Friday, December 23, 2011


By Sarah Torres

President Barack Obama is considering granting a broader exemption to religious organizations from rules that require health insurance issuers to provide women with free contraceptives – including those which cause early abortions – sterilizations and related education and counseling, all of which are prohibited by the Catholic Church.  Catholic Belmont Abbey College is suing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over the rule, and more than 18 Catholic colleges and groups have written HHS protesting the rule.  Many Protestant groups can also be expected to object to the mandate because of their objection to contraceptives which cause early abortions.

The current rule, implementing Obamacare, exempts religious organizations whose purpose is the inculcation of religious values and that employ and serve primarily persons who share those religious beliefs.  The organization must also be non-profit as defined by the Internal Revenue Code.

Religious hospitals, charitable service organizations, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, adoption agencies and colleges are not exempted under the rule.

For most religious organizations, the inculcation of religious values is only one purpose, and many of them employ and serve people who do not share their beliefs.  As the Becket Fund points out, religious hospitals, charitable service organizations, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, adoption agencies and colleges have a long history of feeding the hungry, educating children, providing medical care in hospitals, and providing other much-needed social services to those who need them most.

Without a true exemption for religious organizations, the rule violates the First Amendment to the United States Constitution which says that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.  Religious groups’ refusal to support contraceptives, including abortifacients, and related counseling, constitutes a religious exercise.

The rule also violates religious organizations’ First Amendment freedom of speech rights by forcing them to pay for education and counseling that conflicts with their religious beliefs and teachings against pre-marital sex, contraception, sterilization and abortion.

“A monk at Belmont Abbey may preach on Sunday that pre-marital sex, contraception, and abortions are immoral, but on Monday, the government forces him to pay for students to receive the very drugs and procedures he denounced,” says Hannah Smith, Senior Legal Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty which represents Belmont.

The penalty for non-compliance – heavy yearly fines and a prohibition on offering health plans altogether – would put religious groups at such a competitive disadvantage to attract sufficient staff and students that they could be forced to close, says the Becket Fund, leaving many of the poor without needed services.

The New York Times reports that Democrats in Congress object to broadening the exemption, saying it would keep contraception out of reach for millions of women.  NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan has said, “Birth control is essential for women’s health,” according to the Washington Times.

Even if free contraceptives are essential to women’s health, obtaining them does not depend on forcing religious groups to provide them against their sincerely held moral convictions.  Those who truly cannot afford contraceptives can either obtain them at family planning clinics funded by Title X of the Public Health Service Act or move to a non-objecting employer or college.

All employers, whether operating for profit or not, and whether or not they serve or employ people who share their religious beliefs, have a Constitutional right to the exercise of their religion unburdened by the government.  Insurance companies have a right not to offer such coverage, and individuals have the right not to enroll in such coverage.

Zimmerman: Honoring King while shutting out Jesus reeks of hypocrisy

I've witnessed the success of the political war against Christmas in public school in my own generation. I remember well the excitement and joy of my fourth-grade public school Christmas party in 1970 (complete with nativity scenes of the infant Jesus), but in 2008 I experienced the virtual prohibition of even a secular Christmas party for my fourth-grade daughter in the neighborhood public school.
Contemplating the motivation of government school bureaucrats and politicians for the gradual repression of Christmas over the decades led me to examine the public schools' treatment of two well-known political and religious figures — one Jesus of Nazareth and one Martin Luther King Jr. I conclude that the motivation has to do with justifying and consolidating government power, which bureaucrats must consider easier to do with the life of King than with the life of Christ.

It's first necessary to demonstrate a war on Christmas exists, as a chorus of secular voices claim there is no such war.  Consider the Plano school district "candy cane" case. The district in December 2004 instructed parents that they could only supply white plates and white napkins for the "Winter Break Party," that red and green were to be avoided at all costs, that a ban on the words "Merry Christmas" should be observed, that candy cane pens and other "religious oriented items" should be prohibited on "school property" (as if that property belongs to government bureaucrats, instead of the parents and taxpayers who paid for it), and other such extreme absurdities.  This month, the Fort Worth school district issued a memo saying schools cannot "endorse or sponsor any religious activity or doctrine" and that "students should not be allowed to exchange gifts or distribute personal holiday messages." The arrogance here is the implication that respect for individual choices — arbitrarily labeled "religious activity" — amounts to government endorsement or sponsorship of such choices, and I believe that is the key to understanding the government's war on Christmas.  It's as if freedom of individual conscience and choice, and the appeal to a higher authority (either one's God, or one's individual conscience) for justification of that choice, offends a power hungry, womb-to-tomb government that demands the dependence of, and obedience from, the people it aims to control.

Consider Jesus and King, and school policy toward recognizing these two men.
Most honest scholars and educators recognize Jesus as the "greatest teacher who ever lived" — who by example, not coercive political force, changed history immeasurably for the better. Christ was bitterly opposed by the most powerful religious forces of his day — forces which eventually collaborated with the hated Roman political state to have Jesus executed without legal cause.
In like manner, Martin Luther King was a spiritual and organizational force in an effective crusade against discrimination that had powerful religious and political overtones.
King, the Baptist minister who quoted Christ in his sermons and political writings, was jailed 20 times, stabbed in the chest, had his home firebombed, endured countless religious and political attacks, and was eventually assassinated.

So we should question why King — a Baptist minister and student of Christ — is universally honored by the Austin school district in an "annual celebration honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King," while the life and legacy of Christ is universally ignored, and Christmas virtually prohibited.  A key to understanding this might be seen in a Beacon Publishing commentary: "with a universal message of hope that continues to resonate, King demanded an end to global suffering, powerfully asserting that humankind — for the first time — has the resources and technology to eradicate poverty."  If one accepts this humanistic assertion that King trusted "humankind" exerting collective political force, rather than Christ working individualized personal transformations, as the best hope for humanity, then it would make sense that government would embrace this King as morally justifying ever increasing government control — including the repression of Christ and Christmas.

I certainly don't consider myself knowledgeable enough about Jesus Christ or Martin Luther King yet, but it's already evident that the public school engages in a dangerous hypocrisy when it censors Santa for an affiliation with Christ, while endorsing a political agenda it affiliates with King.

Zimmerman is a Travis County member of the Texas State Republican Executive Committee.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dec 2-3rd (2011) Texas SREC Meeting Report (Don Zimmerman, SD-14)

A number of interesting issues came up at this meeting, which was one of the longest meetings ever -- the meeting started at 9 AM and was adjourned at around 7 PM.  These are the highlights as I noted them:
1. Discussion and approval of Texas GOP budget for 2012 -
State Chairman Steve Munisteri presented a 2012 State GOP budget which is around $105k per month; the budget was approved with minimal discussion.

2. Consideration of SREC By-Law changes for legislative reports -
On the contentious issue of “scorecards” or "legislative reports" or whatever “accountability” directive you want to call it, that was based in the June, 2010 Platform Directive - which grassroots Republicans have been chewing on for months, the SREC rejected any SREC by-law change (to Art. 9, Sec 3-4) to provide an exception for such SREC approved reports.  The by-law change which came out of the Rules Committee (chaired by Dan Pickens) wasn't as simple, or as strong, as the rule change proposed by Mr. Halvorsen last meeting (which more closely resembled the simple changes passed by some County GOP Executive Committees), but it certainly did capture the essence of making exception to allow SREC legislative reports to move forward.  The vote was 32 – 28 in favor of by-law change, but a 2/3rds majority is required to change by-laws, so it fell short.  I was on the losing side of that by-law vote.  Someone immediately moved for a recorded (roll call) vote on that by-law change – I voted for a recorded vote, but it also failed, 12 for - 39 against.  My SD-14 colleague voted opposite to me on both these issues (and on most other issues of the day), which means, all SD-14 Republican positions got a vote on the crucial issues, no matter what their position.
The other matter on this issue regarded an opinion from a committee led by RPT counsel, "clarifying" that a platform plank could not require or compel actions of others (or something to this effect).  The clarification wasn't completely clear to many of us, and after some debate it was postponed (until a later, unspecified SREC meeting) by a vote of 37 for postponing, 17 against.
3. Discussion of court action nullifying the Texas legislature's redistricting --
Paul Bettencourt (former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector) gave an extensive review of the redistricting, mentioning several times that the San Antonio court's redrawing of lines is so egregiously lopsided in Democrat's favor that even a Democrat controlled state legislature would not be able to pass it.  There is a possibility the US Supreme Court could reverse the new maps, but Bettencourt believes it's likely the Texas legislature will end up redrawing maps in 2013; it's looking like a repeat of what happened 10 years ago.  Bettencourt also argued effectively to make redistricting one of the top 5 Primary Ballot Initiatives.

4. Selection of March 2012 primary ballot issues -
The Resolution Committee reported that about 58 (non-duplicate) potential issues were submitted to that Committee; the Committee also discussed and recommended approval of a Resolution for the State Chairman to ".... assemble a special political team to garner statewide public support..." for the the redistricting issue.  That resolution was easily passed.
The Resolution Committee discussed numerous issues and recommend five issues to the SREC for ratification:
School Choice
Repeal of Obamacare
Public Prayer
Balanced Budget & Limited Government Growth
Enforcement of Immigration Laws * (the SREC body substituted issue on Redistricting)

Considerable debate and language alteration was done, and a redistricting issue was substituted for the immigration issue; other than that the issues above were approved.  Final ballot language will be reported in official SREC minutes.

5. Consideration of "censure resolution" for incumbent Upshur County Republican Chairman -

Later in the evening, Steve Findley (SD-1) introduced a group of about 10 people (mostly precinct chairs) who drove down from Upshur County to present a case for censuring the Upshur County (a rural county at the north east Texas border with Oklahoma) incumbent Republican Chairman.  The debate on this issue was evenly divided and passionate, and a number of close votes were taken, and considerable time was taken considering whether the motion of censure was out of order.  In my view, since we had argued for months about whether the SREC should do official “reports” or scorecards, and the SREC has just said no earlier in the day, I could not follow how was it that they would now consider an official censure of an incumbent Republican Chairman.  I’ve been hearing about the Upshur County problems for about a year, and my sense was the Upshur County chair was similar (if not worse) to the former Travis County chair's behavior (2000 – 2008), but since the SREC already voted “NO” on issuing reports for incumbents, it made no sense for us to give the Upshur County chair an official censure – which I’d say the average Republican primary voter would consider a report card of “F”.  After losing the fight to change by-laws so we could issue report cards to incumbent legislators, I felt it my responsibility to oppose issuing a report card to the incumbent Upshur County chair, so I voted to uphold the point of order ruling the “censure” out of order, and later voted against the censure resolution itself.  

After hours of contentious debate, the censure eventually passed.

After a few other items were quickly decided, the meeting was adjourned at around 7 PM.

Special note of commendation goes out to Chairman Steve Munisteri, who in my observation presided over a long and contentious meeting with impressive skill;  as an SREC member on the losing side of many votes, I still commend the chairman for conducting the meeting with remarkable fairness.

Don Zimmerman
SD-14 Committeeman