Friday, August 28, 2020

Back to the Top: Climbing Republic Mountain

When I was coming up to my 65th birthday, I decided to celebrate a little differently; namely, by attempting a hike of one of the 14ers back in my home state of Colorado. (The 14er label comes from being at least 14,000 feet in elevation.) And, you guessed it; that turned out to be the most harrowing, difficult birthday I ever had! But, thank the Lord for His enabling mercies, I made it to the summit of Mt. Bierstadt (14,065) and really relished the achievement. I followed up with another birthday hike the next year, making it up Mt. Quandary (14,265).

The recap and photos from those two adventures are 1) here  and 2) here.

However, the next year I was unable to keep up this new tradition because of both a torn meniscus and torn calf muscle. Those and other physical issues also kept me off the mountains for both my 68th and 69th birthdays (the latter coming just 8 weeks ago). Alas, it looked like I was forever done with that particular activity.

But, thank the Lord, He gave me another chance last Wednesday and despite the wildfires, the ongoing physical difficulties, a sleepless night before (stretched out in my car while a cold rain fell), and certainly the toughest climb yet, I was blessed to accompany 4 friends (Ron Scheffler, Mark Fichter, Sterling Fichter, and Ryan Dinville) to the top of Mt. Democrat (14,148) or, to use the historic name, Republic Mountain. (Note: The Mount Democrat moniker began with miners with Confederate sympathies who despised that a nearby peak had become known as Mount Lincoln. As one chronicler put it, they changed the name of Republic Mountain to Mount Democrat "to even the scales.")

Anyhow, here's a few photos and comments about the climb.

1) After enduring a lot of rain and cold while camping out on Tuesday night at the Kite Lake Trailhead, we started out about 5:10. Using flashlights, we headed north towards the saddle between Republic (Democrat) and Cameron.  This photo, taken after about 90 minutes of hiking, looks back southwest towards camp.

2) This is the goal...well, kind of. This far view of the mountain we will be directly climbing in about an hour (from this spot) actually shows the "false summit" of the mountain. This means that the true peak is hidden and you've got to go find it!

3) At the saddle between Republic and Cameron. My camera here is pointed almost directly north. Below is the valley in which the Middle Fork of the South Platte begins and in the background you can see Bartlett, Wheeler, North Star, and other impressive peaks.

4) This shot looks a bit further over the edge (no small test for a fellow who deals with vertigo) towards the valley floor. That shadow is thrown by Mount Cameron.

5) From the same vantage point, this photo shows how the valley breaks to the east. I love the contrast you find in the mountains of light and shadow, angle and curve, beauty and bleakness. By the way, the rounded mountain shown on the far horizon is Mount Quandary.

6) Okay, this is the first pitch towards the west and up from the saddle. If it looks intimidating, that's because it is! Indeed, not only must the hiker deal with the steep ascent in this portion, he or she must also scramble their way around with literally no path to guide them for quite awhile. One can sometimes find a few cairns to provide general guidance on the way back to some kind of trail. But, even then, this part of the climb is pretty frustrating, slow going, and a bit dangerous. So, be careful, kids.

7) Looking back toward the saddle and the ascent towards Cameron, this point in the trail represents a much-welcomed break from the scrambling. For quite a ways now, the hiker will be gingerly moving up several switchbacks on his way to the false summit.

8) At the broad plain beyond the false summit, there's still a ways to go. But this makes a great place to rest for a few minutes, take in the grand views to the west and southwest (which includes Mount Arkansas), and psyche up for the remaining 20 minutes or so.

9) From the same vantage point, this photo looks south towards the area where we started the morning. The light ribbon you can see moving down the Kite River Valley is the hardscrabble road that one takes (preferably, in a tough, high-clearance vehicle) from Alma 6.5 miles to the trailhead.

10) Arriving at the summit, all of us exchanged cameras to get both individual and group the ones in which we posed with a 5-foot flag I had brought along. We took pictures for others who were there and one couple eagerly took advantage of our general offer to use our U.S. flag.  

And I'll post below again the photo that leads this story. It is surely one of my favorites from all my mountain photos from over the years. On the left (as you look at the photo) is Ryan Dinville (a family friend of the Fichters who now is a student living in Denver with obligations to the U.S. Air Force -- Ryan is an eager and skilled hiker and an overall nice guy); Mark Fichter (a recently retired farmer from southwest Iowa who now lives with his wife, Benita, in Bellevue -- Mark is a leader in his church and has long been a pro-life colleague), me; Sterling Fichter (Mark's oldest son who now farms on his dad's land -- Sterling is an experienced hiker with 11 14ers on his record so far -- and he is a toughened historical reeanactor whose specialty is the American mountain man era); and Ron Scheffler (a longtime friend and supporter of Vital Signs Ministries, Ron is married to Linda who was spending time with Claire in Breckenridge and Frisco during our absence -- this was Ron's 2nd 14er and he did remarkably well.)

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Denny Talks to Dr. Paul Kengor About Ronald Reagan's Christianity

It's another "blast from the past" from Vital Signs Radio.  Denny Hartford interviews Dr. Paul Kengor about Paul's book GOD AND RONALD REAGAN

Thursday, August 13, 2020

On Intelligent Design

"The fundamental claim of intelligent design is straightforward and easily intelligible: namely, there are natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms of undirected natural forces and that exhibit features which in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence." 
(William A. Dembski)

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Old Glory

Evangelo "Vann" Morris is a combat veteran turned motivational speaker & narrator. This retired Navy officer LOVES America and was born to inspire. He has visited 45 countries and has made hundreds of speeches in 20 years.

Check out Vann's site right here.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Number 23 in the Anti-Boredom Series Is On Its Way

Alas, the quarantines in the senior care facilities continue.

And, as long as this sad state of affairs goes on, we will keep creating our "Anti-Boredom" Packets for the residents who live there...and anyone else who needs a lift. We sent out #23 in our series last Thursday. And you can take a look at it (and all the others) on this page of the Vital Signs Ministries website.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

About the Supreme Court’s Latest Decision Against Religious Freedom

Yes, Virginia; that case of Calvary Chapel of Dayton Valley vs the State of Nevada is a VERY big deal.

And to help you come up to speed on the matter, I offer 2 things here. The first is an introduction and link to a Tom Gilson article over at The Stream. And 2) excerpts from the dissents of the injustice, hypocrisy, and remarkable audacity of that Supreme Court decision made by Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh.

Tom Gilson, in an article written for The Stream (an article I post a link to at the end of the quotation), observed, “The Supreme Court could not have said it more clearly than they did last weekend in their Nevada decision: Religious freedom is no longer protected in the United States. Not even the freedom of religious assembly. It was perhaps the last shred of uncontested freedom Christianity has enjoyed here, but now it’s up for grabs.”

However, what is certainly as important is to read the excerpts of the dissents in that horrific Supreme Court decision last week from Justices Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. (Justice Thomas joined the dissent but did not write a separate opinion.)

I post a few of the comments from those dissents immediately below:

No. 19A1070
[July 24, 2020]

The application for injunctive relief presented to JUSTICE KAGAN and by her referred to the Court is denied.

JUSTICE ALITO, with whom JUSTICE THOMAS and JUSTICE KAVANAUGH join, dissenting from denial of application for injunctive relief.

The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the freedom to play craps or blackjack, to feed tokens into a slot machine, or to engage in any other game of chance. But the Governor of Nevada apparently has different priorities. Claiming virtually unbounded power to restrict constitutional rights during the COVID–19 pandemic, he has issued a directive that severely limits attendance at religious services. A church, synagogue, or mosque, regardless of its size, may not admit more than 50 persons, but casinos and certain other favored facilities may admit 50% of their maximum occupancy -- and in the case of gigantic Las Vegas casinos, this means that thousands of patrons are allowed. That Nevada would discriminate in favor of the powerful gaming industry and its employees may not come as a surprise, but this Court’s willingness to allow such discrimination is disappointing. We have a duty to defend the Constitution, and even a public health emergency does not absolve us of that responsibility...

For months now, States and their subdivisions have responded to the pandemic by imposing unprecedented restrictions on personal liberty, including the free exercise of religion. This initial response was understandable...But a public health emergency does not give Governors and other public officials carte blanche to disregard the Constitution for as long as the medical problem persists...

For Las Vegas casinos, 50% capacity often means thousands of patrons, and the activities that occur in casinos frequently involve far less physical distancing and other safety measures than the worship services that Calvary Chapel proposes to conduct. Patrons at a craps or blackjack table do not customarily stay six feet apart. Casinos are permitted to serve alcohol, which is well known to induce risk taking, and drinking generally requires at least the temporary removal of masks. Casinos attract patrons from all over the country. In anticipation of reopening, one casino owner gave away 2,000 one-way airline tickets to Las Vegas. And when the Governor announced that casinos would be permitted to reopen, he invited visitors to come to the State. The average visitor to Las Vegas visits more than six different casinos, potentially gathering with far more than 50 persons in each one. Visitors to Las Vegas who gamble do so for more than two hours per day on average and gamblers in a casino often move from one spot to another, trying their luck at different games or at least at different slot machines. Houses of worship can -- and have -- adopted rules that provide far more protection...

The idea that allowing Calvary Chapel to admit 90 worshippers presents a greater public health risk than allowing casinos to operate at 50% capacity is hard to swallow, and the State’s efforts to justify the discrimination are feeble...

Moreover, even if the State’s special regulatory power over casinos could justify different rules for those facilities, the State would still have no explanation why facilities like bowling alleys, arcades, and fitness centers are also given the benefit of the 50% rule. And while the State suggests that it strictly enforces the rules applicable to casinos, photos and videos taken in casinos after they were allowed to reopen show widespread and blatant safety violations...

In sum, the directive blatantly discriminates against houses of worship and thus warrants strict scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause.

The directive fares no better under the Free Speech Clause...

Compare the directive’s treatment of casino entertainment and church services. Both involve expression, but the directive favors the secular expression in casino shows over the religious expression in houses of worship. Calvary Chapel has also brought to our attention evidence that the Governor has favored certain speakers over others. When large numbers of protesters openly violated provisions of the Directive, such as the rule against groups of more than 50 people, the Governor not only declined to enforce the directive but publicly supported and participated in a protest. He even shared a video of protesters standing shoulder to shoulder. The State’s response to news that churches might violate the directive was quite different. The attorney general of Nevada is reported to have said, “‘You can’t spit . . . in the face of law and not expect law to respond.’” Public protests, of course, are themselves protected by the First Amendment, and any efforts to restrict them would be subject to judicial review. But respecting some First Amendment rights is not a shield for violating others. The State defends the Governor on the ground that the protests expressed a viewpoint on important issues, and that is undoubtedly true, but favoring one viewpoint over others is anathema to the First Amendment...

JUSTICE GORSUCH, dissenting from denial of application for injunctive relief.

This is a simple case. Under the Governor’s edict, a 10- screen “multiplex” may host 500 moviegoers at any time. A casino, too, may cater to hundreds at once, with perhaps six people huddled at each craps table here and a similar number gathered around every roulette wheel there. Large numbers and close quarters are fine in such places. But churches, synagogues, and mosques are banned from admitting more than 50 worshippers -- no matter how large the building, how distant the individuals, how many wear face masks, no matter the precautions at all. In Nevada, it seems, it is better to be in entertainment than religion. Maybe that is nothing new. But the First Amendment prohibits such obvious discrimination against the exercise of religion. The world we inhabit today, with a pandemic upon us, poses unusual challenges. But there is no world in which the Constitution permits Nevada to favor Caesar’s Palace over Calvary Chapel.

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH, dissenting from denial of application for injunctive relief.

I join JUSTICE ALITO’s dissent in full and respectfully add these further comments...

The risk of COVID–19 transmission is at least as high at restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms as it is at religious services. Indeed, people congregating in restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms often linger at least as long as they do at religious services. And given the safety measures that Calvary Chapel and other places of worship are following -- including social distancing, mask wearing, and certain additional voluntary measures -- it is evident that people interact with others at restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms at least as closely as they do at religious services. In my view, Nevada’s discrimination against religious services violates the Constitution.

To be clear, a State’s closing or reopening plan may subject religious organizations to the same limits as secular organizations. And in light of the devastating COVID–19 pandemic, those limits may be very strict. But a State may not impose strict limits on places of worship and looser limits on restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms, at least without sufficient justification for the differential treatment of religion. As I will explain, Nevada has thus far failed to provide a sufficient justification, and its current reopening plan therefore violates the First Amendment..

Fourth are laws -- like Nevada’s in this case—that supply no criteria for government benefits or action, but rather divvy up organizations into a favored or exempt category and a disfavored or non-exempt category. Those laws provide benefits only to organizations in the favored or exempt category and not to organizations in the disfavored or nonexempt category...

To be clear, the Court’s precedents do not require that religious organizations be treated more favorably than all secular organizations. Rather, the First Amendment requires that religious organizations be treated equally to the favored or exempt secular organizations, unless the State can sufficiently justify the differentiation...

I turn then to analyzing Nevada’s rules under the Court’s precedents. As JUSTICE ALITO explains in his dissent, Nevada has now had more than four months to respond to the initial COVID–19 crisis and adjust its line-drawing as circumstances change. Yet Nevada is still discriminating against religion. Nevada applies a strict 50-person attendance cap to religious worship services, but applies a looser 50% occupancy cap to secular organizations like restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms. Nevada has gestured at two possible justifications for that discrimination: public health and the economy. But
neither argument is persuasive on this record..

The State has not explained why a 50% occupancy cap is good enough for secular businesses where people congregate in large groups or remain in close proximity for extended periods—such as at restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms -- but is not good enough for places of worship. Again, it does not suffice to point out that some secular businesses, such as movie theaters, are subject to the lesser of a 50-person or 50% occupancy cap. The legal question is not whether religious worship services are all alone in a disfavored category, but why they are in the disfavored category to begin with. And Nevada has not advanced a sufficient public health rationale for that decision. To reiterate, the State has substantial room to draw lines, especially in an emergency or crisis. But Nevada has not demonstrated that public health justifies taking a looser approach with restaurants, bars, casinos, and gyms and a stricter approach with places of worship...

More broadly, the State insists that it is in the midst of an emergency and that it should receive deference from the courts and not be bogged down in litigation. If the courts simply enforce the constitutional prohibition against religious discrimination, however, the floodgates will not open...

But COVID–19 is not a blank check for a State to discriminate against religious people, religious organizations, and religious services. There are certain constitutional red lines that a State may not cross even in a crisis. Those red lines include racial discrimination, religious discrimination, and content-based suppression of speech. This Court’s history is littered with unfortunate examples of overly broad judicial deference to the government when the government has invoked emergency powers and asserted crisis circumstances to override equal-treatment and free-speech principles. The court of history has rejected those jurisprudential mistakes and cautions us against an unduly deferential judicial approach, especially when questions of racial discrimination, religious discrimination, or free speech are at stake...

The Constitution “protects religious observers against unequal treatment.”…Nevada’s 50-person attendance cap on religious worship services puts praying at churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques on worse footing than eating at restaurants, drinking at bars, gambling at casinos, or biking at gyms. In other words, Nevada is discriminating against religion. And because the State has not offered a sufficient justification for doing so, that discrimination violates the First Amendment.