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Opinion

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” This famous George Orwell line was written as satire but has been accepted as a truism by many.

The latest contest in the equality game pits religious orientation versus sexual orientation. Last year, the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a Christian photographer convicted of violating the state's anti-discrimination law. As a matter of religious principle, Elaine Huguenin and her husband declined the request to photograph the commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. The lesbian couple got another photographer and the Huguenins got the tab for thousands of dollars in court costs.

Influenced by events in New Mexico, the Arizona legislature this year passed SB1062 that was subsequently vetoed by their governor. The bill would have enhanced the ability to make business decisions based on religious convictions. Though issues of sexual orientation were not mentioned in the wording of the bill, nevertheless, it was framed by the national media as anti-gay legislation. Also, at times it was described as a “religious liberty” issue. Currently, there are numerous states that have proposed laws similar to the Arizona model.

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In his State of the Union speech to Congress, President Obama drew widespread attention for pledging to use his executive authority to advance his priorities. He insisted he intends to act with or without Congress, and listed well over a dozen actions he plans to take by executive order. “Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families,” he said, “that’s what I’m going to do.”

Plenty of people were happy about this. The speech was applauded by pundits who have given up on Congress and believe the only way to move forward is by strengthening the presidency. Our political system, they say, is weighed down by too many interest groups, too many checks and balances, and too few avenues for circumventing a Congress that is both polarized and highly susceptible to the wishes of its donors. The present government is paralyzed, they believe. A stronger presidency would get Washington moving again.

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Living in a representative republic means that each person has the right to take a stand for what they think is right, whether that means marching outside the halls of government, wearing clothing with provocative statements, or simply holding up a sign. That’s what the First Amendment is supposed to be about.

Unfortunately, through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering it with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials. In fact, if the following court rulings are anything to go by, the First Amendment has, for all intents and purposes, become an exercise in futility.

On February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9-0 ruling, held that anti-nuclear activist John Denis Apel could be prosecuted for staging a protest on a public road at an Air Force base, free speech claims notwithstanding, because the public road is technically government property.

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One of the cool things about being self-employed is that you are free to violate minimum wage laws. That was something my wife and I did regularly during the 13 years we owned and operated our business. It wasn't the plan but it often worked out that way.

Except for the self-employed and my waitstaff friends out there, most of you don't have that legal right to offer your services below the government mandated wage. For the longest time, this wasn't much of an issue since most wages were as high or higher than the official rate. When I started working as a teenager at a buck ninety an hour, I thought that was good money compared to the crummy minimum wage of $1.65.

There are proposals to raise the minimum wage from a crummy $7.25 to a crummy $10.10 an hour. Unfortunately, both numbers are hardly insignificant to many employers. When operating on a thin and volatile profit margin, it doesn't take much to go under. Once under, unless the business is “too big to fail,” a business stays under, and so ends contributions to the economy and the tax base. It's usually easier for a bigger company to adjust to added costs than it is the small-time operator. “Mom and Pop” business closings typically aren't headline news.

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