Thursday, April 19, 2012

Forcing Catholics Institutions Out of Charity Not Fine with US

The HHS final rule on qualified health plans imposes a Contraception Mandate that poses a poison pill for faithful Catholic and other institutions that believe that life begins at conception. Mark Rienzi, the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty attorney who represents Ave Maria University, Belmont Abbey College, Colorado Christian University and ETWN , is confident that the outcome in federal courts will come out the right way and protect religious liberty in America. However, if Rienzi’s optimism is misplaced, he believes that Catholics could end up engaging in civil disobedience against an unjust law.

  The civil disobedience with religious liberty protestors will not be like the sit-ins of the civil rights movement. Instead, Rienzi anticipates institutions not paying for the contraception, sterilizations and abortifacients. This would lead to crippling fines which eventually would put the charitable and educational missions out of existence. 

In a perverse way, such a shuttering of Catholic identity might be the aim of the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration budgetary proposal for FY2013 sought to limit the deductability of charitable contributions for those making over $250,000 a year, exactly the demographic which makes substantial gifts to non-profit causes. As for Catholic hospitals, they make up 15% of all bed-space in America and they are often the only provider in rural regions. If conscientious Christians cede the field due to the Contraception Mandate (or being fined out of existence), the federal government will dominate the health-care playing field and be a major step towards a single-payer system. 

It is not fine to force charitable institutions from living their faith by penalizing them for not acquiescing. It may be time to recall the Man of All Seasons, St. Thomas More who was a martyr for not submitting to an unjust law proffered from English King Henry VIII, the secular power that be.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sharpton Draws Cross Comparisons

photo:/ David Shankbone
On Easter Thursday, the Reverend Al Sharpton made some cross comparisons between Jesus Christ and Trayvon Martin when he spoke before the National Action Network’s meeting in Washington, DC. Sharpton pontificated:

We believe in Jesus, they crucified him and never had a charge... They never charged, there wasn’t no crime on his indictment. So we’ve got to deal with the inequities of the criminal justice system. The fact that we (black people) are overly-incarcerated, the fact that we go to court and are treated differently, and the fact that when we’re victimized there is not the same response. That’s what Trayvon was about.

That’s extraordinary exegesis from the Reverend Sharpton. But Sharpton’s other pronouncements about Trayvon seem as provocative and pugnacious as the Lunacy in Luton. This tendency towards fusing intolerant theology with polemic politics is a trend that we should resist we much (sic).

Protesters in Sanford, Florida were disappointed that the Reverend Sharpton reneged on his promise to appear at a Pre-Easter Occupation for the slain teen. But Sharpton was not chanting with the Culture Club. Instead, the right Reverend was keeping it real as Sharpton spent Resurrection Sunday leaning forward on MSNBC panel.

No wonder Sharpton could make such cross comparisons.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Keeping Politically Curious on Public Broadcasting

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the ban on political advertising for public radio and television stations on a 2-1 vote.  But Judge Carlos Bea affirmed the ban on for profit companies advertizing goods and services.

The stated legal logic is:

Public issue and political advertisements pose no threat of ‘commercialization'..."Such advertisements do not encourage viewers to buy commercial goods and services. A ban on such advertising therefore cannot be narrowly tailored to serve the interest of preventing the 'commercialization' of broadcasting.

Be mindful that this is the Ninth Circuit, has a reputation of being the most overturned federal jurisdiction. But for this election cycle, prisoners of PBS might be praying for telethons rather than the onslaught of election ads.

In the abstract, this ruling may be a good thing for public broadcasters.  Conservatives have long felt that PBS and NPR slants markedly left in its coverage and sensibilities. It might be profitable for them to get paid for broadcasts.  But a close reading of the US Code indicates that public broadcast stations can not substantially relying on underwriting acknowledgments for funding their operations.

It might be interesting to learn how much underwriting spots cost, as it could be a cheap way for underdogs or even ideologically insurgent (read Republicans) to introduce their ideas to public broadcasting viewers. Of course, denial of political sponsors on public broadcasters could generate some earned media for campaigns as well as exposing the nearly translucent veil of impartiality by many public broadcasters.

While it is more of a political than an judicial issue, Minority Television Project v. FCC might spur a rethinking of the 1967 Public Broadcast Act in our information overload area and perhaps a retooling of the FCC itself by Congress. When there were only a few choices on the television dial, it made sense to have an alternative which supported niche programming.  Now cable, satellite, digital over-the-air multicasts and internet streaming offers an alluvia of choices for consumers.  In this changed media marketplace, it might make sense to rethink TV.

There are also some absurdities in Public Broadcasting.  It used to be that public broadcasters relied on the largess of wealthy individual underwriters (or their trusts) to sponsor favored programming like “Masterpiece Theater”.  Underwriting can now be done by corporations, but not to commercialize products.  So there tends to be warm fuzzy branding for the corporate sponsor, even with moving images-but no commercials (sic).  Really?

Public broadcasting is not a fledgling operation either.  Eighteen months ago, KCET in Los Angeles, one of the founding members of PBS in 1970, decided to become an independent public broadcaster because PBS wanted to charge $7 million a year for their West Coast flagship station’s broadcast rights, which was double the assessment of KOCE, This assessment comprised 5% of PBS overall budget.  The KCET executives may be ruing their decision to declare independence, as they had to sell their Hollywood Studios to the Church of Scientology for $45 million.  Alas, KCET’s new mixture of Al Jazeera English and BBC News has not helped, as contributions were down 41% in 2011.

When Juan Williams was unceremoniously fired by then NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, it was revealed that only 2% of National Public Radio’s budget came from federal earmarks.  If that's the case, then cutting Federal funding and allowing these public stations to establish alternate primary income streams should be simple.

Of course, this rosy budgetary situation for NPR greatly assisted from the $200 million endowment by the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc in 2003.  But NPR does not rest on it’s laurels for funding, as it was happy to accept $1.8 million from George Soros Open Society Foundation to hire 100 political reporters.  Public broadcasters have programming staples like “All Things Considered”, “and Morning Edition” on the radio and shows like “Sesame Street” and NOVA on PBS which could enhance bottom lines with merchandising agreements .  As it stands, the underwriting ads now are all but commercials.  The Minority Television Project case may facilitate a restructuring which allows stations to better support themselves and networks to underwrite their costly programming.