National Park Service

Glenn Oder: One Of The Good Guys Leaves The House

Tuesday, Virginia and the General Assembly lost one of the good guys of Virginia politics (see The Daily Press). Not because of anything sad, thankfully, but because Delegate Glenn Oder (R-94, Newport News) resigned his seat, effective August 31, to accept the position as executive director of the Fort Monroe Authority, the body which will oversee the transition of the historic Peninsula property from the U.S. Army to the state and, possibly, National Park Service. As a landscape architect by trade, he called the opportunity an "architect's dream." Delegate Oder is a true gentleman and a true friend of social conservatives, defending life, marriage and the traditional values we hold dear. Grounded in faith, you know where he stands and his word meant it would get done. His effectiveness might not always have grabbed screaming statewide headlines, but he became an influential member of the House of Delegates and having him as an ally often was the key to getting good legislation passed and bad legislation stopped dead in its tracks.

Lawmakers tend to specialize in certain areas, but Delegate Oder would surprise you with his depth and breadth of knowledge on several fronts — from transportation to housing to predatory lending. As an architect, he understands the value of property and is a staunch defender of private property rights. Not sure who can help on a particular issue? Most likely, he could and do it extraordinarily well. So well, in fact, The Family Foundation named him Legislator of the Year in 2009, primarily for his leadership on passing pay day lending legislation into law, an issue that didn't win supporters many friends from either end of the political spectrum.

Governor Bob McDonnell said this about Delegate Oder:

As we move into the next phase of conversion of Fort Monroe over to the Commonwealth, it is essential that the next head of the Fort Monroe Authority is a proven leader and visionary who is personally vested in its success. Delegate Glenn Oder fills all of these attributes. Glenn is a highly-respected member of the House of Delegates, who has enthusiastically served Newport News since 2002. ... I know he will effectively lead the conversion of Fort Monroe from a military base to an important historic site for people across the Commonwealth and the country to visit and learn about our nation’s history for many years to come.

Now, not only is another one of the good guys gone, the House itself will experience at least one more new face in a cycle of almost unprecedented turnover. Since the 2009 election, there has been about a 22 percent turnover in the House due to retirements, defeat at the polls and resignations for health reasons, to take conflicting jobs or election to other offices. After this November, with several retirements already in the books, that number easily will top 30 percent with inevitable defeats. Who said things never change in Virginia? Coe January, there will be plenty of dog-eared pages in red facebooks lobbyists use to identify General Assembly members and staff.

Meanwhile, the race immediately picks up to replace him, with the GOP choosing an unusual method of candidate selection (see The Daily Press). We wish Delegate Oder the best in his new endeavors and echo the sentiment that Fort Monroe's future is in good hands, but also acknowledge the House will feel a bit empty now. We look forward to that treasure becoming more accessible and enjoyable for all Virginians.

Big Week For Religious Liberty! (Or, Kaine And Stevens Cut From The Same Cloth)

Just two days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a 5-4 decision to uphold the display of a Cross on a World War I Mojave Desert memorial on what had been public property (once a national park, the land now is owned privately, yet a lower court ruled the Cross still could not be displayed.) In its majority opinion, the court stated:

The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require the eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.

The timing of the decision couldn't have been more fitting — the same day, Governor Bob McDonnell reversed the Kaine administration's discriminatory prayer policy that prohibited Virginia State Police chaplains from praying at public events according to their faith.

Religious liberty 2, ACLU 0!

This recent Supreme Court case, Salazar v. Buono, reversed the decision from a California lower court that ordered the removal of a Cross placed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the Mojave National Preserve in 1934 as a memorial to World War I soldiers (see California Catholic Daily). The circumstances surrounding the case, however, are far from simple.

The disagreement began in 1999 when a retired National Park Service employee sued saying that the Cross on public property constituted an unconstitutional establishment of religion. A federal court agreed and ordered that the Cross be removed. The decision was appealed and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court (the nation's most left-wing court) upheld lower court's decision. However, in 2003, before the Cross could be removed, Congress intervened and transferred the land in question to a private owner in an effort to side step the controversy.

Once again the lower courts and 9th Circuit weighed in and stated that Congress' maneuver was objectionable and did not solve the problem. In the meantime, plywood was used to cover the cross to prevent "any further harm." The U.S. Supreme Court then granted cert in the case to put the confusion to rest.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and sent the case back to the lower court to be reassessed "in light of a policy of accommodation." The logical assumption is that the display of the Cross will now be allowed. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas agreed with the majority, but additionally argued that the retired park employee did not have standing to sue since the property had been transferred to a private owner. In addition, while the court did not specifically rule on the display of a Cross on public property, it certainly hinted that it would find such a display acceptable in some circumstances.

However, the written dissent truly was tragic. Justice John Paul Stevens, soon to retire,  wrote that the Cross was an improper and intolerable government endorsement of a specific faith. Similar to Kaine's discriminatory chaplain prayer policy, this opinion is yet another example of growing anti-Christian sentiment (see Huffington Post for anti-Catholic hysterics). Simply the fact that four Supreme Court justices could buy into this "logic" of censorship is proof that we must do more to protect our freedom of conscience. The Family Foundation will continue to keep a pulse on this issue and work on efforts to further protect religious liberty.