Gray area. The Family Research Council (FRC) this week asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to clarify whether the FRC must offer contraceptives and possible abortion-inducing drugs under its employee healthcare plan. The FRC—a nonprofit group in Washington focused on pro-family issues—is one of many similar groups nationwide that falls into a gray area under the HHS rule, issued earlier this year. The only groups clearly exempt from the mandate are churches. Other ministries have been given until August 2013 to find a way to comply. Secular businesses must comply this year. So far, 37 federal lawsuits from religious organizations, as well as secular businesses owned by people of faith, have been filed against the Obama administration, saying the mandate violates their First Amendment rights. So far, only one plaintiff has won relief from the mandate: The Newland family of Denver, Catholics who own a secular heating and air-conditioning manufacturing company. A federal court in Colorado said the family does not have to comply with the rule while its case proceeds.
Billy Graham ad. The Billy Graham organization is taking heat for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it spent on full-page newspaper ads telling Christians to vote their values, and for taking down a website article identifying Mormonism as a cult. The attacks turned personal when Obama surrogates began to suggest that Billy Graham could not make decisions for himself and has been manipulated by others. The Rev. Markel Hutchins told CNN, “Rev. Graham is at a very seasoned and elder stage of his life so we have to wonder how much of this is genuinely coming from Billy Graham and how much is being fed to him and propositioned and heaped upon him by those who are around him. For example, his ultraconservative son, the Rev. Franklin Graham.” The Graham organization has said that the views in the ad are indeed Billy Graham’s own, and they also assert that no general ministry funds went to pay for the ad, but that the funds came from donors who specifically wanted to support this effort.
School choice in D.C. Enrollment in Washington, D.C., charter schools has increased 11 percent over the past year, according to a study released Thursday. The D.C. Public Charter School Board found that charter school enrollment grew from 31,562 students in 2011 to 35,019 this year. It’s part of a national trend. According to the Institute for Education Sciences, “from 2000 to 2010, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools more than quadrupled from 0.3 million to 1.6 million students. In 2010, some 5 percent of all public schools were charter schools.” But before you get too excited about these numbers, consider that some of that enrollment may be at the expense of private Christian schools. This year, for the first time ever, more children were enrolled in charter schools than in the nation’s Catholic schools. Private, non-Catholic Christian school enrollment has fallen slightly, too, and now stands at about 5.2 million nationwide.
Slow growth. This morning, the government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the real gross domestic product—the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States—increased at an annual rate of 2.0 percent in the third quarter of 2012. That’s better than second quarter’s 1.3 percent, but still very slow growth. It takes at least 2 percent GDP growth just to keep the economy even from year to year because of productivity growth, population growth, and inflation. Nonetheless, this is a slight speed up from previous quarters, so you can expect President Obama to say that this means we’re on the right track, and Gov. Mitt Romney to say it’s not good enough.