Author archives: Travis Weber

3 Ways in Which Brett Kavanaugh Has Supported Religious Liberty

by Travis Weber

August 17, 2018

In light of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s impending confirmation battle, Family Research Council conducted an overview of his record and explained how he would likely rule on the issues we are concerned about. From that review, here are three ways in which Judge Kavanaugh has defended religious liberty:

  1. Judge Kavanaugh Has Defended Religious Believers from the HHS Mandate

In Priests for Life v. HHS, he dissented from the D.C. Circuit’s denial of rehearing en banc, arguing that the HHS mandate substantially burdened the organization’s exercise of religion, pursuant to Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. This is a very important conclusion on an important issue and shows Judge Kavanaugh to have a right understanding of the religious freedom burdens that RFRA guards against in this context. While his assertion later in the same case that Hobby Lobby “strongly suggests” that the government has a compelling interest in ensuring broad access to contraceptives seems unnecessary, he did conclude that RFRA protected the claimants because the HHS mandate was not the least restrictive means of achieving any such interest.

  1. Judge Kavanaugh Has Defended Religious Expression in the Public Square

In Newdow v. Roberts, atheists had argued that “so help me God” in the presidential oath violated the Establishment Clause. The D.C. Circuit rejected their argument, and Judge Kavanaugh wrote a concurrence stating that such “longstanding practices do not violate the Establishment Clause as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court.”

More recently, in Archdiocese of Washington v. WMATA, the Archdiocese of Washington attempted to purchase advertising space on the Washington Metro during the Christmas season, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority refused to sell what it deemed a “religious” message for a religious organization. During oral arguments in this case, Judge Kavanaugh told WMATA’s lawyer that this was “pure discrimination” and an “odious” First Amendment violation, showing a keen awareness of potential violations of free speech and free expression with a religious basis.

[In addition], [h]e helped set up a voucher program supporting religious schools in Florida, and also represented the Adat Shalom Jewish group in their legal battle against a Maryland county that was trying to stop construction of a synagogue.

  1. Judge Kavanaugh Has Defended Religious Expression in Schools

During his time in private practice, Judge Kavanaugh chaired the Religious Liberty Practice Group at the Federalist Society, and worked pro bono to write amicus briefs in support of religious expression in schools. He wrote briefs in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, in which he argued that a public school must allow religious student clubs to use its facilities in a similar manner as other clubs, and that student-led prayer at football events did not violate the establishment clause, respectively.

For more, see: https://www.frc.org/issueanalysis/why-judge-kavanaugh-should-be-confirmed-to-the-supreme-court 

CNN Publishes a Hatchet Job on Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber

August 10, 2018

Following the announcement of the Department of Justice Religious Liberty Task Force, CNN decided to post a recent piece that horribly mischaracterized what Christians believe about religious freedom. Whatever accuracy the piece contained was drowned out by glaring falsehoods—assertions and conclusions which are not only untrue, but which have now been released into the public discourse to further sow divisiveness and animosity.

Take this statement, for example: “[Sessions] also portrayed religious liberty as the right of religious groups not to be labeled as hate groups even if their beliefs prescribed hate.”

The author didn’t cite a Bible verse or theological position for “hate” because she can’t—it’s not there. So she just claims (falsely) that Christians’ beliefs “prescribe”—or instruct us to engage in—“hate” (whatever that means). In the process, she defended the Southern Poverty Law Center’s arbitrary “hate” list which Sessions was referring to—a hate list on which SPLC unilaterally labels and places FRC and other groups because we hold to unpopular truths about human sexuality, and a list which led to a gunman entering my organization’s headquarters several years ago with a plan to commit mass murder, wounding a security guard in the process. (FRC maintains no such lists of any of our opponents.)

One need only crack the pages of the Bible for a moment to see how false the CNN piece is about Christianity: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

Our faith leads us to love all people, which means conveying the truth. They may not like that truth, but their response does not mean we are not acting out of love.

For CNN to relay such falsehoods about Christians only serves to toxify the public square. Those commenting on the religious beliefs of others—like this author—need to get their facts right. If there is one thing Jesus “prescribes,” it is love. The cost of failing to accurately describe the religious beliefs of others is further mistrust and social deterioration. Unfortunately, this piece squarely contributes to that.

As a Christian organization, we not only aim to convey the truth out of love, but we believe no one should be compelled to act against their conscience in matters of faith. All people must be free to choose—or not choose—God. Therefore, we desire to protect religious freedom for all people (regardless of their faith), and applaud Attorney General Sessions’ efforts to protect Hindus and Muslims, for example. As mentioned during the Task Force announcement, the Sessions DOJ recently prosecuted an individual “who set fire to a mosque”—a fact which the CNN op-ed author conveniently left out of her discussion of how the Sessions DOJ approaches religious freedom. 

It is long overdue for CNN and other “mainstream” media to start discussing religious freedom in good faith, examining the facts and applying a dose of honesty with regard to what Christians actually believe about this issue. This would go a long way toward achieving the constructive dialogue necessary to heal our divided nation.

DOJ Announces Timely Religious Liberty Initiative

by Travis Weber

July 31, 2018

Speaking at the Department of Justice yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of a “Religious Liberty Task Force” to ensure the DOJ fully implements President Trump’s Religious Liberty Executive Order from May 4, 2017, and the follow-on DOJ religious liberty guidance issued on October 6, 2017.

The task force will ensure that the October 6 guidance fully affects all DOJ policy, such as what cases are taken, what arguments are made in court, and how DOJ personnel conduct themselves. Dialogue between DOJ and religious groups will remain ongoing, and DOJ employees will be trained in “their duties to accommodate people of faith.”

This is a welcome announcement, and further indicates the priority given to religious liberty by the Trump administration and his Department of Justice. 

Sessions’ opening remarks were encouraging. He discussed the cases of religious objectors such as the Little Sisters of the Poor (subjected to a legal battle to not be coerced into providing contraception against their consciences), and baker Jack Phillips (who didn’t want to create a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding), mentioning Jack’s recent vindication in the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision and DOJ’s decision to file an amicus brief on his behalf. The Attorney General also mentioned he was filing a brief defending the ministerial housing allowance in an ongoing case, and discussed his department’s work to defend churches, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship. Discussing the increasingly hostile social climate, Sessions criticized the anti-religious remarks certain senators made during recent judicial confirmation hearings, and tacitly but clearly noted the Southern Poverty Law Center’s toxic approach to public discourse:

We have gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law; where ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit; and where one group can actively target religious groups by labeling them a “hate group” on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs. (emphasis mine)

Next, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville argued eloquently for religious liberty, noting it is derived from and must be protected consistent with human dignity. Kurtz cited the example of faith-based adoption providers, who are buttressing already-strained government foster and adoption care systems, being targeted for living out their belief that children need a mother and a father. As an example of the contributions of such groups, he mentioned an organization named “The Call” which places up to half of all adopted children in Arkansas into families. Such religious organizations do their work quietly and resolutely day after day, and many are not even aware of the value they contribute to the common good. This is real public service, and these organizations must remain free to operate according to their beliefs. 

Other panelists at the event, including the Heritage Foundation’s Emilie Kao, addressed the religious liberty threat of governmental authorities enforcing their own sexual orthodoxy on religious believers. Professor Michael McConnell of Stanford Law School (formerly a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit) discussed oft-used arguments that religious liberty can’t be tolerated when it causes “harm” to “third parties.” As Judge McConnell noted, however, there is always someone else who is affected by the protection of a legal claim to religious liberty—whether a government body, other group, or an individual. This is not a new concept. The fact that the law will always tangibly impact someone, combined with our historic reasons for religious liberty (the necessity of ensuring the government does not get in the way of humans being able to fulfil the responsibilities they owe to God), is the very reason the Founders put the First Amendment in the Constitution to begin with!

Introducing closing speaker Senator James Lankford, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein commented on the positive contribution of religious freedom to a society, and noted Senator Lankford’s defense of Judge Amy Barrett, who came under fire for her faith when being confirmed by the Senate to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Senator Lankford’s closing remarks powerfully explained the importance of all people being free to practice their beliefs. He mentioned the legal battle of Coach Kennedy as he sought to pray on the high school football field (something which shouldn’t be controversial), then forayed into international religious liberty issues such as China and Russia’s suppressions of religious freedom (citing a USCIRF report), as well as India’s anti-religious freedom laws. Lankford also addressed Turkey’s ongoing detention of Pastor Andrew Brunson, as well as the importance of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback’s work. 

We have to set an example of religious freedom at home if we are going to argue for it overseas, Lankford rightly noted. He mentioned we must do better to protect the religious freedom of military chaplains, the need for legislation like the Conscience Protection Act and Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, and the importance of fixing the Johnson Amendment due to its chilling effect on religious speech. We must do religious freedom well (protecting the right for all faiths) at home to successfully promote it abroad. When it comes to religious freedom, we must show the world we walk the walk if we want to talk the talk. 

At home or abroad, as Lankford noted, religious freedom includes a robust defense of all people being able to robustly practice their faith in the public square. When this vision of religious liberty is legally protected, the battle will be one of ideas instead of a battle in the courts (or subjugation to governmental suppression of ideas).

An open marketplace of religious ideas should be something all Americans can agree upon. We encourage DOJ in its effort to ensure this marketplace remains open.

In Win for Religious Freedom, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Reminds Us Why Judicial Nominations Matter

by Travis Weber

July 17, 2018

Two days ago, in a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the freedom of the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops to live out their faith as it pertains to pro-life issues. Close votes like this remind us of the importance of judicial nominations, along with why it matters that we have judges who understand religious freedom law.

After Texas passed a law requiring the remains of unborn children to be properly cared for, pro-abortion groups challenged it, and used the lawsuit to harass and compel information from the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops (TCCB)—who had been supportive of caring for these babies’ remains. The TCCB wasn’t even a party to the case, but out of animus against its pro-life work, the pro-abortion groups tried to force it to turn over all sorts of internal communications which normally would not be disclosed as part of the discovery process. Unfortunately, in a bizarre sequence of actions for which we may never know the reason, a district court judge obliged the abortion groups, forcing the TCCB to turn over internal communications pertaining to the group’s motivations and religious workings in violation of the First Amendment—all under a ridiculously tight timeline—and all on a Sunday, Father’s Day, no less.

Thankfully, the Fifth Circuit reversed this absurd discovery order, with Judge Edith Jones penning the opinion, joined by Judge James Ho (a recent Trump appointee). Judge Jones wrote that the lower court’s “analysis was incorrectly dismissive of the seriousness of the issues raised by TCCB,” such as the inherent danger in forcing groups to disclose “internal communications within a religious body concerning its activities in the public square to advance and protect its position on serious moral or political issues”—which the First Amendment clearly protects.

Agreeing with Judge Jones, newly-confirmed Judge James Ho wrote in a separate concurrence that “[i]t is hard to imagine a better example of how far we have strayed from the text and original understanding of the Constitution than this case. The First Amendment expressly guarantees the free exercise of religion—including the right of the Bishops to express their profound objection to the moral tragedy of abortion, by offering free burial services for fetal remains. By contrast, nothing in the text or original understanding of the Constitution prevents a state from requiring the proper burial of fetal remains.”

He concluded that the “proceedings below” are “troubling,” and “leave this Court to wonder if this discovery is sought … to retaliate against people of faith for not only believing in the sanctity of life—but also for wanting to do something about it.”

Indeed. We have seen this type of harassment of religious groups before, when the City of Houston sought internal communications from pastors and churches during a lawsuit to which they were not parties—actions reasonably expected to harass these pastors and chill their activities in violation of the First Amendment.

The fact that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling was decided by one vote should remind us all of the importance of confirming good jurists like Judges Jones and Ho, and the cost of not doing so. Our religious freedom, and our nation’s fidelity to the Constitution, hang in the balance.

Are Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg For or Against Religious Hostility?

by Travis Weber , Andrew Rock

June 29, 2018

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s reasonable national security measures by a 5-4 vote in Trump v. Hawaii. In one of the dissents, Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justice Ginsburg) drew from the Court’s recent opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission to argue that President Trump’s “bias” against Muslims invalidated the travel ban because government actions cannot be motived by anti-religious sentiment. Yet less than a month ago, Justice Ginsberg (joined by Justice Sotomayor) dissented in Masterpiece, ignoring the blatant religious hostility against Jack Phillips that served as the basis for the Court’s ruling in his favor. The position of these two dissenters in Trump v. Hawaii would seem to lead to support for Jack Phillips, but it never materialized.

In Trump v. Hawaii, much biased media coverage obscured the facts of a relatively simple case. President Trump issued a proclamation that temporarily suspended entry into the U.S. of persons from countries which did not provide adequate background check information. It made no mention of any religion (six of the eight countries on the list are mostly Muslim, but the other two were not – and numerous Muslim-majority countries were not on the list). The Supreme Court held that it was well within President Trump’s authority to implement this measure as a matter of national security.

Justices Sotomayor and Ginsberg were having none of it. They insisted that the “ban” (another misnomer, since the regulations didn’t flatly ban anyone, but set up different requirements for different people trying to enter the U.S.) violated the First Amendment because of President Trump’s comments about Islam’s history of violence. The Justices reasoned that because religious hostility is not a valid basis for government action, and since these regulations were supposedly enacted out of some hostility to Muslims, then they are invalid. Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg referenced Masterpiece, which relied on the principle that government hostility to religion violates the free exercise protections of the First Amendment, to support their argument that the Court should decide differently and to imply that the majority decision was hypocritical. They ignored the fact that they both dissented against the very decision they attempted to invoke.

Indeed, Justice Ginsberg (joined by Justice Sotomayor) penned a dissent in Masterpiece which dismissed the obvious religious hostility against Jack Phillips. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission had compared Christians like Mr. Phillips who wanted to follow their consciences to Nazis and slave owners. These inflammatory statements did not concern Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, who said that “whatever one may think of the statements in their historical context…I see no reason why the comments of one or two Commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins.”

Yet Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor can’t have it both ways. If they believe religious hostility can serve as a basis for relief, as they state in Trump v. Hawaii, they also have to be prepared for to provide that relief for Jack Phillips. Conversely, if a decision can still be valid despite evidence of religious bias (as they argued in Masterpiece), then they should have supported the president’s reasonable national security regulations in Trump v. Hawaii. The Justices cannot ignore obvious religious bias when it is politically convenient, and turn around and use the same argument to attack other measures they don’t like.

Supreme Court Protects Jack Phillips’ Rights, Tells Colorado: “Not So Fast”

by Travis Weber

June 4, 2018

The Supreme Court’s much-awaited decision in the “wedding vendor” case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, was announced this morning. Ruling narrowly for Jack Phillips, owner of the bakery at issue, the Court focused squarely on the fact that the state of Colorado did not treat Phillips with “neutrality,” but rather “hostility,” due to the religious beliefs underlying his claims. Thus, the Court concluded, the state violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment—which prohibits the government from singling out, targeting, and discriminating against religion.

The Court featured two primary bases for this determination. First, the “Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of [Phillips’] case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection” to creating a same-sex wedding cake. Comparing him to a slave owner and Holocaust perpetrator (a comparison which was never objected to or disavowed in all the time leading up to the Court’s ruling), the Commission clearly disparaged Phillips’ beliefs in two ways: by calling them “despicable, and also by characterizing [them] as merely rhetori­cal—something insubstantial and even insincere.” Moreover, the commissioners who ruled on his case “endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, implying that religious beliefs and persons are less than fully welcome in Colorado’s business community.” These “inappro­priate and dismissive comments” showed a “lack of due consideration for Phillips’ free exercise rights and the dilemma he faced.”

Second, the fact that Colorado treated other bakers (who were asked to make a cake condemning same-sex marriage and declined because the message was “offensive”) differently constituted further evidence of the state’s animus against Phillips’ beliefs. “A principled rationale for the difference in treatment of these two instances cannot be based on the government’s own assessment of offensiveness. Just as ‘no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion,’ West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U. S. 624, 642 (1943), it is not, as the Court has repeatedly held, the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive. See Matal v. Tam, 582 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2017) (opinion of ALITO, J.) (slip op., at 22–23). The Colorado court’s at­tempt to account for the difference in treatment elevates one view of what is offensive over another and itself sends a signal of official disapproval of Phillips’ religious beliefs.” It was on these two grounds that seven members of the Court concluded that the state of Colorado treated Jack Phillips harshly because of his religious beliefs.

Harkening back to another Justice Kennedy free exercise opinion from decades ago, Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, the Court elaborated upon principles that the government cannot single out and target religious beliefs for disfavored treatment. And though it went unmentioned in the Masterpiece opinion, the Court’s ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer—holding that the government may not disfavor religion in public grant programs—from just last term affirmed this principle.

While the Court clarified that anti-religious animus was unacceptable (protecting Phillips for now), and while today’s opinion will likely be cited favorably by other wedding vendors who’ve experienced religious bias or animus from government actors, the opinion left other questions unanswered—namely, how the Court will handle free speech claims in the context of sexual orientation nondiscrimination regulation, or free exercise claims in the same circumstances absent such animus. The Court wasn’t exactly clear on how these matters would be decided, noting that clergy are protected (this is beyond debate), but expressing uncertainty on the myriad other matters which have arisen in the last few years as religious beliefs come into conflict with newly-mandated government requirements regarding same-sex marriage. In essence, the Court kicked that can down the road for another day.

While the majority opinion produced a good result, some of the real meat was in the concurrences. Justice Gorsuch penned a concurrence (joined by Justice Alito) in which he offered a clear defense of free expression (this principle being especially important when the expression is unpopular) and a clear explanation of what actually occurred here—Phillips had an objection to the message, not the messenger. As Phillips testified, “I will not design and create wedding cakes for a same-sex wedding regardless of the sexual orienta­tion of the customer” (emphasis mine). Justice Gorsuch made very clear that Phillips was objecting to the creative process, not how the customer identified.

Justice Thomas also concurred (joined by Justice Gorsuch), commenting in depth on the free speech protections he believed Phillips possessed. In doing so, he pointed out that the important free speech case Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston supported Phillips’ arguments, and noted that Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights and PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins were not applicable to scenarios like this (something I have argued separately), for they dealt with allowing other parties access to speech fora, not alterations to a party’s own message. Justice Thomas concludes:

In Obergefell, I warned that the Court’s decision would ‘inevitabl[y] … come into conflict’ with religious liberty, ‘as individuals … are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.’ 576 U. S., at ___ (dissenting opinion) (slip op., at 15). This case proves that the conflict has already emerged. Because the Court’s decision vindicates Phillips’ right to free exercise, it seems that religious liberty has lived to fight another day. But, in future cases, the freedom of speech could be essential to preventing Obergefell from being used to ‘stamp out every vestige of dissent’ and ‘vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.’ Id., at ___ (ALITO, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 6). If that freedom is to maintain its vitality, reasoning like the Colorado Court of Appeals’ must be rejected.

The conclusion to his concurrence, describing all the First Amendment issues not resolved by today’s opinion (which really need a legislative remedy and not a judicial one), is also a fitting conclusion for us as we anticipate the many religious liberty cases surely to be confronted in the years ahead.

State Department Defends Actual Human Rights Instead of Made-Up Rights

by Travis Weber

April 24, 2018

Some activists are upset that the current State Department is going back to conducting worldwide reporting on violations of human rights law instead of the activist flavor of the day. “We are a nation founded on the belief that every person is endowed with inalienable rights. Promoting and defending these rights is central to who we are as a country” (emphasis added), the report began, before going on to report on human rights around the world.

Yet to hear international legal activists describe it, the Trump administration is taking us to the dark ages once again. The administration has allegedly “erase[d] reproductive rights” from the reporting. Over-used and hyperbolic language aside (the term “erase” must have poll-tested well), articles like this are entirely wrong about human rights law and fail to provide historic context on this issue.

If President Obama injected “reproductive rights” into the process in 2011, as the article admits, how was the issue dealt with before then? Is President Trump merely stopping the last administration’s activist approach to the issue, and bringing us back in line with the (bipartisan) approach we enjoyed for decades before? This would be nice to know. Yet we are left without any objective picture or understanding of human rights law from such “news” stories. The irony is that sites like Rewire only further cement and confirm the “fake news” narrative.

The truth is, as the State Department pointed out, the Trump administration was only returning to the clear requirements of international human rights law—which contains no “right to abortion.” In the face of this fact, abortion activist groups like Amnesty International USA could only try the feeble response: “Reproductive rights are human rights.” Except, they’re not. I welcome anyone at Amnesty to show me where such a notion is contained in international law.

It’s not for lack of trying on the part of those who want such a “right” in place. Abortion advocates ceaselessly push their agendas in international forums, eliciting public statements and “rulings” in the context of international organizations to try to claim there is a “right to abortion.” But none of this actually changes the law.

The State Department’s approach to human rights in this report is fair, neutral, and objective. Its critics should aspire to the same standard.

Mike Pompeo Has the Correct Perspective on Human Rights

by Travis Weber

April 12, 2018

During his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo was asked by Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) whether he thinks “LGBTQ rights are human rights.”

Pompeo responded:

I deeply believe LGBTQ persons have every right that every other person has.

This is exactly right. Mike Pompeo’s response accurately captures how international human rights law addresses the claims of the LGBT movement, expressed with care and charity.

As I stated several years ago:

All human beings possess rights because of our unique human nature as evidenced by reason and conscience. LGBT persons have the same human rights as others, because of their human dignity, evidenced by their endowed reason and conscience … .

Some may claim, as then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did, that “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.” This statement misleads by … implying that same-sex-attracted and transgendered persons do not currently enjoy human rights protections … .

The [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] and [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] protect every individual from arbitrary arrest, torture, and extrajudicial killing by the State, because all humans have human dignity, regardless of their sexual attraction or gender preference.

If any person is denied these rights (whether they identify as same-sex attracted or not), then UN human rights bodies should investigate and strengthen enforcement of their rights. Secretary Clinton names a problem that already has a solution.

Mike Pompeo shows he has the right perspective on international human rights law. Not everyone may like the law, but for the rule of law to be upheld, it must be respected. Considering how he was pressed to uphold the rule of law during his hearing—and how he promised (rightly) to do so—we have hope that he will take this principled approach to international law when implementing our foreign policy.

For the Sake of Our Security at Home, We Must Focus on Religious Freedom Abroad

by Travis Weber

April 5, 2018

In recent history, our foreign policy elites have primarily viewed religious freedom concerns as the parochial interest of humanitarian-minded pastors and religious freedom-focused human rights activists. Concerns were addressed when possible, yet the government handled problems on a one-off basis, usually to solve the annual flare-up over some imprisoned pastor somewhere. However, these religious freedom challenges haven’t been incorporated into any consistent, long-term, strategic thinking on foreign policy.

But what if they should be? One could argue the one-off approach hasn’t really advanced religious freedom worldwide, and that we should change the way we try to protect this right. Regardless, the assumption is that we are operating from a humanitarian basis. But what if the appeal was made on other grounds—that religious freedom is not simply a humanitarian concern, but that it is in the interest of our own security to advance it around the world?

Emerging evidence suggests that it is. As Professor William Inboden (who formerly served on the State Department’s Policy Planning staff and as senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council) points out, “[t]here is not a single nation in the world that both respects religious freedom and poses a security threat to the United States.”

In a new FRC analysis released just yesterday, “Religious Freedom and National Security,” we make the case that the United States should not only promote religious freedom for its own sake, but also because it ultimately keeps us safer in the long run.

For a template, we can draw on the example of President Reagan, who unapologetically defended religious freedom on the world stage—confronting the Soviet Union, China, and others on this issue. Today, we face our own challenges posed by the spread of radical Islam and rising authoritarian governments—menaces whose suppression of religious freedom correlates with their threat to our national security.

With ongoing threats around the world which show no sign of abating, shouldn’t we at least be open to the possibility that we need to change our thinking on this issue, and address religious freedom violators because of their threat to our national security?

Just in the last several days, news has broken that China appears to be restricting the sale of Bibles and is also pushing a deal with the Vatican that would ultimately keep it in charge of appointing bishops.

It seems some of the same religious freedom problems President Reagan faced are rearing their heads today. It is time that we reclaim America’s historic role in engaging them, and firmly and strategically defend religious freedom around the world—for this will ultimately keep us safe at home.

Attacks on Counseling Threaten Pastors and Churches

by Travis Weber

March 23, 2018

Recently, California state legislators proposed a bill which would outlaw counseling—even that which is freely entered—for anyone who wanted help changing their unwanted same-sex attraction. We have seen such efforts before, but this one is noteworthy for how expansive it is—it covers individuals, associations, and “other group[s],” in addition to traditional businesses. As Alliance Defending Freedom points out, it could even implicate churches: “It could be a violation [of this proposed law] if a pastor encourages a congregant to visit the church bookstore to purchase books that help people address sexual issues, perhaps including the Bible itself, which teaches about the importance of sexual purity within the confines of marriage between a man and woman.” While outlawing such pastoral advice (the bill would consider it fraudulent “goods and services”), the bill completely endorses advice designed to cement same-sex attraction.

Masquerading as consumer protection and medical oversight, this is simply blatant and open discrimination against one side of our society’s debate on sexual ethics. Yet sin wants to suppress the truth, and even the idea that someone can help someone else change their sexual attractions implies that what one may be doing is not all good and healthy. This threat implicates not just businesses and Christians in the public eye, but all Christians who hold to a biblical position on these issues. It won’t matter how one approaches the issue. We should always speak the truth in love because that’s the right thing to do, but that won’t exempt us from being targeted. Our biblical beliefs themselves are the target. It is crucial that all Christians in America understand this social dynamic.

This legislative development in California echoes the situation involving Metro City Church in Michigan, which took heavy criticism for offering a program to help teens who are questioning their sexuality walk through their situation from a biblical perspective. The program approached the issue very cautiously—and was defined by merely discussing the matter of sexuality by looking at what the Bible had to say about it. Yet in response, numerous activists subjected the church and its pastor, Jeremy Schossau, to vitriolic online attacks, criticism, and threats (including potentially criminal behavior), and two state legislators have called for the church to be “investigated” for offering “conversion therapy.”

While we have seen such vitriol often directed at those who advocate a biblical worldview on this issue, direct targeting of churches and pastors has been relatively rare. Yet this incident serves as a reminder that many of the religious freedom struggles we are facing will eventually reach any church which teaches an orthodox biblical position on questions of sexuality.

Moreover, in this case, nothing remotely controversial was occurring; the church was just trying to go to the Bible for answers on this topic. Along with the proposed California legislation, these developments make clear that the problem is not the way something is said, but the Christian position on these issues itself is what is opposed.

We must defend the ability of pastors and their churches to decide what is said in church … not the government. The First Amendment makes absolutely clear that the government has no power to tell churches what advice they can give or require a license to give that advice, and the First Amendment to the Constitution still guarantees the freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion. Additionally, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prevents the government from assessing theology and targeting the theological beliefs it doesn’t like. This is the current law, but we must give voice to our rights to see them protected.

After the Supreme Court constitutionalized same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, many wondered whether pastors would be pressured into performing same-sex marriages. Perhaps the bigger question now is whether they will be threatened into compromising their larger biblical perspective on sexuality.

FRC is standing with Pastor Jeremy, and attempting to raise awareness of the religious freedom implications of this situation. To stand with Pastor Jeremy, please sign our petition at FRC.org/Metro to tell these legislators they cannot prohibit this pastor or his church from exercising their First Amendment rights.

For more information on Pastor Jeremy’s situation, please see:

FRC Washington Update articles:

Also: 

 

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