Ken’s Take on the World


Resisting 45!!

For those of you who follow me on Facebook or on Twitter, and those of you who have read my blogs on WordPress, you know that I have expressed opposition to many of the things that candidate Trump, and now President Trump, has done. I have also expressed opposition to many of the positions and legislation advocated by elected Republicans including the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) and the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). As a result of statements I have made, I have recently noted a number of folks who support the current President reply to these statements on social media with a variation of “Well, what have Democrats proposed?” Or, “Democrats will continue to lose elections if they have no policy position to promote and only function as an anti-Trump party!” Comments such as these are beyond annoying as they are simply the comments made by talking heads in the pseudo-conservative media environment and completely ignore the realities of what is happening in our American democracy.

 

Let me address the comments about Democrats losing elections, first. In the 2016 Presidential election, the Democrat, Hillary Rodham Clinton earned nearly three million more votes than her Republican rival in the general election. Of course, her opponent has claimed that millions of illegal votes were cast and that he, without providing any evidence to support his claims, actually won the popular vote. This is a position that is still supported by many of his most stalwart supporters. Likewise, only 33% of Republicans agree with the evidence that Russia, specifically, interfered with US election processes in 2016. This is in stark contrast to what Democrats and Independents believe on the matter of Russian interference in the election. The Republican view also stands in contrast to what US and foreign intelligence services have confirmed which is that Russia, and groups affiliated with the Russian government, made a concerted effort to interfere with the US Presidential election in 2016.

 

With regard to Congressional races and state legislative races, multiple studies and commentary here, here, and here have demonstrated that a major culprit contributing to the makeup of legislative bodies is a result of how district maps are drawn. Several reports including this interesting study looked at whether Democrats or Republicans tended to produce more gerrymandered districts when entrusted with the responsibility of drawing lines. While these demonstrate a modest benefit for Republicans currently, this does not explain the entirety of GOP gains at the legislative levels. Furthermore, gerrymandering does not impact races for state governors as these are decided strictly upon a popular vote within the particular state. Other factors are clearly at play in these elections as well. This brief primer demonstrates some of the changes in voting trends since the early 1900’s. The role of media, specifically Fox News, also appears to drive some of the support for Republican candidates as researched in this older piece by the National Bureau of Economic Research position paper.

 

This May poll from Pew demonstrates the largest historical gap between Democrats and Republicans on the role of the media in providing news and information. This January analysis from Pew found that Trump voters received the bulk of their news/information from Fox News. Among Clinton supporters, no single news or information source provided the bulk of decision-making input. A report from December 2016 pointed out bipartisan concerns relating to the role of “fake” news and its negative impacts. Coincidentally, a fact check of leading political pundits finds that pseudo-conservative pundits have more false statements (> 50%) than progressive/liberal commentators.

 

The second point to address is this very recent claim I have been seeing that Democrats have no agenda other than to oppose the current President and his efforts. This claim is puzzling, not because it is simply what has been put forth by pseudo-conservative talking heads over the past couple of months, but because it is simply false. Democrats are united in their opposition to simply rolling back all of the advancements that were made under the previous Administration. A review of President Trump’s Executive Orders demonstrate the majority of EO’s he has signed thus far are to repeal EO’s signed under the Obama, and to a lesser extent, the Bush (43) Administrations. Even the centerpiece of his legislative agenda thus far, the repeal (and replacement) of the Affordable Care Act, is not a new proposal but merely the rescinding of an Obama-era achievement.

 

It is hypocritical to suggest Democrats do not have anything of value to contribute to the legislative process when they are not even invited to participate in the drafting of legislation that would impact nearly 1/6th of the entire US economy. Republicans, when their healthcare proposals faltered caused folks like Majority Leader McConnell to state that the GOP might have to work with Democrats if they were unable to gather enough votes from their own side of the aisle. As if working across the aisle is a distasteful act that should be avoided at all costs. The fact the Republican proposals from the House and the Senate would be harmful to the most vulnerable of Americans, including large numbers of Trump voters, ensured Democrats would not support these measures. Republicans spent the last eight years obstructing the efforts of President Obama. Democrats have not even had to seriously obstruct the efforts of President Trump. His failure of leadership has meant that even the majority Republican Congress cannot get legislation to his desk.

 

The progressive agenda remains committed to improving the lives of working Americans and their families by reducing tax burdens on the middle and working class, providing educational opportunities for all, and ensuring affordable, accessible healthcare for every American. Democrats have supported an increase to the Federal Minimum Wage, equality for all Americans, the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain, the right of women to decide what medical care is appropriate for themselves, and improving the ease of voting in democratic elections. Considering that the Republican Party opposes these things, I can understand why there are some who think that opposition to the current President and the GOP legislative agenda is demonstrative of a lack of a political agenda. It is, I assure you, not the case. Refusing to stand by while pseudo-conservatives roll back advancements that have been made for the environment, for our kids, for the elderly, for the economy, for the working class, for the sick, and for our veterans is actually part of an agenda. An agenda that continues to maintain that the United States is a great nation that will continue to get better. If only the Republican Party would finally climb aboard that train. Until then, I will resist!!

Advertisements


Healthcare: Privilege or Right?

As Republicans struggle to obtain enough votes in the US Senate to pass their version of a bill (Better Care Reconciliation Act) that was originally brought forward to repeal, and replace, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) much focus has been placed upon the economic costs and the personal costs to those who would be affected should this legislation become enacted into law.  As one who has paid attention to the debate over healthcare access for the past three decades, I have been thinking of a much deeper question that we should be asking of ourselves as it would, perhaps, better drive the debate over this legislation.  The question that each of us should ask is this:  Should healthcare be considered a privilege, a commodity, that should be available only to those who can afford such care or, should it be considered a necessary right for every person that must be protected, and assured by government?

 

When I have posed this question to those who express opposition to the ACA, the most common response that I receive is that healthcare should be treated as any other service that a person would seek out.  The most common support offered for this position is that every person receiving services should be required to pay for such services.  To bolster this claim, these critics argue that it is not fair to expect others to pay for services that they receive.  On its face this appears to be a reasonable argument that must be considered.  After all, you wouldn’t take your car to a mechanic and not be expected to pay for repairs or maintenance on your vehicle.  You don’t take your family to a restaurant and expect to receive free food, do you?  You wouldn’t call an air conditioning repair person and expect to not receive a bill for the parts and services provided, would you?  These criticisms appear to suggest that healthcare services and products are no different than whether or not your vehicle or your heating and cooling systems at home are functional.  This is a false and illogical argument.

 

When one dines out at a restaurant, one knows what they can afford and if they are unable to afford to dine at a certain establishment they simply eat dinner at home or at a less expensive restaurant.  When your air conditioner is on the fritz, if you do not have the money available for repairs, you will need to open your windows, use fans, or other methods of staying cool.  For those with underlying health conditions in which extreme heat is dangerous, communities provide cooling centers, or family and friends are often able to step in to provide temporary shelter until the air conditioning is repaired.  Even if a new central air system must be installed, the cost is almost always going to be less than $5,000 USD.  Many heating and cooling companies will also finance this amount to keep costs manageable.  Similarly, if you need repairs on your automobile, you can determine what are the most crucial and pay for those and defer other repairs until later.  Or, your community may have decent public transportation available.  Or, you may be able to car-pool to work or use a ride-sharing service.

 

Healthcare, unlike these other services, is not a commodity that can simply be delayed in many cases.  I have frequently likened the provision of healthcare as an essential service that must be available to every single person.  Similar to a community that provides fire departments and trained personnel to operate this life-saving equipment.  Or, law enforcement agencies that respond to safety or criminal complaints.  Or, military agencies like the Coast Guard who respond to emergencies on our nation’s waterways.  We don’t bat an eye when we are asked to fund these critical services.  As a society, we have come to realize these are critical pieces of infrastructure that exist for the benefit of each of us even if we never need to directly use these services.  Why, then, do we look at healthcare differently?

When I have attempted to discern how so-called conservatives continue to maintain the position that healthcare is a commodity, and not a right, in addition to the arguments about paying for services and the burdens of having to pay for those who cannot afford these services, they remind me that healthcare services are already provided to people in the nation’s Emergency Departments (ED) regardless of one’s ability to pay for such care.  This, then, implies there is, in fact, some existential right to healthcare.  When I point out this inconsistency in logic, one person actually mentioned that fewer (uninsured) people seek medical care as if this implies lower costs to taxpayers.  The problem with this (il)logic is that while uninsured individuals are far less likely to present to a primary care physician in the community setting, they are far more likely to present to an ED for treatment of conditions that can be much more effectively, and economically, managed in a community setting by a primary care physician.  This translates into significantly increased healthcare costs for all of us.  The average cost of an ED visit in the United States is nearly $2,200 based on a study described in “The Atlantic.”  Compare this to the average cost to a primary care provider (PCP) in the US which is only $100 based on an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (ARHQ) study by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

 

A review of multiple studies has demonstrated that access to health insurance is correlated with significantly improved health outcomes.  The review, published recently in the “New England Journal of Medicine” (NEJM), documents that improved healthcare outcomes are especially notable among pediatric patients.  Further, this review notes that not only are healthcare outcomes improved, but other measures of quality of life, including educational achievement, are improved with access to health insurance.  Other studies have demonstrated the significant economic consequences associated with illness.  I am not only speaking of the direct costs associated with providing medically-necessary care, but the impacts that illness and preventable injury have on individual and societal economic stability and growth.

 

I believe we must frame the debate over access to health insurance as one of a necessary right that must be protected by government actions.  Only then, will we be able to determine the most effective means of financing healthcare in the United States.



Tomahawks and Trump

A few days ago, President Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles to strike an air base in Syria.  Ostensibly, this was a response to the use of chemical weapons against the civilian populace.  Responses from critics and supporters have been mostly predictable.  Unfortunately, these responses miss crucial points.

 

The Constitutional conundrum:  Critics of the President’s actions point out that he lacks the Constitutional authority to initiate military actions without Congressional approval.  Article I, Section 8 clearly defines the role of Congress in declaring war.  Article II, Section 2, however, vests the authority of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces with the President.  Congress passed the War Powers Act (WPA) to permit a President to initiate military action to immediately protect “vital national interests.”  Since its inception, every President has used this as a justification for carrying out military actions.  President Trump is no different than Presidents Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, or Obama in claiming their actions are covered under this provision.  While it may be worthwhile to debate the legal merits of Trump’s justification, it is unlikely (particularly with a Republican Congress) that anything significant will come of this in the form of restricting legislation on a President’s authority under the WPA.  It is inconceivable the President acted against an imminent threat to crucial national interests that prevented him from seeking approval from Congress, as his predecessor did in 2013.  While Republicans in Congress rebuffed President Obama’s request for authorization of military force when President Assad used chemical weapons against his own citizens then, it is not clear how Congress would respond to a similar request made by the current President.

 

Moral maladaption:  Republican talking heads claim the President, even if lacking legal justification for launching an attack on Syrian territory, had a moral imperative to take action against the use of chemical weapons.  The President, himself, states that he was moved by the images of small children killed by the heinous use of such banned weapons.  I do not doubt that he, like the rest of us, was indeed moved by the horrific imagery of babies, children, women, and men suffering the effects of what appears to be the nerve agent, Sarin.  To suggest President Trump was not touched by these images is unfair to him.  We actually expect our President to act as a moral leader, promoting our values as a civilized nation.  A moral leader, however, would likely have sought the support of our allies in formulating a strong and clear message of condemnation on the use of chemical weapons rather than appearing to act impulsively, and alone, in carrying out an act of war that violates international norms.  There is an argument to be made that it is actually immoral for the President to order the launch of military actions that could lead to civilian casualties.  There is plenty of history of the United States, accidentally, or intentionally, launching military strikes that led to the deaths of many more women, babies, and children than the recent chemical attacks have caused.  A stronger counterargument to his supporters suggesting that Trump had a moral obligation to act would be to note that President Trump has repeatedly attempted to block all refugees from Syria entering the United States.  Perhaps, his rationale for striking the air base in Syria would ring less hollow had his ongoing efforts pertaining to the Syrian people not been construed as hostile to them and ambivalent toward the Syrian dictator.

 

Pocketbook penumbra:  To those who have suggested the President authorized use of Tomahawk missiles because he owns stock in Raytheon, the manufacturer, just stop!!  Of all the reasons one might consider for why the President selected this option, this is not going to be one of them.  While I have stated on multiple occasions that Donald Trump acts only in the interest of Donald Trump, even this claim is ridiculous to me.  Now, I will state that I am disappointed, make that disgusted, that with nearly $90 million in military weaponry launched into Syria the other day we did not even negatively impact the capabilities of the Syrian government to continue its air campaign against rebels for even a single day.  It is unclear whether we even sent an effective message deterring the regime from future use of chemical weapons in these strikes.

 

Donald’s doubletalk:  We know the current President changes his positions constantly.  We know that he lies and misleads.  In 2013, Donald Trump strongly opposed any military action in Syria.  He demanded then-President Obama seek approval from Congress prior to undertaking ANY military action in Syria even after it was confirmed the Assad regime had used chemical weapons against the Syrian people.  Why, then, would President Trump launch military strikes in Syria without prior notification of, and approval from, Congress.  President Obama actually DID seek approval from Congress to take action against Syria.  What, from a legal perspective, has changed in the interim?  Nothing.  To those who suggest these actions made him appear “Presidential,” need I remind you of comments made regarding the President’s State of the Union Address in February?  Within 36 hours, he had demonstrated that he had not made the “Presidential Pivot” that people on both sides of the political spectrum have implored him to make since gaining the nomination last July.

 

Donald’s distractions:  The Trump Administration has been an epic lesson in incompetence, confusion, unethical behavior, obfuscation, and, perhaps, worse.  From a series of gaffes involving our allies, his inability to articulate a clear strategy on any policy position, allegations of collusion with an adversarial government, basement-level poll numbers, and infighting within his inner circle of advisors, it has been suggested the President, perhaps, sought a distraction that might cast him in a more favorable light.  If this is the case, it is reprehensible and inexcusable.  A more benign reason for ordering military strikes in the manner he did is the lack of competent advice from advisors who lack the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience to more carefully coordinate these strikes to produce greater effect and reduce potential negative consequences.  This, too, is unacceptable.  This failure in competence has led to a lack of support from our allies and jeopardized the safety of US service members, particularly in the Syrian theater of operations where we are currently active.  Despite prior notification of the Russian government which minimized damage to Russian military assets at the airbase, the missile strikes have led to amped-up rhetoric from Russia including statements that Russia will no longer advise US military officials regarding military operations which may lead to inadvertent US military casualties at the hands of Russian military munitions.

 

The current President has positioned the United States on a very dangerous path with his reckless missile strikes on Syria.  The strikes appear to be merely symbolic and provided no tactical or strategic gains for the US.  They did not hamper Assad’s abilities to carry out attacks, including chemical weapons attacks, on his people.  They pushed Russia into a potentially stronger alliance with the Assad regime.  His disregard for the Constitution continues his trend of undermining our institutions of democracy.  Along with his increased use of military action, including drone strikes, that have led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the Middle East, he diminishes the safety of deployed US forces and the security of US citizens throughout the world.  A US Administration has traditionally been a stabilizing feature of the global community.  Under President Trump, this is no longer the case.  The President, and his Administration (with certain exceptions) have injected a level of uncertainty and instability that is not only foolish but is also extremely dangerous.



On Guns and Sense

In the wake of the latest mass shooting event in San Bernardino that killed 14 and wounded 21, including at least two police officers, my Twitter and Facebook feeds lit up with calls to enact more vigorous gun control measures.  This is a recurring theme in this country.  There is a mass shooting that captures the attention of the public, there are calls for more gun control, the calls go, mostly, unheeded, and the nation moves on until the next day or next week when the next mass shooting event rivets the nation’s focus on gun violence.

 

In the aftermath of the latest shooting, which baffled investigators for nearly four days before determining this was an act of terrorism, albeit, one of the more convoluted episodes I can recall, Congress finally attempted to take action.  Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a measure that would close a loophole that currently permits suspected terrorists to legally purchase firearms in the United States.  This measure failed on a mostly party-line vote with all but one Republican voting against the measure and all but one Democrat voting in favor of the measure.  Following the vote, there was condemnation from gun-rights proponents that the measure would have stripped away due process rights from those seeking to purchase handguns.  This was the first time I had heard this suggestion made, and from my Twitter feed, this line of conversation picked up a bit of steam.

 

First off, let me say that Twitter is a difficult environment to try and have a coherent and reasonable debate with anyone on any issue, let alone one as complex and controversial as access to firearms.  Nonetheless, I engaged in conversations with several folks who supported the view that barring people on a consolidated FBI watch-list from legally procuring firearms was a violation of due process rights established under the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution.  I admit that I was baffled at this suggestion as this is the text of the amendment:

 

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” – See more at: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment5.html#sthash.VZehsmyM.dpuf

 

The gist of the Twitter conversation is that, as the right to, “bear arms” is an enumerated right within the Bill of Rights, being, “…deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law…,” means that blocking specific individuals from obtaining a firearm infringes upon their Constitutional rights.  The focus of this discussion, left unspoken by proponents of this position, is on the word, “liberty” suggesting that not being able to buy a gun deprives an individual of her or his liberty.  Now, I am not besmirching any of the participants of this line of thought as I am certain they are each patriotic Americans.  However, their line of reasoning is flawed.  Being limited to 140 characters, I was unable to effectively explain the errors associated with this line of thought.  It is clear, however, that their focus on depriving a person of, “due process” BEFORE denying a fundamental right is un-Constitutional.  This is an incorrect interpretation of due process as related to the purchase of firearms by an individual who has had their name placed on a watch-list of suspected terrorists.

 

It has been publicly recognized that this list compiled by the Department of Justice is flawed and there are names on the list that, most likely, should not appear on the list.  Other names, like at least one of the suspected shooters in San Bernardino, should probably be on this list.  Some elected US officials, children and infants, and deceased individuals names appear on this list as has been reported by numerous media outlets.  See: http://www.wired.com/2007/09/700000-name-ter/  http://dailycaller.com/2015/12/04/san-bernardino-shooting-suspect-not-on-terrorist-watch-list/

 

Critics of this list complain that due to flaws, the list should not be a bar to legally obtaining a firearm.  They state that the list is arbitrary and that people are not informed their name is on a watch-list until they attempt to engage in activity (such as attempting to board a commercial airliner) that would cause the person’s name to appear.  Prior to September 11, 2001, several federal agencies maintained lists of individuals who were subjected to heightened scrutiny.  After the horrible terrorist attacks of that day, President George W Bush signed a Presidential Directive requiring the FBI to consolidate and maintain these listings.  There are currently nearly a million names in this database.  If your name is on the list, you can expect to be subjected to enhanced scrutiny in certain circumstances (boarding a commercial aircraft, being pulled over for speeding, attempting to purchase a firearm, etc.).  A number of reasons exist why a person’s name may appear on this list.  One reason, is that you are, in fact, suspected of being a terrorist.  Often, an individual’s name will appear because it is either identical to, or similar enough to, a name used by a known or suspected terrorist.  Senator Ted Kennedy’s name appeared on the watch-list because a suspected terrorist was using, “Edward Kennedy” as an alias.  Representative John Lewis had his name on the list for the same reason as did at least one Roman Catholic nun.  The list is hardly arbitrary as you have to be, “nominated” by someone in the intelligence community in order to be evaluated, promoted, and finally, placed on the list.  Additional information on being on this list, and how to remove your name on the list may be found here:  http://people.howstuffworks.com/government-watch-list.htm

 

In any case, the folks I attempted to carry on a debate with via Twitter, are incorrect that denying or, most likely deferring, the purchase of a firearm violates their due process rights under the US Constitution.

 

What, exactly, is, “due process?”

 

As the name implies, it is a method, or process, that is owed to another person.  This may be established within the framework of organizational policies or, as used in this discussion, a requirement that is established within the framework of our nation’s founding document, the US Constitution.  Due process provides a means for an individual, or group of individuals to seek relief, or a redress, of a grievance.  The process involves those steps put into place for that appeal.  Under the US Constitution, due process, especially as recognized under the 5th and 14th Amendments is recognized as two separate entities.  There is procedural due process and there is substantive due process.  Procedural due process requires that a process for redress of potential harms be provided for the person who has suffered.  Substantive due process requires that this process be sufficient to resolve the issue at hand.

 

The folks in the Twitter universe invoking the 5th Amendment due process provisions as a reason to not block actual or suspected terrorists from obtaining firearms are actually missing the entire point about both, procedural and substantive, due process.  A number of these folks have suggested that by not providing due process BEFORE denying a fundamental right, a person’s fundamental rights have been violated.  This is not the case.  My counterargument to this flawed assertion is that while procedural due process may exist prior to a “harm” being inflicted, substantive due process begins AFTER a fundamental right has been infringed upon.  Furthermore, none of the recognized, “enumerated,” or, “fundamental” rights is absolute.

 

An example of procedural due process would be if I intended to stage a protest rally in a certain location.  It should be noted that not all speech is protected under the 1st Amendment.  For example, a person cannot yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theatre because he or she feels like causing a commotion.  Politically protected speech, though, is recognized as an essential, or fundamental, right.  However, even politically-motivated speech is subject to certain restrictions.  Namely, the time and the place of such protest may be limited for specific reasons, including safety.  If I failed to obtain the appropriate permits prior to engaging in this protest, I could be arrested and denied permission to exercise what has been recognized as a fundamental right—the right to engage in politically-protected speech.

 

Additionally, a person must be legally capable of exercising the particular right.  Would any logical person suggest that a five year-old child has the legal capacity to purchase a firearm with their allowance money?  This is why those persons who have been adjudicated as being mentally-unfit are banned from possessing firearms.  The same goes with certain convicted felons even after they have served their prison sentences.  Aren’t we denying these individuals their fundamental rights?  Yes.  Again, no right established in the US Constitution is considered absolute!

 

Now, to the point recent Twitter postings allude to:  Denying a person the legal opportunity to purchase a firearm violates their 5th Amendment due process rights.  Never mind that this right generally refers to an individual who has been formally accused of committing a serious crime.

 

If I was to enter a gun store, or any other environment that sells firearms, and attempt to purchase a firearm, I may be required to provide certain information which is supposed to be checked against a database that includes names that are on the consolidated terrorist watch-list.  Suppose my name flags as being on this list.  I will assume I would be informed this is the reason that I was being denied the opportunity to purchase said firearm(s) as this has not happened to me before.  If nothing else, I would be informed that there is a process that I may follow to address and correct any information that I believe is erroneous and what that process is for doing so.  After all, the gun seller wants to make a sale and would like me to return to purchase the gun(s) I wanted, right?

 

If the folks I was conversing with through Twitter were able to catch on to what I was pointing out, they might have a viable claim that the placement of their name on a list of suspected terrorists violated their 5th and 14th Amendment due process rights.  I would suggest that an individual might want the ability to be notified PRIOR to their name being placed on the list.  There is no process for this, however.  This is where the folks I was having a dialogue with should have their grievance.  There is a process for having your name removed from this list.

 

The process for purchasing a firearm, as I stated before, requires that a purchaser be eligible to exercise this action.  One additional point regarding the folks I was conversing with is that I am surprised that folks who claim to be so patriotic are so sympathetic to the needs and desires of actual terrorists.  Perhaps, that was a bit snarky, however, that is what the Senate vote was designed to address—the ability of terrorists who WANT to legally purchase firearms.  Why would patriotic Americans want to, even inadvertently, facilitate the efforts of a terrorist?

 



Religious Freedom and the Restoration of Legalized Discrimination

Recently, Indiana’s Governor, Mike Pence, found himself at the center of a firestorm associated with his signing of a so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  This past week has seen Governor Pence attempting to defend, and ultimately, backpedal on the law.  The backlash has led to a number of prominent voices speaking out against the enactment of this law and the hashtag, #BoycottIndiana trending on social media sites.  The outcry has led Arkansas Governor, Asa Hutchinson to withhold his signature from a similarly-worded bill sent to him by his legislature.  Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan has vowed to veto a similar bill if sent to him by the Michigan legislature.  The Indiana legislature is currently scurrying to amend the Indiana RFRA at the behest of businesses and residents of the state.

As Governor Pence has repeatedly pointed out, Indiana was simply doing what the Federal government and, at least, 19 other states had already done.  Unfortunately, the Indiana law went further than the Federal law does and is also significantly different than the Illinois law that Governor Pence is fond of noting, then State Senator, Barack Obama, voted for.  Most people are not exactly aware of the history of these types of laws or even what they are designed to do.  A little bit of history might be in order.

Our nation’s founders were quite clear that religious influence in the public sphere could present problems that needed to be avoided.  They also recognized the important role that religion played in the lives of people and that people needed to be able to practice their religious traditions free of undue government influence.  As a result of compromise, religious expression was included in the founding document of our nation as a component of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  This amendment included two provisions associated with religious freedom.  The first provision provided that government, “…make no law respecting an establishment of religion,…” which is frequently referred to as the, “Establishment Clause.”  The second provision that addresses religion, “or prohibiting the free exercise, thereof…” which is the more familiar part of religious liberty.

Over more than two centuries a number of conflicts regarding religious liberty have found their way through the Federal Courts and rulings have sometimes limited government overreach and sometimes limited religious expression.  A 1990 US Supreme Court Case upholding the termination of two employees who were terminated after using Peyote during Native American religious ceremonies drew the outrage of progressives and conservatives and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 was subsequently enacted.  This law was designed to require any Federal Government action against an individual that impaired the person’s ability to freely exercise their religious liberties must meet the highest level of scrutiny in judicial review.  This is known as, “Strict scrutiny.”  A 1997 Supreme Court ruling stated the provisions of the Act could not be applied to the states.  As a result, a number of states began to enact their own RFRA to protect religious expression rights from government overreach.

The one thing that each of these Religious Freedom laws had in common was that they protected individuals and their personal religious practices from government intrusion.  For this reason, these laws have remained, essentially, non-controversial over the past dozen years or so.  What makes the Indiana law so different is that it permits private individuals to invoke a claim of protection under the state’s RFRA when challenged by another private individual.  Another significant difference is that the Federal law, most Supreme Court rulings, and other state-level RFRA’s apply to acts associated with actual practice of religious ceremony.

Another point that should be noted is that Indiana does not include statewide civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people.  This has led to concerns being raised regarding the potential for discrimination being levied against sexual minorities.  This concern is heightened in light of last year’s US Supreme Court ruling in the case, Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.  While that case addressed reproductive issues, many are concerned that an extension of the arguments made by the attorneys representing the Hobby Lobby side could be applied to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT) individuals as well.  Voices from the right and left both note the case of bakeries that have refused to bake cakes requested for celebrating same-sex marriages.  Folks on the right argue this is why RFRA’s are essential while those on the left claim these laws codify discrimination into state law.

While the original RFRA, signed into law in 1993, applied to religious practices, more recent laws, including in Indiana, attempt to apply religious expression to, “sincerely-held religious belief” as opposed to actual religious ceremony.  That is what puts these newer laws into conflict with existing state laws in some cases.  The modern RFRA not only applies to the actual participation in religious activity, but asserts that an individual who merely professes a sincere religious belief is exempt from providing goods or services that are purely secular in nature.

In the case of a business, this confounds reason.  A business receives a license to operate in a particular location as a place of public accommodation.  It is designed to serve the needs of consumers of that particular product or service.  A business is bound by applicable laws of operation for that location including hours, health inspections, accessibility, and, unlike religious entities, pays taxes.  Can a business pick and choose its customers?  A private shopping club can require its customers to purchase a membership, for example.  However, such a purchasing club cannot deny membership to a particular individual if the individual can afford to pay the membership fee and agrees to abide by the rules of the club.  Convenience stores may limit the hours, or numbers of, unaccompanied minors that may be inside a particular business.  A convenience store may not, however, deny minors access to the store or its goods or services completely.  In every state, characteristics such as race, gender, and other factors may be enshrined in state or local civil rights laws.  Failing to provide service to customers of any protected class may result in civil or criminal penalties for that business.  Government has established a compelling interest in preventing discrimination to prevent injustices such as denial of service to members of particular groups.

There is an important discussion to be had regarding religious expression versus religious belief.  Ultimately, the Courts will likely be forced to arbitrate and determine what constitutes religious expression as opposed to religious belief.  I believe there are nefarious reasons underlying the current push to implement religious freedom laws over the past few years.  I have yet to hear of an incident where one individual has attempted to interfere with the free practice, or even the free expression, of religious people.  We have all been exposed to multiple cases of individuals attempting to invoke their religious beliefs as a defense of discriminatory behavior.  Throughout history, religion and religious belief has been used as an excuse to discriminate against others.

I have heard numerous people say, “Why can’t the person just go somewhere else if the (proprietor) doesn’t want to serve them?”  Or, “Why would you want to spend your money somewhere like that?”  Or, “What about the business owners religious beliefs?  Isn’t it discriminatory to force someone to violate their religious beliefs?”  Let’s break these down.

In many places a person who would be denied service, for any reason, could possibly go somewhere else.  However, in many other places, say a small town somewhere, that business or provider may be the only game in town.  To go somewhere else places a hardship on the willing customer.  What if the business was the only auto repair dealer that was capable of handling your Porsche within fifty or a hundred miles?  Or, what if your business was known far and wide as having the very best wedding cakes in the entire state?  Why should a customer be forced to settle for, second-best?  What if it was something more important that a cake or an automobile?  What if it was a sick child?

Why would someone spend their hard-earned money where it is not wanted?  Personally, I wouldn’t.  I would also make sure my friends and family would not want to spend their hard-earned money there, either.  I would also make certain that as wide an audience as possible knew that this business only liked certain types of money.  Not only would this business not get any, “Gay” money, but they would lose out on an awful lot of non-gay money as well!!  That is not really the point, though.  The business is violating the terms of their operating license.

Am I discriminating against a business owner by demanding service?  No.  The relationship between a customer and a business is mutualistic.  The business provides a product or a service and as consideration, the customer provides payment in the form of money.   It is not discrimination to ask a baker to bake a cake.  It is not discrimination to ask a professional photographer to take a picture.  It is not discrimination to ask a Pediatrician to care for a sick child.  It would be unfair to ask a Pediatrician to perform a craniotomy or to ask a photographer to bake a cake.  Someone recently posed the question, “What if you were a Jewish baker and a Neo-Nazi wanted you to bake a cake to celebrate Adolph Hitler’s Birthday?  Could you refuse to do that?”  I pointed out this was not a religious liberty issue but, rather, a free speech issue.  Baking cakes is not an exercise of religion, but rather, in this case, a source of income generation.  I said there were four possible options.  One, the baker could bake the cake, decorate the cake, and, collect payment for doing so.  This is basic contract law.  Two, the baker could bake the cake and offer to sell the items necessary to decorate the cake to the customer who could then either decorate the cake him/herself or hire someone else to do the decorating.  Three, the baker could refer the customer to another baker who might be willing to comply with the customer’s request.  And, fourth, the baker could refuse to bake the cake at all.  In this scenario, this might be legally risky due to provisions in the Federal Civil Rights Act.

Title II of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by businesses, which are referred to as public accommodations.  Unfortunately, there are limited protected classes in this law and if the person is not a member of a protected class, they could, potentially, be denied service.  It is important to note that any contract requires, “consideration.”  That is, something of value rendered for something provided.  This requires both parties to come to agreement.  Without consideration there is, technically, no contract.

The anecdotes commonly discussed during this debate all seem to wind up revolving around a baker refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage celebration.  A business owner generally does not have to provide a good or a service to a particular customer if that service or product is not in the customary line of goods or products offered.  For example, if a customer goes into a bakery asking for a wedding cake and the owner says they bake Birthday cakes but not wedding cakes then there is no issue.  However, if the bakery regularly bakes wedding cakes as well as Birthday cakes, this most likely would not be lawful.  Most states will not allow a business to deny a service or product that is customarily offered to a customer simply because the proprietor does not “like” the customer.  This would be referred to as discrimination.  If the customer is a member of a class protected under the law, the person may have a legal claim of discrimination.  In a state without protections based on sexual orientation, there is little recourse for a person denied the services of the baker other than complaining to the state’s Better Business Bureau.  This is what makes the RFRA in Indiana so insidious.  It provides a defense to individuals, and businesses, who are sued for discrimination by other individuals.  This law is not limited to actions by the government.  The state of Indiana does not currently have protections based on sexual orientation which could limit the Due Process rights of an individual who believes they have been unfairly treated.

Governor Pence, and the entire state of Indiana has experienced the collective outrage of individuals and groups who believe this is simply an attempt to legally-sanction discriminatory behavior.  This is inconsistent with our American values today.  This serves to put other states, and their legislatures and governors, on notice.  Discrimination is bad for people, it is bad for the economy, and it is bad policy.  Caveat emptor!!