State Legislators Warn Congress Against Enacting Tort Reform

The nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislators has informed Congress of its “strong, bipartisan opposition” to the enactment of H.R. 5, the bill to sharply limit all civil suits against health care providers, including nursing homes, hospitals, and insurance companies. In the letter, NCSL defended the rights of the states to enact its own liability statutes and hold companies accountable before local juries. NCSL is also planning meetings of state legislators with Republican Congressmen to urge them to stand up for the rights guaranteed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. You can download the entire letter, and here are some excerpts:

Medical malpractice, product liability and other areas of tort reform are areas of law that have been traditionally and successfully regulated by the states. Since the country’s inception, states have addressed the myriad of substantive and regulatory issues regarding licensure, insurance, court procedures, victim compensation, civil liability, medical records and related matters. In the past two decades, all states have explored various aspects of medical malpractice and products liability and chosen various means for remedying identified problems. Over the past several years, states have continued to revise and refine their medical malpractice laws and procedures

Federal medical malpractice legislation inappropriately seeks to preempt various areas of state law. All 50 states have statutes of limitations for medical malpractice suits. All 50 states have rules of civil procedure governing the admissibility of evidence and the use of expert witnesses. Many states have caps on noneconomic damages and limitations on attorney’s fees in medical malpractice cases

NCSL’s opposition will extend to any bill or amendment that directly or indirectly preempts any state law governing the awarding of damages by mandatory, uniform amounts or the awarding of attorney’s fees. Our opposition also extends to any provision affecting the drafting of pleadings, the introduction of evidence and statutes of limitations. Furthermore, NCSL opposes any federal legislation that would undermine the capacity of aggrieved parties to seek full and fair redress in state courts for physical harm done to them due to the negligence of others.”

The NCSL letter is signed by one Democratic and one Republican legislator. The Republican, Jerry Madden, is a conservative, West Point grad and Vietnam vet from Texas, home of numerous Congressmen involved in the tort reform battle. The NCSL letter arrives just after the opinion by Rob Natelson, top Tea Party-side Constitutional law expert, that federal tort reform is an excessive use of the Commerce Clause and violates the Bill of Rights. Readers should tell their Congressmen that the evidence is growing of the unconstitutionality of H.R. 5 and other attempts to take over the state-based civil litigation process.

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Guess Who Promoted Constitutional Principles in Supreme Court Case on Preemption

I’ve discussed the anti-Constitutional nature of federal preemption of state law several times, most recently with respect to preemption in the financial services arena. The Supreme Court has furthered the preemption cause several times, notably in the regulation of certain high-risk medical devices such as pacemakers, with the effect of ending most lawsuits for defects, regardless of the harm to the device user. The Court is hearing several cases this term which could further aid the preemption cause and negate our Constitutional rights. One of them is truly illuminating, because it shows just who cares most about our 7th Amendment rights in front of the highest court in the land.

In Brusewitz v. Wyeth, argued before the Court on October 14, the issue was whether the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 immunizes vaccine manufacturers against lawsuits brought in state court for design defects. One section of the law immunizes vaccine makers from lawsuits “if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable” (quoting the law). Hannah Bruesewitz was immunized as a baby, then suffered multiple seizures and is now severely developmentally impaired. Hannah’s parents filed a petition for compensation in a special court created under the 1986 law. The court dismissed the family’s claim on the grounds that they had not proved that the vaccine caused Hannah’s injuries. The family then filed suit in a state court against the vaccine maker, Wyeth, which removed the case to federal court. The federal court dismissed the family’s claim on the grounds that it was preempted by the 1986 law. The parties disagreed about the meaning of the term ‘unavoidable” and whether Congress intended to immunize vaccine makers from virutally all lawsuits. The Center for Disease Control and the Obama Administration supported the notion that the policy behind the 1986 law supports immunity from state common law suits.

There is no question which side depended on and referred to the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The amicus brief submitted by the Obama Justice Department makes no reference to Constitutional principles and ignores not only the 7th Amendment, but the 10th Amendment also; states’ rights are plowed over. In contrast, the brief submitted by the trial lawyers’ group, the American Association for Justice, and two other groups notes the Founders’ intent. “Indeed, the right to recover damages for wrongful personal injury is among the “absolute rights of individuals” that the Founders intended to guarantee to all Americans.” That brief also noted the critical weight that numerous Supreme Courts have placed in state law, respecting the 10th Amendment, in the following passage:

“While this Court has recognized Congress’ authority to preempt state tort laws entirely, it has also recognized that Congress rarely expressly preempts state tort law… The court considers such sweeping preemption ‘unusually powerful.’… (T)he presumption against preemption applies ‘in all pre-emption cases’ and can be overcome only by a showing of ‘clear and manifest’ purpose to preempt… Under this presumption, the Court assumes that the historic police powers of the State are not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.”

The trial lawyers’ brief then asserted that not all lawsuits should be preempted by the 1986 law; I refer you to other websites for the legalese. The Obama Justice Department didn’t even mention the Constitutionally-based presumption against preemption of state law – not a word.

Think about this a moment: the liberals’ favorite President defended giving federal bureaucrats and vaccine makers unchecked power over the drugs which immunize us from serious diseases, by promising to kill state suits. His Justice Department apparently doesn’t care about the rights enumerated in the Constitution. And the trial lawyers, the group that the business community and modern conservatives hate, stuck to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and defended the local jury system as the best means to assign responsibility for defective and dangerous drugs. Imagine that!

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Another Conservative Legal Expert Against HR 5 Tort Reform Bills

Prof. Ilya Somin of the George Mason University School of Law is the Co-Editor of the Supreme Court Economic Review, one of the country’s top-rated law and economics journals. His work has been published in the Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, Northwestern University Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, and numerous media outlets. He has been quoted or interviewed by the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, and the Voice of America, among other media, and he testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He’s expressed conservative positions on ObamaCare, eminent domain abuse, property rights, and states’ rights. Like Prof. Barnett, he’s co-authored amicus briefs on behalf of plaintiffs seeking to declare ObamaCare unconstitutional. In other words, he’s a Constitutional conservative, Tea Party-side legal expert, just like Rob Natelson and Randy Barnett.

And Prof. Somin is another of the growing group of the conservative legal experts now opposing any federally imposed tort reform law, starting with H.R. 5, the “HEALTH Act.” Writing yesterday on the legal blog, the “Volokh Conspiracy,” he commented favorably on Randy Barnett’s post of Sunday. Wrote Prof. Somin:

I’m happy to see that his critique is having an impact. Hopefully, at least some Republican conservatives will begin to see that you can’t advocate strict limits on federal power with one hand while trying to impose sweeping federal control over state tort law with the other.

In this post, I explained why federally mandated tort reform is, in most cases, both constitutionally dubious and unnecessary. The better way to restrict abusive tort suits is through interstate competition combined with constraints on states’ ability to regulate conduct outside their borders.

The previous post to which he referred was in February also on Volokh, and I admit that I missed it at the time. In that post, he wrote the following:

In my view, however, current precedent is badly misguided in allowing Congress to regulate virtually any “activity.” Therefore, I think most federally mandated tort reform is in fact unconstitutional, even if the Supreme Court would permit it to go forward.

Federal reform is also largely unnecessary to solve the problem of excessive tort awards. Interstate competition can be just as effective as federal mandates, often more so. If a state allows excessive tort suits, many businesses will refuse to operate there or charge higher prices. This in turn reduces state tax revenue, forcing state legislatures to curb their courts.

So now we have three real Constitutional conservatives on our side: Rob Natelson of the Independence Institute, GOP & Tea Party legal rockstar Prof. Randy Barnett, and George Mason Law Prof. Ilya Somin are all telling the Republicans that H.R. 5 and federal tort reform bills are unconstitutional. AND I’m sure there will be more. AND we have a bipartisan letter from the leadership of the National Conference of State Legislators saying the same thing.

To date, NOT ONE real Constitutional conservative, Tea Party-side legal expert will opine in favor of the constitutionality of H.R. 5. And I’d be shocked to see one do so, since that’s an intellectually dishonest position.

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Good ObamaCare Ruling Reveals Experts Constitutional Inconsistency

The ObamaCare ruling by Judge Henry Hudson (full text here) is a victory for our Founding Fathers’ concepts of limited national government and the supremacy of individual rights. But it also reveals the inconsistency (or hypocrisy) of some Beltway legal experts who favor preemption, which is the takeover of state functions and state common law courts by federal bureaucracies in some instances, but oppose a federal takeover when it comes to health care. Indeed, some of the same groups participating in the federal preemption movement are also front and center in the fight against ObamaCare in the federal courts.

Case in point: the Cato Institute, which filed this amicus brief in the Virginia case, arguing the following:

“In other words, this case presents the Court with ‘the arduous . . . task of marking the proper line of partition between the authority of the general and that of the State governments.’.. Congress identified the Commerce Clause as the source of its authority, a position the Government now asserts in its Motion to DismissCongress may not enact laws that are not ‘plainly adapted’ to further an enumerated end, or that do so at the expense of the rights reserved to the States or the people under the Tenth Amendment.”

But as I posted on December 6, Cato’s Vice President for Legal Affairs Roger Pilon argued just the opposite at the National Convention of the Federalist Society, when it came to preemption of state common law suits for certain defective medical devices. He said, “if the Commerce Clause was meant for anything, it was meant to ensure the free flow of goods and services among the states, and jury trials can really make a mess of that if pharmaceutical companies, for example, have to have 50 different labels for warnings on their medications” Sure sounded to me as if he was arguing that the Commerce Clause trumps the 10th and 7th Amendments in that instance.

After the ObamaCare ruling, Pilon had the audacity to write, “for today, at least, the Tenth Amendment and the limited government it implies are alive and well.” Well, at least for causes of his own choosing.

Pilon didn’t sign the amicus brief filed in the Virginia case, and the Cato staff who did sign it apparently weren’t at the Federalist Society when Pilon spoke. Maybe the folks at Cato need to have an in-house meeting and figure out whether the Bill of Rights limits the sweeping power of the Commerce Clause.

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Foreign Products Manufacturers Should Be Accountable in US For Defective Products

An epidemic of defective drywall imported from China has exposed the jurisdictional barriers that American consumers face when trying to hold a foreign manufacturer accountable for serious defects, and the number of those defects has sharply increased. For instance, according to a memo prepared for Members of Congress, “In the decade between 1998 and 2007, the import of consumer products into the United States more than doubled. This sharp rise in imported consumer products has been accompanied by an overall increase in product recalls and a disproportionate increase in the share of product recalls involving imported products – particularly products from China.” In recent years, over 80% of all recalls of consumer products announced by the Consumer Products Safety Commission have involved products manufactured overseas. Yet consumers must travel to the country of manufacture, persuade the host government to serve the suit to the foreign company (and translated into the home language), and then try to establish jurisdiction over that company in the U.S., an incredibly time-consuming and expensive process. In one particularly egregious case, a retired police officer and his wife bought their “dream home,” only to find it filled with extremely toxic Chinese drywall. Unable to afford the extensive replacement of the drywall, they lost the house and were forced to file for bankruptcy, all because they could not recover from the Chinese manufacturer. Other consumers are suing the U.S. distributors and shippers in a desperate attempt to collect whatever they can, which unfairly holds U.S. companies accountable for the defects caused overseas.

Bills in the U.S. Congress would close this gap in 7th Amendment rights and enable American consumers to sue in the U.S. and take the pressure off American companies which only ship and sell the products. The Foreign Manufacturers Legal Accountability Act of 2010 is supported by Democrats and Republicans in both houses. A House subcommittee is scheduled to debate and vote on the bill tomorrow, and the Senate version might be attached to other legislation in the near future.

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John Adams Casey Anthony Verdict McDonalds Hot Coffee Case

Yes, all three have one thing in common. Let’s start with the latter two. At first glance, the average American might wonder – one’s a criminal case over the murder of a child, the other a civil suit over spilled coffee; in the former, the defendant, Casey Anthony, was found not guilty by the jury of the most heinous of the six charges against her, while defendant McDonald’s was found liable by the jury, which assessed damages in the millions of dollars. But the common thread is this: The “OUTRAGE!” expressed by average Americans to the decisions of the jury in each case sadly reflects, in large part, a lack of respect for and/or knowledge of the jury system, a jury system built into and protected by the Bill of Rights and beloved by our Founding Fathers. Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, an attorney and expert on the Constitutionally protected jury system, said it best and simply this morning when commenting on the Casey Anthony verdict: “Trial by jury may be an imperfect system, but it is better than all of the alternatives.” Amen to that! Hopefully more Americans will come to understand and appreciate the wisdom of the jury system.

Although Mr. Phillips commented solely on the use of the jury system in criminal cases, we know that the Founding Fathers didn’t consider the right to a jury trial in civil cases to be subordinate to the right in criminal cases. My work here is all about educating readers on that critical point, especially given my opinion that the 7th Amendment right to a civil jury trial is the most unknown and endangered of any right protected by the Bill of Rights.

Which brings me back to John Adams. No Founding Father embodies the respect reserved for jury trials in civil AND criminal cases than John Adams. After all, it was John Adams who stepped up to represent the British soldiers who participated in the Boston Massacre in order to persuade a jury of Bostonians – ANGRY Bostonians who HATED the British – that the soldiers were not guilty of murder. You can read his famous closing argument on the website dedicated to the Boston Massacre. Near the end, note those oft-quoted words of Adams, “Facts are stubborn things,” and finishing with perhaps the greatest tribute a trial attorney can pay to a jury: “To your candour and justice I submit the prisoners and their cause.” And the jury acquitted the British captain and six of his soldiers, subjecting Adams to the “OUTRAGE!” of his fellow citizens for his persuasive abilities.

And we know that Adams cherished the right to a civil jury trial too. I wrote last August of his published letters defending the unalienable rights of Americans, one of which included the following:

“The people choose a grand jury, to make inquiry and presentment of crimes. Twelve of these must agree in finding the bill. And the petit jury must try the same fact over again, and find the person guilty, before he can be punished. Innocence, therefore, is so well protected in this wise constitution, that no man can be punished till twenty-four of his neighbors have said upon oath that he is guilty. So it is also in the trial of causes between party and party. No man’s property or liberty can be taken from him till twelve men in his neighborhood have said upon oath, that by laws of his own making it ought to be taken away, that is, that the facts are such as to fall within such laws. What a satisfaction is it to reflect, that he can lie under the imputation of no guilt, be subjected to no punishment, lose none of his property, or the necessaries, conveniencies, or ornaments of life, which indulgent Providence has showered around him, but by the judgment of his peers, his equals, his neighbors, men who know him and to whom he is known, who have no end to serve by punishing him, who wish to find him innocent, if charged with a crime, and are indifferent on which side the truth lies, if he disputes with his neighbor!”

John Adams walked the walk, and Americans like Judson Phillips do so today. Instead of quickly condemning juries who adjudge accused murderers and unusual civil suits, we should look to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, take a deep breath, and thank the Founders and God Almighty for the jury system for criminal and civil cases.

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Happy 799th Anniversary Magna Carta Civil Jury Trials

Today is a special day in the history of democracy and jurisprudence, the 799th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta by King John at Runnymede in England on June 15, 1215. The document required King John to proclaim certain individual liberties, and accept that his will was not arbitrary, for example by explicitly accepting that no “freeman” (in the sense of non-serf) could be punished except through the law of the land. The Wikipedia entry describes it as “the first document forced onto an English King by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their privileges.” Constitutional scholar Rob Natelson of the Independence Institute was invited to write the entry on the Magna Carta for the limited-edition Encyclopedia of the U.S. Supreme Court. He told me that he considers the Magna Carta as “Probably the greatest Anglo-American legal document of all.” It’s certainly the charter for modern democracy, the basis for eight centuries of British and American law (copied around the world), and the foundation for the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The colonies in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Maryland especially sought to reflect various points of the Magna Carta in their early charters and laws. In 1957, the American Bar Association acknowledged the debt that American law and constitutionalism owed to the Magna Carta by erecting a monument at Runnymede.

British jurist Sir William Blackstone organized the 1215 version into numbered articles. Article 39 of the Magna Carta can be translated as, No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. It is this article that establishes and protects the right to a trial by local jury in criminal and civil cases, to protect all other individual liberties from the power of centralized government. The Founding Fathers studied the Magna Carta and knew the many instances in which the British had deprived them of their right. John Adams referred to it as “that fundamental law” when opposing the Stamp Act of 1765, and the deprivation of jury trials was among the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence. George Mason, who refused to sign the Constitution because it didn’t explicitly protect individual rights and the prerogatives of states, drew upon it for his writings, which eventually led to the enactment of the Bill of Rights.

All those who live liberty and cherish individual rights should raise a toast and a prayer today to those good people of England who stood their ground against King John’s army and established the basis for self-government.

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Businesses Attorneys Support Bipartisan Bill to Strengthen Medicare Settle Seniors Claims

Imagine a bipartisan Medicare bill, one that is already co-sponsored by Members from as far from the other side on most issues as possible: Republican Representatives like Ron Paul, Tim Murphy, Don Young, and Howard Coble; and Democratic Representatives like Ron Kind, Diana DeGette, Linda Sanchez, and Tammy Baldwin. That’s H.R. 1063, the “Strengthening Medicare And Repaying Taxpayers Act of 2011” (“SMART Act”), which would help to replenish the Trust Fund, ensure that seniors and their attorneys settle injury claims quickly, and reduce paperwork burdens for businesses.

When seniors on Medicare are hurt in an accident and sue the other party, they file conditional Medicare claims to pay for treatment. Federal law requires the injured person’s attorney to repay Medicare upon a judgment or settlement, before any funds are given to the injured senior. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is supposed to give the attorney a final figure for the total amount to repay, but CMS is slow and inaccurate. As a result, it can take years to finally pay off even the smallest claim, and the senior doesn’t see a dime of the settlement. In extreme cases, CMS has even dunned seniors years after the accident, sometimes for ridiculously small amounts of money.

H.R. 1063 takes care of all that. It streamlines the process, establishes real deadlines for CMS for claims processing, and enables businesses to meet CMS reporting requirements while maintaining data security. H.R. 1063 encourages efficiency by providing settling parties reimbursement amounts prior to settling a claim. The SMART Act will require CMS to advise parties in the process of settling, before settlement, of how much is owed, so that the parties can appropriately resolve their Medicare obligations. By requiring Medicare to provide the amount due within 65 days of a request, the settling parties will know how much money has to be set aside for Medicare, and factor that amount into their final settlement. H.R. 1063 increases Medicare’s efficiency by ensuring that the Government does not spend more money pursuing a MSP Claim then it will actually recover from that claim. The SMART Act will introduce a threshold, below which the provisions of MSP Act will not apply. And H.R. 1063 gives injured seniors finality for their settlements. H.R. 1063 establishes a three-year statute of limitations, allowing injured seniors to be able to settle claims confidently, without concern that they will be responsible for additional, substantial payments to Medicare sometime in the distant future.

That’s why H.R. 1063 is supported by the U.S. Chamber and trial lawyers. Companies as large as WalMart, Best Buy, Marriott International, and Disney, as well as many of the largest insurance companies in America, support H.R. 1063.

The Oversight Subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on these Medicare issues on Wednesday at 10 am. Among the witnesses will be officers from Publix Supermarkets and Cincinnati Insurance Company, which are among the many companies supporting H.R. 1063, and a plaintiffs’ attorney who will testify to the problems seniors face.

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Catholic Groups Invoke 7th Amendment in Suits Against Obamacare Mandate

Yesterday, 43 Catholic dioceses, organizations and universities sued the Obama administration, in 12 separate suits, to block the imposition of the Obamacare mandate to offer, in health insurance plans, drugs and devices which are forbidden by Catholic teachings, such as contraception and abortifacients. The plaintiffs include the University of Notre Dame (my law school alma mater), the Archdioceses of Washington and New York City, and a number of local affiliates of the national Catholic Charities.

And near the end of the lawsuits, the plaintiffs added the magic words to invoke the right to a civil jury trial: “Pursuant to Rule 38 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Plaintiffs hereby demand a trial by jury of all issues so triable.” That rule begins as follows:

“(a) RIGHT PRESERVED. The right of trial by jury as declared by the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution–or as provided by a federal statute–is preserved to the parties inviolate.”

I can think of no better way for the public to learn about the God-given right that the Founding Fathers called “sacred” and “inviolable!” If these suits actually proceed, all America will witness the 7th Amendment in action, with local juries hearing the arguments brought by each side. I am ecstatic that the plaintiffs demanded a jury trial.

And would anyone dare to “tort reform” these Catholic institutions out of that right? Would anyone dictate to federal courts how they’re supposed to handle these cases, like many want to do with health care-related lawsuits in a federal medical malpractice law?

Maybe these suits will remind Americans that the Founders designed the civil justice system, and protected the right to a civil jury trial, for all causes and all cases. They didn’t treat lawsuits to protect religious liberty any differently than tort claims over personal injury, and neither should we.

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Only Democrat-Nominated Supreme Court Justices Defended Our Rights In Major Decision

But federalism is as much a question of deeds as words. It often takes the form of a concrete decision by this Court that respects the legitimacy of a State’s action in an individual case. Here, recognition of that federalist ideal, embodied in specific language in this particular statute, should lead us to uphold California’s law, not to strike it down. We do not honor federalist principles in their breach.

So wrote that noted champion of the 7th and 10th Amendments, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, on the last page of a dissent from a majority decision today that pre-empts and overrules California consumer protection law in favor of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). Yes, I’m joking – I don’t see Justice Breyer’s name on many lips of Constitutional conservatives or Tea Party websites. And in fact, Justice Breyer has sided with pro-pre-emption Justices in other cases, notably over medical device regulation, a subject I addressed last year. But in the decision announced today in AT&T Mobility LLC v Concepcion, Justice Breyer and the three other Democrat-nominated Justices supported states’ rights and dissented from the majority’s pre-emption hammer. In so doing, they supported states which want to allow their citizens to exercise their 7th Amendment right to a civil jury trial when trapped by forced arbitration clauses in a consumer contract (in this case, a cell phone contract).

In contrast, each of the Republican-nominated Justices, led by Justice Scalia (who apparently has never met a pro-pre-emption argument he didn’t like), struck down California state law and court decisions enabling class action lawsuits against forced arbitration clauses in consumer contracts. So even when a state acts to protect its citizens from such abusive contracts, the FAA trumps the state law. When faced with language in Section 2 of the FAA that should protect states’ ability to revoke any contract (“save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract”), the majority flattens it:

Although ยง2’s saving clause preserves generally applicable contract defenses, nothing in it suggests an intent to preserve state-law rules that stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the FAA’s objectives

So Constitutional principles like states’ rights and civil jury trials are “obstacles” to be removed or ignored.

Justice Thomas was the swing vote in this case, but still voted to abandon states’ rights. He hesitated before joining the assault by writing a concurring opinion in which he asserts that he adheres to views on pre-emption expressed in a previous opinion, Wyeth v. Levine on the regulation of drugs, but then he “reluctantly” joins the Court’s opinion.

The practical impacts of the decision could be enormous. As the dissent notes, it will force an end to many class actions, as few consumers and fewer attorneys will bring an individual case for small amounts of damages. Forced arbitration clauses are now buried in consumer contracts for everything from computers, credit cards and cell phones, to employee handbooks and nursing home admissions contracts. The decision also threatens the rights of employees as well. Employers are increasingly inserting arbitration clauses, with bans on class action suits, into employment contracts. It will be far more difficult for employees to fight discrimination, because they will be unable to file class action suits.

If the 7th and 10th Amendments are to be reinvigorated, Congress will have to take specific and strong action to enable Americans to opt out of forced arbitration clauses in consumer and employment contracts.

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Dear John Stossel Doctors Cause Wasteful Medical Expenses Not Their Victims

A second open letter to John Stossel of Fox News:

So you talked with one doctor at one hospital who told you that the “indirect costs (of lawsuits) are far higher because suits force doctors and hospitals to practice defensive medicine and do unnecessary tests.” And you believed that ONE doctor in ONE hospital is the final source, the definitive word, on the costs of lawsuits to all medical patients. That’s a piece of shoddy, biased journalism, with not even 30 minutes devoted to (a) some simple internet searches to find objective studies, or (b) a few phone calls to find different viewpoints and establish some objective credibility to your reporting.

If you cared about doing objective reporting, you would have found real studies cited in one article in the New Yorker in 2009, The Cost Conundrum, by Dr. Atule Gawande. He investigated why the border town of McAllen, Texas has become the country’s most expensive place for health care, even after significant tort reform in Texas. Dr. Gawande found that such high costs are due, not surprisingly, to the profit motives of medical practitioners and inefficiency, and not liability. Some cogent points from that article:

• When asked whether lawsuits increased costs, “a general surgeon responded, ‘We all know these arguments [malpractice arguments] are bull***. There is overutilization here, pure and simple.’ Doctors, he said, were racking up charges with extra tests, services, and procedures…Before, it was about how to do a good job. Now it is about ‘How much will you benefit?’… He knew of doctors who owned strip malls, orange groves, apartment complexes–or imaging centers, surgery centers, or another part of the hospital they directed patients to. They had ‘entrepreneurial spirit,’ he said. They were innovative and aggressive in finding ways to increase revenues from patient care…. he had often seen financial considerations drive the decisions doctors made for patients–the tests they ordered, the doctors and hospitals they recommended–and it bothered him.”

• “In a few cases, the hospital executive told me, he’d seen the behavior cross over into what seemed like outright fraud. ‘I’ve had doctors here come up to me and say, ‘You want me to admit patients to your hospital, you’re going to have to pay me…The amounts–all of them were over a hundred thousand dollars per year.'”

• “General surgeons are often asked to see patients with pain from gallstones… If there aren’t any complications – and there usually aren’t – the pain goes away on its own or with pain medication…But increasingly, I was told, McAllen surgeons simply operate. The patient wasn’t going to moderate her diet, they tell themselves. The pain was just going to come back. And by operating they happen to make an extra seven hundred dollars.”

John, that article cites case after case (none of which you cared to find and read) with the same conclusion: Eliminating unnecessary but profitable procedures and changing incentive systems will reduce medical costs and enhance the quality of medical care. It worked at the Mayo Clinic and in Grand Junction, Colorado, and had nothing to do with giving doctors immunity from their accountability to their patients.

John, try serious reporting based on real research, not anecdotes from one doctor.

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Like a lot of you on the wrong side of 30 (but on the good side of 34), I have two different types of friends: One group is the type with ill-advised tattoos who think alcoholism is a riot and talk about their band — or some other wiener band — non-stop, and think it’s cute to be poor; the other type are doctors and lawyers and scientists with kids who own houses, and are just all around much better people than I’ll ever be. Except the lawyers.

So my friend here is a fucking rocket scientist. Or something. Anyway, I asked my friend what it’s like making bombs that murder innocent brown babies just because their version of Superman is different than ours. Just kidding, he doesn’t do that. Or does he?

SBTVC: I’m not entirely sure what it is you do, because whenever I see you we’re both pretending we can still drink like we did when we were 20, and then we either talk about The Big Lebowski non-stop or else I complain about my job of deleting emails from publicists all day until everyone gets bummed out. For real though, what the fuck do you do all day? What is the name of your job even called?

ROCKET SCIENTIST: So I work for a really big company that makes big and small airplanes, spaceships, lasers, airplanes with lasers, missiles, helicopters, bombs, radars, radios (walkie-talkie kind), huge rockets for launching spaceships into outer space, space shuttles, and probably a lot of other stuff too. My company hired me as an engineer / scientist a few years back. I thought that was a good title because I went to school and got a physics degree and an electrical engineering degree, making me both an engineer and a scientist. About every other year my title changes. I have been a product engineer, a systems engineer, a test engineer, and now I’m an electro-physics engineer. I think that I have almost come full circle in the titles but my work has remained the same. There must be some dude who gets paid to come up with new names for what I do. He probably does it because it’s kind of difficult to say exactly what it is that I do other than I make stuff that has to do with lasers and optics.

I should interview that guy! So, har har, it’s not exactly rocket science right? Or is it?

I used to work with a lot of rocket scientists. They used to always say, “It isn’t rocket science… Oh wait, it is.” I don’t even think that they thought it was funny after a while but I think they felt obligated to say it.

Walk me through your day. You check your emails, then go build a missile? Don’t you ride a bike to work? I like the idea of a guy who builds spaceship lasers riding a bike to work for some reason.

I don’t really have a typical day. I have a couple labs that I am responsible for. One is in a Cold War era building that is located in a Dr. Evil like facility / camp on top of a mountain. The other labs and offices are spread around the city that I live in. We have some bad traffic here so when I have to go to some of the more distant locations that I work at, I ride my bicycle instead of sitting in my car for over an hour.

Regardless of how I get to work I’m rarely in before 10. I usually get to my desk and check some emails, maybe look at Facebook a bit, and definitely check the news on Slashdot. After that I’m ready for some light work. Light work would entail going in the lab and starting up the equipment (warming up the laser, turning on the oscilloscopes, etc.) or organizing the data from the previous day. I take my lab work pretty slow when I first get in. The lasers that I work with are kind of dangerous. They could burn a person or permanently blind you if you aren’t careful around them. So I take my time and pay attention to what I’m doing. I usually take lunch before I get to the meat of the experiment of the day.

I spend a lot of time warming up the laser at my job too, if you know what I mean. Penis-wise…. So there you are, it’s after lunch, now what?

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People are still sending Christmas cards

#PTSOTLretrochristmas begins! Because what better captures the spirit of Christmas than re-posting old blog entries from last season so you can fuck off more efficiently all week? Our old buddy D. Jean Mustard is still getting lots of Christmas cards he doesn’t want. Here’s why:

Sort of a theme here to Christmas week. That’s what we call branding, and according to the boss’ last memo, we have to keep doing it so bear with us. That said, at what point did all of my friends, and I do mean literally all of them, start sending Christmas cards? Up until about age twenty-whatever I don’t think I got a single fucking card except from my aunt and my grandma. Now my box is overflowing with this bullshit. Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment, but Christmas cards are a bit like a high five. Not something you want to do, but you don’t want your friend to feel like an asshole either. Sort of a gut-check on your List detector.

So, here I am filling out Christmas cards for no reason other than obligation. Well, my lady is handling… Wait a goddamned second! Since we all got domesticated, that’s when this bullshit train started!

I guess my buddy Dave who once shit out of a 3rd floor window in college is in a way genuinely wishing me Christmas cheer, but most likely it’s because his wife told him he’d better do it and like it. Anyway, my bird is awesome and totally taking one for the team here, but at the same time she’s taking an active role in perpetuating this bullshit. Guess we’re even there. Hope you like our card. We don’t have any bratty kids, but just picture the kids we’ll never have doing something really cute and throw that memory right on your brain’s fridge where it can sit for a few weeks before tossing it out. Merry Christmas!

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Forcing Your Buddy to Do a Shot

! Seriously, man. Just do one. We’re all doing one here. Hey. Hey, Tommmy, get him a shot. Yeah, one more over here please. Do it! Do it! Do it! WOOOOOH. We’re getting hammid tonight, kid! Haha, you’re gonna be sooo shitcanned for work tomorrow. You driving kid? Fack it. Just do it ya pussy. Here, get me another one.”

Look friend, I’m grateful that this little impromptu bonding ritual means enough to you to forecfully include me in it against my will. What else are friends for if not for peer pressuring eachother into doing shit they don’t want to (get married, buy a house, have kids, watch their shitty band etc…). But what part of making a grown man sick or wasted beyond his regular drinking capacity is it that appeals to you? You’re going to forget whether or not I did it .5 seconds after I do anyway. I know it was funny that one time when Jeff passed out and we put funny stuff on his head, but that was like over a decade ago now. You’re a lawyer for fuck’s sake. Should I just throw this shit over my shoulder to get you to shut up?

Fine, fuck it. Gimme the shot, I aint a pussy like Jeff. He’s not even drinking tonight!

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Your lawnmower and leafblower and assorted other noise machines are ruining my life

Sounds like a robot is cumming into another robot’s gaping robot meathole outside my window right now while a dozen other robots have a robot knife fight,  so I was reminded of this old post. Remember when we did it like this on PTSOTL? The good old days wasn’t it? Simpler times. There was a list, and there were things, and you put those things onto that list.  I was P-ing S OTL back before it sold out, yo.

I can appreciate the need to meticulously landscape your 6X6 foot patch of yard outside your home every day of the week, all year long, as much as the next insane person. That grass has it coming, if you ask me. But can we agree on some sort of time window cone of silence deal? Have you got that leaf blower set to 11? Can I get a little less weed wacker in my monitor please? 

I’m ready for the machine apocalypse like any other man-boobed Summer Glau fan, but I just never thought the start of it would be this irritating. Turn that leaf blower torture device down a few notches every single person who lives on my block right now and all day every day for the next two months, or I’m going to stick your face in it.

Not really though, on account of …I’ve got a bad knee? Hard to tell anymore. I can’t even hear my own pain. 


I’m not the only one who’s up in arms about this pressing issue. Residents of Greenwhich, CT were set to host a town meeting over the weekend to get to the bottom of things, Connecticut-style. (Not always an oxymoron). 

One group thinks leafblowers cause too much noise, and support a ban on the use of the machines between April and October. “The ban’s supporters characterized the existing regulations as a ‘joke, saying that leaf blowers contribute to hearing loss, asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, pollution, storm drain obstructions, soil problems and hazards to animals, plants and insects” and bloggers they probably just forgot to include because it was assumed, reports the Greenwhich Time. (h/t to Karen)

The yet-to-be-voted-on ban is already encountering resistance from landscapers, who complained that the restriction would pose a hardship for their businesses and drive up costs for them and their customers.

A number of other cities and towns, including Rye, N.Y.; Boulder, Colo.; and Palo Alto, Calif., have adopted similar bans.

“They’re so noisy. I just get so fed up with it,” said

Pat Oberbeck

, a resident of Church Street in Byram.

Oberbeck said she is surrounded by neighbors who use leaf blowers, including when her young grandsons are visiting and taking naps. She even offered to sweep up leaves for a


“I said, `You’ve got 10 leaves there,’ ” Oberbeck said. “I was ready to kill this guy.”

Haha, that’s classic Patty Oberbeck. Don’t fuck with her or her grandkids. I’m serious.

Anyway, let’s see what else, some other people say it will hurt their  landscaping business if they can’t use them all year, some other people probably complained about a bunch of shit. Who can say really? Not me because no way am I reading any more of an article in the Greenwhich Fucking Time about a leafblower related noise ordinance.

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150-Year-Old Church Opens Coffee Cafe


Coffee cafes aren’t just for the newly built suburban megachurches – even though that’s where they’re seen the most. Salem Bible Church in Salem, Mich., recently completed and opened a café in the basement of its 150-year-old church.

Church member Steve Betts said the Koinonia Café (“Koinonia” is Greek for “friendship”) opened Nov. 23 after a year and a half of planning and building. A church member who is a student at Eastern Michigan University designed the café.

Pastor Lance Rubringer thinks the café will combat the stuffiness associated with church and make the building atmosphere more visitor-friendly and relaxed.


Hometown Life: Modern coffee shop a new addition to historic church

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Although not abundant in todays churches they might just be th

by Carol Johnson

In just a few short years, Generation Y will be the driving force behind the economy, political decisions and the Church.

Generation Y (born 1980-1997) might as well be called “Generation @” because of their technological savvy. Likewise, Generation Xers (born 1965-1979) are just as adept at juggling a conference call while texting their teenage children in between updating a blog and Facebook page.

It’s imperative for church marketers to understand who X’s and Y’s are and how to reach them, or the Church will face being overlooked or ignored. X’s include high-powered execs approaching their peak earning and spending years, attempting to raise content children in a world bombarded by seemingly infinite choices of entertainment. Y’s are teenagers, new parents and college students on the cusp of climbing a career ladder with a virtual ceiling.

One might make the assumption that the younger generations are self-absorbed and saddled with student loans, therefore not interested in building faith communities or spending precious vacation time clothing the needy in faraway places. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. X’s and Y’s are passionate about social justice, have a burning desire to make a difference and donate more time to charitable causes than any other generation in history.

This group is responsible for the dramatic rise in volunteer vacations, spending weeks at a time building shelters for the homeless, preserving the nation’s hiking trails and mentoring at-risk children. The secret: action. X’s and Y’s are interactive givers, seeking transformative opportunities in which to participate, rather than simply writing a check. If the Church expects to draw the younger generations, its leaders must emphasize a missional focus.

There is an undeniable expectation that the Church will be tuned in to popular culture and mainstream media. A new building with flashy lights and loud music will have a short shelf-life without the key ingredient the younger generation is seeking: authenticity. X’s and Y’s are turned off by the illusion of perfection, yet amazingly accepting of mistakes followed by a genuine effort to acknowledge and correct. Get comfortable with transparency, as this group can spot a fake a mile away.

Y’s are apt to question religion and church, but not spirituality and faith. They tend to think outside the box, or outside the Church in this case, preferring to spend Sundays in the local Internet café, rather than in a sanctuary. Their spiritual growth is derived from relationships with those of similar interests. Sharing similar values and passions is so critical to this group that if they fail to find a meaningful local connection fairly easily, they’ll go online to chat rooms, blogs and message boards. A successful method of reaching this generation can be found in small-group ministry.

Reaching Young Adults

Though some prefer not to admit to church marketing, it’s more necessary than ever to connect to the younger crowd. …


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Americans Change Faiths More Than Ever Before Study Says

The New York Times reported earlier this week that Americans are more transient in religion than ever before, as only 25 percent of adults still practice the same faith or denomination they did as children.

A study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that 44 percent of Protestant Christians have switched denominations, proving that loyalty to synods and large, organized bodies has significantly diminished.

The Roman Catholic Church has experienced the most net loss from faith fluctuation, the study concludes, but still maintains the largest bloc of American Christians. Their biggest draw has likely been an influx of Catholic immigrants to the United States, particularly from Latin America.

The fastest-growing group in the study was the “unaffiliated,” which stands at 16 percent. That number is up from the 5 to 8 percent reported by a different survey in the 1980s. These respondents indicated they are not involved in any church body, and they now comprise the fourth largest group in the nation.

Among Protestants, evangelicals maintain an edge over mainline denominations. Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at BostonUniversity told the Times, “The trend is toward more personal religion, and evangelicals offer that. Those losing out are offering impersonal religion and those winning are offering a smaller scale: megachurches succeed not because they are mega but because they have smaller ministries inside.”

Among other sects, Muslims and Mormons rival each other for having the largest families, while Hindus seem to represent the religion having the most education and per capita income.

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8 Technology Trends to Revolutionize Your Church

Keeping on top of technology trends in the church market can be hard to do, to say the least! This year, I�ve assembled a list of hot trends to help your church wade through the new advancements in church management and Internet technology. The goal is to best assist your church in selecting technology products and services that can aid in deepening relationships and reaching people for Christ.

1) Customizable Church Management Software

One of the most interesting trends I�ve noticed this year is the trend toward customizable ChMS. More than your average desktop application, or even Web application, innovative technology companies are building in ways for churches to edit and customize management tools to fit within the organization�s needs.

For church plants, multi-campus churches and organizations that transcend the four walls of the church, organizations can add features they need and make them their own. Through a shared-source platform and Web 2.0 applications, this type of customization will soon set a new standard in the ChMS industry.

2) Secure Online Communities

Integrating a secure way for people to communicate with one another within your church website can be an extremely powerful tool in building relationships within your membership. Web 2.0 technology is allowing for more community to be experienced through online gated communities where people can login and extend their physical communities that already exist to the online world through personalized profile pages, individual blogs, photo sharing, conversation forums (similar to chat rooms), and online 24/7 prayer. Small groups can easily set up their own forums and have a safe place to stay connected in real time; youth groups can offer an alternative to the dangers of MySpace and other open social community sites.

3) Online Ticketing, Registration and Giving

Outreach is perhaps the most important call of any church. This being said, Web-based services such as online ticketing for events, online reservations for classes, and online payments for tithing and registration fees are critical to caring for the members of your church and reaching outside the church to draw others to Christ. Providing online tickets can be a convenient way to reserve seats for Christmas events, concerts, conferences, and even a way to make sure you have enough seating for large holiday services such as Easter or Christmas Eve.

4) Volunteer Ministry Management

Volunteer Ministry Management applications allow the church to manage their volunteer teams and be able to let people sign up online to volunteer for ministries and teams and events. It also allows the members to enter their skills, talents, passions and other attributes into the system so that they can match up with the right serving opportunities for them. Many assessment sites out there such as PLACE Ministries or Strengths Finder are being used by churches to help their members discover their personal talents and skills. These same talents and skills can then be put into the database to use for searching out the right ministry opportunity for the right person.

5) Integrated Communications

While most churches make use of e-mail to communicate with staff and members individually, other technologies can be used to increase communication and get the word out about events, prayer requests, special requests, and more. E-mail newsletters are perhaps the most effective tool to keep up with your congregation on a regular basis. Combined with an informative website with current and interesting content, creating a blog written by your pastor, offering sermon podcast downloads, and incorporating social community functionality into your existing website � all adds value for members. Using multiple communication methods is the best way to get people involved.

6) Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

CRM is more than sharing the data about a member and allowing everyone to view and edit their parts of it; it is about creating processes and workflows inside the software. For example, with a good CRM, the church can set up a process for connecting new visitors and assimilating them into the church. Their process might include the pastor sending a welcome e-mail or letter, a team member calling them to invite them to a small group, another team member calling them to invite them to volunteer for some activity, etc.

Each person who is involved can track their part of the process and edit the CRM system or make comments as needed. Depending on the workflows of the church, various contact points can be set up and tracked this way. This is what a true CRM does � it goes beyond storing the data to let various people see it, it reminds people of activities they must perform in relation to contacting people.

7) Child Security Software

In the past year, it has�become increasingly obvious that churches need to get on board with child security check-in/check-out software. In churches�with more than�300 members, putting a system into place to electronically check children in and ensure that they are being picked up by the correct guardian is very important. Several ChMS providers are providing wonderful systems from the software and computer systems right down to customized touchscreens to label printers. Making sure that children are safe at church is critical, and is quickly becoming a top priority for churches.

8) Benevolence Tracking

For many churches, benevolence has become a thing of the past because of rampant fraud and difficulty in managing the process. New Internet technologies have made it possible to create online shared tracking systems that can be used in local communities as well as nationally to curb fraud and resume benevolent giving as a significant church ministry. Applications can be deployed throughout multiple charitable organizations banding together the community to share resources and give freely.


# # #

Lauren Hunter is a freelance writer and public relations consultant dedicated to the faith-based technology market. For more information on how Internet technology can improve your organization, contact�her at�[email protected] or visit

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A Very Big Job

A Very Big Job

Karen Kelly has been at the helm of Saddleback’s campus expansion for two decades. As you might suspect, she has a lot of wisdom to impart.

KAREN KELLY HAS BEEN on staff at Saddleback Church for 19 years. She’s done it all – worked in the accounting department, as an office manager, in the human resources department, as director of operations, and finally, in her current capacity as the director of facility development.

Kelly has overseen the design and construction of nearly all the buildings for Saddleback, quite possible the world’s best-known church … and that’s a big job. But, as she explains, the church has humble beginnings – and it remains humble in its outreach endeavors.

Church Solutions: How did you originally land at Saddleback?

Karen Kelly: About 22 years ago, my husband and I decided we needed to find a new church. Saddleback was the first one we visited, and we immediately knew this was the place for us. The message was right in line with scripture and very applicable to our daily lives, and the music was exciting and joyful, so we stayed.

CS: Describe the church when it was founded.

KK: When Saddleback Church began, [Pastor] Rick [Warren] targeted the unchurched people in the community. It was a community of young families, so that was a key component in the focus of the church as well. Our growth has come from a strategic emphasis on doing what allows the unchurched seeker to feel welcome, comfortable, and loved by Jesus Christ.

It was important to reach these people without diluting the spiritual message, which has continued to this day, with thousands of people coming to Christ and growing in their walk with the Lord.

We didn’t have a campus for the first 15 years of our existence. For many years, we were the largest church in America without a church home. We met in schools and rented other church facilities and a hodgepodge of buildings for our worship services and ministry activities. I think it was important for God to hold us up in getting land, so we could be an example to other churches that growth is not about land and buildings.

CS: Do you have a background in project management?

KK: I didn’t have any experience or background in project management when I started working here. I learned quickly as I went along, and developed my skills and interest to the point of becoming the owner’s rep for our building projects. I’m continually learning.

Rick often says that all leaders are learners, and the church has supported me as I’ve taken classes that help me with my job. I now have a certificate in Project Management from the University of California, Irvine; a certificate in Interior Design from the Interior Designers Institute; and an AS degree in Landscape Design from Saddleback College.

There’s a lot to learn about coordinating building projects that you can’t learn in classrooms, so the work experience is invaluable. Many churches can’t afford to bring people in to lead their projects, so people get thrown into these positions.

I just hope that I can encourage them to keep growing and learning and ask lots of questions.

CS: What has it been like to see Saddleback grow into the hugely successful ministry it is today, both spiritually and physically?

KK: It certainly has been exciting to see the church grow and to see lives change. It’s also humbling to be allowed to be a part of it. I’ve seen the church grow from a community church to a church that has a global reach, and whenever I meet people whose lives have been changed by this ministry, either directly or indirectly, it’s awesome. I’m so honored to be a part of something that reaches beyond my world here in Southern California and changes lives for Jesus.

CS: Are people sometimes surprised to see how you’ve mixed Rick’s vision for a “peaceful, inspiring garden landscape” with tents and tilt-up concrete on your campus?

KK: I do think it can be surprising. Part of me would love to have all the temporary structures gone, but we’re constantly growing, and the tents are part of what we need to do. I think a growing church will always have space problems, so the tents are a visible reminder that we’re always growing and reaching more people.

They also help people remember that it’s not about buildings; it’s about people. A pioneering, sacrificing attitude is needed if a church is going to always welcome new folks.

We’re constantly looking at how we can improve things on the campus, but it takes time, money and planning. This campus looked pretty bare when we moved in – we called it a ‘moonscape.’ But after 12 years, we’ve been able to add buildings, hardscape and softscape to improve the look and try to keep some consistency in what we do.

We don’t always have the money to do what we would like, so we do the best we can with what’s available to us. I’m sure other churches can relate to that.

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10 Easy Ways to Keep Me from Visiting Your Church Because I Visited Your Website

10 Easy Ways to Keep Me from Visiting Your Church Because I Visited Your Website

10 Easy Ways to Keep Me from Visiting Your Church Because I Visited Your Website

by Tony Morgan

I spend quite a bit of time each week visiting church websites throughout the country to find a cool church to tell you about in my blog, In the process, though, I find lots of uncool sites. With that in mind, I thought this list might be helpful. Now, at least you’ll know what it might take to become my “cool church of the week.”

1. Avoid telling me what’s going to happen at your church this weekend. I found churches that had weather reports, but nothing about their upcoming weekend service. I found two churches that had prominent information about upcoming golf scrambles (which I appreciated as a golfer), but nothing about this weekend’s service. Why would I come if I don’t know what I’m going to experience?

2. Put a picture of your building on the main page. After all, ministry is all about the buildings.

3. Use lots of purple and pink, and add pictures of flowers. Really. Are you expecting any men to show up? And for my benefit, please don’t put any doves on your website. Doves scare me.

4. Make me click a “skip intro” or “enter site” link. I don’t have time for that, and it’s very annoying. If I have to wait for something to load or click around intro pages to get to the real information, I’m probably going to skip your church service.

5. Add as many pictures and graphics as you can to the main page. My life is already complicated. I don’t have time to figure out what’s important at your church. If you dump everything on the main page, I’m assuming you don’t know what’s important either.

6. Use amateur photography. And for the record, it would be helpful to have at least one normal-looking person on your site. Do us all a favor and hire a graphic designer and a professional photographer, or purchase some stock photography.

7. List every single ministry you have at your church. Frankly, I don’t care what ministries you have — I just want to know whether or not I should visit your church this weekend. My first step isn’t the men’s Bible study or joining your prayer partners ministry.

8. Make it as difficult as possible for me to get directions, services times, or find information about what will happen with my kids. It’s important that my kids have a great experience. If you can’t convince me that will happen, I’m probably not going to risk visiting your service.

9. Put a picture of your pastor with his wife on the main page. That tells me it’s all about a personality, and I see enough of those people on television. I actually found one church that had not one, but two pictures of the senior pastor on the main page. He was looking mighty dapper, though, in his fancy suit.

10. Try to sell your church rather than telling me how I will benefit from the experience. I don’t care how great your church is: I just want to know if visiting your church will help me and my unchurched friends take our next steps toward Christ.

OK, I have to go check our new Web design to make sure we haven’t made any of these mistakes. I’d hate it if I couldn’t visit my own church. Now go and be cool.

Tony Morgan is chief strategic officer at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C. He has co-written three books with Tim Stevens, including their latest project, Simply Strategic Growth (Group Publishing). To join the conversation about growing strategies, visit Tony’s blog at

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An honest sobering view from someone whos been on bo

by Rev. Steve Barduson AIA, LEED AP

Continued from

page 1

Keeping Up with the Pastor Joneses – The Temptation To Covet

The first temptation faced by growing churches happens while attending a conference at that national megachurch, scanning the glossies of a worship magazine or visiting a friend’s new facilities. In their book, “When Not To Build,” Bowman and Hall state that “Nine out of 10 churches that have called me thinking they need to build have a better, less-costly alternative.” Our ratios are significantly lower, but the caution is nonetheless sobering. Don’t start a building program to provide momentum to a stuck church, consensus to a split church or financial growth to an indebted church.

For those who build, there is an insatiable temptation to covet what other churches have. Along with the enticement comes the desire to build or buy more than the budget allows. You will be bombarded with ideas and needs that extend past your church’s calling or building-program budget.

When tempted to keep up with the Pastor Joneses, we encourage you to focus even more tightly upon your church’s vision and to listen more intently to God’s calling for your project.

  • Most-tempted churches: those with the fastest rate of growth
  • Most-tempting area: worship center technology
  • Real quote: “We loved that 32-foot screen, but we will want ours to be even bigger … more than 50 feet wide.”

Beginning Without Vision – The Temptation of Myopia and Haste

This temptation has the most far-reaching, impactful implications to both the church and the design team. It is the temptation to start a building project without a clearly articulated church vision first and without a clearly understood campus vision second. We know that without vision, plans fail and people perish, but without campus vision, building plans fail and, well, people leave.

Evangelical churches are consistently in a hurry to get a building built, thereby missing the opportunity to ensure the building fits into the campus master-planned vision or into the church’s God-given vision.

When tempted to rush into a project without a clear vision, take the time to make sure that your church’s philosophy of ministry is both known and communicated. Secondly, work out a campus master plan of development based upon the church’s vision and the programmatic needs of the ministries.

As architects, we feed off the clarity of a church’s specific calling since it allows us to physically represent that vision on the campus. The buildings are physical tools to carry out God’s vision for the church. One church’s name came from their calling to Jesus as their “cornerstone,” so we designed the building to be supported at the main corner by the largest boulder ever quarried in the state. Another church stresses how we all enter God’s church as broken people and that “our story” is more often associated with our brokenness than with our perfection, so the entry sidewalk was intentionally “broken” all along its edge leading into and out of the church.

Every church project has this opportunity to express the church’s calling and philosophy of ministry. It does take time and additional money, but campus vision gives birth to momentum, excitement and clarity of focus. Worrying about the location of outlets on the architect’s first day or pushing the process to get it done “yesterday” could yield risk, mistakes, second-guessing and stress.

  • Most-tempted churches: churches with slower growth or impatience
  • Real quote: “It’s just a building – we don’t need to spend the money on a master plan … and [regarding gaining community consensus] we don’t need full buy-in. The elders can communicate the idea well enough.”

Lacking Diversity on the Building Committee – The Temptation of Sectarianism

This temptation has been one of the most surprising to us and is one that we had to learn from experience to avoid. We have a joke in the firm: “We know we’re in trouble when we walk into the building committee meeting and see only male baby boomers.”

We did not add this temptation to be politically correct – it is simply essential (and common sense) to have the people who are the focus of your outreach or who are the primary users of the property to be represented on the building committee. We encourage the church that is tempted to sectarianism to include women and seniors, along with a diversity in age (include the emerging church), economics (if you only include the wealthy, you may be surprised at their expectations) and race (meet or/exceed the diversity of your community). Also, remember that the building committee is not an elder board or pastoral position, demanding strict compliance with the Titus 1 and I Timothy 3 type of qualifications.

We also encourage you to adopt what we call a “minds of many” process where a fully diverse group of stakeholders shares in the brainstorming workshops. Through this, a greater percentage of the church gains ownership and input into the process, while the core committee is still able to override errant ideas.

We believe that the senior pastor(s) should be integrated into this group – especially during the design and preconstruction phases of the project. Problems arise when the pastor(s) relies on someone else to communicate his desires with the committee – or, when in false humility, he chooses to not participate, yet continues to exert influence from outside the committee. In liturgical churches, if the pastor(s) isn’t present, the building committee doesn’t meet.

Finally, we have observed that most evangelical churches often leave an important, influential person off of the committee, though he or she still sways the group. This person may be the pastor’s wife, a major donor, a previous staff member or even someone on the committee who inconsistently attends. It is critical that these members join the committee and that all committee members attend each meeting – especially during critical phases.

  • Most-tempted churches: well-established churches
  • Most-tempting areas to overlook: women, emerging church members, pastor’s wife, pastor
  • Real quote: “We don’t need women on the committee, in fact … [with a smirk] we will tell them what is best.” [The project later erupted with problems].

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7 Ways to Get People Involved in Your Church

by Tim Whitehorn

To reach people, you have to get them involved. But the more events you have, the more potential there is for confusion and frustration – for your staff, your members and visitors. The right system and processes will significantly reduce the time it takes your staff to manage events, registrations, donations, etc. The result is more time spent in service instead of administration.

Here are seven ways for you to use technology to get people involved:

1. Make your event calendar open to the community. One survey found that 70 percent of Web site visitors were seeking event information. Show the latest event information on your site, instantly and automatically updated to reflect any changes. Each department or ministry should have its own calendar, making it easy for people to find information that matches their interests.

2. Use event tickets online and on-site. People expect convenience everywhere they go. Offer the convenience of ordering tickets for events on your Web site. Give your staff the ability to use the same system to take orders in your lobby. Allow online purchasers to print e-tickets or request them by mail or will-call.

3. Reach people with e-mail. Why make people come to your Web site to get information? Send them an e-mail each week with the exact event information they are interested in. Give each subscriber a list of upcoming events that match personal interests (youth, sports, music, etc.).

4. Register for your events anytime, anywhere. People hate standing in line. Give them the convenience of 24/7 registration through your Web site. People can visit your Web site anytime day or night and let you know what events they’ll be attending. Make it possible to get more accurate numbers for head counts and future planning.

5. Customize your communications. Let visitors to your site subscribe to your newsletter and pick the ministries that interest them. Automatically send a personalized newsletter to each subscriber every week that includes news from each selected department, plus the personalized event listing. View reports showing which recipients opened their message and which links they clicked.

6. Use reserved seat tickets as an outreach tool. People appreciate having a reserved seat for an event. It eliminates the hassles of finding a seat or meeting a friend. If you give someone a ticket, they are more likely to attend.

7. Make giving convenient. Some people have jobs or other commitments that keep them from attending regularly. Let contributors set up and manage their giving through your Web site. Enable each person to have total control of his or her own giving. Automatically send an e-mail reminder before each contribution is made.

Tim Whitehorn is the founder and CEO of ServiceU Corporation. Serving churches since 1999, ServiceU ( is the leader in online event management software used by churches, schools, ministries and all types of nonprofit organizations. ServiceU’s product line includes three core products: EventU provides a way to easily manage event scheduling and registration; TransactU allows organizations to accept online payments and donations. For more information, e-mail [email protected], or call 888.638.7439.

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Are You Ready for a Radical Change in Church G

by John Purcell

Although the following scenario occurs in the Presbyterian form of church governance, you can change the title to “deacon” or “board member” or any other title and you just may recognize parts of your church’s story.

First Presbyterian Church has a typical session. There are 13 elders who meet once a month for a session meeting that usually goes until midnight, and they often come home feeling frustrated about the lack of productive work done there. They wonder whether all those issues they discuss are the best use of time, but someone has to make the decisions, from major ministry issues to $100 purchasing decisions. They never seem to be unified on ministry issues, so they discuss the same things over and over and then eventually make split decisions that no one is completely satisfied with. And the pastor – well, he doesn’t seem to know how to lead the elders or the meeting very effectively. He frustrated by the feeling that he is in a more or less adversarial relationship with the board. There is some trust with a couple of them, but that’s about all. He suspects that he is entering burnout.

Once or twice a month, the elders must attend a meeting of the ministry committee they are assigned to. Twice a month they lead their small groups, and then they are supposed to be calling and meeting with their “shepherding flock” of 30 families, but they don’t feel like they are doing a good job. It’s not that they don’t want to or don’t try. It just seems like most of their flock isn’t responsive to their shepherding, and they wonder whether they really know how to shepherd. Many also have another ministry they really have a heart for, and they try hard to participate in that regularly. The elders are spiritually and physically tired of giving away to others constantly. But they assume they have to suck it up because there’s no one to shepherd them. Some have burned out and dropped out by becoming “inactive elders.” That’s a time when they go back to being regular church members and their experience isn’t used in ministry. A couple of them have actually left the church to go somewhere where the people don’t yet know they can lead or serve. Are there any real answers to these issues? Is God’s work supposed to be this way?

As I work with churches with boards that have true authority, I witness part or this entire story being played out over and over. The issues represented in this story are these:

Unclear role and authority of the board vs. the role and authority of the pastor and staff

When I listed 20 possible responsibilities of the church board on a leader survey, the average agreement among the board members on each of those was 64 percent (the lowest possible agreement would be 50 percent). When I listed 20 possible roles of the pastor, the board members’ average agreement was 65 percent. There is little agreement on the vision of what the church is trying to accomplish in the first place. So, if we don’t agree on the vision, the role of the pastor or the role of the board, how can we expect to move the church forward?

Confusing the role of the board with the individual role of the officer (elder or deacon) or the individual church leadership role of the board member

In a church environment, as opposed to a business or larger nonprofit, key leaders and officers are serving as the board members, meaning the people who are running the organization are also responsible for overseeing it through the church governance. This is necessary in a church, but it creates a mess.

Confusion between the role of the staff or lay ministry leader and the role of the officer who is “assigned” to that ministry team or committee

If the pastor is expected to shepherd everyone in the congregation, he will not have time to lead the church or will burn out trying to both satisfy everyone’s expectations. On the other hand, shepherding systems where the flock is divided up among the officers are universally failing.

In churches with an elder or deacon governing system, all the elders or deacons are on the board, and that is seen as their main role.


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