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The empire strikes back

Another Perspective

By Rick Manning

The Groundhog Day headline in the New York Times screamed, "Top Donors to Republicans Seek More Say in Senate Races."

Now there's a man-bites-dog. Big money wants more power. Who'd a thunk it?

Steven J. Law, president of American Crossroads, the super-PAC creating the new project explained, "We don't view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win."

American Crossroads, which spent nearly $400 million in the past election cycle without much effect, has given the group the Orwellian name of the Conservative Victory Project (CVP).

The purpose of the CVP is to ensure that Republicans nominate approved candidates like Denny Rehberg, Tommy Thompson and Rick Berg, rather than unapproved candidates like Christine O'Donnell, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin.

In fact, its first target is Iowa congressman Steve King, who is contemplating a run for the now open Iowa Senate seat. The Times reports that Law openly worries about King's candidacy stating, "We're concerned about Steve King's Todd Akin problem," Mr. Law said. "This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he's said are going to be hung around his neck."

So, Stephen Law and the man behind Crossroads, Karl Rove, are riding to the rescue.

After all, it is not enough that the official National Republican Senatorial Committee will be spending its considerable time, money and talent to "recruit approved" candidates into each Senate race, and then turn its considerable inside-the-Beltway fundraising apparatus loose to see that the "correct" candidates are adequately funded.

No, now Republican primary voters are going to be subjected to an onslaught of ads helping them choose wisely, in an attempt to overwhelm grassroots candidate like the just-elected Ted Cruz from Texas, or Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson or Mike Lee.

The very same D.C. political elites who delivered us the "electable" Mitt Romney will now be working their magic in a primary close to you.

And what happens when the party faithful don't follow their sage wisdom?

You only have to look at Karl Rove's tirade against Christine O'Donnell two and a half years ago when she beat the pre-approved Mike Castle. Rove went on the air attacking the Republican nominee before they had even finished counting the votes.

Or, you can look at how these same elites spent a month burying Todd Akin in Missouri after his much-publicized rape comment in an attempt to get him to drop from the race so they could replace the voter's choice with their own.

The sad truth is that if Law and Rove had their way, we would repeal all of those nasty primaries and just let the smoke-filled-room boys pick their buddies to run. It is just too messy when real people make primary choices.

It is from that messy political system that the Ronald Reagan's and Rand Paul's emerged irking the elite because they owe them nothing.

And ultimately, that is a good thing for the country, and believe it or not, for the stodgy Republican Party as well.

This column originally appeared at TheHill.com. Rick Manning (@rmanning957) is the vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government.

In Texas schools, failing grade for Bible courses

Inside the First Amendment

By Charles C. Haynes

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the devotional use of the Bible by public schools, in its ruling on Abington Township v. Schempp.

But many school districts in the Lone Star State still haven't gotten the message, according to a report released last month by the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) entitled "Reading, Writing and Religion."

Conducted by religious studies professor Mark Chancey of Southern Methodist University, the study examines elective Bible courses offered in 57 Texas school districts and 3 charter schools and concludes that "evidence of sectarian bias, predominantly favoring perspectives of conservative Protestantism, is widespread." (The full report is available at www.tfn.org/biblecourses.)

In other words, school officials in many parts of Texas convert public schools into Sunday schools in violation of the First Amendment's ban on government establishment of religion.

According to Professor Chancey, many Texas teachers with no training in the academic study of religion treat sacred events in the Bible as secular history, and use secondary sources that offer only one Christian interpretation of the Bible.

The religious agenda that shapes many of these courses isn't subtle. For example, a supplementary text used in two districts informs students, on the inside font cover, that by studying the Bible they "will see the heart of God and the person of Jesus Christ revealed from Genesis to Revelation."

Public schools, of course, can and should teach students about the Bible - in history, literature and elective courses. But such teaching must be educational, not devotional.

In Schempp, the High Court prohibited devotional Bible reading in public schools, but simultaneously encouraged appropriate inclusion of the Bible in the curriculum. Writing for the majority, Justice Tom Clark put it this way:

"[I]t might well be said that one's education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization… Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment."

Despite the Supreme Court's guidance about what is and isn't constitutional, many public schools continue to have a hard time getting the Bible right.

In recent years, religious conservatives as well as advocates of biblical literacy have urged states to support the creation of Bible courses. As a result, a growing number of states, including Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, South Dakota and Arizona, have passed legislation encouraging local districts to offer Bible electives.

The Texas "Bible bill" was passed in 2007 and like similar laws in other states was supposed to support Bible courses that are constitutionally and educationally sound. Thanks to the Texas Freedom Network and other First Amendment advocates, some safeguards were built into the legislation calling for teacher training in the academic study of the Bible and adherence to constitutional principles.

Unfortunately, the law hasn't worked. Most Bible electives in Texas created since 2007 are taught by unqualified teachers, using sectarian materials and promoting one religious interpretation of the Bible.

According to the TFN report, "the evidence suggests that these problems largely reflect a failure by state and local officials to implement provisions in the new state law that were designed to protect the religious freedom of students and help school districts construct academically and constitutionally sound courses."

The TFN study does have some good news. Professor Chancey found at least 11 Texas school districts with successful Bible courses, many using textbooks (The Bible and Its Influence; The Bible As/In Literature) which pass constitutional muster and which provide objective study of biblical literature.

As Justice Clark pointed out, biblical literacy is an important part of a good education. After all, knowledge of biblical stories and concepts contributes to our understanding of literature, history, law, art and contemporary society.

But when the Bible comes into the public school classroom, it must arrive through the First Amendment door.

Ken Paulson, President and CEO, First Amendment Center in Nashville.

The very best Valentine ever

Guest Column

By Don Kraus

This year I came up with the best Valentine's Day gift ever for my wife and daughter. It's inexpensive and, unlike a bouquet of flowers, should last beyond their lifetimes. They'll love it! I can't think of a better way to express how much I love them.

Rather than chocolates or jewelry, I am going to join a One Billion Rising rally to end the violence against women that has shattered lives and torn the fabric of societies around the world.

A billion women - one out of every three on the planet - will be raped or beaten sometime in their lifetime. That's one billion moms, sisters, daughters, and friends violated, one billion lives shattered, one billion hearts broken, and one billion reasons to rise up and put an end to this violence.

On February 14, rallies around the world are giving a billion women, and those who love them, an opportunity to dance, speak out, and say, "Enough!" There are many ways to make a difference, but here in the United States we have a 32-year-old obligation that I'm focused on: Senate passage of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

This landmark international agreement affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women around the world, including the rights not to be raped or beaten. But ours is one of only seven countries - including Iran, Sudan, and Somalia -that haven't ratified this treaty.

This accord offers countries a practical blueprint to achieve progress for women and girls by calling on each ratifying country to overcome barriers of discrimination. Around the world it has been used to reduce sex trafficking and domestic abuse, provide access to education and vocational training, guarantee the right to vote, ensure the ability to work and own a business without discrimination, improve maternal health care, end forced marriage and child marriage, and ensure inheritance rights.

Although the Obama administration strongly supports its ratification and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted in favor of it twice with bipartisan support (in 1994 and 2002), it has never been brought to the Senate floor for a vote. It's time to change that.

Why? Joining this convention would continue our nation's proud bipartisan tradition of promoting and protecting human rights. Ratification requires two-thirds of the Senate to stand together. The good news is that in this time of tight budgets, it would cost us absolutely nothing.

Ratifying it would strengthen the United States as a global leader in standing up for women and girls around the world. Unfortunately today, our diplomats who speak out to end violence against women are too often told that since we are not part of the women's treaty, we should mind our own business. Under the leadership of Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, we ratified similar treaties on genocide, torture, and race.

Finally, bringing it to a full Senate vote would open up important conversations. While American women enjoy opportunities and status not available to most of the world's women, few would dispute that more progress is needed. A Senate vote would provide an opportunity for a national dialogue on how to address persistent gaps in women's full equality regarding closing the pay gap, reducing domestic violence, and stopping human trafficking.

This is something that I know my wife and daughter would love. So I'm speaking out to end violence against women. It will be the very best Valentine's Day gift ever.

Don Kraus is the President and CEO of GlobalSolutions.org. Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

Escalating battles over claims of conscience

Inside the First Amendment

By Charles C. Haynes
First Amendment Center

Let's start the New Year with a conundrum as old as the Republic:

When religious convictions clash with secular laws, how far should government go to accommodate religious claims of conscience?

From colonial conflicts over the refusal of Quakers to take up arms to the more recent refusal of Jehovah's Witnesses to salute the flag, American history is replete with robust arguments over the limits of "free exercise of religion" as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Religious groups have scored victories (using peyote in Native American ceremonies is legal) and suffered defeats (practicing polygamy is illegal). But in all of these battles, attempts by the state to burden religious practices are always hotly contested - and that's as it should be in a nation founded on religious freedom.

In 2013, religious objections to government laws and regulations will once again provoke vigorous public debate, countless court challenges and really tough decisions over whether and when government should accommodate religious claims of conscience.

Consider that some 30 lawsuits have been filed by religious groups and individuals challenging the contraceptive- coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). Some of these cases involve religiously affiliated organizations (such as Catholic hospitals) and others religious owners of for-profit businesses. Churches and other houses of worship are already exempt.

At the moment, the Department of Health and Human Services has imposed a moratorium on enforcement of the contraceptive-coverage mandate until August, giving the government time to reconsider the regulations as applied to nonprofit religious employers.

But even if the rules are rewritten to exempt religiously affiliated organizations (and the prospects that this will happen are highly uncertain), the mandate will still apply to for-profit businesses run by religious people who object to providing the coverage because it violates their faith.

Simply put, does the government have a compelling interest in requiring a religious employer to pay for insurance that provides drugs and services that the employer finds religiously objectionable? Or do religious individuals and groups have the right to be exempt from a government mandate that they believe substantially burdens their free exercise of religion?

Parallel questions are at the heart of the same-sex marriage debate, the other major public-policy battle involving a conflict between civil laws and religious convictions that will be widely contested in 2013.

With same-sex marriage now legal in nine states plus the District of Columbia - and with the U.S. Supreme Court poised to rule on the issue by June - some religious groups are gearing up for a multi-front fight to win exemptions from state regulations requiring recognition of same-sex married couples.

Religious organizations opposed to same-sex marriage say they will argue for new "conscience clauses" and other legislative accommodations that will protect them from having to recognize same-sex relationships.

If no such exemptions emerge, some religious leaders warn, religious groups will be forced to make difficult choices to preserve their religious freedom. They cite the decision by Catholic Charities in Boston in 2006 to end their involvement in foster care and adoption rather than provide those services to same-sex couples as an example of what will happen elsewhere if religious requests for exemptions are not granted.

It goes without saying that Americans are deeply divided over the merits of religious demands for accommodation in both of these public-policy fights.

But I would argue that it is in everyone's best interest for lawmakers to do the hard work of finding ways to uphold the free exercise of religion as much as possible even as they enact laws they believe serve the common good.

As James Madison argued, the right of every individual to follow the "dictates of conscience" is an inalienable right - a right that government has an obligation to protect unless an overriding societal interest trumps the religious claim. The line the government draws on the religious freedom of some today may be drawn on many others tomorrow.

Forcing citizens to make what the Supreme Court once called a "cruel choice" between following their God and conforming to a government law or regulation that violates their faith may sometimes be necessary, but in a country committed to religious freedom it should always be rare.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Web: firstamendmentcenter. org. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Don't blame me if Obama's 2nd term disappoints

In Other Words

By William A. Collins

Lesser evil
Ain't enough,
Back someone
Who's got the stuff

It's hard for me to vote against an incumbent Democratic president - especially after those eight abysmal years with George W. Bush at the helm. Indeed, it seemed unlikely to me that any sentient creature could vote for a Republican president in 2012.

Yet despite Mitt Romney's heartless tendencies, President Barack Obama didn't get my vote either. I feel there are certain minimum standards that any president, regardless of party, should be required to meet. Unfortunately, he didn't.

As a veteran who has put his back into advancing peace, to me the foremost of these obligations is to tamp down that worst evil of all - war. Sure, Obama nabbed the Nobel Peace Prize for his "efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation."

But he turned out to be just another empire-happy U.S. president. Like others before him, he's eager to leverage Washington's overwhelming military might to promote Western influence and corporate profit. He let our war for oil in Iraq fester too long. He expanded the war for natural gas in Afghanistan. He essentially started undeclared wars in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. What was the Nobel Committee thinking?

Our president also flunked the torture test. No civilized nation should tolerate torture for any reason, let alone as a tool of war. Nonetheless Obama failed to prosecute a single case among America's fat crop of admitted torturers from the Bush administration. This discomforting neglect of the Eighth Amendment (the one barring cruel and unusual punishment) has blackened our country's moral reputation while fertilizing global sprouts of terrorism for which our people pay a hefty price.

Part of that price is the growing web of surveillance. Eavesdropping and entrapment have become the government's routine tools for holding protest at bay. Personal phone conversations, travel records, and emails are no longer safe to presume private. (If you don't believe me, go ask Gen. David Petraeus.)

Dissenting organizations can't even operate without the threat of infiltrators, harassment, and provocateurs.

Whistleblowers, those unsung champions of transparency, are also casualties of this administration, despite the hyped passage of the Whistleblower Protection Act. During Obama's first term six individuals were charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act. Prior to his 2008 inauguration, only three had been convicted of espionage in our entire history. Also alarming is the ongoing crusade against heroes of openness Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, for revealing the government's dark political secrets.

Nor could I overlook the White House's fondness for drones. Not only has this new weapon become our go-to tool for assassinating foreign targets, but hundreds of innocent civilians continue to be killed or wounded by these unmanned aircrafts. Such misguided efforts to eradicate our enemies have instead turned countless noncombatants in those troubled lands into our bitter adversaries.

There were two reasonable options for voters like me besides Romney and Obama. The Libertarian Party nominated Gary Johnson, New Mexico's former Republican governor. He opposed both aggressive military wars and the War on Drugs. And the Green Party nominated Jill Stein, whose Green New Deal would rein in Wall Street and corporate political money while protecting the environment.

Unfortunately, she didn't make it onto the ballot here in supposedly free Connecticut. Former Virginia lawmaker Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party was on the ballot too, promising to do all those antisocial things that conservatives do, but he wasn't an option for me.

Ultimately, I was one of 1.2 million who voted for the antiwar Johnson, whose presidential bid set a new Libertarian record despite being blacked out by the mainstream media.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org