Category archives: Religious Liberty

Humanist “Chaplain”? — Not all Worldviews are Religions

by Travis Weber

May 30, 2014

We were heartened to see today that the Navy decided to adopt the common sense position of refusing to commission a humanist “chaplain.” Besides the failure of the chaplain under review to meet the requirements of current Department of Defense regulations, the whole notion of filling a limited number of Navy billets for individuals to counsel service members on their relationship with God with individuals who instead explicitly deny the existence of a God should strike anyone with a head on their shoulders as downright silly. As Travis mentioned in an interview on the subject, the Navy charted the proper course here, and avoided implementing an oxymoronic policy of giving a self-professed non-religious officer a religious commission.

The Navy confirmed that the humanist chaplain candidate was not offered a commission but was not able to elaborate due to privacy concerns. However, we hope the Navy simply recognized that a humanist could not by definition meet the religious and ecclesiastical qualifications for service as a military chaplain as established in DOD regulations including DOD Instruction 1304.28. When attempts were made last year in the House of Representatives to change DOD policy to allow for the service of atheist chaplains, Members of Congress rejected such proposals by a wide, bi-partisan margin, recognizing that individuals who do not believe in a God cannot fulfill the core spiritual and pastoral role of a military chaplain. Both the House and the Senate this year included report language accompanying their respective versions of the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act praising the role that the military chaplaincy has played since its creation under General Washington in providing spiritual comfort to our Armed Forces and counsel to commanders on how to provide for the free exercise of religion. The Navy’s decision today ensures that the core mission of the chaplaincy will not be undermined.

Lest the perennial grumblers start to complain again about preferring one religion over another, it should be pointed out that we are absolutely for freedom of religion for all, and fully support chaplains from diverse religions. But the key word in all of this is “religion.” Religion — defining man’s relationship to God — cannot be maintained by removing God from the equation. What remains is not a religion, but only a worldview. And no one here is seeking to suppress any worldview or prevent discussion about any and all philosophical outlooks within the military ranks. But not all worldviews are automatically entitled to be deemed to meet the requirements of a military position created with an explicitly religious focus.

FREEDOM TO PROGRESSION vs. Freedom of Religion

by Travis Weber

May 29, 2014

Recently, two UVA undergrads — Gregory Lewis and Stephanie Montenegro — sent a letter to one of the most esteemed UVA law professors telling him he doesn’t realize how his opinions on religion and marriage are impacting the real world (read: hurting their cause).They also submitted a FOIA request seeking “university-funded travel expenses and cellphone records for the past two-and-a-half years,” among other things. You see, they desperately needed “a full, transparent accounting of the resources used by Professor Laycock which may be going towards halting the progress of the LGBT community and to erode the reproductive rights of women across the country.”

Apparently, differences of opinion are fine when they don’t impact anything, but once opinions impact life, we can no longer have differences in opinion. Yet the students went too far, and their agenda is rather obvious. Their actions, reminiscent of Soviet-era government control, have drawn opposition from across political, legal, and cultural isles.

Brian Leiter, an influential law professor at the University of Chicago Law School, says:

[S]tudents requesting [Laycock’s] e-mails are engaged in harassment and intimidation that infringe upon his academic freedom. Cut it out, kids! No good will come of this kind of mischief. (You also won’t succeed in stifling Prof. Laycock, so you’re also wasting your time. Try talking to him! He’s not that scary.)”

Professor Stephen Bainbridge of the UCLA School of Law notes:

You don’t start a dialogue with FOIA requests. This is a blatant effort at deterring public participation by anyone who does not hew 100% to the most radical version of the gay rights movement.”

Walter Olson chimes in:

It’s simply a matter of trying to arm-twist a tenured, well-recognized scholar who takes a position that the Forces of Unanimity consider wrong.”

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate points out: “[W]e should be careful about throwing around disingenuous terms like “dialogue” and “transparency” and “conversation” when we are really attempting to lecture and embarrass and chill.”

What unites this opposition is a recognition the civil liberties are important. People are (and should be) upset with the UVA students for abusing a respected public university system in their attempt to move public life in the United States one step closer to a totalitarian system, in which dissent is not permitted and disagreement is not authorized.

In their letter, Lewis and Montenegro write: “As leaders on the UVA campus, we strongly believe in engaging in dialogue … .” Baloney. Professor Laycock said he would welcome such a dialogue. Yet there was no dialogue, only an “open letter” and a FOIA request. Who sends a “letter” instead of walking across campus to express one’s concerns to Professor Laycock? People without the fortitude to have their beliefs challenged, or people who know their ideas would lose on intellectual and constitutional merit, and would rather force others to adopt them through naming and shaming.

The students continue: “It is vitally important to balance the collective work of our academic community with the collective impact of that work in communities across the country.” Whatever that means, it doesn’t sound like anything much in support of individual civil liberties.

Contrast the students’ drivel with Professor Laycock’s view: “My position is civil liberties applies to both sides. It applies to all Americans.” Apparently not, according to his opponents.

The student’s “letter” barely tries to hide its political ends, which all but dispose of constitutional rights as legal protections for the civil liberties of all Americans. The students write: “Your recent legal theories around religious liberty have occasionally placed you on the same side as progressives in terms of free speech and public prayer. But your work has also been cited, by you and by others, in attempts to erode progress for LGBT Americans and to erode protections for women. These efforts to roll back progress and protections for LGBT folks and women has drastic, real-life consequences.” (emphasis added). So much for Professor Laycock’s “free speech” when it “occasionally place[s]” him “on the [other] side” of “progressives.”

Lewis comments: “The strategy of the FOIA request is to put everything on the table,” he said. “We don’t think he’s doing anything wrong; it’s just looking at whether he knows how it’s being used.” Yeah, I’m sure Professor Laycock needs to be reminded of who he’s called on his phone over the past two and a half years, and once such information is “on the table,” he’ll realize the error of his ways and completely repent. I’m less sure whether idiocy or arrogance is more prevalent in the students’ comments.

Now, on to the rather obvious point regarding FOIAs, which has already been pointed out: “The purpose of the [FOIA] requests is to allow citizens and taxpayers to keep track of what their public servants are doing, not to hassle public servants whose opinions you don’t like.”

As Professor Laycock says, “There’s a whole range of positions here, there is no anti-gay rights position in any of them.” What Laycock means is he is for religious liberty and for gay rights. This statement lies at the crux of the matter, for the gay rights advocates opposing Laycock here see his pro-religious liberty positions as “anti-gay rights.” Whether the country chooses to believe this falsehood, and adopt the view that required compliance with pro-gay rights policies trumps all free speech and free exercise, and all other rights protected by the Constitution, will ultimately affect the larger ordering of our society around civil liberties and tolerance and will determine nothing less than the fate of our civilization.

Former Chinese Dissident: ‘Escalating Crackdown’ on Churches in China”

by Rob Schwarzwalder

May 23, 2014

According to Bob Fu, founder and president of the China Aid ministry and perhaps the world’s leading advocate for religious liberty in his homeland of China, multiple churches are being demolished across the country. The growth of Christianity is causing Chinese political leaders no end of heartburn; in an internal document obtained by Pastor Fu, government officials were told:

You should … correct the phenomenon that religion has grown too fast, there are too many religious sites and there are too many activities, and promote the healthy, orderly, standardized and reasonable growth of the religions in our province… Cadres in charge of ethnic and religious affairs at various levels should see clearly the political issues behind the Cross.

The only “political issue” behind the Cross is that Christians affirm a truth that terrifies oppressive rulers: No one — no government, no leader, no state — is Lord; only Jesus is.

Of course, faithful believers make the finest citizens in the world. But that’s not good enough for tyrants for whom retention of absolute political allegiance is of supreme importance.

As Pastor Fu notes, at the February National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama said he would make international religious liberty a priority for his Administration. Yet the President has left the State Department’s top position on the issue, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, open for about nine months. As Liberty University’s Johnnie Moore writes, “Up to this point, it seems questionable whether the Obama administration really cares about these issues at all. Despite statements like the one made during the National Prayer Breakfast, it appears there has been little concerted effort to make religious freedom a priority.”

Christians are being persecuted, sometimes murdered, tortured horribly or held in ghastly prison camps, in places as diverse as Nigeria and North Korea. When America defends religious liberty abroad, it stands not only with people of faith but advances her vital interests. When we take rank with those persecuted for their religious convictions, we gain swaths of friends in troubled regions and bolster the credibility we desperately need with our adversaries and friends alike.

President Obama needs to appoint a vigorous, brave, and experienced Ambassador to fight for those oppressed due to their faith. That he has not done so for so long raises serious doubts about his earnestness in protecting those who live under the Cross which so frightens the Chinese leadership and whose message is transforming lives from the smallest village in the most impoverished country to those in the highest levels of government, academia, and business in the world’s capitals.

Pastor Fu shared his own testimony of imprisonment and persecution when he was still in China when he spoke at FRC last year. Listen to his moving remarks and call for American Christians to remember with their brothers and sisters in Christ suffering for their faith — remember them in prayer, in giving, and in calling on the federal government to live up to its commitments to work for their liberty.

Annual Defense Authorization Bill Passes the House with Religious Liberty Provision

by Leanna Baumer

May 22, 2014

Despite two years of Congressional efforts to affirm a service member’s freedom to practice and express their faith in the military, confusion over the scope of that freedom persists, particularly in the Air Force. Noting that confusion’s detrimental effect on troop morale, Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) introduced an amendment to the House version of the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act which calls upon the Department of Defense and the Air Force to issue clearer regulations regarding religious expression. Last night, the House unanimously approved that amendment and today the House passed the overall Defense authorization bill (H.R. 4435) by a bipartisan vote of 325 to 98.

Policy vagueness on something as fundamental as an Airman’s ability to exercise his First Amendment rights ultimately restricts rights and hurts service members. That’s a reality Congressman Lamborn has witnessed firsthand in his own Congressional District at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Earlier this spring, national headlines drew attention to the fact that the simple posting of a Bible verse on a personal white board was deemed offensive enough to start an Academy investigation and prompt command pressure to remove the quote. Such a harsh response to a minor and non-confrontational reference to one’s personal beliefs reveals the topsy-turvy approach towards religious expression in the Air Force at present. Whereas most reasonable people expect to encounter opinions in life with which they don’t agree, the country’s elite future war fighters are being schooled to think that a potential personal objection to another’s opinions are justifiable grounds for viewpoint censorship.

Of course, cultivating true leadership traits means cultivating the ability to listen to those with whom you may not agree — a skill undermined when future officers are instructed repeatedly to claim offense at another individual’s exercise of their freedom of religion. Indeed, several scholars with the U.S. Army War College recently drew attention to this point, noting that even the mere perception of hostility towards faith in the military has a detrimental impact on morale and the cultivation of virtue in the ranks.

Congressman Lamborn’s amendment recognizes that current policy needs to be revised in order to better reflect the law, provide clarity to commanders, and furnish certainty for men and women of faith in our military. Though the Air Force has indicated in recent weeks that it may review its policies, House passage of H.R. 4435 today ensures that they take that mandate seriously.

A Christian coalescence of dissent in the face of intolerance

by Travis Weber

May 15, 2014

In USA Today, Kirsten Powers has noted (accurately) that the censorship police of public thought are stepping up their surveillance activities once again, to the point that the “guidelines” for what is deemed “acceptable” are becoming incoherent. She states: “Don’t bother trying to make sense of what beliefs are permitted and which ones will get you strung up in the town square. Our ideological overlords have created a minefield of inconsistency. While criticizing Islam is intolerant, insulting Christianity is sport.”

Among a number of illuminating examples of this ridiculousness, Ms. Powers cites the Benham brothers having their HGTV show cancelled, and Brendan Eich being forced to resign from Mozilla, simply because they both politely, respectfully, took positions in support of what the Bible says about marriage, and refused to budge from those positions. The censors are infuriated that anyone would dare have such opinions (never mind they are politely and respectfully articulated).

It is heartening to see Ms. Powers bring attention to people being marginalized merely for holding such views. During the furor over HB 1062 which would have amended the Arizona RFRA to protect business owners of conscience from having such censorship rammed down their throats, Ms. Powers opposed the bill and claimed it was in essence a right to discriminate. As I stated then and as I hold now, HB 1062 was falsely characterized as such and this error was repeated through outlandish levels of media hype and venting without much considered thought. In truth, the bill merely extended constitutional free exercise protections explicitly to businesses, and to individuals facing the impact of nondiscrimination laws in lawsuits to which the government is not a party. The courts would always have decided (and still do decide) the merits of such claims. Such a bill was (and is) needed in the face of public opinion that is simply intolerant of anyone who stands up and says (respectfully or not): “I believe what the Bible says about marriage is true.” The wave of intolerance of such a view will not voluntarily cease upon achieving legal or political goals. It will stamp out all dissent, and laws are needed to protect dissenters (which now includes Christians holding to the view that marriage should be between a man and a woman).

Ms. Powers may disagree with my suggestion that her recent column reveals her support for the principles behind HB 1062. It could be that she views her recent column as arguing for individual rights and the right to object, while she opposed HB 1062 as a majority imposition (in her view) on individual rights. However, as I suggested above, the bill is not and never was a majoritarian imposition of any views. Perhaps Ms. Powers was proceeding (as many were) under the mass media’s snow job misrepresenting the Arizona bill, and really didn’t understand that it protects the very people she defends here. But I know she’s sharp, and could have investigated the bill’s application of constitutional strict scrutiny a bit more before expressing her views. It could also be that her views are genuinely changing, as she observes the culture and filters it through her moral compass to conclude how law should apply (if only all Americans would do this). Again, all this is speculation, as I have not had the opportunity to ask her about her views directly. But Ms. Powers’ recent recognition of the very troubling issues regarding tolerance in our democracy is heartening. More need to make the same recognition.

Recently, in the City Journal, Michael Totten describes the laparoscopic invasion of citizens’ private lives by Cuba’s communist government which he observed during a visit to that country. He finds his view of Havana consistent with that of Cuban dissident author Yoani Sánchez, who sarcastically notes: “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.”

The United States has not reached that level of overt government intrusion. Indeed, its citizens would revolt. But our culture is reaching dangerous levels of “tolerance” for intolerance. As discussed in the Wall Street Journal, and as noted by Ms. Powers, Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, recently withdrew as the Smith College commencement speaker after students started a petition objecting to her invitation. The offense? Ms. Lagarde’s “work directly contributes” to “imperialistic and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.”

Christians holding to Biblical views have long been unwelcome in certain spheres. The intolerance is increasing, however. And as those who hold to Biblical truth find themselves ousted from more and more areas of society, they will naturally be forced to coalesce together in an opposition to the Orwellian views espoused by many today.

If the antics surrounding Ms. Lagarde and others accurately demonstrate the level to which “tolerance” has become intolerance, our America — what used to be a classical liberal democracy — is in need of serious help. It’s all hands on deck. Thankfully, Ms. Powers is on board.

O Say Canada Can You See?

by Robert Morrison

May 6, 2014

My colleague Rob Schwarzwalder’s blog post on the important Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway raises the central issue in this dispute. The town fathers went out of their way to welcome prayers by citizens of other religions than Christianity. They recognized their own obligation to cast their nets broadly. No one could reasonably say his religion was being disrespected. But that good faith effort, that exercise in civility, was not enough for Citizen Galloway. Instead, this person determined to take her complaint all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Forget civility. Forget good neighborliness. If I am offended, I have a constitutional right to shut down my fellow citizens’ freedom of speech and free exercise. Or so this claimant thought. And whenever any atheizer is unhappy that his neighbor believes that this is one nation under God, there will be wealthy and powerful pressure groups racing in to court, ready to help extinguish the lamp of religious liberty.

Rob Schwarzwalder asks where is the civility, where is the maturity in that? He’s right. Not every crank has a cause of action.

I’ve always been impressed by the baseball fans at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. Whenever the Orioles play Toronto Blue Jays, the fans all stand for “The Star Spangled Banner.” (And they shout out the “O’s” in “O Say.”) Those fans should be especially proud to belt out our National Anthem this season, since it’s the Bicentennial of Francis Scott Key’s powerful poem that has become our stirring song.

After our National Anthem, everyone stands respectfully for our Northern neighbor’s National Anthem, the beautiful and evocative “O Canada.”

No one petulantly refuses to honor the other country’s anthem. That’s a tribute to true civility. But we should not forget that two hundred years ago, Britain ruled Canada and used it as a base to make war on us. Those “rockets’ red glare” and ” bombs bursting in air” were British rockets and British bombs. And Canada remained loyal to the British in their attempt to destroy our young republic.

As for the Canadians, their anthem contains the verse “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

On guard against whom? It’s not against the Moose or the Polar Bear. They stand on guard against the Yankees — US!

Both National Anthems are written (in effect) against the other. And yet we are today the best of friends.

Different systems, different perspectives. Very different national goals and ethos, but we are more than civil, and more than good friends. Canada and the U.S. enjoy the longest undefended border in the world.

The key is to honor your neighbor and respect his traditions.

We can certainly learn a lesson in cordiality at Camden Yards. Instead of having to sue one another, maybe we should say “Take me out to the ball game!”

Justice Kennedy’s Reminder: Some Americans Just Need to Grow Up

by Rob Schwarzwalder

May 5, 2014

In the majority opinion he issued today on public prayer, Justice Anthony Kennedy made a number of arguments with serious implications for religious liberty in the United States.

His opinion and the coincident opinions of Justices Alito and Thomas and the dissenting opinions by Justices Breyer and Kagan all deserve close scrutiny.  Religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberties, and any time the Supreme Court speaks about it, all Americans should listen carefully.

With that said, there is a particularly noteworthy thread of argument woven throughout Justice Kennedy’s opinion.  Several times, he alludes to a fact that needs to be expressed more often, both in our courts and everyday life: Mature adults should act that way.

Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith,” he argues. In other words, rather than wear your religious beliefs and cultural mores like touch-sensitive antennae, act enough like an adult that you don’t take offense unnecessarily or easily.

With respect to public prayer, Justice Kennedy writes:

… the reasonable observer is acquainted with this tradition and understand that its purposes are to lend gravity to public proceedings and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens, not to afford government an opportunity to proselytize or force truant constituents into the pews … That many appreciate these acknowledgments of the divine in our public institutions does not suggest that those who disagree are compelled to join the expression or approve of its content.

In other words, respect, decency, civility, and self-control are assumed in a nation that is not only diverse in its religious composition (although the overwhelming majority profess some form of Christian faith) but also composed of self-governing men and women who have the common sense not to take offense too readily.

Kennedy continues:

In their declarations in the trial court, respondents (those who filed suit against the Greece council’s permission of sectarian prayer) stated that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected.  Offense, however, does not equate to coercion.  Adults often encounter speech that they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront rom the expression of contrary religious views in a legislative forum, especially where, as here (Greece, New York), any member of the public is welcome in turn to offer an invocation reflecting his or her own convictions.

Hear a religious or political comment you don’t like? Justice Kennedy is saying that unless it is personal, disrespectful, or invasive, deal with it: That’s part of being an adult.

Over-dramatization and sensational hand-wringing derive from our media-driven fascination with the morally lurid, even when that luridness is quite isolated.  Consider the responses to the recent repulsive racial comments of Donald Sterling, owner of the Clippers professional basketball team. They were disgusting, but they do not demand an exaggerated inflation of the presence of racism in America.  Commenting on the pervasiveness of racism in light of the Sterling affair, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, “More whites believe in ghosts than they do in racism”.

Put another way, does racism exist?  Sure.  But is it representative or preponderant or something about which to be panicked?  No.  Abdul-Jabbar is calling on his fellow Americans not to get carried away, not to magnify a relative anomaly into a

looming crisis.

In the same way, hearing “Jesus” or “the cross of Christ” in a prayer shouldn’t set peoples’ teeth on edge any more than watching a liberal Democrat opine on network television should upset a conservative Republican: You might disagree with the content, but you shouldn’t try to stifle the right of someone to express a profoundly-held belief or conviction as long as it is expressed with adequate civility and courtesy.

Citing Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, Justice Kenney argues that “the Constitution does not guarantee citizens a right entirely to avoid ideas with which they disagree.”  And as to prayer at public or government-related events, he concludes:

Should nonbelievers choose to exit the room during a prayer they find distasteful, their absence will not stand out as disrespectful or even noteworthy.  And should they remain, their quiet acquiescence will not, in light of our traditions, be interpreted as an agreement with the words or ideas expressed.  Neither choice represents an unconstitutional imposition as to mature adults, who “presumably” are “not readily susceptible to religious indoctrination or peer pressure” (Marsh, 1983).

Justice Kennedy’s ruling is a welcome reminder that some of our fellow citizens just need to grow up.  Whether, in our era of political correctness and ready woundedness, they will or not is a different question.

War on the Pledge: new tactics, but the same tired thinking

by Travis Weber

April 23, 2014

The American Humanist Association (AHA) recently filed suit against the Monmouth County (New Jersey) Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District. The offending action? The school district is following a state law providing that students recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day. The thinking behind this and other suits is the same tired thinking that any such mention of God in a public body violates constitutional protections. Usually some alleged violation of the Establishment Clause is claimed.

Yet here, the AHA and its plaintiffs (who remain anonymous) have alleged that this recitation of the Pledge violates Equal Protection provisions contained in the New Jersey Constitution. No doubt this is an attempt to test a legal pathway for success in knocking the Pledge out of public life. This would be a win for the AHA, which likely cares very little for legal integrity but very much in achieving its goal. Yet the idea that the Pledge discriminates against some students is ridiculous. Students already have the right to refrain from reciting the Pledge. The AHA and its “plaintiffs” in this case want to force everyone else to stop saying it too.

While the AHA identifies itself, the offended student and parents remain unidentified. While reasons for anonymity in litigation vary from case to case, here it is likely they are afraid of the pushback they would receive should they be known as the plaintiffs in this suit. Yet pushback would be understandable, especially when one is the catalyst for a meddling organization to come in from out of state and tell local students and their parents how to live their lives day to day.

Yet the philosophy underlying this and similar claims begs a larger discussion. As courts have interpreted the Establishment Clause to eliminate even relatively minor indicia of religious expression from public life on the grounds that such mention is state “endorsement” of religion, public bodies are left to operate in a philosophical vacuum. Courts have permitted public schools to “endorse” secularism and humanist principles. The result is an “establishment” of a “state philosophy” and orthodoxy of secularism, with the full force of the government and power of law promoting these beliefs.

As a result, the courts have bought into a lie that scrubbing God from public life to “comply” with the Establishment Clause will lead to the ideal result – an even playing field in which no one view is promoted. Yet a philosophical vacuum cannot exist for long. And since indicia of religion are being eliminated from public schools, indicia of alternative belief systems (secularism and humanism) have rushed in to fill the void. The result is that we are indeed left with a state established religion – the “religion” of humanism.

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