Friday, April 20, 2018

Wyoming Remembers the Armenian Genocide

On this day (April 24) in 1915, the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) arrested about 250 Armenian leaders in the capital city of Constantinople. They were transported 300 miles east to a prison where hundreds more joined them. Then they were executed without trial.

This event is remembered as the start of the Armenian Genocide, which murdered an estimated 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923. That’s a full quarter of the entire Nazi Holocaust! Have you ever been told the story?

Armenia became a kingdom in the fourth century BC. Armenians live in the Armenian Highlands near Mt. Ararat, the final resting place of the biblical ark. Through the Christian apostle, St. Bartholomew, the Armenians became the first kingdom in the world to adopt Christianity as its religion.

Through more than 18 centuries, they held together as an ethno-religious group living under various occupying governments. Beginning in 1555, a series of treaties allowed the Armenians to be a semi-autonomous state within the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

A new era came about in 1908 when the Committee of Union and Progress (the “Young Turks”) staged a coup d’etat. Many Armenians thought that this would bring them full independence as a nation. The Young Turks had other plans.

As various territories of the former Ottoman Empire were gaining their independence from what we now call Turkey, the Young Turks decided that the only way to keep the inner provinces from breaking away would be to neutralize the significant Armenian Christian populations found there.

Three of the highest officials in the Turkish government placed other Young Turks in various positions of power while also creating a Special Organization comprised of criminals and irregular troops to carry out the mass deportation and murder of Armenians in the interior provinces.

When World War I broke out in August 1914, they began to execute this plan. Within three weeks, all Armenian males between the ages of 20 and 45 were conscripted into the army and taken away from their homes and families. A week later 56,000 Turkish troops were garrisoned in Christian schools and churches in the Sivas province.

By late September Armenian populations were given orders to turn in all weapons from firearms to kitchen knives. Three days later, the same government began distributing weapons to Muslim residents, claiming that the Armenians were unreliable.

Meanwhile communications were systematically shut down. The telegraph system was censored, and foreign postal service was ended. Disarmed, decapitated of political and family leadership, surrounded, and cut off from the outside world, the Armenians were as vulnerable as any people could be.

Then began the slaughter.

Bands of chetes began looting, violating women and children and murdering Armenians in the interior provinces of Turkey. Days after news reached the Armenian leaders in the capitol, Constantinople, a proclamation of jihad was issued which legalized the chete organizations and was sent out to all the provinces of the Empire.

Mass public executions of Armenian soldiers, who had been conscripted into the army only three months earlier, further terrorized the Armenian population. Over the next several months Armenians who had been deferred in the first draft were conscripted nonetheless. By March of 1915 those Armenians serving in the army were stripped of their weapons and uniforms.

Orders were sent from Constantinople to expel Armenians from any government posts—elected or appointed. The remaining Christian schools and churches were requisitioned as barracks for the Turkish army. The homes of many Armenians, together with horses, carts and other travel equipment were also seized by the army.

All of this happened prior to the official beginning of the genocide. The arrest and execution of Armenian politicians and intellectuals in Constantinople unleashed the slaughter on a massive scale. As a rule, community leaders were arrested and executed. Then, the remaining population was rounded up and forced to march into the Syrian desert.

They were told that camps with food and water awaited them at the end of the march. Most died of starvation and dehydration on the way and those who survived were slaughtered on arrival. All these atrocities continued throughout the years of World War I. While most of the world was focused on the fighting in Europe, the most ancient Christian people in the world was being systematically exterminated.

When the war ended, there was a brief respite. But, in 1920 the atrocities recommenced and continued at least until 1923. Some say they are still ongoing to this day.

Historians and academic institutions that study genocide have come to a consensus that the systematic massacres and deportations of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire formally constitute the 20th century’s first genocide. The United States has joined 28 other countries in recognizing and denouncing the genocide, although the current and past three administrations have refrained from using the term “genocide” to avoid offending Turkey.

Despite this consensus, and the multitude of eyewitness survivors, photographs and other documentation, Turkey and Azerbaijan flatly deny the historical factuality of the Armenian Genocide. Germany’s total surrender at the close of World War II gave Allied forces access to the extermination camps and records documenting the Jewish Holocaust. But the Turkish government, for more than a century, has been allowed to thwart any independent, international investigation of the Armenian Genocide.

Ongoing refusal by Turkey and Azerbaijan to acknowledge and denounce this evil, together with the dogged resistance of numerous other nations, remain a blight on the human rights record of the United Nations. Although the 1985 Whitaker Report formally detailed how these events fit the UN definition of genocide, no action has been taken.

As the first genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian Genocide set a precedent that would soon be followed on an even larger scale by the Nazi regime. A week before invading Poland, Adolph Hitler reportedly told his commanders, “I have given the order—and will have everyone shot who utters but one word of criticism—that the aim of this war does not consist in reaching certain geographical lines, but in the enemies' physical elimination. Thus, for the time being only in the east, I put ready my Death's Head units, with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of the Polish race or language. Only thus will we gain the living space that we need. Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?” Who, indeed, speaks of it?

I discovered, in researching this column, that Wyoming is still talking about the Armenian Genocide. On April 21, 2017 Governor Matt Mead made Wyoming the 45th state to recognize it. In a letter to the Armenian National Committee of America, he wrote, “The atrocities of both the Armenian and Jewish Holocausts were unimaginable, but it is important for all to remember – history must not repeat itself.” State Senator Anthony Bouchard, a leading voice behind recognizing the genocide, reminded Wyomingites that Azerbaijan and Turkey continue their genocidal policies against the Armenian homeland, as seen during the April 2016 beheading and mutilation of Armenians in Artsakh by Azerbaijan’s forces.

This history was never taught to me in any of my formal schooling. For this reason, on this 103rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I simply wanted to tell the story and keep its memory alive. My hope is that our school teachers—from elementary to junior college—will take this occasion to teach their own students this important history, as they do already concerning the Jewish holocaust.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Consent, Taboo and #MeToo

Last week Sean Westin was acquitted on charges of sexual assault. The embarrassing details of the case were splayed across the pages of the Uinta County Herald. Sean, a body builder who worked as a personal trainer used his position to solicit sexual favors from a client.

At issue in the trial was whether her consent was freely granted. The woman’s traumatic brain injury as a child, her huge disadvantage in physical strength and the threat of monetary loss all combined to raise the question of whether she was capable of free consent.

In another case, a federal judge in Casper awarded Amanda Dykes $221,000 in back pay, ruling that she had no choice but to resign from her job in the Wyoming Military Department. In this case, there was no sexual activity and no consent. Nor was there threatening conduct, verbal abuse, or obscene language.

Rather, her supervisors failed to protect her from the unwanted advances of Don Smith, the director of the Youth Challenge Program at Camp Guernsey. He was apparently dissatisfied with his own marriage and took to email, written notes, and personal visits to Amanda’s work space to attempt an extramarital affair.

U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled that Smith’s persistent advances after Dykes had rejected them created a hostile work environment. In a stinging letter he rebuked the Wyoming Military Department saying, “[they] should be embarrassed by the multiple failures” of Dykes’ supervisors to address her complaints effectively.

Meanwhile, at Utah State University in Logan, the piano program has been rocked by allegations of sexual discrimination, harassment, and assault. On April 6, 2018 the investigative agency, Snell & Wilmer, released a report of its investigation into abuses alleged on social media in mid-February.

Professor Gary Amano, long-time Director of the USU piano program and world-renowned piano teacher has retired in its wake. To be clear, he is alleged to have discriminated, but not to have harassed or assaulted anyone himself. He remains well-respected piano professional. The question is whether he and other supervisors did enough to address complaints of harassment and assault by others in the department.

USU Press Conference
The perpetrators of the harassment and assault appear to be three former, and one present members of the piano faculty (their names were not released). Over the course of two decades, there were both allegations and admissions of inappropriate sexual relations between students and faculty. The investigators have concluded that these were known to the heads of the program but were not adequately addressed.

Both those engaged in student sexual affairs and those supervisors faulted for lacking supervision and discipline defended themselves by asserting that the sexual contact was consensual.

There’s that word, again. All three cases—and a jillion more—hinge on the question of consent. Inappropriate professor-student relationships, inappropriate extramarital relationships, inappropriate trainer-client relationships are all justified by the nebulous claim of consent.

All three of these cases sicken me.

Let’s be perfectly clear. None of these things should have been done. Women and men were seriously hurt, with lasting effect. They were hurt psychologically, physically and spiritually. Budding careers were derailed, academic progress impeded. People who placed themselves and their children in the care of others were betrayed by institutions and persons who should have been safe and nurturing.

What has gone so wrong with our world that so many people in so many walks of life are being hurt in such terrible ways? What should we be doing to reduce these harms? These are the question with which we should be wrestling.

The answers are not simplistic. We should start with the admission that such evils have always been perpetrated among human beings. But while admitting this, we should also notice that far more people are being hurt today than in previous generations.

These two admissions both agree on one thing. Human sexuality is entirely different than animal sexuality. There is not a single case of long-term psychological or emotional damage caused by disordered sexuality among dogs, cats, or laboratory mice. Nor are there any sexual predators in the animal world. Those are only found among humans acting inhumanely.

Societies that understand the deep, spiritual meaning of human sexuality have worked together to guard and protect one another from abuses that arise when sexuality is downgraded to mere animal instincts. As our own society has abandoned these basic truths, we have seen untold damage to families and to individuals—both men and women, both children and adults.

The first step to recovering sexual sanity is to be clear on this point. In the animal world, desire and consent are all that matters. Not so among humans. For us, there are some things that should never be desired and should never receive consent. These are taboo.

Many of these are still recognized in law. Incest, bestiality and pederasty are among them, so also statutory rape. No amount of consent, by any definition, can make such things right.

Related to these are policies in the work place and in schools that protect people from unwanted advances. School is an extension of the home. It is the place where parental guidance and instruction are carried out on behalf of parents. That is the fundamental reason why every school has policies prohibiting the sexualization of the teacher-student relationship.

This taboo was downplayed and ignored on the USU campus and many people were hurt as a result. Parents who felt betrayed by inappropriate faculty relations with their children were completely in the right. Age has nothing to do with it. The nature of the relationship was at stake.

Part of this taboo involves a power differential. Professors have such enormous power over the future of their students that special care must be taken to protect the student from the abuse of this power. That means questions of sexual consent should not even be possible.

The same goes for monetary pressure and work relationships. That’s why prostitution is not treated as private consent, but as a public harm. If we can’t understand this in the abstract, the current explosion of human trafficking should help us see the light.

Then, there are marriage promises made before a judge. Why should a judge be involved in hearing the promise, “til death us do part,” if he doesn’t care whether or not the promise is kept? Quite apart from whether Mr. Smith was being inappropriately persistent in his amorous pursuit of Ms. Dykes, somebody should have taken him to the woodshed for violating his marriage vows.

One of the problems that we face today is the disintegration of public morals that are meant to safeguard people from sexual abuses that the law is incapable of stopping. These taboos are not mere holdovers from an unenlightened past. They represent the wisdom of generations that were far-and-way more enlightened than ours.

It’s time to stop attacking taboos in favor of the unfettered pursuit of every desire and the absolute freedom to consent to anything at all. It’s time to reconsider how we might protect one another from a view of human sexuality that never rises above the animal instincts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Science, Accountabilty, and the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency was created 47 years ago. It is not mentioned in the Constitution of the United States, nor does it owe its existence to an act of congress. Its genesis, rather, is an executive order signed by President Richard Nixon on December 2, 1970.

It was created in response to the National Environmental Policy Act, and intended as an umbrella agency to “permit coordinated and effective government action on behalf of the environment.” Since that initial legislation, congress has enacted dozens of other environmental laws that are administered by the EPA, which has an annual budget of more than $8 billion.

Like every other governmental agency, once created it took on a life of its own. Its chief administrative officer and a few secondary officers may be appointed by the president, but the other 15,000 employees are unaccountable bureaucrats.

I realize that the term “unaccountable bureaucrats” has a pejorative ring to it. I assure you that it is not intended as an insult, merely an accurate description. A bureaucrat is simply a person who rules (crat) in a bureau (an agency). Anybody who makes and enforces rules fits that description. “Unaccountable” simply means that a person is given a certain amount of discretion to do so.

Over the years many unaccountable bureaucrats have sullied the term by abusing their discretion. But many others have served faithfully and well by holding themselves accountable to a higher standard. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Good government is always a balancing game between allowing the freedom to unleash human ingenuity, on the one hand, and providing reasonable and enforceable boundaries on the other hand. This is true both for an administrator’s judgments over bureaucrats, and for the rule of those bureaucrats over ordinary citizens.

The chief administrative officer is charged with balancing these competing concerns. In doing so, he or she will always be criticized by many in the bureaucracy for not giving them enough discretion, power, or money. That’s no surprise. But limits on the bureaucrats allow human ingenuity to flourish in the private sector.

That’s the battle unfolding in the EPA right now. Administrator Scott Pruitt has been on the job for a year and has become the focus of a lot of negative press lately. His critics are bureaucrats and their sympathizers in the progressive press. None of them is happy with the accountability measures he is putting in place at the EPA.

Last October I wrote in these pages about how Pruitt put an end to the underhanded practice of “Sue and Settle,” which bypassed the congressionally mandated regulatory process. Agency insiders would instruct radical environmentalists when and how to sue the agency. Then, they would settle out of court and have a judge rubber-stamp a new rule without having to go through the careful public process.

Putting an end to that practice did not make Pruitt popular among career bureaucrats,  but it was most certainly faithful to his oath of office and his mission as the chief administrator of the EPA.

About the time I was writing about “Sue and Settle,” Pruitt changed another long-time practice at the EPA, one that virtually guaranteed skewed science. The agency uses part of it’s $8 billion budget to award research grants. This is intended to pay scientists to compile and analyze data so that the agency can make environmental decisions with the best objective knowledge base.

It looks good on paper, but there are hidden pitfalls. When the government has billions of dollars to spend, and a scientist needs only a few thousand to put bread on the table, it creates a gigantic power differential that is open to abuse.

Bureaucrats can funnel research grants to scientists who support their agenda and withhold money from those who don’t. When this happens consistently enough, word gets out in the scientific community and pressures everyone to toe the line.

Government-awarded research grants can make the difference between keeping a program afloat and needing to find a new job. You can imagine how strongly that can influence research outcomes. I make no particular accusations here; you can research the subject yourself. I am only pointing out that among mere mortals, the incentive to skew science is strong.

Pruitt has not directly addressed this problem. Instead, he addressed a related practice that made the problem even worse. Breaking its own ethical standards, the EPA has been appointing these same scientists to its own advisory boards.

This creates a situation of inbreeding. Not only can the EPA put its huge thumb on the scale to affect research, it could also amplify that skewed research by giving those scientists direct influence over the policymakers.

Last fall, Pruitt ended this over-the-top abuse. Now, scientists simply have to choose one or the other. They can either serve on EPA advisory boards without EPA money given to their research programs, or they can receive EPA research grants and step down from the boards. They can’t do both. While this doesn’t end all temptation to skew science, it does moderate it greatly.

In late March, Pruitt announced another improvement in EPA accountability; the EPA will ban the use of “secret science.” This sounds like a no-brainer. After all, the very word “science” means knowing. How can you have knowledge that is unknown (secret)?

One of the fundamental rules of science is that research should be objective and repeatable by any other scientist. This is the whole idea of “peer review.” If your own scientific colleagues cannot verify your research, it is worthless science.

But for years the EPA has been making and enforcing rules on the basis of “scientific studies” that it refuses to release to the public. For decades, expensive air quality regulations have been promulgated, based on tax-payer funded studies conducted by Harvard and BYU. But when an EPA advisory panel asked to review the studies, it was denied.

Later, congress also asked for access to the studies. It too was refused. So, in 1998 it  passed a law requiring that scientific data used by the EPA to make rules be released to the public. But, a federal judge threw out that law. In 2013 it subpoenaed the information. The EPA still refused.

Finally, the House of Representatives passed three separate bills to stop the EPA from making regulations based on “science” that is unavailable to the public. None of these became law. So, after the EPA sandbagged the American public for a quarter of a century, Pruitt finally corrected the situation himself.

He signed a directive that the EPA cannot make any rules based on science that it is unwilling to release to the public. The era of “secret science” is over, at least for now.

There are more good things happening at the EPA besides these. But just knowing about these three changes ought to assure the reader that improvement in government can and does happen from time to time. Kudos to Scott Pruitt for his work at the EPA.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Gender Dysphoria Deserves Better than Transgender Politics

I have a dear friend who suffers from gender dysphoria. The inner pain he experiences, and the level of struggle he maintains just to function day to day breaks my heart. I will give no identifying details to protect him from bullies. Some goad him to live as the opposite sex. Some ridicule him because he once did. Often the same bully does both.

He is capable and smart. He knows, full-well, that he is a man who can never become a woman. Nor does he claim to know what a woman feels, he only knows his own feelings. They are the feelings of a man who experiences an irrational, yet overwhelming dissociation from his own embodiment.

I can describe it, but I can’t imagine what it is like. I do not experience it myself. Neither does the vast majority of the population — including the army of transactivists and social justice warriors who are pushing him to live as a woman. It is important to emphasize this point. Transactivists rarely suffer gender dysphoria themselves, nor do they represent people with gender dysphoria. Activists represent only activists.

Rose McGowen, Transactivist
My friend does not need activists who only imagine they know how he feels. He needs people who care enough to know him personally. He doesn’t need psychologists who assert without proof that a “physical transition” will help him, or surgeons who are willing to take his money knowing full-well they can never make him a female. He needs doctors who are competent enough to give him effective and long-term help.

There is more than enough scientific, medical and psychological literature on gender dysphoria, and enough long-term research to know that surgical and chemical attempts to alter the body ultimately fail as treatments. Not only do they fail, they are highly dangerous. Among those who surgically or chemically alter their bodies the suicide rate spikes to 19.1 times the overall population.

That’s not a 19% increase, but 1,910% increase. This appallingly high suicide rate cannot be dismissed as the result of societal stigma or disapproval. The study was conducted in Sweden, where cosmetic surgery to conform the body to a more feminine, or masculine, appearance has long been accepted.

We may disagree about almost everything else, but can’t we still agree that suicide is a negative outcome that we should all be working to avoid? The fact that there are people desperate enough to cut off perfectly functioning organs and spend tens of thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgeries speaks to how deeply they are hurting. The fact that such surgeries do not decrease the suicide risk, but may actually increase it, speaks to how desperately they need real solutions rather than wishful thinking.

Dr. Paul McHugh, Johns-Hopkins
It is inexpressibly sad that real solutions are being denied my friend. If he had been born a decade earlier, or, likely, a few years in the future he would be benefiting from the scientific studies that caused Johns-Hopkins to offer better solutions than failed attempts at cosmetic surgery and hormones designed for a different body.

But like the lobotomy craze of the 1940s, countless people are being permanently scarred by medical procedures that the next generation will regard as quackery. They will be stunned to find that people as learned as Professor Deanna Adkins of Duke University solemnly swore that, “chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, [and] external genitalia,” are “counter to medical science.”

That’s akin to saying that rocks, sediments and fossils are counter to geological science. Apart from these, what alternative empirical evidence exists? Adkins never answers this question. Neither does she cite any evidence for her claim. Transactivists dress up their dogma in scientific language, but it’s pure ideology.

It was not new scientific discoveries that caused the American Psychiatric Association, in 2013, to remove references to “gender identity disorder” from their basic treatment manual, DSM-5. Rather, it was politicization of the APA and behind-the-scenes power plays that substituted ideology for proven science.

This false ideology is now showing up in Wyoming higher education. Transactivists proposed to the Board of Trustees at Eastern Wyoming College two new policies which will make it harder for real people with gender dysphoria to get help.

Claiming to create a “work environment free from discrimination,” the proposed “Transgender Employment Policy” (Board Policy 3.27), proscribes any speech or action challenging the idea that surgical, chemical or cosmetic alterations to a person’s body are the best way to care for those with gender dysphoria.

There are no policies that forbid blasphemy or vulgarity in the work place. But these prescribe pronouns and punish gender-heretics. They deny academic freedom and threaten the careers of any faculty or staff who continue to research, speak or write about the best science available concerning gender identity. Lectures, articles and social media, on- or off-campus, can bring the censure of the HR department. Censorship is real.

The real tragedy is that these measures effectively block people with gender dysphoria from hearing about more effective treatment. A policy that requires the wholesale embrace of radical surgery, hormone blockers, and various non-FDA-approved treatments as a condition for continued employment, creates a hostile working environment for everyone, the very opposite of its stated purpose.

The policy adopts the ideologically driven term “sex assigned at birth.” Medicine and science has never thought that sex is “assigned” at birth, or any other time. Sex is a reality from the moment of conception. It is discovered, not assigned. If it were otherwise, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the ACLU would not have mobilized in more than a dozen states to defeat legislation protecting females from sex-select abortion prior to birth.

Nevertheless, despite retractions of the infamous “Dear Colleague Letter” by the US Departments of Education and Justice, the EWC policy proposes to allow access to male and female restrooms and locker-room facilities based on something other than maleness of femaleness.

Sex-differentiated restrooms exist to guard modesty and protect bodies. If that’s no longer their purpose, we should remove all signs from restroom doors. At least that would maintain truth in advertising.

Women entering non-specified locker-rooms could know ahead of time that men might be inside. But to say one thing on the door and another thing in policy abuses not only language, but women. Sensitivity to gender dysphoria should not be insensitive to the human need for privacy, safety and dignity.

The proposed policy also directs the Human Resources office to “update official personnel records to reflect the employee’s new gender and name after a transitioning employee has fully transitioned.” But “full transition” is as elusive as a unicorn.

Every medical doctor knows that no matter how many organs are removed from a body, or how many cosmetic alterations are made to a person’s appearance, a male cannot become a female, and a female cannot become a male.

Not only is this true from a medical standpoint, but even the policies themselves testify to this fact. Dealing with “Transgender Student Athletic Participation,” Board Policy 5.14 discriminates between a “male-to-female (MTF) transgender student-athlete,” and a “female-to-male (FTM) transgender student athlete.” If a person were truly able to “fully transition,” such discrimination would be simultaneously impossible and unjust.

In writing a policy intended to teach that surgical “full transition” is possible, one wonders if the activists ever considered what they are saying to men and women who have unwillingly lost sexual organs. These people are being taught the false and outrageous message that such surgeries have made them less than men or women.

Confused and self-contradictory transgender policy proposals damage academic freedom, create a hostile work environment and unfairly disadvantage student athletes. Worst of all, they misinform students, staff or faculty who suffer from gender dysphoria and interfere with their rights to find the most effective help. Policy makers would do well to study the latest scholarship on transgenderism, rather than be bullied into adopting an ideology that is rapidly unraveling.

A good place to begin is the comprehensive study by Dr. Ryan Anderson, titled: “When Harry Met Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.” An informed discussion of these matters would be a step forward for higher education, rather than a return to the outdated notions of the 1970s.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Government-Compelled Speech

Last Tuesday, non-profit clinics that educate people on the health risks of smoking, and help get them the resources to quit, took a southern tobacco-state to federal court.

These clinics are already fighting an uphill battle. They operate in a state that subsidizes tobacco growers by using tax-payer money to buy cigarettes for free distribution. Then, the state enacted another law designed to target anti-tobacco organizations.

The law requires every quit-smoking clinic to post a government-worded sign, visible to everyone who enters the clinic, that says, “This state has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost [cigarettes] for eligible [smokers]. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [phone number].”

The very reason that these clinics exist is out of love for smokers who are overwhelmingly encouraged and pressured to smoke. The last thing they want to do is be the conduit for yet another message that makes smoking more attractive. But not only are they compelled by law to deliver the message, both the size of the print and the number of languages in which it must be printed are also legislated.

Testimony during the law’s passage in 2015 leaves no doubt that its intent is to hamper the work of these clinics. During committee hearings, sponsors of the law testified, “Unfortunately, there are nearly 200 licensed and unlicensed clinics… [which] aim to discourage [smoking and help those seeking to quit].”

The law was passed to ensure that people would not be “confused or misinformed” about their rights to free or low-cost [cigarettes]. It states, “[smokers] should receive information about their rights and available services at the sites where they obtain their care,” – meaning the quit-smoking clinics themselves.

With such a broad aim, you would think that the government-worded signs would be placed wherever health care is received. But the law includes language which exempts thousands of medical clinics so long as they already participate in state programs to distribute cigarettes.

Lawyers for the clinics pointed out that the 200 non-smoking clinics scattered throughout the state comprise more than 98% of the clinics covered by the law, while many thousands are exempt.

Imagine by now: your blood is boiling enough to start writing letters and fighting this grossly unjust and harmful law. All you need is the name of the state where it’s happening.

Please forgive me. I lied.

There is no southern tobacco state that is doing any such thing. Nobody is subsidizing big tobacco. No state is giving away free cigarettes. Nobody is forcing quit-smoking clinics to promote smoking. I made that all up. But I had a lot of help.

The quotations above are all taken from a different case which actually was argued before the Supreme Court last Tuesday. It was the case of NIFLA v. Becerra. The quotes are verbatim. Only the words in the brackets are changed. There I substituted “quit-smoking” for “pregnancy,” “smokers,” for “women,” and “free cigarettes” for “free abortions.”

Becerra is the Attorney General of California, which really does use taxpayer money to subsidize the world’s biggest, and most profitable abortion corporation. While the Hyde amendment prevents the federal government from using your tax dollars to pay for abortions, the state of California has no such restrictions. They encourage abortions by paying for them with state funds.

Still, there are over 200 clinics in a population of nearly 40 million, that have no government funding. They operate by the sheer generosity of ordinary people who care about women and children. They have studied the literature and observed their own family and friends who have struggled after abortions.

They have seen for themselves how abortion hurts women and men, children and families. Out of love for these people, and with no hope of profit or gain, they maintain clinics to help complete strangers who come in to talk realistically about the physical, reproductive, emotional and spiritual risks of abortion.

They want to know if there are any viable alternatives, or support networks that can help them if they choose not to get an abortion. Little of this information is volunteered by the state.

It is these clinics that have been targeted by The California Reproductive FACT Act of 2015. This law requires non-profit pregnancy centers, but hardly any other women’s clinics, to deliver a message that they believe is harmful to women and antithetical to their very reason to exist.

The state of California had a tough day at the Supreme Court. Even justices Kagan, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor – typically pro-abortion politicians – expressed loud misgivings about the California law.

The swing-vote on abortion and free speech issues is usually Anthony Kennedy. Even he openly scoffed at California’s lawyer when he suggested that the law could be remanded back to a lower court to iron out the rough spots. Kennedy said, “You want me to have a remand for them to tell the court what a ‘billboard’ is?”

As Nicole Russell wrote in The Federalist, “Hint to California: When you have frustrated Kennedy and Ginsburg with your burdensome, discriminatory law, it’s unlikely to stand.”

Let’s hope she’s right. But the very fact that this law has been enacted at all, and that it has passed numerous court challenges for more than two years is chilling.

I began this article with an extended fable. I spun a yarn about a similarly crazy law meant to protect big tobacco and crush the free speech of quit-smoking clinics. I did this for a good reason.

I know, as well as you, that if I had mentioned abortion in the opening lines of the column, a sizable portion of my audience would have yawned and tuned out the rest of the column. I knew that a state’s compelling speech in favor of tobacco would be outrageous, while a state’s compelling speech in favor of abortion would be blandly approved saying, “well, if it’s the law, it’s the law.”

This attitude, which approves any state-compelled speech that I want to hear, while only getting worked up if the state compels speech that I don’t like, is totalitarian to the core. It is willing to use the awful power of the state to promote one idea over another. It produces an environment where whoever works the levers of power, determines what is “truth.”

Pontius Pilate lived in such an environment and knew how to work its levers. One day he stood looking the Truth squarely in the face and was not able to recognize Him. All he could manage was a weak-minded and dismissive question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

The fact that this case has passed muster in every state and federal court to date, demonstrates just how corrupt our judicial system has become. Worse, the relative silence of our press corps reveals how complicit our newspapers and media outlets have become in taking away our rights of free speech. Are they so naïve as to think that the levers of power will never be used against them?

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I could have started this week’s column with an up-front analysis of how California is forcing pregnancy resource centers to promote the very harm that they exist to reduce. Perhaps the editorial staff of this paper would have used its own freedom of the press to editorialize against the law even if they disagree with the message of pregnancy clinics.

I would like to think so. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Until they do, it is up to us to stand against government-compelled speech wherever it may be found. It is our fundamental line of defense of the truth, against the exercise of raw, governmental power.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Meet Lucas Warren

Ann Turner Cook recently celebrated her 91st birthday. You may not recognize her name, but you surely know her face. She is the iconic baby sketched in charcoal that has graced Gerber baby-food jars since 1928.

More recently, Gerber has initiated an annual photo contest to name a national “Spokesbaby of the year.” This year more than 140,000 pictures were submitted, and on February 7 Gerber announced the winner.

Lucas Warren is the eighth annual Gerber Spokesbaby. Son of Courtney and Jason Warren of Dalton, Georgia, Lucas has an infectious smile and an endearing personality. The photo that made him famous caught him in mid-giggle sitting in an overstuffed chair with white pants and aqua shirt, bare feet, and black polka-dot bowtie to complete the ensemble.

The name “Lucas” means “light.” He is certainly that. Courtney said, "We hope this opportunity sheds light on the special needs community and educates people that with acceptance and support, individuals with special needs have the potential to change the world -- just like our Lucas!"

Part of what makes Lucas so adorable is genetic. Of course, that’s true of every photogenic person. He can’t take credit for his facial features or physique. Nor can he be blamed. These things are just as much a part of who he is as his gender, eye color, and inborn talents.

People have always appeared, in every nation, who have shared Lucas’ endearing characteristics. They have also shared a number of physical and mental challenges. In 1866, John Langdon Down described this grouping of characteristics, which came to be called, “Down Syndrome.” Later, in 1959, it was discovered that most (not all) of the people who share these characteristics have an extra copy of the 21st chromosome pair.

All human beings have 23 pairs of chromosomes. When there is an extra copy at position 21, there are three, instead of two. The technical name for this is “trisomy 21” (meaning three chromosomes at the 21st position). For reasons that nobody fully understands, it tends to manifest itself in a cluster of symptoms that are similar, but not identical, from one person to another.

In 2006 the United Nations declared March 21 to be World Down Syndrome Day. The date was chosen because, when written: 3-21, it connotes 3 chromosomes at the 21st position.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon said, "On this day, let us reaffirm that persons with Down syndrome are entitled to the full and effective enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Let us each do our part to enable children and persons with Down syndrome to participate fully in the development and life of their societies on an equal basis with others. Let us build an inclusive society for all."

As we mark World Down Syndrome Day, let’s start by noting that it is a chromosomal reality, not a disease. Every person is born with a specific genetic makeup. It is unalterably a part of who you are. This specific makeup is duplicated in every single one of your 100 trillion cells. You cannot change your genes any more than you can change your past.

This condition is not a virus like the flu, nor is it an infection like pneumonia, still less a cancer. It is much more like blue eyes and blonde hair. But even this isn’t quite it. Blue eyes and blonde hair are hereditary. Down syndrome is not. It is not a family trait that is inherited or passed on to the next generation. It is simply a genetic trait appears in some people.

That’s why Iceland’s attempts to wipe out Down syndrome are pure evil. You cannot wipe it out like a disease, with drugs and inoculation. You cannot even wipe it out like a race, through genocide and sterilization. You can only wipe out individual people who have it, with no hope of preventing it in the next generation.

Killing people with Down syndrome serves no rational purpose. It is a policy born of ignorance and fear. Worse, what it communicates to those so affected is simply unimaginable. Did nobody in all of Iceland consider how a person with Down syndrome would react to a national policy which calls for his or her utter extinction?

For that matter, did the ACLU, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood give any thought to the 250,000 people with Down syndrome living in America, or 6 million worldwide? What is it like to be told that others have the right to kill you based on a single gene?

Yet every state that has enacted a law to prohibit genetic discrimination has met the litigious fury of abortion activists. Most recently a federal judge has stopped Ohio’s law from going into effect this Friday (March 23, 2018), while Indiana’s law was halted last September. North Dakota’s law is still in effect, while Utah is on the verge of passing its own.

To treat people with Down syndrome as though they had a disease is both unjust and ignorant. But neither should we treat people with Down syndrome as though their genes don’t matter. What cannot be changed should not be punished, but neither should it be ignored.

Basic human rights require that we treat all people with equal human dignity while also respecting the realities of their bodies. This is true whether we are considering the XY chromosomes in the 23rd position that make people male or female, or a triplicate chromosome in the 13th, 18th, or 21st place. Each is unalterably part of their humanity and should be treated as such.

The fact that people with trisomy 21 often experience significant challenges to their health is no different than the fact that people with cancer in their genes will also experience significant challenges to their health.

But trisomy 21 became singled out from every other genetic challenge around 1970 when tests became available to screen for it prior to birth. Although such tests can produce as many as 25 false positives for every true instance of Down syndrome, nearly nine in ten children are aborted after a positive test.

If prenatal tests should be developed that can detect cancer-causing genes, will those people also be eliminated in similar numbers? For that matter, how long before we come to the point of eliminating people on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis that they will, one day, die?

Trisomy 21 happens when either the mother’s egg (88%) or the father’s sperm (8%), contains a duplicated chromosome at the 21st place. When the child is conceived, and this DNA strand combines with the other, instead of the usual 23 sets of pairs, the set at place 21 is a triad.

Triplicate chromosomes (trisomies) can occur at any of the 23 places on the DNA strand. However, we rarely see people other than trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) and trisomy 23 (Intersex). People with trisomy at other places on the DNA chain usually do not survive to birth.

Some believe that genetics is simply a matter of dumb luck. If so, choice only enters when we either accept or eliminate its products. But for those who believe in a God who creates all things, genetics is already a choice, made by One higher than ourselves.

God Himself has chosen to make trisomy 21 and 23 so that people with them do not die before birth. These naturally live and grace us with their presence. They are a specific gift of God and not a “problem” to be fixed.

A society that keeps this view in mind will never make people with Down syndrome feel unwanted or undervalued. It will be “an inclusive society for all,” as Ban Ki-moon urged us to build. Still more, it will be a society that loves and is loved.

Those who know people with trisomy 21 have experienced God’s gift directly. There are few people on earth today who are so filled with joy, and bring so much joy to those around them. I have never known a parent of someone with Down syndrome who would trade this joy for a more “healthy” child.

On this World Down Syndrome Day, seek out such people and experience the joy for yourself.

Further Reading:
The Federalist - People With Down Syndrome Deserve Our Love, Not Genocide

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Who Decides What Happens in Places of Worship?

HEA 34 (HB 141) is not a gun bill; it is a government bill. “Concealed Weapons in Places of Worship” is not about whether concealed weapons will be in places of worship or not. It is about whether church or state decides the matter, and whether it is enforced by guns or by the Word of God.”

Short of armed guards and metal detectors, the only people who can keep guns out of the sanctuary are the worshipers themselves. This is as obviously true as it is routinely forgotten.

Worshipers whose piety prohibits armaments in the house of God will empty purses and pockets of knives and guns without being asked. Those who see no conflict between piety and what is in their purse may, or may not, be corrected by church authorities.

It is an entirely different matter when the state enacts a law. These neither depend on religious sensibilities, nor on respect for sacred spaces and clergy. Rather, state laws rest upon the threat of fines and incarceration. Such threats may, or may not, persuade worshipers to leave weapons at home. But they definitely do invite secular power into the church.

Laws and rules can only accomplish two things. 1) They can instruct people about what behavior is expected. 2) They authorize punishment and correction for those who are caught breaking them.

When the church sets the rules, it remains clear that the church retains both the teaching authority and the enforcement of the rules. State laws—even those in complete agreement with church rules—assert that the state has teaching authority in the house of God, and necessarily transfer the enforcement authority from the church to the state.

That’s what current Wyoming law does. It brings the state inside the walls of churches, stake houses and synagogues. It requires the “chief administrator” of a church to write a permit for anyone with a weapon. If he fails to do this, law enforcement officials are automatically authorized to arrest the carrier and punish him or her with a $750 fine and six months in jail.

Of course, nobody objects to a church’s authority to institute and enforce a weapons ban. The problem is that when the state makes the decision, it must also enforce it, stripping the church of its proper enforcement authority.

To see the problem, just imagine if the state did the same thing in every house. Instead of letting homeowners make and enforce their own rules, what if the state decreed that if any person carried a weapon into a home without written permission, the police could enter that home and arrest the perpetrator—even if the homeowner isn’t bothered by the weapon, but simply forgot to write a permission slip. That is exactly how current Wyoming statute treats houses of worship. HB 141 was introduced to right this wrong.

The “Principle of Subsidiarity,” involved here, is precisely why the U.S. Constitution was written to limit the power of the state. Alexis de Tocqueville observed this principle at work in communities across America as he reports in his classic study “Democracy in America.”

The term “Subsidiarity” was coined by the First Vatican Council in 1891. It means that "a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level" (Oxford English Dictionary). Simply put, the state should never make a law if the issue can be handled perfectly well by the church or family.

This doctrine recognizes that families and churches are the most basic building blocks of society. It recognizes that flourishing societies are made up of individuals, families, churches and various mediating institutions that have robust self-governance. Every decision that could be made at a local level, but is usurped by a higher level of governance, weakens families, churches and ultimately society itself.

The application of the Second Amendment within houses of worship is just exactly one such decision. Do we really think that a priest, bishop or pastor is powerless to enforce the gun policy of a congregation? Do we think that elders, parish councils or stake presidencies are too ham-handed to decide a sensible policy, faithful to the Scriptures that they preach?

While current law does allow the decision to be overridden by the local parish council, it does not allow for enforcement to be reclaimed by the local church authority. This creates serious unintended consequences.

If a woman’s purse accidently falls off the pew and spills out a gun carried for self-defense, the local pastor or priest would normally have any number of sensitive and discrete options to deal with the sticky situation. These options might range from privately asking her to exercise more care to publicly assuring the congregation that she will lock the gun in the car from now on. He can even call law enforcement and ask for assistance.

But under current law, those options can be denied. She has technically broken the law and may be fined up to $750 and be incarcerated for six months. The decision about whether or not to press these charges lies not with the local parish but with the local prosecutor. Suddenly, an indiscretion that could easily have been handled in-house can be blown out of proportion by anybody who wants to enforce the letter of the law.

As I write these words, I am remembering a group of courageous and principled Trappist monks who died as martyrs near Mt. Atlas, Algeria, in 1996. Their story is told in a beautiful movie called “Of Gods and Men.”

As a civil war swept the nation, their monastery became increasingly vulnerable to attack. Local officials begged them to leave for their own safety. The monks, out of love for the local village, refused. The Algerian government, in a final bid to keep the monks safe, wanted to station troops to protect the monastery with guns. The monks refused even this.

They were kidnapped on March 27, almost 22 years ago, and beheaded on the 21st of May. The movie won the Grand Prix at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. It powerfully illustrates both of the principles involved in HB 141.

By refusing to weaponize the monastery, the monks voluntarily applied their doctrine to the difficult situation they faced. Not all will choose their course of action, but all should have the freedom to do so.

Self-sacrificial love is a deliberate, personal choice to follow in the footsteps of God. The less it is self-consciously chosen, the less it is like Christ. Government intervention in matters pertaining to the house of God undermine faith, whether that intervention happens to agree with a person’s faith, or not.

Governor Mead’s signature on HEA 34 (HB 141) should not be understood as state approval of guns in the house of God. It is the very opposite of the state enforcing its opinion over church matters. By repealing a bad statute, it correctly renounces any state authority over otherwise-lawful activities in places of worship, and recognizes that the church, and only the church, should teach and enforce rules on church property.