Marriage and family focus of Vatican Interreligious Colloquium – Sutherland Soapbox, 11/18/14

This post is an expanded 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.

Pope Francis greets President Henry B. Eyring in the Synod Hall at Vatican City as colloquium on marriage begins.© Photograph by Chris Warde-Jones/

Pope Francis greets President Henry B. Eyring in the Synod Hall at Vatican City as colloquium on marriage begins.© Photograph by Chris Warde-Jones/

Today, we’ll take a look at marriage and family: the soil, root, vine and fruit of personal growth and functional culture … of spiritual and economic prosperity.

As you’ve probably heard, an important gathering of religious leaders is underway this week at the Vatican in Rome, Italy – a three-day conference titled “An International Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman.” In his opening remarks to the distinguished representatives and participants, Pope Francis warmly and personably observed,

“You must admit that ‘complementarity’ does not roll lightly off the tongue! Yet it is a word into which many meanings are compressed. It refers to situations where one of two things adds to, completes, or fulfills a lack in the other. …

“This complementarity is a root of marriage and family. For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. …

“We know that today marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

“Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills …

The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. …the contribution of marriage to society is ‘indispensable’; …it ‘transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.’ … (from the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, n. 66) …

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Hobby Lobby issues demystified

questionBloomberg View writer Megan McArdle calmly answers some of the wild questions zooming around the Internet in “Answers to All Your Hobby Lobby Questions.” For instance:

1) What can stop a company from arguing that it is against the owner’s sincere religious beliefs to pay workers a minimum wage?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is not a blank check to religious groups to do what they want. The law says that the religious belief must be sincerely held, and also that the government can burden the exercise of that belief if it has a compelling state interest that cannot easily be achieved in any other way. That’s why no one has successfully started the Church of Not Paying Any Taxes, though people have been trying that dodge for years.

Click here to read the rest of McArdle’s article.

A review of the Utah marriage amendment oral arguments presented to the Tenth Circuit


Sutherland’s Director of the Center for Family and Society Bill Duncan reviews the oral arguments heard by the panel of three judges at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the judges’ questions and comments, and what it might mean for the expected June ruling.

Arkansas’ new Medicaid expansion is already seeing cost overruns

MystethoscopeAccording to a recent analysis from the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), the “private option” Medicaid expansion plan in Arkansas (giving premium subsidies to mostly able-bodied, childless adults to help them purchase private health insurance) has begun seeing cost overruns in its second month of operation. Based on previous cost estimates done by consultants and state departments, the cost overruns are expected to continue. And despite Obamacare’s “promise” to cover 100 percent of Medicaid expansion costs in the first three years of expansion, these unexpected costs mean Arkansas taxpayers will pay millions more than they would have otherwise.

All of this is relevant to Utah because the Legislature is also considering a “private option” Medicaid expansion plan, albeit in a more limited fashion (only for those below 100 percent of the federal poverty line, rather than 138 percent like Arkansas’ plan). But Arkansas’ cost problems are still a warning for Utah because the underlying problems driving the costs are similar to those in what Utah is proposing: no incentive for Utahns to choose low-cost health plans and significant variations in insurance rates in the Obamacare exchange across the state.

What we see playing out in Arkansas is another reason that Utah would be logical and prudent not to expand Medicaid. At the very least, Utah should take a “wait and see” approach while other states unwisely rush to grab every federal dollar they can, without understanding what they (and their taxpayers) are getting into.

Testimony on HB 285 (Alcoholic Beverage Service Amendments)

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Testimony presented by Stan Rasmussen, director of public affairs, Sutherland Institute, on March 4 before the House Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee regarding HB 285 3rd Substitute – Alcoholic Beverage Service Amendments:

Thank you Mr. Chair, and good afternoon, Representatives. Stan Rasmussen representing Sutherland Institute to present our perspective on this bill.

You have heard today, or will hear, that HB 285 is needed for the development of private businesses that sell alcohol, also known as “economic development.” Clearly this is of interest to those who profit from liquor sales, but it has nothing to do with the goals of alcohol policy in Utah, as spelled out in Utah Code section 32B-1-103.

This is one reason we encourage you to oppose HB 285. If businesses that profit off of alcohol desire that economic development be a primary goal of alcohol policy, then we recommend they pursue for legislation amending section 32B-1-103 to that end so we can have an honest and candid debate about alcohol policy in Utah, instead of promoting legislation that undermines Utah alcohol policy the explicit purpose of which is to limit the social harms created by alcohol sales and consumption.

One goal of Utah alcohol policy is to “not promote or encourage the sale or consumption” of alcohol. HB 285 will not serve this goal, and in fact will undermine it. This can be seen in comments of restaurateurs and bartenders in news articles describing the “allure” and “art” of mixing drinks, along with statements estimating how much their alcohol sales would increase without the partition.

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Hear Utah’s female political voices in new On Point show


Political blogger Holly Richardson; Michelle Mumford, BYU Law School; Karen Peterson, “Utah Moms Care” blog; and Heather Groom, State School Board.

An all-women political panel – including Utah political figures such as Holly Richardson and state Sen. Deidre Henderson – discusses current events relating to Utah policy and politics every week during On Point, a new weekly videocast/podcast presented by Sutherland Institute.

In the most recent show, Richardson and Henderson discuss home school “ghost students,” the attorney general investigation, and increased government transparency.

Other panelists have included Michelle Mumford, assistant dean at the BYU Law School; Salt Lake Tribune reporter Brooke Adams; and state Sen. Luz Robles.

You can watch the half-hour On Point videos here on Sutherland’s YouTube channel.

Use this link to subscribe to the On Point podcast on iTunes.

Or use this link to subscribe to the RSS feed.

Testimony on HB 338 (Alcohol Beverage License Amendments)

Utah_State_Capitol_2008Testimony presented by Derek Monson, director of public policy, Sutherland Institute, on Feb. 14 before the House Revenue and Taxation Standing Committee of the Utah Legislature regarding HB 338 – Alcohol Beverage License Amendments:

Thank you Mr. Chair and members of the committee. My name is Derek Monson and I am policy director with Sutherland Institute. Sutherland opposes HB 338 and I appreciate the chance to explain why.

The “policies of the state” when it comes to alcohol are plainly stated in Utah Code 32B-1-103. Though the bill before you doesn’t explicitly seek changes to those policies, the debate surrounding this bill is really a debate about the goals and merits of policies in that section of Utah law.

As stated in that law, one primary goal of alcohol policy is to “reasonably satisfy the public demand” for alcohol. I submit to you that HB 338 clearly does not meet this goal. First, in reality there is no significant excess public demand for alcohol that this bill would meet. This is illustrated by the fact that most of the establishments on the waiting list for a dining club license are already in business and selling alcohol under another kind of alcohol license. Beyond that simple fact is the reality that drinking adults in Utah have literally hundreds of options to choose from for their desired alcohol consumption. In other words, the public demand for liquor is already well provided for, making HB 338 completely unnecessary from this perspective.

Other primary goals of Utah alcohol policy are “to protect the public interest, including the rights of citizens who do not wish to be involved with alcoholic products,” and to “promote the reduction of the harmful effects” of overconsumption and underage drinking. According to credible research HB 338 does not accomplish these goals, and in fact undermines them.

The Community Preventive Services Task Force is an independent, unpaid panel of public health experts that seeks “scientifically proven” public health solutions that save lives, increase lifespans, and improve quality of life. In 2007, a team of researchers with the task force reviewed all available studies on the impact of changing the number of alcohol outlets in a given area. After identifying 30 studies from the last 40 years that met sufficient quality of rigor and research methods, they reported a positive association between the number of alcohol outlets in a given area and “excessive alcohol consumption and related harms” to public health and safety. In short, HB 338 actually undermines the public interest in health and safety and encourages overconsumption and its related harms.

For these reasons, we encourage you to oppose HB 338. Thank you.

Marriage laws and the delicate balance between order and liberty

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

Balancing_act_During a radio interview this week about the state’s defense of Utah’s marriage law, my host along with an opposing guest expressed incredulity about my references to “ordered liberty.” They didn’t get it. Those words, “ordered liberty,” were foreign to them. In the context of the same-sex marriage debate, those words were unrecognizable. Frankly, I’m amazed that two intelligent people like them don’t get it – then again, maybe they don’t want to get it.

I must own two dozen books about that subject alone. Ordered liberty is the basis of a free society. And it’s easy to understand.

A free society – people who are both free and who live together in society – requires recognition of both order and individual liberty. Just think about traffic laws. We’re free to drive where we want, when we want and – 99 percent of the time – we get where we’re going safely precisely because we have rules for the road. Driving is a combination of individual liberty and order. A free society is no different.

If you’re old enough you might recall that wonderful series on PBS titled “The Constitution: That Delicate Balance” – well, that delicate balance is between order and liberty. That balance is in constant flux.

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‘A Defense of Utah’s “Zion Curtain”’

bartenderAlthough it is roundly mocked in the media and elsewhere, the so-called “Zion curtain” required in Utah restaurants helps prevent alcohol-related disasters and improve public safety. It does this by discouraging something that may be hard to measure but exists nonetheless: a culture of drinking. Paul Mero, in a new essay in support of Utah’s alcohol-control laws, writes,

Over the past year or two, Sutherland Institute has argued that the “Zion curtain” law addresses a culture of drinking and, at least based on real complaints about how the law actually suppresses liquor sales and consumption in restaurants, that it actually does what its supporters thought it would do. Sutherland Institute has argued (1) there is a self-evident culture of drinking, easily observable in a bar setting, (2) this culture of drinking should not be encouraged as a matter of public safety, (3) one way to discourage this culture of drinking is to limit this culture to bar settings (to keep this culture, as much as possible, out of restaurants) and (4) the “Zion curtain” is an innovative way to dampen a growing culture of drinking in Utah restaurants.

What about a drinker’s personal liberty?

A significant irony for liberty-loving utilitarian thinkers – and a pattern of thought embraced entirely by libertarians today – is that viewing law only as an individualistic matter drives a growing police state. If law is essentially contractual, without considering law as a reflection of prevailing morals and social norms, only police have a role in enforcement, meaning increasing lawlessness only can lead to a growing police state. If, in the name of personal responsibility, laws are seen as inherently insulting to “consenting adults” and bad personal behavior (leading to harmful personal and societal consequences) is just “the price of liberty,” police work would be little more than trying to clean up a never-ending supply of garbage. …

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Quick to judge, quick to condemn, and short on humor

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

ArgueWhen Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman went on his post-championship game rant against the San Francisco 49ers, I thought, wow, this guy has some issues. He referred to himself as the best cornerback in the league – that seemed classless. He berated his opponents – that seemed thuggish. My impression of him was, let’s say, less than stellar.

And then I read about his personal story – a ghetto kid who made it against all odds; a Stanford University graduate; and, yes, perhaps the best cornerback in football. My initial impression of Richard Sherman wasn’t a true impression of the man. In the heat of the moment, in the glow of the aftermath, he was obviously excited. His team was heading to the Super Bowl and, prior to the game, his defeated opponents spent all week demeaning him. Even the best of us lose it once in a while.

It’s amazing how quickly we judge people. Growing up I always heard people say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” So I don’t typically – although I have to say that the rule has its exceptions. But there seems to be a new standard of judging people: not by the cover of the book, but by a typo or misplaced comma or inarticulate phrase. Political correctness moved us away from the old book cover standard. But this new standard is hardly different. We now judge people on a moment in time, a moment when they’re not their best selves, but a moment hardly reflective of the real person.

If all I knew about Richard Sherman was that moment in time, during that interview, right after the football game, my judgment would have been mistaken. More than that, I would have deprived him of his personhood, dignity and humanity.

Another trend today in judging people is the lack of a sense of humor. Political correctness has just about killed humor. Consider, for a second, this weird Twitter conversation between state Representative Jake Anderegg and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser (or his intern or whoever replied).

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