by FRC Media Office
January 21, 2015
CBN has a good review of our State of the Family Address (not to be confused with SOTU, please):
CBN has a good review of our State of the Family Address (not to be confused with SOTU, please):
Today, in Holt v. Hobbs, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion (authored by Justice Alito) holding that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLIUPA”) provided a Muslim inmate the right to exercise his religion by growing a ½ inch beard.
Like RFRA, RLIUPA applies strict scrutiny to prisoners’ religious rights claims, and provides that the government may not burden prisoners’ religious exercise (even through a law of general applicability) unless the government can show that the burden furthers a compelling government interest by the least restrictive means.
In this case, Gregory Holt, also known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad, wished to grow a ½ inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. Prison policy only permitted ¼ inch beards, however, and even then only for medical reasons. The Arkansas Department of Corrections (“DOC”) did not dispute the sincerity of Holt’s belief, or that its regulation burdened this belief.
However, the DOC argued that it had a compelling interest in its policy in order to prevent contraband in the prison, and that it advanced this interest through the least restrictive means.
While the Court agreed that correctional facilities have a compelling interest in eliminating contraband, it disagreed that the DOC’s policy here advanced that interest, noting that not much could be hidden in a ½ inch beard. Additionally, the Court observed that if a ½ inch beard could hide contraband, a prisoner could also hide contraband in his hair (which could be longer than ½ inch). Indeed, contraband could be hidden in longer hair (or in clothing) much more easily. Yet the DOC did not require prisoners to go around with shaved heads or without clothing. The DOC contended that the ½ inch beard requested by Mr. Holt is longer than the ¼ inch beard permitted for medical reasons, but the DOC has failed to show how this ¼ difference would cause a security risk. In addition, the DOC argued that few inmates request medical exemptions, while many would request religious exemptions. But the Court rejected this reasoning because the DOC had not argued that its refusal to allow religious exemptions was based on cost control or for administrative reasons.
While Justice Alito recognized that deference is due to prison officials’ policy decisions because of the unique and dangerous environment in which they operate, he also noted that such officials still must be held to RLUIPA’s statutory requirements. They did not meet those requirements in this case.
Moreover, as the Court noted, even if the DOC could show this compelling interest was advanced by its policy, it was not advancing it via the least restrictive means. For instance, its security concerns could be satisfied by searching Mr. Holt’s beard rather than making him cut it. The DOC already searches all prisoners’ hair and clothing; why couldn’t it search a beard just the same? The DOC argued that guards could be cut by razors while searching a beard, but they could also be cut during searches of hair and clothing. Even assuming that searching a beard is unsafe for guards, the DOC never showed why it could not have Holt run a comb through his beard to search for contraband.
The DOC also argued it could restrict beards because it had a compelling interest in preventing prisoners from disguising their identities, and escaping or avoiding capture. While the Court did not disagree that the DOC has an interest in quickly and efficiently identifying prisoners, the DOC had not shown why it could not take photos of prisoners so they could be identified with and without beards. The DOC also argued that while this method may work with escaped prisoners, photos would be unhelpful in preventing prisoners from quickly shaving and entering restricted areas in prison. Yet the Court was unpersuaded by the DOC’s arguments; in its view, the DOC failed to explain why the photo method would not work when it had worked at other prisons, and failed to show how a prisoner with a ¼ inch beard for medical reasons could not also pose the same security risk as that purportedly posed by Mr. Holt.
The Court observed that while deference to prison officials is justified, blind deference is not. While the DOC is not required to show in every respect why it has not adopted the procedures of other prison systems, its rejection of them without a good reason is persuasive evidence of its failure to meet RLUIPA. The Court made sure to point out that this does not put prisons in an impossible position; they still have reason to restrict religious practices when they are being used to cloak prohibited conduct or abused in a manner which undermines the prison’s compelling interests.
While the Court was unanimous, Justice Ginsburg took the opportunity to write a one-paragraph concurring opinion (which Justice Sotomayor joined) stating she joined the Court’s opinion with the “understanding” that “[u]nlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, … accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief.” This statement likely refers to Justice Ginsburg’s belief that the successful RFRA claim in Hobby Lobby “harmed” women seeking contraceptives, while Mr. Holt’s claim does not. I disagree with Justice Ginsburg on this point, but I’ll reserve that discussion for another time.
Showing some sympathy to prison officials, Justice Sotomayor also wrote a concurring opinion in which she emphasized her understanding that the Court was not repudiating the idea that prison officials’ justifications should be offered some deference; rather, the Court was rightly skeptical of the justifications offered in this case. Indeed, the DOC’s “failure to demonstrate why the less restrictive policies [Mr. Holt] identified in the course of the litigation were insufficient to achieve its compelling interests” was what was ultimately fatal to its case, not the Court’s “independent judgment” of these matters. In addition, “least restrictive means,” in Justice Sotomayor’s opinion, did not mean that government officials need to consider and reject every conceivable alternative to satisfy RLUIPA; rather, they must consider the alternatives posed. In this case, the DOC failed to do that.
The Supreme Court ruled correctly in holding that Mr. Holt’s right to religious exercise under RLUIPA was violated because the DOC could not show it was advancing a compelling government interest, or that it was doing so through the least restrictive means. RLUIPA clearly sets forth the hurdles the government has to overcome when burdening a prisoner’s religious beliefs, and the DOC failed to meet them here.
But this case is significant for another reason: It affirms our belief that religious liberty is intricately connected to and flows from our inherent human dignity. It cannot be taken away from us, even if we are imprisoned. While prisons have legitimate interests of their own, incarceration does not eliminate the fundamental human right of freedom of religion.
This case is a win for Mr. Holt. But the next time an inmate (perhaps with different beliefs) is facing some other burdensome regulation, he’ll be able to draw support from Mr. Holt’s precedent. In this way, a bulwark of religious liberty protections continues to be built, one component at a time. As it is said, a win for religious liberty for one is a win for religious liberty for all.
David Theroux, founder and president of The Independent Institute and the C.S. Lewis Society of California, recently gave a very thoughtful lecture titled “C.S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism.” David’s perceptive analysis of Lewis’s critique of “government as God” is well worth viewing. The Left continually tells us it knows what’s best and “cares” for us. Lewis’s riposte to this pretentious excuse for metastasizing state power is compelling: “Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” Take some time to watch David Theroux exposit this key insight and be reminded once again of the wisdom not only of C.S. Lewis but of America’s Founders: We have a limited government precisely because “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Commentary magazine recently posted a powerful article entitled, “The Existential Necessity of Zionism after Paris.” They noted of the massacre in the Parisian kosher grocery that it “was not the beginning of a new threat to French Jews and the Jews of Europe.” Rather, the editors noted, it marked “the culmination of a decade of crisis. And it will not be the end.”
There have been tensions between Christians and Jews since the days of the early church. Thankfully, during the past century relations between most Christian denominations and Jews have improved greatly. Much of this change has been prompted by the growing Christian appreciation of and affection for Israel.
I am no expert on Franco-Jewish history, but I know that one major event that shook the foundations of French society and reverberates to this day was the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that stretched from 1894 to 1906. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish, French Army captain, was convicted falsely of espionage and sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in French Guiana for over four years. Eventually, Dreyfus was released and completely exonerated.
The Dreyfus Affair was a seismic event infused with anti-Semitism. Its impact on French society was at least one order of magnitude greater than Watergate was on the United States. Consequently, any consideration of the life of Jews in France must include the Dreyfus Affair and the treatment of Jews during World War II by the Vichy regime. Dreyfus is an elephant in the historical corner that colors all that came afterward.
If you are interested in knowing more about the Dreyfus Affair, Robert Harris’s historical novel,
An Officer and a Spy: A novel, makes the history exciting. (There are a number of good histories on the topic as an Amazon search will indicate.)
International religious persecution made itself clearly visible to us in the recent attack on the Parisian kosher store. Last week, I posted a brief discussion of the Dreyfus Affair and its implications, a century later, for understanding anti-Semitism in France today. Over the weekend, the John Batchelor Show posted its excellent interview of Robert Harris (An Officer and a Spy) by John Batchelor. Listening to this 40-minute discussion is the best way get a sense of this event, its scope, and its lasting effects. If may be found via this link to the iTunes podcast page (1/17/2015).
As an Evangelical in the classic Reformation tradition, I’m not unaware of the theological distinctions between Catholicism and historic Protestantism. But all defenders of what we at Family Research Council call the “faith, family and freedom” agenda can take heart from these wise and brave words by Pope Francis, given just a few hours ago in a packed arena in Manila. To those who believe the Pope and the church he leads are shifting on these key issues, his remarks are a striking reproof. To those of us unmoved by what he calls “the culture of the ephemeral,” the Pope’s allegiance to the sanctity of life and the unchanging nature of marriage are a breath of fresh air:
“Beware of the new ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family. It’s not born of the dream that we have from God and prayer – it comes from outside and that’s why I call it a colonization. Let us not lose the freedom to take forward the mission God has given us, the mission of the family. And just as our peoples were able to say in the past ‘No’ to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and strong to say “No” to any attempted ideological colonization that could destroy the family … The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life … Families will always have their trials, but may you never add to them! Instead, be living examples of love, forgiveness and care. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaiming the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death.”
On January 12th, I attended Supreme Court oral arguments in a case—Reed v. Town of Gilbert—which will determine how easily the government can restrict signs giving directions to church services. Specifically, the Court is set to decide whether, under free speech protections of the First Amendment, a local government’s mere assertion that its sign code (despite on its face discriminating based on content) lacks a discriminatory motive renders the sign code content-neutral and justifies the code’s differential treatment of signs pointing the way to a church’s meeting location.
In this case, the Town of Gilbert had divided signs up based on whether they were ideological, political, or directional—and imposed different restrictions on each category of sign. Good News Community Church in Gilbert, Arizona, and its pastor, Clyde Reed, sued, claiming that signs pointing the way to their Sunday morning service (which contained religious speech and directions, and thus resulted in them being placed in the directional sign category) were treated less fairly and that this unfair treatment violated the First Amendment.
At oral arguments yesterday, both sides received their fair share of questions, but the justices were noticeably more skeptical of the town’s argument—especially its claim that it could severely restrict a sign containing ideological content announcing an event if the sign also included directions to that event, while at the same time easing restrictions on a sign containing the same exact ideological content and yet lacking directions.
The town attempted to defend itself by arguing it had an interest in preventing roadside clutter arising from numerable directional signs. But then it admitted it was granting preference to ideological and political signs because of the special First Amendment protection offered them, which prompted questions from the justices asking how the town was not impermissibly discriminating based on the content of the signs.
A breakthrough moment occurred when the town’s counsel admitted under questioning by Justice Breyer that the town could put up a sign saying: “Come to the next service next Tuesday, 4th and H Streets,” but could not add “three blocks right and two blocks left” to that same sign because that would make it a directional sign. Justice Breyer’s response: “Well, my goodness. I mean—I mean, on that, it does sound as if the town is being a little unreasonable, doesn’t it?”, pretty well captured the justices’ view of the case.
The justices will now consider the legal issues and issue a written opinion deciding the case sometime before the end of June 2015.
While seeming more innocuous than some of the other high profile social issues which have reached the court over the last year or so, this case matters (significantly) to free speech law. It therefore matters a lot to Americans of all opinions and interests who want to take part in public debates and discussions over numerable issues in our country. Even if it doesn’t matter to them personally, it should—for it affects their legal rights under the First Amendment.
This issue is also incredibly important to the ability of churches to communicate when and where they meet, and will thus heavily impact their flourishing and wellbeing. Our local churches serve as nerve centers for communities of faith across America, and must be supported and allowed to prosper. For all these reasons, Family Research Council filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court last September asking it to rule in favor of Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church in this case.
As we argued in our brief, and as the church’s attorney argued before the Court yesterday, the Supreme Court should rule in favor of the plaintiffs and strike down the town’s ordinance here as unconstitutional. Such a ruling would not only protect the First Amendment rights of Pastor Reed and Good News Community Church, but those of any person or group our government wants to marginalize and silence in the public debate.
Family Research Council’s amicus brief in Reed v. Town of Gilbert is available here: http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF14I59.pdf
It is difficult to look at scenes of great universities and historic colleges and not be moved by the architecture portrayed. Traditionally, institutions of higher learning have wanted to display their seriousness of purpose and devotion to great thought and leading-edge research in the buildings they have constructed. Thus, some of the most beautiful public spaces in our country, and indeed the world, are found on American college grounds.
Architecture is important. As Winston Churchill said to the House of Commons during the peak of World War II, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” So consider what contemporary architecture says about today’s halls of knowledge. Edifices crafted out of shiny glass and sharp edges, boxes in which people are warehoused instead of buildings that invite contemplation or ennoble creativity.
What does this say about our culture’s view of human dignity in our time? Of the pursuit of knowledge and the purpose of research?
There’s nothing wrong with utility, but utility without beauty is a form of reductionism: Man as machine whose chief end is output rather than man as image-bearer of God whose chief end is to glorify Him through noble pursuits. The architecture of one’s time displays that time’s values. And the values of our time are deeply troubling.
As is widely recognized, much of modern academic life either is actively and unapologetically anti-Christian or at least so “tolerant” it welcomes the debased and debasing. Yet thankfully, these approaches to truth have not penetrated the hearts and minds of many brave academics and their students.
For example, later this month thousands of college students will mark the grim 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling. They will meet to remember the 57 million Americans destroyed in their mothers’ wombs due to the reduction of human value to one of preference, convenience and radical personal and sexual autonomy. Family Research Council will be joining many of them as, together, we participate in the March for Life on the National Mall here in Washington, D.C. on January 22.
If you can’t join us on the date, watch our 10th annual “ProLifeCon” online. ProLifeCon is “the premier conference for the online pro-life community. With new pro-life majorities in both the House and Senate, legislative momentum at the state level, and Americans increasingly identifying with the pro-life movement” FRC believes 2015 will be a year for hope. Listen to pro-life leaders like FRC president Tony Perkins, Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life and many others as they discuss the year ahead and what the pro-life community can do to advance the human dignity agenda in the new year.
At FRC, we celebrate the eternal truth that in His grace, God has made all men and women, from conception until natural death, “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8). The architecture of our building – stately but warm, an edifice designed to remind all who see it of human dignity and personal warmth - is a daily reminder of it.
I spent my final work day of 2014 doing some long-overdue filing—and decided to share links to some of the articles that earned from me the coveted (?) designation of “KEEP.”
These are not all articles I agree with. Some are by authors with whom I vigorously disagree, but they reveal something interesting or important about the “culture wars” in which we are engaged.
These are (roughly) in chronological order:
April 8, 2014
“The Rise of the Same-Sex Marriage Dissidents,” by Mollie Hemingway, The Federalist
“This is what marriage law was about. Not two friends building a house together. Or two people doing other sexual activities together. It was about the sexual union of men and women and a refusal to lie about what that union and that union alone produces: the propagation of humanity. This is the only way to make sense of marriage laws throughout all time and human history. Believing in this truth is not something that is wrong, and should be a firing offense.”
April 22, 2014
“Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both,” A Public Statement, Real Clear Politics
“ … [W]e are concerned that recent events, including the resignation of the CEO of Mozilla under pressure because of an anti-same-sex- marriage donation he made in 2008, signal an eagerness by some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticize or to persuade those who disagree. We reject that deeply illiberal impulse, which is both wrong in principle and poor as politics.”
May 5, 2014
“Freedom to Marry & Dissent, Rightly Understood,” by Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George, Real Clear Policy
“The government should not discriminate against or coerce those who speak and act on the belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.”
April 24, 2014
“Opposing Gay Marriage Doesn’t Make You a Crypto-Racist,” by Jonathan Rauch, The Daily Beast
“Lots of people compare the opposition to gay marriage and the resistance to interracial relationships. It’s a flawed analogy.”
May 17, 2014
“The Evolution of Marriage,” by Ryan T. Anderson (review of Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human, by William Tucker), National Review Online
“It is our sexual repressions that have made us human.”
May 27, 2014
“Were Christians Right About Gay Marriage All Along?” by Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast
“According to a 2013 study, about half of gay marriages surveyed (admittedly, the study was conducted in San Francisco) were not strictly monogamous.This fact is well-known in the gay community—indeed, we assume it’s more like three-quarters… . [T]he future of marriage, in fact, may turn out to be a lot like the Christian Right’s nightmare . . .”
August 11, 2014
“Tracking Christian Sexual Morality in a Same-Sex Marriage Future,” by Mark Regnerus, Public Discourse
“Churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage are more likely to think pornography, cohabitation, hook-ups, adultery, polyamory, and abortion are acceptable.”
October 1, 2014
“The American Family Is Making a Comeback,” by Michael Wear, The Atlantic
“As the costs of family breakdown become even more apparent, Democrats’ no-judgment approach may seem insufficient in the face of a demographic and sociological tidal wave.”
December 1, 2014
“The Myth of Homosexuality in Nature,” by James B. Connelly, BarbWire
“Properly speaking, homosexuality does not exist among animals…. For reasons of survival, the reproductive instinct among animals is always directed towards an individual of the opposite sex. Therefore, an animal can never be homosexual as such. Nevertheless, the interaction of other instincts (particularly dominance) can result in behavior that appears to be homosexual. Such behavior cannot be equated with an animal homosexuality.”
December 10, 2014
“Seven Things I Wish My Pastor Knew About My Homosexuality,” by Jean Lloyd, Public Discourse
“Continue to love me, but remember that you cannot be more merciful than God. It isn’t mercy to affirm same-sex acts as good. Practice compassion according to the root meaning of ‘compassion’: Suffer with me. Don’t compromise truth; help me to live in harmony with it.”
If you don’t believe in miracles, skip this page. If you don’t think America is an exceptional country, read no further. The story of the Battle of New Orleans, the Bicentennial of which we observe today, is a story of an almost unbelievably one-sided victory.
At this point two hundred years ago in the War of 1812, both Britain and the U.S. had failed repeatedly in attempts to strike a knockout blow. The Americans failed spectacularly in attempts to invade and occupy British Canada. We were driven out of Canada after humiliating defeats at Lundy’s Lane and elsewhere. At the commencement of the war, retired President Thomas Jefferson had said the conquest of Canada would be “a mere matter of marching.” It was not one of the Sage of Monticello’s better predictions.
Jefferson’s loyal lieutenant and successor as president, James Madison, had had to hightail it out of the White House in August, 1814, to avoid capture. Then, a powerful British amphibious force sailed up the Chesapeake almost unopposed and landed disciplined troops in Maryland. They marched overland and summarily defeated panicked local militia at Upper Marlboro, Bladensburg, and eventually even Washington, D.C.
While President Madison courageously rode into action against the invader (the only president ever to take up arms against a foreign foe), his equally brave wife, Dolley Madison, saved the famous Gilbert Stuart “Lansdowne”portrait of George Washington. As Dolley was evacuating the White House, Sec. of State James Monroe ordered clerk Stephen Pleasanton to throw some old government documents in a burlap sack and hurry them out of the embattled capital. Pleasanton did his duty. He took that sack in a wagon to Great Falls, Virginia, and thus we still have the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
The British burned the White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress. The entire capital city might have gone up in flames but for a sudden hurricane that extinguished the flames. With the capital still smoldering, however, the mayors of Georgetown and Alexandria finally got an audience with the invading British Admiral, George Cochrane. “We’ve come to surrender our cities to you, Sir,” they bleated. “I’m not even going there,” harrumphed the haughty conqueror. (Liberal Georgetown and Alexandria have a long tradition of pre-emptive surrender!)
Adm. Cochrane instead went to Baltimore, where his attack failed. And the Star-Spangled Banner still waved above Fort McHenry. None of this would have helped, however, if the British had made good their invasion of Louisiana.
This was perhaps the gravest threat of the entire war. In Europe, Napoleon had at last been defeated and exiled. Now, Britain could turn her undivided attention to crushing the upstart Americans. To show their seriousness of purpose, they dispatched Gen. Sir Edward Michael Pakenham to join Adm. Cochrane and a huge force of 14,000 battle-hardened troops to wrest the entire Mississippi Valley from the United States. Pakenham was a seasoned soldier and the brother-in-law of Napoleon’s nemesis, the great Duke of Wellington. Among Sir Edward’s papers was a Royal Commission naming him as Governor of the Province of Louisiana. When, as expected, he overwhelmed the American rabble at New Orleans, Britain would hem in America on the North, the South, and the West.
All of this might have happened but for the flinty courage and iron will of Gen. Andrew Jackson. Known as “Old Hickory” to his troops (and not always fondly), Jackson was already a veteran of Indian wars and border conflicts with the Spanish. He bore a scar on his temple from a sword cut made by a surly British officer when he had been just a lad in South Carolina, during the Revolution. Jackson hated the British with a Scots-Irish fervor.
Gen. Jackson had been alerted to the British invasion by a local militia officer, Major Gabriel Villaré, one of the French Creole planters of Louisiana. Villaré had evaded British capture by diving through a window at his estate when the British barged in. Maj. Villaré then ran through the swamps to sound the warning.
Commanding Gen. Jackson quickly put the Crescent City under martial law, jailed a federal judge who defied his orders, and prepared to hold New Orleans against the expected assault. Jackson commanded a motley force of American regular army, half-wild Tennessee and Kentucky militia, and the Baratarian Pirates. These were French-speakers whom Jackson himself called “hellish banditti” The pirates were led by Jean Lafitte, who was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, and English and who had offered his services—for a price, of course—to the redcoat invaders. The shrewd Jackson quickly accepted Lafitte’s offer of alliance. Add to this mix, the local “Gens du Couleur.” These were free black citizens of New Orleans. Their aid would prove indispensable and their example would help to tamp down any idea of slave rebellion in the state.
The British had expected the Americans to panic at the sight of their latest weapon, the Congreve rockets. These spectacular new sights on the battlefield had led Americans to throw down their weapons outside Washington as men and horses fled in terror. They reckoned without Old Hickory, who rode back and forth along his lines, exposing himself to enemy sharpshooters while calling out “these are terrors for children, men. Hold your ground!”
Hold it they did. And when the redcoats advanced toward the American breastworks, these “wild” frontiersmen let loose with devastating volleys. They had been trained to shoot, fall back, re-load, and shoot again with lethal accuracy. Gen. Pakenham and other top British attackers were killed in the onslaught. As related by famed historian, Robert Remini in his acclaimed biography of Jackson, “the destruction of the high command in one blow ‘caused a wavering in the column which in such a situation became irreparable.” The British suffered 2,037 casualties to the Americans’ 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. British survivors would tell their American captors they had never faced an enemy who did not run away when hit by the new Congreve rockets.
In mere minutes, Britain’s hope of re-establishing its North American dominance faded. Jackson’s victory was celebrated in a Te Deum Mass in the Cathedral of St. Louis in New Orleans. Jackson, the staunch Presbyterian, obligingly attended that event and several society balls in his honor.
In Washington, D.C., late word arrived of the Treaty of Ghent. That document officially ended the War of 1812. It had been signed on December 24, 1814, in that Belgian city—three weeks before the Battle of New Orleans. That treaty essentially restored the Status Quo Ante—that is, neither side could claim a victory in the war.
Still, news of the “Incredible Victory” at New Orleans followed on the heels of the peace announcement. Not surprisingly, Americans tended to view the events as one and ever after claimed “bragging rights.” President Madison basked in new public esteem. As for Gen. Andrew Jackson, from January 8, 1815, until his death in 1845, Americans all knew who “The Hero” was.
At a press conference held on Tuesday this week, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Kelvin Cochran. How did we get here?
One year ago, Chief Cochran wrote a book discussing orthodox Christianity, including a mention of how God views homosexual practice. The book had been around for a year, with no problems. Yet when one of Atlanta’s secret thought police secretly uncovered the not-so-secret book, a hullabaloo erupted. All the usual suspects contributed to a hearty round of hand-wringing and head-shaking.
Mayor Reed was “deeply disturbed” and indignantly proclaimed he would not tolerate such discrimination within his administration.
Unless that discrimination is against Christians, of course.
Perhaps the mayor should take up his feeling of being “deeply disturbed” with God. Chief Cochran was only quoting the Bible. He didn’t come up with the ideas he expressed.
The mayor’s office then opened an investigation because “there are a number of passages” in Chief Cochran’s book “that directly conflict with the city’s nondiscrimination policies.”
Well, who knew? The views one expresses in one’s own writings have to now conform to official city policies.
If this wasn’t bad enough, let’s turn to the chief’s firing. In a press conference held yesterday, the mayor claimed:
Chief Cochran’s “actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse workforce. Every single employee under the Fire Chief’s command deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment decisions. His actions and his statements during the investigation and his suspension have eroded my confidence in his ability to convey that message.”
“I want to make my position and the city of Atlanta’s position crystal clear,” Reed continued. “The city’s nondiscrimination policy … really unequivocally states that we will not discriminate.” Thus, according the mayor, any individual who violates that policy or “creates an environment where that is a concern” will notcontinue his or her employment withthe city government.
The only problem is: there is no evidence here of any discrimination whatsoever! There never has been.
In essence, the chief was fired by the mayor and his allies because (if they were honest) they “think he might discriminate against gay people.” Never mind there is zero evidence of any such discrimination. Simply put, no one can point to any adverse action Chief Cochran has ever taken against someone based on their homosexuality! If they could, we certainly would have heard about it, given the frenzied fears of “potential” future discrimination and a “possible” hostile work environment. But because that’s all the mayor and his allies have to go on, all we’ve heard about is the “possibility” of future discrimination.
This is a clear case of someone being eliminated from their position because of their views alone. This is even worse than other recent cases of disapproval of orthodox Christian views among public figures in the United States. Without exaggeration, we can say we have just seen the government monitoring personal expression for approval or disapproval, backed up by power of law.
But if he’s going to bury Chief Cochran, Mayor Reed needs all the ammunition he can get. So he scrambles, and tacks on another “justification”: “Chief Cochran also failed to notify me, as Mayor and Chief Executive of the City of Atlanta and his employer, of his plans to publish the book and its inflammatory content. This demonstrates an irreconcilable lapse in judgment.”
Never mind that Chief Cochran plausibly describes how he not only notified the mayor of his plans to publish the book, but provided him in January 2014 with a pre-publication copy for his review, which the mayor told him he planned on reading during an upcoming trip.
Reed didn’t even stop there. He claimed Chief Cochran published his book in violation of standards of conduct which require approval from the Ethics Officer and the Board of Ethics.
Never mind that, as Cochran reports, not only did the director of Atlanta’s ethics office give him permission to write the book, but he was also given permission to mention in his biography that he was the city’s fire chief.
Well, which is it, Mayor Reed? The “nondiscrimination” issue. Or the ethics issue? On the latter, the chief and mayor offer contradicting testimony. On the former, the mayor doesn’t even offer any evidence whatsoever!
These developments are likely to cause widespread consternation among Christians, but they should alarm anyone concerned about freedom of expression in general.
At the press conference, the mayor was in vehement and repeated denial that Chief Cochran was fired for his religious beliefs. The mayor would have us believe that “[t]his is about judgment” and “not about religious freedom” or “free speech.” According to the mayor, “[j]udgment is the basis of the problem.” But Mayor Reed knows he is wrong, which is why he is so defensive about there being no “religious persecution”—he clearly knows it is taking place.
In addition, the mayor was accompanied by his cabinet and Alex Wan (the city’s lone gay council member) at the press conference. If the issue is about ethics, why have the lone gay council member flanking you as you make the announcement? For that matter, why not have an ethics officer?
Indeed, the issue is about orthodox Christian views. And if it’s about “judgment” on the expression of such views, we are in a brave new world.
Chief Cochran must vigorously stand for his rights. All who care about the right to free expression without government intrusion and interference should stand with him, even if they disagree with him in this case. For when the law fails to protect one, it soon fails to protect all.
As we are reminded by Martin Niemöller, a German pastor who was an outspoken opponent of Hitler and ultimately was confined to a concentration camp:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
NOTE: Stand with Chief Cochran by signing our petition supporting him at http://frc.org/fired