Coming Out and Looking Inside: An Interview with Two Guys Named Glenn Loury

Listen to the Podcast – Part 1
Listen to the Podcast – Part 2

Glenn Loury, Sr., is a big, warm and fiercely intelligent man. His son, Glen Loury, Jr.– in all important respects – is just exactly the same. If you want to spend some fruitful minutes exploring the fraught landscape of sexual identity, class division, racial reality, and generational conflict in America, you have come to the right place.

Glenn Loury, Sr. has been a lot of places. He has claimed territory both conservative and liberal, cooly academic and passionately partisan; he has been on the right side of history and the wrong side of the law. He was one of the first articulate voices to point our attention to the shame of mass incarceration – predominantly impacting generations of black men – in an age of growing inequality and insecurity. A religious man, he looks for the truth, even when it leads him to doubt.

Glenn Loury, Jr. is his son. Glenn is gay. Spend a day with Glenn, Jr., and this token of identity might never surface. It’s not the first thing that grabs the attention. Rather, one notes the same ‘trademark’ warmth and precision, the same power of observation that drives his father and sustains the conversation in the direction it need to go. The same ability to question oneself and think a new thought makes him all the more attractive.

Part 1 of this rich conversation tells the story of a son’s coming out and a father’s journey inside, along the fault lines of identity in America today.

Part 2 examines differing views of marriage equality and what we can do going forward to understand and strengthen marriage for all who seek it.


It’s Summer Camp Time … Should Your Youth Go?

This summer approximately 11 million children and adults will attend camp.

Does going to camp matter?

Last year I interviewed Kenda Creasy Dean who would argue the answer to that question is YES! A professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, her writing has informed my work as a youth pastor, and I became better acquainted with her during my work on Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? In our conversation, we discussed the arc of her work, paying special attention to the contemporary challenge to be a church that engages the hearts of young people with the hope and faith of the Gospel.

The Hope of Youth Ministry – Listen to the Podcast
Kenda Creasy Dean and Amy Ziettlow

Most pastors and youth workers first meet Creasy Dean through her popular book, Almost Christian, one of several books that reported on the first wave of analysis coming from the National Youth and Religion Survey. Lead investigator of that project, sociologist Christian Smith, coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” (with Melinda Lindquist Denton in Soul Searching) to describe the current state of faith for today’s teenager. Creasy Dean translated this phrase as: “God is nice and God wants you to be nice.” She explained:

“I remember talking to one young woman, telling me about growing up in the church and how much she loved it, how she’d been in the church every waking moment since she was born. But when it came time for her to describe what she thought about God, about Jesus, about the church in the world, she had no language to talk about it whatsoever. I think about that interview again and again…”

This interview stuck with Creasy Dean because it resonated with the superficial responses of many teenagers in the survey. She saw this lack of language for faithful purpose pointing to a generational ennui and an absence of a moral universe guiding the lives of young people.

Here is where camp enters the picture.

In her recent, book The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, co-authored with theologian Andrew Root, she writes about camp’s power to create liminal or in-between space where foundational questions about God and our purpose can be explored safely. Beneath the surface of swimming, study, Capture the Flag, and bonfires eschatological work is being done. She writes:

“The liminal character of camps reminds young people that they are momentarily suspended between daily life and eternal promises, and that their time in this place is…temporary. The Christian camp, retreat, or conference is less an experience than a pilgrimage. These youth travel together, literally or figuratively, toward a holy destination: life in God.”

Creasy Dean reflects on her own experience of attending summer camp and concludes:

“I came home from camp and realized it was far less important that I believe in Jesus but that Jesus believes in me—I came home with a renewed sense of purpose.”

This final quote reinforces the most important piece of going to summer camp: coming home. Rabbi Daniel Greyber served as Executive Director of Camp Ramah in California for many years and he writes in Faith Unravels about the sacred task of speaking to campers the morning that they leave camp.

“The whole reason you come to camp…is to leave….We love taking care of you and see in you the possibility and hope for everything that can be made good in the world. But. If you were to stay here at camp, something great will have been lost. A great potential unfilled…you will bring goodness into a broken world sorely in need.”

We send our young people to camp so that they come home changed for the good, for the sake of bringing good into the world.

What are you waiting for? Register for camp now!

Gambling Addiction and Society: Time to Think Anew

In recent decades, two trends have shaped our understanding of gambling’s relationship to the larger society.

The first is gambling’s entry into the mainstream. No longer confined to the desert towns of Nevada and the beach town of Atlantic City, legalized gambling – featuring its main institution, the casino, and its main device, the slot machine – is widely popular and spreading rapidly across the country.

The second trend is that research on problem gambling has become largely organized and funded by the gambling industry itself. For a comparison, imagine an America in which most research on cigarette smoking is commissioned and funded by tobacco companies.

These trends have helped to transform our overall view of gambling. Indeed, today’s paradigm is a radical departure from previous understandings. Even the venerable word “gambling,” which suggested a social problem, has been largely replaced by “gaming,” which suggests a harmless form of entertainment that can be enjoyed by everyone.

Well – says our current paradigm – almost everyone. Today’s dominant understanding also stipulates that a small fraction of Americans – about one percent, we are frequently told – suffer from addiction to gambling. The paradigm concedes that persons harmed by this disease require active assistance, which today’s “gaming” industry, through its indirect funding of treatment programs and direct funding of research, willingly provides.

The purpose of IAV’s July 24-25 symposium in Boca Raton, Florida, on “Gambling Addiction and Society” is to question this dominant paradigm at the root level.  We will do so by bringing together leading scholars to raise basic questions in a context of open, interdisciplinary exchange.

Please join us!

The Silver Tsunami Meets the Honor Commandment

“Honor your father and mother that your days
may be long…”
Does this commandment apply to your family?

As 76 million Baby Boomers approach old age, the coming “Silver Tsunami” will change how we think about the elderly, illness, and the end of life. The Baby Boomers’ high rates of divorce, remarriage, and single parenthood, their decreased birthrate, and their geographic mobility signal profound changes in the traditional elder care script. What role will the Honor Commandment play in this care?

Elizabeth Marquardt and I (now joined by Naomi Cahn) have engaged in a three-year project, funded by the Lilly Endowment and based at the Institute for American Values, to study how the grown children of Baby Boomers have transitioned into the role of family caregiver for aging and dying parents, stepparents, or ex-stepparents. We interviewed respondents aged 28 to 49 years old who had played an integral role in caring for their now deceased parent or stepparent. Our sample reflected current Baby Boomer family demographics: one-third of the parents were still married to their first spouse at the time of their death, one-third were single parents (many as a result of divorce), and one-third had separated from their first spouse or partner and remarried since having kids. Towards the end of our two-hour, qualitative interviews, we asked the Honor Commandment question that opened this article.

What did we learn? First, we were surprised to learn that all grown children feel that the commandment still applies to them, although its expression was tempered by the quality or length of their relationship with the parent or stepparent. Second, respondents interpreted broadly the means and methods for living both the spirit and the letter of the precept. Interpretations ranged in intensity, from day-to-day care or constant presence at a hospital bedside, to financial contributions that may or may not be connected to hands-on care, to more distant expressions, such as phone calls or attendance at a memorial service.

The grown children of Baby Boomers feel that the Honor Commandment still applies to them.

The family of Robert Gutierrez,* a Baby Boomer father who died at age 69 from complications after elective surgery, serves as a good example. According to the daughters we interviewed, Gutierrez had not been a model parent. They described him as emotionally volatile and often absent from their childhood life for months at a time, cycling through three marriages after the divorce from their mother. Two of his daughters, Jackie and Heather, struggled to determine how best to honor him when he needed their support in the final years of his life.

Heather served as the primary caregiver and surrogate decision-maker. She explained their caregiving arrangement: “He lived in a little RV out the back door. I would always go and take care of him, clean his trailer. We’d cook and bring him food. I’d wash his clothes, you know, I took care of him.”

She drove him to medical appointments and eventually arranged for home health services to manage his medications and help him with bathing and dressing. Then, he heard about a new surgery that could help calm tremors in his hands stemming from nerve damage. Despite her vocal opposition to this elective surgery, Heather honored his wishes. On the day of his death, Heather found herself alone at his bedside:

I stayed there for a few minutes with him. Then I was asked to leave so that they could prepare him. They asked me where I wanted him, and I told them he was going to be cremated. Then I walked out, stood in the hall and cried. By myself.

When asked about how the Honor Commandment applied to her family, Heather explained,

I’ve honored my father. I did when nobody else would. He was an ornery old man. He told me twice in my life that he loved me. I’m sure he did, but he just never showed it the same way we’re accustomed to showing it, you know? He was a hard man, but I believe I honored him without a shadow of a doubt. I respected him.

In contrast to Heather, who provided daily care, Gutierrez’s oldest daughter, Jackie, was more detached. She felt pressure to play a similar caretaking role as her sister, but decided she could not do so: she lived several states away, she felt emotionally distant due to past conflicts with her father, and she faced the demands of her own job and family (a husband and four young children). She offered emotional support to Heather via phone calls and emails and attended the memorial service. She relinquished any rights to a financial inheritance as a way to honor the sacrifices made by her siblings to care for her dad and settle his estate. When asked about how the Honor Commandment applied to her family, Jackie explained,

I tried to figure my terms to carry on a relationship with him that doesn’t transgress against me and dishonor me, but at the same time maintains an appropriate relationship that you can carve out of a family that has the kind of history that we had. I do owe him something. He’s my father and, you know, biologically that’s a pretty important role and spiritually the Bible didn’t have a caveat about, ‘Well, honor your father and mother unless they were a real jerk.’

The other two siblings were not interviewed but, according to the two sisters, they too played a role in honoring their father in sickness and after his death. Their brother, Timothy, provided financial support to pay for the home health services and sitters, and their long estranged sister, Miranda, came to the funeral and stayed for several months to help settle Gutierrez’s estate.

Adults express their sense of obligation to their parents through emotional, physical, and financial support.

The Gutierrez family reflects what many respondents told us. They felt they owed something to their parent as they aged, and they expressed that sense of obligation through emotional, physical, and financial support. They did so without incentives beyond their own character and encouragement from each other. In reflecting on their experiences, Naomi Cahn and I have focused our attention on policy reforms that could support those who freely undertake the obligations of the Honor Commandment, rather than those policies that threaten to punish grown children who do not provide care and financial support (about half the states have filial responsibility laws).

Examples of possible reforms include changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FLMA) and associated state laws, many of which could have benefitted the adults we interviewed, including the Gutierrez family. Currently, the FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave from work for medical reasons related to the worker, a spouse, child, or parent.

First, a paid family and medical leave would have benefitted not only Heather, who took vacation leave from her job and worked flexible hours to accommodate her father’s sudden health emergencies and doctor’s visits, but also her siblings, who could have seriously considered taking time to assist her with the day-to-day care responsibilities if their time was compensated.

Second, we recommend expanding the definition of eligible relationships to include stepparents, ex-stepparents, and grandparents. Based on the sentiments shared in the Gutierrez family interviews, the four siblings will not provide care to several ex-stepfamily members unless they can do so without taking a major financial hit. In addition to expanding the list of kin, those eligible for FMLA-protected leave might even be expanded to include anyone legally serving as medical power of attorney for an individual who is incapacitated. This expansion could help protect other parents like Mr. Gutierrez whose estranged family members could leave a caregiving vacuum. Concerned friends or church members might be willing to step into a caregiving role if their jobs were protected.

Reforming the Family and Medical Leave Act is just one potential way to encourage individuals to live the Honor Commandment by caring not only for their mothers and fathers but also for the expanded number of kin within families, neighborhoods, friendships, and faith communities. The good news is that the Honor Commandment is still respected, but much work needs to be done to make living it out more feasible for more families.

*All names have been changed to protect the identity of respondents. This piece presents themes reported fully in “Honor Your Father, Mother, Stepmother, Stepfather, Mother’s Partner…Reciprocity and Gender in 21st Century Elder Care and Law,” by Amy Ziettlow and Naomi Cahn, presented at the Religion, Feminism, and Law conference held March 20-21, 2014, at St. Thomas University.

Amy Ziettlow is an affiliate scholar with the Institute for American Values, where she currently leads a Lilly Endowed study of Gen X caregiving and grieving titled, Homeward Bound: Aging, Death, and Dying in an Era of High Family Fragmentation. She is ordained in the mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and most recently served as COO of The Hospice of Baton Rouge.

This article first appeared on Family Studies, the blog for the Institute for Family Studies.

Charles Murray – A Tip of the Hat

Since the publication of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 in 2012, even his most vociferous critics are taking Charles Murray seriously. It is no secret that people have strong feelings about his work, one way or another, though one suspects his oeuvre is not always read widely or deeply as a whole.

And though delightful, Murray’s recent foray into dispensing grandfatherly wisdom, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, will hardly convince those who are not already willing to listen to its unfashionable point of view.

Coming Apart, on the other hand, helped to crystalize a full-throated national debate about inequality, beyond mere hand wringing, daring to suggest that there are profound non-economic as well as economic forces at play. In the last chapters, Murray reviews three decades of research and writing. His previous projects, though focused and self-contained, look more and more prescient and evocative. They build a solid case for a data rich approach of asking and answering classical questions of social analysis and policymaking.

For those who do appreciate this achievement, as well as for those who have a different take, I invite you to listen to David’s conversation with Charles about marriage, “Can Marriage Be Saved?” David begins with a deft review of the broad impact of Charles’ writings, and ends by pressing for real answers and for his own candid evaluation of what it all means.

There are some pretty interesting insights here about intellectual indebtedness, following arguments where they lead, true “liberal” principles, the need for solutions, the role of faith in human accomplishment, and the future of social science – not to mention a whole lot on the topic of the day, marriage and marriage equality.

Most of all, though I admit it is a mighty cliché, you will encounter a couple of guys who really care.  For those who think Charles Murray is about a narrow sociological reductionism, think again. To those who think David Blankenhorn has tossed overboard essential social – even theological – capital, think again.

It is often hard to see where the clash of conflicted self-interested argument finally gets us. Do we want to win debates or change minds? Does all this talk strengthen the ties that bind?

In this conversation there is – to salute the Stephen Colbert shtick that one can only hope will be reappear on “Late Night” –  a “tip of the hat” to the “majesty of social science” and a “wag of the finger” to “what we have always known.”

Can marriage be saved? If, as Charles Murray eloquently says right here, marriage is central to human happiness, we will find a way. Here are two guys who are trying to get to work on that, starting today. I hope you will take a listen, and join them.

The World According to Larry Mead

Just over a year ago, to compliment the publication of “A Call for a New Conversation on Marriage,” we began producing a live video and audio conversation series that quickly became simply “Conversations with David Blankenhorn.” While focusing on the struggle to make marriage “achievable for all who desire it, especially the forgotten 60 percent” – which above all bringing new light to the twin issues of marriage equality and increasing inequality in America – we put together a series I think notable for its breadth of view, engagement of the contested points, and generous spirit for what remains to be resolved in our hearts and minds as a nation on these subjects

David’s rich connections and many years of labor in the area were evident. Religious thinkers, policy wonks, public intellectuals, and friends met along the way living the issues before debating them, all became essential to the conversation. You simply won’t find in one place such a fair presentation and penetrating analysis of the interlocking issues that define the place of marriage in civil society today.

If I had to choose one of these conversations to focus on – to pick as my absolute favorite and recommend to others if they could listen to just one – it would be David’s engagement with NYU’s Larry Mead. You just have to listen to it; it’s that good. It is not that you haven’t heard these talking points before. It is they way they are taken up and reflected in the light by two expert and compassionate minds. Here is an example of why, as Aristotle famously claimed, friendship is grounded in respect for shared goals and values. These two colleagues take on the most difficult tangle of problems – poverty, welfare to work, single motherhood, race, effective social incentives, the role of stigma, policy that reinstates the real costs of divorce, the role marriage equality can play in strengthening marriage, determined to go wherever data and practical concern might lead.

I love this conversation because it is a brilliant and entertaining example of why arguments need to be sustained over time and why experts in different fields need to speak question and challenge each other.

I love this conversation because it shows the creative importance of changing one’s mind, especially in our poll driven public square.

I love this conversation because, as a pastor in active ministry for over thirty years who thought he had heard every argument about marriage and marriage equality ever made, I learned a great deal. I took notes. I felt called, not just to a new perspective, but to a new responsibility, over and above those detailed by my tribe and constituency. I felt invited into a constructive conversation among citizens.

Like I said. You owe it to yourself to set aside an hour right now and have a listen. The question of the hour is in the title: Is The Marriage Gap Driving Inequality? Enjoy!

“Can One Parent Bring Up a Child as Well as Two Together?”

According to a new story and poll in the Wall Street Journal,  about 41 percent of Americans living in rural areas, and 58 percent in urban areas (and about 80 percent of Americans are urban), believe that “one parent can bring up a child as well as two together.”

Good grief.  Do most Americans also believe that a person with one hand can type just as well as a person with two?

I’m tempted to quibble with the question’s wording.  The problem is that word  “can.”  Can a one-handed person become a great baseball player?   The answer is yes.  (Look up Jim Abbott, the great pro pitcher.)  Can a basketball team with two players beat a team with five?   Yes.  One year I saw a middle school team with two players who were so amazing that I think they could’ve won nearly every game that season all by themselves, just the two of them playing against the other team’s five.

But of course the question isn’t simply can something happen.  What we also want to know is how likely it is that one parent will do just as well as two.  What are the probabilities?

I’m also tempted to give credit to Americans who don’t want to give offense when speaking about such matters.  Most Americans (and count me among them) have no interest in pointing an accusing finger at single parents, as if  they are being singled out for blame.  So let’s give these parents the benefit of the doubt and tell whoever’s asking that, sure, one parent can be just as effective as two.

But although I’d like for these considerations to explain away my concerns, I don’t think they do.  Americans were asked a reasonably clear question about family structure, and they gave their answer.

The answer depresses me.  Because if there is anything we know from the weight of social science evidence, anything we know from cross-cultural investigations of human family functioning, anything we know from nearly every field about what helps the child to thrive, it is this:  The unit of one parent and a child is sociologically incomplete.  All kinds of things can happen, and do happen, but the empirically valid generalization is that the human child does best with a mother and a father who love her and the human parent does best with a caring mate.

My Visit to the Golden Moon Casino

My colleague Amy Ziettlow’s new report, Seniors in Casino Land: Tough Luck for Older Americans, reminds me of meeting Callie Adamson. She’s in her 70s.  She lives in Macon, Mississippi, about 60 miles away from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where my mother and I met her at the casino not long ago.  We were all three sitting in front of a row slot machines, and I was watching her watch me, as my mother and I were playing, or at least trying to, and she was sitting quietly in front of a nearby machine, not playing, waiting for her daughter, it turns out, who also lives in Macon, and who had come with her that morning to the casino.  She told us that she and one or both of her two daughters come to casino about twice a month.

It was about 2 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, and the huge, dark-with-flashing-lights casino was busy – lots of people, lots of noises.  Mrs. Adamson is African American. She is overweight and has a bad knee that makes walking a bit difficult.  She has thin gray hair and a kind, smooth, discerning face.

I ask her, with the usual southern deference and indirection, does she know how to play this machine I’m sitting in front of?  She says she does, and moves over to sit by me. She shows me how to play.  To get started, the machine will take either your card or cash. (“Oh yes, they all take cash!” she says with a laugh.)  I put in a ten dollar bill and sure enough the machine gobbles it up.

She says, how much do you want to bet?  I say, let’s bet the most we can with each spin.  She shows me the buttons I need to press.  I make a mistake or two at first, but after several spins, I’ve got it, and in about 90 seconds the ten dollars is gone.  I put in another ten dollars and keep going, as she watches with interest, making sure I don’t mess up. On one spin, the lights start going crazy, the machine goes ping ping ping, I have won what seem to be a lot of credits, amounting, the machine finally says, to about $32.00.

“Quit now!” my mother says.  I decide to keep playing.  I’m suddenly feeling lucky, like things are going my way for the moment.  About three minutes later, all the money is gone and I have nothing. I put in another ten dollars. This time my mother presses the buttons.  The money is gone in about two minutes. We look a bit dejected.  Our new acquaintance is friendly but dispassionate, watching us and watching her words.

After some casual conversation, with none of us playing the machines, she says to me, well, if I’m being honest, when I was first watching you, I thought you were a preacher.  I knew you were with your mother (she smiles at my mother) and I thought, this man is a preacher. You can just tell, if someone is preacher, and it just seemed like you were.  I knew you didn’t know what you were doing with that machine, she says with a laugh.

Are you having some luck today, I ask?  No.  She’s lost $100 today at the slots, and that is it for her today.  (She says she never plays the table games and doesn’t even know how to play them.)  That’s why she’s been sitting, not playing any more, waiting for her daughter to come find her.  (Her bad knee makes walking hard.)

I ask her, why do you like going to the casino?  She says, well, sometimes you get lucky.  She says one time she won a thousand dollars on one spin.

She then says going to the casino is something to do.  About all she does in Macon is go to church, and maybe visit friends every so often. But that’s about it.  There isn’t much to do in Macon, and so she and her daughters enjoy making the trip to the casino.  They go about twice a month.

She tells us with a smile that people go to casino to “pay the light bill.”  I wanted to ask what she meant by that, but I didn’t. I thought about it afterwards, and still do.  Did she mean that she goes to the casino hoping to win enough money to pay her light bill?  Or was she speaking more poetically?  Like going to the casino, for her, was paying for something unstated and bright that she wanted, or needed?  I never figured it out to my satisfaction. Maybe she was just saying that she puts money into the slot machines, hoping for them to light up.

She is certainly aware that “paying the light bill” in this way is costly.  Sometimes you get lucky, but most times you don’t. Almost everyone ends up losing more than they win.  She knows this.

She also believes that all the machines are basically the same in terms of how they work and your chances of winning – although she knows people who strongly believe otherwise.  But she does point out that the different machines have different names, which interest her, as well as their own specific sounds and patterns of play. Double Diamond, Lobster Mania, Indian Princess, African Diamond, Kingpin Bowling, and Texas Tea are some of the names of slot machines we saw that day.

By the time we parted company we were friends and all felt good about having had the chance to meet one another.

The casino is the hub of a giant gleaming modernist high-rise complex.  In that part of very poor, spare, run-down Mississippi, this monstrous white creation looks a space ship from a 1950s sci-fi movie that has landed in the middle of nowhere.  It’s called the Golden Moon Casino and Resort. It’s owed by the Choctaw Indians and is officially located in Choctaw, Mississippi – Choctaw being, essentially, that part of Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Neshoba County, that is owned by the tribe.

The casino is open 24/7. It has several restaurants (buffet style seems to be the most popular) and some shops.  It has lots of ATM machines, in case the players need money.  Ashtrays are everywhere (even in toilet stalls) and a great many of the players are smoking.  The soft drinks and iced tea in small cups are self-serve and free.  The casino’s ads describe the casino as “Vegas with Sweet Tea!”

There a few table games, but the vast majority of the casino’s floor space is devoted to its 3,100 slot machines.  The clientele is racially mixed, largely female, and largely older.  The first person I saw, when I walked onto the floor and was letting my eyes adjust to the semi-darkness, was an older white woman in a wheel chair.

“Pushing Luck”

In the late 1970s, Atlantic City tied its future to the casino industry and Florida did not.  Which place made the smarter choice?

That theme is explored in “Pushing Luck,” a new, 30-minute documentary released this month by No Casinos, the umbrella group in Florida (its members include Disney and the Chamber of Commerce) opposing casino expansion.  You can watch the video here.

I’m biased, partly because I’ve gotten to know the No Casino people in recent weeks; partly because my IAV colleagues Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and Paul Davies appear in the film as expert talking heads; and mainly, I suppose, because I agree with the filmmakers that casinos are rip-off institutions which retard economic growth, contribute to the rise of inequality, and in general degrade the quality of life.   But even if — and perhaps especially if — you are undecided on these questions,  I think you’ll find the film intellectually serious and worth watching.


Religious Liberty is Too Important to be a Pawn in the Culture War

Recently the state legislatures of Arizona and Kansas, seeking largely to protect the rights of religious objectors to gay marriage, have considered expansions of their states’ definitions of religious liberty. Both bills failed. The Kansas bill passed the House but not the Senate, and the Arizona bill was vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer. But as other states – reportedly including Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee – now consider similar legislation, it’s important to examine the core principles at stake.

In recent years something interesting has been happening in the U.S.: As gay unions have been recognized, so have the rights of religious objectors.

For example, when New York’s legislature recognized gay marriage in 2011, the law also insulated religious organizations that object to gay marriage (or any marriage) from both private lawsuits and government penalties. In Maine, a successful ballot initiative in 2012 permits gay marriage, but also permits organizations to refuse to host weddings to which they object on religious grounds, without facing a threat to their tax-exempt status. Similar protections for religious and religiously-affiliated organizations have accompanied legislative victories for gay marriage in other states.

Were any of these results perfect, from the perspective of either marriage equality advocates or advocates for religious freedom? Of course not. Did they achieve real gains for both sides? Yes.

This recent American dynamic of expanded gay rights in tandem with stronger guarantees of religious liberty offers important lessons. First, it reminds us that no right is absolute. Even a fundamental right exists only in relation to, and often in tension with, other important rights.

Second, it shows us that in politics, as in much of life, the best outcomes tend to be the results of negotiated compromise, in which each sides gives as well as gets. Declarations can be a good starting point, but ultimately there must be a conversation.

Third, it shows us that, even in this hyper-partisan era, very diverse groups of Americans can actually find creative ways to live together.

The bills recently debated in Kansas and Arizona and being considered in other states represent a sharp departure from this path.

For example, in 25 states, Kansas and Arizona among them, there is both a constitutional ban on gay marriage and no underlying state law protecting citizens from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in areas such as housing and employment. Neither Kansas nor Arizona permits same-sex civil unions or domestic partnerships.

So what, exactly, in the area of gay rights and gay unions, were religiously motivated Kansans and Arizonans being protected from? When there’s only one legally recognized set of rights, there’s little to negotiate and almost nothing of substance with which to compromise. It’s difficult to engage the “other” when, in effect, you are talking only to yourself and only about your needs.

The Kansas bill was quite extreme. Its terms would protect all religious objections not only to gay marriage, but also to gay civil unions, gay domestic partnerships, and “similar” arrangements. And for good measure, it specifies that religious objections to gay unions always win, regardless of the cost to same-sex couples.

Arizona’s bill was different. It was an expansion (some proponents would say clarification) of the state’s existing law protecting religious freedom. In Arizona, as in 17 other states, that protection is based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which provides important protections for religious believers in cases of state over-reach – for example, when a city seeks to require the removal of crosses and statues of saints from cemeteries.

At the same time, the Arizona bill was often described by friend and foe alike as a way to counteract the same-sex marriage movement – in a state that, like Kansas, already denies any legal recognition of gay unions. More importantly, like the Kansas bill, the Arizona bill would seemingly have expanded the scope of protection from religious organizations to every individual and private business in the state – a shift so broad and open-ended that it clearly raises troubling questions regarding basic fair treatment. Would the new law increase protection for a restaurant owner with a religious objection to serving gay couples?

It didn’t have to be this way, and it need not be this way in the future. The important American value of religious freedom doesn’t have to become just another pawn in a no-compromise, winner-take-all culture war.

Legislators in Kansas, Arizona and 23 other states who are properly determined to protect religious freedom can begin by asking themselves: Does any religious conviction justify denying lesbians and gays a basic legal promise of non-discrimination in hiring, public accommodations, and housing? Surely the answer to this question is no. Correcting that inequity would begin the process of recognizing that both sides – gay couples and religious objectors – have rights and that reasonable accommodation is possible only when both sides have something to gain.

This article by Leah Ward Sears and David Blankenhorn was first published in

You may also be interested in this video of a 2012 conversation between David Blankenhorn and Princeton professor Robert George on “Religious Liberty and the Human Good.”

Thank You, William Schambra

OK, I admit that the subject is a bit esoteric, unless you give money to, or work for, a non-profit.  But a recent essay by my friend Bill Shambra at the Hudson Institute is a must-read set of reflections on the influential idea that, when it comes to evaluating the work of non-profits, metrics is king. The piece is called “The Tyranny of Success: Nonprofits and Metrics,” and it’s important.

And while we’re at it, I also recommend Bill’s wise take (“Why Can’t We Get Overhead?”) on the equally venerable issue of “overhead,” which large and probably growing numbers of donors tend to see as a necessary evil at best, versus “program,” which tends to lift their hearts and inspire greater generosity.  No one should want or tolerate waste.  But if only this imagined split between “overhead” and “program” worked in real life!

The Harmful – Even Deadly – Effects of Casino Gambling

[From the Editor: This essay which was first published in yesterday’s Tampa Tribune is drawn from the new IAV report, Seniors in Casino Land: Tough Luck for Older Americans.]

The headline was stark: “Gambler jumps to his death at the Resorts World Casino at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, N.Y.” A few spare details followed: A man, name not released, leapt from the second-floor balcony of the gambling hall on Feb. 7, at 5:50 p.m. He died at Jamaica Hospital three hours later.

Just a few months ago, I stood in that very spot in the sprawling Queens slots parlor run by Genting, the Malaysian-based gambling giant that is pitching a similar mega-slot facility in Miami. I hadn’t come to the casino to get lucky, let alone think about suicide. I had come to Queens to see for myself what was going on in one of America’s fast-proliferating regional casinos and to talk to people who were spending a bright summer day inside a dark slots barn.

What I discovered gave me insight into the deadly effects – including the ultimate act of human despair – that are linked to modern casino gambling.

Florida lawmakers need to think about these effects as they weigh whether to expand gambling in the Sunshine State.

Casino gambling is not new, but two features are. One is the growth of gambling participation among older adults. In the 23 states with commercial casinos, roughly half of the patrons are age 50 and over. In Florida, with nearly 37 percent of the population 50 and over, gambling represents a huge potential market.

The second new feature is the 21st-century slot machine. Gone are the traditional one-armed bandits. They have been replaced by sophisticated, highly technical computerized devices that have simultaneously democratized gambling and intensified gambling problems.

Simply put, the new slot machine is engineered to addict people. It produces a mesmerizing experience of sound, lights, and repetitive motion that makes both time and money vanish. Players talk of “disappearing” into the machine and getting into a zone.

Seniors, who may suffer from physical, mental and emotional health problems, are especially at risk of succumbing to computerized slots. Medication, cognitive impairment, depression, and just plain sadness can interfere with judgment and decision-making. And the casino itself – dark, smoky, and filled with incessant noise, pulsating light and dizzying carpet patterns and layout – can contribute to mental confusion and disorientation. It is not uncommon for older people to suffer sudden heart attacks while playing the slots. Most casinos now have cardiac defibrillators on site.

Casinos cater to seniors in order to reel them in. They provide wheel-chairs, scooters, and Depends for their older patrons. They offer come-ons like free transportation, cheap breakfast and lunch deals, free play rewards, and medication discounts. One casino even introduced an in-house pharmacy where 8,000 slot club points, awarded for frequent play, cover the $25 co-pay.

In my tour through Resorts World, I witnessed what happens when slots and seniors come together. Slots stretch for miles across the casino floor. A silver-haired person with a cane, walker or wheelchair filled every seat in the rows of slots. Each person sat silent and solitary, frozen in the ergonomically designed chairs, eyes locked onto the electronic screen, moving just one finger to hit “repeat bet” again and again. I had imagined people pulling levers on the one-armed bandits, but with the new computerized devices it now takes just a quiver of a muscle and a fraction of a second to make multiple bets.

At the Prince of Lightening slot machine, I met Judy, who wore a retractable cord connecting a player’s card on her belt to the machine.

Casinos use the cards to track when gamblers come and go and how much they spend.

In return, gamblers get rewards points to keep coming back.

I had to speak loudly over the constant din of machine sound and repeat myself several times to catch her attention.

I asked her how to play.

“You want four of the ladies in a row, and the lightening guy is always good,” she answered, without taking her gaze from her screen.

I asked if she came to the casino often, and Judy replied, still staring at her machine, “Uh, two or three times a week.”

“Do you like coming?”

“Oh, I guess . . .  it’s something to do,” she shrugged, still fixated on the screen.

According to researchers, older women like Judy are the new face of gambling.

Unlike men, who generally are “action” gamblers, women tend to be “escape” gamblers. They turn to slots for the morphine-like dulling of emotional pain from stress, loneliness, depression and the burdens of caregiving.

Women tell researchers that they want to “zone out,” to feel numb, to forget their troubles for a while. Slots, some say, are their therapy.

Older women, who report high levels of frequent emotional distress, are susceptible to escape gambling and to faster onset of full-blown addiction.

All the seniors I spoke to echoed Judy’s apathetic reply for why she comes, and thus casinos should change their ads to:

“Come Kill Time at the Casino. You Have Nothing Better to Do.”

I left the casinos feeling depressed myself and was not surprised to learn that Las Vegas displays the highest level of suicides both for residents and visitors.

After casinos opened in Atlantic City and other towns, the number of suicides there increased.

My thoughts return again and again to the gambler in Queens who ended his life at the Resorts World casino. I cannot forget the image of his leap or ignore the dark irony of his suicide at an “entertainment” licensed by the state and marketed as wholesome fun.

Nor can I dismiss this singular act as something done by a disturbed person and “not my problem.”

If casinos were private businesses, I could stop patronizing them. But casinos are licensed and regulated by state governments. Non-gamblers like me may benefit from the tax revenue states collect from casinos, but we also share in the social and economic costs.

So when a man jumps from a casino balcony at 5:50 p.m. on a Friday in February, his death is our problem, too.

Casinos Fail To Live Up To The Hype

New Hampshire has wisely resisted past pressure to legalize casinos because it understands the economic and social costs outweigh the benefits.

While that equation has not changed, lawmakers are once again considering a plan to allow one casino. History shows once states get hooked on casinos, other forms of gambling follow. Eventually the casino tax revenues drop, forcing states to push more and more gambling and give special breaks to casinos.

New Hampshire’s timing could not be worse. Casino tax revenues are falling in many states thanks to oversaturation.

In the Northeast, especially, casinos in Connecticut, Maine and Rhode Island are battling for market share. The addition of casinos in Massachusetts and New York will add to the glut. The crowded market leaves little room for New Hampshire to cash in. A Granite State casino will depend mainly to local repeat and problem gamblers.

Pennsylvania’s casino evolution shows how quick states get hooked on the revenue. Pennsylvania legalized slot machines in 2004. Table games were added in 2010. Last year, as casino revenues dropped for the first time, lawmakers approved a variety of gambling games in bars, restaurants and taverns.

Regulators expect to allow the state’s 13th casino in Philadelphia, where gamblers at an existing casino visit an average of three to five times a week.

Lawmakers are also considering online gambling and more lottery games. Despite raking in billions of dollars in casino revenues, many residents await then-Gov. Ed Rendell’s 2004 promise that casinos would reduce property taxes by 23 percent.

Ohio has had even less success than Pennsylvania, thanks to increased competition from surrounding states. Casino revenues have been less than half the initial projection. After two years of operation, Ohio’s casino tax revenues are already dropping.

Indeed, casino revenues are down in a number of states, including Colorado, Louisiana, Missouri and Wisconsin. In Indiana, casino revenues hit an eight-year low. In Mississippi, revenues are down 27 percent from the 2007 peak and the casinos have slashed 8,500 jobs.

The falling revenues prompted Governing Magazine last year to ask: “Are Casinos Still a Safe Bet?” Similarly, a report last year in USA Today asked: “Does The Country Have Too Many Casinos?”

Some see Delaware as the model for New Hampshire. Be careful what you wish for: Delaware was early to the game, legalizing slots at three racetracks starting in 1995. With little competition, tax revenues soared and eventually accounted for 8 percent of the state’s budget.

But once larger neighboring states legalized casinos Delaware’s gambling tax revenues plummeted. To offset losses, Delaware legalized table games and sports betting in 2010. Online gambling was added in 2012.

The added gambling has not stopped the losses. The problem is Delaware no longer attracts out-of-state gamblers because the surrounding states all have casinos. With a population of less than 1 million, Delaware does not have enough gamblers to support its casinos.

Last year, the casinos threatened layoffs unless Delaware lowered their tax rate. Instead, Gov. Jack Markell gave the casinos $8 million in subsidies.

So, the Delaware casinos have gone from generating tax revenues to receiving a government bailout. The state is now scrambling to prop up an industry that produces nothing and entices residents to lose money.

Delaware formed a commission to develop ways to combat the casino competition. Some options under consideration include lowering the tax rate for casinos, reducing annual fees or building more casinos. But lower taxes for casinos means less revenue for the state. And more casinos mean more competition.

The News Journal, Delaware’s main newspaper, offered a better solution: “Delaware should start getting out of the gambling business,” the paper wrote in an editorial last year. “It is too dependent on what was once the easy money of a state-controlled monopoly.”

Here’s the good news for New Hampshire: It can avoid getting the government and residents hooked on unsustainable and regressive casino revenues. Instead, lawmakers would be wise to focus on helping businesses that grow the economic pie rather than fight for the shrinking casino crumbs.

A version of this article first appeared in New Hampshire’s Manchester Union Leader.

States Can’t Gamble Their Way To Prosperity

In 1994, Florida voters rejected a ballot proposal legalizing casinos and accompanying slot machines. The Florida gambling proposal was largely modeled on the Illinois Legislature’s 1990 legalization of casinos.

One of the nation’s first casino jurisdictions, Illinois gambling was imposed top-down on the public despite polls reporting 67 percent of the public opposed to casinos/slots.

Today Florida has its budgetary challenges, but Illinois has the nation’s worst state budget and credit rating — due in large part to $35 billion-$56 billion given away to gambling owners. For two years Illinois did not even fund the pension systems for public employees and has over $105 billion in unfunded liabilities. Illinois also misreported bond offerings from 2005-2009, resulting in the state being cited with pension fraud in 2013 by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

While it took Illinois two decades to arrive at budgetary insolvency, other states that legalize casinos/slots will eventually emulate Illinois. Once states embrace casinos/slots, gambling owners’ agendas and legalized political contributions dominate statewide economic policies, resulting in continued gambling expansions.

In 1994 both Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and future Gov. Jeb Bush opposed legalizing Florida casinos/slots. Virtually the entire law enforcement community also opposed casinos/slots, as exemplified by a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) report that emphasized in italics that “it has been clearly demonstrated in other jurisdictions that a significant increase in crime and its consequences accompanies casino gambling.”

This FDLE report concluded in bold print: “FDLE joins a large number of other criminal justice entities in opposition to any form of legalized casino gambling.” In 2006, the substantial crime increases that accompany new gambling facilities was confirmed in a definitive, nationwide 10-year study published by Harvard and MIT.

Also in 1994, Florida Secretary of Commerce Charles Dusseau reported that the casinos/slots ballot proposal was “an attempt at a hostile takeover of Florida’s $32 billion tourism industry by outside gambling interests.” He emphasized that “a consistent result of the introduction of casino gambling has been the cannibalization of pre-existing tourism industry.”

After 1994, the Florida and Illinois congressional delegations were largely responsible for enacting the 1995-1999 U.S. National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which substantiated these concerns. Annually since 2008, the multivolume 2008-2013 United States International Gaming Report, produced in concert with academics nationwide, has confirmed that Florida’s 1994 leaders were correct to reject casinos/slots.

During this same 1990s timeframe, Warren Buffett coordinated an effort in Omaha, Neb., to defeat a proposed “salvation casino” designed to transform the failing Aksarben racetrack into a casino/slots facility — despite two casinos being located nearby in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Instead, Omaha business and government leaders bulldozed the racetrack and transformed the land into a high-tech office park and an extension of the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). During the last 20 years this development has attracted $1 billion in stores, restaurants, townhouses and the new 2012 UNO College of Business — ironically, built on the old racetrack grounds.

As re-confirmed in the last few years by definitive academic publications, the socio-economic costs of gambling are well over $3 for every $1 in benefits. These costs were predicted in 1994 by Gov. Chiles’ team of economic experts, as well as in several 1994-1995 academic articles — including the University of Miami Business Law Journal.

To illustrate how gambling philosophies catalyzed the 2008 economic recession, the website for 60 Minutes has an investigative 12-minute report that can be viewed, titled Financial WMDs.

Floridians should revisit the crime statistics disseminated by Florida’s 1994 bipartisan leadership and then emulate South Carolina and other jurisdictions that have re-criminalized slot machines and/or other gambling facilities.

Governments cannot gamble their way to prosperity.

Illinois casinos/slots have resulted in $35 billion-$56 billion in “giveaways to gambling owners by takeaways from teachers’ pensions.” Florida and other states that embrace gambling owners will eventually gamble away not only their state budgets, but also the public’s health, safety, and welfare.

John Kindt is a University of Illinois professor emeritus. He has testified before Congress and legislatures on business and legal policy issues, particularly gambling.

Florida Shouldn’t Make a Second Bad Bet on Slot Machines


Dramatically expanding the number of slot machines in Florida is a current idea, but it’s not a new idea. In 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, Florida became only the second U.S. state (Nevada in 1931 was the first) to legalize slot machines in order to raise public revenue. It turned out to be a terrible experience for the state.

Almost overnight, as one Miami writer put it, slot machines were “in drug stores, hardware stores, ladies ready-to-wear and filling stations; in hotels, lunch wagons, and hay and grain stores. In fact, everywhere.” He adds: “And Southern hospitality and courtesy were never more clearly shown than in the willingness of the slot machine operators to give a stranger change. They’d sit there and give you nickels and dimes until your last dollar was gone, without a murmur of complaint.”

A lot of tourists lost a lot of money, but so did a lot of Floridians. The slot machine owners called them “amusements,” but what happened across the state was not very amusing. Delinquency increased. Petty crime increased. Public morale declined. Daily life became a bit more tawdry. Angry citizens soon formed a statewide Anti-Slot Machine Organization to lobby for the law’s repeal.

The promise that legalized slot machines would help Florida’s economy turned out to be a bad joke. A St. Petersburg newspaper editorial said: “Circulating money through slot machines has precisely the same effect on business as throwing coins into the air so that people may scramble for them. There is no purchase of goods involved; it is simply and purely redistribution of money.” State Representative LeRoy Collins, who opposed the law and who later become Governor, concluded that gambling in Florida, whether legal or illegal, “kills more business than it generates.”

The president of the Anti-Slot Machine Organization also stressed the issue of unfairness: “Slot machines are not a gambling device, they are a stealing device. There is no chance of the public winning or the slot machine losing.”

It didn’t take people long to figure out that this was a bad idea. In the 1936 elections, 50 of Florida’s 67 counties banned the slot machines by local option. In 1937, the state legislature voted overwhelmingly to repeal the slot machine law.

Does this sound like ancient history? Think again. The heart and soul of casino gambling today is the slot machine. Once derided by the mobsters who invented the American casino as “babe sitters” – something for wives and girlfriends to do while the men played at the tables – slot machines now account for more than 70 percent of all gambling revenue from casinos. In Mississippi, the figure is 85 percent. In Iowa, it’s 89 percent. Casino promoters still like to produce ads showing happy upscale people playing blackjack or roulette, but the fundamental question facing Florida, as you consider the question of casino expansion, is whether you want thousands of new slot machines in your state.

Casino owners love slot machines. Since they require no skill, anyone can play. Slot machines are cheap to maintain and operate, since there are no dealers or pit bosses to train and pay, just you putting your money into a machine that has been programmed to cause you to lose. Also, slot machines are designed to encourage the very kind of addictive behavior – press the button, get a jolt, press the button again – that will cause a significant minority of players to “play to extinction,” which is what the casinos owners call playing until all your money is gone. What more could a casino ask for?

As Floridians learned the hard way during the Great Depression, there are many reasons to say “no” to more and more slot machines. They don’t help the economy and probably harm it. They don’t produce anything – they are a classic example of what the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Samuelson, speaking of gambling, called a “sterile” economic activity.

Finally, slot machines are rip-offs. No steady player has ever, or will ever, beat a slot machine – all they do is take your money. In most of America, for most of our history, slot machines have not only been wrong because they’re illegal, they’ve also been illegal because they’re wrong.

A version of this article was published in the Tallahassee Democrat on February 3, 2014.

Sign Up to Receive Email Updates

Institute for American Values, 1841 Broadway, Suite 211, New York NY 10023 212.246.3942