Category archives: Religious Liberty

Hopeful Signs of Resurrection in America

by Daniel Hart

April 12, 2017

This Sunday, Christians all over the world will celebrate the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. Easter is the church’s greatest feast day because it encompasses Christ’s fulfilment of his mission on earth: by dying on a Roman cross on Friday, April 3rd, A.D. 33 and rising from the dead on the following Sunday, he conquered human sin and death. The astonishing enormity of this event in history cannot be overstated enough. In one fell swoop, Christ offered the fullness of redemption to every person for all of eternity—namely, release from the chains of our fallen human nature and the prospect of a meaningless death. In and through Jesus, we can become cleansed of our sin and hope in the eternal life that is to come in heaven after our earthly lives are over.

To contemplate these truths for even a moment does wonders in lifting one’s spirit, which can be easily bogged down when considering the tremendous challenges that our country faces with regards to protecting all human life, cultivating natural marriage, and defending religious liberty. And so, in the spirit of Our Lord’s Resurrection, let’s reflect on some very hopeful recent signs of rebirth in America.

Life

In January, it was reported that the U.S. abortion rate is currently at its lowest level since Roe v. Wade was foisted on the country in 1973. There are a number of different factors that have contributed to this welcome decline, but the tireless work of the pro-life movement in state legislatures has undoubtedly been crucial—334 pro-life laws have been passed in the last five years.

Also in January, President Trump signed an executive order that reinstated the “Mexico City Policy,” which halts federal funds from going to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that commit abortions or “actively promote” abortion. This is wonderful news, as it stops a staggering $600 million from funding the destruction of unborn human life annually.

This past week, Judge Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court, filling Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacant seat. As we have pointed out in recent weeks, Judge Gorsuch will be a true Constitutionalist Justice who believes that life is “intrinsically valuable and that intentional killing is always wrong.” While he has not directly ruled on abortion, he has stated in the past that “the right to terminate a pregnancy… involves the death of a person.”

Marriage

The current divorce rate is at a 40-year low, while the marriage rate has risen to its highest level since 2009. While the overall rates of divorce and marriage are still depressingly high and low (respectively), recent trends are encouraging for the immediate future.

Another hopeful trend that bodes well for America’s future is, surprisingly, the marriage preferences of millennials. New research has shown that millennials aren’t as obsessed with the progressive talking point of “gender equality” as one would think. As Ashley McGuire points out in Family Studies, “Many of us also feel more comfortable embracing what Pew continues to find, decade after decade: namely, that women consistently say that part-time work is our ‘ideal work situation.’ Millennial women seem to be asserting our autonomy against a culture that turned opportunity for women into a shackle.” McGuire further notes:

The reality is that many married millennial couples with children will readily admit that two full-time working parents is not ideal for a litany of reasons, including marital happiness, individual stress, financial strain, and familial sanity. That’s not to say that lots of couples don’t make it work, but just a gander over to my city’s most-read parenting blog, and you will find plenty who will call the arrangement of two full-time parents “hell.” Many millennial women, like me, take pride in making choices that feel best for their family at that particular time.

That a rising generation of young people feels more comfortable expressing a preference for a male breadwinner is not a setback to equality in a marriage. Rather, it suggests that both millennial men and women are increasingly respectful of what it is that women want most when they have small children. I would call that a step forward for authentic marital equality. It’s only a setback to equality if we measure women in a marriage against their husbands, and not against women’s own benchmarks for happiness. And it’s only a setback for equality if we refuse to allow women to be the ones to set those benchmarks because of antiquated feminist notions about gender neutrality or because it somehow hurts the GDP’s bottom line.

This simply underscores what has historically been common practice: that most families do best when the mother is a stable, nurturing presence in the home for her children, while the father engages in the majority of paid work to support the family financially. As the studies cited previously have shown, this arrangement is what most men and women naturally prefer anyway.

Religious Liberty

The confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is a tremendous uplift not only for the protection of life, but for the defense of religious liberty. He will now be seated on the High Court in time to hear the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, which will decide whether state governments can discriminate against churches and religious organizations in favor of nonreligious organizations in the context of receiving public money.

Another sign of hope is the fact that the Trump administration is currently considering signing an executive order that would strengthen religious liberty protections for Americans of faith. A letter signed by 52 House Republicans underscores the urgency of the situation: “We look forward to coordinating with your administration on these efforts so that critical religious liberty and conscience protections may finally be restored to millions of Americans who have been harmed and left unprotected for far too many years.” The proposed executive order would ensure that government persecution of Christians for their beliefs about abortion, same-sex marriage, public prayer, and other concerns would cease, and that their First Amendment rights would be restored.

All of this should be a great source of encouragement for believers. But even if all of these hopeful signs fail to come to fruition, our hope in Christ cannot fail. Christ suffered, died, and rose again for all of humanity. Therefore, Christ is the Lord of history, who “is intent on remaking and saving his world, binding up its wounds and setting it right.” This wonderful reality will forever resurrect our fallen human hearts.

The Plight of Jews in Pakistan

by Chris Gacek

April 10, 2017

There are occasions when a simple act provides tremendous clarity about a much larger situation. Such an event took place last week in Pakistan, a country of approximately 200 million that has had a history of religious freedom violations.

According to our State Department, “[t]he [Pakistani] constitution establishes Islam as the state religion, and requires all provisions of the law to be consistent with Islam.” In fact, the constitution establishes a “Federal Shariat Court” whose Muslim judges “examine and decide whether any law or provision is ‘repugnant to the injunctions of Islam.’” Additionally, Pakistan has draconian “blasphemy” laws that are used to persecute Christians and other religious minorities on fabricated charges. Such laws obviously make free discussion of religious thought about Islam virtually impossible.

Ninety-five percent of Pakistan is Muslim (70 percent Sunni, 25 percent Shia). The remaining five percent is made up of Hindus, Christians, Parsis / Zoroastrians, Bahais, Ahmadi Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Kalasha, Kihals, and Jains. Apparently, there are too few Jews to note statistically. Citizens of Pakistan must register their religious affiliation with the government.

According to a recent report in the Jerusalem Post, a 29-year-old Pakistani man named Fischel Benkald was informed last week that as he had requested, “the religious status in his National Database and Registration Authority profile [would] be changed from Muslim to Jew…” Mr. Benkald is the first Pakistani citizen to be permitted to change his religious status from Muslim to Jew since the 1980s.

Benkald’s birth name was Faisal, and he was raised in Karachi by a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. He was also allowed to assume a Yiddish first name, “Fischel.” The change in religious affiliation was requested three years ago, and might very well have been denied without intervention from forces outside Pakistan. Wilson Chowdry, the chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, plead Benkald’s case with the Pakistani High Commission in London (i.e., the Pakistani embassy to the United Kingdom in London).

The national identity card is critical to all aspects of life for Pakistanis seeking to interact with their government. According to the Post, it “contains one’s name, date of birth, photo, a thumbprint and religion.”

The lack of religious freedom for anyone but Muslims is extreme in Pakistan. Christians are persecuted, but Jews historically received even worse treatment. Anti-Semitism caused Jews to flee the nation after the Israeli War for Independence and that nation’s founding in 1948. It is believed that there were over a thousand Jews in Karachi seventy years ago. Now there are virtually none. Mr. Chowdry told the Post that “hundreds of Jews are now living secretly in Pakistan.”

Apparently, Mr. Benkald did not assert in his application that an outright religious conversion from Islam had taken place. In effect, he claimed that he was in a distinct, exceptional category: “Benkald argue[d] that he never left Islam because he was born to a Jewish mother and therefore ha[d] always been Jewish.” This is true as Jews would define the matter. For whatever reason, the authorities approved his application, but his troubles are far from over.

The Post noted a Fox News story that said “a 2010 Pew survey found that 76 percent of Pakistanis advocate the death penalty for leaving Islam.” Hopefully, he will be left in peace or somehow be able to seek refuge in Israel. That said, a country in which religious conversion holds a significant probability of death or injury is not a country that allows any appreciable religious liberty regardless of any constitutional rhetoric to the contrary.

In any case, one has to greatly admire Mr. Benkald’s amazing bravery while praying for his safety. Western nations who cherish religious freedom, as well as Israel, should keep an eye out for him and his family.

The Refugee Implications of President Trump’s Executive Orders

by Travis Weber

March 13, 2017

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series. Here are Parts 1 and 2.

On March 6, President Trump signed a revised executive order restricting entry to the United States from certain countries, which followed heated controversy and legal battles arising from the initial executive order temporarily halting entry to the United States for certain groups of people. In light of the new order, and in the wake of the controversy surrounding the issue more broadly, it’s helpful to separate the multiple issues—often conflated with one another—playing a part in this discussion. One of these issues is the impact of the orders on refugees—who, though only one of the multiple groups affected—have occupied much of the discussion.

Issue #3: On Refugees – Good Arguments Require Precision

Putting aside the media hysterics and negligent or willful abuse of Scripture, there are many who are attempting to engage in well-meaning discussion of these orders and the immigration issue more broadly. Unfortunately, many people protesting President Trump’s actions do not really understand how the immigration system actually works, or what they would recommend if asked how to fix its security concerns. We all would benefit from learning before speaking into the haze and fog of this debate, and should go back to the actual sources. In this case, that is the initial executive order, and the new executive order.

What do the orders say?

Section 3 of the initial order covered the suspension of all visas to individuals from certain countries, and Section 5 covered the suspension of the refugee program. The other sections direct various actions to improve immigration security generally. Exactly what among these provisions is objectionable (and how) is often quickly lost in this discussion, and consequently, is often lost on many who seem to generally oppose the order.

The new order removes Iraq from the list of countries, removes the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees, and takes out language which prioritized those for admission who were persecuted for their faith. It also doesn’t ban lawful U.S. permanent residents, or prevent people from entering the United States traveling on valid visas already issued. The new order also lays out policy reasons for why this action has been taken.

Aside from the removal of protections for religious minorities (which would have been helpful to leave in—for the United States already considers religion in refugee law, and these minorities are in dire need of our help), the refugee admissions provisions remain virtually unchanged between the two executive orders.

Use of the term “refugee”

Throughout this immigration debate, the term “refugee” is often used carelessly. But it has a precise meaning in U.S. law. Individuals entering the United States can do so under a number of visa programs or claim asylum. Entering as a refugee is covered by a specific program, and this program is covered only by Section 5 of the initial order and Section 6 of the new order (the other provisions of the orders cover other avenues of entry). When we speak of “refugees” legally, we refer to people entering through this program. This does not include immigrants entering through other programs, crossing the border illegally, or even showing up at our border to claim asylum.

While many may agree that other elements of the orders and the immigration system overall (to include student and worker visas) certainly need scrutiny, there is a debate as to whether the refugee program alone can be improved, or whether we will achieve quite minimal gains from restricting access through this program while at the same time harming those who need our protection. There are arguments for and against the refugee restrictions in the orders.

Arguments for the refugee restrictions

It is clear that some Muslims with terrorist ties have entered the United States through our refugee program (and the new order notes that more than 300 people who entered the United States as refugees are currently under terrorism investigations by the FBI). Additionally, while vetting for refugees is already rigorous, the Obama administration accelerated the number of people who entered the country near the end of the term. In these circumstances, it’s a reasonable approach to ask how that was done. Some may claim that the vetting is already as strict as possible, and there is always the risk that terrorists slip through. New developments call for new assessments; we are aware, for instance, that Yezidi girls who have been rescued from ISIS captivity are still in touch with their captors due to Stockholm Syndrome. Have we accounted for the risk that one of them might maintain contact once given safe haven in the United States? It is a reasonable position for a U.S. citizen to want to continue to assess security risks until they are addressed.

Moreover, we must be prudent and remain aware of the motivations of different actors. Some large refugee assistance groups may see funding cut under the orders, and it is understandable if they feel pressure to oppose them for that reason in addition to their convictions regarding refugees. At a minimum they have a conflict of interest on this point.

Additionally, we should be careful of a mentality which assumes that large-scale immigration is most helpful to people. Many displaced persons overseas want to stay in their countries. Solutions which help create peace and stability where they live are just as helpful, if not more so, than uprooting them to bring them to a different culture in the United States. Those arguing for widespread and aggressive immigration on grounds of compassion should ensure they are not assuming it is the only compassionate solution.

Arguments against the refugee restrictions

While the executive orders contain many provisions that will improve security overall in the visa-granting process, those halting the refugee program may do little to improve security, while stunting an important program for those fleeing persecution. The United States is currently vulnerable to terrorists seeking to exploit different avenues of entry: H1Bs, student visas, and claims to asylum, for instance. The refugee program, in which vetting occurs outside the country, is the last place terrorists would go if they were trying to enter the United States.

While Europe has experienced difficulty due to increasing numbers of refugees, the situation is not analogous to that of the United States, as the way refugees enter the United States mitigates many of those risks Europe faces. The term “refugee” has been applied to those flooding into Europe but it is inaccurate to think of those same people as refugees to the United States—a point I discuss above. If these people flooded our shores like they’ve done to Europe’s, they would be asylum seekers, not refugees covered by the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). To enter the United States through the USRAP, a potential refugee first has to go to a country where he or she can apply through the United Nations, go through the UN process, then be chosen by the UN to be resettled in the United States (the UN picks their country of resettlement, not the refugee). This process often takes four years. Thus, if people are concerned about “refugees” arriving and “flooding” our shores, they are not really concerned about refugees as that term is used in law and policy (and the USRAP), but are concerned about other types of entrants—either asylum seekers, or those entering illegally.

While the risk of a terrorist entering through the USRAP is not zero, compared to other avenues of entry, it’s much more difficult and terrorists are much less likely to use it. A significant area of risk is the database system used to assess refugees, which could be bolstered and improved; but fixing this may not require a pause in the USRAP program as the orders require. While we obtain a bare minimum of security gains by restricting the USRAP, the argument goes, we cause significant suffering to those who do need our help. In Lebanon, for instance, Christian Syrian women are prostituting themselves and selling their daughters into child marriages to survive. These people need our help, and we shouldn’t shut off their lifeline when the security risks of that lifeline are already minimal. We should address any security risk as soon as possible so we can get our refugee program back up and running so it can help those it is meant to help.

Conclusion

The initial executive order was not without its problems. It seems that the roll out and implementation could have been accomplished more smoothly. There were reports of lawful permanent residents and U.S. military translators being held up; these matters should have been addressed before the order was issued to avoid confusion. By now, certain steps have been taken to smooth out some of these bumps, but they could have been addressed from the beginning. Thankfully, the new executive order does not bar holders of valid visas or lawful permanent residents from entering the United States, and the new order will take effect on March 16 (hopefully allowing for smooth roll out and implementation), as opposed to the initial order which took effect immediately.

These changes in the new order go a long way toward fixing some of the problems in the initial one, though obviously many will still disagree about immigration policy more broadly. At the end of the day, we should acknowledge that reasonable people (including fellow Christians) may disagree about immigration policy and the executive orders (including their refugee provisions).

Reaching that conclusion alone would go a long way toward promoting rational discourse and easing the emotional gridlock in the public debate on this and other issues.

A Biblical Perspective on Immigration

by Travis Weber

March 10, 2017

This is Part 2 of a 3-part series.

On March 6, President Trump signed a revised Executive Order restricting entry to the United States from certain countries, which followed heated controversy and legal battles arising from the initial Executive Order (EO) temporarily halting entry to the United States for certain groups of people. In light of the new order, and in the wake of the controversy surrounding the issue more broadly, it’s helpful to separate the multiple issues—often conflated with one another—playing a part in this discussion. The relationship of refugee and immigration policy to international religious freedom advocacy, in particular, has revealed some glaring hypocrisies and deficiencies over the course of the recent public debate. Another issue at play is the question of what a Christian should be saying on the question of immigration in general, and the Executive Order in particular.

Issue #2: Theology

Many immigration advocates point to biblical commands to love the foreigner (Leviticus 19:34), and care for those different than us (Luke 10:25-37). They’re right. Those verses are in the Bible. What else is in there? Plenty of Old Testament law, which these same advocates are happy to overlook. For example, we see that God requires immigrants to assimilate or, in other words, live by the customs of the land they now call home in order to receive equal status (Exodus 12:48-49).

The point here is not to arrive at the precise theological implications of these passages, but to point out the hypocrisy of those who wish to suddenly have the government cite the Bible as a basis for policy. Are these same individuals prepared to tell us what the Bible has to say about shutting down public school Bible studies because of supposed Establishment Clause violations? Many suddenly seem to have developed a zeal for the fusion of Christianity and State, and try to justify their arguments for opposing this executive order by simply attaching a Christian reference to them.

The truth is, it is incumbent on Christians to open their hearts toward the foreigner—and all our neighbors. But living a Christian life is not so monolithic. The Bible also says government is to punish wrong and protect the good (Romans 13:1-7). Even the organization Sojourners believes this verse means “government is supposed to protect its people. That certainly means protecting its citizens’ safety and security.” Loving my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31) means all neighbors. Allowing Christianity to inform public policy is a worthwhile endeavor, but it must be done prudently and carefully, not merely as a pretext.

Primarily lost in this discussion is the question of how this controversy intersects with the larger issue of religious freedom around the world. Where has this energy and attention been when it comes to care for those suffering around the world for their religious beliefs? Where has the outcry been when the United States has stood by much of the time?

Where have Christians in the United States been as their brothers and sisters have been tormented overseas? Are they prepared to cite Scripture in defense of their apathy?

Those who are careless about their country’s borders while careful about locking their house at night are operating with a logical disconnect. This disconnect must be worked out. The policy implications of our theological sources are not always clear, and no one should be denigrated for reasonably disagreeing.

The question of what Christianity has to say about this issue is a valid one, but the inquiry must be done properly, not recklessly and carelessly.

Part 3 will examine arguments for and against refugee restrictions in President Trump’s executive orders.

How did the Washington State Supreme Court Get Barronelle Stutzman’s Case So Wrong?

by Travis Weber

February 16, 2017

Today the Washington Supreme Court ruled against Barronelle Stutzman, a florist who for years happily served her customer and friend Rob Ingersoll (who she clearly knew identified as gay), but could not in good conscience assist him in celebrating his same-sex marriage because it involved her creative talents and energies in furthering an activity she believed to be wrong. 

In response to this desire to honor her conscience, the Washington State government organs of “justice” teamed up with the ACLU to sue her for purported violations of nondiscrimination laws, putting her personal assets and home at risk as a result. Barronelle never asked for this controversy, but it was brought to her doorstep by activists who simply couldn’t live and let live, and she has stood strong through it. 

In its ruling today, the Washington Supreme Court first exposed its bias by spending a page and a half detailing the emotional toll on the same-sex couple, while spending a total of one sentence acknowledging similar harm to Barronelle (Hint: that toll is much more than one line’s worth). In addition to this discrepancy, there are major problems with the ruling. I want to focus on three of them. 

1. The court got it wrong by concluding Barronelle engaged in discrimination 

The state high court clearly erred by rejecting Barronelle’s claim that she did not engage in sexual orientation discrimination but rather objected to a certain activity (participation in the same-sex wedding). In rejecting her argument, the court heavily relied on cases minimizing any status/conduct distinction (the idea being that limiting the behavior of a certain class is discriminating against that class—a “tax on wearing yarmulkes is a tax on Jews”). Minimizing that distinction is a big error in this case, however. What makes the tax on yarmulkes reprehensible is the fact that it really is a back-door way of targeting Jews. Barronelle is not trying to “sneak in” discrimination against LGBT people by declining to participate in their marriages. She’s happily served these same people for years!

The court recognized she had no problem with “selling bulk flowers and “raw materials,’” for use in a same-sex wedding, and acknowledged “she would be happy to do” that in this case. The court seemed to miss how this shows her actions do not turn on whether the customer identifies as LGBT or not, but rather upon the specific activity she is asked to participate in, noting at one point it believes “[t]his case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches.” But the court already acknowledged Barronelle was not turning away customers because they identified as gay, as a sandwich counter would turn away any African-American who walked in. Barronelle only wanted to not be involved in their weddings. Is the court not willing to accept this? 

There actually is a status/conduct distinction that’s important to this case, and the Washington Supreme Court errs in minimizing it and relying on dissimilar situations and precedents. While the court acknowledges that cases highlighting the status/conduct distinction exist (see footnote 6 at the bottom of page 16 of the opinion), it does not discuss or address them. Barronelle honestly and simply has a conscience objection to facilitating certain marriages, and nothing else. Courts, activists, and everyone else involved in this discussion need to recognize this. 

2. The court hugely erred in rejecting Barronelle’s Free Speech claim 

Additionally, the Washington Supreme Court simply got it wrong in rejecting Barronelle’s Free Speech claim. Though beginning with soaring language probably meant to show its high regard for free speech, the court quickly puts a damper on the party, concluding her artistic creations are not “inherently expressive” protected speech. The court’s analysis has some gaping holes, however, as it heavily relies on Rumsfeld v. FAIR despite significant legal and factual differences with the present case. FAIR was an unconstitutional conditions case dealing with government funding—in the military, moreover—an area Congress has significant constitutional power to regulate. The Court in FAIR also noted the recruiting law does not force schools to accept members they did not desire, while nondiscrimination laws force complete compliance in admissions or service. FAIR is also distinguished because the case hinged on a funding conditions issue, while here, as in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale and Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston, the primary issue is constitutional rights being pitted against nondiscrimination laws. 

The Washington Supreme Court gave inadequate attention to perhaps the most relevant case—Hurley—concluding it was “unavailing” to Barronelle simply because the Supreme Court in that case had recognized the parade organizing council was not a traditional public accommodation. But that was not the issue in Hurley; rather, it was whether there were constitutional rights in play that trumped any application of that state nondiscrimination law. On this point, the Hurley Court observed: “[w]hen the [public accommodations] law is applied to expressive activity in the way it was done here, its apparent object is simply to require speakers to modify the content of their expression to whatever extent beneficiaries of the law choose to alter it with messages of their own.” Thus, the Court concluded the application of the public accommodations law infringed on the parade organizers’ free speech, specifically the right to control the content of their message and be free from being compelled to speak a certain message. 

But the Washington Supreme Court skips all this analysis (indeed, the court mentions Hurley and Dale in Footnote 11 on the bottom of page 28, but sidesteps any discussion of how the federal constitutional rights in those cases trumped state law). The issue here is not, as the court believes, whether Barronelle’s business is the type that has “traditionally been subject” to nondiscrimination laws, but whether the First Amendment protects her as it did the parade organizer in Hurley. Barronelle’s expression should have been so protected, and the Washington Supreme Court erred in concluding it was not (oddly, it did so while spending several pages listing myriad examples of a variety of expressive activity which is protected—not all of which was more clearly “speech” than Barronelle’s activity). 

How it does this while at the same time quoting another Supreme Court case for the proposition that “[t]he government may not prohibit the dissemination of ideas that it disfavors, nor compel endorsement of ideas that it approves” is quite baffling. No same-sex marriage supporting florists are being threatened here. The state government is using the WLAD to go after those who disapprove of this “idea,” and the court goes along with this, while quoting a Supreme Court case which requires the opposite. 

The state high court concludes that the average observer of Barronelle’s action would not think it is meant to send any message and thus is not protected as “inherently expressive” activity. Yet one wonders how that same court would view the many who recently have protested President Trump in a variety of ways—most notably those refusing to design dresses for his family. I suspect they would most certainly believe that their actions were expressing a message. Would the Washington Supreme Court disagree with them if the issue arose as a legal question? 

3. The ruling validated concerns that same-sex marriage and SOGI laws will be used to suppress religious liberty 

First, in its analysis which concluded that Barronelle engaged in impermissible sexual orientation discrimination, the court cites the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. The state court claimed that denying marriage licenses is equal to sexual orientation discrimination, a conclusion it now foists upon Barronelle in her religious liberty case. With more of these wedding-related religious liberty cases likely to come, this part of the ruling should be noted by those who said Obergefell would not be used against such dissenters, and would not affect religious liberty. Indeed, the Supreme Court itself said in Obergefell: “[f]inally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths … .” Apparently, that may not be true after all, if more courts and advocates adopt the reasoning of the Washington Supreme Court. 

Second, on the bottom of page 52, the court’s reasoning validates the concerns of those who have long been claiming that SOGI laws are incompatible with religious liberty. Even when it comes to the most heartwarming religious liberty claimant around (an elderly grandmother who served her LGBT-identifying friend for years but didn’t want to be involved in his wedding), her rights are no match for state SOGI laws—which, the state high court concludes, are backed by a compelling government interest accomplished through the least restrictive means. Those putting much faith in compromise solutions between religious liberty and SOGI advocates should reexamine their assumptions in light of this portion of the opinion. 

Despite this ruling, Barronelle may yet be able to obtain relief from the United States Supreme Court. Hopefully, that Court will take up her case and uphold her federal constitutional rights in the face of the Washington State government’s oppressive action and its state courts’ acquiescence in this injustice. In thinking about how the U.S. Supreme Court will treat this case, it is a reminder of how important it is to have Judge Neil Gorsuch, who is good on religious liberty, confirmed as a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Meanwhile, we must not let what has happened to Barronelle at the state level happen to others at the federal level. This ruling is all the more reason for President Trump to protect religious liberty through executive action. Please join our petition effort calling for such protections. 

 

What You May Not Know President Trump Said at the National Prayer Breakfast

by Travis Weber

February 3, 2017

The coverage of President Trump’s remarks yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast was dominated by reference to his comments about Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you didn’t watch his speech or read the transcript, you may not realize what else was said.

Commenting on the denial of religious freedom in the Middle East, President Trump stated:

We have seen unimaginable violence carried out in the name of religion.  Acts of wanton slaughter against religious minorities.”

And:

We have seen peace-loving Muslims brutalized, victimized, murdered and oppressed by ISIS killers. We have seen threats of extermination against the Jewish people.”

Yes, President Trump recognized the fact that Muslims are being killed in the Middle East. This, however, is an inconvenient truth for biased mass media bent on portraying him as “anti-Muslim,” so it’s perfectly logical that the mass media don’t report it.

President Trump’s other reference—to minorities suffering violence—would include Yezidis, Christians, Baha’is, Shabak, Kaka’is, certain Muslims, and others. I enjoyed meeting many people from these groups when I conducted religious freedom training for civil society participants in Kurdistan, Iraq several years ago. They are fascinating people, and unknown to many outside that region. President Trump recognized their plight in his comments at the Prayer Breakfast, yet this has gone unreported, with the “mainstream” press choosing to focus on Arnold Schwarzenegger instead.

True religious freedom advocates support religious freedom for all people, both here in the United States and overseas. Indeed, U.S. and international law protect religious freedom for all people, in all contexts, within the bounds of an orderly, free society. In this sense, not only “justice is blind,” but “religious freedom law is blind.” Thus we can determine the true religious freedom advocates based on who values and supports these religious freedom laws, as opposed to those who try to limit them to certain contexts.

We have yet to see what the Trump administration will do to protect religious freedom overseas. Recognizing the problem, however, is a start.

At the Prayer Breakfast, it was also heartening to see President Trump recognize the source of religious freedom rights:

Our Republic was formed on the basis that freedom is not a gift from government, but that freedom is a gift from God.”

Indeed. Government does not create and grant human rights; it only recognizes them. Such human rights include the right of all people to choose their faith, and the freedom to live it out. This is a hopeful note on which we can proceed.

Action #20 - Increase American Influence on Religious Freedom Abuses Abroad

by Family Research Council

January 17, 2017

Here is the final action in our series of top 20 actions that the Trump administration must take to address values issues in the first 100 days in order to repair some of the damage that the Obama administration has inflicted on the dignity of life, natural marriage, and religious liberty.

Action #20 - Increase American Influence on Religious Freedom Abuses Abroad

The new administration and Congress should seriously consider maintaining a list of prisoners persecuted abroad on account of their faith, and also identify foreign officials responsible for religious freedom abuses (and where appropriate, publish their names in the Federal Register). In addition, the government should compile a list of opportunities to condition visa grants and other actions based on their support of religious freedom.

Action #19 - Adhere to the International Religious Freedom Act

by Family Research Council

January 16, 2017

We are highlighting the top 20 ways that the Trump administration can address values issues in the first 100 days through administrative and agency actions in order to repair some of the damage that the Obama administration has inflicted on the dignity of life, natural marriage, and religious liberty.

Action #19 - Adhere to the International Religious Freedom Act

The Obama administration was woefully resistant to protecting religious freedom in its foreign policy stance, and was late to describe the persecution of certain religious minorities as genocide. The new administration and Congress should promote religious freedoms throughout the federal government engaged in overseas activities by calling attention to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-292, as amended by Public Law 106-55, Public Law 106-113, Public Law 107-228, Public Law 108-332, Public Law 108-458, Public Law 112-75, Public Law 113-271, and Public Law 114-71), and ensuring these laws are followed.

Action #18 - Strengthen DOD Religious Freedom Protection

by Family Research Council

January 13, 2017

We are highlighting the top 20 ways that the Trump administration can address values issues in the first 100 days through administrative and agency actions in order to repair some of the damage that the Obama administration has inflicted on the dignity of life, natural marriage, and religious liberty.

Action #18 - Strengthen DOD Religious Freedom Protection

The Obama administration issued regulations (AFI 1-1, SECNAVINST 1730.8B, and AR 600- 20) that limited the standards articulated in Section 532 and 533 of the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act to protect expressions of belief reflecting conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs. The strict scrutiny standard of religious liberty protection concerning the least restrictive means as articulated in DOD Instruction 1300.17 should also be included in the Air Force directive. In addition, this directive should require the Air Force to remove Section 2.12 from AFI 1-1.

The new Congress and administration should also pressure the service chiefs to promulgate messages reaffirming the robust religious freedom and free speech rights of chaplains. These messages should include the articulation of such protections in Section 533 of the FY2013 and Section 532 of the FY2014 NDAA, and should note chaplains’ speech is not limited in the same manner that other government employee speech may be limited.

Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act Becomes Law

by Family Research Council

December 19, 2016

This past Friday, President Obama signed into law H.R. 1150, the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. (Congress had passed H.R. 1150 just a few days before on December 13th) The law was introduced by Congressman Chris Smith, a well-known defender of human rights, and named in honor of longtime religious freedom champion, retired Congressman Frank Wolf.

Everyone who helped this bill become law should be commended. It will strengthen ways for religious freedom to be better supported and protected around the world, and highlights the critical role religious freedom should play in U.S. foreign policy.

The passage of this law is a nice Christmas gift. We now hope it is acted upon and fully implemented.

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