FRC Blog

Senate Passes Special Envoy Bill to Prioritize State Department Engagement on Religious Liberty

by Leanna Baumer

July 11, 2014

The plight of Iraq’s Jewish community, Syria’s persecuted Christian and Muslim minorities, and Egypt’s beleaguered Christian population has largely gone unnoticed by the Western world and has only occasionally been addressed by the American diplomatic corps (save onetime hashtag campaigns). The appalling case of Sudanese Christian Meriam Ibrahim, a woman married to a U.S. citizen and detained in prison for months for refusing to renounce her faith, has made the State Department’s lackluster defense of the rights of conscience internationally all the more apparent.

However, last night, the U.S. Senate took an encouraging step forward in the effort to force the State Department to prioritize the freedom of religion in diplomatic efforts globally. In a unanimous vote, the Senate cleared the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2014 (S. 653).

Sponsored by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt (R), S. 653 aims to skirt the intractable bureaucracy of the State Department and elevate the engagement of religious freedom issues in the region of the world most threatened by attacks against people of faith. S. 653 creates the new post of “Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia,” a position to be filled by a Presidential appointee with regional expertise and experience in the field of human rights and religious freedom.

While a companion bill (long championed by Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia) had passed the House of Representatives almost a year ago, S. 653 has languished in the Senate. Last night’s Senate passage marked a breakthrough in negotiations, with the amended Senate bill now containing a sunset provision (unless reauthorized, the Special Envoy position will expire in 2019) to address cost concerns. Now sent back to the House, S.653 faces strong prospects of quick passage given the large bi-partisan levels of support for the Special Envoy in the House previously (H.R. 301 passed by a vote of 402-22 last year).

As entire religious communities face extinction in parts of the Middle East and South Central Asia, the urgency of articulating religious freedom principles abroad has never been starker. A Special Envoy empowered to speak on behalf of religious minorities undergoing persecution will give the U.S. greater leverage in advocating for a freedom so foundational to all others. It is vital that Congress finish consideration of S.653 and that the President sign this bi-partisan legislation into law.

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Discriminatory Murray Bill is anti-constitutional and anti-civil rights, anti-business, anti-religion, and anti-women

by Travis Weber

July 10, 2014

I’m not sure whether the title of the bill just introduced by Senator Murray—the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act of 2014”—or its stated purpose—“[t]o ensure that employers cannot interfere in their employees’ birth control and other health care decisions”—is more misleading and contrary to values Americans hold dear. Perhaps they are equally wrong. But not only is this bill misleading, it is anti-constitutional and civil rights, anti-religion, anti-business, and anti-women. In all these areas, the bill is just downright discriminatory.

Anti-constitutional and anti-civil rights

When Congress overwhelmingly passed RFRA in 1993, it demonstrated support for robust Free Exercise rights by requiring the government to meet a high threshold before burdening Americans’ exercise of religion—a civil and constitutional right. RFRA is not just a statute. RFRA enshrined in law the high standard of strict scrutiny when measuring free exercise claims. For decades, courts had applied this standard. Only recently had its application been questioned by the Court’s Smith decision. Thus Congress passed a law providing a high bar for measuring constitutional rights in this area.

Senator Murray doesn’t seem to care about any of this. If she did, she wouldn’t try to denigrate constitutional rights by trying to pass a law which lowers constitutional protections for all Americans. Instead of using her Article I powers consistent with what Article III courts have said, she ignores the Supreme Court’s guidance and flouts the checks and balances the Constitution put in place.

But even if this anti-constitutional law managed to get out of Congress, President Obama would be foolish in signing it instead of just authorizing the drugs as suggested by the Court.

And even if this law passed, it would be subject to a challenge under the Free Exercise Clause. This bill’s overt and direct discrimination against religion—which is very obvious coming right on the heels of Hobby Lobbyobb

would not be permissible under the First Amendment. Page 8 of her bill says, “[t]his Act is intended to be consistent with the Congressional intent in enacting the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act of 1993 … .” In RFRA, Congress evinced the intent to proclaim a broad and robust vision of free exercise, and clearly intended to reinstate strict scrutiny as the standard for Free Exercise claims. Senator Murray can’t have it both ways. She can’t proclaim support for the congressional intent of RFRA while gutting a protection RFRA clearly put in place.

Anti-business

In its Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court made abundantly clear that businesses could not deny access to contraceptives, but only that the government had to find a less restrictive means of ensuring this access than forcing unwilling businesses into providing it themselves. One less restrictive means would be for the government to directly provide this birth control. But rather than working with the government to ensure this happens, Senator Murray and her cohorts are still trying to ram the HHS mandate down business owners’ throats, despite the fact that this was already rejected by the Court in Hobby Lobby. Senator Murray doesn’t care about access. If she did, she would follow the Supreme Court’s guidance, which would ensure quickest access to birth control. Instead, her measure will fail for numerous reasons, and will only waste time she could spend on providing birth control to women—an issue she claims to care about.

Anti-religion

Senator Murray goes out of her way to target religion in her bill. If she cared about access to contraceptives, she would work with the executive branch (which the Court explained could provide access) to provide these drugs. Instead, she has explicitly declared her antagonism to religion by opposing RFRA and the Court’s interpretation of RFRA for no reason related to “access” whatsoever—as access to these birth control methods can be provided other ways besides the HHS mandate. Instead, she wants to amend the law to achieve a result which has already been determined in violation of religious liberty by the Supreme Court. On page 6 of her bill, she claims that not covering contraceptives costs businesses more money. Why would she want to prevent businesses from incurring costs in order to remain true to their consciences? The only explanation is that she wants to force them to violate their consciences.

Anti-women

Plenty of women oppose the HHS mandate being used to stifle their religious exercise, and plenty of women judges agree that their claims have merit. 100 cases have already been filed against the HHS mandate. Many of the plaintiffs in these cases are women—women who run charities, like the Little Sisters of the Poor, but also women who run businesses. Nearly one-third of the business plaintiffs in these cases are women. In addition, women judges have voted to halt implementation of the mandate 24 times. In only 15 cases have they voted in favor of the employer mandate. Finally, more women oppose the mandate than support it in poll after poll across the United States.

How can Senator Murray and this bill’s supporters claim to be supporting women when they are directly opposing the sincere religious claims of so many American women?

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A Defense of Religious Liberty on the Senate Floor

by Emily Minick

July 10, 2014

This week, Senator Coats went to the Senate floor to speak on the issue of religious liberty and the HHS mandate. The HHS mandate requires all private and employer based healthcare plans to cover contraceptives, drugs which can destroy a human embryo and sterilization services, without copay, under threat of crippling fines.

You can watch Senator Coats’ defense of Wheaton College, who just received an emergency injunction from the Supreme Court against the HHS mandate, here. Wheaton College is a non-profit challenging the Obama administration’s HHS mandate “accommodation”, which is nothing more than an accounting gimmick.

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Special Edition: The Social Conservative Review - July 10, 2014

by Krystle Gabele

July 10, 2014

Dear Friends,

Welcome to a special edition of the Social Conservative Review.

Celebrating Independence Day, as we did last Friday, is an important way of remembering those who have given so much for our liberty. Yet our gratitude for our country and the brave men and women who defend it cannot be measured only by an annual commemoration. Upholding the virtues that have made America a nation like no other, the virtues of integrity and family, faith and liberty, self-control and initiative, work and resourcefulness among them, helps us honor our country every day.

Those virtues sometimes still resonate on the federal bench, as well.  Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an important ruling upholding religious liberty and protecting the conscience rights of family businesses who object to being forced to serve as a conduit for coverage of sterilizations, contraception and drugs that can kill an unborn child. FRC has produced careful analyses of this decision so critical to our First Freedom, the freedom of religion.

Commenting on the ruling, FRC President Tony Perkins said, “All Americans can be thankful that the Court reaffirmed that freedom of conscience is a long-held American tradition and that the government cannot impose a law on American men and women that forces them to violate their beliefs in order to hold a job, own a business, or purchase health insurance.”

When victories happen, defeats can also occur. A case in point is the recent ruling in Kentucky, in which a U.S. District Court Judge overturned the Commonwealth’s marriage amendment. Kentucky voters voted overwhelmingly for the amendment with 75 percent of the vote. That’s why we keep on advancing faith, family, and freedom, whether we win or lose.

Those who have won the liberties we enjoy deserve no less.

Sincerely,

Rob Schwarzwalder
Senior Vice President
Family Research Council

P.S. Here are some other recent free FRC resources on issues important to our country’s future:

Watch for the next edition of the Social Conservative Review on July 17, 2014.

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Hostility to Religion in America” — new FRC publication

by Rob Schwarzwalder

July 8, 2014

As we have just witnessed in some of the responses to last week’s Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, there are those in our country who would not only diminish religious liberty through government coercion but denigrate as an archaism that our culture should jettison. According to C.J. Werleman in Salon, “The hyper-religious conservatives on the bench of the nation’s high court, all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents, see the federal government as being controlled by ‘secular humanists’ who wish to make war against the purity of the Christian belief system. Like the 89 million Americans who count themselves as evangelicals, they seek total cultural and political domination … The American Taliban is on a roll” – and America is a “corporate theocracy.”

Yikes - all that from a decision that says a privately-held company can’t be forced by the government to serve as a conduit for potentially abortifacient drugs. Who knew?

Granted, Werleman’s comments are extreme. Still, they nonetheless reflect the rage of those for whom religious liberty is a matter of ultimate privacy – one’s personal thoughts and occasional, four-walled worship. Rather, religious liberty is the very foundation of all other liberties: If our liberties and dignity do not come from a personal, sovereign Creator, from whence do they come? And if they do come from Him, then government’s role is one of stewardship of those rights, not manipulation or erasure of them.

So, when government seeks to curtail religious liberty, it is affronting the God Who gave it, and asserting its authority to abate all other freedoms. If the ability to believe and practice (in public as well as private life) one’s faith is eroded, what is the foundation of our other rights and liberties? The whim of the state is an unnerving master.

FRC has been at the forefront of the effort to “preserve, protect, and defend” our religious liberty, which is why we wanted you to know about our most recent publication, “Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States.”

This publication, collated by the Director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty, Georgetown-trained lawyer Travis Weber, contains a list of documented accounts of hostility toward faith in the United States today, broken down in the following four definable types of incidents:

  • Section I: Suppression of Religious Expression in the Public Square
  • Section II: Suppression of Religious Expression in Schools and Universities
  • Section III: Censure of Religious Viewpoints Regarding Sexuality
  • Section IV: Suppression of Religious Expression on Sexuality Using Nondiscrimination Laws

Hostility to Religion” can be both downloaded and shared on-line at no charge. Please use this resource in considering the stakes for people of faith in a culture in which articulate religious belief is viewed by some as comic and pathetic and, thus, unimportant and disposable. We need to keep making the argument, graciously but consistently and firmly, that religious liberty matters – to everyone.

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Why Planned Parenthood’s Abortion Quotas are Anti-Women

by Haley Halverson

July 3, 2014

Most of us don’t expect to hear a sales pitch when we go to a healthcare appointment.

However, that’s what women get when they go to Planned Parenthood.

A new development in Planned Parenthood’s continued desire to coax women into choosing abortion has surfaced, according to reports from Breitbart.com and CNS news.

A Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora Colorado has recently received an award for “exceeding abortion visits [in the] first half of FY12 compared to the first half of FY13,” from the Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains,

Why should women care that Planned Parenthood is giving its satellite clinics a pat on the back?

Because this clinic’s certificate for being an abortion “over achiever” confirms that Planned Parenthood has minimum quotas for abortions.

Abortion quotas put clinics in the business of promoting these life-ending procedures instead of serving women according to their needs. The abortion award in Colorado only further verifies testimonies about Planned Parenthood’s agenda from previous employees, such as Marianne Anderson. Marianne Anderson, who worked at a Planned Parenthood in Indianapolis for two and a half years, told The Criterion:

You have to have so many [abortions] a month to stay open. In our meetings they’d tell us, ‘If abortions are down, you could get sent home early and not get as many hours.’”

Planned Parenthood being in the business of peddling abortions above other options is nothing new. A pamphlet by Family Research Council states:

According to estimates, a first trimester non-subsidized abortion costs approximately $550. As reported in their 2010 annual report, Planned Parenthood performed 329,445 abortions, yielding approximately $181,000,000 in revenue—solely from abortions performed that year. In contrast, Planned Parenthood made 841 adoption referrals in 2010.

Last year Planned Parenthood performed 327,166 abortions and raked in revenue of $1.21 billion dollars last, 45% of which was funded by tax payers, according to their annual report.

Planned Parenthood, like any other business, wants to make as much money as possible. But it is disingenuous—if not immoral—for this organization to claim it has women’s health as its top priority while also setting incentives for employees to push one (lucrative) option on women.

When vulnerable women enter a clinic they expect to meet a professional who values their health. Not a salesperson, eager to pawn off a product. It is clear, then, that Planned Parenthood cares more about its profit margins than the women it claims to serve.

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Keeping The Freedom Fire Ignited

by Rachel del Guidice

July 3, 2014

It’s a sad reality that even the most expensive, precious, and invaluable of gifts sometimes receive the least appreciation, especially through the passage of time. The gift of religious freedom that we as Americans are privileged to possess is one that many beyond our shores only dream of having, yet those who are blessed to enjoy it easily forget the magnitude of this gift that we have been given.

During this month of July, when our thoughts turn to all things patriotic as we take part in various celebrations that have a reoccurring red, white, and blue theme, it is still easy to miss the most precious gift that we are given as Americans – the freedom of religion. While the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, right to bear arms, and so forth, are all extremely important, the freedom of religion is by far the most precious of all.

The longing for religious freedom was the driving force that compelled the first settlers to cross unchartered waters in search of a land where they could worship God as their conscience dictated. Yet, today, many Americans do not even give a second thought to the fact that they are able to go to church and live out their faith without retribution from the government. However, we get a taste of what other countries experience as a daily reality when we rally on the steps of our Supreme Court, praying that our business owners will not be forced by the government to violate their deeply held convictions and provide abortion-inducing drugs to their employees.

In China, demolition teams show up in the dark of night to remove any sort of Christian representation that believers have the courage to display. Iranian American Christian pastor Saeed Abedini spent his 10th anniversary of marriage behind bars, unable to see his wife and two children. Sudanese Christian believer Meriam Ibrahim was forced to give birth to her second child in a prison cell. Her crime? Being a Christian.

Because we have been given so many blessings as Americans, it is extremely easy to have an attitude of entitlement. We tend to forget that the only reason we have these freedoms is due solely to God’s blessing and all those who have given their lives so that our fundamental rights could be protected.

 

This holiday, ignite the fire of freedom in your own heart. Commit to defend it with everything in you. This gift is only as strong your willingness to come to its defense.

 

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.”

- Martin Niemöller

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Slandering the Supremes

by Travis Weber

July 3, 2014

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is, in my view, clearly erroneous. With my colleagues at Family Research Council, I applaud the majority opinion as fully consistent with the requirements of religious liberty and the needs of women.

So, how does one get away with treating Supreme Court justices in a manner which would get any child reprimanded in elementary school? You couch your insult with humor, and engage on a politically correct topic.

The biggest question surrounding the recent song by Song A Day’s Jonathan Mann putting Justice Ginsburg’s dissent in the Hobby Lobby case to music — and in which he refers to the justices in the majority as “slut-shaming geezers” — is why no one is bothered enough by such slandering and disrespecting of Supreme Court justices to say anything. But it is what it is: Shameful.

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Is Living Together the Same as Marriage? The Latest Research

by Peter Sprigg

July 3, 2014

A growing number of couples are living together in sexual relationships without bothering to marry. Are these relationships essentially the same as marriages? Research over the decades has shown significant differences in these two household forms, and the latest report from the National Center for Health Statistics continues that trend.

Here, verbatim, are the “Key findings” in a new report, “Marriage, Cohabitation, and Men’s Use of Preventive Health Care Services.”

QUOTE

Key findings

Data from the National Health Interview Survey, 2011-2012

  • Among men aged 18–64, those who were married were more likely than cohabiting men and other not-married men to have had a health care visit in the past 12 months.
  • Marriage was associated with greater likelihood of a health care visit for both younger and older men, and for men with health insurance.
  • Among those for whom blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes screenings are recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, married men were more likely than cohabiting men to have received these clinical preventive services in the past 12 months.
  • Cohabiting men were less likely than other not-married men to have had a health care visit, cholesterol check, or diabetes screening.

END QUOTE

The take-away? Men, the next time your wives nag you to go to the doctor — be thankful!

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