this newer age of "robo calling" and social media, the
weekend before a significant election has become a lot
more intense and interesting than in the days of old,
before these sophisticated means of delivering
down-to-the-wire messages existed. Some might offer that
these means are more irritating than helpful or
A friend called Sunday evening to
either gripe or gloat—it wasn’t particularly clear which was more important
to him—about his weekend experiences. He seemed almost gleeful about the
upbeat call he claimed he received from one Sarah Palin, although he
admitted she did all the talking. He mentioned that on Mothers’ Day he
received a call from the Attorney General’s mother. And on Saturday, just
when he was tuned in to the Husker baseball game, a doctor from Valentine
called to influence his vote, even though he didn’t know her and has never
visited that community. He also had to get off the couch a few times to
answer calls that polled his party affiliation and voting expectations (and
pushed a bit). And then there were times that when he answered there was
silence. Apparently, the tape didn’t start. That was also a nuisance.
While on the topic of upcoming
elections, we’ll be watching with considerable interest what happens June 12
in North Dakota on a ballot initiative. Measure 3 would amend Article I of
the North Dakota Constitution by adding this provision:
"Government may not burden a
person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty. The right to act or
refuse to act based upon a religious belief may not be burdened unless the
government proves it has a compelling governmental interest and has used the
least restrictive means to further that interest. A burden includes indirect
burdens such as exclusion from programs or access to facilities."
This proposed, state constitutional
amendment addresses an increasingly worrisome deficiency regarding legal
protection for the Free Exercise of Religion guaranteed by the U.S.
Constitution. Historically, the Constitution protected religious belief and
conduct unless they were outweighed by some compelling government interest.
In 1990, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Employment Division v.
Smith that the First Amendment only protects religious exercise from
laws or regulations that target religion. Laws and regulations that control
conduct that can have either a religious or non-religious motive need only
have a rational basis, a much lower standard.
Subsequently in response, Congress
enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which restores the
compelling-interest standard as a protection for religious freedom. But RFRA
does not apply to state laws and regulations.
Given the jurisprudence, an effort
is being made in North Dakota, by the more secure means of a constitutional
amendment, to join 27 other states—not including Nebraska—that have
legislatively restored the compelling-interest standard for judicial review
of state and local laws and regulations that burden religious exercise.
Also from the religious-liberty
front: Information about the Fortnight for Freedom being developed
and promoted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will soon be
available on the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s website:
fortnight leading up to Independence Day is being molded as an opportunity
for the Church and the believing faithful to express their belief in
religious freedom, to pray, including a special novena, and to learn. Watch
Something left over from the
Unicameral session that ended in mid-April:
Enacted over a Governor’s veto,
LB 599 restores access to prenatal care for the unborn children of
impoverished pregnant women regardless of their immigration status. Probably
the most unusual happening on this bill was when, late in the evening of the
second-round vote, Senator Rich Pahls announced that he would donate a month
of his legislative take-home pay, about $800, to help pay for prenatal care.
And, he challenged his legislator colleagues to do the same, in lieu of
passing the legislation. What’s more, if all other 48 would do so, he was
willing to give up his entire year’s salary for the cause.
By all appearances, this was
sincerity and not showmanship or gamesmanship. It was Senator Pahls’ way of
expressing his concern. He abstained from voting on the motions to pass the
bill and to override the veto. He voted to pass LB 599A, the appropriations
measure that accompanied the policy decision, but then voted against
overriding the veto on that bill.
As for the money? As far as we know
the outcome has not been reported. Even full participation by all 49
legislators most likely would have been short of the need. Moreover, would
they have sustained their financial commitment for ensuing years?
We agree wholeheartedly with the
many who have pointed out that what renowned columnist George Will wrote
about the 40th birthday of his son, Jonathan Frederick, who has
Down syndrome, is must reading. Access it:
You can contact Jim at the
Nebraska Catholic Conference, 215
Centennial Mall South
Suite 310, Lincoln, NE 68508;