- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Journal Record, June 30, 2014

Reason for outrage

Business owners should panic. Women should be outraged.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday found in favor of Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., which objected to an Affordable Care Act requirement that employers subject to the law pay for contraception as part of employee health plans. Note that Hobby Lobby is a corporation, a free-standing legal entity, not a sole proprietorship nor partnership. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a corporation is a legal entity, “which is regarded in law as having a personality and existence distinct from that of its several members.” In other words, the company stands separate from its owners. The advantages are many, the protection of owners’ personal assets chief among them. The trade-off is that a corporation does not enjoy all the rights of a person. As 3rd District Judge Leonard Garth wrote in the joined Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius opinion, “Incorporation’s basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs.” (Emphasis added).

In finding that the religious views of those who control a for-profit corporation may dictate the company’s ability to opt out of federal laws, the justices have effectively changed the definition of a corporation. That should make CEOs and shareholders shudder because it means a corporation is no longer clearly separated from its owners.

Women should be outraged that those who hold a controlling interest in a corporation may impose their religion on their employees. Despite Justice Samuel Alito Jr.’s claim that the majority opinion is extremely limited in scope, he failed to explain what will prevent a corporation controlled by Christian Scientists from opting out of the ACA’s provision for vaccinations, which that religion opposes, or a corporation run by Jehovah’s Witnesses from declining to pay for blood transfusion in keeping with their beliefs. Fifty percent of pregnancies are unplanned. No one is forcing women to use birth control, and a corporation should not be able to force the religious beliefs of its shareholders on its employees. Morality should be left to the individual, not a corporation.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “I would confine religious exemptions . to organizations formed for religious purposes, engaged primarily in carrying out that religious purpose, and not engaged . substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.”

We concur.


Tulsa World, July 1, 2014

Death penalty popular, but still must clear constitutional challenges

A strong majority of Oklahomans are comfortable with the death penalty. That’s the clear evidence of the latest Oklahoma Poll.

A scientific telephone poll of 393 likely voters conducted by SoonerPoll.com June 4-12 found that nearly three-quarters of those surveyed favored the death penalty for those convicted of murder.

Only about 12 percent said they “strongly oppose” the death penalty. More than three times as many said they think the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime.

Further, the botched April 29 execution of murderer Clayton Lockett hasn’t changed many minds on this issue. Nearly 70 percent said the execution did not cause them to begin questioning their views on the death penalty.

Lockett writhed and moaned during the execution. State officials tried to stop the process and blocked the view of media witnesses, but later Lockett died anyway. Gov. Mary Fallin has put a moratorium on further Oklahoma executions pending an investigation.

Our conclusion is that capital punishment has prevailed in one of the two key tests to its continued use in Oklahoma after the Locket mess: The strong majority continue to support it.

There is, however, a second post-Lockett question, which cannot be answered by polling: Whether Oklahoma can carry out executions in a constitutional fashion.

Capital punishment is the ultimate expression of state authority. It asserts the power of the government to kill.

As with other government powers, capital punishment is limited by the Constitution. The death penalty cannot be “cruel and unusual” and it can only be imposed through the due process of law.

The Lockett execution puts Oklahoma’s ability to meet both of those tests in question. The answer will come not from polling results, but from a series of inevitable court challenges, which we predict will take time and money, and which we further predict will frustrate the strong majority of capital punishment supporters in the state.


Tahlequah Daily Press, June 30, 2014

New chamber head needs to be free from scandal’s taint

Every time another layer is peeled off the unfolding saga of the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce embezzlement case, those going through the records hope they might see a light at the end of the tunnel. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Since January 2012, someone with access to chamber funds made 780 cash withdrawals from ATMs at the Hard Rock in Tulsa, the Cherokee Nation’s Tahlequah casino, Tulsa banks and convenience stores and other ATMs, for a staggering total of nearly $270,000. That’s not even counting purchases made at places like Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, various restaurants and bars, and convenience stores.

In terms of total dollars, this will be one of the largest embezzlement scams in local history. And if the chatter on social media and through emails and phone calls to the Daily Press are any indication, the rage is escalating with each new revelation.

Chamber board members aren’t saying much, because an OSBI probe is ongoing. Though they’re making documents available to the Press, they’re throwing up a few roadblocks, some of which may be necessary. But asking an entity to pay 25 cents a page for copies of records to which the local public should have easy access is a little hard to swallow - especially when the chamber owes money to the entity being charged.

Board President Stan Young last week made a comment to FOX23 - probably out of sheer frustration - that openly suggested a culprit. No official blame has been assigned by investigators, but board members, both past and present, are talking off the record in various forums, and they’re pointing fingers.

The board’s first official act was to fire Tourism Director Kate Kelly, who appears to be the whistle-blower. The public will likely never know exactly why her employment was terminated, because that information is protected under privacy laws. But thus far, no evidence has surfaced to suggest she ever had access to any funds. Sources say board members believe Kelly suspected something was rotten at the chamber several months before she finally told a tourism board member, and their displeasure at her delay prompted their action. But if that’s the case, she is not the only one who should be released from her official position.

A number of folks in the business community are murmuring that the chamber should start with a clean slate, with all new board members and employees. They find it hard to believe this many intelligent, well-meaning local leaders could be fooled to this degree. Getting anyone to say that openly is another matter. Most board members are prominent people, with deep ties to the community - including past and present service on other boards. Some are embarrassed, and rightly so; others appear to be defiant. Either way, the widespread hope is that they - and those who follow them - have learned an important lesson about blind trust.

Whom they hire as their next director will be telling. One board member suggested they eliminate the tourism post and pay the next director a little more, which sounds like a good idea. The new director should be able to prove he or she has at least a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field, as well as several years’ experience. It might also be wise to pick a candidate who wasn’t born and raised here, to stave off the stench of the “good ol’ boy” network. And above all, the director should be required to live in Cherokee County as long as he or she holds the job.

Certain factions are jockeying for position, and someone with prior chamber affiliation will likely be held up as an ideal candidate. Succumbing to that pressure would be a colossal mistake on part of board members, and they can’t afford another one of those. Even if they keep their seats, the next director should be completely free from the taint of this scandal. Only then can the chamber begin to rebuild - an undertaking that will take lots of time and talent, and a spotless record for the person at its helm.

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