Author archives: Travis Weber

The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration: What It Got Right and What It Got Wrong

by Travis Weber , Natalie Pugh

October 3, 2017

Earlier this month, religious leaders of various faiths met at the Beverley Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles to celebrate the newly signed Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration—a notable document because it is a proclamation supporting some degree of religious freedom sponsored and backed by a majority Muslim country.

While the majority of Bahrain’s population is Shia Muslim, most of its government positions are held by Sunni Muslims. In addition, there are small numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Jews all living in the country. Against this multi-religious backdrop, the religious freedom declaration was backed and signed by the King of Bahrain.

What did the declaration get right?

This document makes a lot of statements worth celebrating. First of all, it declares that “religious faith and expression are inalienable rights” which provides the foundation for promoting religious freedom. In Part II, it rejects forced observance of a religion and claims that every person has the right to practice their religion as long as they do not harm any others in the process. Part III focuses more on the harm that has been done in the name of religion and condemns all terrorist activities such as “the sowing of terror, the encouragement of extremism and radicalization, suicide bombing, promotion of sexual slavery, and the abuse of women and children.” The religious rights and responsibilities established in Part IV state that individuals have a right to practice their religion and the government has a responsibility to protect citizens of all religions. Overall, these are all commendable statements that seem to show a genuine interest in protecting religious freedom.

Where did it fall short?

While the document expressly states that it does not condone compelled religion, it still does not allow Muslims the freedom to convert away from their religion, as it is illegal to proselytize Muslims in Bahrain. While Part II recognizes the freedom to choose one’s faith, this is conditioned on submitting to the laws of the land. What happens when the laws of the land prohibit conversion, such as in the case of Bahrain and many other nations with Islamic teaching reflected in their laws? These Muslims still don’t have religious freedom in spite of this declaration, and neither do non-Muslims have the freedom to share their faith with Muslims.

Other portions of the declaration are meandering and vague. For instance, while the goal of Section III is admirable and the specific activities listed are reprehensible, this section’s condemnation of certain activities does not have a fixed and clear target. Instead, the list is prefixed with the statement: “Any act that is found morally repugnant by the vast majority of mankind and is insulting to our collective moral conscience cannot be part of God’s revealed will.” Yet religious expression should not be censored by the fickle morality of the majority.

Another statement of concern is the admonition that the clergy teach that “extremism is not holier than moderation.” Extremism and radicalism have become synonymous with terrorism and therefore are evil words in modern rhetoric. But the words themselves need some context to have any meaning. In some ways, being “extreme” is good. For example, before he gathered many supporters, William Wilberforce was quite “extreme” in his campaign to abolish slavery. He might have been termed “extreme,” but it it was a noble cause motivated by his Christian faith. It didn’t matter that not many were on his side. Spiritually speaking, being extreme is a fundamental part of being a Christian. We are called to be on fire for Christ; being lukewarm or moderate is not enough (Revelations 3:15-16). What is extreme to one is moderate to another, and vice versa. “Extreme” may not always correspond to “evil,” and the declaration needs more context to make sense of this point.

The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration is only a statement of intent. Even though it was signed by the king, it is not a legally binding document. Yet it is a good start. Later this year, a team of lawyers will meet to work on turning the declaration into actual laws. Hopefully, the laws they write will fix some of the ambiguity and flaws in the original declaration. If that happens, we may see a platform which could serve as a source for some reform on religious freedom within the Islamic world. Until then, all we can do is hope and pray.

Travis Weber is the Director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty. Natalie Pugh is an intern at FRC.

Pence: Human Rights Council “Doesn’t Deserve its Name”

by Travis Weber

September 27, 2017

Speaking at the United Nations last week, Vice President Pence had harsh words for the UN Human Rights Council—an entity he claimed “doesn’t deserve its name.”

As we look at the membership of the council today, we see nations that betray these timeless principles upon which this institution was founded. Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council actually attracts and welcomes many of the worst human rights violators in the world.” (emphasis mine). The vice president concluded, “[a] clear majority of the Human Rights Council’s members fail to meet even the most basic human rights standards.”

Pence singled out Cuba and Venezuela as examples of countries that didn’t belong there. They aren’t the only ones.

President Trump, speaking the day before, had emphasized the same point: “In some cases, states that seek to subvert this institution’s noble aims have hijacked the very systems that are supposed to advance them. For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council.”

While these words may seem harsh, they are true, and make a long-overdue point more world leaders need to recognize themselves.

While the UN began with a noble purpose and a framework to achieve a worthwhile goal, it has become corrupted in the years since 1945. The term “human rights”—which recognizes that all people have certain rights that come from God and not government because they are made in the imago dei, or “image of God”—must retain its core meaning to bear any fruit in the international arena. Yet the term has been used and abused over the years to mean many things to many people, and hence nothing at all. Through this definitional watering down along with intentional noncompliance and hypocrisy, we have achieved a “Human Rights” Council of human rights violators.

The only thing consistent about the council is its irrational and mind-boggling hatred of Israel, the Middle East’s most successful democracy and a human rights leader in that area of the world. As Vice President Pence pointed out, “[t]he council’s agenda item seven actually singles out Israel for discussion at every single meeting, something no other country must endure. As evidence, the Human Rights Council has passed more than 70 resolutions condemning Israel, while largely ignoring the world’s worst human rights abusers.” Such anti-Semitism further discredits the already scornful behavior of the council.

The UN was founded with a worthy goal, and it is one worth continuing to strive for. But striving includes reform where needed. The “head-in-the-sand” mentality too often taken in the face of ongoing problems will only prolong abuse and the suppression of human rights—not their protection.

Will FEMA Treat Churches Fairly?

by Travis Weber

September 13, 2017

Last week, three Texas churches filed a lawsuit against FEMA due to its policy of denying disaster relief to churches and other institutions simply because of their religious nature.

Under FEMA’s public assistance disaster relief program, repair money is available to a host of entities providing both critical and noncritical services. Examples of noncritical services include venues hosting art classes, food assistance services, health and safety programs, senior services, museums, zoos, and even stamp and coin collecting. Moreover, aid is also available to what are termed “various social functions of community groups.” Yet churches are banned under this policy because they are “religious.”

However, Hurricane Harvey didn’t discriminate in its choice of targets. When the storm hit the Texas coast, Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God were all extensively damaged. Roofs caved in, trees fell in the buildings, and flooding caused serious damage to multiple structures. These churches need what is known as “emergency work” under FEMA’s public assistance program, yet they will be denied such relief because they are not “eligible” – solely because they are religious. Unfortunately, without debris removal and repair, according to the churches, people using their facilities and grounds face serious health and safety concerns as a result of “broken glass, sharp metal and wood, downed trees, falling limbs, mold and mildew, slick surfaces, and structures that are weakened by high winds and flooding.” While Harvey didn’t discriminate, FEMA did, and as a result the churches filed a lawsuit against FEMA challenging its ban as a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Under Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, a case the Supreme Court decided earlier this year, the government cannot discriminate against religious entities in a public grant program just because they are religious. The Court repeatedly made this point in its opinion in that case:

  • This Court has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion.”
  • The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant.”
  • Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character… . The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant.”
  • In this case, there is no dispute that Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit. The rule is simple: No churches need apply.”
  • The State in this case expressly requires Trinity Lu­theran to renounce its religious character in order to participate in an otherwise generally available public benefit program, for which it is fully qualified.”
  • The State has pursued its preferred policy to the point of expressly denying a qualified religious entity a public benefit solely because of its religious character. Under our precedents, that goes too far. The Department’s policy violates the Free Exercise Clause.”
  • But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.

Likewise, the government can’t discriminate against the churches in this case. As the churches point out in their complaint, the government is providing public assistance repair money toward venues hosting “social activities to pursue items of mutual interest … educational enrichment activit[ies] … service[s] or activit[ies] intended to serve a specific group of individuals,” and “community board meeting[s].” There is no substantive difference between those activities whether they are hosted in or outside of a church. Yet a church hosting such activities would be denied recovery funds simply because it is “religious.”

In Justice Breyer’s concurring opinion in Trinity Lutheran, and at oral argument in that case, one of the points raised was that if the government flatly excludes public money from going to religious institutions, it would have to deny them services like law enforcement and fire emergency services. This would be the logical implication of the position, yet everyone can see it is ludicrous. If these churches would not be denied fire emergency services, why should they be denied money to address the extremely dangerous condition of their properties?

When the issue became public, President Trump seemed to side with the churches, tweeting: “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).”

And why not, when faith groups and churches are providing the lion’s share of the effort toward cleaning up after Harvey and other disasters? Even the churches in this case are already caring for many in the community; it would add insult to injury to deny them the same aid offered to others. As the complaint points out,

…[A]s it did in the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Ike, Hi-Way Tabernacle is currently serving as a staging center for FEMA and local government relief efforts. Despite suffering significant flooding and damage, the Tabernacle quickly got its facilities to a serviceable state and immediately began taking in evacuees. As of September 4, the church was sheltering between 60 and 70 people, with more expected. The Tabernacle’s gym has been transformed into a warehouse for the county, storing and distributing food, water, hygiene products, and clothing. Over 8,000 FEMA emergency meals have been distributed from the Tabernacle’s facilities. Relief workers are using the facilities to provide both medical services and haircuts to victims. The Tabernacle has been informed that governmental disaster relief helicopters may be landing on its property as well.”

 

It’s great to see that Congressman Chris Smith has introduced the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2017 to remedy this problem. Under his proposed legislation, which amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act by implementing the holding of Trinity Lutheran, religious entities will be treated exactly the same as all other entities under consideration for disaster relief assistance. For the three churches in Texas, and the many other religious institutions damaged by disasters, this change couldn’t come soon enough.

Let us hope this issue is fixed soon, and no entity is denied a spot in the public square just because it is religious.

Masterpiece Cakeshop Attorneys File Merits Brief with the Supreme Court

by Travis Weber

September 5, 2017

Last week, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (representing Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop) filed their merits brief with the Supreme Court. This is the primary written argument submitted to the Court explaining why Jack Phillips should win what could be the most important religious liberty case of the post-Obergefell era. After his opponents file their brief and the Court holds oral argument, it will decide this case sometime next year.

In their brief, Jack’s attorneys elaborate on a number of aspects of the case, including how and why Jack has a free exercise and free speech right to conduct his activities according to his faith as he sees fit. These are important arguments to understand, especially in light of all the misinformation being reported about the case.

You can find ADF’s brief here.

Given the importance of the case, FRC plans to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court shortly, explaining why it should rule in Jack’s favor.

International Religious Freedom in 2016: Still Work to Be Done

by Travis Weber

August 24, 2017

Last week, the State Department released its report assessing religious freedom around the world during 2016.

Many of the usual suspects we think of when addressing religious freedom violations overseas were covered by the report, and continue to reveal their religious freedom violations:

  • Iran continues to imprison people for “insulting the prophet” and “enmity against God” – both of which can merit the death penalty.
  • Within Syria, ISIS “killed dozens through public executions, crucifixions, and beheadings of men, women, and children on charges of apostasy, blasphemy, homosexuality, and cursing God.” Within Iraq, the group continued to “commit individual and mass killings, and to engage in rape, kidnapping, random detentions and mass abductions, torture, abduction and forced conversion of non-Muslim male children, and the enslavement and sex trafficking of women and girls from minority religious communities.”
  • Saudi Arabia still outlaws all religions except Islam from being publicly practiced, even criminalizing “any attempt to cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam.” The government there has continued to enforce a comprehensive anti-religious freedom legal regime, including imprisoning people for blasphemy and apostasy.
  • China continues to reportedly detain and harass both registered and nonregistered religious groups in the country.

Yet new religious freedom problems have also emerged in recent years, and in places not traditionally associated with religious freedom violations – like Western Europe. They are also documented in the report:

  • In the United Kingdom, a university “expelled a Christian graduate student after he expressed his opposition to gay marriage on social media because of his Christian beliefs.”
  • Elsewhere in Europe, such as France, attacks against Jews, Muslims, and Christians because of their religion have continued to occur.

We should specifically take note of the expelled U.K. graduate student, for the same forces opposed to a religious belief that marriage is only between one man and one woman are the same forces operating in the United States and elsewhere around the world. As we increasingly face domestic religious freedom problems related to this issue, this example is a reminder that we must guard the same religious freedom at home which we fight for around the world. Neither can be taken for granted.

The 2016 report is a valuable resource for assessing the state of religious freedom around the globe. It isn’t perfect – it aims a bit too broadly at times, commenting on matters such as speeches directed at immigration policy in Europe, or, for instance, an investigation into alleged tax fraud in the Muslim community in Denmark. These are not substantive religious freedom violations, and including them in such a report diminishes real religious freedom problems such as imprisonment for sharing one’s faith. Reasonable people will disagree over the precise role of religion in democracies, and a religious freedom violation does not occur every time someone remarks on the role of religion in a larger social controversy.

All in all, the report is a valuable tool to continue to address religious freedom shortcomings worldwide. While this can be done in several ways, one very helpful step would be to incorporate the issue more broadly into our foreign policy. With the appointment of Governor Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department, we have an opportunity to do just that – and more – as we look ahead with the new foreign policy of the Trump administration.

6 Ways Governor Brownback Can Prioritize International Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber

July 27, 2017

Yesterday, President Trump nominated Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department. This is a great pick for an important job, and the administration is to be commended for this selection.

The Ambassador-at-Large post was created by legislation back in 1998 with the purpose of addressing religious freedom problems around the world, but it has seen limited success in being able to shape foreign policy in a comprehensive manner. The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, signed into law just last December, made changes which will result in the job reporting directly to the Secretary of State. This change and others required by the law should make whoever is in the role more effective. When it is someone of Governor Brownback’s stature, we will have a real opportunity to see religious freedom significantly shape foreign policy.

Religious freedom is a fundamental, inherent, and international human right. It is not merely an American right—though religious freedom was foundational to the very existence of the United States. United States foreign policy should prioritize this fundamental international human right and give it the attention it deserves. Once Governor Brownback is in his new role, here are six ways the Trump administration can make this happen:

1. Integrate and prioritize religious freedom protections in foreign policy. All U.S. agencies engaged abroad should integrate and prioritize the promotion of religious freedom in their work. They should also conduct international religious freedom training for their employees (including how to gather information about mass atrocities against religious groups such as genocide).

2. Fully implement the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act throughout the U.S. government.

3. Protect refugees and asylum seekers with proper attention given to persecution on the basis of religion. The United States has not properly addressed the religious dynamics of the refugee situation arising from Iraq and Syria. Where certain religious groups are being persecuted on account of their religion, their religion can be used as a factor in assessing their asylum claims and refugee status. The Departments of State and Homeland Security should enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers of all religions have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum. In addition, the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security should ensure appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively address the protection of refugees and asylum seekers who need such protection because of their religion, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government has the ability to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.

4. Provide foreign assistance to protect the human right of religious freedom. Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development should enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human right of religious freedom.

5. Ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to the suppression of religious freedom abroad. The Department of State should lead a standing group, with appropriate interagency representation, to help ensure the Federal Government’s swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the status of religious freedom abroad. The Department of State should be particularly attentive to responding to complaints of religious persecution, whether in the granting of visas or in other areas. Those representing the United States abroad in an official capacity should not work with, or aid and abet, any foreign actors discriminating against persons based on their religion.

6. Engage international organizations in defending religious freedom. Multilateral fora and international organizations are key vehicles to promote respect for the human right of religious freedom and to bring global attention to this issue. Along with the Department of State, agencies engaged abroad should strengthen the work they have begun and initiate additional efforts in these multilateral fora and organizations to (1) broaden the number of countries willing to support and defend religious freedom, (2) strengthen the role of civil society advocates on behalf of religious freedom within and through multilateral fora, and (3) strengthen the policies and programming of multilateral institutions on religious freedom.

If it takes these steps, the Trump administration can follow up on Governor Brownback’s appointment and distinguish itself by vigorously protecting human rights and religious freedom.

Against this backdrop, we must not neglect our efforts to protect Christians, Yezidis, and others from the horrific violence in the Middle East. The U.S. government has already recognized that a genocide is taking place there, and now amid recent reports that State Department lawyers are removing that term from official descriptions of the situation, it is necessary to give even more attention to the situation—such as what was outlined in Congressman Chris Smith’s bill, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017—to ensure the victims of genocide get the protection they need and deserve.

Religious freedom is not to be segmented off in compartments in our lives, and it is not confined to the four walls of our places of worship. The United States used to hold to this robust vision of religious freedom, both at home and abroad. This vision used to be a part of how the United States led from a position of strength in promoting human rights globally. With Governor Brownback’s appointment, the Trump administration has an opportunity to once again start doing just that.

No, Rev. Barber, Prayer for a President Is Not “Heresy”

by Travis Weber

July 20, 2017

The Reverend William Barber from North Carolina made news this week by claiming in an interview on prayer for President Trump that it “borders on heresy when you can p-r-a-y for a president” while they are “preying” on others. This, in his view, is “violating the most sacred principles of religion.”

Assuming Reverend Barber looks to the Bible as his spiritual authority, I would suggest that the “principles of religion” demand the exact opposite—they actually require the Christian to pray for all leaders. Indeed, if this borders on heresy, a portion of the New Testament may be heretical.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 says: “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior” (emphasis mine).

This command is non-negotiable for every Christian; it doesn’t matter if we agree with the leader or not—as several ministers recently pointed out in rebuttal to Barber. Not all may have voted for President Trump, but he now is the president, and we all should hope and pray that he brings blessing to our nation. Similarly, not all may have voted for President Obama—I was in the camp who did not. But once he became president, it became a requirement of me and every other Christian who did not vote for him to nevertheless pray for the president to do well in God’s sight.

Christians should always speak truth to power. Yet we can do this while we also pray for God to bless the nation through the leaders he has appointed over us.

Reverend Barber and I do see eye to eye on one overarching point—that faith should inform the public life of our nation. We agree that it is proper for a minister, pastor, or theologian to offer their views in the public square. Reverend Barber is doing this, and so do I. In that sense, he is a religious liberty advocate just like myself.

While Christians may differ on the application of that faith, we still agree that it should speak to our society—as opposed to those who think religion has no role in the public square at all. Rev. Barber and I would both say they are completely wrong. Let both his and my supporters unify on this point, for Christianity has much with which to benefit and bless our nation. Regardless of our differences on how it is applied, we should rally together to defend its place in the public life of our nation.

5th Circuit Rejects Effort to Take Down Conscience Protections

by Travis Weber

June 22, 2017

Today, in a unanimous opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected an activist effort to take down HB 1523, Mississippi’s conscience protection law. HB 1523 provides exemptions for those who conscientiously object to being forced to facilitate same-sex marriages and other matters related to human sexuality, and allows them to opt out of the process while providing for other government workers or entities to step in and fill the gap.

Despite the fact that it is nothing more than a reasonable accommodation paradigm, the law was violently attacked with allegations that it was standing in the way of LGBT people, and a lawsuit was launched on the theory that it “established” a religion in violation of the First Amendment and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

But in order to sue—under a doctrine known as “standing”—a plaintiff needs an injury, and all that was alleged in this case was that the plaintiffs were “stigmatized” and felt bad because of the law. Courts have been facing this type of tenuous, emotionally-based allegation of injury more and more in recent years, and they only bog down the judicial system with claims that were never meant to be brought in the first place. In addition, when such claims are allowed to proceed, and a law is struck down, the effect is that one more area of our democratic process is chiseled off and placed into the hands of activists who would happily destroy the process if that meant they could achieve their aims.

It is thus nice to see the Fifth Circuit properly scrutinize standing in this case, and hold that the plaintiffs here have no actual injury on which any lawsuit could be based. To bring suit, a plaintiff needs a “concrete” and “particularized” injury, and even in Establishment Clause religious display cases where standing rules are more liberal, a plaintiff still needs to have a “personal confrontation” with any allegedly offensive display. Yet as the court pointed out, “[j]ust as an individual cannot ‘personally confront’ a warehoused monument, he cannot confront statutory text.”

The Court also rejected the idea that “offense at the message Section 2 [of HB 1523]” could convey standing, noting that any “purported stigmatic injury” is insufficient. Likewise, there is no standing for any equal protection claim because “exposure to a discriminatory message, without a corresponding denial of equal treatment, is insufficient to plead injury in an equal protection case.”

All too often, activists without a mandate to achieve change through the democratic means set forth by our constitutional order will try to find some court through which to push their grievances against a law or policy. However, as is the case here, such “injuries” often constitute nothing more than general disagreement with the law and are subjective, lacking any actual harm. The unfortunate effect is that these activists’ methods chip away at and weaken our entire judicial system.

It is thus heartening to see this ruling, which not only leaves in place HB 1523’s religious exemptions which are quite necessary in a post-Obergefell world, but also strengthens the constitutional order by holding in check those who try to wield power through the courts simply because they can’t achieve their goals through democratic means.

Standing for Christ

by Travis Weber

June 6, 2017

The following are remarks by Travis Weber, Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, to the congregation of Faith Church in Budapest, Hungary (following the conclusion of the World Congress of Families and Budapest Family Summit) on May 27, 2017.

Köszönöm (Thank you). Jó estét (Good evening).

That’s all the Hungarian you’re going to get out of me!

But seriously, it’s a joy to be here, and this place is near and dear to my heart. I have a good friend who is married to a woman from Hungary and I visited here last summer, it is a great place.

My name is Travis Weber, I work with an organization in Washington D.C., in the United States, called the Family Research Council. We are a Christian organization—a non-governmental organization—working to advance the Christian worldview in public policy, law, and culture.

I’m going to talk to you about my work, specifically on the issue of religious freedom—protecting the right of Christians and other people to live out their faith freely. But I’m also going to encourage you as a Christian participating in the public life of your nation how to stand strong for Christ. Because although I’m only from the United States, I only speak English; I’ve never lived in Hungary. We have these differences, but we have the most important thing in common: we both follow the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what defines us, this defines our identity. Our identity in Jesus Christ is the most important thing about us wherever we are. So even as I talk to you about religious freedom I want to encourage you to use your religious freedom here where God has placed you. You are placed uniquely by God where you are, to do things that I cannot do, but you can do, and God has assigned for you to do. So I want you to remember that: remember to stand strong for Christ and remember that God has assigned you a special task to live for him here in Hungary.

So, in thinking about religious freedom and how we stand strong for Christ and how that plays out, I’m going to talk a little bit about how we protect that at the Family Research Council.

We should think of religious freedom as a human right for all people. Because we are created in the image of God, all human beings have the right to freely choose their religion and live that out. There should be no coercion in forcing people to choose one thing or the other. People should be free to choose how they will worship.

In the United States, historically, our law has been very strongly protective of religious freedom. But you don’t need only a law, you need strong cultural support for the idea too. Unless you have strong legal protections and support within the culture—within the hearts and minds of people—religious freedom ultimately will suffer. So, we aim to protect and advance religious freedom in all these areas.

Similarly, around the world, people are suffering because of their religious beliefs and we are seeking to protect their human right to live out their religious faith as they see fit.  We should remember that we do this as Christians because all people are created in the image of God.

One of the primary areas we are seeing this suffering now is in the area of conflict between individual sexual liberty and Christianity. In the United States, huge segments of the culture have bought into the idea that we are ultimately living for ourselves, ultimately living to live out our sexual fulfillment according to how we define it and that’s what guides our lives. This idea is directly in conflict with orthodox historic Christian truth. It is producing all sorts of conflicts and fractures within United States society.

So even though we have had freedom in the past, if we do not fight for it now we will lose it. It is up to Christians across the United States to stand up in the public square and proclaim truth, with love, and defend their beliefs. But many people, as they see these things develop, are afraid of being called names, of being ostracized, of being called “haters.”

As fellow Christians, we should stop and pause and look at Christians being persecuted around the world. We can look at Christians in the Middle East: I know of a pastor in Lebanon who was threatened with death at the point of a gun yet he stayed strong for Christ. He would not stop sharing the Gospel and he faced down the shooter and dared him to shoot. He was willing to die for Christ and for the Gospel. He was not afraid. When we look at that, as Christians in the United States, and then we come back to our own situation and we see people calling us names and marginalizing and ostracizing us, it just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. The point is not that we try to brush if off and say there is no problem, but rather we rely on the power of Christ and the witness of these Christians around the world to say: yes, we will stand for Christ with you. This enables us to say: it’s okay to suffer for declaring the truth of the Gospel.

You may have some of these situations coming to Hungary. I encourage you as one from the United States, but first and foremost as a brother to you in Christ, to stand strong for Christ and for the Gospel. For our identity ultimately comes from Christ, not what other people think or say about us. For God has already proven his love for us by sending his son to die for us.

Therefore, we needn’t worry about anyone else. And as we go through challenges and face obstacles and opposition, at times it is difficult, but we know Christ is always there with us. Our witness matters. At times people may not be persuaded by our argument, but they are ultimately persuaded by our witness and the way that we stand for Christ. And as you talk about these cultural issues, issues of sexuality, there are opportunities to share the Gospel within them.

So I want to bless you and encourage you to stand strong for God as you face the issues that may lie ahead in the future. No matter whether things bring hardship and difficulty and it seems like, “God, where are you?” Or, whether things are easy and you see God showing up day to day.

And I’m just going to say a quick closing prayer:

Lord God, I ask for your presence and power to be with Faith Church, as Faith Church and the body here and the members of Faith Church live out their lives for you here in Hungary. We ask for the power of your Holy Spirit to be with this place and your hand to be on it, guiding it into your truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Blasphemy Laws” Violate Religious Liberty

by Travis Weber

May 24, 2017

Yesterday, the Christian governor of Jakarta, Indonesia – Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – decided to drop the appeal of his blasphemy conviction, for which he will now serve two years in jail. The reason? Fears of the possibility that the sentence may be lengthened, and concerns about continued violent clashes between factions on different sides of the case. Whatever the precise reason (and criminal defendants often have several reasons factoring into their decision), allowing outside social pressure to affect the continued incarceration of Mr. Basuki is an absolute tragedy.

Blasphemy laws – aside from being a violation of the human right of freedom of religion – are notoriously abused to target political and social opponents. In the past, Indonesia hasn’t been at the center of such misuse – as has Pakistan – and for this reason such developments are all the more concerning. While Mr. Basuki is obviously entitled to make his own decision regarding his case, the circumstances surrounding it are a bad omen for the future of Indonesian democracy and rule of law in that country, and do not set a good precedent for standing up to hardline Islamists favoring such laws.

The application of the laws themselves to people like Mr. Basuki – who though not Muslim was charged and convicted (and sentenced beyond what the prosecutor even asked for!) of the religious crime after he cited a Quranic verse in public debate (and after radical Muslims protested) – is bad enough. This is a human rights problem. It compounds the problem when such laws are abused and taken advantage of to eliminate political opponents – which is a rule of law problem. Both issues need to be corrected in Indonesia (and other places) going forward.

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