Category archives: Religious Liberty

In Afghanistan, Women Are Being Subjugated. In the West, They Are Being Erased.

by Arielle Del Turco

March 29, 2022

We are being treated like criminals just because we are girls. Afghanistan has turned into a jail for us.” This is how one Afghan girl describes life under the Taliban. Girls across the country had their hopes dashed last week when Taliban authorities reneged on their promise to allow girls’ secondary schools (above 6th grade) to reopen. The decision was so last minute that the students were not told until they arrived at school Wednesday morning and had to be sent home.

One girl tearfully recounted to her mother, “Mom, they didn’t let me enter my school. They’re saying girls aren’t allowed.” Instead of attending classes and progressing in their education, she and other Afghan girls will be expected to stay inside their homes and help with housework.

The pretext given by some Taliban officials is they were unable to plan for a school uniform dress code for teenage girls. This pathetic excuse is no doubt familiar to Afghans who previously lived under Taliban rule. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, education for girls was similarly restricted. But in recent months, Taliban officials have tried to insist that they’ve changed over the last two decades. However, all pretense of modernization within the Taliban is now over; that is a deeply tragic reality for women and girls in Afghanistan who simply want to go to school and live normal lives.

While Afghan women and girls were grieving the loss of basic freedoms and opportunities because of their sex, a very different scene played out nearly 7,000 miles away in a U.S. Senate chamber. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, to define the word “woman.” Jackson responded, “No. I can’t…I’m not a biologist.” It struck many as odd that a well-educated and successful person—whom many hail as a pioneering black woman herself—was unable or refused even to define the word “woman.”

But this ambiguity on the nature of womanhood isn’t limited to a Supreme Court confirmation hearing; it’s taking our culture by storm. In recent weeks, we’ve seen biological males who self-identify as women kicking biological females off the podium in women’s sports and taking their slots in “woman of the year” designations.

Clarity on the sexes is needed now more than ever. But the truth is not that complicated. Writing in the National Review, Madeleine Kearns explains why no one needs a degree in biology to know what a woman is: “Sex is observable at birth, detectable long after death, and demonstrable in our chromosomes, gametes, and reproductive organs. We are reminded of our sex every time we go to the bathroom or look in a mirror. The sex of the vast majority of people is identifiable at a glance.”

The West’s erasure of women puts women and girls at physical risk in shared spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms and robs them of opportunities that policies like Title IX were supposed to protect. It also has the potential to undermine global momentum on women’s rights. What does it mean for international women’s rights advocacy if the West can no longer agree on a definition for “woman”?

While the West is embroiled in debate about gender identity ideology, the heart-wrenching and horrifying situations faced by many women around the world are being overlooked. Female North Korean defectors forcibly sent back to North Korea endure rape, torture, forced labor, and forced abortions in labor camps. Young Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan are at risk of being forcibly converted and married to their Muslim kidnappers. Uyghur women are targets of China’s genocide, undergoing brutal mandatory sterilization, forced abortions, and arbitrary detainment.

Women have come a long way in gaining equal rights and protections in much of the world. Yet, the West does a disservice to those women still fighting for basic rights when it sidelines their plight in favor of trendy, dangerous, and incoherent gender identity ideology.

Women and girls around the world aren’t being helped by the West’s newfound confusion about the sexes. We shouldn’t be afraid to say what a woman is—a biological female—and defend the human dignity of women around the world. We must convey the value and goodness of women’s unique qualities—not ignore them, undermine them, and certainly not erase them.

The Passage of the FAIR Act is a Blow to Religious Freedom

by Family Research Council

March 18, 2022

The “Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act” (known as the FAIR Act) may not sound like a bill that Family Research Council would have much interest in, but few bills in Congress these days can be taken at face value. As with multiple other bills that the Left has put forward over the last few years, the FAIR Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed almost along party lines on Thursday, includes language elevating “sexual orientation and gender identity” to “protected class status.” 

Progressive proponents of the FAIR Act claim that it “prohibit[s] corporations from forcing working people and consumers into pre-dispute forced arbitration agreements and class action waivers.” But the reality is that the bill defines the term “civil rights dispute” as a dispute arising from an alleged violation of any federal, state, or local law that prohibits discrimination and takes the unnecessarily limiting step of saying that not all such laws apply. The bill elevates the laws that prohibit only certain types of discrimination, including alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

As we have written about extensively, the Left erroneously equates sexual orientation and gender identity with immutable characteristics such as race, age, and national origin. It then elevates SOGI as a matter of “civil rights.” In the context of arbitration, as in the FAIR Act, elevating SOGI categories to protected classes status could have a detrimental effect on faith-based organizations that use arbitration clauses.

We have seen the repeated litigious attacks on Jack Phillips and other wedding vendors, Catholic Charities and faith-based adoption and foster care providers, and others. Just last year, florist Barronelle Stutzman was forced to close her business and settle a lawsuit after an eight-year court battle over being compelled to create flower arrangements for a same-sex wedding against her conscience.

Legislation like the FAIR Act unjustly picks winners and losers among discrimination allegations by unfairly, and dangerously, elevating sexual orientation and gender identity to protected class status. Going forward, FRC will urge the Senate to reject the FAIR Act and will continue to educate lawmakers and the public about how proposed SOGI laws violate religious freedom.

Dems Slip Harmful Human Rights Provision into Russia Energy Sanction Bill

by Arielle Del Turco

March 10, 2022

Congress is rushing through critical pieces of legislation, opening the door for unrelated and harmful amendments to be attached. This is exactly what happened yesterday when the House passed the Suspending Energy Imports from Russia Act (H.R. 6968). It’s a bipartisan bill to prohibit importing energy from Russia in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. However, House Democrats seized the opportunity to tack on a controversial amendment to a bill they knew would pass.

The unnecessary language in H.R. 6968 would modify the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act enacted in 2016. This law enables the U.S. government to place financial sanctions on foreign individuals responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” This is an important law, and it is one of the most effective means by which the U.S. government can pressure officials in other countries to stop violating human rights.

However, H.R. 6968 lowers the bar from “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” to simply “serious human rights abuse.” And although the Global Magnitsky Act targeted individuals who were “responsible” for these actions, H.R. 6968 targets anyone “directly or indirectly engaged in” serious human rights abuse. On the surface, these might sound like small changes, but the effects can be far-reaching.

Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), one of Congress’s most stalwart human rights advocates, explained the issue on the House floor yesterday:

I’m for this bill, but there are provisions in this, one in particular, that should not be in here. Mr. Speaker, I’m the prime sponsor of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act…. Under the Act, an actionable offense occurs only when there’s a gross violation of internationally-recognized human rights, which has the meaning given to it in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Specifically, the Foreign Assistance Act includes torture, cruel and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of a person.

H.R. 6968, however, radically strikes and replaces the current definition of what constitutes an actionable offense with language that is not defined and is being done tonight without the benefit of a hearing or due diligence. Under the new language, the president may impose sanctions on any individual if responsible for or complicit in what they call “serious human rights abuse.” Exactly what does that mean? There’s no definition. How is that phrase defined? How elastic is it? Especially when it’s not linked to any international treaty or covenant. What does “indirectly engaged” mean? How indirect? Guilt by association?

The Global Magnitsky Act got it right. It was bipartisan and it linked sanctions to internationally-recognized human rights. I hope the Senate will take a look at this. This is an egregious mistake.

We want the U.S. government to be as effective as possible when combating human rights abuses abroad. However, no one should be able to abuse mechanisms like the Global Magnitsky Act sanctions to target foreign individuals based on partisan politics or radical social agendas. As radical activists continue to redefine terms and use “human rights” to mean anything they want it to mean, it’s easy to see how H.R. 6968 could be misused.

The new language in H.R. 6968 also eliminates the five-year sunset provision of the Global Magnitsky Act. Sunset provisions give Congress the opportunity every period of years as specified to review how the sanctioning authority is being utilized and make sure it hasn’t been misused. If the Act no longer sunsets, this important oversight review would be eliminated.

Global Magnitsky Act sanctions have been used for good in the past, such as when the U.S. government sanctioned Turkish officials in the case of imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson. Just a few weeks later, Brunson was released. It’s important to maintain the integrity of the Global Magnitsky Act and ensure it is not abused by partisan agendas in the executive branch. When the Senate considers H.R. 6968, they should remove this provision.

Forced Marriage in Pakistan and Why It Matters to the U.S.

by Arielle Del Turco , Hannah Waters

March 1, 2022

For nearly a year, Nayab Gill has been forced to live with her kidnapper. 

In early 2021, 13-year-old Nayab and her father were approached by Saddam Hayat, a 30-year-old married Muslim man and father of four. Hayat offered to train Nayab in his beauty salon and give her a much-needed job. For weeks, Hayat faithfully picked up Nayab, brought her to his salon, gave her lessons in cosmetology, and brought her home each day. 

On May 20, however, Nayab never came home.

Nayab’s frantic parents searched for their child for over a week with no success. Eventually, local police contacted the Gill family, informing them that their daughter had registered as a willful convert to Islam and had married a Muslim man—Hayat. In reality, Hayat and six others had kidnapped Nayab from her home, raped her, forced her to convert to Islam, and coerced her into marriage.

After a long legal struggle and many nights spent trapped in her abuser’s home, Nayab’s case finally went to court. Although her parents presented her birth certificate, which proved she was a minor, the judge accepted Hayat’s forged documents—documents that claimed he had recently celebrated his 18th anniversary with his 19-year-old bride. Shockingly, the court ruled in the kidnapper’s favor, declaring that Nayab had willingly converted to Islam and married Hayat. At the ruling, Nayab’s parents broke down in tears as she was led by police back into the arms of her abuser.

Sadly, this horrific account is a reality for hundreds of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan. Although there are no official records, it is estimated that over 1,000 cases like Nayab’s occur in Pakistan every year. Despite the clear human rights violation, the practice of forced conversion and marriage still thrives in Pakistan.

The newly-updated report from Family Research Council, “Combatting Forced Marriage of Young Women in Pakistan,” exposes the ongoing tragedy in Pakistan and presents ways in which the U.S. government can begin to address the problem.

The U.S. State Department designates Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its “particularly severe” religious freedom violations—and with good reason. Religious minorities hold a marginalized position in Pakistani society, a relic of the former Indian caste system.

The tension between religious groups provides a convenient means by which Muslim perpetrators can protect themselves from just punishment. Although the perpetrators of forced conversions and marriages are in violation of Pakistani law, the religious dynamics of Pakistan are such that a ruling in favor of a Christian or Hindu victim can often be seen as an attack on Islam itself. This creates an environment in which perpetrators can target their victims and commit crimes with impunity. 

When local police are informed of forced conversion and marriage cases, they are often reluctant to help find victims or bring perpetrators to justice. At times, authorities have even been hostile toward the victim’s family and often bend to the pressures of the extremist or influential abductors. Police have also interfered with investigations by discouraging Christian and Hindu families from filing formal complaints.

Pakistani courts aggravate this tragedy when they neglect to follow fair legal procedures. Investigations into the circumstances of an alleged conversion rarely take place; instead, the existence of a conversion certificate—which is often forged—is taken as sufficient proof. Furthermore, the threat of Islamist mob violence often makes judges afraid to do the right thing.

The issue of forced conversion and forced marriage in Pakistan is tragic. As a long-standing leader in upholding international human rights, the United States faces a critical moment. Continued silence will only embolden those who wish to violate human dignity and restrict religious freedom.

By taking a few simple steps, the U.S. government can go a long way toward holding the perpetrators—and the government that tolerates them—accountable. To start, American diplomats should raise this issue with their Pakistani counterparts. Congress can pass a resolution condemning this practice and calling on the Pakistani government to address it. The United States should also apply targeted sanctions on Pakistani officials responsible for committing or tolerating human rights abuses.

Forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan are enabled by social discrimination, corrupt authorities, and unjust courts of law. America’s diplomacy with Pakistan should address all these concerns. The United States must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to international human rights and advocate for the defenseless. Addressing this tragedy in Pakistan is a good place to start.

Arielle Del Turco is assistant director of the Center for Religious Freedom. Hannah Waters is the research assistant for the Center for Religious Liberty.

Courage on Display in Ukraine

by Arielle Del Turco

February 28, 2022

History is unfolding in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of the country is a voluntary war of aggression the likes of which Europe hasn’t seen since World War II, and the way the world chooses to respond is profoundly significant.

The heroes and villains of this story are already emerging. Tragic and impossible situations reveal one’s character. And Russia’s unprovoked—and to most Ukrainians, completely unexpected—attack on Ukraine’s very right to exist as a country has prompted Ukrainians to respond with remarkable strength and determination.

A survey of recent reporting offers a glimpse of the heroics on display from everyday people: Ukrainians in small rural communities are patrolling their villages and constructing checkpoints, trenches, and underground shelters. A Ukrainian woman named Julia cried as she waited to be deployed to fight Russian troops, telling The New York Times, “I just want to live in our country, and that’s all.” Julia is a teacher, not wanting and hardly expecting a fight, but she volunteered to take up arms for her country anyway. The government is arming anyone able to hold a gun and willing to fight. Many are taking them up on the offer, even a former Miss Ukraine.

Elsewhere, a Ukrainian woman was entrusted with bringing a stranger’s children across the border to safety while their father stayed to fight. A young boy demonstrating maturity beyond his years teared up while telling a journalist how his father stayed behind to support the fight against the Russian forces while he flees to the border. Although over 500,000 Ukrainians have fled to other European countries, some Ukrainians who were living in Poland are returning to Ukraine to join the fight.

The Russian leadership does not understand that it is at war not only with the armed forces of Ukraine, but with the entire Ukrainian people,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Sunday. This seems to be exactly the case. A senior defense official at the Pentagon stated openly over the weekend that Ukraine’s “resistance is greater than what the Russians expected.”

The courage of everyday Ukrainians is inspiring people around the world. Thousands throughout the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Japan, Brazil, the United States, and many other countries are rallying in support of Ukraine.

The world is also noticing the rise of a Churchill-like figure in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He first became famous as a comedic actor in a TV series in which he played an average character who almost accidentally became president. In real life, he campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, likely not suspecting to be targeted by a sophisticated full-scale Russian invasion. Zelenskyy’s presidency is now anything but comedic, yet he has risen to the challenge of being a “wartime president” with remarkable resolve and grace under fire.

Last Thursday, Zelenskyy addressed the Russian people in a heartfelt plea. He said:

It is not about peace at any cost. It is about peace and principles, of justice, of international law. It is about the right to self-determination, that every person might determine their own future. It is the right of every society, and of every person, to security, to a life without threats. I am certain that these rights are important to you, as well.

The truth is that this needs to end before it is too late. If Russia’s leadership does not want to meet us across the table for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at that table with you. Do you Russians want a war? I would very much like to know the answer, but that answer depends only on you, on the citizens of the Russian Federation.

Some Russians seem to have responded to Zelenskyy’s appeal, making it clear to Russian leaders they do not want to see an attack on Ukraine. It’s one thing to protest in a free country, but it’s quite another for Russians to protest the government they know might brutally crack down on them. By some estimates, Russian authorities have arrested more than 5,000 Russian protestors.

Experts believe that Russian forces want to assassinate Zelenskyy and replace him with a Russian-backed leader—and Zelenskyy believes it too. The United States offered to help Zelenskyy leave. Yet, his reply showed unwavering resolve: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

This strength of will has earned admiration across the globe and fostered hope both inside and outside of Ukraine. One Ukrainian American journalist wrote on Sunday, “Can Ukraine withstand the third largest army in the world? If you asked me Thursday, I’d think the chances were low. Now I am sure they will.”

Images and videos of Ukrainians praying and singing hymns are stirring hearts around the world. Join them in praying for the preservation of their country and the sound defeat of Russia’s brutal attack on their freedom and independence. If Ukrainians manage to keep their land and freedom, it will be due in large part to the courage of the Ukrainian people and their gutsy leader. God bless them.

Brave Truckers and Faithful Pastors: The Uprise Against Canada’s Champagne Tyranny

by Owen Strachan

February 18, 2022

Before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors.

In case the preceding sentence is strange to you, here’s what has been happening in Canada lately. Truckers from across the nation streamed into Ottawa a week or two ago. They did so in order to peacefully protest the loss of liberties. Under the guise of COVID policy, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has altered the very nature of citizenship in Canada. Vaccine mandates, forced closure of all manner of institutions, and vaccine passports have meant that Canadians have suffered tremendously as they watched their freedoms dwindle. In the name of fighting a (real) virus, a once-great nation has fallen to its knees.

But it has not stayed there. The truckers have fought back. They have shown that the light of the West—freedom for the individual—has not gone out. Putting their livelihoods on the line, the truckers have acted as men must in the face of massive civilizational threat: boldly. They have not torched Ottawa or anywhere else. They have not caused violence and mayhem. Unlike the riots of the summer of 2020—riots fomented by Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and the mainstream media’s coverage, the winter of 2022 has featured protest of a peaceful kind. The truckers have given the world an example of how to advocate for liberty and defy tyranny—tyranny of a distinctly Trudeauian kind. Call it “champagne tyranny,” for although Canada’s foremost political leader projects a cosmopolitan air, if you look beneath the half-smile and the flowing locks, you see an emerging totalitarian.

The truckers have defied “champagne tyranny.” They were not the first to do so in Canada, however. Starting in the summer of 2020, Ontario pastor Jacob Reaume saw that he could not fail to gather his people for congregational worship. The flock of Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo needed the Word and the gospel. Sermonettes on Zoom and text messages to one another would not cut it. Reaume’s conscience told him that remotely gathering over Zoom was no substitute for the gathered church (Hebrews 10:25). Reaume knew instinctively what John MacArthur has proclaimed: “There is no such thing as a Zoom church.”

It is no bad thing for sick folks to be able to stream sermons, of course. Further, Christians do have real disagreements in charity over policies regarding lockdowns and governmental decrees. There are gray areas and hard questions that pastors have faced the last two years, and we have sympathy for their efforts to try to hold churches together in divided times. But with that noted, Reaume and his peers saw something vital: Caesar does not rule the church’s worship. Christ does. To gather together weekly, even in difficult and tempestuous days, even when Caesar says not to, is to render to him what is due him (Matthew 22:21).

So, not long after the lockdown began in spring 2020, Reaume—like many pastors—gathered the flock and “opened the church.” As he did so, he drew the wrath of Canadian officials. Over time in late 2020 and 2021, they fined his church millions of dollars. Yet Reaume and his elders refused to stop meeting. They did so not to spite the government; they did so to glorify God and love needy people. God has commanded that his people gather, so loving God means meeting for worship, which also happens to be the foremost way Christians love their neighbor (see Matthew 22:34-39). Yet today, we are tempted by our fallen world to break the first commandment (and not gather for worship) in order to keep the second commandment (and thus love neighbor).

These pastors knew that Christians need congregational worship and body life, even desperately. So, too, do unbelievers need the gospel. This becomes especially clear in a global lockdown when seemingly every comfort and pleasure of normal life has drained away. One woman who had no interest in church prior to the lockdown visited Trinity Bible Chapel during it. Her name is Jennifer. She was, by her own testimony, shooting cocaine, being promiscuous, and living without any hope at all. She was lost. But her son asked her to come to a gathering at Trinity, and she did. She heard biblical truth and experienced biblical love. God’s Spirit moved, and Jennifer was born again. She was baptized not long ago at Trinity and said these words in her baptismal testimony:

Most recently, I was smoking and shooting seven grams of cocaine a day, and my son asked me to come to a prayer meeting at Trinity. In my small group, I asked for prayer to stop… I know for a fact that I’d be dead right now if God had not used this church in my life.

The ministry of Trinity, Pastor Reaume, and the faithful elders of this church bore much fruit even in difficult days. The same trend—light advancing in darkness—was playing out in Western Canada as well. In Edmonton, at a church called GraceLife, Pastor James Coates and his elders had reached similar conclusions. Coates saw that his people needed the hope of the gospel and determined with his elders and the support of the church that GraceLife Edmonton would not close in 2020 and 2021. For doing so, James Coates and his church were targeted. Civil authorities put a fence around the church building. Coates refused to stop preaching the Word to his people (and hundreds more who came), and for doing so, was thrown into prison in February 2021.

The same happened to Tim Stephens, a pastor in Calgary, Alberta. In May and June 2021, Stephens went to prison for gathering his flock. The video of Stephens being taken by authorities from his family is heart-wrenching. His children weep, and Stephens was hauled off. Alongside Stephens, other faithful men have spoken up and taken a stand in Canada as well. Men like Mike Hovland, Steve Richardson, Aaron Rock, Joseph Boot, Samuel Sey, and Steve Bainbridge have put themselves on record as those who will not bow the knee to champagne tyranny. Still others, like Artur Pawlowski—a Protestant of a different religious stripe than the aforementioned men— have also paid a heavy price for defending religious liberty.

Yet here is something remarkable: the American church has been largely silent about the plight of the Canadian church. Rarely has so much communicative power gone so untapped. Very few pastors, theologians, and religious leaders have supported the persecuted and suffering Canadian church. In America, blessed with huge organizations devoted to the cause of religious liberty and freedom more generally, precious few have spoken in defense of the faithful leaders and congregations of Canada. In fact, over the last couple of years, when Americans (and some Canadians) have spoken up at all about the suffering Canadian pastors, they have done so to oppose them, nitpick their arguments, and generally discourage their bravery.

There is a great more to say about all this. Yet what we should not miss is this: courage is having an effect in Canada, a tremendous effect. It always does. Courage is how movements advance; freedom is what comes from the gospel of Christ, freedom of many kinds. God has done something unprecedented in Canada in recent days, and a nation falling under the shadow of tyranny has awoken. The truckers show us this, as does the massive cross-country opposition to Trudeau’s champagne tyranny.

Truly, at this hour, Trudeau is alone. He is not bolstered by a wave of popular opinion. He who has done so much to mask and muzzle the Canadian people is well and truly unmasked. In his common grace, God has let the world see—in Canada and across the world—the totalitarian nature of modern leftism. It is not “live and let live” as an ideology; it is “do what I say or suffer.”

Here is the story on the ground, then. Canada is not fallen—not yet. Amidst much travail and real suffering, the true Canada is rising. Long may it rise. We ask not for violence or destruction but a return to liberty, human flourishing, and justice. If it is brave truckers who have lately led the way here, know this: before there were the Canadian truckers, there were the Canadian pastors. Man may oppose them, but God is behind them. What is the emblem of the Christian faith, after all? Light has come into the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

And, we may rightly say, it never will.

Praying for Leah Sharibu After Four Years in Captivity

by Arielle Del Turco

February 18, 2022

Four years ago, Leah Sharibu’s world was turned upside down. She went from being a normal schoolgirl in a rural region of Nigeria to being a captive of a faction of one of the world’s most notorious terrorist groups, Boko Haram.

On February 19, 2018, Boko Haram terrorists attacked the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, in northeast Nigeria. They kidnapped 109 students. However, they quickly released all but one: Leah Sharibu.

The girls who were released said the terrorists would not free Leah, who was just 14 years old at the time, because she refused to renounce her faith in Christ and convert to Islam. The world has not seen or heard from Leah since, but multiple recent reports indicate that she is still alive.

Reverend Gideon Para-Mallam told Open Doors: “It has been almost four years since Leah’s abduction. What a traumatic experience for this teenage girl. But we are grateful to God that she is still alive. The news of her being alive should encourage our hearts to remain hopeful that one day Leah will be set free.”

Reports indicate that Leah may have two young children at this point, likely a result of rape and/or forced marriage to one of her captors. The truth remains unclear, but one thing is for sure—Leah needs our prayers. Here are three ways you can pray for Leah:

1. Pray for Leah’s release from captivity.

This weekend marks the beginning of Leah’s fourth year in bondage. Pray that her captors would have a miraculous change of heart. Also, pray that the Nigerian government—which has blatantly neglected the pleas for help from Nigerian Christians who are routinely victimized by terrorist attacks—would be motivated to locate and rescue Leah.

2. Pray for Leah’s encouragement and protection.

Persecution can place immense strain on one’s character, mental health, and walk with the Lord. Pray that the Lord would encourage Leah and give her the mental, emotional, and physical strength and perseverance she needs. Pray that no harm would come to her body from Boko Haram terrorists or others.

3. Pray for Leah’s family and the many Christians just like Leah who are facing persecution.

One often-forgotten consequence of persecution is the effect it has on the victims’ families. Since her kidnapping, Leah’s family has been distraught. Her mother does not even have proof that her daughter is alive. She has visited the United States to ask American leaders to urge the Nigerian government to help but has little to show for it. Pray that God would comfort Leah’s family while they wait and pray for Leah’s freedom.

Today, Leah is the face of so many persecuted people whose names and stories the world does not know. She reminds us of the price people pay to follow Christ. As we remember that Leah was captured four years ago, please also pray for the millions of others who face religious persecution in Nigeria, China, North Korea, Pakistan, and far too many other places.

Counseling Bans in Canada and West Lafayette Threaten the Free Speech of Pastors and Counselors

by David Closson

January 21, 2022

In today’s sensationalized news environment, most of the stories we read or hear about rarely deserve our immediate and undivided attention. However, two recent developments related to so-called “conversion therapy bans” merit attention from Christian pastors, counselors, and parents. These bans threaten the rights and responsibilities of those tasked with teaching, discipling, and caring for the people in our churches, ministries, and families.

The first story comes from West Lafayette, Indiana, where the city council recently proposed an ordinance prohibiting the practice of so-called “conversion therapy” by unlicensed counselors. While these counseling bans are not new, the scope and reach of the proposed ordinance go beyond almost anything we’ve seen previously. By intentionally targeting unlicensed professionals, the ordinance would subject pastors and counselors to hefty fines for having conversations with church members and counselees about what the Bible teaches about unwanted same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria.

The proposed West Lafayette ordinance is likely unconstitutional. As written, the ordinance explicitly infringes on the speech rights of pastors, parents, and counselors. However, before taking a closer look at the shocking details of the proposed ordinance, it is important to understand the history behind the push to ban such counseling.

Counseling bans have become an important goal of the LGBT lobby. As public opinion on LGBT issues has shifted, there has been a concerted effort to enact bans on counseling pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity. By and large, these bans mandate that counselors use a “gender-affirming” model of care with their clients, meaning that licensed health care professionals and counselors are prohibited from discussing unwanted same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria with their clients (even if the patient and/or parents choose such counseling).

Although the media and the LGBT lobby use the term “conversion therapy” (which evokes images of discredited practices such as electroshock or other pain-inducing methods), counseling bans intentionally use broad language that includes talk therapy. In other words, counseling bans prevent counselors and mental health care professionals from counseling in a way consistent with their sincerely-held religious beliefs and deny patients the right to choose such counseling. Currently, 20 states and the District of Columbia have counseling bans in place.

For Christian pastors and counselors, the proposed ordinance’s inclusion of unlicensed counselors is very significant. Although the city “strongly discourages” those with professional licensure through Indiana’s Professional Licensing Agency from “engaging in conversion therapy with a minor person,” it currently stops short of prohibiting the practice because the city lacks the authority to do so.

The proposed ordinance defines conversion therapy as “any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.” Because there are no ecclesial or ministerial exceptions, any guidance, advice, or encouragement from a pastor or Christian counselor about addressing unwanted same-sex attraction is prohibited. Violators of the ordinance would be fined $1,000 for every violation.

If passed, the ordinance would immediately affect a West Lafayette counseling ministry operated by Faith Church. Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries provides 60-80 hours of counseling each week and follows a counseling model known as biblical counseling, which offers support and guidance by applying biblical principles to people’s needs.

The second recent development in this area comes from Canada, where parliament recently passed a new law that bans so-called “conversion therapy.” Passed without debate or discussion, the bill, known as “C-4,” went into effect on January 7. C-4 amends the criminal code to criminalize conversion therapy, which is broadly defined as a “practice, treatment or service” designed to:

  • change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual,”
  • change a person’s identity to heterosexual,”
  • change a person’s gender expression so that it conforms to the sex assigned to the person at birth,”
  • repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behavior,”
  • repress a person’s non-cisgender gender identity,”
  • repress or reduce a person’s gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned at birth.”

Moreover, the legislation describes as a “myth” the belief that “heterosexuality, cisgender gender identity, and gender expression that conforms to the sex assigned to a person at birth are to be preferred over other sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions.”

Although it is unclear how C-4 will be enforced—and there is hope that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which explicitly protects the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression” (as well as the freedom of conscience and religion) will protect the speech of pastors, counselors, and parents—the fact remains that Canadian law now equates orthodox Christian beliefs about human sexuality with harmful “myths” and “stereotypes.”

Describing the biblically-based views of millions of Canadians as “myths” is discriminatory and intolerant, but that’s not even the worst thing about C-4. Under the guise of preventing “conversion therapy,” legislators in Canada have enshrined contested gender ideology into law. The broad manner in which this new counseling ban defines “conversion therapy” opens the question of whether Christian pastors and ministers will be in violation whenever they preach and teach about Christian sexual ethics. Moreover, it would appear that talk therapy—the practice of simply having conversations—related to sexual orientation and gender identity would transgress C-4. If so, Christian counselors and even parents could face criminal penalties for talking to children about the Bible’s teaching on sexuality.

Pastors in Canada and the United States are speaking out about C-4. In Canada, the Canadian Religious Freedom Summit encouraged pastors to read a statement to their congregations on January 9 expressing their concern about the new law and their intention to continue preaching the “whole counsel of God.” In the United States, John MacArthur, the pastor of Grace Community Church, encouraged pastors to preach on biblical sexual morality on January 16. According to The Daily Wire, at least 4,000 pastors in the United States responded to MacArthur’s call by preaching on texts such as 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:26-27, and 1 Timothy 1:10.

Incredibly, but not surprisingly, YouTube removed a clip from MacArthur’s sermon that Grace Community Church had posted to the site. In the clip titled “Transgenderism is a War on God,” MacArthur stated, “God made man male and female. That is determined genetically, that is physiology. That is science. That is reality. This notion that you are something other than your biology is a cultural construct intended as an assault on God. The only way you can address it, honestly, is to say, ‘God made you and God made you exactly the way He wanted you to be. You are not only fighting God in His physical creation, you are fighting God in His sovereignty. You are fighting God in His spiritual relationship to you.’ This is a war on God.”

For the offending statements, YouTube censored MacArthur, claiming that the comments on transgenderism violated their “hate speech policy.” This is just the latest example of Big Tech suppressing Christian views on sexuality.

Although it remains to be seen how C-4 will be enforced, the passage of this bill is not promising for pastors, counselors, and other ministry leaders in Canada. They need support, encouragement, and prayer as they face an uncertain legal terrain. And those of us in the United States must remain vigilant to ensure that lawmakers in the United States understand that tens of millions of Americans do not want their freedom of speech or religion infringed in a similar fashion. Counseling bans are wrong and have to go.

Like Canada’s new law, the West Lafayette counseling ban discriminates against orthodox Christian beliefs pertaining to sexuality. Although courts could find the ordinance unconstitutional, the discussion and debate surrounding it reveal the growing hostility toward those who hold orthodox Christian beliefs. The utopia of the cultural revolutionaries is a world where the teaching of Christian sexual ethics is outlawed, counselors are restricted to providing so-called “affirmative” practices only, and parents are prohibited from raising and discipling their children in line with biblical principles. Coming at a time when a Finnish member of parliament is being criminally prosecuted for her biblical speech on sexuality (her trial begins next week), these developments paint a foreboding picture.

Christian pastors, counselors, parents, and policymakers need to recognize our cultural moment and push back against this growing threat of counseling bans. If we don’t, the next generation will have less freedom to teach and live out God’s Word.

A Year of Biden’s Foreign Policy: Blunders, Chaos, and Human Suffering

by Arielle Del Turco

January 20, 2022

President Joe Biden assumed office exactly one year ago, and although he declared at a press conference yesterday that he “probably outperformed what anyone thought would happen” in his first year, Americans are frustrated—and rightfully so. When it comes to foreign policy alone, one can’t help but think that American interests are less secure and our allies more frustrated with us than last year.

No Biden-era disaster is more prominent or caused more human suffering than the mishandling of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The quick rise of the Taliban led to an economic collapse in a country where most people already lived below the poverty line. Now, desperate and mournful Afghan parents are selling their daughters into child marriages just to feed the rest of their family for a few more months and survive the winter.

Although the Taliban promised to respect human rights, women are feeling the brunt of that lie. Afghan women who served in the military or police are in hiding, as are female athletes. Afghan girls and female university students have been kept at home and out of school, maybe forever. The United States spent 20 years investing in women’s rights efforts in Afghanistan. After one year of Biden’s leadership, all of that progress is down the drain.

Vulnerable Afghan religious minorities might have the most to lose with the rise of the Taliban. This year’s World Watch List from Open Doors named Afghanistan the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Yet, religious minorities were not included among the Afghan groups who received Priority 2 status from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Meanwhile, our adversaries feel confident testing the president, and Biden’s weakness on the world stage has given them every reason to do so.

Certain Biden gaffes have left policy wonks wondering if the president even knows what he’s talking about. He seemed to abandon a long-term policy of strategic ambiguity about how the United States would respond if China invaded Taiwan, forcing the White House to backtrack and say the policy hadn’t changed. When a military conflict is at stake, Biden’s gaffes are not endearing—they’re potentially deadly. Biden should be taking practical steps to support Taiwan, including selling it necessary defense weapons and welcoming Taiwanese leaders in international forums as the island’s legitimate government.

Ukraine also has reason to feel uncertain of the United States’ support. Earlier this week, Biden indicated that “a minor incursion” of Russian forces into Ukraine might not be met with much pushback. It’s an abominable thing to say when Ukraine is vulnerable and Russian troops have amassed along its border. European allies were flustered that the president would make such a statement openly.

U.S. relations with some American allies are more strained than before. When the Biden administration negotiated a deal in secret to sell submarines to Australia, it effectively canceled an earlier agreement between France and Australia, one that was critical for France’s defense industry. To the French, it was a slap in the face. France responded by recalling its ambassador to the United States, a move reflecting heightened tensions between the two countries.

This month, the Biden administration withdrew its support for a proposed natural-gas pipeline from Israel to Europe, a decision with negative economic ramifications for Israel and Europe. This reversal from the Trump administration’s position is frustrating our friends and pleasing Russia and Turkey. Biden sold himself as someone who would “repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.” Sadly, some American allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East might not think that goal is being achieved.

Of course, U.S. promotion of religious freedom abroad—championed by former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—is waning. Although Rashad Hussain took the reigns as the new ambassador-at-large this month, the momentum on international religious freedom has drastically diminished under Biden’s leadership.

In November, the Biden administration removed Nigeria from the list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) on religious freedom, despite increased violence against Christians in rural Nigerian communities throughout the year. The move gives Nigerian leaders who failed to protect religious communities from violence a free pass.

President Biden neglected to host a Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, an annual gathering of foreign diplomats and world leaders to strategize promoting religious freedom around the world. The Trump administration held two such gatherings in Washington that were widely deemed successful. It’s time to bring the Ministerial back. The problem of religious persecution hasn’t subsided, and neither should U.S. government attention on the issue.

Biden’s first year in office has been full of foreign policy challenges, many of his own making. A clear “Biden Doctrine” might not yet have come into view, but a year of foreign policy marked with blunders, chaos, and human suffering is a shame—not merely for the American people who entrusted Biden with our foreign policy, but for people around the world. The Biden administration’s actions will have countless ramifications for years to come.

Religious Freedom Day: The Biden Administration Is Failing To Uphold Our First Freedom

by David Closson

January 18, 2022

Since 1993, the United States has formally observed Religious Freedom Day on January 16. The day honors the nation’s first religious freedom law, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, passed in 1786. Like other presidents before him, President Joe Biden released a proclamation acknowledging the day. Although the president’s comments on religious freedom were mostly encouraging, it is difficult to appreciate his rhetoric when many of his actions throughout the first year of his presidency have undermined the freedoms he claims to support.

In his proclamation, President Biden described religious freedom as a “cornerstone of who we are as a Nation” and a “vital aspect of our American character.” The president also said that “protecting religious freedom is as important now as it has ever been.” On these points, the president is right. Enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution, religious freedom is central to our national identity. But even though the president’s comments rightly place religious freedom as essential to the American way of life, his administration has unfortunately failed to meaningfully protect the rights of the faithful.

For example, following his inauguration on January 20, 2021, the new president issued an executive order that requires federal agencies to interpret federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination as also prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In doing so, Biden expanded the holding of the problematic Bostock v. Clayton County U.S. Supreme Court decision far beyond its intended scope of employment discrimination.

On February 4, 2021, President Biden issued a memorandum on “Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World.” This memorandum “reaffirms and supplements” an Obama administration executive order that sought to ensure “United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote[s] and protect[s] the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons everywhere.” What this really means is imposing the far Left’s human sexuality agenda onto other countries, including U.S. allies with laws upholding natural marriage and human sexuality. This is just one example of how instead of prioritizing religious freedom overseas, the Biden administration has given preference to radical LGBT policies.

Another example is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) memorandum issued on February 11, 2021, which applied the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision to the administration and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. The likely ramifications of this action could include HUD-funded shelters for battered women being mandated to allow biological men to be housed alongside women, where they may share private spaces such as sleeping quarters and bathrooms.

On February 14, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order dismantling the previous administration’s White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, replacing it with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The accompanying fact sheet revealed that the office would function as an intersectional advancement of progressive policies—a shift away from preserving religious freedom and towards ensuring religious entities that want to work with the government do not operate according to their religious beliefs that are counter to the LGBT agenda.

On March 8, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order establishing a White House Gender Policy Council. The accompanying fact sheet states that the council will “aggressively protect” certain groups, including the LGBT community, in its endeavor to “advance equal rights and opportunities, regardless of gender or gender identity, in advancing domestic and foreign policy.” The removal of the scientific and biological parameters of sex will prevent this council from adequately protecting and addressing the needs of biological women.

The same day, President Biden issued another executive order declaring that “the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Attorney General, shall review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other similar agency actions (collectively, agency actions)” to ensure they line up with the LGBT agenda.

On March 26, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memorandum on the application of Bostock to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, paving the way for schools’ mandatory acceptance of gender identity ideology. In addition, President Biden issued a statement on May 17 recognizing “International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia,” which celebrates the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. He touted the administration’s work on the issue and called on Congress to pass the Equality Act, a bill that would erode the freedom of houses of worship, religious schools and students, and faith-based organizations.

When he was inaugurated last year, President Biden inherited a federal bureaucracy accustomed to defending religious freedom. Under the previous administration, America’s “first freedom” had been prioritized and actively protected. For example, the DOJ vigorously enforced laws that protected prayer and religious expression. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within its Office of Civil Rights to enforce federal laws that protect conscience rights and religious freedom. The U.S. State Department hosted an annual ministerial highlighting religious freedom issues abroad. In other words, the Trump administration embraced policies that valued religious freedom and actively protected the rights of people of faith.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration has managed to undo or undermine many of these policies, relegating religious freedom to the backseat while pursuing radical policies couched in “anti-discrimination” language.

Less than a decade ago, President Barack Obama commemorated Religious Freedom Day by declaring, “individuals should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind—and of the heart and soul.” The idea of living out one’s faith means that one’s convictions apply to the whole of life. True religious freedom means someone should have the freedom to believe what they want in terms of doctrine and theology and have the freedom to order their life according to their deepest convictions.

Unfortunately, despite the pro-religious freedom rhetoric, the Biden administration is failing to protect these rights and is seemingly working overtime to roll back some of the hard-won protections secured by the previous administration.

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