Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Todd Starnes of Fox News recently ignited a firestorm of controversy when he reported:
Religious liberty groups have grave concerns after they learned the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group [the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or MRFF] that compared Christian evangelism to “rape” and advocated that military personnel who proselytize should be court martialed.
Also in the Fox article, the president of the Family Research Council commented on the recent Pentagon meeting with the MRFF, stating, “It threatens to treat service members caught witnessing as enemies of the state. Non-compliance, the Pentagon suggests, even from ordained chaplains could result in court-martialing on a case-by-case basis.”
However, Starnes failed to report important details of the story, and the claims of a deliberate Christian purge are patently unwarranted.
Had Starnes quoted the most relevant portion of the comments of Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, readers would have learned the following:
The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects (and supports by its policy) the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs. The Department does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services.
The policies in question can be found in sections 2.11 and 2.12 of an official document of Air Force Standards drafted last year, making them existing policy that the MRFF had no role in “vetting.” The document states:
Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. . . . All Airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.
As if that were not clear enough, the Pentagon released another statement in which it clarified the specific meaning of its ban on religious proselytization: “Service members can share their faith (evangelize), but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one’s beliefs (proselytization).”
As part of the federal government, funded by taxpayers, the U.S. military is both morally and constitutionally correct to forbid religious proselytization and to discipline military personnel who violate this policy. As the Supreme Court emphasized in 1947, the establishment clause of the First Amendment means (among other things) that the government is forbidden to
prefer one religion to another. . . . In the words of [Thomas] Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State.” . . . That wall must be kept high and impregnable.
Military personnel are both individual citizens and parts of the government. As individuals, they have a right to freedom of religion (or non-religion). As parts of the government, they have no right to push their religion on anyone. That is the policy of the U.S. military, and, in contrast to Starnes’s rabble-rousing report, it is fair and balanced.
By taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, all military service members are honor bound to uphold America’s “wall of separation between church and State”—not Christianity’s Great Commission. Any prospective service member who is unwilling to accept this legal and moral obligation is free to seek employment elsewhere.
- Review: The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore
- Debate: Christianity: Good or Bad for Mankind?
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
What is morally outrageous about Apple’s highly publicized tax avoidance is not that Apple (legally) avoided paying taxes—for that, Apple should be praised. Rather, what is outrageous is that the government is harassing Apple for legally avoiding taxes—and that various commentators are smearing Apple for it.
The root injustice is the government’s confiscation of corporations’ hard-earned wealth. As the Wall Street Journal points out, the United States sets the corporate tax rate at 35 percent (although, fortunately, many corporations manage to pay less than that through various tax breaks). In 2012, the federal government confiscated $6 billion of Apple’s earnings and distributed the vast majority of it to illegitimate government programs.
Apple and all producers have a moral right to keep and use the product of their thought and effort as they judge best. As a practical matter, had Apple been able to invest that $6 billion in its business operations, the company could have provided even more and better goods and services to its customers and even more and better jobs to prospective employees.
Of course no one argues that Apple did anything illegal. The Wall Street Journal summarizes, “Apple used technicalities in Irish and American tax law to pay little or no corporate taxes on at least $74 billion over the past four years,” according to the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Yet the Denver Post (among others) slammed Apple despite the fact that the company complied with the law, complaining that Apple “legally [!] dodged taxes.” Not only is it perfectly moral to legally “dodge” taxes, every corporation does so to whatever extent its accountants and attorneys can manage.
Americans who want to advance a rights-respecting government should praise Apple for attempting to legally minimize the government’s confiscation of the company’s wealth—and they should demand that the government begin reducing its unjust wealth confiscations by radically lowering corporate tax rates across the board.
- Apple’s App Revolution: Capitalism in Action
- Justice Department Unjustly Attacks Apple
- The Patience of Jobs
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Taxation
Monday, May 20, 2013
“The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible.” Ayn Rand pointed out this fact in her 1963 essay, “Man’s Rights,” and it is increasingly obvious regarding the relationship of speech to property. Congress has infringed people’s right to free speech by infringing their right to property—such is the essence of the campaign finance laws.
In 2010, the Supreme Court struck down a large portion of the campaign finance laws with its Citizens United ruling. Now, the Supreme Court will have an opportunity to strike down a wider portion of those laws when it hears McCutcheon v. FEC. A media release from the Committee for Justice (CFJ) reports:
This week, the Committee for Justice filed an amicus curiae brief in McCutcheon v. FEC, the next big campaign finance case before the U.S. Supreme Court. CFJ’s brief supports the Republican National Committee and individual plaintiff Shaun McCutcheon in their First Amendment challenge to the aggregate contribution limits imposed by McCain-Feingold. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case this fall. . . .
The aggregate limits being challenged in McCutcheon restrict the total amount of political contributions a donor can make over a two-year election cycle, even if the donor’s individual contributions comply with McCain-Feingold’s base limits—for example, the $2,600 per candidate per election limit. The aggregate limits specify that no one can give more than $48,600 to all federal candidates combined over the election cycle. . . . Similarly, there is a two-year aggregate limit of $74,600 on contributions to non-candidate committees. . . .
Let’s hope the Supreme Court will recognize to a greater degree people’s right to use their wealth and resources as they see fit—including in speech and in political advocacy.
Kudos to CFJ for taking up this important matter and for defending the right to free speech and the right to property on which it depends.
- Curt Levey on the Supreme Court and the Presidential Race
- Steve Simpson on Continuing Threats to Corporate Free Speech
- Citizens United and the Battle for Free Speech in America
Creative Commons Image of Russ Feingold: Gage Skidmore
Posted in: Free Speech
Sunday, May 19, 2013
A promising new medical device for detecting electromagnetic disturbances in the brain can rapidly screen patients for intracranial swelling or bleeding. The medical journal PLOS ONE depicts the helmet-like apparatus as a safe, portable, and relatively inexpensive tool to determine whether patients require further imaging with CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Credit for this invention goes to Boris Rubinsky, a professor in the department of mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, and Cesar Gonzalez, a professor at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Escuela Superior de Medicina in Mexico, who have collaborated for several years.
The technology is known as “Volumetric Electromagnetic Phase Shift Spectroscopy” or “VEPS,” and the device is brilliantly simple. It is essentially two coils that are placed around the head; the “inductor coil” produces an electromagnetic field, which is detected by the second “sensor coil.” When the conductivity of the brain tissue is at a normal level, the device signals a healthy brain. When the conductivity of the tissue varies from the normal level, whether due to swelling (edema) or bleeding (hematoma), the device indicates the problem.
Among the values and potential values of this tool, ruling out pathology could greatly reduce unnecessary CT scans and thus reduce medical costs and radiation exposure. (The device itself emits negligible radiation.) In countries and regions with limited access to CT and MRI, improved triage and earlier diagnosis could save many lives.
An initial pilot study with the device was small, and larger samples are necessary to establish the full accuracy of the device. But the technology is already clearly promising.
Kudos to the researchers and businessmen responsible for conceiving and developing this remarkable technology.
- Herman Boerhaave: The Nearly Forgotten Father of Modern Medicine
- Scientists Advance 3D Printing Toward Fabrication of Living Tissues and Functional Organs
Posted in: Science and Technology
Friday, May 17, 2013
Should municipal and county government be permitted to own and operate local high-speed internet systems—Community Broadband Networks (CBNs)?
Timothy Karr of Freepress.net and Gerry Smith of Huffington Post (among other writers) argue that governments should be permiitted to own and opperate CBNs because this provides “competition” against big internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, and Verizon.
But such arguments ignore the crucial distinction between government and private institutions. Government has a legal monopoly on the use of physical force. Unlike private companies, government can use its taxing powers to prop up its “businesses” by subsidizing rates and capital costs—or use its regulatory powers to hamper “competing” private companies. Private companies are legally forbidden to use physical force against anyone. To suggest that competition is possible between two adversaries—one armed (the government) and one not (private companies)—is absurd.
Genuine competition is possible only between private entities operating on the free market principles of voluntary trade and equality before the law.
Government CBNs also pose a major threat to First Amendment rights. By owning networks, government has the power to control content. What does this mean for freedom of speech and of the press? (Recent events should cause extra alarm on this count.)
As for claims that government involvement is “needed” because some communities are “underserved”: The government is not justified in violating the rights of some in order to meet the alleged needs of others. If “need” means that people want the services, then their desires constitute some degree of incentive for existing private companies to offer the services or for new companies to capitalize on the opportunity. If the incentive is not enough, then it’s not enough. There is no right to broadband.
A government that “competes” with private business violates our rights to control our own wealth and to contract voluntarily with others. Thankfully, government-owned CBNs are now legally restricted or banned in twenty states. The rest of the states should follow suit. If we value our economic liberty and our right to speak freely, we must fight to keep government out of the broadband business.
- Net Neutrality: Toward a Stupid Internet
- Net Neutrality Means an Unfree, Slow, and ‘Stupid’ Internet
Posted in: Individual Rights and Law
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The Freedom from Religion Foundation recently threatened to sue public schools in the town of Muldrow, Oklahoma, if they refused to remove plaques inscribed with the Ten Commandments from classrooms.
Unfortunately, when Republican State Representative John Bennett weighed in on the controversy in his district, he upheld the popular yet false view that the Ten Commandments—and, more broadly, Biblical morality—are necessary in order to teach children the difference between right and wrong.
Although Representative Bennett conceded that “the superintendent and local school board has no choice but to remove the plaques if they want to avoid a lawsuit,” he also warned of ominous consequences: “A nation that refuses to allow educators to teach children right from wrong will become a corrupt nation, where sin prevails, evil abounds and everyone does as they please.”
Surely children need to be taught the difference between right and wrong, and schools necessarily play some part in this aspect of children’s education. But educators should not turn to the Ten Commandments or to any other religious scripture for this purpose. Students should learn that stealing, lying, committing murder and the like are wrong not because the Bible says so but because such actions are contrary to the requirements of successful living. Such lessons should be taught through the reading and discussion of literature, history, and science—not by posting contextless commandments on the wall.
As for having no other gods before the Judeo-Christian God, keeping the Sabbath holy, and the like, these ideas have no place in publicly funded schools. Of course, parents have a right to inflict such dogma on their own children (at least until the children reach adulthood), but they have no right to force religious dogma on other children or to have government force others to fund its dissemination.
Bennett should rest easy: Removing the Ten Commandments from the schools will in no way interfere with the ability of teachers to teach or students to learn rational moral lessons in school. It will only free them from some of the irrational ones.
- Teaching Values in the Classroom
- Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism
- Religion vs. Subjectivism: Why Neither Will Do
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
News that the Internal Revenue Service targeted Tea Party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny rightly has blown into a major scandal.
But the scandal points to a deeper question: Why are most Americans not outraged by the IRS’s daily violations of individual rights?
Consider the main abuses. The IRS serves as the collection agency for the government’s programs of unjust wealth confiscation: The agency forcibly collects some $2.7 trillion per year in taxes, transferring vast amounts of wealth from productive Americans to the unproductive. This clearly violates people’s rights to keep and use their wealth and property as they judge best.
Part and parcel of this coercion are the IRS’s demands that Americans turn over reams of personal information, ranging from details about their employment to their business expenses to their mortgage payments. And now, the IRS will enforce key provisions of ObamaCare, giving the agency access to details about our personal health as well.
Of course Americans should be outraged that the IRS has harassed select groups for ideological reasons. Americans should also be outraged by the IRS’s violations of virtually all Americans’ rights on a daily basis.
- The American Right, the Purpose of Government, and the Future of Liberty
- How Would Government Be Funded in a Free Society?
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Taxation
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Yesterday a Pennsylvania jury convicted Kermit Gosnell of first-degree murder for killing three babies, of involuntary manslaughter for contributing to the drug overdose of a pregnant woman, and of various other offenses.
According to the grand jury report of the case (as cited by the Atlantic), Gosnell “regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy—and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors.” According to the grand jury report, Gosnell’s gruesome rights violations were far worse and greater in number than those covered by the convictions. Readers who can stomach the grisly details may see the Atlantic’s article.
Unfortunately, though predictably, some opponents of abortion have cited the Gosnell case in their call to outlaw all abortion. Such activists pretend that there is no moral difference between infanticide and early-term abortion (and 88 percent of abortions occur in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, while 98.5 percent occur within the first twenty weeks). They also pretend that there is no relevant distinction between a fetus wholly contained within and dependent upon a woman’s body, and a born infant living independently of and separately from her body—that is, a newborn person.
A born infant is an actual person with rights, not merely a potential person. Gosnell ignored this critical distinction and intentionally killed born infants—which is why he richly deserved his murder convictions.
The government properly recognizes and protects the rights of born infants, just as it properly recognizes and protects the rights of pregnant women—including their right to seek an abortion. The principle of individual rights clearly illuminates this crucial line. People who are genuinely pro-life uphold this principle and recognize this bright line.
- The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties
- Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Abortion and Reproduction
Monday, May 13, 2013
On September 11, 2012—the anniversary of the Islamist assault on the World Trade Center and other American targets—Islamists assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, murdering four people, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
The response of the Obama administration to this attack has been first to lie about the assault by pretending it was precipitated by an obscure video critical of Islam, second to lie about what the administration first claimed about the attack, and third to dismiss the well-justified concerns about the administration’s handling of security prior to the attack and about its reports following the attack.
Just this morning Obama referred to controversy over the attack as a “sideshow,” adding, “there’s no there there.”
But Stevens’s fate deserves more than to be treated as a “sideshow”—it deserves to be answered with real action to destroy those responsible for the atrocity. The true place where “there’s no there there” is Obama’s ability to tell the truth about what happened in Benghazi or to respond appropriately.
Americans should be outraged and should hold this administration’s feet to the fire until the truth comes out.
- Interview with Historian John David Lewis about U.S. Foreign Policy and the Middle East
- Islamists Celebrate 9/11 by Murdering More Americans; U.S. Embassy Demands “Respect” for Islam
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Posted in: Foreign Policy and War
Saturday, May 11, 2013
The government taxes different corporations radically different amounts and in significantly different ways. A new study by the General Accountability Office (GAO) examined “special exemptions and exclusions, credits, deductions, deferrals, and preferential tax rates” regarding corporate taxes. Some 80 different corporate tax structures are designed to “support federal policy goals” relating to energy, technology, and housing to charity and credit unions. The GAO found that these exemptions, exclusions, and the like “resulted in the government forgoing corporate tax revenue totaling more than $181 billion.”
These many structures in corporate tax rates create a wide disparity in the percentage of taxes companies pay. Fortunately, the House Ways and Means Committee is considering ways to lower the corporate tax rate, which is currently 35 percent (the highest in the world), and to simplify corporate tax structures by eliminating some, perhaps even all, of the exemptions, exclusions, and other complexities. According to Reuters, Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, “said that all tax perks potentially were on the chopping block.”
In crafting the current reform, the committee would do well to remember the aftermath of the last major tax reform, in 1986, when Congress lowered rates and cut some “tax perks”—but not all of them, leaving the door open for the “tax perk” problem to continue and proliferate again. And, of course, that’s just what happened. “Since then,” notes Reuters, “the code has been larded up with special provisions.”
Taxation is a violation of rights and is entirely unnecessary, but as long as the government continues taxing corporations, the system should be as simple, impartial, and transparent as possible. Toward that end, and to pull the exemptions issue off the slippery slope it is currently on, Congress should eliminate all exemptions and the like; ban them on principle; sharply lower not only the corporate tax rate, but also the net tax take; and dramatically cut spending. This would be a step in the right direction.
- Robert G. Natelson on State-Driven Amendments to Restrain Federal Spending
- End Tax Favoritism for Wind Energy
Creative Commons Image: Michael Jolley
Posted in: Taxation
If you enjoy TOS Blog please make a donation to keep us blogging
- Announcements (152)
- Events (36)
- Ayn Rand and Objectivism (74)
- Business and Economics (61)
- Education and Pedagogy (22)
- Environmentalism (42)
- Foreign Policy and War (147)
- History (53)
- Individual Rights and Law (465)
- Philosophy (79)
- Ethics (16)
- Presidential Candidates (69)
- Productivity (15)
- Psychology (4)
- Religion (100)
- Romance (2)
- Science and Technology (87)
- Sports (11)
- The Arts (31)
Ideas presented in posts on TOS Blog are those of the authors of the posts and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Objective Standard. TOS Blog is powered by WordPress.