What’s at stake in the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court decision


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TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, I’d like to take you back to a subject we covered about a week ago. It was the oral arguments concerning Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop that went before the Supreme Court.

David French wrote a piece in the National Review entitled “Four Promising Takeaways from the Masterpiece Cakeshop Oral Argument.” He makes some interesting observations about what the Justices asked and where their questions might lead as we await a decision by the Supreme Court.

DR. REEDER: Not only him, but John Stonestreet, as well as a couple of other opinion piece writers, they all make their case and then they qualify it by saying many people have been terribly disappointed and misled by trying to read the oral arguments.

And, most poignantly, not the presentation, but the interruptions. And the Supreme Court Justices, by the way, love to interrupt in a way to try to find out is the lawyer really on their point or not. Well, what was really interesting, of course, was Justice Ginsberg’s question in the oral arguments, “Well what if a homosexual couple had come in just to buy something off the shelf?”

Well, immediately, the lawyer said to Justice Ginsberg what Jack Phillips has been saying all along, “Well not only would I sell it, I have sold many of my items to those who would be practicing homosexuality or even those who have been engaged in a same-sex marriage.”

When you are asked to shape and sculpt a cake for a particular purpose that becomes a matter of artistic expression which, historically, has been covered under the issue of free speech and that you are not coerced to engaged in speech that you don’t want to make, nor are you prevented from speech that you desire to make.

Justice Kennedy the pivotal vote

Where everyone really is focused, Tom, is upon Justice Kennedy because he is pretty well considered the swing vote on this. And both sides look with expectation – the side of those who are declaring that Jack Phillips does not have the right to withhold his participation in the ceremonial development and expression of a same-sex marriage cake that he was requested to make are saying that it’s a matter that he’s hiding behind the freedom of religion that’s really bigotry.

In other words, all of these thousands of years that we have believed that marriage is one man and one woman for one life has actually been a veil of bigotry – that somehow, we have been enlightened now that sexual behavior is now a civil right and a part of one’s being.

And you’re going to find that coming forward through this argument called “the argument of dignity.” In other words, you are denying someone’s dignity if you do not affirm and celebrate in their sexual choices.

Your sexual behavior is not your being, your sexual behavior is something that you’re doing. And the doing reflects your being and that is made in the image of God. You have the ability to do sex as God designed it to be done, which is in the context of a marriage.

Well, interestingly, Justice Kennedy, who has also been an advocate of “gay rights” has also been an advocate of freedom of speech. His question pointed in that direction because he particularly focused on the civil rights commission and their denigrating statements concerning Mr. Phillips’ choice.

And when Mr. Kennedy pointed out that not only did one, but two of these commissioners make such statements declaring that Mr. Phillips’ embracing of his right in terms of what he should speak and what he can’t speak is a matter of bigotry, that is exactly what Justice Kennedy questioned is that they would question the dignity of Mr. Phillips concerning his embracing of the right of free speech.

TOM LAMPRECHT: Justice Kennedy asked the question, “Commissioner Rice says, ‘Freedom of religion is used to justify discrimination is a despicable piece of rhetoric.’” Kennedy asked about that and then, also, Justice Gorsuch picked up and ran with that, as well.

DR. REEDER: And so you’ve got to connect the dots, here. Jack Phillips is saying, “My freedom of speech right means that I don’t have to participate in something that I religiously believe is inappropriate.”

Justice Kennedy, when he wrote in the Obergefell Decision, he wrote in that the fact that the people’s right to believe that it is wrong must be honored and if they believe that it is a wrong behavior, they must not be coerced to support it.

And so now we’re about to find out is Justice Kennedy not only for the fact that homosexuality should not be banned, but he is also on record as saying that those who religiously disagree with homosexuality should not be required to participate. And we’re about to find out, does he believe his own statement in original opinions that he has written concerning these issues.

TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, all of these authors of these different articles that we’ve referenced today have said be careful when you try to look into the crystal ball and try to make a prediction, because oftentimes even though the questions the justices ask might lead you down a road to one conclusion, oftentimes you’re disappointed. Dare you go out and speculate?

DR. REEDER: I’m loathed to speculate right now. I’m praying. I’m praying that this is a broad opinion that affirms the free speech and free practice of religion of Mr. Phillips. Not a narrow one that is just associated with this one wedding cake.

I have two concerns. Of course, obviously, that his right to freedom of speech in terms of being coerced in his artistic expression to do that which he does not believe is right and, therefore, an attack upon freedom of religion – that we have the freedom to believe that sexuality in Christianity is to be within the bounds within a heterosexual marriage – that is what I am praying the decision is going to uphold.

Not just a narrow one in terms of wedding cakes itself, which means we’ll be back in the Supreme Court very soon on some other issue. I’m praying for that. I do believe Justice Kennedy is going to be the pivotal vote where he is going to come out.

I think those who affirm the First Amendment should be somewhat encouraged from what he’s saying because he went so far as to say when one of the lawyers, Mr. Cole, who is declaring that Jack Phillips’ belief is an attack against their dignity, it was Justice Kennedy in the oral arguments that said, “What they do sexually is not their identity, it’s what they’re doing. Sex is what you’re doing, it’s not who you are.”

He is the one who himself affirms that sexuality is not a matter of being, it is a matter of doing and so, as I said, my hope is that Justice Kennedy is going to uphold his previous declarations that laws against homosexual practice should not preclude freedom of speech and freedom of religion within Christianity, thereby, coercing Christians to artistically support homosexuality and same-sex marriage and/or compromise our beliefs that God has revealed very clearly that sex is a gift from Him, sacred, to be used in the boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman committed for life. Let me just say I have more hope now after the oral arguments than I did before.

Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.

This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin. Jessica is editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.

27 mins ago

Sara Evans is a 2020 Woman of Impact

One of country music’s most popular artists of the 21st century, Sara Evans, has adopted Alabama as her own, and she is not slowing down.

Earlier in 2020, Evans released a new album, “Copy That,” where she covers 13 classic songs, and published a new memoir, Born to Fly.

She came to the Yellowhammer State after marrying former University of Alabama quarterback Jay Barker in 2008. They now make their home in the Birmingham area along with their seven children.

The singer performs and releases music under the name Sara Evans, which is how Yellowhammer News is referring to her for the purposes of this article. Evans does not shy away from her married name; just in 2019, she released a six-track EP titled “The Barker Family Band” which featured herself, her son Avery and daughter Olivia.

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Evans was born and raised outside of a small town in Missouri and began her lifelong connection with music at age four. She had recorded her first CD and was attending country music events by the age of 9 or 10, according to a 2011 interview.

Aspiring to a career in music, she moved to Nashville in 1991 and worked as a waitress while trying to find her big break.

“Three Chords and The Truth” and “No Place That Far,” Evans’ first two albums, were released in 1997 and 1998 respectively. They earned the artist solid reviews from critics but did not make a big impact on the charts.

“If I’m going to have the career I came to Nashville to find,” she told a newspaper at the time. “I’ve got to get on the radio and give today’s fans what they want.”

“Born to Fly,” the album that resulted from this change in sound, achieved everything Evans aimed to accomplish. The Recording Industry Association of America has certified it as double platinum; meaning it has sold over 2 million copies. Singles “Born to Fly” and “I Could Not Ask for More” placed first and second on the U.S. Country charts.

After the breakthrough success, Evans never left the country charts for very long over the next decade; buoyed by singles like “Suds in the Bucket” and “A Little Bit Stronger.”

Evans’ albums “Restless,” “Real Fine Place,” and “A Little Bit Stronger” are certified platinum and five more albums by Evans are certified gold.

She won Top Female Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2006.

Her five most popular songs available on the music streaming service Spotify have been played a combined 101,997,937 times.

Jerry Sharpe, a music writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, described Evans as having a “a strong, spring-water clear voice, which she uses well.”

Evans met her now-husband when they were both in their 30s with kids. They were introduced by Joe Beam, a Christian speaker that focuses on love and marriage who knew them both previously.

“One defining moment was, I made the decision to walk into my office and email Jay Barker and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so told me that I should reach out to you. I want you to know that I’m praying for you, and I’m sorry for everything that you’ve been through,” Evans recounted to music website The Boot.

Barker was the starting quarterback on the Crimson Tide’s 1992 championship-winning team, and at the time when he and Evans connected they had both recently gone through painful divorces.

“He emailed me back within five minutes, and that was definitely a defining moment,” she added.

Evans brought three children to the new family, while Barker brought four.

“Our house is full of children and activities and chaos, but Jay is such a great support to me,” Evans told The Boot about her husband, who hosts a sports talk show in Birmingham.

Radio play by country music stations is dominated by male artists and programmed by male deejays, something that has frustrated Evans in recent years.

She has become an outspoken advocate for more women in country music and voices her opinions on the subject with regularity.

Evans has appeared at events and spoken up for the organization Change the Conversation that aims to gain more representation for women in country music.

“The lack of voices heard on country radio affect not only those who are making music, but those listening as well. Music plays a powerful role in shaping our popular culture. Today’s music does not reflect who we are as a country and sends the wrong message to our girls and women. Too often, country songs portray women as a pretty ornament on the passenger side. It is time to reclaim a woman’s place in the driver’s seat,” the organization says on its website.

Evans has remarked that for her most recent original studio work, the album “Words” released in 2017, she placed a greater emphasis on including female producers and songwriters to give their careers a boost.

At a Change the Conversation event in 2017, Evans said, “When I first got my record deal, women were dominating country radio. We had Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain, Patty Loveless and on and on. I was fortunate enough to join that group of amazing women.”

“[W]e need to change the conversation and figure out why it is not that way anymore. Why are there not enough women on country radio? Women artists are amazing and they have so much great music that we want to hear and we need to hear, so let’s change the conversation,” she urged.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Sara Evans a 2020 Woman of Impact.

Editor’s note: Yellowhammer Multimedia recently announced the third annual Women of Impact Awards. Honorees are being featured on Yellowhammer News each weekday through October 1. We will tell their stories one-by-one, utilizing written and video formats. Check back daily for more of Alabama’s best and brightest.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

1 hour ago

Baldwin County residents throw parade for linemen amid recovery heroics

Southwest Alabama residents are celebrating the heroic linemen and support personnel who have traveled from across the country to restore utility services following Hurricane Sally last week.

WKRG reported that Fairhope residents on Tuesday night held a short parade downtown to express their appreciation for the power crews.

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The parade reportedly featured bucket trucks honking, with linemen inside waving, to those residents who took their time to line Section Street.

Alabama Power Company has restored power to its service area as of Sunday night, and Energy Institute of Alabama members continue to lead the charge restoring service to Baldwin County electric cooperative members, which was hardest hit by the slow-moving category 2 hurricane.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Shadowy web of 20 ‘news’ sites operating in Alabama, tied to national network that invented quotes, bylines

A shadowy group of websites masquerading as local news agencies has been launched ahead of November’s high-stakes general election.

An investigation by Yellowhammer News uncovered the existence of “Yellowhammer Times,” which purports to be a statewide news organization intended “to provide objective, data-driven information without political bias.” The site’s “people” section, where one would expect its employees to be listed, is blank.

“We provide 100% original reporting, including to share as much data as possible from government and other publicly available sources,” the site claims. “We also provide a platform for all citizens whose views on issues are rarely heard. If you want a voice in your community, we want to hear from you.”

The website is admittedly owned and operated by Metric Media LLC and its parent Metric Media Foundation, a Missouri-based entity just granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status last year. Publicly available data shows that Metric Media has not yet revealed having any assets, income or revenue through mandatory IRS filings. This means that at this point in time, the organization is effectively operating as a dark money group.

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Metric Media has a glitzy website that asserts, “Metric Media is funded by donations and grants from contributors who care about restoring local news in their communities.”

The website does list a three-person board of directors, which is reportedly chaired by San Francisco-based Rakesh Donthineni. The other named directors are Victor Chen of Los Angeles and Brent Southwell of Houston. Chen formerly worked for then-Beijing TV China, an entity of Beijing Media Network — which is owned and operated by the Chinese government, otherwise known as the Chinese Communist Party.

Metric Media’s explicit presence in Alabama does not stop at the statewide Yellowhammer Times. The bottom of this website links to 18 more sites, all appearing to be local or regional news agencies across the state. These publications are identical in format to Yellowhammer Times and are as follows: Auburn Times, Baldwin Times, Decatur Times, East Central Alabama News, Gadsden Today, Huntsville Leader, Jefferson Reporter, Mobile Courant, NE Alabama News, NW Alabama News, North Birmingham Times, River Region Times, Shoals Today, South Alabama Times, South Birmingham Times, Tuscaloosa Leader, West Central Alabama News and Wiregrass Times.

Publicly available domain information shows that these sites were all registered in May of this year.

That same month, Yellowhammer Times published its first “original story,” which was about COVID-19 related liability issues. The author is listed as a “T.H. Lawrence.”

Almost every story posted since then has been a completely automated story, mainly using RSS feeds to populate the stories on the site. This includes republishing press releases from Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama State University and the University of Alabama. The automated stories also include a lot of identical templates that simply display federal government-released data.

In all, Yellowhammer Times as of Wednesday at noon hosted more than 2,300 stories on the site — with only two listing a human author. The automated stories name “Metric Media News Service” or other entities such as “Locality Labs News Service” as the author.

One short story about lost Alabama tax revenue related to the pandemic simply does not list an author.

The second story to actually list an author, Juliette Fairley, advocated in July to fully reopen the economy and return students to school in the fall. This story was based on exclusive quotes from Alabama-based John Chamberlain, board chairman for Citizen Health. Citizen Health advocates for subscription-based medical services and disrupting the healthcare industry.

Yellowhammer News dug into the two authors listed on the site. Fairley is a national freelance author specializing in finance, while T.H. Lawrence’s name popped up across several sites in Metric Media’s network of more than 1,000 sites nationwide.

Yellowhammer News’ investigation also uncovered that T.H. Lawrence is indeed Tom Lawrence, a career journalist from South Dakota who was once executive editor of the state’s Black Hills Pioneer. He is now a freelance writer and blogger, appearing in local publications (under his real name) such as the Dakota Free Press, American News and South Dakota Standard. He also has his own blog, the Prairie Perspective. It should be noted that American News is owned by national conglomerate Gannett.

Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) in December 2019 published an in-depth investigative report that revealed some disturbing findings about Metric Media and its related entities, including Locality Labs. The investigation concluded that the network can be traced back to Illinois-based businessman and conservative activist Brian Timpone.

CJR was able to find at least 450 sites, all linked, operating under the banners of Metric Media, Locality Labs, Franklin Archer, the Record Inc. and Local Government Information Services. The entities at times — while being aimed at different states — shared IP addresses, Google Analytics IDs and other technical identifiers. Since December, the network has more than doubled in size, according to Metric Media’s own website.

CJR further traced Locality Lab’s origin story. The entity was once known as Timpone’s company “Journatic.” Journatic had to rebrand in 2013 following a national scandal over “faking bylines and quotes, and for plagiarism,” per CJR.

The CJR report followed a story published in October 2019 by a Michigan paper about Metric Media’s network that had popped up in that state. More local and national reporting followed, including by the New York Times and Guardian.

Yellowhammer Times republishes stories from other named entities in this Metric Media web, as well. For example, the publication ran a story from Empire State Today of New York.

This also includes another Alabama-focused site not directly linked at the bottom of Yellowhammer Times. Alabama Business Daily stories are republished on the site, and CJR previously reported there is an identical entity curated by Metric Media in each state. Yellowhammer News found that Alabama Business Daily’s domain was registered in February 2018.

With the 2020 election rapidly approaching, the existence of this network of sites in Alabama should raise alarm bells across the state.

Alabama was already besieged in the 2017 special election cycle by “Project Birmingham,” which utilized “Russian tactics” by Democratic operatives to aid the campaign of then-Democratic nominee Doug Jones.

Alabamians will hope that this type of disinformation campaign is not repeated this time around through Metric Media or its sister entities.

Secretary of State John H. Merrill has previously warned residents to arm themselves with the truth and to be wary of unknown sources spread on social media, especially.

“It is of paramount importance that the 4.8 million people who make up our state are informed with up-to-date, complete, and accurate information,” Merill has said in a statement. “All election-related information should come directly from our website or from your local election official. We are your trusted source for information related to the elections process.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Ivey, Orr and Battle team up for virtual groundbreaking for School of Cyber Technology and Engineering campus

Ground was broken on the new campus for the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering (ASCTE) on Wednesday, and prominent officials in Alabama delivered virtual addresses about the importance of the new institution.

The ASCTE is a magnet high school open to students from any of Alabama’s 137 public school districts. Located in Alabama’s cyber capital of Huntsville, attendees live on campus in a boarding environment.

Governor Kay Ivey, State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, the three public officials most involved in making ASCTE happen, spoke at the groundbreaking for the new campus.

ASCTE’s first crop of students enrolled this fall. They are currently taking classes in facilities on the campus of Oakwood University. The cyber school will move to the permanent campus that began construction on Wednesday upon its completion.

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(Huntsville Chamber of Commerce/Contributed)

According to materials provided by the school, ASCTE is the first cyber-focused school of its type in the country.

Orr sponsored the legislation to create ASCTE and now chairs its board of trustees.

The lawmaker from Decatur recounted that soon after he embraced the idea of a cyber-focused magnet school, he approached the governor and “she immediately saw the value.” Orr also praised the “support we got from the mayor’s office” as he and a team were putting together the project.

Ivey, who has made education a priority of her administration and in the last week created a STEM council, joined the virtual groundbreaking from her office in Montgomery.

“We must provide our state’s children with meaningful opportunities to pursue careers in STEM fields to ensure a prosperous Alabama of tomorrow,” Ivey remarked during her speech.

Battle was thanked in his introduction by Alicia Ryan, ASCTE Board of Trustees vice-chair, for creating the Cyber Huntsville initiative in 2010 and for his general support of the atmosphere that made the Rocket City fitting for a technology-focused school.

“Today begins a new chapter for Huntsville,” began Battle, who praised the “collaborative effort” that brought ASCTE into being and thanked Orr and Ivey by name.

“Welcome to Huntsville,” he told the assembled students who were watching via telecast.

Raytheon Technologies, a defense contractor with a strong presence in the Rocket City, is ASCTE’s most supportive corporate partner. The company donated $4 million to help get the school off the ground and was a partner in Wednesday’s groundbreaking. All public officials who spoke thanked the business multiple times.

“Our nation has a significant cyber talent gap,” remarked Wes Kramer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, in talking about why investing in ASCTE was good for his company and the nation.

Matt Massey, a former superintendent of the Madison County School System, is the president of ASCTE and tasked with both leading the current iteration of the school and preparing it for the future.

ASCTE plans to go from the 72 students currently enrolled to over 350 by 2024.

Phillip Thomas (left) speaks on ASCTE groundbreaking (ASCTE/Screenshot)

One of those students currently enrolled, Phillip Thomas, spoke at the groundbreaking on Wednesday.

“Coming to this school was the best decision I have ever made,” he began.

Thomas assured those listening that the residential staff was top-notch and the boarding environment was welcoming and comfortable.

“I came here to further advance my path to engineering and cyber career opportunities, and this school is one of a kind in that regard,” he continued.

The freshman said his plan was to eventually earn advanced degrees in the fields in which ASCTE is giving him a robust primary education.

“The future of this world relies on technological advances, and I am excited to play a role in that innovation. Thanks to ASCTE, I will achieve these goals,” Thomas concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

Byrne: Help is on the way after Hurricane Sally

The aftermath of Hurricane Sally has left much of Southwest Alabama in bad shape. From the coasts of Mobile and Baldwin Counties to the northern parts of our district, winds and flooding have let many without essentials like power, water and shelter. Fortunately, help is on the way.

As the forecast showed the storm approaching, I began coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the White House, Coast Guard and our state and local elected officials and emergency management agencies. As the storm approached, it was clear there would be major damage. After the storm, by my request, Administrator Pete Gaynor of FEMA flew from Washington to Alabama. On Sunday, we drove all over Baldwin County surveying damage, and the Administrator was able to see with his own eyes the scope of the problem. I appreciated that Administrator Gaynor wanted to see it firsthand and talk directly to those impacted so he could understand the severity of what we are dealing with. In driving all over Baldwin County, we made constant stops to get out, walk through the devastation, and talk with people.

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During the administrator’s visit, President Trump granted Governor Ivey’s request for additional disaster relief, only 36 hours after an application was submitted. This speaks not only to the quality work done by the governor and her team but also to the commitment of FEMA, President Trump, and his entire team to get to work helping those in need, for which I am grateful.

The storm has been greatly underreported by the national media. It does not help that the unfortunate death of Justice Ginsberg occurred late last week. However, if this storm would have hit California or New York and had the same kind of impact, we would be seeing wall to wall coverage. Local first responders performed over 300 water rescues. Yet we only suffered two deaths. Certainly, even one death is a tragedy, and we mourn for the families who lost loved ones. But it is astonishing that a storm that defied forecasts to strengthen at the last minute and bring such flooding and devastation only caused two deaths. This speaks volumes to the work our emergency responders and volunteers did in preparing for the storm and carrying out their mission during and after landfall.

The media may not be paying attention, but President Trump and his administration have remained engaged in getting us what we need to hit the ground running with the rebuilding process. As a result of the disaster declaration, it is important to know what assistance FEMA will be providing to our counties and individuals. The two major areas covered by the FEMA disaster declaration are Individual Assistance and Public Assistance. Public Assistance is made available to counties and municipalities for debris removal, rebuilding public infrastructure, and working to restore utility services. Currently, FEMA can cover 75 percent of these costs.

Individual assistance is available for things like emergency housing repair and hotel costs. But before you know what assistance you may be eligible to receive, you must register with FEMA. This can be done online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362. I cannot overstress the importance of documenting everything you do. Take pictures before, during, and after, and keep all receipts. FEMA will help our city and county government with debris removal, but you must haul your debris to the side of the road and follow guidance from your local officials. FEMA is also providing items like tarps and bottled water at stations throughout Southwest Alabama. The disaster declaration also triggers help to those who may have lost their jobs because of the disaster, like unemployment insurance benefits. I encourage you to contact the state unemployment office if you have lost your job due to Hurricane Sally.

In addition to FEMA’s response efforts, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is now accepting loan applications to assist with both physical and economic damages. These low-interest loans are available to businesses who have experienced substantial damage and may not be able to reopen their doors for some time. I encourage those businesses who need additional financial assistance to register with FEMA and apply for the loan that best fits their needs. Loan application details can be found at www.sba.gov.

As always, my office is a phone call away and can provide assistance or direct you to where you can find help. Alabama will get through this disaster as we have others in the past.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.