Screenshot 2015-04-10 09.31.44

Crowdfunding and ‘little platoons’

Want to see what a strong civil society looks like in practice? Then you need to meet Austin Niehus. Austin was born with Goldenhar Syndrome. The National Craniofacial Association defines Goldenhar syndrome as:

A congenital birth defect which involves deformities of the face. Characteristics include:

  • A partially formed or totally absent ear
  • The chin may be closer to the affected ear
  • A missing eye

Because of the Goldenhar Syndrome Austin is dealing with, he has undergone 52 surgeries. His mom, Kera, set up a fundraiser to help pay for surgery number 53. Kera described 14-year-old Austin’s journey this way:

[His surgeries have included] cleft lip and [palate] repair, G-Tube, Tracheotomy, Bone anchored hearing aid, external ear reconstruction, Bone Grafts, Orthodontia, and multiple Mandible Distractions.

Austin has grown into a kind, intelligent and gentle young boy even after enduring bullying most of his life. He has a great future in front of him, as well as many more surgeries.

Austin’s next surgery will be his 53rd. It is a major surgery to repair his open palate. Insurance won’t cover the plate they will be using to close his palate. It costs $4,000.

As I record this, the campaign has raised $87,542 from 4,034 people. Simply beautiful. And Kera’s right. Watching Austin on his video, I see a kind, happy, beautiful human being.

And his story is evidence of civil society in action. I’ve talked before about what English statesman Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of society that need to be strong in order to meet the needs of our family, friends and neighbors. Austin’s story is the story of individuals, you and me, uniting to form a little platoon to help, in this case, a complete stranger.

Screenshot 2015-04-10 09.29.36Think of the results. Those who donate feel great for helping out in their own small way. For their part, Austin and Kera say they feel deep gratitude toward this little platoon of strangers. They feel the love of 4,000 people saying, “Austin, we love you. Kera, it must be so hard to handle the financial and emotional burden. You are both awesome. I can’t do much, but I want to help. Here’s my donation.”

Another consequence of sturdy little platoons is that they reduce the need or opportunity for government to grow in its size, scope and services. Smaller, more focused government means less taxes, less waste, less need for the impersonal bureaucracy of government to enter into the delicate details of people’s personal lives.

Think of practically any government program — youth detention centers, prisons, police, food stamps, Medicaid. Now, think about this. Instead of those government programs, what if we met those needs? What if family, friends, and churches nurtured their children so they stayed out of government correctional programs and prisons? What if neighbors kept an eye out for each other and their kids and banded together to share their food, money and resources with those in need? Wouldn’t the care given to our neighbors in need be more personal, more loving? Wouldn’t your life be more deeply enriched this way, instead of just paying more and more in taxes to “let government take care of it?”

Some neighborhoods already work this way. Let’s do our part to spread it, to build our own little platoons. Find a community nonprofit, or a church, or a club that you can be a part of. Find a cause to which you can donate your time or money. The more we can help our neighbors, or even strangers like Austin, the less we’ll have to depend on the impersonal, often unreliable arm of government.

If you want to learn more about Austin’s story, search for “Support Austin Our Hero” on the gofundme.com website.

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

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.

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

ON POINT: Women running for office; financial planning

Holly Richardson, author of the “Holly on the Hill” blog, is joined by Sarah Nitta, CEO of Radiant Advisors, as they discuss issues ranging from the 2015 session and women in political races to the world of financial planning.

On Point, presented by Sutherland Institute, is the state’s only show hosted by and focused on the leading women in Utah policy and politics.

Click here to watch the video on Youtube.com, or listen to the podcast below.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Strategy vs. principle in protecting religious liberty – Sutherland Soapbox, 3/31/15

The various approaches to creating additional legal protections for religious liberty is a particularly relevant issue this week, given the passage of Indiana’s new religious freedom law, the subsequent protests of that law by the left, and Utah’s own unique approach to the issue. But before getting there, it’s important to understand why religious freedom needs such protections at all.

For instance, many on the left have taken to opposing religious liberty legislation by arguing that we have the First Amendment to protect religious liberty. Now that may sound good on the surface, but it’s kind of like arguing that we don’t really need anti-discrimination laws because the 14th Amendment guarantees that everyone has “equal protection of the law.” I think most reasonable people would agree with Abraham Lincoln’s point to his opponent for the U.S. Senate when he asked him “Do you support the Constitution if, knowing or believing there is a right established under it which needs specific legislation, you withhold that legislation?”

The repeated instances in recent years of individuals being fired or retaliated against for expressing religious beliefs outside the workplace or in political causes, and even being taken to court by their own government for trying to reasonably apply their moral conscience in their lives illustrates that religious freedom needs specific legislation. For anyone who would claim to support the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, the facts would seem to suggest that it’s both a matter of integrity and logical consistency to see a need for legislation protecting religious liberty.

One approach to doing so is to create blanket protections for religious belief and expression. This is the approach of Indiana’s new religious liberty protection law, which is patterned after 31 similar state and federal laws that exist due to actions taken either by legislatures or state courts. These laws exist in a diverse range of states – from red states like Texas, Arizona and Alabama to purple states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and even to blue states like Washington, Massachusetts and Illinois.

Another approach can be called the context-specific approach, which is reflected in Utah’s recently passed laws. In this approach, the law establishes religious liberty protections based on specific contexts that people and organizations experience. For example, Utah’s new laws protect some of the conscience rights of individuals as employees, employers, public officials or religious officials.

The goal of either approach is the same: to protect religious freedom and give people of faith the space to live according to their moral conscience – or in more progressive terms, to protect a religious worshiper’s right to be who they are in the various aspects of their lives. But each approach has its upsides and its downsides. The advantages of the blanket protection approach are its simplicity and the breadth of religious liberty protection. The disadvantage is its public perception problem, caused largely by a political left that has become expert at emotional manipulation and exploitation.

On the other hand, the advantage of Utah’s approach is its potential to establish a workable order and balance between the sometimes incompatible values driving sexual politics and religious liberty. Its disadvantages are its need for a new law for every new context, and its potential to be exploited to undermine a sound cultural understanding of the importance of religion and morality to a free society.

For advocates of religious liberty, the presence of two approaches can present some difficulties. After all, the blanket-protection approach is a known quantity, while Utah’s approach has yet to be fully fleshed out in contexts such as the exchange of goods and services in the marketplace. But this is a question of strategy and approach, not of how principled you are as a supporter of the American Constitution or as a conservative. In other words, it’s a matter of pursuing a strategy that creates substantive and sustainable victories for religious freedom. And in the light of Indiana’s new religious liberty law, this will be an increasingly important distinction.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Derek Monson, and thanks for listening.

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.

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

Rotterdam_kunstwerk_meer_van_genesareth

Strategy vs. principle

Rotterdam_kunstwerk_meer_van_genesareth

The various approaches to creating additional legal protections for religious liberty is a particularly relevant issue this week, given the passage of Indiana’s new religious freedom law, the subsequent protests of that law by the left, and Utah’s own unique approach to the issue. But before getting there, it’s important to understand why religious freedom needs such protections at all.

For instance, many on the left have taken to opposing religious liberty legislation by arguing that we have the First Amendment to protect religious liberty. Now that may sound good on the surface, but it’s kind of like arguing that we don’t really need anti-discrimination laws because the 14th Amendment guarantees that everyone has “equal protection of the law.” I think most reasonable people would agree with Abraham Lincoln’s point to his opponent for the U.S. Senate when he asked him “Do you support the Constitution if, knowing or believing there is a right established under it which needs specific legislation, you withhold that legislation?”

The repeated instances in recent years of individuals being fired or retaliated against for expressing religious beliefs outside the workplace or in political causes, and even being taken to court by their own government for trying to reasonably apply their moral conscience in their lives illustrates that religious freedom needs specific legislation. For anyone who would claim to support the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, the facts would seem to suggest that it’s both a matter of integrity and logical consistency to see a need for legislation protecting religious liberty.

One approach to doing so is to create blanket protections for religious belief and expression. This is the approach of Indiana’s new religious liberty protection law, which is patterned after 31 similar state and federal laws that exist due to actions taken either by legislatures or state courts. These laws exist in a diverse range of states – from red states like Texas, Arizona and Alabama to purple states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and even to blue states like Washington, Massachusetts and Illinois.

Another approach can be called the context-specific approach, which is reflected in Utah’s recently passed laws. In this approach, the law establishes religious liberty protections based on specific contexts that people and organizations experience. For example, Utah’s new laws protect some of the conscience rights of individuals as employees, employers, public officials or religious officials. Read more

Marriage and our nation’s destiny – Sutherland Soapbox, 3/24/15

Family picture seattleThis 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.

In a recent message, I referenced Senator Mike Lee’s January 2015 Heritage Foundation address wherein he focused on a matter of critical importance.

There are many pressing issues that deserve our attention and require action – so many in fact that it can sometimes be difficult to keep them straight.

But as I see it there is one issue – one challenge facing the American people today – that rises above the rest in its complexity, its magnitude, and the reach of its consequences. Directly or indirectly it affects nearly every other public issue you can think of, and should therefore be placed squarely at the center of our reform agenda.

… that issue is the family – its increasing importance and its declining stability – and I believe it may be the single defining challenge of our time.

The family is the first and most important institution of our society – and the foundation of American exceptionalism. …

The family has always been the linchpin of American life, but today more than ever the health of the family is indivisible from the destiny of our nation. (“Putting Families First,” delivered January 13, 2015, at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.)

Underscoring the importance of these concerns is information and data presented at the Wheatley Institution Roundtable on the Family, hosted March 19 and 20 at BYU. Recapping the conference, Deseret News writer Wendy Leonard reported that

The decline of the family in America is real, and researchers hope that a better understanding of what is happening to the fundamental unit of society will help to turn the trends.

“Marriage is viewed as a capstone rather than a cornerstone, as it used to be part of setting up your adult life,” said Sam Sturgeon, a senior research manager with Bonneville Communications and president of Demographic Intelligence. …

He said more people marry when they are finished with school or are well into their careers, and that fewer are having children.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, fewer people ever marry, including 20 percent of men and 5 percent of women; and more people cohabit – a more than tenfold increase in the past 50 years.

Read more

Why legal effects of marriage case matter to everyone – Sutherland Soapbox, 3/17/15

scalesThis 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.

At the end of April, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments about whether states may retain the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman or whether they must redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. All of the legal briefs (an oxymoron, given the number of trees that have to die to allow a lawsuit to move forward) in favor of same-sex marriage have been filed. Around 70 different parties have piled on in favor of same-sex marriage.

From the arguments that have already been presented to the court, two themes are prominent. One is that the state marriage laws should be struck down because they are motivated by animus. The other is that any legal classification that could impact a person based on the new legal category of sexual orientation has to be treated in the same way the courts would treat classifications in the law based on race.

The animus argument is a tricky one because it requires the challengers to prove that the millions of voters who voted in favor of marriage laws being challenged were acting out of some motive of ill will or spite. Even assuming such an accusation could possibly be true, it is hard to imagine what kind of evidence could be brought to establish such a claim.

Of course, it is obvious that voters will have had many reasons for supporting marriage quite apart from any hostility towards any group or individual.

To get around this problem the legal argumentation has focused on a novel understanding of hostility: It is not, the argument goes, that voters necessarily were acting from bad motives but that the laws have the effect of creating disadvantage for a group of people here by not allowing them to get the political result they would have wanted and the mere fact that some were disappointed by the results in an election is enough to show that they are the victims of hostility.

The advantage of this departure from the plain meaning of the concept of animus for those challenging the marriage laws is that they don’t have to show hostility for the court to determine there was hostility. In fact the argument allows for non-hostile hostility. Showing this kind of animus only means convincing a court that a law creates a disadvantage for you (including a sense that your dignity is being impugned).

The second argument urges the court to decide that any law that arguably creates a disadvantage for people based on “sexual orientation” has to be treated the same as a law that denies a group of people a right or benefit because of their race. This is a far-reaching result because it would have the effect of branding those who believe that marriage should continue to be understood as the union of a husband and wife (and the correlated belief that children are entitled to be reared by a married mother and father) as morally equivalent to racists.

In one swoop, not only is the question of whether same-sex couples can access marriage licenses resolved, but the Court can also lend its support to the idea that any disagreement with new norms of sexual morality drastically at odds with those held by nearly every society throughout time, and still by the vast majority of the world’s religions, is out of bounds.

Now those who have read the actual Constitution might be confused at this point. Where does it talk about animus or sexual orientation? Read more

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

Senator Mike Lee’s focus on ‘putting families first’ — Sutherland Soapbox, 2/24/15

family beach sunsetThis 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.

Much has been said over the past several weeks about the number of significant leadership positions now occupied by Utah’s elected representatives in the nation’s capital and in organizations with national scope and influence. In addition to several House members occupying key roles in the U.S. Congress, with Republicans taking control of the Senate in the recent election, the longest-serving member of the delegation, Sen. Orrin Hatch, became the Senate president pro tempore, a position that puts him third in the line of presidential succession behind the vice president and the House speaker. Further, Governor Gary Herbert serves in the leadership of the National Governors Association, where he will soon become the chair; Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker currently is president of the National League of Cities; and state Senator Curtis Bramble is the president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a bipartisan organization serving the nation’s 7,383 state lawmakers and more than 20,000 legislative staff.

Today, I’d like to focus on U.S. Senator Mike Lee. As recently reported in the Deseret News, while visiting the state, prominent political pollster Frank Luntz “said Lee’s position as head of the Senate steering committee that acts as a conservative caucus, along with key assignments held by the other five members of Utah’s all-GOP congressional delegation, gives Utah outsized influence. [Quoting Mr. Luntz:] ‘Utah’s got the most powerful delegation in Washington … [i]t’s incredible that this is a small state with an oversized delegation.’”

Senator Lee is consistent in focusing on a particular priority. In his words: “America’s crisis of unequal opportunity is the greatest challenge facing the United States today. We need to start developing a new conservative reform agenda that restores equal opportunity to the families and communities from whom it has been unfairly taken.”  Read more

Is apple pie next? — Sutherland Soapbox, 2/17/15

A_Wreath_to_Mama_1876This 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.

Motherhood and apple pie, as the idiom suggests, are things we can all agree on — they’re archetypes of all that’s good and wholesome.

Well, apple pie now has some high-placed enemies, and even motherhood’s not getting the respect it used to; a certain kind of motherhood at least.

As a number of commentators have noted, the president’s plan to help middle-class families unveiled in the State of the Union speech has a blind spot. As family scholar W. Bradford Wilcox explains:

The president’s plan would triple the existing child-care tax credit to $3,000 for two-earner families with children under 5 and a combined income of less than $120,000, and it would establish a new $500 credit for families in which both spouses work. The plan would provide tax relief—which would no doubt help with the cost of child care, commuting, etc.—to middle-class families with both parents in the workforce. But families who choose to have a parent at home would see none of this tax relief.

The hopefully unintentional slight followed an awkward statement last year during a speech on Women and the Economy where the president—while endorsing paid family leave, better daycare and early childhood education—said: “sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result.  And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make. ”

So, perhaps motherhood’s still okay as long as mother doesn’t shirk paid work to do it.

G.K. Chesterton pointed out the flaw in this line of thinking in 1920:

If people cannot mind their own business, it cannot possibly be more economical to pay them to mind each other’s business, and still less to mind each other’s babies. It is simply throwing away a natural force and then paying for an artificial force; as if a man were to water a plant with a hose while holding up an umbrella to protect it from the rain. . . . Ultimately, we are arguing that a woman should not be a mother to her own baby, but a nursemaid to somebody else’s baby. But it will not work, even on paper. We cannot all live by taking in each other’s washing, especially in the form of pinafores.

It would actually be easy to avoid the problem of singling out the choice to remain at home to care for children for less favorable treatment. Professor Wilcox notes that an idea proposed by Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio would expand “the child tax credit to $3,500 from its current $1,000 and extending it to payroll taxes” which would treat all parents the same, regardless of whether there are one or two wage earners in the home.

Utah’s policies have some blind spots regarding single-income families as well. For instance, if a parent who chooses to forego paid employment is divorced, the law “imputes” non-existent income to that person that will offset the obligations the spouse who caused the divorce would have had. This means a decrease in the amount that would be available to the stay-at-home parent, making it more likely that person will have to leave home for paid work. From a purely practical perspective, it might be wise for a divorced spouse to find other sources of income given the possibility that support might not be paid or might not be adequate, it hardly seems like good policy for the state to assume that the only appropriate thing for a parent who has been at home with the children to do is to get back into the workplace and have children shift for themselves as quickly as possible. Maybe that result can’t be avoided but it need not be mandated.

Policy makers need to be reminded that mothers, and sometimes fathers, who sacrifice to care for children in the home are making an incalculable contribution not only to their children and their family but to society at large. They deserve respect and appreciation and even help, not to have their choice hedged up by those who are blind to all but market values.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Bill Duncan. Thanks for listening.

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