Tag archives: Religious Freedom

Why you should care about Elane Photography

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

March 19, 2014

Sometime in the next few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether it will hear the case of Elane Photography v. Willock. The owners of Elane Photography are Christians, and their views and beliefs are reflected in how they run their business. Yet the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Elane Photography violated New Mexico’s anti-discrimination law provisions regarding sexual orientation when its owners refused to agree to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Elane Photography’s owners are merely asking the government to not compel them to participate in actions which violate their religious beliefs. Consequently, when the government forces them to participate in the same-sex ceremony by photographing it (with the threat of a fine if they refuse), the government is forcing and compelling Elane’s owners to speak a certain message in violation of the First Amendment.

Even supporters of same-sex marriage see the danger of the government’s position and its use of anti-discrimination law in this case. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Eugene Volokh (professor at UCLA law school) and Ilya Shapiro (with the Cato Institute) point out that a ruling against Elane Photography here sets a dangerous precedent that allows the government to compel speech in the cause of furthering equality through powerful and broad anti-discrimination laws. The next victim may be someone quite unlike Elane’s owners. It could be “a freelance writer who declines to write a press release for a religious organization with which he disagrees.” According to the New Mexico Supreme Court’s reasoning in Elane Photography, this writer has violated anti-discrimination law because his refusal to write such a press release is discrimination based on religion, just like Elane Photography’s refusal to photograph the commitment ceremony is being viewed by the government as discrimination. Yet a photographer, writer, speaker, publisher, or other artist “must have the First Amendment right to choose which speech he creates, notwithstanding any state law to the contrary.”

As Volokh and Shapiro state, “a couple that is told by a photographer that she does not want to photograph their commitment ceremony may understandably be offended. But avoiding offense is not a valid reason for restricting or compelling speech… . The First Amendment secures an important right to which all speakers are entitled — whether religious or secular, liberal or conservative, pro- or anti-gay-marriage. A commitment to legal equality can’t justify the restriction of that right.”

Elane Photography highlights an important point — individuals with different views regarding the definition of marriage can still agree that free speech must trump “forced equality.” Indeed, the freedom from such “compelled speech” is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When speech motivated by religious beliefs is forced to pass muster with the government’s censors and Americans are forced to speak a certain message under the threat of fines and force of law, all who love individual liberty and free speech (regardless of personal views) must stand up and pay attention.

Religious Freedom Day: January 16, 1786

by Robert Morrison

January 16, 2014

Today’s commemoration of Religious Freedom Day is important because of what a state legislature did in the early republic. This day in 1786 saw the final passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The bill had worldwide influence. From that time to this, it represents the height of Enlightenment thinking on the crucial role of religious liberty as the solid foundation of a free state.

Thomas Jefferson had first introduced the bill in the Virginia General Assembly in 1779. But the Commonwealth of Virginia was then in the throes of the War of Independence, and British invaders were threatening the state. Action was delayed on this measure until 1785 when Jefferson’s friend and closest political ally, James Madison, skillfully moved the measure through the legislature.

Reporting by letter to Mr. Jefferson, who was by this time America’s Minister to France, Madison said — in his quaint eighteenth century spelling — that it would “add to the lustre of our country.” Jefferson fully agreed and delightedly had the Statute translated into French for full distribution on the continent of Europe. The influence of this document spread far and wide.

Jefferson had offered this bill as a way of establishing religious freedom. We need better to appreciate what was meant by that word. In every civilized country during the time of Jefferson and Madison, parliaments and royal courts established the country’s religion. The “established” Church of England was the only church legally recognized throughout the British Empire and the only one supported by taxes. The best that dissenter Protestants, Catholics, and Jews could hope for in England was toleration.

Toleration meant that you could practice your religion, mostly in private, without harassment from royal authorities. Public celebration of the Catholic Mass was illegal in England. Catholics, Jews, and dissenting Protestants were ineligible to vote, to hold office, or even to serve as a commissioned officer in the Army or the Royal Navy. A religious test was required. Those who were unwilling to pledge even a nominal allegiance to the King’s Church of England were disqualified.

France, our ally in the Revolution, was no better. There, the Catholic Church was established and Protestants and Jews had no civil rights. Holland was perhaps the most enlightened country in Europe, but even for the liberal Dutch, toleration was the guiding principle.

When the great patriot George Mason drafted Virginia’s Declaration of Rights during the Revolution, he first included in it language supporting the broadest “toleration” for all religions. Young James Madison, in his modest and self-effacing way, had persuaded Mason instead to use the phrase “free exercise of religion.” It was Mason’s document that Jefferson used as a reference in writing the American Declaration of Independence.

Madison had no stronger ally in the fight for the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom than Elder John Leland, a leader of the Old Dominion’s Baptists. These evangelical Protestants had been brutally mistreated under the colonial government of Virginia. Their refusal to tell Church of England clerics where they would preach and to whom they would preach landed a number of Baptist preachers in jail.

In establishing religious freedom for the first time anywhere in the world, the Virginia Statute said that our worship of our Creator was a matter between us and our God. It said we had a duty to worship but the manner and means of that worship were a recognized right of conscience. It freed citizens from paying taxes to support churches they did not attend and doctrines they did not believe. None of the peoples’ rights as citizens would be infringed because of their membership in a particular church body, synagogue, or other “religious society.”

Finally, the Virginia Statute stated in emphatic terms that it recognized the power of succeeding legislatures to amend or repeal portions of the Statute. The authors nonetheless asserted that should any part of the Virginia Statute be diluted or repealed, it would be a violation of a fundamental human right.

The importance of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom cannot be overestimated. Its spirit breathes in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — also a handiwork of James Madison. In the nineteenth century, millions of European immigrants would be drawn to our shores in the knowledge that in America, their faith would be respected and their right to free exercise of religion protected.

Here lies Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia,” reads the epitaph on the Founder’s grave marker. He wrote it himself. Modestly, he added no word about two terms as president, or a long string of offices and titles conferred upon him. Those were gifts of the people to me, he explained, but these were my gifts to them.

Today, America’s religious freedom is in the gravest danger since 1786. The HHS Mandate will force millions of us to aid in the destruction of the inalienable right to life. It violates our consciences and threatens our free exercise of religion.

Our own State Department, forgetting the legacy of two of our ablest Secretaries of State — Jefferson and Madison — has pressured constitution writers in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish Islamist states in which the rights of religious minorities are nowhere respected nor are their lives secure. No wonder our efforts in those strife-torn countries have come to naught.

There’s nothing new under the sun,” said President Harry Truman, “just history we haven’t learned yet.” His words should serve as a warning and a spur to his successor in the White House and the diplomats at State. Even if they have not learned our history, we must remember it.

Audio of Rear Admiral Lee Addressing Regulations Restricting Religious Liberty

by FRC Media Office

May 6, 2013

In an emotional moment at last week’s National Day of Prayer service, Coast Guard Rear Adm. William D. Lee stood at the microphone and said that he had 10 minutes of carefully prepared remarks ready but decided to “speak from the heart” instead. He told the story of so many servicemen searching for reasons to live, and talked about one 24-year-old who had tried to commit suicide and failed. Despite the protocol, Lee said he felt strongly that he should give the soldier a Bible. “The lawyers tell me that if I do that, I’m crossing the line,” he told the crowd. “I’m so glad I’ve crossed that line so many times.” To a standing ovation, Admiral Lee promised not to back down from “my right under the Constitution to tell a young man that there is hope.” 

Listen to the audio

Tony Evans: “I Always Start with the Right to Life”

by Robert Morrison

October 12, 2012

Pastor Tony Evans has seen God bless his ministry in Dallas. He started with a small home-based church in 1976. Today, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship has grown to 9,500 members. Among the many ministries of Oak Cliff is its Adopt-a-School initiative. Rev. Evans and the members of his congregation have partnered with 65 urban schools to provide mentoring, tutoring, and family support services.

In a most revealing interview with Emily Belz on the World Magazine website, Dr. Evans speaks important truths about how Christians should vote. “I always start with the right to life because all other rights depend on your ability to live.” How heartening. How important. If only all pastors, priests, and rabbis in America had stood forthrightly for this inalienable right. America would be that kinder, gentler place we all seek.

Dr. Evans’s statement was especially encouraging to me. Forty years ago, I was an unchurched young Democrat, seeking my first elective office as a Assemblyman in my native New York State. I knew my Ten Commandments, of course, but I had never read the passage where the Psalmist addresses his words to God:

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mothers womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Even so, it was possible through the application of natural right reason for me to oppose abortion as the direct taking of innocent human life. Jefferson did not cite Scripture when he wrote: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” It is no mystery when God gives us life. Science has incontrovertibly told us: every human life begins at conception and continues, whether intra- or extra-uterinely until death.

Dr. Evans begins with the right to life because it is foundational. Without life, no other rights matter. It’s especially good to see this brave black pastor speak so strongly. The evils of slavery and segregation were based on a denial that some Americans were “created equal.”

As Abraham Lincoln put it: “Nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon.” Slavery treads upon that divine image. So does segregation. And abortion is the the cruelest and most unjust result of treading upon that divine image.

Tony Evans goes on in this vital interview to defend the biblical definition of marriage. No one has the right to counterfeit marriage. This is not a matter of imposing Christians’ beliefs on the rest of society. Christians will still go to church to have their true marriages blessed.

Those who will suffer most from the ending of marriage are those who suffer most right now—the poor, the marginal, women, children, and minorities. In standing for marriage, Tony Evans his showing his compassion for the least of these.

There is an alarming trend in the growing inequality of incomes in America. Too many Americans are seeing their prospects for a better life eclipsed by a go-go culture that leaves them far behind. What we disagree about is why this is happening.

Christian leaders like Tony Evans are pointing to the solutions. Protect life and defend marriage and you will see these disturbing traits minimized.

When we see horrific figures like 71% of unborn children aborted in Harlem and 78% of the unborn children of black mothers aborted in Mississippi, we know that Rev. Jesse Jackson was right to denounce abortion as “black genocide.”

The right to life and the defense of marriage are the civil rights issues of our day. In 1866, newly freed slaves walked to Tennessee in their thousands to have their marriages legally recorded. Those striving young couples understood something we have lost sight of today: they prayed in hope for real change in their lives. We should join our prayers to theirs. And we should all thank God for the leadership of Rev. Dr. Tony Evans and Dallas’s Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship.

From the Industrial Revolution to the Contraceptive Revolution

by Sharon Barrett

October 11, 2012

As MARRI intern Alex Schrider points out in Student Debate: Taxing Conscience, the HHS contraceptive mandate is a direct attack on religious freedom. It does more than require employers to deny their personal beliefs about life and contraception; it forces many (primarily conservative Catholics and Evangelical Protesants) to violate church teachings and religious convictions..

This is significant for more reasons than the obvious wrong of asking religious Americans to violate their conscience. It represents an attack on religion itself.

Historically, religious practice formed the fabric of American culture. From New England Puritans to Maryland Roman Catholics, colonists came to the New World seeking religious freedom. After the nation was established, revival meetings helped unify the ragged frontier. Immigrants from all ends of the globe relied on religion to keep their families and communities intact.

The twentieth century, however, saw a cultural about-face. The ostensibly conservative, religious postwar era gave way to urban riots and juvenile delinquency. America left the 1950s baby boom for the 1960s free love movement, followed by four decades of increase in non-marital births and decrease in the overall birth rate.

 

MARRIs Patrick Fagan and Henry Potrykus suggest part of the impetus behind this shift:

The contraceptive mindset…is of one cloth with the West shifting its economic orientation from family enterprise to individualist labor activity while simultaneously moving from religious to secular social values.

The Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century weakened both family life and the American economy, because industrialism severed the workplace from the home. Urbanization in the twentieth century further undermined ties to family and local community. As this shift happened, the religious values that emphasized marriage and the family as a context for childbearing also declined.

The shift in values has economic effects, as Alex Schrider explains:

MARRI has documented the effects of widespread contraceptive use: when birthrate decreases, the average age of a population increases, eventually leading to population decline. An aging and declining population is associated with economic problems, not the least of which is the substantial burden placed on the shoulders of the smaller, younger generation, which must provide for the disproportionately large elderly generation.

There is a solution, but it does not lie in the HHS mandate. Rather, according to Fagan and Potrykus,

Remediation lies in a re-adoption of stable marriage as a societal norm and the rejection by governments and peoples of this non-sustainable model of society a religious, sexually polymorphous, serial polygamy and its replacement by a less secular, more traditional, family-oriented life.

Rebuilding our culture and economy requires us to return to family-oriented values. To start this process, our culture must return to religion, which creates these values. The federal government should not attack the very bedrock of society with an ill-conceived mandate that smothers religious freedom.

Common Ground or Not, Lets Do Whats Right

by Rob Schwarzwalder

August 29, 2012

The brilliant commentator, George Weigel, has written a probing, almost wistful column on the difficulty of putting together a broad coalition on religious liberty. Using as context the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he argues that at one time, an encompassing religious freedom consortium was possible. He says that it is no longer.

He quotes religious leaders as suggesting that homosexual “rights” and sexual promiscuity have vitiated the broad, liberal-centrist-conservative consensus. Why? Because homosexuality - jammed into cultural prominence by a dedicated minority of activists, aided by friends in the media, the entertainment world, and politics - has become, as one rabbi said, “an irresistible force against an immovable object.”

In other words, there is no middle ground around which a diverse coalition coalesces. While there can be compromise on a host of issues grounded in principle, honorable compromise, and prudence, there can be no compromise on whether two same-sex partners should receive legal recognition of their “marriage.” In public judgment and also at the polls, one side wins and the other loses.

This battle must never engender hate or a desire to win that surmounts Christian ethics. Rather, supporters of traditional marriage should enter the contest with compassionate tenacity and kind-hearted truth-telling. But with that said, to deny the strife over homosexual “marriage” is a battle is to ignore social and political reality.

Weigel also notes the comments of a Catholic Bishop that “the protection of believers rights and consciences … is in direct conflict with the ideology of the sexual revolution. Thats why the flashpoints in the current religious freedom battles have been abortion, contraception, sterilization and marriage.” Put another way, when liberal religious leaders support President Obama’s decision to require Christian hospitals and colleges, as well as businesses operated by persons of Christian conviction, to provide abortion services and abortion-inducing drugs in insurance plans they offer, they are making a profound moral statement: That one’s sexual conduct, however irresponsible or dangerous or contrary to biblical teaching, merits higher legal consideration than the exercise of the conscience and of one’s deeply-held convictions.

Again, there is no common ground between one side and the other. In the absence of such ground, constructing a framework for common agreement and mutual effort becomes impossible.

Finally, Weigel says there is a third reason why a broad coalition for religious liberty cannot be formed: the willingness of religious intellectuals, including the Catholic Theological Society of America, to sacrifice a robust understanding of religious freedom on the altar of what they believe to be other social goods, including the expansion of the welfare state. In other words, so what if you have an Administration that wants Uncle Sam to subsidize abortion? Thats part of the price you have to pay to more widely redistribute income.

He ends his piece with some haunting questions:

America began with the assertion of deep truths written into the human condition by Nature, and Natures God (as the Declaration of Independence put it). In an election season likely to be dominated by very practical (and important) questions about the economy, it will be well to keep a deeper, more searching set of questions in mind: Are we still a nation dedicated to certain moral truths? If so, how do we recover an ability to talk about those truths together? And if not, what have we become?

Some well-meaning souls are calling for Christians to stand-down in the battle for our culture and simply be nice to everybody. In practical terms, this means abandoning the unborn, their mothers, marriage and the family, and religious liberty to those who would harm them.

Weigel asks the right questions. At least part of the answer to them is that Christians must assert that understandable and definitive truth exists and should be applied in public policy, truth that is accessible to Christian believers and non-believers alike. We must serve humbly, persuade graciously, and contend ethically.

Yet not to work for both good legislative and political ends and also not to turn the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens from one worldview to another would be unloving. If truth is what it is, it merits application to public policy. To make that application requires effort, and that means contention and potentially persecution.

Is this to say that no common ground exists between Right and Left, to use Whittaker Chambers clear dichotomy? No; but it is to say that the size of that ground is shrinking by the day.

We can make inroads through quiet, unassuming, authentic displays of Christian love, dispelling stereotypes and surprising those who believe conservatives are rigid, harsh, and simplistic. We can appeal to the law written on the heart (Romans 2:15), touching the conscience within each person to sway opinions and encourage sound action.

Yet we must always bear in mind that Paul, Peter, and many of the early Christians were thoughtful, articulate, gracious - and martyred. Are we ready to follow in their stead?

 

Is Religious Freedom Necessary for Other Freedoms to Flourish?”

by Rob Schwarzwalder

August 9, 2012

Dr. Tom Farr, who has spoken twice on the importance of religious liberty here at FRC, has published a provocative new column asking if religious liberty is essential to all other freedoms.

He states the core of his argument eloquently in two essential points: (1) Our duty to God precedes any duty we have to the state, and thus (2) it is the duty of the state to protect this foundational right to religious liberty and the exercise of conscience. Taking his cue from James Madison, Dr. Farr writes:

America’s founding generation identified religious freedom as “the first freedom” because they saw it, in effect, as a precondition for the other freedoms. James Madison wrote that each of us has rights that flow from the duty we owe God. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour (sic) of the Universe.

Further, Madison insisted that if men were to fulfill their obligation to God they must have freedom — especially freedom from the coercive powers of the state. The Duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of our discharging it, can be governed only by Reason and Conviction, not by Compulsion or Violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise of it according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the Magistrate… .

The additional implications of religious liberty with respect to any government are profound. As Dr. Farr writes, Any state that protects religious liberty thereby limits itself. Religious liberty empowers religious actors both to perform services that might otherwise be carried out by the state, and to adhere to an authority beyond the state.

To authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, this is a chilling prospect. Thats why Communist China, North Korea, and many Islamist-run governments so stridently penalize Christian believers: Those believers bend the knee to King Jesus, not their human governments. This simple fact sends shivers down the spines of totalitarians everywhere.

Dr. Farr invites comment on these arguments in space provided at the end of his article, linked above. Please share your thoughts with him and with us here at FRC, where we honor religious liberty, at home and abroad, as critical to the freedom and justice for all that we cherish.

Vanderbilt University Defends Crackdown on Religious Groups

by Krystle Gabele

February 3, 2012

In a recent article on Fox News, Christian student organizations may be forced to meet in secret at Vanderbilt University, as college officials are enforcing a nondiscrimination policy that bans organization leaders from holding specific beliefs.

So far, four Christian organizations on campus have been told by the university that they are in violation of the policy, and they are in danger of losing their registered student group status. This comes after Vanderbilt University conducted an investigation of a Christian fraternity, Beta Upsilon Chi, and found the organization discriminated against a student based on sexual orientation. Additionally, another group, the Christian Legal Society, was asked to remove Bible verses and the words, Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior from their constitution.

The real issue at stake here is religious liberty. Denying an organization the right to worship freely or being able to stand up for what their faith teaches them is wrong, and it is persecution. According to Professor Carol Swain, who advises the Christian Legal Society:

There are people on campus who are very threatened by the idea of religious freedom and they would like to create an environment where no one hurts anyone elses feelings unless its Christians.

What would our founding fathers think of what is happening at Vanderbilt? They would probably think this is a travesty. After all, they fled from the religious persecution in England by coming to America, where they could worship freely without being forced to attend the Kings church.

In fact, when our founding fathers drafted the Constitution, they made certain that religious liberty would be protected in our country. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (Bold, emphasis mine)

Vanderbilts decision to ban student religious organizations is a violation of the First Amendment, but it is limiting the groups ability to worship freely, as our founding fathers envisioned.

FRC Blasts Supreme Court for Allowing Decision to Stand that Removes Roadside Crosses in Six States

by FRC Media Office

October 31, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 31, 2011

CONTACT: J.P. Duffy or Darin Miller, (866) FRC-NEWS or (866) 372-6397

FRC Blasts Supreme Court for Allowing Decision to Stand that Removes Roadside Crosses in Six States

October 31, 2011

SCOTUS Lets Stand One of Worst Religious Liberty Assaults in American History

WASHINGTON, D.C.- Family Research Council (FRC) strongly criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today to let stand one of the worst religious assaults in all of American history. The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Davenport vs. American Atheists will now result in the removal of 14 crosses bearing the names of fallen Utah state troopers that have been placed at roadside locations. In addition to Utah, the cross removal order will affect five other states including Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Wyoming.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case could have significant implications for national memorials and monuments across the nation, including, but not limited to, the crosses on headstones in Arlington Cemetery.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins responded with these comments:

The Supreme Court has failed to recognize that religious liberty is a fundamental right given to us by God and protected in the Constitution. I find it tragic that our freedoms are now at greater risk from our own courts than from the foreign or domestic enemies we’ve faced,” concluded Perkins.

Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council Ken Klukowski co-authored FRC’s brief in the case with Professor Nelson Lund. Of the case, Klukowski said:

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today to let stand one of the worst court decisions on religious liberty in American history. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered removal of roadside crosses in six states is the worst example yet of the Establishment Clause being turned on its head to sterilize the public square of references to faith.

Freedom of religion means, in part, that no government should discriminate against those who, using their own funds, wish to erect a non-invasive religious display on public property,” concluded Klukowski.

To read FRC’s amicus brief, click here: http://www.frc.org/davenport

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