Category archives: Religious Liberty

Meriam Ibrahim to be Freed

by Travis Weber

June 23, 2014

In a heartening turn of events, it appears a Sudanese appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling in which Sudanese mother Meriam Ibrahim had been sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery. According to Sudan’s official SUNA news agency (as reported by the Independent),

The appeal court ordered the release of Mariam Yahya and the cancellation of the (previous) court ruling.”

This is certainly a good bit of news, as numerous human rights organizations and governments had pressured Sudan and called on the ruling to be reversed. The U.S. government had been slow to respond, however, only recently issuing statements bearing on the matter. Numerous groups had spoken and petitioned on the matter, including the Family Research Council. And in Sudan, Meriam’s attorneys had filed appeals and vowed to fight to the end.

Though what exactly caused the ruling to be reversed remains unclear, we are appreciative of all who spoke out against this blatant human rights violation. No one in the world today, no matter where and under what system of positive law they live, should be compelled to adhere to certain religious beliefs under threat of death or any other punishment. Thankfully, Meriam is now free.

Yet, this matter is not concluded. Though there are some in Sudan supportive of Meriam (Sudanese have demonstrated on her behalf, and her attorneys are Sudanese Muslims), there are others who are not. There have been threats to her life. Once she is freed, she will be in a position to leave Sudan. At that point, it will matter what the U.S. government has or has not done. As Family Research Council asked in its White House petition, available here - https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/act-case-meriam-ibrahim-sudan-and-her-baby-and-toddler-prison/D1x1q4VG - we again call upon President Obama to heed the thousands of petitioning Americans who have asked that he grant Meriam and her two children expedited safe haven in the United States.

Churches in Denmark Forced to Perform Same-Sex “Marriages”

by Travis Weber

June 12, 2014

Just when we think things are getting bad here in the United States, we observe the Danish Parliament passing a law requiring all churches to perform same-sex “marriages.” Although with this development, religious liberty is almost non-existent in Denmark, individual ministers can still opt out of performing the wedding. In that case, the church must find another minister to perform the required duties. This is no small consolation, however, for such a law in one blow nullifies any freedom of an organization or church to define itself according to its own religious values.

Some Danes are holding strong, though:

Marriage is as old as man himself, and you can’t change something as fundamental,” … church spokesperson Christian Langballe said … . “Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman.”

In support of the law, one prominent businessman said “[w]e have felt a little like we were living in the Middle Ages… . I think it is positive that there is now a majority for [the law], and that there are so many priests and bishops who are in favour of it, and that the Danish population supports up about it [sic]. We have moved forward. It’s 2012.”

Notice the appeal to the idea of “majority support.” This is the very type of tyranny the Bill of Rights in the United States is meant to protect against.

While such a law would never survive a constitutional challenge in the United States, it still serves as a sober warning of forces seeking to attack a biblical worldview.

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.

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