Williamsburg

Friday Fun: Maybe Department Of Conservation And Recreation Needs To Hold A Spelling "Tornament"

Virginia'a award winning, beautiful, fun and family oriented state parks . . . a perfect place to spend your holiday weekend as summer officially begins. The Department of Conservation and Recreation manages these wonderful nature preserves, camping and recreation facilities. True treasures they are and they host several activities throughout the year — such as a kids fishing "tornaments" at York River State Park in Williamsburg. Before it hosts fishing tournaments for the kids, maybe the kids can host a spelling tournament for the park's rangers and DCR staff as this promotional sign at the park suggests is needed. Sent to us by an alert and regular reader of this blog vacationing in the Peninsula last week, this sign, which was posted who-knows-how-long-ago and is still up, is further proof that more and more tax money doesn't solve public education or government staff problems, especially when a little common sense will do. Instead, we'll be on the hook for more dough to replace this and any other such signs. Thanks to our reader/source for getting us the exclusive on this. Let's see how long it takes for DCR to recognize its mistake.

State Park TORNAMENT

Fishing "tornaments" for kids. A spelling bee for the park staff?

Spending Reform And Transparency Bills In Senate Sub-Committee Tomorrow!

Tomorrow morning, a Senate Rules sub-committee will vote on two important reforms that will bring greater transparency — and thus, less government — to the Commonwealth's budget and spending practices. Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) is the patron of SB 867, a "read the bill" bill. It requires a 72-hour period from the time the budget is submitted to the House and Senate by the House-Senate Conference Committee. During that time legislators could actually read the budget bill and comprehend its contents — the two-year budget contains $70 billion worth of spending. Currently, they get only a few hours on the last day of session and are expected to digest the entire document (as thick as a phone book) and vote up or down under a great deal of time-related pressure: Either vote for a massive budget bill or shut down the government. This bill will bring long-needed inspection and transparency to the budget process, not only for legislators but also for the public. The more eyes on the bill, the more wasteful spending can be caught. 

The second bill is SB 1353, patroned by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). It would prohibit the House and Senate Budget conference committee from including in its budget any funding for non-state agencies, funding for projects that were not introduced as legislation during session, and items that were not included in either chamber’s version of the budget — unless the chairmen of the money committees enumerate those types of spending items in a letter to all 140 members of the legislature and post it on the committees' Web sites. Most of the final budget is a mystery and lawmakers only have a few hours to digest all $70 billion in the document. It also would shine the spotlight on legislators who insert in the budget what they were afraid to ask their colleagues to vote on separately as all other bills must be. Right now, the few members of the House-Senate Conference Committee have a privilege no one else has — they can insert spending that has not been vetted through the regular legislative process — no sub-committee, no committee, no floor votes in either chamber. They get buried in the budget and get passed into law as part of a mammoth spending bill that funds our police, schools and transportation.

Virginia's budget process leaves much to be desired and is no way to run the country's best managed state. Contact the senators on the sub-committee and ask them to vote to report SB 867 and SB 1353 to the full committee!

Governor McDonnell's Executive Directive

Late Wednesday afternoon, amidst growing tensions on college campuses, Governor Bob McDonnell issued a "Governor’s Directive," ordering those in the executive branch not to discriminate in their hiring practices (see here). His directive specifically referenced "sexual orientation." Governor McDonnell issued his directive in an apparent effort to ease the hostile atmosphere on our campuses and in the General Assembly. Four years ago, then-Attorney General McDonnell challenged Governor Tim Kaine’s executive order that added sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination policy, saying he didn’t have the authority to do so. It is still unclear exactly what legal weight, if any, a directive has, but media reports indicate that it does not have the same force of law of an executive order.

Much of the anger among college students has been generated by those who are supposed to be in authority at those schools — college presidents and administrators — who have criticized the advisory letter Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent them last week. The letter stated that public colleges and universities with anti-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation are in conflict with state law. Instead of providing leadership, the college presidents and administrators have provoked anger and outrage with inflamed rhetoric.

A media backlash also was fed by heated and often mean-spirited rhetoric by a handful of General Assembly members, including Senator Donald McEachin (D-9, Henrico) who, in a floor speech earlier this week, referenced Governor McDonnell’s graduate school thesis, yelling on the Senate floor, "We are being governed by the thesis!" Joining in the daily diatribes were Delegate David Englin (D-45, Alexandria) and Delegate Joe Morrissey (D-74, Henrico). It was often insinuated that anyone who disagrees with adding sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy is hateful and bigoted. But truth has been difficult to find in this debate.

In addition, some legislators made the outrageous claim that, without a non-discrimination policy that included sexual orientation, Virginia is not "business friendly" and would not be able to attract new jobs. But several publications and organizations currently recognize Virginia as the best state in America to do business without having this policy.

Nonetheless, yesterday morning, Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), in a clear conflict of interest as an employee of the College of William and Mary, one of the colleges expressing outrage over the AG’s letter, amended an economic development bill introduced by the Governor with: "The Commonwealth of Virginia maintains an ecumenical atmosphere in its sexual orientation hiring policies in the private and public workforce."

Besides being a bizarre statement, it is a frightening overreach into the private workplace, which would include religious-based ministries and churches. Fortunately, on the floor of the Senate — because of the Governor’s directive — Senator Norment removed his amendment from the bill.

The Family Foundation has and continues to maintain that there is no need for special protections for homosexuals. As the issue was thoroughly debated and voted on multiple times throughout this year’s General Assembly, no evidence of discrimination was presented.

We absolutely agree with one statement in Governor McDonnell’s directive — that state employment should be based on "qualifications, merit and performance," regardless of one’s immutable or unimmutable characteristics.

Over the next several days, we will consult with experts to determine the legal ramifications of this directive, but we are concerned when the Governor’s action is being heralded as a step forward by the ACLU and the state’s largest homosexual lobby, Equality Virginia (Pilot on Politics).

In a statement, Kent Willis of the ACLU said, "We hope this is only the beginning, and that the Governor's example will inspire legislators to finally pass a law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in both private and public sector employment."

Any thought that the groups and organizations behind this effort will stop at public employment is naive. It is very clear that they want to force private businesses — including churches — to abide by their morality.

Twists And Turns Today On Health Care Freedom In Senate Commerce And Labor Today

Today, in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, the anticipated fireworks didn't materialize. But it sure did have some strange twists and turns. Although there wasn't as much hype concerning HB 10, The Virginia Health Care Freedom Act, there was due to be some suspense. The patron, Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), had reason to be confident since three similar Senate bills escaped Commerce and Labor earlier in session, albeit by 8-7 votes, due to the brave votes of Democrats Charles Colgan (D-29, Manassas) and Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell). But HB 10 is worded slightly different. One difference from the Senate bills is that it clearly limits exemptions on insurance purchase mandates in divorce settlements, an omission Senate liberals objected to in SB 417, SB 311 and SB 283. On the other hand, its protections from the federal government are a little more expansive.

Stage set, here's what happened: Delegate Marshall barely was into the introduction of the bill when he got a few questions, including one from committee chairman and Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), who asked, "Do you think we have the power to tell Congress what to do?"

Of course, the bill won't tell Congress what to do. Only that Virginia won't participate in a certain action (health care insurance mandates) that it may pass. In fact, Delegate Marshall cited a 1994 Congressional Budget Office memo during the HillaryCare debate, that stated never before had Congress mandate Americans to buy any good or service, and that doing so would open the door for other mandated purchases and a command economy. (Hopefully, our public schools still teach what political system uses a command economy.) He reasoned, that if Congress has never required an individual mandate before, it must not be legal, or it would have done so already in more than 200 years. He also cited New York v. United States where a federal court ruled in New York's favor over a federal mandate. Seemingly anxious to just get it over with, it was about here where Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath) asked if there was any difference between HB 10 and the Senate bills, which Delegate Marshall already had volunteered that there was. He amended his bill to preserve divorce settlements in which insurance coverage may be a part, something on which committee liberals hammered the Senate bills' patrons. On the other hand, his bill, in a macro constitutional sense (I love creating new phrases) was a bit broader and probably more protective of the feds than the Senate bills.

Before the committee's legal counsel and Delegate Marshall could complete their responses, motions and comments started flying all over the place. Senator Saslaw, confident that the differences were huge and that the bills were not the same, motioned that HB 10 be passed by for the year. Senator Frank Wagner (R-7, Virginia Beach) made a substitute motion to report. Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Forest) made a parliamentary inquiry if the bill could be conformed into one of the Senate bills. He was told no because the bills are in different sections of the code.

That struck me as odd right away because bills are conformed all the time. In fact, "conforming" is changing legislative language to the exact same language as another bill — in other words, that's the point! Change it and put it in any code section you want! So the motion to report was voted upon with Senators Puckett and Colgan upholding their part, but the bill failed 8-7. How could this be when the others passed? Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg) voted no.

As supporters gathered outside to plan a next step — primarily, to get Senator Norment to offer a motion to reconsider at the next meeting — word came out of the committee room to head back in: That's what indeed he was doing! So the bill was brought right back up, interrupting the introduction of the next bill. After the motion to reconsider passed, a motion to — believe it or not — conform it to SB 417 was made and passed on a 8-7 vote. So, HB 10 survives, amended to the same language as SB 417. You like unintended consequences (something liberals are always warning us about)? Good, because now the protections for divorce orders is gone!

It should now pass the Senate floor, where it will go back to the House. It remains to be seen if Delegate Marshall will then insist on his original language when it returns there and force a conference committee, or if he'll take what he has. Does he want pride of authorship? Or, knowing the other bill will become law, does he want to roll the dice and try to get the additional protections in HB 10 to become the law of the Commonwealth?

Virginia News Stand: December 3, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations Looking For A Legacy

After a lull in state news, it all came bursting out today with Governor Tim Kaine (contact) trying to steal his successor's thunder — and continue to leave himself a peculiar legacy. Before the Thanksgiving break he hinted he would include tax increases in his last budget. He confirmed that today with proposals to repeal certain tax credits. Bad enough. But then he moved on to the social side and wants to extend state benefits to domestic partners. As we noted last week, he's going out as he came in. It wasn't a pretty picture then, it's not now, either.

Governor-elect Bob McDonnell, on the other hand, who opposes these measures, proceeded to announce the first several appointments to his administration, including Governor Kaine's finance secretary. At least for now, until the budget is dealt with. Meanwhile, The Daily Press previews what will amount to a GOP victory weekend celebration party in Williamsburg this weekend at its Annual Advance. But the campaigns aren't over. Robert McCartney of the Washington Post takes a look at the 37th Senate District special election, and wonders — hopes — Dave Marsden can excite Northern Virginia liberals to the polls. He doubts it.

Nationally, as we mentioned Tuesday, same-sex marriage bills are meeting resistance in, of all places, New York and New Jersey. Yesterday, the New York Senate officially killed it with amazing bi-partisan support. But, as we all know, no one cares about the "social issues." Elsewhere, ClimateGate continues to unfold in unpleasant ways for the left, while two other horrendous bills are flying under the radar in Congress, both of which we should all be concerned about: a "cyber security" bill, that could curtail individual liberty, and the "Non-Discrimination Act," which is anything but, of course.

News:

Gov.-elect McDonnell opposes Kaine tax break repeal in next budget (AP/WSLS.com)

Va. budget to test McDonnell's stance (Washington Post)

Kaine proposal: extend state benefits to domestic partners, other adults (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot

Gov. proposal offers state's coverage to more adults (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

McDonnell announces first round of appointments (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog)

Kent likely to get chief of staff nod Thursday (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog)

McDonnell keeping Kaine's financial chief, temporarily (Charlottesville Daily Progress)

McDonnell expected to fill two positions (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Virginia GOP huddles in Williamsburg (The Daily Press)

National:

NY traditional marriage supporters celebrate (AP/OneNewsNow.com)

'Cyber threat' bill a threat itself (OneNewsNow.com)

UK University to probe integrity of climate data (AP/OneNewsNow.com)

Commentary:

In Va. Senate race, Democrats get another chance (Robert McCartney/Washington Post)

The discriminatory 'Non-Discrimination Act' (Matt Barber/OneNewsNow.com)

ClimateGate: NPR sees silver lining (Larry Elder/OneNewsNow.com)

2012: Is the Sky Really Falling? (Dave Sterrett/Rightly Concerned Blog)

They Call It Fiscal Responsibilty; We Call It Socialism (David Limbaugh/Rightly Concerned Blog)

Virginia News Stand: October 13, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations  The Debate Review Edition

The headlines say it all about last night's gubernatorial debate. Or at least say what the individual reporters say is all. They range from Democrat Creigh Deeds' continued haranguing of the "the thesis" issue, to both he and Republican Bob McDonnell going after each other equally, to it was a snoozer. That's pretty much it today — lots and lots of debate coverage, but that's what happens when there are so few and so few televised this late in the game. It becomes a media focus. Even the New York Times weighs in, again, on the campaign, it's third article in short succession. In other news, The Daily Press takes a look at Senator Tommy Norment's (R-3, Williamsburg) arrangement with William & Mary, Liberty University does its part for representative democracy, ObamaCare isn't popular in Virginia, and some ministers have something to say on same-sex marriage. All that and more, below.

News:

Deeds accuses McDonnell of 'lying' in Virginia Gov debate (Washington Times)

Deeds blasts McDonnell on thesis (The Daily Press)

Deeds sticks to his campaign script (Politico.com)

Candidates for governor clash on taxes, Obama (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Barbs Traded on Taxes, Traffic in Prime Time (Washington Post)

Televised debate generates a few sparks (Roanoke Times)

McDonnell and Deeds give personal takes on social issues (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Deeds, McDonnell tread softly in first televised debate (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

Little new ground in debate (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

GOP Fervor Mounts As McDonnell Leads (Washington Post)

Gubernatorial candidate profile: Creigh Deeds shaped by rural roots (Roanoke Times)

McDonnell: A Razor-Sharp but Selective Memory (Washington Post)

Second Thoughts in Battle for Virginia (New York Times)

State employees appear in ad for McDonnell (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

In delegate race, incumbent Bell touts record as Neff presses reform (Charlottesville Daily Progress)

Get out the vote: Liberty U. cancels Election Day classes (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Sen. Norment part of unique legal setup at W&M (The Daily Press)

Poll: Nearly half in Virginia oppose Obama's plan for health-care reform (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Va. ministers protest ban on gay marriage (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

On Same-Sex Marriage: Deeds Flip-Flops, Moran Just Flops, And T-Mac Sounds Vaguely Sensible

See for yourself. From Saturday's Democrat gubernatorial debate in Williamsburg:

Senator Creigh Deeds apologizes for voting for the Marriage Amendment in the Virginia Senate, former Delegate Brian Moran proudly fights for same-sex marriage and implies conservatives are not for equal rights, and Terry McAuliffe says get over it!

Another Tea Party In Lynchburg Makes 20

As mentioned in the News Stand, last post, another Tea Party is scheduled in Lynchburg at 3:00 at Monument Terrace downtown. This wasn't listed on the TaxDayTeaParty Virginia Web page, so we wanted to bring it to your attention in case you are in the area, or will be in the area, and can't make the original one scheduled for 5:00 on the Waterfront. This makes 20 in Virginia today and 21 total incuding the one this past weekend in Williamsburg. Looks like Virginia has rediscovered its revolutionary roots.

More On The Tea Parties

As you well know, in 1773, colonists gathered to dump imported tea into the Boston Harbor to protest the British government's oppressive tax system that allowed for no direct representation. At the Boston Tea Party, determined colonists stood against the expanding British authority and said no more! Expanding government authority . . . sound familiar? Are you tired of bailouts, stimulus packages, endless national debt and increasing subsidization? Do you practice financial responsibility and watch those who do not get rewarded by the government? Along with many other Americans, are you frustrated by our government reaching its hand out to take far more than it needs?

If so, join thousands of Americans on Tax Day, April 15, at your local Tax Day Tea Party to express your frustration over our out of control government and its redistributive economic policies. Whether you are Democrat or Republican, Libertarian, conservative or liberal, all are welcome in this stand against unrestrained government. This true grassroots movement is spreading with Tea Parties planned across the nation.

While those who gather will not be throwing crates of tea into a harbor, many of the Tea Parties will feature speakers, patriotic activities, music and welcomed audience participation. Below is a list of confirmed Virginia Tax Day Tea Parties. Visit the national Web HQ, TaxDayTeaParty, (click here) for more information, to RSVP, or to volunteer.

Virginia Tax Day Tea Parties: (Click here for a Virginia specific Web site. All parties scheduled for April 15 unless otherwise noted.)

Abingdon Time:  5:00 p.m. Location: TBD Information: www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=75478635585

Charlottesville Time: 3-6:00 p.m. Location: Downtown Mall by the Pavilion Information: http://vateaparty.wordpress.com

Franklin County Time: Noon Location: In front of the Franklin County Courthouse (40 E. Court Street in Rocky Mount) Information: http://franklincountyteaparty.blogspot.com

Lynchburg Time: 6:00 p.m. Location: Downtown Lynchburg — Waterfront Information: www.lynchburgtaxdayteaparty.blogspot.com

Northern Virginia Shenandoah Valley Time: Noon Location: Front of Old Frederick County Courthouse Old Town Walking Mall, Winchester

Peninsula/Newport News Time: 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Location: Oyster Point City Center Fountain Plaza in Newport News Information: http://newportnewsteaparty.wordress.com

Reston Time: 6-8:00 p.m. Location: Lake Anne Village Center (1609 Washington Plaza)

Richmond Time: 6-7:30 p.m. Location: Kanawha Plaza, South 8th St. (near Federal Reserve Building) Information: www.richmondteaparty.com/ Video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ndr_vK0akAM

Roanoke Time: 5-7:00 p.m. Location: Wiley Drive (near footbridge to old Victory Stadium)

Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads Time: 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Location: Virginia Beach Town Center Fountain Plaza Information: http://taxdayteaparty.wordpress.com/, http://budurl.com/hrteaparty   College of William and Mary/Williamsburg (April 11) Time: April 11, 1-2:15 p.m. Location: Crim Dell Amphitheater at the College of William and Mary

Transparency Bills Breeze Through Senate And House; Not So Fast

The good news? The Senate today accepted Ken Cuccinelli's (R-37, Fairfax) floor amendment to conform HB 2285, patroned by Delegate Ben Cline (R-24, Amherst), to his SB 936 by a unanimous vote. The House, meanwhile, unanimously approved SB 936. Sounds all so cut-and-dried, let's-send-it-to- the-third-floorish, right? That'd be too easy.

Here's what happened late this morning. As you will recall from yesterday, Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico) raised concerns that language in the floor substitute might allow for Social Security numbers to be put online. The bill was passed by for the day for the day in order to work that out. However, as the Senate discovered today, federal law safeguards such a happenstance and all were prepped to go forward.

Then stepped up Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). Exactly what might he want? It seems he had a little bill that would bring some much needed reform to the workings of the two chambers (SB 1401). It would require that anything budget conferees stuck in their final budget report —which the two chambers must vote up or down — that was a nonstate appropriation, an item not included in either chamber's budget, or an item that represents legislation that failed during session, would have to be announced as such in letters to all 140 members by the chairmen of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees.

The bill sliced right through the Senate only to be left to die in House Appropriations. So, here was an opportunity to revive it and he jumped at it. Unfortunately, his original bill had a dreaded "fiscal impact" statement attached — then said the cost was "indeterminable." (Odd, though, that no budget amendment was necessary. Besides, what's the cost of writing a letter and making 140 copies?). Still, just having it there scares some lawmakers. And us. (Would it have to go before a bill-killing re-referal to Appropriations?)

Great stuff, actually, this amendment. All about transparency. But legislative transparency. Not spending transparency. One is actual facts about state spending. One is about GA procedures. Not exactly germane. Senator Norment admitted as much on the floor, saying he thinks the House may reject his amendment on those grounds. But no one asked the chamber's presiding officer, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, for a ruling (he cannot make one unilatterally). So the amendment proceeded to a vote and accepted by the body.

Here's where it all stands: Instead of the two bills conformed exactly to each other (which we figured wouldn't happen anyway only because we thought at the outset the Senate would leave HB 2285 alone) and avoiding a conference committee, HB 2285 goes back to the House since the Senate changed it. It must either accept or reject the Senate amendments. Either way, it will be different than SB 936: If it rejects the amendments, it is slimmer than SB 936; if it accepts them, it is larger. Meanwhile, the Senate must accept or reject SB 936, since it was tweaked in the House to meet Appropriations Committee concerns. Since the changes were the patron's, it  won't be a problem. 

Many variables from this last minute twist of the tale: Now that Senator Norment is part author on HB 2285, will he be on the conference committee? If so, how might that affect the dynamics? If the House insists on its version of HB 2285, will it give the Senate an excuse to scuttle it in conference? Or will the meat of the bill survive if Senate conferees insist on the slimmer HB 2285 as a slap? Is this all paranoia? We hope so, but just covering all bases.

To repeat, never have bills that still have not received a single dissenting vote gone through so much tortuous twisting. That said, an important reform still is within reach. Updates tomorrow.

Chaplain Religious Freedom Bill Dies in Senate Courts

This morning the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated HB 2314 patroned by Delegate Bill Carrico (R-5, Galax). This bill would have restored to the Commonwealth's State Trooper chaplains the religious liberty right to pray according to the dictates of their conscience. This restoration of freedom is necessary after State Police Superintendent Stephen Flaherty issued an administrative order that chaplains can no longer pray "in the name of Jesus." This decision has been strongly supported by Governor Kaine's administration despite the pursuant resignations of six chaplains.  In a long and very contentious meeting, HB 2314 was the final bill to be heard. Testimony was offered on both sides. (Video of the debate will be available here tomorrow.) Joining The Family Foundation in speaking in support of the bill was the state Solicitor General Steve McCullough, the Rev. Sherylann Bragton of City of Love Ministries and Dr. Jack Knapp of the Virginia Assembly of Independent Baptists. In opposition to the bill were the ACLU, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Interfaith Center for Public Policy and a Jewish police chaplain from northern Virginia.  

Opponents used their typical arguments, such as stating that in order to minister to all people one must strip any religious references out of their prayers. The police chaplain stated, "When I don my police uniform I am no longer representing my congregation as a Jewish clergy. Instead I am representing the government." 

While he may choose to leave his particular faith at the door when he ministers to others, to have the state require that one minister in this way is not acceptable. Delegate Carrico continued to remind the committee that the state police policy of censorship was issued not as the result of a single complaint of proselytizing but instead out of an ideological agenda.

Leading the charge to defeat the bill was Senator Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg). Instead of outright voting against the bill, Senator Norment chose to do something even more detrimental to the effort being waged by those who seek to uphold First Amendment freedoms — he offered amendments accepted by a majority of the committee in which he inserted "nonsectarian" before each mention of prayer in the bill. As Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37, Fairfax) pointed out to the committee and myriad of reporters following this hearing, a plain reading of this new language indicated that the amended bill would enshrine the state superintendent's policy into perpetuity. It was an amendment intended to kill the entire purpose of the bill.

Even after the killer amendment was accepted, the bill died by a majority vote. If you are interested to know where people really stood on this bill, those who voted against the Norment amendment actually support the religious liberty rights upon which this nation was founded: Senators Ken Cuccinelli, Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), Ryan McDougle (R-4, Hanover), Robert Hurt (R-19, Chatham) and Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville). 

Despite the testimony of opponents to this legislation the facts are clear — neither the Constitution nor the Courts of the United States require or compel a faithless, non-religious, nonsectarian prayer at government events. Sadly, as is often the case for some members of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, the facts and the law are but a distasteful distraction. 

Unfortunately, for six state police chaplains, this decision renders meaningless the protection of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which states:

"That all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

Pastors Energized To Make A Difference After This Week's "Watchmen on the Wall" Conference

Nearly 250 pastors and church leaders earlier this week joined together in Williamsburg at a "Watchmen on the Wall" conference co-sponsored by the Family Research Council and The Family Foundation of Virginia. The attendees were urged to speak out on important issues of the day and to encourage their members to take their civic responsibilities seriously.This year The Family Research Council is hosting several "Watchmen on the Wall" pastor conferences across the nation, including in Washington, D.C.; California, Arizona and New Hampshire. To date, nearly 2,000 pastors have joined together and hundreds of others have joined The Family Research Council's pastors' effort. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told the crowd, "Your leadership is absolutely fundamental and essential to this nation. My hope for America is not bailing out Wall Street. My hope for America is not in education. My hope for America is not in our strong military. My hope for America is Jesus Christ."

Former U.S. Representative Bob McEwen (R-Ohio) encouraged pastors to make sure people in their congregations are registered to vote. He said, "There are fifty million self-identified evangelicals in the United States. That's fifty million votes. Fifty million votes wins everything." Statistics indicate that at least half of self-identified evangelicals are not registered to vote. Dozens of churches in Virginia have been holding voter registration drives and will continue to do so up until the registration deadline (click here to see how to get involved).

Pastors also were educated by Alliance Defense Fundsenior counsel Jordan Lorence about their legal rights concerning speaking about issues, educating their congregations and providing election materials. Lorence has argued numerous times before the United States Supreme Court. 

The audience also heard from Bishop Harry Jackson of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown) and Attorney General Bob McDonnell. 

The Family Foundation, along with its pastor outreach arm, Pastors For Family Values, co-hosted the event. Pastors For Family Values provides support for pastors who speak on cultural issues and provide civil leadership. Pastors For Family Values formed in 2007 after Virginians in 2006 overwhelmingly voted to pass a Constitutional amendment defining marriage — as an outgrowth of pastoral involvement in that effort, several pastors of various denominations and ethnicities approached The Family Foundation with the concept of forming a pastors group.

It is absolutely essential for church leaders to take the lead and speak out on the values issues that shape our nation and our culture. While some organizations try to intimidate and discourage religious leaders from exercising their rights and freedoms in the political sphere, we urge them to reject those fear tactics and take a vocal stand on important issues. Only when our churches take a stand will we see our laws begin to reflect the traditional values our nation once stood upon.

Attendees left the "Watchmen on the Wall" conference excited and challenged. Nearly 20,000 church going Virginians were represented by the participating pastors. The impact these pastors and those church members can have on Virginia's political culture is enormous.

There is a tremendous amount of energy among pastors and church leaders and there is no question this energy will affect the congregations they represent. The potential impact of this energy and leadership cannot be underestimated. It isn't intended simply to affect one election or one campaign cycle but to bring change to an entire culture. This week was an important step toward that change.