Follow the Money . . . to Ferguson

March 9, 2015., by Joseph Margulie

Original Article

“Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs.” So began the report written by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, a 100-page indictment of the Ferguson Police Department. The entire document repays careful study, but at its core, the report describes a department—and municipality—beset by two overlapping problems.

First, the City uses its police to close gaps in the city budget rather than deter or investigate crime. As a result, the police in Ferguson are fee- and fine-producers instead of peace officers, which has predictably led to chronic over-policing. “Many officers,” the report found, seem to view Ferguson’s residents “less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.”

Second, the Ferguson Police Department has developed an adversarial culture that routinely trumps the restraints imposed by the Constitution. “Officers expect and demand compliance even when they lack legal authority.” As symbols of authority so often do, Ferguson police apparently confuse disagreement with disobedience, and mistake a legitimate exercise of constitutional rights with an unpardonable display of disrespect.

The report implies that the second condition follows from the first, but in this regard it is mistaken. The fact that the police are misused as revenue agents need not make them hostile to the community they ostensibly serve. One can imagine, in other words, an officer handing yet another ticket to a Ferguson resident for some trivial or non-existent offense with an apology instead of a snarl.

The problem of an adversarial police culture—in which the police view themselves as operating in hostile territory and treat the community as the dangerous enemy—has been recognized for decades. It was immortalized in the movie, Ft. Apache, the Bronx, and helps account for the too-quick decision to acquire and deploy the latest and most advanced weapons of war on neighborhood streets. I hope to address this problem in future columns, since it is almost impossible to imagine meaningful reform of the criminal justice system so long as it persists.

But today, I want to address the first problem identified by DOJ—viz., the distorting influence of money. More than anything, the DOJ report confirms the familiar insight that financial incentives can have a profound, if not always dispositive, influence on behavior. Implicit in this insight, and similarly confirmed by the lesson of common experience, is that if you alter the incentives, you can influence the behavior.

Ironically, this was a key insight in the earliest years of the punitive turn in American life. In 1975, conservative political scientist James Q. Wilson published, Thinking About Crime, where he argued that offenders were fundamentally rational actors who assessed the relevant incentives and chose crime because the anticipated balance of risk and reward favored lawlessness. Change the balance and you will alter the behavior, or so he thought. His work was exceptionally important in advancing the view that punishment should be far more swift, certain, and severe, a view which many legislators and criminal justice policymakers quickly endorsed.

Tinkering with incentives is also an essential component of the neoliberal approach to crime control, which relies on, among other things, the management and control of physical space to corral and redirect would-be offenders. Have you ever noticed that newer park benches use metal armrests to divide the bench into two or three distinct seats? That’s not for comfort. It prevents the bench from being used as a bed, and therefore deters the homeless from mixing with the good people of the city.

To date, proposals to redirect the flow of money have not played a prominent part in the discussion of criminal justice reform, which has focused instead on statutory changes, mostly at the state level. But there is some evidence this may be changing. Recently, the MacArthur Foundation announced a $75 million grant to develop programs aimed at reducing jail populations. Last week I spoke with Nancy Fishman, the Project Director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the VERA Institute, a major player in criminal justice reform and one of four groups charged with administering the MacArthur grant.

As Fishman explained, the idea of the grant is to create incentives for municipalities to think systemically about how to eliminate what has become a reflexive over-reliance on jail. Over the past two decades, violent crime has fallen by nearly 50 percent and property crime by 44 percent. Yet annual admissions to jails in the United States have almost doubled, from six million to nearly 12 million. The great majority of these people, perhaps as many as three-quarters, are held for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses. Many are mentally ill or have alcohol or drug dependencies but are warehoused in jail for want of alternatives. Finally, to compound the crisis, pretrial detainees are held far longer than in the past: over the past three decades, the average stay has increased from 14 to 23 days. (VERA’s report is available here).

MacArthur, VERA, and its partners hope to identify and fund creative proposals from municipalities that will reward alternative strategies. Backed by MacArthur’s resources and tied to VERA’s technical expertise, these alternatives will—one hopes—change the incentives in a way that encourages police, sheriffs, prosecutors, judges, and legislators to think of jail as the last resort rather than the first. This, after all, is the intended purpose of pretrial detention, which should be limited to those very few who cannot safely be returned to the community. All evidence shows that jails long ago took on a far different role.

One lesson of the DOJ report is that if you reward municipalities to think and behave differently, they will. If cash-strapped cities are paid to reserve jail for the appropriate population, they will, and the message will gradually spread from the mayor in city hall to the cop on the street, and all the actors in between. Prosecutors will learn not to seek pretrial detention for those who should be diverted elsewhere, judges will no longer impose bail that sounds reasonable to a middle class sensibility but is far beyond the reach of a poor man or woman, and legislators will think twice before creating yet another category of crime that calls for presumptive pretrial detention.

No one remotely thinks that the MacArthur grant will solve the problem of distorted incentives and misallocated money in the criminal justice system. After all, $75 million is almost literally nothing compared to the tens of billions of dollars awarded by the federal government to states and local municipalities across the country over the past 50 years to shape and expand their criminal justice system. But all of this money represents an extraordinarily powerful resource, if only it can be harnessed in the service of a new vision of criminal justice. Ferguson points the way, and MacArthur is taking the first step.


SCOTUS Rules Cops DO NOT Need A Warrant To Search Your Home

Original Article


In another devastating blow to freedom, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police don’t need a warrant to search your property. As long as two occupants disagree about allowing officers to enter, and the resident who refuses access is then arrested, police may enter the residence.

“Instead of adhering to the warrant requirement,” Ginsburg wrote, “today’s decision tells the police they may dodge it, nevermind ample time to secure the approval of a neutral magistrate.” Tuesday’s ruling, she added, “shrinks to petite size our holding in Georgia v. Randolph.”

Georgia v. Randolph was a similar case the Supreme Court addressed in 2006, in which a domestic violence suspect would not allow police to enter his home, though his wife did offer police consent. The police ultimately entered the home. The Court ruled in the case that the man’s refusal while being present in the home should have kept authorities from entering.

“A physically present inhabitant’s express refusal of consent to a police search [of his home] is dispositive as to him, regardless of the consent of a fellow occupant,” the majority ruled in that case.

The majority, led by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said police need not take the time to get a magistrate’s approval before entering a home in such cases. But dissenters, led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, warned that the decision would erode protections against warrantless home searches. The court had previously held that such protections were at the “very core” of the 4th Amendment and its ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, reports the LA Times.

According to the AP, Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court’s 6-3 decision holding that an occupant may not object to a search when he is not at home.

“We therefore hold that an occupant who is absent due to a lawful detention or arrest stands in the same shoes as an occupant who is absent for any other reason,” Alito said.

Read more at…

Supreme Court To Decide Whether Rap Lyric Threats Are Free Speech

from the not-in-front-of-the-children-or-judges dept.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in Elonis v. United States, in a case that could result in more attention paid to language in online postings. After a series of angry posts on Facebook in the form of explicit rap lyrics “about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a kindergarten class and attacking an FBI agent,” Anthony Elonis
“was convicted of making threats of violence and sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison. A federal appeals court rejected his claim that his comments were protected by the First Amendment. The Obama administration says requiring proof that a speaker intended to be threatening would undermine the law’s protective purpose. In its brief to the court, the Justice Department argued that no matter what someone believes about his comments, it does not lessen the fear and anxiety they might cause for other people.

Government to Ordained Ministers: Celebrate Same-Sex Wedding or Go to Jail

Government to Ordained Ministers: Celebrate Same-Sex Wedding or Go to Jail


For years, those in favor of same-sex marriage have argued that all Americans should be free to live as they choose. And yet in countless cases, the government has coerced those who simply wish to be free to live in accordance with their belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

Just this weekend, a case has arisen in Idaho, where city officials have told ordained ministers they have to celebrate same-sex weddings or face fines and jail time.

The Idaho case involves Donald and Evelyn Knapp, both ordained ministers, who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel. Officials from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, told the couple that because the city has a non-discrimination statute that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, and because the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Idaho’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, the couple would have to officiate at same-sex weddings in their own chapel.

The non-discrimination statute applies to all “public accommodations,” and the city views the chapel as a public accommodation.

On Friday, a same-sex couple asked to be married by the Knapps, and the Knapps politely declined. The Knapps now face a 180-day jail term and $1,000 fine for each day they decline to celebrate the same-sex wedding.

A week of honoring their faith and declining to perform the ceremony could cost the couple three and a half years in jail and $7,000 in fines.

Government Coercion

The Knapps have been married to each other for 47 years and are both ordained ministers of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. They are “evangelical Christians who hold to historic Christian beliefs” that “God created two distinct genders in His image” and “that God ordained marriage to be between one man and one woman.”

But as a result of the courts redefining marriage and a city ordinance that creates special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the Knapps are facing government coercion.

Governmental recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages need not and should not require any third party to recognize a same-sex relationship as a marriage. Government should respect the rights of all citizens. Indeed, a form of government respectful of free association, free contracts, free speech and free exercise of religion should protect citizens’ rights to live according to their beliefs about marriage.

The Knapps have been celebrating weddings in their chapel since 1989. Government should not now force them to shut down or violate their beliefs.

After all, protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience does not infringe on anyone’s sexual freedoms. No one has a right to have the government force a particular minister to marry them. Some citizens may conclude that they cannot in good conscience participate in same-sex ceremonies, from priests and pastors to bakers and florists. They should not be forced to choose between strongly held religious beliefs and their livelihood.

What Can Be Done

At the federal level, Congress has an opportunity to protect religious liberty and the rights of conscience.

Policy should prohibit the government from discriminating against any individual or group, whether nonprofit or for-profit, based on their beliefs that marriage is the union of a man and woman or that sexual relations are reserved for marriage. The government should be prohibited from discriminating against such groups or individuals in tax policy, employment, licensing, accreditation or contracting.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act—sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, in the House (H.R. 3133) with more than 100 co-sponsors of both parties, and sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in the Senate (S. 1808) with 17 co-sponsors—would prevent the federal government from taking such adverse actions.

States need similar policy protections, including broad protections provided by state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs) and specific protections for beliefs and actions about marriage.

Indeed, Idaho has a RFRA, called the Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act (FERPA). State RFRAs prevent the imposition of substantial burdens on sincere religious beliefs unless the government proves that such a burden advances a compelling government interest that has been pursued through the least restrictive means possible.

Protecting Religious Liberty

It is unclear how the city could claim that forcing the Knapps to perform a same-sex wedding is a compelling government interest being pursued in the least restrictive way. There are numerous other venues where a same-sex couple could get married. Indeed, there is a county clerks office directly across the street from the chapel.

States must protect the rights of Americans and the associations they form—both nonprofit and for-profit—to speak and act in the public square in accordance with their beliefs. It is particularly egregious that the city would coerce ordained ministers to celebrate a religious ceremony in their chapel. The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a motion arguing that this action “violates [the Knapps’s] First and 14th Amendment rights to freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, substantive due process, and equal protection.”

Citizens must work to prevent or repeal laws that create special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We must also insist on laws that protect religious freedom and the rights of conscience.

Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience is the embodiment of a principled pluralism that fosters a more diverse civil sphere. Indeed, tolerance is essential to promoting peaceful coexistence even amid disagreement.

PERSONAL NOTE: I do not care if a person is gay! That life decision is between them and God; however, I will have to answer to God as well, in that, I must stand by that which I believe. I believe God's word says that this particular life choice is "abhorrent". IMHO I believe the problem with many of these preachers are attached to a corporation which is obligated to abide by the law; whereas, an individual has unalienable rights which cannot be curtailed.



Fred Astaire had Ginger Rogers. Gene Kelly had an empty street, gleaming in the rain. But in the abiding and eternal annals of dance, none of their soft-shoed artistry may have the lasting impact that Brian Hickman Jr. had on a lonely public school stage, one heady night last February.

For a day that hinged on footwork, though, things got off to a pretty stumbling start.

Brian’s mother, Adriana, woke up not feeling very well, which isn’t that unusual when you’re seven months pregnant and juggling three lively boys, two rowdy dogs, a hard-working husband, and a job of your own. For moms like that, there’s never really an off day, and this was very much an on day, what with the big school talent show coming up after dinner.

Dinner, though, was pre-empted by their oldest son, Anthony, plowing headlong into a light pole while biking home from school. Soon, his banged-up head and his mom’s prenatal discomforts were sitting in an emergency room, awaiting their turn with the doctor.

Sitting there, Adriana kept one eye on her son’s deep cut and another on the clock … the hours were crawling by, and time was running out. Being a mom, she started managing the schedule – her husband, Brian, would take their younger sons, Brian Jr. and Daniel, home to get changed and ready for the show. She would follow, as soon as Anthony could get stitched up.

After that, there was nothing to do but pray that Anthony’s damage wasn’t permanent, that a doctor would come out now … and that, somehow, they could still get to the talent show on time.

They had to be there, for this one. Not just because Brian, Jr., was in it. But because he was counting on them … because, after everything they’d been through, these last few weeks, it was so very important for this mother to see what it meant to this son to make his dream come true.

At the Hickman house, they’d been hearing about this talent show for months. Brian seemed particularly determined to be in it. The show was an annual event at Superior Street Elementary, where Brian was in fifth grade, and he’d been just as excited about it last year … but, in the end, couldn’t bring himself to try out. “This year,” he told his family, “I’m doing it.”

It was quite a goal, for a boy as shy and physically challenged as Brian. Born three months premature, he faced his first heart surgery when he was just five weeks old. He endured two eye surgeries at about the same time, a double hernia repair a few months later … and a string of other surgeries and treatments in the nine years since.

“He’s gone through a lot,” Adriana says. “From the get-go, it’s been a roller-coaster. We always joke about it, that he’s a very strong-willed child and that if he wasn’t – well, God made him that way, or he wouldn’t have been able to survive.”

The greatest challenge for Brian and his family, though, has been his cerebral palsy.

“It’s mainly physical,” his mother says. “We have been very blessed. He doesn’t walk very well, but it has never been anything where we’ve had to worry about a speech impediment or any kind of mental delay.” Brian is in a standard classroom, likes playing basketball, and enjoys movie nights and Wii games with his family.

And: church. Brian really, really likes church. He attends Shepherd of the Hills near his home in the Los Angeles area, and “It’s just a blast,” he says. “Worshiping God and praising and learning stories and having group time and talking about God and learning more stuff.”

“Brian is a different person when he’s at church,” Adriana says. “It’s funny, because Brian has a really strong will. He knows what he wants and doesn’t want, and he is very verbal. We’ll be at church and everybody is, ‘Oh, Brian is such a sweetheart,'” and my husband and I are like, “Yeah.” And it’s not that he’s not – he’s a good kid – but because of what he has dealt with, his disposition is definitely different at home.”

Brian’s joy at Shepherd is particularly evident when he’s performing with the children’s praise band.

“He is up on stage,” Adriana says, “and they have them sing with movements and use sign language. Being able to worship and praise where he could dance and do that for the Lord – it was a newfound joy for him. He is just all smiles. It has to do with his faith and his understanding, feeling the joy of worshiping and praising God, and his love for his Savior.”

Cerebral palsy complicates his steps – it’s not easy for a boy with two bad legs and hips to dance. But, “I have never been one to handicap him,” says his mother. “He just has to do it and figure it out. When he was little and would fall a lot, it was one of those things where ‘I’m not going to be there to catch you when you get older, so you have to get back up on your own.’

That’s a hard thing to tell your son, on days when he’s struggling just to get out of the car and make his way up the school sidewalk, while his classmates watch. “I’m sitting parked on the street and watching how long it’s taking him,” Adriana says, “and it’s hard.”

So when Brian announced that he was really going to try out for the talent show this year, the family encouraged him to do so. He had a song, he said, that he wanted to dance to: “We Shine,” by Steve Fee. Adriana recognized it as one of the songs Brian sang with the praise team at church. Was he sure that’s the one he wanted to perform?

He was sure. In fact, that was the only song he would even consider dancing to.

He went to auditions, and seemed to feel good about his tryout. A day or two later, the phone rang. Someone from the PTA, which was sponsoring the talent show, wanted to let Adriana know that everybody loved Brian’s audition, and wanted him to perform.

One thing: he would need to do a different song.

“I kind of automatically knew where that was leading,” Adriana says, so she immediately placed a call to the principal. The principal, too, knew what was coming. The song was too religious, she said – inappropriate for a school setting. Brian would have to dance to something else.

“I think he has the right to perform this song,” Adriana replied, trying to sound more certain than she was. “I know the teachers are sanctioned from being able to voice their religion, but I’m pretty sure Brian has rights.” The principal was just as sure that he didn’t.

“This song says ‘Jesus’ too many times,” she said. “Doesn’t he have another he can dance to?”

“I’ll hand you his iPod,” Adriana said. “It has all worship music, so if he needs to pick another song it’s still going to be a faith-based song. That’s Brian.”

Still, the principal was adamant: without a non-Christian song, Brian wouldn’t take part in the show. Adriana hung up and started doing her homework.

“I thought, I don’t want to be sitting here, fighting with her, and then all of a sudden, he really doesn’t have the right and I look like an idiot.” She called a local Christian radio station, KKLA, and asked a producer if he knew what Brian’s rights were. He didn’t. But he’d heard of a legal group, the Alliance Defense Fund, that handled these kinds of cases. He looked up the number.

* * * * *

Brian came home from school, and Adriana explained the principal’s ultimatum.

“I said, ‘Honey, they called and this is what’s going on,’ and he started crying. That’s what, as a parent, got my blood boiling – now you’ve upset my child, and I need to do something about it. What broke my heart most was that he couldn’t grasp why they wanted him to change the song.”

“Do you want to change the song?” she asked.

“No, that’s the song I picked. What’s wrong with it? It’s a good song. It’s positive. It’s about Christ. What did I do wrong? I don’t get it.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” his mother told him. “It’s not you. It’s them.”

“Well, if I can’t do that song, then I don’t want to participate.”

“Okay,” Adriana said. “Then you practice your song, and I’ll work on getting you to participate.”

* * * * *

Adriana felt almost as unsure of herself, calling ADF, as she had confronting the principal.

“I called with the idea of just having my question answered,” she says, “not actually going through with anything.” But ADF attorneys saw the possibility that a lawsuit could impact millions of children like Brian all over the country. Because Brian was far from the only student being told he couldn’t talk or sing or dance to a song about Jesus.

“Unfortunately, it is all too common,” says David Cortman, ADF Senior Counsel, who encouraged the Hickmans to file the lawsuit. “Not only do you get the same situation – where the school denies [students’ right to perform Christian songs] based on flat-out hostility or the so-called separation of church and state – but students are being censored from sharing their faith, wearing a religious T-shirt, starting Bible or pro-life clubs.”

Even worse, Cortman says, “As Christian parents, we like to raise our kids as best we can in what the Bible has to say and how to live their lives. But imagine when a young boy or girl goes to school and – if they are like my kids – anything the teacher says is gospel, with a small ‘g.’

“Now they are told by their teacher, their principal, and their administrators that sharing your faith or merely mentioning Jesus, as in this case, is illegal, that you cannot do it in the public school.”

“You have just shut down that child and taught him at a very young age that there is something wrong with his faith, his faith is illegal, it is not appropriate to share with other people. That’s a terrible message to send our young children.”

The solution, Cortman says, is that “The school district needs to understand that this is private student speech – not ‘school’ speech. When it becomes a student’s private speech, the so-called ‘separation of church and state’ does not even come into play. And they should also honor that other First Amendment clause that people forget about: the free speech clause. To honor that and respect that in the Constitution, they have to allow a student like Brian to sing or dance to his song.”

To the Hickmans, a lawsuit still seemed too big a deal to make about a talent show. Even if it wasn’t, they couldn’t afford to hire lawyers. But they thought of Brian’s sister, still in the womb, facing this same challenge someday, and of all the other children as frustrated as their son. When Cortman assured them that, as a ministry, ADF would cover the legal costs, they agreed to take action.

“It really began, not out of me trying to be this Jesus freak, but just being a mother and defending my son and having his rights be respected,” Adriana says. “Our main goal, initially, was that Brian would get to participate. It wasn’t an attempt to make a statement … but it was something that was going to further our faith.”

It would further their lawyers’ faith, too. The talent show was just over a week away, and Cortman and his team knew the Hickmans and ADF were “taking on the second-largest public school district in the country” – one with a $7 billion budget from which to hire its own attorneys.

“Look,” Cortman told the family, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get Brian to be able to perform in a week’s time. But even if he doesn’t, we will continue to fight the lawsuit anyway, to make sure the policy is changed.” Then he glanced over at Brian, whose shyness doesn’t usually prompt him to say much around strangers.

“He just kind of looked up,” Cortman remembers, “and said, ‘I really would like to perform at the talent show.'” It was like the boy in the hospital asking Babe Ruth to put one over the left field wall. Cortman, like Ruth, couldn’t say no. “We’ll do whatever we can,” he promised.

He and his team immediately set about personally serving the principal, the superintendent, and every member of the school board with a copy of the lawsuit. Days passed, with no response.

Adriana says she wasn’t worried.

“It was one of those things. We had prayed about it, and felt like God’s hands were definitely on this. There was obviously an intent and purpose for the way things were playing out. I just kept saying to Brian, ‘You don’t worry about anything. Practice your song, and I’ll worry about making sure you get up there to perform it.’ I just had faith that he would be able to participate.”

With the show now just two days away, ADF attorneys resorted to Plan B: filing an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order to allow Brian to perform. Again, Cortman’s team personally served all the major defendants. This time, they capitulated. Cortman admits even he was surprised. “To get a school district of that size to do anything in a week’s worth of time is nothing short of a miracle,” he says, “and that’s exactly what happened.”

He called Adriana with the news, then asked if he could speak with Brian, who “was very happy, very excited. I don’t think he was quite expecting it – nor was I, to be honest. But it was really a joy to be able to share that news and see how thrilled not only he, but the whole family was.”

* * * * *

Local media learned about the lawsuit, and Adriana opened the front door one morning in her pajamas to find a television crew standing outside. She declined to comment, per Cortman’s instructions, but soon the story was airing on the evening news and at network blogsites. Friends and family were phoning to confirm that the boy wanting to dance was Brian.

Now the big day was here, and Adriana was sitting in an ER. But a doctor finally came, Anthony was repaired, and she raced home to change and get to the school. She made it for the show with two minutes to spare. The room was packed. Police officers stood around, ready “just in case,” one unnecessarily guarding the nervous principal.

Brian suddenly popped up beside his parents. He asked them to pray with him, as they had every night since he’d first tried out for the show. They did, and then he headed backstage.

Minutes later, an emcee called his name. Brian limped out onto the stage, to loud applause. He had been at Superior Street for a number of years; he had a lot of friends in that crowd. He tried not to think about them, staring at him, while he waited for someone to start the music.

Someone did, and the audience started clapping to the beat. The next thing Brian knew, he was dancing. And the whole room came alive.

“I was very scared,” he says. “But I just did the song anyway. I kind of, like, conquered my fear of big crowds.” All he could think about, he says, was “just going up there and doing my song and praising God
and letting everyone know that He’s our Savior.”

“We were obviously very proud, and it was just a very ‘feel-good’ moment,” Adriana says. “We felt like, ‘What a great victory for him.’ Not one person was visibly bothered.” But many were moved to tears and cheers. Still, the evening was bittersweet for the Hickmans. In two weeks, their dancing boy would have hip surgery. He wouldn’t dance again for a long, long time.

But he certainly opened the stage to a lot of other Christian young people. In the wake of the talent show, ADF continued to press the Hickman’s lawsuit, and not long after, the school district agreed to change its policy regarding talent shows, to allow students to include religious songs in their performances. Because of the sheer size of the Los Angeles school district, that policy change has the potential to impact every other public school in the country.

“From beginning to end, our experience with the ADF was very positive,” Adriana says. “The whole process was just really painless, really easy. They were very supportive, and gave me the courage to follow through, and to understand that it was the right thing. They were great.” In the wake of the case and all the news coverage it received, the Hickmans marveled at how many people – particularly non-Christians – came out in support of Brian’s stand. The day after the show, a co-worker who was not a Christian came up to Brian Sr., marveling at a story he’d heard the night before. “Can you believe this kid was going to do this song?” the man asked.

“That was my son,” Brian told him, with a grin.

“That’s when you think about how God uses things,” Adriana says. “God has a way of using everything to His glory.” If Brian had relented and gone with another song, she says, no one would have thought anything of it. But he didn’t – and the spotlight of media attention made people aware not just of a dancing boy, but of what he was dancing for.

“I’m very glad and excited that I was able to do it,” Brian says. “I just really want to spread the word that He’s our Savior and He’s the one who died on the cross for all of our sins.”

The word was spread. Because, dancing to “We Shine,” Brian was Light on his feet.
Adriana’s former boss – a Jewish man she hadn’t heard from in years – called to talk business, then commented on Brian’s dance. “That was so good,” he said, “and I’m very happy for you guys.”

Justices: Can’t make employers cover contraception


Justices: Can’t make employers cover contraception


WASHINGTON (AP) — A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that some companies with religious objections can avoid the contraceptives requirement in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, the first time the high court has declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law.

The justices’ 5-4 decision, splitting conservatives and liberals, means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under the health insurance plans of objecting companies.

Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion, over a dissent from the four liberal justices, that forcing companies to pay for methods of women’s contraception to which they object violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He said the ruling is limited and there are ways for the administration to ensure women get the birth control they want.
Related: Justice Ginsburg’s dissent

But White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the decision creates health risks for women, and he said Congress should take action to make sure they get coverage.

“President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them,” Earnest said. “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of the women who are employed by these companies.”

Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that Obama signed in 2010.

Two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the pivotal Supreme Court vote that saved the law in the midst of Obama’s campaign for re-election. On Monday, Roberts sided with the four justices who would have struck down the law in its entirety, holding in favor of the religious rights of closely held corporations, like the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-craft stores that challenged the contraceptives provision.

Hobby Lobby is among roughly 50 businesses that have sued over covering contraceptives. Some, like the two involved in the Supreme Court case, are willing to cover most methods of contraception, as long as they can exclude drugs or devices that the government says may work after an egg has been fertilized.

But Monday’s ruling would apply more broadly to other companies that do not want to pay for any of the 20 birth control methods and devices that have been approved by federal regulators.

Alito said the decision is limited to contraceptives. “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs,” he said.
He suggested two ways the administration could deal with the birth control issue. The government could simply pay for pregnancy prevention, he said. Or it could provide the same kind of accommodation it has made available to religious-oriented, not-for-profit corporations.

Those groups can tell the government that providing the coverage violates their religious beliefs. At that point, creating a buffer, their insurer or a third-party administrator takes on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other provisions of the health care law.

That accommodation is the subject of separate legal challenges, and the court said Monday that profit-seeking companies could not assert religious claims in such a situation.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was part of the majority, also wrote separately to say the administration can solve its problem easily. “The accommodation works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it,” Kennedy said. He said that arrangement “does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs.”

Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the requirement to offer birth control.
In a dissent she read aloud from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision “potentially sweeping” because it minimizes the government’s interest in uniform compliance with laws affecting the workplace. “And it discounts the disadvantages religion-based opt-outs impose on others, in particular, employees who do not share their employer’s religious beliefs,” Ginsburg said.

Leaders of women’s rights groups blasted the decision by “five male justices,” in the words of Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The administration said a victory for the companies would prevent women who work for them from making decisions about birth control based on what’s best for their health, not whether they can afford it. The government’s supporters pointed to research showing that nearly one-third of women would change their contraceptive if cost were not an issue; a very effective means of birth control, the intrauterine device, can cost up to $1,000.

The contraceptives at issue before the court were the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, and two IUDs.
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 85 percent of large American employers already had offered such coverage before the health care law required it.

Most working women will probably see no impact from the ruling, corporate health benefits consultants expect. Publicly traded companies are unlikely to inject religion into their employee benefit plans, said Mark Holloway, director of compliance services at the Lockton Companies, an insurance broker that serves medium-sized and growing employers.
“Most employers view health insurance as a tool to attract and retain employees,” said Holloway. “Women employees want access to contraceptive coverage, and most employers don’t have a problem providing that coverage. It is typically not a high-cost item.”
It is unclear how many women potentially are affected by the high court ruling. Hobby Lobby is by far the largest employer of any company that has gone to court to fight the birth control provision.

The company has more than 15,000 full-time employees in more than 600 crafts stores in 41 states. Hobby Lobby is owned by the family of David Green, evangelical Christians who also own Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain.

The other company is Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. of East Earl, Pennsylvania, owned by a Mennonite family and employing 950 people in making wood cabinets.

The court’s decision was apparently quite narrowly written to only apply to privately & family run businesses. However, I believe these decisions shall be more the norm at 5-4 and narrowly written; thereby excluding a wide array of court cases.