The Briefing 03-03-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, March 3, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Oral arguments reveal expected ideological divide among SCOTUS justices on abortion
As expected, the oral arguments in the Texas abortion case yesterday before the U.S. Supreme Court revealed the ideological and moral divide amongst the justices on the nation’s highest court. As the Washington Post reported,
“The Supreme Court’s liberal justices united Wednesday to attack Texas’s abortion regulations as an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s rights, but the justice who holds the key vote [questioned whether there was enough evidence to make such a finding].”
Robert Barnes and Sandhya Somashekhar, writing for the Washington Post, indicated that at the center of the oral argument was Justice Anthony Kennedy, as expected. They write that,
“…both sides consider pivotal to the outcome of the court’s most important abortion case in a generation.”
Justice Kennedy, we should note, wondered out loud whether it was possible yet to tell exactly what the effect of the Texas legislation might be. He openly asked if it would be advisable for the Supreme Court to punt, in effect to send the case back to lower courts for reconsideration. In one sense, what that means is that Justice Kennedy was offering a way to buy time, but that is not likely to prevail in this case. In the oral arguments that were held yesterday, the thing that perhaps was most apparent was the absence of Justice Scalia asking the kind of probing questions for which he was famous. In the absence of Justice Scalia, the focus was on, once again, Justice Kennedy and what was notable was that Justice Kennedy did not appear to want the Court to rule on this particular case at this particular time. In the most interesting section of the Washington Post story we read,
“The court’s liberals justices Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor put on a solid show of support for the abortion providers.”
Now what’s really interesting there, what should catch our attention, is that this is the Washington Post, one of the most influential secular newspapers in America, and this is how the reporters in the Washington Post describe what took place in yesterday’s oral arguments. Let me read the words again. They said that the liberal justices, all four of them, Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor,
“…put on a solid show of support for the abortion providers.”
Now that’s the way these journalists saw what took place before the Court, but it tells us a very great deal. It tells us that these reporters unabashedly are telling us that the four liberal justices on the U.S. Supreme Court were very clear in what we’ve seen before as outcome-based law. That is, they intend to offer a solid support for abortion rights, and they were going to do so virtually regardless of the case. It should also tell us a very great deal that the Washington Post looked beyond the oral arguments in the Supreme Court case to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Again, the reporters wrote,
“The divide over protecting the unborn and safeguarding the right of a woman to choose is among the starkest differences between the Republican and Democratic candidates.”
In another very important section of the Washington Post article, the reporters look beyond the oral arguments held before the court yesterday to the 2016 presidential election in the fall. And then they wrote,
“The divide over protecting the unborn and safeguarding the right of a woman to choose is among the starkest differences between Republican and Democratic candidates.”
Now that is again a very important assessment. First of all, it’s important because it is profoundly true. But it’s also important because of the way the reporters at the Washington Post described the divide. They describe the divide in very clear terms, again, they divided it as,
“The divide over protecting the unborn and safeguarding the right of a woman to choose.”
Now what we need to note is that this is very honest language. This is the kind of journalistic reporting that we can respect because it rightly describes how both sides in this conflict understand the moral imperative. On one side the moral imperative is—just as the reporter said—to protect the unborn; on the other side the moral imperative is to safeguard the right of a woman to choose. Now you’ll notice the two verbs there, “protecting” and “safeguarding,” and you’ll notice the difference, however, between these two worldviews. On the one side, it is protecting the unborn that is human life; on the other hand, it is safeguarding, according to the Washington Post, the right of a woman to choose. Now where one falls on that moral divide says virtually everything about one’s worldview, because once you get to those two positions as alternatives before the United States Supreme Court, you have bought into an entire worldview ethically, morally, indeed even theologically. Because if you define every single human being as made in the image of God, and thus every single human life is sacred at every point along the continuum from conception until natural death, there is no way you could possibly reduce the issue to, as the Washington Post said,
“…safeguarding the right of a woman to choose.”
Instead, you would have to stand on the other side of the divide—that is the divide defined by the reporters as protecting the unborn. But switching to the other side of the argument, if you do see the moral imperative as,
“…safeguarding the right of a woman to choose,”
then what you are also saying is that the unborn child is not an important moral actor, is not an important moral fact, and that’s why the pro-choice or the pro-abortion position goes to a very great length to avoid ever having to even acknowledge the unborn child as a human being. The minute they were to accept the unborn child as a human being, they would have to speak in defense of that human life. That is what they steadfastly refuse to do.
Before leaving this story—and we’ll be watching it closely in terms of subsequent developments—it’s also important to look at the article that appeared on the oral arguments in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. In this case, the Journal reminds us of what is at stake if the case is turned back to the lower courts. As reporters Jess Bravin, Louise Radnofsky, and Brent Kendall report, if the case is sent back to a lower court, the case would then return after there are nine justices on the court. That is, in all likelihood, the case would not come back until the position that had been held by Justice Scalia has been filled, and that increases the likelihood of a pro-abortion victory before the U.S. Supreme Court. And the fact that it was Anthony Kennedy who raised that issue may well indicate that he is not going to side with the State of Texas in terms of the actual facts of the case and the eventual decision to be handed down. If indeed Justice Kennedy were to join the four liberals in this case in a pro-abortion position, it would represent a majority—either a 5-4 or a 5-3 majority—but in any case, a majority that would turn back the Texas legislation, and that would be a huge loss for the pro-life cause.
Marriage, high school education, full-time job: 3 statistically-proven steps out of poverty
Next, an absolutely amazing affirmation of the importance of marriage and the family from an unexpected source and from a source that doesn’t quite seem to recognize just how profound an affirmation of marriage and family the research actually presents itself to be. This is coming from the Brookings Institution, and that is a liberal think tank in Washington D.C. that has done very important work of interest to both liberals and conservatives for the last several decades.
Back in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan used to make the argument that in order to find oneself under the poverty line several factors had to apply. As President Reagan said,
“If you want to avoid being in poverty, finish high school and get a diploma, get married and stay married, don’t have kids outside of marriage, and don’t get arrested.”
As President Reagan argued back in the 1980s, it was statistically difficult to be found below the poverty line if one followed those four very simple principles. President Reagan was often derided for that statement and yet statistically it was true. And now we have the Brookings Institution a generation later coming back with a report. The headline is this:
“Three Simple Rules Poor Teens Should Follow to Join the Middle Class.”
The author of the report is Ron Haskins, he says,
“Policy aimed at promoting economic opportunity for poor children must be framed within three stark realities. First, many poor children come from families that do not give them the kind of support that middle-class children get from their families. Second, as a result, these children enter kindergarten far behind their more advantaged peers and, on average, never catch up and even fall further behind. Third, in addition to the education deficit, poor children are more likely to make bad decisions that lead them to drop out of school, become teen parents, join gangs and break the law.”
Now the list of criteria offered by the Brookings Institution, what they call three simple rules—they differ slightly from what President Reagan said, but only very slightly. In essence, they are virtually the same list. As Haskins writes,
“In addition to the thousands of local and national programs that aim to help young people avoid these life-altering problems, we should figure out more ways to convince young people that their decisions will greatly influence whether they avoid poverty and enter the middle class. Let politicians, schoolteachers and administrators, community leaders, ministers and parents drill into children the message that in a free society, they enter adulthood with three major responsibilities: at least finish high school, get a full-time job and wait until age 21 to get married and have children”
Then Haskins writes,
“Our research shows that of American adults who followed these three simple rules, only about 2 percent are in poverty and nearly 75 percent have joined the middle class.”
Now as I said, President Reagan was often derided for what was claimed to be the simplicity of those four principles. But the reality is, the Brookings Institution comes back with basically the very same advice and the very same statistics. Now as the Brookings Institution report indicates and acknowledges,
“There are surely influences other than these principles at play, but following them guides a young adult away from poverty and toward the middle class.”
A closer look at the research indicates that, of course, there are situations in which there is more at work then these three rules, according to Brookings, but the reality is also this: If indeed a young person were to follow these three rules, there is less than a 2 percent chance that they will be below the poverty line. There is a 75 percent chance that they will actually achieve the goal of becoming part of the middle class. As a matter of fact, the middle class is defined here as earning $55,000 or more a year—that’s massive. Now you would think that this data, this argument, might be coming from a more conservative think tank, but it’s not. It is coming from the Brookings Institution, and I read directly from their release,
“Today, more than 40 percent of American children, including more than 70 percent of black children and 50 percent of Hispanic children, are born outside marriage.”
Now here’s the issue of marriage. It jumps right out at us from this research on poverty coming from the Brookings Institution. They go on to say,
“This unprecedented rate of nonmarital births, combined with the nation’s high divorce rate, means that around half of children will spend part of their childhood—and for a considerable number of these all of their childhood — in a single-parent family.”
Then Brookings goes on to explain what is at stake when the report says,
“As hard as single parents try to give their children a healthy home environment, children in female-headed families are four or more times as likely as children from married-couple families to live in poverty. In turn, poverty is associated with a wide range of negative outcomes in children, including school dropout and out-of-wedlock births.”
Tracking research that has also been published by other leading think tanks as well as affirmed by the government and its own authorities, the Brookings Institution report goes on to say,
“It is sometimes said that Americans are turning their back on the marriage culture. The high divorce rate, soaring nonmarital birth rate and consequent rise of single-parent families are certainly weakening marriage as an institution. But look again and discover that college-educated women have high marriage rates, low nonmarital birthrates, and low divorce rates. The marriage culture seems to be alive and well for those with a college degree. These families usually not only have enough money to afford good schools for their children, but they also provide a stable family environment that allows children to flourish.”
One of the things we have to watch in terms of a moral analysis of a report like this is acknowledging that sometimes it is a chicken-and-egg question. That is to say, cause-and-effect are not always so apparent. It is clear that a child born into a disadvantaged situation inherits any number of disadvantages by definition. But as this report makes clear, there is no way to overcome poverty—and we’re looking again at a statistic, 98 percent on one hand and 2 percent on the other hand—in which it is made clear that following what Brookings calls these three simple rules leaves only a 2 percent chance that an individual will be found below the poverty line.
Our response to this as Christians should not be reduced to mere moralism saying that here is a moral lesson. Our response as Christians should begin with an acknowledgment that this points to the goodness of what God has given us in creation, how God cares for us by giving us the gift of marriage and the institution of the family, and how impossible it is to repair a society without repairing, first of all, marriage and the family. But that’s at the level of the entire society, and we need to note that’s where massive reports like this take on a very urgent significance. But Christians have to remember that societies are made up of individuals, and the love of Christ means that we are concerned for individuals. And as difficult as it is, virtually impossible as it is to repair society without repairing marriage and the family, we also have the responsibility to reach out to individuals, seeking in the love of Christ and driven by a gospel love for human beings around us, to try to intervene to create wholeness out of brokenness where such is possible, and where we have the opportunity.
What we have in this document from the Brookings Institution is a massive affirmation of the goodness of marriage and the goodness of the family as God’s gifts. We also have a massive affirmation of just how central marriage and family are, not only to the raising of children, but to increasing opportunity in society and creating social stability and creating an environment in which freedom can flourish and human flourishing itself can take place. But we should also note that the pathologies in the society around us are now building up to such an extent that even social liberals are finding it very difficult not to point to the breakdown of marriage and the family as central to the problems all around us—the problems that are stipulated and identified in this report, the problems that they suggest are rectified by a reconstitution of marriage and the family and the three rules that Brookings suggested.
We should also be haunted by the numbers in this report, and that is the number of children, the percentage of American children who spend either all or a significant portion of their childhood without two parents in the home. And then we should note with moral urgency the fact that Brookings is honest enough to point not only to the phenomenon of children who are born outside of marriage, but to the reality of divorce.
We should also note with tremendous interest how this report from the Brookings Institution concludes. It states,
“Teenagers are capable of understanding principles and of using them to help make decisions. Anyone who delivers messages to teens about the consequences of decisions that could affect them and others for many years should be praised not criticized.”
The report then points to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pointing out that he was criticized by groups, including Planned Parenthood, for arguing about the consequences of teen pregnancy. And then the report states,
“Bloomberg should next launch a public campaign about the value of marriage to adults, children and society.”
The report then says,
“There will be at least as many critics of this message as the message that young people should avoid teen pregnancy. Good. The bigger the controversy, the more the media will cover the debate, and the more the nation will have the opportunity to reflect on what is at stake.”
Taken as a whole, this is an absolutely astounding report coming from the Brookings Institution written by Ron Haskins, the co-director of its Center on Children and Families and Budgeting for National Priorities. He hopes that his report gets a very wide attention. We should hope so as well.
As Georgia faces corporate backlash over religious liberty bill, media exaggerate effect
Next, a few days ago we talked about pending legislation before the legislature in Georgia having to do with religious liberty and the fact that the two bills have been combined that would ensure religious liberty for Georgians whose convictions about marriage may place them over against the new moral revolution. But then Camille Pendley writes in The Guardian—that’s a liberal London newspaper—that a coalition of more than 400 companies has come together to fight Georgia’s proposed religious liberty bill. She writes,
“A coalition of more than 400 companies is openly opposing a Georgia “religious liberty” bill that is rapidly heading toward passage, with at least one major company already leaving the state over the proposal.”
Hold onto that; we’re going to go back to that statement. Pendley then points to something we have observed in this moral revolution, and that is that at a certain point—what we might call a corporate tipping point—corporate interest began to join the moral revolution and to suggest that they had been there all along, and those corporations often intend to make a moral statement, a publicity statement about their advocacy for the moral revolution. But you’ll also notice that in this story about the 400 companies that we are told that have come together to fight Georgia’s proposed religious liberty bill, the opening paragraph ended with the words,
“With at least one major company already leaving the state over the proposal.”
Then we read later in the article,
“Telecom startup 373k announced it would to relocate from Decatur, Georgia, to Nevada immediately after the Georgia senate voted in favor of the measure last week.”
Now, let’s go back to the lead paragraph in this article where Pendley wrote that at least one major company is already leaving the state over the proposal. That one major company turns out to be Telecom Startup 373k, and so I decided to look up and find out how major the supposedly major company is. It turns out that according to Slate.com it has approximately 20 employees. Now I’m fairly certain that even in Britain a company with 20 employees is not exactly a major corporation, but it certainly isn’t a major corporation in Atlanta. Now I’m not arguing that this is not culturally and morally significant that you have companies that are coming together to oppose this religious liberty bill in the Georgia legislature. Frankly, it’s a pattern we have seen before and we’re going to see again. But there’s another pattern here that caught my attention, and that is that you have major international news media claiming that at least one major company is already leaving the state, only to find out that that one major company has approximately 20 employees.
So what we have here is a dual phenomenon. We have the reality that there is political and economic pressure coming on the state of Georgia by many corporations. That’s not really huge news. We have seen that before. But what is also interesting is the fact that the media is reporting that a major company has already decided to leave Atlanta even before the governor has an opportunity to sign or to veto the legislation; and then it turns out the major company has about 20 employees.
In attempt to push LGBT agenda, California considers travel ban on "anti-gay" states
And then, just when you think you seen just about everything, along comes a story yesterday from the Miami Herald telling us that the State of California, the California state government, is considering a travel ban when their employees might intend to travel to a state that has adopted the kind of religious liberty legislation that is now pending in Georgia. Here you have the state of California saying that it’s not even going to send its employees to state meetings in a state such as Georgia if this legislation were to pass; it’s going to put a travel ban in place. So here we have further evidence of how a moral revolution works. It works not only with corporate pressure, but with pressure coming from a state like California on another state saying that it is not even going to allow its Secretary of Transportation to visit with the Secretary of Transportation in another state if that state adopts this kind of religious liberty legislation.
Folks, this is how politics works. This is how pressure is brought. This is how a moral revolution is coerced, and this is how it’s reported right in the pages of the Miami Herald about the State of California threatening a travel ban against others American states on the basis of these religious liberty bills.
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