Category archives: Religious Liberty

President Obama: Insulting Friends, Placating Adversaries

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 21, 2015

Today’s Washington Post carries one of the most remarkable and surprising op-eds that paper has published in a long time. Note: This op-ed is the paper’s own “voice,” not a piece by a columnist.

Commenting on the Obama administration’s inclusion of “transgender activists, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and a nun who criticizes church policies on abortion and euthanasia” in the welcoming ceremony planned for the Pope’s upcoming visit, the Post comments:

What struck us as we read about this small controversy is the contrast between the administration’s apparent decision to risk a bit of rudeness in the case of the pope and its overwhelming deference to foreign dictators when similar issues arise. When Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled to Havana to reopen the U.S. Embassy recently, he painstakingly excluded from the guest list any democrat, dissident or member of civil society who might offend the Castro brothers.

And when Chinese President Xi Jinping comes to the White House next week, shortly after the pope leaves town, it’s a safe bet that he won’t have to risk being photographed with anyone of whom he disapproves. Chen Guangcheng, the courageous blind lawyer, for example, lives nearby in exile, but he probably won’t be at the state dinner. Neither will Falun Gong activists, democracy advocates or anyone else who might, well, give offense.

The Obama administration argues that it will include many people of every background. Yet according to the Wall Street Journal, “The presence of these (controversial) figures is especially irritating, (a) Vatican official said, because it isn’t yet clear if the White House has invited any representatives of the U.S. anti-abortion movement, traditionally a high-priority cause for the U.S. bishops.”

Read that, no one active in the pro-life movement is welcome to greet the head of the world’s largest pro-life organization.

There will be some Evangelical leaders present at the event. U.S. News reports that they include “the Rev. Joel Hunter, an evangelical megachurch pastor from Florida who is a confidant of Obama on spiritual matters; the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents about 40 conservative Christian denominations; and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.”

While it’s nice of the White House to include some Evangelicals, the inclusion of persons at overt and public odds with the teachings the Pope represents and the omission of others whose political activities — standing for the unborn and their mothers — are essential to Catholic teaching are startling.

Remarkable: A stinging and blunt calling-on-the-carpet of an Administration far more concerned with advancing an aggressive “gay rights” agenda than defending religious liberty here at home or standing with those being horribly persecuted for their faith in repressive nations around the world. As I have written elsewhere, President Obama “cannot defend abroad what (he and his) administration … are working to erode here at home.”

The willingness of this Administration to affront the leader of the world’s largest Christian tradition is an embarrassment to our country. It demonstrates a moral arrogance so profound as to be one of the few things that still surprises after nearly seven years of the President’s diligent efforts to, in his words, “transform the United States of America.”

Insulting foreign friends while placating foreign adversaries strikes one as an unusual approach to advancing America’s national security and vital interests. Sadly, this Administration seems eager to do just that.

Religious Participation and Religious Liberty

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 9, 2015

My colleagues at FRC’s Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) have spent years documenting, copiously and irrefutably, that religious practice benefits families and children. As MARRI argues, “the intact married family that worships weekly is the greatest generator of human and social positive outcomes and thus it is the core strength of the United States and of all other countries where the data are available.”

Strong, two-parent families mean higher educational attainment and emotional health for children, greater income, less crime, and a host of other benefits. Those families that do best are the ones that attend a religious service together at least once a week. But essential to such worship and, thus, to the benefits that correlate with it, is another factor.

That would be religious liberty. Not just the right to attend a religious service at a given building unimpeded by the law. Not just private devotions in the four walls of one’s home. Not just “freedom of religion” in the sense that people can believe, in their minds, what they choose as long as they are silent about it.

Religious liberty in its fullness means not only the ability to believe what one chooses but the right to live out one’s convictions at work, in the neighborhood, and in all facets of one’s life.

Religious liberty is grounded in the belief that God is the Author of our rights, and that government is merely their protector. This is what the Declaration of Independence asserts and is the very foundation of our philosophy of government and entire way of life. Unless God has granted us our rights, they are the arbitrary bestowals of a government which can diminish or even remove those rights at will.

The threats to religious liberty in our country are real. There are steady efforts to encroach upon it, attempts to chip-away at the right to live out one’s faith such that gradually, religious liberty itself will crumble from incremental erosion (see FRC’s “Free to Believe” webpage for myriad examples of this).

Participation in religious worship and related activities makes a tremendous difference in family life and, thereby, the well-being of our culture. But if religious liberty in its truest sense is lost, will the incentive for participation in formal religious services remain as strong as it is now? Although many Americans will continue such participation if the practice of their faith is hemmed-in by anti-religious laws and rules, repression of religious liberty will render their lives less whole, less happy, and less American.

Kim Davis: The Issues of Accommodation and Burden

by Rob Schwarzwalder

September 8, 2015

In Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has just been released from jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of Mrs. Davis’s case. Various Christian writers have argued that she is embarrassing Evangelical faith, that she simply should resign, that Christian leaders’ rhetoric defending Mrs. Davis is overheated, etc.

What they are failing to consider are two essential concepts that underlie the Davis case. They are these:

Accommodation. Does not Mrs. Davis deserve some kind of accommodation? We accommodate so many other religious beliefs in both government and private-sector workplaces. Can we not find one for Mrs. Davis and others like her who, out of the integrity of their consciences, cannot do something that abrades the very core of their religious convictions?

That’s why FRC is asking Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear to call “for a special legislative session and establishing statutory accommodations for clerks like Kim Davis.” As noted by legal scholars Craig Bertschi (Kilpatrick Townsend law firm) and Nathan S. Chapman (University of Georgia School of Law) in their brief on behalf of Hobby Lobby, “the Free Exercise Clause requires some religious accommodations;” in point of fact, some 2,000 such accommodations now exist. As they write in the conclusion of their brief, “When Congress provides religious accommodations consistent with the government’s compelling interests, including its interests in protecting third parties, it supplements, rather than contradicts, the Religion Clauses’ protection of religious liberty.”

The federal government has a “compelling interest” to honor the freedom of religion. As the Founders argued, duty to God precedes duty to the state. This precept is essential to the very heart of our system of government. The same can be said of state governments as well.

Burden. The same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses have many other venues from which to obtain them. There are other, simple, only marginally inconvenient ways for them to obtain them.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed by the U.S. Senate 97-3 and signed by President Clinton in a major public ceremony, makes this clear.

At the signing ceremony, the President said, “This event assumes a more majestic quality because of our ability together to affirm the historic role that people of faith have played in the history of this country and the constitutional protections those who profess and express their faith have always demanded and cherished.” Note his choice of word – both “profess” and “express.” Faith that is merely emotional or intellectual but whose public expression is stultified is not the kind of active faith to which religious devotion calls its followers.

Additionally, Kentucky has a RFRA which similarly requires the state government to offer an accommodation to people like Mrs. Davis unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest to advance and is doing so in the least restrictive way possible.

Writing in The Public Discourse, Kim Colby, Director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom at the Christian Legal Society, says RFRA “incentivizes government officials to find mutually beneficial ways to accomplish a governmental interest while respecting citizens’ religious exercise—a win-win solution for all.”

Put simply, Mrs. Davis is being burdened in a manner wholly unfamiliar to those advocates of religious liberty who drafted and enacted RFRA only 22 years ago. The burden imposed on her is an unfair one for a simple reason: There are other recourses for those same-sex couples seeking legal legitimation of their unions.

For example, as Newsweek reports, Mrs. Davis’s attorneys have argued there are options “other than mandating the clerk’s name on all marriage licenses. They (range) from having the county judge executive issue the licenses to allowing a deputy clerk to issue them devoid of Davis’s name or authority as Rowan County Clerk.” Indeed, as reported in today’s Washington Post, “The licenses issued Friday (September 4) were altered to remove Davis’s name. They now say they are issued in the office of ‘Rowan County, Rowan County County Clerk’.”

In other words, there are ways in which same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses that respect Mrs. Davis’s religious conscience and that do not unduly burden those couples in their pursuit of marriage licenses. And clearly, Kentucky has not met its state RFRA’s requirement that the government advance any interest in the least restrictive way possible.

This situation casts into large and vivid relief the kinds of issues the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling redefining marriage has placed before the country. Religious liberty in its fullest sense is at stake.

Surely, for Kim Davis and myriad Americans like her, accommodations can be found and unnecessary burdens lifted.

Kentucky public officials can’t refuse to do their job … unless they’re liberal?

by Peter Sprigg

September 8, 2015

Kim Davis is the Kentucky county clerk who was recently jailed by a federal judge for her refusing to violate her Christian conscience by issuing marriage licenses under her name and by her authority for same-sex unions. One of the chief arguments made against her conduct is that public officials cannot refuse to do the duties of their job.

So as I was researching this story, I found this excerpt, from an Associated Press article shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling ordering recognition of same-sex marriage in June, rather interesting:

It began in March 2014 when Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway — a former U.S. Senate candidate who is now running for governor — decided not to appeal the initial federal court decision that overturned Kentucky’s same sex marriage ban. During an emotional news conference at the Capitol, he said that to appeal would be to defend discrimination.

However, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear later overruled Conway and hired private attorneys to defend the state’s ban in federal court.

His job as governor was to take the emotion out of it and say, ‘What’s the rule of law going to be?” said Colmon Elridge, Beshear’s longtime aide. “And the only way to do that was to get a final ruling from the Supreme Court.”

 . . .

Conway, meanwhile, has faced critics who suggest he ignored his duties as attorney general. While Republican nominee for governor Matt Bevin criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling, he especially targeted Conway, who he said “abandoned his oath of office.” Bevin said Conway’s “failure to do his job … disqualifies him from being elected to the office of governor.”

How can voters trust him not to break his oath again?” Bevin said.

Whitney Westerfield, the Republican nominee for attorney general, also blasted Conway in his reaction to the court’s decision.

Unlike Attorney General Jack Conway, who failed in his responsibility to fight for the laws of this commonwealth, as Attorney General I will act to uphold the law even as it runs counter to my personal beliefs,” Westerfield said in a news release.

Did anyone try to put Attorney General Conway in jail for refusing to do his job?

Not just Sunday, but every day

by Brittany Jones

August 20, 2015

George Washington once said, “Religion and morality are the essential pillars of civil society.” Benjamin Franklin, deemed one of our nation’s most irreligious Founders, opined that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

Once upon a time, through tax-exemptions and other initiatives, our nation sought to encourage religious groups to contribute to society by teaching the populace to be moral and to care for those who are less fortunate. However, in recent days, even leaders of the “free” world are calling for the faith community to ensconce their beliefs behind the four walls of the church. No longer are religious beliefs seen as a necessary support for society, but rather as discriminatory ideas set against the “public interest.” No longer does our society understand that Christianity is not only what a person does on Sunday but also the way he or she lives throughout the entire week; not only in one’s private life but also in one’s public life. In an age of multiculturalism, Christianity is seen as culture-killing rather than life-giving, and thus, many are trying to suppress it.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton even said that in order to promote a social agenda in Africa, “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” Her remarks reveal the fact that Christian culture is increasingly viewed as a hindrance to society and thus orthodoxy at its best can be tolerated and at its worst ought to be suppressed. This shift has led to calls for the end of tax-exemptions for religious institutions.

More pointedly, while writing the majority opinion for the recent Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy stated:

Those who adhere to religious doctrines…may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”

This does little to bolster a religious person’s trust in the ability to actually practice his or her faith. Justice Kennedy may as well have said, “You can teach about your beliefs, but we aren’t guaranteeing anything.” Faith permeates our whole being and should form our identity. Thus, it cannot be left at the door. We do not hold our beliefs as reactions to the culture, but rather as immutable principles from God. They cannot be thrown away to fit the culture’s whim.

The marginalization of Christians is not a new problem. William Wilberforce grew up in the Enlightenment era in Britain in which the majority of people went to church. However, church attendance did not typically correlate with a devout faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in pre-World War II Germany where the Gospel had been largely removed from the church. Phyllis Schlafly began her career in the 1950s, a time when the merging of faith and politics was foreign. Yes, even in the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ era, faith and politics were separated.

When faced with this opposition we can choose to run or enter the fray and fight for truth. William Wilberforce considered leaving politics, but his good friend William Pitt the Younger responded, “If a Christian may act in the several relations of life, must he seclude himself from them all to become so? Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple, and lead not to meditation only but to action.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer fled to America to escape the rise of the Nazis but soon realized he could not watch his countrymen suffer from safety. He ultimately returned to Germany and joined the resistance. In the 1970s, America was rocked by both the Watergate scandal and the sexual revolution, and seemed completely devoid of any moral understanding. In the midst of this climate Phyillis Schlafly rallied thousands of Christians across the country to defend women and fight the proposed “Equal Rights Amendment.” She, along with many others, helped return religion to politics. So what did these leaders do when everything seemed to be against them? They fought on to incorporate faith into the public consciousness, and as a result, they changed the world.

Wilberforce fought for the next twenty years, Bonhoeffer until the Nazis took his life, and Schlafly continues to this day. They did not cave to the pressure to sequester their beliefs in their homes and houses of worship, but rather allowed their beliefs to permeate all of their life, even as society and government worked against them. We face similar challenges today. We must not stay hidden in our churches or our homes. True belief simply will not allow it. True belief calls us to come and die daily, not just on Sunday.

Religious Liberty in Action: A Lesson from Early America

by Rob Schwarzwalder

August 6, 2015

This week marks the 411th anniversary of the birth of John Eliot. Not familiar to you? Eliot, an Englishman by birth, came to the colony of Massachusetts where, so burdened for the salvation of the regional Indians, he translated all 66 books of the Bible - after developing an Algonquian grammar, no less - into the language of the Native Americans around him. The Eliot translation was published at Harvard College.

Sharing the Gospel with those who had never heard it was of Supreme importance to Eliot. And the religious liberty he enjoyed enabled Eliot to pursue his deep desire to enable the Algonquian Indians to read the good news about Jesus Christ in their own tongue.

American religious liberty has been with us since the dawning of the country we have become. FRC’s Freedom to Believe site is a compilation of stories of men and women whose exercise of the God-given, constitutionally-guaranteed religious liberty we always have enjoyed has been placed at-risk. John Eliot would, I think have stood with them. FRC does. Join us. And look up the Eliot translation online to be reminded why this core liberty is so critical.

New Poll Finds High Support for Religious Liberty

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

August 5, 2015

A just-released poll shows very high support for religious freedom, especially in the context of that freedom being pitted against gay rights.

According to Caddell Associates, which conducted the poll, “[t]here is an overwhelming sense on the part of American voters that they want to find common ground in order to protect both the expression of religious freedom and the rights of gays and lesbians.  What is clearly being signaled is an aversion to having an all out cultural war between these competing interests.”

While poll respondents broadly supported protecting the rights of all, “when asked which was more important, by a four to one ratio, voters said protecting religious liberty (31%) over protecting gay and lesbian rights (8%).” Notably, over half of the respondents (53%) said both were important.

Support for religious freedom jumps even further in the context of wedding vendors. 83% said “yes” when asked whether a Christian wedding photographer with “deeply held religious beliefs opposing same sex marriage” as “the right to say no” to a same-sex couple asking him or her to photography their wedding. Amazingly, even “80% of Agnostic/Atheists said the photographer had the right to say no.”

The polling also found that a majority believe “that the military has no right to regulate the religious actions of military chaplains. “

According to a report by the Washington Examiner, the poll shows that “Americans reacting to the Supreme Court’s approval of same sex marriage desire a truce between religious freedom and gay rights.” However, “if pushed,” they “overwhelmingly side with protecting the liberty of their faith by a margin of 4 to 1.”

It is clear that a broad swath of Americans are demanding that individual rights must be on the table of protections as we move ahead in a world of legalized same-sex marriage.

Craig James Files Suit Against Fox Sports Southwest

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M.

August 4, 2015

Craig James filed suit this week against Fox Sports Southwest (and affiliated companies) for discriminating against him based on his religion when it fired him for earlier comments he made in support of natural marriage when campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

Soon after his firing, James acquired legal representation with our friends at Liberty Institute, and filed a complaint of religious discrimination that proceeded through a state law administrative process. That process is now complete, paving the way for him to file a legal complaint in state court.

If it is shown that James’ religious beliefs were a motivating factor in the decision to fire him, he has a successful case of religious discrimination. In his complaint, James alleges that Fox Sport specifically “informed [him] that they terminated him for his statement” in support of natural marriage: “I’m a guy that believes in a man and a woman … Adam and Eve — and what the Bible says.” James made several other statements at this time affirming his opposition to same-sex marriage, noting that people will have to answer to God, and that Christians need to stand up for marriage.

After firing him, Fox Sports Southwest told the media that James “couldn’t say those things here.” James also alleges that Fox Sports Southwest unlawfully breached its contract with him and has still not paid him for work he performed almost two years ago.

In the complaint, he also points out the ridiculous behavior of Fox Sports Southwest, which circulated an article stereotyping James, assuming he’s motivated by antipathy to gay people. But as James points out, his Christian faith, with its tenets of how God created human relationships, is the very thing which causes him to love all fellow mankind. He also points out that he employed an openly-gay chief political consultant — a fact seemingly missed by Fox Sports Southwest in its rush to caricature him. James has no anger towards gay people, but believes all people deserve love and respect regardless of their views. As he points out, he even has “personal friends, family members, and professional colleagues on both sides of marriage and family issues, some of whom are themselves gay, lesbian, and transgender.”

Fox Sports Southwest refuses to remove the blinders of political correctness and perceive the man for who he really is.

Let us hope that the courts are able to peer through this charade and see that Fox Sports Southwest discriminated against Craig James because of his religious beliefs.

An Insufficient Accommodation

by Lindsey Keiser

August 3, 2015

Can an accommodation be accompanied by a requirement that essentially negates the accommodation and still be seen as sufficient?

To answer this question, we can use a simple example, which arises in the context of employment.

When you ask for a day off – and that day off is granted – you do not expect to be required to come in on your day off in order to tell your boss you won’t be there for the day. That would negate the grant of the day off.

The same is true when religious organizations ask for an accommodation from the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act and the government offers an accommodation which does not fully meet the requests of these organizations regarding protection of their religious beliefs. Such an “accommodation” does not eliminate the burden on the religious organizations, yet courts have been approving the government’s “accommodation” as sufficient. Continuing the string of judicial denials of religious organizations’ requests, the Tenth Circuit recently denied an appeal from the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged (Little Sisters) finding that, with the “accommodation” offered by the government, there was no substantial burden on the group’s religious beliefs.

Religious organizations like Little Sisters, Priests for Life, and Notre Dame sincerely believe that life begins at conception so they object to providing abortive contraception as part of their employee health insurance plans. As a result of their sincere belief, these non-profits have asked for an accommodation under the HHS Mandate citing the protections of the First Amendment and the bar on the government substantially burdening the free exercise of religion. The religious non-profits have asked to not be required to participate in any aspect of the provision of abortive contraception.

Requiring these organizations to provide abortive contraception in contravention of their beliefs would be a substantial burden which HHS has recognized and for which HHS has created an accommodation. The current accommodation allows religious non-profits to voice their objection to providing abortive contraception by filling out a form or directly notifying HHS. After HHS receives notice of the objection, the insurance company offers and provides the abortive contraception to the employees.

The question remains, however, whether this “accommodation” is actually sufficient.

Yes, the organizations only have to fill out a form or notify HHS of their religious objection, but the mechanism of notification is not the problem. The problem is that the accommodation doesn’t change the end result. Abortive contraception is still being provided as a result of the fact that the organization provides health care for its employees.

As some dissenting judges in the Priests for Life stated, “Where the government imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise and labels it an accommodation, that burden is surely as distressing to adherents as it would be if imposed without such a designation.”

The answer to whether there is a substantial burden even with the current accommodation is tied to our understanding of an accommodation. When we look at the example in the graphic above, it is fairly clear that the agreement made by the boss does not adequately meet the employee’s request for a day off. Similarly, we should ask whether the current accommodation adequately meets the requests of religious organizations to not have to provide abortive contraception – or, as the Little Sisters have pointed out, to “take actions that directly cause others to provide them, or otherwise appear to participate in the government’s delivery scheme.”

The answer is no, the accommodation does not sufficiently meet the requests of these religious organizations and therefore, places a substantial burden on their religious exercise. The form or notification to HHS is an insufficient accommodation because the opting-out by the religious organizations is the direct cause of the receipt of coverage. The dissenting judges in the Priests for Life pointed out, “the harm plaintiffs complain of … is from their inability to conform their own actions and inactions to their religious beliefs without facing massive penalties from the government” (emphasis added by the dissenting judges). This harm does not disappear because their relationship to the provision of the abortive contraception becomes a little more attenuated.

Just as a day off from work which requires you to come into work is not really a day off, an insufficient accommodation is no accommodation at all.

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