Open letter re: Wall Street Journal’s recent editorial

Heritage Action has agreed and continues to agree with The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page on many of the important issues facing our nation. And The Heritage Foundation had a long and enduring relationship with late conservative icon Robert Bartley, who served as the editorial page editor for decades. Upon Bartley’s passing in 2003, then-Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner said “His commitment to the free society was extraordinary.” Today, however, the right faces new challenges that call for new solutions. Meeting those challenges will require resolving disagreements internal to the right as much as overcoming the challenges to the free society posed by the left. And on these debates, the Journal has consistently positioned itself against the forces advocating much-needed change.

One of the core challenges facing conservatives in the 21st Century is how to build upon rather than merely wax nostalgically for Ronald Reagan’s America. The unconventional politics of the right in 2016 have demonstrated that it was naively simplistic — and, as it turns out, politically tone deaf — to assume that the messages that proved successful in 1980 and 1984 would be received in the same manner decades later when the problems facing families and communities had changed.

In 2011, Heritage Action’s chief operating officer Tim Chapman and I began our own effort to sketch a vision of the future in an op-ed for Real Clear Politics explaining the challenges facing our nation. We argued the “corrupt nexus” of the Big Wall Street, Big Government, Big Labor, and Big Business — all of which are protected classes in the American political system — was “at the heart of the dissatisfaction across the country towards Washington.” So long as it was the party of Wall Street and K Street, we argued, the Republican Party would not be trusted by its own voters as agents of the change they demanded. A new approach was required if conservatism was to be advanced.

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President Obama’s Unilateral Transgender Policy for School Bathrooms

Background: On Friday May 13, 2016, President Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Education (ED) issued a letter of joint guidance on transgender bathroom access for America’s school system. Using Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Obama administration is reinterpreting discrimination against “sex” to include “gender identity.” The new guideline directs any educational institution which receives federal funds to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity, rather than their birth certificate.

Unlawfully Rewriting Law: Biological sex and gender identity mean two very different things. When Congress passed the Education Amendments back in 1972, the purpose was to protect women and girls from discrimination based on sex and ensure equal opportunity in education programs. The Obama administration has no right to unlawfully rewrite federal law in order to advance its own liberal social agenda in the wake of transgender bathroom disputes, must notably in North Carolina.

Violating Federalism: All across the country, state and local governments are working with parents, teachers, and school districts to determine how best to accommodate the privacy and safety of transgender students along with those students who feel uncomfortable going to the bathroom and changing with the opposite sex. For example, many schools have created new single-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities for transgender students. The Obama administration’s decision to unilaterally impose a one-size-fits all policy for every school in the country undermines the ability of state and local governments to enact and enforce policy that’s best for their communities.

Bad Policy: Sex-specific bathrooms and locker rooms were created for a legitimate reason. Allowing boys who identify as girls to have unfettered access to girls’ bathrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, and dorm rooms violates the privacy and safety of women. Sex-specific bathrooms serve a valid purpose of protecting the privacy and safety of girls and women, especially those who have been sexually abused.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How will President Obama enforce the guidance?
The joint guidance issued by the DOJ and ED does not have the force of law, though activist courts may interpret it as such, leaving schools under immense pressure to comply. President Obama is attempting to bully state governments into compliance by threatening to strip schools of federal funding. Until the guidelines are upheld by the courts, schools should refuse to comply with President Obama’s overreach.

What schools are affected by the guidance?
If the courts uphold the President’s guidelines, all schools, including colleges, universities, trade schools – public, private, and charter – that receive federal funding will have to comply or lose their federal funds. This could have significant negative repercussions on the school choice movement as well.

How does the federal government define “gender identity?”
According to the Obama administration’s guidelines, “Gender identity refers to an
individual’s internal sense of gender.” Furthermore, a “school may not require transgender students to have a medical diagnosis, undergo any medical treatment, or produce a birth certificate or other identification document before treating them consistent with their gender identity.” Essentially, a student is transgender if and when they say they are.

Can schools provide separate bathrooms and locker rooms for transgender students?
No. The Obama administration explicitly rejects compromises including single-occupancy facilities. According to the guidelines, “A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.”

Do these guidelines apply to housing policy as well?
Yes. Separate accommodations for transgender students are not permitted. This applies to campus housing and hotels for off-campus trips as well, “A school must allow transgender students to access housing consistent with their gender identity and may not require transgender students to stay in single-occupancy accommodations.”

What can be done to reverse the DOJ/ED guidance on transgender bathrooms?
Congress can actively push back against President Obama’s overreach by passing legislation clarifying that for the purpose of all federal law, “sex” does not mean “gender identity” or passing legislation that “sex” does not mean “gender identity” for the purpose of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Congress can also defund the guidance by attaching a defund rider to an appropriations bill(s) that stops the DOJ/ED from using federal funds to enforce the guidance.

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First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) FAQs

What is FADA and what would it do?

The First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), S. 1598 and H.R. 2802, is a religious liberty protection bill introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) in the Senate and Representative Raul Labrador (R-ID) in the House. FADA would prevent the federal government from discriminating against individuals, associations, or businesses, such as churches and religious colleges, by denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license, or certification because they believe marriage is a union of one man and one woman.

Why is FADA necessary?

FADA was introduced in Congress on June 17, 2015, shortly before the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that all laws defining marriage as the union of a husband and wife were unconstitutional. This ruling redefined marriage across the country and opened the floodgates for the government to discriminate against citizens who continue to live out their religious and moral convictions about marriage as they always have.

In oral arguments before the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether a university or college might lose its nonprofit tax status if it doesn’t abandon its views on marriage as the union of husband and wife. Verrilli’s response was telling: “It’s certainly going to be an issue. I – I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is – it is going to be an issue.”

FADA was introduced to prevent this very scenario from happening.

Doesn’t the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and other State Religious Freedom Restoration Acts already protect religious liberty?

No. RFRAs provide generalized protections that require judges to engage in a balancing test when assessing religious liberty claims. The courts first determine if a government action substantially burdens religious exercise, and if so, it then assess whether the government has a compelling justification that is implemented in a way that does the least harm to religious liberty.

In contrast, FADA provides highly specific protections and limits judicial discretion, thereby taking much of the potential for mischief from activist judges out of the equation. FADA would take the debate out of the hands of the most non-democratic branch of government and put it back into the hands of the American people and their elected officials. FADA takes a surgical approach that does the balancing on the “front end” by protecting precisely the beliefs under assault in precisely the contexts where they are most threatened.

While RFRA’s general protections are vital for countering threats to religious liberty we may not foresee, FADA’s specific protections are vital for countering threats to religious liberty that are right in front of us, right now.

But isn’t the marriage debate a politically toxic issue for Republicans? Just look at what happened in Indiana.

It is true that last year the state of Indiana watered down its newly enacted RFRA law after it was hit with a coordinated surprise attack from LGBT interest groups, the media, and some members of the business community. But recently lawmakers have regained their footing on the issue. Efforts to further undermine religious liberty rights through sexual orientation and gender identity “bathroom bills” were defeated in the Indiana state house earlier this year and by a popular vote of 61% by the people of Houston. Republican members of Congress should not be afraid of “another Indiana” because Indiana, Houston, Missouri, North Carolina, Kentucky and many others, are fighting to defend religious liberty. Momentum in support of religious liberty is gaining steam across the country. Republicans should champion this issue, not run away from it.

Why should the government be involved in religious matters at all?

Freedom of religion is our very first freedom laid out in the Bill of Rights because if we are not guaranteed the natural right to speak and act in accordance with one’s own religious beliefs, all other rights are illusory. Thousands of religious organizations and millions of Americans are doing good work in our communities by running schools, colleges, charities, churches, and adoption agencies. The same faith and moral convictions that motivate organizations and individuals to seek the good for their children and their communities, has also led many to acknowledge marriage between a man and a woman as the indispensable backbone for civil society in America. Their religious liberty deserves protection, and the Constitution charges all branches of government with the duty to protect it, especially Congress.

Why did FADA’s text change and will it be changed again?

The sponsors changed the bill text to ensure it could not be mischaracterized by opponents as Indiana’s RFRA was. According to Senator Lee, the change “makes crystal clear that we are only seeking to prevent federal government discrimination against people and institutions that define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.” Outside of the regular amendment process, the bill text is now finalized and will not be altered again.

Will FADA authorize employees of the federal government to refuse to process the tax returns, visa applications, or Social Security checks of same-sex couples?

No. The bill expressly excludes federal employees acting within the scope of their employment and thus does not permit government employees to refuse people any services or benefits. FADA would simply protect federal employees from losing their job for religious beliefs expressed outside of the scope of their employment.

Will FADA authorize for-profit contractors to deny services or benefits to same-sex couples and/or eliminate any anti-discrimination?

No. The bill does not permit for-profit contractors to refuse services to same-sex couples. FADA would simply protect federal contractors from losing their contracts because of religious beliefs expressed outside of the scope of their contracts. FADA also does not protect publicly-traded corporations.

Will FADA authorize hospitals to refuse care to same-sex couples?

No. The bill expressly excludes “hospitals, clinics, hospices, nursing homes, or other medical or residential custodial facilities with respect to visitation, recognition of a designated representative for health care decision-making, or refusal to provide medical treatment necessary.”

FADA ensures a hospital will not lose its tax-exempt status or have its federal benefits revoked because, for example, a doctor does not wish to provide marital counseling services in a manner that violates his or her sincerely held religious beliefs.

Will FADA undermine federal civil rights protections, such as those available to employees and customers of for-profit businesses?

No. The bill does not alter or modify civil rights laws protecting people from discrimination in, for example, housing, credit, public accommodations, voting, and does not impact the American Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and other federal civil rights laws. Employees and customers will have recourse to applicable protections under federal or state law just as before.

Will FADA preempt any state non-discrimination laws?

No. The bill applies to the federal government only and does not preempt any state or municipal non-discrimination laws, including those relating to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Will FADA grant religious individuals and institutions special privileges before the law?

No. FADA does not give special privileges to religious individuals or institutions, rather it clarifies that the federal government cannot discriminate against individuals and institutions simply because they believe and act in accordance with their religious belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. FADA is aimed specifically toward the federal government and executive agencies that are currently operating under the premise that the First Amendment no longer protects the belief in marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Will FADA take away the right of members of the LGBT community to challenge religious individuals and institutions in court?

No. FADA does not prevent members of the LGBT community from taking anyone to court. The problem we are seeing now is that the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges has left the courts in confusion, empowering liberal activist judges to rule however they desire. FADA offers specific protection to those who still believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman in order to limit judicial discretion in current cases.

We should have faith in the courts to not hold religious defendants liable for discrimination if they are innocent. FADA would just increase government intervention in our lives.

Unfortunately, it would be naive to believe liberal activist courts will rule fairly. FADA simply puts guardrails in place for judges to ensure they rule in accordance with First Amendment rights. The Constitution charges Congress, first and foremost, to protect the rights of the people to speak and act in accordance with their religious beliefs, including marriage.

On the contrary, FADA ensures the federal government stays out of the lives of American citizens. FADA helps prevent the federal government from intervening in civil society to force people, and their businesses, to provide goods or services they feel are against their religious beliefs.

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Fact Sheet: How to Protect Religious Freedom

Background: On June 26th, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that laws defining marriage as the union between a husband and wife were unconstitutional and imposed a new definition of marriage on all fifty states.

In anticipation of the ruling, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) introduced the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) on June 17th, 2015, to prevent the federal government from denying tax exemptions, grants, contracts, licenses, or certifications to individuals and organizations based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Since its introduction last June, the bill has picked up major support in the Senate and the House. The Senate bill now has 37 cosponsors along with nine members of the judiciary committee. Cosponsors on the House bill currently include 166 members making up the majority of House Republicans.

Imminent Risk to Religious Liberty.

During argument before the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was asked whether the administration could remove tax-exempt status for religious schools that believe marriage is the union of a husband and wife. Verrilli replied saying, “it’s certainly going to be an issue.”

Similar challenges to religious liberty have already surfaced across multiple levels of government. State legislatures, such as California in 2013, have made attempts to remove tax-exempt status from groups such as the Boy Scouts. In 2014, President Obama issued an executive order barring federal contractors from “discriminating” on the basis of sexual orientation, disadvantaging businesses and organizations with policies supporting traditional marriage. Faith-based adoption agencies in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington, D.C., have lost their licenses and contracts because they believe children deserve to be placed in homes with a married mom and dad. The liberal American Bar Association just announced that is investigating BYU Law School’s policies against same-sex marriage, thereby putting its accreditation and access to federal funds at risk.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, these challenges have only intensified. FADA’s protections are a positive step in heading off these and future threats to religious liberty.

Indiana Case Study.

In anticipating and in response to the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling, numerous states rushed to enact various Religious Freedom Restoration bills. In Indiana, Senate Bill 101 passed with overwhelming support, but immediately faced a national backlash from LGBT interest groups along with some members of the business community. Unfortunately, rather than defend the religious rights of the people of Indiana, Indiana legislators pushed through a statutory “fix” undermining Indiana’s new law. But even in Indiana, which became ground zero in the fight for religious liberty, lawmakers have regained their footing on the issue. Due to the efforts and influence of strong conservatives, further efforts to undermine religious liberty through sexual orientation and gender identity “bathroom bills” were defeated in the Indiana Senate this year. Congress should not be afraid of “another Indiana” because Indiana is now successfully defending religious liberty.

Congressional Responsibility in Preserving Religious Freedom.

At all levels, government has an obligation to ensure that Americans retain the right to speak and act in accordance with their religious beliefs. On the federal level, the body tasked with preserving those rights is Congress. Congress has an opportunity to take the lead in declaring that the redefinition of marriage cannot be allowed to erode religious liberty, and that religious liberty and the rights of conscience do not infringe upon anyone’s sexual freedoms.

As Heritage Scholar Ryan Anderson notes, the fight for conservatives after the Supreme Court’s decision is to protect the freedom of speech, association, and religion for those who continue to affirm that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. The First Amendment Defense Act it is a positive step in the right direction.

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No Hearings, No Votes on Supreme Court Vacancy

Background: On February 13, 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. With his passing, the nation lost one of its finest — a justice who fought to uphold the United States Constitution as our Founders intended. Shortly after his passing, President Obama announced his intention to replace Justice Scalia and demanded from the U.S. Senate a “timely vote” on his future nominee. While the President certainly has the constitutional power to nominate a replacement, even though it is his last year in office, the constitutional authority to confirm a judicial nominee resides solely with the Senate. Because of the President’s past efforts to undermine the separation of powers with executive overreach, the Senate should refuse to consider any Supreme Court nominee the President puts forth.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and most Republican Senators are calling for any confirmation to occur only when a new president has taken office, after the American people have a voice on the direction of the Court. They should stand by this commitment to the end of the year and avoid any hearings or votes on President Obama’s expected nominee.

Executive Overreach: President Obama’s time in office has been marked by executive overreach and disregard for the separation of powers laid out in the Constitution. His efforts on Obamacare, amnesty, and Second Amendment rights are explicit examples of his dim view of the rule of law. Standing up to the President on Justice Scalia’s replacement represents the best opportunity Congress has left to rein in the President’s executive overreach.

Confirmation Process: The confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee is a lengthy process, and there are a number of steps that must be avoided to ensure the process does not move forward. The President will first submit his nominee to the Senate for consideration where it is usually referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Typically at this point the Committee holds hearings to vet the nominee and then votes amongst its members. The nominee is then often forwarded to the full Senate with a recommendation. In this case, the Senate Judiciary Committee should reject all of these steps and not consider the nominee at all. If the Committee were to forward the nomination (perhaps with a negative recommendation) to the full Senate over conservative objections, the nomination should be filibustered on the floor.

Historical Precedent: Over the course of our nation’s history, the Senate has denied 36 out of 160 nominees. 25 out of those 36 never made it past the Judiciary Committee to receive a vote on the Senate floor. It has been over 76 years since a Supreme Court Justice was nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year, and since 1900, the Supreme Court has functioned despite the absence of at least one justice 60 different times. In light of how President Obama has undermined our Constitution there is no need to deviate from this longstanding precedent.

Liberal Hypocrisy: President Obama and leaders of the Democratic Party have criticized Republicans for not agreeing to vote on a Supreme Court nominee. Ironically, former Senator Barack Obama and potential future Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have both attempted to block past Republican nominees to the Supreme Court. Senator Obama filibustered the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006. Senator Schumer argued against approving any George W. Bush nominee to the Supreme Court 19 months before the next President would be inaugurated.

In July 2007 Senator Schumer said, “Given the track record of this President and the obfuscation at the hearings, with respect to the Supreme Court, at least: I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm a Supreme Court nominee EXCEPT in extraordinary circumstances. They must prove by actions – not words – that they are in the mainstream, rather than the Senate proving that they are not.”

President Obama is in the last year of his presidency and with an election less than 9 months away, the Senate should wait to decide on a replacement for Justice Scalia until there is a new President.

Claim: The President has a constitutional duty to nominate a Supreme Court Justice in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death.

Response: While the power to nominate a Supreme Court Justice resides with the President, only the U.S. Senate has the constitutional authority to confirm. In fact, the Constitution calls on the President to adhere to the advice and consent of the Senate.

Article 2 section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states, “He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court…”

The Heritage Foundation’s authoritative guide to the Constitution explains, “As the president has complete discretion in the use of his veto power, the Senate has complete and final discretion in whether to accept or approve a nomination.”

Claim: Senate Republicans should not put politics above their constitutional duties to confirm a new Justice. The Supreme Court cannot function without all 9 of its Justices.

Response: There have been 60 Supreme Court justice vacancies since 1900. Of the 160 individuals who have been nominated to the Supreme Court throughout our nation’s history, 25 were not confirmed without receiving a vote. Despite these vacancies, the Supreme Court has been able to perform its duties every time. Waiting for a new President who will be decided by early November will allow the American people to have a critical voice in deciding who the next Supreme Court Justice will be.

Claim: The Senate should be reasonable and at least allow a vote on an Obama Supreme Court nominee.

Response: The debate over replacing Justice Scalia is centered on the nomination process not the merits of any potential nominee. A lame duck president should not fill a seat on the Supreme Court. This should be left up to the next president — Republican or Democrat — who the American people will decide in November. The Senate Judiciary Committee should not consider any nominee.

Claim: Won’t Senate Republicans be viewed as obstructionists?

Response: No. The public understands that a lame duck President should not get to set the direction of the Court with another lifetime appointment months before the election. That is why the Senate’s “advice and consent” role is so important.

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