Shutdown Preys upon Chaplains
Service members regularly tell me that one of the biggest challenges facing them today are the restrictions on religious expression that have become widespread in the military. Just today I was speaking with a family member of a military officer who said the officer has to be very careful that none of their emails include any reference to God or Jesus Christ for fear of reprimand. You'll recall last month, the U.S. Air Force threatened Master Sgt. Philip Monk with court martial after he refused his lesbian commanders' demand that he endorse same-sex "marriage." Dozens of such religious liberty infringements are documented in FRC's new report A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military.
This growing religious hostility has become especially problematic for military chaplains who are tasked with providing spiritual leadership for the troops. In the last three years, chaplains have reported the censorship of their public prayers, an essay and even sermons. On Friday, we learned that some chaplains had been threatened with arrest. The Archdiocese for the Military Services reported that dozens of Catholic chaplains were furloughed due to the government shutdown. Both Fox News and CNS News reported that at least one chaplain was told "that if he engaged in any ministry activity, he would be subjected to disciplinary action" which could include arrest.
On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) prompted Congress to respond, quickly approving a resolution (400-1) that the Department of Defense (DOD) should respect the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion and allow military chaplains to perform their duties during the shutdown. The very need for such a congressional action once again points to the environment of hostility to which chaplains are being subjected. In the previous 17 government shutdowns, the DOD was mindful of the free exercise of religion required by the U.S. Constitution. However, under the Obama administration, chaplains are viewed as no different than any other member of the labor force rather than the spiritual leaders that they've always been.
What does it say about the Obama-Hagel Pentagon when it bars chaplains from voluntarily ministering to the troops and their families? I believe the answer lies in the shifting paradigm within the Pentagon which has repeatedly demonstrated a bias against the constitutional right to religious expression. While the Department of Defense moved quickly to furlough and threaten Catholic chaplains, the department has not yet implemented the religious freedom protections enacted in last year's National Defense Authorization Act. Enough is enough. It's time to shut down this culture of religious intimidation.
To the Ceiling on a Debt Airplane
Our national debt is the accumulation of what the federal government owes. It includes everything from "intergovernmental loans" for Social Security spending to the money we've borrowed from other countries (which accounts for about 52 percent of our nearly $17 trillion debt). Washington adds to this debt annually by spending more than it takes in, thus creating a deficit between expenses and resources that gets added, every year, to the overall debt. According to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, as of October 17, the government will have "only approximately $30 billion to meet our country's commitments. This amount would be far short of net expenditures ... If we have insufficient cash on hand, it would be impossible for the United States of America to meet all of its obligations for the first time in our history."
In practical terms, what does this mean? One commentator has put it this way: "Why not be honest and say 'the government wouldn't be able to pay all of its bills' rather than the over-dramatic nonsense that 'we will default on our debt'?"
We can and we will service our debt. The federal government takes in on average $206 billion a month. The average monthly interest on our debt that we must pay is $35 billion. Within that $206 billion we can also pay our social security obligations, our active duty military and other government essentials. Repo Man is not going to be showing up on Capitol Hill ready to cart the country away. What is problematic about the current crisis is that our debt has become unsustainable without massive, ongoing borrowing that devalues the currency, creates dependency, and itself only adds to the aggregate debt. The conservatives on Capitol Hill must hold their ground and demand that the federal government reduce spending by eliminating wasteful and intrusive federal programs.
On Deck at the Court
Despite the Government shutdown, the Supreme Court began its next term today. Some of the cases the Court will entertain involve questions about campaign finance laws, and equal protection cases. Another case of importance which is connected to the Senate's "nuclear option" on nominations deals with whether or not President Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were valid when the Senate was not in session.
Also on the docket is a case involving human life in which Oklahoma passed legislation to require that the abortion-inducing drug, RU-486, can be used only according to the drug's FDA-approved guidelines. Often this drug is prescribed off-label, despite the fact that this dangerous drug has caused thousands of adverse events for women, including the death of at least 12 Americans.
On the issue of religious liberty, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. In this case, an anti-prayer activist filed suit alleging that the practice of opening official meetings with prayer was a violation of the Establishment Clause. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, even though people of all faiths were welcome to offer their own prayers.
It is also possible that the Court will hear cases involving the HHS Mandate regulation under ObamaCare, which forces employers to provide health coverage that includes contraceptives and sterilization services -- even if they object on religious grounds. Of the over 70 lawsuits against the government, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a petition on behalf of Conestoga Wood Specialties, to the Supreme Court, and the same day the Department of Justice urged the Court to hear the Hobby Lobby Case. Conestoga Wood is owned by the Hahns, a Christian family that opposes the mandate. While much of the news today continues to discuss the government shutdown and Congress's next move, the Supreme Court will again rule on cases crucial to our freedoms. For more on what's ahead at the Supreme Court, read FRC's Ken Klukowski's roundup at Breitbart.com.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.