Category archives: Religious Liberty

Stats Show People Still Want Reason for the Season This Christmas

by Alexandra McPhee

December 15, 2018

Think American citizens are ready to give Christ the boot this holiday season? Think again.

A 2018 report from LifeWay Research shows an overarching sentiment that “Christmas should be more about Jesus” (65 percent).

These numbers reflect the reality of a report from Ozark, Missouri, that many locals clamored to get the government to keep its traditional Christmas light display featuring a cross after the town received legal threats from an activist secular legal group about the display.

According to the Springfield News-Leader, Mayor Rick Gardner received “hundreds” of phone calls, text messages and other communications from members of the Ozark community following the town’s initial announcement [to take the cross down in the face of legal threats]. One person reportedly told Gardner that the cross “is a part of Ozark” and “this is Christian County, for Pete’s sake.”

The legal letter sent to officials claimed that the cross was a violation of the First Amendment. But the United States Supreme Court has said government can “recognize the role religion plays in our society.” And the question whether government can maintain displays depicting religious symbols—like the one in Ozark—is now before the United States Supreme Court.

The heckler’s veto—the one complaint that convinces public officials to cave on behalf of all citizens—might fly in some areas. After all, Ozark was essentially slapped with the same legal letter sent to Dover, Ravenna, and Streetsboro, Ohio, and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Officials in all but Ozark and Streetsboro caved.

But what makes the difference is when citizens—the majority of whom say Christmas should be more about Jesus—make their voices heard. And they say keep the cross up and baby Jesus in the manger.

Fairness for Whom?

by Peter Sprigg

December 14, 2018

One major concern about “SOGI” laws—laws which add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected categories in non-discrimination laws governing employment, housing, and/or public accommodations—has been that they would pose a threat to religious liberty.

One response to this conflict between “LGBT rights” and religious liberty has been to propose a sort of grand compromise, in which SOGI protections and specific religious liberty protections are enacted in the same bill.

Only one state, Utah, has so far implemented this approach, enacting what became known as the “Utah Compromise” in 2015. Proposals to do something similar at the federal level have been discussed under the label of “Fairness for All.”

Family Research Council has argued that such an approach is unsustainable, for reasons explained in a 2016 paper.

However, World Magazine has now reported that the boards of two major evangelical organizations—the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—have both passed motions endorsing the “Fairness for All” concept.

According to World, the NAE board unanimously—but quietly—adopted a motion in October that “calls on Congress to consider federal legislation consistent with three principles:” 

• We believe that God created human beings in his image as male or female and that sexual relations [should] be reserved for the marriage of one man and one woman.

• We support long-standing civil rights laws and First Amendment guarantees that protect free religious exercise.

• No one should face violence, harassment, or unjust discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

The first bullet point is a clear-cut statement of biblical teaching on sexuality and marriage. The second bullet point is a straightforward endorsement of long-standing American principles.

The third bullet point is the problem. What, exactly, is the definition of “unjust discrimination” in this context? Is it “unjust discrimination” for a Christian baker to decline to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding in violation of his own conscience? Or for that matter, is it “harassment” for a schoolteacher to refuse to use pronouns that falsify the sex of a student who identifies as transgender?

These are questions that need to be put to the LGBT activists with whom this “compromise” is being sought. The ball is in their court, not ours. Unfortunately for those seeking compromise with them, LGBT activists are likely to answer those questions with an emphatic “Yes.” Alas, there is virtually no chance that they would endorse the kind of much-needed legislation that would protect the freedoms of that baker or teacher.

Pronoun Police Get VA Teacher Fired

by Cathy Ruse

December 10, 2018

The pronoun police have marched into small-town America.

A high school French teacher in the tiny Virginia town of West Point has lost his job. His offense? He asked permission to avoid pronouns when referring to a biological girl student who now identifies as a boy.

Peter Vlaming (pictured) was fired last week in a unanimous vote by the local school board (all Democrats) because of his Christian belief that God made humans male and female, and that a girl cannot become a boy.

Vlaming was willing to use the student’s new masculine name, and to avoid using pronouns altogether with this student. But he was not willing to use a false pronoun. “I did agree to use the new masculine name [and] to avoid female pronouns,” said Vlaming, but “I won’t use male pronouns with a female student.”

Keep in mind, Vlaming’s position was not a failure of courtesy. Third person pronouns are not used face-to-face, they are used when talking about a person who is absent. Vlaming was happy to use the student’s new masculine name. But that was not enough for the school. They ordered him to use male pronouns for the student even when he was not in the presence of the student. 

Students are allowed to remain silent during the Pledge of Allegiance, but this teacher was not allowed to remain silent when it came to pronouns. Use a false pronoun, or lose your job.

God bless this teacher—he would not speak in denial of God’s truth about male and female, and for his silence the government terminated him.

Will Asia Bibi Be Forgotten?

by Arielle Del Turco

December 6, 2018

Last month, Christians around the world celebrated when Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian on death row for the crime of blasphemy, had her conviction set aside by the Pakistani Supreme Court. Bibi had been accused of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with several women after she shared a drink with them, thereby making the water ceremonially unclean. She was subsequently convicted, and spent the following eight years awaiting her execution.

Following Bibi’s release, thousands of Islamist Pakistanis demonstrated in the streets to demand she be put to death. Since her acquittal, Bibi has been held in protective custody in Pakistan due to threats of violence as she hopes to be granted asylum by a Western nation.

In a recent video message, Bibi’s husband pleaded with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, in addition to the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and U.S. President Donald Trump. The objective was to bring his family to the West to avoid the religiously motivated persecution they face in Pakistan.

Earlier this week, the Daily Mail reported that UK Prime Minister Theresa May personally intervened to prevent Bibi from receiving asylum in the UK, contradicting the British Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who has argued that the UK should provide Bibi refuge.

Asylum was made for cases like this. It’s to protect political and religious refugees who are facing persecution in their home country. So, why would the UK—which is usually so open to immigration—choose to deny entry to a Christian farmworker fleeing religious persecution?

The Daily Mail reported that Prime Minister Theresa May was persuaded that letting Bibi claim asylum would raise tensions within the Muslim community in the UK. May’s refusal to give Bibi refuge is devastating for Bibi and her family. It is a discouraging sign that the British government isn’t prioritizing religious freedom. Instead, the government is letting the fear of the mob dictate who earns the protection of the state and is validating the criticisms of politically-correct “multiculturalism.”

The UK first needs to embrace religious freedom at the cultural level so that religious refugees in crisis will be welcomed into the shelter of their country. This requires leaders who have the moral courage to stand up for religious freedom, even when a percentage of the population may oppose it.

The UK had an opportunity to make a stand for religious freedom and they chose not to. Thankfully, other nations have this same opportunity. As Bibi and her family continue to look for a safe place to live, we can pray that a Western country whose laws and culture still value religious freedom will grant her asylum and safe haven.

Arielle Del Turco is an intern at Family Research Council.

Religious Liberty and the “Wedding Vendor” Cases

by Alexandra McPhee

December 4, 2018

This year, the United States Supreme Court vindicated the free exercise rights of Jack Phillips, a cake baker from Colorado, who had suffered government discrimination after he declined to bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony based on his conviction that a marriage is only between a man and a woman. Yet Jack’s ordeal wasn’t done; he was subsequently sued and has an ongoing case because he didn’t want to be forced to create a cake with a message about the transgender lifestyle he believed to be false.

Melissa and Aaron Klein, bakers from Oregon and formerly of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, are now asking the Supreme Court to review their case, which arose under similar circumstances. The Supreme Court could decide any day whether to review their case. If the Court does, they may get relief. If it doesn’t, the Kleins are stuck with an oppressive and unconstitutional state court ruling against them.

Their cases are not unique; attacks against traditional beliefs in marriage have been on the rise. Why is that?

Several years ago, the United States Supreme Court observed that “[m]any who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.” That quotation came from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the Supreme Court decision that ushered in a new era in the law surrounding religious liberty.

It is important that the Supreme Court recognized the sincerity of the orthodox belief that marriage is a sacred institution only available between one man and one woman. But by making marriage between two people of the same sex a constitutional right, Obergefell made it easier for courts and legislatures around the nation to conclude that same-sex couples have rights that somehow trump those of all who disagree—and thus violate their consciences.

We have seen this primarily in the wedding vendor industry, the subject of our newly updated publication released today, Religious Liberty and the “Wedding Vendor” Cases. Business owners across the country have had to face the unacceptable choice of violating their religious beliefs or losing their livelihoods—all because they will not use their skills to affirm or facilitate the celebration of a same-sex wedding.

Today, we bring to your attention fifteen cases where business owners have had to collectively endure thousands of hours of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for sticking to their beliefs in natural marriage. This is an unacceptable affront to every American’s constitutional right to the free exercise of their religion, and we must stand to ensure that this latest campaign against the freedom of conscience comes to an end.

For more information, read our newly updated publication.

Let There Be (Christmas) Lights

by Alexandra McPhee

November 27, 2018

For several years, Jeremy and Kristy Morris and their young children hosted a five-day long event on their property celebrating Christmas. When they decided to move to a new community and explained to the new HOA that they planned to host this event, communications with the HOA hit a discriminatory pitch. In 2014, the HOA explained in a letter that

It’s not the intention of the Board to discourage you from becoming part of our great neighborhood, but we do not wish to become entwined in any expensive litigation to enforce long standing rules and regulations and fill our neighborhood with the hundreds of people and possible undesirables. We have worked hard to keep our area peaceful, quiet, and clean . . . .

And finally, I am somewhat hesitant in bringing up the fact that some of our residents are non-Christians or of another faith. And I don’t even want to think of the problems that could bring up.

Though citing “rules and regulations,” the letter’s concluding paragraph made clear that the HOA’s true opposition to the Christmas event was the “Christ” part of the occasion.

The Morris’ filed suit once they realized that the HOA wanted to qualify the terms of their residence in the new community because they were Christians. They argued that the HOA was violating the Fair Housing Act by committing religious discrimination. The Fair Housing Act prohibits “discriminatory practices [that] make housing unavailable to persons because of . . . religion.” In other words, no person or organization has the right to exclude someone from something as essential as housing because of their religious beliefs.

The case went to trial, and the evidence exposed the true extent of the HOA’s hostility towards the Morris’ and their faith. The jury sided with the Morris’ and awarded a total of $75,000 to the family.

The facts of this case are troubling, especially because of the HOA’s express hostility. An earlier draft of the above letter showed that the HOA even referred to the potential Christmas event attendees as “the riff-raff you seemed to attract over by WalMart.”

But the jury vindicated the Morris’ civil rights and held the HOA accountable for its attack on religious expression. This case demonstrates that we must always be vigilant in defending our federally protected rights to express our faith.

In India, Twitter Gets a Taste of the True Danger of Viewpoint Suppression

by Alexandra McPhee

November 26, 2018

Last Thursday, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, was accused of violating India’s blasphemy law during his recent visit to the country. A legal group filed a petition against him asking a court to determine that Dorsey violated several penal laws, including section 295A, which prohibits the “outrage [of the] religious feelings of any class.” It could become a high-profile example of the active enforcement of blasphemy laws, which exist in dozens of countries and are still enforced today.

Though intended to protect “religious feelings,” blasphemy laws like India’s section 295A are used by the government and hostile private parties seeking retaliation to suppress people of minority faiths. In Pakistan, for instance, the country’s highest court overturned the conviction of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who wallowed in jail for almost ten years on death row because of a dispute that resulted in an accusation of blasphemy when she drank water from a common well used by Muslim women.

Blasphemy laws also undermine speech and religious liberty by saddling convicted individuals with onerous penalties for expressing their beliefs. The law in Pakistan, which carries the death penalty, is the most extreme example.  But penalties commonly include years-long imprisonment and fines. A violation of India’s section 295A, for instance, is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.

While six states in America still have blasphemy laws on the books, they are unenforced and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections would surely trump those laws if they were ever brought against someone in court. Countries like India and Pakistan also have provisions in their constitutions supposedly protecting the freedom of conscience or religious exercise, but those provisions obviously are not fully and effectively enforced.

Multiple news stories reveal that Twitter actively bans or censors users for expressing views with which the organization disagrees. Turnabout is fair play, perhaps. But, hopefully, this will serve as a wakeup call to the company about the true danger of suppressing the expression of beliefs.

No one should have to fear the sword of the government or blasphemy laws being used against them for expressing their beliefs. To ensure that all people can speak and worship according to their conscience, we must fight against blasphemy laws and guarantee protections for the freedom to believe.

Faith-based Adoption Providers Are Answering the Pro-Life Call and Must Be Protected

by Madison Ferguson

November 20, 2018

There is a movement of Christians putting actions to their pro-life words through adoption. Adoptive families will find their search for faith-based adoption agencies increasingly difficult, however. Faith-based agencies (FBAs) have been under attack for practicing their religious freedom, despite their impactful work in placing children in loving homes.

Courtney Lott works with such organizations. As part of Family Research Council’s Speaker Series and to recognize National Adoption Month 2018, she shared her experience as Co-Executive Director of Faithful Adoption Consultants (FAC) and mother of eight children—both biological and adopted. FAC walks alongside adoptive families to assist in all aspects of the adoption process. From matching families with children to encouraging the birth mothers to adopt instead of abort, the pro-life message is clear.

Lott summarized FAC’s mission: “Our heart is to build relationships, educate families, and put actions to our pro-life words.”

Private adoption agencies share similar goals. Child welfare services began in the private sector, but it wasn’t until the 1990s—after the public child welfare system was created—that private adoption agencies set cost and quality standards. Faith-based agencies are particularly beneficial because they utilize faith networks to recruit foster and adoptive families. The CALL and Focus on the Family, like FAC, encourage and equip families in the Christian community to consider foster care and adoption.

The impact of these FBAs is significant. In 2016, Catholic Charities agencies around the country served over 10,000 children through foster care and adoption services. That same year, 45 percent of Catholic Charities’ adoptions were of children with special needs. Children who have a historically hard time of being placed in homes due to age, background, or need are valued throughout the process—beginning with their “first family.”

FAC recognizes that the ultimate goal of foster care is to reunite children with their families. The process of fostering and adoption gives FBAs and consultants an opportunity to love the child’s first family and encourage them to pursue a situation in which they could better parent their child.

Another fundamental aspect of the fostering and adoption process is educating families. As Courtney Lott pointed out, closed adoptions were common throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. This means adoptees don’t know until later in life that they’re adopted, and mothers often didn’t get to meet their child or the child’s adoptive family. Now, there is an increasing trend of semi-open adoptions, where mothers know the first name of the adoptive family, as well as wide open adoptions, where the adoptee has unrestricted contact with and access to all knowledge of their first family while still being loved and cared for by their adoptive family.

FAC and FBAs clearly demonstrate how they value all life, from the pregnant mother to the child to the adoptive family. Their work is valuable in maintaining the institution of the family, and the protection of their work is necessary in maintaining religious freedom.

A myriad of FBAs joined the national fight for religious freedom when court-created same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015. Despite the variety of child welfare agencies already serving same-sex couples, and the thousands of families helped by FBAs, anti-faith policies have pushed out adoption agencies that decline to place children in households that do not comply with the biblical definition of marriage. This needlessly deprives children of having a better chance of finding a loving adoptive home.

FBAs in Boston, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco were forced to shut their doors because of their convictions. In 2011, Catholic Charities organizations in Illinois closed their contracts with the state and consequently closed their doors to thousands of children. 

Congress has since urged President Trump to protect faith-based adoption agencies, and five states passed laws in 2017 prohibiting discrimination against faith-based adoption providers.

The nationwide decline in the value of life is apparent. In addition to the abortion industry’s attacks on life inside the womb, attacks on FBAs compromise children outside the womb. Thus, adoption is becoming recognized as a pro-life issue, and it should be defended as such.

To put action to pro-life words, we must be willing to answer the call of caring for children and parents through adoption or foster care. Whether driven by infertility or a mission-based calling, caring for children and parents can take many forms, include bringing a child home, financial support, mentorship, and transportation assistance to foster families.

In the mid-2000s, the evangelical church began to answer this call by educating about and engaging in the “uniquely Christian calling,” as termed by Rick Warren and Focus on the Family. While only two percent of Americans have adopted, more than twice as many practicing Christians fulfill this calling. As Courtney Lott pointed out, for Christians, it is the number one place we can make a huge impact for the gospel.

With the opioid crisis contributing to the adoption crisis, the problem is large enough for both faith-based and public agencies to work together for the sake of children and families. By standing for pro-life values in accordance with these faith-based organizations, we help to maintain religious freedom and ensure that ALL life has a chance to be heard.

To hear how Courtney Lott’s Faithful Adoption Consultants is answering the pro-life call, view the full event here.

Madison Ferguson is an intern at Family Research Council.

Must the State Recognize All Identities?

by Daniel Hart

November 9, 2018

A man in the Netherlands named Emile Ratelband is 69 years old, but he feels like he is 49. His feeling isn’t a particularly remarkable one—I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t “feel” our ages depending on the day. But the problem is, Mr. Ratelband (pictured above) has filed a court claim seeking to have the Dutch government officially recognize his feelings of being young by changing his birth certificate to reflect the age that he feels himself to be.

Because nowadays, in Europe and in the United States, we are free people,” Ratelband said in an interview. “We can make our own decisions if we want to change our name, or if we want to change our gender. So I want to change my age. My feeling about my body and about my mind is that I’m about 40 or 45.”

Mr. Ratelband’s demand is the latest example of a remarkable trend that has taken hold in Western countries over the last decade. It is the insistence that the state give legal recognition to all lifestyle choices, a movement that I will call the “identity rights” movement. This modern movement arguably began in earnest around 2003 when homosexual activists demanded that the state give them marriage rights (which was legalized in Massachusetts that year), even though there was no prohibition against two people of the same sex living together in a domestic partnership if they wished. This movement culminated in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that all states must recognize same-sex marriage.

The transgender movement steamrolled into the public consciousness soon after, with activists demanding that those who identify as the opposite sex from their biological sex at birth be given access to opposite sex public restrooms, changed birth certificates, and participation in opposite sex sports.

Also in 2015, a woman named Rachel Dolezal gained national attention when it was discovered that she had been posing as a black woman for years, even serving as the president of her local NAACP chapter, but in reality did not have any African ancestry. Even though her cause was not widely supported by the identity rights movement, Dolezal was simply following the same logic: if people can get state recognition to be the opposite sex from what they actually are, why can’t they also choose their ethnicity? Even U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) seems to think along these lines.

In an identity-obsessed world, Emile Ratelband’s demand for the state to publicly lie about his actual age doesn’t seem that unreasonable, which is why no one should be surprised if the Dutch court agrees to grant his request. But it raises the question: how far can this go? Where will society draw the line? Currently, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to foresee a day when people will be able to legally declare themselves to be taller than they actually are, or to be whatever animal they want to be. To follow this line of legal logic to its inevitable end is to grant people any conceivable identity that they can conjure up.

But what the identity rights movement doesn’t acknowledge is that when the state grants legal recognition to a person’s chosen identity, it affects the rights of others. Ask Jack Phillips, or Barronelle Stutzman, or Pascha Thomas. The list goes on and on.

At its root, the identity rights movement is a cry for the deepest human need: to be loved. When people publicly identify themselves as something they are not, they are crying out for what is tragically lacking in their lives through no fault of their own. As human beings, lovingly created in God’s image, it is our divine calling to love each other as best we possibly can, starting first and foremost with our own families. It is impossible for this kind of authentic love to be bestowed by the state. This is why the identity movement’s demand for state recognition of all identities is an ultimately futile endeavor—it’s never going to give them the affirmation that they are truly searching for.

In this age of an ascendant identity movement and the domination of identity politics, it is crucial for all believers to witness to this timeless truth: that God does not make mistakes. The way that we are created tells us something about who we are. We never have to seek the approval of others to know how much we matter. We have all been loved into being by the Creator of the universe—that is the only identity that truly matters.

Pray Tell: Atheist Sues to Lead Legislative Prayer

by Alexandra McPhee

November 1, 2018

In a peculiar turn of events, secularist organization Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has argued before a federal appeals court that an atheist has the right to pray on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Dan Barker, co-founder of FFRF, desired to serve as Rep. Mark Pocan’s (D-Wis.) guest in leading the opening prayer for the following legislative session. Barker is an atheist. His request was denied because it was determined that he did not meet the chaplain-policy requirements to give an invocation on the House floor. His lawsuit argues that the policy unconstitutionally discriminates against nonbelievers under the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution.

It is ironic and hypocritical that the group that routinely seeks to box out religion from the public square is now invoking the principles of religious freedom in order to make a secular invocation in our national legislature.

This anomaly notwithstanding, the greater issue is that the current judicial precedent surrounding the Establishment Clause is so malleable (one federal circuit court judge called it “a hot mess” and “a wreck”) that even something as unobtrusive as prayer is no longer guaranteed protection in the public square. Coach Joe Kennedy of Washington is one example, and there are many more like him across the nation.

As the late Justice Antonin Scalia observed, 1970s-era Establishment Clause doctrine has created a “geometry of crooked lines and wavering shapes” in this area of constitutional law. So what should we expect out of the judges responsible for interpreting constitutional law at our nation’s highest court and in lower courts across the country?

To establish sound Establishment Clause (or any constitutional) doctrine, the most intellectually honest and sustainable approach is to look to the understanding of the Founders at the time they penned and ratified the U.S. Constitution. This means looking at history. As the U.S. Supreme Court once said, “The line we must draw between the permissible and the impermissible is one which accords with history and faithfully reflects the understanding of the Founding Fathers.” This idea of looking at the understanding of the drafters of any law is as true for the latest entry of the U.S. Code as it is for the First Amendment.

Barker’s case involves legislative prayer, which is specially recognized for its undeniable historical precedent. In fact, legislative prayer, or “divine service,” has taken place as early as the 1700s. Largely because of its deep roots in history, legislative prayer is considered constitutional. It is an instructive example of how the courts have used and should use legal history to determine the constitutionality of religion in the public square. Unfortunately, the same is not true for judicial precedent surrounding religiously inspired monuments or certain tax exemptions, which some argue should fail constitutional muster under the Establishment Clause.

Fortunately, scholars have observed a resurgence in the role of legal history in modern judicial decision-making at the Supreme Court. What’s more, President Donald Trump’s laser-like focus on the appointment of judges has resulted in “appointees [that] are showing themselves to be strong spokespeople for what is generally described as the conservative viewpoint.” As such, law professor Arthur Hellman of the University of Pittsburgh said, “[n]ew blood reopens old issues.” And even though this use of legal history, or “originalism,” has become associated with “the conservative viewpoint,” the fact is that it is “ideologically neutral. On various stormy issues, both the conservative and liberal factions . . . have found safe harbor in historical reasoning.” What all this means is stable judicial precedent—not the confusion that exists today.

As with the doctrine of legislative prayer, we need to return to our legal historical roots and use what we find there as our guiding principles for understanding the constitutionality of religion in the public square.

Moreover, with mid-term elections on the horizon, it is critical that we vote in U.S. Senators who will help appoint judges that protect our constitutional rights. Our Republican-controlled Senate has faithfully stewarded its advice-and-consent powers by helping appoint judges who value historical reasoning. We ought to vote for candidates who will continue this trend.

Public prayer in schools and the government workplace, for instance, is more constitutional than it’s given credit for. You can feel assured in this by looking no further than Article III of the Northwest Territory Ordinance of 1787, in which the Founding-era Congress stated, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

As for Barker and his legislative prayer case—we’ll have to see whether the judges in his case conclude that history is on his side.

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