This week's Hobby Lobby ruling gives District 33 residents all the more reason to vote for Robin Page to replace Phil Jensen as their State Senator. Last session, Senator Jensen tried to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination under the risible guise of protecting his co-religionists from homosexual bullies. Left in office, Jensen may follow the lead of religious leaders who are already trying to leverage the Hobby Lobby ruling into a defense for Jensenesque discrimination:

...A group of faith leaders is urging the Obama administration to include a religious exemption in a forthcoming LGBT anti-discrimination action.

Their call, in a letter sent to the White House Tuesday, attempts to capitalize on the Supreme Court case by arguing that it shows the administration must show more deference to the prerogatives of religion.

"We are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need," the letter states [Molly Ball, "Hobby Lobby Is Already Creating New Religious Demands on Obama," The Atlantic, 2014.07.02].

I'm not a Christian (and the fourteen individuals who signed the "Please let us discriminate" letter to the President appear to represent exclusively Christian organizations), so I'm going to need the believers in the audience to help me out. How does saying to a job applicant, "You're transgendered, so I'm not going to hire you" advance your Christian faith and mission? Or, more to the point of the planned executive order to which the letter seeks an exemption, how does requiring you not to deny employment to folks who've had sex-change operations or to men who kiss men when you take federal contracts for work in the secular realm hinder the free exercise of your religion?

If the Bible says, "Don't hire sinners," doesn't that reduce your job applicant pool to zero?

Phil Jensen fought last session for anti-LGBT discrimination as religious freedom. Religious leaders are picking up Hobby Lobby as a club to further promote that fight. We will need more legislators like Robin Page to fight back.

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What do you get when you combine the Hobby Lobby ruling, executive orders, and Indians? A formula for one of South Dakota Republicans' worst nightmares: the Alito-Roberts Court opening the door for Barack Obama to give the Black Hills back to the Great Sioux Nation.

Ruth Hopkins lays the groundwork:

To say that the Black Hills (Kȟe Sapa) hold special significance for the Oceti Sakowin (The Great Sioux Nation) is an understatement. They’re not only our traditional homelands, where our ancestors once lived, they’re sacred. The Black Hills are the birthplace of our Nation, where we rose from Mother Earth’s womb. Our legends took place there. The Black Hills itself is a terrestrial mirror of the heavens above and thus forms the basis of our ancient star maps and Lakota astronomy. The entirety of Kȟe Sapa is a sacred site. Our rituals observe the natural cycles of the planet and our Universe. There are ceremonies that we must conduct at specific locations within the Black Hills. These ancient ceremonies benefit the whole of humanity. No, we aren’t talking about dirt protected by ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Kȟe Sapa is holy ground. It is where we are meant to pray [emphasis mine; Ruth Hopkins, "Reclaiming the Sacred Black Hills," Indian Country Today, 2014.06.28].

A core doctrine of Justice Alito's majority opinion was that we (the Court, the State, the people making laws) do not inquire into religious claims. We don't throw out a lawsuit from Hobby Lobby or the Lakota people just because we think the religious beliefs on which it is based are poppycock. If we adopt the thinking that Alito adopted to accept without scientific inquiry Hobby Lobby's religious (and counterfactual) claims that certain birth control methods cause abortion, then we must accept without judgment Hopkins's assertion that her people must perform their prayers at Bear Butte, Pe 'Sla, and other holy sites and that said prayers benefit all of humanity (awfully generous of you folks, Ruth!).

If the government must exempt Hobby Lobby from a federal law to ease its owners' religious queasiness about remote moral culpability for female employees' medical choices, then surely the government must act to protect the ability of the Oceti Sakowin to carry out one of their fundamental religious mandates to serve humanity with prayers in the Black Hills. And how better to protect that religious exercise than to hand the Black Hills back to its rightful pious owners, if not by legislation, then by a stroke of the Presidential pen?

Working with both Tribal and Treaty councils, the group is hopeful that they can develop a realistic plan to present to President Obama, and perhaps, the U.S. Congress. New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley introduced a bill in 1985 that would have transferred 1.3 million acres of forest in the Black Hills back to the Great Sioux Nation. Unfortunately the bill was unsuccessful. Even if Congress is unwilling to pass legislation to return the Black Hills to the Oceti Sakowin, it is within the President’s power to perform the task by Executive Order [Hopkins, 2014.06.28].

I'm still looking for the statute or precedent that makes clear the President's authority to transfer federal land like the Black Hills National Forest to any other entity, sovereign or private. But what better land to surrender than land that serves a crucial religious purpose and that nearly everyone, including the courts, recognizes was taken illegally in the first place?

Hopkins says Oceti Sakowin leaders will meet with President Obama to discuss the Black Hills in 2015. Just imagine President Barack Obama signing that order, shaking hands with Ruth Hopkins and her friends, and saying, "Threaten to impeach me? This is what happens."

Handing the Black Hills back to the Oceti Sakowin would be payback in many ways. It would also be one logical extension of the Supreme Court's view of religion expressed in the Hobby Lobby case.

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While the Supreme Court imbues corporations with the power of religious belief, Justice Samuel Alito points quietly toward the logical political response:

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the court’s five more conservative justices, said a federal religious-freedom law applied to for-profit corporations controlled by religious families. He added that the requirement that the companies provide contraception coverage imposed a substantial burden on the companies’ religious liberty. He said the government could provide the coverage in other ways [Adam Liptak, "Supreme Court Rejects Contraceptives Mandate for Some Corporations," New York Times, 2014.06.30].

medicare-for-allHow can the government provide the health care coverage that Hobby Lobby and ACA-trashing conservatives will gleefully deny? By doing what Rick Weiland says and going back to what the Affordable Care Act should have offered in the first place: a universal public option. Medicare eligibility for everyone.

Consider the implications of today's Supreme Court ruling for employees:

  1. The ACA is intended to remove some of the grit from the labor market by guaranteeing some basic protections in health insurance.
  2. The Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood ruling throw that grit back in the wheels, increasing the homework workers have to do to figure out whether their current or prospective employers offer health plans that meet their needs.
  3. An applicant going into an interview wanting to learn about the company's health insurance plan and exemptions in coverage must ask questions that, under today's rulings, are treated as fundamentally religious questions.
  4. Asking such questions opens the door for the employer to ask—or at least wonder about—the applicant's religious beliefs. Good heavens, she's asking whether our health plan covers contraception. Is she one of those heathens who thinks women deserve access to basic health care? We can't let her corrupt our employees!
  5. If holy companies can Swiss-cheese their health plans, their employees can't switch to better coverage in the ACA Marketplace, since the Marketplace only takes applicants whose employers don't offer coverage.
  6. Therefore, we need to elect a Congress that will revisit the ACA, open the Marketplace to all willing customers, and offer all Americans the chance to buy into a publicly funded health insurance option that offers them the same stable, reliable coverage no matter what sort of religionists they work for.
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The Supreme Court ruled this morning that corporations can believe in God. I'm looking for the Scripture that says, "Blessed are the corporations...."

The Supreme Court thus ruled that Hobby Lobby and other pious corporations don't have to follow the law that requires employer health insurance policies to include contraception.

Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood wrote in March that contraception isn't a religious issue; it's basic health care:

Since birth control became legal and widely available, women’s health has improved dramatically; the infant death rate has plummeted; and women have been able to invest in their education and careers. Not to mention that increasing access to birth control significantly reduces unintended pregnancy, which in turn reduces the abortion rate [Sarah Stoesz, "Birth Control Is Not a Religious Issue; It Is a Basic Health-Care Issue," MinnPost, 2014.03.25].

Stoesz saw coming this dire precedent: allow corporations to refuse to pay for emergency contraceptives and birth control pills because of their religious objections, and you open the door for corporations who practice Christian Science to refuse to pay for insurance for chemotherapy or antibiotics, for Jehovite corporations to refuse to cover blood transfusions (and maybe even provide legal cover for Jehovites to reassert their opposition to vaccines), and for some fundamentalist corporations to decline to cover any medical treatment other than prayer.

All of this assumes, of course, that a corporation, a legal fiction, a paper construct, can hold religious beliefs, an absurd position, insulting to every religion, that our Supreme Court has now posited as true.

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Gordon Howie's guest writer Brad Ford continues to make no sense. In his latest failed attempt at coherence, Ford quotes columnist Robert Scheer, who calls Iraq "George W. Bush's horrifying legacy" and says "the Republican attempt to shift the blame to the Obama presidency is obscene nonsense." Ford skips that part but seems (we must always use this word with Ford, because I have yet to read an essay by Ford that makes its thesis clear) to conclude that Muslim uprisings in the Middle East are healthy responses to evil Western democracy and secularism.

Iraq would be in much better shape, Ford seems to contend, if Christians ran the West:

Christianity in the West has been marginalized, fully separated from the managerial elite that runs the secular government.  Perhaps the unstated plan is to turn church services into mere “fellowship” gatherings, a pacification that won’t challenge extreme libertarian and secular changes to society.  Will, then, the Sunni and Shia be the only moral counterweight willing to fight against secular oppression? [Brad Ford, "Robert Scheer’s Iraq: Religion’s Last Stand against Secular Imperialism," The Right Side, 2014.06.22]

Ford's effort to shoehorn his craving for theocracy and his odium for liberal America into every issue leads him into absurdities like his suggestion that the Sunni extremists in Iraq represent a good and noble counterweight to bad old secular democracy. It also leads him to abuse the works of other authors which he co-opts for support but which make very different points. Scheer says Iraq, Syria, and Libya were better off under the full control of their secular leaders. Scheer says "radical discontent" in the Middle East arises not solely from religious tensions but also from "stagnant economies and frustrated nationalism" made worse not by secularism or democracy but by centuries of imperialists who fancied themselves "crusaders for enlightenment."

Crusaders... hey, Brad, you know where language like that comes from, don't you?

We can only hope that if Mike Rounds, Rick Weiland, and Larry Pressler all destroy each other and Gordon Howie somehow wins the Senate seat, he won't be appointing Brad Ford as his speechwriter or policy advisor.

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Independent U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Howie gleefully presents his new campaign bumper sticker:

GodGunsGordon2014

God, guns, and Gordon—ah, yes, a perfect triumvirate of things that are mostly useless when it comes to solving practical policy problems.

But that's o.k.: you don't want voters like that anyway, do you, Mike Rounds?

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To prove that interviewing me raises the IQ of his Web-TV program by 40 points, Gordon Howie publishes our lively conversations about federal spending and debt and the Second Amendment with this dreary fluff-fest with District 35 GOP House candidate Lynne Hix-DiSanto:

Notice that at not one point do Howie and DiSanto, talk about any specific policy issue or practical solution. They are simply singing in the shower together, reciting Glenn-Beck karaoke par excellence as if they were less interested in running for public office than auditioning for guest host spots on The 700 Club.

Howie and DiSanto take a moment to regurgitate the popular conservative co-opting of tolerance, groaning that we liberals don't extend tolerance to right-wingers like themselves because we're really just using tolerance as a backdoor assault on faith and freedom.

First, I don't preach tolerance as an absolute or primary value, so I don't bite the critique.

But you are right, Lynne: liberals like me are hugely intolerant of conservatives like you... but not because we are waging some absurd war on faith and freedom. I haven't needed faith yet, but I haven't seen the need to take it away from anyone else. Even when theocrats like you and Gordon try to violate the First Amendment by forcing your personal Jesus into government, I don't respond by trying to convert you to atheism; I just respond by fighting your effort to use the state to proselytize for your religion. I don't have to tolerate your theocracy.

Nor do I have to tolerate your vacuity. In this five minutes of video time, DiSanto says nothing practical or intelligible about politics. She mostly nods in wide-eyed wonderment and Howie's pronouncements—six out of seven of her responses begin with some form of "Absolutely, yes it does," or "I completely agree with you," suggesting DiSanto brought no original thoughts to the show, just reflections of whatever Howie is saying about half-full glasses and oxygen and government.

For a taste of DiSanto's tasteless, calorie-free Bosworthian word salad, consider this exchange toward the end of the video, with my mouse-roll-over annotations:

DiSanto: I agree, Gordon. And truly I just believe that our country at this time more than ever with so many of the serious situations we're facing around the world, now is the time that we need to really come back to that faith and remember what america was built on and why are we here, what is the purpose of America, the greatest country on earth, where would America, where would the world be if it were not for America and the principles that it was founded on? The world would look much different.

Howie: Well, And it's becoming a world that looks very different isn't it?

DiSanto: It definitely is, absolutely. I just heard lately that no longer is America considered a superpower by the other countries, because of the fact that we have walked away from our faith, and therefore many people see that we have lost our status in the world.

Howie: We not only lose our status, but we lose our bearings, because really, America still is one nation under God [Gordon Howie and Lynee Hix-DiSanto, interview, Liberty Today, 2014.06.08].

District 35, I know Lynne Hix-DiSanto is a snappy dresser, and she loves Jesus. But could you please, please, pretty please, elect someone else, someone who grasps the real practical issues on which the Legislature can act to make life better in the Black Hills and across South Dakota?

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Gordon Howie believes David Brat's primary upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia's Seventh District bodes well for Howie's hard Indy climb against Mike Rounds for South Dakota's U.S. Senate seat:

While this is being tagged as a “tea party” win, Brat affirms that the real victory came from his uncompromising support of the Republican Party platform, which deals with less government control, free market solutions and faith in God.

When given a clear choice between an establishment candidate with lots of money and a conservative with a commitment to principle, voters will continue to choose principle over politics [Gordon Howie, "Howie Says Cantor Loss Indicates Big Trouble for Mike Rounds," campaign press release, 2014.06.11].

As was the case in his April interview with me, Howie appears to assert that he can win Independent votes with "uncompromising" Republican principles. I feel a disconnect there.

Gordon Howie graphic, celebrating Dave Brat's primary victory over Eric Cantor, June 13, 2014

Gordon Howie graphic, celebrating Dave Brat's primary victory over Eric Cantor, June 13, 2014

So does my friend Leo Kallis, who sees Howie alienating everyone to his left (which is 98% of us) with his standard hard theo-right pitches unmodulated for an Independent run. Contrary to the heavenly graphic Howie glues to his underdog devotional, Brat's primary win is not an Easter parable or a fulfillment of Christian poster prophecy. This Christian God I keep hearing about is not registered to vote in Virginia or anywhere else and probably does not need any economics professor or former thrift shop owner to win an election to save His Creation.

Like Howie, Brat mixes too much Jesus juice with his politics, and mixes it badly. In this September 2011 paper on usury and capitalism, which Union Theological Seminary must have been asleep at its editorial switch to allow on the pages of its journal Interpretation, Brat mashes bits of his education (master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, Ph.D. in economics from American University) into something that reads more like an exuberant if uncomfortable stump speech-revival tent mashup than a scholarly essay on either theology or economics.

Brat blithely dismisses contemporary Christian critiques of usury as inconsistent leftist attempts to devilishly cite Scripture for their purpose. (I would love to hear Brat's response to the usury critique offered by our own brave pastor and Republican state legislator Steve Hickey.) Those darned leftists just want to dismantle capitalism, says Brat, and that's a non-starter, because, by God, capitalism is awesome and it's here to stay:

The answer to usury is likely a good proxy for the answer to where one stands on capitalism. And there, my friends, we have a good story, because that is the story of our day. Capitalism is the major organizing force in modern life, whether we like it or not. It is here to stay. If the sociologists ever grasp this basic fact, their enterprise will be much more fruitful. We set alarm clocks to follow the schedule of the market. Children leave their families to follow the job market. We often weigh our social worth by looking to market wages, salaries, and consumption patterns. We spend much more time on market activity than God activity. Thus, Calvinism [David Brat, "God and Advanced Mammon—Can
Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?," Interpretation, September 2011].

Worth noting: Brat's opponent, Jack Trammell, teaches sociology.

More worth noting: dissolving families, defining self-worth by money and consumption, and spending more time shopping than praying and serving God all sound pretty unChristian. But instead of offering a proper pulpit-y critique of capitalism's undermining of the church, Brat tells his fellow believers that "capitalism is here to stay, and we need a church model that corresponds to that reality."

That's funny. I thought Christians, like Jesus, always put ought above is. I thought Christians were supposed to upset the apple cart and not give in to the awesome, inevitable, unbeatable Goliath... which is what David Brat says Christians did with Rome:

Rome was hard to budge. Jesus did not go after Rome, but a few hundred years later, Rome was a Christian empire [Brat, 2011].

Back in 33 A.D., lots of people said, "Rome is here to stay." Lots of Roman subjects would have said then what Brat says of the capitalist empire today: that it does all sorts of good (ecce aquæductum!), that we should fit our religion to it, Hail Caesar!

Jesus said pay your taxes, but he didn't embrace empire the way Brat does... and the way, dare I say, Howie does. Entangling Christianity and Empire didn't go well for the Church then (thus, Luther!), and it won't go well for believers now.

Gordon Howie will have trouble winning Independents. With his Hail-Mary triumphalism about Brat's win and Brat's principles, he may not even win conservative Christians trying to get their theology right.

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