Tag archives: Religious Liberty

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

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.

Little Sisters of the Poor Are Once Again Denied Freedom of Conscience

by Katherine Beck Johnson

October 23, 2019

The Little Sisters of the Poor were back in court yet again yesterday, this time losing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Back in 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a federal mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The mandate required employers to provide contraceptives, including the week-after pill, free-of-cost in their health insurance plans. HHS offered only a very narrow religious exemption. So narrow, it did not include non-profits—such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic order of nuns who assist the impoverished who are at the end of their lives with nowhere else to go. These nuns have dedicated their lives to their faith and to serving the poor. Yet, these women were sued and told that they must violate their conscience by providing contraception through their insurance.

In May 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously overturned lower court rulings against the Little Sisters. The Court said the government should be provided an opportunity “to arrive at an approach going forward that accommodates the petitioners’ religious beliefs.” On May 4, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that directed the secretaries of federal agencies to consider regulations that would address the conscience-based objections to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. On November 7, 2018, the federal government complied with the Supreme Court’s ruling and the president’s executive order by issuing a new rule protecting religious liberty. This new rule provided religious ministries, entities, and persons holding sincere religious beliefs with an exemption to the contraceptive and sterilization coverage.

Soon after the rule was issued, states including Pennsylvania and California sued the federal government to ensure that the Little Sisters of the Poor would not be exempted from providing contraception. Even though these states have programs that provide contraceptives to women who want them, these states insist that non-profits, including the Little Sisters, must either be forced to violate their conscience or else cease to exist.  

In July 2019, the Third Circuit ruled against the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Third Circuit claimed that the Women’s Health Amendment to the ACA did not grant the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA, a component of HHS) the authority to exempt entities from providing insurance coverage for contraceptive services. On October 22, 2019, the Ninth Circuit issued a similar ruling and affirmed the preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit said, “the statute delegates to HRSA the discretion to determine which types of preventative care are covered, but the statute does not delegate to HRSA or any other agency the discretion to exempt who must meet the obligation.” Thus, the Ninth Circuit and the Third Circuit prevented relief for the Little Sisters of the Poor by issuing an injunction and blocking the implementation of a rule that would allow religious protections.

The Supreme Court needs to settle the debate and rule that the government cannot require people and groups to violate their conscience by providing contraceptive services. The Court should uphold the HHS rule, which protects the inherent human right of religious liberty. This liberty promotes the common good and allows society to flourish. The Little Sisters of the Poor certainly promote the common good as they assist the poorest in society. Violating their conscience ought not to be a precondition for the Little Sisters assisting those most in need.

Federal Court Ruling in Texas Is a Big Win for Religious Liberty

by Katherine Beck Johnson

October 16, 2019

An Obama-era regulation went to court recently at a U.S. federal courthouse in Texas. In Franciscan Alliance v. Azar, Judge Reed O’Connor issued an opinion striking down a Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring doctors to perform gender transition procedures. Judge O’Connor held that the Rule violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

In May 2016, the federal government, through HHS, issued a mandate that would require a doctor to perform gender transition procedures on any patient, including a child. The Rule required doctors to provide these procedures even if the doctor believed it could harm the patient. In addition, the mandate required virtually all private insurance companies and many employers to cover gender reassignment therapy. If the insurance companies or employers refused, they would face severe penalties and legal action. While HHS exempted Medicare and Medicaid, they expressly prohibited religious exemptions. The Plaintiffs asked the District Court to vacate the Rule and convert its previously entered preliminary injunction to a permanent injunction.

Judge O’Connor held that the Rule violates RFRA. The Rule substantially burdened Plaintiffs’ sincere religious beliefs without a compelling interest. In addition, the Rule expressly prohibits religious exemptions.

The Plaintiffs’ refusal to perform, refer for, or cover transitions or abortions is a sincere religious exercise. In order to follow this sincere religious belief, the mandate requires extensive expenses. The Rule places significant pressure to perform and cover transition and abortion procedures, it forces Plaintiffs to provide the federal government an extremely persuasive justification for their refusal to perform or cover such procedures, and it requires them to remove the categorical exclusion of transitions and abortions. Judge O’Connor found that the Rule makes the practice of religion more expensive in the business context.  

Judge O’Connor ruled that the Defendants did not provide a compelling interest that would justify the burden on religious exercise. Those advocating in favor of the mandate argued that a compelling interest was specified in the preamble to the Rule, which states, “the government has a compelling interest in ensuring that individuals have nondiscriminatory access to health care and health coverage.” Judge O’Connor found that although that could arguably satisfy a categorical application of strict scrutiny, it cannot satisfy RFRA’s “more focused” inquiry. He said that even if those in favor of the mandate had provided a compelling interest, they failed to prove the Rule employs the least restrictive means.

The Rule was vacated (as opposed to a less severe permanent injunction) because it was found to be arbitrary and capricious. The Rule was found to be “contrary to law” under the APA due to its conflict with Title IX, its incorporated statute.

Judge O’Connor’s ruling is a huge win for religious liberty. HHS under President Trump is also working to take strides that further protect religious liberty. In May 2019, HHS proposed bringing its regulations into compliance with those decisions and ensuring that the government did not interfere and require a person to go against their convictions to provide gender transition procedures. The win in Texas coupled with the new rules from HHS provide optimism for the future of religious liberty.

Introducing Lecture Me! - A New Podcast from FRC

by Family Research Council

October 15, 2019

We all need to be lectured sometimes.

Family Research Council’s new weekly-ish podcast Lecture Me! features selected talks by top thinkers from the archives of the FRC Speaker Series. Our podcast podium takes on tough issues like religious liberty, abortion, euthanasia, marriage, family, sexuality, public policy, and the culture—all from a biblical worldview.

Listen with us to the lecture, then stick around afterward as we help you digest the content with a discussion featuring FRC’s policy and government affairs experts.

The first three episodes are now available. They include:

  • Nancy Pearcey: Love Thy Body

FRC’s Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview David Closson joins Lecture Me! to discuss Author Nancy Pearcey’s lecture about her book Love Thy Body, in which she fearlessly and compassionately makes the case that secularism denigrates the body and destroys the basis for human rights, and sets forth a holistic and humane alternative that embraces the dignity of the human body.

  • Military Mental Health Crisis

Currently, an average of 21 military veterans are taking their lives each day. FRC’s Deputy Director of State and Local Affairs Matt Carpenter joins the podcast to discuss Richard Glickstein’s lecture as he shares the compelling evidence that proves faith-based solutions reduce suicides, speed the recovery of PTSD, and build resiliency.

  • Repairers of the Breach

How can the conservative movement help restore America’s inner cities? FRC’s Coalitions Senior Research Fellow Chris Gacek joins the podcast to discuss Robert L. Woodson, Sr.’s lecture on how the conservative movement must identify, recognize, and support agents of individual and community uplift and provide the resources, expertise, and funding that can strengthen and expand their transformative work.

Lecture Me! is available at most places you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Castbox.

The Real “Fairness for All” is Freedom from Government Coercion

by Peter Sprigg

September 12, 2019

Concerns about religious liberty are one of the chief obstacles to passage of “non-discrimination” laws that would make “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (“SOGI”) into protected categories at the local, state, and federal level. Only 20 of the 50 states have enacted SOGI protections for both employment and public accommodations, and a comprehensive (and radical) federal bill, the Equality Act (H.R. 5), has stalled in the Senate since its passage in May by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Utah Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat who voted for the Equality Act, recently told that state’s Deseret News that he thinks the bill “still needs work”—and he supports a so-called “compromise” called “Fairness for All.” The theory is that both “LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights” and “religious liberty” could be protected by enacting a single bill that includes both SOGI protections and religious exemptions.

The model for “Fairness for All” proposals at the federal level is the “Utah compromise” that was adopted by that state’s legislature in 2015. It added SOGI protections to the state’s nondiscrimination laws regarding employment and housing (public accommodations were omitted), while creating exemptions for religious non-profit organizations and protections for some employee speech.

Unique factors in Utah—notably, the power and influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which endorsed the “compromise”—make it doubtful whether this approach could be replicated elsewhere. LGBT groups at the national level seem determined to press forward the existing Equality Act, which contains no religious liberty protections and explicitly strips away those that might be asserted under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Nevertheless, because some may be tempted to believe that such a “compromise” provides a “win-win” solution in the clash between LGBT rights and religious liberty, it is important to reiterate why we believe this would be a serious mistake.

First, the fundamental presumption behind “Fairness for All” is that there is a balance or symmetry between “rights” or “protections” for people who identify as LGBT and “rights” or “protections” for people of faith. This is a fallacy. The “free exercise” of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment, but there is no provision of the Constitution that references sexual orientation or gender identity.

The fundamental rights found in the U.S. Constitution—such as freedom of speech and the press and the free exercise of religion—do not place any limits on the actions of private individuals and organizations; on the contrary, they protect such actions against interference by the government. “Civil rights” laws that bar discrimination in employment and public accommodations, however, do not merely limit the government; they place a restriction upon the action of private entities (such as small businesses) in carrying out their private activity.

There is a place for non-discrimination laws (especially regarding characteristics that are clearly inborn, involuntary, and immutable, such as race). However, the burden of proof in every case must rest on those who seek to increase the number of categories or characteristics protected under such laws. That’s because the extension of laws against private discrimination is less a “win-win situation” than a “zero-sum” game. When one (such as an employment applicant) wins more protection, another (the employer) actually loses a corresponding measure of freedom.

The most publicized cases highlighting the clash between LGBT non-discrimination laws and religious liberty in recent years have involved businesses in the wedding industry that are owned and operated by Christians who prefer not to participate in the celebration of same-sex weddings. (Although one such business, Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop, won an important decision at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, the decision was on narrow grounds and did not settle this area of the law.) It is not clear that religious liberty protections in any proposed compromise legislation would protect these businesses.

The wedding industry cases are by no means the only context in which this conflict arises, however. There have been cases challenging the right of Christian adoption agencies to decline to place children with same-sex couples; cases where Christian counseling students were punished for declining to affirm and support homosexual relationships; and cases in which Christian employees of government agencies were fired for privately expressing disapproval of  homosexual conduct. It is not clear that any of them would be protected by such “Fairness for All” proposals.

Further, “gender identity” protections would undermine the rights of organizations and businesses to set dress and grooming standards or have separate private spaces (e.g., in bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, dormitories, etc.) for biological men and women. These rights stand ready to be compromised by “Fairness for All” proposals.

Family Research Council believes that combining religious liberty and special privileges for sexual orientation and/or gender identity (SOGI) is unsustainable, for three primary reasons.

1)      It is wrong, in principle, to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories, because they are unlike historically protected categories such as race. Historically, protections were reserved for characteristics that are inborn, involuntary, immutable, and innocuous, such as race, and/or in the U.S. Constitution (such as religion). None of these criteria apply to the choice to engage in homosexual conduct or the choice to present one’s self as the opposite of one’s biological sex.

2)      There is no religious exemption that would be acceptable to LGBT activists and would also be adequate to fully protect against all the likely threats to religious freedom.

3)      Non-discrimination laws always implicate moral beliefs. They send the message that it is morally wrong to disapprove of homosexual or transgender conduct. For such laws to be endorsed by citizens who believe that it is morally wrong to engage in homosexual or transgender conduct is a logical contradiction.

What would truly reflect “Fairness for All” would be to reject SOGI laws containing special privileges, and allow real religious liberty—the freedom to hold to one’s personal beliefs and to act on them without government interference or coercion.

Eighth Circuit: Minnesota Can’t Force Small Business to Make Same-Sex Wedding Videos

by Peter Sprigg

September 5, 2019

National media gave scant attention to an important court decision on August 23. The ruling in Telescope Media Group v. Lucero, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, was another landmark in the ongoing debate about whether governments can force small businesses in the wedding industry to participate in same-sex weddings, over the conscientious objection of their owners.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a baker who had declined to create a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple. However, the court ruled that Phillips had been a victim of specific anti-religious discrimination by the Colorado tribunal that sought to punish him, so they did not definitively address the fundamental free speech concerns that his attorneys had raised.

Telescope Media Group (TMG) is a business founded by Carl and Angel Larsen, videographers who wished to create a business that would make wedding videos, and in the process promote natural marriages between one man and one woman. They sued Minnesota public officials to prevent them from using the Minnesota Human Rights Act to force the couple to make videos of same-sex weddings as well.

In a 2-1 decision, the 8th Circuit panel ruled in the Larsens’ favor, saying that “the First Amendment allows the Larsens to choose when to speak and what to say.” Perhaps that’s why it was largely ignored by the national media.

The breakdown of the vote also shows how important judicial appointments are. The opinion was written by David Stras, a 45-year-old Trump appointee, on the bench since January 2018. He was formerly on the Minnesota Supreme Court (having been appointed by former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty). The other judge in the majority was 67-year-old Bobby Shepherd, appointed by George W. Bush and on the bench since 2006. Meanwhile, there was a dissent by Judge Jane L. Kelly, a 54-year-old Obama appointee who has been on the bench since 2013.

This was on appeal of the District Court’s decision to deny a preliminary injunction, so it is not a final decision on the merits. However, it is an encouraging decision in that it is based squarely on the free speech claims (or in this case, the right to be free from government-compelled speech) made by the plaintiffs. The court also accepted a “hybrid rights” claim incorporating the free exercise of religion.

Since precedent has established that videos represent a form of speech, whether the principles articulated would apply with equal force to bakers or florists may still have to be argued in other cases. However, the fact that this case was decided (at least for now) on free speech grounds, rather than the anti-religious discrimination grounds used in Masterpiece, makes it a stronger precedent for those concerned about protecting free speech and religious liberty.

What the LA Times Gets Wrong About Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber , David Closson

August 21, 2019

Last week, the Department of Labor issued a proposed rule clarifying the rights of religious employers to contract with the government without being forced to violate their religious beliefs. After decades of court decisions and disparate interpretations under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is no wonder that some religious organizations are fearful of working with the federal government because they don’t have clarity on what they can and can’t do. It makes sense that the Department of Labor would want to clarify their rights now.

Yet yesterday’s Los Angeles Times’ Editorial Board threw cold water on this idea, claiming the proposed rule would “dramatically expand the [religious liberty] exemption,” which they believe makes “little legal sense” and threatens to erode what was “once broad and bipartisan support for the idea that the government should accommodate sincere religious convictions.”

Yet are these gripes accurate? Hardly. In reality, as the proposed rule makes clear, the Department of Labor is simply aligning its interpretation of religious exemptions with years of federal court decisions and the definitions in Title VII itself. For years, Title VII has protected religious people from a wide array of faith groups equally. So what is the LA Times so scared of? The reason seems revealed in the title: “Trump’s new ‘religious freedom’ rule looks like a license to discriminate.”

Unfortunately, the assumption of the LA Times appears to be that Christian conservatives are using religious freedom as a “pretext for discrimination.” Yet LGBT issues are not specifically addressed anywhere in the proposed rule. It is the idea that LGBT-related claims might be affected by religious freedom claims that has the LA Times up in arms. If the editors read the rule more carefully, they would see that it actually addresses sincerity as an important component of a religious freedom claim, and “conceal[ing] discrimination” has been dealt with by courts assessing these Title VII claims. The LA Times and others espousing this line of thinking don’t get to pick and choose when religious freedom applies. It either does or it doesn’t, and if the Title VII definitions were acceptable for decades, they should still be acceptable today.

Religious freedom is a virtue that benefits the common good; it does not favor Republicans over Democrats or Roman Catholics over Muslims. Thankfully, the Trump administration recognizes these basic truths and is protecting religious employers of all faith backgrounds. If the LA Times researched how the Title VII religious exemption has functioned in the past, it would see that it benefits various religious minorities in a host of different circumstances. Indeed, one of the cases referenced in the proposed rule—LeBoon v. Lancaster Jewish Cmty. Ctr. Ass’n—features a Jewish organization. Just a few years ago, the Supreme Court—in an opinion authored by Justice Scalia—applied Title VII to protect a Muslim employee’s rights against her employer.

Thus, to argue that faith-based organizations should not be able to run their business according to their religious beliefs represents a truncated view of religious freedom. There is no legitimate reason that a faith-based organization should lose out on a federal contract for simply adhering to their religious beliefs, and the proposed rule is right to remedy that.

The LA Times editorial is a reminder that people from all religious backgrounds must continue to help shed light on the reality that religious freedom is a good that serves all people.

Archives