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.

2 months ago

This back-to-school season, families should decide

(Pixabay)

Parents and other observers have many understandable questions about how their local school districts are responding to the challenges presented by COVID-19.

At this juncture, I don’t think it’s helpful to lay much blame on anyone. There will be plenty of time for that in the future, and when the dust settles, we’re likely to find that there is real blame to go around from the state board of education all the way down to your kid’s geometry teacher. It is probably true that some number of educators and administrators did not make proper use of the time they had in late spring and early summer to adequately plan for the fall, but let’s remember two things.

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First, events are constantly changing. We’re all dealing with a virus that no doctor had encountered 12 months ago, and both the spread and the effects of the virus are novel. Volatile case numbers mean that some plans for schooling must be altered or scrapped altogether. Now is simply not the time for those discussions. The goal for everyone who works not only in education, but in state and local government at large, should be to get children back to school as safely as possible. Given the summer spike in Alabama’s COVID caseload, that goal is proving elusive.

Public education in Alabama is noted for its many different school districts – county and city, both large and small. Our state is varied in its approach and it’s reasonable that the state board did not attempt to mandate how each and every district conducts itself. Areas with a very low caseload are prepping for a return to class, while some districts with high rates are choosing to remain virtual.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey suggested as many as half of the state’s students could begin the year with virtual-only education. Some districts such as my own suburban district are offering both in-person and virtual instruction; parents make the choice that’s best for their family and commit to it for the duration of the fall semester. The degree of variation and experimentation is confusing at first, but there is some hope that these varied approaches will produce helpful innovations in the way we educate our state’s children.

There is just one problem. Families are still bound to the decisions made by their local district. My own district is offering both in-person and virtual instruction, but parents had just six days to make an important decision that will stand for the entire fall semester. My family made a decision that works for us, and we hope circumstances uphold our judgment. What about families that simply cannot work within the parameters provided by their local district? If a family cannot meet these expectations without compromising either the education of their children or the financial stability of their family – then what?

We are likely to find that creative parents and concerned community members come up with various means of supplementing their children’s education if their district is all virtual, or if the pandemic shuts down in-person instruction. Anecdotal evidence from other parts of the country already suggests that parents are going to develop something that resembles the subject-based co-ops already utilized by many homeschooled children. It’s not hard to imagine something similar happening in Alabama if school-based instruction begins to falter, even if through no fault of the school district.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many things about our world, one of which is that we cannot ask our public institutions to do everything, because those institutions have their own limitations.

The ultimate decisions about a child’s education must be made within the family, by parents and other caregivers. When the local school falters, even through no fault of its own, we cannot deny parents the ability to make the best decisions on behalf of their children. In the midst of this pandemic, that may look like many things; it may be a move towards other home-based resources besides that which are provided by public schools. It may mean a move towards voluntary pods or co-ops with other families, and yes, it could mean a move towards a private school that, due to its flexibility as a smaller institution, is able to continue to meet in person.

Alabamians generally value and appreciate the public schools that serve as meaningful institutions in their communities. I mean instead to protect the freedom of families to make their own decisions. The state can best do that by allowing some of their children’s education funding to follow them in the form of education savings accounts. ESAs allow some funding to be reserved for specified education expenses, which alleviates some of the financial burdens that come with choosing to educate outside the bounds of the traditional public systems. Parents must not be constrained by finances into a bad situation; the goal of state policy should instead be to liberate parents to make the choices they deem best.

The end result of those choices may look different, but we will find in time that parents begin to create new forms of civil society that strengthen their children, their communities, and their state.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

4 months ago

The need for education reform didn’t die with the defeat of Amendment One

(API/Contributed, YHN)

When voters defeat a proposed state amendment, it is often thought that the matter is put to rest. That is often the case, but when Alabama’s voters went to the polls in March and shot down a proposal to replace the elected state board of education in favor of one appointed by the governor, they only answered the question of the board’s composition.

They did not answer the deeper problem of the board’s accomplishment.

Whatever the makeup of the board, the problem of the state’s bottom-of-the-barrel ranking in education persists, and that’s the real problem that demands the state’s attention. Fortunately, some concrete proposals have recently come to light.

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As part of a legislature-approved expenditure in 2019, the state department of education underwent a lengthy evaluation process by the Boston-based Public Consulting Group. The report was done with an eye towards improving the mission and function of the board of education. Without saying as much, the report reinforces the noted problems with the board, much of which inspired the call for an appointed board, but the report is also an opportunity for the elected board to correct much of its own shortcomings. The report was presented to the board a couple of weeks ago, with more detail provided in the report’s executive summary. (The full report can be found here.)

The report makes many suggestions, but it hones in on five specific goals.

The first is the most pertinent: the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) must take ownership of education reform and accomplishment in the state. That seems obvious enough, but reality is that the ALSDE has spent years operating in something of a caretaker role while the overall achievement of the state has remained in a steady state of decline. Indeed, this is largely why some advocated for a complete overhaul of the board’s structure; because elected politicians won their spot on the board through political maneuvering and have done nothing to move the needle of achievement in the state.

It’s true that most of the education reform in Alabama has originated in the Legislature in recent years. That’s not an optimal situation; it would be better if those reforms were enacted either by appointed officials who don’t directly face the voters, but at least the school board faces reelection on the basis of its achievements on education alone, as opposed to legislators whose record is on multiple issues which may only be tangentially related.

Yet the legislature has been proactive precisely because the board has done next to nothing in terms of real reform to education in Alabama. Given the sorry state of affairs, that is inexcusable.

There are countless education reformers around the country of all ideological persuasions – left, right, and center – doing interesting and innovative work, and much of it in dialogue with one another. It takes minimal effort to become acquainted with those ideas, but thus far, the state board has proven itself to be uninterested.

That must change.

The report’s executive summary details other items. The ALSDE must “develop and implement a strategy to action plan,” as the current arrangement leaves it constantly reactive, instead of taking a proactive approach to improving and then sustaining high levels of achievement in the state. The summary goes on to state that the ALSDE must set clear priorities in terms of both academic standards and student data and information. As a former educator, this is vital.

State standards must be clear, and while they should constantly be in review, they should be largely left alone long enough to be implemented and performed for a reasonable period of time.

The summary presents two additional items.

The ALSDE must begin to hold local districts accountable for their performance. Everyone recognizes that there are multiple externalities that can affect a district’s performance, but those factors cannot prevent the state from asking the central question: “Is this district doing its job?” Until that question can be confronted clearly and directly by all involved, Alabama is destined to stay where it is.

The ALSDE must make thorough use of data and be willing to confront all local districts with it.

The summary closes by noting that the internal structure of the ALSDE itself must be overhauled, with a deep investment on staff training. Reading between the lines, it seems that this very important department of state government is beset by many of the problems that hamper bureaucracies large and small. One interesting idea is the proposal to create regional ALSDE offices that can work in closer collaboration with local districts. This could be a very helpful step that gives the state greater knowledge of the specific strengths and weaknesses of individual districts.

Voters made their choice on Super Tuesday.

The state board of education will remain an elected body for the foreseeable future, but the professional analysis makes plain the need for a systematic overhaul.

It is critical that the board take these recommendations to heart and begin the process of implementation. That process should not stop with them; voters should spend time with this report with an eye towards the next election cycle.

The report is not just a blueprint for how the board should correct itself. It is a blueprint for voters to hold accountable a cast of politicians who have for too long provided little more than hospice care to a department of education that has failed at its most basic task.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

6 months ago

COVID-19 highlights need to lessen restrictions on rural medical care

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Dating back to the Obama administration, conservatives have criticized the impulse to “never let a crisis go to waste.” In truth, the impulse is not always wrong.

Sometimes a crisis is a good time to address policy issues precisely because those issues would help alleviate the crisis at hand. This is certainly the case in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health care workers are on the frontlines serving their fellow citizens, and these workers, and the resources on which they depend, are stretched very thin.

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To help with this, governors around the nation are making some radical changes to their state’s medical regulations. As of April 2, Governor Kay Ivey issued an emergency order dramatically curtailing much for the red tape within the medical profession, namely allowing for licensed professionals from across the U.S. and Canada to practice in Alabama, and freeing up both nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists to work under less strenuous regulations in order to meet the demands of this crisis.

Writing in al.com in late March, state house Minority Leader Anthony Daniels also made a handful of proposals, many of which are among those taken up by Gov. Ivey in her executive order. When the dust settles on this crisis, one can hope that Rep. Daniels will lead his caucus in the fight to permanently eliminate the red tape that hampers medical professionals and creates a restrictive guild that upholds numerous barriers to entry for aspiring medical professionals and drives up health care costs for everyone involved.

Rep. Daniels unfortunately resorts back to a conventional policy preference when he calls for the expansion of Medicaid.

He is right to be concerned by the lack of health care access for rural Alabamians, especially as there remains the possibility that COVID-19 could severely impact these communities. Yet even if Medicaid expansion would provide the improvements to health care infrastructure that its proponents claim, those improvements would take a considerable amount of time to develop, and there remains the persistent question of how funding such a system might strangle the state’s already troubled finances. Moreover, while Medicaid can provide some immediate relief to those it serves, it creates a structure of perverse support that ultimately creates dependents instead of temporary relief for those in the most extreme need.

Instead of propping up such a system with a countless amount of tax dollars, Rep. Daniels and his colleagues should look to additional pieces of the governor’s order for guidance.

Beyond relaxing regulations on health care professionals, Gov. Ivey also ordered the Certificate of Need (CON) Review Board to provide temporary waivers in order to permit “new services, facilities, and other services” needed to fight COVID-19. This is a welcome development and one that should be a stepping stone towards the eventual elimination of the CON board. Unfortunately, nothing in Rep. Daniels’s list of recommendations takes this necessary step.

Ostensibly designed to make sure all areas of the state have adequate health care, the board holds the power to determine where any medical institution may be established. Any practice that would like to open its doors – any clinic, outpatient facility, or hospital – must have the approval of the CON board.

It’s hard to look at the dearth of health care options in the state’s rural regions without wondering if medical institutions are deterred by such a difficult approval process.

The ultimate problem with the CON process is the assumption that the board has the knowledge to properly judge the health care needs of any given community. Alabama is a relatively small state, and it’s true that much research can be done, but the people best suited to make this determination are the residents of a community, and the medical professionals who would serve them. Oversight from the CON Board only creates more complications which in turn drives up costs and limits access to care.

A recent study from the free market Mercatus Center indicates that Alabama would save on health care costs with the elimination of the CON: patients would save as much as $203 per capita, while physicians could save as much as $80 per capita. The elimination of the board would be one less barrier for providers who would then have an additional incentive to practice medicine in areas suffering from a shortage of care.

Doing away with, or at least curtailing, the CON board is an easy fix.

The increased need for care in the midst of a pandemic should remind all Alabamians that the ability to provide care should be as streamlined as possible. Bureaucratic institutions like the Certificate of Need Board not only limit access to care and drive up costs, they stifle innovation and slowly but surely contribute to the hollowing out of rural communities.

Sometimes politicians use one crisis to take on unrelated matters. Other times a crisis reveals the need for reform in order to better allow for society’s flourishing.

Governor Ivey was wise to loosen these restrictions, and the order for the CON board to issue waivers is an invaluable measure.

Unfortunately, the governor’s order is only a temporary measure. As this crisis fades and Alabama’s leaders return to the State House, they should make these changes permanent in order to provide unrestricted access to the medical care our rural communities desperately need.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

7 months ago

Amendment One puts kids first, politicians last

(Pixabay, YHN)

When Alabamians take the to the polls on Super Tuesday, they will either be concerned with the Democratic nominee for President of the United States or the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. More important to the future of Alabama is a constitutional amendment that would end our current model of a popularly elected state school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.

Supporters of Amendment 1 argue that this would be a major step in improving Alabama’s permanent residence at the bottom of the education barrel. As it is currently designed and managed, the state board of education is doing very little to improve the quality of education in the state. Board members are trying, but clearly nothing is working very well. Supporters of the amendment argue a shake up is the best hope for improving education in Alabama. In some respects the argument does not go far enough. That is because the current process creates negative incentives for board members; because they hold their office at the behest of voters, there is every incentive for them to avoid upsetting their constituents.

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That is the chief problem with the board as it is currently construed. Board members are not uncaring or ignorant or irresponsible. Instead, they respond to the whims and wishes of voters or other powerful political interests. No matter what politicians say, they are inevitably swayed by the whispers of voters and donors. Not because they are corrupt, but because they are human. All people are prone to this, which is why the framers of the Constitution created a system that checked and balanced one human tendency against another. It’s true that voters can provide a check on board members, but that argument does not account for an additional problem.

The second problem with the current system is that voters have limits to their knowledge about education in our state. Committed parents and citizens can often learn a lot about their own schools and school districts, but rarely does even the most passionate citizen have the time and mental energy to devote beyond that. Should Amendment 1 pass, the state Senate would have a direct responsibility to ensure that the governor appoints quality people to the board, but also to make certain that the Board is making progress in evaluating and improving the quality of education in our state.

Critics argue that an appointed board would lend itself to cronyism. That’s possible, but the executive and legislative branch often have competing interests, even when they share the same partisan and ideological commitments. Those competing concerns would help smooth over concerns about patronage and cronyism. Still, the amendment will not be an easy transition given the natural tendency of politicians towards vanity and self-promotion. The current system is of a worse nature, however, as it leaves the governor and senate almost powerless to impact education policy, which is instead run by another group of politicians with little incentive to do anything that might upset the voters who put them there.

But shouldn’t voters have a say in these matters? No, at least not directly. This is because education policy is a difficult matter, and it is hard for voters to adjudicate the success or failures of these policies beyond the very narrow window of their own experience. It’s fine that we elect local school boards; they are indeed local, and voters often see those board members at church or line at Piggly Wiggly. Only the most politically involved voters are likely to have any encounter with their board members, who are busy juggling very difficult conflicts within their own districts. Each district contains such a variety of constituents that it is almost impossible for board members to adequately address those concerns, instead pandering to the one or two constituencies most likely to keep the member in office.

There is a final reason to support Amendment 1. A central feature of modern politics is the tendency of politicians to see themselves as mouthpieces instead of statesmen. Some of that is natural but other parts of it are due to the incentive structure within our own government. This is as true in Montgomery as it is in Washington D.C., and Alabamians should care far more about the goings-on in our state capital than in our nation’s capital. Since our legislature is stripped of any real influence in state education policy and therefore little accountability to voters, it leaves them free to demagogue and pander on the issue without really having to stand before the voters and take account for their time in office. The same is true for the governor. By making the governor and the state senate responsible for staffing the state school board as part of an ongoing process of appointment and confirmation, these branches of our government would finally have real skin in the game. The success of our schools would be their success, and the failure of our schools would be theirs, also.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

10 months ago

Relationships between parents and teachers are key to improving education

(API/Contributed, PIxabay, YHN)

I imagine that when the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress numbers were released, somewhere in Mississippi a few very tired, long-suffering education bureaucrats poured a hot toddy from the kitchen of an antebellum home, raised their glasses to the west, and told Alabama, “well, you won’t have old Mississippi to kick around anymore.”

It really is depressing.

A lot of good people from practically every background and demographic imaginable have put in countless hours and exhaustive ideas to improve the quality of education in Alabama. There are numerous young professionals in all of our larger cities as well as rural areas who have sacrificed personal and professional opportunities in order to make their home state a better place. Wealthy Alabamians have invested millions of dollars back into their state in hopes of seeing depleted neighborhoods and failing schools revived.

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It’s a gut punch to wake up and realize that at this point, the needle has barely moved.

To add complexity to the situation, the truth is that a lot of areas doing just fine. Alabamians are well aware of the smaller municipal districts, magnet schools and elite feeder patterns that continue to produce high-achieving students who, on average, go on to successful careers in college, the military or the workforce. Most of these upper-tier school districts and feeder patterns are serving families that not only have numerous material advantages, but are also very deliberate in preparing their children for future success.

Too often we assume that there’s a straight line from a person’s income to the success of their children, but that’s not always true. Success is never an accident, and it’s worth considering what patterns and behaviors exist in these communities and how they might be reasonably duplicated elsewhere.

On the other hand, students at the lower end of the economic spectrum are, tragically, beset by much of the dysfunction that accompanies severe poverty. These problems exist in both rural and urban areas, and no demographic is completely immune.

Any educator who has worked with students in poverty understands that if life outside of school is chaotic, the task of education is that much harder. Thankfully, there are many individuals and organizations committed to helping residents break the cycle of generational poverty. These changes will not come overnight, and there is a role for both the public and private sector in bringing about positive outcomes. In any case, to the extent that the trouble in these school districts impact the state’s overall achievement, solutions here must be seen as a long-term project.

That leaves the middle class, the thousands of Alabama families who work hard and enjoy a good quality of life, but still want something more for their own kids.

These schools are not bad, at least not in the no-good, horrible, very bad sort of way that exists in the imagination. Yet despite the hard work and good intentions of so many educators, all evidence suggests that a lot of these schools just aren’t all that great, either.

That’s a tough thing to confront, because that’s where most Alabamians were educated. That’s where most of us made a lot of memories, and so we view these schools, and their administrators and teachers. with an understandable amount of sentimentality.

Yet sentimentality is a dangerous thing when it blinds us to the reality in front of us, and the reality is that there’s a large middle in our state’s education system that would undoubtedly move our numbers in the right direction.

Much of the task of improving these schools will fall on legislators, policymakers, and local school board officials. These efforts will not be without controversy or contention, and surely some proposals will be better than others. But as we’re concerned here with schools that, on the whole, do not face an uphill battle educating students in the midst of chaotic communities, it’s fair to ask what these communities could do to improve the situation. It would be particularly tragic if good communities took their children’s education for granted on the assumption that someone else – a teacher, a principal, a bureaucrat in Montgomery – will fix the problem.

A child’s education is not the most important thing in life. Parents want their children to be decent, virtuous, emotionally well-adjusted, to say nothing of deeper spiritual or religious commitments. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that these priorities become excuses as we downplay the importance of a difficult and even time-consuming education.

There are things that families can do to help their children, but they are not always easy.

It isn’t easy to drive kids to the library on a Saturday morning when it would be easier to stay home. It isn’t easy to keep the electronic devices out of small hands. It isn’t easy to turn off the television and video games. It isn’t easy to read to your kids every night and insist that they spend time with a book before bed.

I warned earlier against sentimentality. Perhaps it’s time that parents demand more of themselves but also of their local schools. That doesn’t mean undue harassment of a teacher or principal, but it does mean more intentional communication than ever before.

Parents have to know what they should expect of their children (they often don’t), and then they should demand it from their schools.

Improving Alabama’s overall standing in the nation won’t happen overnight, and the effort will require a tremendous amount of give and take from all parties involved. There is improvement that could start now, and much of it centers, appropriately enough, on individuals and families taking control of their own lives and doing the hard work to prepare their children for future success.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.

11 months ago

If faith practices are ‘discriminatory,’ do we really still have free speech?

(API/Contributed, YHN)

Modern political candidates spend a lot of time presenting themselves as culturally acceptable to voters. That means a lot of talk about God, faith, and family, and often the winning candidate is the one who looks best driving a well-worn pickup truck. This is nothing new in American politics, but it’s a practice that is not without its shortcomings.

For those voters who care very much about policy and legislation, and the deeper philosophies of governance that uphold those things, all of this cultural signifying can grow old in a hurry.

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Yet there are a few cultural considerations that populist candidates are right to protect. It’s easy to dismiss the bluster about how we Alabamians “dare protect our rights,” but it’s worth remembering that rights must be defended or else they risk becoming something more like a privilege dispensed by those in power, and less like a freedom granted by and preserved in nature.

Political observers have watched a number of court cases in recent years over the matter of religious freedom, particularly as it pertains to same-sex marriage.

A number of plaintiffs have alleged discrimination when a wedding vendor refused to provide service on the grounds that to do so would violate their conscience. Plaintiffs have responded that conscience protections do not allow for discrimination, while defendants have in turn argued that the state cannot compel the creative work (i.e., speech) of the defendant in question. Court rulings thus far have varied in their application, though the United States Supreme Court ruled in the 2018 Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case that the state did in fact violate the rights to free exercise of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, though the court demurred on some deeper questions of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Those questions are sure to be asked again in future court cases.

Alas, there is another element to religious freedom that is worth considering. While much of this fight will concern the application of specific laws in the various states and municipalities, the preconditions for such arguments are often established in the rhetoric commonly employed in the public square.

A recent decision in one of Alabama’s federal courts sheds some light on this problem.

Just a few weeks ago, United States District Judge Myron Thompson dismissed a lawsuit brought against the Southern Poverty Law Center by D. James Kennedy Ministries, a Christian ministry based out of Florida. The SPLC has, for many years, labeled DJKM a hate group due to its stance on LGBTQ issues. Judge Thompson dismissed the case, noting that while the court was not offering comment on the specifics of the SPLC’s charge, the organization was well within its protected First Amendment rights to make such a claim.

In a broad sense, it’s hard to disagree with the ruling. No one should be comfortable with a federal judge stepping out and saying “you can’t say that” to any person or organization.

Yet the SPLC, an organization that has long outlived its usefulness as a neutral arbiter of justice, is playing a dangerous game with its Manichean practice of labeling hate groups.

Of course, there are clear instances of hate groups; the noxious alt-right, neo-Nazis, racists and bigots of various stripes, and anti-Semites, though the latter finds increasing oxygen on both the far right and the far left these days. Indeed, thoughtful Christians must admit that however unfair the charge may be against D. James Kennedy Ministries, there are certainly some within the church who wield Christian orthodoxy as a cudgel against others in a way that is unsound on the merits of Scripture as well as public perception. To that point, religious organizations concerned about the changing outlook on human sexuality should recognize that their own rhetoric often affects real people with real struggles; they should exercise their First Amendment freedoms with great prudence and caution.

Still, it must be recognized that laws are upheld beyond the mere text on a page. There is a rhetorical function to our laws; if they are not upheld in custom then they are not likely to be upheld in practice.

Put another way, our cultural practices are often the precondition for the structure of our laws.

The writers of the Bill of Rights had no qualms about enshrining those freedoms in the Constitution because they already believed those things in the deepest fiber of their beings. While Judge Thompson’s ruling may be technically correct, the practice of labeling the orthodox Christian stance of human sexuality as hateful poses a real risk not just to religious freedom, but freedom of speech, as well.

Speech that is slowly but surely regarded as socially unacceptable may in time become legally unacceptable as well, and at that point, the First Amendment will have been stripped of all of its cultural and legal power.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and professor of the classics, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, alabamapolicy.org.