Category archives: Religious Liberty

The State Department’s Ministerial on Religious Freedom is Over. Now What?

by Arielle Del Turco , Luke Isbell

July 23, 2019

This year’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the U.S. State Department last week saw over 1,000 civil society and political leaders from around the world gather in Washington D.C. for a three-day summit to discuss religious freedom issues and solutions.

The ministerial itself is encouraging. That leaders and advocates of all faiths from all corners of the world can unite on the common goal of promoting religious freedom and protecting religious minorities is a step in the right direction. However, the stories of survivors of religious persecution featured at the ministerial serve to remind us of the work that still needs to be done.

Just last week, Pew Research Center released a new report which tracks government restrictions and social hostility to religion around the world over a 10-year period between 2007 and 2017. According to the report, “83 countries (42%) experienced high or very high levels of overall restrictions on religion from government actions or hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups” in 2017. The enormity of this issue demonstrates the need for action both from U.S. and foreign leaders.

Thankfully, several good initiatives were announced during the ministerial. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the creation of a new International Religious Freedom Alliance. This alliance will provide a way for like-minded countries to work together to advance religious freedom, circumventing international bodies like the U.N., which often gives countries with appalling human rights violations a seat at the table.

Last year’s ministerial—the first event of its kind—inspired other countries to hold their own religious conferences. Albania, Colombia, and Morocco are planning to hold regional religious freedom conferences soon. This October, the State Department will partner with the Vatican to co-host a summit highlighting “the importance of working with faith-based organizations to support and protect religious freedom.”

The new alliance and these subsequent regional conferences show the long-term impact of the ministerial.

Yet, the U.S. can do more to advance religious freedom across the globe.

The discussions on religious persecution featured at the ministerial must be integral to United States foreign policy and trade negotiations. Rather than an afterthought, a country’s treatment of their religious minorities should be the litmus test for whether the United States continues economic and military ties with them.

News broke last week that the Trump administration imposed economic sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act against four high-profile Iraqis guilty of human rights abuses. The Global Magnitsky Act is a great tool the U.S. can use to expose the human rights/religious freedom abuses of individuals—because these sanctions are targeted, they often come without the political and diplomatic risks associated with placing sanctions on an entire country.

The Global Magnitsky Act has already been proven effective. In 2018, the Trump administration relied on Executive Order 13818 (which builds on Global Magnitsky Act authority) to sanction two Turkish officials over the detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson due to his Christian faith. Less than three months later, Pastor Brunson was released. This was an important victory that demonstrated the power of the tools already at our disposal.

Countries care how they are perceived on the world stage. Recent heated responses from world leaders following unfavorable assessments in the State Department’s latest Report on International Religious Freedom demonstrate that much. Events like the ministerial further emphasize the importance of being seen as a country that protects religious freedom on the world stage.

For leaders of countries that live in the shadow of a regional power-house that fails to respect religious freedom such as China, it can take courage to travel to the U.S. to discuss religious liberty. In his address at the ministerial, Pompeo noted this, saying, “If you’re here today and you’re a country which has defied the Chinese pressure to come here, we salute you and we thank you. And if you have declined to attend for the same reason, we took note.” This type of pressure from U.S. leaders can be impactful in diplomacy, and the U.S. should make these public statements more often

Overall, the ministerial highlights several ways in which the United States and the international community can forward the cause of religious freedom. The ministerial was a great start, but it should only be the beginning.  

Arielle Del Turco is the Research Assistant for Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty. Luke Isbell is an intern at FRC.

LISTEN: Mike Pompeo on the Fight for International Religious Freedom

by Family Research Council

July 15, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unveiled the Commission on Unalienable Rights last week to address basic human rights violations across the world. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins recently sat down with Pompeo to discuss how the Commission could impact religious freedom. Pompeo said progress has been made but there are still violations occurring around the world that are “unacceptable” (starts at 9:15).

Secretary Pompeo also previewed the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom which the State Department is hosting in Washington on July 16-18. Click here for more information on the ministerial.

Here is the full conversation between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and FRC President Tony Perkins.

 

World Leaders Shamelessly Deny Religious Freedom Violations in Their Countries

by Arielle Del Turco , Luke Isbell

July 12, 2019

When the State Department released its annual Report on International Religious Freedom in June detailing the status of religious freedom in countries around the world, it drew blowback from world leaders whose countries failed to receive a positive report. 

Officials from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were especially quick to criticize the State Department’s assessment of their country.

The report outlines several instances where violence has occurred against religious minorities and how Indian law enforcement has been implicated in many of the crimes.

Violence against Christians and Muslims is an ongoing problem in India—and Indian law enforcement has been reluctant to protect these religious minority communities. What’s worse is that law enforcement has often been implicated in many of the crimes committed against religious minorities. Over the past several years, it has become increasingly common for members of Hindu nationalist groups to attack Christian leaders and their ministries following false accusations that Christians are practicing forced conversions. There’s clearly religious freedom violations occurring in India, and the State Department report offers substantial evidence to confirm that.

In response to the State Department’s report, Anil Baluni, the National Media head for the BJP, defended Indian president Narendra Modi in an official statement. “The basic presumption in this report that there is some grand design behind anti-minority violence is simply false,” he stated. “Whenever needed, Mr. Modi and other BJP leaders have deplored violence against minorities and weaker sections.”

In another response to the report, a government spokesperson tersely retorted that, “India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion.”

The State Department report is not the only announcement that has put oppressive countries on the defensive. Popular news outlets are also calling out countries on the abuses levied at their people.

Recently, Pakistani leaders issued a defense of Pakistan’s treatment of religious minorities. During a recent trip to Brussels, Pakistani Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi attempted to downplay accusations of ongoing Christian persecution in Pakistan. He argued that Christians are “very welcome,” and stated, “we respect them and want them to be there.”

News reports suggest the environment for Christians in Pakistan is less than welcoming. 

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which prohibit speaking against Islam, are often abused and used to settle unrelated disputes. Pakistani Christians live in fear of being accused of blasphemy, which can be punishable by death.

Last week, Nigerian leaders also claimed that accusations of persecution against Christians in Nigeria was exaggerated. This is an especially bold denial when the situation in Nigeria borders on genocide.

Tens of thousands of Christians have been displaced or killed by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. Boko Haram has killed more people than ISIS, and the Fulani are armed with AK-47s. Despite the horrific violence occurring in Nigeria, when the Northern Christian Elders Forum wrote a letter to the British Parliament about the abuses suffered under the current administration, the Nigerian government was quick to retort that claims of religious persecution in Nigeria were false. Nigerian officials went so far as to trivialize the current violence by calling it a simple case of clashes between farmers and herdsman.  

These incidences of world leaders denying religious freedom violations in their countries is appalling and hard to believe—yet it is actually a good sign. This shows that efforts like the State Department’s annual Report on International Religious Freedom (which calls out countries on their religious freedom violations), the upcoming Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (which highlights the diplomatic importance of honoring religious liberty), and even reports by major news outlets are effective. The fact that state leaders don’t want their countries to be seen as countries where religious liberty isn’t protected shows the pressure that the U.S. State Department can put on countries to improve the status of religious freedom in their countries.

World leaders can deny the truth all they want, but religious freedom is only gaining ground as an issue of focus on the world stage. Soon, leaders will have to do more than deny the ongoing persecution in their countries. If regimes want to gain international legitimacy and improve their reputation, they must become known as governments which respect the freedom of their people to adhere to their conscience and protect religious minorities from harassment and violence due to their faith.

Arielle Del Turco is the Research Assistant for FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty. Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

State Department’s New Commission Set to Expose Human Rights Abusers

by Arielle Del Turco

July 10, 2019

July 9th marked the four-year anniversary of the launch of a campaign by Chinese officials to crack down on human rights lawyers. Many of these lawyers were arrested, given prison sentences, and tortured behind bars. This tragedy is now referred to as the “709 Incident” because it began on July 9, 2015. Since this date, China has continued to persecute human rights lawyers and activists.

The Chinese government’s crackdown on anyone brave enough to advocate for human rights in China is especially disgusting given that China currently sits on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council.

The fact that shameless human rights abusers can participate in the UN Human Rights Council brings to light an issue that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is trying to address.

On July 7th, Pompeo announced the launch of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. This new panel of scholars, legal experts, and advocates are tasked with reorienting the definition of “human rights” to one that our country’s Founders and the signers of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights would recognize.

Political activists over the past several decades have slowly eroded the proper understanding of human rights from being centered around life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to a catch-all phrase that encompasses everything from abortion to free college tuition.

The confusion over human rights is especially evident in international affairs. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council has shamelessly ignored obvious human rights violations around the world—all while some of the worst violators of human rights claim membership on the council. It’s clear that international institutions tasked with addressing human rights concerns have lost focus on their mission. The Commission on Unalienable Rights is looking to change that.

The commission, which will provide advice, not policy, will take a step back and consider the source and substance of what the Declaration of Independence labeled our “unalienable rights.” Informed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and U.S. founding documents, the commission is intended to provide insight on how we can better define and protect essential human rights.

Pompeo argues that oppressive regimes have abused the term “human rights” and acted as if they were champions of this cause. We can no longer let brutal regimes get away with hiding their heinous actions as they hijack the legitimate and necessary terminology of “human rights.” There must be a universal standard of basic human rights so that countries can be held accountable for violating the fundamental rights of their people. We can hope that this new commission will provide the clarity that is so desperately needed to effectively advocate for those most basic rights which all people are entitled to, but far too many people around the world are denied.

Dilshat Perhat Ataman: A Prisoner of Conscience in China

by Arielle Del Turco

July 3, 2019

As the United States and China continue to discuss trade, we have a unique opportunity to raise religious freedom concerns such as that country’s ongoing detention of Christian pastors and mass repression of Uyghur Muslims. It is therefore encouraging to see Family Research Council President and chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Tony Perkins announce yesterday that he was formally adopting Dilshat Perhat Ataman as a prisoner of conscience to highlight his case of unjust imprisonment due to his faith.

Dilshat is a Uyghur Muslim currently detained in a “re-education” internment camp in China’s Xinjiang province.

Dilshat founded and managed a popular website called “Diyarim,” which promoted Uyghur history and culture and provided a social media platform to the Uyghur community. In 2009, he was arrested by Chinese authorities and charged with “endangering state security” after a comment was posted in a chatroom on his website about the Chinese government’s suppression of Uyghur protests.

After serving five years in prison, Dilshat was released in 2014. Yet, his freedom was short-lived. In June 2018, he was rearrested without reason from the Chinese authorities—this time he was taken to a “re-education” internment camp.

Those who have been released from these camps describe how Uyghurs are tortured during interrogation, live in crowded cells, and are subjected to extensive daily regimens of Chinese Communist Party indoctrination (as seen in this BBC report). Detainees routinely face harsh treatment and are forced to live in unhygienic conditions, sometimes leading to their death. 

The Chinese government has invested a lot of resources to surveil and suppress Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group who are mostly Muslim. Yet, it is not a contradiction to say that Christians must care about the suffering they face due to their religious beliefs and advocate on their behalf.  

Christians believe that God is in control of human affairs yet gives people the freedom to choose their beliefs. Just as God gives people that freedom, we should defend the freedom of others to choose and live out their religious convictions without any government harassing, oppressing, imprisoning, or killing people for expressing their basic right to religious freedom.

What the Chinese government is doing to the Uyghurs is evil—and that should be something everyone is concerned about.

Dilshat is one of at least 880,000 and possibly more than 2 million Uyghurs who are detained in Chinese “re-education” internment camps.

The injustice of China’s detention of Dilshat Perhat Ataman in a “re-education” camp is obvious. Hopefully, by bringing Dilshat’s case to light, there will be a greater awareness of the plight of Uyghur Muslims who are targeted for persecution because the Chinese government views their religious beliefs as a threat to the political ideology and authority of the Communist Party.

Lemon v. The Constitution

by Nicolas Reynolds

July 1, 2019

Conservatives breathed a refreshing sigh of relief upon hearing the Supreme Court’s ruling to protect the Bladensburg cross-shaped memorial last month in American Legion v. American Humanist Association. In defending the memorial, the Court not only resolved this case’s controversy but helped shed light on religion’s place in the public square entirely. This case may prove to be a greater victory than many suppose as it looks towards the original intentions of our Founding Fathers, measuring the memorial’s legality with the Constitution rather than tests the Court has conjured up in the past.

Though the Court has had to determine how the Constitution is to be interpreted, some of the ways chosen to do so have greatly deviated from the Constitution’s plain original meaning. One of the worst interpretations of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause—the Lemon testhas played a significant role in the Court’s decisions since Lemon v. Kurtzman was decided in 1971. The Lemon test instated a three-pronged set of requirements intended to drive a wedge between Church and State—something that the Establishment Clause never envisioned, supported, or made accommodations for.

Though the Lemon test has daunted cases of religious freedom for decades, the Court’s decision to protect the Bladensburg cross-shaped memorial gives one hope for a future full reversal of Lemon. Having produced a strong 7-2 ruling in favor of the memorial, the Court once again highlighted the futility of the test. Even though the Court did not throw out Lemon entirely, their ruling greatly crippled the test, increasingly marginalizing it and making clear it is simply unhelpful. In his concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh highlighted its obvious flaws and increasing uselessness, as he surveyed the Court’s Establishment Clause cases to show that Lemon has not been applied in many of them.

Kavanaugh pointed out Lemon’s grave flaws by showing that many normal religious practices would be prohibited by the test. As Lemon doesn’t allow the government to act in any way that could advance or endorse religion, any form of government-granted religious accommodations and exemptions—practices that have always been fundamental within the United States—would be entirely forbidden. Kavanaugh lays out that many religious practices intertwined with daily life “’by definition’ have the effect of advancing or endorsing religion to some extent.”

Along with other justices, Justice Kavanaugh urges that a test as hostile towards religious imagery as the Lemon test is dangerously unconstitutional and should hold no place within our judicial system. Kavanaugh concurred, “The Court’s decision in this case [The American Legion v. American Humanist Association] again makes clear that the Lemon test does not apply to the Establishment Clause…”

Rather than choosing to interpret the cross as a secular symbol, Kavanaugh drives home the significance of preserving religious imagery in the public square, stating, “I fully understand the deeply religious nature of the cross. It would demean both believers and nonbelievers to say that the cross is not religious, or not all that religious.” Kavanaugh summarized and solidified the cross’s validity, choosing to understand it for what it is—the universally chosen icon to represent Christ’s death and sacrifice on Calvary.

Justice Kavanaugh, along with others, shed light on the clear truth that it is impossible to separate religion from the public square, being that the public square is comprised of religious individuals. For those that prize religious freedom as a core principle of this country, the Bladensburg memorial stands as a testimony to the Constitution’s provisions for religious freedom. This case helps illuminate how religion is not only inseparable from but also necessary for public life to flourish, something that FRC’s amicus brief highlights. In a culture that appears to be continuously straying from biblical values, it is comforting for Supreme Court Justices to stand on and for the truths that this country was founded upon.

Nicolas Reynolds is an intern at Family Research Council.

The Fight to Defend Faith-Based Adoption Providers

by Nicolas Reynolds

June 28, 2019

Recently, faith-based adoption and foster care agencies have been the target of many discriminatory acts made by state and local governments.

Far from the Founding Fathers’ original intent, the ability to help others through foster care and adoption is now contingent on the feelings of LGBT activists in some states and localities. This is just the latest example of a disturbing trend—if the convictions of one’s religion encroaches on someone else’s comfort, ego, or ideology, they are demonized and declared to be a manifestation of hatred.

Increasingly, care provided by faith-based adoption agencies is only permitted on the condition that these agencies’ beliefs do not offend the LGBT movement, conditions that threaten their ability to serve children who are in desperate need of fundamental nurturing. Governmental discriminatory actions have been taken against faith-based agencies in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.

In Philadelphia, actions were taken in March of 2018 to end the referral contract the city had with Catholic Social Services (CSS) even though they are one of the city’s largest foster care agencies (there are 30 total), working every day to place at-risk and special needs children in supportive homes. According to CSS, the agency serves 120 children in foster care and supervises 100 foster homes on a daily basis. In 2017 alone, they worked with over 2,200 children. Following the city’s ending of its referral contract with CSS, a “foster parent of the year” award winner’s home was emptied and siblings were nearly kept apart despite the city’s urgent call for hundreds of new foster homes. Even though CSS has been placing children in foster care for over a century, it appears they have lost the opportunity seemingly overnight.

Situations like Philadelphia will only escalate all governmental discriminatory actions towards religious organizations. Actions like these open the door to far more severe discriminatory actions to be taken against Christian organizations, which will adversely affect their ability to care for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). As recently as December of last year, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services issued an ultimatum to faith-based adoption agency New Hope, forcing them to either violate their beliefs (that a child needs both a mother and a father) or close their doors. New Hope would likely no longer be able to provide children with homes.

In response to the clear governmental discriminatory actions taken against faith-based adoption agencies, legislators such as Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) are introducing legislation to protect religious liberty. They have introduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2019 (CWPIA) (H.R. 897 / S. 274), a piece of legislation which would allow organizations such as CSS and New Hope to continue helping those in need without threat of foreclosure from the government.  

Rep. Kelly echoes the plea to preserve the ability of Christians to care for children who are desperately in need of nurturing that only a family can give:

Faith-based adoption and foster care providers have historically played an unrivaled role in caring for our country’s most vulnerable kids… They are the very providers that we should be encouraging and promoting, not punishing.

Concurring, Rep. Enzi adds:

The government should not be in the business of forcing faith-based child welfare providers to abandon their sincerely held religious beliefs, especially at the expense of finding a new home for a child in need.

Additionally, laws similar to the CWPIA have been passed in Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia—most recently in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Discriminatory actions taken against faith-based adoption and foster care agencies are attacks on the biblical definition of the family, the most fundamental establishment in society. These attacks show a disregard for the Judeo-Christian principles which are uniquely imparted through the family. Lawmakers must provide more security to Christian organizations that wish to place children in homes that will sacrifice for, care for, and nurture children in need of a forever-family. 

Since the family is the cornerstone of a moral and flourishing society, it should be regarded and defended with the utmost care. This includes ensuring that the best possible services are provided for children who are not privileged to have a biological family. If governmental discrimination causes families to fall short, society’s moral standards too will fall short. The American people must stand up for the rights of faith-based organizations to continue providing the care that children need. No longer should Christians be targeted by governmental discriminatory actions for their efforts to care for “the least of these.”

Nicolas Reynolds is an intern at Family Research Council.

Do No Harm Act” Threatens Our First Freedom

by Luke Isbell , Mary Beth Waddell

June 27, 2019

Yesterday, the House Committee of Education and Labor held a hearing on the Do No Harm Act. While this bill purports to prevent harm, it would actually significantly harm religious believers by gutting our most prominent religious liberty statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Pitched as an act that would prevent abuse of religious freedom, and “restore” RFRA’s “original intent,” the bill would actually treat religious believers differently based on the circumstances of their claim and dictate when RFRA can be applied. Instead of all individuals having access to RFRA as a defense against a government burden on their First Amendment right to freely exercise their religion, the Do No Harm Act explicitly excludes some individuals from RFRA’s protections.

A Threat to a Fair Hearing

At the hearing, Representative Mike Johnson (R-La.), a constitutional lawyer with nearly 20 years of experience working on religious freedom, testified how religious freedom is “often referred to as our first freedom.” The Founders of the United States recognized that everyone should be able to live their lives according to their deeply held beliefs, and never be forced by the government to act in a way contrary to their beliefs. The protection and flourishing of religious liberty was understood to be so vital to the foundation of our nation that it was written as the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law establishing religion OR prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” As apparent from this hearing, those on the Left seem to misunderstand the meaning of this constitutional right and the protections that flow from it.

The sentiments expressed by Rep. Johnson used to be understood by both sides of the aisle, a point that he made at this week’s hearing. They certainly were back in 1993 when RFRA was passed unanimously by the House, 97-3 by the Senate, and then signed into law by President Bill Clinton. RFRA promises that a fair hearing will be given to all individuals whose religious freedom has been infringed by the government. That’s it. It does not favor any one ideology over the other or predetermine an outcome. As Matthew Sharp, Senior Counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, testified at the hearing, even when RFRA is used the government often wins.

Disagreement is Not Discrimination

Many proponents of the Do No Harm Act claim it is necessary because discrimination is happening in the name of religious liberty under RFRA. However, there is a big gap between acting on personal convictions and discriminating, or forcing others to believe the same as you. Disagreement is not discrimination. RFRA does not allow individuals to force others to believe the same as them. That is not religious freedom, and RFRA does not protect it.

The Do No Harm Act would be the cause of harm and discrimination, not the alleviator of it. The Little Sisters of the Poor used RFRA in their fight against the government trying to force them to provide contraceptives, but they would no longer be able to bring a RFRA claim under the Do No Harm Act.

The Displacement of Children in Need

A few Democrats made a fuss about the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) using RFRA to grant Miracle Hill Ministries, a faith-based adoption and foster care agency in South Carolina, a waiver from Obama-era regulations still in effect that would force them to violate their conscience or stop serving children in need. Democrats bemoaned the granting of this waiver in the hearing and claimed that such waivers are harmful to the children in need of loving homes.

In fact, the opposite is true. When Catholic Charities was shut down in Illinois, nearly 3,000 children were displaced. When Philadelphia cut its contracts with two of their 30 partner agencies because they were faith-based, foster parents (one of whom was a “foster parent of the year”) were left with empty homes and siblings faced the possibility of not being placed together. Ironically, all this occurred after the city put out an urgent call for hundreds of new foster homes. Birth moms have also expressed their desire to use faith-based agencies to help them navigate the darkest time in their life and to place their child in a home of a particular faith. They deserve that option, but would see it shut down if proponents of the Do No Harm Act get their way.

In Michigan, St. Vincent Catholic Charities is one of the most successful adoption agencies in the state, performing 90 percent better than the other agencies in its area. However, when Michigan attempted to cut ties with the religious organization (which would have severe negative impacts as noted above), the organization was able to team with Becket Law to argue that their rights were being violated. Discovery in the case found that they were clearly being targeted because they were faith-based. Children in their care had been adopted by couples identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) through other agencies in the state. The same-sex couple who sued also lived closer to three or four other agencies they could have worked with. Yet the Do No Harm Act would strip Catholic Charities of the ability to even have their claim heard. This case is ongoing.

A Threat to the Foundation of Peaceful Co-existence

Religious liberty and non-discrimination are not at odds—rather, they promote each other by allowing people to freely act on the values that are most important to them.

Religious freedom was a founding principle of our nation, and it led to the ability for people of all faiths to live together peacefully—because the government never forced them to act against their personal beliefs. RFRA is the door that ensures people will always have recourse in court if the government violates this freedom, yet the Do No Harm Act would shut that door to many.

Mary Beth Waddell is the Senior Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council. Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

3 Religious Freedom Cases to Keep an Eye On

by Luke Isbell

June 21, 2019

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a cross-shaped memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland does not violate the Establishment Clause. The memorial honors veterans that sacrificed themselves to defend our nation, and the ruling by SCOTUS sets a new precedent for the constitutionality of religious memorials across the nation. This is a huge win for the right to religious freedom in the public sphere, but there are several other critical battles still being fought on the issue of religious freedom.

Free expression of personal beliefs in public and at work is the cornerstone of our pluralistic society, government, and free market. At Family Research Council, we actively track attacks on religious freedom in our Hostility to Religion Report, which we will be updating soon. Here are three important ongoing court cases that you need to be aware of:

1. Oregon Family Threatened and Sued for Refusing to Bake a Cake for a Same-Sex Union

Melissa and Aaron Klein owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery located in Gresham, Oregon. When they declined to bake a cake for a same-sex union, they quickly became a target of a lawsuit. The same-sex couple that requested the cake filed a complaint against the Kleins with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). When BOLI ruled against the Kleins, stating that they discriminated against the couple by not baking a cake, the Kleins were forced to pay $135,000 and closed their shop in September of 2013. Significant public backlash caused the Kleins to be fearful of their safety, especially after receiving threats against their children. The family refused to back down from fighting for their religious beliefs, and they appealed the case to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2016, but the court declined to hear the case. On June 17, 2019, after appealing to the Supreme Court, SCOTUS remanded the case back to the lower Oregon courts—advising them to reconsider the case in light of the decision made in the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision.

2. Church Sues Against Washington State Requirement to Cover Cost of Abortions

In March of this year, Washington state passed legislation that would force any insurance plan that covers maternity costs to also cover abortions. Horrified of being forced to support something directly opposed to their pro-life beliefs, Cedar Park Assembly of God filed a suit against the state’s new law. Cedar Park Assembly actively serves in pregnancy centers and assists with foster children and infertile couples, and the church’s pro-life views are directly opposed to providing staffers with insurance that would pay for abortions. No church or organization that firmly and actively believes in the right to life should be forced to pay for abortions. Cedar Park Assembly of God has partnered with Alliance Defending Freedom to challenge the unconstitutional law in court. 

3. Michigan Attempts to Discriminate Against Faith-Based Adoption and Foster Agencies

For 70 years, St. Vincent has provided foster and adoption care for thousands of children in need in Michigan—and they have made a huge impact. In 2017 alone, St. Vincent performed better than 90 percent of agencies in its area with finding children a loving home. However, the Attorney General of Michigan announced in March of 2019 that they were going to permanently end the state’s relationship with faith-based adoption and foster care agencies. The policy claims to be an attempt to “protect” same-sex couples that would be refused from adopting from a faith-based organization, but St. Vincent has always referred same-sex couples to other adoption agencies when approached. Ultimately, not only would the state refusing to work with organizations like St. Vincent further worsen the chances of children finding the homes they desperately need, but such a policy is in clear contradiction to religious liberty that is integral to life in the United States. On April 15, 2019, St. Vincent partnered with Becket Law to sue against Michigan’s damaging policy.

These three cases exemplify the attacks on religious liberty that are becoming increasingly frequent. The right to freedom of conscience—the ability to not be forced to do something that is against your religious beliefs—fundamentally defined the founding of our nation. Religious liberty fosters the ideological plurality that allows people of all faiths to find solidarity in the United States, and the pluralism that religious liberty creates forms the groundwork for our society.

Tragically, in the name of “non-discrimination,” these fundamental rights are now being strategically stripped away. Ironically, policies intending to be non-discriminatory can be the most discriminatory policies of all.

If laws are passed to prevent people from living and working according their personal religious beliefs, the only result will be discrimination against all in favor of none.

Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.

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