society, there’s one thing we can all be sure of. It’s this: There will be order. One of conservatism’s icons, Edmund Burke, captures this concept beautifully in a 1791 letter:

What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?

It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; inproportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves.

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

So many great little gems there from Edmund Burke. Liberty, he argues, if it is not bridled by wisdom and virtue, can run unrestrained into folly, into any number of vices, and finally into unrestrained madness.

Conservatism holds that ordered liberty is the optimal way to secure freedom while maintaining order in a civil society. But in order to maximize freedom, each of us must control our appetites and our passions. Because if we don’t, some external force will control them for us.

If we cannot rely on self-control; if our families are too broken to love us and teach us and nurture us; if our religions are too corrupt to call from within us the better angels of our nature, or if we are too corrupt to hear that call; if our schools are ineffective wrecks; if all of this is true, if these little platoons, as Burke called them, fail us, we will still have order.

Society might, as it has throughout history, devolve for a time into chaos. But some one, or someones, will seize control in the chaos and produce some form of order. It might be a dictatorship. It might be an oligarchy. It might be socialism.

Some may say America is now no better than any other country, and worse than a lot of them at maximizing freedom. It is true, in the U.S., we have seen the rise, for instance, of the police state and the diminution of individual rights. Partly, we can blame this on the natural desire of man to rule over man, but also partly, we can safely say, this is the result of the failure of individuals, families, churches and the other “little platoons” to sufficiently self govern. As families and churches fail, government will naturally, and with little encouragement, fill the void.

But there is hope. The United States, along with many other countries, was created as a nation of laws, and not of men. And, fortunately, the foundational laws that created our republic, and the free market economic system built alongside it, both reflect the realities of the inherent good and evil of human nature. Other ideologies actually try to change human behavior, which is why they always have and always will fail. So, yes, ordered liberty does require some government coercion, but in a free society, that coercion conforms to human nature.

No system is perfect. But America is built on the most solid foundation yet devised by humankind. The responsibility, therefore, lies with us. If civil society is crumbling around us, the repairs must start with us, with our families, with our little platoons. Because there will be order. How much freedom we will have to go along with it is up to us.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

A right to discriminate?

ReligiousSymbolsA common accusation made by those who oppose robust protections for religious liberty is that proponents are seeking a “right to discriminate.” The common form this argument takes is that religious liberty is already protected (say, by the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) so any other concession is asking too much — it would be dangerous or scary, a license to pick and choose what laws to comply with*; it would be a right to discriminate.

Discrimination in this context is, basically, denying a person a job or a place to live or refusing to provide goods or services normally provided in the course of doing business.

To assess the validity of this accusation, some background is helpful, though necessarily I will paint with a broad brush. Religious people believe they are accountable to God in every aspect of their lives. Acting on this principle is what constitutes the “exercise of religion.” There are at least five possible categories of organizations or people who could benefit from religious liberty protections.

First are churches. The basic liberties they seek are to teach their doctrines, provide sacraments or ordinances, build and maintain places of worship and select official representatives (clergy) without interference. These aims, which may be thought of as the core religious rights, are typically protected by interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. For instance, in 2012, a unanimous Supreme Court rejected a claim from the federal government that it should be able to second-guess a church selection of a teacher in a religious school. The fact that the current administration pushed this attempt all the way to the Supreme Court is concerning, but that claim lost and there’s reason to believe that at least for now, these core religious functions are protected from direct government interference.

That’s not to say there won’t be non-governmental interference with these function, like vandalism, threats, slander, etc. Read more

‘Cromnibus’ and the emergent courtier society

"Prince Salim with a courtier and attendants in a tent," circa 1600, by Sur Das. (Source: Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art.)

“Prince Salim with a courtier and attendants in a tent,” circa 1600, by Sur Das. (Source: Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art.)

Holiday feasts always remind me of that old Twilight Zone episode where aliens with sparkly robes, big eyes and knowing smiles show up with a book called “To Serve Man.” Everyone naturally assumes the book is a primer for saving us silly humans from our own ignorance and evil natures. This is during the Cold War, remember, when we all assumed we were going to blow each other to smithereens at any moment.

Naturally the best and the brightest humans line up for a trip to the home planet where further enlightenment undoubtedly awaits, and a select few will be chosen as mankind’s benevolent overlords: to serve their fellow man.

Unfortunately, though, “To Serve Man” turns out to be a cookbook and the best and brightest are on the menu instead of the guest list.

Maybe it’s just the Christmas sugar rush talking, but I think that’s where this country is headed as people and businesses line up for special treatment from an increasingly centralized, opaque and powerful federal government. At some point they’re going to find out that they’re dinners instead of diners.

Last weekend’s Cromnibus is a case study in how this happens. A huge unreadable bill covering everything from national defense to prairie chickens is ginned up behind closed doors and presented as a “must-pass” piece of legislation that no one will either read or debate before heading home for Christmas.

And who’s behind those closed doors? Only those who can afford their own D.C. lobbyist or, better yet, politician. The result, besides more spending, is a pact with the devil filled with restrictions, regulations, and costs that disproportionately fall on small businesses and families, and favoring inside interests and their benefactors.

Packing bills with favors has been going on for years, but it really reached an art form during the financial meltdown with Dodd/Frank. This “reform” resulted in taxpayers bailing out big banks to the tune of billions of dollars and includes massive increases in compliance, insurance and capital costs, along with giving politically favored large institutions a de facto “too big to fail” designation.

It’s a law that was written for big bankers by big bankers. They can absorb the increased compliance costs while small banks with much lower margins can’t. They can meet the capital and insurance requirements that stifle small banks’ ability to make local loans to farmers and homebuyers. And of course with an implicit government guarantee, big banks enjoy lower borrowing costs than small banks, giving them even more of a competitive advantage.

Big banks, like most big businesses, can absorb and pass along compliance costs and other regulatory burdens while smaller businesses, often operating on razor-thin margins as it is, cannot. That’s why box stores and big hospitals like Obamacare, why drug companies like the FDA, why big banks like Dodd/Frank. Expensive and byzantine regulations erect barriers to new companies entering the market and drive smaller players out completely.

But that’s not my point.

My point is that by centralizing and expanding government power we’re creating a courtier society, one where access to the King’s court is more vital to success than merit is. Read more

EPA's proposed carbon rule hits most vulnerable hardest

epa-logo_edited-1The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon rule is the latest in a series of regulations that will increase the cost of electricity and natural gas at a time when wages are stagnant and a lot of people are struggling to get by.

According to a recently released study, if this new carbon rule is imposed, the average Utah family’s electric bill will go up by $124 and their gas bill will increase by $266 annually, for a total of $32.50 per month. If you don’t think that’s a meaningful amount, then you’re out of touch with a lot of Utah families that are living paycheck to paycheck and are all too often faced with a choice between heating their houses or buying groceries for their children.

These regulations are a backdoor tax plain and simple, and the most regressive and punishing kind possible. It may not hurt you or me to pay an extra few bucks a month to satisfy an environmental feel-good agenda, the results of which will have absolutely no measurable impact on the global climate. But it does hurt the most vulnerable among us. It forces them to pay a larger percentage of their paycheck for everyday needs like heat and electricity, cutting into what disposable income they may have and harming not just their quality of life but also their ability to live. It’s despicable and the height of hypocrisy for ivory tower do-gooders to inflict real pain and suffering on others so that they can enjoy a clear global warming conscience in the comfort of their beautiful homes and SUVs. Read more

How Silent Cal's 'normalcy' led to prosperity

President Calvin Coolidge in the Oval Office, 1923.

President Calvin Coolidge in the Oval Office, 1923.

Calvin Coolidge is often noted for his penny-pinching ways and “Silent Cal” demeanor. His administration came on the heels of massive government expansion that occurred as the U.S. entered World War I. While some natural spending contraction is to be expected as the war ended, Coolidge took it a step further – a giant step further.

While today our federal government doesn’t pass budgets for half a decade, President Coolidge met with his budget director every week with the express purpose of finding places to reduce spending. This allowed him to lower federal expenditures every year of his presidency, despite a Congress flush with tax revenue from a booming economy.

That’s right – government spending decreased and the economy improved. This allowed Coolidge to lower taxes as well, but always with an eye to keeping the budget balanced and paying down debt. His was a fiscal record second to no other U.S. president.

As important as Coolidge’s record on spending and taxes was, it may be another aspect of his terms in the White House that had the most impact.

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