Category archives: Religious Liberty

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.

On Religious Freedom Day, Let’s Recommit to This Fundamental Human Right

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

January 14, 2022

Each year on January 16, America observes Religious Freedom Day. Unlike many others, this observance wasn’t launched in the 20th or 21st century. Its first appearance dates back to a founding American document on the subject, penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1777. Less than 10 years later, the document was enacted into Virginia State Law, and later into America’s First Amendment.

Much of that amendment animates Jefferson’s views and visions for America:

…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.

The First Amendment—approved by Congress on December 15, 1791—emerged from Jefferson’s writings, and the freedoms enshrined in it have become known as American “First Freedoms.” Thankfully—although not without increasing opposition—religious freedom continues to be the law of the land in the United States.

But unfortunately, as we observe Religious Freedom Day in 2022, much of the world increasingly rejects America’s point of view about religious liberty. In country after country, there are no such boundaries. And today, the two most vicious enemies of religious freedom globally are radical Islamism and communist and post-communist regimes.

In the Middle East, Christians continue to be attacked by radicals and driven out of their historic homelands.

In Iraq, “Beginning in 2014, ISIS drove Christians from Mosul and their traditional homeland in the Nineveh Plains … From 1.5 million Christians in 2003, the Chaldean Catholic church now estimates a population of fewer than 275,000 Christians.”

In Iran, Islamist state authorities continue to arrest converts to Christianity on absurdly false charges. For example, Article Eighteen reports:

Christian convert Hadi (Moslem) Rahimi has begun serving his four-year prison sentence for “acting against national security” by attending a house-church and “spreading ‘Zionist’ Christianity.” The 32-year-old delivery driver, who has a nine-month-old daughter, turned himself in to Tehran’s Evin Prison on Sunday morning (9 January)…

Interestingly, despite ongoing marginalization, injustice and violence, innumerable conversions from Islam to Christianity in Iran continue to be reported, even being called a “Christian Boom.”

At the same time, across Africa, attacks on Christians are becoming increasingly violent and frequent. In Nigeria, massacres of Christians are being viewed by international observers as an unfolding genocide. Stories of massacres, mass kidnappings, and torched homes and churches are commonplace.

Meanwhile, in recent months, after America’s abrupt and ill-conceived departure from Afghanistan in August 2021, religious violence is skyrocketing. At the same time, it has become apparent that an underground Christian community, comprised almost entirely of converts from Islam, numbers as many as 10 to 12,000. The Taliban—Afghanistan’s radical new rulers—are systematically seeking out and killing those new believers along with other religious groups who do not conform to their extreme Islamist ideology.

In Pakistan, Christians and others are imprisoned on bogus “blasphemy” charges, often accused by neighbors as revenge for unrelated disputes. Even when those accused of blasphemy are acquitted or released on bail, they are in danger of mob violence. Such is the situation for  Nadeem Samson, who was released on bail on January 6, though his lawyer warns that “when Nadeem Samson is going to court he can be killed anytime.”

At the same time, post-communist regimes such as the Chinese government continue to marginalize religious beliefs that conflict with the state’s official atheist ideology. Well over a million Uyghur Muslims are held in internment camps and used as a source of slave labor. House church pastors such as Pastor John Cao are serving unwarranted prison sentences after being targeted due to their ministries. The country’s burgeoning surveillance state puts all citizens at risk as they are tracked for any actions that might be out of favor with the government—actions including going to church.

In North Korea, known Christians risk their very lives. Those who escape North Korea and are returned by Chinese authorities are particularly endangered as they are suspected of encountering Christian missionaries and churches in China. One North Korean defector said, “If you tell them that you went to a church and believed in Jesus, they would not stop at just beating you.” Other Christians are known to languish in harsh political labor camps with no prospect of ever being released.

Religious Freedom Day is an opportunity to pause and remember the profound importance of this right. As we continue to enjoy our own blessings and opportunities to share our faith, let’s remember those around the world longing to freely live out their faith.

Don’t Let Biden Off the Hook for the Disaster He Left in Afghanistan

by Arielle Del Turco

January 10, 2022

The media has largely moved on from the Afghanistan debacle, and many are all too eager to sweep the consequences of President Biden’s botched withdrawal under the rug. Yet, the repercussions will last lifetimes.

Currently, hundreds of parents and family members are seeking help for their starving children. Last year, the United Nations warned that one million Afghan children were at risk of starvation, and now many are struggling to make it through the winter.

On the best of days, Afghanistan has a near-universal poverty rate. Now, a famine and economic collapse are making it virtually impossible for many to meet their families’ basic needs. In sheer desperation, some parents are being driven to sell their young daughters into future marriages just so the family will have a few months’ worth of food. It’s an unthinkable choice—but one that some feel is their only chance to evade death by starvation when there is no work to be found.

One father’s decision has him in agony. He told CNN reporters that he could no longer sleep at night because he sold his nine-year-old daughter into marriage. The guilt and shame have “broken” him. Following unsuccessful attempts to find work, even traveling to the provincial capital, he said, “We are eight family members. I have to sell to keep other family members alive.” The money from the sale will feed the family for only a few months.

Sadly, the economic collapse in the wake of the Taliban’s rise was predicted and shouldn’t take Biden administration officials by surprise. The question now is how to respond.

The U.S. government is rightly being careful to avoid giving any financial aid to the Taliban. And although the United States donated funds through international humanitarian aid groups, Olivia Enos, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, has pointed out that current aid levels are expected to meet only 40 percent of the anticipated needs to get through the winter months. The Biden administration should seek effective solutions to get substantial help directly to suffering Afghans.

When it comes to promoting religious freedom in Afghanistan, the U.S. government has always fallen far short. The past 20 years of U.S. involvement in the country failed to produce a cultural acceptance of religious freedom or pluralism. The consequences continue. And for the Afghan Christians most endangered by the rise of the Taliban, the Biden administration’s actions (and inaction) were shameful.

Although certain groups of Afghan nationals were given Priority 2 (P-2) designation for the U.S. refugee program—which allows more direct access for individuals to apply when they are at immediate risk—religious minorities were not offered P-2 status. This is in spite of the Taliban openly threatening religious minorities and the number of minorities who would have utilized the program being small and manageable. The Biden administration should fix this error and extend P-2 status to Afghan religious minorities.

When private NGOs tried to help vulnerable Christians, women, and others fleeing the Taliban, the State Department was accused of thwarting these rescue efforts. Josh Youssef, president of Help the Persecuted, helped organize refugee flights out of Afghanistan with endangered religious minorities. When he reached out to the State Department for help, he was told that he would have a better chance of the plane taking off if there were LGBT-identifying persons on board.

But religious minorities aren’t the only people with reason to fear. Amid the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights, many women who had public professions are scrambling to hide their identities. Female athletes are on the run, changing locations every few weeks to avoid being caught and punished by the Taliban.

Women who served in the Afghan military or police are also hiding. Samima, who served in the Afghan Air Force, fled to a new location with her husband after she received phone calls from Taliban fighters and the Taliban began going door to door looking for former Afghan military members. She told The Wall Street Journal, “Thousands of girls like me are receiving threats, face an uncertain future and are being tracked by the Taliban.”

Countless Afghan girls and female university students have been kept at home and out of school since the Taliban’s return. For many, their dreams were put on hold in 2021, perhaps permanently.

Meanwhile, there are still Americans who remain stuck in Afghanistan. Not to mention the countless Afghan allies who worked for the U.S. military and were promised protection in just such a circumstance as a U.S. withdrawal.

The White House would be happy for us all to forget that the grossly mishandled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan ever happened. But we must not. America spent 20 years involved in this country; the people of Afghanistan deserve better than to be abandoned and ignored in their hour of most dire need. Furthermore, the American people deserve far better leadership than President Biden has shown throughout this ordeal largely of his own making. By electing Joe Biden, Americans entrusted him with our foreign policy. The resulting human suffering in Afghanistan ought to be remembered as a grave stain upon Biden’s presidency.

Listening to Christians Around the World: Do You Hear What I Hear?

by Lela Gilbert

December 22, 2021

One of many beloved Christmas songs filling the air these days is “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and it holds a promise, “The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night. He will bring us goodness and light…”  

We American Christians are usually able to set aside our difficulties and challenges when Christmas comes around and fully celebrate “the Child”—the Son of God. We are so grateful that He lived among us not only to offer goodness and light, but also the opportunity to share in a lifetime of His love and grace.

Over the past year or two, our country has faced unusual challenges: continuing pandemic concerns, the worrisome shifting of political winds, and other trials such as floods, fires, and—most recently—horrifying tornados. Many fellow believers also struggle with financial worries and other concerns. Still, during this special season, our families and church congregations joyfully gather to sing hymns and carols, light candles, listen to children’s choirs, and worship the Christ Child who came and lived among us, and who continues to bless us with His presence.

Unfortunately, however, beyond our borders, the Christmas story is not so welcome as it is here. In much of the world, the gathering of Christians for any reason is often far from safe. A 2021 article in The Guardian reported:

Persecution of Christians around the world has increased during the Covid pandemic, with followers being refused aid in many countries, authoritarian governments stepping up surveillance, and Islamic militants exploiting the crisis, a report says.

More than 340 million Christians – one in eight – face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021 World Watch List compiled by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors.

It says there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa.

At Family Research Council, we keep in contact with Christians in places where the decision to follow Jesus Christ is dangerous and—as The Guardian notes—even deadly. In fact, our concerns about international religious freedom have deepened dramatically in recent weeks and months. Just this week we asked friends in Nigeria, Iran, and a refugee from Afghanistan about how Christmas is celebrated in their countries.

Dr. Hassan John, Director of Communications Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion writes:

For Christians in northern Nigeria, Christmas, especially this year, is full of anxiety and fear from the continuing attacks by Islamist Fulani militias and the Boko Haram terrorist Islamic sect. There is also anxiety for the new year for the fact that the Nigerian government has demonstrated a lack of will to stop the massacres and destruction of predominantly Christian villages by the Fulani Islamists. Many can’t reunite with loved ones because the roads are dangerously spotted with terrorists. Unfortunately, before the Christmas season is over some Christians will likely be killed or kidnapped for ransom their families cannot pay. The world will celebrate Christmas but in Nigeria, for many Christians, it may be yet another season of mourning.

Mary Mohammadi is an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity who was jailed and physically abused for her faith. She explains:

In Iran, celebrating Christmas—like holding other Christian occasions and ceremonies such as Easter, baptism, etc.—is a crime. But we know this is a very important occasion, especially for Christians. So, despite widespread arrests and severe punishments, they secretly celebrate Christmas in their house churches every year. Yet, every year at Christmas, security forces raid house churches more than on any other days, arresting as many as 100 people in one house church.

Personally, I have not been ever able to celebrate Christmas in any year. In 2017, for the second Christmas after I believed in Jesus Christ, I was locked up in the Ministry of Intelligence security detention center, called 209. I had forgotten the date in the cell. I realized that it was Christmas Day only by seeing a Ministry of Intelligence newspaper.

The regime congratulates in the media on Christmas, but on the other hand, Christians must spend Christmas in detention, and those who have not been arrested are detained in house churches during the celebration! This represents the government’s lies and hypocrisy and propaganda.

And finally, here is testimony from a 24-year-old Afghan Christian refugee. She and her family, who were rescued from Afghanistan, must remain unnamed, and are living temporarily in refugee housing.

Up to now we never celebrated Christmas. Only between us we celebrated in my family. Here, also, no one celebrates Christmas. I hope one day I celebrate it and [can be] proud of my religion!

Thankfully, with wonderfully few exceptions, in our free country, we are free to celebrate together without fear or threat of danger. This is a great blessing—perhaps greater than we sometimes realize. Our problems are many, but the physical dangers for following our faith are few. As we hear the stories of others, let’s listen closely and remember them in our prayers.

As that familiar Christmas song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” says, “Pray for peace, people, everywhere…”

China’s Tragic War on Uyghur Women

by Arielle Del Turco

December 17, 2021

Last week, an independent tribunal in the United Kingdom released a judgment that found the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur people to be consistent with the legal definition of genocide. Multiple governments have made the same pronouncement, including the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Belgium. But these countries didn’t release their legal reasoning or factual evidence. The Uyghur Tribunal did—and it is Beijing’s abuses against Uyghur women specifically that resulted in the tribunal’s judgment.

Days of public hearings featured witness and expert testimonies, and a team of international human rights lawyers, professors, and NGO leaders combed through the evidence. The evidence uncovered was then measured against the legal definitions of crimes against humanity, torture, and genocide. The Chinese government was found guilty on all three counts.

The suppression of the Uyghur ethnic and religious minority is nearly all-encompassing. High-tech surveillance watches their every move. Passports are systematically confiscated. At least 1.8 million Uyghurs are held in internment camps, and both detained and “graduated” Uyghurs are used as a source of forced labor. No Uyghur person escapes the consequences of Beijing’s brutal crackdown in the Xinjiang region. Even children are sent to be raised in state-run boarding schools. Yet, notably, the weight of China’s genocide is targeted toward women.

The Uyghur Tribunal determined that China was “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,” one of the methods of genocide outlined in the 1948 Genocide Convention. Earlier this year, the U.S. government came to the same conclusion.

Women bear the brunt of Beijing’s violent birth control policies in Xinjiang. One woman who worked at a hospital in Xinjiang in the late 1990s told the Uyghur Tribunal that approximately 100 women came for abortions every day, most sent by the government’s Family Planning Office and many in the late stages of pregnancy. She said that the aborted babies were disposed of in a garbage basket. Even after the end of China’s notorious one-child policy (and subsequent two-child policy), authorities in Xinjiang target Uyghur women for harsh sterilization and forced abortion policies.

Local authorities in Xinjiang are known to raid homes searching for children that surpass the government-approved limit. Gulnar Omirzakh, a Kazakh woman from Xinjiang, was required to have an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted after she had her third child. Then, in 2018, officials who showed up at her house in military attire required her to pay a $2,685 fine for having had a third child.

Uyghur and Kazakh women released from the internment camps say that they were given mysterious medication that stopped their menstrual cycles and impaired their minds. Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a woman who survived two years in a “re-education” camp, wrote in The Guardian that when a nurse required her to receive what she said was a vaccine, she was afraid they were poisoning her, but “In reality, they were sterilising us. That was when I understood the method of the camps, the strategy being implemented: not to kill us in cold blood, but to make us slowly disappear. So slowly that no one would notice.”

Another Uyghur woman who survived the camps told the Associated Press that officials inserted IUDs in every woman of childbearing age. At almost 50 years old, she pleaded for an exemption, but she was still rounded up with hundreds of other women who were herded onto buses and sent to receive IUDs at a hospital.

In a sick twist, the Chinese embassy to the United States tried to reframe forced sterilizations and abortions as “emancipat[ing]” Uyghur women so they are “no longer baby-making machines.” The women forced to undergo the trauma of abortion and sterilization likely don’t feel emancipated.

The effects of these policies are immense, and Chinese leaders have ambitious goals for this program. Researcher Adrian Zenz found that officials planned to subject at least 80 percent of women of childbearing age in some rural areas of Xinjiang to IUDs or sterilizations by 2019. The devices used can only be removed by state-approved doctors. It is due in part to this effort that the Uyghur Tribunal stated genocide is occurring in Xinjiang. The judgment read:

The tools of its policy include sterilisation by removal of wombs, widespread forced insertion of effectively removable IUDs equating to mandatory sterilisation and forced abortions. These policies will result in significantly fewer births in years to come than might otherwise have occurred… This will result in a partial destruction of the Uyghurs.

By targeting Uyghur women, the Chinese government is committing what is perhaps the most horrific crime known to mankind. Yet, the voices of prominent feminists are conspicuously silent on the situation in Xinjiang. Rushan Abbas, a Uyghur activist who advocates for her sister currently detained in Xinjiang and for all Uyghurs, asks why that is. She wrote in Bitter Winter, “Where are the Hollywood icons who proclaim themselves to be advocates for human rights? Where are the feminists?” These are important questions.

The Chinese government is exploiting the unique ability women have to become pregnant and bring new life into the world. It is doing this to destroy—at least in part—the Uyghur people. Beijing’s abuses against Uyghur women are one of the most significant human rights crises of our time, and we should be talking about that.

Year in Review: 10 Stories From 2021

by David Closson

December 17, 2021

2021 has been a year full of important cultural, political, and legal developments. In a year that witnessed the inauguration of a new president, the conclusion of America’s longest war, and the ongoing fight against COVID-19, there was much to track, analyze, and discuss. Although Democratic majorities in Congress required conservative policymakers to play defense at the federal level, there were still notable (and significant) legislative victories throughout the states.

2021 was an active year for Family Research Council, and there are several new initiatives, events, and legislative victories that merit gratitude and reflection as we prepare to ring in the new year. What follows are 10 stories from 2021 that provide a summary of God’s faithfulness and kindness to us and lay the groundwork for an exciting 2022.

1. Oral Arguments Heard in Case that Could Overturn Roe

On December 1, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand in America through all nine months of pregnancy. 

In Dobbs, the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, bipartisan legislation that prohibits elective abortion after 15 weeks gestation. The Gestational Age Act offers a direct challenge to the jurisprudence of Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that made legal abortion through nine months the default law of every state. Under Casey, states may prohibit abortion post-viability and restrict abortion prior to viability so long as the restriction does not place an “undue burden” on the woman. In Dobbs, the court will consider whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional. The court’s decision, which is expected in summer 2022, could return the ability to legislate abortion back to the states and will have major implications for the future of the unborn in America.

In the weeks leading up to the oral arguments, FRC provided leadership to the pro-life community in a variety of ways. First, FRC filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court urging the justices to overturn Roe and its companion case, Casey. Second, FRC teamed up with other national pro-life groups, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Alliance Defending Freedom, to host a “Pray for Dobbs” national webinar for pastors. Over 4,000 pastors joined the October broadcast and learned about the case. Then in November, the “Pray for Dobbs” coalition hosted a national prayer event. Over 18,000 people joined national leaders on the broadcast to pray for the upcoming case. Third, on November 28, FRC hosted a prayer rally titled “Pray Together for Life” in Mississippi. Among the national leaders who participated was Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves. Finally, FRC also published resources and articles about the case, and on the day of oral arguments, FRC’s Katherine Johnson spoke at a rally outside the Supreme Court.

To learn more about the case and for a list of recommended ways to pray, see my article in The Gospel Coalition.  

2. Vaccine Mandates Struck Down

On September 9, President Joe Biden issued an executive order that all employers with more than 100 employees must require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing. Noncompliant businesses could be fined. Biden’s private employer mandate came on the heels of a federal mandate requiring all federal employees to receive the vaccine, get tested weekly, or face dismissal from their job.

After the announcement, several organizations and schools (including The Daily Wire, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Asbury Theological Seminary) sued, alleging the Biden administration lacked constitutional and statutory authority to issue such a mandate to private employers. Both schools also argued that the administration lacked jurisdiction to dictate employment practices to religious institutions. On Friday, November 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an order staying enforcement and implementation of the executive order. On November 16, 2021, the Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all petitions for review of the Emergency Temporary Standard (including the Fifth Circuit ruling) before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Moreover, on November 29, a U.S. district court in Missouri issued a preliminary injunction for health care workers in 10 states. On November 30, the U.S. District Court of Western Louisiana issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the enforcement of Biden’s national vaccine mandate for health care workers. Additionally, on December 7, a U.S. district judge in South Georgia temporarily blocked President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal contractors and subcontractors.

President Biden’s vaccine mandate has proven to be divisive. Thus far, courts around the country have halted the implementation of the mandate. As we move into 2022, Christians will need to think carefully and biblically about vaccine mandates, as it seems they will continue to be part of the national conversation.

Concerning whether Christians should use religious exemptions, see my article “How Should Christians Use Religious Exemptions for Vaccine Mandates?

3. Off-Year Election Results

While 2021 is not a major election year for most states, a few states and cities still held important elections. The most significant of these was the Virginia gubernatorial election, in which Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin faced off against the Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Even though Joe Biden had won Virginia by 10 points the previous year, Youngkin surprised political pundits by defeating McAuliffe and becoming the first Republican to win a statewide race in over a decade. Furthermore, Republican nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general both won, and Republicans retook the majority in the House of Delegates. Many election observers cited parents’ outrage over public school officials’ cover-up of a biological male student’s rape of female students in Loudon County school bathrooms. Abortion and the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools were also motivating factors for many voters.

Elsewhere around the country, conservatives demonstrated that the political climate has soured against Democrats and their progressive agenda. For example, the Republican nominee for governor in New Jersey nearly pulled off a shocking upset against incumbent Democrat Governor Phil Murphy. In perhaps the most stunning race, New Jersey Senate president Stephen Sweeney (D) was upset by a Republican truck driver who only spent a few thousand dollars on his campaign.  

Additionally, ballot measures to defund the police department were defeated in Minneapolis, and the mayor of Buffalo waged a successful write-in campaign against a progressive candidate endorsed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). FRC Action (FRC’s legislative affiliative) endorsed their first candidate for school board, David Anderson, in Washington state. Anderson won the election. Only a year after the 2020 election, voters are clearly concerned about the country’s direction, and these results are encouraging for conservatives headed into next year’s midterm elections. 

4. FRC Launches Center for Biblical Worldview

In May, FRC launched the Center for Biblical Worldview (CBW) with the goal of equipping Christians to advance and defend their faith in their families, communities, and the public square. We also added researcher George Barna and Professor Owen Strachan to the CBW team.

The need for the CBW was underscored by an FRC-commissioned survey that revealed that only six percent of Americans have a biblical worldview, despite 51 percent thinking they do. Furthermore, only 21 percent of those who attend evangelical churches have a biblical worldview. Biblical illiteracy is a significant problem in America, one the CBW hopes to help counteract.

The CBW hit the ground running, publishing numerous resources in its first year, including newly re-branded Biblical Worldview Series booklets covering important topics such as religious liberty, the sanctity of life, human sexuality, and political engagement. These booklets are now available in English and Spanish. The CBW also produced dozens of articles, interviews, and other resources to help pastors, churches, and Christian laypeople think through the year’s most contentious and confusing political and moral questions.

In 2022, the CBW is planning to publish a Sunday school curriculum, a video series, and a web-based resource for parents and students to evaluate the faithfulness of every Christian college and university in America. To stay informed about all of the exciting projects we expect to release next year, you can sign up for the CBW’s monthly email here.

5. Texas Heartbeat Act Saves Thousands of Babies

The Texas Heartbeat Act, which took effect on September 1, has saved an estimated 150 babies from abortion per day. This will result in upwards of 18,000 babies saved by the end of the year. The Texas law bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, typically at about six weeks gestation. Texas’ 230 pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) have been meeting the needs of mothers that otherwise might have undergone abortions prior to the Heartbeat Act.  

Unsurprisingly, Texas abortion businesses sued the state over the Heartbeat Act. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and in December issued an opinion permitting lawsuits to proceed against licensing officials but no one else that the abortion lobby had named as defendants. SCOTUS also made the rare move of dismissing the Biden administration’s suit saying they never should have accepted it in the first place. Overall, the opinion was a win for pro-lifers. Although the law is currently facing challenges from the outraged abortion lobby, it is still in effect today. 

While holding her three-month-old son, FRC’s Mary Szoch spoke outside the Supreme Court as arguments about the Texas law were heard. FRC’s Katherine Johnson also published an explainer about the law, combatting lies spread by the abortion lobby (and unfortunately parroted by many in the media). Christians must continue to pray for a favorable outcome for Texas as the Heartbeat Act continues to face litigation in 2022.  

6. Win in Congress: NDAA Passes Without Conscripting Women

Every year, Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation that is required to fund the military. Legislators have managed to pass the NDAA for 60 years. However, it is not always an easy or smooth process. This year, Democrats dug in on adding a proposal to mandate that women register for the draft.

Over the past few months, as the bill moved through Congress, FRC argued that women should continue serving honorably in the military on a voluntary basis only. Including women in any future drafts would subject them to being mandated into combat roles, which is unnecessary and dangerous. It has been proven that women in combat situations have a higher likelihood of injury than their male peers and thus affect the lethality, readiness, and cohesion of certain combat units.

FRC facilitated more than 200,000 messages to Congress opposing this dangerous mandate. Pro-family leaders in the House and Senate such as Sens. Hawley (R-Neb.), Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Lee (R-Utah) and Reps. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) led the charge. In an about-face that Politico described as a “stunning turnaround,” this mandate on women and other anti-life and anti-religious liberty provisions were dropped from the bill.  

7. Hyde Amendment Preserved

The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. However, since 1976, Congress has worked to ensure that federal funding does not go toward abortion. In 1976, Congressman Henry Hyde introduced an amendment to the Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill, prohibiting federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortions. This amendment to the annual spending bill, known as the Hyde Amendment, has been approved every year since 1976 and has saved an estimated 2,409,311 lives.

However, because of the nature of federal spending, this measure must be passed annually in order to remain in effect. In recent years, Democrat lawmakers have openly lobbied to remove the Hyde Amendment. In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an HHS spending bill without Hyde for the first time since 1976. Moreover, the Senate introduced a spending bill without Hyde protections. Thankfully, despite fierce attacks from pro-abortion lawmakers, Hyde was preserved in the spending bills passed in 2021.

There are several ways in which FRC was involved in preserving Hyde. For example, FRC worked to secure 199 signatures from House members calling for the preservation of Hyde. Additionally, FRC worked to educate members of Congress about Hyde and worked with them whenever the issue was brought up in committee or came up for a vote. When the spending bill came through committee in July, FRC staff helped committee members with speeches and media interviews. Every Republican on the appropriations committee gave a speech defending Hyde and opposing taxpayer funding of abortion. While it is normally difficult for outside groups to muster five to seven members to speak out in committee on a given issue, FRC helped get 25 members to speak in favor of Hyde. Even though it remains under attack, the Hyde Amendment received more vocal support from Republican lawmakers in 2021 than in any year in recent memory.

8. Pray Vote Stand Summit

The inaugural Pray Vote Stand Summit was held October 6-8 at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia. The thousands of social conservatives who attended in-person and the tens of thousands who attended online heard from nationally-recognized religious and political leaders on the most pressing issues facing the nation, including religious freedom, abortion, national security, and education.

Speakers included Mike Pompeo, Glenn Youngkin, Michele Bachmann, Sam Brownback, Carter Conlon, Os Guinness, Sen. Josh Hawley, Sen. James Lankford, Jack Hibbs, Nancy Pearcey, Allie Beth Stuckey, Chad Wolf, and many others.

In addition to plenary addresses from speakers, attendees benefited from hearing panel sessions on topics such as abortion, worldview, Christian persecution, vaccine mandates, and keeping children safe from radical gender ideology. Coinciding with the Summit, FRC also hosted a training for those interested in running for their local school board. 

FRC’s communications team credentialed 47 members of the media from 26 outlets to cover the Pray Vote Stand Summit, including Fox News, CBN News, and One America News. Additionally, 34 media outlets published 45 articles about or referencing the conference including Fox News, Breitbart, The Blaze, CBN News, The Daily Wire, The Christian Post, and The Epoch Times.

9. International Religious Freedom Summit

On July 13-15, FRC participated in the 2021 International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit. Unlike the Trump-era Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, this year’s IRF gathering was organized by private organizations, not the U.S. government. Hosted by 81 convening partners (including FRC), the summit highlighted the issue of international religious freedom, an area of increasing concern. In fact, almost 80 percent of the world’s population live in countries with high levels of religious persecution, much of it perpetrated by government actors.

At the summit, participants heard reports by FRC’s Andrew Brunson and Bob Fu. FRC president Tony Perkins hosted a panel discussion and a sponsored lunch where he interviewed Grace Gao, who shared about her father, a human rights lawyer, who has been targeted by the Chinese government and whose exact whereabouts have been unknown for four years. FRC’s Lela Gilbert moderated a side event on religious freedom in Nigeria, which included two survivors of persecution.

For more information about FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty, specifically its work on international religious liberty, see FRC.org/irf.

10. SAFE Act Passes in Arkansas

On April 6, the Arkansas legislature enacted House Bill 1570, the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act. This made Arkansas the first state in the nation to ban the use of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and gender reassignment surgeries on individuals under 18 for the purpose of “gender transition.” Of the many similar bills introduced across the nation, Arkansas’ law is the most comprehensive ban addressing this issue. It initially passed the Arkansas House 70-22 and the Senate 28-7. When Governor Asa Hutchison vetoed the bill, the House voted 72-25 and the Senate voted 25-8, providing the first veto override in Hutchinson’s tenure as governor. FRC awarded Rep. Robin Lundstrum the Samuel Adams Award for State Legislator of the Year in recognition of her leading role in getting the bill passed.

For more information about FRC’s work with state legislatures around the country and some of the pieces of legislation we support, see FRC.org/legislation.

Amid the Push for Faux “Rights,” Human Rights Day Reminds Us of What Matters

by Arielle Del Turco

December 13, 2021

On December 10, President Joe Biden followed in the footsteps of his predecessors by recognizing Human Rights Day, an oft-ignored date commemorating a critically important event in world history: the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Unfortunately, mission creep has plagued U.S. human rights advocacy in recent years, undermining the international human rights standards we have been blessed to inherit. Human Rights Day deserves to be acknowledged because the history of human rights is worth remembering, and its integrity is worth preserving.

The brutality and horrors displayed in World War II and the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany—most notably the Holocaust—demonstrated the need for a widely agreed upon understanding of the ways in which the human dignity of all people must be protected. And so, UN delegate Eleanor Roosevelt led a team of scholars and experts to draft a list of human rights, with regular input from the 58 member states.

This list needed to be such that all reasonable people—from the diverse cultures and norms represented in the UN—would agree to it. In the end, 30 rights and freedoms were agreed upon as being fundamental to humanity, and the UDHR became the guiding force for human rights advocacy.

Christian theologian Albert Mohler points out that the understanding of human rights inherited from Western civilization was “established upon the fact that we know from scripture that every single human being is made in God’s image and thus we are to recognize a dignity in every single human being. And we are to understand that that dignity implies certain God-given rights.”

The inherent worth of humans is what makes human rights important, and according to a Christian worldview, humans are important because they are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Christians understand that the capacity to reason is evidence of this. Article 1 of the UDHR complements this view and lays the groundwork for the rest of the document this way:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Among the rights listed in the UDHR are the right to life, liberty, and security of person (Article 3); the prohibition of slavery and servitude (Article 4); the freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile (Article 9); the right to own property (Article 17); and the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Article 18).

Human rights are not granted by governments—they belong to everyone by virtue of their unalienable human dignity. Similarly, international human rights treaties and documents do not bestow rights. They merely reflect a commitment from party countries to respect those rights.

Thus, whenever a government violates human rights, it is acceptable for other governments to use persuasion and pressure to stop that country’s human rights violations. Doing so is not only right but also contributes to “freedom, justice and peace in the world,” as stated in the preamble of the UDHR.

When the U.S. government speaks up on behalf of Christians imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges or Uyghur Muslims detained in China on the basis of their religious and ethnic identity, this advocacy is not “interference” in the domestic politics of these countries. Rather, it upholds basic human rights—the same rights that all people are owed and all governments are obligated to respect.

Sadly, the international human rights project is in crisis. Ever-growing demands for the inclusion of additional “rights” muddle the priorities of human rights advocacy. These new “rights” often compete or conflict with others. And illegitimate claims to human rights have been used to push harmful policies. As former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback recently said, when “everything’s a human right, then nothing’s really a human right.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo similarly noted, “The bottom line is that more so-called ‘rights’ does not mean more justice. The constitutions of some of the most repressive regimes in history, such as the Soviet Union, promised a multitude of rights to their citizens while the regimes produced ever-climbing death tolls and daily deprivations.” The invention of new “rights” makes human rights advocacy incoherent and distracts from the fundamental rights laid out in the UDHR—the kind that the American Founders might have called “self-evident.”

The UDHR, in addition to founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, should anchor the U.S. State Department’s human rights advocacy. Invented “rights” motivated by partisan social agendas cause confusion and untethers U.S. human rights efforts from international human rights law. Instead of looking for new faux rights, the State Department should focus on addressing the multitude of fundamental human rights violations occurring around the world right now.

The “struggle for human rights” that Eleanor Roosevelt referred to is far from over. Just last week, an independent people’s tribunal in the United Kingdom issued a formal judgment finding the Chinese government guilty of crimes against humanity, torture, and genocide. Although the Uyghur Tribunal might have echoes of the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-46, the judgment of the Uyghur Tribunal concerns crimes that are ongoing, not yet relegated to the past. This is a significant moment that will test the free world’s commitment to human rights and the 1948 Genocide Convention that calls parties to the dual responsibility of preventing and punishing genocide.

With the monumental challenges occurring around the world, the stakes are too high to get this wrong. The Biden administration must focus on the rights laid out in the UDHR and avoid distractions. The United States’ leadership on human rights has made a difference in the past, and it still can.

State Round-Up: Restoring the Balance of Religious Freedom

by Nicolas Reynolds , Ben Householder

December 13, 2021

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about key provisions that states have advanced in 2021 to defend the family and human dignity.

The free exercise of religion is fundamental to American law, having been enshrined within the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution since 1791. As our society becomes more hostile to religion and fewer Americans identify with an organized religion, it is becoming more common for today’s courts to question the “first” freedom’s preeminent place in society. State legislators can take proactive steps to reverse and prevent further erosion of religious liberty, in part by enacting legislation that affirms this fundamental right. FRC actively supports efforts to pass Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs), which provide state courts with the same legal balancing test that federal courts use to protect free exercise of religion.

When a state legislature passes a law restricting a constitutionally protected right, the courts will deem that law unconstitutional unless it passes the “strict scrutiny” test, which requires the state to demonstrate that the law promotes a “compelling governmental interest” and is narrowly tailored to advance that interest in the “least restrictive means” possible. However, in the 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws restricting religious liberty need only pass the “rational basis” test—demonstrating a “legitimate interest” and a neutral application of restrictions. By applying the lowest of the three levels of legal scrutiny, rather than the highest, the U.S. Supreme Court denied religious liberty the legal status a constitutionally protected right deserves.

Congress responded to this injustice by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which required courts to use the strict scrutiny standard in religious liberty cases. The strongly bipartisan measure passed unanimously in the House, was supported by all but three senators, and was signed by President Clinton. However, in the 1997 case City of Boerne v. Flores, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had no power to apply this standard to state and local legislation. This Court decision made it vital for each state to pass its own RFRA.

Between 1997 and 2015, 21 states passed RFRA legislation: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In 2015, serious resistance emerged for the first time due to fears that RFRAs would allow discrimination against individuals who identify as LGBT. Since then, 61 state RFRAs have been proposed across the nation, each requiring strict scrutiny to be applied to all laws and regulations that burden a person’s free exercise of religion. (It’s important to note that some states’ high courts apply a similar “strict scrutiny” standard due to state court precedent; depending on the politics in such a state, it may or may not be advisable to statutorily strengthen that court precedent.)

2021 has been a revolutionary year for RFRAs. Not a single RFRA was passed between 2016 and 2020, but this year has given the movement new life. Three states—Montana (S.B. 215), North Dakota (H.B. 1410), and South Dakota (S.B.124)—have already successfully enacted RFRAs. In New Hampshire, H.B.542 awaits the signature of Republican Governor Chris Sununu. Once New Hampshire’s bill is signed, the United States will be more than halfway to attaining nationwide RFRA coverage.

The Religion … of every man,” according to James Madison (the primary author of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights), “must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it.” States should follow the federal government’s lead and ensure that religious liberty retains the legal status and protections that the Founders originally ascribed to it. Twenty-four states have already done their part—the remaining 26 must quickly follow in their footsteps.

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