One Saturday last fall, President Obama interrupted a White House strategy meeting to raise an issue not on the agenda. He declared, aides recalled, that the administration needed to more aggressively use executive power to govern in the face of Congressional obstructionism.
“We had been attempting to highlight the inability of Congress to do anything,” recalled William M. Daley, who was the White House chief of staff at the time. “The president expressed frustration, saying we have got to scour everything and push the envelope in finding things we can do on our own.”
For Mr. Obama, that meeting was a turning point. As a senator and presidential candidate, he had criticized George W. Bush for flouting the role of Congress. And during his first two years in the White House, when Democrats controlled Congress, Mr. Obama largely worked through the legislative process to achieve his domestic policy goals.
But increasingly in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress. Branding its unilateral efforts “We Can’t Wait,” a slogan that aides said Mr. Obama coined at that strategy meeting, the White House has rolled out dozens of new policies — on creating jobs for veterans, preventing drug shortages, raising fuel economy standards, curbing domestic violence and more.
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Glenn Beck took the stage twice on Sunday at Skyline Church in La Mesa, California, where he tackled issues pertaining to faith and politics. At the center of his message was the notion that America must get back on track — a central tenet that he drove home to the nearly 2,000 people who packed the church to hear his address. The popular commentator, who was joined by televangelist James Robison and Pastor Jim Garlow, spoke at 2 p.m. and again at 4 p.m.
“They’re trying to divide us in every way. They’re poking at us. They need you to stand up and to be angry,” he said of the American left. “And there are times that I, for one, am angry…Every day I get up and my job is to look at the news of the world. My job is to piece it together.”
Beck said that he gets up every morning to start the day with prayer, but that it is often difficult to be faced with the news of the day — news that is overwhelmingly tragic and horrific. Despite these challenges, the radio and television host told the audience that America has reached a dire crossroads and that it’s time to take action.
“It’s line in the sand time. Our back is up against the wall and there’s no place to go,” Beck proclaimed. “We can’t give anymore without losing everything we are.”
It was with this cultural battle cry that he told the audience that it is time to set the United States’ path straight.
“We either go back into the right direction, and that’s not the George Bush years, that’s the George Washington years,” UT San Diego quoted Beck as telling the crowd. “Or we go and fundamentally complete the transformation.”
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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a bold stand for religious freedom. In a recent statement, titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” the bishops call for repeal of contraception coverage mandated by the Department of Health and Human Services. The clarified position sets up a dramatic confrontation with the Obama administration—and would, if the bishops prevail, help preserve the religious liberty of all Americans.
The HHS mandate requires employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization services. It is, according to the bishops, an “unjust law.” They write: “It cannot be obeyed and therefore one does not seek relief from it, but rather its repeal.”
The statement is a rebuke of President Obama and the so-called accommodation his administration proposed in February. It also raises the stakes between the president and the leaders of America’s Catholic Church.
The bishops call on Catholics in America, “in solidarity with our fellow citizens,” not to obey the law. They implicitly compare the HHS regulation to a segregation-era statute, and even cite Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” In a not-so-subtle manner, the bishops tell the Obama administration that they are willing to go to prison rather than comply with the mandate’s provisions.
In doing so, the bishops are ruling out the possibility of a compromise that might preserve the mandate by expanding possible conscience exemptions from it. Most discussion had been over how far the religious liberty exemption should extend—but with the bishops calling for repeal, that all could change.
The Obama administration was not against an exemption per se, it just wanted a narrow one that only covered church employees serving members of their own faith with jobs pertaining to the inculcation of religious belief. The Catholic bishops, it seemed, wanted a more robust exemption that covered institutions of faith, including hospitals, universities, and other social service providers.
Now the bishops have made clear that the contraception mandate must be rescinded, because, in their view, even a more expansive exemption cannot sufficiently protect religious freedom.
The bishops did not have to take this route, but all those who cherish religious liberty should be glad they did. If the bishops settled for a more expansive accommodation, they might have been able to get an exemption for their hospitals and universities (including my own, Notre Dame). That would have been the easy way to “preserve” religious liberty while also retaining the mandate.
But what, then, would the bishops have said to business owners who likely would not have been covered by a more expansive exemption? How could church leaders say that it’s wrong for church institutions to pay for contraception and abortifacients, but that Catholic business owners must cover these costs?
The exemption approach might have allowed the bishops to secure religious liberty for their institutions, but not for all their followers. That would have been a failure of moral authority and political strength to protect the common good.
To their credit, the bishops appear to understand this and are now willing to lead the battle to preserve religious liberty for all, Catholics and non-Catholics, church institutions and private employers.
But it won’t be without confrontation. This statement from the bishops sets up a dramatic showdown between the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Obama administration, a confrontation that may not be good for either side. It is hard to see what middle ground exists, or even if it does.
The Constitution was designed to prevent such fundamental clashes between church and state. Perhaps the best way out of this thicket would be for the Supreme Court to step in and stop it from happening. Striking down the contraception mandate would avert the disastrous situation of the president sending bishops to jail for being faithful witnesses to their religious convictions.
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New York prep schools are instituting dress codes and Facebook guidelines barring excited seniors from broadcasting their acceptance to top-tier colleges because it may hurt the feelings of classmates who were unsuccessful.
At the hypercompetitive Horace Mann School, students are not permitted to wear college apparel, including status Ivy League sweatshirts, on campus until after May 1, when most students have settled on what school they will attend.
And at the Packer Collegiate Institute, students are instructed not to update Facebook with university news until after school lets out.
At the private Calhoun School, seniors have a weekly class with the college guidance counselor, in which they discuss “the appropriate way to share news of acceptance,” said Sarah Tarrant, director of college counseling.
“The weekly conversation reins in kids who might run around yelling, ‘I got in! I got in!’”
The city’s selective public high schools are also implementing rules to save the egos of students forced to attend “safety schools.”
“It can be bad and it can get weird,” said Darby McHugh, college coordinator at Bronx High School of Science.
“We send a notice out to all faculty telling them, ‘Please don’t congratulate students in public, no high fives, no hugging, and please be sensitive so that if you see someone crying, you refer them to the college-adviser office immediately.’”
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