Obama

A Case of Jiggery-Pokery

Justice
Katherine Welles / Shutterstock 

THIS SUMMER’S ATTEMPT to dismantle the Affordable Care Act began as the very height of frivolous lawsuits. Cooked up with the help of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank, the case (King v. Burwell) depended upon a very narrow reading of four words in Section 36B of the ACA: “established by the State.”

Essentially, Obamacare foes argued that Congress intended to provide health-care subsidies (or tax credits) only to those Americans living in states with state-operated insurance exchanges. Those who lived in states without exchanges—including Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, and others—and were, therefore, dependent upon the federal exchange would be ineligible for subsidies.

Of course, Congress intended no such thing—as the Supreme Court upheld. Throughout dozens of hearings and hundreds of hours of debate, it was clear that ACA subsidies would be available to every American, regardless of what state they lived in.

In a 6-3 ruling, the court rejected King, with Chief Justice Roberts explaining, “A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

Had the suit carried the day, 6.4 million Americans would have lost their subsidies. 

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Why the Iran Deal Is a Good Option — and a Christian One

Iran agreement
MyImages - Micha / Shutterstock.com

We have a deal. And many of us in the faith community are relieved.

After months of negotiations, missing deadlines, and many stressful final days in Vienna, Iran has agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program for a decade or more, and allow credible international agencies to significantly monitor its behavior. In return, sanctions against Iran will be lifted once it demonstrates compliance on its end. Meanwhile, the West is hopeful that a younger Iranian generation might begin to liberalize the country, prompting a fuller entry into the modern world over the next 10 years. That hope remains to be seen.

Many of us in the faith community have called for diplomacy instead of the only plausible alternative: war with Iran. 

Obama Limits Distribution of Military-Style Equipment to Police

Photo via 1000 words / Shutterstock.com
Photo via 1000 words / Shutterstock.com

The White House released a statement today outlining restrictions on the federal government’s distribution of weapons, vehicles, and other equipment to police departments.

Newly prohibited equipment includes bayonets, grenade launchers, firearms of .50 caliber or higher, weaponized vehicles, and “vehicles that … utilize a tracked system instead of wheels for forward motion” (i.e. tanks).

Hope but Verify: The Iran Nuclear Framework

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
Agreement announcement on Iran nuclear talks April 2 in Laussane. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

For Christians, Easter is not just a day — it is a season, and, indeed, a way of life. This week is Easter: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and so on. Likewise, hope — the message of Easter — is not a feeling, but rather a decision — a choice we make day after day. Hope isn’t easy, but the decision to hope keeps the world going.

Now we have a choice to make: a decision whether to pursue a tough diplomatic process for peace to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The United States and Iran — along with the U.K., Germany, France, Russia, and China — now have the beginning framework of a deal that could accomplish just that. But we would have to give it a chance. Much has to be worked out by the June 30 deadline, and it won’t be easy.

Should we give this hope for peace a chance? I believe Christians should answer yes. Here’s why.

Southern Baptists Urge Obama to Defend ‘the Least of These’ against ISIS

Ronnie Floyd speaks at the opening of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Pasto
Ronnie Floyd speaks at the opening of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. Image courtesy RNS.

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd and former leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination on March 2 called on President Obama to defend “the least of these” against the Islamic State, the militant Islamist group that’s also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“Since ISIS is a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II, we humbly call upon you to use the influence and power of your distinguished office to take the necessary actions now in this urgent hour to bring an end to these human atrocities,” wrote Floyd and his predecessors in an open letter to Obama.

“The abuse, brutalization, and murder of children, women, and men that is occurring before the world calls our country to lead forward to bring this to an end.”

Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, was joined by 16 former presidents in the “urgent appeal” that came after recent reports that the Islamic State was responsible for the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya and the kidnapping of more than 200 Assyrian Christians.

The letter also was released just before the Jewish holiday of Purim, which recalls the deliverance of Persian Jews by Queen Esther. The Baptist leaders told Obama he had a similar mandate to save an imperiled population from extinction.

Obama Vetoes Keystone XL

Forward On Climate March in Washington, D.C., Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com
Forward On Climate March in Washington, D.C., Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

“This veto is conclusive proof that activism works.”

That’s what May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in response to Obama’s veto, which was only the third of his presidency. President Obama rejected the construction of the Keystone XL Feb. 24, angering the Republican majority in Congress and inspiring environmental activists.

“After four years of rallies, marches, sit-ins, and civil disobedience, we’re thrilled to see President Obama take an important first step by vetoing this love letter to Big Oil,” she continued.

Boeve’s comments declare hope to a generation of environmental scientists and activists who have often struggled to draw serious political attention to climate change.  

Republicans in Congress, on the other hand, were deeply disappointed with Obama’s behavior.

Obama Compares ISIS to Crusades, Inquisition, Slavery, and Jim Crow. Was He Right?

Photo courtesy New York Public Library / RNS
“EntrŽe des croisŽs ˆ Constantinople,” by Eugene Delacroix, circa 1885-1889. Photo courtesy New York Public Library / RNS

The conservative Twitterverse is all riled up because at Feb. 5 National Prayer Breakfast (an event founded and run by the secretive Christian organization known as The Fellowship), President Obama said that Christians, as well as Muslims, have at times committed atrocities. His words:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

This would seem to be Religious History 101, but it was nonetheless met with shock and awe.

“Hey, American Christians–Obama just threw you under the bus in order to defend Islam,” wrote shock jock Michael Graham. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., called the comments “dangerously irresponsible.” The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue said: “Obama’s ignorance is astounding and his comparison is pernicious. The Crusades were a defensive Christian reaction against Muslim madmen of the Middle Ages.”

More thoughtfully, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called Obama’s comments about Christianity “an unfortunate attempt at a wrongheaded moral comparison. … The evil actions that he mentioned were clearly outside the moral parameters of Christianity itself and were met with overwhelming moral opposition from Christians.”

Really?

VIDEO: Executive Action Explained

Before taking executive action in November, which would exempt millions of immigrants from deportation, President Obama used scripture to remind U.S. citizens that “we were strangers once, too.” Jim Wallis used this Exodus quote for the title of his February “Hearts & Minds” Sojourners column. In “‘We Were Strangers Once, Too,’” Wallis describes the tough battle to reform immigration policies, the importance of Obama’s recent executive action to the lives of immigrant families, and the need to continue fighting for more permanent congressional solutions.

Watch Vox.com’s two-minute video below to learn more about what led to Obama’s executive action and the impact it will have on millions of immigrants.

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Operation Railroad

IN OCTOBER 2013, an ad hoc group of humanitarians in Tucson, Ariz., chained themselves under buses scheduled to bring undocumented immigrants to trial at the federal district courthouse. The protests were aimed at Operation Streamline, which requires federal criminal charges to be brought against every person accused of an illegal border crossing. The action halted, for one day, Operation Streamline’s en masse prosecution of groups ranging from 50 to 100 people.

Under Operation Streamline, implemented under the Bush administration, deportation cases shifted from civil immigration authorities to federal criminal courts, a move that forced undocumented immigrants into the federal criminal justice system and into U.S. prisons. Operation Streamline is undergirded by a 2005 Customs and Border Patrol program called the Consequence Delivery System (CDS), which “guides management and agents through a process designed to uniquely evaluate each subject and identify the ideal consequence to break the smuggling cycle.” Using CDS, a first border-crossing offense is treated as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in prison. Those who are caught a second time face deportation and possible felony convictions punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Prior to CDS, border crossers without proper documentation were rarely prosecuted as criminals; instead, they were “administratively deported” through the civil immigration system. Under fast-track programs such as Operation Streamline, a federal criminal case—with prison and deportation consequences—can be completed in two days or less.

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'We Were Strangers Once, Too'

IF YOU'VE been following Sojourners’ work for the past few years, you know that we have been deeply involved in efforts to reform our nation’s broken immigration system. In the wake of President Obama’s game-changing executive actions in November and the political firestorm they ignited, it’s appropriate for us to reflect on how we got to where we are today and where we might go from here.

After the 2012 elections, it seemed all but certain that we would see comprehensive immigration reform become law during the 113th Congress. The electorate in 2012 had a higher percentage of Latino voters than ever before, in keeping with our country’s changing demographics. The mandate seemed clear for political leaders on both sides of the aisle to prioritize immigration reform or risk alienating a constituency vital to winning future elections.

Beyond this narrow political calculus, however, many of us became deeply involved in the struggle for immigration reform because we strongly believe that fixing our broken immigration system is a moral imperative, and long overdue. Our faith as Christians compels us to struggle for a more humane immigration system. Indeed, the scriptures could not be clearer. In the Old Testament, the Lord commands: “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

In the New Testament, the stranger and all who are vulnerable are at the very heart of the gospel. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus offers a vision in which caring for them is the defining mark of God’s kingdom: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

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