Why The Shutdown?

It seems as if everyone in Washington, as well as the media, is playing the pointing game since Friday. What is the pointing game? The Democrats are pointing their fingers at the Republicans for blame on the government shutdown. The Republicans are pointing their fingers at the Democrats. You can read all about the blame game on Twitter with the trending hastags: #SchumerShutdown #TrumpShutdown

No matter who is running the better blame game, we need to figure out why each side is stonewalling and what the issues are about. In short, Democrats want amnesty, Republicans want a wall. But if it were only so simple, the solution would be easy.

President Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with a 6 month waiting period to allow Congress to do their job and legislate. President Obama had previously implemented DACA by executive order because he didn’t want to wait for Congress. And as discussed previously, executive orders can be repealed by the next president. This move is what the Democrats are using as their “must have” in the negotiations on the government shutdown.

In 2017, there were 800,000 individuals enrolled in the DACA program that keeps them from being deported because they were brought here illegally by their parents as a child. When the President rescinded the DACA executive order, he left it in place for a period of 6 months to allow Congress to debate it and decide on a new plan. The 6 month waiting period ends in March, so the Democrats have taken the DACA negotiations into the government funding debate as one of their tools.

Several Republicans support some sort of the proposed policies regarding the DACA recipients. But there aren’t enough that support the Democrat version of the bill as it stands. Republicans have stated that they will not vote to pass a bill on DACA without a bill that funds the construction of a barrier for the southern border of the US.

The demand by the Republicans for funding for the border wall was reportedly agreed to by Democrats on Friday, but only for a short 1-year period. Senator Schumer only proposed a 1-year appropriation, but President Trump rejected that offer because he needs a multi-year deal. This actually makes sense because we all know how quickly the government gets things done, a 1-year deal would likely barely break ground on a wall before the time and money would run out.

One could summarize the current fight like this: Democrats are fighting for the privileges of illegal immigrants. Republicans are fighting for the protection of US Citizens from illegal immigrants. And in the crosshairs as collateral damage are the men and women of the armed forces who are currently working for no pay. They will no doubt be paid for the work they do, but it won’t happen until Congress does its job and comes to a compromise on funding the government.

UPDATE: It appears that the Democrats have come to an agreement with the Republicans to fund the government for 2 ½ weeks under the assumption that they work on a bipartisan agreement to address the DACA issue. The wall funding was likely not involved in this agreement either. This does allow the government to run for the time being, but if we can’t get past this DACA issue, we could be right back in the same situation in February. Buckle up.

**Interesting to note, the current budget that they are operating on is a budget from President Obama, so one could argue that it is in the best interest of the Democrats to find a resolution soon to keep Obama’s budget allocations in place. President Trump has proposed his own budget that has big cuts to some of the Democrats pet projects, so there will no doubt be a fight over the Trump budget soon enough.

Separation of Church and State

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

This is a direct quote from a letter that founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut to assure them that the federal government would not interfere with their religion.  This was a worry of the early church in America because they had left the tyrannical rule of England where the Catholic church was the state sponsored church and there were no freedoms to one’s own religion.

You will not find the words “Separation of Church and State” anywhere in the U.S. Constitution, but you hear it often in regard to any religious issue in America.  There are, however, principles relating to this separation in the Constitution, and you will also find mention of it in court cases.

Constitutional Separation of Church and State

The founders of the Constitution were well aware of the tyrannical religion they had just escaped in England and didn’t want to repeat that in their newly founded country; therefore, the very first words of the first amendment contained a very important concept:

 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

This was written to keep the federal government from interfering into your right to the religion of your choosing.  It doesn’t matter if you are Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or any other religion—the government cannot make laws that prohibit your exercise of religion.

You will notice that this is where the separation stops.  There are no further clauses or comments in the Bill of Rights, nor the Constitution, that refer to any power of the Church over the State.  Any idea otherwise is a misinterpretation of the First Amendment and its original intent.

Judicial Separation of Church and State

There have been a couple landmark Supreme Court cases that have dealt with this idea of a separation between the Church and the State.  The first big case was Everson v. Board of Education in 1947.  The 5-4 vote extended the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) down to the State level of government.  Prior to this decision, states had been making laws that could benefit one religious organization over another.

In 1971, the 8-1 Lemon v. Kurtzman ruling set up the “Lemon Test” for state laws and whether they violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  The threefold test reads:

  1. The statute must have a secular legislative purpose.
  2. The principal or primary effect of the statute must not advance nor inhibit religion.
  3. The statute must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

Once again, this ruling only affected the government supporting or advancing any particular religion.

In 2017, the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 ruling in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer case which seemed to apply the principles set forth by Lemon v. Kurtzman.  They ruled that the Church could not be exempted from a public benefit or grant strictly because of its religious status.  It was determined that the grant they had requested would have been used for a secular purpose (playground) and did not advance religion, nor did it result in excessive government entanglement with religion.

Role of the Church in the State

The Courts and the Constitution are clear that the State should not be involved in advancing the affairs of the Church, but what about the Church being involved in the State affairs?  It is common to hear the phrase “Separation of Church and State” used when arguing that members of the clergy cannot endorse any political candidate or party from the pulpit.  This issue, however, has no Constitutional or Court basis.

However, there is a separation that has been established for the Church between it and the State.  This separation was put in place by the IRS in its tax-exemption regulations.  Most churches fall under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) for their tax-exempt status.  This code specifies that churches “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

This means that pastors and other members of the clergy cannot speak from the pulpit and endorse a political candidate because he/she would be speaking for the church in his/her endorsement.  The IRC prohibits the Church from endorsing a candidate, but it does not prohibit the member of the clergy from endorsing as a member of the general public.  If a church officially endorses a candidate for political office, they risk losing their tax-exempt status with the IRS, which would be detrimental to their existence.  (Individual pastors are allowed to endorse any political candidate as long as they are not representing their organization.)

So What?

 

The original idea for this article spawned from a daytime TV show in which a well-known New York City pastor, Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church, discussed his approach to politics as a pastor of a church.

In the video above, Joy Behar mentions the “Separation of Church and State law.”  She later tries to walk it back a little by mentioning the tax-exempt status, but she still gets it wrong.  This is not a law; it is a code that prohibits tax-exempt organizations from endorsing a particular candidate from the pulpit.  The first amendment’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise clause do not restrict a pastor or a church or any religious organization from endorsing anything in politics.  Congress has not passed any laws regarding this issue because that law would not stand up to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.

In summary, Congress cannot advance any religion with laws that would benefit a religious organization.  Pastors can endorse any political candidate they want from any location that they want, without breaking the law.  Those same pastors, however, could put their church’s tax-exempt status in jeopardy.  There are many, many other examples of religious symbols that the Court has allowed (Ten Commandments) and disallowed (Cross) on public property, with each having its own reason for being allowed or rejected.  Overall, many issues that aren’t cut and dry will likely be subject to judicial review from the highest court of the land.

~Jason – Three Patriots

Not So Free Speech

George Orwell and his seemingly prophetic writings have entered into the limelight of reality. With many of his writings, he touches on the thoughts of many American’s as we sit back and ask ourselves, today, “What is going on?” and “How did we get here?” . In fact, George Orwell once wrote that,

Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”

with an eerie premonition to the challenges we face today. The very rights granted to us by our founding fathers in the United States Constitution are under attack. Yes, I get to write this post without repercussion or fear of reprimand by our government. But let’s face it; this post is bound to offend someone right? In today’s world, it is seemingly impossible to practice our rights of freedom of speech without offending someone. What has changed? As the nation approaches its 241st birthday, we have seemed to have traded our patriotism and love for country for the love of self.

Today, groups such as ANTIFA claim to be using freedom of speech while suppressing the speech of others. Seems ironic doesn’t it? ANTIFA, or Anti Fascist suppressing the speech of others? But I digress. The point is that we have all become soft-skinned. Unfortunately, it seems that the only ones willing to actually stand up for what they believe are those that are offended.

Who do we blame though? I don’t know. Do we blame the government for allowing such acts to take place? No, I don’t think so… This would be an infringement on the very right granted to us by our government. However, I would argue that lines should be drawn and a clear distinction should be made between freedom of speech and crime and treated accordingly. Do we blame social media? Sure social media has allowed ideas, thoughts, and feelings to spread across the globe like wildfire, but the blame still can’t be placed on social media. Again though, as stated in previous posts, social media has begun to play a role in the limiting of freedom of speech dictated by their own understanding of what freedom of speech may be and how it fits in with their ideals and target audience. Let’s face it. To be honest, I don’t know who to blame. I do know that somewhere along the line, the United States has given birth to a generation of soft-skinned individuals that are too lazy to form their own ideals and beliefs and rely on others to influence their ideals and beliefs.

What can we do? Again, this is a question that is hard to answer. I feel it, and I know you do too. I feel like the United States is riding a thin piece of string about to break. Maybe one day we will collectively stand up for a common belief and fight for what we believe for the sake of the Nation and push back on the idiotic, delusional, psychotic feelings we find ourselves being forced into.

 

-Joshua

Three Patriots

Bipartisanship: The Answer To So Many Questions

Last month, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) failed to garner enough Republican support in the House of Representatives to pass their chamber and move on to the Senate.  The failure was partly due to the fact that it had zero support from the Democrats, but also because of differing factions amongst the GOP.  Democrats refuse to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and many of the Republicans didn’t think that the AHCA went far enough in repealing and replacing the ACA.

Almost everyone agrees that the ACA as it stands right now is not the healthcare plan of the future for America.  Those on the left side of the aisle want minor tweaking to keep it fluid, or maybe even more reform to make it more socialistic or universal.  Those on the right side of the aisle want to get rid of much or all of the ACA and start over on healthcare reform.  In reality, the only answer that will work best for all of America is one that lies somewhere in the middle of those two sides.

Throughout America’s history, there are many examples of legislation that were passed with a large majority of bipartisan support.  Social Security and Medicare were enacted with strong bipartisan support.  In 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (funneling money into skilled worker education) was passed with great bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.  The problems we are seeing with the US healthcare laws (current and proposed) are because none of them have had any bipartisan support.  When the ACA was passed in 2010, there was no Republican support for the bill in either the House or the Senate.  While there were many reasons for no GOP support (and even some Democrats in the House voted against it), a big reason was that many people didn’t even know what the thousands of pages of legislation and regulations would fully accomplish.  In the words of then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it – away from the fog of the controversy.”

Fast forward about 7 years and you will find the Republicans trying the same method with the repeal and replacement of the ACA.  They drafted the bill in the House of Representatives behind closed doors with no opposition party input, brought it to the public and planned a vote all within a 2-week period.  There was no Democratic support for the bill.

We now have 2 bills that have only been supported by the party that was/is in power over the 2 chambers of Congress and the presidency.  This leaves the bills very vulnerable the next time there is a power shift in Washington.  If the Republicans are able to force their bill through, the next time the Democrats have control of Congress and have a Democratic President, then they will try to change it to their idea of what is best.  In reality, we need to have both parties sit down at the table and have some give and take.  Compromise never feels great when you give up something that you want, but in the end, getting something that is best for everyone and helps everyone is better than temporary pride.  The Democrats will need to give up some of their more socialistic healthcare ideas and the Republicans will need to give up their opposition to some of the current ACA provisions.

While I don’t pretend to have the answers for what to keep and what to do away with, I know that it’s not going to be an easy road and it’s not going to be a quick road, but it’s a road that we need to travel down to fix a system that isn’t working very well and isn’t headed in a good direction.  Congressmen and women need to stop worrying about all the special interest lobbyist and come together to think about the American people.  Talk with Doctors, talk to nurses and people in the business office of healthcare clinics.  Congress needs to get input from the people who will be carrying out these policies, instead of pretending that they know how to make you healthy, as if they have already gone through med school.  But most importantly, bipartisanship is the only strong answer for the future of healthcare in the United States.

 

Side note: While I personally believe that healthcare reform was something that was never granted to the legislative branch (see here), Congress has already opened that can of worms.  So, I believe the only thing that can be done now is to fix what is currently in place.

Jason – Three Patriots