Category archives: Religious Liberty

Illinois Governor Signs Bill Forcing Pregnancy Care Centers to Refer for Abortions

by Andrew Guernsey

August 3, 2016

Could you imagine a law forcing a vegetarian store clerk to tell customers about the benefits of eating meat and then to refer them to Burger King? A new Illinois law does worse than this—it forces pro-life doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and even the state’s 51 pregnancy care centers to become abortion advocates and escorts to abortion clinics like Planned Parenthood for the killing of innocent human life. Far from leaving abortion to the privacy of a woman and her doctor as pro-abortion politicians would have us believe, the new Illinois law tells pro-life health care personnel what to say and do.

Late last week, Illinois’ Republican governor Bruce Rauner signed the draconian and anti-religious freedom bill, SB 1564, despite not receiving a single Republican vote. The law forces pro-life doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and even pregnancy care centers, who object to abortion, to tell their patients about the alleged “benefits” of abortion and abortifacient drugs, against all evidence to the contrary, and then to refer or transfer those patients to an abortionist, or provide written information about where they can obtain an abortion or abortion inducing drugs or devices. Victims of illegal pro-abortion hospital policies like Illinois nurse Sandra Mendoza, who was forced out of her long-time job in June 2016 as a pediatric nurse for refusing to participate in abortion, will also no longer be able to sue under the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

Anti-religious freedom initiatives like Illinois’ pro-abortion law are spreading in liberal states around the country, emboldened by the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) refusal to enforce the federal conscience law, known as the Weldon Amendment, to stop California and New York from forcing even churches to cover abortion. Illinois’ new abortion promotion and referral law directly violates the federal conscience law (the Weldon Amendment), which prohibits any state that receives federal funding from conducting “discrimination on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” This harmful, anti-life discrimination must not stand!

Thankfully, there is meaningful legislation waiting for a vote in the Senate, and has already passed the House, which would provide pro-life health care providers relief from the new Illinois law: the Conscience Protection Act (S. 2927, “CPA”), introduced by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). CPA would codify the Weldon Amendment and provide a critical private right of action so that health care providers and organizations facing discrimination in any state for refusing to participate in abortion can sue in court to protect their conscience rights. In light of HHS’ refusal to enforce the law in California and now Illinois, the Senate should follow the House’s example and pass CPA. The pro-life doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and pregnancy centers of Illinois deserve to have their rights protected.

Religion in Immigration: How to Handle it Properly

by Travis Weber

August 2, 2016

An opinion by Judge Reinhardt out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday shows how to properly view the role of religion in asylum and immigration matters.

Kurniawan Salim had first filed for asylum in 2006 when he was a Buddhist on the grounds that he feared returning to Indonesia because of his Chinese ancestry. His claim was rejected. Still in the United States, he has since converted to Catholicism, and now asserts a fear of persecution based on religion if he returns to Indonesia. Yet the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejected his request to reopen his case, claiming the evidence offered was “largely cumulative” of that offered in his first case.

Thankfully, Judge Reinhardt reversed the BIA, which had apparently missed the significance of the fact that Kurniawan was now a Christian and had offered significant evidence he would be persecuted on that basis. As Judge Reinhardt observed, the BIA’s “reasoning makes little sense where, as here, the motion to reopen presents a different basis for relief than was relied upon during the prior hearing. In such cases, the evidence related to the new claim for relief is necessarily “qualitatively different” from that offered at the earlier hearing.”

Kurniawan had submitted significant evidence that hostility toward Christians in Indonesia had dramatically increased since his first case, with a letter from his sister in Jakarta describing the immediate threat of attacks against Christians in her area. Judge Reinhardt additionally found that the BIA erred by failing to examine the evidence that Christians were threatened in light of Kurniawan’s membership of this specific religious group.

Judge Reinhardt accurately diagnosed the religious freedom threat for this asylum applicant, while the BIA showed an ignorance of the role religion plays in this type of case. If those at the BIA can’t understand that evidence of threats against Christians matter because someone is a Christian and not a Buddhist, we are in trouble. It is not sufficient to merely recognize the role of religion generally (though that is not always properly done), but government officials must also understand the religious freedom component of these cases as informed by the social, political, and interreligious dynamics of specific areas around the world. They must also bring this clear-headed approach to the broader context of immigration and security, which needs our objectivity and understanding much more than our simple, one-size-fits-all “solutions.”

This case is a glimpse into how international religious freedom as a human right should inform our values as they play out in our immigration system. America has been and will hopefully remain a beacon around the world for the freedom to choose one’s beliefs and live them out without fear of harm. Kudos to Judge Reinhardt for protecting this freedom today.

Question of the Week - July 25, 2016

by Daniel Hart

July 25, 2016

Question: I was told that California’s Senate Bill 1146 will strip the state’s faith-based colleges and universities of their religious liberty to educate students according to their faith convictions. Is this something that FRC is fighting? How can I get involved?

FRC: SB 1146 is something that we are fighting to defeat. We wrote about it in our June 10th Washington Update. This bill is an attack on the religious liberty of Californians and could set a dangerous precedent for other states to enact similar laws restricting the religious freedom of faith-based colleges and universities to set their own policies. Please go to the “Oppose SB 1146” website to learn how you can help stop this bill from becoming law.

Mississippi Continues to Fight for Religious Freedom

by Johnathan Taylor

July 22, 2016

After Judge Carlton Reeves’ stubborn decision preventing his state’s religious freedom law from taking effect several weeks ago, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant notified the court he would be swiftly appealing the ruling. The district court’s ruling had prevented H.B. 1523 from being applied to the people of Mississippi, meaning that clerks in state offices could now be forced to issue marriage licenses to those seeking same-sex unions, despite deep religious convictions that the clerks may have against aiding in a union that consists of two people of the same sex.

House Bill 1523 is a state law signed by Governor Bryant that allows a subset of business entities and government employees to opt out of being forced to violate their beliefs by participating in same-sex marriages, while mandating that the authorities ensure the couple still receive their services or benefits from some other government actor. The law seeks to protect religious organizations that have moral opposition to the practice of aiding in a process that promotes a lifestyle that goes against their religious core values. H.B. 1523 seeks to protect their core beliefs: That marriage is only between a man and a woman, that sex should only take place in such a marriage, and that a person’s gender is determined at birth and cannot be altered. It allows state clerks to exercise their religious freedom by not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and protects citizens of faith who are merchants by ensuring that they can still exercise their religious freedom. With these provisions, this law is a continuation of Mississippi’s long standing history of protecting religious freedom.

In the past, the state of Mississippi has exempted people who oppose all war for religious reasons from having to enter the draft. Mississippi has also exempted pro-life health care workers from performing some duties that are associated with terminating pregnancies. In his court filing opposing the renegade district court decision, Governor Bryant noted “[i]t is perfectly acceptable for the government to choose the conscientious scruples that it will protect and accommodate, while withholding those protections and accommodations from other deeply held beliefs.” Moreover, H.B. 1523 is not a drastic change in state law, he observes, because Mississippi lacks sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws. Thus, even without H.B. 1523, Mississippians in theory could suffer all sorts of adverse action because of their sexual orientation. Yet the fact that the opponents of H.B. 1523 can’t point to a record of this occurring shows they are hyping up supposed problems which do not exist.

Thankfully, Governor Bryant strongly disagreed with the outcome-based decision of Judge Reeves. He rightly pointed out that H.B. 1523’s challengers will not be affected if the law takes effect during the appeal period, as they have shown no real, concrete injury to themselves. Thus, his request that H.B. 1523 be applied to the people of Mississippi while its appeal is ongoing is quite sensible.

Question of the Week - July 18, 2016

by Daniel Hart

July 18, 2016

Question: Ok, so the House passed the Conscience Protection Act last week. Doesn’t the Senate have to do so as well, and then the President sign it? If Obama vetoes, will there be an override? If the above is true, why is FRC so happy at this point?

FRC: The Senate does have to pass the Conscience Protection Act (CPA). We don’t have the votes to override a veto by President Obama. However, this is the first time since 2004 that Congress has voted on conscience. This CPA vote gets members on record. In addition, if the Senate passes CPA, it builds momentum and puts pressure on President Obama. Finally, if support for CPA remains in Congress, then it hopefully has a strong chance of becoming law if we have a pro-life president in the future.

The Economist Magazine Highlights Progressives’ Religious Freedom Hypocrisy

by Travis Weber

July 15, 2016

We are glad to see last week’s article in The Economist accurately diagnosing the hypocrisy surrounding religious freedom which has infected the agitating political Left in the last several years. This reputable magazine has pinpointed the biggest trouble of the current political and policy dynamic surrounding religious freedom: the progressive Left just can’t bring itself to support traditional Christian claims of religious freedom—even when those claims are brought under the same laws and legal standards as others which modern liberals have supported.

As Family Research Council has consistently made clear, religious freedom laws have historically had bipartisan consensus. Sadly, this is no longer true, as in the last several years the progressive Left has abandoned its support for First Amendment principles in favor of new policy goals. Meanwhile, in an ironic twist, conservatives are attacked as only supporting religious liberty when it concerns them. We have shown this not to be true. Now, we are thankful The Economist has shed additional light on the religious freedom debate.

Ends Justify the Means in Ruling on HB 1523

by Travis Weber

July 1, 2016

Judge Reeves’ ruling striking down individual rights protections in Mississippi’s HB 1523 is a travesty for the rule of law and shows what happens when the judicial process justifies the means with the ends. It is quite unfortunate that the judge can’t see (despite the fact that no same-sex couple has been denied anything by Mississippi in the wake of Obergefell v. Hodges) that the law merely protects people from government coercion. It is doubly unfortunate that in his ruling, the judge’s denigrating and dismissive references to “Christians” exhibits an animus toward the people he is entrusted to rule over that is barely bottled up.

On the issue of standing, Judge Reeves can try to cover his reasoning in a legal swamp all he wants, but at the end of the day, his ruling pulls the law to its breaking point in order to find an actual, real injury to anyone at all. In reality, no one has been concretely affected by this law. That’s why he has to contort the matter to find an injury where someone “feels” affected. Yes, feelings get hurt in a democracy (this happens innumerable ways every day, which average American understand) but that’s part of living in a diverse country. Despite citing the Supreme Court’s Establishment Clause decision Town of Greece v. Galloway multiple times, he conveniently forgot to cite Justice Kennedy’s reminder in that case that “offense … does not equate to coercion.” Instead, Judge Reeves has opted in essence to deny the people their own right to govern. With such rulings, one can’t blame them with being fed up with federal judges and the elites who think like them.

Judge Reeves errs further in searching the woodwork to find constitutional violations. He admitted “discerning the actual motivation behind a bill can be treacherous.” He should have followed his own admonition. Instead, he somehow finds HB 1523 to be a violation of the Establishment Clause, despite the fact that it imposes no coercive religious requirement on anybody! (Town of Greece again relevant here). He claims that since the law doesn’t protect every type of Christian religious belief out there, it’s somehow invalid.

Yet amazingly, at the same time, the court dismisses the fact that members of non-Christian faiths also oppose same-sex marriage and would be protected by HB 1523 by arguing that those people don’t really believe their own religion:

Every group has its iconoclasts. The larger the group, the more likely it will have someone who believes the sun revolves around the Earth, a doctor who thinks smoking unproblematic, or a Unitarian opposed to same-sex religious marriage. But most people in a group share most of that group’s beliefs.

Aside from improperly delving into doctrine itself, the court’s statement is irrelevant, and by recognizing that some non-Christians would be protected by this law, it contradicts its entire grounding for this decision (that this is really just about the protection of Christians).

Under Judge Reeves’ thinking, any tailored conscience or religious rights protections would be invalid.

Additionally, his analysis of federal conscience protections is just flat wrong. He says the analogy of HB 1523 to these protections in 42 U.S.C.§ 300a-7 is not appropriate because they are “neutral” in that they protect pro-life and pro-abortion doctors, and cites to subsections c, d, and e of the statute. However, only subsection c makes reference to protection of both sides of the issue. Subsections d, e, (and a) protect doctors and facilities opposed to abortion from being forced to participate in it, and do not make mention of any pro-abortion views. The fact is that these conscience protections and similar types of exemptions have long been a part of our pluralistic society, and show how diverse people can live side-by-side while conscience is honored. When conscience is threatened, it can be protected. Yet Judge Reeves would stifle consciences that need protection in the name of protecting against some imaginary harm. He might be asked: Exactly whose consciences are being violated that he feels need additional protection in HB 1523?

In the midst of this long, contorted, and unfortunate ruling (supposedly based in part on the Establishment Clause), Judge Reeves could have at least cited the Supreme Court’s well-known pronouncement on this principle in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette decades ago:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Instead, he has imposed his own orthodoxy on them and heaped even more disenfranchisement on the heads of the people of Mississippi. “You may not like Obergefell,” the judge seems to say, “but I’m not even going to allow you to protect your own liberty in the face of it.” 

NPR Thinks Conservative Christians Are Grappling With Whether Religious Freedom Includes Muslims

by Travis Weber

June 30, 2016

In a recent story, NPR raised the question of who religious freedom applies to, and what conservative Christians think about its application to Muslims. Unlike NPR, I refuse to use quote marks to describe religious freedom—itself a recent development that the news media obediently follow, along with everyone else who all of a sudden wants to question the legitimacy of a constitutional principle over two hundred years old.

Turning to NPR’s story, the answer is: Yes, religious freedom goes for all faiths. This is clear enough from the positions most conservative, Christian advocacy groups take on the issue, confirmed by their support for RFRA and Free Exercise rights (which by their legal methodology naturally apply to all faiths). Family Research Council recently made this very clear in articulating our actual position on religious liberty, instead of what it is often perceived to be. Sensible people understand that security needs do not justify (and are even impaired by) blanket religious discrimination. Indeed, as security expert Dr. Sebastian Gorka pointed out the other day at FRC, one can address security concerns intelligently and efficiently, while preserving the religious liberty we hold dear for all faiths.

The NPR story simply tries to rustle up more than is there. The pastor cited as in opposition to religious freedom for Muslims reportedly says “he believes the U.S. Constitution protects all religions, including Islam”—he just wishes advocates would channel their energies slightly differently. Sounds like he does believe religious freedom is for all. Can we expect the media to interview some Imams who would say the same thing?

The real story lies in the currents underlying the NPR story. The Muslims who stand for religious freedom are courageous and deserve our support. But there are many within the Muslim world—as Muslims define it—who don’t have any concept of civil liberties for people of all faiths, and are willing to die fighting against such a concept. Dr. Gorka referenced this war within Islam the other day at Family Research Council. The largest group of victims of Jihadists are other Muslims. Those within the world of Islam who refuse to support religious freedom for all need to be confronted, and the media who ignore them and give them a free pass deserve to be called out.

Instead of trying to create a sensation where none exists, perhaps the media can focus on the religious freedom story that does exist.

Harvard law professor: “Don’t Let Mississippi Establish Anti-Gay Religion”

by Travis Weber

June 17, 2016

That’s actually the title of a piece by Harvard law professor Noah Feldman on Bloomberg View yesterday.

Our ability to reason together as a pluralistic nation has been sorely compromised by unashamed advocacy pieces like this. Those who know better like Noah Feldman will one day hopefully come to regret compromising their accuracy to try to achieve their objective. Sadly, much damage will be done in the meantime.

The harm done by his reckless characterizations of Mississippi’s Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act (HB 1523) demands a response.

What has Mississippi done in HB 1523? It has exempted people with certain beliefs from being forced to violate their conscience should the government make them complicit in a same-sex marriage celebration. That doesn’t sound like any “establishment” of religion to me, and it isn’t—under any reasonably understanding of what the Establishment Clause was meant to accomplish. Moreover, it would protect anyone who holds those beliefs—Muslims, Jews, Christians, or others. Establishment Clause law is primarily concerned with making sure the government doesn’t coerce or force people into a belief system with which they don’t agree.

It’s ironic that this is the precise protection HB 1523 ensures people receive. It’s doubly ironic that Noah Feldman would instead have everyone comply with the government’s “religion” of same-sex marriage acceptance. If Mississippi was doing what Feldman claims it’s doing, why the need for HB 1523’s protections from the government? There wouldn’t be any need. If we are going to use his line of thinking about “establishment,” he should see HB 1523 is needed precisely because our government is increasingly moving toward an “establishment” of support for same-sex marriage.

If Noah Feldman and others making his arguments actually believe such exemptions are constitutionally problematic, I’d expect them to argue against laws providing exemptions in a variety of contexts. Notably, their opposition only seems to arise when Christianity seeks protection.

The title to his piece also contains a misrepresentation of Christian belief: that Christianity is merely “anti-gay.” Actually discovering the truth here requires some study of Christianity, however. Christian teaching on sexuality is comprehensive, and contains a number of precepts for human flourishing and well-being in accordance with God’s design. Same-sex conduct is only one of the parameters. There is no such thing as mere “anti-gay” Christianity. Yet the Christian view of sexuality is consistently mischaracterized by this framing—because advocates who use it aren’t seeking the truth, and they know this propaganda works on people who don’t bother to seek it either.

Claiming the mantle of objectivity and reason in order to further an agenda is not new. But it removes the building blocks on which our pluralistic society can exist. It is especially disheartening when done by those who know better and are entrusted to do otherwise.

Question of the Week - June 7, 2016

by Daniel Hart

June 7, 2016

Question: I tried calling the Fort Riley base to tell them about my feelings regarding the fact that they would cancel the prayer breakfast and disinvite Gen. Boykin, but their lines are completely full and it won’t let you leave a message. Are there any other numbers to contact the base? 

FRC: Thank you for trying to call Fort Riley. Many others have told us they could not get through on the phones as well. You can try calling the Commanding General of the 1st Infantry Division, Maj. Grisby, at (785) 239-3516.

You can also send a message through Fort Riley’s contact form on their website at http://www.riley.army.mil/Contact-Us/.

In addition, you can write to Fort Riley in the Visitor Posts section of their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FortRiley/.

Thank you for all that you’re doing to help us stand for faith, family, and freedom in the public square!

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