Author archives: Travis Weber

How did the Washington State Supreme Court Get Barronelle Stutzman’s Case So Wrong?

by Travis Weber

February 16, 2017

Today the Washington Supreme Court ruled against Barronelle Stutzman, a florist who for years happily served her customer and friend Rob Ingersoll (who she clearly knew identified as gay), but could not in good conscience assist him in celebrating his same-sex marriage because it involved her creative talents and energies in furthering an activity she believed to be wrong. 

In response to this desire to honor her conscience, the Washington State government organs of “justice” teamed up with the ACLU to sue her for purported violations of nondiscrimination laws, putting her personal assets and home at risk as a result. Barronelle never asked for this controversy, but it was brought to her doorstep by activists who simply couldn’t live and let live, and she has stood strong through it. 

In its ruling today, the Washington Supreme Court first exposed its bias by spending a page and a half detailing the emotional toll on the same-sex couple, while spending a total of one sentence acknowledging similar harm to Barronelle (Hint: that toll is much more than one line’s worth). In addition to this discrepancy, there are major problems with the ruling. I want to focus on three of them. 

1. The court got it wrong by concluding Barronelle engaged in discrimination 

The state high court clearly erred by rejecting Barronelle’s claim that she did not engage in sexual orientation discrimination but rather objected to a certain activity (participation in the same-sex wedding). In rejecting her argument, the court heavily relied on cases minimizing any status/conduct distinction (the idea being that limiting the behavior of a certain class is discriminating against that class—a “tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on Jews”). Minimizing that distinction is a big error in this case, however. What makes the tax on yarmulkes reprehensible is the fact that it really is a back-door way of targeting Jews. Barronelle is not trying to “sneak in” discrimination against LGBT people by declining to participate in their marriages. She’s happily served these same people for years!

The court recognized she had no problem with “selling bulk flowers and “raw materials,’” for use in a same-sex wedding, and acknowledged “she would be happy to do” that in this case. The court seemed to miss how this shows her actions do not turn on whether the customer identifies as LGBT or not, but rather upon the specific activity she is asked to participate in, noting at one point it believes “[t]his case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.” But the court already acknowledged Barronelle was not turning away customers because they identified as gay, as a sandwich counter would turn away any African-American who walked in. Barronelle only wanted to not be involved in their weddings. Is the court not willing to accept this? 

There actually is a status/conduct distinction that’s important to this case, and the Washington Supreme Court errs in minimizing it and relying on dissimilar situations and precedents. While the court acknowledges that cases highlighting the status/conduct distinction exist (see footnote 6 at the bottom of page 16 of the opinion), it does not discuss or address them. Barronelle honestly and simply has a conscience objection to facilitating certain marriages, and nothing else. Courts, activists, and everyone else involved in this discussion need to recognize this. 

2. The court hugely erred in rejecting Barronelle’s Free Speech claim 

Additionally, the Washington Supreme Court simply got it wrong in rejecting Barronelle’s Free Speech claim. Though beginning with soaring language probably meant to show its high regard for free speech, the court quickly puts a damper on the party, concluding her artistic creations are not “inherently expressive” protected speech. The court’s analysis has some gaping holes, however, as it heavily relies on Rumsfeld v. FAIR despite significant legal and factual differences with the present case. FAIR was an unconstitutional conditions case dealing with government funding—in the military, moreover—an area Congress has significant constitutional power to regulate. The Court in FAIR also noted the recruiting law does not force schools to accept members they did not desire, while nondiscrimination laws force complete compliance in admissions or service. FAIR is also distinguished because the case hinged on a funding conditions issue, while here, as in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale and Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston, the primary issue is constitutional rights being pitted against nondiscrimination laws. 

The Washington Supreme Court gave inadequate attention to perhaps the most relevant case—Hurley—concluding it was “unavailing” to Barronelle simply because the Supreme Court in that case had recognized the parade organizing council was not a traditional public accommodation. But that was not the issue in Hurley; rather, it was whether there were constitutional rights in play that trumped any application of that state nondiscrimination law. On this point, the Hurley Court observed: “[w]hen the [public accommodations] law is applied to expressive activity in the way it was done here, its apparent object is simply to require speakers to modify the content of their expression to whatever extent beneficiaries of the law choose to alter it with messages of their own.” Thus, the Court concluded the application of the public accommodations law infringed on the parade organizers’ free speech, specifically the right to control the content of their message and be free from being compelled to speak a certain message. 

But the Washington Supreme Court skips all this analysis (indeed, the court mentions Hurley and Dale in Footnote 11 on the bottom of page 28, but sidesteps any discussion of how the federal constitutional rights in those cases trumped state law). The issue here is not, as the court believes, whether Barronelle’s business is the type that has “traditionally been subject” to nondiscrimination laws, but whether the First Amendment protects her as it did the parade organizer in Hurley. Barronelle’s expression should have been so protected, and the Washington Supreme Court erred in concluding it was not (oddly, it did so while spending several pages listing myriad examples of a variety of expressive activity which is protected—not all of which was more clearly “speech” than Barronelle’s activity). 

How it does this while at the same time quoting another Supreme Court case for the proposition that “[t]he government may not prohibit the dissemination of ideas that it disfavors, nor compel endorsement of ideas that it approves” is quite baffling. No same-sex marriage supporting florists are being threatened here. The state government is using the WLAD to go after those who disapprove of this “idea,” and the court goes along with this, while quoting a Supreme Court case which requires the opposite. 

The state high court concludes that the average observer of Barronelle’s action would not think it is meant to send any message and thus is not protected as “inherently expressive” activity. Yet one wonders how that same court would view the many who recently have protested President Trump in a variety of ways—most notably those refusing to design dresses for his family. I suspect they would most certainly believe that their actions were expressing a message. Would the Washington Supreme Court disagree with them if the issue arose as a legal question? 

3. The ruling validated concerns that same-sex marriage and SOGI laws will be used to suppress religious liberty 

First, in its analysis which concluded that Barronelle engaged in impermissible sexual orientation discrimination, the court cites the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. The state court claimed that denying marriage licenses is equal to sexual orientation discrimination, a conclusion it now foists upon Barronelle in her religious liberty case. With more of these wedding-related religious liberty cases likely to come, this part of the ruling should be noted by those who said Obergefell would not be used against such dissenters, and would not affect religious liberty. Indeed, the Supreme Court itself said in Obergefell: “[f]inally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths … .” Apparently, that may not be true after all, if more courts and advocates adopt the reasoning of the Washington Supreme Court. 

Second, on the bottom of page 52, the court’s reasoning validates the concerns of those who have long been claiming that SOGI laws are incompatible with religious liberty. Even when it comes to the most heartwarming religious liberty claimant around (an elderly grandmother who served her LGBT-identifying friend for years but didn’t want to be involved in his wedding), her rights are no match for state SOGI laws—which, the state high court concludes, are backed by a compelling government interest accomplished through the least restrictive means. Those putting much faith in compromise solutions between religious liberty and SOGI advocates should reexamine their assumptions in light of this portion of the opinion. 

Despite this ruling, Barronelle may yet be able to obtain relief from the United States Supreme Court. Hopefully, that Court will take up her case and uphold her federal constitutional rights in the face of the Washington State government’s oppressive action and its state courts’ acquiescence in this injustice. In thinking about how the U.S. Supreme Court will treat this case, it is a reminder of how important it is to have Judge Neil Gorsuch, who is good on religious liberty, confirmed as a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Meanwhile, we must not let what has happened to Barronelle at the state level happen to others at the federal level. This ruling is all the more reason for President Trump to protect religious liberty through executive action. Please join our petition effort calling for such protections. 

 

UN: Religious Persecution of Rohingyas Reaches Horrific Levels

by Travis Weber

February 7, 2017

Many in the West may not know about it, but the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has been occurring for some time at the hands of their own government, which wants them forced out of the country. A new report by the United Nations reviews recent developments and documents the cruelty to the group, which includes horrific killings of children and gang-rapes of women—often perpetrated by security forces.

While the facts on the ground are almost always more complex that what we can capture in reports and news stories, it is certainly true that religious persecution is a major element of what is occurring here. Religious freedom is a human right held by all, wherever they live and whatever they believe. All are entitled to be free to choose their faith and manifest it in their lives free from government interference, as articulated in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This goes for Muslims in Myanmar as much as it does for Christians in the Middle East.

Just because we don’t hear much about this situation in the Western press doesn’t make it any less horrible, or mean religious freedom violations are not occurring.

What You May Not Know President Trump Said at the National Prayer Breakfast

by Travis Weber

February 3, 2017

The coverage of President Trump’s remarks yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast was dominated by reference to his comments about Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you didn’t watch his speech or read the transcript, you may not realize what else was said.

Commenting on the denial of religious freedom in the Middle East, President Trump stated:

We have seen unimaginable violence carried out in the name of religion.  Acts of wanton slaughter against religious minorities.”

And:

We have seen peace-loving Muslims brutalized, victimized, murdered and oppressed by ISIS killers. We have seen threats of extermination against the Jewish people.”

Yes, President Trump recognized the fact that Muslims are being killed in the Middle East. This, however, is an inconvenient truth for biased mass media bent on portraying him as “anti-Muslim,” so it’s perfectly logical that the mass media don’t report it.

President Trump’s other reference—to minorities suffering violence—would include Yezidis, Christians, Baha’is, Shabak, Kaka’is, certain Muslims, and others. I enjoyed meeting many people from these groups when I conducted religious freedom training for civil society participants in Kurdistan, Iraq several years ago. They are fascinating people, and unknown to many outside that region. President Trump recognized their plight in his comments at the Prayer Breakfast, yet this has gone unreported, with the “mainstream” press choosing to focus on Arnold Schwarzenegger instead.

True religious freedom advocates support religious freedom for all people, both here in the United States and overseas. Indeed, U.S. and international law protect religious freedom for all people, in all contexts, within the bounds of an orderly, free society. In this sense, not only “justice is blind,” but “religious freedom law is blind.” Thus we can determine the true religious freedom advocates based on who values and supports these religious freedom laws, as opposed to those who try to limit them to certain contexts.

We have yet to see what the Trump administration will do to protect religious freedom overseas. Recognizing the problem, however, is a start.

At the Prayer Breakfast, it was also heartening to see President Trump recognize the source of religious freedom rights:

Our Republic was formed on the basis that freedom is not a gift from government, but that freedom is a gift from God.”

Indeed. Government does not create and grant human rights; it only recognizes them. Such human rights include the right of all people to choose their faith, and the freedom to live it out. This is a hopeful note on which we can proceed.

France Reminds United States of Importance of First Amendment

by Travis Weber

December 8, 2016

France’s legislative effort to ban pro-life websites passed the National Assembly last week, and just passed that country’s Senate yesterday. While the measure criminalizes a number of things, of note is the ban on making statements which bring “moral and psychological pressure” on a person as part of persuading them to not have an abortion. What about moral and psychological pressure to have an abortion? That is not banned.

This is what we in the United States call “viewpoint discrimination,” the most blatant kind of speech restriction prohibited by our First Amendment to the Constitution. Prohibitions on viewpoint discrimination prevent the government from “regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction” Rosenberger v. Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819, 829 (1995). For we don’t want the government to be able to “‘effectively drive certain ideas or viewpoints from the marketplace’” Turner Broadcasting Systems v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 641 (1994). As the Supreme Court has said, “[i]t is precisely this element of taking sides in a public debate that identifies viewpoint discrimination and makes it the most pernicious…” Rosenberger, 515 U.S. at 895.

While in the United States we may have grown used to the pro-life viewpoint being marginalized and pushed out of certain sectors of culture and academia, we generally rest assured in our strong free speech protections which guard against government efforts to censor certain viewpoints.

Last year, a federal judge found that a public university’s efforts to ban “controversial” speech was actually an attempt to ban the pro-life viewpoint and thus unconstitutional. In that case, the “political and social controversy” the university cited was due to the students’ position on abortion. If the university was concerned with “controversy” connected to the topic of abortion, it might be able to prohibit all speech on that topic in certain areas on campus. But if, as alleged, the university was actually targeting the “controversy” arising from pro-life views, it would be targeting these pro-life students for their position on the issue of abortion, and would thus be engaged in viewpoint discrimination—something the government is strictly prohibited from doing.

France’s ban on pro-life views follows not too long on the heels of a government decision to bar a video featuring individuals with Down syndrome from appearing on French television because the smiles of the children in the video would “disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices”—meaning, it would offend and upset women who had aborted their Down syndrome children.

Again, we can be thankful for free speech law in the United States, which, despite the efforts of university activists who want to ban offensive words, currently does not permit the banning of speech just because it is offensive.

These efforts by France should remind us of the value and importance of our own Free Speech law. While free speech infringements in France may be appealed, possibly up to the European Court of Human rights, this is already troubling enough. That the government can so easily shut down one side of an important public debate (or ban offensive presentations) are things that should make everyone who loves freedom (whether in Europe or the United States) worry.

Buzzfeed to Christians: No Freedom for You!

by Travis Weber

November 30, 2016

Much ink has been spilled over the assertion that the activist wing of the LGBT movement does not want to infringe on religious freedom, but only wants protections for itself.

Anyone who still seriously thinks this is true needs to wake up and look around.

The latest alleged outrage disproving this theory is a Buzzfeed “news” story titled: “Chip And Joanna Gaines’ Church Is Firmly Against Same-Sex Marriage.” The entire article is devoted to talking about how the well-liked and successful couple of the HGTV show Fixer Upper attend a Christian church that holds to the biblical view of marriage. The article then reviews the pastor’s comments reflecting this belief. If you’re waiting for more, you’ll be disappointed. That’s it. That’s the entire article.

Why this is a news story is unclear; there is nothing new or noteworthy in it. The church even told the reporter it has held the same views on marriage for 17 years. Where was Buzzfeed before when that “news” broke?

The entire point of this story appears to be to generate controversy and direct hostility toward the Gaines family. Thankfully, many Buzzfeed readers are quite dissatisfied with this approach, the top comment stating:

This is the dumbest story I have ever heard. It’s like a witch hunt for their beliefs, to try [to] stir the oil from a pot into the flames of the stove. This kind of article is exactly what is wrong with the media. Don’t go reaching out for a reason to hate people. The Gaines seem to be a wonderful couple and unless they are hurting anyone why does it matter. Also their beliefs are their own just like every other person. Don’t touch and don’t spew hate, this article is asking for hate to be spewed.”

Exactly. This is why most Americans can’t stand the intolerance of the modern progressive media and their allies in the activist wing of the LGBT movement. Most Americans want to be left alone to live in peace, and believe it’s ok for people to have different views. That’s the whole point of America. Not so for modern progressives. They have to force you to believe as they do.

This should be a lesson for Christians who think they can ignore the society around them. The Gaines have done nothing here—nothing except attend an orthodox Christian church and do their job well enough to draw the attention of busybody “news” sources. Christians who think radical progressive activists and their allies in the LGBT movement will not bother them are mistaken. At this time, those trying to live out their Christian faith in the marketplace and government are under scrutiny. But when the activists are done with them they will turn their attention to the churches. After all, that’s what happened here. Would there be a “story” if the Gaines’ church caved to pressure and abandoned its biblical position on marriage?

Countless Christians across our land wake up every day and do exactly what the Gaines have done here—work hard at their job and participate in the life of their local church. Most just haven’t been famous enough to be noticed. However, they won’t be able to live in peace forever.

Those who hear about religious freedom and think it’s still an issue for everyone else to deal with must grapple with what is happening to the Gaines’s. They won’t be able to avoid it forever.

Marine Corps: Spiritual Fitness Is a Necessary Component of Effective Military Service

by Travis Weber

November 22, 2016

Recently, the Marine Corps announced it is planning to develop a program of “spiritual fitness training” in order to “build the kind of mental resilience necessary for war,” according to chaplain Rear Admiral Brent Scott.

This is a welcome development, and it is good to see the military formally recognize a very basic truth about the human person: we are more than just a collection of muscle, bones, and tissue.

After a long time in the Middle East, Scott said he “found that much of the resilience we saw was not necessarily attributed to something that somebody could do in the gym. A lot had to do with the heart and soul of the individual.” Training is needed to develop this spiritual component of our humanity as it relates to military service. It will be a success, Scott notes, “if Marines begin talking about spiritual fitness and maintaining spiritual health as openly as they discuss physical fitness and physical training.”

A moral compass doesn’t just come from a faith foundation; it’s not enough to make a decision based on what is legally right or wrong,” Scott said. “Chaplains will help Marines discover that compass for themselves—that center of gravity that comes from their own upbringing, personal experiences, and religious teaching.” 

The message on the subject from the Commandant of the Marine Corps states as follows:

  1. Fitness is a vital part of being a United States Marine. Although we all understand the importance of being physically fit, it is also important to remember the other three aspects of overall fitness: spiritual, mental, and social. All of these aspects are essential to the well-being of each individual Marine and Sailor, and our Corps as a whole.
  2. As Americas force in readiness, we must be prepared to answer our Nation’s call on a moment’s notice. A large part of that ability is our capacity for resilience. Regardless of the battle we just fought, we must be ready for our next success. Research indicates that spiritual fitness plays a key role in resiliency, in our ability to grow, develop, recover, heal, and adapt. Regardless of individual philosophy or beliefs, spiritual well-being makes us better warriors and people of character capable of making good choices on and off duty.
  3. Beginning in October, the Marine Corps will be emphasizing all components of fitness, particularly the physical and spiritual aspects. During this time, I ask each of you to reflect on what you and the Marines and Sailors you lead are doing to achieve and maintain an optimal level of strength and resilience. Your leaders and chaplains at all levels stand ready to engage with you in this task. By attending to spiritual fitness with the same rigor given to physical, social and mental fitness, Marines and Sailors can become and remain the honorable warriors and model citizens our Nation expects.

Exactly right. This observation of the importance of spiritual fitness for our service members follows a long tradition of recognizing the importance of faith in our military. Early in our country’s history, George Washington recognized the need for chaplains in the military (and also that they be of a variety of faiths). Today, former Army Ranger Jeff Struecker describes how his spiritual strength helped him through the intense and traumatic moments of the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia: “I had a very strong Christian faith before joining the Army. It gave me this overwhelming sense of peace when most people were around me panicking. The next day, many people were asking me how I kept it together. God was leading me. I became an Army chaplain. It was directly a result of the day after this battle in Mogadishu.”

In addition, spirituality is a crucial component of medicine and wellness,[1] and can’t be separated from the healing process which our veterans and service members undergo after returning from war.

As we continue to face instances of religion being scrubbed from the military, whether through the removal of Bibles from public displays in military facilities, or the censorship of religious references by commanders, the Marine Corps’ action reminds us of the potentially detrimental effects of the elimination of the spiritual aspect of military service.

It is undeniable that the spiritual component of our human nature plays an important role in the business of warfare. It must be addressed, and we neglect it at our own peril. For these reasons and more, the Marine Corps’ announcement recognizing its importance is welcome indeed.



[1] See David A. Lichter (D. Min.), “Studies Show Spiritual Care Linked to Better Health Outcomes,” Literature Review, Catholic Health Ass’n of the United States (March-April 2013); and, for example, Christina M. Puchalski (M.D.), “The Role of Spirituality in Health Care,” Proc (Baylor Univ Med Cent), 2001 Oct; 14(4): 352-7; Christina M. Puchalski (M.D.), “Improving the Spiritual Dimension of Whole Person Care: Reaching National and International Consensus,” J Palliat Med, 2014 June 1; 17(6): 642-656 (doi: 10.1089/jpm.2014.9427). Puchalski (2001), n.2, observes: The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has a policy that states: “For many patients, pastoral care and other spiritual services are an integral part of health care and daily life. The hospital is able to provide for pastoral care and other spiritual services for patients who request them” (26).

Corporations Can Push Back Against Anti-Religious Freedom Activists

by Travis Weber

November 18, 2016

One important bit of recent religious liberty news which hasn’t gotten much attention is the pushback by Proctor & Gamble shareholders against anti-religious freedom activists seeking to eliminate corporate neutrality and enlist large firms in their culture war exploits. This is a promising development, and shows that large corporations abandoning their neutrality and enlisting in the battle against religious freedom is not inevitable.

When it was recently proposed that the “company should join Apple, PayPal, Disney, and others in the political fight against religious freedom laws in Mississippi and Tennessee and should take a stand against North Carolina’s transgender restroom policy,” 94% of shareholders rejected the idea. Such a rejection shows there is sanity in the corporate world, after all.

In recent years, large corporations have almost universally abandoned their cultural neutrality and sided against religious freedom laws at the state level, many times issuing threats to pull out of the state or not expand if such laws are not eliminated. State officials often capitulate, believing resistance is futile.

This development within Proctor & Gamble shows that the struggle is not in vain, however, and all citizens and government officials alike should take heart and understand that this is a fight worth having.

Georgia Still Needs to Remedy the Wrong Done to Eric Walsh

by Travis Weber

November 1, 2016

Last week, Family Research Council and others publicly called for the state of Georgia to back down from its intrusive request that Dr. Eric Walsh turn over his sermons and other religious materials to the state as part of an ongoing lawsuit.

After a public outcry, the state attorney general’s office withdrew its request for sermons. However, the AG is still demanding that Dr. Walsh turn over a number of things which should be off-limits, including:

  1. A validation of Dr. Walsh’s credentials as a minister
  2. Proof that Dr. Walsh has served as a minister with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination
  3. All contracts Dr. Walsh has, or has ever had, with the Seventh-day Adventist Church
  4. A report to the State of Georgia on how—and how much—he has been compensated for producing and delivering his sermons

Such intrusive government overreach is completely unacceptable. Our freedoms don’t permit the state to assess a minister’s credentials. The government may not inquire into discussions and agreements between a religious denomination and its leader. And what legitimate reason could the state have for wanting to know how much (if anything) Dr. Walsh was paid for preaching?

The ridiculousness of this discovery request only underscores the outlandish nature of this entire lawsuit. The State of Georgia hired a man as its public health director, but then fired him after reviewing his sermons. Why the state thought that was a good idea, or why a man was fired for the content of his preaching in the first place, remains a mystery. Then the state only compounded its error by requesting, as part of the lawsuit, copies of his sermons and other religious materials.

While withdrawing the request for sermons is a welcome development, Governor Deal and the state of Georgia need to fix the wrong done to Dr. Walsh that led to this lawsuit in the first place. Governor Deal’s administration, from its rejection of religious liberty legislation to its appointment of officials who have created this mess for Dr. Walsh, has permitted an environment to fester in which government officials think these types of actions are acceptable. Governor Deal should actively work to resolve this matter, and restore Dr. Walsh’s career immediately.

For those who remain steadfast in refusing to believe religious liberty is an important issue this election, look no further than the case of Eric Walsh.

Sign our petition in support of Dr. Walsh at Frc.org/Walsh.

Debunking Right Wing Watch

by Travis Weber

September 14, 2016

Right Wing Watch (RWW) is again sending out alarms about the supposedly alarmist words of FRC.

RWW says FRC “relies on a constant stream of easily debunked tales of martyrdom, and points to “a fundraising email from the group’s president, Tony Perkins, in which Perkins lists a number of debunked tales of Christian persecution in the military.”

RWW then continued by citing portions of the FRC email, but neglected to quote FRC in saying that “[n]o service member should ever be denied the very freedom he or she bleeds and dies to defend!” (Perhaps RWW agreed that was quite reasonable.)

The word “debunk” is defined as “to show that something (such as a belief or theory) is not true,” or “to show the falseness of (a story, idea, statement, etc.).” RWW really seems to like using this term with regard to FRC’s claims. Well, are they “debunked?” Let us examine the two references to the term.

First, RWW claims FRC “relies on a constant stream of easily debunked tales of martyrdom,” with a link to an article posted by its also-biased media buddy People for the American Way. Only one of the incidents listed by FRC is mentioned in the article—the matter concerning Sergeant Monk. The link to the mention of Sergeant Monk contains another RWW posting about his case, claiming it is false (the hyperlink to this claim does not work), and quoting military officials claiming he was not reassigned because of his views on same-sex marriage (of course they are going to say that; they are defending their position). It is quite possible they are wrong, as Sergeant Monk contends, especially since the military exonerated him of making false statements after they had accused him of doing so. At a minimum, Sergeant Monk’s claims that he was reassigned in retaliation for his views have never been “debunked.”

Second, RWW claims FRC President Tony Perkins “lists a number of debunked tales of Christian persecution in the military,” with four different hyperlinks enclosed.

The first link contains a supposed debunking of Chaplain Lawhorn’s claim, but the link (to RWW ally Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU)) does nothing to rebut the claim that Lawhorn’s public mention of his faith got him in trouble (he has humbly maintained he was sharing his personal story). Indeed, the linked source only affirms that it was the public mention of faith which draw the ire of activists.

The second link contains a story on Chaplain Modder by liberal website Think Progress. How this “debunks” his story is quite unclear. The story discusses Chaplain Modder’s allegation of retaliatory action for counseling according to his beliefs on sexuality in private counseling sessions. He suffered adverse action, which was ultimately reversed by the Navy. This is not even close to being “debunked.”

The third link is a story at the Huffington Post by Chris Rodda of Mikey Weinstein’s foundation (which spends its time trying to suppress traditional Christian views from being expressed in the public square) on Monifa Sterling, a Marine who was court martialed after refusing to remove a Bible verse from her workstation. While Rodda can offer her opinions on the matter, that does nothing to debunk the fact that Sterling alleged her religious exercise was suppressed.

The fourth link is a November 2013 AU story further discussing Sergeant Monk’s case, repeating the Air Force’s findings as objective fact and dismissing Monk’s assertions. The story claims the Air Force “found that Monk has made false official statements.” Yet an October 2013 memo from the Air Force to Sergeant Monk states it “determined that the allegation” that Monk made a false statement “was unsubstantiated.” Assuming good motives on the part of AU, we can assume the author of its story didn’t know about this Air Force letter, and was not intentionally misrepresenting the status of Monk’s case. If the letter was publicly available, perhaps AU was just negligent. However, another AU publication one year later still only states the following with regard to Monk’s situation: “The investigation also determined that Monk made false official statements to the Air Force. The Air Force considers the matter closed.” It seems AU’s representation of this matter is what is “debunked” here. Such an intentional mischaracterization of the facts reminds us that we can’t trust organizations this scared of religion to be fair in describing these incidents. Their fear of freedom always gets in the way.

Setting the Record Straight on RFRA (Again)

by Travis Weber

September 8, 2016

A recent NBC article about Indiana’s RFRA and its use by religious minorities (in addition to highlighting the ACLU’s ongoing hypocrisy on religious freedom) fails to accurately describe how RFRA operates.

At one point, the article states:

One week later, after intense national criticism, Pence amended the law explicitly preventing businesses from denying service based on ‘race, color, religion, ancestry, age, national origin, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or United States military service.’ With this, the Indiana state law came closer to the federal religious law and similar laws in other states.”

This is false. The federal RFRA and almost all state RFRAs contain no such amendment. They’ve operated well for years, protecting individuals like the Muslim inmate highlighted in this article, and others.

The article also implies that RFRA without the “fix” could not help the inmate:

After Pence’s “fix” the law became largely disarmed from doing what many critics said was its original discriminatory intent. In fact, the opposite happened, the law has since become an extra tool to fight against religious discrimination, [Professor] Katz said.”

Yet a Muslim inmate bringing a claim under RFRA with the “fix” is not the “opposite” of what he could have done before the “fix.” The provision of RFRA he is using to bring his claim (the same provision which has been around since 1993 with little controversy) was not changed at all. His claim is the exact same under RFRA with or without the “fix.”

To its credit, the article did accurately frame RFRA in this quote by another law professor:

What people tend to forget is that the statute is not a ‘broad exemption or a get out of jail free card,’ he said. Even though there is an exemption for religious freedom under the law, it doesn’t mean the state will grant it, he said.”

That certainly seemed lost on the media in the public debate last year. This balancing test has been a part of RFRA since its inception, and is true regardless of whether the “fix” is part of the law. If only everyone would take the time to understand this.

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