Category archives: Religious Liberty

An Active President: Obama on the March As the GOP Preps to Run Congress

by Rob Schwarzwalder

December 18, 2014

Since last month’s election, the President has been a busy fellow. He’s traveled to China, heralded what he called a “turning point” in American military affairs, “signed a Presidential Memorandum that prohibits future oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay” and land areas near it and announced a new director for the White House Council for Strong Cities, Strong Communities, to boot.

FRC takes no formal position on these issues, or on those that follow (with one exception). Rather, they are listed to make the point that Mr. Obama is not going suddenly to become an inactive Chief Executive. He has an agenda the bulk of which is opposed by conservatives. Regardless, if conservatives think he will simply fold his hands and let the new Republican majorities in House and Senate do as they will, they kid themselves.

Following is a rundown of other significant post-November 4, 2014 actions by Mr. Obama; the last, on international religious liberty, is not explicitly presidential but relates to a key presidential appointment at the Department of State.

Environment: In addition to his largely unnoticed decision regarding Bristol Bay, “Obama’s most recent move is committing the U.S. to a $3 billion contribution to an international fund that seeks to help developing countries address climate change, which he will announce this weekend. It’s the president’s second major climate action in a week, following Wednesday’s announcement of a bilateral climate agreement with China. Under the agreement, the U.S. will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, while China will begin reducing its own emissions by 2030.”

Cuba: Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), the son of Cuban immigrants, gave an eloquent and impassioned critique of the President’s announcement on normalizing relations with Cuba last evening; read his Wall Street Journal op-ed on the Obama decision, as well. The Washington Post also made a potent argument in an op-ed titled, “Obama gives the Castro regime in Cuba an undeserved bailout” (yes, that Washington Post; even a stopped clock is right twice a day): “The Vietnam outcome is what the Castros are counting on: a flood of U.S. tourists and business investment that will allow the regime to maintain its totalitarian system indefinitely. Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life.”

Immigration: With respect to his Executive Order on immigration, my personal take is not on the content of the orders but instead their basis in the U.S. Constitution: “Mr. Obama hasn’t gotten what he wants, so he is acting like a monarch unconstrained by legality. This is not constitutional, republican governance. It is something else altogether – something that should evoke in everyone who values his Constitution-based liberty apprehension about what might come next.”

Internet: “Net neutrality” demands a bit more explaining. Mr. Obama has asked “the Federal Communications Commission to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility,” writes Michael Hendrix in National Review. “All Internet traffic would be treated equally, no matter the size or pace of demand. Net neutrality is a relatively young concept based on the much older notion of ‘common carriage,’ which required providers of basic infrastructure to offer common service to all.”

Yet as Nancy Scola notes in the Washington Post, At the center of the debate is a service known as IANA, or the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. Operating almost entirely out of the public eye, IANA keeps tabs on the numerical directory that makes sure the global Internet runs smoothly.” And, Scola continues, though “Republicans in Congress managed to slip a provision into the massive $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by the Senate this (past) weekend that would prevent the Obama administration from giving up part of its oversight of how the Internet runs. Observers say, though, that there’s little chance that the GOP’s legislative language will actually slow the process at all.

Religious Liberty: FRC does take a position on international religious liberty: We’re absolutely, unequivocally for it. Earlier this month, the Senate confirmed Rabbi David Saperstein to be the State Department’s new U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. In his comments at his Senate confirmation hearing in September, the Rabbi said, “Religious freedom faces daunting and alarming challenges worldwide,” Saperstein said at his confirmation hearing in September. “If confirmed, I will do everything within my abilities and influence to engage every sector of the State Department and the rest of the U.S. government to integrate religious freedom into our nation’s statecraft and foreign policies.”

Amen. Christians should be praying for the Rabbi and his team as they work to advance religious liberty around the world. It’s in the interest of our country, not to mention one of the great moral imperatives of our time.

This President means no less business today than he did on January 20, 2009. That means that conservatives will have to think carefully about how we advance our priorities on issues involving faith, family and freedom in the coming two years leading up to the next presidential election. We have to consider our larger strategy as well as issue-specific tactics and also decide what our priorities are and aren’t.

Conservative leaders and activists are, of course, doing this. Let’s hope they coalesce around what issues are of highest importance and then move forward both boldly and wisely, aware that President Obama is a shrewd and determined political foe.

It’s not enough to be right. We also have to be smart.


Schwarzwalder previously was chief-of-staff for two Members of Congress and was a presidential appointee in the George W. Bush Administration.

Fashion Isn¿t the Most Important Thing to Come Out of Milan

by Chris Gacek

November 19, 2014

If you have some time, watch FRC’s lecture with Jim Tonkowich discussing his new book, The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today. One particularly interesting aspect of the talk was Tonkowich’s discussion of the rise of religious freedom during the Roman Empire. Of particular importance was the Edict of Milan of 313 A.D. Read George Weigel’s First Things blog on this important document. Referencing the great church historian Robert Louis Wilken (The First Thousand Years), Weigel describes the document’s foundational significance in Western political thought and practice:

[The Edict] involved all religions, not just Christianity; it went beyond mere toleration and embodied a more robust idea of religious freedom, based on the conviction that true faith and true worship cannot be compelled; and it treated the Church as a corporate body with legal rights, including property-owning rights. Thus the not-really-an-Edict of Nicomedia and Elsewhere cemented into the foundations of the West ideas first sketched by the Christian philosopher Lactantius: that coercion and true religious faith don’t mix because “God wishes to be adored by people who are free” (as Joseph Ratzinger would rewrite Lactantius a millennium and a half later, in the 1986 Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation). The rather humane provisions of the mis-named “Edict of Milan” were not infrequently ignored in subsequent Western history; but that doesn’t alter the fact that the “Edict” had a profound and, in many respects, beneficial influence on the future of the West.

(Weigel quotes a passage from Wilken revealing that the Milanese origins of the documents putting the policy into effect arose from meetings between Emperors Constantine and Licinius during a state wedding.)

So, watch the lecture and learn other interesting things that will impress your friends and confound your opponents.

Hashtag Persecution

by Jourdan Stuart

November 14, 2014

When one hears a story about God’s people being persecuted for their beliefs, many examples throughout history come to mind. Adolph Hitler, the German dictator, ordered the extermination of six million Jews during the Holocaust. Many of the Jews were marched into gas chambers as participants of one of the largest genocides in world history. The Biblical account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is a historic example of individuals being persecuted for their religious beliefs. In this story, King Nebuchadnezzar throws Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace for refusing to worship the king’s golden image. Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.  Is genocide on a large scale more appalling than the individuals affected by it?

One contemporary example of modern-day persecution is the story of Asia Bibi of Pakistan. In 2010, this mother of five was convicted of blasphemy for speaking out against Muhammad and was sentenced to death. Her government-justified execution does not end her story but extends to her family who are facing a similar fate.  Supporters can bring attention to her story using the hashtag #FreeBibi via social media.

Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced by the Sudanese government to death by hanging for her Christian faith.  While in prison, Meriam gave birth to her child. After much international pressure she obtained her release and was returned to the United States.

Saeed Abedini is a pastor from Idaho being held in Rajaei Shahr prison for building an orphanage in Iran.  In 2012, Saeed, after being detained for being a Christian, was denied a court hearing, and was placed in a solitary confinement facility. He has been tortured and his communication with his family has been cut off. Facility medical staff refused him treatment because he is an “unclean” Christian.  In 2014, his condition deteriorated and he was transported to a hospital outside of the prison, where he received only minimal medical attention. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has called for Saeed’s release and over 610,000 people have signed a petition to that end. Saeed and his family have remained steadfast thanks to the support and prayers of godly people. Awareness is being raised for Saeed on social media through the hashtag, #SaveSaeed.

North Korean officials were detaining American, Jeffery Fowle, an Ohio native, this past spring simply for leaving a Bible in his hotel room. Thankfully, through the efforts of the White House and prayers of believers worldwide, Mr. Fowle has obtained freedom. Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae, Americans being held in North Korea for “crimes” of the same nature, were also recently released.

Many in the U.S. are not aware of the persecution experienced by Americans overseas. As noted, Americans are not immune to this persecution. We must pray that God will give strength to endure trials, and we must pray for the safe return of our brothers and sisters around the world facing persecution for their beliefs. We must also pray for our leaders to aggressively defend persecuted Christians around the world.

Beachheads of God’s Kingdom

by Rob Schwarzwalder

November 3, 2014

So, things can look pretty bleak, at home and abroad. But in addition to the fact that we have the legal right and moral duty to try to restrain evil and advance good, Christians can celebrate some very good things that are happening concurrent with the gloom that sometimes seems to surround us.

Here is some news to encourage believers who sometimes feel at sea without a rudder in the waves of our culture. Some stories deal with specific events, others with broader trends. All should help keep us steadfast as we work for life, family, and liberty.

  • The adoption movement is bringing thousands of little ones, at home and abroad, into loving Christian homes).
  • Although a recent survey says that most Americans see religion’s influence in culture waning, the survey also shows “most people who say religion’s influence is waning see this as a bad thing”. This presents a real opportunity for Christians to talk about how God’s standards for society actually work – and use them to share the good news about Jesus, too.
  • Believers in the U.S. are growing more and more aware of their suffering brethren across the globe; for example, FRC played a key role in the release of Christian Mariam Ibrahim from Sudanese captivity earlier this year. Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors are among those leading in this area.

Is this list comprehensive? No. Does it diminish the grim news about abortion, violations of religious liberty, erosions of the family and our culture and other bad things we hear about so often? No.

But God is doing wonderful things despite the fallenness and corruption that is in the world. Let’s rejoice in that truth and from it gather continued strength to keep fighting the wrongs of our time.

Houston Mayor Withdraws Subpoenas, but Political Intimidation Continues

by FRC Media Office

October 29, 2014

HOUSTON, TEXAS., October 28, 2014 — On Sunday, November 2, Family Research Council (FRC) will host a nationwide, live simulcast event from Grace Community Church in Houston, Texas. Called “I Stand Sunday,” the simulcast will reach into over 2,500 churches and home groups nationwide. “I Stand Sunday” will provide churches across the nation the opportunity to stand with the pastors and churches in Houston, Texas who have been targeted and harassed by the city’s Mayor because they publicly challenged her efforts to advance policies that are in direct conflict with biblical morality.

FRC President Tony Perkins will serve as host for the simulcast which will also feature former Governor Mike Huckabee, Duck Dynasty’s Phil and Al Robertson, the five Houston pastors who have been targeted by the Mayor’s subpoenas, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, who serves as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, along with many other national and local Christian leaders.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins made the following comments regarding the Mayor’s announcement today and Sunday’s “I Stand Sunday” simulcast:

Standing together across the nation, Christians have sent a strong message to Mayor Parker. While we are encouraged by this evidence that the Mayor is responding to pressure and withdrawing her unconstitutional subpoenas, this is about far more than subpoenas. As we have stated since the beginning of this intrusion into the private affairs of Houston churches; this is not about subpoenas, this is not about sermons, it is not even about biblical teaching on sexual immorality, it is about political intimidation and the bullying by Mayor Parker that continues.

Despite the fact that the citizens of Houston gathered over 50,000 signed petitions in 30 days, which is 30,000 more than required by the city charter, the Mayor has refused to allow the people of Houston to vote on her unfair special rights ordinance that discriminates against religious freedom within the city and endangers citizens by declaring that public bathrooms can no longer be limited on the basis of a person’s actual biological sex.

The citizens of Houston have a right to vote, and Mayor Parker has denied them that right. America must see the totalitarianism that accompanies the redefinition of marriage and human sexuality, which results in citizens being denied their most fundamental rights.

This Sunday night, thousands of Christians from across the nation will join ‘I Stand Sunday’ to support the pastors and Christians in Houston, Texas and their fundamental rights of religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right to petition their government,” concluded Perkins

Prior to the simulcast, FRC President Tony Perkins, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Pastor Steve Riggle, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, and local church leaders will hold a 4:00 p.m. CT news conference at Grace Community Church where they will offer a preview of the event.


Former Governor Mike Huckabee

Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty

Alan Robertson, Duck Dynasty

Tony Perkins, President, Family Research Council

Steve Riggle, Founding Senior Pastor, Grace Community Church, Houston, TX

Khanh Huynh, Senior Pastor, Vietnamese Baptist Church, Houston, TX

Dave Welch, Executive Director, Houston Pastors Council

Hernan Castano, Pastor, Iglesia Rios de Aceite, Houston, TX

Magda Hermida, Founder, Magda Hermida Ministries, Houston, TX

Willie Davis, Senior Pastor, MacGregor Palm Community Baptist Church in Houston, TX

Dr. Ed Young, Pastor, Second Baptist Church Houston, TX

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, President, Southern Baptist Convention

Todd Starnes, Host, Fox News and Commentary; Contributor, FOX & Friends; Author

Dr. Rick Scarborough, Founder and President, Vision America

David and Jason Benham, Benham Brothers Companies

Erik Stanley, Director of the Church Project and Pulpit Initiative, Alliance Defending Freedom

WHAT: News conference and simulcast event: “I Stand Sunday”

WHERE: Grace Community Church

14505 Gulf Freeway Houston, TX 77034

WHEN: Sunday, November 2, 2014

News Conference: 4:00 p.m. CT

Simulcast: 6:00 p.m. CT

To register for media credentials or for more information, please call the FRC press office at (866) FRC-NEWS or for more info please visit



Ministers: Beware

by Travis Weber

October 20, 2014

As if the over-stepping Houston major’s office subpoenaing sermons and other private communications of pastors wasn’t enough, we now receive news of two elderly ministers being told by city officials that any refusal to marry a same-sex couple could cause them to face up to 180 days in jail and $1,000 in fines for each day they decline to do so.

For many years, the husband and wife team of Donald and Evelyn Knapp have presided over wedding services across the street from the local county clerk’s office in Coeur d’Alene, a beautiful city in North Idaho. Now, they are told they have to conform to their city’s iron-fisted demand that they “marry” men to men and women to women.

In other words, from the city to the ministers: Your religious liberty doesn’t really mean a thing when it comes to the new sexuality; you must come into line in accord with our views. When the city says something related to human sexuality should be accepted, that’s the final word.

For years, we have also been told by gay-marriage advocates that no harm would come from legalizing same-sex marriages. No one would be forced to participate.

Yet it seems that day has arrived. Court-issued stays have been lifted, and gay marriages have started to proceed in Idaho. Now a minister is being told by his government that he must officiate at these “marriages.”

Now that we are past the point where we were told the gay-rights crusade would stop, should we expect it to just stop here? I’ve grown doubtful of such expectations, as the advocacy and pressure for acceptance continue full steam. No, this crusade will likely continue until all are forced to approve.

These developments have occurred incrementally. As Albert Mohler points out, “[t]his is how religious liberty dies. Liberties die by a thousand cuts. An intimidating letter here, a subpoena there, a warning in yet another place. The message is simple and easily understood. Be quiet or risk trouble.”

How true. We are more in danger of remaining apathetic to threats to our freedom when the individual threats just don’t appear to be a big deal. The danger is in the accumulation, though. Hopefully, for many, this latest “increment” will be too big to ignore.

Snoops on the Stoops of the Church

by Tony Perkins

October 15, 2014

When it comes to illegal surveillance, it looks like the NSA has some competition. In a story that’s making Texans’ heads spin, the Houston P.C. police — the same Council that passed an LGBT ordinance this year — is subpoenaing sermons, emails, and even text messages from local pastors to see if they’re promoting a voter referendum to overturn the measure.

The jaw-dropping move — one in a long line of Houston’s “gotcha” government — is only fanning the flames of outrage over the city’s totalitarian tactics. Even for Houston’s radical leadership, this is an affront to the plain language of the First Amendment, which not only gives churches the right to speak freely but the individuals leading them as well! “City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,”said Alliance Defending Freedom’s Erik Stanley. “In this case, they have embarked upon a witch-hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it.”

Yesterday, ADF filed a motion in court to stop the senseless monitoring of churches. “The message is clear,” they explain, “oppose the decision of city government, and drown in unwarranted burdensome discovery requests… Not only will the pastors be harmed if these discovery requests are allowed, but the People will suffer as well. The referendum process will become toxic and the People will be deprived of an important check on city government.”

It’s a sad commentary on our times that a nation founded by church leaders is trying to muscle those same religious voices out of the political process. Obviously, there’s no limit to how low the Left will stoop, and how many laws it will break, to impose its agenda on unwilling Americans.


In the name of religious rights for prisoners

by Travis Weber

October 7, 2014

Today oral argument will be heard by the Supreme Court in Holt v. Hobbs, a case in which a Muslim prisoner is seeking to grow a ½ inch beard in compliance with his religious faith. The prison policy at issue actually permits ½ inch beards, but only for medical reasons. For this marginalization of his religion, Mr. Holt has sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and is asking the Court to apply strict scrutiny (the same high standard of protection for religious rights required by RFRA and affirmed by the Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby) and protect his religious rights in the face of a discriminatory prison policy.

Many see the importance of protecting religious rights for prisoners, including those who have personally benefitted and come to faith through access to religious programs in prison. My law school colleague Jesse Wiese, now advocating for prisoners at the Justice Fellowship, is one of these; he has written about his experiences in support of Mr. Holt’s religious claim in this case. A win for Mr. Holt under RLUIPA in this case will protect all prisoners, regardless of faith. Along with protecting a Muslim prisoner who wants to grow a beard to a reasonable length (in keeping with the prison’s need to maintain order and discipline), the application of strict scrutiny here will strengthen the law’s protections for Jewish prisoners seeking dress or grooming accommodations, or those seeking access to Bible studies in prison. As it is said, a win for religious freedom for one is a win for religious freedom for all.

Moreover, a win for Mr. Holt here will strengthen protections for religious exercise in public spaces in the United States, something that groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation just can’t stand. Religion always has occupied a unique role in the public life of our country. We can expect the Supreme Court to again affirm that principle with a ruling for Mr. Holt in this case.

FRC Files Amicus Brief in Reed v. Town of Gilbert

by Travis Weber

September 22, 2014

Today, Family Research Council filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert.

In this case, a Gilbert, Arizona sign ordinance discriminated against certain signs based on the content of the signs — whether they were political, ideological, and directional. Directional signs were placed under more severe restrictions.

A local church — Good News Community Church — and its pastor — Clyde Reed – needed to announce the times and locations of their services, but because their announcement signs (which directed individuals to a public school were services were being held) were deemed directional, the church was severely hampered in getting its message out.

Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church sued to vindicate their constitutional rights. The lower courts ruled against them, so they have now taken their case to the Supreme Court.

In our brief, filed in support of Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church, we argue that the town does regulate signs differently based on their content, for politics, ideology, and directions are all matters of differing content. Well-established Supreme Court jurisprudence bars content-based restrictions on speech unless the government can meet strict scrutiny — which says that unless the government regulation advances a compelling government interest, and this is done in the least restrictive way possible – the government regulation cannot stand. We conclude that because there are content-based restrictions on speech in this case, the Supreme Court should send this case back to the district court to determine if the town can meet strict scrutiny.

A win for Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church in this case will help advance a strong interpretation of First Amendment free speech rights, which is good not only for small congregations like Good News Community Church, but for all who wish to speak free from government interference. Ensuring an open marketplace of ideas in which all voices are protected and can speak freely is what the First Amendment is all about.

Our press release is here, and our brief can be read here.