Today Remember Terrorism Victims Constitutional Rights

On this anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I want to highlight the God-given and constitutionally protected rights of American terrorism victims to hold the terrorists and their sponsors accountable in court. Our Founding Fathers designed a civil justice system to enable all Americans to hold wrongdoers accountable for damages. The Founders built this system upon a centuries-old Judeo-Christian ethic, established by Moses among the Israelites and ensconced in Western jurisprudence in the Magna Carta in Britain in 1215.

“Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” When visitors to Washington, D.C. walk into the beautiful Jefferson Memorial, they look up and read a number of quotes from Thomas Jefferson, including that one. Our Founders had no difficulty identifying Almighty G-O-D as the source of all human rights. In our Founding Documents, God the Creator is explicitly recognized time and again. Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington couldn’t comprehend an America that deletes that conviction from our political documents.

It’s been my honor to assist American terrorism victims for over seven years in the halls of Congress and the Executive Branch, lobbying for legislation and administrative action to enable their constitutional rights and achieve some measure of justice. Victims of the 9/11 attacks, Muammar Qaddafi’s reign of terror, deadly bombings by Hamas in Israel, and Iranian terrorism attacks have benefitted from a bipartisan consensus to help Americans take the terrorists’ and their sponsors’ money through civil suits. Section 502 of the new Iran sanctions law, signed by President Obama last month, enables the taking of the most money from a state sponsor of terrorism in 30 years, for the benefit of American victims of Iran’s terrorism.

I discussed the God-given rights of terrorism victims to hold terrorists accountable, and the need to protect the 7th Amendment right to a jury trial for civil suits in health care lawsuits, on today’s edition of the What’s Up radio program, hosted by Terry Lowry, broadcast on Sirius Channel 131 and on 12 radio stations. You can download and listen to that show in four segments:

Segment One – Where Do My Rights Come From?
Segment Two – Where Were You On September 11, 2001?
Segment Three and Segment Four – Obamacare, federal caps on medmal lawsuits, and Prof. Randy Barnett’s opposition to both.

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Update on Fromms Home Bible Study Case Sacketts Property Rights Case

I have an update on two cases about which I posted on September 27.

I was interviewed on the nationally syndicated “What’s Up” radio program by host Terry Lowry about the action brought by the City of San Juan Capistrano, California, against Chuck and Stephanie Fromm for hosting a small home Bible study group in their home. During the interview, Terry and I discussed the centuries-old right, recognized now in the 7th Amendment to the Constitution, to sue the sovereign or Executive Branch to protect all of the God-given rights now protected in the Bill of Rights. “Tort reform” proponents who think that it’s worth abridging our 7th Amendment right to benefit the business community ignore the fact that the Founding Fathers honored that right for cases involving religious liberty, property rights, and free speech, as well as for medical malpractice and products liability cases. You can download and listen to my interview.

Sen. Rand Paul announced that he’ll hold a roundtable on Wednesday, Oct. 12, with “victims of the U.S. government’s multi-pronged assault on private property rights.” The list of victims includes Mike and Chantell Sackett of Idaho, who bought a plot of residential land to build a new home, only to be told by the EPA that their land was federal “wetlands.” EPA refused to hear the Sacketts’ appeals on the order, then challenged their constitutional right to file a lawsuit against EPA for injunctive relief. The Sacketts and their attorneys, the Pacific Legal Foundation, are taking their case to the Supreme Court this winter. I look forward to the roundtable and hope to see Sen. Paul start some legislative action to rein in EPA from squashing Americans’ property rights. Here is the PLF’s page on their website about the case.

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Jeopardy Contestants Flunked Constitutional Rights Test

I wrote almost two years ago that the right to a civil jury trial, protected in the Seventh Amendment, is the most ignored, unknown and endangered constitutional right in any of the amendments in the Bill of Rights. Not that I needed proof, but I saw it again over the weekend. The “Jeopardy” game show episode broadcast in the Washington, DC, area on Saturday, May 12, included a column of five questions titled, “Know Your Rights.” If the results are a valid sample of the public’s knowledge of the Bill of Rights, we are either doomed or at least in big trouble. Only two of the five questions were correctly answered, with three questions incorrectly answered. The Seventh Amendment was one of the subjects of an incorrectly answered question; the contestant said that threshold for a civil jury trial was $10, when it’s $20. The 60% failure rate would have been a “F” in any classroom. In contrast, the contestants correctly answered four of the five questions about famous princesses and all five questions about an exercise workout.

You’d think that at a time when we hear concepts such as religious liberty, gun rights, free speech, and Tea Party, each with a basis in constitutional history, thrown all over the mass media that the public would have a better idea of their origin.

The episode was originally broadcast on November 25, 2010, and you can see all of the questions on this website. Take the quiz yourself and see if you can correctly answer the the four other questions on constitutional rights (scroll the mouse over the dollar amount in the box for the correct answer).

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Constitutional Conservatives Should Support the Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act

Today, by a bipartisan vote, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 4678, the “Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2010.” a bill supported by Republicans and Democrats, to enable American consumers to hold a foreign manufacturer accountable in U.S. courts for serious defects. I first wrote about the Act on June 29 and described the benefits to consumers who find themselves the victims of bad imported drywall, toys, food products, etc., but cannot sue the foreign maker here because of lack of minimum contacts. In this post I want to summarize the reasons why Constitutional conservatives and Tea Partiers should support the Act, as follows:

(1) The Act would force foreign manufacturers to play by the same rules as American companies. Foreign manufacturers are evading the U.S. legal system and forcing us to go to their home country and try to sue the company there, a costly and time-consuming process. Why should a consumer have to travel to China to serve the drywall maker, when the company does millions of dollars of business in the U.S. and already has an agent here serving as the importer? And why should we continue to allow Chinese law apply to us when we’re injured in our own house by their drywall or toys? Under the Act, foreign manufacturers would be required to register an agent, located in the states in which the company does business, to accept service of process for civil suits. As a result, foreign manufacturers would no longer get a free pass, and would be more likely to send safer products into the U.S. Our businesses should not be forced to unfairly compete against foreign businesses that are easily skirting the law.

(2) Our companies are already often subject to jurisdiction overseas, where the injury occurs, so the Act simply closes that loophole by creating consistent jurisdictional rules. For example, a number of European countries and Japan already have an in-country jurisdictional mandate for persons injured by products manufactured in the U.S. Even China’s new tort law recognizes jurisdiction where the injury or harm occurred. Closing the international loophole would give our consumers and businesses the same rights that foreign consumers and business enjoy.

(3) In many cases, the Act will actually decrease and even relieve liability for the U.S. companies which distribute and market foreign-made goods. When a foreign manufacturer cannot be located and sued, the U.S. seller may be the only party available to defend the lawsuit filed by the injured consumer. The Act would help our businesses because liability would either be transferred to or shared with the foreign makers, and not borne solely by the U.S. partner.

(4) Our Constitution isn’t a ticket for foreign companies to come into our house, sell their defective products, and then thumb their nose at our legal system, especially if our companies are subject to their legal system. We’ve let them get away with this for too long. The best way to correct the trade loophole – the most “Constitutionally conservative” way to do it – is to let Americans injured by bad foreign products to take them into a local court and let 12 good and fair jurors decide the validity of the lawsuit, the way designed in our Constitution and in almost 800 years of American-British civil law.

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Jury Should Determine Virginia Tech Shooting Damages Not Judges

Two families of students killed in the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech are in court today, asking a three-judge panel of the Virginia Supreme Court to allow them to appeal a judge’s decision on the negligence case they successfully pursued against the university. The families of Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde sued the university for negligence, and the jury agreed and awarded $4 million to each to the families. But a state appellate judge reduced the awards to $100,000 under a state law capping non-economic damages. The families want to reinstate the university president as a defendant, but I object to the reduction in the damages award.

That reduction begs the following questions: Why don’t we trust the same jurors who hear all of the facts, listen to all of the testimony, and determine legal liability to determine the amount of damages? What makes a judge, or any small group of judges, so special that they should have the power to override a jury’s decision? Why do we allow state legislators to arbitrarily set a rigid cap on non-economic damages? Can’t state law at least enable a jury to “bust the cap” as it sees fit in unique circumstances? Where in the Founding Documents of the United States is there any support by the Founding Fathers for the idea of overriding a jury’s decision on damages through an inflexible state statute or an arbitrary decision by a judge?

The jury in the Virginia Tech shootings case found that the university’s senior officials were negligent in not warning students that a homicidal maniac had already killed students and was on the loose. The jury consciously decided that the university officials were so grossly negligent that the they had to award millions of dollars in damages to the families. That decision by twelve honorable Virginians should have been honored in state law and by state judges.

I hope the Virginia Governor and General Assembly will consider that their fellow Virginians Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Mason honored and protected the jury’s right to determine civil liability and never, ever, proposed limiting a jury’s discretion to award damages. It was Madison who described trial by jury in civil cases “as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature” and who protected it in the Seventh Amendment. Mason refused to sign the Constitution because of the absence of a Bill of Rights, and he specifically demanded trial by jury in civil cases. To arbitrarily cap a jury’s award, without even the ability of a single jury to override a statutory cap in special circumstances, ignores the unique place granted to civil jury trials by Founders such as Jefferson, Madison and Mason and dilutes the power of a jury to hold a defendant fully liable for gross negligence.

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Declaration Signer Elbridge Gerry on Right to Civil Trial by Jury

And a trial by jury shall be preserved as usual in civil cases.’

Elbridge Gerry, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, proposed that addition to the draft of the U.S. Constitution near the end of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787. Charles Pinckney, delegate to the convention from South Carolina, joined him in the motion. The motion reflected the fervent belief by the two men that the Constitution would be incomplete and would not sufficiently protect the rights of individuals and of the states, in particular the right to a jury trial for civil cases. Gerry voted against the Constitution for that reason and was joined by George Mason and Edmund Randolph of Virginia. Although the motion was defeated that day, co-authors Gerry and Pinckney saw their motion included in the Bill of Rights introduced into the First Congress by James Madison and ratified by the states as the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.

This quote is included in an excellent article, Charles Pinckney and the Seventh Amendment, written by Joel W. Collins, Jr., of the firm of Collins & Lacy, PC, for the Fall 2009 issue of Voir Dire, published by the American Board of Trial Advocates. The article also includes additional details on the development of the right to a jury trial for civil suits, and I highly recommend it.

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Independent Wartime Commission Mandate Civil Jurisdiction For Foreign Contractors

On July 12 of last year, I wrote on the difficulties that the families of American servicemen and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan have in exercising their 7th Amendment rights for injuries and deaths suffered by their loved ones at the hands of foreign contractors. U.S. courts have dismissed several lawsuits, including one filed by my clients, over a lack of in personam jurisdiction over the contractor. The courts have ruled that the contractor’s receipt of U.S. government funds through a contract isn’t, by itself, enough to trigger the “minimum contacts” needed to hold it accountable in a U.S. court.

My clients are the surviving family of Lt. Col. “Rocky” Baragona, who was killed on May 19, 2003, when a truck owned and operated by Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport Company (KGL) sliced across the highway and struck the Humvee carrying Col. Baragona. With no detailed investigation of the accident possible by the Army at the time, his grieving parents and siblings started their own inquiries into KGL’s operation of the truck. After trying without success to obtain an apology from KGL, the family’s attorney filed a lawsuit in federal court, citing KGL’s millions of dollars in contracts with the Defense Department as a basis for jurisdiction. After first obtaining a default judgment against KGL for almost $5 million when it failed to respond to the complaint, the family saw its pursuit of justice blocked when KGL responded to the judgement by citing a lack of in personam jurisdiction, and then persuaded the judge to reverse the default judgment and dismiss the lawsuit. That dismissal was affirmed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court denied cert in the case.

Fortunately, an independent commission became interested in this issue. The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan was authorized by Congress to conduct oversight of all contractors operating in those two countries. The Commission studied the Baragona case and other instances of contractor-caused death and injuries, and yesterday issued an interim report today on its latest investigations, with the following findings:

The Commission has determined that claims against foreign prime contractors and subcontractors have gone unaddressed because the U.S. courts lack personal, as distinct from subject-matter, jurisdiction over the foreign defendants. Without establishing personal jurisdiction, attempts by the United States and other parties to recoup damages for civil contract claims and for private parties to recover on tort claims arising out of conduct related to government contracts are lengthy, protracted, and expensive for all parties involved. Foreign courts may be unavailable, unreliable, inconvenient, or otherwise unable to hear these claims.

The Commission recommended the following measures to Congress and the Executive Branch:

Make consent to U.S. civil jurisdiction a condition of contract award

Revise regulations and policies to:

▪▪ Require that foreign prime contractors and subcontractors consent to U.S. jurisdiction as a condition of award of a contract or subcontract.

▪▪ Require foreign contractors to register an agent in the United States to be responsible for receiving notice, summons, and other legal documents in connection with any legal actions against those contractors.

▪▪ Reduce the burden on smaller foreign contractors by limiting these requirements to contracts and subcontracts of $5 million or more. Exceptions should also be provided for foreign contractors participating in local-preference programs such as Afghan First and Iraqi First.

A bipartisan bill championed by Senators McCaskill and Collins to force foreign contractors to recognize the jurisdiction of U.S. courts eventually emerged from a Senate committee last year as S. 2782, the “Lieutenant Colonel Dominic “Rocky” Baragona Justice for American Heroes Harmed by Contractors Act.” Senator McCaskill has re-introduced the bill in the new Congress. The bill won’t help the Baragona family to hold KGL accountable, but it can prevent other such situations, so we hope Congress will enact the bill in this session.

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Federal Judges Warning About the Death of Civil Jury Trials

If you doubt that the 7th Amendment is under attack, take a look at this presentation by a current federal judge, cited often in other articles on the need to maintain the right to a jury trial. U.S. District Court Judge William Young has been writing and speaking on the subject for several years, as typified by an article he wrote for the Suffolk University Law Review in 2006 titled, “Vanishing Trials, Vanishing Juries, Vanishing Constitution.” Several paragraphs vividly describe the extent and impact of the degradation of the 7th Amendment (footnotes deleted for ease of reading) and summarizes a number of issues that I will address in individual posts on this website:

The jury system proves the wisdom of the Founders in their utilization of direct democracy to temper the potential excesses of the only unelected branch of government. According to one scholar, “the jury achieves symbolically what cannot be achieved practically–the presence of the entire populace at every trial.” Through the jury, we place the decisions of justice where they rightly belong in a democratic society: in the hands of the governed. The very structural bedrock of our constitutional form of government confirms the centrality of the jury’s role.

(I)t is fair to observe that for decades, business and insurance interests have disparaged our civil juries while the courts have failed to defend the single institution upon which their moral authority ultimately depends. As a result of their assault, the bipartisan majorities in the Congress have restricted access to the American jury severely. The most sophisticated recent analysis has led one commentator to conclude that “a civil justice system without a jury would evolve in a way that more reliably serve[s] the elite and business interests.”…

Our pre-emption jurisprudence, long a matter for narrow construction, today is applied so broadly as to oust state courts (and juries) of their traditional areas of adjudication and replace them with less-protective federal standards, or no remedy at all. The Supreme Court has even preempted older, more comprehensive federal civil rights statutes with newer, more restrictive statutes. The Court also allows federal agencies to trump state laws that interfere with their domain. The judicial system’s preference for arbitration also threatens the American jury. The Supreme Court, in building on a decisional edifice that most commentators consider shaky if not outright wrong, has interpreted the Federal Arbitration Act to supplant juries with arbitrators whenever possible. So, today, citizens cannot trade on the stock exchange, have long distance telephone service, or be employed in many necessary jobs and industries unless they surrender statutory and procedural rights (specifically, relinquishing the right to a jury decision and submitting instead to arbitration)…

Of paramount importance, however, is a matter neither of substance nor procedure, but culture. We federal trial judges appear no longer to revere the jury trial as the central and paramount goal of our American system of justice. We have so “deconstructed the role of the trial judge” that today far too many judges do not understand the concept.

Congress, by adjusting the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts, effectively strips disfavored classes from full access to justice. As a consequence, it restricts, if not extinguishes, cherished individual rights and liberties. This congressional maneuvering is known as “courts stripping.” Because the practice does not implicate the American jury directly (it would be unconstitutional had it done so), Congress accomplishes it largely below the public’s radar and without public debate.

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Congress to Address Bill Related to Liability for Gulf Oil Spill

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is tentaively scheduled to take the first action next week on a bill related to the liability of the companies which operated the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, by debating and voting on the “Securing Protections for the Injured from Limitations on Liability Act,” or “SPILL Act,” to lift outdated limits on liability for deaths caused by disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The SPILL Act would enable the families of the 11 men killed on the rig to recover damages just as if the accident had occurred on land in the United States, a dichotomy that makes no sense but has never been redressed in federal law. Indeed, if the men who died on the rig had instead been seated in a helicopter five feet off the rig, and the chopper had exploded, the families would not now face the artificial limits on any recovery that they currently face under federal law.

Several federal laws govern that accident, and all are decades old, reflecting a world of days gone by not only without oil drilling in federal waters on enormous platforms built by multinational corporations headquartered anywhere in the world, but also without modern mechanisms of insurance or asset management. So, for instance, the 151-year-old “Limitation on Liability Act” (LOLA) limits the liability for accidents on “vessels” to the market value after an accident. Strangely, movable ocean rigs are considered “vessels” under LOLA. So Transocean, which owned the rig, has claimed in court that its liability is limited to the current market value of the destroyed rig on the ocean floor plus freight costs – about $27 million, a pittance for a disaster of this magnitude. Similarly, another law limits the amount due to the parents of one of the victims to $1,000, since he wasn’t married and they were not his “economic dependents.” Hopefully the Congress will repeal the antiquated and non-Constitutional liability limits in these laws. You can read a brief description of the SPILL Act on the Judiciary Committee’s website and download a copy of the act from here.

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Bill Gives Companies Blank Check to Violate Privacy

Here we go again. Today the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence voted to recommend H.R. 624, the “Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2013,” or CISPA, to the entire House for approval. The bill supposedly enables only a “sharing” of “anonymous cyber threat information between the government and the private sector so they can protect their networks and their customers’ private information.” But it’s basically the same bill as last year’s, when groups from all points of view, from Tea Party groups to the ACLU, objected to the lack of protection for personally identifiable information and other violations of our internet privacy.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently released a laundry list of problems with the bill. Here are the highlights:

(1) The bill supposedly limits exposure to only “cyber threat information.” But the definition of that term doesn’t exclude personally identifiable information. Social Security numbers are “cyber threat information” in the wrong hands. Private emails are too – is that what you want your cable company to turn over to the Feds? If you tell your relatives that Obama is a socialist, will Comcast or Verizon turn it over to the FBI? You up for that?

(2) The bill doesn’t define “cybersecurity systems” either. Companies can use a “cybersecurity system” to “identify or obtain” information about a potential threat, but the term isn’t limited to security software or intrusion systems; the term “system” is never defined. No privacy protection there.

(3) CISPA encourages companies to conduct their own surveillance on their networks and turn over whatever they deem “cyber threat information” to the government, with a promise of total immunity from civil or criminal lawsuits. So it strips the utilities, internet and telecom companies of any accountability and allows them to create a private spying program. CISPA strips us of our constitutional right to hold those companies accountable for turning over our personal information, whether by design or error.

House GOP leaders went through this exercise last year, only to find The People standing in the way. But they haven’t learned. They’re about to let the same wild-and-crazy gun-control liberals, like Obama, Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein, effective control over our private data and emails. DiFi has her own CISPA ready to go. WHAT ARE BOEHNER AND CANTOR THINKING?

Tell your Congressman and Senator NO, TODAY, and that YOU will personally hold THEM accountable for messing with our internet and our privacy. Tell them to give up on this year’s version of CISPA.

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New Federal Pleading Standards Infringe on Terrorism Victims Ability to Sue Terrorists Financiers

For over 50 years, people wishing to file a lawsuit in federal court could simply submit a short and plain statement of facts in a complaint, in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Conley v. Gibson Supreme Court ruling in 1957 ensured that cases that might be difficlut to win, but meritorious nonetheless, could proceed to discovery (“a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief”). But the 2009 Ashcroft v. Iqbal and 2007 Bell Atlantic v. Twombly decisions by the Supreme Court made federal complaint standards much more restrictive. Now parties have to plead specific and concrete facts, often without having access to any of the information they need, or see their cases thrown out due to “implausibility.” The Court’s decision to implement the new standards without pursuing the usual course of action in amending the Federal Rules by requesting a change through the Judicial Conference of the United States.

The battleground for the impact of the Iqbal and Twombly cases includes an area overlooked and ignored by the proponents of the new standards, namely lawsuits filed by American terrorism victims against the terrorists and their financiers. Veteran attorney Steven R. Perles of Washington, who has represented thousands of terrorism victims over the past thirty years and is one of my clients, wrote to the U.S. Congress this past February, criticizing the Iqbal-Twombly standards and warning of its impact on the access to justice by terrorism victims. See the following excerpts and download the entire letter:

The practical effect on anti-terrorism litigation will be that state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, will now be able to enter and win litigation against those U.S. citizens seeking redress for their injuries, unless the U.S. citizens have been lucky enough to discover the critical facts that explain Iran’s support for a particular terrorism attack prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations for their claims…

I was counsel for plaintiffs in two cases called Buonocore v. Libya and Baker v. Libya. In Baker, we filed a complaint against Libya for its support of the Abu Nidal Organization’s hijacking of an airliner in November 1985, which left one American dead and two Americans severely injured. In Buonocore, we filed a complaint against Libya for its support of the Abu Nidal Organization’s machine gun and grenade attack on the Rome and Vienna airports in December 1985, which resulted in numerous American dead and injured. Libya filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in both cases, but the court found the complaints sufficient under the Conley standard. It was only later in each case that we were able to locate the surviving terrorists in Austria, Italy and the United States in their respective prisons, who provided critical details in sworn statements regarding Libya’s role in the attacks. This information contributed to the eventual settlement of both cases. Had the Twombly and Iqbal standards been applicable in those cases, Libya’s chances of winning at the motion to dismiss stage–prior to our uncovering of critical evidence in our post-filing of the complaint investigation–would have been dramatically greater.

I would also cite two other victorious terrorism civil actions which might have been dramatically altered or lost if the Iqbal-Twombly standards had been in effect. In the first, the family of David Boim, an American killed by Hamas terrorists in Israel, successfully won a $156 million judgment against the Dallas-based Holy Land Foundation for its role as the biggest Hamas fundraiser in the U.S. The victory came only after extensive challenges to the introduction of evidence under the Conley standard, and those challenges might have been successful under the Iqbal-Twombly standard. You can read more about that suit on the Counterterrorism Blog. In the second, attorneys from the Motley Rice law firm (another client of mine) who are pursuing the Arab Bank in a civil suit for its alleged role as a conduit for terrorist funds were able to access information gathered by Israeli intelligence, as summarized in this post on the Counterterrorism Blog. I cannot imagine that the introduction of that evidence would have been so easily introduced under the Iqbal-Twombly standard.

Tomorrow I’ll address, in more detail, the critics of legislation designed to repeal the Iqbal-Twombly pleading standard. But at the outset, they ignore the beneficial impact of the Conley pleading standard on terrorism victims’ lawsuits, which often require the introduction of evidence obtained from overseas sources. Federal judges are far more likely to dismiss such suits prior to discovery for failure to meet the “plausibility” standard.

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Condemning Iran Good Defunding It Priceless

This week the House of Representatives approved a resolution condemning the Government of Iran for its continued persecution, imprisonment, and sentencing of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. That’s great, and that’s important. But if Congressmen REALLY want to hurt Iran, they should support and approve the bill numbered H.R. 4070 and sponsored by Rep. Bob Turner (R-NY). That’s the ONLY bill that actually takes Iran’s money to compensate the families of our brave servicemen killed and wounded in Iran’s terrorist attacks in the 1983 Beirut Marine and 1996 Khobar Towers bombings. The bill helps those families to satisfy federal court judgments against Iran with $1.8 billion of Iranian central bank funds in an account in a NYC bank, attached by the families’ attorneys. Absent this legislation, Iran might break the attachment and reclaim its funds, then use them to finance more terrorism and nuclear proliferation. The bill is starting to pick up co-sponsors at a steady clip, but needs more to show Iran that House members won’t hesitate to support Americans killed or maimed by Iranian terrorism. The language in this bill is NOT in the Iran sanctions bill passed by the House in December, but it is similar to the Senate version of the Iran sanctions bill, approved unanimously on February 2 by the Senate Banking Committee. Read more about the bill and the Beirut Marine long families’ quest for justice on their press release. I’m proud to work alongside the Beirut Marine families and look forward to the day when Iran’s money is in their hands and not in Ahmadinejad’s.

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A Constitutional Republican Health Care Plan

Rep Paul Broun of Georgia is a unique Republican. He’s a doctor who has always bucked his fellow Republican doctors in Congress by opposing federal tort reform as an unconstitutional infringement upon states’ and individual rights. He’s a Tea Party hero for his strong, uncompromising stands against the growth of the federal government and the individual mandate in Obamacare. When House leadership pushed H.R. 5, the bill combining limits awards in medical malpractice lawsuits with another bill to repeal a key section of Obamacare, Rep. Broun drafted amendments to kill the unconstitutional tort reform and attracted the co-sponsorship of Rep. Lee Terry, another longtime Republican opponent of federal tort reform. Parliamentary tricks by leadership kept the amendments from being considered by House Republicans on the House floor, but Rep. Broun’s move was supported by conservatives such as the Tea Party Patriots and the founder of Tea Party Nation, the Heritage Foundation, the National Conference of State Legislators, and conservative and libertarian scholars. Rep Broun gave notice at the time that he was going to propose a health care reform plan that wouldn’t replace the unconstitutional Obamacare with another unconstitutional idea.

Now Rep. Broun has proposed H.R. 4224, the “Offering Patients True Individualized Options Now Act.” or the “OPTION Act.” Tea Party groups are hailing it as a true alternative to Obamacare, in part because it doesn’t violate principles of federalism. Avik Roy, conservative columnist and health care policy analyst, describes it in full in Forbes, and I urge 7th and 10th Amendment advocates to read it and forward it to friends and allies and support Dr. Broun. You can see Dr. Broun discuss the OPTION Act on a video on his website.

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There Is No Title That Will Do This Justice

There are few things easier or lazier than making fat jokes. Most people have some sort of disdain for the obese. It’s their own fault, put down the donut, etc.

In a way, I feel bad for people who are obese, the same way I feel bad for junkies or smokers, but at least they look cool in those American Apparel ads. At the end of the day though, none of them really want to be what they’ve become. A number of circumstances have led them to their fate; some their own fault, others that are factors that are beyond their control. There is a point in here somewhere. Oh yeah, regarding the whole fat people not wanting to be fat bit. Scratch at least one person off that list, but definitely make room for them on this List. A lot of room. HAHA, CUZ THEY’RE FAT! See how easy that was?

600-pound woman sets weight goal – 1,000 lbs
By Associated Press
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 – Added 22h ago

This girl’s dreaming big!

Donna Simpson, 42, of Old Bridge, N.J., already tips the scales at 600 pounds but says she won’t be satisfied until she’s porked herself up to 1,000 – to grab the title of world’s fattest woman, the London Dail Mail reported.

That’s why she’s gone on a junkfood jihad. But Simpson has given herself two years to hit the millennium mark. She earns her chow bucks – a whopping 750 clams a week – with a Web site where men pay her to watch her eat fast food.

“I love eating and people love watching me eat,” Simpson said. “It makes people happy, and I’m not harming anyone.”

“I do love cakes and sweet things, doughnuts are my favorite,” she said. She’s also fond of burgers and fries – an important part of her 12,000-calorie-a-day diet – and carefully avoids exercise. Simpson already holds the Guinness World Record as the fattest mom, 532 pounds when she gave birth in 2007. She says boyfriend Philippe, 49, eggs her on. “I think he’d like it if I was bigger. He’s a real belly man.”

I could probably create an entire new blog (same way I basically created this one!) about what’s wrong with this story. One post about that lead sentence, another one about the phrase “junkfood jihad”, another about this whole fucking thing, but I digress. I will say though… actually, nevermind. Time to shut it down (the world, that is.)

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Talking on Your Cell Phone in a Cafe

fucking important. You can’t help it.

One thing really important people always do – sit in cafes all day talking on their cell phone. Donald Trump. Oprah. Belichek. They all do it. They all are just like you are right now: sitting in a quiet cafe (where everyone other than you is sitting in silence), going back and forth between Facebook and Perez Hilton on your laptop, calling up your friends and convincing them how awesome you are.

If you’re going to a cafe, just turn the cell phone off. You don’t need to be on the phone 24 hours a day. There should be places to get away from that, and a cafe is one. Once the initial novelty of being able to be on the phone 24 hours a day wore off, you should have realized that you don’t really have that much to say. You’re not really that interesting. You’re not even a tenth as interesting as I am, and I sit here in silence. You certainly shouldn’t bother everyone else with your futile conversation when we’re all just trying to read. Talking on your cell phone in crowded places, cafes, while ordering food, while running, etc – on the list.

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SBTVC: What exactly is it that you do over there again? You work in public television?

PBS GUY: I work on the business side of producing some of the shows on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). I basically make sure that we don’t overspend our budgets and use the money in the proper way as to not get busted by whoever gave us the money.

Which public television is it? Like Wayne’s World style or NPR tote bag style?

I have worked in both. Public access was a trip. A bunch of weirdos who all thought they were talented TV stars producing stuff that literally no one watches. Picture every fucking weirdo in town, give them an inflated ego and then put them in front of a camera. That’s what it was. It was real small budget stuff, volunteers from the high school and senior center, that sort of thing. One time I went away for a three-day weekend and came back to find that the channel was down for three days. Not a single call. Since then, I graduated to real public television which is the one always showing the Celtic Singers and shit.

What is an average day like for you?

If we are in production, it’s usually answering a lot of questions from producers about how things have changed and we need to reallocate a bunch of the budget in order to fit in to the new parameters. Then I go through invoices from our freelancers, camera guys, sound guys, etc., and try to pick out what they’re lying about. Did we go into overtime? Was there a meal penalty? Does their math add up? Usually they coordinate and lie about the same things, but when they don’t, that’s when you can bust them. Most of the time they are honest though. A lot of television is just prepping a bunch of shit and waiting for it to break down, and then you scramble to get it done somehow. It never goes as planned, ever. When we’re not in production, we’re coming up with new ideas, which is cool but also frustrating because sometimes you know you’re busting your ass on a project that is never going to take off.

What’s a good day for public television? What’s the big score? What is everyone working toward?

Money is ultimately the name of the game. You are constantly trying to get it. There’s a big misconception that most of the money comes from either the government or “viewers like you.” That’s not necessarily true. That’s just a cute branding thing for stations to make viewers think that they’re supporting Frontline or Nova or Antiques Roadshow. When you call in and pledge, that goes to the local station you’re watching, not to any of those shows. They use it for member services, events and local programming. Very little goes into actual production. Most of the money actually comes from corporations or charitable foundations (rich people). Juice companies, insurance companies, financial services, etc. all give support for a little promo at the beginning and usually an event involving some of the talent from the shows so they can plug their own stuff. Half the time is spent trying to get one of these companies to give you money for a show about travel or cooking or what have you. I do have to say though, once a company gives the money, that’s it, they have absolutely zero editorial input into the finished product.

Is it full of liberal weenies like me?

Out of the hundreds of people I’ve met, I’d say maybe like 5% of them are conservatives but even they’re not the stereotype of a conservative. They all believe in evolution and obviously don’t mind money going to the arts, but they might hold a few conservative positions. There could be more but if I were conservative and I worked there, I’d probably just keep it under wraps. There’s not as much political talk as you would think though.

Who are the pussies you have to deal with over there?

It’s always the people in any department that doesn’t have to do with actually making programming. They’re always bitching about the rules and you can’t do this or you can’t do that. Sometimes you just want to scream that the programming is the reason we’re all here, so just change it to suit us, but you know vis-a-vis the old hippies you can’t really hurt anyone’s feelings ever, so everyone just has to deal with it.

The other frustrating thing is when they put out for new ideas it always comes back to who our viewers are (old people), but they refuse to do anything that would bring in younger people. It’s funny too because you look at NPR and see what they’ve done and they pretty much have their finger on the pulse of what well-off, liberal 30-somethings want and they’re swimming in money as a result. They’ve made huge leaps in the past 10 years while public television has just kept on doing what they do. It’s not that public television doesn’t attract that crowd, but they could bring in so much more.

What’s an after-work outing like for the public TV crew? Do you go to vegan, fair-trade yoga cafes? Or is it just like a regular beers and whatever deal?

The place where we work is close to one of the biggest townie Irish joints in the entire world. I always thought before I worked there that afterwords, everyone goes to some cool place I’ve never been with awesome cocktails and everyone is young and good looking and discussing literature and foreign policy, but the truth is it’s all ice cold Buds and potato skins, while recapping the last 30 Rock or whatever else normal people are into. After a few rounds, the older people all get into their Prius and the younger kids onto their bikes or the bus and we regroup at around 10 A.M. the next day.

Be honest, is there a liberal conspiracy going on over there at PBS and NPR and places like that to steal our guns and make us gay?

I wish, but I don’t really find that to be true. I think that they are trying to educate people and engage people in order to cultivate some feeling of community or society. A lot of the programming is absolutely fascinating. You watch a show like Frontline and you realize there should be more programming like that, programs that actually explore a topic in some sense of depth rather than just feature people on opposing sides trying to bullshit you to believe their side. PBS realizes that there’s a market for the people who want more and they feel it’s important. They really do. They try to program in a way that engages people and gets them talking and evaluating and arguing and exploring. It’s not just this sense of “Hey, let’s keep their attention for 22 minutes so we can keep moving some shitty products.” They really believe in having a role in getting the conversation started without trying to argue one side or another. There should be more people who give a shit and I think they’re trying their best to reach them.

Do you think there’s a future for public television? How long before it dies off? What’s going to replace it?

It’s tough to say. There’s always going to be people who are a bit elitist in their viewing, people who want to hear how rockets take flight or what is happening in Pakistan, and right now public television and radio is one avenue for them to see and explore that. Obviously television is drastically changing and in the next few years, I think television and the traditional model for content distribution are going to go through changes just like print and music and movies. People who are under 25 don’t watch cable, some of them don’t even get broadcast despite owning HD televisions. They just download stuff through BitTorrent or watch it on the web or stream it to their televisions through a bunch of computer shit that I don’t understand.

The whole model of how you get content is going to drastically change but I think public television does have an advantage in that ultimately, people trust it. PBS is regularly ranked as one of the top trusted sources in news. As corporate conglomerates grow and become more intertwined with the creation, distribution and flow of information that we see/read, I think PBS can step in and pick up a chunk of people who are able to recognize that and want something more.

A lot of my liberal friends are always telling me to watch Rachel Maddow or Olberman or whatever, but it’s all just shit. It’s just spin and talking points and noise. Turn on CNN, watch it for an hour. It’s all bullshit. You don’t really learn anything. It’s like reading the headlines, you get a sense of what’s happening but you don’t actually explore anything in-depth. PBS does and that’s where they can really be an alternative.

Originally published on Street Boners and TV Carnage 

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Its like cockroaches up there

As you’ve no doubt heard if you’ve spent more than five seconds talking to me over the last year, I’m working on a book on the dive bars of Boston. I’m almost done, with some 105 or so in the can at this point, but I think I finally found the worst one. Or the best depending on your outlook. It’s called Upstairs Downstairs, and it’s like walking into the void.

This rough and rugged dive bar, wedged between a highway on ramp and a desolate few blocks of auto repair shops, and near one of Quinchester’s (where Dorchester meets Quincy’s) purgatory-like traffic circles, looks like a bowling alley with its colorfully playful sign. Inside runs with that theme as well, with video games, dartboards, posters of athletes covering the walls and other arcade-like fixtures. This sort of décor plays up the idea of how a lot of dive bars, even the ones where you’ll find largely older men, are really just examples of suspended adolescence at work. No surprise then that you’ll often find drinkers in dives reverting to their childish states. Yelling, drooling, nodding off for a nap, fighting when they don’t get their way.

Speaking of fighting, Ups N Downs, as it’s called, has a pretty menacing reputation in that regard. Fights over the past few years have placed the bar’s liquor license in jeopardy, and plenty of people in the hospital, on numerous occasions. Last Christmas a massive brawl in the bar spilled out onto the streets when a woman smashed one of the bartenders in the face with a bottle. This being Dorchester, he punched her right back in the fucking face. Every police car in the area was needed to control the situation. During another brawl one of the customers jumped behind the bar and emptied the cash register, while others made off with armfuls of liquor bottles out the back door. There are police officers on duty now on weekend nights in the bar’s upstairs area.

That upstairs downstairs demarcation is where things get a little interesting here, if by interesting you mean racially fucked up. The name of the place implies a sort of segregation. Upstairs is for hip hop, downstairs is for Sinatra. Or to put it another way, upstairs is for blacks, downstairs is for Irish. It’s the same old shitty story of Dorchester race relations played out literally every night in the place people in the neighborhood go to get drunk. Like that’s not asking for trouble. The bar, formerly known as the Pony Room, has been in operation for about 50 years.

“Don’t go in there. Seriously. It’s a bucket of blood where many, many innocent patrons have been assaulted,” my friend Dave tells me. “That place is an infamous late-night haunt popular with people grabbing last call on their way out of Marina Bay. It’s also popular with thugs from Quincy/Neponset who like to start fights with random drunks. If you want to fight or witness a fight, this is the place to go.”

Actually I don’t want to do that, but fuck it, I need to check it out anyway. For journalism’s sake. I almost get into a verbal fight anyway when I’m there drinking on a slow early evening. Everyone seems friendly enough on the surface. The bartender is cute in that trashy Dorchester way, with tattoos on her neck and feet. I’m drinking with a few old guys watching the game, and a seemingly reasonable guy in a Brett Favre jersey next to me. So what’s upstairs like tonight, I want to know?

“You don’t want to go up there,” the bartender tells me.

It’s like cockroaches up there,” the Favre fan says. “It’s fucking awful. It’s all black upstairs and all whites downstairs. Now you can’t have glasses to drink out of up there anymore.”

“It’s like Blue Hill Ave at its busiest.”

“It didn’t used to be like that, but then they started playing the hip hop.”

Wait a second, is this a joke? This is a joke right? I mean, I know Boston has a reputation, but we’re in fucking public here people. Instead I keep my mouth shut and my head down, because I’m a pussy. And what am I going to do, give a lecture? Kind of good to have some confirmation that Favre fans suck though.

“Ah well, as the world turns,” the bartender says.

“As the neighborhood turns,” another guy adds from across the bar. Then we all go back to staring at the Red Sox game, cheering on a bunch of black dudes.

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Saving parking spots on the street

It just snowed here in Boston for the first time, and that means a couple things: I’m not leaving the house for three months, and people are going to start putting furniture along the side of the road to call “dibs” on “their” parking space.  Our man Spoth56 wrote this rant a while back on the List, but same rules still apply this year fuckos. See you guys in April.  — Luke

Let’s just be clear here: I am not a lawyer, but I am fairly sure that you do not, and indeed cannot, own the street, in front of your house, or anywhere. If you put a chair or a cone in the street in front of your house, it is garbage and I should have no qualms about picking it up and smashing it into little pieces, then freely parking my car in the space thereby vacated.

Of course I will not do this, because there is a good chance you are psychotic and/or an off-duty or retired police officer and will key my car, cut my brakes, or smash my window as retaliation. But under the law, I am in the right. YOU ARE IN THE WRONG. YOU DO NOT OWN THE STREET.

More insanity after the jump.  

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A proactive approach makes a world of difference

by Brent Mullett

Audio, video, lighting and acoustics within the church have been a nightmare for many pastors. One of my pastor friends jokes that when Satan fell from heaven, he landed directly in the sound booth … and still resides there today. Although we chuckle at this comment, there may be an element of truth to it. As we try to get God’s message out, technology is an area – especially when not planned well – that can be used by the enemy to create distractions within worship services. He doesn’t care how minor the distraction is – only that it is effective enough to get minds off the message being delivered.

Audio, video, lighting and acoustics are often overlooked in the planning of worship spaces within a worship facility. Great lengths are taken to design the aesthetics, HVAC, carpet color and seating options, but many times, there is not enough emphasis and planning put on other important factors. After all, in most cases, the delivery of the Word is the reason the building is being built. Therefore, there must be clear and detailed planning to make the delivery successful.

To eliminate the headaches often associated with the topic of technology, there are a few relatively simple steps the building committee can take to ensure these issues are covered well in advance.

Ask Questions

One of the first questions that should be asked, in the early interviews with architects and design-build firms, is how they handle acoustics and AVL. Is it included in their scope or do they have someone that they recommend that can be part of the design team? Don’t just take their word for it. Check references and visit completed projects to see how they turned out.

Hire Someone to Help

After you have hired the firm to design your facility, the next step should be to hire an AVL firm to be a part of the building design team. The AVL consultant will make sure that the intent of your programming is followed within the acoustical nature of the space’s worship area. Once again, check references carefully. Make sure you’re comfortable with the people you hire and that they have a successful track record on similar projects.

Get Documented Details

Your consultant will create a set of progress/construction drawings that will document all of the details associated with AVL. These drawings will be included in the master set and delivered to all relevant trades, including the general contractor and electrical contractor. The drawings will contain information pertaining to division of labor, equipment placement, conduit needed and electrical requirements. These specifications should be included in the master set before it goes out for bid, or else you may face costly (and possibly inflated) change orders later from various trades who did not include the provisions in their bids.

Get a Guaranteed Price

Your consultant will also give you a detailed equipment list that should include a guaranteed price. One advantage of selecting an AVL design-build firm is that they have the ability to keep track of costs throughout the design process – not just from specified equipment but also from labor and other expenses. Once you have an equipment list, you should be able to lock in a specific cost on a contract for 12 to 18 months.

One of the most discouraging things that can happen to a congregation is to spend years of planning, go through a capital campaign, and build a beautiful and useful worship space, only to move into it and immediately have issues with poor acoustics, audio, sight lines and lighting. Unfortunately, by the time some of these AVL design flaws are revealed, there is typically no budget left to address them. Even if there were a budget to fix it, the cost of the corrective measures would be multiplied from what it would have been during the original building construction.

AVL and acoustics goals can be accomplished in a variety of different methods depending on the programming of a church. The key is to find an AVL firm with a consultant that has a long track record of successful church designs. Satan may still find ways to cause distractions in our worship times. But why not take steps to reduce the tools he has to use by starting with a well-planned technical design?

Brent Mullett serves as a project manager for Custom Sound Designs Inc. He has served on the design team for AVL projects in several different states. Reach him at 888.448.7890 or [email protected]

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A Path to Fundraising for Churches

by Stephen Halliday

There are numerous books, seminars and conferences guiding churches on how to build funds. Ranging from A-Z guides on how to motivate contributions to online seminars on the keys to financial stability, these guides offer tips on targeting major givers, linking fund drives to spiritual commitment, using personal testimonials and developing financial plans. However, as well-intended as these resources are, the majority of them fail to mention a key strategy – affinity marketing, in which churches can receive a portion of their members’ cable, phone, Internet service or other bill.

Few church executives need to be reminded of the economic crisis our nation is experiencing. The ripple effects on communities across the USA and world are great. Even before September 2008 and the historic bailouts, contributions to churches were on the decline. In his “21st Century Mega-Trends Impacting Christian Fundraising,” author Brian Kluth, who is president of The Christian Stewardship Association and a pastor and “national-international generosity speaker,” chronicled a decrease in the percentage of income Christians were contributing to their churches and organizations, and the finding that the percentage of Christians tithing – giving 10 percent or more of their income – was also down. Other nonprofits are experiencing similar declines in donations as many Americans are struggling to meet their day-to-day expenses in these recessionary times. Why affinity marketing as a fundraising tool is especially important today is that it enables a church to benefit from their congregants’ spending on ordinary products and services such as wireless phones, long distance phone service, cable television, Internet service, etc. The affinity marketing process is fairly simple, but does require sound strategies and practices.

What Is Effective Affinity Marketing?

Affinity marketing based on your members’ ordinary purchases is analogous to an insurance policy annuity. Your church receives funds each time members pay their phone, cable television, Internet service provider bills, etc. All that is required of the church is to partner with a vendor of these services whose business model is that of an affinity marketer whereby a portion of the proceeds of each sale to a member of the partnering church (or other nonprofit) is given back to that organization. This percentage of “give back” ranges depending on the product or service and the affinity marketer, but 10 percent is considered a competitive number within the affinity marketing field.

While simple in principle, the affinity marketing formula does depend on more than a church’s decision to enter into a partnership with a product/service vendor. To have a positive and profitable experience, churches should adhere to the following best practices:

Be proactive in communicating your affinity marketing program to church members. Use your newsletter, Web site, direct mail, e-mail marketing and posters to let your members know about the program: your partner and the products and services involved in the program. It is also helpful to launch the affinity program through sermons and handing out of materials following services when church members are “in the moment” and you can better capture their attention. To develop effective marketing materials, rely on the affinity marketing company’s team members. They are experienced in creating high-impact, eye-catching pieces that communicate your program and reinforce the value of affinity marketing in helping your church achieve its mission.

Select an affinity marketing partner that shares your church’s values, offers high-quality products and services, and has the resources to fully support the program. These resources should include a state-of-the-art call center equipped with advanced technologies including late-generation servers, large-screen monitors, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone and plasma screens for the training of informed, well-spoken and courteous customer service representatives, who can readily access customer order information in real-time using the company’s Customer Relationship Management Program.

Designate someone at the church to serve as your affinity marketing program coordinator. This individual will be charged with liaising with the affinity marketing company and tracking the month-to-month performance of the program’s sales and funds generated. The affinity marketing coordinator can also participate in creative brainstorming sessions designed to stimulate new ways to promote the affinity marketing program.

Convey to your congregants the funds raised through the affinity marketing program and let them know how the church is applying those funds. This will reinforce the program’s value and the importance in their continued participation.

Adherence to these basic policies will lead to a successful affinity marketing program. By continuing your traditional fundraising activities (i.e. church fairs, annual pledges and capital campaigns) and supplementing them with affinity marketing, you can be confident in knowing that you are taking all of the right steps to generate a steady stream of funds.

Churches Embracing New Tools to Achieve Their Missions

Worldwide, we see churches leveraging leading-edge technologies to reach their members and broaden their base. Ministers, pastors and church leaders across various denominations are giving sermons and sharing their thoughts using video conferencing, streaming video, podcasts and blogs. In the same way that they have advanced their means of communications, church leadership should be adopting sophisticated techniques to advance their fundraising. Affinity marketing is a sophisticated tool, easily implemented, with an especially valuable role during these challenging economic times.

As President and CEO of Norfolk, Va.-based Affinity4, Stephen Halliday draws on his extensive experience as a prominent tax attorney, investment banker, consultant and college professor on tax, accounting, legal and financial matters affecting nonprofits. He has a Master’s of Law-Taxation from Georgetown Law School and a law degree from the College of William & Mary. He can be reached at 757.228.1722 or by visiting

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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Church Office

Continued from

page 1

…Susan knows that her church employer values and supports healthy families, always encouraging parents to be there for their children. So when Susan’s young son has an after-school ballgame, Susan leaves early to be with him. She plans to make up the time working through her lunch the next two or three days (but, of course, she’ll also eat her lunch during that time). Bob on the pastoral team knows part of his job is to build relationships. He also knows that he needs to be healthy and look good. After all, obesity and being out of shape are not traits of a good role model. So Bob arranges to play squash with a pastor friend from a nearby church twice a week. Before and after the game, they encourage each other in the ministry and share their challenges – they even pray together.

There can be several problems with these two examples. First, in some churches, it could happen too often and may even become the practice rather than the exception. Second, even if acceptable or allowed, such behavior is not often “spun” very well, to use a public relations term. Outsiders who observe only the action (Susan taking off early, not being available to field calls; Bob living the life of Riley, having way too much fun), rather than the rationale behind it, can be frustrated by what they perceive. Third, Bob and Susan might begin to lose the support of other staff members who feel they’re pulling more than their own weight. In short, the whole team will suffer if no one confronts the situation openly. Fourthly, absences (regardless of the reason) do impact the progress of work – especially the progress of team projects – making it more difficult to schedule meetings or have questions answered. This impacts the overall achievement of objectives. In many cases, the level of excellence applied to programs is compromised and the congregation is short-changed.

Practice, Prevalence and Necessity

There are many churches where this is not an issue at all. Each staff member puts in full days and, in some cases, many nights on top of that. There are churches with staff who follow the lead of the senior pastor and put personal needs ahead of work during working hours. (On a related note, I know of one former pastor who refused to see engaged couples during evenings or weekends for premarital counseling, expecting them to take time off work instead.) Some pastors take an approach that says, “If my people don’t understand that I need this in order to be effective, that’s too bad – I’m not accountable to them. I’m accountable to God and my board.” True enough, but the fact is that just taking that attitude (regardless of what one does or doesn’t do) may end up being one’s downfall.

Most of us who observe organizations with today’s various generations in the workforce realize the importance of a work-life balance. In fact, I believe God wants us to have a proper work-life balance. A church needs to be an important model for the community of how to support such a balance. It is, however, important to take certain steps in creating such a culture — without it becoming a monster you cannot control.

What You Can Do About It

Here are some actions you can take to not only encourage a work-life balance, but also to communicate it and keep it from getting out of hand:

1. Develop, get approval for and communicate widely your ideal work-life balance and the role your church wants to play in being a model for its people and the community.

2. Establish and communicate a policy regarding work-life balance for staff. Include some parameters – limits, notice or approvals required, arranging backup, making up time, priority of meetings, satisfaction of deadlines, etc. These may differ for the various categories of staff (office, support, maintenance, pastoral), based on need or other demands a church makes on the group. It is most important that this be covered during the recruitment stage, as well as in periodic staff sessions or training.

3. Monitor the situations carefully through the appropriate supervisor. Take action early to curb any evident misuse that can creep in. Remember, a policy is only as good as those responsible for following it and those charged with enforcing it.

4. Sometimes it is necessary to differentiate between what is predominantly a pursuit of personal work-life balance versus something that is predominantly relational ministry. Generally speaking, if I’m going to play squash, regardless of who I play with, that activity may be more personal than ministry, and should be considered as such. If staff members are spending time intentionally with those to whom they are ministering (e.g., a youth pastor plays basketball every Tuesday morning with community youth who come to the church or drop-in center), then that’s work and should be treated and communicated as such.

5. Review your situation and policy every few years, and make the appropriate changes.

6. Share the relational ministry outcomes of your staff’s various activities (e.g., how Susan has started inviting another team mom to your evangelism program or her small group) with your congregation on a regular basis.

7. Finally, understand your congregation’s possible perception of these activities and always be prepared to lovingly and painstakingly win them over with the benefits you have identified.

Perhaps it’s time for your church to reconsider how well it does work-life and ministry-life balances.

Ken Godevenos has served on and/or chaired several church boards. He is a human resources and church consultant, mediator and executive director of SCA International. Call 905.853.6228 or visit for more information.

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Alabama Church Doles Out 50K to Members


An Alabama church sees the good its members can do it the community, so the leadership has challenged them – and blessed them – by giving them $50,000.

Of course, Bay Community Church in Malbis didn’t give its members carte blanche with the largesse. Members received between $20 and $100 a piece with the imperative to use the money to help the community and those in need. They were strictly instructed not to spend the money on themselves or their families.

Church leaders have unofficially dubbed it the “faith stimulus package.”


Eyewitness News 9: Alabama Church Gives $50,000 to Help Needy

Related Content:

Church Encourages Attendees to Take Money from Collection Plate

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8 Questions with Facilities Planner Bobbi Dobson

by Ronald E. Keener

By Ronald E. Keener

Sun Valley Community Church (SVCC) in Gilbert, Ariz. built its
permanent 17,000- square-foot facility in 2003 after 13 years of meeting in a
theater, a high school, a junior high school and a rented church facility.
Weekend attendance at SVCC jumped four-fold during the six months following the
new facility’s opening.

With attendance at 1,100, leaders are now engaged in an
$8-million project that will add 65,000 square feet of space, including a
worship center, a children’s center, administrative space and gathering areas.
The issue on the table now is how to best outfit it all.

To answer that question, Keener spoke with Bobbi Dodson,
western-area facilities program manager for Hewlett-Packard in Tempe, Ariz., and
a member of the SVCC campus-development team. Dobson led the furnishings, fixtures and equipment team during
the church’s initial building phase and represents them again for their
expansion program that’s currently underway.

Ronald E. Keener: What few things are included under the
mantel of “facilities planning” in a campus-expansion program?

Bobbi Dodson:

“Facilities” isn’t
all colors and design, as some might think — there are at least four major
areas of concern that underscore the facilities function. Once you get into the
major-planning stages, a lot of discussion will focus around the following:
floor plan (known as the “footprint”) based on functionality; the size of
building based on growth, demographics and programs; master-plan review (and, if
necessary, realignment or re-evaluation); and budget — what you can afford to

REK: What three or four cautions would you offer a church
leader engaged in a building program as they relate to facilities planning?


Keep God the focus of your
project at all times. You’re building a vessel that will bring people to
Christ, and what you do and how you do it should all be to glorify Him.

After that central focus comes program development — making
sure your facility will fit the needs of church programming wherever practical.

Plan your best-case scenario and then filter out needs versus
wants. It will help you avoid having to come back later with changes, which
could add to the cost of the project.

Then there’s traffic flow: [You must] avoid bottlenecks both
in the interior space and in the parking lots. Our interior-traffic experience
at SVCC has been referred to as “swimming upstream like a salmon” when
parents have to pick up their children.

Third, consider subcontractors. Cheaper isn’t always better;
depending on the type of contract you set up for construction, don’t assume
that using the least expensive vendor or subcontractor is necessarily the best
and most cost-effective way to go. Sometimes you end up paying more in the end
for substandard performance.

REK: How is the facilities function integrated with, say,
construction, architecture or design?


A lot of planning goes on up
front in your project. The “function” of the facility you build is
determined by the programming aspects of the building. Will it be multipurpose?
Will it be a facility that serves the community? Will it have a concert-ready
worship center? Does it include a chapel?

What are the educational facilities? These are the types of
questions, among many more, that go into the planning stages. The overall functionality can dictate the type of design,
construction and architecture you will use in building your site.

REK: Are there a few things you’ve seen just go wrong that
church leaders should guard against in planning facilities?


I personally haven’t seen any
“bumps in the night” as such. In retrospect, I think there’s always the
thought that, We should have done this or If we could do it over, we wouldn’t do that. But
once the project is completed, we can’t go back.

Review, re-evaluate and be aware of changes — they’ll add
up and can have a major impact on your budget. Making changes while it’s still
on paper is most cost-effective.

My personal view is that you should be very selective in the
types of activities you get your congregation involved in when it comes to
supplying volunteer labor. Make sure you use those people who are skilled in
what they’re doing, available to assist those who aren’t, and oversee the
end result.

You can learn a lot from your own project experience, but you
can also learn from other churches’ building projects by talking with
[leaders] about what they did right and what just didn’t work.

Never assume you know everything about building the church
facility. Use your resources — surround yourself with individuals who have
vision, are creative and aren’t afraid to think out of the box, even those in
your congregation who are in the professional trades. If you’re using church
members as subcontractors, qualify them just as you would any outside
contractors. They can offer insight, ideas and even additional resources when it
comes to making some key decisions about your facility.

REK: How do you get the congregation’s best input regarding
facilities planning?


The key is to listen. In my
professional career, when we plan for new real estate, we sit down and talk to
the business-management teams and ask them what type of space they need to run
their business, how much space they need, and what specialty space is needed for
labs, demo rooms, et cetera. Everything is negotiated since you can’t
do “everything,” but in going through those discussions, you filter down to
what the true need really is.

For the church and the congregation, one approach I’ve seen
that has been effective is using the town hall-type meeting that’s interactive
and will allow your congregation to get involved. Have a structured agenda of
what you want to accomplish, and give them a venue to discuss their issues and
concerns. Allow them to ask questions and be honest with them. If you don’t
know the answer, say so. This gives them an opportunity to be heard and to feel
like they’re a part of the decisions about where the church is going and what
it’s growing to become.

REK: How do you achieve “taste” and good design in a new
building when there might not be people in the congregation who can offer it?


If you don’t have the internal
resources, use a reputable architectural and design-resource firm. They usually have an in-house staff of trained professionals
who can assist you in making the right choices for your facility.

Do your homework. Visit other churches and buildings you see
that are of interest to you, and ask about the designs, types of construction,
et cetera. If you see buildings with a certain type of finishing that you
like, take photos (if permitted). Share this with your architects. See if there’s
a way they can incorporate it into the overall design.

REK: SVCC is in the early stages of its planning. What will
the team become involved with later as construction takes place and the facility
nears completion?


Since we’re led by committee
(working as a campus-development team), there’s always something happening.
Whether it’s prayer from the prayer team or newsletter updates from the
communication team, there’s a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes work
going on even now, in the planning stages.

The furnishings, fixtures and equipment team has been involved
since the onset of the project in several facets: preliminary budget setting for
furnishings; preliminary color schemes and design; and design review with
programming teams to address needs and wants of the different facets of
ministry. The technical team (sound, acoustics and lighting) is working on the
appropriate types of systems needed for the planned space.

The construction team is focused primarily on the type of
facility to build and is involved very heavily with the general contractor,
working on the preliminary plans. Meetings are already taking place with the
municipal officials and planning boards.

There will be a time over the next several months in which
this team will be involved with the architects to discuss design, color schemes,
finishes, flooring and more. As construction takes place, we’ll work with the
general contractors on selecting the appropriate fixtures and fixed furnishings.

REK: How do you deal with the range of costs of furniture and
other fixtures available?


You’ll spend a majority of
your budget on sound, lighting and seating. These three areas are the biggest
impacts on your congregation because if it looks good, feels good and sounds
good, people will want to come back.

There are a number of resources out there who work
specifically with churches to get the best pricing on products for your
facility. Some of it depends on taste versus cost, but there’s an overall
effort to get best pricing for whatever you need.

Use the creative talents you have in the church to provide
ideas, materials, sponsorship of equipment — there are many options to choose

Ronald E. Keener writes from Mesa, Ariz., where he follows
faith issues for the Church in society and culture, church renewal and growth,
and leadership and management. He is the former editor of Christian
Management Report. Contact Keener by e-mail at
[email protected]

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7 Ways to Get Foot Traffic to Your Retail Store

Computer mice might click, letters might be addressed and stamped, but there’s still only one time-tested way to help ensure the success of your retail business: Get customers to walk through your front door.

Driving foot traffic to a bricks-and-mortar store might seem something of a lost art, but it’s no less critical to the health of your business than it ever has been. Here areá7 tips to get your front door swinging.

1. Have a grand opening. Planning on opening a business in the near future? Make Day One as big a deal as possible. Provide food, offer door prizes, and serve up other enticements and entertainment to make the day memorable. And, while you’re doing it, keep tabs on who shows up.

“Nothing is as powerful as a grand opening to attract customers,” says Robert Smith of Robert Smith and Associates, a Rockton, Ill., public relations concern. “But, once they arrive, you should collect their names and addresses or ask for their business cards.”

2. Plan on holding other promotional events. Just because your business has been up and running for a while doesn’t preclude celebrations that attract foot traffic. Any promotional event that draws attention can be effective. Look into an in-store raffle or giveaway, and advertise the event as widely as your budget will allow.

If yours is a business that can somehow connect with a local celebrity — say, an author or sports figure — having him or her on the premises can bring in clientele. But, no matter what you do, make it sufficiently fresh and appealing.

“Promotional events have to be really exciting and different; otherwise, people just won’t come,” says Rick Segal, author of “The Retail Business Kit for Dummies.”

3. Make your business newsworthy. Foot traffic on the day of an event is one thing. Attracting business beyond that 24-hour window is something else again. That’s why it’s important to leverage media whenever possible. For instance, donating a portion of the day’s take to charity can win a flattering article in your local newspaper. Taking a completely different tack, investigate whether a radio station would be willing to broadcast live on the day of your promotional event. The key is to grab the attention of customers who can’t make it in at that particular time. That drives foot traffic in the future.

“The more creative the event, the more likely that a newspaper will write about it,” Segal says. “And that makes it all the more likely that customers will read about it and come check it out.”

4. Have a sale. Old fashioned? Maybe. Still, nothing beats the lure of something that’s less expensive for a limited amount of time. And, while the idea of a sale may seem a bit blasÚ to some, technological advances have made sales events more potent than ever before. For example, if you maintain a database of customers, contact them via an e-mail newsletter to let them know of upcoming sales events and other promotions. To further boost foot traffic, urge them to pass along your e-mail to others. That’s not only effective but exceedingly cost efficient, as you’re not dropping money on mass mailings that only saturates the uninterested.

“Offers that come with a sense of urgency are always effective to get customers to come to stores,” says Irene Dickey of the University of Dayton’s School of Business Administration.

5. Host a seminar or workshop. Boosting foot traffic doesn’t even have to involve a direct effort to sell a product or service. These days, education is every bit as important, as consumers want to know how to get the most out of what they buy. And that makes in-house seminars and workshops powerful weapons to build foot traffic. To illustrate: If you own an accounting firm, offer free tax-cutting workshops. Sporting goods stores can consider a variety of events, from strength training clinics to nutrition seminars. But, no matter the actual event, publicize it to the hilt.

“Promote the event via in-store signage, fliers, ads and press releases,” says Segal. “Home Depot does it and so does Williams-Sonoma. And look at how successful they are.”

6. Follow up with your contacts. Even the best-planned promotional event is of little import if you fail to leverage the initial contact. Keep encouraging foot traffic by staying in touch with customers. Let them know about events that may otherwise attract little attention. Encourage them to pass along the news with friends and neighbors.

“A great event is only half the battle,” Smith says. “If you want consistent foot traffic, you have to follow up, then follow up some more. Send them offers, special announcements or anything you can think of to get them into your store.”

7. Emphasize customer service. One advantage that a bricks-and-mortar store has over mail-order and Internet competitors is a personal relationship with customers. Special events can be terrific in building foot traffic, but what keeps customers coming back — and spreading the good word as they do — is the product knowledge and enthusiasm that can only be conveyed face to face. Things may be cheaper on the Web or via the post office, but getting to know your customers and what they value can trump those handicaps. And, in turn, can build a steady stream of foot traffic for the long haul.

# # #

Jeff Wuorio is an author and consultant who writes about small-business management issues, and publishes a monthly newsletter.

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Authors actors and religious leaders team up to silence hurtful words

The Gossip Ends Here
Authors, actors and religious leaders team up to silence
hurtful words

According to the National Education Association, 160,000 children skip school
each day because of intimidation by their peers. In a similar report, the
Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that almost a third of 6th
to 10th graders have experienced some kind of bullying.

Disturbing statistics like these contribute to a growing need to address the
issue of hurtful words. WordsCanHeal (,
a new non-profit group, is doing just that. Earlier this year, WCH launched its
anti-gossip campaign, which has already garnered the support of renowned
authors, celebrities and church leaders.

“The goal of the campaign is to promote the value and practice of
ethical speech in order to improve our democracy, build mutual respect, honor
and dignity in our country,” says Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, public relations
consultant. The WordsCanHeal campaign includes posters, print ads and television
spots on ABC, NBC, FOX, CNN and other stations.

“In the post-Columbine era we need to reduce gossip and verbal abuse
that is behind so much pain in our society,” says Co-Executive Director
Irwin Katsof. “The first step is for people to acknowledge that gossip and
verbal abuse cause real pain. Once people admit they have a problem with gossip,
they can take steps to improve their lives and the lives of the people they love
around them.”

Katsof is the author of several books including Powerful Prayers–one
of the 10 Best Selling Religious Books in 1999–and is also the Executive
Director of The Jerusalem Fund of Aish HaTorah. He is joined by Senators Harry
Reid, Sam Brownback, Tom Daschle and John McCain, who are proposing a “WordsCanHeal
Day.” The campaign has also attracted the support of well-known celebrities
and authors, including Jack Canfield, Tom Cruise, Harry Reid, John Gray, Goldie
Hawn, Florence Henerson, Bette Midler, Rene Russo and Jerry Stiller.

Dr. Robert H. Schuller, host of Hour of Power, has also joined the
anti-gossip movement.

“I am convinced that words have enormous power,” he says.
“They are either bombs or balms. They level us or lift us. They carry with
them power to connect with the memory system that can release healing powers or
destructive powers.”

WordsCanHeal is working to inspire at least 100,000 people to sign the
anti-gossip pledge. Those who do agree to think more about the words they use;
replace them with words that encourage, engage and enrich; see how gossip hurts
people; and work to eliminate it from their lives.

Braille Ministries Reach Across Geographic, Faith Borders

At St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Dallas, Texas, volunteers produce more than
1,000 Braille books of the Bible each year and ship them to the blind in
southern India. Ironically, none of the workers is blind, much less knows the
Malaysian language in which the books are printed, according to a recent Dallas
Morning News
profile. However, none of these skills is required by
California-based Lutheran Braille Workers of America Inc. (,
a group that for more than five decades has provided Bibles and selected
Christian materials in over 40 languages. The only criteria to become a ministry
member is a willingness to devote a few hours per week to fulfill orders
received from the California headquarters.

The St. Andrew Braille ministry is one of more than 200 locations nationwide.
Elsewhere, volunteers at the LaPuente, Calif. work center recently celebrated a
10-year anniversary. To date, this group has produced nearly 400,000 pieces of
literature. In Saginaw, Mich., volunteers produced almost 2,000 Braile books–in
Spanish, Malayalam, English, Portugese and Burmese–in 15 months.

New work centers continue to develop as well, most recently in Cincinnati,
Ohio; Poplarville, Miss.; and Sun City West, Ariz.

Since St. Andrew’s Braille ministry was started 2 1/2 years ago, volunteers
say they have learned a great deal about where the books they make are going and
the people who receive them. Books are produced strictly in the Malayalam
language native to the coastal state of Kerala, located on the southwestern tip
of India. Here, Christians make up a very small percentage of the population,
which is dominated by Hindus and Muslims.

On the retail market, a complete Braille Bible printed in English would cost
about $800, and a Spanish Bible would cost about $1,200, according to K.M.
Philip of Mesquite, who’s from Kerala and since 1999 has helped educate the
group about his homeland.

“I wish more people would get involved in the volunteer work,” he
says. “They are depending only on volunteers to do this.”

A world without Bibles is nearly impossible for many people to imagine, says
LBWA Executive Director Loyd Coppenger. “Many who are blind or visually
impaired do not have access to a Bible of their own. This deprives them of the
opportunity to read the Bible that most take for granted. [What we do] is
possible due to our volunteer work force and gifts from loving donors. As a
result, thousands each year hear and read, for the first time, the message of
Salvation in Jesus Christ.”

Religion, Social Services and Constitutional Rights
A challenge for our time

By Valerie J. Monson, Esq.

The “charitable choice” section of the Community Solutions Act
passed by the U.S. House of Representatives has sparked renewed controversy. The
heated public debate centers on whether increased public funding of faith-based
social services can or should occur, in light of current anti-discrimination law
and the First Amendment’s religious freedom safeguards.

The less public, but no less important, debate centers on whether
restrictions on the autonomy of faith-based providers will eviscerate the
“faith factor” that makes faith-based delivery of social services
especially effective. It is in our interest as individuals and as a society to
understand the issues involved and reach a consensus. Only then can we identify
the best and most cost-effective ways to help the needy while protecting
constitutional and civil rights.

For many years, religiously affiliated nonprofits such as Catholic Charities,
the Jewish Federation and Lutheran Social Services have received federal funding
for social service programs. These and similar organizations, however, are set
up as secular nonprofits and must restrict the religious content of their

The charitable choice provision of the 1996 federal welfare reform law allows
religious organizations to compete for government social service funding without
setting up separate entities. Congress has since passed other legislation that
includes charitable choice provisions, including the Welfare-to-Work program
(1997), the Community Services Block Grant program under the Health and Human
Services Reauthorization Act (1998), and drug treatment programs under the
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2000). Charitable
choice provisions in these federal statutes bind states that accept federal
welfare block grants.

The nitty-gritty legal issues raised by public funding of faith-based
services are important and complex. Finding solutions acceptable to all is hard
work, yet the effort is crucial to our society. The issues include:

  • Application of federal, state and local anti-discrimination laws to the
    hiring practices of faith-based social service providers. Religious
    organizations are exempt from the Federal Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of
    religious discrimination in employment practices. The House bill provides
    that a religious organization will not lose that exemption by accepting
    federal funds for social service programs. The bill also ensures that a
    religious organization receiving such funds will remain autonomous from
    federal, state and local governments, retaining control over the
    “definition, development, practice and expression of its religious
  • Hiring practices have become the focus of the current debate. The
    exemption of religious organizations from federal (and many state) religious
    discrimination prohibitions enables religious organizations to hire on the
    basis of religious beliefs and practices.
  • Critics of the House bill have expressed concern about the impact of the
    bill’s exemption and autonomy provisions on expanded hiring by faith-based
    providers. They argue that allowing hiring decisions to be based on
    religious factors in federally funded programs is a giant step backward for
    civil rights in this country. Supporters of the bill cite the historic
    recognition of the right of religious organizations to make
    religiously-based hiring decisions, arguing that states and municipalities,
    as well as the federal government, should respect that right.

Application of federal anti-discrimination laws to delivery of social
services by faith-based organizations.
The House bill forbids discrimination
against the beneficiaries of faith-based social service providers. The bill
provides that federal anti-discrimination laws apply to the delivery of services
by religious organizations. For example, a faith-based rehabilitation program
could not refuse to offer drug counseling to people of a particular race or

Sectarian worship, instruction or proselytizing in federally funded social
service programs. The House bill explicitly prohibits sectarian worship,
instruction or proselytizing in programs that receive direct federal funding.
Those activities may be permissible, however, in voucher programs that provide
funds directly to the consumer, rather than the provider, of social services.

The definition of “religion” in determining qualification for
The House bill contains no such definition. This is consistent with
the fact that the legislation is designed to remove existing barriers to the
funding of faith-based organizations, not to establish a separate pool of funds
available only to faith-based providers. Any provider may seek funding;
religious or secular labels are irrelevant.

The requirement of an alternative provider for those who object to a
particular provider on religious grounds.
The House bill requires that an
alternative provider of social services of equal value be made available to any
person entitled to receive services who objects to the religious character of a
particular service provider, and that the alternative be unobjectionable to the
individual on religious grounds.

The display of religious art, icons, scripture, or symbols, or use of a
name of religious character.
The House bill provides that a religious
organization will not be required to remove religious items from public display
or to change its name in order to be eligible to provide assistance under a
federal program.

The controversy over these civil rights and First Amendment issues will
continue to play out in Congress and in the courts. At the same time, leaders of
both political parties are exploring another way of solving the problem.
President Bush recently established a bipartisan group headed by a former
Democratic Senator from Pennsylvania, Harris Wofford, to examine these issues,
identify common ground, and seek solutions.

Helping the needy, protecting individuals from discrimination and respecting
the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom are core American values.
We know that there is tension among those values. We can and should strive for
an intelligent, reasoned solution that respects and strengthens those core
values. We can and should care enough to bring our collective resources to bear
on the issue. This is a challenge for our time. Let us rise to that

Valerie J. Munson chairs the Religious Organizations Practice at Eckert
Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC and specializes in First Amendment religious
freedom issues. Contact Munson at (215) 851-8434.

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