FRC Blog

Atlanta Mayor Steps up Disparaging Attacks on Chief Cochran

by Travis Weber

January 29, 2015

Last week, Chief Cochran lodged a complaint (known as a “charge of discrimination”) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging that the City of Atlanta discriminated against him for his religious beliefs when it fired him after he authored a book on Christianity which mentioned homosexuality.

After the complaint was filed, the city quickly released the following statement in response.

Former Chief Cochran filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and declared under penalty of perjury that the statements in the charge are true and correct. Unfortunately, the only truthful portions are his statements about his tenure as Chief and the identity of those in the room with him during two meetings. Everything else is patently false.
The City will respond directly to the EEOC at the appropriate time to inform the agency that instead of “unspecified policies,” Mr. Cochran was informed at the time of his suspension that he had failed to follow the City Code in seeking to engage in an outside income-producing venture. He was also informed that the issue was not the religious nature of his book, but the fact that he was espousing theories about certain groups of people that were in conflict with the City’s policy of inclusiveness. He was further informed that there was an issue with his espousing these beliefs while identifying himself as the Atlanta Fire Chief and while falsely claiming that his job description required him to run the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department on the basis of these beliefs. Finally, Mr. Cochran was informed that distributing the book to members of his command staff in the workplace was improper and sent a message to his staffers that they were expected to embrace his beliefs.
Although Mr. Cochran continues to claim that the City Ethics Officer authorized his publication of the book, that claim is as untruthful today as it was when first uttered. Mr. Cochran was told that the City Code required him to get the approval of the Board of Ethics before publishing his book, something he admits he never did.
Mr. Cochran states in his EEOC charge that he was told his faith influenced his leadership style and that this was the reason for his termination. What he was actually told was that his distribution of a book about his beliefs within his department had caused his employees to question his ability to continue to lead a diverse workforce.
The religious nature of his book is not the reason he is no longer employed by the City of Atlanta. The totality of his conduct—including the way he handled himself during his suspension after he agreed not to make public comments during the investigation—reflected poor judgment and failure to follow clearly defined work protocols.
Mr. Cochran continues to make false statements and accusations, even under penalty of perjury to the EEOC. This is just further proof that he has shown himself to be the wrong person for a leadership role in the City of Atlanta.

The city’s response reveals several things:

  • The fact that the city feels it needs to immediately and publicly respond to this complaint shows that the city is aware of the public importance of this debate. Typically an immediate public response to a legal filing is more general and cursory than the city’s here. Typically specific and targeted responses like the city’s first appear in the legal response. Yet the city is coming out swinging, which shows it realizes that this public debate over Chief Cochran matters. The city’s behavior here is unusual because now these statements can be used against the city if it contradicts them at all in future legal proceedings (this is typically why lawyers don’t want their clients to talk). Perhaps the city realizes it is losing this battle though, and it is scrambling to catch up a diffuse public support for Chief Cochran.
  • The viciousness of the city’s response (accusing Chief Cochran of committing perjury, and the sharpness of the city’s language in disputing him) reveals the nerve that the EEOC complaint touched.
  • The city is very sensitive about this being perceived as religious discrimination, but that’s exactly what it is. Specifically, the city says Chief Cochran’s religion is not at issue, but that his “theories about certain groups of people” are a problem—as if those two can be divided. Aside from the fact that this misrepresents Chief Cochran (he didn’t say anything about “groups of people” but spoke of a variety of sexual conduct that any one or more persons may engage in), the city is trying to parse something which can’t be parsed. The chief’s orthodox and faithful Christian views on sexuality are what inform his views of a variety of sexual conduct, including but not limited to homosexual conduct, which he believes (in concert with historic and orthodox Christian teaching) departs from God’s standard. The city is trying to ignore the fact that faithful Christianity directly informs views on sexuality. When the chief is punished for these views, he’s being punished for his religion. Thus this case has everything to do with religion.

If the city forces Chief Cochran to modify his views of sexuality as part of his discussion of his religion in his book, it is forcing him to deny and suppress the expression of his religion. Whatever the city wants to say, this case is all about religion.

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Tarnishing Freedom in Georgia

by Travis Weber

January 28, 2015

It is reported that down in Georgia, freedom-hating, individual rights opponents are once again ratcheting up their smear campaign against proposed religious liberty legislation which is designed to ensure that individuals’ consciences cannot be easily trampled by intrusive government regulation.

A web page titled “Better Georgia” purports to state concerns with H.B. 29, but is filled entirely with omissions and misrepresentations regarding H.B. 29 and how religious liberty law works. Let’s fact-check some of its ridiculous claims.

Claim:

This bill would open the door to people who would use their religion to opt out of laws from child welfare to discrimination. It would lead to legal chaos over whose religion is more important in the eyes of our courts and lawmakers. The legislation would give criminals who abusetheir children or spouses a new excuse and make it even more difficult for police officers to put abusers behind bars.”

Veracity Level:

False. Child abuse is evil, and no one defends it. However, it is quite offensive for Better Georgia’s out-of-state backers to imply that religious believers in Georgia are to blame for such abuse. Moreover, no religious freedom laws, including H.B. 29, permit people to “opt out” of child welfare laws, nor do such laws allow people to abuse their children.

Better Georgia had better check its fact-checkers.

The truth is that under H.B. 29, as with any strict scrutiny application to religious claims, an individual first has to prove they have a sincere religious belief, which has been substantially burdened by the government action in question. Only then can the claim move forward. Even then, if the government can show it has compelling interest in burdening the religious practice, and has done so through the least restrictive means, it is allowed to burden the religious exercise in question.

Thus, H.B. 29 does not automatically permit religious claims to win, but does provide a method for sincere conscientious objectors to be protected, while winnowing out those using religion as a pretext to escape application of general laws. This standard has been used in constitutional law for decades, and has been applied to religious claims for over 20 years under the federal RFRA, without any of the alleged “concerns” and “fears” RFRA opponents point to.

In its 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court significantly restricted free exercise rights, holding that laws infringing on religious exercise did not violate the First Amendment as long as they were neutral and generally applicable. In Smith, an individual sought and was denied unemployment benefits by the State of Oregon because he used peyote—a criminalized, controlled substance—yet he claimed his use of peyote was a religious practice protected by the Free Exercise Clause. The Supreme Court rejected this claim, holding that if a neutral and generally applicable law (such as the uniformly applicable criminal law in this case) happens to infringes on religious practice, such a law does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.

Many rightly saw Smith as a reduction in the protection afforded religious liberty, and the reaction to the Court’s decision was overwhelming. In 1993, a coalition of groups from across the religious and legal spectrum—from the Southern Baptists to the ACLU—came together to urge Congress to pass a law restoring strong protections for free exercise claims. The political support for such a law was also overwhelming, including strong backing from Democratic Congressional leaders such as Senator Ted Kennedy and Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Jerry Nadler. RFRA was passed unanimously by the U.S. House, 97-3 by the Senate, and signed into law by President Clinton. In over 20 years that the federal RFRA has been in existence, there is been no documented pattern of abuses such as those no claimed by the opponents of H.B. 29. As others have asked, where are these alleged child abusers and discriminators who are supposedly walking away from criminal charges under RFRA? They simply do not exist.

RFRA never was and should not be a partisan issue, as it protects those of all faiths and political persuasions. A review of RFRA and free exercise case law reveals its benefit to everyone from Muslims to Jews, Christians to Santeria adherents, and Native Americans to more obscure sects (among others), as they seek to protect their beliefs and consciences from being burdened by an ever-more intrusive government. Moreover, RFRAs apply in a variety of factual scenarios, such as property disputes, restrictions on caring from the homeless, conscience objections to abortion, and restrictions on using controlled substances in religious ceremonies. They are not fact-specific. They are not religion specific. And they are not political-party specific.

Indeed, the text of H.B. 29 itself reveals an open-mindedness and neutrality which is at opposition to the narrow-minded, politically-charged misrepresentations being thrown around on the web by Better Georgia. Before unquestioningly getting on the bandwagon, everyone needs to take a deep breath and look at what actually is going on.

The alleged “incidents” highlighted by these scaremongers at Better Georgia are exactly that—scaremongering. The case of the toddler in Canada who died after severe application of Seventh-day Adventist dietary rules (aside from the issue that this is anything but a “pattern” of behavior) would not be an issue under H.B. 29 or any RFRA—the government has the most compelling of interests in preventing deaths of children. The RFRA claim would therefore flatly fail in that case. Rather than highlighting one scaremongering scenario which occurred in Canada, these purveyors of smear could focus on instances of suppression of religious practice closer to home. Georgians know better, as they recognize the threats illuminated by Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran’s termination due to his religious views.

This “example” reveals a deeper issue—sloppy advocacy. Better Georgia links to a story about a religious believer’s alleged child abuse, yet fails to point out that no religious claim was even brought in the case. Of course, the fact that this “concerning scenario” took place in Canada with its entirely different legal system was lost on the group too. It’s almost as if Better Georgia has scoured the web for any information it can find which links bad things happening with religion. The group certainly has not come up with a legitimate example showing any serious danger of H.B. 29.

Even the group’s touting of a piece by a Georgia district attorney misses the mark. The examples in that piece involve criminal prosecution for child abuse without any discussion of a successful religious defense. Child abuse and other cases involving bodily harm to human beings are prosecuted routinely nationwide every day. These take place in states with RFRAs like H.B. 29. How often have we heard about successful RFRA defenses or other religious defenses to such prosecutions? Why can’t Better Georgia or any RFRA opponent point to any?

The reason is that they can’t be successful. Multiple courts in multiple states have held that preventing child abuse is a compelling government interest. Georgia courts have already held that the state has a compelling interest in the welfare of children. As noted above, under H.B. 29 and other RFRAs, the government can burden religious beliefs when it has a compelling government interest. In failing to discuss this point while asserting the dangers of H.B. 29, District Attorney Cooke has misrepresented the danger of the bill, and I hope he will issue a correction.

Another “case” cited by the smear campaign is that of parents beating their son to death. According to Better Georgia, these parents might be able to walk away from criminal charges because of H.B. 29. Not only is this an absolute distraction, but it is an insult to Georgians’ intelligence that they might consider H.B. 29 to legitimately offer a defense to such actions. The Better Georgia ad claims “abusers will be able to hide behind religion in court.” Really? How would they do that under H.B. 29? I challenge these inciters of fear to find one legitimate explanation of how this would be permitted under the strict scrutiny standard laid out above. Exactly. It wouldn’t.

Indeed, Better Georgia does not even highlight any attempted legal defense using a religious freedom claim. The fear that there would be one appears nonexistent. Yet, sadly, the simplistic reduction of how religious freedom law works manipulates human passion and deliberately confuses in order to promote division and hatred of religious people—based entirely on misrepresentations. Better Georgia should be ashamed. Georgia does deserve better.

It’s unclear what Better Georgia is even specifically basing its claims on in these alleged “concerning scenarios.” Perhaps it is looking at language in Section 50-15A-3 to exclude the bill’s application to parental rights regarding “the care and custody of such parent’s minor children.” But any simple reading of this provision reveals that it is stating the area of parental rights as it currently exists is to be left unrestricted by the additional protections of H.B. 29. Therefore, the state will continue to be able to regulate parental rights as it currently does, and this bill does not alter that. Indeed, H.B. 29 notes that these parental rights issues are to be left unrestricted “as provided for under the laws of this state and of the United States.”

Yet the ad does not stop there. Alas, more fact checking is needed.

Claim:

Georgia House Bill 29 would provide a free pass for business owners who believe homosexuality is a sin to openly deny gay Americans employment or service.”

Veracity Level:

False. Neither H.B. 29 nor any other RFRA simply applying strict scrutiny to claims of infringement gives anyone a “free pass.” The evidence of this happening is simply nonexistent. Indeed, it is notable that the smear campaign can’t even cite to one instance of a business owner “openly deny[ing]” such service!

For these same reasons, claims that the Michigan RFRA will “let EMTs refuse to serve gay people” and that the Arizona and Mississippi RFRAs from previous years are “right-to-discriminate” bills are completely misleading. Any proper understanding of RFRA—which simply restores a previous standard protecting First Amendment rights—would expose someone making such claims to be a fabricator.

More fact-checking is needed.

Claim:

A restaurateur could deny service to an out-of-wedlock mother, a cop could refuse to intervene in a domestic dispute if his religion allows for husbands beating their wives, and a hotel chain could refuse to rent rooms to Jews, Hindus or Muslims.”

Veracity Level:

False. Indeed, the opposite is true. The protections in H.B. 29 are the very protections needed to ensure the exercise of all religions—whether Jews, Hindus, or Muslims—is protected. If the smear campaign had cared to accurately represent this point, it would have seen that only this month, the U.S. Supreme Court protected a Muslim inmate’s right to religious practice under the same strict scrutiny standard in RFRA’s cousin—the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Indeed, H.B. 29, and other RFRAs, protect religious exercise regardless of religion. These laws do NOT discriminate, nor do they discriminate between religions, but protect individual religious claims under the framework explained above. Moreover, they protect religious exercise in a variety of situations—such as the Texas RFRA’s protection of those seeking to feed the homeless—which are not cited in this attempt to incite hatred against religion. Any simple reading of the law will reveal all this. But apparently Better Georgia did not even do that.

RFRA never was and should not become a partisan issue, as it protects those of all faiths and political persuasions. Thankfully, some liberal organizations are willing to more fairly represent it. Aside from what Better Georgia thinks, all Americans of political persuasions and religions who care about individual expression should be supporting H.B. 29. The bill’s text and history of RFRAs elsewhere lend support to this conclusion, while Better Georgia’s conclusions have no support whatsoever.

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Auschwitz Liberated 1.27.45

by Robert Morrison

January 27, 2015

The 2001 BBC film Conspiracy can be viewed on YouTube. The film opens servants preparing a great feast in an elegant mansion. Next, we see a snowy scene, looking down upon a forested lakeside villa The date of this gathering is January 20, 1942.

Black cars roll up to the front door of an elegant mansion. Out of those cars step dignified middle-aged European men who appear to be bankers or diplomats. They look sober and occupied in thought in their heavy topcoats and snap-brim fedoras.

Inside, the kitchens, halls, and conference room are being prepared. Tapestries and fine paintings line the walls, richly woven Oriental rugs are rolled out for the distinguished guests.

Liveried servants put out cut flowers—a festive touch for the dead of winter. At first, this film would appear to yet another episode of the popular PBS series Downton Abbey, with maids and butlers and footmen polishing the silver, placing name cards at each seat of the conference table. The best of salmon, meats and cheeses, caviar, wines and liqueurs are provided for the conferees.

A small plane circles above, preparing to land on the lake. On its wings we see Swastikas. This will be no party at a grand English country home. No, this is Wansee, a fashionable district in Berlin. As yet, this section on the outskirts of Hitler’s capital has not suffered bomb damage from nightly air raids by the Royal Air Force.

They are soon followed by an assortment of men in uniform. All the Mercedes have swastika flags. Out of these vehicles steps an assortment of men in military uniforms. Most are trim and fit. These are the notorious SS, the elite Nazi force with the Death’s Head on their high-peaked caps. Others of the conferees are fat and swinish. These are the Nazi party hacks.

British actor Kenneth Branagh, one of that nation’s greatest dramatic stars, plays SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Branagh makes no attempt at a German accent. But within minutes, he is Heydrich.

Slick, blond, affecting a hail-fellow-well-met manner, he moves the meeting along with Teutonic efficiency. Soon, very soon, it becomes clear what these men mean by the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question in Europe.” They are there to plan mass murder of the Jews.

One of the participants, the tall and courtly civilian, Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Kritzlinger, is the Deputy Chief of the Reich Chancellery. He alone is troubled enough by what he is hearing to get up from the table and walk into the hallway. He comes back into the meeting, pale and shaken.

That we have determined to systematically annihilate all the Jews of Europe—that possibility has been explicitly denied to me by the Führer,” he says, expecting that Hitler’s personal assurances will stop the trains on their way to Auschwitz.

Heydrich does not miss a beat. Smiling benevolently, he says: “And it will continue to be.
Holocaust denial is born in that Wanseekonferenz—the same room in which the mass murders are planned in chilling detail.

We will outfit Auschwitz with “shower rooms.” They victims will be herded into the gas chambers, told they are there for de-lousing. They will be gassed and their bodies burned at the rate of 2500/hour. Sixty thousand innocent men, women, and children will be killed every day at Auschwitz.

Heydrich thanks the Americans—whom it is noted—have just come into the war against Germany. He notes with ironic detachment that American techniques of mass production—the assembly line invented by Henry Ford—will be used to effect genocide.

At 60,000 a day, we will advance the human race in a space of time so short Charles Darwin would be astonished,” says the grinning Heydrich. At his elbow is the ever eager to please SS Lt. Col. Adolf Eichmann. This conference is Eichmann’s project. So will be the Final Solution.

Agreeing grimly is a familiar face. Playing the part of SS Chief, Gen. Heinrich Müller is Brendan Coyle, known now to millions as John Bates, Lord Grantham’s faithful valet in the Downton Abbey series.

As Müller, he unsmilingly repeats Heydrich’s evolutionary message: Charles Darwin would be astonished.

Is there any one of these conferees who doubts that Darwin’s description of all Nature as a struggle for “the survival of the fittest” applies as well to the Nazis’ war on the Jews?

Within months, Heydrich will be known as the Butcher of Prague in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. In June, 1942, Heydrich was assassinated by Czech resistance fighters parachuted in by the British. In reprisal, the entire Czech village of Lidice will be wiped off the face if the earth, even pets.

That leaves Eichmann to carry out the mass murder of the Jews.

All of this ended long ago. Threescore and ten years ago. Surely, the world wants no more of this kind of thing. Surely, the Liberation of Auschwitz on this date in 1945 means that the entire world has pledged “Never Again.”

Today, President Obama is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He joins Saudi rulers who allow no Jews to live in their country. They are in mourning for King Abdullah, who refused to let the U.S. question Madani al-Tayyib in 1998. Al-Tayyib was the finance chief of al Qaeda. He might have helped us unravel the 9/11 plot before it occurred. Abdullah refused the urgent request of then-Vice President Al Gore. Abdullah’s refusal is documented on p. 122 of the 9/11 Commission Report.

Did President Obama know of this refusal to help us when he bowed to King Abdullah in London in 2009? Does he know that the Saudis are funding Islamist extremist throughout the world with their petrodollars?

King Abdullah was only upholding a family tradition in his refusal to help us or to even recognize the possibility of a Jewish state in the Mideast. Abdullah’s father was Abdul Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia. Abdul Aziz fathered all the kings of Saudi Arabia until today.

When President Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz on February 14, 1945, just a few weeks after the Liberation of Auschwitz, he pleaded with the Arab ruler to agree to let desperate Jews settle in their ancient homeland in Palestine. Nothing doing, the king told the president. But, millions of Jews have been murdered by the Nazis in Poland and Germany, FDR told the king, appealing to his humanitarian instincts.

Then there should be plenty of room in Poland and Germany to settle the remainder of the Jews, the Saudi king told Roosevelt. So much for humanitarian.

From that date until this—seventy years later—the official position of Saudi Arabia and virtually every member of the Arab League is their own translation of the Nazis’ call:

Juden raus. Jews get out! U.S. policy in the Mideast might be more successful and more honorable if we recognized that basic fact.

Appeasement of Hitler did not stop the trains rolling into Auschwitz. Appeasement of Islamists—whether of the Saudi or Iranian stripe—will not stop war or genocide now.

The most admired man in the Muslim majority lands is Hassan Nasrallah. This leader of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon is armed and paid by Iran. He wants Jews to gather in Israel. But only so it will save him the trouble of “hunting them down.”

Is it any wonder Mr. Obama’s Mideast policy is in shambles?

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What We Owe Winston Churchill-Liberty Itself

by Robert Morrison

January 26, 2015

I’m indebted to my good friend Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy for this excellent reminder of the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill’s funeral.

Fifty years ago, a great State Funeral was held in London for Winston Churchill. Britain’s Prime Minister in World War II, Churchill was the man who through the 1930s had been a voice crying in the wilderness against the rise of the Nazis (Nozzies). Then, when appeasement failed to stop Hitler, Churchill arose to fight him. President Kennedy would say: “He martialed the English language and sent it into battle.”

Half a century ago, Winston Churchill was laid to rest in a solemn ceremony in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The subject of Churchill’s faith—or lack thereof—has been discussed for almost as long as Winston himself has been discussed. And that’s a very long time. He first became famous escaping from a South African prison during the Boer War, just weeks before the year 1900 dawned. Young Churchill hated every minute as a POW and contrived to climb out of a bathroom window and escape. As some would say later, he leaped out of the “Loo” and onto the stage of history.

And what a performance. Winston Churchill’s life was the most documented human life ever lived. When I made that claim to some of our FRC interns several years ago, one of the brighter ones challenged me. What about Prince William? We have even seen his ultra-sound picture. Good point. But we don’t know what William thought about matters—from the age of seven. And we do know that about Winston Churchill.

He died at age 90, seventy years to the day after his famous father had died. His father was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative Party government of Lord Salisbury. Lord Randolph Churchill had married a stunningly beautiful and sensuous American heiress. (Fans of PBS’s Downton Abbey will be familiar with the plan: British noble, down at the heels financially marries wealthy American beauty and, surprisingly, actually falls in love with her.)

Lord Randolph died in his forties. He may have suffered from tuberculosis of the brain, or, as some have suggested, from syphilis. Winston always expected to die young. Perhaps that accounted for his incredible energy.

During World War II, as Prime Minister, he was famous—or notorious—for sending out memos with red stickers saying “Action this Day” on them. He wanted a full report—on one side of a piece of paper, before sundown. Winston himself always worked two shifts. He would sleep late, work in bed before noon. And then every afternoon take a nap of 1-2 hours. By this method, he could go well into the wee hours of the morning.

He had almost no consideration for his staff. No holidays. No vacations. No breaks at all. He would smile mischievously at 10 or 11 pm and say “I shall need two young ladies tonight.” He meant as typists. He wore them out and roared at them if they ever got something wrong, failed to double-space everything, or dared to ask him to repeat something.

Now, he was forever chewing on a fine Havana cigar and he had a speech impediment. He could not properly pronounce the letter “S.” That, and the fact that he drank alcohol from the moment he awoke in the morning until well after midnight sometimes made it hard to make out what he was saying as he paced back and forth, dictating. His drinking led some to conclude, incorrectly, that he was alcoholic. “I’ve taken more out of whiskey than whiskey has taken out of me,” he said.

Those who knew him best knew that his whiskey and water was very weak. And it was probably true that it fueled his lightning imagination. [Don’t try this at home. The Lord makes only one such in a century!]

Standing atop the Air Ministry in London during an especially heavy bombing raid, Winston looked out on the city in flames. Suddenly and somewhat surprisingly, he turned to his young secretary and asked: “You’re not afraid, are you, Miss Holmes?” No sir, the intrepid young woman answered, “I could never be afraid with you, Sir.”

He had that effect on millions of people. His courage was contagious. After the war, a Polish survivor of the concentration camps said: “We didn’t have bread, but we had Churchill.”

That comment hurts me as an American. I want oppressed people around the world to say that of my President. When Ronald Reagan told the National Association of Evangelicals in 1983 they should not turn a blind eye to the “machinations of an evil empire,” those words rang around the world. Reagan never said the Soviet Union is an evil empire. He let the Communists howl in indignation. He let them scream in protest: “Reagan calls USSR ‘Evil Empire.” He hadn’t. But just like the demons, they knew who he was talking about. And they headlined it in Pravda and Izvestia. That’s how Natan Sharansky and other Jews and Christians in the Gulag found out what Reagan had said. Finally, an American president who gets it!

Churchill always got it. He denounced the Nozzie butchers from the first days. After barking at one of his subordinates, and hurting the young man’s feelings, he felt bad. He actually apologized and said: “I’m only fierce toward one.” It was Hitler.

Why do we keep bringing up leaders like Churchill and Reagan? Because they got it. They understood that regimes that started off persecuting Jews would soon come for the British and the Americans. They gave no encouragement to the appeasers of their day.

When I was young, we learned a song in school: Hail Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. One of the lines in it is: “Thy banners make tyranny tremble.” Do our banners make tyranny tremble today? Or do they make tyranny comfortable?

President Obama heads the most anti-Israel administration in U.S. history. He has virtually ignored the deaths of tens of thousands of Christians while he bows to cruel Muslim rulers.

He is the leading protector of Iran’s Mullahs in the world. Shocking, but true. He shields Iran’s Mullahs from sanctions, even from the threat of sanctions.

Does anyone believe he would use military force to stop the Number One state-sponsor of terrorism from obtaining a nuclear weapon? He won’t even threaten to use economic sanctions. And he has long since given up any diplomatic sanctions.

Churchill’s weak predecessor, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, appeased Hitler only once—disastrously—at Munich. President Obama has appeased the Iranians every day for six years. All of this gravely threatens the cause of liberty throughout the world.

So, today, I thank God for the life and legacy of Winston Churchill. When, at the end of his life, his daughter tried to cheer him up as the weight of age and infirmity quenched his indomitable fire, she said to him: “I owe you what every British man and woman owes you: Liberty itself.”

Millions in Eastern Europe could say that today about the leadership of Ronald Reagan. Who will say that about today’s U.S. leadership? 

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The Supreme Court, prisoner rights, religious liberty, and human dignity

by Travis Weber

January 20, 2015

Today, in Holt v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion (authored by Justice Alito) holding that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLIUPA”) provided a Muslim inmate the right to exercise his religion by growing a ½ inch beard.

Like RFRA, RLIUPA applies strict scrutiny to prisoners’ religious rights claims, and provides that the government may not burden prisoners’ religious exercise (even through a law of general applicability) unless the government can show that the burden furthers a compelling government interest by the least restrictive means.

In this case, Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, wished to grow a ½ inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. Prison policy only permitted ¼ inch beards, however, and even then only for medical reasons. The Arkansas Department of Corrections (“DOC”) did not dispute the sincerity of Holt’s belief, or that its regulation burdened this belief.

However, the DOC argued that it had a compelling interest in its policy in order to prevent contraband in the prison, and that it advanced this interest through the least restrictive means.

While the Court agreed that correctional facilities have a compelling interest in eliminating contraband, it disagreed that the DOC’s policy here advanced that interest, noting that not much could be hidden in a ½ inch beard. Additionally, the Court observed that if a ½ inch beard could hide contraband, a prisoner could also hide contraband in his hair (which could be longer than ½ inch). Indeed, contraband could be hidden in longer hair (or in clothing) much more easily. Yet the DOC did not require prisoners to go around with shaved heads or without clothing. The DOC contended that the ½ inch beard requested by Mr. Holt is longer than the ¼ inch beard permitted for medical reasons, but the DOC has failed to show how this ¼ difference would cause a security risk. In addition, the DOC argued that few inmates request medical exemptions, while many would request religious exemptions. But the Court rejected this reasoning because the DOC had not argued that its refusal to allow religious exemptions was based on cost control or for administrative reasons.

While Justice Alito recognized that deference is due to prison officials’ policy decisions because of the unique and dangerous environment in which they operate, he also noted that such officials still must be held to RLUIPA’s statutory requirements. They did not meet those requirements in this case.

Moreover, as the Court noted, even if the DOC could show this compelling interest was advanced by its policy, it was not advancing it via the least restrictive means. For instance, its security concerns could be satisfied by searching Mr. Holt’s beard rather than making him cut it. The DOC already searches all prisoners’ hair and clothing; why couldn’t it search a beard just the same? The DOC argued that guards could be cut by razors while searching a beard, but they could also be cut during searches of hair and clothing. Even assuming that searching a beard is unsafe for guards, the DOC never showed why it could not have Holt run a comb through his beard to search for contraband.

The DOC also argued it could restrict beards because it had a compelling interest in preventing prisoners from disguising their identities, and escaping or avoiding capture. While the Court did not disagree that the DOC has an interest in quickly and efficiently identifying prisoners, the DOC had not shown why it could not take photos of prisoners so they could be identified with and without beards. The DOC also argued that while this method may work with escaped prisoners, photos would be unhelpful in preventing prisoners from quickly shaving and entering restricted areas in prison. Yet the Court was unpersuaded by the DOC’s arguments; in its view, the DOC failed to explain why the photo method would not work when it had worked at other prisons, and failed to show how a prisoner with a ¼ inch beard for medical reasons could not also pose the same security risk as that purportedly posed by Mr. Holt.

The Court observed that while deference to prison officials is justified, blind deference is not. While the DOC is not required to show in every respect why it has not adopted the procedures of other prison systems, its rejection of them without a good reason is persuasive evidence of its failure to meet RLUIPA. The Court made sure to point out that this does not put prisons in an impossible position; they still have reason to restrict religious practices when they are being used to cloak prohibited conduct or abused in a manner which undermines the prison’s compelling interests.

While the Court was unanimous, Justice Ginsburg took the opportunity to write a one-paragraph concurring opinion (which Justice Sotomayor joined) stating she joined the Court’s opinion with the “understanding” that “[u]nlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, … accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief.” This statement likely refers to Justice Ginsburg’s belief that the successful RFRA claim in Hobby Lobby “harmed” women seeking contraceptives, while Mr. Holt’s claim does not. I disagree with Justice Ginsburg on this point, but I’ll reserve that discussion for another time.

Showing some sympathy to prison officials, Justice Sotomayor also wrote a concurring opinion in which she emphasized her understanding that the Court was not repudiating the idea that prison officials’ justifications should be offered some deference; rather, the Court was rightly skeptical of the justifications offered in this case. Indeed, the DOC’s “failure to demonstrate why the less restrictive policies [Mr. Holt] identified in the course of the litigation were insufficient to achieve its compelling interests” was what was ultimately fatal to its case, not the Court’s “independent judgment” of these matters. In addition, “least restrictive means,” in Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, did not mean that government officials need to consider and reject every conceivable alternative to satisfy RLUIPA; rather, they must consider the alternatives posed. In this case, the DOC failed to do that.

The Supreme Court ruled correctly in holding that Mr. Holt’s right to religious exercise under RLUIPA was violated because the DOC could not show it was advancing a compelling government interest, or that it was doing so through the least restrictive means.  RLUIPA clearly sets forth the hurdles the government has to overcome when burdening a prisoner’s religious beliefs, and the DOC failed to meet them here.

But this case is significant for another reason: It affirms our belief that religious liberty is intricately connected to and flows from our inherent human dignity. It cannot be taken away from us, even if we are imprisoned. While prisons have legitimate interests of their own, incarceration does not eliminate the fundamental human right of freedom of religion.

This case is a win for Mr. Holt. But the next time an inmate (perhaps with different beliefs) is facing some other burdensome regulation, he’ll be able to draw support from Mr. Holt’s precedent. In this way, a bulwark of religious liberty protections continues to be built, one component at a time. As it is said, a win for religious liberty for one is a win for religious liberty for all. 

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C.S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 19, 2015

David Theroux, founder and president of The Independent Institute and the C.S. Lewis Society of California, recently gave a very thoughtful lecture titled C.S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism.” David’s perceptive analysis of Lewis’s critique of “government as God” is well worth viewing.  The Left continually tells us it knows what’s best and “cares” for us.  Lewis’s riposte to this pretentious excuse for metastasizing state power is compelling: “Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”  Take some time to watch David Theroux exposit this key insight and be reminded once again of the wisdom not only of C.S. Lewis but of America’s Founders: We have a limited government precisely because “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

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The Dreyfus Affair: One Historic Landmark for Jews in France

by Chris Gacek

January 16, 2015

Commentary magazine recently posted a powerful article entitled, “The Existential Necessity of Zionism after Paris.” They noted of the massacre in the Parisian kosher grocery that it “was not the beginning of a new threat to French Jews and the Jews of Europe.” Rather, the editors noted, it marked “the culmination of a decade of crisis. And it will not be the end.”

There have been tensions between Christians and Jews since the days of the early church. Thankfully, during the past century relations between most Christian denominations and Jews have improved greatly. Much of this change has been prompted by the growing Christian appreciation of and affection for Israel.

I am no expert on Franco-Jewish history, but I know that one major event that shook the foundations of French society and reverberates to this day was the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that stretched from 1894 to 1906. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish, French Army captain, was convicted falsely of espionage and sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in French Guiana for over four years. Eventually, Dreyfus was released and completely exonerated.

The Dreyfus Affair was a seismic event infused with anti-Semitism. Its impact on French society was at least one order of magnitude greater than Watergate was on the United States. Consequently, any consideration of the life of Jews in France must include the Dreyfus Affair and the treatment of Jews during World War II by the Vichy regime. Dreyfus is an elephant in the historical corner that colors all that came afterward.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Dreyfus Affair, Robert Harris’s historical novel,

An Officer and a Spy: A novel, makes the history exciting. (There are a number of good histories on the topic as an Amazon search will indicate.)

International religious persecution made itself clearly visible to us in the recent attack on the Parisian kosher store.  Last week, I posted a brief discussion of the Dreyfus Affair and its implications, a century later, for understanding anti-Semitism in France today.  Over the weekend, the John Batchelor Show posted its excellent interview of Robert Harris (An Officer and a Spy) by John Batchelor.  Listening to this 40-minute discussion is the best way get a sense of this event, its scope, and its lasting effects.  If may be found via this link to the iTunes podcast page (1/17/2015). 

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The Pope on Family, Marriage and Life

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 16, 2015

As an Evangelical in the classic Reformation tradition, I’m not unaware of the theological distinctions between Catholicism and historic Protestantism. But all defenders of what we at Family Research Council call the “faith, family and freedom” agenda can take heart from these wise and brave words by Pope Francis, given just a few hours ago in a packed arena in Manila. To those who believe the Pope and the church he leads are shifting on these key issues, his remarks are a striking reproof. To those of us unmoved by what he calls “the culture of the ephemeral,” the Pope’s allegiance to the sanctity of life and the unchanging nature of marriage are a breath of fresh air:

Beware of the new ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family. It’s not born of the dream that we have from God and prayer – it comes from outside and that’s why I call it a colonization. Let us not lose the freedom to take forward the mission God has given us, the mission of the family. And just as our peoples were able to say in the past ‘No’ to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and strong to say “No” to any attempted ideological colonization that could destroy the family … The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life … Families will always have their trials, but may you never add to them! Instead, be living examples of love, forgiveness and care. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death.”

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At the Supreme Court: A Small Church and a Big Case

by Travis Weber

January 13, 2015

On January 12th, I attended Supreme Court oral arguments in a case—Reed v. Town of Gilbert—which will determine how easily the government can restrict signs giving directions to church services. Specifically, the Court is set to decide whether, under free speech protections of the First Amendment, a local government’s mere assertion that its sign code (despite on its face discriminating based on content) lacks a discriminatory motive renders the sign code content-neutral and justifies the code’s differential treatment of signs pointing the way to a church’s meeting location.

In this case, the Town of Gilbert had divided signs up based on whether they were ideological, political, or directional—and imposed different restrictions on each category of sign. Good News Community Church in Gilbert, Arizona, and its pastor, Clyde Reed, sued, claiming that signs pointing the way to their Sunday morning service (which contained religious speech and directions, and thus resulted in them being placed in the directional sign category) were treated less fairly and that this unfair treatment violated the First Amendment.

At oral arguments yesterday, both sides received their fair share of questions, but the justices were noticeably more skeptical of the town’s argument—especially its claim that it could severely restrict a sign containing ideological content announcing an event if the sign also included directions to that event, while at the same time easing restrictions on a sign containing the same exact ideological content and yet lacking directions.

The town attempted to defend itself by arguing it had an interest in preventing roadside clutter arising from numerable directional signs. But then it admitted it was granting preference to ideological and political signs because of the special First Amendment protection offered them, which prompted questions from the justices asking how the town was not impermissibly discriminating based on the content of the signs.

A breakthrough moment occurred when the town’s counsel admitted under questioning by Justice Breyer that the town could put up a sign saying: “Come to the next service next Tuesday, 4th and H Streets,” but could not add “three blocks right and two blocks left” to that same sign because that would make it a directional sign. Justice Breyer’s response: “Well, my goodness. I mean—I mean, on that, it does sound as if the town is being a little unreasonable, doesn’t it?”, pretty well captured the justices’ view of the case.

The justices will now consider the legal issues and issue a written opinion deciding the case sometime before the end of June 2015.

While seeming more innocuous than some of the other high profile social issues which have reached the court over the last year or so, this case matters (significantly) to free speech law. It therefore matters a lot to Americans of all opinions and interests who want to take part in public debates and discussions over numerable issues in our country. Even if it doesn’t matter to them personally, it should—for it affects their legal rights under the First Amendment.

This issue is also incredibly important to the ability of churches to communicate when and where they meet, and will thus heavily impact their flourishing and wellbeing. Our local churches serve as nerve centers for communities of faith across America, and must be supported and allowed to prosper. For all these reasons, Family Research Council filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court last September asking it to rule in favor of Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church in this case.

As we argued in our brief, and as the church’s attorney argued before the Court yesterday, the Supreme Court should rule in favor of the plaintiffs and strike down the town’s ordinance here as unconstitutional. Such a ruling would not only protect the First Amendment rights of Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church, but those of any person or group our government wants to marginalize and silence in the public debate.

Family Research Council’s amicus brief in Reed v. Town of Gilbert is available here: http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF14I59.pdf

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