General Conference, A Religious Holiday for Mormons

October 5, 2013 – Saturday marked the beginning of another Semiannual General Conference for Mormons, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints occasionally refer to themselves.

This remarkable gathering in Salt Lake City is what makes me regard Conference Weekend as a “religious holiday” among Mormons. It takes place the first Sunday in October and in April, and you’ve probably never heard about it. They are special days, but a special day that is celebrated in a very matter-of-fact Latter-day Saint way.

Basically, we sit around in front of our televisions in our houses all day and listen to 10 hours of talks. The speeches are generously interspersed with hymns from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and two other choirs that since in the Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening priesthood session.

This General Conference marks the first time my immediate family and I have been out here in Utah. But while I might have trekked up to Salt Lake City and participated in person this year, I instead chose to watch it in the comfort of my living room with my daughter, my son and my wife. In the evening, my son and I put on white shirts and ties and travelled a few blocks to our “Stake Center.” (Think of a stake as a kind of diocese with parishes.) At the Stake Center, the brethren in each local community watch a satellite transmission from church headquarters.

This year, we could just as well have stayed at home for the priesthood session, too. This was the first year that the leaders of the church allowed the men-and-boys-only session to be broadcast. That’s one point for openness. But church leaders also refused admission to about 150 women who had sought to enter the Conference Center and watch the session in person. That decision shows the strictness and traditionalist side of our Mormon culture.

But among the talks given Saturday, by Elder Todd Christofferson, by Sister Carole Stephens, by Jeffrey Holland, and by President Dieter Uchtdorf (Second Counselor in the First Presidency), we saw the compassionate and tender side of our faith. Uchdtorf’s remarks made The New York Times, at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-top-mormon-leader-acknowledges-the-church-made-mistakes.html. And, as Elder Robert Hales noted in his remarks, no leader or central committee instructs the men and women who speak at conference on what topics they should address. Rather, they rely on their own guidance from inspiration and prayer.

This opportunity to hear from living Apostles and Prophets is what makes General Conference weekend such a special occasion for my family. And we look forward to Sunday, too!

Meditations on the Modern Mormon Pioneer, Where ‘The Desert Shall Rejoice, and Blossom As The Rose’

September 29, 2013 – During our Sunday worship these past several Sunday School sessions, we’ve been studying the history of our church. Two weeks ago, the subject was the Latter-day Saints entry into the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. Last week, we talked about the saints who, in October 1856, left to rescue the two handcart companies stranded on the Wyoming plains during an early-season snowstorm. And today we talked about how, in the words of the prophet from ancient Israel in Isaiah 35:1, “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”

These lessons have spoken to us in our circumstances right now. In the 25 years of my career in journalism, law and technology, Utah was the last place that I expected we would locate ourselves. And yet, early last month, my family and I, and our dog Pokey, packed up and made our own Great Trek back to the land of my ancestors.

We spent the last three and a half years of our lives in Springfield, Illinois. There, I had a wonderful opportunity to lead a state effort designed to enhance the role of technology’s power to make an impact in people’s lives. I believe in Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s personal motto, “everybody in, and nobody left out.” At Broadband Illinois, we helped unite the Land of Lincoln around a vision of Better Broadband, Better Lives. Illinois’ State Broadband Initiative became the national model for public-private collaboration — providing the tools that citizens, communities and businesses need to get online and to get more out of their internet use.

Having lived in Washington for most of my professional career, the opportunity to get outside of the beltway was important for our progress. Although I’ve commuted back to Washington to participate in our monthly Broadband Breakfast Club discussions, it has been a real plus for my family to be outside the pressure cooker of McLean, Virginia.

So when the time came to move from Springfield, what attracted my family and I to Utah? It may well be that this desert, having blossomed as the rose, speaks still to our people. When we visited the Provo/Orem area four year ago, this area seemed provincial compared to Washington. More recent visits during ski vacations have left us marveling at the vibrancy and economic growth of the Utah — consistently one of the fastest-growing states in the country.

From the day we arrived, we have been blessed. We now have a comfortable house in Orem, Utah, where a wonderful view of Mount Timpanogos and Mount Cascade greets us upon stepping out of our front door. There are mountain trails for running, hiking and bicycling, and soon, skiing. For nearly a full week upon our arrival, our neighbors — who make up our local congregation — brought food, bread and peaches as welcoming gifts. For the first time in our lives, we can walk a block and a half to our local church.

We’ve also been so impressed by the educational opportunities here. We feel that each of our children have what they need to challenge themselves academically. How vital it is that charter schools here provide a competitive alternative to public schools!

And as for my efforts in offering consulting services around broadband internet services, I’m finding that the Salt Lake Valley is an excellent place from which to operate. I’ve already begun a new webinar series. This collection of Broadband Breakfast Club Virtual Events kicked off last week with an event on advancing Gigabit Networks through high-bandwidth applications. (Our next event is October 15.) The Salt Lake and Utah Valleys are home to two significant fiber-optic networks, the iProvo network recently purchased by Google, and UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Internet Agency. I’ll continue to expand on my work nation-wide in promoting broadband from Salt Lake, from Chicago, from Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

Also, earlier this month, I began an additional engagement: working as Senior Contributing Editor for Deseret News. The newspaper is the oldest publication in the Salt Lake Valley, having launched on June 15, 1850, and is rapidly remaking itself for the digital age. In fact, last week we launched national.deseretnews.com, which fills a void in the American media landscape through rigorous journalism on core issues of interest to many Americans: the state of the family, how faith is lived, education opportunity, financial responsibility, care for the poor, and the culture of media. I’m enjoying the opportunity to combine my journalistic, legal and technological skills in working with the Deseret News, and I invite each of you to begin following it more closely.

Mitt Romney, the Mormon Moment, and the Almighty’s Purposes

By Drew Clark

November 7, 2012 – I am a Mormon. I am certain that my feelings of sadness on this day after election day reflect those of millions of other Mormons.

Don’t get me wrong: my Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, took no position in the presidential contest. And this statement is not merely for show. Church authorities, from Salt Lake City to the local wards and stakes throughout this country, insisted that we not use the Church for political purposes, including endorsing candidates, advocating political positions, or mobilizing voters. I include myself in this instruction in that I, too, serve in the Church in my ward in Springfield, Illinois.

Nor would we Mormons want to use the Church in this way. In my last ward, where I previously lived in suburban Virginia, I attended a priesthood quorum with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada. Our family counted, and still count (save for the constraints of time and distance) Brother and Sister Reid, their children and grandchildren, as family friends. There is no difference, no hint of “outsiderness” in Reid’s being a Mormon Democrat. This is so because the gospel of Jesus Christ, as we practice it in the Church, is not about promoting a kingdom on earth.

There is a common saying that we Latter-day Saints use to define ourselves. It is almost an injunction or an aspirational goal. We should “be in the world, but not of the world.” To be in politics and to be a political leader is to be in the thick of it. You need to understand everyday voters. You need to empathize, and to show that you feel that empathy. You need to connect to that majority – no matter how bare it is – and get them to commit to you, and stand with you and not against you. The fact that Mitt Romney could not pull this election off makes me think: can a truly good man ever be our president?

Like many millions of other American citizens, Mormons and non-Mormons, I approached my electoral obligations seriously, even religiously. As with any other weighty matter, I researched the subject. In the case of this presidential contest, I considered the candidates’ positions, personalities and character. I studied it out in my mind. I prayed. I sought a confirmation that my choice was right. I learned this very pattern of decision-making through my participation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As taught by a prophet of the Lord, after our petition to “ask [the Lord] if it be right,” the Lord declares: “if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”

“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong.” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-9)

Yesterday was the first occasion in which I could vote for a candidate whom I knew would follow this pattern. I felt that the more the American people could see about the decision-making capacity of Mitt Romney, the more likely they would be to select him as their political leader.

They did not. Now keep in mind that Romney is a Republican. He ran as a Republican, not as a Mormon. Politics is about parties, not about churches. So, when my wife and I talked this morning about last night’s election results with our eight-year-old and our 12-year-old, we asked each of them why they were so distraught. “Why would Mitt Romney get so close, and yet not be elected president?” asked my son.

Many people did indeed see the good in candidate Mitt Romney, and for a multitude of reasons. And yet more Americans cast their ballots for the president. What if the Democratic candidate had been Sen. Harry Reid, we asked our children? While I suspect that Sen. Reid and Gov. Romney have some personal fence-mending to do (now that the election is over), this hypothetical question momentarily tantalized our children and our entire family. We see and we understand the conviction and the character of both Gov. Romney and Sen. Reid. Indeed, if we lived in Utah, or another place with a Mormon majority or plurality, every election year would greet us with Republicans and Democrats, many of whom would be of our faith, squaring off against each other. They, too, would run on their values, their records, their accomplishments and their fitness to serve as a leader.

So what makes the Mormon moment that has just ended so different from such a normal-sounding occurance?

I believe the answer can be found in our national civic religion. We are – the United States of America – as a city set upon a hill. This very phrase comes from the Savior, in His Sermon on the Mount in the Bible.

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
“Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

We expect our country to be this light. Well should we demand it of our President as well.

Politics – unlike business, law, learning and religion – is about piecing together majorities. It is about counting the votes. That was as true for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 as it was for Barack Obama yesterday. Piecing together majorities is even more critical for a presidential candidate who goes up against an incumbent president, which neither Lincoln nor Obama has done.

In my lifetime, only two men, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, have successfully unseated a president. On this day of electoral reflection, I see both Reagan and Clinton as able to build up that city upon a hill. Each of these men paved a way for their respective party’s successes by building the intellectual infrastructure of think tanks, advocacy groups, and robust party apparatuses that embellished and enhanced the candidates’ own visions. These followers inhabited that city that is set on a hill.

To a Mormon who sees Mitt Romney and the hope that he offered to America, answering my son’s question is not easy. This is the best that I can do: Last night 50 percent of Americans went to bed feeling that God had answered their prayers in re-electing Barack Obama. Those 50 percent are no less children of God than the other 50 percent that prayed for the election of Mitt Romney.

Or as Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural address, speaking of the North and the South, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

Frank Rich’s New York Times Piece on the Fate of Newspapers Misses the Point

I just read Frank Rich’s New York Times piece about the fate of Newspapers. Typical old-media blather about the decline of the news business. The piece practically parrots the emerging meme that The Wall Street Journal is the one with the best business model in the news business – because they charge for readers. The piece doesn’t seriously consider the view that the news business (in its newsprint variety) doesn’t succeed because it doesn’t – can’t – serve the same function of information unity as it was performed in the pre-Internet world. In the end, the piece restates the convention wisdom: the American press essential to democracy, and when it comes to the press, America will get exactly what it pays for.

Supreme Court Upholds FCC’s Ability to Sanction a Single Expletive

By Drew Clark

April 28, 2009 – The Federal Communications Commission may proscribe the broadcast of a single expletive, the Supreme Court held on Tuesday, overturning an appellate court determination that such restrictions amounted to a change of policy.

In a 5-4 decision on Tuesday authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court ruled narrowly, on the grounds of administrative law, that the FCC’s sanction against Fox Television Stations for the broadcast of those words on television shows involving the celebrities Cher and Nicole Richie, in the 2002 and 2003 Billboard Music Awards.

But in remanding the case, FCC v. Fox Television Stations, to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals with instructions to consider those constitutional issues, the case is almost certain to return to the Supreme Court for a full review of the issues.

Under administrative law, an action by an agency like the FCC may be set aside if it is “arbitrary or capricious.” Scalia said that was not here the case.

“If the Commission’s action here was not arbitrary or capricious in the ordinary sense, it satisfies the Administrative Procedure Act’s ‘arbitrary [or] capricious’ standard; its lawfulness under the Constitution is a separate question to be addressed in a constitutional challenge,” Scalia wrote.

In 1978, the Supreme Court permitted the FCC to sanction the broadcast of “indecent” material, including expletives with sexual reference, in FCC v. Pacific Foundation. That case concerned George Carlin’s “seven dirty words” – the satiric monologue about the seven words, as he put it, that “you couldn’t say on the public, ah, airwaves, um, the ones you definitely wouldn’t say, ever.”

A father who heard the monologue in his car – with his young son along for the ride – a  complained to the FCC, which sanctioned the Pacifica station that carried Carlin’s monologue.

The Pacifica decision, however, suggested that a policy against the “fleeting” use of a single expletive might run afoul of the First Amendment.

Hence the administrative law issue in the Fox case. The issue of whether the FCC had changed course arose because of a prior FCC ruling. The agency sanctioned NBC for broadcasting the singer Bono’s use of the phrase “fucking brilliant” in the 2003 Golden Globes award ceremony.

In its 2004 ruling against NBC, the FCC acknowledged that it had changed policy, to proscribe the use of a single curse word. Acknowledging the policy shift, the FCC did not impose a monetary fine on NBC.

The FCC subsequently sanctioned Fox – and also did not charge a fine – for the Cher and Richie comments.

The substance of the opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and by Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

In a separate, concurring opinion, Thomas argued that rationale for affording broadcasters lesser First Amendment protections than those accorded to users of the internet or cable television should be reconsidered.

Such an exercise would revisit the holding of Red Lion Broadcasting v. Federal Communications Commission, the 1969 decision upholding the “Fairness Doctrine,” which required broadcasters to offer free time to individuals representing the opposing side of a controversial issue covered in a broadcast.

Although the Fairness Doctrine was repealed by the FCC in 1987, the legal rationale underpinning the doctrine remains in force, and could be reinstated by Congress, or by the FCC.

Debut of BroadbandCensus TV on BroadbandCensus.com

Most people who follow my comings and goings on this blog know that I’ve been devoting more of my energy and writing on the blog of BroadbandCensus.com. I’m happy to announce that yesterday BroadbandCensus.com launched the debut of BroadbandCensus TV with a video interview by Reporter Andrew Feinberg of Temple University Law Professor David Post. Check it out, and feel free to post your comments and feedback on BroadbandCensus.com.

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