Category archives: Religion & Culture

Tony, the Homeless Track Star

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 23, 2015

This afternoon I met a man on the street named Tony. A tall, handsome African-American man, he was well-spoken and dressed warmly in a new-ish parka. We talked for a while in front of the shelter where he resides currently.

Tony is homeless and lives at a mission not far from Capitol Hill. Gregarious but soft-spoken, he told me a bit about his life and noted he had attended four colleges. He also said he had run competitively with some of track’s greatest.

So, when I got back to my office, I looked him up. In roughly 25 years in the nation’s capital, I’ve been scammed a lot by people on the street, so my skepticism is not without some history.

Tony was telling the truth. In fact, he was an All-American in 1977 in the two-mile relay.

Since then, he’s spent time in prison – I don’t know for what — and now is hoping for a job as a maintenance man at a store near downtown D.C. He is to find out if he gets the job on Friday.

From All-American collegiate athlete to being a homeless ex-inmate hoping for an entry level cleaning-type job: Life’s journey can be strange and painful.

At one point, I made some comment like, “With God, there are always new chances.” Tony stared at me hard and said, “It’s predestined, isn’t it?”

As a moderate Calvinist, I was a little taken aback, but not wanting to get into the Reformed-Arminian controversy quite so extemporaneously, I said simply, “We all have to make choices.” He said, quietly, “Amen.”

My prayer for Tony is that he will make the right choices from hereon, that if he hasn’t yet found new life in Christ that he will, and that God will guide and bless his life as Tony seeks to restore years eaten by the locusts of deception and evil. And I hope I don’t soon forget Tony: With only a few wrong decisions over the course of my more-than five decades of life, I might be standing beside him on the street, wondering if I’ll find work pushing a broom somewhere. There, but by the grace of God …

Georgia’s S.B. 129 would free all Georgians from the tentacles of government

by Travis Weber

March 19, 2015

Down in Georgia, opponents of individual rights and personal freedom are attempting to ratchet up their smear campaign against S.B. 129, the “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

This measure is simply designed to ensure that individuals’ consciences cannot be easily trampled by intrusive government regulation.

The claims against this common sense proposal are wild and confused. For example, some have claimed the bill gives businesses an absolute right to refuse service. This is patently false.

The truth is that S.B. 129 provides a method for sincere conscientious objectors of all religions to be protected, while winnowing out those using religion as a pretext to escape application of general laws.

To avail oneself of the protections of S.B. 129, you first have to prove you have a sincere religious belief which has been substantially burdened by the government action in question. Only then can the claim move forward. Even then, if the government can show it has compelling interest in burdening the religious practice — a religious practice of human sacrifice, for example, could be burdened — and has done so through the least restrictive means, it is allowed to burden the religious exercise in question.

This is a legal standard known as “strict scrutiny.” It has been used in constitutional law for decades, and has been applied to religious claims for over 20 years under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) without any documented pattern of abuses such as those claimed by the opponents of S.B. 129. As others have asked, where are these alleged “discriminators” who are supposedly walking away from criminal charges under RFRA? They simply do not exist.

RFRA simply restores previously strong protections for First Amendment rights. The federal RFRA does not apply to state or local action, so state RFRAs like S.B. 129 are needed. The Georgia RFRA under consideration here merely brings Georgia law into line with federal law.

Religious freedom laws like S.B. 129 never used to be (and still should not be) a partisan issue, as they protect those of all faiths and political persuasions.

The federal RFRA was supported by a broad coalition which cut across political and religious lines. This coalition was composed of groups with a diversity of interests, but they were united in protecting and bolstering the First Amendment.

Indeed, a review of RFRA and free exercise case law going back decades clearly shows its benefit to everyone from Muslims to Jews, Christians to Santeria adherents, and Native Americans to more obscure sects as they seek to protect their beliefs and consciences from being burdened by an ever-more intrusive government.

Now, sadly, many have subjugated their protection of the First Amendment to their political concerns. They have betrayed and slandered RFRA in order to advance their political interests, and in doing so, have compromised their stated principles of individual rights and freedom.

Moreover, RFRAs cut across racial and social lines, and apply in a variety of real-world scenarios, such as property disputes, social welfare (just this past year, the Texas RFRA served as protection for those seeking to care for the homeless), conscience objections to abortion, and restrictions on using controlled substances in religious ceremonies. They are not race-specific. They are not religion-specific. And they are not political party-specific.

By now it should be clear that S.B. 129, in merely applying the well-established strict scrutiny standard to claims of religious exercise, does not give anyone a “free pass” to “discriminate.” Indeed, it is notable that opponents cannot even cite to one instance of a business owner “openly deny(ing)” service, as it claims. The reason is that laws like S.B. 129 don’t provide any “free passes” — what they prescribe is that religious liberty claims must proceed through the framework described above.

For these same reasons, claims that the Michigan RFRA will “let EMTs refuse to serve gay people” and that the Arizona and Mississippi RFRAs from previous years are “right-to-discriminate” bills are completely misleading. When people are provided with a proper understanding of strict scrutiny’s application to religious claims, they can see that those making these “free pass” arguments are engaged in baseless fabrication.

Neither would S.B. 129 legalize child abuse, as opponents outlandishly claim. Child abuse and other criminal cases involving bodily harm are prosecuted routinely nationwide every day. These take place in states with laws like S.B. 129. Yet how often have we heard about successful religious freedom defenses to such prosecutions?

These S.B. 129 opponents have discredited themselves and revealed their political agenda by ignoring other instances of oppression to which the bill could bring relief right in their own backyard — like the state of Georgia’s termination of Dr. Eric Walsh for expressing his Christian views. Dr. Walsh preached sermons in his private capacity in his home church. Yet state government agents scoured his sermons for disapproved views on sexuality, and summarily terminated his employment when they found what they didn’t like. When Dr. Walsh is punished for his views, he’s being punished for his religion — right at home in Georgia.

The protections in S.B. 129 are the very protections needed to ensure the exercise of all religions — including that of Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and others — is protected. If its opponents had cared to represent this fact accurately, they would have observed that only this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a Muslim inmate’s religious rights under a law applying the same standard as S.B. 129 — the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Yet there is no mention of this or other such cases; this truth is too inconvenient for those leading opposition to the bill.

RFRA never was and should not become a partisan issue, as it protects those of all faiths and political persuasions. All Americans of every political party and any religious faith who care about individual freedom from government coercion should support S.B. 129. The bill’s text and our established practices for analyzing religious claims show that S.B. 129 will merely support conscience rights for all in the face of ever more intrusive government.

S.B. 129’s opponents, including an outfit called “Better Georgia” (which itself is backed by out-of-state groups), should be ashamed of what they have said about RFRA. Georgia does deserve better.

Alarming New Study: Rise in Youth-Produced Child Pornography

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 13, 2015

That’s the headline of a story this week from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Here are excerpts:

A new research study concludes there is an, ‘increasing trend for distribution of sexually explicit content produced by younger children using laptop webcams.’ The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and Microsoft participated in the study, examining 3,803 images and videos, of ‘youth-produced sexual content’ depicting young people and uploaded by the children or covertly recorded by a third party. The report, ‘Emerging Patters and Trends Report #1 Youth-Produced Sexual Content,’ was published on March 10, 2015 …

The study established that 85.9 percent of content depicting children aged 15 or younger was created using a webcam and 93 percent featured girls. While much of the content appeared to be knowingly created for websites, the study indicates that 100 percent of the content was shared to third party websites, which cannot be traced. The researchers noted a specific concern that the young people featured, ‘took no steps to conceal their identity or location, even in many cases using their real names.’ The study also found that 667 of the images and videos evaluated featured children 15 years and younger, and of this group, 286 were 10 years or younger. The researchers said their report confirms an alarming trend of young children producing and distributing explicit content online.”

Commenting on the study, NCSE Executive Director Dawn Hawkins said, “We are in the midst of a public health crisis on pornography. Every public official from the president on down, public health advocates, social leaders, as well as every parent must work to solve this crisis. We know that the long-term consequences to our children involved with pornography are monumental and can include problematic, even criminal sexual behaviors, and a host of anti-social activities.”

FRC is proud to partner with the NCSE’s Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation, which marshals the efforts of a large number of national and state organizations to fight pornography and its effects on individuals, families, and the culture.

To learn more about how you can protect your children from pornography, visit the Porn Harms Coalition website.

Dawkins: Protect Children from their Religious Parents

by Cathy Ruse

March 10, 2015

Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins made news recently for telling an Irish Times reporter that children need “to be protected so that they can have a proper education and not be indoctrinated in whatever religion their parents happen to have been brought up in.”

Poor Richard Dawkins. In his book, The God Delusion, he describes the God of the Old Testament as “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

As my colleague Gil Mertz aptly notes, such a passionate description should raise the question in reasonable minds whether this sounds like the unbiased hypothesis of a neutral scientist or a very angry man who hasn’t forgiven God. Dawkins could easily dismiss the existence of unicorns or leprechauns with no emotion, but it is revealing how the question of God’s existence strikes such a nerve.

For more on his interview with the Irish Times

The 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural: A Meditation on the Will of God

by Rob Schwarzwalder

March 4, 2015

My brilliant friend Daniel Dreisbach (Ph.D., Oxford), a professor at American University, has written a wonderful piece on the 15oth anniversary of what he rightly calls “among the most eloquent of all presidential utterances.”   

Lincoln’s remarkable, 700-word speech is a meditation on God’s will during a time of national crisis and massive bloodshed, the Civil War.  It also reflects the 16th President’s internalization of the Word of God and how it affected his understanding of this great American trial.

Read Daniel’s perceptive piece, and join with Lincoln in remembering that “the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.”

The Threat to Domestic Religious Liberties

by FRC Media Office

March 2, 2015

Anyone keeping a relatively close eye on the religious liberties landscape in this country cannot fail to sense a growing tension developing. Whether it’s anti-discrimination laws restricting the full extent of religious conscience, federal abortion coverage mandates demanding compliance from private catholic charities, or the tenacious Freedom From Religion Foundation mailing complaint letters to administrators demands the installment of laïcité in our public schools, the culture clash between church and state is anything but boring. The Christian Legal Society was fortunate to have Travis Weber of the Family Research Council come speak to us on the topic of Domestic Threats to Religious Liberty. We thank him for his time and for his commitment to fight for our first freedom.

Click here to listen to his remarks.

In the Footsteps of Jesus

by Travis Weber

February 20, 2015

In the New York Times, David Brooks asserts that followers of ISIS are looking for purpose, fulfillment, and destiny, and that attempting to address these needs with materialistic solutions misses the mark. In order to lessen the appeal of ISIS, Brooks suggests, its followers must be offered an even greater opportunity for fulfillment:

[P]eople don’t join ISIS, or the Islamic State, because they want better jobs with more benefits.”

They’re not doing it because they are sexually repressed. They are doing it because they think it will ennoble their souls and purify creation.”

You can’t counter a heroic impulse with a mundane and bourgeois response. You can counter it only with a more compelling heroic vision… . Terrorism will be defeated only when they find a different fulfillment, even more bold and self-transcending.”

He’s right about all of that.

But he’s wrong about the solution:

[Nationalism has offered that compelling vision. We sometimes think of nationalism as a destructive force, and it can be. But nationalism tied to universal democracy has always been uplifting and ennobling. It has organized heroic lives in America, France, Britain and beyond.”

Brooks proposes that followers of ISIS “will walk away when they can devote themselves to a revived Egyptian nationalism, Lebanese nationalism, Syrian nationalism, some call to serve a cause that connects nationalism to dignity and democracy and transcends a lifetime.”

Perhaps, though unlikely. And ultimately, it is only a half-solution to their real need.

Nationalism alone does not appeal to humanity’s deepest spiritual needs — which transcend life on earth and mere physical existence. These young followers know, at some level, that there’s more to life than the here and now. Many of us know that too. The followers of ISIS already have an “explanation” for life after death. Nationalism would seem bland and unappealing to them, for it only addresses earthly purpose, earthly satisfaction, and earthly fulfillment.

The answer for followers of ISIS is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, who offers all human beings (regardless of skin color, ideology, political party, nationality, prior life choices, or past faith) the chance for complete devotion, both in the here and ever after: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom… . my Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He says to us, “if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:25). For “this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” (1 John 2:17).

How can we have this assurance?

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Only Jesus offers all human beings the chance to completely fill all our human longings and desires, for he offers the chance for complete devotion in response to his complete sacrifice for our complete salvation, beginning now and continuing ever after into eternity. Only in Jesus does death have no power, for he already defeated death for us.

David Brooks properly identifies the problem, but he misses the (ultimate) solution.

America’s Resilience

by Robert Morrison

February 19, 2015

Many of my friends, not surprisingly, consider these the worst of times. They tell me they fear for the survival of our country and certainly for the survival of civil and religious freedoms we cherish. There is no doubt that under this administration, our liberties have been imperiled. No administration in history has targeted religious freedoms.

For example, in the little-noticed case of Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC (2012), the Obama administration tried to order The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod* (LCMS) to change its 170-year definition of who is and who is not a commissioned minister in that 2.4 million member church body. This was a stunning example of denial of religious freedom, but the Obama administration took its unprecedented interpretation of constitutional law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Happily for freedom, the Obama administration’s tortured reading of the laws was rejected by the High Court by a vote of 9-0. Such unanimous rulings are very rare in the Supreme Court, as we know. But it is an indication of the radicalism of this administration that it was so determined to crush freedom that it would boldly go where no administration in 223 years had gone before.

Members of our U.S. military—our all-volunteer force—are daily feeling the lash of political correctness. As President Obama seems to make every allowance for Islam at home and abroad, his administration has banned Bibles in military hospitals while covering up Christian symbols at VA hospitals and threatening chaplains with discipline if they even mention faith in Christ as part of suicide prevention programs. The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed for me that the high religiosity of Black women was a major factor in their low rates of suicide.

Several years ago, Coast Guard Admiral Dean Lee courageously stood up for freedom and faith at the National Prayer Breakfast. He said what so many in the military feel: That Christian faith is under attack.

The admiral reminded me of my own time in the Coast Guard and his courage encourages me still. It also reminds me of the hope we have for real change in our country.

The ship on which I served was in the news recently for an historic drug bust. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell (WHEC-719) seized $423 million worth of cocaine. When we consider that it cost about $20 million ($142 million in 2014 dollars) to build the Boutwell in 1967, and that she has been serving our country every since, it seems in this case, the American taxpayers certainly got their money’s worth.

I’m very proud to have served on the Boutwell. But I certainly wasn’t proud on my last day on that vessel. I was leaving the Coast Guard in Seattle in 1978 when I was given a ride home by some of my enlisted friends. These Quartermasters—highly intelligent guys who made the mid watches in the Bering Sea enjoyable—offered me a joint! I was heartbroken. No wonder we were never able to catch the pot smokers on our ship. They were being tipped off. It depressed me and filled with a sense of betrayal.

Four years later, I was living in Connecticut with my wife, a lieutenant commander in the Navy. She came home from Naval Hospital Groton and said we should take a tour of the Cutter paying a visit to the Coast Guard Academy across the Thames River in New London.

I hesitated. I was concerned as I recalled my last day in the service. But overcame my doubts and proudly accompanied my wife. She received a snappy salute from a “squared away” young Seaman Apprentice standing guard at the brow of the ship. He offered us a tour of the Cutter. From that first encounter through the hour-long visit, we saw nothing but hard-working seamen who seemed proud of their ship and their mission.

What had changed? The Navy and Coast Guard had dropped the lax attitude of the 1970s toward sideburns, mustaches, beer-in-the-barracks and had instituted a Zero Tolerance policy for drugs. I didn’t like the fact that my wife had to take drug tests in the presence of Navy Corps Waves, but the policy worked. It largely eliminated the abuse of drugs in the sea services.

Pride in the uniform was restored. Gone were the sideburns. Gone, too, was the 1970’s policy of requiring civilian attire in Washington, D.C. for military officers going to and from work at Headquarters. Instead, officers and enlisted were required to wear their uniforms.

It almost goes without saying the change in those four years (1978-82) was dramatic. And it reflects in no small way the changes in leadership at the top. President Jimmy Carter had been swept out in a landslide and Ronald Reagan was swept in. Reagan loved and respected our all-volunteer military. He made our troops proud to serve again and proud of their uniforms.

When liberal reporters challenged Reagan the candidate in 1980, they said: “You seem to criticize a lot in the Carter administration, Governor. What would you do differently?”

Everything,” Reagan responded with a smile. And he did change everything.

America has been richly blessed by God. We are a resilient country and our hope for change has not died. All that is needed is a leader who will approach the tasks set before him or her with that same determination: Do everything differently.

*The author’s own denomination.

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