Protect Child Vaccine ExemptionJul 22, 2016
The principle of religious freedom is such that it must apply to all or it applies to none. At The Family Foundation, we take that principle very seriously.
That’s why when we learn of threats to any religious liberty statement in our state law, we get concerned. During this year’s General Assembly session, one bill was introduced, and then quickly struck after an uprising of people from both the political left and right, that would have removed the religious exemption for state mandated vaccinations for children.
Despite the outcry, the proposal is now being reviewed by the General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC).
To make sure members of the Commission’s subcommittee studying the issue know that parents in Virginia should be free to make decisions regarding the health care of their children, I am asking you to attend the meeting of the subcommittee on Wednesday, August 3rd at 1:00 pm at the General Assembly Building in Richmond.
As someone as one who reviewed, considered and made decisions on each vaccination individually, this particular religious exemption is not one I’ve exercised, but there are some families in Virginia who take this exemption and they should be free to do so.
In fact, Virginia has a high rate of vaccination and a very low rate of infectious disease. There is no health crisis and there is no compelling reason to remove the longstanding exemption. The law of Virginia allows for the state to suspend the exemption in case of an epidemic, so the fear mongering by opponents of the exemption that it is a health risk are unfounded.
If at all possible, please attend the JCHC subcommittee meeting on August 3rd!
Why Tire Scraps Matter
Why Tire Scraps Matter
Seminal moments often involve otherwise obscure storylines. This is especially true in the law. Consider, for instance, a present case before the U.S. Supreme Court, wherein a major doctrine of religious liberty hinges on shredded tires and preschool playgrounds.
The Court hears oral arguments today in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. It involves a church in Missouri, Trinity Lutheran, that applied for a state program that reimburses nonprofits for the purchase and installation of rubber playground surfaces made from recycled tires. The program is intended to reduce the number of used tires in the state’s landfills while at the same time providing a safe place for children to play. The church hoped to use the funds to replace its existing playground, covered with pea gravel – which it describes as “unforgiving” and having “hard, jagged edges” – and grass.
The state ranked Trinity Lutheran’s application 5th out of 44 it received. And although the state awarded 14 grants, it denied Trinity Lutheran’s application, citing a provision of the state constitution that prohibits money from the state treasury from going “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”
And hence, we get an epic school yard fight on our hands, with the “free exercise clause” on the one side and “establishment clause” on the other.
Here’s the basic struggle in constitutional laymen’s terms: A state has a (U.S.) constitutional obligation to not act in a way which officially favors one religious sect over another. Thus, a state has to be careful about how it spends public money so as to avoid actions which have the practical effect of “establishing” a certain religion (e.g. the Church of England). At the same time, a state has a constitutional obligation to not act with disfavor towards religion and religious entities, or to officially favor one religious sect over another, or even to favor non-religion over religion.
Needless to say, sometimes it can be a very tricky task for a state to perfectly meet both obligations.
Some spectators argue that Missouri’s constitutional provision is consistent with the First Amendment’s prohibition against a state establishing religion since it essentially says “no public money for ANY church.” Others say Missouri’s categorical denial of public benefits to churches infringes on the free exercise of religion because the state is demonstrating hostility towards religion and religious institutions, rather than treating them on equal terms with other entities, regardless of their religious viewpoint.
As with all legal disputes, it’s critically important to keep in mind what is and what is not being disputed. The case is NOT addressing whether or not it’s a good policy idea for the government to give certain grants for certain projects – like funding tire scrap playgrounds. It’s also not about the wisdom of churches accepting public funds or benefits. The important question here is: If the state decides to provide various benefits to the general public, should some organizations be automatically excluded from access to those benefits solely because of the organization’s religious character or views?
If the First Amendment means anything at all, the answer must be no. Our constitutional republic was established to protect and to foster religion, not to exclude it from the public sphere altogether – which is precisely what Missouri’s amendment does. Read plainly, the Missouri provision would prohibit policemen from responding to an altercation on the church property. It would prevent the fire department from putting out a church fire. These notions, however, are absurd to any reasonable person. And yet in these examples lies the same principle that should permit a church to have equal access to a grant program that provides funding for safer playground surfaces.
Moreover, it can hardly be said that providing funding for safer playgrounds has the effect of establishing a state religion. It may be altogether different if the facts involved sending a group of church members on a mission trip to Haiti for the purpose of evangelizing the people there, but that’s just not the situation here.
Significantly, Virginia’s constitution contains a similar amendment. (These are often referred to as “Blaine Amendments”.) Article IV, Section 16 states, in relevant part, “The General Assembly shall not make any appropriation of public funds, personal property, or real estate to any church or sectarian society, or any association or institution of any kind whatever which is entirely or partly, directly or indirectly, controlled by any church or sectarian society.” Religious entities in the Old Dominion, therefore, have an equal size stake in the outcome as Trinity Lutheran of Missouri.
This case is sure to have far-reaching implications. Bound up in Trinity Lutheran’s quest for tire scraps is the determination of whether or not a significant piece of religious liberty will prevail. The issue is before us now because Trinity Lutheran recognized that rubber tire scraps were of some real value to them. Little could they have known just how valuable those same tire scraps would be for the rest of us.
 Some of the factual language in this paragraph was taken from scotusblog.com.
Believe Not, Lest Ye Be Judged
Believe Not, Lest Ye Be Judged
In Wyoming, judges can no longer speak about legal hypotheticals, or at least if he or she happens to reach a hypothetical conclusion that strays from the Left’s strictly-enforced cultural orthodoxy. Accordingly, judges have no right of conscience, and their faith can play no role in the carrying out of their duties – or even apparently when they’re not engaged in any judicial duties at all.
This week, the Wyoming Supreme Court decided to publicly censure Judge Ruth Neely, a municipal judge in the small town of Pinedale, WY, for a comment she made back in 2014 in response to a reporter that she wouldn’t preside over same-sex “marriages” as a magistrate because doing so would cause her to violate her religious beliefs. On that basis, formal charges for ethics violations were brought against her, culminating in Tuesday's decision by the state’s Supreme Court.
According to the 3-2 majority decision, "This case is not about imposing a religious test on judges." (Gee, could have fooled me. Glad you made that clear.) "Rather,” the Court said, “it is about maintaining the public's faith in an independent and impartial judiciary that conducts its judicial functions according to the rule of law, independent of outside influences, including religion, and without regard to whether a law is popular or unpopular." (emphasis added)
That sounds reasonable enough on its face. After all, judges exist to apply the law impartially, as written. But what’s particularly troubling about this case is that when Judge Neely made her comments, no same-sex couple had ever asked her to perform a marriage ceremony for them. In fact, same-sex marriage was not even legal in Wyoming at that time! The U.S. Supreme Court did not impose the concept of “same-sex marriage” on all 50 states until June of 2015. This was a pure hypothetical, which wasn’t even legally possible at the time of her comment.
Furthermore, "Wyoming law does not require any judge or magistrate to perform any particular marriage, and couples seeking to be married have no right to insist on a particular official as the officiant of their wedding," Justice Keith Kautz wrote in the dissent. So even if same-sex “marriage” had been legal, Judge Neely was under no obligation to solemnize any particular marriages. In other words, no judge could be compelled to perform a wedding ceremony - for any reason or no reason at all. Well there you have it. End of story, right??? Wrong.
So much for the “rule of law” – the Court’s insidious justification for silencing a conscientious judge. Judge Neely’s only error was failing to realize that she should never count on the law to stand in the way of the cultural Marxist agenda (within which the “LGBT” agenda rests). (See Chief Justice Robert’s famous last words in his Obergefell v. Hodges dissent: “[The Constitution] had nothing to do with it.”) See, when you’re a judge, you’re supposed to look past the law any time it dictates or permits a result inconsistent with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy, which Judge Neely neglected to do. That’ll teach her.
But perhaps what is most frustrating about the Court’s statement is that it misrepresents the nature of “religion” and thereby dismisses its legitimate place in civil society, including in the lives of civil servants. Thankfully, one of Virginia’s own, Thomas Jefferson, had the foresight to articulate its meaning and significance, and his words stand as a pillar of freedom in Virginia’s Bill of Rights to this day:
Bill of Rights - Article 1, Section 16. “That religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, 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; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. 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.” (emphasis added)
Well said, Mr. Jefferson. I shudder to think where we might otherwise be today without your wise words. Judge Neely, you're welcome in the Commonwealth anytime. And don't worry - you won't have to check your conscience at the border when you come.
McAuliffe Attacks Faith
McAuliffe Attacks Faith
Yesterday, Governor McAuliffe issued an Executive Order declaring that the state government would no longer contract for goods or services with anyone unless they sign a form stating that they will not “discriminate” based upon “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.”
In essence, the Governor is saying that you can't do business with the state unless you allow men into women's bathrooms and fully embrace the administration’s view that there are no distinctions between male and female, as well as its definition of marriage. This affects hundreds of entities that provide goods and services to or on behalf of the state, including many churches, charities, and other faith-based institutions.
This unconstitutional act of intimidation and bullying of businesses and charities that are operated by people of faith, from Christians to Jews to Muslims, is not only unnecessary but dangerous. There is no evidence of discrimination in Virginia by any businesses or charities that work with the state, and this executive order could require the state to investigate the personal, private beliefs of business owners, an action that should frighten anyone who believes in protecting civil liberties.
Sadly, this action was predictable as Governor McAuliffe and Attorney General Herring are far more interested in divisive politics and appeasing their base in a crucial election year than they are in providing real economic leadership. Instead of providing real economic leadership, they are advocating government discrimination against people of faith, Christians, Jews and Muslims, simply because they disagree with their beliefs.
It is also in direct violation of the Virginia Constitution, which states that “...the right to be free from any governmental discrimination upon the basis of religious conviction...shall not be abridged." Virginians should be free to earn a living, care for the poor, help the sick and serve their communities in accordance with their faith without being attacked and discriminated against by state government.
Virginians should be appalled by this act of blatant religious bigotry. As Virginia continues to slide further down on the list of states in which it’s best to do business, the Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General have no real solutions other than pandering to their base.
But rest assured, we intend to fight this unlawful order by every available means. With the stroke of a pen, the Governor just “upped the ante” on religious liberty in our Commonwealth, and he cannot be allowed to get away with it.
You can read more about this story here and here.