'Index of Culture and Opportunity' Shows Cultural Health Declining in Most Categories
Nashville, TN — America’s cultural health is declining in most categories, although societal and governmental work has made a difference in a few cases, a think tank fellow told Christian media and ministry professionals Thursday.
Ryan T. Anderson, who specializes in marriage and religious freedom issues at The Heritage Foundation, presented his organization's latest "Index of Culture and Opportunity" at a morning session of the NRB 2015 International Christian Media Convention in Nashville.
Of the 31 cultural indicators Heritage measured, most “are heading in the wrong direction,” Anderson said. That includes the marriage rate, fertility rate, unwed birth rate, single-parent households, teenage drug use, sexual abstinence among high school students, religious attendance, labor force participation, student loan debt, and the unemployment rate.
Among the exceptions are the abortion rate, divorce rate, school choice enrollment, and participation in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. What is notable about these exceptions is they involve matters about which civil society and policy institutions have made “concerted efforts,” Anderson told session attendees.
On those four exceptions, the index, which focused on the latest 10-year period for which statistics are available, showed:
The abortion rate dropped by four abortions per 1,000 women.
The combined efforts of pregnancy help centers, advocacy by pro-life organizations, and initiatives by state legislatures “are having an impact,” Anderson said. “There have been more pro-life laws passed [by states] in the last decade than in the previous three decades combined.”
The divorce rate declined by 0.4 divorces per 1,000 people.
Enrollment in private school choice programs increased by about 218,000 students and in charter schools by 1.22 million students.
“There has been a concerted effort over the last several decades now to break the government monopoly in government-run public schools, to open up school vouchers, charter schools, parochial schools,” Anderson said.
The number of people receiving assistance from the TANF program fell by about 1.16 million.
TANF was the one welfare program that had a reform component, Anderson said.
According to Anderson, four institutions are essential to the flourishing of individuals and communities: limited and constitutional government, strong civil society with free markets, strong families, and a culture that promotes virtue.
Heritage has begun focusing on “crony capitalism” and “cultural cronyism,” reported Anderson, noting that "crony capitalism” essentially describes the lobbying efforts of special business interests “to rig the game in their favor.”
“We are now arguing that this same thing takes place in the culture — that there are special interests, special lobbies that are able to use government regulation, government authority to rig the game for themselves,” he said.
Recently, Anderson continued, the abortion and same-sex marriage lobbies have achieved “cultural cronyism.” The news that representatives of the abortion industry participated in Department of Health and Human Services meetings on the abortion/contraception mandate is evidence, Anderson said.
If a person thinks crony capitalism in the business sector is a problem, “you have to think government funding for Planned Parenthood and government discrimination against Catholic Charities are a problem,” he shared.
According to Anderson, one of Heritage’s themes for the last year has been: “Opportunity for all, favoritism to none.” This applies to “cultural cronyism,” he added.
“[T]he most foundational way in which government protects opportunity for all is by protecting the opportunity for all citizens to be born,” Anderson said. “It gives favoritism to none by refusing to force citizens to pay for abortions, to subsidize abortions in their tax dollars or in their personal health-care plans.
“Likewise, when the state promotes the truth about marriage, it promotes the opportunity for all children to be raised by their married mother and father,” he said.
“It shows favoritism to none by refusing to coerce the florist, the baker, the photographer, the innkeeper, any of these professionals, into violating their beliefs” by demanding they participate in same-sex weddings, Anderson added.
By Tom Strode
Published: February 27, 2015