Troops, Trouble, and Treasure
The service members tuning in to tomorrow's Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field may have another reason to cheer. Before jetting off to celebrate Christmas, House members delivered their own package: a Defense Authorization bill that takes some of the uncertainty out of military pay, weapons programs, conscience protections, and other key national security projects. "This legislation pays our troops and their families," said House Armed Services Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.). "It keeps our Navy fleet sailing and military aircraft flying."
After being bottled up in the Senate for weeks, House and Senate negotiators moved to plan B -- a compromise measure that improves the bill's chances of passing before the end of the year. By 350-69, members gave the proposal a thumbs-up, leaving the Senate to uphold its end of the bargain on the $625.1 billion legislation before adjourning next week. In the version passed by the House, service members would finally have the new religious liberty protections they need to combat the climate of religious oppression in the ranks. Senators of both parties have already signaled support for the protection of religious expression, which is a positive step forward in ensuring that military personnel have the same accommodations as the people they fight to protect.
One reason such statutory protections are necessary is because of the civilians President Obama has selected to run the military -- individuals like Deborah Lee James, his pick for Air Force Secretary. Last night, during Sen. Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) confirmation-palooza, the Senate moved closer to confirming James in a 58-39 cloture vote that makes her appointment a certainty. While no one seems to know how James will handle the discrimination against service men and women of faith, Americans are painfully aware of how the President's other nominee would respond: Chai Feldblum.
For the last few years, Feldblum has headed up the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after a controversial recess appointment. A self-proclaimed homosexual activist, she not only wrote the deceptively named "Employment Non-Discrimination Act" (ENDA), but vowed to implement it if Congress didn't pass it! In one of her most outrageous statements, Feldblum insisted that when homosexual rights clash with religious liberty, she had "a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win." Unfortunately, this time around, the President's radical EEOC head will be a slam dunk in a "post-nuclear" Senate -- and Thursday's 54-41 cloture vote proved it.
In the flurry of business on the Hill, the House also managed to wrap up its part of the Ryan-Murray budget deal. After passing 332-94, the controversial agreement now ping-pongs to the Senate, where members are just as frustrated by the bill's terms. If the nature of compromise is to disappoint everyone, then this bill succeeds. Republicans are fiercely divided over the two-year, two trillion-dollar plan, which promises modest deficit reduction in exchange for pushing spending above the sequester caps.
Finding Jesus at the Air Force
This Christmas, it's not away in a manger, it's away goes the manger. That was the case at Shaw Air Force base, where a plastic baby Jesus almost caused an international incident. The installation's nativity, which was an annual tradition, was abruptly moved when a group of Airmen supposedly complained that the display amounted to an endorsement of religion.
Today, the holy family is back in its rightful place -- the victim of an Obama Pentagon overreach that Shaw officials say has since been corrected. According to theSouth Carolina base, commanders were never alerted to the problem by the Airmen themselves but by the Defense Department, which was acting on a missive from the anti-Christian crusaders at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Within hours, Pentagon officials ordered Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus to be put under wraps. Shaw officials had a better idea: moving the manger to the chapel. Until then, the scene had to be covered in a tarp -- lest more Airmen be traumatized.
The Air Force responded with another statement, backtracking on the decision and encouraging other faith groups to put up a holiday display. "These are bullies," Sen. Rick Santorum said on Greta Van Susteren's Fox show. "The a knee-jerk reaction in this country that anyone who complains about anything religious is to back off, and that's where it has to change. And the only way that's going to change is for people who want to see religious liberty celebrated in this country to get more aggressive with these folks..." Van Susteren, who, like Santorum, is also an attorney, said it was stunning that the Pentagon could justify ousting the display. "If a lawyer for the Air Force reads [its own rules] then the lawyer for the Air Force would tell the Air Force say, 'leave the nativity alone.' No constitutional or Air Force regulation would justify removing it."
With the manger scene back, Shaw officials are savoring the victory. In the meantime, it's a sad commentary on our country when a demilitarized zone had to be created on a military base for Baby Jesus. Obviously, this is much more than a war on Christmas -- it's a war on the freedom of religious expression. Where we can find encouragement is in the growing number of Americans willing to take a stand in these controversies. The reason we're hearing about so many of these attacks is not necessarily because they've increased, but because more people -- both civilians and members of the military, are saying, "enough is enough!" And in the end, that's the only way to win this war.
Cross Eyed in Veterans' Case
In California, atheists are waging war in some pretty high places -- 822 feet above San Diego, to be exact. There, in a beautiful memorial overlooking the ocean, rises a tall white cross. For decades, it's stood on that spot as a peaceful guard to the legacy of our soldiers. Two thousand seven hundred plaques sit in its shadow--memorials to men and women who fought for the very freedom the Mount Soledad cross represents. But the Left, which apparently has nothing better to do than complain about a few acres of public property, is doing everything it can to bulldoze the display.
Since 1989, liberals have gone out of their way to be offended by the Memorial, which has culminated in an explosive, quarter-century lawsuit. This week, the case took another turn, as a federal judge had no choice but to order the famous cross to be removed from the memorial. As FRC's Ken Klukowski explains in a new Breitbart column, Judge Larry Alan Burns seemed to choke up as he read the edict declaring the cross an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity. He, like most of us, is no doubt saddened by the precedent of the Ninth Circuit, which binds his hands under its radical interpretation of the Establishment Clause.
Under the ruling, veterans have 90 days to remove the cross. Fortunately, the veterans' attorneys don't plan on giving up on the case any time soon. After 24 years, Liberty Institute is committed to taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court -- if that's what it takes to protect the rights of believers that these veterans fought to secure. "It's the least we can do," said Liberty's Hiram Sasser, "for those who gave so much to us all."
** Masterpiece Cakes's owner Jack Phillips risks losing a lot more than his business for taking a principled stand on marriage. Read why in Ken Klukowski's "Baker Faces Prison for Refusing to Bake Same-sex Wedding Cake."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.