Writings and observations

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

In 1874 George Reynolds, a secretary to Mormon President Brigham Young and husband to two wives, was charged with the crime of bigamy. The case didn’t come out of the blue: The LDS church (with Reynolds as volunteer) had sought it as a test.

Reynolds argued his marriages were constitutionally protected as his practice of his religion, since the LDS church then supported polygamy on religious grounds. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 1879 decision in Reynolds v. United States didn’t deliver as hoped. The court drew on the writings of Thomas Jefferson, who argued that “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God … the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions.”

The court closely followed his reasoning: “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship; would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice? Or if a wife religiously believed it was her duty to burn herself upon the funeral pile of her dead husband; would it be beyond the power of the civil government to prevent her carrying her belief into practice?”

So: How would the Idaho Legislature today answer those questions?

Freedom of religion has been at least the rhetorical premise for several pieces of legislation this year.
The best known, effectively killed for now on February 19 after initially working up steam toward passage, was House Bill 427, which would have barred government in Idaho from pulling or restricting a professional or occupational license for “Declining to provide or participate in providing any service that violates the person’s sincerely held religious beliefs or exercise of religion except where performing emergency response duties for public safety. ” Though the potential scope was broad, it was widely described as allowing professionals not to do business with gay people.

A bill cutting the other way didn’t even get a hearing.

Idaho law currently says “The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.” Representative John Gannon proposed House Bill 458 to add: “However, this exemption shall not apply whenever a child’s medical condition has caused death or permanent disability.”

Gannon’s prompt was not hypothetical. The Oregon-based Followers of Christ church was a locus of infant and child mortality, including a number of cases deemed to be easily treatable by conventional medicine, and it eventually drew state legislative response. Church members were prosecuted in Oregon for failing to obtain medical treatment for their children. Since then, Oregon journalists found a remote Idaho graveyard where many of the children of the sect, denied medical treatment, are buried.

There’s also an excellent book (its 480 pages meticulously researched), “In the Name of God,” by Cameron Stauth, published last year by Thomas Dunne Books, on the subject. We are talking here about the life and preventable death of children who, according to the laws of Idaho and other states, aren’t old enough yet to make essential decisions for themselves.

The legislation specifically aimed at protecting them was swiftly attacked by legislators, and requests for even a hearing for it have been denied. The bill appears dead for this session.

Given that, are there any limits, according to the Idaho legislators, to what a person should be able to do under a claim of religious conscience? The 1879 U.S. Supreme Court said that of course polygamy and human sacrifice can be regulated and banned. Would be the 2014 Idaho Legislature agree?

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Idaho Idaho column

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

“NO WORK EXPECTED
FROM CONGRESS
REMAINDER OF 2014″

That“Washington Post” headline of a week or two ago struck me on two counts: it was some experienced observer’s recognition we have a totally ineffective branch of federal government – as I’ve speculated for some time; it was not unexpected news.

Both the conclusion and the fact it was not unexpected combine to make a powerful statement that this nation – for all intents political – is blind, lost and leaderless in one-third of the constitutional government we’ve been taught to respect. In reality, the U.S. Congress has become an employer of last resort for too many folks incapable of doing – or even understanding – their jobs.

That headline was further reinforced last week when the U.S. Senate was unable to pass a bill to put $21 billion on the table to provide additional education benefits, an unemployment extension and badly needed improved medical care for veterans of our most recent unnecessary wars. Democrats put up the legislation – Republican killed it. They did so despite the fact it was Republican presidents who got us into those wars-of-choice.

Can you come up with a single, acceptable reason why the people who got us – and those veterans – into extended, unwinnable wars in the first place won’t honor the other side of the accompanying commitment to provide the best possible support for those we sent onto the battlefield? I can’t!

Veterans aren’t the only Americans being screwed by their own elected government. You can add millions more who’ve lost food stamps to help with basic family needs – long-term unemployed who’ve been unable to end the downward economic spiral many got caught in through no actions of their own – elderly who’ve lost housing and even food program assistance they need to survive – school lunch programs on which millions of kids rely for at least one good meal a day – local government infrastructure assistance for highway construction, updating sewer and water systems, law enforcement, environmental programs and more.

All of these things – and many other necessary if not outright life-saving government programs – have been decimated by members of a congress so wrapped up trying to stay publicly employed that the needs of their own constituents have been ignored.

The story under that despicable headline went on to say the basic “reason” for the projected inactivity was the 2014 election. And 2016. Already. Seems nobody wants to piss off anybody so they wind doing exactly that by doing nothing for everybody – except PACS, Super PACS, anti-government wacko organizations, the Koch’s and any other money faucet they can find.

The founders of this nation were mostly businessmen and professionals from various fields. Before their political midwifery attempts to create a new nation in Philadelphia, they had lives of their own. And, for the most part, careers. They were doing their “good citizen” stint birthing a nation in addition to otherwise normal lives. They intended to create a “citizen government,” not one of perpetual politicians. No, they didn’t make this congressional litter box for ego-driven feral “cats.” We did that on our own.

The lengthy perpetuation of people in public office is a cancerous concept that often ends up badly. Like ticks. Once in, hard to get out. Yes, institutional memory is important to the concept of good government. Yes, we get some good ones now and then who belong on the Potomac River banks because they’re effective. And, yes, we might sometimes throw out both baby and bath water.

But – term limits are not the answer. Term limits would only create new and likely more unacceptable problems than we have. They would – among other things – create a government of supra-bureaucrats with more lasting power than the elected who come and go through the electoral revolving door. If anyone should fear the long-term affects of term limits, it should be the Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, Americans for Freedom and all the rest of the whirly-gig, tinfoil hat crowd.

The only acceptable answer to me is a better-informed electorate – a smarter electorate that takes the time to do its own vetting of people who want to be elected to anything. But that takes work. That takes some concentration and some diligence on our part. The current crop of government wreckers and the intellectually-vacant shows we haven’t done enough of those things.

That Washington Post headline should frighten a lot of us. To look ahead nearly a calendar year and expect 535 members of Congress to do absolutely nothing in the performance of their duties – to accomplish nothing – to allow our continuing national problems to fester and worsen – to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to simply a government employment program we call “elected office” – to allow millions of our fellow citizens to suffer by withdrawing the badly needed support that good conscience would dictate we underwrite – all of that and more reflects a national shame. Not a national pride.

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Rainey

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Boise city hall artwork chosen (Boise Statesman)
Efforts to curb dog shootings (Boise Statesman)
Debate over massive Caldwell subdivision (Nampa Press Tribune)
Water levees at risk in Pocatello (Pocatello Journal)
Maybe a new roundabout at Sandpoint (Sandpoint Bee)
Dairies promise to self-regulate (TF Times News)
CSI copes with guns on their campus (TF Times News)

Eugene Water/Electric land by river may be renewed (Eugene Register Guard)
Legislature nears end (Eugene Register Guard)
KF public safety levy planned (KF Herald & News)
PacifiCorps at Link River may be closed (KF Herald & News)
Health exchange still has bugs (Portland Oregonian)
Reviewing the marijuana dispensary regime (Salem Statesman Journal)

Funding sought for new mental health court (Kennewick Herald)
Crack in Wanapum Dam deemed serious (Kennewick Herald)
Yakima wants pot money, but not sales (Longview News)
ACLU, judge on pay-or-appear (Port Angeles News)
Flaws in Hanford tanks (Tacoma News Tribune)
Supreme Court wants school fund changes (Tacoma News Tribune)
Still long calls on health exchange (Vancouver Columbian)
Critics of oil terminal speak out (Vancouver Columbian)
Candidates for Hasting’s House seat (Yakima Herald Republic)
Concerns about changing medical pot law (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take