Category archives: Religion & Culture

The Threat to Domestic Religious Liberties

by FRC Media Office

March 2, 2015

Anyone keeping a relatively close eye on the religious liberties landscape in this country cannot fail to sense a growing tension developing. Whether it’s anti-discrimination laws restricting the full extent of religious conscience, federal abortion coverage mandates demanding compliance from private catholic charities, or the tenacious Freedom From Religion Foundation mailing complaint letters to administrators demands the installment of laïcité in our public schools, the culture clash between church and state is anything but boring. The Christian Legal Society was fortunate to have Travis Weber of the Family Research Council come speak to us on the topic of Domestic Threats to Religious Liberty. We thank him for his time and for his commitment to fight for our first freedom.

Click here to listen to his remarks.

In the Footsteps of Jesus

by Travis Weber

February 20, 2015

In the New York Times, David Brooks asserts that followers of ISIS are looking for purpose, fulfillment, and destiny, and that attempting to address these needs with materialistic solutions misses the mark. In order to lessen the appeal of ISIS, Brooks suggests, its followers must be offered an even greater opportunity for fulfillment:

[P]eople don’t join ISIS, or the Islamic State, because they want better jobs with more benefits.”

They’re not doing it because they are sexually repressed. They are doing it because they think it will ennoble their souls and purify creation.”

You can’t counter a heroic impulse with a mundane and bourgeois response. You can counter it only with a more compelling heroic vision… . Terrorism will be defeated only when they find a different fulfillment, even more bold and self-transcending.”

He’s right about all of that.

But he’s wrong about the solution:

[Nationalism has offered that compelling vision. We sometimes think of nationalism as a destructive force, and it can be. But nationalism tied to universal democracy has always been uplifting and ennobling. It has organized heroic lives in America, France, Britain and beyond.”

Brooks proposes that followers of ISIS “will walk away when they can devote themselves to a revived Egyptian nationalism, Lebanese nationalism, Syrian nationalism, some call to serve a cause that connects nationalism to dignity and democracy and transcends a lifetime.”

Perhaps, though unlikely. And ultimately, it is only a half-solution to their real need.

Nationalism alone does not appeal to humanity’s deepest spiritual needs — which transcend life on earth and mere physical existence. These young followers know, at some level, that there’s more to life than the here and now. Many of us know that too. The followers of ISIS already have an “explanation” for life after death. Nationalism would seem bland and unappealing to them, for it only addresses earthly purpose, earthly satisfaction, and earthly fulfillment.

The answer for followers of ISIS is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who offers all human beings (regardless of skin color, ideology, political party, nationality, prior life choices, or past faith) the chance for complete devotion, both in the here and ever after: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom… . my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He says to us, “if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:25). For “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (1 John 2:17).

How can we have this assurance?

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Only Jesus offers all human beings the chance to completely fill all our human longings and desires, for he offers the chance for complete devotion in response to his complete sacrifice for our complete salvation, beginning now and continuing ever after into eternity. Only in Jesus does death have no power, for he already defeated death for us.

David Brooks properly identifies the problem, but he misses the (ultimate) solution.

America’s Resilience

by Robert Morrison

February 19, 2015

Many of my friends, not surprisingly, consider these the worst of times. They tell me they fear for the survival of our country and certainly for the survival of civil and religious freedoms we cherish. There is no doubt that under this administration, our liberties have been imperiled. No administration in history has targeted religious freedoms.

For example, in the little-noticed case of Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC (2012), the Obama administration tried to order The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod* (LCMS) to change its 170-year definition of who is and who is not a commissioned minister in that 2.4 million member church body. This was a stunning example of denial of religious freedom, but the Obama administration took its unprecedented interpretation of constitutional law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Happily for freedom, the Obama administration’s tortured reading of the laws was rejected by the High Court by a vote of 9-0. Such unanimous rulings are very rare in the Supreme Court, as we know. But it is an indication of the radicalism of this administration that it was so determined to crush freedom that it would boldly go where no administration in 223 years had gone before.

Members of our U.S. military—our all-volunteer force—are daily feeling the lash of political correctness. As President Obama seems to make every allowance for Islam at home and abroad, his administration has banned Bibles in military hospitals while covering up Christian symbols at VA hospitals and threatening chaplains with discipline if they even mention faith in Christ as part of suicide prevention programs. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed for me that the high religiosity of Black women was a major factor in their low rates of suicide.

Several years ago, Coast Guard Admiral Dean Lee courageously stood up for freedom and faith at the National Prayer Breakfast. He said what so many in the military feel: That Christian faith is under attack.

The admiral reminded me of my own time in the Coast Guard and his courage encourages me still. It also reminds me of the hope we have for real change in our country.

The ship on which I served was in the news recently for an historic drug bust. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell (WHEC-719) seized $423 million worth of cocaine. When we consider that it cost about $20 million ($142 million in 2014 dollars) to build the Boutwell in 1967, and that she has been serving our country every since, it seems in this case, the American taxpayers certainly got their money’s worth.

I’m very proud to have served on the Boutwell. But I certainly wasn’t proud on my last day on that vessel. I was leaving the Coast Guard in Seattle in 1978 when I was given a ride home by some of my enlisted friends. These Quartermasters—highly intelligent guys who made the mid watches in the Bering Sea enjoyable—offered me a joint! I was heartbroken. No wonder we were never able to catch the pot smokers on our ship. They were being tipped off. It depressed me and filled with a sense of betrayal.

Four years later, I was living in Connecticut with my wife, a lieutenant commander in the Navy. She came home from Naval Hospital Groton and said we should take a tour of the Cutter paying a visit to the Coast Guard Academy across the Thames River in New London.

I hesitated. I was concerned as I recalled my last day in the service. But overcame my doubts and proudly accompanied my wife. She received a snappy salute from a “squared away” young Seaman Apprentice standing guard at the brow of the ship. He offered us a tour of the Cutter. From that first encounter through the hour-long visit, we saw nothing but hard-working seamen who seemed proud of their ship and their mission.

What had changed? The Navy and Coast Guard had dropped the lax attitude of the 1970s toward sideburns, mustaches, beer-in-the-barracks and had instituted a Zero Tolerance policy for drugs. I didn’t like the fact that my wife had to take drug tests in the presence of Navy Corps Waves, but the policy worked. It largely eliminated the abuse of drugs in the sea services.

Pride in the uniform was restored. Gone were the sideburns. Gone, too, was the 1970’s policy of requiring civilian attire in Washington, D.C. for military officers going to and from work at Headquarters. Instead, officers and enlisted were required to wear their uniforms.

It almost goes without saying the change in those four years (1978-82) was dramatic. And it reflects in no small way the changes in leadership at the top. President Jimmy Carter had been swept out in a landslide and Ronald Reagan was swept in. Reagan loved and respected our all-volunteer military. He made our troops proud to serve again and proud of their uniforms.

When liberal reporters challenged Reagan the candidate in 1980, they said: “You seem to criticize a lot in the Carter administration, Governor. What would you do differently?”

Everything,” Reagan responded with a smile. And he did change everything.

America has been richly blessed by God. We are a resilient country and our hope for change has not died. All that is needed is a leader who will approach the tasks set before him or her with that same determination: Do everything differently.

*The author’s own denomination.

Cochran Complaint Paints Compelling Picture of Discrimination Based on Religious Beliefs

by Travis Weber

February 18, 2015

Today, Chief Cochran filed a complaint in federal court initiating a lawsuit against the City of Atlanta and Mayor Reed for firing him for holding Christian beliefs.

While we are all familiar with the background on Chief Cochran, and the City of Atlanta’s disappointing attempts to defend itself, the complaint reveals quite a compelling picture of Chief Cochran’s experience of religious discrimination.

It shows how Chief Cochran was motivated to excellence by firefighters who saved his house when he was growing up in a poor, single-parent family in Shreveport, Louisiana. From that point, he worked hard, guided by faith, to achieve excellence in what he did.

Chief Cochran had an exemplary career, going on to conduct firefighter training, lead Shreveport’s fire department, then lead Atlanta’s fire department, and finally head the U.S. Fire Administration in Washington, before returning to take charge of Atlanta’s fire department only after Mayor Reed himself “begged” him to come back to Atlanta.

The complaint continues by observing that Chief Cochran was awarded Fire Chief of the Year by Fire Chief magazine in 2012, for which he was showered with praise from Mayor Reed. And under Chief Cochran’s tenure, for the first time in Atlanta’s history, the Insurance Services Office gave the city a Class 1 Public Protection Classification (PPC) rating, an honor shared by only 60 cities nationwide, which resulted in lower insurance premiums.

In addition, as he explains, the chief promoted the development of workplace policies ensuring all his firefighters were treated fairly, and worked with LGBT employees (who he knew were LGBT) to make this happen. More than most, Chief Cochran knows what it’s like to be excluded; he had to overcome racial hostility earlier in his career.

Despite all this, when some protested Chief Cochran’s self-published Christian book, which had been in print for almost a year with no complaints, the city immediately suspended the chief without even discussing the matter with him beforehand. The book, which is about how to live for God, mentions human sexuality only in passing.

As described in his complaint, when the chief was suspended, the mayor explicitly distanced himself from Chief Cochran’s “beliefs” — thus revealing it is his religious beliefs which are the real problem here.

Yet the city is prohibited from firing Chief Cochran based on his religious beliefs. If Chief Cochran can prove that his beliefs were the reason he was fired, he will likely emerge victorious.

The chief will have plenty of avenues to prove the religious discrimination against him, having brought claims under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause for retaliation based on protected religious speech, along with allegations of viewpoint discrimination, over-breadth, prior restraint /unbridled discretion, and unconstitutional conditions. He follows these up with claims under the No Religious Tests Clause of Article VI of the Constitution, Free Exercise and Freedom of Association protections of the First Amendment, and an Establishment Clause claim based on hostility towards religion. Chief Cochran next alleges a Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection violation based on unequal treatment based on his beliefs, and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process violations based on vagueness and deprivation of his liberty interests and procedural due process rights. He also plans on amending his complaint to include a Title VII religious discrimination claim at the appropriate time.

As a remedy, the chief asks to be reinstated in his job, that the city be prevented from taking such action against others, and that it admit it violated his rights here, in addition to other damages.

While his case is procedurally in the beginning stage, Chief Cochran’s complaint certainly paints a strong picture in support of his claims. Why would any mayor want to fire a man with his performance and history as a firefighter? They wouldn’t.

This part of the factual record — much of which is not disputable — makes it look like the chief was fired for the impermissible reasons described in his complaint. In addition, Chief Cochran paints a picture of how the city did not even follow proper procedures in terminating him.

Mayor Reed himself “begged” Chief Cochran to come back to Atlanta, and any mayor with a large fire department to run would want a man like the chief running it.

When this type of employee is fired, a reasonable observer is more likely to conclude they were fired for an impermissible reason — in this case, for their religious expression.

The SPLC places Dr. Ben Carson on an “Extremist Watch List”

by Chris Gacek

February 10, 2015

It is becoming more and more clear that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) jumped the shark a long time ago. More confirmatory evidence was supplied recently when William Jacobson of the Legal Insurrection blog noted in a post last Friday that Dr. Ben Carson, the world-famous neurosurgeon, had been placed on the SPLC’s “Extremist List.”

The absurdity of this should speak for itself, but if it does not I direct you to a very positive profile of Dr. Carson by Fred Barnes that appeared in the Weekly Standard’s Jan. 26, 2015 issue. Barnes has been a political reporter in Washington for decades, and his judgments are moderate and reasonable. Fred Barnes is no ideological or political wild man. That said, he had great praise for Dr. Carson, and it seemed that in coming to these conclusions Barnes had surprised himself about Carson’s competence and organizational skills. There is not even a hint political extremism detected on Carson’s part.

The point is that Fred Barnes and the Weekly Standard are conservative but form part of mainstream Washington sensibilities. Consequently, Carson’s listing by the SPLC appears even more eccentric and politically motivated. The SPLC’s profile lists him as being “Anti-LGBT” which can boil down simply to his having Bible-based objections to same-sex marriage. This is the way the U.K. Daily Mail seems to also size up the situation in its article interviewing Dr. Carson about the SPLC listing.

All in all, Barnes thinks Ben Carson is a long shot. That is clearly true, but he also respects the man’s character and decency. It is a great pity that SPLC’s political agenda makes it impossible to for them to see those qualities even when disagreeing with a person’s political views.

Atlanta Mayor Steps up Disparaging Attacks on Chief Cochran

by Travis Weber

January 29, 2015

Last week, Chief Cochran lodged a complaint (known as a “charge of discrimination”) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging that the City of Atlanta discriminated against him for his religious beliefs when it fired him after he authored a book on Christianity which mentioned homosexuality.

Information emerging publicly to this point (such as the city’s own admission that no one has even alleged that Chief Cochran ever treated anyone unfairly based on their sexual orientation) reveals the chief’s already-strong case for religious discrimination. Chief Cochran’s allegations in his complaint only bolster his case:

After the complaint was filed, the city quickly released the following statement in response.

Former Chief Cochran filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and declared under penalty of perjury that the statements in the charge are true and correct. Unfortunately, the only truthful portions are his statements about his tenure as Chief and the identity of those in the room with him during two meetings. Everything else is patently false.

The City will respond directly to the EEOC at the appropriate time to inform the agency that instead of “unspecified policies,” Mr. Cochran was informed at the time of his suspension that he had failed to follow the City Code in seeking to engage in an outside income-producing venture. He was also informed that the issue was not the religious nature of his book, but the fact that he was espousing theories about certain groups of people that were in conflict with the City’s policy of inclusiveness. He was further informed that there was an issue with his espousing these beliefs while identifying himself as the Atlanta Fire Chief and while falsely claiming that his job description required him to run the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department on the basis of these beliefs. Finally, Mr. Cochran was informed that distributing the book to members of his command staff in the workplace was improper and sent a message to his staffers that they were expected to embrace his beliefs.

Although Mr. Cochran continues to claim that the City Ethics Officer authorized his publication of the book, that claim is as untruthful today as it was when first uttered. Mr. Cochran was told that the City Code required him to get the approval of the Board of Ethics before publishing his book, something he admits he never did.

Mr. Cochran states in his EEOC charge that he was told his faith influenced his leadership style and that this was the reason for his termination. What he was actually told was that his distribution of a book about his beliefs within his department had caused his employees to question his ability to continue to lead a diverse workforce.

The religious nature of his book is not the reason he is no longer employed by the City of Atlanta. The totality of his conduct—including the way he handled himself during his suspension after he agreed not to make public comments during the investigation—reflected poor judgment and failure to follow clearly defined work protocols.

Mr. Cochran continues to make false statements and accusations, even under penalty of perjury to the EEOC. This is just further proof that he has shown himself to be the wrong person for a leadership role in the City of Atlanta.

The city’s response reveals several things:

  • The fact that the city feels it needs to immediately and publicly respond to this complaint shows that the city is aware of the public importance of this debate. Typically an immediate public response to a legal filing is more general and cursory than the city’s here. Typically specific and targeted responses like the city’s first appear in the legal response. Yet the city is coming out swinging, which shows it realizes that this public debate over Chief Cochran matters. The city’s behavior here is unusual because now these statements can be used against the city if it contradicts them at all in future legal proceedings (this is typically why lawyers don’t want their clients to talk). Perhaps the city realizes it is losing this battle though, and it is scrambling to catch up a diffuse public support for Chief Cochran.
  • The viciousness of the city’s response (accusing Chief Cochran of committing perjury, and the sharpness of the city’s language in disputing him) reveals the nerve that the EEOC complaint touched.
  • The city is very sensitive about this being perceived as religious discrimination, but that’s exactly what it is. Specifically, the city says Chief Cochran’s religion is not at issue, but that his “theories about certain groups of people” are a problem—as if those two can be divided. Aside from the fact that this misrepresents Chief Cochran (he didn’t say anything about “groups of people” but spoke of a variety of sexual conduct that any one or more persons may engage in), the city is trying to parse something which can’t be parsed. The chief’s orthodox and faithful Christian views on sexuality are what inform his views of a variety of sexual conduct, including but not limited to homosexual conduct, which he believes (in concert with historic and orthodox Christian teaching) departs from God’s standard. The city is trying to ignore the fact that faithful Christianity directly informs views on sexuality. When the chief is punished for these views, he’s being punished for his religion. Thus this case has everything to do with religion.

If the city forces Chief Cochran to modify his views of sexuality as part of his discussion of his religion in his book, it is forcing him to deny and suppress the expression of his religion. Whatever the city wants to say, this case is all about religion.

Tarnishing Freedom in Georgia

by Travis Weber

January 28, 2015

It is reported that down in Georgia, opponents of individual rights and personal freedom are ratcheting up their smear campaign against proposed religious liberty legislation known as the “Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression Act,” which is designed to ensure that individuals’ consciences cannot be easily trampled by intrusive government regulation.

A web page titled “Better Georgia” purports to state concerns with the legislation, House Bill 29, but is filled entirely with omissions and misrepresentations regarding H.B. 29 and how religious liberty law actually works. Let’s fact-check some of its ridiculous claims.

Claim:

This bill would open the door to people who would use their religion to opt out of laws from child welfare to discrimination. It would lead to legal chaos over whose religion is more important in the eyes of our courts and lawmakers. The legislation would give criminals who abusetheir children or spouses a new excuse and make it even more difficult for police officers to put abusers behind bars.”

Veracity Level:

False. Child abuse is evil, and no one defends it. However, it is indeed offensive for Better Georgia’s out-of-state backers to imply that religious believers in Georgia are to blame for such abuse. Moreover, no religious freedom laws, including H.B. 29, permit people to “opt out” of child welfare laws, nor do such laws allow people to abuse their children.

Better Georgia had better check its fact-checkers.

The truth is that under H.B. 29, as with any strict scrutiny application to religious claims, an individual first has to prove they have a sincere religious belief, which has been substantially burdened by the government action in question. Only then can the claim move forward. Even then, if the government can show it has compelling interest in burdening the religious practice, and has done so through the least restrictive means, it is allowed to burden the religious exercise in question.

Thus, H.B. 29 does not automatically permit religious claims to win, but does provide a method for sincere conscientious objectors to be protected, while winnowing out those using religion as a pretext to escape application of general laws. This standard has been used in constitutional law for decades, and has been applied to religious claims for over 20 years under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), without any of the alleged “concerns” and “fears” RFRA opponents point to.

In its 1990 decision Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court significantly restricted free exercise rights, holding that laws infringing on religious exercise did not violate the First Amendment as long as they were neutral and generally applicable. In Smith, an individual sought and was denied unemployment benefits by the State of Oregon because he used peyote—a criminalized, controlled substance—yet he claimed his use of peyote was a religious practice protected by the Free Exercise Clause. The Supreme Court rejected this claim, holding that if a neutral and generally applicable law (such as the uniformly applicable criminal law in this case) happens to infringes on religious practice, such a law does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.

Many rightly saw Smith as a reduction in the protection afforded religious liberty, and the reaction to the Court’s decision was overwhelming. In 1993, a coalition of groups from across the religious and legal spectrum—from the Southern Baptists to the ACLU—came together to urge Congress to pass a law restoring strong protections for free exercise claims. The political support for such a law was also overwhelming, including strong backing from Democratic Congressional leaders such as Senator Ted Kennedy and Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Jerry Nadler. RFRA was passed unanimously by the U.S. House, 97-3 by the Senate, and signed into law by President Clinton. In over 20 years that the federal RFRA has been in existence, there is been no documented pattern of abuses such as those no claimed by the opponents of H.B. 29. As others have asked, where are these alleged child abusers and discriminators who are supposedly walking away from criminal charges under RFRA? They simply do not exist.

RFRA never was and should not be a partisan issue, as it protects those of all faiths and political persuasions. A review of RFRA and free exercise case law reveals its benefit to everyone from Muslims to Jews, Christians to Santeria adherents, and Native Americans to more obscure sects (among others), as they seek to protect their beliefs and consciences from being burdened by an ever-more intrusive government. Moreover, RFRAs cut across racial and social lines, and apply in a variety of factual scenarios, such as property disputes, restrictions on caring from the homeless, conscience objections to abortion, and restrictions on using controlled substances in religious ceremonies. They are not fact-specific. They are not race-specific. They are not religion-specific. And they are not political party-specific.

Despite this fact, many will attempt to manipulate the clear text of the law for partisan aims. Even a group of law professors writing in opposition to the bill can’t conceal their political agenda. They write:

The Federal RFRA, however, arose in a political context very different from the current one. The Federal RFRA responded directly to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), which many people perceived as a significant setback in constitutional protection for the religious liberty of vulnerable minority faith groups. The coalition that supported RFRA included Democrats and Republicans, people of all faiths, and groups that cared generally about civil liberties.”

So what these law professors—who might purport to neutrally explain the law and not promote partisan views—openly admit is that they only care about certain religious rights. Moreover, they imply that the people who supported RFRA in 1993 cared about “civil liberties” while those who support it now don’t. The truth is that some of those who supported it then still support it now. Shameful. These professors might as well just admit they are elevating their political preferences over the equal application of a neutral law. In addition, their position purporting high-minded concern that H.B. 29 might “invite” discrimination is contrary to a proper understanding of First Amendment law and its strict scrutiny standard (which RFRA codifies). The Supreme Court has consistently held that First Amendment rights are to be elevated over nondiscrimination principles—in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Group of Boston (pertaining to free speech) and in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (pertaining to freedom of association).

Indeed, the text of H.B. 29 itself reveals an open-mindedness and neutrality which is at opposition to such political posturing, and at odds with the narrow-minded, politically-charged misrepresentations being thrown around on the internet by Better Georgia. Before unquestioningly getting on the bandwagon, everyone needs to take a deep breath and look at what actually is going on.

The alleged “incidents” highlighted by these scaremongers at Better Georgia are exactly that—scaremongering. The case of the toddler in Canada who died after severe application of Seventh-day Adventist dietary rules (aside from the issue that this is anything but a “pattern” of behavior) would not be an issue under H.B. 29 or any similar law—the government has the most compelling of interests in preventing deaths of children. The religious liberty claim would therefore flatly fail in that case. Rather than highlighting one scaremongering scenario which occurred in Canada, these purveyors of smear could focus on instances of suppression of religious practice closer to home. Georgians know better, as they recognize the threats illuminated by Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran’s termination due to his religious views.

Indeed, Chief Cochran’s recent firing clearly illustrates the threat to religious expression which is alive and well at home in Georgia. Despite the city’s assertion that Chief Cochran’s religion is not at issue in his termination (while his “discrimination” allegedly is), the city is trying to disconnect two areas—Chief Cochran’s religious beliefs, and human sexuality—which cannot be disconnected. The chief’s orthodox and faithful Christian views on sexuality are what inform his views of a variety of sexual conduct, including but not limited to homosexual conduct, which he believes (in concert with historic and orthodox Christian teaching) departs from God’s standard. The city is trying to ignore the fact that faithful Christianity directly informs views on sexuality. When the chief is punished for these views, he’s being punished for his religion. His case has everything to do with religion, and reveals the hostility to religion present in Atlanta.

Moreover, Better Georgia’s “example” of the Canadian child abuse scenario reveals a deeper issue—sloppy analysis and a lack of critical thinking. Better Georgia links to a story about a religious believer’s alleged child abuse, yet fails to point out that no religious claim was even brought in the case. Of course, the fact that this “example” took place in Canada with its entirely different legal system was lost on the group too. It’s almost as if Better Georgia has scoured the web for any information it can find which links bad things happening with religion. The group certainly has not come up with a legitimate example showing any serious danger of H.B. 29.

Even the group’s touting of an opinion piece by a Georgia district attorney misses the mark. The examples in that piece involve criminal prosecution for child abuse without any discussion of a successful religious defense. Child abuse and other cases involving bodily harm to human beings are prosecuted routinely nationwide every day. These take place in states with laws like H.B. 29. Yet how often have we heard about successful religious freedom defenses to such prosecutions? Why can’t Better Georgia or any of its opponents point to any?

The reason they cannot is that such defenses are not successful. Multiple courts in multiple states have held that preventing child abuse is a compelling government interest. Georgia courts have already held that the state has a compelling interest in the welfare of children. As noted above, under H.B. 29 and similar laws, the government can burden religious beliefs when it has a compelling government interest. In failing to discuss this point while asserting the dangers of H.B. 29, District Attorney Cooke has misrepresented the danger of the bill and needs to revisit his analysis.

Another “case” cited by H.B. 29 opponents is a situation involving parents beating their son to death. According to Better Georgia, these parents might be able to walk away from criminal charges because of H.B. 29. Not only is this an absolute distraction from the issue, but it is an insult to Georgians’ intelligence that they might consider H.B. 29 to legitimately offer a defense to such actions. Better Georgia claims “abusers will be able to hide behind religion in court.” Really? How would they do that under H.B. 29? This group, which is shamefully playing on Georgians’ fears based on cooked-up nonexistent situations, has not pointed to one legitimate explanation of how this scenario would be permitted under the strict scrutiny standard laid out above.

Indeed, Better Georgia does not even highlight any attempted legal defense using a religious freedom claim. The fear that there would be one appears nonexistent. Yet, sadly, this simplistic reduction of how religious freedom law works manipulates human passion and deliberately confuses in order to promote division and hatred of religious people—based entirely on misrepresentations. Better Georgia should be ashamed. Georgia does deserve better.

It’s unclear what Better Georgia is even specifically basing its claims on in these alleged “concerning scenarios.” Perhaps it is looking at language in Section 50-15A-3 to exclude the bill’s application to parental rights regarding “the care and custody of such parent’s minor children.” But any simple reading of this provision reveals that it is stating the area of parental rights as it currently exists is to be left unrestricted by the additional protections of H.B. 29. Therefore, the state will continue to be able to regulate parental rights as it currently does, and this bill does not alter that. Indeed, H.B. 29 notes that these parental rights issues are to be left unrestricted “as provided for under the laws of this state and of the United States.”

Yet the Better Georgia “advocacy” does not stop there. Alas, more fact checking is needed.

Claim:

Georgia House Bill 29 would provide a free pass for business owners who believe homosexuality is a sin to openly deny gay Americans employment or service.”

Veracity Level:

False. Neither H.B. 29 nor other similar laws applying strict scrutiny to claims of religious exercise give anyone a “free pass.” As pointed out above, the religious liberty claim has to go through multiple hurdles before receiving protection under the law. Moreover, the evidence of such “free passes” being permitted is simply nonexistent. A cursory evaluation of how other similar laws have been interpreted reveals no “free passes.” Indeed, it is notable that Better Georgia can’t even cite to one instance of a business owner “openly deny[ing]” such service!

For these same reasons, claims that the Michigan RFRA will “let EMTs refuse to serve gay people” and that the Arizona and Mississippi RFRAs from previous years are “right-to-discriminate” bills are completely misleading. When people are provided with a proper understanding of strict scrutiny’s application to religious claims, they can see that those making these “free pass” arguments are engaged in baseless fabrication.

More fact-checking is needed.

Claim:

A restaurateur could deny service to an out-of-wedlock mother, a cop could refuse to intervene in a domestic dispute if his religion allows for husbands beating their wives, and a hotel chain could refuse to rent rooms to Jews, Hindus or Muslims.”

Veracity Level:

False. Indeed, the opposite is true. The protections in H.B. 29 are the very protections needed to ensure the exercise of all religions—whether Jews, Hindus, or Muslims—is protected. If the smear campaign had cared to accurately represent this point, it would have seen that only this month, the U.S. Supreme Court protected a Muslim inmate’s right to religious practice under the same strict scrutiny standard in RFRA’s cousin—the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

Indeed, H.B. 29 and similar laws protect religious exercise regardless of religion. These laws do NOT discriminate, nor do they discriminate between religions, but protect individual religious claims under the framework explained above. Moreover, they protect religious exercise in a variety of situations—such as the Texas RFRA’s protection of those seeking to feed the homeless—which are not cited in this attempt to incite hatred against religion. Any simple reading of the law will reveal all this. But apparently Better Georgia did not even do that.

RFRA never was and should not become a partisan issue, as it protects those of all faiths and political persuasions. Thankfully, some liberal organizations are willing to more fairly represent it. Aside from what Better Georgia thinks, all Americans of political persuasions and religions who care about individual expression should be supporting H.B. 29. The bill’s text and our own judicial system’s well-grounded history of analyzing religious claims lend support to this conclusion. Meanwhile, Better Georgia’s conclusions have no support whatsoever.

The Pope on Family, Marriage and Life

by Rob Schwarzwalder

January 16, 2015

As an Evangelical in the classic Reformation tradition, I’m not unaware of the theological distinctions between Catholicism and historic Protestantism. But all defenders of what we at Family Research Council call the “faith, family and freedom” agenda can take heart from these wise and brave words by Pope Francis, given just a few hours ago in a packed arena in Manila. To those who believe the Pope and the church he leads are shifting on these key issues, his remarks are a striking reproof. To those of us unmoved by what he calls “the culture of the ephemeral,” the Pope’s allegiance to the sanctity of life and the unchanging nature of marriage are a breath of fresh air:

Beware of the new ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family. It’s not born of the dream that we have from God and prayer – it comes from outside and that’s why I call it a colonization. Let us not lose the freedom to take forward the mission God has given us, the mission of the family. And just as our peoples were able to say in the past ‘No’ to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and strong to say “No” to any attempted ideological colonization that could destroy the family … The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life … Families will always have their trials, but may you never add to them! Instead, be living examples of love, forgiveness and care. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death.”

City of Atlanta: No orthodox Christians need apply

by Travis Weber

January 8, 2015

At a press conference held on Tuesday this week, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Kelvin Cochran. How did we get here?

One year ago, Chief Cochran wrote a book discussing orthodox Christianity, including a mention of how God views homosexual practice. The book had been around for a year, with no problems. Yet when one of Atlanta’s secret thought police secretly uncovered the not-so-secret book, a hullabaloo erupted. All the usual suspects contributed to a hearty round of hand-wringing and head-shaking.

Mayor Reed was “deeply disturbed” and indignantly proclaimed he would not tolerate such discrimination within his administration.

Unless that discrimination is against Christians, of course.

Perhaps the mayor should take up his feeling of being “deeply disturbed” with God. Chief Cochran was only quoting the Bible. He didn’t come up with the ideas he expressed.

The mayor’s office then opened an investigation because “there are a number of passages” in Chief Cochran’s book “that directly conflict with the city’s nondiscrimination policies.”

Well, who knew? The views one expresses in one’s own writings have to now conform to official city policies.

If this wasn’t bad enough, let’s turn to the chief’s firing. In a press conference held yesterday, the mayor claimed:

Chief Cochran’s “actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse workforce. Every single employee under the Fire Chief’s command deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment decisions. His actions and his statements during the investigation and his suspension have eroded my confidence in his ability to convey that message.”

I want to make my position and the city of Atlanta’s position crystal clear,” Reed continued. “The city’s nondiscrimination policy … really unequivocally states that we will not discriminate.” Thus, according the mayor, any individual who violates that policy or “creates an environment where that is a concern” will notcontinue his or her employment withthe city government.

The only problem is: there is no evidence here of any discrimination whatsoever! There never has been.

In essence, the chief was fired by the mayor and his allies because (if they were honest) they “think he might discriminate against gay people.” Never mind there is zero evidence of any such discrimination. Simply put, no one can point to any adverse action Chief Cochran has ever taken against someone based on their homosexuality! If they could, we certainly would have heard about it, given the frenzied fears of “potential” future discrimination and a “possible” hostile work environment. But because that’s all the mayor and his allies have to go on, all we’ve heard about is the “possibility” of future discrimination.

This is a clear case of someone being eliminated from their position because of their views alone. This is even worse than other recent cases of disapproval of orthodox Christian views among public figures in the United States. Without exaggeration, we can say we have just seen the government monitoring personal expression for approval or disapproval, backed up by power of law.

But if he’s going to bury Chief Cochran, Mayor Reed needs all the ammunition he can get. So he scrambles, and tacks on another “justification”: “Chief Cochran also failed to notify me, as Mayor and Chief Executive of the City of Atlanta and his employer, of his plans to publish the book and its inflammatory content. This demonstrates an irreconcilable lapse in judgment.”

Never mind that Chief Cochran plausibly describes how he not only notified the mayor of his plans to publish the book, but provided him in January 2014 with a pre-publication copy for his review, which the mayor told him he planned on reading during an upcoming trip.

Reed didn’t even stop there. He claimed Chief Cochran published his book in violation of standards of conduct which require approval from the Ethics Officer and the Board of Ethics.

Never mind that, as Cochran reports, not only did the director of Atlanta’s ethics office give him permission to write the book, but he was also given permission to mention in his biography that he was the city’s fire chief.

Well, which is it, Mayor Reed? The “nondiscrimination” issue. Or the ethics issue? On the latter, the chief and mayor offer contradicting testimony. On the former, the mayor doesn’t even offer any evidence whatsoever!

These developments are likely to cause widespread consternation among Christians, but they should alarm anyone concerned about freedom of expression in general.

At the press conference, the mayor was in vehement and repeated denial that Chief Cochran was fired for his religious beliefs. The mayor would have us believe that “[t]his is about judg[]ment” and “not about religious freedom” or “free speech.” According to the mayor, “[j]udg[]ment is the basis of the problem.” But Mayor Reed knows he is wrong, which is why he is so defensive about there being no “religious persecution”—he clearly knows it is taking place.

In addition, the mayor was accompanied by his cabinet and Alex Wan (the city’s lone gay council member) at the press conference. If the issue is about ethics, why have the lone gay council member flanking you as you make the announcement? For that matter, why not have an ethics officer?

Indeed, the issue is about orthodox Christian views. And if it’s about “judgment” on the expression of such views, we are in a brave new world.

Chief Cochran must vigorously stand for his rights. All who care about the right to free expression without government intrusion and interference should stand with him, even if they disagree with him in this case. For when the law fails to protect one, it soon fails to protect all.

As we are reminded by Martin Niemöller, a German pastor who was an outspoken opponent of Hitler and ultimately was confined to a concentration camp:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

NOTE: Stand with Chief Cochran by signing our petition supporting him at http://frc.org/fired

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