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.

2 hours ago

Mo Brooks: Stopping H.R. 1, amnesty keys to winning in 2022 midterms — ‘Then we will be able to neuter Joe Biden’

FLORENCE — With the third month of the 117th Congress now underway, House Democrats have pushed forward in their efforts to pass H.R. 1, which would impose so-called reforms to the country’s voting system.

Also among the priorities for Democrats, who control the White House, House and Senate, are immigration measures that could include amnesty for illegal aliens.

During an appearance at the Shoals Republican Club on Saturday, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) panned those efforts and said he hoped to stymie the progress of House Democrats on those two fronts.

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Brooks told those in attendance that if Republicans could prove successful in those efforts, it would set the GOP up for wins in the 2022 midterm elections and hamstring President Joe Biden’s push to promote a left-of-center agenda.

“We’ve got to stop H.R. 1, and we’ve got to stop the amnesty and citizenship that Joe Biden has promised,” he said. “If we do those two things, then we’re going to take back the House in 2022. I hope we will take back the Senate in 2022. And then we will be able to neuter Joe Biden over the next two years if we control the House and Senate and set the stage as well for us taking back the White House in 2024 with whoever our nominee may be.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

3 hours ago

2021 Birmingham Heart Walk goes virtual

COVID-19 has forced many nonprofits to shift gears in their fundraising efforts and the American Heart Association (AHA) is no exception. The AHA’s 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk has been reimagined as a digital experience this year to maintain necessary safety protocols due to the ongoing pandemic.

Through the event design, AHA is striving to get more people moving in Birmingham while continuing to raise life-saving funds and keep participants safe in the process. The Birmingham Heart Walk is Saturday, June 12, from 9-11 a.m. and participants can walk from anywhere.

Leading up to the event, participants are encouraged to track their activity through the “Move More Challenge” using the free Heart Walk activity tracker app that can be downloaded from Apple or Google Play. Once registered, users have 30 days to log minutes, and any activity counts. Top movers and fundraisers will be recognized on Heart Walk day.

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“The American Heart Association holds a special place in my heart,” said Southern Company Vice President of Technology David Coxwho will chair the walk for the second time. “They have done so much for my family and for my daughter, Emily, who was born with multiple congenital heart defects. I’m pleased to partner with this outstanding organization in their efforts help our community connect and stay active as we adapt to this virtual world.”

More than 600,000 Americans die each year from heart disease, and the risks have only been compacted by the pandemic. Among COVID-19 hospitalizations, 40% are heart or stroke patients, so this year, donations from the Heart Walk will help fast-track COVID-19 research and train front-line workers in addition to the many other research projects and resources funded by the AHA.

Fundraising and activities for the Heart Walk are beginning to ramp up as the warmer months approach.

“Now is the time to sign up, lace up and start fundraising for the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk,” said Hannah Carroll, Heart Challenge director of the Birmingham AHA. “Signing up now ensures you won’t miss any of the fun this year, like Rally Days and our new activity tracker.”

On Feb. 18, Cox hosted a virtual kickoff for business leaders in the Birmingham area who will be fielding teams at this year’s Heart Walk. He encouraged counterparts to begin their fundraising efforts by saying, “We’re here for a reason – to fight for a world of longer, healthier lives.”

To view Emily’s story, click here. To learn more about the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk or to create a team, click here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 hours ago

Schoolyard Roots growing stronger, smarter kids in Alabama

When kids participate in the life of a garden, they see the complete cycle of growing food, cooking and preparing it to eat. School gardens are exciting places for kids to learn basic academic subjects, too.

The Tuscaloosa community came together more than 10 years ago to develop a garden-based learning program called the Druid City Garden project, now called Schoolyard Roots.

Schoolyard Roots employs a full-time teaching staff that provides garden lessons for students, as well as professional development training for teachers. The school gardens provide an outdoor experience rare to many students. They are more likely to make healthy choices and try new foods. Students gain a sense of responsibility, to collaborate and work together as a team.

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“When we see a child’s health and education improve, we know that we’re not only investing in that child’s life today – we’re helping them build a better future,” said Nicole Gelb Dugat, interim executive director. “Schoolyard Roots builds community through food. By increasing access to fresh, locally grown produce, we empower our community to make healthy and sustainable food choices.”

In March 2020, the impact of COVID-19 significantly affected the teaching community. Almost immediately, the Schoolyard Roots team began distributing produce from its gardens directly to local families. By the end of last year, the program had distributed more than 750 pounds of fresh garden vegetables to the community.

“We stewarded our gardens as fresh-air sanctuaries, where children and adults could relax, refocus and reconnect,” said Dugat. “Through it all, we shared vegetables and flowers. We cultivated moments of peace and learned together. We could not have done any of it without our incredible community of supporters.”

They found hope and inspiration in the small miracle of seeds planted by the students. Gardens bring joy, peace and courage in times of struggle. And gardens remind us to have hope for new growth and what is to come.

Schoolyard Roots partners with Tuscaloosa-area elementary schools to bring learning to life through teaching gardens. The nonprofit works in 11 elementary schools across Tuscaloosa County.

Its mission is to build healthy communities through food with the Gardens 2 Schools program.

Gardens support and encourage healthful eating as a key component of children’s physical wellbeing, which can aid their academic and social success, too. The garden is woven through many aspects of a school’s curriculum and adapted for different grade levels.

“The Gardens 2 Schools program cultivates curiosity,” Dugat said. “The program teaches the students how to work together (and) learn self-reliability and compassion.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 hours ago

Has Washington’s stimulus measures saved our economy?

Congress is expected to soon pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, the fourth major response to the pandemic. Did these measures save our economy from a protracted recession?

Our initial response might be yes because of last spring’s economic free-fall. The stock market declined 20%. Unemployment jumped from 3.5% in February to 14.8% in April, the highest level since the Great Depression. GDP fell 10% in the second quarter.

The economy stopped collapsing and began regaining ground. The stock market hit new record highs. Unemployment fell to 6.3% in January and inflation-adjusted GDP in the fourth quarter of 2020 was within 2% of the 2019 level. Post hoc ergo prompter hoc, however, is a logical fallacy.

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Macroeconomists disagree over whether government spending can lift an economy out of recession. Keynesians, following John Maynard Keynes’ analysis of the Great Depression, see a role for government stabilization. Austrians in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek argue that government often causes recessions. New classical analysis has blown many holes in Keynesian theories.

Regardless of the efficacy of a fiscal stimulus, our economy may not have faced a recession in 2020. The COVID-19 slump arguably resembled an off-season shutdown in a resort community more than a recession. Except that the pandemic shutdown was unexpected while seasonal closures are planned.

The economy could have been expected to bounce back on its own if the business closure and stay-at-home orders did not last too long. And this seemingly happened during the summer and fall.

How can we assess the stimulus spending? The Payroll Protection Plan and augmented unemployment likely kept some persons employed and softened the financial blow for idled workers. These programs could also be viewed as compensation owed by the government for business closure orders, not a stimulus. Personal saving has risen sharply, so many households’ stimulus checks produced little spending.

Unemployment programs have been beset by fraud. The Foundation for Government Accountability estimates that fraudulent schemes siphoned off $36 billion, more than the $26 billion in unemployment compensation paid out in all of 2019. Do Keynesians think fraud is a fiscal stimulus?

One trillion stimulus dollars were unspent as of January 2021. While some Republicans argued that we should spend this money before approving President Biden’s proposal, the unspent money was in the process of being spent. Still, money not yet spent did not stimulate the economy in 2020.

Proponents of fiscal stimulus warned that the economy would sputter without a fall stimulus. One forecast warned of a five percentage point increase in unemployment and 5% decline in GDP. The House and Senate did not agree on an encore to the CARES Act until December. And yet unemployment fell and GDP grew in the fourth quarter.

Even if some spending helped in 2020, the current stimulus package is almost certainly unnecessary. The Congressional Budget Office was already expecting growth to recover “rapidly,” with GDP surpassing the pre-pandemic level by mid-year and unemployment returning to its prior level by early 2022. For comparison, after the Great Recession unemployment did not reach its 2007 level until 2016.

President Biden’s package includes $500 billion to stabilize state budgets. States operate under balanced budget rules, so revenue declines due to the pandemic would trigger spending cuts potentially slowing the recovery. The $500 billion was based on an 8% decline in state revenues; the Wall Street Journal reports that revenues will be down only 1.6%.

Whatever the verdict on the stimulus spending, it worsened the national debt by about $3 trillion. The long-term debt impact may easily offset any short-term boost to the recovery.

The economic case that government spending can prevent or end a recession is weak. Fortunately, the COVID-19 shutdowns did not trigger a prolonged recession. While we might say, “Better safe than sorry,” the cost of the stimulus will be with us for years to come.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

7 hours ago

Packaging Corp. of America plans $440 million project at Alabama mill

JACKSON, Alabama – Packaging Corp. of America (PCA) plans to launch a three-year, $440 million project to permanently convert a paper machine at its mill in Clarke County to produce linerboard used for corrugated packaging.

Lake Forest, Illinois-based PCA announced that it discontinued the production of uncoated freesheet, used for copy paper and other applications, on its No. 3 paper machine at the Jackson mill in late 2020.

After a temporary switch to produce linerboard, PCA is now making preparations to convert the mill’s paper machine into a 700,000-ton-per-year high-performance, virgin kraft linerboard machine in a phased approach over the next 36 months.

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PCA said key elements in the conversion project include the installation of an OCC plant for recycling old corrugated containers and various pulp mill modifications. In addition, modifications and upgrades will be made to critical sections of the paper machine.

PCA Chairman and CEO Mark Kowlzan said the project will enable the company to meet strong packaging demand and to optimize the Alabama mill’s profitability and viability. The capital cost of the conversion is expected to be approximately $440 million.

“We are appreciative of the continued support from the State of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Commerce, the City of Jackson and Clarke County to help us continue providing quality jobs and a positive economic impact in the Jackson community,” Kowlzan said.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Governor Kay Ivey said the project represents a positive development for the Jackson mill, a major industrial employer with more than 500 workers.

“Packaging Corp. of America’s reinvestment in its Jackson manufacturing facility will solidify the plant’s future by enhancing its competitiveness,” Governor Ivey said.

“This decision underlines the company’s confidence in its Alabama operation while also preserving jobs and safeguarding local education tax dollars. It’s a win for the company, the community and the state.”

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said PCA’s project will increase the efficiency of the Clarke County plant while providing a long-term economic boost to Jackson, a city with a population of around 5,300.

“We’re committed to helping existing businesses grow and thrive in Alabama, and the impact of a major investment is always magnified when in happens in rural communities,” Secretary Canfield said.

“With this project, PCA is positioning its Jackson mill for the future, which will significantly benefit the city and the region for years to come.”

‘LONG-STANDING RELATIONSHIP’

Jackson Mayor Paul R. South said the project will allow PCA to continue providing quality jobs while securing a positive economic future for Clarke County.

“The City of Jackson looks forward to working with the corporation as the project moves forward,” South said. “In my opinion, they couldn’t have selected a better community.  Jackson is a safe and peaceful city full of great people, with good schools and recreation and a strong work force, along with extensive natural resources.”

“This is wonderful news for Clarke County and the City of Jackson,” said Stan Hutto, chairman of the Clarke County Commission. “We have a long-standing relationship with this outstanding company, and we are committed to helping them achieve their goals to ensure a bright, successful future.”

PCA is the third largest producer of containerboard products and the third largest producer of uncoated freesheet paper in North America. PCA operates eight mills and 90 corrugated products plants and related facilities.

The Jackson mill’s No. 1 paper machine will continue to produce uncoated freesheet products.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)