Author archives: Travis Weber

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.

Think Slavery Has Been Eradicated in the 21st Century? You’d Be Wrong.

by Travis Weber

April 13, 2017

 

Living in the Western world, in our modern era, one might think that chattel slavery (the buying and selling of human beings as property) is a thing of the past. They would be mistaken.

Just yesterday, it was reported that widespread human smuggling operations are still ongoing inside Libya, with migrants arriving from West Africa being openly traded in “public slave markets” where they are bought and sold:

One survivor from Senegal spoke of how he was brought by smugglers across Niger in a bus to the southern Libyan city of Sabha, where he was due to risk a boat trip to Europe. When the middleman did not get his fee, the survivor was put up for sale along with other passengers.

He was taken to a prison where he worked without pay while the captors demanded 300,000 West African francs (about £380) before selling him on to a larger jail. Livia Manante, an IOM officer based in Niger, said migrants would be brought to a square where they were put up for sale.

 . . . 

Those who did not get their ransom paid were often taken away and killed while others would die of hunger and disease in unsanitary conditions.

If the number of migrants goes down, because of death or someone is ransomed, the kidnappers just go to the market and buy one,” Manente said.

The going rate for a migrant was between $200 (£160) and $500 (£400) each, with many forced into captivity for months before they are freed or sold on. So far this year more than 170 bodies have washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean while the Libyan Coast Guard has also rescued thousands more.

This is horrific.

Unfortunately, it is also the inevitable consequence of abandoning the idea that all human beings have been created in the image of God, and that they have inherent dignity for this reason.

What else does this show us? That worldview matters; that one’s view of God and of fellow human beings matters. What we believe about the dignity of the human race matters. If we believe that God created us in his own image, we will understand that we are accountable to God for how we treat fellow human beings.

Indeed, the whole idea of human rights flows from this notion. Because we have dignity as image-bearers of God, no government may transgress this dignity. From this truth flow certain rights which no government may override—these are called human rights. Among these are the freedom to exercise the religion of one’s choice—and the freedom to not be bought and sold as property!

If we ever forget this truth—may God help us!

Gorsuch on International and Foreign Law

by Travis Weber

April 6, 2017

It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but Judge Gorsuch’s exchange with Senator Ben Sasse about international and foreign law at his confirmation hearing offers helpful clues that he’d rule properly in this area:

SASSE: As a sitting Supreme Court justice tasked with upholding the U.S. Constitution, is it ever appropriate to cite international law? And if so, why?

GORSUCH: It’s not categorically improper. There are some circumstances when it is not just proper but necessary. You’re interpreting a contract with a choice of law provision that may adopt foreign law. That’s an appropriate time . . .

Treaties sometimes require you to look at international law by their terms. But if we are talking about interpreting the Constitution of the United States, we have our own tradition and own history. And I don’t know why we would look to the experience of other countries rather than to our own . . .

And so as a general matter, Senator, I would say it is improper to look abroad when interpreting the Constitution . . .

Judge Gorsuch is absolutely right. In his answer to Senator Sasse, he has articulated a vision of the Constitution which guards against the surreptitious importation of standards from other countries which have no bearing on our Constitution (but which the Supreme Court has done from time to time).

Meanwhile, he properly admits that a foreign legal standard in a “choice of law” provision may be consulted (in these cases, the parties to the agreement have stipulated that the laws of another country shall be used to adjudicate disputes between them, and it is entirely proper to consult whatever source of foreign law has been stipulated).

He also made proper reference to treaties as a valid source of international law.

International law (laws between nations) is distinct from foreign law (the laws of a foreign nation), as properly understood, only consists of two areas.

The first is the treaty, or agreement between nations. When nations become parties to a treaty, they agree to be bound explicitly by the treaty’s terms. Yet legal activists, as they so often do in the United States with regard to the Constitution, recognize that their preferred radical policies aren’t contained within the treaty, so they twist its terms or use other mechanisms in the international legal order to push their policies, which they try to term as “law.” Yet the fact that they call them law doesn’t make them so. Just as we must guard against activist attempts to read new “rights” into statutes and the Constitution domestically, we must guard against efforts to read them into the text of treaties internationally.

The second area of international law is customary international law, which is defined as a longstanding practice engaged in by a very large number of states who engage in it because they believe they are legally bound to do so. This is a high standard and not much reaches it. But that doesn’t stop activists from trying to claim their radical policies are “customary international law.” Again, just because they say so over and over again doesn’t make it true.

Judge Gorsuch will not be hoodwinked by such shenanigans. He has articulated a limited (and proper) view of international and foreign law which shows he understands the dynamics in this area. Once again, he has shown that he will be a great originalist and is eminently qualified to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

One Year Anniversary of the United States Declaring ISIS’ Actions to be Genocide

by Travis Weber

March 17, 2017

One year ago today, Secretary of State John Kerry declared ISIS’ actions against Christians, Yezidis, and others in Iraq and Syria to be genocide. The declaration was widely hailed, and was a helpful step in the right direction, but has produced little positive change on the ground.

In the year since, as veteran religious freedom advocate Nina Shea explains, those suffering genocide have continued to point out their dire situation. But it still has not been addressed in a manner corresponding to its gravity.

This was part of the focus yesterday at an event hosted by the group In Defense of Christians at the U.S. Capitol, which featured commentary from many speakers honoring this important declaration one year out. Members of Congress Jeff Fortenberry and Anna Eshoo, who led the way in getting Congress to label this a genocide several days before the State Department’s declaration a year ago, were present and offered remarks. The event also featured the stories of genocide survivors and those directly working with them.

One Yezidi woman told of her experience being held as a slave by ISIS. Another advocate told of the horrific trauma experienced by those even after they are liberated. One boy, suffering severely after his father had been killed by ISIS, tried to kill himself several times in a displaced persons camp. This latest time, the boy doused himself in gasoline, wrapped himself in blankets, and set himself on fire. His internal trauma was so severe he made no sound as he burned. His younger brother, standing nearby with his back turned, only became aware of what was going on once he smelled burning gas. He ran over and patted out the fire with his hands. By that time, both were badly burned, but alive.

As testified to yesterday, masses of these traumatized children in the camps have already been brainwashed by ISIS to kill themselves in service of violent jihad. They are walking time-bombs, waiting to be taken advantage of and used to wreak future violence and mayhem, while senselessly taking their own lives in the process. They are in the camps now, but we must reach them before it is too late.

These stories are only some of many which show a pattern of the horrific effects of ISIS’ genocide.

As was also mentioned at yesterday’s event, there is hope that the new administration will turn its attention to the plight of these genocide survivors, which have already been neglected for far too long. It is not too late, but we must act now.

The Refugee Implications of President Trump’s Executive Orders

by Travis Weber

March 13, 2017

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series. Here are Parts 1 and 2.

On March 6, President Trump signed a revised executive order restricting entry to the United States from certain countries, which followed heated controversy and legal battles arising from the initial executive order temporarily halting entry to the United States for certain groups of people. In light of the new order, and in the wake of the controversy surrounding the issue more broadly, it’s helpful to separate the multiple issues—often conflated with one another—playing a part in this discussion. One of these issues is the impact of the orders on refugees—who, though only one of the multiple groups affected—have occupied much of the discussion.

Issue #3: On Refugees – Good Arguments Require Precision

Putting aside the media hysterics and negligent or willful abuse of Scripture, there are many who are attempting to engage in well-meaning discussion of these orders and the immigration issue more broadly. Unfortunately, many people protesting President Trump’s actions do not really understand how the immigration system actually works, or what they would recommend if asked how to fix its security concerns. We all would benefit from learning before speaking into the haze and fog of this debate, and should go back to the actual sources. In this case, that is the initial executive order, and the new executive order.

What do the orders say?

Section 3 of the initial order covered the suspension of all visas to individuals from certain countries, and Section 5 covered the suspension of the refugee program. The other sections direct various actions to improve immigration security generally. Exactly what among these provisions is objectionable (and how) is often quickly lost in this discussion, and consequently, is often lost on many who seem to generally oppose the order.

The new order removes Iraq from the list of countries, removes the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, and takes out language which prioritized those for admission who were persecuted for their faith. It also doesn’t ban lawful U.S. permanent residents, or prevent people from entering the United States traveling on valid visas already issued. The new order also lays out policy reasons for why this action has been taken.

Aside from the removal of protections for religious minorities (which would have been helpful to leave in—for the United States already considers religion in refugee law, and these minorities are in dire need of our help), the refugee admissions provisions remain virtually unchanged between the two executive orders.

Use of the term “refugee”

Throughout this immigration debate, the term “refugee” is often used carelessly. But it has a precise meaning in U.S. law. Individuals entering the United States can do so under a number of visa programs or claim asylum. Entering as a refugee is covered by a specific program, and this program is covered only by Section 5 of the initial order and Section 6 of the new order (the other provisions of the orders cover other avenues of entry). When we speak of “refugees” legally, we refer to people entering through this program. This does not include immigrants entering through other programs, crossing the border illegally, or even showing up at our border to claim asylum.

While many may agree that other elements of the orders and the immigration system overall (to include student and worker visas) certainly need scrutiny, there is a debate as to whether the refugee program alone can be improved, or whether we will achieve quite minimal gains from restricting access through this program while at the same time harming those who need our protection. There are arguments for and against the refugee restrictions in the orders.

Arguments for the refugee restrictions

It is clear that some Muslims with terrorist ties have entered the United States through our refugee program (and the new order notes that more than 300 people who entered the United States as refugees are currently under terrorism investigations by the FBI). Additionally, while vetting for refugees is already rigorous, the Obama administration accelerated the number of people who entered the country near the end of the term. In these circumstances, it’s a reasonable approach to ask how that was done. Some may claim that the vetting is already as strict as possible, and there is always the risk that terrorists slip through. New developments call for new assessments; we are aware, for instance, that Yezidi girls who have been rescued from ISIS captivity are still in touch with their captors due to Stockholm Syndrome. Have we accounted for the risk that one of them might maintain contact once given safe haven in the United States? It is a reasonable position for a U.S. citizen to want to continue to assess security risks until they are addressed.

Moreover, we must be prudent and remain aware of the motivations of different actors. Some large refugee assistance groups may see funding cut under the orders, and it is understandable if they feel pressure to oppose them for that reason in addition to their convictions regarding refugees. At a minimum they have a conflict of interest on this point.

Additionally, we should be careful of a mentality which assumes that large-scale immigration is most helpful to people. Many displaced persons overseas want to stay in their countries. Solutions which help create peace and stability where they live are just as helpful, if not more so, than uprooting them to bring them to a different culture in the United States. Those arguing for widespread and aggressive immigration on grounds of compassion should ensure they are not assuming it is the only compassionate solution.

Arguments against the refugee restrictions

While the executive orders contain many provisions that will improve security overall in the visa-granting process, those halting the refugee program may do little to improve security, while stunting an important program for those fleeing persecution. The United States is currently vulnerable to terrorists seeking to exploit different avenues of entry: H1Bs, student visas, and claims to asylum, for instance. The refugee program, in which vetting occurs outside the country, is the last place terrorists would go if they were trying to enter the United States.

While Europe has experienced difficulty due to increasing numbers of refugees, the situation is not analogous to that of the United States, as the way refugees enter the United States mitigates many of those risks Europe faces. The term “refugee” has been applied to those flooding into Europe but it is inaccurate to think of those same people as refugees to the United States—a point I discuss above. If these people flooded our shores like they’ve done to Europe’s, they would be asylum seekers, not refugees covered by the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). To enter the United States through the USRAP, a potential refugee first has to go to a country where he or she can apply through the United Nations, go through the UN process, then be chosen by the UN to be resettled in the United States (the UN picks their country of resettlement, not the refugee). This process often takes four years. Thus, if people are concerned about “refugees” arriving and “flooding” our shores, they are not really concerned about refugees as that term is used in law and policy (and the USRAP), but are concerned about other types of entrants—either asylum seekers, or those entering illegally.

While the risk of a terrorist entering through the USRAP is not zero, compared to other avenues of entry, it’s much more difficult and terrorists are much less likely to use it. A significant area of risk is the database system used to assess refugees, which could be bolstered and improved; but fixing this may not require a pause in the USRAP program as the orders require. While we obtain a bare minimum of security gains by restricting the USRAP, the argument goes, we cause significant suffering to those who do need our help. In Lebanon, for instance, Christian Syrian women are prostituting themselves and selling their daughters into child marriages to survive. These people need our help, and we shouldn’t shut off their lifeline when the security risks of that lifeline are already minimal. We should address any security risk as soon as possible so we can get our refugee program back up and running so it can help those it is meant to help.

Conclusion

The initial executive order was not without its problems. It seems that the roll out and implementation could have been accomplished more smoothly. There were reports of lawful permanent residents and U.S. military translators being held up; these matters should have been addressed before the order was issued to avoid confusion. By now, certain steps have been taken to smooth out some of these bumps, but they could have been addressed from the beginning. Thankfully, the new executive order does not bar holders of valid visas or lawful permanent residents from entering the United States, and the new order will take effect on March 16 (hopefully allowing for smooth roll out and implementation), as opposed to the initial order which took effect immediately.

These changes in the new order go a long way toward fixing some of the problems in the initial one, though obviously many will still disagree about immigration policy more broadly. At the end of the day, we should acknowledge that reasonable people (including fellow Christians) may disagree about immigration policy and the executive orders (including their refugee provisions).

Reaching that conclusion alone would go a long way toward promoting rational discourse and easing the emotional gridlock in the public debate on this and other issues.

A Biblical Perspective on Immigration

by Travis Weber

March 10, 2017

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series.

On March 6, President Trump signed a revised Executive Order restricting entry to the United States from certain countries, which followed heated controversy and legal battles arising from the initial Executive Order (EO) temporarily halting entry to the United States for certain groups of people. In light of the new order, and in the wake of the controversy surrounding the issue more broadly, it’s helpful to separate the multiple issues—often conflated with one another—playing a part in this discussion. The relationship of refugee and immigration policy to international religious freedom advocacy, in particular, has revealed some glaring hypocrisies and deficiencies over the course of the recent public debate. Another issue at play is the question of what a Christian should be saying on the question of immigration in general, and the Executive Order in particular.

Issue #2: Theology

Many immigration advocates point to biblical commands to love the foreigner (Leviticus 19:34), and care for those different than us (Luke 10:25-37). They’re right. Those verses are in the Bible. What else is in there? Plenty of Old Testament law, which these same advocates are happy to overlook. For example, we see that God requires immigrants to assimilate or, in other words, live by the customs of the land they now call home in order to receive equal status (Exodus 12:48-49).

The point here is not to arrive at the precise theological implications of these passages, but to point out the hypocrisy of those who wish to suddenly have the government cite the Bible as a basis for policy. Are these same individuals prepared to tell us what the Bible has to say about shutting down public school Bible studies because of supposed Establishment Clause violations? Many suddenly seem to have developed a zeal for the fusion of Christianity and State, and try to justify their arguments for opposing this executive order by simply attaching a Christian reference to them.

The truth is, it is incumbent on Christians to open their hearts toward the foreigner—and all our neighbors. But living a Christian life is not so monolithic. The Bible also says government is to punish wrong and protect the good (Romans 13:1-7). Even the organization Sojourners believes this verse means “government is supposed to protect its people. That certainly means protecting its citizens’ safety and security.” Loving my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31) means all neighbors. Allowing Christianity to inform public policy is a worthwhile endeavor, but it must be done prudently and carefully, not merely as a pretext.

Primarily lost in this discussion is the question of how this controversy intersects with the larger issue of religious freedom around the world. Where has this energy and attention been when it comes to care for those suffering around the world for their religious beliefs? Where has the outcry been when the United States has stood by much of the time?

Where have Christians in the United States been as their brothers and sisters have been tormented overseas? Are they prepared to cite Scripture in defense of their apathy?

Those who are careless about their country’s borders while careful about locking their house at night are operating with a logical disconnect. This disconnect must be worked out. The policy implications of our theological sources are not always clear, and no one should be denigrated for reasonably disagreeing.

The question of what Christianity has to say about this issue is a valid one, but the inquiry must be done properly, not recklessly and carelessly.

Part 3 will examine arguments for and against refugee restrictions in President Trump’s executive orders.

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