Author archives: Peter Sprigg

The New Religious Exemptions from the HHS Contraceptive Mandate Are a Victory for Personal Freedom (and Responsibility) Over State Coercion

by Peter Sprigg

October 12, 2017

Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times has written a column critical of the Trump administration’s recent announcement of broad religious and moral exemptions to the HHS mandate under Obamacare that required employers to provide free contraception as part of any health insurance plan.

Greenhouse begins her column this way: “Saudi women are gaining the right to drive. American women are losing the right to employer-provided birth control.”

At least she was honest enough to not use the hyperbole of saying, “American women are losing birth control.” The government remains powerless to prevent women (or men) from purchasing and/or using birth control if they choose to. The vast majority are not even losing “employer-provided birth control,” since the percentage of employers likely to claim either a religious or moral objection is always likely to be tiny. No, they are only losing “the right to employer-provided birth control”—meaning the government will no longer coerce said employers into providing birth control.

However, this admirable precision in language means that her analogy with Saudi women simply does not work. American women are not losing “the right to use birth control,” which might be analogous to “the right to drive.” For the analogy to work, she would have to say, “Saudi women are gaining the right to employer-provided automobiles.”

But this, of course, is ridiculous. No one—in Saudi Arabia, or in the United States—has ever had “the right to employer-provided automobiles.” This, despite the fact that (I would argue) access to transportation is far more fundamental to having a free and prosperous life in the modern world than is access to birth control. We simply expect people who want to own automobiles to purchase them themselves. Of course, some people are too poor to buy a car, and must often rely on public transportation—but even that is not provided for free, but requires payment of a fare. What is so exceptional about birth control that private employers should be forced by the government to provide it at absolutely no cost to the user?

Greenhouse says, “I used to think … that the resistance to the contraception mandate was fueled by cultural conservatives’ determination not to let federal policy normalize birth control.” If this were the case, the new administration’s policy would still fall short. Since pregnancy is not a disease, contraception, when used merely as a method of family planning, is by definition an elective item or service, rather than a medically necessary one that should be subject to any coverage mandate. Yet the Trump administration has actually left the HHS mandate intact—while simply allowing a much more expansive exemption for the small number of employers with religious or moral objections.

Now, however, Greenhouse goes further in reading the minds of conservatives, declaring, “The problem they have is with what birth control signifies: empowering women — in school, on the job, in the home — to determine their life course.” This paranoid Handmaid’s Tale view of the world is simply bizarre. I guess Greenhouse is oblivious to the many conservative women— empowered and powerful, every one of them—who have led the fight against the HHS mandate from its beginning.

The headline on Greenhouse’s piece online reads, “On Contraception, It’s Church Over State.” Yet no church dogma has been imposed on anyone. It remains perfectly acceptable (in the eyes of the federal government) for women and men to purchase and use birth control. But now, it is also acceptable (as it always should have been, under the First Amendment) for some religious people to object to materially participating in the process. In reality, the new rules mean, “It’s Personal Freedom (and Responsibility) over State Coercion.”

I suspect what Greenhouse is really upset about is the Trump administration setting back the Left’s attempts to “establish” their own religion—the Church of the Sexual Revolution—whose most fundamental doctrine is the unlimited right not only to sex, but to sex without consequences, with the federal government as the guarantor of that “right.”

20 Principles of Religious Liberty

by Peter Sprigg

October 10, 2017

On May 4, President Trump signed an Executive Order declaring, “It shall be the policy of the executive branch to vigorously enforce Federal law’s robust protections for religious freedom.” This order, barely more than a page long, gave few details about what such protections would entail.

However, in it, President Trump also instructed, “In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant Federal law, the Attorney General shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law.”

That promised guidance was released on Friday, October 6 by the Department of Justice, in the form of a 25-page memorandum for executive departments and agencies on the topic of “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty.”

In that memo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions lays out twenty “Principles of Religious Liberty.”

Family Research Council praised the memorandum in a press release here.

However, since most people will not read the 8-page memo or the 17-page appendix laying out its legal rationale, FRC here offers the text just of the introduction and the twenty principles.

Principles of Religious Liberty

Religious liberty is a foundational principle of enduring importance in America, enshrined in our Constitution and other sources of federal law. As James Madison explained in his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, the free exercise of religion “is in its nature an unalienable right” because the duty owed to one’s Creator “is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.” Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice. Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming. The following twenty principles should guide administrative agencies and executive departments in carrying out this task. These principles should be understood and interpreted in light of the legal analysis set forth in the appendix to this memorandum.

  1. The freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, expressly protected by federal law.
  2. The free exercise of religion include the right to act or abstain from action in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.
  3. The freedom of religion extends to persons and organizations.
  4. Americans do not give up their freedom of religion by participating in the marketplace, partaking of the public square, or interacting with government.
  5. Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display.
  6. Government may not target religious individuals or entities for special disabilities based on their religion.
  7. Government may not target religious individuals or entities through discriminatory enforcement of neutral, generally applicable laws.
  8. Government may not officially favor or disfavor particular religious groups.
  9. Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organization.
  10. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA] of 1993 prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening any aspect of religious observance or practice, unless imposition of that burden on a particular adherent satisfies strict scrutiny.
  11. RFRA’s protection extends not just to individuals, but also to organizations, associations, and at least some for-profit corporations.
  12. RFRA does not permit the federal government to second-guess the reasonableness of a religious belief.
  13. A governmental action substantially burdens an exercise of religion under RFRA if it bans an aspect of an adherent’s religious observance or practice, compels an act inconsistent with that observance or practice, or substantially pressures the adherent to modify such observance or practice.
  14. The strict scrutiny standard applicable to RFRA is exceptionally demanding.
  15. RFRA applies even where a religious adherent seeks an exemption from a legal obligation requiring the adherent to confer benefits on third parties.
  16. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religion.
  17. Title VII’s protection extends to discrimination on the basis of religious observance or practice as well as belief, unless the employer cannot reasonably accommodate such observance or practice without undue hardship on the business.
  18. The Clinton Guidelines on Religious Free Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace provide useful examples for private employers of reasonable accommodations for religious observance and practice in the workplace.
  19. Religious employers are entitled to employ only persons whose beliefs and conduct are consistent with the employers’ religious precepts.
  20. As a general matter, the federal government may not condition receipt of a federal grant or contract on the effective relinquishment of a religious organization’s hiring exemptions or attributes of its religious character.

Media Gets Brazil Ruling on Sexual Orientation Therapy All Wrong

by Peter Sprigg

October 4, 2017

The LGBT activist movement has long been notorious for using a variety of untruths and/or distortions to advance their social and political agenda.

In few areas has this been so blatant and shocking as in the current all-out war against the freedom of clients and therapists to pursue sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).

For example, we are repeatedly told (falsely) that scientific evidence has proven that all SOCE is harmful. Yet even the Left-leaning American Psychological Association—although critical of SOCE—was forced to admit:

Early and recent research studies provide no clear evidence of the prevalence of harmful outcomes among people who have undergone efforts to change their sexual orientation… Thus, we cannot conclude how likely it is that harm will occur from SOCE [emphasis added].

The mainstream media’s complicity (or ignorance) in all this is highlighted by the continuing use of the term “conversion therapy” in reference to a practice whose actual practitioners refer to it as “sexual reorientation therapy,” “sexual orientation change efforts,” or “SOCE;” or the more recent “sexual attraction fluidity exploration in therapy” or “SAFE-T;” or “reparative therapy”—but not “conversion therapy.”

Another claim made by critics of SOCE is that it is premised on the belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder—a belief they claim was discredited by the American Psychological Association’s vote in 1973 to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). However, the 1973 decision was not based on any clear-cut body of scientific evidence proving that homosexuality is normal, natural, and harmless. Instead, as a result of aggressive political activism, the APA simply changed the definition of a “mental disorder” in such a way as to exclude homosexuality, by making it contingent on the presence of “subjective distress.”

While it is probably true that most therapists who assist with sexual orientation change efforts do not consider homosexuality to be a normal and natural variant of human sexuality, it is not necessary to classify it as a “mental disorder” to justify their work. Many people who experience same-sex attractions do experience “subjective distress” about those feelings, and that alone is sufficient to justify allowing therapists to assist in overcoming those attractions, if that is the goal the client chooses.

All this background is necessary to understand why I was skeptical about an Associated Press article published recently under the headline, “Brazil ruling that homosexuality is disease to be appealed.” According to the article, Brazil’s “Judge Waldemar Claudio de Carvalho ruled last week that homosexuality could be considered a disease that could be treated with sexual orientation conversion therapies.” The article suggested that the ruling had the effect of overturning a 1999 resolution by Brazil’s “Federal Council of Psychology” (abbreviated “CFP” in Portuguese) aimed at “prohibiting psychologists from treating homosexuality as a disease.”

An article from the British newspaper The Guardian offered more detail, noting that the case was “brought by Rozangela Justino, an evangelical Christian and psychologist whose licence was revoked in 2016 after she offered ‘conversion therapy.’” However, I was still doubtful that we were getting the whole story on this so-called “ruling that homosexuality is disease,” so I reached out to Julio Severo, a Brazilian pro-family activist and Christian blogger, for more information.

After researching the issue, Severo confirmed my suspicions with an article on his English-language website. Severo offers an English translation of the CFP’s “Resolution 001/1990” which includes the following:

  • [H]omosexuality is not a disease, disturbance or perversion;
  • Psychologists shall not use any action for making homoerotic behaviors or practices pathological, nor shall they use coercion to direct homosexuals to unsolicited treatments.
  • Psychologists shall not offer their opinions, . . in regard to homosexuals as sufferers of psychic disorders.

However, the private practice of sexual reorientation therapy with consenting clients who are distressed about unwanted same-sex attractions does not, in and of itself, violate any of these restrictions. In addition, a Google translation of a Portuguese language news article says explicitly, “The preliminary decision of federal judge Waldemar Cláudio de Carvalho maintains the full text of Resolution 01/99.”

However, Severo does say that the resolution also included a paragraph saying:

  • Psychologists shall not collaborate with events and services proposing treatment and cures of homosexualities.

This appears to be the only part of the CFP resolution that the judge actually modified, by ordering, as Severo translates it,

that the Federal Council of Psychology [must] not interpret [its resolution] to hinder psychologists from promoting studies or giving professional care, in a private setting, regarding … sexual (re)orientation, thereby ensuring to them full scientific freedom about the subject, with no censorship or prior permission from the Federal Council of Psychology.

The translated article quotes the judge as expanding on the importance of “scientific freedom,” saying that a total ban on such therapy would

prohibit the deepening of the scientific studies related to (sexual) orientation, thus affecting the scientific freedom of the country … insofar as it prevents and makes unfeasible the investigation of the most important aspect of psychology [which] is human sexuality.

The translated article also says the judge’s decision “underscores the reserved nature of the service and prohibits advertising and publicity” for sexual reorientation therapy.

Nevertheless, a spokesman for the FCP condemned the decision, taking issue with the idea that the FCP policy interferes with research. According to The Guardian,

We have no power over research,” he said. “The way it was put by the judge gave the impression that we prohibited research which is not true.”

Yet it is hard to understand how anyone could do “research” on sexual reorientation therapy if no one is permitted to engage in such therapy.

In summary, a very modest ruling by a Brazilian judge in defense of freedom for clients, therapists, and researchers has been distorted by the media (especially the Associated Press) into a judicial ruling that homosexuality is “a disease.” The media urgently needs to abandon its caricature of sexual orientation change efforts—and the U.S. needs more judges with the wisdom and courage of Judge de Carvalho.

Science vs. Science on USDA Nominee’s Views of “LGBT Behavior” and “Choice”

by Peter Sprigg

August 28, 2017

The Left is going after another of President Trump’s nominees to an executive branch post—Samuel H. Clovis, Jr., who has been tapped to serve as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics.

When his nomination was announced last month, the chief focus of the administration’s critics was that Mr. Clovis is “not a scientist,” yet is being nominated to be the Department of Agriculture’s “chief scientist.” He was also attacked for being a “skeptic” on the issue of “climate change” science.

Critics focused on Clovis’ background as a radio talk show host and an unsuccessful political candidate—glossing over the fact that he has both an MBA and a Ph.D. in Public Administration, and had been a professor of economics at two different colleges (thus checking off both the “Education” and “Economics” parts of the job for which he has been nominated).

Recently, however, Mr. Clovis came under further attack for something seemingly unrelated to agriculture—namely, his position on homosexuality. Critics mined his radio commentaries for remarks they considered controversial—such as slippery slope arguments regarding the consequences of redefining “marriage” to include same-sex unions.

However, one critique caught my eye in particular. Writer Gary Legum, in an opinion piece in the Independent Journal Review, said the following (quoting in turn a CNN article about Clovis):

On the other hand, while Clovis might not believe the issue of a biological basis for sexual attraction is settled, people with scientific and medical training are fairly sure about it:

[Quote] Clovis has repeatedly argued that the science on homosexuality is unsettled and that “LGBT behavior” is a choice. The American Psychological Association has said that while there is no scientific consensus on the causes of sexual orientation, “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” [End quote]

Let’s first look at the CNN quote. Although presented in such a way as to imply that there is a contradiction between Clovis’ view and the ostensibly “expert” opinion of the APA, there is actually no difference between them. Clovis’ view that “the science on homosexuality is unsettled” and the APA’s view that “there is no scientific consensus on the causes of sexual orientation” are different ways of saying the exact same thing.

In reality, it is Mr. Legum’s declaration that “people with scientific and medical training are fairly sure about” there being “a biological basis for sexual attraction” that is directly contradicted by the APA’s statement that “there is no scientific consensus on the causes of sexual orientation.”

The “choice” issue requires a more careful examination. The APA is quoted as saying that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” This is entirely true—if you use the first definition of “sexual orientation” that is offered in the APA document being quoted: “Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions [emphasis added] to men, women or both sexes.”

Mr. Clovis, however, did not refer to LGBT “attractions”—he referred quite explicitly to “LGBT behavior.” “Attractions” are internal, subjective, and psychological; “behavior” is external, objective, and physical. They are not the same thing at all.

The APA document does go on, however:

Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.

This statement is entirely consistent with an understanding that I have tried to communicate for years, which is that “sexual orientation” is not one thing, but rather is an umbrella term that, depending on the context, can be used in reference to several different things—such as, in the APA’s terminology, “attractions,” “behaviors,” “sense of identity,” and “membership in a community.”

To speak clearly about “sexual orientation,” it is necessary to address each of these elements of it individually, since they are quite different from each other. This is particularly the case if we are discussing the role of “choice” in a person’s “sexual orientation.” “Identity” involves at least some element of choice, especially if we consider one’s public self-identification to be part of it. “Membership in a community” would appear to involve an even greater level of choice.

And one’s sexual behaviors—outside of a context of sexual abuse or exploitation—must be considered almost entirely a matter of “choice.” To say otherwise would be to imply that those with same-sex attractions are in the grip of an irresistible compulsion—which would be far more insulting than to say that they (like all of us) are capable of choosing their sexual behavior.

So when the APA says that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation,” they are in that context referring to people’s sexual attractions, which indeed are not a “choice.” (Note: To say that same-sex attractions are not a choice, however, is not to say that they are innate. If—as many believe—they result from psychological and developmental forces or experiences in childhood or adolescence, then that would mean they are neither chosen nor inborn.)

I take no position here on Mr. Clovis’ general qualifications to serve in the Department of Agriculture. However, in clearly distinguishing “LGBT behavior” from same-sex attractions, while noting accurately that scientists cannot definitively point to one universal cause of such attractions, Mr. Clovis has actually shown a greater understanding of the science on homosexuality than have his critics.

Those with Gender Dysphoria Can Find Healing

by Peter Sprigg

July 12, 2017

Last month, it was my privilege to attend the annual conference of the Restored Hope Network (RHN) in San Diego. The Restored Hope Network is the nation’s largest umbrella organization for Christian organizations engaged in “transformational ministry” with those who suffer from unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA). (It is often seen as a successor to Exodus International, an organization that shut down in 2013 after its leadership abandoned its original message that change is possible for those with unwanted SSA.)

LGBT activists in the San Diego area organized protests against the conference (although they did not turn out anything close to the 1,000 protesters they promised). Ironically, the protests had some positive effect—at least one person struggling with unwanted SSA who attended the conference said he would never have known about it if not for the publicity about the protests.

I was struck, however, by the sharp disconnect between what the protesters assumed was actually happening in the conference and what was actually happening there. As just one example, critics of “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE)—which they (not its practitioners) refer to as “conversion therapy”—often charge that such programs damage participants by instilling “shame” in them. The truth is the exact opposite—participants come into SOCE with shame, and a key goal of the counselling is to overcome and remove that sense of shame.

One thing striking about this year’s conference was the increased emphasis on issues of gender identity as well as sexual orientation—a clear reflection of the growing prominence of the transgender issue just in the two years since I last attended an RHN conference. Since RHN is an explicitly Christian organization, the twin issues of homosexuality and gender dysphoria (dissatisfaction with one’s biological sex) were both addressed by several speakers in the theological context of the “image of God,” as expressed in Genesis 1:27:

And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female he created them.

In other words, our maleness or femaleness, and the complementarity of the two, is part of the “image of God” with which each of us is created by God. Linda Seiler, who struggled with gender identity issues growing up, said this means that “gender is sacred” and that “rejecting one’s God-given sex is rebelling against the Creator.” Speaker Nate Oyloe applied the concept to marriage, saying, “Divorce is the image of God, masculine and feminine, being torn apart.” Another speaker, who formerly lived a lesbian lifestyle and is now living a life of chastity, gave a personal testimony in which she declared, “I was born with a sinful and rebellious nature, but I was reborn in the imago dei (image of God).”

The highlight of the conference for me was seeing the world premiere of a new documentary film called TranZformed: Finding Peace with Your God-Given Gender. While the movement that believes sexual orientation change is possible has been around for decades, and numerous testimonies of those who have experienced change have long been available, until now only a few people have publicly come out as “ex-transgender” (the most prominent being Walt Heyer—see his website).

TranZformed, however, features the dramatic testimonies of 15 ex-transgender individuals who “bear witness to what Jesus Christ can do for those who struggle with gender dysphoria.” The film, which is over an hour long, was very professionally produced by Pure Passion Media, a ministry dedicated to “equipping the church to redemptively minister to those who are trapped in sexual sin and brokenness” (a focus which definitely includes heterosexual sin and brokenness, such as pornography addiction). In fact, two of the testimonies included in TranZformed are available on the Pure Passion website.

However, the DVD of the entire documentary is available for order at the TranZformed website. I highly recommend it for the dramatic personal insight it gives into the transgender issue.

Testimony in Opposition to H. 1190 and S. 62

by Peter Sprigg

June 7, 2017

Regarding practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors

Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities
The General Court [Legislature] of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts
June 6, 2017 

By Peter Sprigg
Senior Fellow for Policy Studies
Family Research Council
Washington, D.C.

My name is Peter Sprigg, and I represent the Family Research Council from Washington, D.C.

However, I am a former 14-year resident of Massachusetts.

It is reasonable for a legislative body to have concern about the safety and effectiveness of medical and psychological interventions for physical and emotional conditions.

For example, I have recently learned of a treatment for a widespread condition. I was surprised to read that this treatment is more effective than no treatment at all in only 20 percent of those experiencing the condition.

It was also troubling to learn that relapses are common with this condition—and the treatment under study was more effective than no intervention in preventing relapses in only 27 percent of those experiencing the condition.

And perhaps most troubling of all was to read “that teenagers consider suicide more often when [undergoing this treatment] … and also actually attempt to take their own lives more often.”

However, I am not aware that Massachusetts—or any other state—has taken steps to outlaw this treatment, despite its limited effectiveness and potential harms.

That’s because the condition I am talking about is not unwanted same-sex attractions, and the treatment is not sexual reorientation therapy (commonly, but inaccurately, referred to as “conversion therapy”).

Instead, the condition I was referring to is—depression. The treatment I was referring to is—antidepressant drugs. And the source of the information I have just shared with you is the National Institutes of Health.

I raise this comparison as a way of pointing out that the arguments used against sexual reorientation therapy and in favor of restrictions upon it—such as this bill—often hold such therapy to a standard which is wholly unrealistic for any medical or psychological care.

Is it possible to find people who will say that they underwent sexual reorientation therapy and found it ineffective? Of course—the same is true of any other treatment, especially for psychological conditions. However, there are also many people who have testified that such therapy was effective for them.

Is it possible to find people who will even say that they underwent such therapy and considered themselves to be in a worse condition after than before? Of course—but this, too, will be true of any psychological condition and any therapy. However, it is also possible to find people who underwent sexual reorientation therapy and felt that they were better off afterwards—even if the therapy was not effective in changing their sexual orientation.

Holding sexual reorientation therapy to a standard of 100 percent effectiveness together with zero risk is so unreasonable as to be irrational.

Therefore, I hope it is clear to everyone in this body that the purpose of this bill is not to protect anyone’s physical or psychological health. The real purpose is to impose an ideology, and outlaw a desire—the desire that some individuals, including some minors, unquestionably have to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions and abstain from same-sex sexual relationships.

That is not the business of this legislature.

Giving to Caesar and to God

by Peter Sprigg

June 2, 2017

The following are remarks by Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council, to the congregation of Faith Church in Budapest, Hungary (following the conclusion of the World Congress of Families and Budapest Family Summit) on May 27, 2017.

Good evening.

Family Research Council is a Christian organization that seeks to influence public policy. Our office is in Washington, D.C., halfway between the White House and the Capitol building—a very strategic location.

Like other organizations involved in the World Congress of Families:

We believe in defending the right to life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death;

We believe in marriage being defined as the union of one man and one woman;

We believe that such a marriage is the only appropriate context for sexual relations;

We believe that such a marriage is the ideal environment for raising children;

And we believe in religious liberty for all.

Now, those of us who speak out as Christians on public policy issues are sometimes accused of violating a principle known as “the separation of church and state.” This actual phrase does not appear in our national constitution, but it is a traditional American principle if it’s correctly understood and correctly defined.

The separation of church and state means a separation of the institutions and offices of the church from the institutions and offices of the state. It means a person who becomes a pastor or a bishop does not automatically get power in the government, and a person who takes an office in the government does not gain any power over the church.

But it does not mean a complete separation of God and government, and it does not mean we must completely separate our faith from public policy.

The classic biblical text on this subject is the story of when Jesus was asked if people should pay taxes to the Roman government (Matthew 22:15-22). He replied, “Give to Caesar [the emperor] what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

This was a very clever answer by Jesus. He showed respect for the government by saying people should pay their taxes. But he showed respect for God by saying there are some things we owe to God which government cannot touch.

I heard a sermon once that suggested another way to view this story, though. The preacher pointed out that Jesus held up the coin that was used to pay the tax, and he said to give it to Caesar because it had Caesar’s image on it.

However, this pastor asked, whose image is on Caesar? Caesar, like every human being, was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). So while we have a responsibility to government, each of us—and everyone in the government—has a higher responsibility to God, because we bear his image.

Sometimes, we are accused of not respecting the human rights or human dignity of those with whom we disagree. But the very concept of human rights and human dignity is rooted in the fact that we are created in the image of God.

And sometimes we are accused of hating our opponents. We must guard against this. The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and that includes all our neighbors.

But love does not require that we affirm or celebrate every behavior people choose to engage in. Love requires that we call people to live their very best life. For most people, that means to save sex until marriage; to marry a person of the opposite sex; to build a family based on that marriage; and to remain married for a lifetime. And of course, it means calling them to accept the good news of Jesus Christ.

This is not hate, this is love.

I add my thanks to the people of Hungary, of Budapest, to the Hungarian government, and to Pastor Sandor and Faith Church for all your hospitality.

May God bless you, and your country, and may God bless all of our marriages and our families.

Thank you. 

Hungarian Megachurch a Model of Salt and Light in Europe

by Peter Sprigg

May 31, 2017

FRC’s Director of the Center for Religious Liberty Travis Weber and I attended several events of the Budapest Family Summit in the Hungarian capital last week, including the Budapest Demographic Forum, the 11th World Congress of Families, and a Family Festival. We have already reported here on the address given on the opening day by Hungary’s conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

However, another highlight of the trip for Travis and I was getting two opportunities to speak at Faith Church, a charismatic mega-church in Budapest which also assisted in organizing several events in connection with the Budapest Family Summit.

Faith Church was founded in 1979, when Hungary was still under Communist rule, by Sandor Nemeth, who remains its pastor to this day. He and his wife began a small Bible study, which has grown to the point that Faith Church is now the center of a network of other congregations in multiple countries.

The pastor and several of his associates visited Family Research Council on a trip to Washington several years ago. As a result of that contact, Travis and I reached out to the church to let them know that we would be in Budapest. Leaders at Faith Church invited us not only to visit the church, but to speak to a youth gathering on Friday night.

This “youth group” turned out to be an audience of at least four hundred young people, including many students at the college and seminary run by the church, known as St. Paul Academy. I addressed the group about my work on the issues of marriage, family, and human sexuality, and Travis spoke about his field of religious liberty. They then fielded questions from the audience—all while a translator translated their remarks line by line into Hungarian. The entire meeting lasted three hours.

Travis and I were then invited back on Saturday to speak again—this time to the church’s main weekly worship service, which regularly draws between eight and ten thousand attendees. In addition to us, three other Americans from the World Congress of Families were invited to address the church—Larry Jacobs, Managing Director of the WCF, long-time pro-family leader Janice Crouse, and Ted Baehr of Movieguide.

Faith Church also now operates a TV network, a radio station (for which Travis and I were also interviewed), and a news magazine. The church also maintains close ties with the nation of Israel and has worked against anti-Semitism. Faith Church is modeling in Hungary the kind of cultural impact that Christians can have when they serve as salt and light in their community.

Budapest Family Summit Explores Ways to Revitalize the Family

by Peter Sprigg

May 30, 2017

On Thursday, May 25th, pro-family leaders from around the world gathered in the capital of Hungary for what local organizers have dubbed the “Budapest Family Summit.” Day One of the event was the second “Budapest Demographic Forum”—a focus on the demographic issues of declining birth and fertility rates which are plaguing virtually all of the world’s developed countries, including Europe. Despite long-discredited theories about the dangers of over-population, the real crisis of the West is declining population—especially as other countries (including the Muslim world) continue to grow. The event continued Friday and Saturday with the latest World Congress of Families. Family Research Council is being represented by myself and Senior Fellow Travis Weber.

One unique aspect of the Budapest summit, in comparison with other World Congress of Families events, is that the Hungarian government itself is a principal sponsor. Katalin Novak, Hungary’s Minister of State for Family, Youth, and International Affairs, is the event’s chief organizer and host.

Furthermore, the highlight of Thursday’s kickoff session was an address by the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, who returned to Budapest from the NATO leaders summit in Brussels in time to address the Forum. Orban is the dynamic and sometimes controversial leader of Hungary’s governing center-right coalition (he was the subject of a major profile in Politico last year). In 2015, he closed Hungary’s southern border to a flood of illegal immigrants from the south. Orban is also unashamedly pro-family—when his coalition was large enough to amend the country’s constitution, one provision they added was to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

In his address to the Demographic Summit today, Orban did not hesitate to link the issues of immigration and family in the context of the “competition of civilizations.” He bluntly warned that Europe, with its declining population, is “old, rich, and weak,” while the growing countries around it are “young, poor, and strong”—making the likely direction of population flows obvious.

Yet while some people suggest that the West should welcome immigrants precisely as a solution to its population woes, Orban bluntly rejected that option, saying that the countries of Central Europe, including Hungary, prefer the “renewal of our own resources.”

Toward that end, he declared that 2018 will be “the Year of Families” in Hungary, and announced a goal of raising Hungary’s fertility rate (the average number of children borne by a woman in her lifetime) to 2.1 (considered the “replacement” level necessary to maintain a stable population) by 2030.

One notable characteristic at international gatherings like this is that in Europe, even conservative governments are more likely to see government intervention and incentives as a solution to family issues, while in the United States, most pro-family conservatives are also supporters of a free market and limited government, and therefore are more skeptical of government intervention. Orban, for example, proposed to write off student loans and offer subsidies for mortgage payments for families with three or more children. He also proposed building more child-care facilities for the benefit of working parents—although American pro-family activists generally prefer policies that might make it easier for parents to care for their own children at home.

It should be noted that several speakers made clear that the intention is not for government to dictate how many children people should have or to punish those who choose not to become parents. However, surveys regarding how many children people would like to have consistently show that the number is higher than the number they actually have. So the goal of pro-natal policy is not to make people have children they don’t want, but to clear away obstacles that may prevent them from having as many children as they do want.

In addition to Orban and several other government officials from Hungary and other European countries, speakers at the Forum included former FRC staffers like Pat Fagan of MARRI and Allan Carlson.

Stay tuned for further updates from Budapest.

Questions Abound Regarding Air Force Academy Commandant Nominee

by Peter Sprigg

May 8, 2017

A mere five years ago, Air Force officer Kristin Goodwin could have been discharged from the military for engaging in a homosexual relationship or a same-sex marriage.

Yet last month, it was announced that Col. Goodwin has been nominated for promotion to brigadier general—and to be the next commandant of cadets at the U. S. Air Force Academy. Goodwin is a 1993 Academy graduate who openly identifies as homosexual and will be moving to Colorado Springs with her same-sex spouse and two children they are raising together. Her promotion and appointment, however, must be confirmed by the Senate.

When the news broke publicly in the Colorado Springs Independent, Mikey Weinstein, founder of the ironically titled “Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” could hardly contain his glee that “the Air Force has chosen a gay female officer to be its next USAFA Commandant!” However, Weinstein also groused, “Should not USAFA and Senior Air Force leadership be touting this action as an historic milestone of jovian magnitude as well?”

Christians, however, may have legitimate concerns about what Goodwin’s appointment will mean for the future of religious liberty at the Academy. Since the repeal of the 1993 law against homosexuality in the military, the Air Force has seen incidents in which airmen have been punished for espousing the biblical view of human sexuality and marriage. Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk was relieved of duty by a commander who identifies as homosexual at Lackland Air Force Base for defending marriage as the union of one man and one woman (although after the intervention of pro-family groups, he received a commendation instead).

At the Air Force Academy itself, a cadet was recently ordered to erase a Bible verse written on a whiteboard that was provided to cadets in their dorms to write personal messages. Although Weinstein insisted that the words of the New Testament created a “hostile environment” for non-Christians, the flap merely encouraged more cadets to exercise their freedom of speech and religion by posting Bible verses on the whiteboards, and brought members of Congress down on the Academy for engaging in “viewpoint discrimination.” Can we expect more such discrimination under Goodwin’s leadership?

A few days after her appointment, however, the website God and Country (devoted to “Military Religious Freedom and Christian Service”) raised a different question:

BGen(S) Kristin Goodwin, soon to be the newest Commandant of Cadets at the US Air Force Academy, commissioned into the Air Force with the Academy Class of 1993.

The policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was instated in February of 1994. Anyone who entered the military prior to that date answered a question about homosexuality during the enlistment process. Those who answered in the affirmative were refused enlistment.

How was Col Goodwin — an open homosexual — able to enter the Air Force?

The author acknowledges that many may see this as a non-issue in the post-DADT military. But he does raise a question unique to Goodwin serving as commandant of cadets at the Academy—namely, the Academy’s honor code.

The code declares, “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” God and Country notes that “cadets practically venerate the Honor Code (in spirit, if not in deed).”

The article speculates, “No doubt someone will work a hypothetical story into an early Philosophy class”:

It could make for a fascinating thought experiment.

Is it “wrong” to lie to enter the US military — or the Air Force, whose first core value is “integrity”?  Is it wrong to “live a lie” as a cadet under the Honor Code?

What if you eventually become a leader, a General, or the Commandant of Cadets — now charged with enforcing that standard of integrity and honor?

This was too much for Mikey Weinstein. He filed a 14-page complaint with the Air Force Inspector General, charging the Air Force officer he believes to be responsible for the God and Country website with several violations, such as “Disrespect Toward a Superior Commissioned Officer” and “Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentleman.” (The author did not seem alarmed—noting that this is the 9th time Weinstein has filed such a complaint, to no effect.)

If anything, however, the God and Country post may have understated the concerns raised by Goodwin’s appointment to a position enforcing the Academy’s Honor Code.

That’s because the author seems to have fallen prey to the nearly universal misunderstanding of the difference between the 1993 law enacted by Congress and the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy proposed by President Bill Clinton.

During his 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton had stated his intention to lift the long-standing ban on military service of those who identify as homosexual. Within days of his inauguration in January 1993, he announced moves to make good on that promise.

This triggered a firestorm of criticism, both from Congress and within the military. By the time his six-month deadline for drafting an executive order arrived, it was clear that Congress would not tolerate a complete removal of the policy against homosexuality.

So in July 1993, President Clinton proposed a compromise policy colloquially referred to as “don’t ask don’t tell.” As usually described by the media, “DADT” meant that the military would no longer inquire about the sexual orientation of service members (“don’t ask”), and therefore people with same-sex attractions could serve as long as they did not publicly identify themselves as homosexual (“don’t tell”).

However, Congress did not simply accept President Clinton’s proposed compromise. Instead, they continued to debate the issue, and ultimately enacted a statutory “Policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces,” 10 U.S.C 654, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. President Clinton signed this into law on November 30, 1993.

The new law (which Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness retroactively dubbed the “Military Personnel Eligibility Act of 1993”) did not reflect the relatively laissez-faire attitude toward homosexuality that is usually associated with “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Instead, it explicitly restated the principles behind the existing policy of exclusion, declaring:

The prohibition against homosexual conduct is a longstanding element of military law that continues to be necessary in the unique circumstances of military service.”

and

The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.”

The law also declared flatly that “A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces” [emphasis added] if it was found:

(1) That the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts . . .

(2) That the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect . . .

(3) That the member has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.

However, Department of Defense regulations announced in December 1993 and codified in February 1994 bore more resemblance to the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy proposed in July than they did to the actual law enacted by Congress and signed by the president in November.

For example, the regulations stated, “Sexual orientation is considered a personal and private matter, and homosexual orientation is not a bar to service entry or continued service unless manifested by homosexual conduct.” The law, however, says that “persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk.”

Note that “sexual orientation” is an umbrella term that, depending on the context, can refer to any one, or a combination, of three separate things—a person’s sexual attractions, their sexual conduct, and their self-identification.

By the time the 1993 law was repealed in December 2010 (and the repeal took effect in September 2011), the popular concept of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” had evolved to where people thought “you can be gay in the military”—in both attractions and behavior—as long as you were not “out of the closet” with your self-identification.

However, in 1993, the proposed DADT “compromise” allowed a focus on both self-identification and conduct. For example, a July 1993 newspaper article described it this way:

Conduct is the key. Even people who have admitted being gay have a chance, under the language of the policy, to stay in the military if they can prove they are celibate, have always been celibate and will remain celibate.

The actual law enacted by Congress, however, made clear that all three elements of a “homosexual orientation”—attractions, conduct, and self-identification—remained problematic for the military. The statement, “The presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity [emphasis added] or intent to engage in homosexual acts would create an unacceptable risk,” addresses sexual attractions. And both the conduct (“the member has engaged in … a homosexual act”) and the self-identification (“the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual”) remained grounds for separation from military service. This was the state of the law until September 2011.

In light of this, it should be clear that the issue involving Goodwin’s integrity is not just limited to how she may or may not have answered a question in 1993 or 1994. Whether she complied with federal law regarding eligibility for military service relates to both her sexual conduct and her sexual attractions at any point up until September 2011.

To be specific—if anyone at any point during Goodwin’s accession into the military and the repeal of the 1993 law in 2011, engaged in a homosexual act, they would have been in violation of the law (both the 1993 law and possibly the law against sodomy in the Uniform Code of Military Justice) and subject to separation from the military. If, during that time, a person experienced same-sex sexual attractions, it could be interpreted as “a propensity … to engage in homosexual acts.”

In my research on Goodwin’s career, I have not found any published evidence that she violated the law. Weinstein, citing a source he says spoke with Goodwin, declared in his complaint that Goodwin “relates that she did not become aware of her sexual orientation until well after DADT went into effect.”

However, there is nothing to prevent members of the Senate from raising these questions, as well as questions about her commitment to freedom of speech and religion for cadets. They may be crucial to determining whether she is suitable for promotion, or fit to command the Air Force Academy—and, as God and Country pointed out, to oversee its honor code.

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