Tag archives: Religious Liberty

California Is Fining Churches for Using Common Sense

by Kaitlyn Shepherd

September 4, 2020

Even though the First Amendment clearly protects religious liberty, California continues to stymie churches’ efforts to reopen amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

On August 28, Governor Newsom announced a new statewide reopening plan, which replaced the previous county monitoring list. Under the new system, each county will be classified under one of four tiers. Each tier has a corresponding color that designates the county’s coronavirus risk level, which is based on the number of new coronavirus cases per day and the percentage of positive tests. Purple counties (widespread risk level) have more than seven new cases per day (per every 100,000) and more than eight percent positive tests. Red counties (substantial risk level) have four to seven new cases per day (per every 100,000) and five to eight percent positive tests. Orange counties (moderate risk level) have one to 3.9 new cases per day (per every 100,000) and two to 4.9 percent positive tests. Yellow counties (minimal risk level) have less than one new case per day (per every 100,000) and less than two percent positive tests.

Unfortunately, California’s new system fails to adequately prioritize the First Amendment rights of its churches and congregations. As of the Governor’s announcement on Friday, 38 of the state’s 58 counties (approximately 87 percent of the population) were in the highly restrictive purple tier. In these counties, churches are not allowed to hold indoor services. In red counties (currently nine counties), churches may hold indoor services, but they may only admit up to 25 percent of their building’s capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Churches in orange counties (currently nine counties) may also hold indoor services but must limit attendance to 50 percent of building capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer. Churches in yellow counties may admit up to 50 percent of their building’s capacity, but only two counties, Modoc and Alpine Counties, are currently classified under this tier. According to industry guidance (current as of July 29), all churches have been ordered to “discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities.”

In addition to statewide restrictions preventing churches from resuming in-person services, California churches are also facing opposition at the local level. Los Angeles County’s Grace Community Church resumed in-person services on July 26. After the County threatened the church with civil and criminal penalties for continued violations of the County’s prohibition on indoor worship services, the church filed a lawsuit against Governor Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and other public officials. The County tried—and failed—four times to obtain court orders that would force the church to cease holding in-person services. On August 28, in another attempt to prevent the church from reopening, the County “terminat[ed] the church’s lease on a large portion of [its] parking lot.”

Grace Community Church is not alone in its struggle to reopen. In Ventura County, a judge held Godspeak Calvary Chapel and its pastor, Rob McCoy, in contempt of court. He fined the church $3,000 for holding indoor services in violation of a temporary restraining order that mandated compliance with the County’s prohibition on such services. And in Santa Clara County, North Valley Baptist Church has been fined over $52,000 for continuing to hold in-person services.

As churches in California and across the country consider reopening, they should make every effort to reopen safely by taking reasonable precautions and following common-sense guidelines. It is high time that California allows them to do so.

Kaitlyn Shepherd is a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council.

Lessons in Perseverance from the Life of William Wilberforce

by Worth Loving

July 29, 2020

The abolition of slavery. Women’s suffrage. Civil rights for black Americans. None of these reforms happened quickly. They only came about through years of dedicated efforts from people who refused to give up, despite overwhelming odds.

As we fight to protect life, family, and religious freedom, we can find inspiration in the lives of men and women who never gave up fighting for causes they believed in. One such individual was the great statesman William Wilberforce. Wilberforce played a central role in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, but he did not see his reforms implemented within a few weeks or months. In fact, it took decades for Wilberforce’s ultimate goals to be accomplished. He experienced many crushing defeats yet remained steadfast in his pursuit. As we work toward reforms in the present, we can learn much from the life and example of William Wilberforce.

Born into an affluent British family, Wilberforce attended St. Johns College in Cambridge, where he became close friends with future prime minister William Pitt. Raised in a Christian home, Wilberforce drifted away from his religious upbringing as a young man. In 1780, at the age of 21 and while still a student, Wilberforce was elected to Parliament. Pitt followed his friend to Parliament, becoming the youngest prime minister in British history at the age of 24.

The first few years of Wilberforce’s parliamentary career were mostly uneventful, although he was known as an eloquent speaker who frequented bars with drinking and gambling. It wasn’t until 1785 that things began to change. Influenced by his friend Isaac Milner, Wilberforce rediscovered the Christianity of his youth. Over the next few years, Wilberforce’s newfound faith sparked a strong desire for humanitarian reform. Yet Wilberforce wrestled with whether he should leave Parliament and devote himself to full-time Christian ministry. He reconnected with his childhood pastor John Newton, a former slave trader who became an influential adviser to Wilberforce. Around this time, Wilberforce was also approached by Thomas Clarkson, co-founder of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, about taking up the cause in Parliament. Through the counsel of Newton, Pitt, Clarkson, and notable antislavery groups like the Clapham Sect, Wilberforce was persuaded that he could still do God’s work while remaining in politics. Around this time, he wrote the following in his journal: “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners” [i.e., society].

At the time, calling for the abolition of the slave trade was deeply unpopular, given the strong economic interests many influential businessmen and members of Parliament had in the British West Indies. Over the new few years, Wilberforce and Clarkson embarked on an unprecedented public awareness campaign across Great Britain. Clarkson visited the ports where slave ships docked, taking detailed notes from crew members about the deplorable conditions slaves endured aboard ship. He also took measurements of the small quarters in which slaves were housed and gathered shackles and branding irons to demonstrate to the public how slaves were being treated. In 1787, Clarkson published a booklet titled A Summary View of the Slave Trade and of the Probable Consequences of Its Abolition, detailing the horrific conditions slaves endured while aboard the ships. Clarkson began traveling the country, distributing leaflets describing these conditions. In 1789, Wilberforce used Clarkson’s evidence in a powerful speech before the House of Commons to present his first bill for the abolition of the slave trade. While Parliament did not act on his bill, public opinion was starting to change. In 1791, the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade distributed leaflets calling upon the public to boycott sugar produced by slaves in the West Indies. Consequently, around 300,000 British citizens stopped buying the sugar, resulting in a significant loss of profit to companies that used slave labor in the West Indies.

Across the English Channel, trouble was brewing in France. Parliament was soon consumed with protecting Britain from the violent revolution engulfing France. That revolution resulted in an overthrow of the French government and eventually culminated in Napoleon’s rise to power. The British political establishment often viewed abolitionists like Wilberforce in the same light as the radicals leading the French Revolution. During this time, Wilberforce was slandered, libeled, and even received death threats. To compound his difficulties, Wilberforce battled an intestinal disease (believed today to be colitis) that prevented him from fulfilling his parliamentary duties from time to time. Despite these setbacks, Wilberforce remained resolute in his quest to end the slave trade.

Year after year, Wilberforce would present a motion in the House of Commons calling for the abolition of the slave trade. Although some of the margins were narrow, his motion was defeated every single time. Wilberforce’s motions were often defeated by fellow members of Parliament who had strong economic interests in the slave trade. In a 1791 speech, Wilberforce boldly reminded his fellow members: “Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.” But Wilberforce remained unfazed by the defeats and continued his fight with public awareness campaigns, bringing to light the horrors of the slave trade. Wilberforce and Clarkson gathered thousands of petition signatures from enraged British citizens who demanded an end to the slave trade throughout the Empire.

By 1807, public opinion was squarely in his favor, and Wilberforce had persuaded many members of Parliament. After nearly 20 years of fighting, the Slave Trade Act was passed, and Wilberforce realized one of his two “great objects”—the end of the slave trade.

Because this bill did not free currently owned slaves, Wilberforce began calling for the immediate emancipation of all slaves in the British Empire. In 1825, Wilberforce resigned his seat in Parliament due to health reasons but continued his quest to abolish slavery. On July 26, 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by the House of Commons, effectively freeing all slaves in the British Empire. William Wilberforce died three days later with the satisfaction of knowing that the cause to which he had dedicated his life had finally been accomplished.  

Wilberforce had also worked hard on his second “great object”—the “reformation of manners.” When Wilberforce began his Parliamentary career, British society was incredibly corrupt and immoral. Workers suffered poor conditions, animals were abused, and prostitution was rampant. Wilberforce had a special place in his heart for the poor and those rejected by society. By the time he died, Great Britain was a completely different place.

For more than 50 years, Wilberforce dedicated his life to building a better Great Britain. While advocating for Christians to be involved in politics, Wilberforce once said that “a private faith that does not act in the face of oppression is no faith at all.” As Christians, we are called to engage our culture and influence others for Christ. Wilberforce never attacked his opponents but instead appealed to their conscience.

Now, 187 years since Wilberforce’s death, we can draw many parallels between Wilberforce’s battles and our current ones over abortion, religious freedom, pornography, human trafficking, and many more. Since 1973, we’ve been fighting to correct the flawed decision in Roe v. Wade. While the pro-life movement has experienced many victories, hundreds of innocent unborn children are still killed every day. The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges undermines the sacred institution of marriage. And the religious liberty of Christian business owners and government employees is under increasing attack, most recently in Bostock v. Clayton County

Despite recent setbacks, we must never give up. We can find inspiration in William Wilberforce, who faced crushing defeats and vicious attacks from his opponents but never relented his fight for what was right.  We can learn much from Wilberforce’s tenacity and his unwavering commitment to the cause to which God had called him. The fight may be long and grueling, but the ultimate reward we are seeking is well worth any struggle we face now.

During the Pandemic, the Trump Administration Is Continuing to Protect Religious Freedom

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP , Jeremy Pilz

July 22, 2020

Yesterday, the Trump Administration announced further steps to protect religious freedom during the coronavirus pandemic. The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the resolution of two recent complaints filed against hospitals for infringing on religious freedom.

in June 2020, OCR received a complaint from a woman named Susanna Marcus, alleging she had requested a visit from a priest for her critically injured husband, Sidney Marcus. However, Prince George’s Hospital Center of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), the hospital where Sidney Marcus was admitted, denied the request. In late May 2020, Susanna and Sidney Marcus were involved in major car accident. Due to the nature of Sidney’s injuries, the couple was separated, and Sydney was placed in the intensive care unit. As a result of Sidney’s continued decline in health, Susanna requested a visit from a local priest for prayer at the hospital. The priest, however, was turned away by the hospital, based on a visitor exclusion policy adopted in response to COVID-19, despite being willing to wear any necessary personal protective equipment. In partnership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), OCR provided technical assistance to the hospital based on federal guidance which provides that “facilities must ensure patients have adequate and lawful access to chaplains or clergy.” Following this action by OCR, Prince George’s Hospital Center came into compliance with the federal guidance and granted Sidney Marcus’s request to freely exercise his religion by allowing the Catholic priest to visit and administer the sacraments of Holy Communion and Anointing of the Sick to him.

This is significant because it concerns the ability of clergy to continue to operate and function during the coronavirus, something the administration made sure was included in nationwide guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security. President Trump should be commended for ensuring clergy and pastors can continue to operate in this way and serve their communities during the coronavirus.

That same month, OCR also received a complaint from a medical student who was participating in rotations at the Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) in New York City. As a part of their response to COVID-19, SIUH temporarily suspended medical student rotations at the hospital. To return to rotation, SIUH required students to wear N95 respirator masks while assisting patients. As a result, SIUH informed one student that he would need to shave his beard if he wanted to return to his rotation. In accordance with the tenets of his religion, this student has not shaved his beard. HHS then stepped in to provided technical assistance to the hospital, and ultimately, they granted the student an accommodation to wear alternative protective equipment in the hospital so that he would not have to shave his beard.

These actions by the Trump administration may seem like small regulatory resolutions, but what they show is a consistent and concerted effort by this administration to protect religious freedom for all Americans. Everyone’s ability to practice their faith must be protected, and the administration is accomplishing this in concrete ways with actions like what HHS did yesterday. This also demonstrates that in times of crisis like the one our country is facing now, this administration will not protect one civil liberty at the expense of another. From the onset of the pandemic, HHS and the Department of Justice have been diligent to enforce laws protecting everything from disability rights to the right churches have to freely worship. No matter the situation our country faces, the Office of Civil Rights at HHS is on duty, protecting the guard rails of civil rights like religious freedom.

If you have a been discriminated against by a healthcare provider or government agency for your religious beliefs, please visit hhs.gov/ocr to file a complaint.

Connor Semelsberger, MPP is the Legislative Assistant at Family Research Council.

Jeremy Pilz is a Policy and Government Affairs intern focusing on federal legislative affairs, with a concentration on pro-life issues.

The Trump Administration Is About to Do the Right Thing on Religious Freedom — Again

by Travis Weber, J.D., LL.M. , Mary Beth Waddell, J.D.

May 22, 2020

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is about to finalize a rule it proposed last year to ensure that religious freedom and conscience are protected, the medical profession is not politicized, and patient care is prioritized. We urge this rule’s swift finalization.

This rule is great news for patients and the health care community alike. In 2016, under the Obama administration, HHS issued regulations on Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act defining “sex” in the context of “sex discrimination” to incorporate “gender identity” and “the termination of pregnancy”. Health care institutions sued, contending that the heavy hand of government was forcing them to violate their conscience and threatening their ability to operate. Understanding that HHS had exceeded its authority, a federal judge issued an injunction to prevent the Obama administration rule from taking effect.

Now, President Trump plans to clean up this mess, and protect religious freedom, for our caregiving institutions nationwide. This policy change will enable the medical community to fulfill the Hippocratic oath, while protecting the convictions of those in that community who want to hold to their religious beliefs and consciences about the biological understanding of sex.

President Trump’s proposed rule is also pro-life, and will ensure that the pro-life convictions of medical professionals will be honored. The inclusion of “termination of pregnancy” in the Obama administration rule could be read to require the provision of, and coverage or referral for, abortion. This could then lead to federal financial assistance being conditioned on the promotion and performance of acts that devalue the sanctity of human life. Thus, removing this language is important to ensuring that federal laws protecting the right of healthcare workers not to provide or refer for abortion will be upheld. 

We applaud HHS for standing with science and religious liberty to ensure that the medical community is free of political chains and can simply focus on providing the best possible care to their patients according to the best medical science.

The finalization of this rule is a high priority for religious freedom, and very important to protecting the faith of many throughout our country.

It should be finalized promptly, so that those with long-running conscience and religious freedom concerns in this area can finally put them to rest.

Churches Are Filing Lawsuits Over Coronavirus Restrictions. Here Is a List.

by Katherine Beck Johnson , Kaitlyn Shepherd

May 20, 2020

**UPDATED as of 8/06

As the coronavirus pandemic has taken hold, religious services have been disrupted across the United States in perhaps the most drastic manner in recent memory. Many state and local governments have clamped down on gatherings, and almost everyone in the United States has had some kind of restriction placed on them. Yet not all government authorities have respected religious freedom during this process.

Various state authorities, particularly governors in California, Nevada, Washington, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maine, have failed to prioritize religious liberty even as they prioritized other secular interests. Rather than looking at churches as partners to help care for our communities at this time, the governors in these states have treated churches as antagonists. As have certain other governmental authorities, they have failed to cooperate with churches, often hindering them from assisting their communities during this time.

The Department of Justice, which has been keenly focused on protecting religious liberty, released a memo expressing its concern that this fundamental right not be violated during the pandemic. The memo notes that reasonable restrictions may be permissible during this time. However, a state may not cross the line from “an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections.” Many churches have challenged discriminatory state and local orders by bringing suit in court. These court cases are listed below.

Churches that Won

1. Tabernacle Baptist Church v. Beshear

To curb the spread of the coronavirus, Kentucky governor Andrew Beshear ordered nonessential businesses to close. The state put a limit on “mass gatherings,” including those considered “faith-based.” Tabernacle Baptist Church planned to hold services in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Nevertheless, they were not allowed. The judge held that Tabernacle’s free exercise rights were violated, and granted a temporary restraining order.

2. On Fire Christian Center v. Fischer

On Fire Christian Center in Louisville, Kentucky was granted a temporary restraining order, allowing it to hold drive-in services for Easter Sunday. Judge Walker found that the Louisville mayor’s prohibition was not neutral because it allowed businesses, such as liquor stores, to remain open for drive-through purposes but not churches.

*Update: The temporary restraining order was dissolved and the case was dismissed after the parties agreed that the church would take reasonable steps to comply with the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

3. Maryville Baptist Church v. Beshear (church initially lost)

The district court denied the Hillview, Kentucky church’s emergency motion for a temporary restraining order. The district judge found that the order applied to “all gatherings” and not just faith-based gatherings. The judge found the exceptions to be singular transitory experiences, whereas church services are communal activities. However, the opinion was appealed to the Sixth Circuit.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit held that the governor’s order likely prohibits the Free Exercise Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment, especially with respect to drive-in services. The governor had allowed law firms, laundromats, liquor stores, and gun shops to continue operating. The plaintiff’s motion for an injunction pending appeal was granted in part.

*Update: On May 8, 2020, the district court granted the injunction with respect to the in-person services, finding that the church was likely to succeed on its Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim and its constitutional claims. On May 9, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in another case involving Maryville Baptist Church, found that the governor’s restrictions on in-person worship likely violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Read more about the case here.

4. First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs v. City of Holly Springs

In Mississippi, First Pentecostal Church of Holly Springs filed suit seeking a temporary restraining order permitting a planned Sunday service. At the hearing, the judge believed the city had made concessions that would resolve the dispute in question, but the court still put forth an order to clarify things. The judge noted that drive-in services should be permitted. Yet, the judge was less sympathetic to a request for a 35-person indoor gathering.

*Update: The church was burned down on May 20, 2020 in an act of suspected arson. Two days later, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the church’s motion for a temporary injunction, allowing it to hold in-person services. Judge Willett issued a powerful concurrence on behalf of the church, condemning the City’s lack of sympathy and outrage over the destruction of a “neighborhood house of worship” and declaring the City’s argument that the arson rendered the First Amendment claim moot to be “shameful.”

5. Berean Baptist Church v. Cooper

A federal judge in North Carolina granted a temporary restraining order, which allowed churchgoers to attend church in person. The North Carolina governor banned indoor church services of over 10 people, though outdoor services were still allowed. The judge noted that some religious services cannot be conducted outdoors or with fewer than 10 people. He also noted that the governor allowed over 10 people indoors for secular activities. Finally, the judge said, “The Governor has failed to cite any peer-reviewed study showing that religious interactions in those 15 states have accelerated the spread of COVID-19 in any manner distinguishable from non-religious interactions.”

*Update: The case was voluntarily dismissed in response to changes in the Governor’s orders.

6. Edgewater Christian Church v. Brown

Two churches in Oregon sued Governor Brown. The church argues that if people are able to gather at restaurants, they should be able to gather at church.

*Update: Case voluntarily dismissed on June 10, 2020 after Phase 2 of Oregon’s reopening plans allows church to resume services.

Churches that Lost

1. Lighthouse Fellowship Church v. Northam (DOJ intervened)

In Virginia, Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Chincoteague Island filed suit after the pastor was issued a citation for holding a Palm Sunday service for 16 people. The church sought a preliminary injunction against Governor Northam’s order, but a U.S. District Court judge denied that request. The next day, attorneys for the church filed a notice that it would appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and asked again for a temporary restraining order.

Governor Northam’s new order will allow churches to hold gatherings at 50 percent capacity.

*Update: The charges against the pastor were eventually dropped. On May 21, 2020, the U.S. District Court denied the church’s emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal.

2. Cassell v. Snyders

In Illinois, The Beloved Church sued because the stay-at-home order infringed on their religious practices. The governor reissued an order allowing churches to meet as long as they abided by the requirement of no more than 10 people. The judge held that the current crisis implicates Jacobson and advances the government’s interest in protecting Illinoisans from the pandemic. It has been appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

3. Legacy Church, Inc. v. Kunkel

In New Mexico, Legacy Church challenged the governor’s executive order, which restricts places of worship to gatherings of no more than five people within a single room. The judge held that the order did not violate the church’s First Amendment because it was neutral and generally applicable.

*Update: On July 13, 2020, the court denied the church’s request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. The judge found that there was no religious animus and that similar restrictions were imposed on secular entities.

4. Calvary Chapel of Bangor v. Mills

In Maine, Calvary Chapel sued Governor Mills over her executive order, which limited gatherings to 10 people. The district judge held that the plaintiff was unlikely to succeed on the merits. The judge found that the order was placed to protect the people from the virus. The judge found the order to be neutral and generally applicable.

*Update: The First Circuit Court of Appeals denied the church’s motion for an injunction pending appeal on June 2, 2020.

5. Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker

Two churches in Illinois sued because they did not want to abide by the 10-person limit. The judge held that under Jacobson and a First Amendment analysis, the churches lost. The judge found that the order does not target religion. He noted that gatherings at church pose much more risk than gatherings at businesses. Finally, the judge noted that the order had nothing to do with suppressing religion but rather was executed to protect people from the disease.

*Update: After the churches’ request for an injunction pending appeal was denied by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the case proceeded to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied the application for injunctive relief because of new guidance issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health on May 28. The case went back to the Seventh Circuit, and a panel of judges affirmed the court’s decision in favor of the governor. The court held that Illinois’s restrictions on the size of church gatherings did not violate the First Amendment. On July 27, the Seventh Circuit denied a request for a rehearing before the full court.

6. Gish v. Newsom

A day after Easter, three church pastors and a congregant sued the state of California, as well as Riverside and San Bernardino counties, for refusing to designate houses of worship as essential services. The social distancing mandates are particularly challenging for James Moffatt of Church Unlimited in Indio, who, the lawsuit complaint said, “believes that scripture commands him as a pastor to lay hands on people and pray for them, this includes the sick.” Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Request for a Temporary Restraining Order was denied. The orders were found to be neutral. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the request for an emergency injunction pending appeal. The case was eventually dismissed on July 8, 2020.

7. Cross Culture Christian Center v. Newsom

After a Lodi, California church was ordered to temporarily shut down, the Cross Culture Christian Center sued. “Plaintiffs have sincerely held religious beliefs, rooted in the Bible, that followers of Jesus Christ are not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, and that they are to do so even more in times of peril and crisis.” Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Request for Temporary Restraining Order was denied. The court noted the general police powers to promote safety during a public health crisis.

8. Abiding Place Ministries v. Newsom

The San Diego church Abiding Place Ministries argued that California’s exemptions for non-religious businesses such as “cannabis retailers, grocery stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, big box stores,” betray a preference for non-religious activity. Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Request for Preliminary Injunction denied on June 4, 2020 (issue is moot in light of May 25 guidelines).

9. South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom

With Gov. Newsom declaring a transition from “Phase 1” to “Phase 2” of the state’s pandemic response, allowing for more businesses to open and operate, two religious institutions felt they were not treated equally in the reopening plans. The South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and the Chabad of Carmel Valley synagogue in San Diego are suing, arguing that the revised order restricts their congregation’s free exercise of religion, assembly, speech, and right to due process and that it constitutes “excessive government entanglement with religion.” Here is the church’s complaint.

*Update: Case went to the Supreme Court. Application for injunctive relief was denied May 29, 2020 (Roberts, C.J., concurring) (holding that California’s reopening procedures do not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment). After the decision at the Supreme Court, the church filed an amended complaint with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the unequal treatment of churches as compared to protests and other secular entities.

10. Spell v. Edwards

Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana filed suit to stop Governor Edwards from enforcing restrictions on him and his church. Spell has proceeded in a manner lacking legal strategy, making it more likely he will lose.

*Update: Motion for Temporary Restraining Order was denied by the district court. On June 18, 2020, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the pastor’s motion for an injunction because the request became moot when the challenged stay-at-home orders expired.

11. Bullock v. Carney

A pastor sued the Governor of Delaware claiming that the executive orders deprive his right to freely exercise his religion. A motion for a Temporary Restraining Order was denied.

12. Elkhorn Baptist Church, et al. v. Brown

More than 10 Oregon churches and multiple individuals brought suit against Governor Brown’s stay-at-home order. When the state started phase one opening, many churches still experienced heavy operating restrictions. The judge ruled that Brown’s executive order was null and void.

*Update: Although the church initially prevailed, the Oregon Supreme Court vacated the preliminary injunction in favor of the church because the lower court erred in holding that the Governor’s orders exceeded a statutory time limit.

Churches Awaiting an Opinion

1. Temple Baptist Church v. City of Greenville (DOJ intervened)

In Mississippi, Temple Baptist Church sued after congregants were ticketed for attending drive-in church services. The attorneys withdrew the request for a temporary restraining order because new guidance was issued.

2. Robinson, Knopfler v. Murphy

St. Thomas More Society is representing a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest against New Jersey’s Executive Order 107, which caps gatherings at 10 people. The police halted the celebration of Mass and a Jewish prayer ceremony, which requires 10 men.

*Update: Rabbi Knopfler was arrested in early May for violating the governor’s executive order. The plaintiffs asked the court for leave to file a third amended complaint on July 23, 2020.

3. High Plains Harvest Church v. Polis

High Plains Harvest Church sued Colorado health officials over their ban which prevents churches from gathering. The suit notes that if hundreds of people can gather at Lowe’s, they should be able to gather at church.

*Update: DOJ intervened in the case supporting the church. The district court denied the church’s motion for a temporary restraining order on June 16, 2020. Citing the Supreme Court’s recent decision in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, the court found that the church had “not made a strong showing of a reasonable likelihood of success in this matter.”

4. Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley v. Sisolak

A complaint filed on May 22, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, challenging Governor’s ban on church services of more than 10 people; complaint amended May 28, 2020 (updated Phase II plan says that churches not allowed to meet with more than 50 people).

*Update: The church’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was denied by the district court on June 11, 2020. The court found that the church did “not demonstrate[] a likelihood of success on its First Amendment Free Exercise claim.” The U.S. Supreme Court denied the church’s application of injunctive relief on July 24, 2020. Four Justices dissented from the denial: Justice Alito (for himself, Justice Thomas, and Justice Kavanaugh), Justice Gorsuch (for himself), and Justice Kavanaugh (for himself).

5. Calvary Chapel of Ukiah v. Newsom

Three churches in California challenged Governor Newsom’s “ban on singing and chanting activities … in places of worship while permitting the same activities in all other similarly situated indoor uses within the counties where [they] are located.”

6. Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom

Another California church challenged Governor Newsom’s restrictions on singing and chanting during worship services. The church sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the Governor from enforcing the ban. Its request was denied by the court on July 20.

** It should also be noted that some attorneys and legal firms sent letters to localities that resulted in churches being allowed to resume services. They did not get to the point of bringing suit. First Liberty has a list that can be found here.

While there seems to be a split in approaches to how some courts are handling the lawsuits by the church, there is an overwhelming willingness of judges to allow outdoor church services. While the pandemic continues to unfold, we will be monitoring the church lawsuits in the courts and making sure churches are treated equally. Leaders in states less interested in protecting religious liberty during the pandemic should not be permitted to prioritize secular interests over faith-based ones. It is crucial to religious liberty that churches are treated equally; the right to freely exercise one’s religion should not be infringed upon unnecessarily.

Katherine Beck Johnson, J.D. is Research Fellow for Legal and Policy Studies at Family Research Council.

Kaitlyn Shepherd is a legal intern with Policy & Government Affairs at Family Research Council.

Virginia Democrats Force Citizens to Deny the Reality of Male and Female - on Good Friday

by Cathy Ruse

April 15, 2020

While Virginia families were preoccupied with the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic and job loss, Governor Ralph Northam quietly signed into law a bill that forces public businesses and even private organizations to open women’s bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and dressing rooms to men who claim that they are women. It is an official rejection of God’s purposeful design of male and female.

The new law prohibits “all places or businesses offering or holding out to the general public goods, services, privileges, facilities, advantages, or accommodations” from denying access based on “gender identity.” “Gender identity” is defined as “gender-related identity, appearance, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.”

Two Democrats from Fairfax sponsored the bill: Delegate Marcus Simon and Senator Jennifer Boysko.

Christians, feminists, and all other conscientious objectors who believe in the science of biology can be punished for failing to follow this new law. The law makes no consideration for female athletes in Virginia, or for any women and girls who are not comfortable sharing intimate spaces with adult males. The Governor and his party have chosen sides, and they have chosen who the losers are. To the many women and girls who are sex abuse survivors, the message could not be clearer: We don’t care about you. Shut up and take it.

In a statement accompanying the signing, Northam said: “This legislation sends a strong, clear message—Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family.” But that’s not true at all. This law renders public schools, businesses, and organizations unwelcome to people unless they affirm an anti-Christian, anti-woman creed.

The law includes an extremely narrow exemption for private organizations that are “not in fact open to the public.” The exemption reads: “The provisions of this section shall not apply to a private club, a place of accommodation owned by or operated on behalf of a religious corporation, association, or society that is not in fact open to the public, or any other establishment that is not in fact open to the public.”

What does that mean for churches that invite the public to worship services? That offer free English language classes and meals to those in need? That perform sacred music in concerts open to the public? What does it mean for Christian schools that host competitive sports in their gymnasiums? Are these services, activities, and events not, in fact, open to the public under the language of this narrow exemption?

As former Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his concurring opinion in NIFLA v. Becerra, “[I]t is not forward thinking to force individuals to ‘be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view [they] find unacceptable.’” This new law, which punishes people for not assenting to an anti-Christian, anti-woman view of the human person, is not forward-thinking. It is offensive to freedom and devastating to women.

And it happened in Virginia, of all places. The home of Thomas Jefferson’s Religious Freedom Act, the model for the first freedom in the Bill of Rights.

And it happened on Good Friday; the day Christians worldwide commemorate God’s willing sacrifice of His only Son as the ransom for our sins.

We must work and pray for an end to this unjust law.

The Atrocity of Forced Marriage in Pakistan

by Arielle Del Turco

February 20, 2020

A tragic situation has ended in the best possible way for one Pakistani Christian girl who had been kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and forced to marry a Muslim man in January. Fourteen-year-old Sneha has been recovered by authorities and reunited with her family, but not before enduring a traumatic abduction and being raped multiple times.

Sneha had refused the proposal of a Muslim man, who later kidnapped her with the help of six other men. The men beat her and forced her to sign blank sheets of paper on which they later forged a fake marriage certificate and certificate of conversion to Islam.

Sneha’s family continues to receive threats from the kidnappers, who pressured the parents to withdraw their legal case. In response, the family has moved to an undisclosed location for their own safety. 

Unfortunately, Sneha was lucky compared to the hundreds of other Christian and Hindu girls that are kidnapped and forced to marry Muslim men in Pakistan every year. Not all the girls who face this situation are rescued, and not all the families of these victims find sympathy with the authorities or in court.

Just a few weeks ago, a Pakistani court ruled against the family of another 14-year-old Christian girl, Huma Younus, who was taken from her home and forced to marry a Muslim man on October 10, 2019. The Sindh High Court in Karachi ruled on February 3, 2020 that the forced marriage of this underage girl wasn’t against the law.

Christians face widespread persecution and discrimination in Pakistan, and young Christian women are among those most harmed by it.  

In its 2019 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recognized that approximately “1,000 young women are forcibly converted to Islam each year; many are kidnapped, forcibly married, and subjected to rape.”

Pakistan’s culture and legal system create an environment that leaves religious minorities particularly vulnerable to abuse. Christian communities are among the poorest in Pakistan and are often geographically segregated from the larger Muslim population. Christians are often resigned to take menial jobs which carry heavy social stigmas in Pakistani culture. These factors leave Christians without many resources to stand up to discrimination and violence.

The stigmatization and marginalization of Christians has consequences in the legal system as well. When a case is brought before authorities, the courts are often reluctant to help Christian victims. USCIRF’s report noted that the Pakistani government “has not adequately prosecuted perpetrators of violent crimes against religious minorities.”

Furthermore, USCIRF reports that local police and political leaders in Pakistan are often accused of being complicit in forced marriage and conversion cases by refusing to investigate them. In some cases that are investigated by authorities, young women have been questioned in front of the very men who they were forced to marry, creating environments that intimidate women into lying for their abusers. Pakistan’s legal system has proven itself unwilling and unable to ensure justice is served for the perpetrators of these crimes, and that needs to be met with strong international criticism. 

Pakistan’s failure to enshrine religious freedom and protect its own religious minority groups leaves innocent girls and young women vulnerable to forced marriage and the unspeakable abuses that entails. The government’s unwillingness to bring those who perpetrate crimes against Christians to justice only compounds the problem.

These human rights abuses shouldn’t be met with silence from the rest of the world. The U.S. government should take every opportunity to pressure Pakistan to protect Christians and other religious minorities and bring the perpetrators of crimes against religious minorities to justice. Until real legal protections are enforced on behalf of everyone in Pakistan, including religious minorities, this issue will only get worse.

Susan B. Anthony Advocated for “Natural Rights.” We Must Carry On Her Work.

by Adelaide Holmes

February 15, 2020

Today is Susan B. Anthony Day, so it’s a perfect time for Christians to learn from the life and activism of Susan B. Anthony. Although she had a diverse and at times unorthodox Christian background, she believed that all of humankind was equal under God. This inspired her activism. Anthony’s life reflects a belief that our culture desperately needs to hear from Christians that the value and natural rights of every human being comes from God and deserves to be protected.

It’s imperative that Christians understand that the idea of God-given rights and equal value are not merely human inventions. While both Anthony and the Founding Fathers claimed that all of mankind was created equal by God, this idea was not unique to them. Instead, it derives from biblical principles of justice.

Anthony claimed that mankind received their rights from God rather than the government. In her speech “Is it a Crime for a Citizen of the United States to Vote?” she says, “Before governments were organized, no one denies that each individual possessed the right to protect his own life, liberty and property.” Anthony believed that mankind had these rights long before there was a government.

But if the government didn’t give us our most basic rights, where did they come from? Anthony believed that these rights are natural, meaning they are given by God. Thus, a just government should protect them, not create them. She asserts, “The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the constitutions of the several states and the organic laws of the territories, all alike propose to protect the people in the exercise of their God-given rights.” Anthony further quoted from the Declaration of Independence to prove her point in her speech: “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

If Anthony is right that mankind was endowed with rights by God, we should see something in Scripture about it. While the language of “natural rights” is not explicitly stated in scripture, we can see that the principles of rights are supported in the commands given by Jesus and Moses.

In Mark 12:31, Jesus instructs his followers to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This confirms what is expressly stated in Matthew 7:12, that we should treat others as we would want to be treated. This means that if you love your life, liberty, or property and desire for those things to be respected, you should love and respect your neighbor’s life, liberty, and property as well.

While Mark 12 does not contain the language of rights, the Ten Commandments show that God expects His creation to respect the life, liberty, and property of others. In Exodus 20, the second table of the Ten Commandments directly command us not to end another person’s life or to steal their property. While the specific language of “rights” is not present here, violating someone’s life or property was considered a serious moral failing under the law and subject to governmental punishment. By putting these commands in the moral and legal law for the Israelites, God set an example for just government that the Founders reaffirmed through the protection of these natural rights in the Constitution.

Not only is there biblical support for the idea of natural rights, but there is also a case for equality in how we respect other’s rights. In Leviticus 24, the Mosaic law requires that the laws of restitution and penalties for murder and stealing are to be the “same rule for the sojourner and for the native.” God is perfectly just, and justice requires that the protection of natural rights be unbiased towards external factors like one’s nationality.

While there is strong biblical support for the principles behind natural rights and equal respect of other’s rights, there are times when our natural rights are not adequately protected in the U.S. When this happens, Christians need to go a step further. It happened in Anthony’s day with the unequal protection of women and African Americans. But she refused to sit by apathetically and watch injustice occur around her. Instead, she took action to advocate for their rights. Whether or not she realized it, Anthony acted out the command in Micah 6:8 to “do justice.” Every Christian should do the same today.

In America, Christians can advocate for the rights to life, liberty, and property of their neighbors. Every day in America, preborn children are killed because of “choice,” women and children are enslaved in sex-trafficking because of other’s “pleasure,” and Christians lose their jobs or are forced to close their businesses because their consciences aren’t “tolerant.” We have the opportunity and duty to love these neighbors around us and advocate for the protection of their rights, just as Susan B. Anthony did.

FRC’s Top 5 Blogs of the Year

by Family Research Council

December 31, 2019

In the Year of Our Lord 2019, FRC’s blog covered a wide range of topics that have impacted the sanctity of life, the family, religious freedom, and the culture here in America and across the globe. Listed below are the five blogs that received the biggest response from you, our readers, as well as some other honorable mentions. Thank you for reading our blog! We greatly appreciate your interest in and passion for these vital issues that are shaping the moral character of our nation. We hope that these articles inspire you to stand for biblical truth, whatever your walk of life may be.

1. 75 Years Ago Today: A D-Day Prayer by Chris Gacek

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.”

2. Should Christians Recognize “LGBT Pride?” by Peter Sprigg

The tendency of many straight ‘allies’ of ‘LGBT Pride’ is to avert their eyes from these actual behaviors. Instead, they define such individuals by their feelings, and then accept the argument that because these feelings are not a ‘choice,’ they must define the person’s innate identity. This is a mistake. Just because feelings are not chosen does not mean they are inborn—they may result from developmental forces in childhood and adolescence. And while feelings are not chosen, both behaviors and a self-identification are chosen.”

3. Basic Human Decency Starts with Protecting Babies on Their Birthday by Caleb Seals

When it comes to abortion, the political Left always trots out the same line: ‘It’s the woman’s right to choose whatever she wants with her own body.’ Pro-lifers respond to this by speaking up for the rights of the unborn baby’s body. But after the recent passage of New York’s extreme abortion law and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s pro-infanticide comments, we are no longer talking about defending the unborn, we are talking about defending the born. Let that sink in.”

4. How Game of Thrones Mainstreamed Sexual Exploitation by Laura Grossberndt

Movies and television shows such as Game of Thrones enjoy a patina of respectability due to their complex plots, extensive viewership, and numerous awards—making them more palatable to a wide audience than a pornographic film would be. However, by treating human sexuality as a commodity, Game of Thrones and its ilk are just another incarnation of the commercial sex trade.”

5. Boys Competing Against Girls Steal Another Win by Cathy Ruse

When men who identify as women compete against women, they’re not achieving a sports victory. They’re just lying, cheating, and stealing.”

 

Honorable Mentions

Last year, my brother Josh, a 37-year-old married father with five kids under the age of 9, announced he was becoming a woman …

Thus, my tall, handsome, muscular brother began taking strong female hormones that transformed him into a different person. His facial hair stopped growing. He grew breasts instead. As part of his ‘social transition’ he began wearing dresses, wigs, heels, and makeup in public. He will have to stay on female hormones until the day he dies. He refuses to answer to the name Josh now—the only name anyone’s known him as for almost four decades. He says Josh is dead. There was even some type of symbolic ‘burial ceremony’ to say goodbye to Josh once and for all. Unfortunately, I didn’t get invited to that. Nor did my parents. No one sent us flowers. No one dropped off a casserole.”

It’s common wisdom to teach kids to respond to a fire or active shooter. They need the same ‘fire drill’ for pornography. Thankfully, most children won’t deal with a fire or a shooter, but all of them will need to escape from pornography.

The ‘escape’ plan from Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is simply ‘Turn, Run and Tell!’ Turn away from the bad picture, hurry and get away, and go tell a trusted adult what you saw. The CAN DO Plan from Good Pictures Bad Pictures helps kids not only turn away from it, but to label it by saying ‘That’s pornography!’ This allows kids to have more control over their thoughts by engaging their thinking brain.”

As trade talks between the U.S. and China continue, China’s human rights violations need to be at the forefront of the discussions. China’s organ trade isn’t a minor violation—it’s indicative of systematic harassment, abuse, and even murder of its religious minorities.”

What America needs today is citizens who strive for personal responsibility and service to others and leaders who are looking first to serve, to imbibe the spirit expressed in the faded, worn out words of the Washington Monument—Laus Deo. We need leaders who serve God (Joshua 22:5; 1 Samuel 12:24; Hebrews 9:14) and their fellow citizens (Luke 6:38; Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10). Jesus himself said, “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). We as citizens need to renew our commitment to being responsible for ourselves but also to serve those in need, and our government officials need to rediscover their true vocation: to be public servants.”

Trump Administration Closes Out 2019 by Protecting Life and Religious Freedom

by Connor Semelsberger, MPP

December 20, 2019

Since taking office, President Trump has become known for his determination to protect life and religious freedom. Now, he has further strengthened his record with new regulatory actions. Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a finalized regulation that protects taxpayers from paying for abortion, and yesterday, the comment period closed on HHSproposed rule revising its grants process. Family Research Council has voiced support for this proposed rule because it would protect the religious freedom of adoption and foster care providers.

Towards the end of his administration, President Obama mandated that adoption providers and other organizations working with HHS must accept same-sex marriage and an individual’s professed gender identity. This mandate’s infringement on religious freedom was so severe that South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster had to ask HHS for a special waiver from this regulation so that Miracle Hill, the state’s largest provider of foster homes, could remain open.

South Carolina was far from being the only state or locality in which adoption providers encountered religious freedom hardships on account of the Obama-era regulation. Now, President Trump is seeking to remedy the existing regulation’s problems with this newly-proposed rule. Now that the comment period on the rule has closed (FRC’s comment is available here), we hope to see protections for adoption and foster care providers finalized soon.

When Obamacare was passed in 2010, it circumvented the longstanding Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funds paying for abortion. Obamacare allowed plans to cover elective abortions so long as payments for abortion coverage were collected “separately” from those paid for with federal subsidies. Not only was this policy an inadequate means of protecting taxpayers from funding abortion, but the Obama administration also issued a regulation skewing the word “separate.” As a result, many of the payments meant to be collected separately are instead collected together. Under the current regulations, a single notice about the abortion surcharge or an itemized surcharge on the bill would satisfy Obamacare’s requirement for separate abortion payments.

Because this implementation is so obscure, many Americans are unaware that they are paying for abortion coverage in their health plans. This is one reason why FRC has partnered with the Charlotte Lozier Institute to create Obamcareabortion.com, which provides much-needed transparency concerning which Obamacare plans cover elective abortion.

As 2019 comes to a close, we can be thankful we have an administration that seeks to enforce the law as written—not skew it. The newly-finalized regulation will force insurers to collect two distinct payments, one for elective abortion coverage and one for all other covered health services. This separate collection of payments will serve to alert consumers when their plan covers elective abortion, thereby allowing them to make an informed decision on whether to select a plan that covers abortion or not. The setup of Obamacare still subverts longstanding protections against taxpayer funding for abortion; therefore, it is essential that the administration enforce the separate payments provision the way Congress intended.

Whether on religious freedom or life, President Trump continues to deliver on the promises which got him elected.

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