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When the cat’s away, the mice will play

While Rod Arquette is away from his microphone, a great slate of local and national guests will join Sutherland’s Boyd Matheson on KNRS Talk Radio. Boyd will guest host The Rod Arquette Show on 105.9 FM from 4-7 p.m. on May 2, 3 and 4. Tune in for some deep dialogue on the country’s most pressing issues.

Here are a few highlights from the guest list:

  • Arthur Brooks, president of American Enterprise Institute; check out Brooks’ latest TedTalk to get a taste of what is to come.
  • Ben Sasse, U.S. senator from Nebraska; listen to what Sen. Sasse had to say while speaking to MSNBC.
  • Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College.
  • Jim DeMint, president of The Heritage Foundation and former U.S. senator from South Carolina.
  • David Bobb, president of Bill of Rights Institute and author of Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue.
  • Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs and author of The Great Debate; he is also the Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor to National Review and The Weekly Standard.
  • Stephen Hayes, columnist for The Weekly Standard and New York Times best-selling author; Hayes regularly appears on Fox News.
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Rise above temptations of verbal combat

Public policy, presidential politics, local campaigns heating up and burning social issues have all combined to raise the temperature of public rhetoric, and upend rational thinking. We would be wise to remember the old axiom, “Speak in anger and you will deliver the greatest speech you will ever live to … regret.”

Many have come to believe that silence is weakness, that calmness is cowardly and that you must engage in a tit-for-tat exchange of point and counterpoint, claim and counterclaim to compete and survive in the 21st century. In all our personal interactions, whether in the public square or within our personal circles, we must focus on desired outcomes instead of emotional outbursts and come to people with questions instead of accusations.

The airwaves and social media sites today are filled with pundits, experts and even those we call “friends” who constantly badger or bombastically blow up anyone who might disagree with their point of view. While this might be entertaining banter, it has produced a horrible pattern for dealing with people and relationships.

Usually it is the preservation of ego that keeps us engaged in verbal combat. We have come to believe that having the last word wins the day. We must remember that the solution to any problem begins when someone says, “Let’s talk about it,” or asks, “What do you think?” – and then is willing to listen.

Whether speaking to someone live or going back-and-forth in email, texts or tweets, you must ask yourself if the messages you are about to speak or send are going to move the conversation, and more importantly, the relationship, forward or whether they will simply fuel more anger. Winning a verbal battle at the expense of losing a war for a relationship is never wise.

The way you communicate with those you disagree with speaks volumes about who you are as a person. Petty, personal attacks never produce positive results and often keep us a safe distance from real dialogue and meaningful solutions.

All this is not to suggest in any way that we should retreat from public debate or become obsessed with political correctness. We can disagree without being disagreeable, and we can communicate in ways that elevate ideas and promote the best intentions of everyone.

Beware of your emotions and your ego, especially in the highly volatile arenas of public policy and interpersonal communication. Silence can be strength, a kind word can carry a conversation, stepping away can be the best step forward. Words have weight and their impact is immense — so choose them wisely. When it comes to the war of words, text tirades or social media rants, whenever in doubt — don’t!

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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

 

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Voters need to ask themselves – not candidates – a few questions

In major election years it is important to realize that as voters we don’t get what we pay for. We actually end up paying for what we get and generally get what we deserve. With such high stakes in 2016, voters should not be pulled by the latest polling or swayed by political spin. Instead, voters should ask tough questions and demand real answers. But not of the candidates. Voters should ask themselves these five questions.

Question One: How is this candidate positioned to show real courage? Another way to think of it would be to ask whether or not this candidate would be OK not winning election or re-election based on taking a firm position on an issue that was unpopular. The challenges of our time are going to require elected officials with real courage.

Question Two: When you listen to this candidate where does it lead your thoughts? When you listen to the candidate do you find yourself thinking just about the candidate and their story or do you find yourself thinking about your life, family or future? Do your thoughts go toward feelings of fear, frustration and conflict, or toward positive solutions and possibilities? A candidate whose words lead your thinking to negative places or solely into the candidate’s world is not the one to lead you, the state or nation toward a better, brighter future.

Question Three: What is this candidate for? You know what the candidate is against – starting with their competitors for the nomination and the opposing party. While the candidate has to be willing to fight against the kind of government they don’t want, they must also be able to articulate the kind of government they do want. Do they have an agenda they can point to, expressed in principles and policies, that describes what kind of government they intend to foster?

Question Four: Does the candidate talk in generalities or in specifics? In business the rule is always: when you talk about things in generalities you very rarely succeed, but when you talk about them in the specific you very rarely fail. The same applies to politics. One-liners and bumper-sticker slogans are nice, but they don’t produce real results. Beware of the candidate who uses sweeping generalities in their responses. Also anger should never be confused with an actual agenda, and we should also remember that hope, as important as it is, is simply not a strategy. Candidates should be talking about specific policies, strategies and tactics – there is no substitute for real, concrete and detailed solutions.

Question Five: Is the candidate more concerned about making friends or keeping promises? Many Americans complain about the conflict in politics. I can tell you from experience that conflict is not the problem in government – collusion is the problem. You do not get nearly $19 trillion in debt through conflict. It comes from way too many elected officials being way too eager to get along, go along and make deals that are good for them, not necessarily good for their constituents. If you want a friend in office, remember that real friends tell you the truth, even when it is hard; they tell you what needs to be done to solve your problems without sugarcoating it; and demonstrate to you by their actions that they will stand with you no matter what.

As we all prepare to cast important votes during 2016, remember we are going to pay for what we get in elected officials, so taking some time to ask ourselves a few questions about candidates is going to be time well spent. Debates are interesting, forums can be fun, commercials can provide comic relief, and even a chat with a candidate can provide some clarity – but nothing is more important than the answers to the questions we ask ourselves. If as voters we do not find ourselves this election cycle, we will never find people who can lead us where we hope to go as a community and as a country.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for listening.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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

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Listening for the ‘certain trumpet’

In ancient battles noise and commotion were commonplace, and dealing with it was often a determining factor in the success of an army. Smart military leaders recognized how vital it was to be able to communicate with their army above the clamor and clatter of war. Hence the “certain trumpet.” It was by the sound of that known and clearly recognizable “certain trumpet” that the soldiers understood whether to advance or retreat or stand strong and hold. The sound of the certain trumpet and the effectiveness of the trumpeter were mission-critical for achieving victory. On the other hand, crashing cymbals could be used for a startling and eardrum-rattling sound to cause confusion, disrupt the cadence of an advance or create a distraction.

It is true that our political arena has become a noisy and often nasty battlefield where the loud and obnoxious often do quite well. Much of the disconnect between citizens and political leaders is due to the fact that society in general has also become a very noisy place, and leaders from both parties have failed to step forward with any type of clarion call. Many voters, across the political spectrum, feel betrayed by their party. Their leaders have failed to articulate the certain principles and policies they want the people of the country to follow. No vision, no policy agenda, wishy-washy politically correct language, and tone-deafness to the issues real Americans face have created confusion to the point that many citizens don’t know if they should retreat, advance or just not care. Lack of leadership has caused uncertainty and hesitation – or as it is recorded in the Bible, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”

Some who are in power and others wanting to exert influence in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people recognize that they are better able to maintain the status quo and manipulate the attitudes, opinions and behaviors of the American people in the midst of the din and racket of a noisy nation. They are all too happy to ensure the sounds of political discord drone on and that the clamor of the chattering class in the media continues. It is much harder for the American people to discern the principles and policies which ignited this nation and fostered the greatest civilization the world has ever known when the decibels of divisions are cranked up to eleven.

Yet throughout our history as a free nation, we have seen what happens to citizens when a real leader speaks the truth with a certain trumpet. We have seen hardworking men and women of all ages hear and recognize and respond to the sound of that certain trumpet – some hearing it for the first time, others hearing it for the first time in a long time. The sound of American principles rings true – stirring the hearts and minds of good people everywhere with a desire to do good, to lift a neighbor, to create a community and build a better nation. We have witnessed what happens to a group of people when they are led by the sound of a certain trumpet – they become focused, committed and determined to accomplish their purpose. Movements move to the sound of the certain trumpets of timeless principles and timely policies.

The American people have endured enough noise. Nothing in the current political noise elevates listeners or leads people to quiet moments of introspection where they can hear the certain trumpet of truth.

This is the challenge for leaders at every level of government, business and community – become that certain trumpet. Leadership is NOT about trying to match the media in decibels – instead leaders must slow down, quiet down and create space for citizens to discern proven principles and policies. Real leaders recognize that bombast and bravado only provide more cymbal crashes that exhaust and frustrate voters as they strain to hear the certain trumpet they are seeking. The American people are ready to listen; they want to be led; and they are waiting for leaders to play the certain sound of principles and policies that ring true.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for listening.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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

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Why the silence on education?

Have you noticed what’s missing from this presidential election cycle? It’s not social media wars, parody, physical assaults, or other drama. It’s a substantial discussion of education.

In January one Slate writer wrote, “None of the [2016 presidential] candidates are talking about education. Like, at all.” The head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools noted, “Candidates on both sides of the aisle have said distressingly little about K-12 education.”

The observation seems to be a fair characterization. Education doesn’t seem to be the biggest issue this election cycle. As of late January only one direct question had been asked about education during the Republican and Democratic debates.

So why have we heard so little on the topic of education from the candidates who may lead our country? And is this a problem?

According to an article written by American Enterprise Institute, 21 public interest polls taken throughout 2015 found that only 7 percent of respondents believe education to be the nation’s most important problem—this statistic came in February of 2015 and was the highest point that year for ranking education as the top issue. Additionally, the number of respondents believing education to be the most important issue fell as the 2015 calendar year progressed.

Perhaps a waning interest in education is part of a bigger trend. In 2000 education was the public’s top concern, according to Gallup. This year, the poll found that it ranks 13th. It’s possible that the shift just reflects current events. Right now, the top four issues attracting public attention in Gallup’s December 2015 poll were terrorism, dissatisfaction with government, the economy, and guns. Another possibility in the article written by the American Enterprise Institute is that the prominence of education in an election cycle has little to do with public interest and is usually candidate-driven for a campaign-related purpose. The article explains that conservatives use education to show that they are compassionate, and liberals use it to show they are responsible.

There’s also the Every Student Succeeds Act—a massive education bill intended to overhaul the unpopular No Child Left Behind Act. It was enacted just this past December, which may have pacified a desire to create sweeping education policy.

The more important question remains: Does it matter that we’ve heard so little on education policy from our candidates? Or is it a relief for those who believe that education is first and foremost a state and local — but primarily a parental — responsibility?

On the one hand, education is an extremely important issue that deserves attention. Many have concerns about plummeting student outcomes. Others nationwide have serious complaints about Common Core. This past fall excessive testing took the spotlight, with President Obama calling for a testing cap. Still others worry about freedom of speech on college campuses where trigger warnings have become more common. Any of these might prompt more discussion. For those who want to cut back federal intervention in education, hearing about a plan to do so might be of interest to them.

In truth, college affordability has gained a fair bit of attention. Crushing student loan debt is a serious problem that people from both sides of the aisle recognize — though tuition-free college certainly brings disagreements.

Yet, on the other hand, hearing fewer campaign promises with their federal programs, incentives, and requirements could seem like a win. History of federal intervention in this area has led to a great dissatisfaction with top down initiatives. For instance, there’s No Child Left Behind, with its impossible proficiency goals, unwieldy penalties, and the resulting waivers that led to the widespread adoption of the controversial Common Core. Even when accountability and transparency are the goal, federally mandated tests or merit pay have earned the disdain of many within the education community.

Utah’s recently finished legislative session dealt extensively with education issues like preschool, all-day kindergarten, student data privacy, compulsory education, testing, digital learning tools, and reducing federal intervention. Perhaps the state level is the right place to have these conversations. But while there may be good reasons for the lack of national attention and low poll numbers, we should be sure to give education the attention it deserves.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Christine Cooke. Thanks for listening.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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

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A breath of fresh air for Utah’s public lands

Our public lands have taken a number of punches over the last six months or so. We’ve seen an armed occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, the Obama administration freezing new coal leases on federal lands, and the EPA triggering an environmental disaster that turned the Animus River orange from toxic heavy metals. With so many environmental, economic and violent disasters it’s easy to become discouraged about where the management of public lands is headed.

Like a breath of fresh air, the 2016 legislative session should fill Utahns with a renewed sense of hope and optimism when it comes to our public lands. Three bills in particular demonstrate our Legislature’s dedication to transferring federal lands to local care and management, keeping those lands in the hands of the public, and ensuring that Utahns have a voice in future land designations.

In 2012 the Legislature passed a bill calling on the federal government to relinquish title to some 20 million acres of public lands to the state on or before December 31, 2014. Over a year later these lands have not been transferred, and the state of Utah now has standing to sue. Passed this session, HB 287 provides a mechanism to financially support litigation efforts through taxes and private donations. The legislation creates a home for the $4.5 million which has already been earmarked for the court fight. It is the sovereign right of a state to own and manage the lands found within its borders. HB 287 and the litigation efforts it supports are one way of making this a reality.

The Utah Public Land Management Act implements a plan for transferred federal lands. Highlighted among its provisions is its affirmation to firmly keep these lands in the hands of the public. The Act declares that “it is the policy of the state that public land be retained in state ownership.” The language of the legislation is echoed by its author and chief sponsor, Rep. Mike Noel. “I honestly don’t think that people understand my motivations. I consider public lands a sacred place to visit,” Noel said in the Deseret News. “I would be going against the very wishes of my children to sell of all these public lands.” Although the legislation does not entirely preclude the sale of transferred land, it is only under rare and isolated circumstances that former federal lands can be sold. Public hearings, environmental and economic studies, and approval by the director and board of the Division of Land Management are all needed for land to change hands. Any tract of land over 200 acres (less than a third of a square mile) requires approval by the House, Senate, and governor. When you consider that the Legislature only meets for 45 days a year and is presented with over 1,000 bills per session, the likelihood of a sale’s approval is slim to none. These are very high hurdles for land sales to go over and shows the intent of our state Legislature to keep our lands public.

The last day of the session, the Legislature passed a concurrent resolution opposing future uses of the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments without our state’s approval. This is largely in response to the Obama administration’s possible designation of four monuments in the state this year- one of which would be over 1.9 million acres in size. National monuments have a profoundly negative impact on the communities they neighbor. Just 20 years after the designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante in southern Utah, Garfield County has been forced to declare an economic and scholastic state of emergency. Access has been blocked, cattle pushed off the range, and mineral resources sequestered in the ground. Any monument designation should require local input, and this resolution sends a message to Washington that we want a say in what is done with our public lands.

States are the “laboratories of democracy,” and public land policy is no exception. Our state legislature has produced good policy which sets a precedent for other states and the federal government to follow. They should be commended for their efforts.

This is Matt Anderson with the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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

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Reflecting on conservatism as Legislature winds down

Although the 2016 Utah Legislative Session is winding down this week, two proposals – namely, legalizing medical marijuana and banning so-called “non-compete agreements” – are forcing Utahns and policymakers to re-examine their core beliefs. Because we are in Utah, that means forcing Utahns to decide what it really means to be conservative.

Just this week, the sponsor of the more expansive medical marijuana bill, SB 73, was quoted in a news story saying that he plans to move out of the country. He has been planning the move for years, but the story says that the move is in part due to how he believes his colleagues view conservatism, as reflected in their treatment of his medical marijuana bill. The story cites him as saying his bill “represents the epitome of conservative thinking.”

He fleshes this out by saying, “When the choice is between government control over an individual medical decision and allowing individuals and their medical doctors to make that decision, what could be a more clear cut issue of basic principles of limited government and individual liberty?”

That is one view of what it means to be a conservative, and it is a view that deserves consideration from any person that sees themselves as right of center. But here’s the important question: Is limited government and individual liberty everything there is to conservatism? Does the epitome of conservative thinking really boil down to having license to get yourself drugged up however you prefer in order to cope with the difficulties in your life? Put another way, is freedom from restriction – the mantra of every rebellious teenager in America – really the end-all, be-all of conservatism?

Another view of conservatism is articulated by an oft-quoted elected official from a different time: Edmund Burke. He said, “What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils: for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.” In this view of conservatism, freedom is about aspiring to our highest qualities as human beings, such as virtue and wisdom, not about fleeing from the pain of life through addictive substances. Burke’s quote, I would suggest, represents more authentically what it means to be a conservative.

The second issue is the proposed ban on non-compete agreements. A non-compete agreement is where an employer requires their employees to agree to restrict their future career prospects. Usually, it means employees cannot work for competitors or in the same markets as their current employer. In essence, the employer restricts their employees’ right to work as a condition of employment, because restricting competition from former employees serves the employer’s financial interests.

This proposed ban on non-compete agreements has drawn opposition from some in the business community, the Deseret News, and even east coast law professors. It has gained support from some in the business community, the Speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, and organizations like Sutherland Institute. Opponents criticize the ban on non-compete agreements as harming employers and changing Utah’s reputation with out-of-state businesses. Supporters argue that such a ban encourages innovation and competition, and protects the right to work.

Which of these perspectives represents what it means to be conservative? Is conservatism primarily about protecting the financial interests of business owners? Or is it about encouraging the innovation, competition and fundamental human rights necessary for a healthy and prosperous free market economy?

Utah law points out that “the right to live includes the right to work.” In other words, we believe in Utah that the right to work is a basic part of the inalienable right to life articulated in the Declaration of Independence, which the American Constitution was designed to protect. We believe that the right to work is a fundamental part of what it means to be a free human being. So under what logic should that fundamental right not trump the financial interests of some businesses in non-compete agreements? Whatever logic that is, it does not seem to be conservative.

Although it is challenging, it is good for us to examine our core beliefs every now and again. It forces us to look in the mirror and ask what we really stand for and believe in, and it is one way that we check human nature and its tendency to become complacent and base all decisions on situational ethics. You may or may not see yourself as conservative, but we all ought to recognize that the process going on up at Utah’s Capitol Hill is a healthy thing for both society and the common good.

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

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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

 

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Parents and family: Foundations of functional culture

With increasing frequency, respected thought leaders are discussing legitimate concerns about what passes for intelligent discourse in the current presidential campaign season – a particular lowlight of which is the element of anger. Not just a feature of the dialogue (so-called) among the candidates, it seems as if anger is becoming the one socially acceptable and validated emotion.

Additionally, what previously may have been thought of as “allergy to boundaries” (or as resistance to the gravitational pull of principle, common decency and common sense) seems rapidly to be morphing into an increasingly muscular aversion to any form of personal restraint or self-discipline.

Hardly a basis for optimism about the future. Perhaps there are times when you, too, have wondered: How close are we to living in a post-rational, post-constitutional, post-functional world?

Compounding and possibly accelerating this descent into dysfunction is the disinclination and/or diminishing capacity of some parents to do what responsible, effective parents must do: model, train and teach principles of constructive, mature, responsible living. In other words, parents functioning as parents, not as buddies and thus as enablers of their children’s natural tendencies toward self-absorbed, self-serving indulgence of personal preference and toward the avoidance of matters difficult, unpopular and unpleasant. Rather, as stewards of the training and development of their children into intelligent, disciplined, mature, functional, empathic human beings capable of seeking, recognizing and honoring truth – things as they actually are, not as the child (or the parent, for that matter) prefers them to be – and thus prepared for a life of healthy growth and living; of legitimate meaning and sustainable wholeness; of futurity.

Those who may be uncomfortable with this assessment, or think it inappropriately judgmental, might consider that it’s just turning on the lights: illuminating the need for parents to equip their children to see the inherent linkages between selfishness and the many problematic consequences that flow from it, including and especially the most predictable and ironic consequences of personal unhappiness and misery – of themselves and of those around them.

The failure of parents so to train and equip their children is perhaps among the more significant factors contributing to the contemporary cultural deterioration we are witnessing and that is expanding at a perilously accelerating rate. Maybe Lord of the Flies is not fictional, but a cautionary tale, after all.

There are no adequate substitutes for parents who understand and are committed to modeling and nurturing essential capacities in their children: The ability to see others; to validate others; to empathize with others; to serve others. And thereby to find the happiness, wholeness and meaning of which they are capable and that is attainable only in the context of other-acknowledging and other-valuing – and which will continually elude them unless and until they develop the capacity to see and regard fellow humans as worthy, even holy, others. This perspective and capacity are most frequently and effectively nurtured by mother and father, in the family.

If these are among the reasons most of us regard the family as the cornerstone and bedrock of functional culture, the fundamental unit of society, then why are we allowing the creation, defense and bolstering of surrogate and counterfeit, even if well-intentioned, governmental and civic entities – at national, state and local levels – to “hack at the limbs” of the phenomenon of family deterioration instead of focusing on the roots of it by insisting on the re-establishing of public policy that does not undermine and interfere with the rights and roles of parents but that instead respects and strengthens parents?

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Stan Rasmussen. Thanks for listening.

This post is a transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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

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Use government to silence viewpoints? Let’s not go down that path

Utahns can set their watches by several worn-out themes that are repeated each and every legislative session. One such example is the influence that the state’s dominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has on public policy. Note that you will rarely, if ever, hear progressives complain about meddling from another faith, as when the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City weighs in on immigration, Medicaid, social services and so on.

That’s because, critics argue, the LDS Church has an outsized influence in Utah public policy, and that’s why it’s worthy of complaint. But are critics of the LDS Church’s political involvement simply concerned about the church’s wide influence, or does the concern lie more with the actual positions the church takes?

Do you remember the huge outcry from the left last year when the LDS Church held an almost-unheard-of news conference featuring members of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles to announce support for specific legislation that added protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to Utah’s employment and housing laws? No, I don’t remember any sort of progressive outcry, either. There were no liberals complaining about the church’s outsize influence then, only laudatory remarks about how essential the church’s support had been.

Some on the left were critical, but they were critical of the substance of the actual bill, not of the LDS Church taking a role in the “Utah Compromise.” The complaints being raised about the church’s involvement were actually coming from some on the right. Like the left on other issues, these folks on the right wished the church had stayed out of that particular piece of legislation.

And you can’t blame anyone for feeling this way. Everyone wants their view of good public policy to win the day and gladly welcomes support from just about any organization that can help get the legislation passed.

The real threat is from those who call for a ban on religious involvement in political issues. Rather than supporting true freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment, some would like to see faith communities silenced in the public square. “Fine,” they say. “Preach in your churches and pray in your homes, but don’t try to have an influence on public policy issues.”

One tactic to silence religion in the public square is the call to end tax exemptions given to religions. The tax benefits come with several stipulations, including:

  • no substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation;
  • the organization may not intervene in political campaigns on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office

Within those parameters, churches are free to educate and do limited lobbying on issues, but not in favor of or against specific candidates.

The mere suggestion of taking away tax-exempt status reveals that opponents hope to use taxation as a tool to punish or regulate religions they think deserve punishing or regulating. Professor Richard Garnett of the University of Notre Dame wrote in The Washington Post:

Instead of asking whether churches and religious organizations deserve to be tax-exempt, we should ask why governments should be able to tax them at all. Taxation, after all, involves interference by the state, and in a free society such interference needs to be justified.

The power to tax involves the power to destroy, as Daniel Webster argued in the Supreme Court nearly two centuries ago.

In a pluralistic society such as ours, we don’t say your opinion is welcome as long as it’s not too influential. We welcome a diversity of voices and opinions on issues, and we should reject attempts to silence viewpoints through government force. After all, if we don’t, you’d better hope that your opinions are always in line with the government’s opinions.

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

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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

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Justice Antonin Scalia: A man of character

A famous misquote of Ralph Waldo Emerson argues that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” (It’s a misquote because he modified “consistency” with “foolish.”) In an age that prizes idiosyncratic self-expression and ideological pragmatism, this modified saying certainly has its adherents. Whatever its value as a guide to choosing restaurants, it is a very poor, indeed dangerous, view of the law.

Consistency is essential to the rule of law, which guarantees to citizens a uniform and predictable system of government and prevents arbitrary and willful actions that allow individual leaders and factions to impose their preferences at the expense of established rules and procedure.

It is as a defender of this principle that Justice Antonin Scalia made his most important contribution as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opinions written by Justice Scalia stand out among judicial decisions for their clarity. His firm commitment to the rule of law and to a modest role for the judiciary was refreshing and sometimes bracing.

Take this passage, dissenting from the Supreme Court’s infamous decision to continue subjecting state abortion laws to federal oversight under a vague rule that the court could overturn laws creating an “undue burden” on the decision to abort:

By foreclosing all democratic outlet for the deep passions this issue arouses, by banishing the issue from the political forum that gives all participants, even the losers, the satisfaction of a fair hearing and an honest fight, by continuing the imposition of a rigid national rule instead of allowing for regional differences, the Court merely prolongs and intensifies the anguish. We should get out of this area, where we have no right to be, and where we do neither ourselves nor the country any good by remaining.

His decisions were also very often funny. One that stands out is a concurring opinion in a case allowing a church group access to public school facilities after school hours. The majority had premised its opinion on the application of a subjective and unwieldy court-created test, the Lemon test, from a 1971 decision.

Justice Scalia agreed that there was nothing in the Constitution that mandated the church’s exclusion from a space available to all others but he rejected the convoluted Lemon test as the appropriate measure of a law’s constitutionality.

His concurring opinion begins:

As to the Court’s invocation of the Lemon test: Like some ghoul in a late night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence once again, frightening the little children and school attorneys of Center Moriches Union Free School District. Its most recent burial, only last Term, was, to be sure, not fully six feet under: our decision in Lee v. Weisman, conspicuously avoided using the supposed “test” but also declined the invitation to repudiate it. Over the years, however, no fewer than five of the currently sitting Justices have, in their own opinions, personally driven pencils through the creature’s heart (the author of today’s opinion repeatedly), and a sixth has joined an opinion doing so.

The secret of the Lemon test’s survival, I think, is that it is so easy to kill. It is there to scare us (and our audience) when we wish it to do so, but we can command it to return to the tomb at will. When we wish to strike down a practice it forbids, we invoke it; when we wish to uphold a practice it forbids, we ignore it entirely. Sometimes, we take a middle course, calling its three prongs “no more than helpful signposts.” Such a docile and useful monster is worth keeping around, at least in a somnolent state; one never knows when one might need him. [citations omitted]

This witty analysis highlights Justice Scalia’s essential commitment to the rule of law. That consistency is the bulwark of ordered liberty.

In a 1996 commencement address at William and Mary, Justice Scalia said:

Bear in mind that brains and learning, like muscle and physical skill, are articles of commerce. They are bought and sold. You can hire them by the year or by the hour. The only thing in the world not for sale is character. And if that does not govern and direct your brains and learning, they will do you and the world more harm than good.

We have been fortunate indeed to have the example of integrity set by Justice Antonin Scalia whose excellent character guided his learning, and thus did much good.

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

This post is an expanded transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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Photo credit: Stephen Masker via Wikimedia Commons.