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We Dodged a Bullet
Over the years, we’ve asked the question, “What would Montana look like without groups like the Montana Family Foundation? What would we look like from a political perspective or a policy perspective?”
In a recent Lee newspaper article, one of our opponents described us as having “too much political power and exerting too much influence in the legislature,” to which we respond, “That’s our job. It’s why we exist, to affect public policy in a positive way from a Judeo-Christian perspective.”
This week we celebrated a victory that reminds us why we’re here and why we have to be in this for the long haul. Back in 2011, a Livingston couple filed Montana’s first lawsuit claiming a brand-new concept that can best be described as “wrongful birth,” the idea that someone is liable for the birth of a child that should never have been born. In this case, the couple’s child was born with cystic fibrosis. The couple claimed that genetic testing should have shown that the child would be born with the disease, and had they known, then the mother would have sought an abortion.
This case is incredibly sad on so many levels, but the one that concerned us most was the threat that the concept of wrongful birth could gain traction. Our team went to work, and in 2013, drafted legislation that prohibited lawsuits for wrongful birth or wrongful life. On April 26th, 2013, House Bill 310 became law, and Montana joined at least 12 other states that have the same law. Meanwhile, similar cases were introduced in Washington state and Oregon. Last year, a Bozeman jury rejected the Livingston couple’s claim, and last week the Montana Supreme Court rejected their appeal.
I say “their” appeal, but in another sad turn of events, the father was dismissed from the lawsuit early on for lack of standing. Even though we completely disagree with the premise of the case, it seems bizarre that a judge would say that a father in an intact marriage has no standing when it comes to a lawsuit involving his child. As we said, this case is sad on so many levels. The Supreme Court decision brings to a close a case that began six years ago, and we can truly say that Montana dodged a bullet. The child in this case in now in school and in gymnastics, and the life expectancy for people suffering from cystic fibrosis is now about 40 years.
The essence of this case is the fact that every single life is valuable; every single life has worth; and who are we to say different? When society values all life, we lift each other up and spur each other on to achieve whatever we’re able to, given our individual intellect, talents and abilities.
But lest we forget, it doesn’t end there. The Bible says that we’re created in the image of God, and simply by existing, we have value. When we, as a society, begin pointing out individuals who should never have been born, we begin to look more like Nazi Germany than America. This is a journey that doesn’t end well, and it’s a journey that we should never begin.
The Supreme Battlefield
As of June 21st, summer is finally here, complete with long days, camping, symphonies in the park, fireworks and Supreme Court decisions.
As Dr. James Dobson once said, “America is in a Civil War of values, and the prize to the victor is the next generation, our children and our grandchildren.” And nowhere is that Civil War more evident than on the battlefield of the Supreme Court. It’s become all too apparent: we are a nation divided right down the middle with very little middle ground remaining. We’ve become a nation that’s very black and white with very little gray. We see it in our razor-thin elections; we see it on our college campuses; and we see it in a myriad of 5-4 decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fortunately, there appears to be some light at the end of this very dark tunnel. Last week we talked about a unanimous decision upholding the right to speak freely. This week the Supreme Court gave us several more surprises. The first was a 7-2 victory in a case out of Missouri where a Christian school was denied a state grant to resurface its playground just because the school had a religious affiliation. We’ve argued for years that this is blatant viewpoint discrimination, and yesterday the Court agreed. This strikes at the heart of so-called Blaine Amendments. Montana has this language in our Constitution, and it’s used to deny religious schools the same rights available to schools that are non-religious. As Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement, “This decision marks a great day for the Constitution and sends a clear message that religious discrimination in any form cannot be tolerated.”
The second victory came when the Court agreed to hear a case out of Colorado where a Christian-owned bakery refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. As we discussed last week, this case falls under the heading of compelled speech: forcing someone under penalty of law to promote a message or philosophy with which they disagree. This case is no different than forcing a Jewish baker to decorate a cake with a pro-Nazi message or to force a homosexual baker to decorate a cake with a gay slur. The baker in Colorado was ordered to decorate cakes for same-sex weddings and was also forced to send his entire staff to sensitivity training, which is a topic for another day.
The bottom line is that the Court agreed to hear the case, and by the time they do, we could have a new Justice on the Bench. There’s been talk recently that Justice Kennedy might retire, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been in poor health for years. Replacing either one with a Trump appointee would probably swing the Court to the right. Replacing both would swing the Court to the right for decades.
As Dr. Dobson (Children at Risk, 1990) said, We’re in a “Civil War of values” (p. 19). Will we eventually come together under a united vision with a common sense of purpose, or will we remain fractured and complacent? The choice is ours, and for our sake, I hope we choose wisely.
Israel in Focus
This year from January ‘til the end of April, our life revolved around politics. The legislature was in session. For four months, we ate, slept and dreamt politics. We lived at the Capitol; we helped draft bills; we testified; we lobbied for and against; and we did our best to keep you informed. By the time the legislature adjourned, we were ready to get back to our families and resume a normal life.
My wife and I hit the reset button by leading a three-week trip to Israel and Jordan. It’s purely cultural, no politics involved. We visit historic sites, climb mountains, explore underground tunnels and participate in archaeological digs. It’s our chance to introduce people to two countries and to peoples that we’ve grown to love.
This time our effort to escape politics was a failure, as the President of the United States decided to visit right in the middle of our trip. Although it was a little inconvenient, it was good, first of all, to see a sitting U.S. President visit the Wailing Wall; and second, to see a U.S. President dealing fairly with BOTH sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides want peace. The question is, what will that peace look like, and will it be fair to everyone involved?
As we stood on top of the Golan Heights and watched a civil war unfold in Syria, I couldn’t believe that the previous administration seriously tried to get Israel to give that ground to Syria. Syria can’t even control the ground it’s got, and the result would be ISIS forces on the high ground looking down into Israel. It would have been a disaster. Thankfully, Israel stood up to U.S. pressure.
Trips to Israel, and Jordan, for that matter, are always extremely complex. Everyone does their best to carry on as though everything’s normal, but in the back of their minds, they know that war could break out at any moment. Israel is so many things: It’s 6,000 years of history; it’s Ground Zero for three of the world’s major religions; it’s a country that blesses the world with cutting-edge technology in the areas of medicine, agriculture, and out of necessity, defense; it’s a teeny country whose neighbors have repeatedly not just promised, but have tried to destroy. Yet the Israelis persist, and their country still exists, some would say miraculously.
For Jews and Christians alike, it all makes perfect sense. The Bible clearly describes the history of Israel, a history that’s being proven correct every day in archaeological digs across the nation. It also talks about the reconstitution of a nation that didn’t exist for over 2,000 years. That prophecy came true on May 14, 1948. And finally, the Bible clearly describes how Israel will be center stage and play a central role in the geopolitics of the region leading up to a huge battle called Armageddon.
Eighteen Israels could fit inside the borders of Montana, yet this teeny country finds itself in the news almost every day. Could it be that the prophecies about Israel are coming true? I, for one, believe they are, and I look forward to our next trip two years from now.
School Choice Victory!
In the world of public policy, battles can be long, drawn out and last for years, but eventually we do get a resolution, and in this case, a resounding victory.
I’m talking about the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a two-year old court case resulting from the Bullock administration’s attempts to block a school choice bill that was passed by the 2015 legislature. As you may recall, Senate Bill 410 was a bill to allow tax credits for donations to organizations that provide scholarships for students to attend private schools, including private religious schools. No state dollars are involved. It’s simply a tax credit. After the bill was passed, the Department of Revenue stepped in and declared private religious schools to be ineligible. This is patent viewpoint discrimination, and our side threatened to sue. Attorney General Tim Fox told the Department of Revenue that their petition was indefensible, and if they were sued, then they were on their own. Not only were they sued, but they were sued in both State and Federal court.
The Federal case was put on hold until the complaint at the State level was resolved. Our team included lawyers from the Institute for Justice and John Mercer, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana. We moved to enjoin the Department of Revenue’s actions because similar cases in other states had already settled this issue in our favor, including a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In what turned out to be a serious waste of taxpayer dollars, the Department of Revenue refused to back down, and the case proceeded to trial.
The Department of Revenue was destined to lose, and their first clue should have been a strongly-worded decision by District Judge Ortley that laid out a series of reasons why the department’s actions were unconstitutional. The next step was a motion to permanently enjoin the department from enforcing its rules. The only problem was Judge Ortley was retiring.
The department and others filed a series of delay motions hoping to get a more sympathetic judge. It backfired. The case was assigned to Judge Heidi Ulbricht who granted our motion for permanent injunction. In her decision, she wrote that non-refundable tax credits simply do not involve the expenditure of money that the state has in its treasury. They concern money that is NOT in the treasury and NOT subject to expenditure. In short, she said the Department of Revenue incorrectly interpreted the Constitution, which is exactly the argument that we’ve been making in the legislature for the past nine years.
The lesson here is diligence. Forty-three other states had school choice. Montana becomes the 44th. This program now puts parents and students squarely in the driver’s seat. Over 1500 students drop out of Montana schools each year, and this bill will allow them to find a school that works for them. The decision also re-establishes the fact that government cannot discriminate against people based on their religious beliefs.
It was a solid victory for our side. Now we need to take advantage of the program. Please go to Big Sky Scholarships today and make a donation. This is a 100% tax credit. That’s Big Sky Scholarships.org.