The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 week ago

Rural broadband: It’s past time

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

As it turns out, we just thought we understood how much we needed better broadband accessibility in Alabama. Rural farmers, hospitals, and schools have been telling us for years that the inequality of our broadband infrastructure created two classes of Alabamians: internet haves and have-nots. State leaders mostly agreed and promised to address it … eventually.

But in a state with many pressing needs, rural broadband initiatives never pushed their way to the front of the line until a global pandemic upset our entire economy and educational system overnight.

Suddenly countless Alabamians found themselves working and trying to achieve an education from home. The lack of reliable, high-speed internet made it almost impossible for many.

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School systems and municipalities tried to compensate with WiFi-enabled buses parked in strategic locations, and hard-copy learning packets available to students with no access. But these were band-aids on a gaping infrastructure wound.

Professionals suddenly found themselves parking near a McDonald’s to participate in Zoom video calls with employers and clients. Nothing says “peak productivity” like working from your sweaty car outside a fast-food joint.

College students dismissed from campuses and sent back to rural homes to complete the semester may have had it worst of all. Higher education is even more digitally-driven than K-12 these days, and these students were suddenly asked to participate in 2020 learning using 2005 internet speeds.

Now that we have run head-first into the depth of our need, what can we do to make up for lost time and give all Alabamians full access to economic and educational opportunities?

A recent poll commissioned by the Alabama Policy Institute found that a whopping 75.2% of respondents favored using federal CARES Act funding to blanket the state with sufficient broadband access. Additionally, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh has indicated that the legislature is now fully awake on the issue, calling out our “stunning lack of rural broadband investment” just this week.

The $1.8 billion in CARES Act monies Alabama has received represent an opportunity to hit this problem in the mouth. However, we can’t waste the money on solutions held together with duct tape and optimism. Current expectations for business and educational work online include the capacity to stream video, utilize video-driven communication platforms, handle large files and more. We need future-proof infrastructure that can keep up with the rapidly increasing demand for bandwidth.

Rural cooperatives can play an important role in helping the state meet this challenge. They’ve been delivering utilities to rural Alabamians for decades. Our co-ops possess a great deal of the infrastructure and know-how to help us achieve full coverage with high-speed internet — a utility now as essential to Alabamians as the electricity and telephone service they made accessible in decades past.

What’s more, the “new normal” forced upon us by quarantine showed us ways that full internet connectivity for all can improve our quality of life across the board. It introduced many families to a different kind of education, causing greater interest in remote learning and homeschooling. True educational choice is dependent on access to alternative instruction and resources.

The reduction in regulation around telemedicine during the shutdown allowed us to see how it can better connect aging and rural populations to quality healthcare. Diversifying how we deliver care will be a factor in reducing runaway healthcare costs in the future.

For all the old reasons — and for reasons we’re just beginning to understand — now is the time to get all of Alabama online. We will never be able to capitalize on opportunities for rural economic development or attract educated professionals back to the communities that raised them without giving them the tools to thrive there.

COVID-19 caught Alabama’s broadband infrastructure standing flat-footed this time around. Let’s make sure the next challenge doesn’t find us in the same posture.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is a Visiting Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

1 month ago

Cameras (AKA the government) on every corner — A Crisco sorta slope

(API/Contributed, YHN)

I remember the collective groan that went up from motorists when “red light cameras” became a thing. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if the police were around to see you push your luck with a changing traffic light.

Big Brother always would.

The heightened accountability at busy intersections felt a bit creepy and oppressive, but most drivers shrugged it off as the price we must pay for safer roadways.

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Now the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) is considering the requests of multiple public and private entities to use rights-of-way to install more surveillance equipment. In 2020, we’re way past red-light cameras and license plate readers; on the table now are other technologies such as legacy surveillance cameras and gunshot detection arrays.

Some will argue that more information in the hands of law enforcement is always a good thing and increases our collective safety. There are indeed legitimate reasons to equip law enforcement with the tools they need to do their jobs well.

But when it comes to increased surveillance and the privacy of law-abiding citizens, we are standing on a slope covered in Crisco.

Data and surveillance information are only as noble as the hands that hold them, and the laws that govern their use.

It’s one thing to allow the collection of license plate numbers when a red-light infraction is detected. (And even this is an imperfect law enforcement mechanism; it tells you to whom the offending car is registered, but not who was driving.) But legacy surveillance cameras are another level altogether.

Cameras set up to allow the government to monitor our daily lives remotely should alarm those who value individual liberty and who want to restrain government. As much as we respect our friends in law enforcement, and acknowledge the challenges of their task, the fact remains that they are an arm of the government.

In its April 2 public notice detailing the permitting process for the installation of such equipment, ALDOT acknowledged the privacy concerns at stake and demonstrated a willingness to restrict permits to local governments and law enforcement agencies. Additionally, the agency says that “the use of accommodated sensors and all collected data shall be strictly limited to law enforcement or public safety purposes, whether maintained or stored by the governmental entity or any private service provider.”

The question then becomes: who gets to decide what is and is not a legitimate law enforcement and public safety purpose? The former is a broad category, the latter even more so.

This is a question with profound implications for personal privacy and should be governed by carefully structured law.

It is too important to leave to the interpretation of departmental regulation and scant oversight. Surveillance and data collection technology advance so rapidly that leaving these permits available to any device or technology that may be deemed useful to law enforcement and public safety is far too broad.

Why?

Because we evaluate these questions and calculate risks in practical terms based on the technology known to us today. But what about technology that will emerge tomorrow? Are we willing to write a blank check and leave it in the hands of ALDOT and law enforcement agencies?

Admittedly, our engagement with the internet and cellular networks has made the concept of personal privacy all but a joke in modern life. Heck, I’ve traded some privacy away so that Chick-fil-A can have the sandwich I ordered on their app ready at the precise moment I roll into their parking lot.

But at least when it comes to my phone or computer, I reserve the right to throw it off a bridge one day and retreat from digital view. Government-installed cameras in public spaces and on roadways strip us of that option entirely.

I’m not sure allowing the government to know our every move even yields the promised safety, but I do know that it costs each of us something.

Our lawmakers should get to work capping that cost and keeping Big Brother on a leash.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

2 months ago

Balancing rights and love of neighbor

(Pixabay, YHN)

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has announced that our state is moving into an initial phase of economic recovery, known as “Safer at Home.” It relaxes restrictions on many businesses while keeping others, like restaurants, heavily limited for now. The hope is that all businesses will be allowed to resume a modified type of operation shortly.

There are good reasons to get our government back in its lane concerning our civil liberties. Our freedoms are fundamental and precious, and having them curtailed–even in a time of high risk–is a serious matter.

As we move past the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, wherein many decisions were made for us by our government exercising emergency powers, we will have the right to make more decisions for ourselves and our families regarding appropriate risks and behaviors.

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At this crossroads, the question begins to change.

It is no longer merely, “What am I legally allowed to do?” but also, “What is the right thing to do, both for myself and others?”

Sooner or later, we learn that freedom is another name for responsibility. You can use it wisely to bring positive outcomes to yourself and others. Or you can use it recklessly, bringing harm to yourself or others.

Public health requires cooperation among the citizenry. It is the place wherein no man is an island–we depend upon one another to achieve certain protections and outcomes for all.

It’s the same reality that we confront on the subject of vaccinations. Because of personal health challenges, some people cannot get vaccinated against severe illnesses like smallpox or measles. They depend on those of us who can receive vaccines to do so to establish “herd immunity.” Only when the disease is suppressed among the general population are they safe.

It seems that with COVID-19, there’s a similar fault line in play: much of the population appears to have little risk associated with the virus. Yet for the elderly and the immunocompromised, the risk is very real. They will only be free to return to relative normalcy and freedom when we achieve better control of the contagion. Achieving that suppression depends on several things, like better testing and the development of an effective vaccine. But you and I have a role to play, as well.

Through a Christian lens, we have an easy parallel from which to take cues. Christ tells us to love God as our first order of business, with loving our neighbor being the very next priority.

So with our restored liberty likely soon in hand–freedom to shop and dine and move about as we see fit – what does it look like to love our neighbors in a global pandemic?

I think it will often look like a willingness to be inconvenienced.

It might mean wearing the confounded mask–even though it’s itchy and hot and makes your glasses fog up–when we go into situations where social distancing is harder to maintain.

It might mean waiting your turn to get into a business that is currently at full capacity to make your purchases.

It might mean continuing to engage in some awkward social distancing gymnastics as we socialize, worship, and do business, no matter how silly it feels at the moment.

It might look like doing a few things that you would prefer not to do, and refraining from doing a few things that you would.

Doesn’t love always boil down to self-sacrifice at the end of the day? And if we’re honest, these sacrifices of compliance with best practices for reducing virus transmission are small ones.

Yes, I know this is America, and we want what we want, and we want it now. And we are accustomed to getting products, services, and experiences with dizzying speed, tailored to our desires as consumers. Flexing that muscle is a hard habit to break. But we can check ourselves if we are willing.

Bottom line: I never want the government to tell me what to do. But Jesus? He’s got some things to say to us in this moment. And I think his example encourages us to consider the least of these as we get back to business as usual, and to go the extra mile in the little things as an act of love for our neighbors.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

3 months ago

COVID-19 restrictions unfairly choke small business

(API/Contributed, YHN)

When Mark and Susan Anderson were required by a statewide mandate to close the doors of their Dothan clothing and outdoor gear store, Eagle Eye Outfitters, they felt like it was a necessary sacrifice for the good of public health. By limiting retail shopping to essential items such as groceries, prescriptions, and fuel, the governor’s order takes a great many people off the streets.

Hopefully, it slows the spread of the rampant COVID-19 virus. But the closure is incredibly painful for owners like them: it has forced them to furlough more than 150 employees, and the massive loss of revenue will leave a mark on their business for years.

What the Andersons don’t understand was how it is fair for one of their local competitors, the national chain Academy Sports and Outdoors, to continue selling the same types of apparel and outdoor gear.

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In this case, the loophole for Academy is their small firearms counter. Guns and ammunition are considered essential under the current order. Therefore, Academy and others who carry firearms have been allowed to continue to do business — even if guns and ammunition are only a small percentage of their overall sales.

One of the unintended consequences of the mandate is that small businesses, which often specialize in a more narrow range of merchandise, are penalized more heavily than their national chain competitors.

You heard that right: businesses owned and operated by Alabamians are absorbing the crushing cost of total closure, while national chains based out of state continue to snatch up what little retail demand still exists in the downturn.

If all businesses operating in Alabama were restricted from selling non-essential goods, small businesses might at least expect to benefit from the pent-up economic demand that will exist once the mandate is lifted. As it is, demand for those goods and services is funneled immediately to the big chains, cutting small business owners out of the deal entirely.

Bob Couch of Couch’s Jewelers feels that his small business is paying a higher price than others, as well. While he is forced to shutter his 75-year-old family jewelry store in downtown Anniston, Wal-Mart is allowed to continue selling jewelry just a short distance away. Because they carry groceries and have a pharmacy, they are allowed to sell anything.

None of the small business owners I spoke with this week felt the retail sales restrictions were unnecessary, given the scope and seriousness of the pandemic. But they think the state government has picked winners and losers with a poorly-conceived order.

They are right. And the governor can correct it today if she chooses.

Vermont heard a similar outcry from its small business community. In response, it amended its closure order so that businesses that remain open to offer essentials are limited to just those sales. In a large department store that offers a variety of goods, selling non-essentials is temporarily prohibited. No more going to Wal-Mart for groceries, but then wandering the aisles looking for a pair of gold earrings or a sleeping bag.

These are trying times for businesses of every size. But there’s no good reason for our own state government to damage Alabama’s small business owners further.

None of us likes the loss of civil liberties, or the freedom to do business as we choose — not even for a day. But if our current public health concerns are so extraordinary as to require such restrictions, the least government can do is ensure that they be equally and fairly applied. Every business operating in this state — big box or main street — should bear its share of the burden.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

3 months ago

Preventing death by allowing ‘essential’ murder

(Pixabay, YHN)

We live in wild times.

I’ve watched people all across the political spectrum in recent days deliver impassioned speeches about the need to take extraordinary measures to preserve human life. They say they believe the elderly and vulnerable are just as deserving of a chance to live as any other.

They are right.

Human life is sacred and should be treated as such from the womb to the tomb.

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But since we live in an age of cognitive dissonance and crumbling reason, the same people who will gladly burn the economy to the ground to save grandpa will sue you for the right to keep killing unborn children, even amid this crisis.

In Alabama, it looks like this: on March 27, Governor Kay Ivey issued an order suspending nonessential medical and dental care as part of a comprehensive effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the state. Temporarily eliminating procedures that are not medically necessary reserves scarce PPEs for use where critically needed and reduces the number of people gathering in clinics and potentially spreading the virus.

State Health Officer Scott Harris stipulated that abortion clinics were providing an essential service and could continue to operate.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said that he believed that the original order applied to all elective medical and dental procedures. And as elective abortion is not emergency care and treats no disease process, they should not be exempt from the order.

Enter the ACLU, which filed a petition on behalf of abortion providers with the federal courts, asking for an emergency order to prevent state authorities from closing them down; they want abortion classified as an “essential” service.

They don’t believe that abortion clinics should have to live up to the same deal that thousands of other medical providers and citizens are currently living up to, for the greater good. United States District Judge Myron Thompson issued just such an injunction late on March 30, keeping abortion clinics open and temporarily exempting them from the standards of the governors’ mandate. The court will hear arguments on the matter in full on April 13.

Where do I even begin?

Under the law, women currently have a right to abortion services. Likewise, I have the right to seek all manner of medical and dental procedures, many of which are essential preventative care: pap smears, mammograms, dermatological cancer screenings, x-rays, etc. Under normal circumstances, I even have the right to seek all sorts of nonessential medical procedures that improve the quality of my life: therapies or cosmetic procedures for a variety of conditions and complaints.

But these are not normal times, and pregnancy is not an illness.

And our government – for better or for worse – has the power to temporarily restrain ordinary civil liberties to respond to a crisis, as the Governor has in this case.

Pregnancy may be unplanned or undesired. But it is not a disease.

The vast majority of Americans understand that our resources must, for the near future, be prioritized for the treatment of actual disease processes and emergency healthcare that won’t wait.

But if you say something – no matter how divorced from facts – enough times, you start to believe it. And in this case, the abortion industry mantra that “abortion is healthcare” has been repeated so often that a significant number of activists and their acolytes believe it.

Those of us who think that children in utero are just as sacred as the elderly and the frail would point out that abortion is a kind of “healthcare” that always leaves one of its two patients dead.

The feminist in me is sickened of the degrading presumption that lives inside of the abortion-as-healthcare mentality: that women lack the agency and the intelligence to prevent pregnancy in the first place. That pregnancy is something that just spontaneously happens to us without our consent or participation because the basics of biology are just too hard for little ole us.

Victims of rape or abuse are obvious exceptions to this rule, and only a tiny percentage of elective abortions, so save yourself the pithy email.

It’s a pitifully low view of women. It’s a tragically low view of life.

And now, the abortion industry wants to be held out as exceptional and granted exclusive rights. They want their elective procedure deemed more important than all the other elective procedures and more important than the fight to save their neighbors’ lives.

It is not.

Because of this pandemic, there are people from all walks of life on hold for medical care that is far more consequential to their ongoing physical health than the potential abortion of a healthy pregnancy.

Why must heart patients, diabetics, and cancer patients put skin in the game of achieving our collective good while abortion seekers break the social contract and go right on with their desires?

Whether you think abortion should generally be legal or not, it’s certainly no more essential than a million other types of medical care that Alabamians are doing without in this moment of crisis.
Providers of elective abortion are not deserving of special consideration.

No one can honestly argue we are protecting at-risk people from death by allowing the murder of babies as an “essential” service.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute; reach her on Twitter at @dhmccain.

API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

4 months ago

Pro-Life in a pandemic

(API/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

For those of us who are pro-life, it’s easy to get in the habit of only thinking of this pillar of our values system in the context of abortion. But occasionally a crisis comes along to remind us that a biblical view of human life has far broader applications.

Such is the case with COVID-19.

It helps to walk it back to why we feel that life is sacred. For Christians, there are countless roadsigns in scripture pointing to God’s view of human life. We are created in his image. He is the author and giver of life. Each of us has such value in his eyes that he sacrificed his Son for us.

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So we apply those truths to the unborn child and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that protecting that fragile life is the right thing to do.

The fundamental truths and logic don’t change when we consider the value of the lives of the elderly or the physically vulnerable. They, too, are created in the image of God and are precious to him. They have dignity and worth for this reason and more. Their lives are no less important to their Creator than yours or mine, or that of a child in the womb.

For these reasons, there is a distinctly biblical way to react to a time of global health crisis like the one we’re living in now.

A pro-life worldview doesn’t see the elderly as more expendable just because their earthly lives are nearing the end. I remember pro-life conservatives getting up in arms–rightfully–at the thought of “death panels” in the discussion preceding the passage of the Affordable Care Act. We were indignant at the thought of our healthcare system making purely pragmatic, financially-motivated decisions about when to allow a sick person to die.

By the same logic, there is no number of deaths from COVID-19 that are acceptable, or that should be received by us with casual indifference.

Beyond the biblical call to value human life, there is the very heart of lived Christianity: love of God, and love of neighbor. Christians should be the first in line to sacrifice convenience and personal liberty for the good of others. Social distancing is difficult because we are hardwired to desire the community. We need one another and draw strength and encouragement from one another in times of uncertainty.

Case in point: on the first Sunday after 9/11, churches across America were crushed with overflow crowds. Because of the fear introduced by terrorism, people instinctively clung to one another. We got together around dinner tables and backyard grills and just talked. We became much less hurried and more human in the space of a day.

The same kind of fear and uncertainty surrounds us now, yet we are simultaneously deprived of the comfort of community. But it is a deprivation that we can grit our teeth and get through if we try. The incentive to dedicate ourselves and our families wholly and immediately to social distancing is that the more aggressively we apply these practices now, the sooner we’ll get out of jail.

Consider the massive blessing of digital connectedness which makes our isolation more doable. Many of these platforms and technologies didn’t even exist 20 years ago. But today, a school system or a church can decide to deliver content without human presence and be up and running with the new system in mere days.

That’s amazing, and a sign that our God goes before us. None of this is a surprise to him.

So suck it up, buttercup. Being pro-life in 2020 is more than opposing abortion. It’s biting the bullet for the good of healthcare workers (who would love to go home and shut the door but can’t), for elderly friends, for kids and adults who look perfectly healthy but have weakened immune systems. And making your kids toe the line no matter how much they whine, too.

For the next few weeks, loving your neighbor with the love of Christ looks like staying home when you’re bored out of your skull. Die to yourself. Show your kids how to do the same. Our God is glorified when we love others in these ways.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

4 months ago

Guest opinion: Education in Alabama is dead last. It’s insanity not to make a change

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

They say the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing time and again, yet expecting a different outcome. But that’s exactly what opponents of Amendment One on Tuesday’s ballot are asking you to do. While our state’s educational system sits dead last in the nation, they want you to protect the status quo and the people who benefit from it.

Notably, the children of Alabama are not among those beneficiaries.

If passed, Amendment One would rename our current State Board of Education, which is elected, and create the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education. Members of the Commission would be appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate.

It would also rename the “State Superintendent of Education” as the “Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education.” This person would be appointed by the Commission and approved by the Senate. The new Commission would be charged with creating educational standards for the state other than the largely unpopular “common core.”

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I come to this question as a product of Alabama public schools, and the daughter of two career public school educators. I am no stranger to how hard many of our classroom teachers in this state work, and how talented they are.

But still, we are last. Dead. Last.

And don’t let anyone tell you it’s all about education funding. When you account for the value of a dollar spent in Alabama, our state legislature allots funds to education that put us closer to the middle of the pack among other states. At least a dozen states spend less without factoring in the cost of living differential.

And still, states that spend comparatively less are whipping us on outcomes. So if it’s not the fault of our hardworking classroom teachers, and not about funding, where’s the problem? What are those other states doing differently?

Surprise! The vast majority of them are working under the leadership of an appointed school board. Alabama is one of only seven states nationally that still elect a statewide school board.

How’s that working out for us? And why are we so suicidally stubborn about trying a different approach?

Opponents of Amendment One say that it would rob you of your vote where education is concerned.

I disagree. We elect the Governor and we elect the Senate, which will have the power to stop any potentially unqualified appointments. And by giving the Governor this kind of sway over education, there will be one singular, easy-to-name person accountable if we don’t see progress.

Right now, most Alabamians couldn’t name the member of the state school board representing their region if their lives depended on it. We vote almost blindly on candidates we know little about because their districts are big and they campaign with small budgets. Many voters don’t mark those races at all, because they’ve never heard of either candidate.

Yet Amendment One’s opponents are clutching their pearls about the potential loss of this haphazard, under-informed, populist charade.

Frankly, I don’t think Governor Ivey will misuse this opportunity. Unlike many past and current members of the State Board of Education, the Governor has actually been a K-12 classroom teacher. She knows a thing or two about what it will take to turn this barge around.

Let’s face it: before the last batch of data revealed that our schools have sunk to dead last, we had been sitting at 48 or 49 for most of my life. We should have been willing to do this kind of radical surgery on our school system 20 years ago. But no one had the guts to recommend it. Until now.

Do I need to point out that the most effective state employee in the history of The Yellowhammer State was not elected? Nobody elected Nick Saban. Somebody who knew more about what they were doing than you and I went out and hired—dare I say, appointed—him. Appointments, in capable hands, can generate astounding outcomes. Even I, orange and blue to my very bone marrow, will give you that.

Furthermore, if either of the flagship college football programs in this state were dead last in the SEC—let alone the nation—Alabamians would demand radical, immediate change, and no solution would be off the table. But with K-12 education, there’s a mindset among us that the back of the pack is good enough. We think like perennial losers, who haven’t seen a bowl game or a title in our lives.

I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but we are the very embodiment of “nothing to lose” when it comes to our education system. We’ve got nowhere to go but up. But we’ll have to do something different in order to rise. Let’s vote yes on Amendment One.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

4 months ago

Female athletes deserve fair competition

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

Silly me. I thought that with the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972, we had settled the question of whether girls deserve a chance to compete and win as high school and college athletes. Feminists fought like warriors to pass the act against gender discrimination, which among other things ensured that girls had equal access to sports.

Before the passage of the act, only 1 in 27 high school girls played varsity sports. Now that number is more like 1 in 2.5.

And why did we need separate, but fully funded and supported athletic teams for young women? Why didn’t the act simply require that all athletic teams at institutions receiving federal funding become co-ed teams?

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Because before our culture abandoned facts and reason in its full gallop toward progressivism, we all knew and acknowledged that men and women are biologically different. Men have higher levels of testosterone. They carry more muscle mass per pound of body weight. They have a naturally higher endurance threshold. On average, a male can run faster and jump higher than his female counterpart.

It’s just science.

There’s an approximate 10-12% performance gap between elite women athletes and elite men. In 2017, Olympic, World and U.S. Champion Tori Bowie clocked a lifetime best of 10.78 for 100 meters. In the same year, her time was beaten 15,000 times by men and boys.

Fifteen thousand times. And that’s at the elite level. Observation leads us to believe that gap grows wider when dealing with athletes at lower levels of competition, where natural baseline strength and speed—absent full time, professional training and nutrition—is more of a factor.

It is impossible to introduce biological males to women’s sports and preserve even the appearance of fair play. Once a biological male steps onto the track or the court, the whole thing becomes a joke. Strike a match to Title IX, for all the good it does female athletes at that point.

That’s why I hope the Alabama legislature passes the “Gender is Real Legislative Act,” known as the GIRL Act. It would prohibit athletes in K-12 competition in our state from competing in sports for a gender other than their biological gender unless the competition in question is co-ed.

I’ve written before about the fast-forward approach activists are taking to normalize transgenderism. The LGBTQ+ lobby is running ahead of health care research and good governance on how to address the growing prevalence of gender dysphoria in children and young adults.

I grieve for people of any age who suffer the psychological burden of feeling out of place in their own bodies. I can only imagine the pain of attempting to reconcile those feelings and overcome the anxiety and depression that struggle would likely induce. But we fail these individuals—particularly children—when we insist that the remedy to their problem is to fully indulge the psychological aberration with which they struggle.

We fail everyone else when we force them to give up their rights in service to this farce.

But back to the pending legislation in Alabama: whether or not one has a moral objection to gender fluidity or transgenderism, none of us can escape what destroying the gender definitions our sports culture is built upon will cost women athletes. Activists are asking them to sacrifice their right to fair competition on the altar of desired cultural change.

Are female athletes going to be allowed to dope? I don’t know any parents who want their daughter on the juice in 10th grade so she has a chance to win state, but doping is the only way she’ll have a fair shot with a biological male in the hunt.

Where are you, feminists? The girls are depending on you.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org

5 months ago

It’s time for prison, mental health reform

(ALDOC/Facebook)

Two of the major items on Governor Kay Ivey’s 2020 agenda are finding solutions to the problem of Alabama’s overcrowded and broken prison system, and bolstering our mental healthcare system.

Both are badly needed, and in some ways intersect.

I understand the political challenge of getting folks excited about funding a major overhaul of something as unpalatable as prisons. It’s far easier to rally support for education, health care, infrastructure — heck, basically anything besides creating better conditions for those judged to have done wrong.

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But the success of our effort to rehabilitate offenders and return them to society in better shape than the judicial system found them does have real consequences for the rest of us. Overcrowded prisons are a breeding ground for violence, further dehumanizing and corrupting those who’ve lost their way. Draconian mandatory minimum sentences strip judges of discretion to assign appropriate sentences and add to the overcrowding problem.

A broken penal system can take people who made mistakes and turn them into hardcore criminals. The skillset prisoners are forced to learn to survive the sea of gangs and drugs behind bars will be the very one that causes them to fail after release, and get on the recidivism merry-go-round for a lifetime.

Few are discovering a better way to live, or learning how to make an honest living and stay out of trouble after parole.

As it currently exists, our corrections system is an active contributor to the problem of recidivism. The governor can start the ball rolling, but the state legislature is going to have to get in the game and do the hard work of crafting substantive solutions.

Harder still, they must find a way to fund those solutions.

The other major task is creating a more comprehensive and responsive mental healthcare network for Alabamians who need these services. Those who suffer from mental health challenges, or who care for a loved one who suffers, will tell you that accessing care in Alabama has gone from difficult to almost impossible since the closure of key inpatient facilities several years ago.

Those lacking good insurance or the means to pay for expensive care out-of-pocket are wholly at the mercy of the state. Sometimes, even good insurance can’t help you out, if a bed to put you in just doesn’t exist.

The crossroads of these two issues is that a significant number of individuals who find themselves on the wrong side of the law are struggling with a mental health condition. Many who struggle with an addiction to an illegal substance are trying to self-medicate for an undiagnosed or untreated mental health condition. Eventually, that addiction leads to a drug-related arrest and conviction.

Additionally, our lack of mental health resources means that law enforcement officers are often the first responders to a crisis. In the past, this resulted in a significant number of suffering individuals being arrested, when what they really needed was adequate care.

Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter has taken up the cause of mental health reform, including developing more Crisis Intervention Teams to help law enforcement work with health care providers and families to reduce arrests and connect individuals in crisis to appropriate care.

That’s a wonderful, needed start. But again, the state legislature must find a way to expand the system to create beds where these CITs and their families can refer people for treatment. I’ve written before of the despair probate judges feel when families are pleading for help via commitment to a treatment facility, and no matter how legitimate the need, there is often no bed available to place that patient in. If a bed does exist, it’s not available for the length of time needed to achieve real stability for the patient. Our patchwork quilt of longterm and short-term treatment options in Alabama has massive holes in it, and it must be addressed.

These intersecting problems — prison reform and mental health reform — are real and impact us all at the end of the day. Does the Alabama legislature have the will to fix them? We should hope so.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

5 months ago

American institutions losing competence, losing trust

(API/Contributed, YHN)

From our American press corps to major political parties, and in some cases even state and national government, American institutions appear less and less competent and trustworthy by the day.

In my adult life, the first taste of it was in 2000 with the dangling-chad disaster in Florida’s general election. Granted, statewide margins had probably never been thin enough to make the percentage of error possible with hole-punch ballots a factor until the Bush-Gore race. But when the race was tight, accurately tallying the ballots was a problem.

It was the first time that I realized that we can’t take it for granted that these processes are airtight, or that the people charged with running them know what they’re doing.

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We live daily in a morass of “news” coverage, some from credible news agencies, and some from propaganda machines parroting partisan talking points or even baseless allegations.

That, combined with old-school news organizations operating mostly in facts, but tripping regularly over their own biases, has left Americans with no sources of information in which they can fully trust.

No mutually agreed-upon sources of information mean that Americans across the ideological divide possess no shared facts. If we can’t even agree upon the facts, you can forget compromise. We can’t even start a good-faith negotiation.

And now major elections — we’re looking at you, Iowa Caucuses — are clearly run by some kids from the A/V club who coded a new app this week, and are curious to see how it works.

The storyline in Iowa is one that will be used to craft lesson plans in organizational management and crisis communications classes for years to come. The entire debacle will be a lesson in what not to do. Terrible planning. Non-existent contingency planning. Sloppy execution. Disastrous messaging when the ship was going down.

Here in Alabama, we thought our own iteration of the Democratic Party was likely the least competent in the nation. They can’t even agree on who is in charge and should have the keys to the office.

Then the Iowa Dems said, “Hold our beer.”

So what’s the point in all this? It’s that for all of our advancement, all of our technology, and all of the tools at our disposal, we are no better off. In fact, we may be less competent within key national institutions than ever before.

That’s a problem. It is tearing at the fabric of our increasingly fragile national unity and stability. We can’t afford the level of incompetence that we’re suffering at the moment — a moment when we need the best and brightest minds and most diligent taskmasters at the helm of key institutions and processes.

Every time we have a failure of competency, it cracks the door for the conspiracy theorists to create more fear, stir more dissension, and deepen the divide. And while there are certainly instances wherein there is an intentional effort on the part of foreign governments or other bad actors to corrupt our processes and weaken our nation, it is more often the product of incompetence.

At this rate, hostile foreign powers and jihadists may be no more threatening to the future health and safety of our nation than our own laziness and ignorance.

Get it together, America. The stakes are high.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

6 months ago

The refugee question

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Alabamians have been watching in recent weeks to see how Alabama will handle the question of refugee resettlement. Other Republican governors have been split on the question, with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee allowing refugees into his state and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ending his state’s participation in the program.

As Gov. Lee pointed out in public comments following his decision, there is a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the issue.

Many Americans hear the word “refugee” and think of undocumented migrants seeking asylum at our southern border, unvetted and unsorted. In reality, individuals who are termed refugees and thus eligible for resettlement have already gone through an average of two years of vetting, first by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and then by the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).

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People do not apply to be refugees. They are identified by the UNHCR based upon their displacement from their home country and a high degree of vulnerability: women, children, and those with significant medical needs rise to the top of the priority list. Ditto for those who have survived violence or torture. Once identified by the UN as qualified for consideration, the UNHCR conducts an extensive screening process to weed out individuals who might present a security risk.

The U.N. then refers those who qualify on to the US or other nations who offer resettlement opportunities. With the referral comes a great deal of data to aid the potential host nation in completing its own screening: iris scans, fingerprints, bio scans and records from numerous interviews and background checks.

The U.S. then conducts a second, equally thorough screening process to confirm the need for resettlement and rule out security risk.

For the lucky ones who survive this two-year gauntlet of questioning and waiting, this is where they are connected with one of nine non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for resettlement and subsequent support. Many of the NGOs are faith-based organizations like World Relief or the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

All of this occurs before any refugee is placed in a state like Alabama, Tennessee or Texas.

When asked why he chose to maintain Tennessee’s participation in the program, Lee defended the decision and shared about his wife’s work with female Kurdish refugees who have resettled in Nashville. The women became refugees after their husbands, translators for the U.S. military, were killed.

“I’m not turning my back on those people,” he said.

Lee, like all Republicans, believes in the need for a secure border and a safer, more orderly immigration process for our nation.

But he understands the difference between an illegal immigrant and a refugee. That difference is vast.

Alabama is a very red state largely because Alabama is a very Evangelical Christian state. We are bent toward conservatism because of our deeply held convictions about the value of human life, the necessity of religious liberty, and our distrust of big government.

But it’s those same core beliefs about the value of human life and the right to practice our faith as we see fit that should combust in the people of Alabama and set fire to a yearning to minister to women and children in crisis.

It’s that same gut-level desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to the “least of these” that should have us crawling over one another trying to get to our nearest NGO to help with resettlement efforts.

To welcome refugees is not to risk ourselves. It is simply to give a tiny portion of our abundance of safety, economic opportunity and liberty to those who have none.

You and I will incur more risk getting on the freeway to get home from work tonight than we will at the hands of resettled refugees.

There is, of course, a discussion to be had about how many such people we can accommodate, and how to best accomplish resettlement and assimilation into our culture. But as a Christian — and in light of the facts, rather than unfounded fears ginned up by political rhetoric and an erroneous conflation of the illegal immigration problem with the refugee question — I believe that Tennessee Governor Lee’s persistence in offering a safe harbor to the hurting is correct.

I hope Alabama will join Tennessee and make a decision that fully reflects the Christian faith of which our state is so quick to boast.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

7 months ago

Christ, Christmas and counseling

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

We call it “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many, it simply is not.

Those who suffer from depression or anxiety often struggle more during the holiday season than at any other time of the year. The loss of loved ones seems magnified when we are faced with the rituals of the season without them. The consumerist American version of Christmas generates financial stress. The relentless promotion of a saccharin, Hallmark-movie ideal leaves even those with relatively good lives feeling as though they aren’t experiencing the “magic” as intended.

These realities are the reasons I flinched when I saw a tweet last week from a prominent (50k+ followers) Christian. It simply read, “You don’t need a therapist. You need Jesus.”

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What a reckless thing to say to people in pain.

I understand what the writer’s intent was: to point people toward addressing the spiritual poverty that often lies beneath emotional brokenness. But the terse tweet was a swing and a miss for several reasons.

First, it shames people who do have faith in Christ yet are still in deep psychological or emotional pain. It suggests that those who suffer from seasons of despair are themselves to blame for these valleys because they haven’t “found Jesus.” I’ve got news: you can be walking closely with the Lord and still need help.

Additionally, this attitude essentially spits on the calling and ministry of legions of Christian counselors and mental health workers. People who have been called and gifted to be the hands and feet of Christ to those who are hurting. People who have dedicated their lives to the selfless carrying of others’ burdens, and the patient nurturing of the wounded.

God uses us to represent Jesus to one another. To hand-deliver his love and healing to those around us.

He uses pastors to illuminate the truth of his word and help us understand how to apply it to our lives.

But no one ever says: You don’t need a pastor. You need Jesus. I mean, you have a Bible. Isn’t Jesus sufficient to make it clear to you? What are you, stupid?

He uses doctors to help bring physical healing to those who are sick or in pain.

Yet no one ever says: You don’t need a cardiologist. You need Jesus. All healing ultimately comes from him so you might as well just cut out the middle man.

He uses teachers to help us understand information and apply that learning to our lives.

But I’ve never heard anyone say: You don’t need a teacher. You need Jesus. After all, Christ is where all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are kept. Why are you looking elsewhere?

Scripture is clear about the wisdom of multiple counselors and explains how we each use our gifting in the Body of Christ for the good of the whole. So who in their right mind could flippantly discount the valuable contributions of godly mental health professionals?

Who could be cruel enough to deny a brother or sister in Christ the healing that God often uses therapists to bring?

It’s a blind spot in the reasoning of some in the faith community that is rooted in a dual ignorance: ignorance of what a mental health crisis is made up of, and ignorance of what therapists, psychiatrists, and others do to address it. They view it as a cultural band-aid slapped on cancer, when it is more like chemotherapy designed to eradicate lies that have been believed, and to repair neurological pathways. Sometimes it even involves a dual solution: a medical intervention to address a naturally-occurring chemical imbalance plus cognitive therapy to complement the healing. (Much like the dual process of healing an orthopedic injury: surgery to correct the structural problem, and physical therapy to restore strength and flexibility for more complete recovery. No one ever accuses you of being a bad Christian when you go to PT.)

But this is ignorance that — if left unchallenged — can do real harm. So challenge it we must.

If you have diabetes, pray for healing and go see your endocrinologist.

If your marriage is falling apart, pray for God’s help and seek the advice of a godly marriage counselor.

If you have a legal problem, pray about it and seek the advice of a principled attorney.

These are not either/or situations. They are often both/and situations. Don’t let someone else’s flawed doctrine strip you of all that God — in his mercy and wisdom — has provided for your care.

We all need Jesus. And sometimes we need therapy, too.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

7 months ago

Should all rights give way to the transgender revolution?

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

Ever heard the maxim “Your right to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins?” It’s one the federal courts need to remember this week.

On Thursday, the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals will hear a case that originated in Florida related to transgender students and school bathroom usage. This decision will affect schools in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, and may ultimately force the issue up to the Supreme Court.

The original suit was filed by a transgender student, Drew White, who was born female but transitioned to a male gender identity just before the freshman year of high school (in keeping with the student’s genetic gender, I will use the female pronoun). Last year the student won a lower court ruling against the school district which ordered the school to allow her to use the boys’ bathroom, rather than a single-occupancy gender-neutral bathroom. The school district has appealed that ruling to the 11th Circuit, asserting that providing the accommodation of a gender-neutral bathroom should be enough and that they shouldn’t be forced to allow students to use bathrooms that don’t align with their genetic gender.

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One of the primary problems with the plaintiff’s argument, in this case, is that she doesn’t believe her fellow students have any rights. All that is to be considered is her desire to participate fully in all of the male cultural norms and rituals — right down to the bathroom, with young men partially exposed as they use the urinals common to men’s restrooms — whether it leaves them feeling compromised or not.

Our culture decided long ago that restroom usage was a private affair, and one that was sensitive to gender.

Men shouldn’t be asked to bare themselves in the presence of women, and women shouldn’t be forced to be that vulnerable in the presence of men. I wish that all public restrooms were single-user and fully private. But in the absence of that, I am far more comfortable using facilities in close proximity to other women, rather than men. I think most men share that sentiment.

It matters. Particularly in a world where women and girls often struggle to feel safe.

At the same time, I understand that civil liberties require that all people — including transgender people — have access to the same level of public accommodation as others. If public restrooms are available, it makes sense that there must be an option that is either private or gender-neutral to meet their needs.

But to say that the rest of us must surrender our need to feel safe and comfortable in these public spaces is to strip us of our rights simply to make transgender people feel better.

The logic of the argument of the LGBTQ community is seriously flawed on this issue, as well.

On the one hand, we are asked to accept that there is an endless number of ways to identify and express one’s gender. It is without boundary –genetic or physical or cultural – -and can be utterly fluid. Yet at the same time, we are told by transgender advocates that in a case like this there are only two acceptable types of public accommodation: the traditional girls’ and boys’ bathrooms.

So, while there are innumerable gender identities, there can be no “third way” of accommodation that seeks to respect the rights of all practically?

Hogwash.

The gender activist crowd can’t have it both ways: gender and sexuality can’t be a free-for-all of expression, while the state and the rest of us are simultaneously restricted to the traditional remedies, oriented around binary gender, to accommodate it.

That’s not asking for equal access. That’s asking for affirmation.

I have rights as a woman to feel safe in the vulnerable, partially-unclothed world of restrooms, dressing rooms and the like. My 16-year-old daughter has the same right. A tiny minority of individuals, while entitled under the law to have access to reasonable accommodations, can’t exercise their civil liberties at the expense of the civil liberties of others.

It is untenable to say that all rights should bow at the altar of the sexual revolution, which includes the ever-increasing category of transgendered people.

So, go ahead, swing your fist. But you better watch out for my nose.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

7 months ago

Educational freedom enables personal, economic hope for Alabama’s children

(API/Contributed, Pixabay, YHN)

Part of the promise of school choice is that access to better education will result in increased economic mobility for those trapped in poverty. In our state, programs like the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) give children in underperforming schools or lower-income homes scholarships to private schools. It provides access to choices that have historically been reserved for the affluent.

The reasoning goes that if you take a poor child from a poor school and give that child a better K-12 education, he or she will have access to better options for college or job training. That better job opportunity will be the on-ramp to a higher socioeconomic class and all that comes with it: more social stability, better healthcare, etc. It also enables that person to contribute more to the tax base and consume less public assistance over their lifetime, which is another common good.

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There is growing evidence that it works.

Cities and districts which adopted school choice measures years ago, like the District of Columbia, have enough data to see marked improvement in graduation rates and parental engagement among parents empowered with the ability to choose the best school for their child. That boost in the graduation rate alone is a proven predictor of increased future income.

Only in a more market-based educational system, driven by vouchers that give the power of choice to all regardless of income, can all families gain a sense of ownership over their child’s education.

The majority of Americans understand that in almost all cases, they are better at making decisions for their families than the government. The Cato Institute’s 2019 Welfare, Work & Wealth national survey showed that 58% of Americans favor taxpayer-funded school vouchers.

And who favored them most overwhelmingly? The poor.

They know better than the rest of us that the nanny-state promise of a quality education doesn’t deliver for those in lower-income districts. In true American fashion, they desire the freedom to make some of their own choices, rather than being forced to eat what the one-size-fits-all system of mass education is serving.

To be clear, the improved outcomes associated with school choice are not simply about teachers and test scores.

Some schools — public or private — may offer a curriculum that is a better match for your child’s learning style than others. Some may offer unique extra-curricular opportunities that give your child a sense of belonging and investment in the school, driving better academic performance. And some schools offer education complemented by religious instruction or a disciplinary environment that is valued by parents and students.

We have to let people drive. We can’t preach that people should have a greater sense of personal responsibility while simultaneously stripping them of the autonomy required to be responsible.

And what if the economic mobility driven by school choice is fueled by more than pure academics? What if it’s far more nuanced and … human than that?

Transcending social and economic barriers is multi-faceted, and requires more than educational adjustment.

It’s about freeing children and parents from silos of cultural disadvantage and allowing them to wander across the boundary lines and “do life” with people who haven’t been trapped in poverty for generations. It’s about allowing children to have exposure to families where two-parent households are the norm. It’s about rubbing shoulders with kids who expect more out of life, and know — because of their own parents’ and grandparents’ education and professional experience  — how to get there.

If all you ever see and know is brokenness, you have a hard time believing anything else is even possible.

You don’t realize that the combination that opens the lock is not a single choice, but a series of choices: better education, work ethic, managing your money wisely, staying married, taking care of your children, etc. We learn these things through exposure.

It’s a mistake to think that support for school choice and support for public education are mutually exclusive concepts — they are not. School choice just introduces a level of accountability to public education that its bureaucrats have never had to cope with: customers who can choose to spend their tax dollars elsewhere when dissatisfied. Great public schools will continue to thrive in a more market-based educational model, and the bad ones will give way to other options.

Some individuals will grab hold of the opportunity for economic mobility inherent in school choice and others will not.

But it will be by their own hand, not by that of the government.

That’s what liberty looks like.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

7 months ago

Thanksgiving to God is profoundly American

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Aside from Independence Day, no other holiday is as profoundly American as Thanksgiving. With its historical roots in the first English settlers to these lands and their Native America counterparts, it’s even older than our republic.

Days of thanksgiving were a regular occurrence during colonial times, usually called for by the church to encourage parishioners to give thanks to God for blessings big and small. The Continental Congress, which governed from 1774-1789, issued proclamations for several national days of prayer and thanksgiving, a tradition that continued under Presidents Washington and Adams under the US Constitution.

Successive presidents issued similar if irregularly time proclamations. They offered thanks to God for the blessings he had bestowed upon our young nation and its people and encouraged the citizenry to do likewise.

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But it was President Abraham Lincoln who canonized Thanksgiving as a permanent feature in the civic culture of our nation.

In 1863, in the first year of the American Civil War, he called for an official day in late November to give thanks for the many blessings God had bestowed upon the nation that year. It seems counterintuitive to suggest that there was much to be thankful for as a bloody civil war ripped the country at the seams. But Lincoln reminded Americans that there had, in fact, been blessings: fruitful fields, no aggression from foreign powers eager to capitalize on the weakness of the Union, a growing population, and more.

About those things he wrote:

“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people.”

We’ve been doing the same on the last Thursday of November ever since.

But in our increasingly secular culture, I fear that it gets lost that we’re thanking a very specific, very real deity. That we’re offering praise and gratitude to the one Lincoln called the Most High God.

Modern Americans like to talk in therapeutic terms about gratitude. We speak as if we can be grateful for things without clarifying an actual recipient of that gratitude. But that doesn’t even make sense.

When you say “thank you,” you’re thanking someone.

So why has much of our culture pulled back from the obvious association between our national holiday of Thanksgiving and God?

It is because some don’t want to acknowledge that he’s there, let alone owed thanks.

They want to avoid the slippery slope of acknowledging God, because the next thing you know, your conscience will be prompting you to obey him. They fear that relationship because they think it will cost them something.

Little do they know, it’s only within that relationship that real liberty can be found.

However our individual citizens see Almighty God or their relationship to him, there’s no getting around the fact that the founders of our nation, and generations of leaders since that time, have held a clear understanding of the role of providence in our founding and subsequent survival.

Men of faith set out to build a nation, and with God’s help, they did.

Families of faith—protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and others—have sent their sons and daughters to die on distant battlefields, covered in prayers.

And those prayers weren’t to no one in particular. They had a specific destination.

It’s also true that the founders wanted faith to be practiced out of personal conviction and motivation, rather than compelled by the state, or even interpreted by the state. So, they baked into the American pie freedoms that keep our relationship with God in our own hands, and the government out of it.

That means that America is a nation of religious pluralism, and increasingly, those who don’t associate with any religious faith at all. But our cultural and spiritual heritage is one of a people who acknowledged, worshipped and thanked God.

Faith is a profoundly American virtue.

So, when we gather with loved ones this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s remember that thankfulness is more than just a vague feeling, more than an emotion. It’s an acknowledgment and an offering.

We acknowledge that the blessings we have are from the hand of a loving God and that he’s due our praise and thanks for those good gifts.

It’s the American way.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.

8 months ago

Those shouting for equality don’t want equality, they want domination over ideas

(Salvation Army/Facebook)

I remember when it was tolerance and equal protection under the law that LGBTQ+ activists wanted. They said we could each practice our respective values, and should give one another the constitutionally-afforded space to do so. It was a fair ask, in a nation built on the ideas of individual liberty and pluralism.

Now a level playing field isn’t enough.

What they really want is to destroy organizations that don’t fully affirm their worldview. Those who resist will suffer the consequences in the business and nonprofit marketplace. All opposing ideas must be eradicated.

Of course, we’re talking about the Chick-fil-A fiasco.

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The highly successful Atlanta-based chain has always taken flack for the conservative Christian views of its founding family, the Cathys. Years ago, they gave personal money to nonprofits that promoted biblical views of sexuality and marriage, and the left came unglued. The Cathys and Chick-fil-A gave in and backed away from the donations. They pivoted to nonprofits that largely served the needy, many of them faith-based.

It’s important to note that there have been no credible allegations of LGBTQ+ individuals being mistreated either as employees or customers of the chain. It’s their pleasure to prove that we can disagree on some things and still be unfailingly kind. We can even enjoy a tasty chicken sandwich together.

GLAAD and others have had to dig deep to keep this rivalry alive, because the chicken people are, inconveniently, nice and generous people. They’ve given millions to organizations that serve people in poverty. Millions in scholarships for kids trying to make a better life. Millions to alleviate the suffering of homelessness.

Monsters.

The extremists have decided that it’s out of bounds for Chick-fil-A to support any organization that—no matter how much that charity helps those in need—espouses a conservative Christian worldview on social issues. We’re not talking about anything that deprives LGBTQ+ people of equal access to services or opportunities.

We’re talking about the right of charitable people to act like Christians.

Don’t look now, but there are some bigots in our midst. And what they won’t tolerate is the mere presence of a religious faith they don’t agree with from top to bottom; they demand the total eradication of values they don’t like from the public square.

One of the organizations Chick-fil-A has taken flack for supporting is The Salvation Army, which serves more than 23 million people in poverty annually. They do this as a response to Christ’s command to care for the least of these. They are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ community in the world.

I know, it’s a horror show. Cover the children’s eyes.

My grandfather was an alcoholic. His addiction wrecked his life, and caused him to cycle through lengthy bouts of homelessness. He would disappear for months at a time.

When those absences stretched over the coldest months, with no word from him, we would pray that he was safe. That someone would care for him. Often, when he returned home, he would tell us of how he was able to find a warm bed, a hot meal, and someone to pray for him if the city had a Salvation Army.

But Dana, you say, isn’t the problem that they discriminate against LGBTQ+ people?

In short, no.

The Salvation Army goes further every year to meet the unique and profound needs of LGBTQ+ people. The left’s case against them, and by extension the pressure on Chick-fil-A, is a gross exploitation of a few isolated incidents that the organization disavowed. It is deeply dishonest.

And this is what I would say to the fine folks at Chick-fil-A: you mean well, but this decision is a road to nowhere. Until you worship fully at the altar of secularism, it will never be enough.

The way The Salvation Army is currently being treated, despite all it has done to show love to people from all walks of life, proves this.

So if people with conservative religious values are no longer welcome in nonprofit America, get ready to dismantle not just the Salvation Army, but the massive Catholic Social Services network, and a host of Islamic charities. Oh, and most of the groups ministering to immigrants and refugees. Also, most of the organizations housing orphans. I could go on.

People of faith are the backbone of mercy and charity in this country because of—not in spite of—our religious beliefs.To bench us because you don’t agree with us on every little thing is to deprive people in crisis of desperately-needed relief.

So don’t preach to me about love if you are willing to separate suffering people from critically-needed help.

If you need me in December, I’ll be by a red kettle at the mall. I’ll be the one ringing a bell with one hand and eating a chicken sandwich with the other.

If my eyes are a little teary, it’s because I’m thinking about Granddaddy, and thanking God for the Salvation Army.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.

8 months ago

Children with gender dysphoria need love and compassion, not gender reassignment

(Pixabay, YHN)

A recent case in the Texas courts became a catalyst for loud debate regarding the intersection of parental rights and appropriate treatment for gender dysphoria in children. A 7-year-old child of divorced parents, born male, is believed by his mother to be transgender and that his desire to be female should be affirmed. The father denies the claim that the child consistently asserts a female identity and says that the types of treatment the mother would approve for him are not in the child’s best interest.

An initial ruling granted sole conservatorship to the mother, giving her full control of the type of medical and mental health treatment the child would receive. A later court ruling turned that on its head by granting joint custody to the parents, creating a situation wherein they must agree about the best care for the child.

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Transgender activism is the newest and most aggressively pursued cause of cultural progressives.

A term we rarely heard a decade ago is now in the headlines every day, whether it relates to public restrooms, women’s sports or child custody cases like the one in Texas. But multiple things have been conflated in the debate in a way that clouds careful examination of the moral, ethical and public health questions at hand.

The first hurdle is understanding the nature of gender dysphoria. This type of inner conflict regarding personal gender identity has long been recognized by mental health experts as a mental disorder and was listed in the DSM (the diagnostic manual which defines all mental health conditions) as “Gender Identity Disorder.” However, with the release of DSM-5 in 2013, it was renamed “Gender Dysphoria” to destigmatize the condition.

Why is this significant? Because the cultural progressives of the American Psychiatric Association decided that a total disconnect between one’s obvious biologically-determined sex and one’s psychological recognition and acceptance of that same gender is not an anomaly in need of correction. They wanted to move the mental health and medical communities away from seeing this as a tragic mental health disorder, and toward seeing it as an alternative way of being, that can and should simply be affirmed in many cases. The American Academy of Pediatrics has lurched quickly forward with its views and recommendations on the issue, as well.

But reason and science are stubborn things, and as yet, they refuse to get on the bus with the APA and the AAP for this journey.

Let me pause here to say this: my heart breaks for individuals who suffer, and for parents whose children suffer with gender dysphoria.

It is often accompanied by other mental health struggles like depression and anxiety, and I can only imagine the desperate desire a parent would feel to alleviate that psychological pain for their child. So those of us who observe and comment on this issue must do so with compassion. To approach it with the harshness or dismissiveness that often characterizes our culture wars is wrong.

But just as we would never look a person whose mental health condition predisposed him or her to some other sort of delusion — divorced from observable reality — and affirm that delusion, we must not cave to the cultural pressure to similarly harm those who suffer from gender dysphoria.

This is especially true where vulnerable children are concerned. We do not serve them or love them well to simply affirm that which is not true, encouraged by a desire to create a new cultural reality.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics has pushed its membership toward more affirming treatment, individual pediatricians are all over the board in how they approach gender identity issues in their young patients. But most agree on this much: there is little to no research that meets the normal threshold for establishing what appropriate treatment should be. And because the vast majority (some studies suggest more than 80%) of children who present with gender dysphoria see their symptoms resolve by adolescence, it casts tremendous doubt on whether medical intervention with inherent risks — like puberty suppressing hormones — would ever be appropriate.

So whether or not you have a moral objection to affirming transgenderism, it should give everyone on all sides of this debate great concern that children who are experiencing a mental health crisis might have their burden compounded by agenda-driven medical intervention which may have lasting negative effects on their bone density, their reproductive health, and even their mental health.

Even those who see no moral conflict in transgenderism should care enough about children to refuse to make them guinea pigs or pawns in a cultural battle where the data doesn’t support the treatment.

The scarce research that we do have tells us that the psycho-social problems of transgenderism do not disappear with affirmation, even when that affirmation goes all the way to sex-reassignment surgery. Can’t we at least give children the time they need to see where their symptoms do or do not lead, and give medical and mental health research the time it needs to formulate treatment recommendations based on good science, rather than cultural agenda?

For these reasons, I think the most recent ruling in the Texas case is wise. Empowering both parents reduces the chance of the child being subjected to treatment that is not fully supported by adequate research.

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.

9 months ago

Christians should protect freedom of expression for all people

(W.Miller/YHN)

It’s an idea that we Evangelicals like because we usually hear it discussed in the vein of protecting our particular right to express and live out a Christian worldview. But do we really know what our constitutional right to religious liberty is rooted in, and what protecting it for the long haul will require of us?

This tension was clear in the substance of a recent debate between fellow conservatives David French and Sohrab Ahmari. Both men are Christians but have markedly different views on how people of faith should counter pressures from the secular left to protect religious freedom and foster human flourishing.

The issue they used to hash out the different approaches was Drag Queen Story Hour.

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Some public libraries nationally have been hosting events for children in which drag queens read stories to children. Obviously, the idea of cross-dressing and fluid gender identity conflicts with a biblical view of human sexuality and is objectionable to orthodox Christians. As a result, some conservatives have launched efforts to ban these events from their local libraries. They argue that as taxpayers, they don’t want a facility they subsidize to be used in this way. Ahmari believes that this is the right approach and that Christians are obligated to suppress the promotion of ideas that we deem spiritually or culturally damaging, especially where children are concerned.

French, on the other hand, sees it differently. As one of the foremost legal advocates for Christians in the public square, French has been very effective in arguing on behalf of faith-based organizations to ensure equal access to public facilities. The argument that he and others have used—with great success—to protect Christian access to public spaces (think these same libraries or public college campuses) has been that the government must maintain viewpoint neutrality in such matters, in deference to the First Amendment.

French’s solution for Drag Queen Story Hour? Don’t attend it. Better yet, use your equal access to the same space to offer an alternate event that you think is more in line with Christian values.

Win the culture over with the power of the gospel, which we do and should have the freedom to share.

Expressing disapproval of such events or ideas is one thing. Applying cultural pressure to entities (like the American Library Association, which actively promotes Drag Queen Story Hour) by voicing dissent is our right.

But we cross a constitutional line when we use the power of the government to restrain free speech we don’t agree with. And the other side of that line is dangerous ground for the church.

The government should never be in the business of picking religious winners and losers, and the founders knew that.

In the Constitution, they provided us with what French calls “18th-century solutions to this 21st-century division.” If we get nervous and jettison that, we will not survive as a united nation. Evangelical leader Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention puts it this way: “Once you give Caesar the power of the sword to coerce the conscience in terms of religious matters, that sword is going to be turned on you.”

Both French and Moore understand that we are a missionary people in a land that is not our home. It is impossible to build and sustain a political power structure that ensures that Christians (or any other religious group) maintain power forever. If we fail to advocate for religious liberty for all—even for those whose belief systems we disagree with—freedom of religion or expression may one day be a luxury limited to those in political power at a given time.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

So what does that mean on Main Street?

It means that the future of Christianity in America depends on the preservation of the constitutional rights of all Americans, and the evangelistic efforts of the church. The Constitution doesn’t promise us government endorsement of the Christian faith, even if you hold to the view that most of the founders were themselves Christians.

Instead, the promise of the Constitution is a level playing field upon which to compete for the hearts and minds of the individuals that make up our nation and our cultural fabric.

What that also means, of course, is that we will have to do life alongside some people whose values and worldview make us very uncomfortable. There will be things that we choose to shield our children’s eyes from, and environments that we avoid. But this uncomfortable religious pluralism is the only way America can work.

Advocating for a person’s constitutional right to worship or speak as they choose is not an endorsement of what they say or do. Historians can’t agree on who to attribute this maxim to (Was it Voltaire or Evelyn Beatrice Hall? Or kind of both?) but it represents the heart and wisdom of free speech rights: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Our efforts to preserve religious liberty for the Christian faith must be grounded in the defense of government neutrality toward free speech and free expression.

It is hard work, to be sure.

But wouldn’t we rather the culture look Christian because it is truly Christian, rather than looking Christian because it’s illegal to look otherwise?

Dana Hall McCain, a widely published writer on faith, culture, and politics, is Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.