religious liberty

Unprecedented Action: McAuliffe Rejects Day Of Prayer Permit In Capitol Square

For as far back as anyone can remember, well over a decade at least, many of us who work in downtown Richmond have taken part in the National Day of Prayer service on the grounds of the Mr. Jefferson's Capitol. It is always held at noon, as are the overwhelming majority of services nationwide, so that office workers can participate during the lunch hour. That was the case anyway, until this year. We've just learned that for the first time ever, a governor's administration has declined Day of Prayer organizers the noon hour for the service, saying that it is a time when people eat their lunch on capitol grounds.

No, really, that's what they said. Not only is that a remarkable statement in and of itself, but the part of Capitol Square used for the service — the Bell Tower — is not in the area brown baggers use for lunch as the park benches are on the main walk way through the middle of the square.

A photo earlier today shows that, despite the pleasant weather, lunch eaters in Capitol Square aren't all that numerous.

While the administration has been nice enough to offer the grounds for a service at 1:00, the decision sends the clear message that religious Virginians are going to continue to be treated as second class citizens by this administration. This should come as no surprise in the aftermath of Governor McAuliffe's vetoes of two common sense bills concerning religious liberty passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly. Surely, in only four short months, no governor in Virginia history has displayed such disdain for religious expression.

As for the administration's concern for people who eat their lunch at noon on the capitol's grounds, they certainly can do so while a relatively small group of folks gather for a Day of Prayer service. The grounds are, after all, not very small. There's not been a problem in the past, so why the sudden change? Day of Prayer organizers were told that the policy regarding the noon hour has been in place for some time but that they had been "grandfathered in" in recent years, but not anymore. We are sending a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of General Services to find out just when this policy was put in effect, by whom, and why.

Regardless of this administration's hostility toward faith, we will continue to fight for our religious liberty. It is foolish if it believes its childish antics are going to stop prayer.

Urge Override Of Governor McAuliffe’s Vetoes!

Recently, Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed two bills that would protect religious liberty: SB 236, a bill that would protect the free speech rights of public school students; and SB 555, a bill that would have prohibited government censorship of military chaplain sermons. Both passed with large bipartisan majorities, including a unanimous vote in the Senate for SB 555! The General Assembly will hold its annual "veto session," where it reviews vetoes and amendments to bills, on Wednesday, April 23:

Please urge your senators and delegates to vote to override the governor's vetoes of SB 236 and SB 555 (click the links to find their contact information). If you don't know who your legislators are, click here.

SB 236, patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), would create "limited public forums" at certain public school events. Limited public forums restrict the schools from censoring speech simply because it is from a faith perspective. The schools can still "limit" the speech to the matter at hand; for example, a graduation speech still has to be about graduating, but it can contain statements about the importance of faith. The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings and wear clothing with religious expressions.

Students in our public schools shouldn't be treated as a second-class citizen simply because their viewpoint is motivated by their faith, regardless of what faith perspective they have. It is tragic that in Virginia, the birthplace of religious freedom, Governor McAuliffe has chosen to listen to the ACLU and has trampled on the right of Virginia's students to simply express their beliefs.

SB 555, patroned by Senator Dick Black (R-13, Leesburg), prohibited state government from censoring sermons given by chaplains in the Virginia National Guard and Virginia Defense Force. This reasonable, common sense measure passed the Senate in January 37-0! The governor's explanation for vetoing the bill is a remarkable misunderstanding of the actual definition of a chaplain.

Overriding a governor's veto requires two-thirds support from both chambers, meaning that 27 members of the Senate and 67 members of the House of Delegates have to vote for an override.

At what point do we finally say, enough is enough? Our God-given, inalienable right to exercise our faith, live according to our conscience, and speak truth to culture is in serious jeopardy if we allow people like Terry McAuliffe to dictate what we can and cannot do in the public square.

Your legislators, regardless of party, need to hear from you. They need to know that you are not going to stand for this type of discrimination any longer! Please act today:

Contact your senators and delegates today and ask them to override Governor McAuliffe's vetoes of SB 236 and SB 555 at the upcoming April 23 Veto Session.

Student Religious Liberty On The Line In House Vote Tomorrow!

Monday morning, the House Education Committee narrowly voted 12-10 to report SB 236 to the House floor, as three Republicans joined all seven Democrats in opposition. The bill, patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), a longtime defender of religious liberty, is a priority bill for The Family Foundation that protects the rights of public school students to express their faith at various school events. The bill was debated today on the floor and will be voted on tomorrow. Opposition in the committee continued to mislead and claim a parade of horrors that would occur if the bill became law. Coming from the ACLU and other groups, the opposition voiced concern that the bill would confuse school boards and cause a litany of lawsuits. But that assertion is baseless. The law has existed in two states for several years but has not elicited lawsuits. They also allege that it will "coerce" people into hearing a viewpoint that might cause them to feel bad about themselves. Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge) made it clear that the First Amendment does not protect someone from being offended.

Attorneys Rita Dunaway of Virginia Christian Alliance and Jordan Lorence of Alliance Defending Freedom testified in favor of the bill and debunked the opposition's claims. They clarified the case law surrounding religious speech in schools and explained the need to protect students who want to express their religious viewpoint. Too many school teachers and administrators follow a "folk understanding" of the law and discriminate anytime religious speech is uttered in schools. Such actions make religious students second class citizens. Not surprisingly, no one who opposed the bill expressed concern for those students' feelings.

The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings, wear clothing with religious expression, and the like. The bill is based on federal court precedent and case law.

Please click here to contact your Delegate and urge their support of SB 236 when it is voted on by the full House tomorrow!

Floor Vote Tomorrow On Bill To Ensure Chaplain Free Speech!

A bill protecting the free speech rights of Virginia National Guard and Virginia Defense Force chaplains (SB 555) that to this point has been completely non-controversial — in in the Virginia Senate! — suddenly became so Friday when Democrats began to raise a ruckus in the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. The committee still voted to report the bill to the floor of the House of Delegates, but on a mainly party line vote, with only one Democrat joining all committee Republicans in favor. Patroned by Senator Dick Black (R-13, Leesburg), SB 555 unanimously passed the Senate and a House sub-committee. But Friday, several members of the sub-committee who previously voted in favor of the bill urged its defeat and voted against it in full committee. The bill simply ensures that the religious content of sermons made by chaplains of the Virginia National Guard or of the Virginia Defense Force can't be censored or restricted by any state government official or agency.

Even Democrats in the  Senate unanimously voted in favor of the provision because it essentially repeats federal policy. But there are members of the House of Delegates that are so hostile to religious liberty that even ensuring that chaplains can simply do their job is not worthy of protection. The bill will be debated on the House floor today and voted on tomorrow.

Please contact your delegate and urge him or her to vote for SB 555 on the House floor Tuesday!

Student Freedom Of Speech Bill Passes Senate!

Tuesday afternoon, the Virginia Senate passed SB 236, legislation that will clarify the free speech and religious liberty protections of public school students. The bill, a high priority for The Family Foundation, passed by a vote of 20-18, largely along party lines. Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), a longtime defender of religious liberty, is the bill's patron. Based on existing law in two states that has not been challenged in the courts, Carrico's bill would create what the law calls "limited public forums" at certain public school events, which restrict schools from censoring subject matter simply because it is from a faith perspective. The schools can still "limit" the speech to the matter at hand. For example, a graduation speech still has to be about graduating, but it can contain statements about the importance of faith. The bill also protects students' rights to organize prayer groups, have events such as "see you at the pole" gatherings, wear clothing which express religious sentiments and the like.

Several senators expressed support for the bill, including Senator Tom Garrett (R-22, Louisa). Senator Garrett's passionate defense of freedom of expression and religious liberty as a whole was topped only by his answers to questions posed by an opponent to the bill, Senator Donald McEachin (D-9, Richmond). Senator McEachin, attempting to stump the bill's proponents, asked numerous questions about the supposed need to define various phrases used in the bill. However, he severely underestimated Senator Garrett's knowledge of religious liberty case law. Senator Garrett eagerly and deftly answered McEachin's questions and furthermore challenged him to apply this bill not just to Christian religious speech, but rather to all religious speech. Garrett also argued that students should be allowed to articulate and hear philosophies and beliefs that are unpopular or minority views for the good of their education.

Also defending the bill were Senators Dick Black (R-13, Loudoun) and Richard Stuart (R-4, Fredericksburg). Senator Stuart pointed out that while legislators on both sides of the isle complain about the SOLs and the "teaching to the test without teaching critical thinking," this bill would provide the opportunity for viewpoints that not everyone agrees with to be expressed, which motivates critical thinking.

The opposition misrepresented the legislation by claiming that it would "coerce" students to hear a viewpoint that may be "offensive." Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30, Alexandria) warned of "coercive prayer" to students who are compelled to attend a function. In fact, the bill doesn't offer special protection to religious speech, but simply the same protection that is offered any other type of speech at a school function. It evens the playing field for students who have a religious viewpoint, protecting them from unwarranted discrimination, and only requires school boards to adopt policies that protect that speech.

We appreciate that 19 of 20 Republicans voted to support religious liberty with their votes for the bill, as well as Democrat Senator Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazwell). The only Republican to vote against the measure was Senator John Watkins (R-10, Chesterfield).

A similar bill, HB 493, patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), is working its way through the House of Delegates.

#Distraction

On Saturday, Democrat Terry McAuliffe was sworn in as the 72nd Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and it didn't take long before he dove into the "social issues" liberals have always claimed are "distractions" from the "real issues," such as jobs and the economy. In his inaugural address, Governor McAuliffe said:

We must work . . . to ensure that someone can't lose a job simply because they are gay.

And to ensure that every woman has the right to make her own personal health care decisions. 

As expected, his first act of business had nothing to do with the economy, but was to issue Executive Order No. 1 that purports to provide special hiring protections in state government based on sexual behavior. Of course, what Governor McAuliffe failed to mention is that no evidence exists that discrimination based on "sexual orientation" is taking place. In fact, if discrimination in state hiring took place, you can be guaranteed that the ACLU, Equality Virginia and other groups would be parading that person around Virginia with the media hysterically telling everyone about it. Their silence on providing evidence is all we need to know about the needlessness of the executive order, while the evidence that elevating sexual behavior to special status is a threat to religious liberty is plentiful.

Of course, in his speech Governor McAuliffe wouldn't utter the word "abortion," instead using the liberal euphemism for taking the life of your unborn child, "health care decisions." The reality is that women in Virginia can have an abortion anytime they want and for just about any reason, and nothing interferes with their "personal health care decision" to do so. What is, interfering, however, is Obamacare, which has the full support of McAuliffe. Women in Virginia don't have the freedom to choose their own doctor. Women in Virginia don't have the freedom to choose their own insurance. But Governor McAuliffe seems perfectly content with the government taking those freedoms away. The hypocrisy is stunning.

Already, our policy team is working to defeat the nearly two dozen abortion or sex-related bills introduced by liberals in Richmond. While fewer Americans are working today than were when Jimmy Carter was president, secular liberals are obsessed with abortion and sex. Perhaps they think the "war on women" narrative will provide cover for them while the economy continues to sink? And you needn't worry about the media exposing them. At a Capitol Square press conference yesterday to unveil some of the 20-odd bills on the Democrats'  social issue agenda (see our reaction, here), Delegate Kay Kory (D-38, Falls Church) pleaded with reporters to "be there" when these bills are heard, even if the meetings are late at night. These legislators want the media there because they know the coverage given often is favorable to their agenda.

Last Thursday, we released some of our legislative agenda to the media. You can read our news release here. We look forward to advocating for these and other proposals in the coming weeks. Regardless of who sits in the Executive Mansion, we will work as hard as possible to advance and protect the principles and values we share.

#Distraction: Family Foundation Reaction To Today's Pro-Abortion, Homosexual Rights News Conferences

Late this morning, two groups of liberal General Assembly legislators held Capitol Square news conferences heralding their agendas. At the first one, Democrat Senators Donald McEachin and Adam Ebbin, and Democrat Delegate Patrick Hope, promoted the so-called "Equality Agenda" (i.e., homosexual rights). At the second, the so-called Women's Health Care Caucus (i.e., the pro-abortion caucus), led by Democrat Delegates Kaye Kory, Jennifer McClellan and Vivian Watts, and Senators Barbara Favola  and McEachin (he does get around) echoed the abortion industry's taxpayer-funded-abortion-at-any-time-for-any-reason talking points. Family Foundation of Virginia President Victoria Cobb issued the following statement in reply with an ad lib comment by yours truly:

Fewer Americans are working today than at any point since the Carter administration; but instead of focusing on jobs and the economy, liberals in Virginia have introduced nearly 20 bills dealing with sex and abortion. The Left's attacks on marriage, religious liberty and parental rights won't be distracting enough for Virginians to notice they don’t have jobs (or have lost their health insurance), but they could undermine Governor Terry McAuliffe's claims that he wants to work across party lines and avoid divisive issues.

We've always heard the General Assembly has more important things to do than consider divisive "social issues," especially when there there are so many kitchen table problems to solve. That said . . . can anyone say #distraction?

Restitution For Eugenics Victims Tops TFF's Legislative Agenda

The Family Foundation of Virginia today released the highlights of its 2014 legislative agenda, highlighted by joining a bipartisan effort by Delegates Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas) and Patrick Hope (D-47, Arlington County) to provide restitution to victims of Virginia's eugenics policy. Other priority legislation The Family Foundation supports includes bills protecting religious liberty, allowing homeschool student sports participation ("Tebow bill") at public schools, budget amendments to ban state funding of Planned Parenthood and to align Virginia with the federal Hyde Amendment, and the Pain Capable Unborn Child Act. It will oppose Obamacare expansion of Medicaid, adding sexual orientation to Virginia's non-discrimination laws, the expansion of gambling, tax increases, attacks on crisis pregnancy centers, and the removal of religious exemptions for home schooling. Here is The Family Foundation's official statement on its legislative agenda:

"The 2014 General Assembly will be very focused on jobs, the economy, the budget, mental health reform and rightly so, but our elected officials are capable of handling both economic and social issues," said Victoria Cobb, President of The Family Foundation. "The General Assembly spends the overwhelming majority of its time on non-social issues but those don’t merit quite the attention. Our goal is to be the voice of Virginians who care about values issues and recognize that we cannot have a strong, stable economy until we renew our moral standards."

A top priority of The Family Foundation is legislation ensuring religious liberty and free speech protections for public school students at graduations and other public ceremonies. Recent incidents of speech censorship at public school graduations around the country offer evidence that religious speech is being targeted. Legislation has been introduced that is modeled after existing state law in Texas and Mississippi, neither of which have been challenged in the courts. The legislation tracks U.S. Supreme Court decision language. 

"Public school students should not be targeted for discrimination simply because their speech reflects or includes their religious beliefs,” said Cobb. "The Constitution is clear and should be applied to students when they are speaking at public school events. It is a disgrace that American students are censored by government officials from simply mentioning their faith at a graduation ceremony, and that shouldn't happen in the birthplace of religious freedom."

Another priority will be restitution for victims of eugenics. First introduced last year, this legislation would provide a small financial payment to those whom the state physically denied the ability to have children. Eugenics was practiced in Virginia for nearly two decades, resulting in an estimated 8,500 victims.

"Virginia has apologized for eugenics, but that’s little comfort to those few surviving victims who had their ability to have children taken away from them by an atrocious government act. The idea that the government can deem some worthy of life and others not should be revolting to every American. And while this small amount of money cannot begin to undo the wrong, it is one way to hold a government accountable for its actions and, hopefully, to prevent anything like this from happening again."

The Family Foundation also will again support legislation that allows homeschool students to try out for sports at the public school they would otherwise attend. Commonly referred to as the "Tebow Bill," this simple policy of fairness to families who pay taxes in support of local public schools would affect a very small number of Virginia home school athletes. Numerous other states have adopted similar policies with no negative affect on athletic programs or public schooling.

The pro-family organization will also oppose the expansion of so-called Obamacare through Medicaid. Despite promises by the federal government to pay ninety percent of the costs in future years, it is clear by the unfulfilled assurances that people would be able to keep their own insurance and doctors and that there is serious risk to future state budgets by expanding.

"There is no question that we need to figure out new and compassionate ways to deliver health care to the truly needy in Virginia," said Cobb. "But every day Virginians are seeing the abject failure of Obamacare to fix the problems that we face. We need a new national dialogue on a real fix for our health care system that provides actual care and assistance and doesn't bankrupt our economy."

"Neither political party in Virginia has a mandate on anything, which leaves all ideas up for debate, discussion and compromise," said Cobb. "Values-driven Virginians expect their elected officials to represent them and their principles, and we’ll be there to make sure they do.”

 

The Pols Are Out And So Are Their Grades: American Conservative Union Releases Virginia General Assembly Scorecard

The General Assembly wrapped up its 2013 business, officially, April 3, at the conclusion of the "Veto" session. Since then, a flurry of scorecards have been released by several organizations, including the Family Foundation's late last week. Usually released throughout the year to coincide with fundraising galas, elections or other events, many organizations this year dropped their ratings in advance of the Republican Convention this weekend and the June Democrat primary. Today, the American Conservative Union released its third annual Virginia General Assembly Scorecard (click here for complete results). The ACU, founded in 1964 by a coalition of prominent national conservative organizations, is known for its annual Congressional Scorecard, considered the "gold standard" of Congressional ratings. In 2011, it decided to take that success to the state level, with a goal of annual rating all members in each of the 50 state legislatures. That year, it graded five, Virginia being the first of those (this  year it will score 20). Consequently, the General Assembly is the first to be scored three times — more firsts for the Old Dominion.

The ACU Scorecard offers three awards: Defender of Liberty Award, for those who score 100 percent; the ACU Conservative Award for those who score above 80 percent, and the not-so-coveted True Liberal of the Commonwealth Award for those who get a zero — and there are a few of those. However, the number of members in both chambers who scored 80 or higher dropped precipitously, with some who have reputations as conservative stalwarts not even even getting to 80 percent.

The reason? Not only were there several immensely important and substantive votes this year on significant policies with massive ramifications, they were voted on multiple times. For instance, the tax increase bill (HB 2313) was voted on three times (scored twice). An ironic twist is that the House budget, which normally rates as a support because of its pretty tight spending parameters and policy language, was opposed by the ACU when it came out of conference committee with the Senate, specifically because the rejection of the Medicaid expansion was stripped out. That also got a second vote because of a gubernatorial amendment. The Obamacare health insurance exchange also made the list and several conservatives got nicked on that, as well.

The ACU Virginia Scorecard is not only the most comprehensive one of its nature in Virginia — complied annually, with more than 20 floor votes on everything from spending, taxes, education reform, securing voting rights, second amendment rights, religious liberty, right to work, life and marriage, and all else that make up the conservative agenda, it's one the most comprehensive state scorecard in the country, as many legislatures, especially part-time ones, rarely let so many significant votes get to the floor. The ACU only scores floor votes and does not score unanimous or immensely lopsided votes, nor partisan votes, with the exception of significant policy shifting bills.

In a statement released today by the ACU, its Chairman Al Cardenas, said:

On behalf of the American Conservative Union, I am pleased to announce the winners of our 2013 State Legislative Ratings for members of the Virginia General Assembly. For 40 years ACU has set the gold standard for Congressional ratings, and we are now able to offer that same level of transparent information to the voters of Old Dominion so they can hold their elected officials accountable at the state level as well. In our third year rating the Commonwealth, we applaud conservatives in the Virginia General Assembly who continue to fight against higher taxes, against Obamacare and for the rights of the unborn.

The ACU's philosophy in its scorecard system is to track . . .

a wide range of issues before state legislatures to determine which issues and votes serve as a clear litmus test separating those representatives who defend liberty and liberal members who have turned their backs on our founding principles — constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, free markets, a strong national defense and traditional values. The votes selected for our Virginia Legislative Ratings were chosen to create a clear ideological distinction among those casting them.

The Defenders of Liberty Award winners are:

Delegates Rob Bell, Ben Cline, Scott Garrett, Todd Gilbert (TFF Legislator of the Year Award winner), and Margaret Ransone; and Senators Tom Garrett, Jr., Mark Obenshain and Ralph Smith.

ACU Conservative Award winners are Delegates Richard Anderson, Richard Bell, Kathy Byron, Mark Cole, Barbara Comstock, John Cox, Mark Dudenhefer, Matt Fariss, Peter Farrell, Greg Habeeb, Chris Head, Tim Hugo, Sal Iaquinto, Steve Landes, Jim LeMunyon, Scott Lingamfelter, Bob Marshall, Jimmie Massie, Jackson Miller, Randy Minchew, Israel O’Quinn, Brenda Pogge, David Ramadan, Roxann Robinson, Nick Rush, Beverly Sherwood, Lee Ware, Jr., Michael Webert, Tony Wilt, and Tommy Wright, Jr.; and Senators Richard Black, Steve Newman, Richard Stuart, Bryce Reeves, Steve Martin, Bill Stanley, Jr., and Ryan McDougle.

The highest scoring Democrats were Delegates Johnny Joannou and Joe Joe Johnson at 73 and 64 percent, respectively. The both  topped some Republicans, such as Delegate Chris Jones, who scored only 60 percent. Delegate Jones wasn't alone. Speaker Bill Howell only managed to match Delegate Joannou. Senate Republicans saw similar slippages. For example, Senators Jeff McWaters and Frank Ruff, who had scored at least 80 in the first two scorecards, dropped to the low 60s. Majority Leader Tommy Norment and Senator Harry Blevins, who retired recently in mid-term, scored 60 and 57 percent, respectively. Senator John Watkins rated a dismal 48 percent.

Last year, more than 70 Republicans from both chambers scored 80 percent or higher. This year, only 45 did.

The members who earned the True Liberal of Old Dominion Awards are Delegates Delores McQuinn and Roslyn Tyler; and Senators Kenneth Alexander, Janet Howell and Linda Puller.

Delegate Todd Gilbert Named TFF’s Legislator Of The Year

On Friday, we presented Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock) with The Family Foundation's 2013 Legislator of the Year Award. The presentation was made at the Valley Family Forum's annual dinner in Harrisonburg. This year, Delegate Gilbert was the House patron for one of our most consequential legislative priorities, legislation that protects the freedom of association and freedom of religion rights of student groups on public college campuses. This followed his leadership last year on legislation that protects the rights of faith-based child placement agencies to operate according to their religious beliefs. Both bills protecting our liberty have become models for the rest of the nation. About receiving the award, Delegate Gilbert said:

I was surprised and honored to be named The Family Foundation's Legislator of the Year. The Family Foundation and I have teamed up in the last few years to do some amazing work protecting religious liberty and traditional moral values, and together we have accomplished some great things for Virginia.

Delegate Gilbert's solid pro-life, pro-family voting record is complemented only by his leadership in his caucus, in committee, and on the floor of the House, where he is more than willing to stand — no doubt much to the chagrin of some around him — to defend life, marriage and religious liberty, and to take on those legislators who seek to undermine our values and principles.

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Delegate Todd Gilbert (L) receives The Family Foundation Legislator of the Year Award and congratulations from TFF Vice President for Policy and Communications Chris Freund.

Delegate Gilbert's leadership has made him the target of the secular left, and in particular Equality Virginia. The state's largest homosexual organization has targeted Delegate Gilbert because of his strong stance on religious liberty and his opposition to adding protection for sexual behavior to the state's non-discrimination law. In an environment of hostility, where the very phrase "social issues" or "values issues" causes some of our elected officials to reflexively run for cover, the media hysteria over anything pro-life or pro-family, and the secular left's endless rhetorical assault on conservative legislators — plus a clear cultural shift away from Godly principles and a too often silent church — few legislators are willing to lead like Delegate Gilbert.

It is always an honor to present an award to legislators of conviction who put principle before politics to advance our shared values. Congratulations to Delegate Gilbert for winning this year's Legislator of the Year award. We look forward to continuing to work with him on protecting and advancing our values.

A Perspective That Spans The Tiber To The James

It's about time! Finally, after years of encouragement to do so, today our friends at the Virginia Catholic Conference added a blog to its social media mix. (See its first post, by Associate Director Michael Lewis, on the adoption by the General Assembly of Governor Bob McDonnell's "Veto Session" "Hyde amendment" that bans taxpayer funded abortions in the Obamacare insurance exhchange). It's a good thing, too. There are few more passionately dedicated to the causes of Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty  than our colleagues at the VCC. They are an invaluable ally in the culture wars not only inside Mr. Jefferson's Capitol, but well beyond the gates of Capitol Square. It's an intelligent bunch, as well, and we look forward to their perspective on the crucial issues of the day. According to its announcement of the blog's launch:

Our goal for "From the Tiber to the James" is to provide engaging, thought-provoking posts — respectful of our reader’s busy lives — about why and how we do the work we do, and how our readers can become more involved in advocacy on behalf of the common good.

Attuned readers will not miss the symbolism of the blog’s name: our Faith traces its past, present and future to the Vatican on the banks of the Tiber River. Our daily work — living in the public square — takes us to Virginia’s capital, on the shores of the James.

We look forward to what From the Tiber to the James will add to the public policy debate in the already thriving Virginia Blogosphere. Another culturally conservative voice can always be useful but, in this case, we're confident it will far exceed that basic standard.

The fight to win souls precedes any legislative victory. In this new age of instant digital media, where information is spread at the speed of a few thumb presses, it's important for advocacy organizations to arm themselves with as many assets as possible — and our side has been behind. It's about more than "spreading the word" on Facebook and Twitter (as important as that is). After all, there must be compelling content to spread on Facebook and Twitter. So, it's really about thoughtful, grounded, rational perspective based in something considerably larger than human vanity that resonates even with hearts of stone well before the yeas and nays consistently affirm our foundational principles. 

Congratulations to the Virginia Catholic Conference. We hope you visit From The Tiber To The James as often as we will.

Please Plan To Participate In The National Day Of Prayer On May 2

Our nation is in a crucial time and in serious need of prayer. We face grave challenges on every front and most of all, the spiritual front. We're sure you sense the peril that we, as a country, are in as never before. Even as our nation deals with the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Boston, the deep ideological divisions in our nation remain. Faith-based institutions are being forced to fund abortions, our national debt continues to skyrocket while cities are going bankrupt, pornography is running rampant on the Internet and we are potentially one Supreme Court vote away from making same-sex "marriage" the law of the land. But we are not as those who have no hope. Our hope is in the Lord, the maker of Heaven and Earth.

This is a reminder that the National Day of Prayer is coming up on Thursday, May 2. It's a day when Americans will gather together to pray that God will grant us mercy and send us the help we need to turn our nation back to Him. The theme this year is "Pray for America." The Scripture that that the organizers have chosen to highlight this theme is Matthew 12:21:

In His name the nations will put their hope.

While we will continue to work hard to ensure that the Virginia General Assembly passes laws that protect life, marriage and our religious liberty in the commonwealth, we are convinced that only through the Lord will our state and nation be saved. Please consider finding a local gathering and participating this year. For your convenience, click here to visit the National Day of Prayer official website. There, you can find locations of announced events as well as other useful information. Click on the "Events" tab to find a prayer gathering near you.

The National Day of Prayer is an important time for us to stop and recognize our need for the Lord as a nation. We all know what a critical time this is. Let us not neglect the One who can deliver us from the dangers that await us if we fail to act.

Governor McDonnell Signs Into Law Religious Liberty, Parental Rights, Other TFF Priority Bills!

Governor Bob McDonnell on Monday signed several Family Foundation priority bills into law! One set of bills he signed comprised our top legislative priority in 2013. They protect the freedom of association and religious liberty rights of student groups on Virginia public college campuses. These bills, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) and Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), simply ensure that student groups can set their own criteria for membership and leadership and not be discriminated against simply because a university doesn't like the content of their speech. The bills include language ensuring that the groups cannot violate state or federal discrimination laws regarding race, religion, etc.

The governor also signed bills that affirm that parental rights are fundamental. The bills, patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Fredericksburg) and Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown), elevate the common law understanding of parental rights in place in Virginia for 400 years to that of a fundamental right. While no rights are absolute, courts give special deference to fundamental rights, requiring the state's "compelling interest" to intervene. This is especially important since 24 other state courts have reduced parental rights to "ordinary" — a standard more easily trumped by government authorities that attempt to interpose themselves in family decisions. Distractors continue to make claims about the potential impact of this new law that are simply not accurate. The state's authority to protect children who need intervention doesn't change, nor will parents be able to disrupt public education.

In addition, Governor McDonnell signed into law HB 1871, patroned by Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D-71, Richmond), defining bullying in Virginia code. This will ensure that state education officials have clear guidance as they develop policies relating to the growing problem of bullying that needs to be addressed in an effective and reasonable manner. Having a clear definition of bullying will equip school leaders to develop the most effective strategies to keep children safe and produce an environment conducive to learning. The bill includes First Amendment protections to ensure that students cannot be punished for simply voicing an opinion that is unpopular.

Finally, the governor submitted clarifying amendments to another Family Foundation priority, a bill that removes a serious barrier to helping families in crisis limit the amount of government intrusion while providing opportunity for reunification. More and more, families are relying on close relatives to help take care of their children during a crisis, using what is called kinship care. But these relatives often face barriers when trying to enroll the children in their local school, as some school divisions require the relative caregiver to obtain legal custody of the child before enrollment is possible, which requires the action of a court. SB 960, patroned by Senator George Barker (D-39, Alexandria), allows for the use of a power of attorney, better enabling families to work together through a crisis. Once the governor's amendments are adopted, he will sign the bill into law.

We appreciate the Governor McDonnell's actions on all of these important bills. You can e-mail him to thank him for his support by clicking here.

 

Protect Your Church Against Homosexual Activist Litigation

If same-sex marriage became legal today, would your church and pastor be protected from lawsuits brought by homosexual activists? In June, the U.S. Supreme Court may decide that homosexual marriage should be a legal right in all 50 states, a decision that would threaten the religious liberty of all who support Biblical values. However, legal experts suggest there are several ways to protect your church from possible sexual-orientation discrimination lawsuits. Alliance Defending Freedom has published several suggestions and guidelines for what churches should add to their bylaws in order for them to protect their religious beliefs. ADF believes there are seven essential items every church should include in its bylaws, including a formal church membership policy and a statement about the church's religious beliefs regarding marriage. For more information, click here and share this information with your pastor and church leaders and even more details are available at the link in the first paragraph.

Student, Parental Rights Bills Advance!

Yesterday was "crossover," the mid-point of the 2013 General Assembly session and the day when each chamber must complete work on its own bills. It's also a day that saw two substantial pro-family victories. The Senate passed a priority for The Family Foundation — legislation that protects the free association rights of students on public college campuses. SB 1074, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), ensures that the current practice on the majority of our campuses will continue and that religious and political organizations will not be discriminated against because of their beliefs and values. The bill passed 22-18 with several Democrats joining Republicans to pass the legislation. The House companion bill, HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), passed 80-19 late last week.

In the House, legislation protecting parental rights as fundamental passed 70-30! The bill, HB 1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County), reflects a recent decision by the Virginia Supreme Court that recognizes parental rights as fundamental. However, 24 states have reduced parental rights from fundamental to "ordinary," making it easier for government bureaucrats to interfere with families. This is significant because courts give special deference to "fundamental" rights and putting it in the Virginia Code secures it from a future Virginia court from rewriting the recent decision. Currently, Virginia law is silent on the status of parental rights, instead relying on hundreds of years of common law, which has granted parents fundamental in principle.

A similar bill previously passed the Senate, but because the bills are slightly different, we will continue to work with the patrons and representatives of parental rights groups to bring them into "conformity" for final passage later this session. The Senate bill is SB 908 and is patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Spotsylvania) and will be in the House Courts of Justice Committee today.

In the past two days, other legislation supported by The Family Foundation also advanced, including bills that combat human trafficking, help ease restrictions on the creation of charter schools, and provide a definition of bullying for the Department of Education as it works on guidelines to help schools combat that serious problem.

Unfortunately, all news today wasn't good. The Senate decided to send SJ 287, a religious liberty constitutional amendment, back to committee, effectively killing the bill for this year. Based on an amendment that passed last year in Missouri, the amendment would have given Virginians the opportunity to vote to re-establish our right to pray at the start of government meetings and protect students' religious liberty rights. As we continue to watch the federal government infringe upon our God given right to express our faith in the public square, Virginians want to be able to respond. Our goal will continue to be to reinforce our First Freedom, through statute and, if necessary, a constitutional amendment. We thank Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Moneta), the resolution's patron, and Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), the chief co-patron, for their very hard work and inspired and passionate words yesterday on the Senate floor.

In the coming days we will again notify you to take urgent action on key bills. Thank you to everyone who has contact their legislators so far! You voice does make a difference.

Full Senate To Finally Vote On Major Religious Liberty Constitutional Amendment!

This year, Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Moneta) has introduced a state constitutional amendment, SJ 287, that would help clarify and restore some of our religious liberties. (The resolution is co-patroned by Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax). It passed the Senate Privileges and Elections committee earlier this week after lengthy debate, and will be voted on by the full Senate early next week. This is the first time in recent memory that a religious liberty amendment has been voted on by the full Senate!

Please call your senator or e-mail him or her and urge a YES vote on SJ 287!

For years, the free speech and free religious exercise rights of Americans have been slowly chipped away by federal courts. Now, in many places in Virginia, we no longer can pray at the start of a local government meeting, our kids can't mention their faith in graduation speeches, and far too often government bureaucrats silence religious speech in an attempt to enforce the "separation of church and state" without understanding constitutional rights.

The debate over religious liberty has surrounded the establishment clause and free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Secular liberals have used the establishment clause as a mallet to bludgeon the free exercise of religion, essentially arguing, as they did in the committee, that "private" religious free exercise is just fine (most of the time) but as soon as such activity becomes "public," such as praying at a government meeting, it is a violation of the establishment clause.

They are basically stating that when the government simply allows public free exercise of faith it is "endorsing" or "establishing" that faith, which makes it, in their eyes, unconstitutional. (Never mind the nonsense of the argument — as if there is one unified Christian faith, or that a prayer at a public event constitutes a particular, sectarian religious service.)

Such logic relegates faith to nothing more than a private matter, silencing our voice in the public square. It flies in the face of the Founders' vision and endangers the freedom of all faiths. Unfortunately, because much of the damage done to our freedom has been at the hands of federal judges, states are left with little to do, except send clear messages to the federal government that it is improperly applying the First Amendment.

That's where Senator Stanley's amendment comes in. Based on an amendment passed overwhelmingly just last year in Missouri, SJ 287 plainly restates that people of faith — all faiths! — have the right to express their faith in the public square, whether that be at a government meeting or a high school graduation.

Many Virginians are tired of the government's assault on our faith. The Founders never intended for faith to be a "private matter," as evidenced by not only the First Amendment but by their words and actions. It is time that Virginians send a clear and unambiguous message to the federal government that we have had enough.

Please call your senator or e-mail him or her and urge a YES vote on SJ 287!

Does Religious Freedom Matter Anymore?

On this date in 1786, the Virginia General Assembly enacted one of the most important initiatives in our nation's history — the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom. Today, Governor Bob McDonnell issued a proclamation celebrating the Statute and Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Moneta) and Delegate Chris Peace (R-97, Hanover) gave speeches in their respective chambers to bring attention to this day. This amendment to our state constitution was the foundation for our First Freedom as defined in the U.S. Constitution a few years later. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson — it is one of the three accomplishments for which he wanted to be remembered and engraved on his tombstone; the others being author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia — the Statute recognizes that our right to exercise our faith

. . . can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.

It adds:

No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

As attacks on the religious liberty of Americans continue to grow, it is important to remember the real meaning of the term and take the opportunity to educate our friends and neighbors who may be buying into some of the secular left’s notion of "separation of church and state." For example, we often call our First Freedom a "constitutional right to religious freedom," but the reality is that this freedom comes from God and is simply to be protected by the constitution; it doesn't come from our constitution.

It is important to note that we have the freedom to be involved in "civil capacities" and express our "opinions in matters of religion" in these capacities. This is particularly important to remember as the radical secular left in Virginia has attacked us for our support of pro-life and pro-family legislation as a violation of "separation," something that flies in the face not just of the Statute but over 230 years of American history. This is not only our right, it's our duty.

This year, we are supporting initiatives that we hope will restore the real meaning of Jefferson's Statute. One, an amendment to the state constitution by Senator Stanley — working with Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax) — would seek to reestablish our rights as citizens to pray at public government meetings, a longstanding tradition that the secular left has sought to stop, successfully in many cases, throughout Virginia.

Of course, one major threat to the freedom of all Americans is the federal government's mandate that citizens fund the birth control of others through President Obama's health insurance scheme, a mandate that is currently being challenged in nearly 30 lawsuits across the nation. While the secular left and abortion industry call this mandate about "access" to birth control, the truth is that it requires a redefinition of the word "access" to mean "paid for by somebody else at the expense of their freedom of conscience."

You Prayed. You Voted. Now What?

We have received several phone calls in our office from individuals wanting to know what they can do in the aftermath of the election because they want to make a difference, but don't know where to start. As the results of last week's elections continue to sink in, I know many of you are beyond disappointed. The sense that we "did everything we could" but didn't taste victory is discouraging. But I'd like to say that you and I have nothing for which to be ashamed.  Our principles are the only hope for our nation.

If we want to see real change in this nation, it begins with transforming hearts and minds. And that's up to us. This is not an overnight process — it begins with you talking to your friend, who talks to another friend, who talks to another friend. Change begins here, right in our backyard. One man cannot singlehandedly accomplish the renewal of our nation; rather, change begins locally. When you start talking to those around you, I think you'll be surprised to learn how many in the pews next to you or in the homes next door to you did not vote on Election Day according to what God values. This goes back to changing hearts and minds, one by one. Would you be willing to join us in this effort?

If so, the following is a list of action items (some small and easily achievable, others more challenging, but will produce visible change) that you can take to get involved to change hearts and minds:

  • Pray for Your Legislators: Commit to praying daily for your local, state and federal elected officials. Send them a letter telling them that you will be holding them up in prayer and petitioning God for wisdom for them as they serve the people.
  • Visit Your Pastor: Set up a meeting with your pastor and talk to him about the importance of teaching Biblical worldview and civic responsibility. Challenge your pastor to considering bulletin inserts about the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, the role of government, religious liberty, or why Christians should get involved in government. Additionally, introduce The Family Foundation to your pastor so we can be sure to provide him with free, available resources from our pastor network.
  • Meet your legislator: Now's the time — before they get to Richmond — to go and meet your state delegate and senator. If you don't know who they are click here to find out, and meet them. They want to hear from constituents! And they work for you.
  • Host a Dessert: Invite 10-20 of your friends/neighbors to your house for dessert and a Family Foundation representative will come and share about The Family Foundation and how to get involved and make a difference in government. Help us change hearts and minds one person at a time. Call The Family Foundation about details of how to arrange this (804-343-0010).
  • Sign up for E-mails: Forward this link to your friends and/or share it with them on your social media networks, and ask them to sign up for our e-mail alerts. During the General Assembly we will keep you up to date on legislation that seeks to advance our values that needs immediate action (conveniently connecting you to your legislators asking them to vote correctly). It is the quickest, most direct way to learn about legislation that is about to be voted on in the fast paced General Assembly legislative calendar. You can't rely on the Mainstream Media to inform you! In past years, we've seen just one e-mail or phone call make a difference in how legislators vote — don't underestimate your influence as a voter!
  • Capitol Event on January 9: Mark January 9, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. on your calendar to join us for a special day at the Capitol. Commit to bringing 10 friends with you. This event will serve to educate you on the battles facing us right here in Virginia as well as provide you with specific action items for how you can get involved.
  • Volunteer: The Family Foundation always has projects we need help with. Contact Marie (804-343-0010 or Marie@FamilyFoundation.org) for more information.

Thanks for considering how you can get involved and make a difference for our future.

Dawn Of Election Day: Insights On Tim Kaine And Barack Obama

As we prepare to vote in the most consequential election of our lifetime and, perhaps, in many generations; an election that will transform America into a European-style social welfare state, or one that will restore the country to a dynamic economy with government's role properly limited; a country where distinctions no longer matter and anything goes, or one where the protection of life, marriage protected and defined, and religious liberty are safeguarded for us and future generations as the foundation of a free, prosperous and safe people. We will decide on a president and the composition of Congress, including one of the nation's highest profile Senate races which could determine the balance of power in that powerful chamber, and further accelerate which direction the country moves. Tim Kaine, once President Barack Obama's chief at the Democrat National Committee, and George Allen, once the Republican in charge of electing more Republican senators, seek the office.

There's no need to rehash the entire presidential and senate campaigns here. But as the president and Mr. Kaine have long been friends (Mr. Kaine was the first Democrat official elected to statewide office to endorse then-Senator Obama) and served as his primary defender as the chairman of the DNC, a couple of insights are in order from each that illuminate how their lack of capacity to lead honestly.

First, Mr. Kaine. It is well documented that he promised not to raise taxes in his campaign for governor and that he broke that promise in his first week in office. He introduced massive tax increases each of his four years in Capitol Square. He argued the need in order to fund Virginia's lagging transportation improvements.

What isn't so well documented (and a mystery as to why the Allen campaign has not used this against him) is that while Mr. Kaine hammered away at the need to grab more hard-earned income from Virginia families, is that he also refused each of his four years to audit VDOT. While House Republicans asked and asked, his reply was to demand tax increases. But the theory was that if we audit VDOT, perhaps we'll find some money there and we can see how much we really need to raise. Mr. Kaine flatly refused to acknowledge even the possibility. Nothing there, there, he'd say, and then demand the tax increase, even going so far as to launch robo calls into the districts of certain House members, telling their constituents that their delegates didn't want to fix Virginia's roads.

In 2010, in one of his first actions, Governor Bob McDonnell ordered the long sought VDOT audit. It turned up $1 billion in unused and wasted funds and funding opportunities. Mr. Kaine offered no apologies. It's one thing if the public truly needs to pay up to improve its community. It's another when a politician tries to pry away hard earned family income into government coffers when he was wasting what he had to begin with.

The insight into President Obama's character is quicker to arrive at. After all the snark, sarcasm, small and demeaning attacks, and vicious lies about his opponent, Mitt Romney, he runs this ad (see Ben Shapiro at Breitbart's Big Government).

One question: Would the president allow his daughter to see this? Is he really proud of this?

Whether it's unscrupulously fleecing taxpayers for his own political schemes or producing near-obscene ads, neither Tim Kaine nor Barack Obama offer the dignity to lead.

Are There Candidates Worthy Of Our Votes?

With a day before Election Day, it's hard to believe there are any so-called "undecideds" left. Yet, I've had recent conversations with people who really weren't well informed about where the candidates for President and U.S. Senate actually stand on important issues. It's not too late to educate them. Don't take for granted that your fellow church goers, friends and family have all the information they need to make wise choices come Tuesday. Take some steps to make sure they are fully informed and fully motivated. There's still enough time.

Of course, be sure that everyone you know has a copy of our 2012 Presidential and U.S. Senate Voter Guide, downloadable from vavotes.net. There is also a brief Voter Guide promotional video available on the site that you can share on your social networking sites (click on the slider panel as it comes up) as well as every bit of information you need about where to vote, what personal identification to bring, etc.

I hope you'll also share our "Boiling Frog" video on sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as our voter guides and other information.

If you have time, please plan on joining us at one of our four field offices to assist with voter identification calls in key areas of the Commonwealth. Our field offices have made tens of thousands of voter ID contacts in recent weeks and are working to ensure that every pro-family voter in Virginia is identified and mobilized to vote on Tuesday. The list of our field reps is below; just call ahead to find out when the offices are open.

Then, on Election Night, be sure to join CitizenLink for its live three-hour Election Webcast, beginning at 9:00 p.m. I’ll be on at 9:30 to analyze the results in Virginia, and they’ll be reporting on and analyzing poll results in key races from coast to coast as they become available. Don't miss it!

While some may argue that candidates for office this year don't merit their vote, I would encourage you or anyone you know to take another look. I believe we have a responsibility to vote even when the candidates aren't perfect. See which candidates support abortion on demand and which don't, which believe in marriage between one man and one woman, and which don’t, which candidates respect our religious liberty and which don't. I think there are clear choices worthy of our vote and there's still time to convince those undecided voters that there are.

TFF Action Field Offices:

Fairfax/Alexandria

William Zimmerman

T 703-568-4093

E-Mail william@novafamily.org

Prince William

Bill Pfister

T 515-505-5209

E-Mail: billpfister@verizon.net

Metro Richmond

Ron Gallagher

T 804-591-5909

E-Mail: FFA.Gallagher@gmail.com

Greg Culbertson

T 515-505-5280

E-Mail: greglc7@yahoo.com

Hampton Roads

Tim Pogge

T 515-505-5224

E-Mail: timpogge89@gmail.com