Guest Editorial


RX Baltimore

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robert morrisonOne of my favorite talk show hosts (and a former boss) has been talking about Baltimore recently and about poverty and racial problems in that historic city. Bill Bennett noted that he visited an elementary school in Baltimore when he was Secretary of Education in the Reagan
Administration (1985-88). I served in the Education Department in those years.

Secretary Bennett was saddened to learn that there was a public elementary school in that city in which not a single child read on grade level. To his credit, Bill Bennett and, especially his wife, Elayne Bennett, have never forgotten those kids. Elayne Bennett's Best Friends Foundation has helped literally thousands of inner city kids stay focused on life success, stay in school, avoid drugs and alcohol, and abstain from premarital sex. I had the honor of working for Elayne, too.

I also have school memories of those years. My own children attended a small Lutheran school not thirty miles away from downtown Baltimore. One of my neighbors in liberal Montgomery County teased me at a neighborhood cookout. He wanted to know where we sent our children to school. "Calvary Lutheran School," I replied. "Ah, white flight, eh?" my neighbor jabbed, but in good nature.

I was happy to report to my friend that we had indeed taken flight. We ran to a Christian school where 85% of the children were black. "What's the percentage of minority kids in your children's public school?" I asked my friend, teasingly.

Perhaps the most important thing about dear little Calvary School was the archway over the entrance from the playground. All 123 children lined up every morning and entered the school under that arch with this message engraved: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (Psalm 111:10).

From a public policy perspective, it might be of interest to know that in the years my children attended Calvary, all 123 students read on grade level. This is something that Montgomery County, Maryland, could not achieve with a per pupil expenditure of three times what we parents paid in tuition at Calvary.

Many of those children came from single-parent families. Their parents sacrificed to give them a Christian education.

I remember something else from those golden years. We parents were asked to help prepare the school for opening day. Some of us volunteered to clean desks and windows in the school. It was a great way to get to know other children's parents and an occasion to pray for our kids over the very desks they would be squirming at. Or, at which they would be squirming. It was a grammar school, after all.

It was in that same decade (1986) that we saw the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) produce a now-classic study titled: Who Escapes? The Relation of Churchgoing and Other Background Factors to the Socioeconomic Performance of Black Male Youths from Inner-City Tracts. This study should be required reading for all policy makers—elected and appointed. With respect, I offer it to President Barack Obama.

In brief, the researchers at NBER found that churchgoing youth were far less likely to engage in those activities that hindered the achievement of their full potential as adults. The study showed that such youth—although they lived in the same troubled neighborhoods as kids who get in trouble with the law—were able to avoid many of the pathologies of youth disorder.

Just think of Dr. Ben Carson, his brother, and their loving mother. Their mom insisted that her boys read books and write weekly book reports. Only later did young Ben learn that his mom could not read the reports she made her sons write! That story is told in Dr. Carson's inspiring book, Gifted Hands.

Family Research Council has not failed to offer help in healing the wounds of the riots in Baltimore. My FRC colleagues, Rob Schwarzwalder and Ken Blackwell, quickly provided guidance on this deepening crisis. The medicine for what ails Baltimore—and hundreds of other communities--is simple: DAD.

Under the Obama administration, however, we can expect more troubles. This administration is threatening religious freedom as no other in our history has done. There is a drumbeat of opposition to any public role for churches, synagogues, and religious non-profits.

This administration went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort for force upon a church body its own dictates on church governance. In the case of Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the Obama administration took the unprecedented position that the government could tell churches who is and who is not their own clergy.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Obama administration's extreme position by a thunderous vote of 9-0! Defenders of religious freedom sighed a sigh of relief with that high court ruling. Still, President Obama and his minions are not backing off. His Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, recently made this clear. In oral arguments before the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General confessed that this administration might actually force us to adopt Mr. Obama's "evolved" view of marriage. This legal interpretation could be used as a battering ram to overturn the tax exempt status of churches and para-church ministries.

In short, it would be a deepening national crisis—comparable to Germany's Kulturkampf of the 19th Century--if President Obama used an adverse Supreme Court ruling on marriage as his pretext to go after those very churches and largely volunteer-staffed ministries that have provided the ladder of escape for inner city youth.

FRC President Tony Perkins sees this threat and is rallying supporters to defend endangered freedoms. "The power to tax is the power to destroy," wrote our first great Chief Justice, John Marshall. This administration is following the radical direction laid out by Georgetown University Professor and top Obama appointee, Chai Feldblum. She told an FRC audience in 2006 that:
"There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner."

Whatever this insatiable pressure group demands as an affirmation of their "dignity" can thus ride roughshod over constitutional liberties guaranteed for 214 years, Professor Feldblum contends. This radical doctrine is alerting even some liberals—like Kirsten Powers of the Daily Beast—to the dangers of this movement. Miss Powers' new book—Silencing--urges Americans to protect free speech.

Religious freedom is protected as the first freedom in the Bill of Rights because the Founders understood what our elites have forgotten: That religious freedom is the foundation for all civil liberty. Chai Feldblum and her radical cohorts will not only overturn marriage, they will crush religious and civil liberty. For the sake of Baltimore, and all our endangered communities, we must resist.

Robert Morrison is Senior Fellow at Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.