Category archives: Religious Liberty

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.

Will FEMA Treat Churches Fairly?

by Travis Weber

September 13, 2017

Last week, three Texas churches filed a lawsuit against FEMA due to its policy of denying disaster relief to churches and other institutions simply because of their religious nature.

Under FEMA’s public assistance disaster relief program, repair money is available to a host of entities providing both critical and noncritical services. Examples of noncritical services include venues hosting art classes, food assistance services, health and safety programs, senior services, museums, zoos, and even stamp and coin collecting. Moreover, aid is also available to what are termed “various social functions of community groups.” Yet churches are banned under this policy because they are “religious.”

However, Hurricane Harvey didn’t discriminate in its choice of targets. When the storm hit the Texas coast, Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God were all extensively damaged. Roofs caved in, trees fell in the buildings, and flooding caused serious damage to multiple structures. These churches need what is known as “emergency work” under FEMA’s public assistance program, yet they will be denied such relief because they are not “eligible” – solely because they are religious. Unfortunately, without debris removal and repair, according to the churches, people using their facilities and grounds face serious health and safety concerns as a result of “broken glass, sharp metal and wood, downed trees, falling limbs, mold and mildew, slick surfaces, and structures that are weakened by high winds and flooding.” While Harvey didn’t discriminate, FEMA did, and as a result the churches filed a lawsuit against FEMA challenging its ban as a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Under Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, a case the Supreme Court decided earlier this year, the government cannot discriminate against religious entities in a public grant program just because they are religious. The Court repeatedly made this point in its opinion in that case:

  • This Court has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion.”
  • The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant.”
  • Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character… . The express discrimination against religious exercise here is not the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the Church—solely because it is a church—to compete with secular organizations for a grant.”
  • In this case, there is no dispute that Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit. The rule is simple: No churches need apply.”
  • The State in this case expressly requires Trinity Lu­theran to renounce its religious character in order to participate in an otherwise generally available public benefit program, for which it is fully qualified.”
  • The State has pursued its preferred policy to the point of expressly denying a qualified religious entity a public benefit solely because of its religious character. Under our precedents, that goes too far. The Department’s policy violates the Free Exercise Clause.”
  • But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.

Likewise, the government can’t discriminate against the churches in this case. As the churches point out in their complaint, the government is providing public assistance repair money toward venues hosting “social activities to pursue items of mutual interest … educational enrichment activit[ies] … service[s] or activit[ies] intended to serve a specific group of individuals,” and “community board meeting[s].” There is no substantive difference between those activities whether they are hosted in or outside of a church. Yet a church hosting such activities would be denied recovery funds simply because it is “religious.”

In Justice Breyer’s concurring opinion in Trinity Lutheran, and at oral argument in that case, one of the points raised was that if the government flatly excludes public money from going to religious institutions, it would have to deny them services like law enforcement and fire emergency services. This would be the logical implication of the position, yet everyone can see it is ludicrous. If these churches would not be denied fire emergency services, why should they be denied money to address the extremely dangerous condition of their properties?

When the issue became public, President Trump seemed to side with the churches, tweeting: “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).”

And why not, when faith groups and churches are providing the lion’s share of the effort toward cleaning up after Harvey and other disasters? Even the churches in this case are already caring for many in the community; it would add insult to injury to deny them the same aid offered to others. As the complaint points out,

…[A]s it did in the aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Ike, Hi-Way Tabernacle is currently serving as a staging center for FEMA and local government relief efforts. Despite suffering significant flooding and damage, the Tabernacle quickly got its facilities to a serviceable state and immediately began taking in evacuees. As of September 4, the church was sheltering between 60 and 70 people, with more expected. The Tabernacle’s gym has been transformed into a warehouse for the county, storing and distributing food, water, hygiene products, and clothing. Over 8,000 FEMA emergency meals have been distributed from the Tabernacle’s facilities. Relief workers are using the facilities to provide both medical services and haircuts to victims. The Tabernacle has been informed that governmental disaster relief helicopters may be landing on its property as well.”

 

It’s great to see that Congressman Chris Smith has introduced the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2017 to remedy this problem. Under his proposed legislation, which amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act by implementing the holding of Trinity Lutheran, religious entities will be treated exactly the same as all other entities under consideration for disaster relief assistance. For the three churches in Texas, and the many other religious institutions damaged by disasters, this change couldn’t come soon enough.

Let us hope this issue is fixed soon, and no entity is denied a spot in the public square just because it is religious.

Masterpiece Cakeshop Attorneys File Merits Brief with the Supreme Court

by Travis Weber

September 5, 2017

Last week, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (representing Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop) filed their merits brief with the Supreme Court. This is the primary written argument submitted to the Court explaining why Jack Phillips should win what could be the most important religious liberty case of the post-Obergefell era. After his opponents file their brief and the Court holds oral argument, it will decide this case sometime next year.

In their brief, Jack’s attorneys elaborate on a number of aspects of the case, including how and why Jack has a free exercise and free speech right to conduct his activities according to his faith as he sees fit. These are important arguments to understand, especially in light of all the misinformation being reported about the case.

You can find ADF’s brief here.

Given the importance of the case, FRC plans to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court shortly, explaining why it should rule in Jack’s favor.

International Religious Freedom in 2016: Still Work to Be Done

by Travis Weber

August 24, 2017

Last week, the State Department released its report assessing religious freedom around the world during 2016.

Many of the usual suspects we think of when addressing religious freedom violations overseas were covered by the report, and continue to reveal their religious freedom violations:

  • Iran continues to imprison people for “insulting the prophet” and “enmity against God” – both of which can merit the death penalty.
  • Within Syria, ISIS “killed dozens through public executions, crucifixions, and beheadings of men, women, and children on charges of apostasy, blasphemy, homosexuality, and cursing God.” Within Iraq, the group continued to “commit individual and mass killings, and to engage in rape, kidnapping, random detentions and mass abductions, torture, abduction and forced conversion of non-Muslim male children, and the enslavement and sex trafficking of women and girls from minority religious communities.”
  • Saudi Arabia still outlaws all religions except Islam from being publicly practiced, even criminalizing “any attempt to cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam.” The government there has continued to enforce a comprehensive anti-religious freedom legal regime, including imprisoning people for blasphemy and apostasy.
  • China continues to reportedly detain and harass both registered and nonregistered religious groups in the country.

Yet new religious freedom problems have also emerged in recent years, and in places not traditionally associated with religious freedom violations – like Western Europe. They are also documented in the report:

  • In the United Kingdom, a university “expelled a Christian graduate student after he expressed his opposition to gay marriage on social media because of his Christian beliefs.”
  • Elsewhere in Europe, such as France, attacks against Jews, Muslims, and Christians because of their religion have continued to occur.

We should specifically take note of the expelled U.K. graduate student, for the same forces opposed to a religious belief that marriage is only between one man and one woman are the same forces operating in the United States and elsewhere around the world. As we increasingly face domestic religious freedom problems related to this issue, this example is a reminder that we must guard the same religious freedom at home which we fight for around the world. Neither can be taken for granted.

The 2016 report is a valuable resource for assessing the state of religious freedom around the globe. It isn’t perfect – it aims a bit too broadly at times, commenting on matters such as speeches directed at immigration policy in Europe, or, for instance, an investigation into alleged tax fraud in the Muslim community in Denmark. These are not substantive religious freedom violations, and including them in such a report diminishes real religious freedom problems such as imprisonment for sharing one’s faith. Reasonable people will disagree over the precise role of religion in democracies, and a religious freedom violation does not occur every time someone remarks on the role of religion in a larger social controversy.

All in all, the report is a valuable tool to continue to address religious freedom shortcomings worldwide. While this can be done in several ways, one very helpful step would be to incorporate the issue more broadly into our foreign policy. With the appointment of Governor Brownback as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department, we have an opportunity to do just that – and more – as we look ahead with the new foreign policy of the Trump administration.

Attention Millennials: True Religious Freedom May Make You Feel Uncomfortable

by Mary Beasley

August 4, 2017

Millennials have been lauded for being one of the most open-minded of generations, accepting and tolerant of a variety of perspectives. Millennials pride themselves on being an exceptionally diverse generation—racially, ethnically, sexually, politically, culturally… the list goes on. The linchpin for diversity is acceptance. More than ever, millennials pride themselves on being particularly tolerant and accepting.

However, the real-world consequence to this much-heralded virtue of tolerance is, ironically, intolerance. Tolerance without limits becomes moral destruction. Tolerance with limits… can that be called “tolerance” at all?

Tolerance” can only be taken so far, until one is forced to become intolerant to intolerance itself. So, millennials have a problem. Tolerance seems to be an impossible standard to uphold, unless one is advocating for complete political and cultural anarchy. Tolerance, to its end, upholds no standards.

A recent survey found that millennials do believe religious freedom is important—remember, tolerance is the name of the game. However, it seems that millennials tend to draw a boundary between society and the self. Many millennials see religious freedom as an “individual” priority, not as a social priority. And over half of millennials agree that religion is only personal and should not play a role in society.

So, millennials appear to be “tolerant.” Religious freedom seems like a decent idea to them. In practice, however, tolerance of religious freedom can only go so far. As it turns out, many millennials are confused and apprehensive about something called the “free exercise clause.” The Constitution does not simply establish the freedom to hold religious belief as a certain inalienable right, it upholds the exercise of religion as an inalienable right.

Apparently, the free exercise clause has made the millennial generation uncomfortable, who see religious freedom as an individual value becoming a societal problem when it is put into actual exercise.

For millennials, it seems, the values of the self are prioritized over the values of society, a line defined by political correctness. When religious freedom is strictly a right of the individual, it doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable nuisance—unless it is defined as a societal right. If this were the case (and it is, as defined by the Constitution), then the rights of society would impinge on the rights of the individual. This becomes a real problem if individual rights are prioritized. This kind of thinking views authentic religious freedom in society as a problem, because it could make the individual feel uncomfortable.

In order to keep the individual prioritized, political correctness has become essential. Political correctness defines the standards for keeping all individuals in a comfortable, trigger-free zone.

But what is true religious freedom, and what does it require in practice?

The Founding Fathers knew that the idea of religious freedom cannot be understood merely at the level of a belief. Religion is a belief, but belief itself necessitates action. The “free exercise” clause is therefore essential not only for the individual, but for the proper understanding of what religious belief requires.

Giving people the “right” to religious freedom does not bestow true freedom unless there is also a freedom to act. Any person who associates themselves with a religion or a belief system knows that true devotion requires action. What is the point of believing that killing another human being is immoral unless it is put into daily practice? The decision to believe is not enough. True devotion is carried out in daily life, requiring the commitment and sacrifice of the individual.

This is the cost of commitment to faith. Jesus Christ radically defines this commitment as a sacrifice of the individual. He was honest with his disciples about the cost when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (from The Cost of Discipleship). True commitment to faith is radical. It is completely selfless, requiring man to die to himself. This commitment goes far beyond a mere intellectual exercise; it requires the full sacrifice of an individual’s life—every piece and part.

Thus, it is not only unlawful to argue that individuals should revoke their right to exercise freedom of religion, it is also illogical. To assume that religious people can “contain” this commitment as a purely intellectual pursuit inside the four walls of a church is to misunderstand the nature of religious belief. Societies are formed by individuals, many of whom infuse religious practices into their daily lives. They naturally affect, influence, and inspire those around them. Therefore, religion cannot be displaced from the actions of the individual just as the individual cannot be displaced from society. Therefore, religion cannot be contained from society.

One of the millennial generation’s biggest misconceptions is that the individual is above society. In reality, individuals are pieces of a larger community. Ironically, it would seem, the millennial generation’s insistence on “tolerance” ends up suppressing individuals who are deemed “intolerant.” The individual, however, cannot be contained. The individual is called to be a part of something greater. Could it be that the essence of the individual is sacrifice? The individual’s sacrifice is directed to a greater purpose: society itself. The exercise of religious freedom is not solely for the good of the individual, but for the good of society. This will be an uncomfortable but vital lesson for millennials to learn as they renew our society.

6 Ways Governor Brownback Can Prioritize International Religious Freedom

by Travis Weber

July 27, 2017

Yesterday, President Trump nominated Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department. This is a great pick for an important job, and the administration is to be commended for this selection.

The Ambassador-at-Large post was created by legislation back in 1998 with the purpose of addressing religious freedom problems around the world, but it has seen limited success in being able to shape foreign policy in a comprehensive manner. The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, signed into law just last December, made changes which will result in the job reporting directly to the Secretary of State. This change and others required by the law should make whoever is in the role more effective. When it is someone of Governor Brownback’s stature, we will have a real opportunity to see religious freedom significantly shape foreign policy.

Religious freedom is a fundamental, inherent, and international human right. It is not merely an American right—though religious freedom was foundational to the very existence of the United States. United States foreign policy should prioritize this fundamental international human right and give it the attention it deserves. Once Governor Brownback is in his new role, here are six ways the Trump administration can make this happen:

1. Integrate and prioritize religious freedom protections in foreign policy. All U.S. agencies engaged abroad should integrate and prioritize the promotion of religious freedom in their work. They should also conduct international religious freedom training for their employees (including how to gather information about mass atrocities against religious groups such as genocide).

2. Fully implement the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act throughout the U.S. government.

3. Protect refugees and asylum seekers with proper attention given to persecution on the basis of religion. The United States has not properly addressed the religious dynamics of the refugee situation arising from Iraq and Syria. Where certain religious groups are being persecuted on account of their religion, their religion can be used as a factor in assessing their asylum claims and refugee status. The Departments of State and Homeland Security should enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers of all religions have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum. In addition, the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security should ensure appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively address the protection of refugees and asylum seekers who need such protection because of their religion, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government has the ability to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.

4. Provide foreign assistance to protect the human right of religious freedom. Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development should enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human right of religious freedom.

5. Ensure swift and meaningful U.S. responses to the suppression of religious freedom abroad. The Department of State should lead a standing group, with appropriate interagency representation, to help ensure the Federal Government’s swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the status of religious freedom abroad. The Department of State should be particularly attentive to responding to complaints of religious persecution, whether in the granting of visas or in other areas. Those representing the United States abroad in an official capacity should not work with, or aid and abet, any foreign actors discriminating against persons based on their religion.

6. Engage international organizations in defending religious freedom. Multilateral fora and international organizations are key vehicles to promote respect for the human right of religious freedom and to bring global attention to this issue. Along with the Department of State, agencies engaged abroad should strengthen the work they have begun and initiate additional efforts in these multilateral fora and organizations to (1) broaden the number of countries willing to support and defend religious freedom, (2) strengthen the role of civil society advocates on behalf of religious freedom within and through multilateral fora, and (3) strengthen the policies and programming of multilateral institutions on religious freedom.

If it takes these steps, the Trump administration can follow up on Governor Brownback’s appointment and distinguish itself by vigorously protecting human rights and religious freedom.

Against this backdrop, we must not neglect our efforts to protect Christians, Yezidis, and others from the horrific violence in the Middle East. The U.S. government has already recognized that a genocide is taking place there, and now amid recent reports that State Department lawyers are removing that term from official descriptions of the situation, it is necessary to give even more attention to the situation—such as what was outlined in Congressman Chris Smith’s bill, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017—to ensure the victims of genocide get the protection they need and deserve.

Religious freedom is not to be segmented off in compartments in our lives, and it is not confined to the four walls of our places of worship. The United States used to hold to this robust vision of religious freedom, both at home and abroad. This vision used to be a part of how the United States led from a position of strength in promoting human rights globally. With Governor Brownback’s appointment, the Trump administration has an opportunity to once again start doing just that.

No, Rev. Barber, Prayer for a President Is Not “Heresy”

by Travis Weber

July 20, 2017

The Reverend William Barber from North Carolina made news this week by claiming in an interview on prayer for President Trump that it “borders on heresy when you can p-r-a-y for a president” while they are “preying” on others. This, in his view, is “violating the most sacred principles of religion.”

Assuming Reverend Barber looks to the Bible as his spiritual authority, I would suggest that the “principles of religion” demand the exact opposite—they actually require the Christian to pray for all leaders. Indeed, if this borders on heresy, a portion of the New Testament may be heretical.

1 Timothy 2:1-3 says: “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior” (emphasis mine).

This command is non-negotiable for every Christian; it doesn’t matter if we agree with the leader or not—as several ministers recently pointed out in rebuttal to Barber. Not all may have voted for President Trump, but he now is the president, and we all should hope and pray that he brings blessing to our nation. Similarly, not all may have voted for President Obama—I was in the camp who did not. But once he became president, it became a requirement of me and every other Christian who did not vote for him to nevertheless pray for the president to do well in God’s sight.

Christians should always speak truth to power. Yet we can do this while we also pray for God to bless the nation through the leaders he has appointed over us.

Reverend Barber and I do see eye to eye on one overarching point—that faith should inform the public life of our nation. We agree that it is proper for a minister, pastor, or theologian to offer their views in the public square. Reverend Barber is doing this, and so do I. In that sense, he is a religious liberty advocate just like myself.

While Christians may differ on the application of that faith, we still agree that it should speak to our society—as opposed to those who think religion has no role in the public square at all. Rev. Barber and I would both say they are completely wrong. Let both his and my supporters unify on this point, for Christianity has much with which to benefit and bless our nation. Regardless of our differences on how it is applied, we should rally together to defend its place in the public life of our nation.

No Fear: Coach Kennedy’s Steadfast Faith

by Emma Gibney

July 11, 2017

Family Research Council recently released its June 2017 Edition of Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States. This edition, compared to its inaugural edition in 2014, contains 69 new incidents of religious hostility. This equates to a 76 percent increase in under three years. It is essential to identify these patterns of hostility in order to protect religious freedom in the United States in the future. Equally, it is important that we honor those Americans who stood for their religious beliefs in the face of fear. In his book, No Fear, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins writes, “The only way to counter the fear of man is with faith in God, which provides the courage and the strength that God requires for His world-changing work.” While there are numerous stories to choose from, I will highlight one hero and his story from the Hostility to Religion report God is using for his “world-changing work.”

It was a typical fall Friday night in Bremerton, Wash., near Seattle. Coach Joe Kennedy knelt at the fifty-yard line and prayed after the game ended, like he did after every game since 2008 when he first took the position of assistant football coach at Bremerton High School. However, seven years later, on September 17, 2015, the school’s district superintendent barred Kennedy from praying after football games. Ironically, it was a compliment from one of the student’s parents that informed the superintendent that Kennedy had been praying after fans cleared the stadium after football games.

When hearing about Kennedy’s situation, religious liberty lawyers from First Liberty Institute got involved on his behalf and asked the superintendent to allow Kennedy to kneel in prayer after the students left the stadium. However, the superintendent rejected the request, stating it would be a “liability concern” and a violation of “separation of church and state.” Kennedy was banned from even bowing his head in prayer as a coach at Bremerton High School.

On October 21, Kennedy refused to bow to this infringement of his First Amendment rights and once again knelt down and prayed after the second-to-last football game of the season. Exactly a week later, he received a letter from the district superintendent that read, “Effective immediately, pending further District review of your conduct, you are placed on paid administrative leave from your position as an assistant coach with the Bremerton High School football program. You may not participate, in any capacity, in BHS football program activities.” Kennedy was suspended from the high school prior to the final game of the season and his contract was not renewed, which had the effect of permanently ending his time coaching the Bremerton High School football team.

On December 15, Kennedy filed a charge of religious discrimination against Bremerton School District with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He argued the school district “violated [his] right to free exercise of religion and free speech by prohibiting [his] private religious expression.” The U.S. Department of Justice issued a right-to-sue letter to Kennedy on June 27, 2016. The First Liberty Institute then filed a formal lawsuit against the Bremerton School District on August 9, 2016, but his claims were rejected by the federal district court. Kennedy appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held oral arguments in the case on June 12, 2017. We will have to continue to wait and see how this religious freedom case plays out in the courts.

In No Fear, Perkins declares, “Faith says, ‘I can do all things.’ Fear says, ‘What will they think of us? What will they do to us?” Kennedy let his faith speak louder than his fear of what man would do to him. He had faith that the Lord will carry him through this trial even after it cost him his career. Ultimately, man cannot harm him as the Lord is on his side. In the courts today, Kennedy is living out Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” He did not let his fear of man take precedence over his fear of the Lord when he continued to kneel in prayer after football games. I applaud Coach Kennedy for choosing to please God rather than man.

FRC’s Updated Hostility Report Shows Religious Organizations on the Front Lines of the Fight for Religious Freedom

by Chris Baldacci

June 30, 2017

At most metro stops in D.C., workers give out free copies of the Washington Post Express to commuters. The week before Family Research Council published its updated report “Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States,” the front of the Express was covered by a full-page advertisement sponsored by Catholics for Choice. It pictured a caricature of a bishop, pointing at the reader like Uncle Sam, with the caption, “We want YOU to help us discriminate.” On the inside flap, the ad chastised Catholic schools, hospitals, and charities that decline to offer birth control, abortions, or facilitate same-sex marriage, claiming that this is intolerable discrimination. These are not new allegations. Catholics for Choice ran a similar ad last year, and the ACLU hosts an “Issues” page that outlines their mission to fight organizations that use “religion to discriminate.”

The ability of organizations to operate according to their beliefs is an increasingly significant battleground in the fight for religious liberty. Bolstered by the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges and increased support for sexual autonomy among the public, liberal organizations are no longer content to see the government affirm the LGBT rights movement—religious groups must acquiesce as well.

FRC’s updated report highlights a few poignant examples of this opposition to the freedom of religious organizations:

  • In the last decade, Catholic Charities has lost millions in government contracts and sometimes shut down entire branches rather than act in violation of Catholic teachings about abortion or marriage.
  • A group of Christian colleges had to seek an administrative exemption in 2014 from an Obama administration regulation that would have barred them from requiring teachers to follow biblical teachings on sexuality. The schools faced protests and were lambasted in the media for their petition.
  • In 2015, a Catholic school was sued and settled out of court with a fired teacher that identified as homosexual. It was allegedly illegal for the school to require instructors to follow Church teachings concerning homosexuality.
  • Two separate religious hospitals were sued in 2017 and criticized for not offering gender reassignment surgery to patients who identified as transgender.

Beyond the pragmatic harm that lawsuits and boycotts inflict on organizations, these mounting attacks threaten the very heart of what it means to be a religious group. Religious convictions are the impetus for religious organizations. For example, belief in justice and mercy motivates charities and hospitals, belief in specific ethical and philosophical principles motivates religious schools, and religious nonprofits often advance a targeted worldview. For these institutions to abandon their principles would be to sacrifice the integrity of their mission. Yet the radical left has used its political and legal power to require them to do just that.

The aforementioned stories highlight the stunning hypocrisy of progressive activists’ attacks on religious freedom: amidst their cries for tolerance, they refuse to tolerate beliefs that they disagree with. They demand that religious institutions check their beliefs at the door and act according to the majority sentiment rather than the dictates of their faith. Moreover, it is the opponents of religious liberty who are “forcing their beliefs on others” by demanding that organizations comply with the progressive left’s beliefs that abortion is not murder, same-sex marriages can be sacrosanct, and those who identify as transgender should be fully affirmed in their chosen identity.

Our laws must safeguard the right of religious organizations to act on their beliefs. The free exercise of religion, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, does not simply protect the right to think or believe whatever we want (no one is going after our thoughts – yet). The First Amendment is special because it protects the right to act according to our beliefs, hence the term “exercise.” Thankfully, the Supreme Court has affirmed this principle in recent cases like Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which ruled that family businesses can opt-out of covering abortion-causing drugs and services if doing so violates their sincere religious convictions. Such decisions must become the norm to protect not only religious business owners, but religious organizations and religious liberty itself. Without the freedom to believe and act according to those beliefs, the freedom of religion is irreparably devalued.

To read more of the updated FRC report “Hostility to Religion: The Growing Threat to Religious Liberty in the United States,” please visit: http://www.frc.org/hostilityreport

When Campuses Become Battlefields: Protecting Free Speech in a Hostile Environment

by Ian Frith

June 29, 2017

College campuses have become increasingly hostile grounds for political discourse. Citing safety concerns, student groups all over the country have seen their events cancelled by university administrators worried about violence on college campuses. Speakers who have managed to appear on campuses have found themselves harassed by student protestors, and have even faced violence by opposition groups. Take for example, Charles Murray’s attempt to speak at Middlebury College in Vermont. Not only was Murray shouted down with profanity by an enraged progressive student body, but Middlebury Professor Allison Stanger was physically assaulted for accompanying Murray on campus.

This disturbing trend has drawn national attention, and prompted a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday, June 20th, the committee met to discuss the volatile environment on college campuses in relation to the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. The committee heard from seven witnesses including two students who alleged free speech violations on their campuses, several college professors and administrators who have dealt with controversial events on their campuses, and two lawyers associated with First Amendment and hate speech issues. One of these lawyers was Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Cohen has been criticized for SPLC’s labeling of their political opponents as “hate groups,” a designation various progressive groups on college campuses have exploited to justify threatening the free speech of conservatives.

Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) opened the hearing by citing several particularly grievous violations of freedom of speech, including students who were arrested at Kellogg College for distributing the Constitution outside of the designated “free speech zone.” These outrageous actions were condemned by both Republican and Democratic senators alike. The First Amendment does not exist merely to defend opinions that everyone agrees with, it also protects those opinions which are controversial or offensive. Unfortunately, many on the Left only associate hate speech with conservative groups, and ignore hate speech by progressives. Senator Ted Cruz had it right when he said, “truth is far more powerful than force… if your ideas are right there is no need to muzzle the opposition.” College campuses ought to protect speech, because in doing so they’ll help further thoughtful debate.

A highlight of the hearing was the testimony of Zachary Wood, a student at Williams College and president of the organization Uncomfortable Learning. Although he identifies himself as a progressive liberal, Mr. Wood deliberately sought out conservative speakers to invite them to speak because he wanted to start a dialogue on campus. Wood eloquently defended campus free speech when he said “humanity is not limited to the views and values we admire, it also encompasses the views and values that we resist.” One controversial speaker invited by Wood was conservative commentator John Derbyshire. Predictably, the invitation caused a severe backlash and resulted in the president of the university unilaterally cancelling Derbyshire’s speech. The administration then immediately imposed new regulations for students who wished to invite speakers to campus.                                                                     

Several of the school administrators testified that they have had to deal with violent opposition groups on their campus. UCLA Professor Eugene Volokh stated that groups who are trying to force a “heckler’s veto” must be strongly reprimanded. “Behavior that is rewarded is repeated… these thugs have to learn that their behavior is not acceptable.” While college administrators appearing before the committee were generally in favor of protected free speech, some did acknowledge that there are challenges in striking a balance between campus safety and free speech. Dr. Fanta Aw of American University stated that “freedom of expression is integral to the mission of higher education, however protecting it has become increasingly difficult due to our national climate, as well as changing views by younger students regarding the First Amendment.” With an increasingly polarized political climate, this issue isn’t going away anytime soon. It is essential that these universities and administrators continue protect speech on their campuses.

Not all the senators were as adamant about the defense of free speech. Citing a lack of resources on the part of the Berkeley police department, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) redirected the conversation towards the nature of the violent protestors involved, and away from First Amendment issues. Senator Feinstein’s attempt to pit public safety against free speech are misguided at best, and deceptive at worst. While it is important that college campuses remain safe environments for learning, safety must not be bought at the price of silencing minority views on campus.  Richard Cohen of the SPLC went one step further, blaming much of the atmosphere on college campuses on the national climate post-election, and specifically the actions of the “alt-right” and white nationalism. He also defended an SPLC publication entitled The Battle for Berkeley, which claimed that “in the name of free speech, the alt-right is assaulting the ivory tower.” Attacks on free speech should not be partisan, but Cohen ignored many groups on the Left who have also been responsible for inciting violence both on college campuses and elsewhere. In fact, SPLC’s labeling of conservative organizations as “hate groups” has been connected to violence against conservative groups, including the 2012 FRC shooting by Floyd Lee Corkins II (who cited SPLC’s designation of Family Research Council as a “hate group”), and the most recent shooting in Alexandria involving GOP Majority Whip Steve Scalise.                       

Near the conclusion of the hearing, Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) condemned the President of Williams’ College Adam Falk. Senator Kennedy admonished Falk for treating progressive liberal campus groups and speakers differently than conservative groups and speakers, and called that sort of favoritism “intellectually dishonest.” Mr. Fredrick Lawrence also defended the role of universities hosting controversial speakers saying “[There should always] be a strong presumption in favor of the speech.” He emphasized that limits should be established only based on the intent of the speaker, never the substance or the content. This is an excellent standard that is well established in public policy.   

Despite differing priorities regarding the protection of free speech on college campuses, it was encouraging to see a measure of bipartisanship in support of free speech at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. As a millennial college student, I am glad that there is a concerted effort in Congress to protect my right to free speech. While I was disappointed in the attempts of Senator Feinstein and Richard Cohen to shift blame, I am confident free speech on college campuses proved more persuasive. The right of free speech is a cornerstone in our society, and it must be protected if we are to continue to have meaningful discussion about other policy issues.

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