Category archives: Religious Liberty

6 Ways Governor Brownback Can Prioritize International Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber

July 27, 2017

Yesterday, President Trump nominated Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department. This is a great pick for an important job, and the administration is to be commended for this selection.

The Ambassador-at-Large post was created by legislation back in 1998 with the purpose of addressing religious freedom problems around the world, but it has seen limited success in being able to shape foreign policy in a comprehensive manner. The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, signed into law just last December, made changes which will result in the job reporting directly to the Secretary of State. This change and others required by the law should make whoever is in the role more effective. When it is someone of Governor Brownback’s stature, we will have a real opportunity to see religious freedom significantly shape foreign policy.

Religious freedom is a fundamental, inherent, and international human right. It is not merely an American right—though religious freedom was foundational to the very existence of the United States. United States foreign policy should prioritize this fundamental international human right and give it the attention it deserves. Once Governor Brownback is in his new role, here are six ways the Trump administration can make this happen:

1. Integrate and prioritize religious freedom protections in foreign policy. All U.S. agencies engaged abroad should integrate and prioritize the promotion of religious freedom in their work. They should also conduct international religious freedom training for their employees (including how to gather information about mass atrocities against religious groups such as genocide).

2. Fully implement the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act throughout the U.S. government.

3. Protect refugees and asylum seekers with proper attention given to persecution on the basis of religion. The United States has not properly addressed the religious dynamics of the refugee situation arising from Iraq and Syria. Where certain religious groups are being persecuted on account of their religion, their religion can be used as a factor in assessing their asylum claims and refugee status. The Departments of State and Homeland Security should enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers of all religions have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum. In addition, the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security should ensure appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively address the protection of refugees and asylum seekers who need such protection because of their religion, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government has the ability to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.

4. Provide foreign assistance to protect the human right of religious freedom. Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development should enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human right of religious freedom.

5. Ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to the suppression of religious freedom abroad. The Department of State should lead a standing group, with appropriate interagency representation, to help ensure the Federal Government’s swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the status of religious freedom abroad. The Department of State should be particularly attentive to responding to complaints of religious persecution, whether in the granting of visas or in other areas. Those representing the United States abroad in an official capacity should not work with, or aid and abet, any foreign actors discriminating against persons based on their religion.

6. Engage international organizations in defending religious freedom. Multilateral fora and international organizations are key vehicles to promote respect for the human right of religious freedom and to bring global attention to this issue. Along with the Department of State, agencies engaged abroad should strengthen the work they have begun and initiate additional efforts in these multilateral fora and organizations to (1) broaden the number of countries willing to support and defend religious freedom, (2) strengthen the role of civil society advocates on behalf of religious freedom within and through multilateral fora, and (3) strengthen the policies and programming of multilateral institutions on religious freedom.

If it takes these steps, the Trump administration can follow up on Governor Brownback’s appointment and distinguish itself by vigorously protecting human rights and religious freedom.

Against this backdrop, we must not neglect our efforts to protect Christians, Yezidis, and others from the horrific violence in the Middle East. The U.S. government has already recognized that a genocide is taking place there, and now amid recent reports that State Department lawyers are removing that term from official descriptions of the situation, it is necessary to give even more attention to the situation—such as what was outlined in Congressman Chris Smith’s bill, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017—to ensure the victims of genocide get the protection they need and deserve.

Religious freedom is not to be segmented off in compartments in our lives, and it is not confined to the four walls of our places of worship. The United States used to hold to this robust vision of religious freedom, both at home and abroad. This vision used to be a part of how the United States led from a position of strength in promoting human rights globally. With Governor Brownback’s appointment, the Trump administration has an opportunity to once again start doing just that.

No, Rev. Barber, Prayer for a President Is Not “Heresy”

by Travis Weber

July 20, 2017

The Reverend William Barber from North Carolina made news this week by claiming in an interview on prayer for President Trump that it “borders on heresy when you can p-r-a-y for a president” while they are “preying” on others. This, in his view, is “violating the most sacred principles of religion.”

Assuming Reverend Barber looks to the Bible as his spiritual authority, I would suggest that the “principles of religion” demand the exact opposite—they actually require the Christian to pray for all leaders. Indeed, if this borders on heresy, a portion of the New Testament may be heretical.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 says: “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior” (emphasis mine).

This command is non-negotiable for every Christian; it doesn’t matter if we agree with the leader or not—as several ministers recently pointed out in rebuttal to Barber. Not all may have voted for President Trump, but he now is the president, and we all should hope and pray that he brings blessing to our nation. Similarly, not all may have voted for President Obama—I was in the camp who did not. But once he became president, it became a requirement of me and every other Christian who did not vote for him to nevertheless pray for the president to do well in God’s sight.

Christians should always speak truth to power. Yet we can do this while we also pray for God to bless the nation through the leaders he has appointed over us.

Reverend Barber and I do see eye to eye on one overarching point—that faith should inform the public life of our nation. We agree that it is proper for a minister, pastor, or theologian to offer their views in the public square. Reverend Barber is doing this, and so do I. In that sense, he is a religious liberty advocate just like myself.

While Christians may differ on the application of that faith, we still agree that it should speak to our society—as opposed to those who think religion has no role in the public square at all. Rev. Barber and I would both say they are completely wrong. Let both his and my supporters unify on this point, for Christianity has much with which to benefit and bless our nation. Regardless of our differences on how it is applied, we should rally together to defend its place in the public life of our nation.

No Fear: Coach Kennedy’s Steadfast Faith

by Emma Gibney

July 11, 2017

Family Research Council recently released its June 2017 Edition of Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States. This edition, compared to its inaugural edition in 2014, contains 69 new incidents of religious hostility. This equates to a 76 percent increase in under three years. It is essential to identify these patterns of hostility in order to protect religious freedom in the United States in the future. Equally, it is important that we honor those Americans who stood for their religious beliefs in the face of fear. In his book, No Fear, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins writes, “The only way to counter the fear of man is with faith in God, which provides the courage and the strength that God requires for His world-changing work.” While there are numerous stories to choose from, I will highlight one hero and his story from the Hostility to Religion report God is using for his “world-changing work.”

It was a typical fall Friday night in Bremerton, Wash., near Seattle. Coach Joe Kennedy knelt at the fifty-yard line and prayed after the game ended, like he did after every game since 2008 when he first took the position of assistant football coach at Bremerton High School. However, seven years later, on September 17, 2015, the school’s district superintendent barred Kennedy from praying after football games. Ironically, it was a compliment from one of the student’s parents that informed the superintendent that Kennedy had been praying after fans cleared the stadium after football games.

When hearing about Kennedy’s situation, religious liberty lawyers from First Liberty Institute got involved on his behalf and asked the superintendent to allow Kennedy to kneel in prayer after the students left the stadium. However, the superintendent rejected the request, stating it would be a “liability concern” and a violation of “separation of church and state.” Kennedy was banned from even bowing his head in prayer as a coach at Bremerton High School.

On October 21, Kennedy refused to bow to this infringement of his First Amendment rights and once again knelt down and prayed after the second-to-last football game of the season. Exactly a week later, he received a letter from the district superintendent that read, “Effective immediately, pending further District review of your conduct, you are placed on paid administrative leave from your position as an assistant coach with the Bremerton High School football program. You may not participate, in any capacity, in BHS football program activities.” Kennedy was suspended from the high school prior to the final game of the season and his contract was not renewed, which had the effect of permanently ending his time coaching the Bremerton High School football team.

On December 15, Kennedy filed a charge of religious discrimination against Bremerton School District with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He argued the school district “violated [his] right to free exercise of religion and free speech by prohibiting [his] private religious expression.” The U.S. Department of Justice issued a right-to-sue letter to Kennedy on June 27, 2016. The First Liberty Institute then filed a formal lawsuit against the Bremerton School District on August 9, 2016, but his claims were rejected by the federal district court. Kennedy appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held oral arguments in the case on June 12, 2017. We will have to continue to wait and see how this religious freedom case plays out in the courts.

In No Fear, Perkins declares, “Faith says, ‘I can do all things.’ Fear says, ‘What will they think of us? What will they do to us?” Kennedy let his faith speak louder than his fear of what man would do to him. He had faith that the Lord will carry him through this trial even after it cost him his career. Ultimately, man cannot harm him as the Lord is on his side. In the courts today, Kennedy is living out Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” He did not let his fear of man take precedence over his fear of the Lord when he continued to kneel in prayer after football games. I applaud Coach Kennedy for choosing to please God rather than man.

FRC’s Updated Hostility Report Shows Religious Organizations on the Front Lines of the Fight for Religious Freedom

by Chris Baldacci

June 30, 2017

At most metro stops in D.C., workers give out free copies of the Washington Post Express to commuters. The week before Family Research Council published its updated report “Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States,” the front of the Express was covered by a full-page advertisement sponsored by Catholics for Choice. It pictured a caricature of a bishop, pointing at the reader like Uncle Sam, with the caption, “We want YOU to help us discriminate.” On the inside flap, the ad chastised Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities that decline to offer birth control, abortions, or facilitate same-sex marriage, claiming that this is intolerable discrimination. These are not new allegations. Catholics for Choice ran a similar ad last year, and the ACLU hosts an “Issues” page that outlines their mission to fight organizations that use “religion to discriminate.”

The ability of organizations to operate according to their beliefs is an increasingly significant battleground in the fight for religious liberty. Bolstered by the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and increased support for sexual autonomy among the public, liberal organizations are no longer content to see the government affirm the LGBT rights movement—religious groups must acquiesce as well.

FRC’s updated report highlights a few poignant examples of this opposition to the freedom of religious organizations:

  • In the last decade, Catholic Charities has lost millions in government contracts and sometimes shut down entire branches rather than act in violation of Catholic teachings about abortion or marriage.
  • A group of Christian colleges had to seek an administrative exemption in 2014 from an Obama administration regulation that would have barred them from requiring teachers to follow biblical teachings on sexuality. The schools faced protests and were lambasted in the media for their petition.
  • In 2015, a Catholic school was sued and settled out of court with a fired teacher that identified as homosexual. It was allegedly illegal for the school to require instructors to follow Church teachings concerning homosexuality.
  • Two separate religious hospitals were sued in 2017 and criticized for not offering gender reassignment surgery to patients who identified as transgender.

Beyond the pragmatic harm that lawsuits and boycotts inflict on organizations, these mounting attacks threaten the very heart of what it means to be a religious group. Religious convictions are the impetus for religious organizations. For example, belief in justice and mercy motivates charities and hospitals, belief in specific ethical and philosophical principles motivates religious schools, and religious nonprofits often advance a targeted worldview. For these institutions to abandon their principles would be to sacrifice the integrity of their mission. Yet the radical left has used its political and legal power to require them to do just that.

The aforementioned stories highlight the stunning hypocrisy of progressive activists’ attacks on religious freedom: amidst their cries for tolerance, they refuse to tolerate beliefs that they disagree with. They demand that religious institutions check their beliefs at the door and act according to the majority sentiment rather than the dictates of their faith. Moreover, it is the opponents of religious liberty who are “forcing their beliefs on others” by demanding that organizations comply with the progressive left’s beliefs that abortion is not murder, same-sex marriages can be sacrosanct, and those who identify as transgender should be fully affirmed in their chosen identity.

Our laws must safeguard the right of religious organizations to act on their beliefs. The free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, does not simply protect the right to think or believe whatever we want (no one is going after our thoughts – yet). The First Amendment is special because it protects the right to act according to our beliefs, hence the term “exercise.” Thankfully, the Supreme Court has affirmed this principle in recent cases like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which ruled that family businesses can opt-out of covering abortion-causing drugs and services if doing so violates their sincere religious convictions. Such decisions must become the norm to protect not only religious business owners, but religious organizations and religious liberty itself. Without the freedom to believe and act according to those beliefs, the freedom of religion is irreparably devalued.

To read more of the updated FRC report “Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States,” please visit: http://www.frc.org/hostilityreport

When Campuses Become Battlefields: Protecting Free Speech in a Hostile Environment

by Ian Frith

June 29, 2017

College campuses have become increasingly hostile grounds for political discourse. Citing safety concerns, student groups all over the country have seen their events cancelled by university administrators worried about violence on college campuses. Speakers who have managed to appear on campuses have found themselves harassed by student protestors, and have even faced violence by opposition groups. Take for example, Charles Murray’s attempt to speak at Middlebury College in Vermont. Not only was Murray shouted down with profanity by an enraged progressive student body, but Middlebury Professor Allison Stanger was physically assaulted for accompanying Murray on campus.

This disturbing trend has drawn national attention, and prompted a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday, June 20th, the committee met to discuss the volatile environment on college campuses in relation to the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. The committee heard from seven witnesses including two students who alleged free speech violations on their campuses, several college professors and administrators who have dealt with controversial events on their campuses, and two lawyers associated with First Amendment and hate speech issues. One of these lawyers was Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Cohen has been criticized for SPLC’s labeling of their political opponents as “hate groups,” a designation various progressive groups on college campuses have exploited to justify threatening the free speech of conservatives.

Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) opened the hearing by citing several particularly grievous violations of freedom of speech, including students who were arrested at Kellogg College for distributing the Constitution outside of the designated “free speech zone.” These outrageous actions were condemned by both Republican and Democratic senators alike. The First Amendment does not exist merely to defend opinions that everyone agrees with, it also protects those opinions which are controversial or offensive. Unfortunately, many on the Left only associate hate speech with conservative groups, and ignore hate speech by progressives. Senator Ted Cruz had it right when he said, “truth is far more powerful than force… if your ideas are right there is no need to muzzle the opposition.” College campuses ought to protect speech, because in doing so they’ll help further thoughtful debate.

A highlight of the hearing was the testimony of Zachary Wood, a student at Williams College and president of the organization Uncomfortable Learning. Although he identifies himself as a progressive liberal, Mr. Wood deliberately sought out conservative speakers to invite them to speak because he wanted to start a dialogue on campus. Wood eloquently defended campus free speech when he said “humanity is not limited to the views and values we admire, it also encompasses the views and values that we resist.” One controversial speaker invited by Wood was conservative commentator John Derbyshire. Predictably, the invitation caused a severe backlash and resulted in the president of the university unilaterally cancelling Derbyshire’s speech. The administration then immediately imposed new regulations for students who wished to invite speakers to campus.                                                                     

Several of the school administrators testified that they have had to deal with violent opposition groups on their campus. UCLA Professor Eugene Volokh stated that groups who are trying to force a “heckler’s veto” must be strongly reprimanded. “Behavior that is rewarded is repeated… these thugs have to learn that their behavior is not acceptable.” While college administrators appearing before the committee were generally in favor of protected free speech, some did acknowledge that there are challenges in striking a balance between campus safety and free speech. Dr. Fanta Aw of American University stated that “freedom of expression is integral to the mission of higher education, however protecting it has become increasingly difficult due to our national climate, as well as changing views by younger students regarding the First Amendment.” With an increasingly polarized political climate, this issue isn’t going away anytime soon. It is essential that these universities and administrators continue protect speech on their campuses.

Not all the senators were as adamant about the defense of free speech. Citing a lack of resources on the part of the Berkeley police department, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) redirected the conversation towards the nature of the violent protestors involved, and away from First Amendment issues. Senator Feinstein’s attempt to pit public safety against free speech are misguided at best, and deceptive at worst. While it is important that college campuses remain safe environments for learning, safety must not be bought at the price of silencing minority views on campus.  Richard Cohen of the SPLC went one step further, blaming much of the atmosphere on college campuses on the national climate post-election, and specifically the actions of the “alt-right” and white nationalism. He also defended an SPLC publication entitled The Battle for Berkeley, which claimed that “in the name of free speech, the alt-right is assaulting the ivory tower.” Attacks on free speech should not be partisan, but Cohen ignored many groups on the Left who have also been responsible for inciting violence both on college campuses and elsewhere. In fact, SPLC’s labeling of conservative organizations as “hate groups” has been connected to violence against conservative groups, including the 2012 FRC shooting by Floyd Lee Corkins II (who cited SPLC’s designation of Family Research Council as a “hate group”), and the most recent shooting in Alexandria involving GOP Majority Whip Steve Scalise.                       

Near the conclusion of the hearing, Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) condemned the President of Williams’ College Adam Falk. Senator Kennedy admonished Falk for treating progressive liberal campus groups and speakers differently than conservative groups and speakers, and called that sort of favoritism “intellectually dishonest.” Mr. Fredrick Lawrence also defended the role of universities hosting controversial speakers saying “[There should always] be a strong presumption in favor of the speech.” He emphasized that limits should be established only based on the intent of the speaker, never the substance or the content. This is an excellent standard that is well established in public policy.   

Despite differing priorities regarding the protection of free speech on college campuses, it was encouraging to see a measure of bipartisanship in support of free speech at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. As a millennial college student, I am glad that there is a concerted effort in Congress to protect my right to free speech. While I was disappointed in the attempts of Senator Feinstein and Richard Cohen to shift blame, I am confident free speech on college campuses proved more persuasive. The right of free speech is a cornerstone in our society, and it must be protected if we are to continue to have meaningful discussion about other policy issues.

5th Circuit Rejects Effort to Take Down Conscience Protections

by Travis Weber

June 22, 2017

Today, in a unanimous opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected an activist effort to take down HB 1523, Mississippi’s conscience protection law. HB 1523 provides exemptions for those who conscientiously object to being forced to facilitate same-sex marriages and other matters related to human sexuality, and allows them to opt out of the process while providing for other government workers or entities to step in and fill the gap.

Despite the fact that it is nothing more than a reasonable accommodation paradigm, the law was violently attacked with allegations that it was standing in the way of LGBT people, and a lawsuit was launched on the theory that it “established” a religion in violation of the First Amendment and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

But in order to sue—under a doctrine known as “standing”—a plaintiff needs an injury, and all that was alleged in this case was that the plaintiffs were “stigmatized” and felt bad because of the law. Courts have been facing this type of tenuous, emotionally-based allegation of injury more and more in recent years, and they only bog down the judicial system with claims that were never meant to be brought in the first place. In addition, when such claims are allowed to proceed, and a law is struck down, the effect is that one more area of our democratic process is chiseled off and placed into the hands of activists who would happily destroy the process if that meant they could achieve their aims.

It is thus nice to see the Fifth Circuit properly scrutinize standing in this case, and hold that the plaintiffs here have no actual injury on which any lawsuit could be based. To bring suit, a plaintiff needs a “concrete” and “particularized” injury, and even in Establishment Clause religious display cases where standing rules are more liberal, a plaintiff still needs to have a “personal confrontation” with any allegedly offensive display. Yet as the court pointed out, “[j]ust as an individual cannot ‘personally confront’ a warehoused monument, he cannot confront statutory text.”

The Court also rejected the idea that “offense at the message Section 2 [of HB 1523]” could convey standing, noting that any “purported stigmatic injury” is insufficient. Likewise, there is no standing for any equal protection claim because “exposure to a discriminatory message, without a corresponding denial of equal treatment, is insufficient to plead injury in an equal protection case.”

All too often, activists without a mandate to achieve change through the democratic means set forth by our constitutional order will try to find some court through which to push their grievances against a law or policy. However, as is the case here, such “injuries” often constitute nothing more than general disagreement with the law and are subjective, lacking any actual harm. The unfortunate effect is that these activists’ methods chip away at and weaken our entire judicial system.

It is thus heartening to see this ruling, which not only leaves in place HB 1523’s religious exemptions which are quite necessary in a post-Obergefell world, but also strengthens the constitutional order by holding in check those who try to wield power through the courts simply because they can’t achieve their goals through democratic means.

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from a Vermont Pastor

by Tim Counts

June 12, 2017

Dear Senator Sanders,

I am a pastor in Manchester Center, Vermont, so I am one of your constituents. And I am concerned. You and I both know that Vermont has added to the rich history of religious freedom in our great country. I live 25 minutes from the Old First Church in Bennington, where the following plaque is placed on the side of the historic church building: “First Church in Vermont dedicated to separation of church and state. Congregation founded by those seeking religious freedom.” As you probably know, First Church was “gathered” on December 3, 1762, the first Protestant congregation in the New Hampshire Grants. They were “separatists,” believing that the government should neither establish nor restrict religious freedom. They were seeking religious freedom, not freedom from religion.

Your actions towards and comments to Russell Vought during his confirmation hearing for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget endanger our rich history of religious freedom as both a state and a country.

Here is why I am concerned, and here is why I write you today: not only because I believe you violated Article VI of the United States Constitution in imposing a religious test as a litmus test for somebody’s fitness to hold a government office, but also because you then released this statement yesterday: “…racism and bigotry—condemning an entire group of people because of their faith—cannot be part of any public policy.”

As I have read your comments towards Mr. Vought and watched the video of your interaction, I am astounded at how quickly you have tied together personal faith that Jesus is the only Savior with an individual’s public policy. As Mr. Vought tried to express but was interrupted, Christians believe that all people are made in the image of God and thus should be treated with dignity and respect, even while we hold to Jesus’ statements such as, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

We do not have to be Universalists theologically to be able to hold public office nor to be good citizens in the Green Mountain State or in the United States of America. I believe that the founders of First Church would have been shocked at your statements, as they were leaving a government that told them what they could and could not believe. We have reverted back to a government that has a religious test, but rather than church membership allowing entrance into government office, it is now philosophical membership in secularism that holds the keys.

I ask you to clarify and clearly articulate whether or not you truly believe that a Christian who believes that Jesus is the only way to salvation can no longer hold public office in this country. Are you saying that citizens who are not atheists, agnostics, or Universalists cannot serve as government officials? As you have been reminded already since Wednesday, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares, “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Evangelical Christians who hold to salvation in Christ alone may be a minority in our great state, but we are not racists or bigots, and our elected Senators should not make such broad-brush and intolerant statements.

I will continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, which means the “good news” of Jesus Christ. It is a message of reconciliation to God and fellow man. It is good news that we offer to all people who will listen: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It is a message that says that although our sin condemns us before the holy God, that Jesus took our condemnation on the cross and rose from the dead so that believers in him will never stand condemned (Romans 8:1). And if somebody really believes that message, they will embrace Jesus not only for salvation but also to help them live a life of service and love to others. Jesus himself said that all of the commandments are summed up in love for God and love for others (Matthew 22:36-40).

I will not only continue to preach that message, I will continue to pray that those of us who believe in this good news will be allowed to serve in public office; not promoted because of our faith but also not prohibited from service because of our faith. I am writing to you today not because you are telling me I cannot preach this message, but because you are telling me that those I preach this message to are “hateful” not because of their actions, but because of their faith.

As a Vermont pastor, I ask my country for freedom to not only preach the gospel–but also for freedom for those I preach to–to hold their religious beliefs while also holding public office. If you return to our roots of religious freedom as a state and as a nation, the religious tests will stop. And you may find that those you classify as racists and bigots today not only believe that Jesus is the only way to personal salvation, but also that His way is a way of love that treats all persons with the utmost love, respect, and service–even in public office.

Sincerely,
Tim Counts
A Concerned Pastor in Vermont

***

TAKE ACTIONSign this petition to the U.S. Senate to Reject Senator Bernie Sanders’ demand that Bible-believing Christians be excluded from presidential appointments.

Standing for Christ

by Travis Weber

June 6, 2017

The following are remarks by Travis Weber, Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, to the congregation of Faith Church in Budapest, Hungary (following the conclusion of the World Congress of Families and Budapest Family Summit) on May 27, 2017.

Köszönöm (Thank you). Jó estét (Good evening).

That’s all the Hungarian you’re going to get out of me!

But seriously, it’s a joy to be here, and this place is near and dear to my heart. I have a good friend who is married to a woman from Hungary and I visited here last summer, it is a great place.

My name is Travis Weber, I work with an organization in Washington D.C., in the United States, called the Family Research Council. We are a Christian organization—a non-governmental organization—working to advance the Christian worldview in public policy, law, and culture.

I’m going to talk to you about my work, specifically on the issue of religious freedom—protecting the right of Christians and other people to live out their faith freely. But I’m also going to encourage you as a Christian participating in the public life of your nation how to stand strong for Christ. Because although I’m only from the United States, I only speak English; I’ve never lived in Hungary. We have these differences, but we have the most important thing in common: we both follow the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what defines us, this defines our identity. Our identity in Jesus Christ is the most important thing about us wherever we are. So even as I talk to you about religious freedom I want to encourage you to use your religious freedom here where God has placed you. You are placed uniquely by God where you are, to do things that I cannot do, but you can do, and God has assigned for you to do. So I want you to remember that: remember to stand strong for Christ and remember that God has assigned you a special task to live for him here in Hungary.

So, in thinking about religious freedom and how we stand strong for Christ and how that plays out, I’m going to talk a little bit about how we protect that at the Family Research Council.

We should think of religious freedom as a human right for all people. Because we are created in the image of God, all human beings have the right to freely choose their religion and live that out. There should be no coercion in forcing people to choose one thing or the other. People should be free to choose how they will worship.

In the United States, historically, our law has been very strongly protective of religious freedom. But you don’t need only a law, you need strong cultural support for the idea too. Unless you have strong legal protections and support within the culture—within the hearts and minds of people—religious freedom ultimately will suffer. So, we aim to protect and advance religious freedom in all these areas.

Similarly, around the world, people are suffering because of their religious beliefs and we are seeking to protect their human right to live out their religious faith as they see fit.  We should remember that we do this as Christians because all people are created in the image of God.

One of the primary areas we are seeing this suffering now is in the area of conflict between individual sexual liberty and Christianity. In the United States, huge segments of the culture have bought into the idea that we are ultimately living for ourselves, ultimately living to live out our sexual fulfillment according to how we define it and that’s what guides our lives. This idea is directly in conflict with orthodox historic Christian truth. It is producing all sorts of conflicts and fractures within United States society.

So even though we have had freedom in the past, if we do not fight for it now we will lose it. It is up to Christians across the United States to stand up in the public square and proclaim truth, with love, and defend their beliefs. But many people, as they see these things develop, are afraid of being called names, of being ostracized, of being called “haters.”

As fellow Christians, we should stop and pause and look at Christians being persecuted around the world. We can look at Christians in the Middle East: I know of a pastor in Lebanon who was threatened with death at the point of a gun yet he stayed strong for Christ. He would not stop sharing the Gospel and he faced down the shooter and dared him to shoot. He was willing to die for Christ and for the Gospel. He was not afraid. When we look at that, as Christians in the United States, and then we come back to our own situation and we see people calling us names and marginalizing and ostracizing us, it just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. The point is not that we try to brush if off and say there is no problem, but rather we rely on the power of Christ and the witness of these Christians around the world to say: yes, we will stand for Christ with you. This enables us to say: it’s okay to suffer for declaring the truth of the Gospel.

You may have some of these situations coming to Hungary. I encourage you as one from the United States, but first and foremost as a brother to you in Christ, to stand strong for Christ and for the Gospel. For our identity ultimately comes from Christ, not what other people think or say about us. For God has already proven his love for us by sending his son to die for us.

Therefore, we needn’t worry about anyone else. And as we go through challenges and face obstacles and opposition, at times it is difficult, but we know Christ is always there with us. Our witness matters. At times people may not be persuaded by our argument, but they are ultimately persuaded by our witness and the way that we stand for Christ. And as you talk about these cultural issues, issues of sexuality, there are opportunities to share the Gospel within them.

So I want to bless you and encourage you to stand strong for God as you face the issues that may lie ahead in the future. No matter whether things bring hardship and difficulty and it seems like, “God, where are you?” Or, whether things are easy and you see God showing up day to day.

And I’m just going to say a quick closing prayer:

Lord God, I ask for your presence and power to be with Faith Church, as Faith Church and the body here and the members of Faith Church live out their lives for you here in Hungary. We ask for the power of your Holy Spirit to be with this place and your hand to be on it, guiding it into your truth. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Giving to Caesar and to God

by Peter Sprigg

June 2, 2017

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

Good evening.

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

Like other organizations involved in the World Congress of Families:

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

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

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

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

And we believe in religious liberty for all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not hate, this is love.

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

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

Thank you. 

Blasphemy Laws” Violate Religious Liberty

by Travis Weber

May 24, 2017

Yesterday, the Christian governor of Jakarta, Indonesia – Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – decided to drop the appeal of his blasphemy conviction, for which he will now serve two years in jail. The reason? Fears of the possibility that the sentence may be lengthened, and concerns about continued violent clashes between factions on different sides of the case. Whatever the precise reason (and criminal defendants often have several reasons factoring into their decision), allowing outside social pressure to affect the continued incarceration of Mr. Basuki is an absolute tragedy.

Blasphemy laws – aside from being a violation of the human right of freedom of religion – are notoriously abused to target political and social opponents. In the past, Indonesia hasn’t been at the center of such misuse – as has Pakistan – and for this reason such developments are all the more concerning. While Mr. Basuki is obviously entitled to make his own decision regarding his case, the circumstances surrounding it are a bad omen for the future of Indonesian democracy and rule of law in that country, and do not set a good precedent for standing up to hardline Islamists favoring such laws.

The application of the laws themselves to people like Mr. Basuki – who though not Muslim was charged and convicted (and sentenced beyond what the prosecutor even asked for!) of the religious crime after he cited a Quranic verse in public debate (and after radical Muslims protested) – is bad enough. This is a human rights problem. It compounds the problem when such laws are abused and taken advantage of to eliminate political opponents – which is a rule of law problem. Both issues need to be corrected in Indonesia (and other places) going forward.

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