It’s Time to Restore Free Speech to American Churches

For more than 60 years, the federal government has been sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong, threatening to punish houses of worship and their leaders for what they say.

The Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced in Congress earlier this week and, if enacted, would go a long way toward ending that.

Ever since 1954, when Congress enacted the Johnson Amendment, the IRS has been telling churches that it has the power to monitor their speech.

Under that law, if pastors or other clergy say anything that (in the government’s opinion) is “on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,” the feds can begin taxing them and potentially bring about their financial ruin.

The history behind that speech-censoring law is not what you might expect.

Most people might assume that it was part of secularists’ relentless efforts to “separate church and state.” But the story that history tells is quite different.

In the 1950s, then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, faced stiff criticism from nonreligious nonprofit organizations. In order to silence their attacks against his future campaigns, he introduced a bill to ban all nonprofit groups from speaking for or against political candidates.

Interestingly enough, churches weren’t even the target of his proposal.

But regardless of Johnson’s intent, houses of worship nevertheless find themselves squarely within that law’s reach. And for well over half a century, they’ve had to continually wonder when their speech on some of the most pressing political issues of the day might trigger IRS scrutiny.

This tramples on the rightful role of churches.

Pastors, priests, and other clergy are called to instruct their congregants in all areas of life. The holy texts of the Abrahamic faiths have implications for everything in life, including politics and how to vote.

As Christian theologian and former Prime Minister of the Netherlands Abraham Kuyper wrote, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

The Johnson Amendment, however, carves out portions of this domain and labels them off-limits for churches unwilling to incur steep financial penalties.

The Johnson Amendment’s scope is sometimes misunderstood. It doesn’t just prohibit clergy from telling congregants who to vote for; it reaches beyond that, threatening to punish all houses of worship for saying anything that the IRS might deem to be in favor of, or in opposition to, a political candidate.

That vague guidance makes it impossible for religious leaders to know what crosses the line and what doesn’t.

Consider these scenarios: What if a pastor states in a sermon that a politician is unfit because his or her personal morality is not in line with the Bible’s teachings? Or what if a rabbi remarks that a politician’s immigration proposals do or do not honor the lessons of his faith’s sacred texts?

It’s not clear whether one, neither, or both of these examples cross the line.

But this we do know—churches and other houses of worship shouldn’t have to worry about this.

They should be free to speak on personal morality, immigration policies, and countless other issues as they relate to anything, including political candidates, and they should be free to do so without fear of government punishment.

The Free Speech Fairness Act would put an end to religious leaders’ playing this guessing game.

It would tell the federal government to stop scrutinizing what churches say about political candidates, and it would lift the muzzles that now cover America’s pulpits on the many issues that often cross into the realm of politics.

The often misunderstood idea of “separation of church and state” is a common objection to bills like the Free Speech Fairness Act. But those sorts of arguments have it exactly backwards: The Free Speech Fairness Act would actually restore (rather than undermine) a proper division between the government and the church.

Currently, bureaucrats are empowered to monitor pastors’ sermons. What could be a greater governmental intrusion into a church’s operations than that?

By removing a primary basis upon which the IRS inspects what clergy say, the Free Speech Fairness Act would put the government back in its proper place.

Over six decades ago, Texas politician Lyndon Johnson set off a chain of events that invited federal officials to meddle where they didn’t belong. The Free Speech Fairness Act says it’s high time we sent them packing.

Commentary by the Alliance Defending Freedom's Jim Campbell.  Originally published at The Daily Signal.

Why People Are Leaving Blue States in Droves

Some Americans think state boundaries and the principle of federalism are outdated relics from the past. They couldn’t be further from the truth.

New data in a report from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) paint a clear picture: States with the best policies are being rewarded with an influx of residents, and states with unattractive policies are losing residents.

Take two of the most high-tax, high-spend states in the union: New York and Illinois.

Over the last decade, New York has suffered a net loss of nearly 1.5 million residents and over 650,000 Illinoisans have moved elsewhere. Meanwhile, Texas, a right-to-work state with no income or estate tax, saw its population grow by 1.3 million.

Despite their appealing metropolitan hubs, New York and Illinois are shedding denizens.

States that scored high on the ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index, which takes into consideration 15 variables from the number of public employees to sales tax rates, have seen an influx of job-creating companies and taxpaying citizens over the last decade, while low-scoring blue states have been losing both.
While tax rates and labor laws are not the only factors that contribute to a state’s flourishing, the correlation between sound economic policy and private sector growth is clear.

The formula is simple. Good policy contributes to vibrant economies, and vibrant economies attract people eager for opportunity.

‘Laboratories of Democracy’

Federalism is about creating competition between the states by allowing them to craft their own respective policies, and then seeing what policies work best. This system has even more to commend it today than at the time of the founding.

Contrary to the expectations of progressive social scientists and pundits, government spending stimulates the government, but little else. A high minimum wage ultimately hurts those it is meant to serve. Progressive tax rates do not close chasmal blue state budget gaps.

Federalism is not just a boon to citizens—it is an advantage to state policymakers as well.

The states are often thought of as “laboratories of democracy.” That expression was initially coined by Justice Louis Brandeis, who ironically did not subscribe to the competitive view of federalism.

The idea is that when states implement policies, they provide test cases from which other states can learn. When a policy pays off, other states typically follow suit; when a policy is cursed by unintended consequences, other states can avoid the same pitfalls.

Many progressives claim that allowing states wide discretion to establish their own fiscal policies and regulatory regimes will result in a “race to the bottom” in which states attempt to drive out their poor and needy by decreasing welfare payments and lure in corporations by eliminating important regulations.

Political scientists have shown, however, that when it comes to welfare programs, public health regulations, and environmental protections, competition is what drives innovative and efficient solutions.

In other words, for progressives who are willing to pay the high price tag for expensive public services, there are still plenty of states willing to oblige.

Another critique of studies like the ALEC-Laffer Index is they heap too much praise on red states that implement conservative fiscal policies when, in fact, their citizens are shielded from the real downsides of fiscal conservatism—namely, limited spending on social programs.

Federal welfare policies allow frugal state governments to get credit for lowering taxes without taking the blame for cutting popular social safety net programs.

Essentially, critics argue, progressive federal policies end up subsidizing conservative state policies. As a result, states that score high on the ALEC-Laffer Index end up looking more appealing to more people.

On its face, this critique has some merit. Many of the states that score the highest on the ALEC-Laffer Index also tend to be states that get more money back from the federal government—mostly in the form of welfare payments—than they pay in taxes.

North Dakota, ranked No. 3 on the ALEC-Laffer Index, gets back $1.68 for every dollar paid in taxes. Tennessee and Oklahoma, also in the ALEC-Laffer top 10, get more back from the federal coffers than they put in as well.

Meanwhile, California, only four spots from the bottom on the ALEC-Laffer Index, gets only 78 cents back for every dollar sent to Washington. New York, dead last on the index, retrieves only 79 cents.

But federal policy also insulates residents of blue states from the full consequences of progressive fiscal policies.
Under current law, individuals can deduct their state taxes from their overall income for the purposes of determining what they owe the federal government in taxes. Thus, state politicians can hike up their tax rates without changing the effective tax rate their citizens pay.

While federal spending may make low-tax red states more appealing to residents and potential residents, the state tax deduction does the same for blue states.

Still, the broader thrust of this progressive critique is correct. Federal policy does alleviate some of the downsides that come along with both conservative and progressive fiscal policy.

A More Perfect Federalism

For the states to function as true laboratories of democracy, they should bear even more of the costs—and reap more of the rewards—of their policies.

The federal government should put more of the onus of funding and managing social welfare programs on the states and also consider eliminating the state and local tax deduction. This way, the real costs and benefits of state policies will be clear to citizens who can vote—or move—accordingly.

Were this done, the appeal of economically responsible red states would likely be even higher than ALEC’s study demonstrates it already is.

Lessons learned from state experimentation are of critical importance today.

As ALEC’s recent report shows, every one of the 50 states is wrestling with the mounting expense of unfunded liabilities caused by generous pensions and social welfare programs. Some states, like Arizona, are addressing the problem early and aggressively and others are taking note.

As state governments roll out various packages of cuts and revenue-raising measures to push themselves back into the black, they will provide test cases not just for one another, but for our radically insolvent federal government as well.

Commentary by John York.  Originally published at The Daily Signal.

How to Navigate a Financial Emergency

(Family Features) Your washing machine suddenly breaks down, a child requires a laptop for school or your car needs new tires. Sometimes surprise bills can be difficult to cover.

Life’s financial emergencies happen to everyone, but 6 in 10 Americans cannot cover an unexpected $500 bill without selling something or borrowing money, according to Bankrate.

As many as 70 percent of U.S. families live paycheck to paycheck, according to Alok Deshpande, founder of SmartPath Financial Education. In fact, less than 30 percent of families today have anything left at the end of the month to put in savings. That reality is echoed by a recent GoBankingRates survey, which revealed that 69 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings and 34 percent don’t have any savings at all.

“When you don’t have cash for something you need, there are many different financing options available. However, few realize that many of these options can lead to a debt spiral that can be difficult to pull out of,” said Richard Carrano, CEO of Purchasing Power, an employee purchase program offering consumer products and services through payroll deduction at the workplace.

“Regrettably, circumstances and bank accounts don’t always align. That’s why it’s so important to be ‘credit educated’ – to understand hidden costs and fees associated with high-risk credit options and avoid making financial mistakes that can hound you months, even years later.”

Buying items on sub-prime credit or through high-interest vehicles like payday or title loans can be risky propositions, particularly if you have a low credit score to begin with. Understanding your options can help ensure you make the best choice to meet your short-term needs without compromising your long-term finances. Consider the following:

Paying cash for a major purchase makes the most sense in terms of avoiding exorbitant fees and preventing credit dings from missed payments. However, cash may not always be readily available.

Credit cards:
Chances are, even with a shaky financial history, you can find a creditor willing to offer you a line of credit, but you’ll likely have a steep annual percentage rate that accrues each month. Furthermore, if you’re unable to repay more than the monthly minimum, you could end up carrying that debt for years before it’s fully paid down.

Employee purchase programs:
Research shows that financial stress at home regularly impacts employee productivity at work. This leads many employers to offer an employee purchase program such as Purchasing Power, which allows you to buy what you need through automatic paycheck deductions over a 12-month period. There’s no credit check, zero interest and no hidden fees. There’s also a free financial wellness platform to help with budgeting, credit reports and personal coaching. Learn more at

Rent to own:
With rent-to-own products, you pay a monthly principal amount plus service fees and taxes for a period of time, up to completing the rental agreement and owning the item outright. While the monthly rate makes items like appliances and furniture immediately accessible, be wary of the long-term cost. Renters can end up paying as much as three times the retail value of an item before satisfying the terms for ownership.

Payday/Title loans:
Essentially, these loans function as a loan against a future paycheck or your vehicle. They often come with high percentage rates and fees, as well as extremely short repayment schedules. Rely on these loans only if you are certain you can cover the entire loan and associated fees by the designated due date.

Whatever option you choose for emergency financing, understanding the repercussions can help you long-term.

Main image (couple budgeting) courtesy of Getty Images
Purchasing Power

Changing the end of life care conversation

(BPT) - Hospice and palliative care services help people with illnesses no longer responding to curative treatment face death on their own terms, most often at home or in a familiar setting. No matter where a person chooses to receive these services, hospice staff can guide them and their families through difficult decisions surrounding end-of-life care.

Many families feel overwhelmed when told by a physician that a loved one has six months or less to live. A physician may use the terms “palliative care” or “hospice care,” which often raises questions about the details regarding these services.

Both hospice and palliative care are patient- and family-centered health care options that address physical, emotional and spiritual pain. Hospice is limited to terminally ill patients who meet Medicare’s eligibility requirements and focuses on enhancing comfort and quality of life during the final months of life — without curative intent. Palliative care is available regardless of the diagnosis and may or may not include curative options along with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness. Families of patients in hospice care gain access to caregiver education and training, help with difficult decisions, respite care, and bereavement services, among others.

There is no "One size fits all"

Hospice and palliative care can be delivered at home, in a nursing home, a dedicated hospice facility or an acute care hospital. These services have come a long way since the first U.S. hospice facility opened in Branford, Connecticut in 1974.

According to Joseph Shega, MD, senior vice president and national medical director for VITAS Healthcare, the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care, “we started as pioneers in this area of health care about four decades ago and it has been gratifying to see how the practice of hospice and palliative care has truly transformed the way people think about and manage end-of-life experiences.” He explains that “it’s so important to preserve comfort, respect and dignity in the face of terminal illness.”

A growing number of Americans are choosing to access hospice services, which are covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance. In 2014, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) reported nearly 2 million Americans received hospice care, and according to AARP, among those 50 to 64 years old, 71 percent want to "age in place," in their own homes. When people are in control of where and how they face the end-of-life, they can focus more time on experiencing meaningful moments with loved ones.

How to start "The conversation"

If you were unable to speak for yourself, do your loved ones know what kind of medical care you would want? Do you know what they would want?

Having a conversation about end-of-life care and advance directives may not be the easiest conversation you’ll ever have, but it is one of the most important.

Despite the topic’s importance, only 27 percent of Americans report having talked with their families about end-of-life care. The best way to make your medical wishes known is to create an advance directive and share it with your family and your doctor.

Have the conversation and don’t wait for a crisis. Failing to communicate healthcare choices can lead to anguish, family conflicts and unintended costs that can result when patients no longer can tell their loved ones what kind of care or which “heroic measures” they would accept or reject.

Talk to your loved ones—briefly, in depth, frequently, lightly, seriously—about your wishes. We suggest using milestone events—wedding, anniversary, birthday, retirement, graduation, downsizing move, family holiday—to hold “what if” conversations with loved ones. Keep it light but heartfelt. You may be surprised: letting your loved ones know your wishes could start a frank conversation among the generations about terminal illness, funerals, religious beliefs and other end-of-life concerns.

If you or a loved one is ready to talk about end-of-life care options or would like to find out more about hospice care or how to start the conversation, VITAS can help. Visit or call 1-877-531-6798.

How Fewer Manufacturing Jobs Can Be Good for Workers and the Economy

Politico reports that Donald Trump may not have a Council of Economic Advisors, the White House’s in-house think tank. Upon hearing that, former Obama White House CEA chair Austin Goolsbee tweeted: “If you never want to hear-even privately-that your idea will cost X/have these effects/needs more thought, you should definitely ban the CEA.”

Which got me thinking: What sorts of things might a proper Trump CEA tell Trump? Maybe that superfast economic growth is very, very hard.  Maybe that we can’t grow out way out of the entitlement debt problem. Maybe that selling health insurance across state lines won’t revolutionize the insurance marketplace.

And maybe the CEA economists would show Trump these two charts:

The above charts are taken from a Martin Wolf column in the Financial Times, with this bit of explantion:
The main explanation for the long-term decline in the share of manufacturing employment in the US (and other high-income economies) has been the rise in employment elsewhere. In 1950, employment in manufacturing was 13m, while that in the rest of the economy was 30m. By the end of 2016, it was 12m and 133m, respectively. Thus, all the increase in employment between 1950 and the end of 2016 occurred outside manufacturing. Yet output of US manufacturing was not stagnant. Between 1950 and 2016, output rose 640 per cent, while employment fell 7 per cent. Even between 1990 and 2016 output rose 63 per cent, while employment fell 31 per cent. The explanation for the contrast between output and employment is rising productivity.

Republished from AEI.
James Pethokoukis
James Pethokoukis
James Pethokoukis is a columnist and blogger at the American Enterprise Institute. Previously, he was the Washington columnist for Reuters Breakingviews, the opinion and commentary wing of Thomson Reuters.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Shutting Out Immigrants Could Cost America Trillions

President Donald Trump’s immigration ideas may have already cost America trillions of dollars — with perhaps even more economic damage on the way.

Reputation to Protect

See, America has a reputation. And that reputation is worth something. Quite a lot actually. A nation with a good reputation — such as one of tolerance and trustworthiness — has enhanced influence to achieve desired economic and geopolitical outcomes without force or cutting checks. A decent rep also makes a country a more attractive destination for capital, both financial and human.

So how do you think Brand America is doing these days?

It was actually pretty strong before the 2016 election, at least as imperfectly measured by Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index. America’s global ranking jumped from seventh to first when Barack Obama was elected and has remained at or near the top since.

The U.S. was first last year, too, but still saw a sizable drop in global perceptions. It’s hard to imagine that the Trump immigration and refugee travel ban — and the accompanying chaos — has done much to reverse that slide. If the Obama bump boosted the value of Brand America by some $2 trillion, how much has the Trump slump possibly hurt it?

But there’s an even bigger risk to U.S. prosperity: What if foreigners no longer see America as a welcoming place? Many potential immigrants to America just might take “no” for an answer and decide to go elsewhere or stay home. Already, Canadian immigration lawyers have reportedly been flooded with inquiries from U.S.-based engineers and computer scientists.

This should all be alarming for an economy that has benefited so much from attracting the world’s best and brightest. Roughly half of U.S.-based unicorns — technology startups worth at least $1 billion — were founded by immigrants, with India the top nation of origin.

Race for Talent

As venture capitalist Paul Graham tweets, “This is a good time to remember that without immigration the U.S. will only have 5 percent of the top people in each field.” And more to the point regarding the Trump ban, as The Atlantic notes, “Iranian-Americans founded or hold leadership positions at Twitter, Dropbox, Oracle, Expedia, eBay, and Tinder.”

The global race for talent is becoming ever more competitive, especially as Asian economies modernize and increase their demand for highly skilled labor. A 2014 University of Washington study, using LinkedIn data to monitor global worker migration, vividly shows how America is no longer the only game in town. While 27 percent of migrating professionals in its sample group chose the U.S. as a destination in 2000, just 13 percent did in 2012.

The biggest drop was among those in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields — to 15 percent from 37 percent. In addition, the study found the share of graduates from the top 500 universities worldwide coming to America had also fallen by half.

Of course, almost every consultant and think-tank plan for boosting U.S. innovation and economic growth at least partly depends on sharply boosting high-skill immigration. Like this one from the McKinsey Global Institute:
The nation could generate tremendous impact on productivity in the near term and beyond 2020 by increasing the annual flow of high-skilled immigrants. This can be done by increasing the number of skilled H-1B visa holders, giving preference to visas for extended relatives of permanent residents who have specialized skills or tertiary degrees, and streamlining the visa process for skilled workers and entrepreneurs. [McKinsey Global Institute]
Sounds great, right? But pretty much every advanced economy is trying to play the same game. And probably none of those countries currently have their technology industry — a magnet for super-smart immigrants — physically protesting and legally attacking their nation’s immigration policies. It’s hard to see how America gets from Trump’s immigration order to the expansive vision put forward by some of the most aggressive immigration advocates.

In his book The Upside of Inequality, former Bain Capital executive Edward Conard outlines a plan to supercharge U.S. growth by restricting immigration to top-scoring math and science majors from around the world, maybe 5 to 10 million immigrants. Team Trump can fiddle with immigration policy all it wants to attract potential superstar immigrants like Google’s Sergey Brin or Tesla’s Elon Musk. But the results may disappoint if America is now seen as deeply intolerant.

The Flip-side

Then again, perhaps Team Trump could care less. Senior Trump adviser Stephen Bannon has complained that American engineering schools are “are all full of people from South Asia and East Asia. . . . They’ve come in here to take these jobs.” He has also suggested it’s a problem when “two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia.”

No worries, then. The Trump administration looks to be well on its way to finding a solution to Bannon’s concerns.

James Pethokoukis
James Pethokoukis
James Pethokoukis is a columnist and blogger at the American Enterprise Institute. Previously, he was the Washington columnist for Reuters Breakingviews, the opinion and commentary wing of Thomson Reuters.
This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Nuns Respond to Draft of Trump Religious Freedom Executive Order

After a draft of a religious freedom executive order from President Donald Trump was leaked to the media, a group of Catholic nuns have once again found themselves in the spotlight.

“I am aware of the draft executive order that seems to be circulating as of the last couple of days,” Sister Constance Veit, director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the U.S., told The Daily Signal on Friday. “It’s just a very hopeful sign that things could be coming to an end.”

The Little Sisters of the Poor are a group of nuns who care for the elderly poor. Under Obamacare, they argued the government refused to accommodate their pro-life religious beliefs by forcing them to be involved in the coverage of contraceptives and abortifacients.

Among other things, Trump’s draft executive order would instruct the secretaries of health and human services, labor, and treasury to grant relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor.

In the video above, Veit addresses some of the criticisms that involve the executive order, including allegations that it would enable discrimination.

Report by The Daily Signal's Kelsey Harkness. Originally reported at The Daily Signal.

Pro-Life Lawmakers: Planned Parenthood Shouldn’t Get Another ‘Dime of Taxpayer Dollars’

Live Action President Lila Rose is flanked by members of Congress as she addresses the media. (Photo: Caleb Ecarma)
Pro-life advocacy group Live Action, joined with members of Congress, called Feb. 2 for the ending of taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.

“I hope that the sands of time blow over that Capitol dome before we ever give one more dime of taxpayer dollars to this insidious, deceptive, and evil enterprise,” said Rep. Trent Franks.

The Arizona Republican likened pro-Planned Parenthood talking points to “fake news” and “alternative facts.”

“Those of you in the media have had a lot of talk about fake news and alternative facts, and I would just say that, I can think of no organization in the recent history of the world that has deceived the world more than Planned Parenthood,” said Franks.

“The truth is, Planned Parenthood is the largest perpetrator or abortion in America, mercilessly killing some 300,000 human babies every year … and they want taxpayers to be forced to pay for it,” he added.

Planned Parenthood receives annually around half a billion dollars of taxpayer money.

“We’re borrowing money from China to fund Planned Parenthood to kill the future of America and it’s got to end,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. “If we fail to [defund Planned Parenthood] in this 115th Congress, then shame on us.”

Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., a nurse-turned-congresswoman, mentioned the Live Action videos. In one video, 92 separate Planned Parenthood clinics turned away women who were searching for prenatal care, while in another video, 65 Planned Parenthood clinics refused women who wanted an ultrasound.

“I have spent my career protecting the health of women, children, and families, but as we see in these investigative videos, Planned Parenthood is not about women’s health care, it’s an abortion enterprise,” Black said.

Black appealed to her fellow members of Congress to follow the voting trends of the American people.

“Last fall, Americans went to the polls and rejected Planned Parenthood’s callous extremism. Now it’s time for Congress to do the same,” Black said.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican congresswoman from Missouri, outlined Planned Parenthood’s lack of adoption referrals, prenatal care, and ultrasounds for women seeking to carry their child to term.

“The mission of this organization is to take life, not provide health care for women and their children … two patients enter their clinics, and only one leaves alive,” Hartzler said.

Live Action, a pro-life investigative group, provides news on abortion issues to over 2 million social media followers.

Lila Rose, the president and founder of Live Action, hosted the press conference right outside the House of Representatives. In addition to Black, King, Franks, and Hartzler, Reps. Ann Wagner, R-Mo.; Jodey Arrington, R-Texas; Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.; and Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., attended.

This article has been corrected. Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, did not attend the press conference.

Report by The Daily Signal's Caleb Escarma.  Originally published at The Daily Signal.