Category archives: Religious Liberty

10th Circuit Lets Police Officers Off the Hook After Telling Woman She Could Not Pray in Her Own Home

by Travis Weber , Natalie Pugh

November 22, 2017

First Liberty, a non-profit law firm, recently filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court on behalf of their client, Mary Anne Sause, after the 10th Circuit ruled that the police officers who told her she could not pray did not clearly violate her rights. As recounted by the court, and alleged in her complaint, the police officers entered Sause’s house to investigate a noise complaint. When one officer left to search the house, an action he did not provide a valid reason for, Sause became frightened and asked the officer with her if she could pray. The officer said she could and Sause knelt on her prayer rug and began to pray. Once the other officer returned to the room he allegedly ordered Sause to get up and stop praying as he and the other officer began to mock Sause for praying and tell her that she should leave the state since no one liked her. As recounted, the behavior of these officers is reprehensible in multiple ways. Yet it is also troubling that the 10th Circuit let the officers off the hook for their actions in this case.

In its opinion, the court held that even assuming the police officers violated Sause’s First Amendment rights when they told her to stop praying, the officers had qualified immunity and therefore could not be held responsible.

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that protects public officials, such as police officers, from liability if their actions did not violate a clearly established law or constitutional right. Because the specific circumstances of this case had never been presented to the 10th Circuit before, that court claimed the officers did not violate a clearly established law and were protected by qualified immunity.

Yet the right to exercise your religion, in this case the right to pray, is clearly established—in the Constitution. While it is difficult to expect police officers to perfectly understand the legal dynamics of every possible situation they might encounter with a civilian, and thus qualified immunity may be necessary in some contexts to allow police officers to do their jobs effectively, the violation in this case is nevertheless obvious and the officers responsible should not be allowed to hide behind qualified immunity.

It is essential that officers understand basic rights—including our First Amendment rights—named in the Constitution, which every student learns in public school. To claim that a police officer shouldn’t be expected to know that an American citizen has the right to pray in a context like that alleged in this case is a dangerous turn.

The Supreme Court should take up this case and declare to the nation that religious freedom is a vital constitutional right which should be respected by all public officials. No individual in a country which claims to protect the religious liberty of its citizens should ever be told that they cannot pray.

Why It Is Unnecessary to Force Jack Phillips to Bake a Wedding Cake

by Travis Weber

November 21, 2017

There are actually a number of answers to this question, but one of them is quite simple: because there are so many others nearby who are happy to do so.

One amicus brief filed in support of Jack Phillips by numerous law and economics scholars, including the esteemed Richard Epstein, makes this point quite nicely.

That brief points out that according to a search on Gayweddings.com, there are 67 other bakeries in the Denver area alone that are willing to create a same-sex wedding cake, including one that is only 1/10 of a mile from Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop. Forty-two of these bakeries are shown below; notice where they are compared to Jack’s shop, marked by the orange circle:

Given all these shops that are happy to create a wedding cake for a prospective same-sex couple, is it really necessary to force Jack Phillips to be the one to do so?

While the prospective customers may be offended at Jack’s beliefs, part of living in a free country is that we interact with people who believe differently than us.

Yet they can easily travel nearby and obtain the cake from someone else—someone happy to help create it.

Meanwhile, forcing Jack Phillips to create the cake comes with the heavy cost of forcing him to violate his conscience or stop designing wedding cakes (and potentially go out of business).

Regardless of our personal views on the issue, that is not a vision of American “freedom” that any of us should want to be a part of.

 

Religious Freedom for Bakers is Common Ground for Most Americans

by Natalie Pugh

November 13, 2017

The Cato Institute published their Free Speech and Tolerance Survey for 2017 at the end of October. In their research, they asked over 2,000 United States citizens about their opinions on free speech. Their study revealed that 50% of Americans think businesses with religious objections should still be required to serve those who identify as gay and lesbian as a general rule (which the wedding vendors who have been sued are happy to do), but 68% believe a baker should not be required to bake a custom wedding cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. These results show that, at least on this issue, Americans can identify and support a genuine desire to live according to one’s religious beliefs.

The survey also revealed that most Americans feel that political correctness is preventing important discussions (71%) and feel afraid to voice their opinions (58%). Additionally, while an overwhelming majority (79%) of Americans find hate speech “morally unacceptable,” only 40% believe the government should prevent public expressions of hate speech.

If most Americans believe in the value of free speech, even to the point of allowing hate speech, why is there so much outrage over speech in our society? The problem lies in the conflicting ideas of what Americans find offensive. In the survey, people’s answers followed closely to party values. Despite their support for free speech as an idea, most strong liberals (51%) think it’s acceptable to punch Nazis; and most conservatives (53%) support revoking citizenship status of individuals who burn the American flag. While both sides of the political spectrum would like to punish specific speech that they find offensive, they need to recognize that taking away free speech would hurt each other equally.

There is no clear consensus on what classifies as “hateful” or “offensive” speech among Americans. A majority of liberals (59%) think saying people who identify as transgender have a mental disorder is hate speech, however the majority of conservatives disagree. While 39% of conservatives think saying the police are “racist” is hate speech, only 17% of liberals agree. Given the highly partisan viewpoint that individuals are placing on speech, any laws to censor speech would be completely dependent on which political party was currently holding a majority on Capitol Hill. This would destroy the basic principle of free speech.

The right to speak freely is a foundational right of our nation. It allows citizens to voice their displeasure with our current government, society, or situation, and through dialogue, devise a plan for improvement. Without this right, citizens would lose the ability to hold their government accountable or merely express their opinions, as the party in power could suppress the spread of any ideas they disliked. This could have devastating effects on Americans’ right to assemble, right to protest, freedom of the press, and religious freedom.

Has society already destroyed the acceptance of free speech? A majority of Americans are afraid to publicly voice their opinions. It’s not hard to imagine why when 59% of Democrats believe employers should punish their employees for offensive Facebook posts. However, freedom of speech is still a constitutional right for every American citizen. While an argument for censorship can sound convincing in today’s divisive climate, it is important to remember the equality that freedom of speech gives to each citizen.

Ultimately, we need to remember the origin of the Bill of Rights that our Founding Fathers fought so hard to achieve. Being occasionally offended is a small price to pay to ensure freedom of speech for all citizens, regardless of their political party. 

Georgetown University’s Identity Crisis

by Kelly Marcum

October 27, 2017

In today’s bitter and vitriolic political climate, there are few labels more intellectually lazy than “hate group.” When you label an entity as a “hate group,” you automatically demonize it. In so doing, you immediately remove from your shoulders any mantle of responsibility to dialogue or engage in civil discourse with this denounced entity. “They” are haters and must be sacrificed at the altar of tolerance without any further question.

This cowardly melodrama is currently playing out at our nation’s oldest Catholic university, where a student group has come under attack for taking the allegedly “hateful” position that Christianity got it right when it said sexual relations were meant for marriage, and that marriage was meant to be between a man and woman.

Students at Georgetown University founded Love Saxa, an affiliate of the Love & Fidelity Network, because they saw a gaping void on campus. In the face of the ubiquitous hookup culture, widespread pornography usage, increasing sexual assaults, and attacks on the institution of marriage, Love Saxa sought to be a voice that would argue for the cultivation of healthy relationships, the repossession of sexual integrity, and the defense of traditional marriage.

Love Saxa’s position is not a popular one, particularly on a D.C. campus of politically active millennials. But one would hope that its place at a Catholic university, even one so liberal as Georgetown, would provide some level of security.

Alas, however, when the utter complacency of the Georgetown University administration is combined with the insatiable appetite of social justice warriors, no strand of orthodox Christianity can be left unthreatened.

On Monday, members of Georgetown’s Pride group filed a petition to sanction Love Saxa and strip it of its university funding and ability to operate on campus. Several days earlier, the editorial board of Georgetown’s student paper The Hoya—whose staff clearly hold up CNN and The New York Times as paragons of journalistic integrity—penned an op-ed accusing Love Saxa of fostering hostility and intolerance because of their commitment to the Christian view of procreative marriage.

The authors of the article at least recognize that Love Saxa’s mission statement is in line with the Catholic Church’s view of marriage and sexuality; however, their faculties of logic fail them when they go on to claim that despite upholding the same faith as their university, Love Saxa is violating the university’s code of conduct by arguing against same-sex marriage.

But then, logic and rationality needn’t play a large role when one can simply bandy about “hate group” terminology. The Left’s modus operandi appears to be to toss out words like “intolerant” and “dehumanizing” alongside a few accusations of “hostility” and “bigotry” and hope that in the subsequent maelstrom of indignant outcries, no one notices the utter lack of coherency in their position.

Unfortunately, their ploy has proven successful far too frequently. Even now, in the face of this sham of a petition, Georgetown’s official statement is predictably weak, and they even appear to be giving a semblance of credence to the calls to silence Love Saxa:

As a Catholic and Jesuit institution, Georgetown listens deeply and discerningly to the plurality of voices that exist among our students, faculty, and staff and is committed to the care of each member of our community,” Rachel Pugh, a university spokesperson, said.

Pugh provides no further clarification of how the school will deal with a “plurality of voices” when only one voice is defending the faith it purports to believe. G.K. Chesterton wrote that “tolerance is the virtue of the man without conviction,” and, speaking as a Georgetown alumnae and a founding board member of Love Saxa, it is unfortunate—though I confess not entirely unexpected—that Georgetown is once again revealing the tepidity of its own commitment to Catholicism, and choosing the “tolerant” path over that of conviction.

Perhaps they think doing so will quiet the liberal voices calling for the disbanding of Love Saxa, but that is a position so naive as to be indefensible. The Left has proven that it does not stop in its quest to silence its opposition, no matter how “discerningly” that opposition hears its complaints. No compromise is sufficient for them. Once given an inch, these forces of illiberal liberalism demand a mile. Chad Gasman, a sophomore at Georgetown and the president of GU Pride, told The Hoya that this petition, which he helped to file, will “force Georgetown University to actually be queer-friendly and queer-affirming.” Such a statement reveals that nothing short of an open endorsement of all same-sex relationships, including marriage, will be enough, no matter how much it defies the faith of the institution they have chosen to attend.

If Love Saxa is banned from defending the Christian vision of sexuality and marriage, how will the Jesuits of Georgetown be able to refrain from referring to their own Church as a “hate group”? How long before they will be called on to condemn the doctrinal tenets of Catholicism?

Kelly Marcum is the Government Affairs office coordinator at Family Research Council. A founding member of Love Saxa, she graduated from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in 2015.

In Today’s Media Environment, It’s “News” When the Department of Justice Actually Enforces the Law

by Travis Weber

October 19, 2017

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that he was sending an experienced DOJ attorney to prosecute the murder of a transgendered individual in Iowa, while at the same time announcing that the DOJ would properly interpret Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination as not including “gender identity” or any other category, progressive activists and some media outlets were confused.

Slate called this “a move that surprised some familiar with his record on LGBTQ rights,” and The New York Times observed, “[i]n taking th[is] step, Mr. Sessions, a staunch conservative, is sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively.”

Yet the real story here is how media and activists are puzzled by the supposed “contradiction” in these steps—a contradiction which only exists if one is looking at law as an activist does—as a means to an end. All AG Sessions is doing in both of these situations is simply enforcing the laws on the books.

The reason for the confusion in some quarters is that the modern progressive activist, who looks at law as nothing more than a tool to accomplish policy preferences, cannot conceive of the idea of an attorney general and DOJ that would actually fairly and faithfully apply the laws that currently exist—even if such application cuts across the usual social and political dividing lines. They can’t conceive of those in power actually looking at their job objectively and simply enforcing the law, regardless of whether they agree with it as a policy matter. Yet a constitutional conservative, who understands the Constitution as the Framers did, looks at this as the only right approach.

The fact that these two decisions by AG Sessions cut across social and political lines thus causes confusion in the activist’s mind.

Regardless of one’s policy position on transgenderism, federal criminal law does currently consider murders of individuals which the perpetrator allegedly targets because of their perceived or actual gender identity to be a separate criminal offense. Regardless of Jeff Sessions’ personal views on gender identity, he is bound to enforce that law. That’s what he is doing in this case.

Meanwhile, regardless of one’s policy position on transgenderism, federal employment law does currently consider sex discrimination to be prohibited—and only sex discrimination. Unlike the federal criminal law, Title VII does not list “gender identity” as a separate class. Thus AG Sessions will enforce the law as written—prohibiting sex discrimination—and nothing more.

This is in stark contrast to the previous administration’s approach, which cherry-picked which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore based on their political ideology. Under AG Holder, the Obama administration unilaterally decided to include gender identity in sex discrimination protections. Now, all AG Sessions is doing is returning us to the status quo.

This is only remarkable if one views everything—including the law—through an ideological lens out of which one must achieve uniform policy results. The rule of law itself has no value, and makes no sense, to such a person.

But AG Sessions’ actions make perfect sense if law is to be followed, not twisted to serve a purpose. Until and if Congress changes the law, the DOJ will enforce what is currently written. This is a welcome change for all who want to live under the rule of law.

Is the Air Force Finished With People of Faith?

by Travis Weber

October 18, 2017

Is it really possible that the Air Force no longer has room for people of faith? Based on the matter of Colonel Bohannon, that may sadly be the case.

Leland Bohannon is a decorated colonel who has devoted decades of his life to serving our Air Force, including flying missions in the B-2 stealth bomber. He’s been ranked first on his performance reports, has been bestowed numerous honors, and trusted with oversight of nuclear weapons. In other words, he’s the model Air Force officer.

Yet Colonel Bohannon’s career may be flushed down the drain by the Air Force simply because of a subordinate who wanted approval of a same-sex marriage. When he was handed several awards and certificates to sign for the subordinate’s retirement ceremony, Colonel Bohannon signed all of them except a “certificate of spouse appreciation”—which he couldn’t in good conscience sign because the certificate was for a spouse of the same sex. He sought advice about what to do from his chaplain and attorney; the chaplain told him to ask for a religious accommodation. He submitted one but it was returned six weeks later “without action.” In the meantime, a major general offered to sign the certificate instead, and it was signed and presented to the subordinate. Yet when the subordinate saw that Colonel Bohannon was not the signatory, he filed an Equal Opportunity complaint against him, alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The EO investigator found that Col Bohannon violated Air Force regulations and “unlawfully discriminated against the MSgt based on sexual orientation.” The EO investigator recognized that a religious accommodation had been sought, but claimed that “even had the accommodation been granted, Col Bohannon would nonetheless be guilty of unlawful discrimination.”

As a result, his superior “suspended Col Bohannon from command, withheld his decoration, and submitted a letter to the Air Force Brigadier General promotion board—the rank for which Col Bohannon is eligible—recommending that Col Bohannon not be promoted.”

Not only is this entire side-show an absurd waste of time, it is clearly unlawful and unconstitutional. The EO investigator is apparently ignorant of the law in this area; if a religious accommodation is granted, that means by definition that he’s not “guilty of unlawful discrimination”—because he’s been granted an accommodation. Moreover, religious freedom law and military policy demand that he be granted an accommodation in an instance like this—where the objective is easily fulfilled with another signature on the certificate.

At best, this entire matter is a distraction for Colonel Bohannon. At worst, it could end his career. That’s the track this train is currently proceeding on.

Thankfully, our friends at First Liberty are on the case, and those in the media like Todd Starnes are calling attention to this. Let us hope the Air Force fixes the issue before the entire situation is derailed and the military environment only grows more toxic for people of faith. 

The New Religious Exemptions from the HHS Contraceptive Mandate Are a Victory for Personal Freedom (and Responsibility) Over State Coercion

by Peter Sprigg

October 12, 2017

Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times has written a column critical of the Trump administration’s recent announcement of broad religious and moral exemptions to the HHS mandate under Obamacare that required employers to provide free contraception as part of any health insurance plan.

Greenhouse begins her column this way: “Saudi women are gaining the right to drive. American women are losing the right to employer-provided birth control.”

At least she was honest enough to not use the hyperbole of saying, “American women are losing birth control.” The government remains powerless to prevent women (or men) from purchasing and/or using birth control if they choose to. The vast majority are not even losing “employer-provided birth control,” since the percentage of employers likely to claim either a religious or moral objection is always likely to be tiny. No, they are only losing “the right to employer-provided birth control”—meaning the government will no longer coerce said employers into providing birth control.

However, this admirable precision in language means that her analogy with Saudi women simply does not work. American women are not losing “the right to use birth control,” which might be analogous to “the right to drive.” For the analogy to work, she would have to say, “Saudi women are gaining the right to employer-provided automobiles.”

But this, of course, is ridiculous. No one—in Saudi Arabia, or in the United States—has ever had “the right to employer-provided automobiles.” This, despite the fact that (I would argue) access to transportation is far more fundamental to having a free and prosperous life in the modern world than is access to birth control. We simply expect people who want to own automobiles to purchase them themselves. Of course, some people are too poor to buy a car, and must often rely on public transportation—but even that is not provided for free, but requires payment of a fare. What is so exceptional about birth control that private employers should be forced by the government to provide it at absolutely no cost to the user?

Greenhouse says, “I used to think … that the resistance to the contraception mandate was fueled by cultural conservatives’ determination not to let federal policy normalize birth control.” If this were the case, the new administration’s policy would still fall short. Since pregnancy is not a disease, contraception, when used merely as a method of family planning, is by definition an elective item or service, rather than a medically necessary one that should be subject to any coverage mandate. Yet the Trump administration has actually left the HHS mandate intact—while simply allowing a much more expansive exemption for the small number of employers with religious or moral objections.

Now, however, Greenhouse goes further in reading the minds of conservatives, declaring, “The problem they have is with what birth control signifies: empowering women — in school, on the job, in the home — to determine their life course.” This paranoid Handmaid’s Tale view of the world is simply bizarre. I guess Greenhouse is oblivious to the many conservative women— empowered and powerful, every one of them—who have led the fight against the HHS mandate from its beginning.

The headline on Greenhouse’s piece online reads, “On Contraception, It’s Church Over State.” Yet no church dogma has been imposed on anyone. It remains perfectly acceptable (in the eyes of the federal government) for women and men to purchase and use birth control. But now, it is also acceptable (as it always should have been, under the First Amendment) for some religious people to object to materially participating in the process. In reality, the new rules mean, “It’s Personal Freedom (and Responsibility) over State Coercion.”

I suspect what Greenhouse is really upset about is the Trump administration setting back the Left’s attempts to “establish” their own religion—the Church of the Sexual Revolution—whose most fundamental doctrine is the unlimited right not only to sex, but to sex without consequences, with the federal government as the guarantor of that “right.”

The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration: What It Got Right and What It Got Wrong

by Travis Weber , Natalie Pugh

October 3, 2017

Earlier this month, religious leaders of various faiths met at the Beverley Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles to celebrate the newly signed Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration—a notable document because it is a proclamation supporting some degree of religious freedom sponsored and backed by a majority Muslim country.

While the majority of Bahrain’s population is Shia Muslim, most of its government positions are held by Sunni Muslims. In addition, there are small numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Jews all living in the country. Against this multi-religious backdrop, the religious freedom declaration was backed and signed by the King of Bahrain.

What did the declaration get right?

This document makes a lot of statements worth celebrating. First of all, it declares that “religious faith and expression are inalienable rights” which provides the foundation for promoting religious freedom. In Part II, it rejects forced observance of a religion and claims that every person has the right to practice their religion as long as they do not harm any others in the process. Part III focuses more on the harm that has been done in the name of religion and condemns all terrorist activities such as “the sowing of terror, the encouragement of extremism and radicalization, suicide bombing, promotion of sexual slavery, and the abuse of women and children.” The religious rights and responsibilities established in Part IV state that individuals have a right to practice their religion and the government has a responsibility to protect citizens of all religions. Overall, these are all commendable statements that seem to show a genuine interest in protecting religious freedom.

Where did it fall short?

While the document expressly states that it does not condone compelled religion, it still does not allow Muslims the freedom to convert away from their religion, as it is illegal to proselytize Muslims in Bahrain. While Part II recognizes the freedom to choose one’s faith, this is conditioned on submitting to the laws of the land. What happens when the laws of the land prohibit conversion, such as in the case of Bahrain and many other nations with Islamic teaching reflected in their laws? These Muslims still don’t have religious freedom in spite of this declaration, and neither do non-Muslims have the freedom to share their faith with Muslims.

Other portions of the declaration are meandering and vague. For instance, while the goal of Section III is admirable and the specific activities listed are reprehensible, this section’s condemnation of certain activities does not have a fixed and clear target. Instead, the list is prefixed with the statement: “Any act that is found morally repugnant by the vast majority of mankind and is insulting to our collective moral conscience cannot be part of God’s revealed will.” Yet religious expression should not be censored by the fickle morality of the majority.

Another statement of concern is the admonition that the clergy teach that “extremism is not holier than moderation.” Extremism and radicalism have become synonymous with terrorism and therefore are evil words in modern rhetoric. But the words themselves need some context to have any meaning. In some ways, being “extreme” is good. For example, before he gathered many supporters, William Wilberforce was quite “extreme” in his campaign to abolish slavery. He might have been termed “extreme,” but it it was a noble cause motivated by his Christian faith. It didn’t matter that not many were on his side. Spiritually speaking, being extreme is a fundamental part of being a Christian. We are called to be on fire for Christ; being lukewarm or moderate is not enough (Revelations 3:15-16). What is extreme to one is moderate to another, and vice versa. “Extreme” may not always correspond to “evil,” and the declaration needs more context to make sense of this point.

The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration is only a statement of intent. Even though it was signed by the king, it is not a legally binding document. Yet it is a good start. Later this year, a team of lawyers will meet to work on turning the declaration into actual laws. Hopefully, the laws they write will fix some of the ambiguity and flaws in the original declaration. If that happens, we may see a platform which could serve as a source for some reform on religious freedom within the Islamic world. Until then, all we can do is hope and pray.

Travis Weber is the Director of FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty. Natalie Pugh is an intern at FRC.

Pence: Human Rights Council “Doesn’t Deserve its Name”

by Travis Weber

September 27, 2017

Speaking at the United Nations last week, Vice President Pence had harsh words for the UN Human Rights Council—an entity he claimed “doesn’t deserve its name.”

As we look at the membership of the council today, we see nations that betray these timeless principles upon which this institution was founded. Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council actually attracts and welcomes many of the worst human rights violators in the world.” (emphasis mine). The vice president concluded, “[a] clear majority of the Human Rights Council’s members fail to meet even the most basic human rights standards.”

Pence singled out Cuba and Venezuela as examples of countries that didn’t belong there. They aren’t the only ones.

President Trump, speaking the day before, had emphasized the same point: “In some cases, states that seek to subvert this institution’s noble aims have hijacked the very systems that are supposed to advance them. For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council.”

While these words may seem harsh, they are true, and make a long-overdue point more world leaders need to recognize themselves.

While the UN began with a noble purpose and a framework to achieve a worthwhile goal, it has become corrupted in the years since 1945. The term “human rights”—which recognizes that all people have certain rights that come from God and not government because they are made in the imago dei, or “image of God”—must retain its core meaning to bear any fruit in the international arena. Yet the term has been used and abused over the years to mean many things to many people, and hence nothing at all. Through this definitional watering down along with intentional noncompliance and hypocrisy, we have achieved a “Human Rights” Council of human rights violators.

The only thing consistent about the council is its irrational and mind-boggling hatred of Israel, the Middle East’s most successful democracy and a human rights leader in that area of the world. As Vice President Pence pointed out, “[t]he council’s agenda item seven actually singles out Israel for discussion at every single meeting, something no other country must endure. As evidence, the Human Rights Council has passed more than 70 resolutions condemning Israel, while largely ignoring the world’s worst human rights abusers.” Such anti-Semitism further discredits the already scornful behavior of the council.

The UN was founded with a worthy goal, and it is one worth continuing to strive for. But striving includes reform where needed. The “head-in-the-sand” mentality too often taken in the face of ongoing problems will only prolong abuse and the suppression of human rights—not their protection.

How Can Public School Students Exercise Their Religious Liberty Rights?

by FRC

September 21, 2017

How can students in public schools exercise their constitutional religious liberty rights? In part three of our “Back to School” Facebook Live series, FRC policy experts Sarah Perry and Travis Weber discuss this important question. Here is a summary of some key points from this discussion:

  • The First Amendment to the Constitution is the basis for religious liberty, particularly in its “free speech” and “free exercise” protections.
  • The much talked-about “wall of separation” between church and state that is often misrepresented in our current culture is derived from the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states that the government cannot mandate one faith that people must follow. This notion has often been misapplied to exclude any religious mention or prayer from the public square. In reality, the intent of the Establishment Clause is much more limited—it was meant to protect the “free exercise” of all religions by not “establishing” one religion in particular.
  • Two principles should be kept in mind when considering whether an activity is protected by the free expression of religion in a public school setting: 1) is religion being treated equally with non-religion in any particular situation, and 2) is the religious activity or expression student-led or initiated?
  • If a student is confronted for and prohibited from wearing a cross necklace, for example, the first step is to establish the facts of the incident. Parents can then take their concerns to the teacher or other official who is involved in the situation. If the situation is not addressed satisfactorily at the school level, public advocacy groups such as FRC, Alliance Defending Freedom, and First Liberty Institute should be contacted in order to draw attention to the situation through the media and for legal advice.
  • The Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act was recently passed in Florida, prompted by two incidents of blatant religious liberty violation in which a student was commanded to remove their cross necklace, and another incident in which a student was reprimanded for reading a Bible during their free time.
  • The Supreme Court established in Town of Greece v. Galloway that public prayer in a local government setting is constitutional in accord with the Establishment Clause, which means that public school employees like football coach Joe Kennedy should be allowed to take a knee in prayer at a football game.
  • A school is permitted to keep order in their environments by limiting rights only when they materially and substantially disrupt the learning environment. Broadly speaking, however, this applies in very limited circumstances.
  • Religious clubs must be permitted to operate in the same way as non-religious clubs in public school settings.
  • During school, students have the right to pray as they want in a moment of silence and during lunch, read their Bibles, share their faith, hand out literature, and do other religious activities as long as they are not disrupting the school environment.
  • Public school teachers, coaches, and officials are seen as representatives of the government and cannot set forth a principle of religion that people must follow. In their private time “off the clock” while at school, they can engage in any religious activities they choose.
  • If teachers are unsure about the legality of a religious activity they want to engage in at school, they should seek legal advice before engaging in the activity in order to be safe from having litigation filed against them by a parent or the school.

View the full video to find out more.

Archives