Author archives: Travis Weber

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.

How can Christians oppose same-sex marriage and yet pray and care for the LGBT victims in Orlando at the same time?

by Travis Weber

August 31, 2016

In a word: Love.

To some people, that may sound preposterous—but bear with me as we work through this.

Many have difficulty reconciling how Christians can engage in both of these activities. Don’t Christians oppose same-sex marriage because they hate gay people? While some would like to say so, that’s just not true. Yet it is easier for many to continue in this belief than deal with the tension brought about by sorting through the above question.

To help understand how Christians can tread both of these roads, we must examine what they actually believe.

Christians believe that all of humanity have turned their backs on God and none measure up to God’s holiness on their own effort. A big price needed to be paid for this violation of God’s high standard of holiness. Jesus paid this heavy price, by going to the cross and becoming the object of God’s wrath against all humanity’s sin. The benefit of his payment for sin is now available to all (including you)—if you believe that Jesus paid the price on your behalf. This is the gospel (or “good news”) of Jesus Christ. He restores our status with God for all eternity, regardless of how we have offended God. We just need to turn from our sin, repent, and believe. If we truly believe, we will want to follow and obey this God who saved us.

So what are we saying here? We are saying that God fully loves and forgives, yet his standards fully matter. Indeed, the very reason Jesus had to go to the cross was because the violation of the standards was serious enough to require a serious sacrifice. Yet the reason God sent Jesus to the cross was that he loved us so much that he wanted to be with us for eternity. When a Christian realizes how much Jesus loves them by dying for them, they can’t help but want to extend that love to others and seek their well-being—such as praying for hurting people like the LGBT victims of the Orlando attack.

The price that Jesus paid on the cross was very great because the seriousness of humanity’s departure from God’s standards was very great. So God’s standards matter. But he has also made a way for us to satisfy them.

If he has restored us to himself spiritually through Jesus, don’t we want to live consistently with the standards for whose violation he paid a great price? We will all remain sinners while we are on this earth—including Christians! But it is good for us to strive to live according to God’s standards. It is so good that God cared about it enough to send Jesus to pay the price for our departure from these standards. So any Christian who really understands the good news of Jesus can’t compromise God’s standards and say they don’t matter.

Christians therefore also think this way about how we conduct our sex lives. God’s principles in that area are for our best. Because Christians care for people, we don’t want to see them engage in harmful sexual practices contrary to God’s design for sex—which is only between a man and a woman in marriage. This also means, as a single person, it is good for me to not have sex. It may seem difficult, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is good. It brings me contentment, wholeness, peace, and joy. But even when I don’t feel those things, I still trust that God’s plan is good. Submission to God is not always easy. At times it is difficult, and doesn’t feel smooth. Yet it is still good—for me, as it is for all people. Therefore Christians urge all to not engage in actions outside of God’s plan—whether these are heterosexual or homosexual acts. God has designed marriage to be between a man and a woman. Humans can’t change that. Just as we can’t change it to be between two men or two women, we also can’t change it to be between three men and four women, or any other variation. Just because people have broken this standard at different times throughout history doesn’t mean we can say it is not God’s ideal—which we must remember, is ultimately for our good.

It is true that we have all fallen short, and all need the covering and forgiveness that Jesus had to provide on the cross. But we all know our choices on earth still matter, and can harm us or help us. Indeed, the whole reason Jesus had to go to the cross was because the choices of human beings harmed our relationship with God. Yet God has restored this relationship through Jesus.

It is natural that Christians therefore want to share this good news with others. It is the central message of Christianity, and it goes to the core of our existence on earth. We want others to hear this news because it is good for them. At the same time, this doesn’t change God’s standards on sexuality—which remain in existence, and work for our good. When we seek someone’s good, we are loving them. Therefore pointing someone toward God’s guidance on sexuality is loving toward them.

Christ provides a covering for our actions on the cross. But we can still harm ourselves on this earth even after we are spiritually purified by his sacrifice on the cross.

When we decline to agree that same-sex marriage (or any sexual conduct at odds with God’s standard) is okay, we are doing this for the good of those who may engage in that conduct which is harmful to them. When we pray for the well-being of the LGBT victims of violence in Orlando, we are doing it for their good. There should be no tension between the two for a Christian.

Many may not agree with my message. But I want everyone to clearly understand my motive.

If you desire to know more about God and the good news of Jesus discussed above, I invite you to find a Bible and open it to the book of John. Or contact me through our FRC website. I’d be happy to talk.

The New Thought Police

by Travis Weber

August 24, 2016

Several things are notable about David Gushee’s recent column describing the marginalization of orthodox Christian teaching on sexuality. It may at first appear to be a review of legal and policy developments, but it quickly morphs into a cheerleading piece urging the marginalizing to keep on going. Perhaps Gushee simply takes glee in finding himself sitting on the side of the discriminator. The piece is saturated with policy preferences, not theological explanations. In this context, his mention of doctrine as a factor in the discussion makes no sense. If social and political trends and preferences are what matters, who cares about doctrine?

Yet it wasn’t any of these points which stood out the most as I read the piece, but rather the apparent celebration (or at least satisfaction) of the uniformity of the view Gushee saw developing across society. To him, it’s apparently no problem that everyone influential thinks alike—as long as they have the right thoughts.

As Rod Dreher has pointed out, Gushee’s thinking goes hand-in-hand with the suppression of freedom and religious liberty. As I read Dreher’s commentary and Gushee’s piece, my mind went to a book I’m currently reading: James Michener’s The Bridge at Andau—his nonfiction account of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against Soviet Communism. As Michener recounts in his book, pervasive throughout the secret police apparatus the Soviets helped establish in Hungary was a paranoia about being suspected of disloyalty, of being turned in for perhaps even a comment that could be construed as hostile to the authorities. Conformity was the goal. Disloyal suspects were interrogated and tortured until they “confessed”—until they admitted what the authorities wanted to hear. They had to think as the authorities thought or they were no good.

Yes, we are a far cry from such a system. But never for a moment should we think the evil and oppression underneath it can’t arise in other circumstances and in other forms to take us unawares. Such celebration of uniformity is a threat to the foundational freedoms of our society, and is much larger than any one policy issue. It is a way of thinking about society at large, and Gushee seems to be failing at it in his new piece. At a minimum, he should reconsider his celebration that our elites seem to be “confessing” what he likes to hear.

I invite him to read The Bridge at Andau and welcome a discussion at any time.

Religious Freedom at Home and Abroad

by Travis Weber

August 17, 2016

At Family Research Council, we have consistently made the point that religious freedom must be protected at home and abroad. It is a human right, protected in the United States most prominently by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause. Internationally, it is protected by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other instruments. While the language differs slightly, the right protected is the same. People are free to choose the faith they will have and live out that faith in their lives.

So we were pleased to see The Economist highlight the link between protecting religious freedom at home and abroad in a recent piece on the Ahmadiyya Muslims. Ahmadiyyas believe their founder was a prophet, and for this belief, are viewed as outcasts and non-Muslims by many others within Islam. They have come to the West in hope of peace, where they eagerly pledge allegiance to the civil governing authorities of those countries. The Ahmadiyyas seem to have developed a theology of separation of church and state (as Christians had to do hundreds of years ago) as we currently know it in Western countries—places where the Ahmadiyyas appear to appreciate the legal protections for all faiths. They certainly need it, being subject to legal discrimination, violence, and murder for their beliefs. Yet this no longer occurs only in their home countries:

This year anti-Ahmadi hatred seemed to break out in Britain, with the murder in March of a popular Glasgow shop-keeper called Asad Shah. His family had moved to Britain in the 1990s in the hope that life for Ahmadis would be easier than in Pakistan. But Pakistan’s religious passions have clearly been felt in Britain; it emerged in April that literature urging the killing of Ahmadis was being circulated in at least one London mosque. The assassin, from the northern English city of Bradford, openly declared his intention of punishing his victim for “disrespecting” Islam, and in particular, for having wished his Christian neighbours a happy Easter.”

The Economist continues:

The story suggests a wider point. Back in the 1990s, when American officaldom was first mandated by Congress to start making annual assessments of the state of religious liberty round the world, there was widespread confidence in Western capitals that liberal-democratic norms, including religious liberty, would steadily be established in those countries which still oppressed their citizens and curbed their freedom to believe and worship. That missionary confidence is now greatly diminished. But that makes it doubly important that Western governments use all their might at least to protect their own subjects from brutal assaults on freedom of thought. Families like that of Asad Shah, who look to Western democracies as a beacon, must not be disappointed. Or to put it another way, the Ahmadis should feel they are getting something in return for their loyalty to the flag.”

Indeed. This is all part of making sure that true religious freedom—not religious freedom curtailed by blasphemy laws, or religious freedom contained to one’s private life—is protected both in the West and around the world. The United States must do its part to protect this right at home, while revitalizing the role of religious freedom protection in foreign policy.

How to respond to the “After School Satan Clubs”

by Travis Weber

August 10, 2016

As has been widely reported the last several weeks, a group called the “Satanic Temple” is looking to set up “After School Satan Clubs” (ASSC) in public schools around the country. What should we think of this, and how should we respond?

From the group’s name, one would presume these clubs are teaching about demonic activity. But a glance at their website shows them prominently proclaiming that they seek to teach “based upon a uniform syllabus that emphasizes a scientific, rationalist, non-superstitious world view,” and explaining their view that “Satanism is a religion that endorses scientific rationalism as our best model for understanding the natural world.” They don’t actually believe in Satan.

So why not name the clubs “humanist” or “atheist” clubs? Perhaps these activists realized this would not draw the public attention like the name “Satan” would (the actual Church of Satan rejects the ASSC’s methods). The Satanic Temple has already agitated in the name of its “religion” by “creating a gigantic bronze statue of Baphomet for the lawn of the Oklahoma State House, opening city council meetings with Satanic incantations, [and] distributing coloring books featuring the dark lord to schools across the country.” So why do they want to draw public attention and provoke?

These atheist and humanist activists simply don’t like the fact that children could be exposed to the message of Christianity, and appear to want to pick a fight with Christians. They say they want religion totally eliminated from schools, and the group’s homepage prominently displays: “DONATE TO HELP US COUNTER EVANGELISM IN SCHOOLS.” Their main purpose appears to be to try to shut down Christian clubs in schools. How would they accomplish that?

In Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the Supreme Court held that when a school opens up a limited public forum to a certain type of speech, it cannot discriminate against groups looking to use that forum based on the viewpoint of their speech. The ASSC organization seeks to use these forums for its clubs. If the ASSC merely wanted the same opportunity as everyone else to speak their viewpoint, that would be understandable. But their whole purpose seems to be driven by an animosity toward Christian clubs; hence the provocative name.

They are aiming to do that by provoking school administrators into shutting down the limited public forum entirely. As the group’s website states: “Our goal, ultimately, is to place an ASSC in every school where the Good News Clubs, or other proselytizing religious groups, have established a presence.” Group members have said: “We would like to thank the Liberty Counsel specifically for opening the doors to the After School Satan Clubs through their dedication to religious liberty… So, ‘the Satanic Temple leverages religious freedom laws that put after-school clubs in elementary schools nationwide.’ That’s going to be the message.”

The ASSC organization appears to be trying to upset enough parents that school officials would close the forum to all groups (the fact that the group is based in Salem, Massachusetts, seems designed to aid its publicity stunt). If the forum is not open at all, then no clubs get to speak.

Though this would include the ASSC clubs, these activists appear to be fine with this as long as that puts an end to the Christian clubs too. As the ASSC founder reportedly told PEOPLE magazine, “[i]f they would get rid of the Good News clubs, there wouldn’t be a need for the After School Satan program.” In other words, the very purpose of the ASSC is to shut down the Good News Clubs. The ASSC organization, presuming parental outrage, is hoping school administrators take the bait and close the forum rather than allow the “Satan clubs” to operate.

What should we think about all this?

First, school administrators should not be deterred. The ASSC organization would love nothing more than for the school forum be shut down to all groups, including Christian groups. The forum should not be shut down out of concern for this group’s presence (its name does not even line up with what it is teaching anyway). It can be given a place among other student groups, and we can let the battle in the marketplace of ideas play out. Ultimately, neither rationalism nor demon worship can provide the hope and healing offered by Jesus.

Second, we should not look at this as a set-back, but as an opportunity, in at least two areas:

  • The ASSC organization is using a forum which is open to all under the Good News Club case. Why not use this opportunity to make sure that children are aware of their right to start Christian clubs if they don’t exist? As one Family Research Council event recently highlighted, let us also make sure school officials, administrators, and teachers are aware of the legal protections for religion in the public school. The forum is open—make sure we are using it!
  • If the ASSC organization wants to start a spiritual discussion, whether on the national stage or local school, let’s welcome such a discussion. The group’s use of the term “Satan” gives everyone an opportunity to discuss…Satan. Let’s explain his role in the Bible, his power to tempt humans away from God to our own detriment, and the good news that Jesus provides a way out of that temptation. Even if the ASSC organization wants to fall back on rationalism, let’s welcome an invitation to open up the Bible and rationally examine its claims: that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again. He’s either Lord, liar, or lunatic. But nothing else. All must make a choice.

Both humanism (the worship of human progress) and actual devil worship will fail to offer humans a solution to our dilemma of the sense that something is broken, that something is just not right in the world. Only a restored relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ can do that. Every day, we are already seeking opportunities to tell the world this good news before it’s too late. This is just another opportunity, planted right in our lap! Let us go forth and proclaim the Gospel!

High Court Puts Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. Ruling on Hold

by Travis Weber

August 4, 2016

Yesterday, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to stay the ruling of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which had required the Gloucester County School Board to open up a male restroom in its schools to a biological female student who identifies as male. Pending the filing of a petition for a writ of certiorari by the school board asking the Court to hear the case on the merits, the school board’s policy permitting only biological boys to use boy’s rooms and girls to use girl’s rooms will be allowed to remain in effect.

While only a procedural development, it is a promising one. The Court could have allowed the Fourth Circuit’s decision to go into effect—but didn’t. The fact that the Court took affirmative action in favor of this school district’s freedom should be heartening to schools around the country who want to retain the ability to set their own policies.

It is especially important that schools take note of this development in the face of the hostile actions of the Obama administration. Despite all the talk of how conservatives focus on social issues, the President is the one obsessed with bathrooms, coming out with an edict that unilaterally makes up law to use as a cudgel against every locality through the country. And the administration is not satisfied to tread lightly. Its edict directs every school district to open not just its bathrooms to people of the opposite sex, but locker rooms, overnight accommodations, and other areas.

The administration is also more radical than the courts. In its opinion, the Fourth Circuit had directed that restrooms be opened to the opposite sex by relying on a legal doctrine demanding deference to an executive branch opinion. The administration, however, in its edict, simply declares a new interpretation of “law” (that Title IX’s definition of sex includes protections on the basis of “gender identity”) without a coherent basis. It flies in the face of multiple sources of legal authority, and exists nowhere except in the fevered minds of modern activist judges, administration officials, and their allies. Schools have properly resisted the Obama administration’s unlawful bathroom edict for this reason. The Court’s latest move is further reason to do so.

Federal Judge Still Refuses to Let Mississippi Religious Freedom Law Go Into Effect

by Travis Weber

August 3, 2016

After Judge Carlton Reeves in Mississippi granted a preliminary injunction against HB 1523 and refused to let that state’s religious freedom law go into effect last month, Governor Bryant requested that the ruling be put on hold pending appeal. Judge Reeves refused to grant this request too, the other day declining to stay his ruling while the case is appealed. His opinion contains several weaknesses, and a failure to adequately address arguments in support of the law.

Judge Reeves claims that his opinion granting the preliminary injunction “laid out” why “HB 1523 is not like federal laws which permit persons to opt-out of going to war or performing abortions.” But that opinion did not adequately explain the distinction in the abortion context. He tried to argue that abortion dissenters have a problem with “all abortions,” while Mississippi clerks don’t have a problem with “all marriages licenses.” But it’s not for Judge Reeves to dictate whether someone’s conscience objections are correct. If someone has a guilty conscience, then they have a guilty conscience. Moreover, he still dodges the question of why conscience protections which only protect the pro-life view violate the Establishment Clause—which is the actual legal question anyway. The answer, of course, is that they don’t. In Harris v. McRae, the challengers to the Hyde Amendment (barring certain funding of abortions) had argued that it violated the Establishment Clause on the theory that it incorporated into law “the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the sinfulness of abortion and the time at which life commences.” The Court responded that “it does not follow that a statute violates the Establishment Clause because it ‘happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.’ … That the Judaeo-Christian religions oppose stealing does not mean that a State or the Federal Government may not, consistent with the Establishment Clause, enact laws prohibiting larceny.”

On top of inadequately addressing these arguments, Judge Reeves’ initial opinion failed to even mention “laws which permit persons to opt-out of going to war,” much less “la[y] out” why they are different from HB 1523.

Of course, the answer is they are not. Judge Reeves bafflingly cites to Gillette v. United States, but Gillette actually supports Governor Bryant’s case, standing for the proposition that laws which protect only one side of a certain area of beliefs are perfectly consistent with the Establishment Clause. Judge Reeves claims that “issuing a marriage license to a gay couple is not like being forced into armed combat or to assist with an abortion. Matters of life and death are sui generis.” But this isn’t the issue. Judges have no role in providing their personal opinion as to the matter being objected to. If the objector has a conscience problem, the inquiry stops there. This is well-settled under our constitutional religious freedom framework, and prevents judges themselves from being tangled up in assessing religious beliefs. To do otherwise leads to Judge Reeves’ error: judging the conscience of the objecting clerk. Who is he to tell that clerk otherwise if they believe same-sex marriage causes grievous harm and they don’t want to be a part of facilitating it?

Judge Reeves continues this error in a footnote: “Allowing conscientious objectors was a win-win: good for soldiers and good for conscientious objectors. HB 1523 is different. Allowing people to opt-out of serving LGBT citizens comes at the expense of LGBT citizens.”

Aside from continuing to err by assessing the value of the conscience objection in the military context, he is just flat wrong. He can’t show any “expense” on the part of LGBT citizens. He tries to point to Estate of Thornton v. Caldor to argue that laws which burden “other citizens and entities” are unconstitutional, but that case involved an actual requirement being placed on private citizens regarding their employment practices. There is NO such requirement here. HB 1523 merely protects certain people from the government. Our Constitution itself does that, and laws are perfectly constitutional when they accomplish the same.

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